Born in Philadelphia in 1943, Robert Crumb rose to prominence as a key figure in the American underground comix movement in the late 1960s, creating the legendary underground publication Zap Comix, and introducing us to immortal characters like Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural and Devil Girl.
Crumb has always been critic and satirist of modern culture, but since his height as a counter-cultural icon in the 1970s he has gradually shifted toward a more personal and autobiographical style.
He was subject of the award-winning documentary movie Crumb (1994), and James Urbaniak portrayed him as an affectionate record collector in the 2003 cult film American Splendor, about the life of his drawing friend Harvey Pekar. In one of most major works, Crumb faithfully illustrated a complete comic edition of The Book of Genesis in 2009.
Robert Crumb is also an outspoken aficionado of vintage folk culture and music – especially blues, jazz and country – and he’s had several band projects on his own, along with being a dedicated collector of old 78 records.
In The R. Crumb Handbook (1998) he wrote about The Search For Old Music:
‘I was an eccentric kid, woefully out of step with my own time. I liked old things. I went around wearing an old Abe Lincoln frock coat. I kind of liked some of the early rock and roll records, but I loved the background music in the old 1930s Laurel and Hardy and “Little Rascals” comedies that I watched on TV kiddie shows. (….) There’s a wealth of great music recorded in the 78 era, before the onslaught of mass media profoundly changed everything … forever!’
Robert Crumb has illustrated a large number of album covers over his career, mostly tied to his own lifelong love of vintage sound and culture. This gallery collects some of his finest work to honor his living legacy, and doubles a treasure chest of under-appreciated old-time music, including harmonica blues, jazz guitarists and Louisiana cajun. Opening with one exception of the rule that remains the most famous cover of his career.
Big Brother & The Holding Company: Cheap Thrills
Earl Hooker: Theresa a Fungus Among Us
(Red Lightnin’, 1972)
Various Artists Please Warm My Weiner: Old Time Hokum Blues
The Hokum Boys You Can’t Get Enough Of That Stuff
Casey Bill Weldon & Kokomo Arnold: Bottleneck Guitar Trendsetters Of The 1930s
R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders: Number Two
(Blue Goose, 1976)
Various Artists Harmonica Blues: Great Harmonica Performances of the 1920s and ’30s
The Klezmorim Streets of Gold
Blind Boy Fuller: Truckin’ My Blues Away
Bo Carter: Banana In Your Fruit Basket: Red Hot Blues, 1931-1936
Howard Armstrong: Louie Bluie Film Soundtrack
Memphis Jug Band: Memphis Jug Band
Charlie Patton: King of the Delta Blues
Various Artists The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead
Gérard Dôle: Dans Les Bayous de La Louisiane
The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette: The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette
Various Artists The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Super Rarities & Unissued Gems of 1920s & ’30s
Les Primitifs Du Futur: Tribal Musette
Jerry Zolten & Robert Crumb: Chimpin’ the Blues
(East River, 2013)
Various Artists Why The Mountains Are Black: Primeval Greek Village Music 1907-1960
(Third Man, 2016)
For further enjoyment of Robert Crumb’s music-related works we recommend the book R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country – the complete collection of the trading card sets he created in the 1980s.
Cutting edge i 15 år: Fra 1961 til 1976 leverte Impulse Records utgivelser med en visuell skjønnhet og musikalsk kraft som gir rungende gjenlyd 40 år senere. Med den klassiske svarte og oransje ryggen, med omslag som gjorde hvert album til et kunstverk i seg selv og enkeltstående utgivelser som for lengst har gått inn i historiebøkene, preget ikke bare Impulse jazzen gjennom hele 60-tallet Selskapet bidro til å forme den musikalske utviklingen og reflektere en stigende turbulent samtid – en posisjon de færreste plateselskap forunt.
Fra swingende bop på 50-tallet til ’avant-gardistas’ på slutten av 60-tallet, fra etterkrigstidens optimisme til militante fronter og voldelige urbane opptøyer, fra Armstrong til Ayler: En gjennomgang av katalogen er en reise gjennom musikkhistorien, men ikke på utelukkende nostalgisk billett. Fra det tradisjonelle til de mest utfordrende fornyerne, Impulse har fremdele høy status i dag langt utenfor jazzens innerste sirkler.
