Sep 122021
Jonathan (left) holding court with me and Sara.

There are people in life who I could not fairly say are my friends, but to whom I feel connected and loyal. Philadelphia music journalist and musician Jonathan Valania was one such person. I use the past tense because I learned on Facebook that he died without his loved ones seeing anything coming. So sad.

I don’t remember when I first met Jonathan – probably in the mid- or late-’80s – but I think he knew me a little bit before I ever put his name and face together. Back then, when I met people at clubs, I was usually in some colored haze. I would have been caught between immense pride and blinding insecurity. If we met prior to 1987, I would have been stoned.

I can’t blame it all on drugs and alcohol, however, as the last time I saw Jonathan in person, just a few years ago, off to my right after one of our band’s shows, I was stone sober. “Great set, Jim,” this tall, easygoing presence said to me. I didn’t have a clue who was complimenting us, which he could tell. “It’s Jonathan,” he said graciously.

Right! I knew that voice, then it started to fall together. We chatted for 15 minutes.

If he’d written me an email from off to the right of the stage, I would have known who it was immediately. We wrote each other notes a few times a year, trading drafts we had in the works, trading behind-the-scenes stories of artists we’d crossed paths with. I think he was first my editor at a free weekly paper, then he enlisted (and cajoled) me into writing for Phawker, his great blog on music and other local cultural topics.

Jonathan was a great editor for me. I don’t take guidance or criticism well, but I always trusted that he valued my voice and whatever I was trying to get at. He was direct. He would gently call bullshit on me. My guess is, he had that rare gift of knowing how to meet people on their terms. To this day, I still rail at how bad people are at “taming” me. Maybe I should learn how to meet people on their terms. With humor and care, he helped me be a better version of my writer self. I will cherish those interactions.

I could rattle off what scant bibliographical details of Jonathan’s life I may or may not have right, but I’ll leave that to his real-life friends and professionals biographers. In terms of our community here at Rock Town Hall, he was a Townsperson. He was a panelist and performer at our first and only live RTH event. He was an early cheerleader, both through his own blog and through those emails we shared. He helped us land an interview or two. He based his own blog’s logo on the Townsman-with-guitar logo that my close personal friend and partner in crime Sammymaudlin developed for us. He was a rock-solid guy off in our corner.

As I said, despite Jonathan being a friendly presence, I’d be lying if I said we were buddies. I did get invited to a Phawker holiday party one year at his loft apartment. I knew a few of his other contributors and actual friends, so I wasn’t too worried about being in a strange place. That didn’t stop me from attaching myself to another Philly music scene writer, Sara Sherr. I don’t think I’m that shy, but this was my first time going into a social event as a “music writer,” one who had been writing under a pseudonym. The night was really fun. Jonathan introduced me to the 10 people I didn’t know as regular, old me.

I’m going to miss getting his advice and support every few years. I’m going to miss being confused by the tall, easygoing presence emerging from the shadows of a rock club to say Hello.

Aug 252021
Who are you calling difficult?

Have any of you trio ever played in a trio? I have not, other than one Nixon’s Head show at the end of a tour in 1987. Having lost our second guitarist shortly before embarking on that tour, we set out as a quartet. On our last show, in Toronto, however, our singer Andy had to fly home early for the wedding of one of his sisters, if memory serves. Seth, Mike, and I played as our emergency trio formation Three-Headed Pig. At least Seth, who was violently ill before the show, tossing cookies in one of the dirtiest rock club bathrooms we’d ever had the displeasure of visiting, was able to get himself together and play drums. Otherwise, Mike and I would have been forced to play as Double-Breasted Wombat. We were actually running through how that set might have been constructed.

My guess is that a lot of trios are formed around an alpha musician, like Jimi Hendrix or Sting or Steve Ray Vaughn. That’s reasonable. If you’re Jimi Hendrix, you don’t need a rhythm guitarist clogging up space.

Being a bit jealous of alpha musicians, I take it a step further and imagine that trios must be composed of difficult, slightly anti-social people. (One exception being a beloved cousin band trio from my youth, Bob’s Revenge, let by our very own Hrrundivbakshi and Machinery.) One of the things I like best about being in a band of 5 or 6 people is the ability to move around and socialize with a wide expanse of personalities. While the singer and drummer are working out a particular fill, I can goof around off to the side with other band members. I don’t think I would have as much fun off in a corner by myself while Andy quotes one of a half dozen fills by either Pete Thomas or Ringo, as he tries to show Seth what he’s got in mind.

