Aug 262010
 


For some time The Back Office and I have discussed the concept of running one-question interviews. In fact, we tried to nail down such an interview once, when we were approached to review Eagles guitarist Don Felder’s autobiography. The one-question interview is best reserved for major artists who are too busy to sit down with us for an extended chat. The question should be a question that you feel only you have the insight and balls to ask. Felder’s camp considered our offer, but he was already booked for some 2:00 am appearance on CMT.

For years prior to launching Rock Town Hall I’ve kept a pocketful of single questions that I would ask some of my favorite artists, if I ever had the chance to run into them.
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Jul 282010
 

The Rock ‘n Roll Caterer takes five, in 1985!

Years ago, when my wife and I were first dating, we ran into one of my old musician friends on a street corner. His long hair and slacker Shaggy Rogers facade hid the fact that he was a gentle, thoughtful guy whose only vice was sweets. After continuing on our way, she said something like, “Band members have this reputation for being tough and cool, but whenever I meet them they’re usually the nicest people in the club.” From 1978 through the 1980s, Penny Rush-Valladares interacted with rock stars galore while running Backstage Cafe, a concert catering company in Kansas City, Missouri. In the process, Penny became a member of the Kansas City rock scene herself. From both the tales on her website, Rock and Roll Stories, and our conversations about her her experiences, it quickly became clear that Penny was among the many nice ones in the rock scene, super nice.

But this hard-working, rock ‘n roll-loving hippie (in the best sense of the term) isn’t beyond dishing more than her patented turkey dinners. In the course of our talk we gain some shocking insights about the likes of Roger Waters, Neil Diamond, and Bob Dylan – not to mention a story about Van Halen that’s more disgusting than I would have thought possible. A key detail about a diminutive purple presence in the ’80s rock scene explains so much, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the true spirit of the Halls of Rock, Penny brings a cheerful attitude, a bruised-but-not-beaten sense of idealism, and the willingness to let it all hang out. You won’t run into a Penny on any old street corner.

Penny’s website chronicles some of her earliest rock ‘n roll stories, including her night with The Beatles; we start with her entry into rock ‘n roll catering.

RTH: Can you summarize your work as a rock ‘n roll caterer? How did you get started as a caterer for touring musicians? You were initially based out of a certain venue, right?

Penny: Well, yes and no. I worked out of the Uptown Theatre in the beginning, helping another woman and learning the ropes. But it soon extended out into other venues. It was in its infant stages and we made it up as we went along. Basically we had to come up with a little dressing room food for the artists and some crew dinner for 20 or so guys. The reason I got involved was because I loved going to concerts and wanted to be backstage, so I soon realized there was a need for food and I knew that was something I could do.

It just kept evolving and demands from the artists kept getting more involved and official. A contract “rider” came along, which listed all the particular needs of each act and their food requirements were included. So it didn’t take long for me to start specializing in concert catering. I never wanted to do other kinds of catering, because I was only doing it to be backstage.

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Jul 102010
 

“Mr. Mod, you got a problem with my hat?” (Photo by Ragephoto.)

A few weeks ago we received an e-mail from Andy Shernoff, founding member of The Dictators and a longtime rock ‘n roll agent provacateur. It turns out Andy was an occasional reader of Rock Town Hall and wanted to let us know he was coming to Philadelphia with his rock memoir/solo show, When Giants Walked the Earth: A Musical Memoir. You can read our little write up of that show and follow some links to the man’s very cool career here. Let’s just say that the The Back Office staff and I were thrilled and honored to learn that a guy who’d had his hands in so much of our shared musical heritage knew what went on in these hallowed halls. With the palms of our hands red from high-fiving, we asked Andy if he’d answer a few questions for us. Andy glady agreed before realizing what kind of piercing, nerdy questions he’d be getting from the likes of us. Nevertheless, the man took a deep breath and gave it his rock-nerdsage all!

Andy brings his When Giants Walked the Earth tour to The Rosebud Bar in Somerville, MA, outside Boston, this Saturday, July 10. I encourage our Boston-area Townspeople to attend. But that’s not the only place you’ll be hearing (and have been hearing) him in the coming week: “I just did a cool deal…,” he tells me, “Major League Baseball is using The Dictators’ version of ‘California Sun’ to promote the All-Star Game. This recording is from the demo that got us our first record deal and was the very first time I ever stepped into a recording studio. Truly bizarre!!”

Among his other activities Andy plays with The Master Plan, a party-rock supergroup that includes Keith Streng and Bill Milhizer from The Fleshtones and Paul Johnson from Waxing Poetics – and that features contributions from Hoodoo Gurus’ Dave Faulkner, who recently represented Australia in the Rock Town Hall World Cup of Rock ‘n Roll.