Impulse startet ikke som et lite, uavhengig plateselskap, men var i utgangspunktet opprettet av ABC-Paramount for å gi husly til en egen jazzavdeling. De fikk sørstatsmannen, trompetist og produsent Creed Taylor til å bygge opp selskapet. Taylor hentet tidlig John Coltrane inn i stallen, og med sin enorme innflytelse ble han selve krumtappen hos Impulse – og med A Love Supreme (1965) som selve signaturalbumet. Klengenavnet ’The house that Trane built’ har da også blitt hengende på selskapet, ikke bare er mye av suksessen bygget rundt ham – mange av artistene på Impulse var ’elever’ av Coltrane.
Men Impulse ble en hit fra nærmest første stund, med Ray Charles og hans Genius + Soul = Jazz (1961) – en suksess som sammen med storselgere fra Gil Evans og Oliver Nelson også sikret en kunstnerisk frihet. Taylor overlot etter kort tid sjefsstolen til Bob Thiele til fordel for en stilling hos Verve, og det er Thiele som er synonymt med selskapets gylne periode (1961-69). Hans første produksjon var John Coltranes klassiske Live at the Village Vanguard (1962), og blant Thieles over 300 innspillinger finner vi sentrale utgivelser med Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Sonny Rollins, Gabor Szabo, Coleman Hawkins og en rekke andre.
Bob Thiele forlot Impulse et par år etter Coltranes død i 1967, da Ed Michel overtok. Under hans styre fikk Impulse blant annet reutgitt store deler av katalogen til Sun Ra – og som første jazzlabel utga de en rockeskive: Genesis’ Trespass i 1974. På begynnelsen av 70-tallet flyttet Impulse vestover til Los Angeles, og utover på 70-tallet gikk det mest i reutgivelser inntil selskapet ble solgt til MCA i 1979. Sporadiske utgivelser har dukket opp i de senere år, først og fremst har Diana Krall utgitt skiver på etiketten.
Cover-estetikken til Impulse er viktig, og bidro i stor grad til å forme dens identitet. Denne visuelle presentasjonen av noen av deres mest utsøkte albumomslag strekker seg gjennom hele den klassiske perioden, fra Kai Winding og Ray Charles til Archie Shepp og Albert Ayler, fra ’swing to the new thing’ – et bemerkelsesverdig spenn som på en måte virker helt naturlig. Dette er en musikalsk indrefilet som kan nytes i lang tid – både for øyne og ører.
Kai Winding & J.J. Johnson: The Great Kai And J.J. Impulse A-1, 1960 Design: Robert Flynn/Foto: Arnold Newman
Ray Charles: Genius + Soul = Jazz Impulse A-2, 1961 Cover: Robert Flynn
Gil Evans: Out of the Cool Impulse A-4, 1961 Design: Robert Flynn/Foto: Arnold Newman
Oliver Nelson: The Blues and the Abstract Truth Impulse A-5, 1961 Design: Robert Flynn/Foto: Pete Turner
Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Impulse A-35, 1963 Design: Robert Flynn/Foto: Bob Ghiraldini
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme Impulse A-77, LP 1965 Design: George Gray/Foto: Bob Thiele
Coleman Hawkins: Wrapped Tight Impulse A-87, 1965 Design: Robert Flynn/Foto: Charles Stewart
Gabor Szabo: Gypsy ‘66 Impulse A-9105, 1965 Design: Robert Flynn/Foto: Fred Seligo
John Coltrane: Kulu Sé Mama Impulse A-9106, 1966 Design Robert Flynn/Foto: Charles Stewart
Yusef Lateef : A Flat, G Flat and C Impulse A-9117, 1966 Design: Robert Flynn/Foto: Charles Stewart
Chico Hamilton: The Dealer Impulse AS-9130, 1966 Design: Joe Lebow/Foto: Charles Shabacon
Albert Ayler: In Greenwich Village Impulse AS-9155, 1967 Design: Robert & Barbara Flynn/Foto: Charles Stewart
Alice Coltrane: A Monastic Trio Impulse AS-9156, 1968 Design: Robert & Barbara Flynn/Foto: Charles Stewart
Bill Plummer and the Cosmic Brotherhood: s/t Impulse AS-9164, 1968 Design: Robert & Barbara Flynn
Archie Shepp: The Way Ahead Impulse A-9170, 1968 Design: Robert og Barbara Flynn
Elvin Jones and Richard Davis: Heavy Sounds Impulse A-9160, 1968 Design: Robert and Barbara Flynn/Foto: Charles Stewart
Pharoah Sanders: Karma Impulse A-918, 1969 Design: Robert og Barbara Flynn/Foto: Charles Stewart
Albert Ayler: Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe Impulse A-9191, 1969 Design: George Whiteman/Foto: Charles Stewart
Releasing two albums in the late 1960s that set the template for experimental electronic music and DIY culture for years to come, the Silver Apples are true music pioneers.
