Archive for the ‘Michael Alago’ Category

X

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

X - See How We Are

X - See How We Are

Listen: See How We Are / X
See

Let me tell you one thing. We are very, very lucky, because X still exist and tour regularly. In fact, they may be more powerful live than ever. The original lineup of Exene Cervenka, DJ Bonebrake, John Doe and Billy Zoom has been reunited for several years now and are doing deservedly great business. There’s a lot of sense in sticking out that long stretch that usually ends in legend.

Now X certainly are legends. So many reasons: right up there with Johnny and Ivy resides Billy for greatest guitarist, flawless and razor sharp at every given moment. DJ still the powerhouse metronome, Exene the most magnetic and perfect female front person of her generation, and John, one of the greatest voices ever with those ‘desert at night’ tones only Jim Morrison rivaled. When singing or harmonizing together, John and Exene would actually create a 3rd voice, their timbres meshing so perfectly. Two singers, three voices. Pretty unique. And as writers, forget it. Yes living legends. More honest, hard working, and appreciative people you will not find.

Back in the Elektra days, I was very lucky to be their A&R guy, making several albums with them, and over both lineups. After Billy left in ’86, Tony Gilkyson joined, fitting the bill effortlessly. An incredible player as well and guitarist on this track. When Tony left around ’97, Billy rejoined to present. A&Ring them was a two fold experience: always rewarding, always frustrating.

Rewarding because at the studio, you knew this was the best place in the solar system to be, watching John and Exene through the control room window mastering a vocal take on one mic live. Wow. It still gives me tingles.

But frustrating knowing how the promotion department would have a difficult time with programers, and most likely accept defeat easily while sharing a $100 bottle of wine with some program director.

Like all the greats, X couldn’t get their fair shake from radio. Bob Krasnow loved this track when he heard it. He walked into my office late one evening around 9 pm. We were all still there, everyone stayed late. It was a company full of people who loved their jobs and glowed in the success of the label that all had contributed to in some way. No one ever got fired. We never worried about that. So Bob says “I hear you brought back some new X ruffs from LA. I want to hear them”. I handed him an unfinished version of ‘See How We Are’ on cassette and he left.

This track was actually started at Capitol Studios on Hollywood Blvd and it was haunting wandering around those halls with Exene, talking about the legends in framed pictures, that had recorded there prior. It was that work-in-progress version I had given him, and I knew the song was ace. Sure enough, ten minutes later he’s back at my door. “This is fucking incredible, they are the voices of rebellion. This, Kevin, is important stuff”.

I can hear his words as plainly now as when he spoke them, God love him. Words from the guy who had produced Ike & Tina Turner and Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, and now in praise of X. For whatever reason, we released ’4th Of July’ as the first single from the SEE HOW WE ARE album against Bob’s instincts. He thought that was too commercial, too formula when played up against ‘See How We Are’, but the radio department felt it was more palatable, singable, like Springsteen. Actually, it was all those things and yes, it too should have been a hit. He said, “You always have to put your best foot forward, you only get one chance”.

He was right. Even though as Chairman, I don’t know why he didn’t force the team to go for this single but he didn’t. Although released as a 12″ to radio, the commercial 7″ was cancelled. Only a handful of finished sleeves (pictured) and three test pressings were made. I think Howard or Alago got the third. I have the other two. You always need a safety copy.

A dealer recently asked how much one was worth to me, he wanted desperately to buy it. I said “It doesn’t have a price tag but for everything else, there’s Mastercard”. He got nasty, called me an arrogant cunt. Seriously, he did. Not exactly the way to get that second copy off me despite his admittedly accurate description of my response.

Listen: Highway 61 Revisited (Again) / X
Highway

Thanks to reader Mark Deming, his suggestion to also post ‘Highway 61 Revisted (Again)’ was a superb one. All this time, I thought it had come out as a bonus reissue track or part of a cd comp. Wrong. So here it it for all X fans to worship, as I do.

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.

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 Bicé 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.