I started thinking about how lonely it must get in a trio when Andyr told me about seeing Sleater-Kinney over the weekend. The once-proud, bass-less power trio is now a 6-piece, with a bassist, keyboardist, and second guitarist/mascot. I wonder, after the band’s previous breakup (or was it a planned hiatus) and then Janet Weiss leaving during the making of that slick album produced by St Vincent, if Corin and Carrie needed some extra pals to break up the tension.

What is the average lifespan of a trio relative to a quartet or quintet? Beside ZZ Top and Rush, how many trios have lasted 15 years? (Trios composed of siblings and vocal trios don’t count.)

Andyr and I started talking about this yesterday. He asked, “Did Emerson, Lake, and Palmer last 10 years?”

However long they lasted was way too long.

Aug 242021

I’ve made my share of Charlie Watts jokes around here, including one running theme that I honestly think I may be right about, but learning just now that Charlie Watts has died at 80 is sad. He gets credit for my core sense of a rock ‘n roll beat: the 4-on-the-floor beat driving “Satisfaction,” the song I feel best lives up to the objectives of rock ‘n roll.

Charlie gets credit for contributing to possibly the smoothest, snakiest groove in rock ‘n roll, on “Under My Thumb.” As with so many legendary Stones grooves, it’s a team effort. There’s no showy performance in his repertoire that dominates a particular Stones song. In fact, I’m not even sure there’s a legendary fill to cite, since Jimmy Miller plays those excellent fills at the end of the choruses on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

The beat that I think most typifies the greatness of Charlie Watts – and a beat that even I wouldn’t suspect was played by some other drummer in my most trolling moments – is “Beast of Burden.” It is the beat that appears when you look up “in the pocket” in the dictionary. It’s another team effort, as everyone is locked in. Charlie must have had a lot to do with keeping that lot locked in.

Aug 202021

This one’s easy, but it may reveal more about you than you think. Just finish the sentence:

“There’s a special part of rock and roll hell reserved for…”

It could be anything or anybody: pointy guitars from the 1980s, David Clayton-Thomas, Paul McCartney’s late-90s dye job, “Mighty Like a Rose,” anything. And don’t feel restricted to providing just one answer; the more the merrier.

I look forward to your responses.



The Human Perkulator

 Posted by
Aug 142021
Although Mr Mod lives only a few blocks from here, he won’t trust his hair to anyone but a guy named Richard at Ovations, in Philadelphia.

Ah, how great to see cdm’s reference to Billy Harner and to see Billy aka The Human Perkulator aka Perk appear on a recent thread.

I love Billy Harner and have for 50+ years now. Such fond memories of hearing his “hits” on WFIL-AM and WIBG-AM – the two top 40 stations in Philly for all of you non-Philadelphia Townsfolk.

“Hits” is in quotes because he never charted nationally but he was a hit locally and for a long long time. I never was lucky enough to see him live nor to get my haircut at his shop. Once, probably 25 years ago, I did make a trip from Connecticut down to Upper Darby to see him play in some nothing little restaurant or bar or something only to find that the gig had been canceled.

Anyway, his catalog isn’t very big. A lot of singles, many of which are highly valued among Northern Soul fans, one LP proper, and a couple of CDs most of which are grey area “reissues” of his LP and singles and a 2000 CD with lots of remakes. I have the latter, inscribed and signed, a copy of the LP, and about 20 singles, mostly purchased from old Goldmine ads and from Val Shively’s R&B Records. Memories…

Billy had three local “hits”. Please you should listen to them all.

His biggest was “Sally Sayin’ Somethin’”

My personal favorite has always been “Homicide Dresser.”

The other was the title track from his LP She’s Almost You.

There are a lot more for you to find on YouTube if you are inclined, including live versions of the three above. They are from 40 years after the fact but I enjoyed them enough to wish that gig hadn’t been canceled.

I think Billy is in bad health in recent years and his Website no longer exists. Anyone who knows more details, please let me know.

Oh, and one more song, this especially for Mr. Mod, Perk doing “Magic Carpet Ride.”


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