Comprised of Simeon Coxe on vocals and oscillators and Danny Taylor on percussion, the duo soon became a fixture of New York’s underground scene. Almost 50 years later, Simeon and his Silver Apples are once again setting standards with Clinging to a Dream, their great, new album.
Born in the mountains of East Tennessee in 1938, Simeon was raised in New Orleans and exposed to R&B and the likes of Fats Domino and Big Mama Thornton at an early age before moving to New York as a teenager to pursue his own artistic visions. First joining The Random Concept bluegrass band, he soon moved to The Overland Stage Electric Band who were regulars at the famous Café Wha? in Greenwich Village. One night while playing there, he plugged in an oscillator and went nuts with the sounds, leading the other members to flee the band. That is, with the exception of Danny Taylor, a drummer who had formerly worked with Jimi Hendrix more than happy to join in on Simeon’s cutting edge experimentation. Silver Apples were born that night.
Both their eponymous 1968 debut and its 1969 successor Contact document a band on a cosmic journey of primitive electronic techniques and a minimalistic rock style. Such marks a predecessor to German krautrock, electronica, indie/drone rock and even the dance music to come in later decades. But for a time, it looked as if their history might have ended there. Pan Am Airlines objected to their second album’s cover art, leading to a million dollar lawsuit that effectively halted further progress. The label went bust in the process and the duo were banned from playing their songs live.
Fast forward to the 1990s when Silver Apples experienced a renewed interest in their music. As a result, Simeon hooked up with drummer Xian Hawkins and slowly began touring as Silver Apples once again. Their revival show took place at New York City’s Knitting Factory in front of a cool crowd including Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, the Beastie Boys and Sean Lennon. In 1998, Simeon finally managed to track down and reunite with Danny Taylor for the first time in 27 years. This lead to the release of their ‘lost’ third album titled The Garden in 1998, only possible by virtue of Danny Taylor stumbling upon the tapes in his attic.
Just a couple of gigs later, misfortune struck the band once again in the form of a tour van crash that left Simeon with a broken neck. Following the crash, Xian Hawkins pursued an excellent solo career as Sybarite and Danny Taylor sadly passed away from cancer in 2005. In 2007, a recovered Simeon started up again, playing all around the world as Silver Apples (All Tomorrow’s Parties, Austin Psych Fest) alongside artists he had once inspired (Hans-Joachim Roedelis of Cluster, Portishead). These days, Simoen has settled into a home studio in Alabama, trading out his old oscillators for modern gear.
Silver Apples’ first album in 19 years carries on in the tradition that began back in 1967, merging pure, raw electronic sounds with melodic and poetic content clearly representative of 40 years of polishing and refining this experiment. As for Pan Am, they found themselves out of business long before the Silver Apples.
* * *
What, growing up, made you want to become a musician?
The endless hours of rehearsing the same thing over and over again was so fascinating I just couldn’t stop.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
My mom reminding me to brush my teeth.
The advice you wished someone would have given you?
To remember to comb my hair.
What’s the best gift you ever received?
An electric train set.
Most unlikely source that inspires your own music.
Bartok string quartets.
What’s the first thing you thought about this morning?
What time is it?
In case of fire, what three things would you rescue?
My deodorant, my hat, and my bottle of water.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you do?
Picket art galleries.
How does the perfect day look like for you?
Any day that the sun comes up is perfect.
What’s your greatest fear?
That the sun won’t come up.
What’s a place you’ve never been that you want to go?
What’s your favorite piece of gear on stage?
My volume pedal.
An artist or genre that you just don’t understand?
Give the recipe to your favorite dish.
Put 2 pieces of bread into toaster.
When thing pops up grab bread (now toast).
Slather toast with whatever.
A book that you wish everyone one would read?
Criticize your own music from the perspective someone who hates it.
Silver Apples has the annoying propensity for repeating stuff too much.
What superpower would you chose and why?
Fly like a bird. So I can get the fuck outta here.
Bjørn Hammershaug Først publisert på read.tidal.com, september 2016.
