Archive for the ‘The Ritz’ Category

Lux Interior / The Cramps

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

How Come You Do Me / The Cramps

Listen: How Come You Do Me / The Cramps
Listen: How Come You Do Me / The Cramps

Lux being Lux. (Photo: Dan Blackstone)

Above: Lux being Lux (The Academy, NYC, 11/25/94) (Photo: Dan Blackstone)

The Cramps, Toad's Place, New Haven, CN. 1998 (Photo: Duane Sherwood)

Above: The Cramps, Toad’s Place, New Haven, CN. 1998 (Photo: Duane Sherwood)

Below: A postcard from John Peel in response to receiving The Cramps FLAMEJOB package.

A postcard from John Peel in response to receiving The Cramps FLAMEJOB package.

It took a bit of coaxing to get me to my first Cramps show. They played a club in my college town of Rochester, N.Y., and I wasn’t particularly into their first album, which they were touring at the time. The argument putting me over the edge was based on logic. There wasn’t really anything else to do that night, a typical problem. Coincidentally, we had mutual friends in Eric and Mel Mache from New York City. Eric recommended we go along, see them and say hello. So why not? Thank you Eric. It changed my life. I’ve never been the same.

Why did any band other than The Ramones even bother to get out of bed in the morning to compete? The truly informed didn’t. The Cramps created a sound and a theater that scared off all the competition. It would indeed be silly to imply any part was bigger than the sum, but these parts were bigger than anyone else’s and hence the sum was historical, seminal, other worldly, untouchable. Like Ivy, Lux was a one off. Many have and are professing him to be the greatest front man ever. I agree. His perfect combination of spontaneity, teetering on the edge but never losing control has gone unmatched.

Did you ever see Lux do or say the same thing twice? No.

Did you struggle to watch his every move yet still need to watch Ivy, Kid, Bryan, Candy or Slim? Yes.

Did you relive every show in your mind for days and even years after? Yes. And we all still will.

If you never saw The Cramps, you will forever live in B.C. I am deeply sorry for you.

I was lucky enough to begin a long personal journey with them after that first show. It floored us all, and we were only too happy to say hello and invite them back to our apartments (another friend lived on the same floor) for some food and record playing.

The first of endless and unique Cramps experiences happened that very night. There was a strange noise in our bedroom where Corinne was trying to sleep, having an early wake up call the next day. She came out to the living room where the band and a few friends were gathered, saying something was making a flapping noise, it was giving her the creeps and could we investigate.

Lux and I went in to check it out. It was a bat. How did a bat get into the bedroom? To this day, we have no idea. At the time, The Cramps image was very graveyard/skull & crossbones/old Hollywood’s dark side. The bat seemed strangely relevant as that aura was rumored to follow them around.

Lux segued into an involuntary mode, capturing it in a glass casserole dish. We all had a look, then he set it free out the kitchen window. This actually tells you everything about him. He was instinctive, logical, fearless, strategic, courteous, kind and gentle all at once, truly a person beyond the beyond. We had ordered two pizzas, they never came, it was a quiet city in the late 70′s. Nothing was open, so The Cramps retreated to their hotel hungry, but content and pleasant.

They came back through town again a year or so later, summer ’81, this time to promote PSYCHEDELIC JUNGLE. Kid Congo was now in the band, it was one of their classic lineups. Duane Sherwood, a friend like myself from their first time through, and I met up with them prior to the show. We were beyond ecstatic at the mere thought of seeing The Cramps that night, not to mention spending some time together. We went to the venue in the late afternoon. It was a gorgeous June day. The equipment was there but the band had wandered off looking for food, so we waited. Soon, edging their way over the hill leading down to the club were, initially, three spiked/halos of hair, two black and one orange, immediately materializing into the full bodies of Lux, Kid and Ivy. Nick followed, sans the big hair. Even when not trying to make an entrance, The Cramps always would.

They seemed pleased to see us, and did some catching up, even though we didn’t really know them that well. Welcomed into the dressing room as they got ready, Lux and Kid were using industrial strength spray from a case they’d brought along to put their hair in order for the show.

This time, the set was even more jaw dropping than the year before. Nothing was compromised, didn’t matter that they were in a small town, the power was unstoppable. Lux was now on stage and his uncontainable gift was unleashed. The ceiling tiles were dismantled, he sliced himself with glass, removed pretty much every stitch of clothing, this was just how it was, nothing fake, pure raw uncensored Lux.

