Posts Tagged ‘Punk’


by Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory

Decades ago, in my 20s, I took up piano en route to getting a degree in music theory/composition. I’d taken a couple of years of lessons as a ‘tween with an incompetent teacher who hadn’t even taught me to count, and then gave it up in frustration a couple of years after I started, thinking the problem was with me.

When I hit 25, I decided to go to school, and rather than choose a money-making, academic-track, or scientific career, I decided to do what I really wanted to do: music. I was essentially at ground zero, and had to learn an instrument. I chose piano, because I at least had some technical rudiments.

For the next five years, while taking a full load, working 20 to 40 hours a week, and shutting down the bars two or three nights a week (hey, I was in my 20s), I practiced three hours a day on piano damn near every day. I was fairly decent by the end of those five years.

For the next year and a half I was a t.a. in grad school (since you asked, Washington State), where I continued to practice three hours a day, while teaching 9 credits per semester (ear training and class piano) plus assisting with another 8 credits of classes in theory, all for $350 a month, out of which they took tuition. I spent an entire winter walking up the hill to the department with one of my feet in a cracked boot, with my foot wrapped in plastic bags to avoid the wet, but not the cold.

At the end of that time I was utterly disgusted. I hated two of the three people on my committee, they hated me — the department was giving m.a.s to outright incompetents, but me? Hell no; they simply wouldn’t do it — and I was tied to the written page. I could sight read like a son of a bitch, and could also realize figured bass at full speed at first reading, but could I improvise? Not a chance.

More importantly I was nauseated by the snake pit, by the departmental politicking, so at the end of my third semester I took my loan for the following semester, bought a 1961 Rambler, loaded all of my shit into it, and took off for San Francisco.

An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front coverThen I quite playing for eight years.

But two years after I escaped academia, I decided to put my time there to good use, and wrote An Understandable Guide to Music Theory: The Most Useful Aspects of Theory for Rock, Jazz and Blues Musicians. It was a wise move, as the book was well reviewed and has sold considerably north of 10,000 copies over the years.

A few years after I wrote the book, I started playing guitar in a regular jam session with some other SF musical hippies. My technique was nonexistent, but my time and phrasing — thanks to my time in academia — was right on. We were doing a lot of off time and compound meter stuff which was all over the map and which, thanks to Bartok, I had no problem with.

Front cover of The Drummer's Bible Second EditionAt that juncture, I talked my longtime pal Mick Berry, an excellent New Orleans drummer, who hadn’t played in ten years while pursuing a futile career in stand-up comedy, into coming out of musical retiremen and playing with us. That eventually led (with co-author Jason Gianni) to See Sharp Press’s best-selling music book, The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco.

Two years after that band started, by which point I was almost a semi-decent guitarist, my dad had a stroke, and my parents wanted me to move to Tucson to help. (A horror story all its own, which I won’t get into here.)

Once in Tucson, I realized there were only two ways to go: blues or country. (Jazz/avant garde shit was out of the question; punk paid as badly — not at all — as it ever did.) The choice was easy.

I shortly started making musical friends and playing in a blues cover band (yours truly, bassist, drummer, and vocalist). A few years into it, I started, in my late 40s, to write tunes.

Since then, it’s been a succession of ever-evolving blues bands, involving people I barely knew to people I loved dearly who killed themselves with booze and hard drugs. (See Slow Motion Suicideabout my closest friend and longtime bass player Randy Oliver.)

After that, more evolution. First as Pinche Blues Band, with just me, wonderful bass player Jaime DeZubeldia, and my now-longtime friend and musical partner Abe Acuña doing both drums and vocals. I loved it. So much fun. I could just stretch out whenever I wanted, without fear of running into anyone else.

Following that we went through a lot of permutations, most notably with the addition of extremely good player and nice guy Fred Hartshorn on keys/sax. Following a bunch of personality b.s., we just reformed and will be hitting the circuit shortly.

Throughout this time (2005 to present), I’ve been writing more material, sometimes with Abe, sometimes by myself, and sometimes with former bandmate, great vocalist, and lyrical genius Brian Hullfish.