The Stone Poneys / Linda Ronstadt

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Stone Ponies - Different Drum

Listen: Different Drum / The Stone Poneys StonePoneysDifferentDrum.mp3

Ok, so a follow up single isn’t always better than the hit preceding it, as was maybe the case with ‘Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water’. It’s hard to top ‘Different Drum’. In fact, Linda Ronstadt never did. At least I don’t remember her doing it, possibly due in part to my general lack of interest toward country leaning music back then.

‘Different Drum’ was indeed another story though. It became a radio staple not long after Jefferson Airplane’s somewhat similar sounding ‘White Rabbit’, and at the same time as both ‘Itchycoo Park’ by The Small Faces and ‘Zabadak’ from Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.

‘Different Drum’ felt a bit psychedelic, even though it wasn’t. Maybe it was by association. Nick Venet was the producer and his work covered many genres. As a Capitol in house employee, seems he was handed all their youth culture signings of the day, thus slotting The Stone Poneys sessions between The Leaves, Lothar & The Hand People or Hearts & Flowers. It was one of many historic times at the Capitol Tower.

Stone Ponies - Up To My Neck picture sleeve

Listen: Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water / Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys StonePoneysUpToMyNeck.mp3

Long before Simon Cowell, the ruthless corporate machine gnawed it’s way through bands, carving out the superstar for investment and mainstream marketing, leaving the other members to survive somehow. As when Clive Davis butchered Big Brother & The Holding Company for Janis Joplin, so too, it seems, did Capitol decimate The Stone Poneys for the asset now known as Linda Ronstadt.

‘Different Drum’ by The Stone Poneys was literally still on Billboard’s Top 100 when ‘Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water’ was released as Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys. Housed in a full color sleeve, big things were expected. The record stalled at #93, but the setback was only temporary. She skyrocketed. It’s a great single despite the misery.

Linda Ronstadt was particularly critical of The Ramones, having gone to CBGB’s, catching an early performance and trashing them the very next day in a local New York paper. It was a hurtful moment that they talked about on occasion. So when Elektra threw a rather lavish party for her in New York, upon release of a successful new album, CANCIONES DE MI PADRE, the mischievous idea of inviting the band was impossible to resist and they were happy to attend.

We all met at Paul’s Lounge on 3rd and 10th, now a drug store, for a drink, then proceeded uptown to the event. Monte of course came along, Michael Alago and Arturo Vega did too. Everyone cleaned up on designer Mexican food, the album theme being traditional Mexican folk songs, and waited patiently for her to make the rounds, greeting her guests. The moment when she turned towards our table was classic, but it was too late to turn back. Obviously, she’d not been forewarned. Her look was priceless. DeeDee smiled and stared very menacingly, John just glared. Joey, after about five or ten seconds, decided to break the silence with “So Linda, long time no see”.

Nervously: “How are you guys doing?”

“We’re fine” replies John before she’s even finished her last word.

Incredible singer, successful artist but at that moment, Linda Ronstadt was stumped. Wincing, she backed away and slithered into the crowd.

Touché.

Eydie Gorme

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Listen: Blame It On The Bossa Nova / Eydie Gorme
Blame

Michael Alago got a pair of tickets for Frank Sinatra at Meadowlands in ’90 and made me crazy until I agreed to drive us over to New Jersey for the show. Am I ever glad he did. The seats were fantastic, maybe 6 rows back. The show was an event and in the round. One of the walkways was very, very close. Not that Frank ventured down them much. He was 75 and it was to be was his last area appearance ever.

Support act that night: Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme. Now they traveled those ramps a bit more, with between song banter that was risque, 50′s nightclub style and funny as hell. The music was easy listening, clearly catering to the demographic in attendance. Michael and I were the youngest people there without a doubt.

I was really hoping Eydie Gorme would break into at least a snippet of ‘Blame It On The Bossa Nova’, I mean it’s her biggest chart success ever (#7, ’62). When comically introduced as a bigger hit than husband Steve Lawrence ever had, she did what seemed like an extended version, shaking the dance down the ramp with her partner. Our evening was made…well not counting Nancy Sinatra sitting near us in the audience.