The Cramps were still at their beginning stages then, not playing big venues, often not working with responsible and respectful professional promoters every night. This show was no exception. A local amateur had brought them in this time, offering transportation from New York, then on to Cleveland to begin the originally scheduled tour itinerary. This was a last minute fill in date. Despite selling out the club, and honoring exactly what they been contracted to do, he chose not to be upstanding and return his professional responsibility, therefore unreachable the next day.

The Cramps were stranded with no credit cards or vehicle to get them on to Cleveland. My phone rang around 11 AM. It was Ivy. She said “Kevin, we’re in trouble. Will you help us?” After a quick update from her, I put the phone down, rang Duane and we high tailed it over to their hotel, each in our separate cars to pick them up and figure out the next move. We all came back to my house. I had an American Express card and literally $110 in the bank. I offered them the use of my credit card to rent a vehicle, the look of relief on Ivy’s face will never ever be forgotten. She promised they would pay for the car in cash once they got to Cleveland and hooked up with their crew. I trusted them. And they didn’t go back on their word, I never for a second thought they would. Our friendship was sealed. Little did that promoter know, he did the band and I the biggest favor ever via his unprofessionalism. He did not have the last laugh.

The whole day was not terrible though. Duane took Lux, Ivy and Nick junk shopping. Kid and I stayed back taping the new Siouxsie & The Banshees album. Kid was thrilled that I owned it, as it had just been released. When they returned, Lux spent some time going through my records, trading obscure anecdotes about many of the singles, seeing the sparkle in each other’s eyes as we drooled over the vinyl. His knowledge was frighteningly deep. He was not a fake. The band treated us to a late lunch before heading out of town. We saw them off, and still relive it to this day.

I would travel to New York and Toronto religiously to catch shows over the next few years. Never did this most important band, the true kings and queens of rock and roll, make me or any of their fans feel uncomfortable, or like second class citizens. By ’84 I had relocated to New York, working A&R at Elektra, then Island. I always wanted to sign them, but could never get the green light.

Then in ’92 I started my own imprint, The Medicine Label, through Warner Brothers. Timing is everything and things happen for a reason, it’s true. This was no exception. Had I been able to do a deal with them prior to Medicine, I would have always been struggling to get them the deserved attention within the label. Now I was in charge of the budgets, and could call some shots. The timing was right. Lux and Ivy agreed and we got into business together. It was one of the greatest periods of my professional and personal life. I knew they were all things good and honorable, but to experience their integrity, self respect, flawless instincts, dedication to their art, confidence in their self image, protection of their musical accomplishments, all done with great dignity, taught me much about business and life. Lux and Ivy included myself and Duane, who came to New York to work with me at Medicine, on the making of the eventual FLAMEJOB album. They had never shared this process with anyone before. I am forever honored.

Lux would spill brilliance at every turn, the littlest things had his mark all over them. He once sent along some works in progress on cassette, labeling it ‘The Cramps On Drugs’, crossing out ‘Drugs’ and writing in ‘Medicine’ above it. One of hundreds and hundreds of brilliant ideas constantly flowing from him. Lyrically, his mind was of a higher form of life.

From DRUG TRAIN: “You put one foot up, you put another foot up, you put another foot up, and you’re on board the drug train.”

From INSIDE OUT AND UPSIDE DOWN WITH YOU: “From your bottom to your top, you’re sure some lollipop.”

When the album was finally finished, Lux and Ivy had me over to their house in Los Angeles to hear it. The three of us sat in their meticulously clean and fantastically furnished home, and listened to FLAMEJOB together. They glowed with pride and they deserved to, having made their best album yet, full of all the fire it’s title accurately describes.

The Cramps were never afforded national TV or any radio play of substance. We released ‘Ultra Twist’ as a first single, and when it entered the alternative charts, the band would actually hear themselves on the radio in some cities. Either Lux or Ivy would be sure we knew. And when our publicist Lisa Barbaris, got them on Conan O’Brien, Lux was over the moon. His band was finally going to be on television, a medium he’d been so influenced by as a teenager. Warmed our hearts to deliver this for them, and they always were thankful. He asked if he should tone it down for the broadcast, “God no, go over the top”. Which he did. But to ask first, again proved his respect for others and his responsibility to those he worked with.

It’s impossible to forget the many, many pulverizing moments of Lux on stage, and also realistically impossible to chronicle them all, but here are three:

1 – Playing The Ritz in New York during the LOOK MOM NO HEAD tour, Lux was hit dead center by a hurled high top sneaker. Seamlessly strutting over to it in very high black heels and what was left of a tattered and stage weary matching pair of synthetic pants, he picked it up, filled it with red wine, drank every drop and returned it deep into the shocked audience without flinching or missing a beat.