Lately, I’ve also started playing with Paul D, a former session guy from NYC, who’s an extremely talented bassist, guitarist, and vocalist, plus Fred and drummer Dave Miller.

I’m mostly playing bass, plus doing occasional lead vocals, which has given me a fresh appreciation of how good the bass players I’ve played with over the years have been, and how hard vocals are.

It’s a revelation. Bass playing at least is a hell of a lot of fun. (At least so far, vocals not so much — I’m filled with shame.) And bass playing is challenging. Here are probably the best examples of the bassists I’ve played with:

I hope you find this at least interesting if not useful.

Hail to the bass players, if not Hail to the Chief (and fuck that lying, bullying, narcissistic, seriously mentally ill piece of shit).

Cheers,

Chaz

 

 

 

 

 

 


by Zeke Teflon

My longtime friend Gary Lee Russell, best known as the guitarist and songwriter for the punk/new wave band Killer Pussy, died yesterday. I knew him for over 45 years. He was a really nice, funny, talented guy.

We first met in Phoenix in the early 1970s via mutual friends, and were soon involved in various types of drug- and alcohol-fueled insanity. One version of that insanity was KDIL (“The Big 16” — “Getting it said for Satan!”), a pirate radio station that took its name from a paperback book one of the DJs found at a book sale, “Dildo Torture.”  After a period of gathering equipment, we were on the air in early 1972. (One polluted late night shift a few days after we went on the air — I don’t remember a thing about this, but my brother swears it’s true — Bob the Gimp and I read the entirety of “Dildo Torture” aloud over the air.)

Tunein.com has a good description of KDIL, using phraseology from the station itself.

KDIL’s studio high atop the Satanic Tabernacle of Wickenburg

“KDIL is a pirate broadcaster from the 1970’s in Phoenix and Tempe, AZ. A religious broadcaster, the legacy broadcast originates from the Satanic Tabernacle in Wickenburg, AZ. KDIL features Rock, Rap, Dance, Swedish Blues and the inspiring German vocals of Heino. The KDIL DJ talent lineup includes Buster Hymen, Roger B. Protection, Ellis Dee, Harley Farley, Hal Murray, Eddie Satan, Dick Nixon, Rollo Sabatello, and The Countess. [Gary, among his other DJ monikers, was “Richard Nixon”: “This is Dick, sticking it to you.”]

“KDIL has run many great contests, including the ‘Acid Swarm Phone Ripoff’ and the ‘Off the Pigs Weekend’ with big prizes. KDIL’s sponsors include Mr. Rory’s Hyena Tripe drive-thru restaurants, Cactus Patch Citizens Band World, and Zorba’s Adult Books in Scottsdale, AZ.”

Of these “sponsors,” Zorba’s is the only one that actually existed. Gary worked there around the time KDIL was on the air, and we would often hang around after the place closed smoking dope surrounded by skin mags, dildos, and autosucks.

One evening, for lack of anything better to do, we decided to pay a visit to John Sage during his evening talk show. Sage was the local equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, and broadcast on, as I recall, KPHX. The studio was a tiny glass booth in the middle of a mall on Central Avenue, and the place was entirely deserted in the evening except for Sage ensconced in his booth.

To prepare for the visit, we looked through the skin mags at Zorba’s searching for the most disgusting, most explicit ones we could find, and finally settled on a gay fist-fucking mag and one titled “Truckin’ Mamas,” featuring 400-pounders.

That evening we drove with our pal Harley Farley in his pink Cadillac from Zorba’s on Scottsdale Road over to the KPHX booth on Central. Once there, we carefully removed the centerfolds from “Truckin’ Mamas” and the fist-fucking mag and taped them up on the glass booth, at eye height, directly in front of Sage. He was the only one there, so he had to either avert his eyes or look at the photos at least until the next commercial break. (This was well before surveillance cameras were the norm, so we didn’t even try to disguise ourselves when we taped up the photos.)

