Oct 252010
 
Originally posted April 4, 2007.


Pinky Rock is the style of rock that centers around the rhythm guitar playing that is most readily identified with Chuck Berry, the Godfather of Pinky Rock. Surely this style of guitar playing existed before the age of Rock ‘n Roll, but from Berry’s pinky one of the building blocks of the genre was born.

In the Pinky Rock style, the guitarist uses his or her pinky, in most cases, to hammer from the 5th note onto the 6th note of the Barre chords he or she is playing. Sometimes the pinky continues up to the 7th note. This guitar style sets up rock’s all-important backbeat. Other rhythm section instruments have been known to incorporate this hint of the 6th note and 7th notes, most notably the piano or organ (eg, Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”), but the style of Pinky Rock, per se, specifically requires use of the guitar…and, most likely, the pinky. (Played in open-chord style or using intervals, as Pete Townshend might do in his rare uses of this style [eg, “Long Live Rock”], the ring finger can be substituted.)

Along with Chuck Berry, the commonly acknowledged Masters of Pinky Rock include Dave Edmunds and Keith Richards. John Lennon and George Harrison were particularly strong Pinky Rock practitioners but not quite as groundbreaking as the aforementioned. Consider them along with Buddy Holly and Angus Young, the style’s top advocates. Billy Zoom of X performed some of Pinky Rock’s finest variations, but he never committed to the style the way Edmunds did on his cover of “I Hear You Knocking”.

Pinky Rock is sometimes confused with a style of Jangle Pop. It’s not. Although the techniques share similarities, their intent differs. Jangle Pop guitarists are typically looking for variations and colorings within the established rhythm of a song; Pink Rock guitarist are establishing the rhythm.

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Dec 082008
 

I love pub rock. There’s no clear definition of the style, but it was a mid-70s British phenomenon, a back-to-basics trend that was never wildly popular, a precursor to punk, and many pub rock musicians carried on into the punk era. Brinsley Schwarz is probably the best-known exponent of the style, which I think of as a mixture of black and white musical genres – rock, R&B, country, folk, and pop. The conversation between black and white is what rock & roll is all about to me, and pub rock was a peculiarly British take on that conversation.

I’m going to write an irregular series about pub rock here, and I want to start with a man who could be called one of the progenitors of the style. He was also a player in what could be called the secret history of rock & roll.

Jim Ford is one of those legends that almost no one knows about. If he’s known at all it’s because he wrote the song “Niki Hoeky,” which was recorded most famously by Aretha Franklin on the Lady Soul album. Here’s Bobbie Gentry doing “Niki Hoeky” on the Smothers Brothers TV show. Note the authentic Cajun mise en scene:

Ford’s other claim to fame is that Nick Lowe has cited him as his biggest influence. But let me back up a bit and give a little background on Ford himself.
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Dec 062008
 

After Creedence broke up in 1972, John Fogerty made a bluegrass album called Blue Ridge Rangers in 1973. Then in 1975 he released an album simply called John Fogerty.

I’m not sure why this album went nowhere, maybe Fogerty’s time had passed or maybe there was no promotion. Wikipedia says that “Rockin’ All Over the World” was a Top 40 hit, though I certainly don’t remember that. I thought sure that song had a second life being covered by other artists, but my research (ok, the All Music Guide) only shows that Status Quo recorded it.

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But the other great song on the album, “Almost Saturday Night,” was familiar to me before I ever heard Fogerty do it. Dave Edmunds did a fine version on the Twangin’ album.

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The Searchers did it on their terrific 1981 album Love’s Melodies. AMG says The Burritos, Rick Nelson, the Georgia Satellites, and Gene Clark also did it. Actually I thought both of these songs were more widely covered, but the Edmunds and Searchers albums were big in my world back then. Also I think my memory subsequently mixed in Kimberley (Soft Boy) Rew’s “Stomping All Over the World” (from the excellent Bible of Bop album). Probably influenced by the Fogerty song.

Kimberly Rew, “Stomping All Over the World”

The John Fogerty album is a little covers-heavy, but they’re done well. There are a couple of New Orleans classics – “Sea Cruise” and “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You” – but the best cover is of Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops.” That’s one of those songs you’d think should never be covered, or at least that you couldn’t cover it well, but I love this version. Fogerty throws out the cha-cha feel and just goes with a straight shuffle. He even throws out the whole middle part (“just … give … me a … nother chance” etc) and sticks to repeating the verses. But he hits a nice groove and makes it work, which is surprising since I believe Fogerty did his thing of playing all the instruments (no credits on the album).

Oddly the tracks on this record seem more fleshed out than many CCR records. My theory is that Fogerty was such a control freak with his old band that the backing tracks often seem like demos to me. So when John started playing everything himself it paradoxically gave a more liberated feeling to the tracks.

Anyway the eponymous album seems to have become a victim of Fogerty’s label/legal troubles, so it’s currently unavailable, except for here on RTH.