But enough of my yapping, let’s get on with our chat with Andy Shernoff…after the jump. Continue reading »

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Feb 122010
 

Among the many joys of moderating Rock Town Hall is getting turned onto musical perspectives new participants who stumble into our hallowed halls feel comfortable putting on display and then possibly getting to know a bit about the people themselves. There’s so much an opinionated rock nerd like myself can assume and so many opportunities for those assumptions to make an ass of you and me. The outrageous assumptions we make can be an ongoing source of fun, provided they allow for some true dialog.

A recent thread by Townsman BigSteve on the reissue extravaganza surrounding RTH icon Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music gave me yet another chance to have a giggle, in part, to cover my ignorance on the subject at hand. To my surprise and delight, however, the topic attracted a new Townsperson to our ranks who goes by the RTH handle armyofquad. His personal tale in the Comments (read here and here and here) of helping to instigate the reissue of this controversial album in many of the formats in which Lou intended his work to be heard was both inspiring and too interesting to let slide with nothing more than our beloved giggles. I contacted armyofquad offlist to ask if he’d be willing to field some questions from a music lover who’s gone 46 years being completely ignorant of quadraphonic sound and newer surround-sound media.

Talk about assumptions, I assumed armyofquad was at least my age and possibly even one of those “audiophile asshole” guys I dreaded from my youth, you know, the kind of guys who were more interested in Japanese imports of some godawful fusion band because it highlighted the highs and lows of their kick-ass hi-fi system. It turns out, he’s 30 years old, a musician himself, and a lover of music itself before the technology. As is so often the case, I was happy to learn that I am an idiot who still can’t get past a few teenage scars!

BigSteve, another intelligent Townsman who’s less likely to make broad assumptions and who’s also managed to learn little to nothing about quadraphonic sound in his years in front of stereo speakers, contributed to the following questions. Townsman armyofquad provded answers that he hopes will not get too technical for our fellow neophytes. I hope you enjoy this chat with a fellow Townsman over a musical niche as much as I did. As a takeaway message, as long as we keep an open mind to new perspectives, our ribbing is doing its job to “tenderize” ourselves to true rock dialog rather than simply hardening our armor with snark. Let’s get it on, shall we?

RTH: Thanks for agreeing to discuss your interest and experiences in quadraphonic sound. As a guy who’s challenged by all audiophile issues, some of these questions are likely to be “dumb.” But as a math teacher once told me, “There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers.”

Because we met you through the recent Metal Machine Music thread, let’s start with Lou Reed in quadraphonic sound. Did Lou release anything else in quad? Is there a non-quad Lou Reed album you’d most love to hear in that format?

armyofquad: Metal Machine Music is the only Lou Reed album to have been released in quad. I would love to hear more Lou Reed in quad or surround. I think Transformer, Rock ‘n Roll Animal, and Berlin would be great in surround.

RTH: You said in our MMM thread that someone gave you a quadraphonic system and that you got into the format that way. Did you have an interest in any other high fidelity systems prior to that, or was quadraphonic sound your
first foray into a deeper level of appreciating recorded music?

armyofquad: By the time I had gotten that first quad system when I was in high school, I had already gone through a few different older stereo systems that were handed down to me by family members. When I got into college and got on the internet, that allowed me to start more research into quadraphonic, and sound systems in general. So, I certainly already had an interest, but while I was getting into quad I also at the same time got more into high fidelity, and picking up better stereo equipment to try a piece together a better system. My current system continues to be a work in process.

RTH: What is the rationale for quadraphonic sound and current-day formats, like Dolby 5.1 sound? We only have two ears, so isn’t stereo sound natural
and ideal?

armyofquad: The “2 ears” argument is a common argument from some. There are still those that will claim mono is better than stereo. But, in the real world, sound surrounds us. We have the capability of detecting whether sound comes from in front of us or behind us with our 2 ears. Surround sound offers someone more freedom when creating an album in the studio.

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Apr 202009
 

I owe the Philadelphia Library (Cottman Avenue branch, to be exact) an apology. And some money. I used to transfer SEPTA buses to and from school at that spot. There was a pretty cool record store next to the library with punk and new wave records. A couple days a week I’d stop in the store and marvel at the records, posters, and buttons. It was at this store I’d buy the latest copy of Trouser Press, which was tapping me into a way out of the doldrums of late-70s rock ‘n roll. One day I actually stopped into the library instead. I was researching something for a class, when I noticed that the library had records — and so the research was put on hold. Flipping through the bins I found a copy of an album I’d been reading about, Television‘s Marquee Moon. I took the record home and quickly became so entranced by its hypnotic, woven guitar parts and impressionistic lyrics that it became part of my permanent collection. About 10 years ago, I finally removed the album sleeve from its thick, plastic protective library sleeve and accepted the fact that I would never return it to the library.

