I don’t know why, but recently it occurred to me that Brian Eno may give off the most pleasant odor of all rock ‘n rollers. Although early photos of him find him in poses worthy of Channel and other great perfumiers, I doubt early Eno smelled anywhere near as fresh as I imagine modern-day Eno to smell. By some accounts I’ve read young Eno was living on the edge. Despite a likely liberal use of artificial fragrances that would rival those of the protagonist of Huysmans‘ Against Nature, he probably reeked of smoke and groupies’ sweat.
It’s the early ’80s Eno, the ambient Eno, the Talking Heads‘ producer Eno, who I imagine developing advanced bathing techniques, extracting herbal oils, and even modifying his diet to ensure an around-the-clock, seasonal blend of pleasing, understated aromas. A morning ritual of, say, a rosewater bath, a dab of rosemary oil behind each earlobe, and a light brunch of fennel and braised squid before heading off to a day’s recording with U2 may have added as much to the magic of the band’s sessions for The Unforgettable Fire as Eno’s Oblique Strategies deck of cards. Eno probably kept a pot of chamomile tea steeping at all times to help drown out the more, uh, pungent odor of engineer/coproducer Daniel Lanois.
I bet Chris Martin of Coldplay appreciates the ambient scents that Eno brings to a session. A dank, musty studio is no place for Gwyneth and the kids to drop in. The girls love it when Eno smells like a chai latte.
So, I’ve made my case for Brian Eno as the Rocker Most Likely to Give Off a Pleasant Odor. Can you think of any other rocker who may smell even more delightful?
John Wetton: yet another good egg enters the Halls of Rock
Following a tosssed-off aside in a recent analysis/appreciation of a Lark’s Tongue in Aspic-era King Crimson performance an immediate groundswell of support gathered around the previously inconceivable notion that John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson, Roxy Music, UK, Family, Uriah Heep, and much more) was the Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock.
To clarify, it’s not that Wetton’s good looks had previously been inconceivable but that good looks ever played a part in the brainy, challenging progressive rock scene. In the wake of this discussion Townspeople were polled, and between the results of nearly 1000 voters and a panel of rock experts, Wetton was officially deemed – once and for all – The Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock.
That’s the silly part of the story. We managed to contact Wetton for his thoughts on this distinction (“I’m delighted to be deemed a cute pig in the litter,” he replied). Better yet, he agreed to an interview with us. It’s the following interview, one focusing on his musical experiences rather than beauty tips, that’s the most appreciated thing to come from a silly notion and an unexpected encounter with Wetton and a broad swath of prog-rock fans.
As you probably know, if this is even your second day in the Halls of Rock, Rock Town Hall regulars tend to be deeply immersed in the music we’ve lived through. Musicians like Wetton, whose careers have woven through a broad swath of rock history, can be especially enticing as interview subject. We spend more time than the average person contemplating Rock’s Big Issues, and who better to hear from than musicians who’ve straddled eras, genres, and band responsibilities? In the following interview, John Wetton provides insight on these issues and displays an enthusiasm for and confidence in his musical ventures and colleagues that I found refreshing. I hope you do, too.
RTH: How is your health, John, and what are you working on these days? Did I read correctly that been at work on projects with both Asia and Eddie Jobson?
John Wetton: My health is good, thank you—having survived (with enormous help on both counts) two life-threatening conditions, I’m being a little more circumspect, but still have a lust for life and a desire to enjoy the journey, regardless of the destination. I’ve just completed 50 dates with Asia–in Europe, USA and Japan—we complete the world touring for 2010 with a 5-date UK tour before Christmas.
I played 3 dates in Poland with Eddie Jobson last November, “for old times’ sake.” It was generally regarded as a UK reunion and was great fun, but we have no plans to extend that run right now. It was a terrific band–myself, Eddie, Marco Minneman, Tony Levin, and Greg Howe.
[NOTE: Mogul Thrash would spawn not only Wetton but two the founding members of Average White Band, which Townspeople also know as the band that gave us RTH hero Hamish Stuart.]
RTH: Your career must be a dream for writer Pete Frame and his Rock Family Tree books. The earliest band I knew of that you were in was Family, but I learned that you were in an earlier band that recorded an album, Mogul Thrash. The music sounds in the jazz-rock vein of Soft Machine and Colosseum. Prior to Mogul Thrash, were you already rooted in jazz and improvisatory music?
JW: I guess my name would have cropped up on many of Pete’s Family trees, but I did most of my band-hopping in the ’70s—since then I’ve done side projects, but the bulk of my work has been either with Asia or as a solo artist.
Jazz was never really an influence until I was in my early 20s, when I started to listen to some fantastic players–John McLaughlin, Miroslav Vitous, Herbie Hancock. My huge early musical influence from around age 5, was my brother, a church organist and choirmaster. Piano is my first instrument.
RTH: At the same time, you’ve also displayed a strong pop sense through your career. As a boy, were you more a Beatles or Stones fan?
In honor of the recent RTH interview with Martin Belmont I want to have a look at his first band, Ducks Deluxe, and the later careers of its members to see what it tells us about the evolution of British rock in the ’70s and afterwards.
As Martin says in the interview the Ducks specialized in rough and ready rock and worked best when focused on frontman Sean Tyla. Mr. Mod already posted the one good clip of the band playing one of its signature songs live, but here’s the studio version of “Coast to Coast.”
It was the opening track of their eponymously titled first album, and I love the way Tyla welcomes the audience with “All right, kids, are you readuh?” We’re going to talk more about him later, but Tyla was a real character, and he specialized in this kind of straight ahead, almost Springsteenian rock. Here’s “Fireball.”