I 1990 satt jeg på gutterommet hjemme omgitt av en raskt voksende LP-samling, opptakskassetter og med hockeysveis. 10 år senere var jeg en clean cut samfunnsborger med leilighet, fast arbe’ og omringet av et firesifret antall CD’er. Jeg kunne på få minutter søke opp all verdens artister på AltaVista og snuste såvidt på dette med Napster. Det sier seg selv at 90-åra innebar store omveltninger, som det viktigste og mest formative tiåret i mitt musikalske liv, som omfattet både ungdom, studietid og voksenliv.
Det musikalske 90-tallet startet egentlig ikke før med Nevermind (Nirvana) og Spiderland (Slint) som begge kom i 1991, to plater som på hvert sitt vis banet veien for en ny tid. Førstnevnte åpnet slusene for en alternativ flodbølge, mens Slint bidro til å trekke rocken inn i nye, og mer spennende retninger. Alternativ/indie ble et etablert mainstream begrep, og fostret mange favoritter som hadde storhetstiden sin på 90-tallet: Pavement, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse og The Flaming Lips, størrelser som Sonic Youth og Dinosaur Jr. gikk fra undergrunn til overgrunn uten at de mistet sitt momentum. Ellers er denne lista nærmeste fri for ‘alternativ rock’ enten de tilhørte nu-metal eller post-grunge. Det var jo nok annet spennende å ta tak i.
Post-rocken og artister som Slint, Mogwai og Tortoise søkte nye måter å omformulere rockens etablerte paradigme, og med Chicago, Montreal og Glasgow som sentrum, og plateselskap som Kranky og Constellation som budbringere, kom det mye spennende musikk for den åpne lytter. Med base i California ble også skatepunk allemannseie, og Bad Religion, NOFX og Pennywise hadde alle sine fineste øyeblikk i dette tiåret. Fra de britiske øyer ble shoegaze en yndet uttrykksform, med eksempelvis My Bloody Valentine og Slowdive, mens Britpopen var på høyden med band som Blur og Pulp (med) og Oasis (ikke med). På hjemmefronten er selvsagt Motorpsycho godt representert, det samme gjelder Turbonegro, deLillos, Jokke og noen til.
Det skjedde selvsagt mye også utenfor rock med gitar. Trip-hop var en kortvarig greie som etterlatte seg kvalitetsalbum fra bl.a. Portishead og Massive Attack, hip-hop’en hadde en gullalder, selv om det med noen få unntak (Beastie Boys, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest) ikke reflekteres altfor sterkt her. Den elektroniske musikken muterte i stadig nye retninger, både i form av det mer komplekse og arty og ren dansemusikk (jeg danset ikke).
Men – det avsløres igjen at det er en stor overvekt av amerikansk rock som har gått mellom disse ørene. Og for en herlig epoke som skjenket oss (meg) eviggrønne favoritter som Low, Karate, salige The God Machine, Will Oldham og alle hans prosjekter, Lambchop, Calexico, Ween, Smog, The Sea and Cake… Yes, I Love the 90s.
Det ble veldig trangt om plassen på denne lista. De 10 første er alltid verst (og de 10 siste), men dette er uansett et tappert forsøk på å oppsummere mitt 90-tallet gjennom 200 favorittplater og med maks to utgivelser pr. artist (som ekskluderte en hel haug med åpenbare favoritter). De aller fleste ble oppdaget da de var helt ferske, og gjenspeiler tiden de ble hørt i, noe som går ut over opplagt sterke 90-tallsartister og –plater som jeg ikke hørte så mye på da, eller ikke har hørt nok på i ettertid til at de forsvarte en plass. Jeff Buckley, Björk, Pantera, Mayhem, Liz Phair, Sugar, Rage Against the Machine, Magnetic Fields, Arrested Development, Tori Amos, Boo Radleys, Tool, DJ Shadow og en drøss andre av tiårets presumptivt høyeste topper har falt ut i et forsøk på å reflektere på mest mulig ærlig vis det som er mitt 90-tall.