While a lot of the punk bands I was getting into tapped into my boyhood love of energetic, mid-60s British Invasion music, Television took my understanding of punk rock back to the hippie rock I used to listen to in my uncle’s bedroom, more expansive stuff like Traffic and Jimi Hendrix. The rocking songs, like “See No Evil” and “Friction,” contained twin-guitar riffs and short, explosive, melodic solos worthy of Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds and early Hendrix. The mid-tempo songs, like “Venus” and the epic title track, built slowly, doubled up on themselves, and allowed me to sit in my shade-drawn room and drift off as I did as a young boy listening to “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” on my uncle’s 8-track.

The sleeve for Marquee Moon didn’t give much information, but one thing I noticed was credits for who played what solo. I learned that most of the driving, biting solos were by Richard Lloyd while most of the cleaner, spacey solos were by Tom Verlaine. During the verses, though, there was no telling who played what. For an aspiring punk, flashy guitar heroes had become a joke. Television found a way around this, allowing us to absolutely love the guitar heroism while not getting bogged down in the notion of guitar heroes. It was an approach that showed a way forward for punk rock, that suggested there was a future after all. I hope the Philadelphia Library can understand my moral lapse.

For whatever reasons Television was unable to capitalize on their smoking debut, releasing a fairly flat follow-up album and then, 14 years later, a reunion album that smoothed out the fluid rhythm section of bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca. The band would tour, on and off, over the next 14 years, but a fourth studio album would never arrive. Lloyd quit Television in 2007, and has since kept an active pace, touring and recording with his own band, The Sufi-Monkey Trio. We talked in anticipation of his tour, which brings him to Philadelphia today, and he explained his big move. “Television commands good money when we play live, but we hadn’t made a record in 14 years, and you know, Tom is impossible to deal with.” Lloyd explains that it was time to finally move forward. “In order for me to sort of go my own way, you know, I couldn’t have a first loyalty, which I had maintained for 35 years to Television. If I was working on my own projects and Television wanted to do something, I would drop what I was doing for Televison, because I had made a magic circle around Television, but Tom didn’t respect it, and so what.”
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Apr 012009
 

Schlitt with fan at the Playboy Mansion, March 2002.

Rock Town Hall recently caught up with former Head East lead vocalist and founder, John Schlitt, moments before ducking into a rehearsal with his re-formed, brief-lived, post-Head East band, Johnny, to prepare for a short tour later in April that will take the band to Hudson, WI; Fort Yates, ND; Peoria, IL; and Sioux Falls, SD. “I’m really sorry I don’t have much time,” said Schlitt, while graciously accepting our unexpected request for an interview, “We’ve got a lot of work to do!”
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Dec 122008
 

The first Major League game of baseball I ever attended was a 1973 Oakland A’s game in Oakland. I was 9 and I don’t remember who they played but I do remember that it was “Official Oakland A’s Baseball Night” and all kids received a baseball with the A’s logo on it. Players were available for autographs and I got me some.

Shortly thereafter we moved back to Phoenix. No major league baseball…but we had Spring Training and every year my grandfather gave me season tickets to… the Oakland A’s training in Scottsdale. This gave me tremendous access to gather autographs on my team ball. At the peak I had; Rollie Fingers, Paul Lindblad, Ray Fosse, Catfish Hunter, Ken Holtzman, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Phil Garner, Ted Kubiak, Vida Blue (who insisted on signing with a blue pen), Joe Rudi, Manny Trillo, Billy North, Dick Green and Philly favorite Chuck Finley.

The only other sig I really, really wanted was Reggie Jackson

And I got my chance.

I was at a Spring Training game with my dad and hustled down mid inning to get a hot dog and who should be in line right in front of me…Mr. Reggie Jackson. He was on the injured list that day with a broken toe. My dad was watching me from the back of the top of the bleachers. We made eye contact and without a word he dropped down my baseball and a pen. I flagged the ball and scooped the pen off the ground and asked Mr. Jackson for his autograph as he left with his hot dog and Coke…

“Get outta here kid! Can’t you see I’m injured?!”

My dad was pissed, took my ball and pen and started off for the dugout. I stopped him. I didn’t want that guy’s autograph anymore.

I followed baseball for a few more years. The A’s disbanded, most going to NY, and I tried to become a Yankee fan. But that just furthered the bad taste in my mouth. Reggie, the Yankees and a growing dislike of all things JOCK, put me off baseball for close to 20 years…

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