I remember ‘Blame It On The Bossa Nova’ from the adult radio station playing at Carmen’s Babershop, where I’d get my haircut as a little boy. Always a fascinating half hour or so of records that now fit in perfectly as bachelor pad classics, it was where I first heard the song.

Makes sense now why it caught my ear. Brill Building. It’s one by writers Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, and they’ve written a lot of songs we all know. Basically, girl group stuff.

Also loved this short period for Columbia. The orange label and and matching sleeve didn’t last long.

NINA SIMONE

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Listen:  Four Women / Nina Simone

Listen: Four Women / Nina Simone Nina4Women.mp3

Michael Alago signed Nina Simone to Elektra in ’92, and I’m pretty sure she made her last studio album as a result. Michael, at that point, was very friendly with her, having been an ardent fan for several years. Nina was living in LA at the time, and during October of that year, she and Michael were together doing pre-production in some studio off Hollywood Blvd.

I was in town for The Cramps as they were preparing FLAMEJOB for my label, Medicine, and had timed the trip around a three day run The Ramones were doing at The Palladium (10/14 – 16, to be exact). It was a fun one.

Both Micheal and I, as well as Johnny Ramone, Arturo Vega (The Ramones’ career long light & design guy) and Monte Melnick (their tour manager), all shared birthdays within days of each other in that exact time frame, so Alago decided to have a pre show dinner party at The Hollywood Athletic Club to celebrate all five, as well as his Nina/Elektra signing.

By then he was having a slightly difficult time getting her to record the songs he wanted. On that particular night, it didn’t help that I was enamored with her Philips period stuff. She and I sat across from each other at this long table. With Nina right next to Joey, she just got into deep details about her time with that label as soon as we asked. It was fascinating info, I was even interested in what she could recall about the actual Philips offices, which surprisingly was a lot. Plus the details of the studios, her engineers and the small, small recording budgets of the day.

‘Four Women’ was a much played single then as now, and after a LOT of champagne on her part, I suggested she re-record it for the new album. Michael at that moment was sort of standing behind her in his constant buzzing around, good host style, and just whipped his head toward me, eyes bugging and frantically hand motioned behind her head to STOP. Panicked and pissed all at once, he kept up this silent communication, but too late, she was now on a ‘Four Women’ roll. Her assistant, like Nina with back to Michael, opinioned that it was timely, and might be a good idea.

So fuck it, I threw in, “and you should make a video”.

Nina announces loudly “Michael, I want to make a video for ‘Four Women’ “.

Listen:  Four Women / Nina Simone Juke Box Tab

This was about to go very wrong when he seamlessly circles round behind me and says, “Before you forget, you should get Nina to do your jukebox tab now, and you know Nina, if we redo ‘Four Women’, Philips will just try to reposition their version and not pay you like they still don’t”.

Good move Alago, as that’s all she needed to be reminded of. End of idea, end of dinner and onward to The Ramones show (with signed jukebox tab in wallet), sans Nina.

The KLF / Tammy Wynette

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

KLFTammyUKPS, Tammy Wynette, Artista, The KLF

KLFTammyUS, Tammy Wynette, Artista, The KLF

Listen: Justified & Ancient / The KLF Featuring Tammy Wynette KLFTammy.mp3

The last time Tammy Wynette played New York was October 25, 1994 at Town Hall. I’d scored a pair of tickets off a friend at Epic, Michael Alago came along with me. She was spectacular. Despite all the health scares, there were no physical signs of anything but beauty and strength. The voice was other worldly. We sat awestruck the entire time. She did all the hits and should’ve-been hits. Her stories were both personal and fun.

At one point, she thanked her label Epic for their loyalty and support since the 60′s and asked if anyone from the label was present, to please stand, asking the audience to give them a round of applause. No one stood. No one from Epic bothered to go. It was humilating for her and us. And this was a living legend.