2 – At Trenton’s City Gardens, where the stage was accessed via a walk from the dressing room through the crowd, usually along the right wall, Lux began the show in a two piece jungle red, thin rubber ensemble, with matching spikes and a string of pearls. As the mayhem progresses, he eventually breaks a bottle of wine, using the glass to slice up his outfit. First of all, the tight rubber pants, although red, had a skin-like implication, so that as he sliced, the unsettling illusion of tearing his own flesh aghast the crowd. As the pants retreated from the damage, Lux was suddenly wearing a few fringes of rubber, much like popped balloons, shamelessly revealing all. Once the sonic annihilation of encore, ‘Surfin’ Bird’, was complete, the band needed to get back to the dressing room. A bit tricky when you’ve now decimated your clothing. Not a problem for The Cramps though. A spotlight suddenly flashes onto that side wall. Lux leads the band through the now parting sea of a crowd, wearing what’s left: the heels and the pearls, and flawlessly returns to the dressing room, Ivy, Slim and Harry, equally beautiful, following behind.

3 – A real feat was accomplished by Lux over a two night engagement in ’97 at London’s Astoria. The second night being the greatest theater I have ever seen by a band in my entire life. And the first night started the process. Lux then slyly began a slow but steady loosening of the stage floor boards near the drum kit via his legendary mic stand iron works. That second night, he continued the process. Even the sight of a shirtless and joyous John Peel being body surfed atop the mosh pit could not top Lux. By the time of the final encore, ‘Surfin Bird’, Lux had chewed up one of Ivy’s boots, teething it puppy style. He picked Ivy’s strings with his teeth, as she lay on her back, arching herself in a yoga stance with Lux between her legs separated only by the guitar, simulating the most erotic oral sex imaginable, all set to a soundtrack of screeching feedback. He had now abandoned all but his g string and heels along the way. Once that sonic crescendo of white noise feedback had been reached, whereby Ivy, Slim and Harry have left the stage, Lux scales the top of the right PA, partial mic stand and 2 bottles of half drank wine in tow. He proceeds to guzzle one, then the other, pitching both onto the stage’s center, where he began the evening. Of course they smash into shards. He then dives from the PA onto the broken glass, microphone in mouth, howling as you would know him to have coined, lands front torso onto the glass, slithers himself snake-like towards the loosened floor, and with mic stand now doubling as a crow bar, proceeds to undo enough of the remaining bits to make his exit into the darkness of his self made floor cave. No one was ready for this. The roar of those 3000 people still makes me tingle. It has to be the ultimate rock and roll moment of civilization, past, present and future. Backstage after the show, Lux is sitting quietly picking bits of glass from himself, and asks humbly, “How was it tonight?”

Lux knew he was an untouchable performer, but he never used his knowledge of this talent arrogantly. He was just the most amazing spirit and always will be.

Marie Knight

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Listen: Cry Me A River / Marie Knight
Cry Me A River / Marie Knight

Hey thanks Vicki Wickham, for keeping this one since the 60′s. Yes, it was part of her 45 collection that I was gifted by Saint Vicki herself last fall.

You know, I love you Vicki Wickham.

Let’s talk about Vicki Wickham. We first met in ’89, when she managed Phranc during her Island days. I remember exactly where we first shook hands: backstage at the Beacon Theater, in the the very stairway where Ahmet Ertegan took his last spill. Phranc had just hired her, and was at that time on tour with The Pogues.

I was actually meeting thee Vicki Wickham. The one that booked READY! STEADY! GO!, managed Dusty Springfield, co-wrote ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ with Simon Napier-Bell, produced Labelle. The one who not only booked the infamous Saville Theatre series, brought the Motown Review to England, worked at Track Records with The Who, Thunderclap Newman, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Marsha Hunt, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, John’s Children, and yes, The Cherry Smash; but also knew Scott Walker…and Brian Jones. I was nervous and in awe. Vicki Wickham was a higher form of life.