At the time, in addition to DJing on KDIL, working at Zorba’s (and previously, along with yours truly, at The Back Door Theater — “Parking and entrance in the rear, for your privacy”), Gary was playing guitar in funk bands. The one I remember best was 30 Weight, in part because one evening I saw them playing at Fridays & Saturdays, a sleazy rock joint (black popcorn ceiling, red velvet on the walls, shag carpeting, tiny little tables, half-clad waitresses in slit skirts) on the river bottom between Scottsdale and Tempe. That evening, their drummer got loaded on reds and passed out, slumped over his drum kit in the middle of a set.

30 Weight were a popular band, and in 1971 or 1972 Gary told me that they got hired to play the Miss Watts Festival in L.A. He told me that he was the only white guy there out of five or ten thousand people.

In 1974, I escaped from Phoenix, and saw Gary only sporadically over the coming decade, usually when I made my once-a-year obligatory holiday trek to visit my parents over xmas.

Toward the beginning of the 1980s, Gary had his nearest brush with fame, as guitarist and songwriter for the very much tongue-in-cheek Killer Pussy. They were part of the early ’80s Phoenix punk scene, along with The Meat Puppets and The Feederz (biggest hit, “Jesus Enters from the Rear”), and were quite popular. Not enough so that any of them didn’t have to have day jobs, but popular nonetheless. Among other things, they toured California and appeared on “New Wave Theater” on the USA Network.

Around the last time I saw Gary in the ’80s, Killer Pussy had their biggest hit, “Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage” (1982), which subsequently was packaged by Rhino Records as part of its “worst records ever recorded” CDs. Shortly after the release of “Enema Nurses,” the band disintegrated, largely because of people quitting and because of the death of the band’s drummer and Gary’s good friend, John E. Precious (another nice, talented guy who died far too young).

After the band expired, Gary went into a downward spiral of alcohol and drug abuse (crack, meth, tobacco), and ended up on the street for the better part of a decade. The drug/alcohol abuse and depression were due, in part, to his musical dreams crashing; he had always thought he’d make it as a musician, never developed any job skills, and ended up working awful, low-paying jobs. When he worked, he work as a cabbie and later, when he could no longer do that, as a dispatcher.

To avoid jail, because of DUIs, he eventually left Phoenix and moved to San Diego to be near to his sister.

In the early 2000s he pulled himself out of his nosedive, got on SSD, and quit drinking and doing drugs for several years, while living in a trailer park in Lemon Grove. During those years I talked with him on the phone on a regular basis, mostly joking around, talking about old friends, and shooting the shit about music. He even got it together to record two self-produced CDs, as the Turquoise Orchestra, which never went anywhere.

Then things went to hell. About five years ago he started drinking again, and was soon drinking heavily (cheap whiskey and malt liquor). He continued to smoke heavily, and two years ago got rid of his phone so that he’d have more money for cigarettes and Steel Reserve.

I never spoke with him again. There was no way to reach him, and he never called me (or any of his other old friends).

Last year Gary could no longer care for himself and went into custodial care.

He died yesterday.

What a damn tragedy.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. Its protagonist, “Kel Turner,” is based, in part, on Gary Russell.

Free Radicals front cover

 


Cover of "The Bassist's Bible: How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco(Excerpted from The Bassist’s Bible: How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco, with some additional information taken from The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco, by Mick Berry and Jason Gianni)
The Punk attitude/musical approach surfaced in the mid to late 1960s in, arguably, UK Rock n’ Roll groups such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks. In the United States, around the same time, proto-Punk groups included The MC5, The Stooges (fronted by Iggy Pop), and the lesser known The Count Five. Other less directly related U.S. groups of the time included The Seeds, the Velvet Underground, and Blue Cheer. In the early 1970s, The New York Dolls of the short-lived “Glam” Punk movement continued the trend. By the mid-1970s, the Ramones were playing high energy music which concentrated on rebellious posturing, both musically and lyrically.

In 1977, the British group The Sex Pistols won worldwide recognition with their pivotal album, “Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols.” This album firmly established the Punk genre and—hearkening back to The MC5—brought to it overt political content. At the same time, the even more political The Clash debuted with their influential, eponymous “garage-sound” album, “The Clash.”