Tyla also liked to write about imaginary Americana, so there are songs with titles like like “Rio Grande” and “West Texas Trucking Board.” The problem with Ducks Deluxe as a recording band is that you can’t really have a whole album of uptempo rockers like that, and they faltered a bit when it came to ballads. Also, there were two other songwriters in the band, our buddy Martin Belmont and Nick Garvey, and the vocals on those songs are much less distinctive than Tyla’s. Here’s Belmont’s “Something Goin’ On,” with later Ducks bassist Micky Groome on vocals:
The different styles of the songwriters just seem to make it a little hard to get a fix on the identity of the band. Live this probably would not have been so much of a problem, and the excellent covers on their albums (Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown,” Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law,” and Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now”) give some other hints of why they were popular on the pub rock circuit. But as usual in this genre their records didn’t sell, and they disbanded in 1975.
They had a decently selected best-of LP named after another of their signature rockers, “Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonight.”
It was issued in 1978, I assume because the members had achieved some fame in subsequent bands. I don’t think it ever made it out of the vinyl era, but you can probably find a copy. Despite their lack of sales at the time, they are now pretty well-represented on CD. Their two regular albums (the second one is called Taxi to the Terminal Zone) are available as a twofer. And there’s a second twofer with their third record, which was an EP, some stray tracks, and then the first album by the Tyla Gang, Sean’s next band, again about which more in a minute. The Ducks have actually reformed recently for some European dates, and they’ve issued a very nice, newly-recorded EP called Box of Shorts, which, except for being much better recorded, sounds pretty much like the original band. Here’s a clip of them performing a song from the EP, “Diesel Heart,” in Stockholm last year:
Since this first posted, we’ve learned this is Brian Eno & The Winkies, from a BBC appearance. Seems this live band only supported Eno on a handful of gigs. All four songs from this session are now included for your pleasure. Thanks, BigSteve!
Somewhere on the Web, I believe on some Roxy Music site, there’s a very brief (20 seconds?) clip of Brian Eno and musicians in the studio, playing “The Paw Paw Negro Blow Torch.” I was really excited when I found this clip. I can’t find it at the moment, but supposedly it’s from a movie that was made of Eno in the studio at this time. I’ve never been able to find another frame of the movie on the Web, and it’s hard enough finding anything at all written about it. Just now I tried to find a capsule review of the film that I’ve seen before, but no dice: just a bunch of stuff regarding Eno’s work with U2 and Coldplay. Even a film and rock collector friend has had no dice finding a print of this film or more than the brief descriptions that we’ve occasionally run across. This guy’s got all kinds of obscure films in a warehouse, but he can’t get a sniff of this Eno film we so badly want to see.
Luckily I keep a bunch of stuff around, in a not so organized fashion, including CDs of mp3s I downloaded about 8 years ago on a computer that long since died. The IT guy at my old place of employment was able to extract all my precious downloaded mp3s and mpgs, including the following two: live tracks in the studio, I believe, of Eno and bandmates – possibly from this very film! I especially love the straightforward, Stonesy rhythm guitar of this version of “The Paw Paw Negro Blow Torch.” Enjoy.
Rock collaborations between major artists can result in fantastic outcomes. I’m not talking about rock’s legendary one-shot duets, such as Ja-Bo or “Ebony and Ivory,” but full-blown collaborations or instances in which one established artist produces a slightly less-established artist. I would think that fans of one artist or another may feel that their favorite in the collaboration either lifted his or her collaborator by the bootstraps or, if the favorite artist was the perceived submissive partner in the collaboration, been held down or otherwise tainted by the more-popular partner. Following are just some collaborations. You tell me which artist benefitted most from the collaboration, which artist suffered, or if the collaboration was a rare case of a win-win partnership. In other words: Who wins? Who loses? Feel free to focus your thoughts on any one of these pairs. Feel free to call in a new pair for discussion. I expect we will have some initial disagreement.
You may recall David Byrne: Leader of Talking Heads. Intimate collaborator with the visionaries from Brian Eno to Twyla Tharp to Robert Wilson. (Would rock fans in the early ’80s have even known that the latter two existed if not for their collaborations with Byrne?) Curator of cool Brazillian and other music on his Luaka Bop label. If the name and face are still fuzzy, the following clip will likely ring a bell.
Whatever happened to that guy? I heard he’s put out some solo albums over the years. There was a good song from one of those albums in that movie with Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Scarlett Johansson. One day I almost bought the album that contained that song, but I sampled the rest of the songs and they didn’t come close to matching the generally strong album cuts on Talking Heads’ highly underrated swan song, Naked.
Recently I was surprised and excited to learn that Byrne and Eno had collaborated on a new album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Visions of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts danced in my head! You can stream the whole thing here, but I wanted more. I was pretty sure this would be worth owning. Before I even listened to the stream I acquired the whole album.
The opening track, “Home”, was nothing to write home about. It sounded like a warmed-over track from Eno and John Cale’s mildly underrated collaboration, Wrong Way Up. This is not to criticize the Cale-Eno collaboration, because it’s pretty good, especially the songs Cale sings.
The new Byrne and Eno album had to get better, but even the best tracks sounded no better than one of the few tolerable songs from Talking Heads’ all-around worst album, Speaking in Tongues. Beside “Burning Down the House” that album was a heaping bowl of plain spaghetti! What’s the point?
After 2 dozen spins of this new Byrne and Eno record, here’s my relative favorite song from Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.