Fast forward. Nowadays, we meet often for lunch, on 9th Ave and 44th Street at Marseilles, possibly her favorite restaurant. She always orders the asparagus omelette and eats about half. I grill her for details: RSG, The BBC during the 60′s, Rediffusion Television, Top Of The Pops not to mention every band and everybody she ever encountered. Did she visit the Immediate Records office, Deram, Philips, Fontana. What was the Ready Steady Go canteen like, did she know Tony Hall, Steve Marriott, Inez Foxx, Joe Meek, Dozy. When did she last speak with Andrew Loog Oldham, P.P. Arnold or Madeline Bell…..we cover, discuss, judge and trash tons of people. Yes, we are guilty. Needless to say, there’s never a loss for topics.

On one such occasion last year, she mentions having just found boxes of 45′s in storage, and the only one she can remember seeing in the whole bunch was the Bessie Banks ‘Go Now’ UK A label pressing. Was I interested in the lot? That’s like asking Alago, Duane, Joe and I if we’d like a free bump in the VIP bathroom at The Ritz in the 80′s. Ahh, yeah.

Vicki, you ARE a saint, and a beloved friend.

And you turned me on to Marie Knight. Praise be.

Redds & The Boys / Trouble Funk

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Listen: Movin’ And Groovin’ / Redds & The Boys
Movin' And Groovin' / Redds & The Boys

Back in ’79, MCA had a freak hit with Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers ‘Bustin’ Loose’. I distinctly recall our head of radio promotion being amazed at the record’s surprise success and frustrated too. Black radio wouldn’t play the single, only the white pop stations were airing it.

Fast forward a few years, Go Go is now officially a musical genre and movement, but the same tired radio resistance kept all those great singles off the urban airwaves.

But in ’85, Island was headstrong in aiding this musical cause. Signing a bunch of acts to singles deals, some to full albums, then packaging them together for a few nights of serious nasty grinding at The Ritz. I’ll never forget those shows. EU, Mass Extension, Trouble Funk.

The real truth: Redds & The Boys, they were crazy great. Even the worst dancers lost shame, made fools of themselves and did not care. I know cause I was one.

Onstage, ‘Movin’ & Groovin’ did not end, and not a soul wanted it to. Talk about a signature song. These guys were so locked it was scary. They seemed ready to take on the world. What the fuck happened?

Listen: Trouble / Trouble Funk
Trouble / Trouble Funk

When I joined Island in ’88, their mailroom was knee deep in Go Go records. Praise be. I grabbed handfuls of them all.

Like Redds & The Boys, and all the others for that matter, Trouble Funk suffered from the same curse: misguided production and mixes. The drum sounds were so wrong. To be honest, the team around these recordings were a bunch of self celebrating studio churls. Hacks basically having their moment in the sun. Damn shame. Because live, these bands ripped down anything in their way.

Real drums. That’s it. The processed drums fucked it all up. Someone should remix all these records, take off that ghastly wash of cheap studio technology. Because the foundation is here, on every last one.

Bootsy producing ‘Trouble’. Great call.

Now Bootsy, you need to remix and reclaim this.

Gloria Lynne

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Watermelon Man / Gloria Lynne

Listen: Watermelon Man / Gloria Lynne
Watermelon Man / Gloria Lynne

Michael Alago and I worked together at Elektra for ages. We’d first met when he booked The Ritz a few years prior. The great times and mischief we got up to at that label, it’s an HBO series waiting to happen. Michael’s one of the great A&R people out there as well, having signed Metallica, Alan Vega, White Zombie, Nina Simone. It’s pretty hard to top his track record.

There was a moment when we were sent on a mission to find some classic artists for a series of Nonesuch jazz releases, those that might still be active, but hadn’t recorded in a while. This was a perfect reason to have an extended champagne lunch at BicĂ© on the company card and brainstorm a list. Gloria Lynne came to mind. After a few phone calls, we found she managed herself and got her home number from the fellow who booked The Blue Note at the time, name escapes me. Turns out her’s was the exact same as Michael’s, bar the last digit.

In those days, we used to get back to one of our places, four or five in the morning, fresh from another night at Danceteria or The Ritz, still ready to go; seriously. Sad but true. We’d often dial her number up to that very last digit, deciding it was time to make the call, then chickening out. Thankfully.

Check out her rap at the end of ‘Watermelon Man’. This is so blatant, so nasty. Lil’ Kim has nothing on her.


Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Listen: Barracuda / Heart HeartB.mp3

Heart had the bad timing of critical mass appeal around ’77, just as punk was our religion. Talk about a jinx. Heart were helium coated, corporate, Lee Abrams AOR gack. They were literally nauseating. And loathed. Well, not by the masses, but those of us who felt we were in the know, with proper taste.