Så tilbake til Topp 10. Nesten alle de 100 første kivet om en plass, og lista er selvsagt ikke hamret i stein. Jeg endte med en Topp 200 med de skivene som har betydd mest for meg. Jeg hadde lenge Slint og banebrytende Spiderland helt øverst, men landet til slutt på Nevermind. Ingen stor bombe for noen vil jeg mene, men det vil for alltid være den store 90-tallsplata for meg. Nevermind markerte ikke bare en ny epoke, den er også et endelig farvel med 80-tallet. Og det er et fantastisk bra album. Nedover på lista er det rom for mange kjente artister, men jeg håper og tror det personlige aspektet også vil skinne gjennom, og være en potensiell kime til nye oppdagelser for den som gidder å bruke tid på slikt. Here goes 90-tallet topp 200:
Nirvana: Nevermind (1991)
Slint: Spiderland (1991)
Built to Spill: Perfect From Now On (1997)
The God Machine: One Last Laugh in a Place of Dying (1995)
Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997)
Tortoise: Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)
Sonic Youth: Goo (1990)
Dinosaur Jr.: Where You Been (1993)
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: I See a Darkness (1999)
Beastie Boys: Ill Communication (1993)
Motorpsycho: Timothy’s Monster (1994)
Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)
The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (1999)
Calexico: The Black Light (1998)
Built to Spill: There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (1994)
Karate: The Bed Is in the Ocean (1998)
The Sea and Cake: Nassau (1995)
Lambchop: How I Quit Smoking (1996)
Sonic Youth: Dirty (1992)
Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)
Mogwai: Young Team (1997)
Beastie Boys: Check Your Head (1992)
Low: The Curtain Hits the Cast (1996)
Palace Music: Arise Therefore (1996)
Ween: Chocolate & Cheese (1994)
Godspeed You Black Emperor!: F#A#∞ (1998)
Silver Jews: The Natural Bridge (1996)
Giant Sand: Glum (1995)
Pavement: Wowee Zowee (1995)
Smog: Red Apple Falls (1997)
Motorpsycho: Blissard (1995)
Lemonheads: It’s a Shame About Ray (1992)
Slowdive: Pygmalion (1995)
Dinosaur Jr.: Green Mind (1991)
The God Machine: Scenes From the Second Storey (1993)
Songs: Ohia: Impala (1998)
Belle and Sebastian: If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996)
Fugazi: Repeater (1990)
Cosmic Psychos: Slave to the Crave (1990)
Talk Talk: Laughing Stock (1991)
Wilco: Being There (1997)
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Weld/Arc (1991)
Smog: The Doctor Came at Dawn (1996)
Codeine: Frigid Stars (1990)
Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
Portishead: Dummy (1994)
PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love (1995)
Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 (1994)
Sebadoh: Harmacy (1996)
Afghan Whigs: Gentlemen (1993)
Silver Jews: American Water (1998)
Arvo Pärt: Alina (1999)
Movietone: Day and Night (1997)
Ween: 12 Golden Country Greats (1996)
Angelo Badalamenti: Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me (1992)
Oval: 94diskont (1996)
Neil Young: Dead Man (1996)
Dwarves: Blood Guts & Pussy (1990)
The Jayhawks: Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995)
My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (1991)
Sepultura: Roots (1996)
Beck: Odelay (1996)
The Sea and Cake: The Fawn (1997)
Angelo Badalamenti: Music From Twin Peaks (1990)
Tad: 8-Way Santa (1991)
Tortoise: TNT (1998)
Nirvana: In Utero (1993)
Rancid: …and Out Come the Wolves (1996)
Labradford: Mi Media Naranja (1997)
Shellac: At Action Park (1994)
Red House Painters: Ocean Beach (1993)
Giant Sand: Center of the Universe (1992)
Monster Magnet: Spine of God (1991)
Whiskeytown: Strangers Almanac (1997)
Teenage Fanclub: Grand Prix (1995)
Palace Music: Viva Last Blues (1997)
Bedhead: Transaction De Novo (1998)
Kyuss: Welcome to Sky Valley (1994)
Scud Mountain Boys: Massachusetts (1996)
Jokke & Valentinerne: Frelst (1991)
Rex: C (1996)
Helmet: Meantime (1992)
NOFX: Punk in Drublic (1994)
Pixies: Bossanova (1990)
Mercury Rev: Deserter’s Songs (1998)
Elliott Smith: s/t (1995)