The rebellious style of the Sex Pistols and The Clash gave rise to countless other UK and North American groups in the next wave of Punk known as “Hardcore,” with bands such as the very political (anarchist) Dead Kennedys, MDC, The Germs, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag leading the pack.

In the 1980s, Punk entered the mainstream through groups like Generation X and the still active, more polished-sounding The Clash. Perhaps, paradoxically, because of this mainstream acceptance, the musical momentum of Punk soon dissipated, despite the 1984 hit movie Repo Man and its popular, all-Punk soundtrack. In spite of its musical eclipse in the mid-1980s, the Punk subculture continued to flourish throughout the decade, providing Punk bands with a supportive (in spirit, if not financially) audience.

Punk music and spirit had a great resurgence in the early and mid 1990s with “Grunge” music and the success of the Seattle sensation, Nirvana. Grunge is to be (slightly) distinguished from Punk in that Grunge bands sometimes employ quiet acoustic passages interspersed with loud, Punk-style sections in their songs, often in a formulaic manner (brilliantly parodied by the Austin Lounge Lizards in their “Grunge Song”). Punk music thrives today through popular bands such as Green Day and Blink 182. A more recent Punk trend is “Garage,” with the most prominent bands being The Hives, The Vines, The Strokes, and the White Stripes (unique in this genre, as they have no bassist). Other notable modern Punk bands include Social Distortion, Jimmy Eat World, Rise Against, Voodoo Glow Skulls, My Chemical Romance, NOFX, Yellow Card, Bad Religion, Fall Out Boy, Alkaline Trio, and You Me At Six.

Musically, Punk is a relatively simple style featuring stripped-down instrumentation — generally bass, drums, one or two overdriven electric guitars, and a lead singer (almost always with no back-up vocals) —and rhythmically and harmonically simple songs which are generally played fast and at ear-splitting volume. (The dynamic range in Punk songs varies normally, if it varies at all, from very loud to unbearably loud.) As defiance is its defining attitude, Punk lyrics usually deal with despair, anger, teenage angst, aggression, and politics. When they are employed, background vocals are often sung in unison with the lead vocal or limited to shouting.

As Punk music and culture had little or no initial support (and outright resistance from) the music industry, Punk musicians developed a do-it-yourself approach, which manifested itself in “indie” record companies, fanzines, self-promotions, tours set up by the bands themselves, and mail-order record sales (the latter as early as 1979).

In keeping with this approach, Punk musicians, bassists included, typically avoid and even shun formal musical training (like early Surf bassists), prefering to learn their instruments by playing in a band. As attitude is respected more than technique, Punk bassists are often less familiar with music than either their drummers or guitarists.

Though many abhor technical expertise, most Punk musicians take great pride in their music’s execution. Playing bass in this aggressive, loud style can take huge amounts of endurance and concentration.

For info on the Punk attitude, see The Philosophy of Punk, by Craig O’Hara. The following quotation from Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong serves as a wonderful example of the Punk attitude: “Punk is not just the sound, the music. Punk is a lifestyle. There are a lot of bands around who claim to be Punk and they only play the music; they have no clue what it’s all about. It’s a lifestyle I chose for myself.”

In the film Punk Attitude, by Don Letts, Roberta Bailey, CBGB scene photographer, describes the punk scene: “You didn’t have to wait to start doing something. If you wanted to do it you could try doing it.” Later in the same movie, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders describes the beginnings of the English Punk bands: “That was the beauty of that scene. Everyone got a band together. And everyone was in a band.”

Discussing the early bands’ musical maturation and their breaking away or moving on from Punk, she says: “Punk inherently was going to have a short life-span because the beauty of Punk music, anyway, was that no one could really play very good. And what happens is that if you get into music, and you actually like playing and you want to make music your life . . . if you wanted to pursue that, inevitably you got better at your craft.”

Contrary to Hynde’s statement, Punk hasn’t been short lived.