In hindsight, they were fascinating, for every sonic reason listed above. Now their glistening studio perfection is bizarrely intoxicating, addictive even, very much like the Roy Thomas Baker Queen productions and almost alien.

As with most of the big bands of the day, the ones radio rammed down our throats (REO Speedwagon, Journey, The Doobie Brothers), I always ended up having a guilty pleasure or two by each and every one. Heart were no exception.

Listen: Nothin’ At All / Heart Heart.mp3

I absolutely loved ‘Nothin’ At All’, right down to the apostrophy in it’s title, mainstream turned up to eleven production and all. Then there’s the picture on the sleeve. A styling faux pas representing everything that had gone horribly wrong with American AOR radio. Indeed, it exemplified why it eroded music as an important part of US culture. But I loved that single. Still do – more than ever actually.

Somewhere in the mid/late 90′s, there was a benefit at The Ritz, after it’s relocation uptown to where Studio 54 was once housed. Don’t recall the cause, but the headliners were Joey Ramone and the Wilson sisters from Heart. They had a side project at that time: The Lovemongers. And that’s who played on this occasion.

I went along with Joe. He had a bunch of friends backing him that night, playing some classics by other bands as well as a few from The Ramones, and was kinda in an ‘everyone come along for a laugh and a few beers’ mood.

Heart’s original road manager, Kelly Curtis, who went on to manage Pearl Jam, was with Ann and Nancy. Kelly and I became great friends in the early 90′s. He helped me out in life when I really needed it – in a big way and I’m always thrilled to see him, particularly as this was very unexpected (I think he was passing through town that day – or something). So he invited me into to meet Nancy and Ann.

By now, my venom for their music had long past, and it was a pleasure to sit and talk with these two incredibly lovely people. At one point, trying to make an extreme point, I quantified it with, “but don’t mind me, I love Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich”. Ann sits straight up and exclaims ‘I love Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich too’. Instant fast friends. We dug into songs, details and how we first heard them – as fans do. Somewhere in the conversation mix, I mention my other, at that time, obsession: Sunbeam mixers. Nancy’s guitar tech, in the room at that moment, whips round and says “You’re into Sunbeam – me too”. Ann says “He really is – show him”. So this guy takes off his T shirt, turns his back to me and proudly displays a ton of Sunbeam toaster tattoos across his torso. All the classic models.

Yes, hard to believe but every word of the above is true.

The Ramones

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

RamonesBonzo, The Ramones, Joey Ramone, Johmmy Ramone

Listen: Bonzo Goes To Bitburg / The Ramones RamonesBonzo.mp3

No one said it better than Seymour Stein: “A band like The Ramones don’t come along once in a lifetime, they come along once”.

Somewhere on the west side, either 14th or 23rd Street, they were recording a few songs. Damn if I can remember where.

As I recall it, there was a single to do between albums for the UK and the band had a song they figured would work. Well not John, but the others that is.

Around 10 pm, the phone rang. It was Joe. Did I wanna go to The Ritz for a drink and oh, could you pick me up? Couldn’t have come at a more boring moment, I was alone for the weekend. Got in the Honda, and headed over.

I remember this as clearly as looking in the mirror. He jumped into the front seat. There was definitely something about the expression on his face, eyes almost bugging and kind of panting, breathing anxiously. “You gotta hear this song, can I play it, it’s a rough mix but you gotta hear it”. Ah – yeah!

In went the cassette. I guess I was luckily the first person to hear it outside of the studio walls. Joe kept watching for my reaction, beaming at the same time. How could he not. The Ramones had just finished recording one of the greatest singles of all time.

I pulled over on 2nd Ave. I had too. This sounded so fantastic it was almost unbelievable. We listened a few more times really loud. It was warm, windows open, perfect until more than a few kids, awestruck at seeing Joey Ramone sitting in this car, started to clammer. God bless him, Joe had time for everyone, autographs, pictures, you name it. It often took us half an hour to go a couple blocks from his place to eat – every walk of life stopped him on the street, fans, foreigners, even cops, always. So after a bunch of hellos, it was time to drive along.

You see, one of The Ramones biggest fans was Joe himself. So he had no problem with my insistence we drive a bit and keep listening. We went round and round town, up the east side, through the park, down the West End Highway, playing this for at least an hour, probably two. No exaggeration.

Does life get any better than a memory like that?


JoeyJukebox, Joey Ramone, The Ramones, Jukebox Tab

Above: Jukebox Tab signed by Joey Ramone

Below: One of the few clips that actually captures their sheer power.