John Fogerty
“Rockin’ All Over the World”
“You Rascal You”
“The Wall”
“Travelin’ High”
“Lonely Teardrops”
“Almost Saturday Night”
“Where the River Flows”
“Sea Cruise”
“Dream Song”
“Flyin’ Away”

Technical note: This is a vinyl rip, and you may find the sound a little thin and brittle, contrary to conventional wisdom. For LPs I used to use the Loudness switch they always had on receivers back in the day, and that works fine. Nowadays when I listen to these mp3s I use the “bass booster” effect on iTunes. Your mileage may vary.

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Feb 212008
 


I have bemoaned for years, and Mr. Mod can attest (say Amen, brother), the loss of Nick Lowe‘s masterpieces, Labor of Lust and Pure Pop for Now People (originally Jesus of Cool in the UK) to the great digital abyss.

Last time I checked these discs were released in the ’90s and then vanished, showing up in used shops for as much as $89! Puh-leeze.

But you can bemoan a lot less as Yep Rock Records has just released Jesus of Cool (with the original track line-up) and “10 extra non-LP singles, EP sides and compilation cuts that lead up to Jesus.”

AND IT’S ON EMUSIC!!! Sweet. Here’s a bonus cut, originally released as part of the excellent Bowi ep.

Nick Lowe, “Shake That Rat”


RELATED SIDE ISSUE
: Pure Pop for Now People and Jesus of Cool are two of my favorite album titles and they’re for the same album! Has any other album come even close to having two drastically different release titles that are both this bitchin’ and spot-on?

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Feb 192008
 

No dogder, this Roger!

May I begin by sharing with our Townspeople what a thrill it was for me to chat with producer/engineer Roger Bechirian! As a teenager, while intently studying the liner notes of the records that first made me feel as if I’d finally hit on “my” music, music made for me and my bandmate friends, his name kept cropping up. My friends and I never saw a picture of him, and we still don’t know exactly how his surname is pronounced, but this Roger Bechirian fellow was held in very high regard among our band of nobodies.

If I may, I’ll continue in the first person plural, because that’s how strong my love is over this guy’s work – and beside, my old friends and fellow Townsmen, Andyr and Chickenfrank, contributed to this interview. Our introduction to Bechirian was as the engineer on all those great Nick Lowe productions for Elvis Costello and The Attractions. Shortly thereafter, we saw he had his own thing going as producer of The Undertones, the band in our wildest, humble dreams we thought we could emulate.

With Costello, Bechirian produced the one Squeeze album we all agreed sounded great and steered clear of the stiff, awkward moments on their earlier albums. Then we noted his name on the credits for what we thought was The dBs‘ last great single, “Judy”. This guy not only engineered my all-time favorite album, Costello’s Get Happy!!, but he produced one of my favorite overlooked gems for listening to in my bedroom with the shades drawn, The Undertones’ Positive Touch. As Elvis would eventually have an album produced by George Martin engineer Geoff Emerick, we fantasized having an album produced by Nick’s right-hand man. Considering the likely disappointment (for him!) resulting from this fantasized collaboration, his taking the time to answer the tough questions from Rock Town Hall is more than enough wish fulfillment for anyone to bear… But enough of this ass-kissing, no matter how sincere it is! Let’s get on with the questions.

RTH: I’ve read that you were born in India and moved to England when you were a boy. When did you get into music and how did you get into recording?

RB: There was always music on in the house. My father was a big Jazz fan, and my sister would get all the latest hits from the UK and the States. I also played piano, and would spend hours making up my own tunes. We had a tape recorder at home, and I soon started making up my own sound montages by editing various recordings… I did the same thing as you, scouring album credits, looking for the engineering and studio credits. I got my first job training as a mastering engineer, cutting vinyl!

I was so opinionated, and couldn’t stop myself from telling people what I thought they should be doing!

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Jan 022008
 

While listening to (what else) Elvis Costello and The Attractions’ Get Happy!! on New Year’s Eve I pinpointed exactly what made the greatest of that great string of the band’s albums: Nick Lowe’s production. And it’s not so much what he did technically – the drum sound, the choice use of effects, the mic choice – but how he decided to capture the band for each album: that is, he captured the sound of the band. All the Lowe productions through Trust feature the full sound of both EC and The Attractions. The style of music is in no way similar, but scope is similar to what was captured on albums by The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and so many more great albums that I’d sound even more cliched and pathetic by listing them.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions w/Martin Belmont (w/o Steve Nieve), "Little Sister" (Live at the Hope & Anchor)

Imperial Bedroom has the same type of open scope, allowing for the listener to chooose to focus on any one of the instruments. Of course that album was produced by a Beatles’ engineer. Compare the Lowe-produced Costello albums and Imperial Bedroom with all the rest: Costello’s voice way out front and the rest of the musicians kind of canned in the background. On albums like Punch the Clock and Spike I might as well have been listening to Elvis Costello and The Association. The best of the non-Lowe-produced bunch, King of America, also sticks the musicians under glass. Quick: Name your favorite lick in a song from King of America.
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