Brilliant move on The KLF’s part getting her to vocal ‘Justified & Ancient’, also known as ‘Stand By The Jams’ in the UK. Rivals The Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield as top collaboration ever.

Public Image Ltd.

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

pil-pil, Public Image, Public Image Ltd., PIL, Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, Virgin

pil-pil-ps,Public Image, Public Image Ltd., PIL, Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, Virgin

Listen: Public Image / Public Image Ltd. PublicImage.mp3

It could have been awful, and left a nasty void, had John Lydon not delivered as powerful and contemporary a debut single for his new band as this. Do you remember the video that accompanied it? Equally great.

Johnny Ramone always planned to quit before the band got “fat, bald or lazy”. Despite everyone coaxing he and Joey back to the stage after their ’96 retirement, they did leave a timeless image of themselves, just as John planned, by never doing so. Whether by design or not, The Sex Pistols are in the same boat.

Lydon often hung out with Michael and Howard at Elektra around the time ALBUM was released in ’86. What a fucking hysterical guy. No question, he was a great night out.

Alan Vega

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Wipeout Beat / Alan Vega

Listen: Wipeout Beat / Alan Vega
Wipeout

1983, the year before Howard Thompson offered me my first real job doing A&R for Elektra, I was finishing an electrical engineering degree at RIT in Rochester. I was part of a popular local punk band and apparently a good candidate to anchor a two hour weekly show on the town’s AOR station. The program was called ‘Import/Export’. The point being to play all the very happening music the college and underground kids were devouring and giving the station a touch of needed cred, as well as allowing them to sell spots to local clubs promoting those bands as they passed through town, and charging the labels for some time buys on these releases without really having to play this uncommercial music during the earlier hours, when people actually listened. I was thrilled and should have appreciated it more, as no one has ever offered me a similar opportunity since.

When visiting town last year, I gave the station a listen. It’s an interesting, but sad, time warp, still playing ‘Iron Man’, Styx, J. Geils Band, things I can’t even remember now that dropped my jaw when they came on, a playlist that recently put some of the employees responsible for this programming out of jobs. Oh well, they stifled music culture for long enough. My show, hidden at midnight on Tuesdays. was hosted jointly by Roger McCall, a more wonderful person you just will never meet.

Roger and I would play ‘Wipeout Beat’ weekly for months. Like Marianne Faithfull’s ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’, it constantly gets overlooked when the press sites early music that helped start electronica and dance are sighted. Produced by Ric Ocasek, as was Alan’s band, Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’, Roger and I would not answer the constantly ringing request lines as we blared this on 11, a high point of the evening for us always.

When I joined Elektra a year later, Howard and Michael Alago, who signed Alan to the label, introduced me to him and we became amazingly close friends quickly, closing Danceteria almost nightly with booker Ruth Polsky, visiting UK bands like Sisters Of Mercy, The Smiths or New Order, Joey Ramone, Arturo Vega, Mickey Leigh, Monte Melnick, Marina Lutz, Duane Sherwood, a then, unibrowed, Madonna, and of course Howard and Micheal.

With Marty Rev, his other half in Suicide, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by seeing one of their very occasional New York shows. You won’t need to spend either much time or money on going out again. They are so powerful, it’s almost unbelievable. How the likes of Beyonce etc. aren’t lining up to get Marty’s beats onto their new recordings is shocking. Why acts get out of bed in the morning trying to compete with Suicide is quite baffling to me.

Unfortunately, the reality is that a few years back, Roger was cruelly and needlessly murdered. His killers are still unfound. Given that he worked at the station I refer to above, WCMF, for something like 30 years, I heard he may have been the longest employed DJ at any US rock radio station, I’m shocked that, despite the large voice and influence WCMF had in that market, they didn’t use it to bring any attention or help to finding the people who did this, not stopping until justice was served. But no, only more archaic music numbly being broadcast as though nothing had happened.