Nation of Ulysses: 13-Point Program to Destroy America (1991)
Lambchop: What Another Man Spills (1998)
Yo La Tengo: Fakebook (1990)
Son Volt: Trace (1995)
Aerial M: s/t (1997)
Cranes: Forever (1993)
Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
Mudhoney: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (1991)
Weezer: Pinkerton (1996)
Biosphere/Deathprod: Nordheim Transformed (1998)
Slowdive: Souvlaki (1993)
16 Horsepower: Sackloth ‘N’ Ashes (1996)
Tindersticks: II (1995)
Boards of Canada: Music Has the Right to Children (1998)
Tom Waits: Bone Machine (1992)
Earth: Earth 2 (1993)
Fudge Tunnel: Hate Songs In E Minor (1991)
Stereolab: Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996)
Uncle Tupelo: March 16-20, 1992 (1992)
A Minor Forest: Inindependence (1998)
The Walkabouts: Satisfied Mind (1993)
Beat Happening: You Turn Me On (1992)
Boredoms: Pop Tatari (1993)
The Dismemberment Plan: Emergency & I (1999)
Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream (1993)
Aimee Mann: I’m With Stupid (1996)
Scott Walker: Tilt (1995)
Guided by Voices: Alien Lanes (1995)
Weezer: s/t (The Blue Album) (1994)
Pixies: Trompe le Monde (1991)
Elliott Smith: Either/Or (1997)
deLillos: Mere (1994)
Mazzy Star: So Tonight That I Might See (1993)
Buffalo Tom: Let Me Come Over (1992)
Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary (1994)
R.E.M: Automatic For the People (1992)
The Roots: Things Fall Apart (1999)
Turbonegro: Ass Cobra (1996)
New Bomb Turks: Destroy Oh-Boy (1993)
Cypress Hill: s/t (1991)
Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
Buffalo Tom: Big Red Letter Day (1993)
Poison Idea: Feel the Darkness (1990)
Morphine: Cure for Pain (1993)
Jane’s Addiction: Ritual de lo Habitual (1990)
Tarentel: From Bone to Satellite (1999)
Didjits: Hornet Pinata (1990)
Ride: Nowhere (1990)
L7: Smell the Magic (1990)
Jawbox: For Your Own Special Sweetheart (1993)
Sleep: Jerusalem (1999)
PJ Harvey: Rid of Me (1993)
Rocket From the Crypt: Scream, Dracula, Scream (1995)
Sophia: The Infinite Circle (1998)
Pulp: Different Class (1995)
Spain: The Blue Moods of Spain (1995)
The Jesus Lizard: Goat (1991)
Nas: Illmatic (1994)
Wilco: Summerteeth (1999)
Radiohead: The Bends (1995)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Let Love In (1994)
Fugazi: Red Medicine (1995)
Pennywise: About Time (1995)
U.S. Maple: Long Hair in Three Stages (1995)
Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentlemen… We Are Floating in Space (1997)
Ministry: Psalm 69 (1992)
Matthew Sweet: Girlfriend (1991)
Johnny Cash: American Recordings (1994)
Arab Strap: Philophobia (1998)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: The Boatman’s Call (1996)
Los Lobos: Kiko (1992)
Olivia Tremor Control: Dusk at Cubist Castle (1996)
Superchunk: No Plcky for Kitty (1991)
Sun City Girls: Torch of the Mystics (1990)
Soundgarden: Badmotorfinger (1991)
Grant Lee Buffalo: Fuzzy (1993)
Gillian Welch: Revival (1996)
Bad Religion: Against the Grain (1990)
Massive Attack: Mezzanine (1998)
Melvins: Houdini (1993)
Bill Hicks: Rant in E-Minor (1997)
Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Soul (1999)
OP8: Slush (1997)
Neurosis: Through Silver in Blood (1996)
Truly: Fast Stories…From Kid Coma (1995)
Supersilent: 4 (1999)
Leftfield: Leftism (1995)
Blur: Parklife (1994)
Chokebore: Anything Near Water (1995)
Leonard Cohen: The Future (1992)
Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio, Vol 3: Songs (1998)
Alog: Red Shift Swing (1999)
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Orange (1995)
A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory (1991)
Hefner: The Fidelity Wars (1999)
Polvo: Today’s Active Lifestyles (1993)
Sleater-Kinney: Dig Me Out (1997)
Refused: The Shape of Punk to Come (1998)
Midnight Choir: Amsterdam Stranded (1998)
The Jayhawks: Hollywood Town Hall (1992)
Gastr del Sol: Camoufleur (1998)
Grandaddy: Under a Western Freeway (1997)
Cul de Sac: Crashes To Light, Minutes To Its Fall (1999)
Dirty Three: Horse Stories (1996)
They Might Be Giants: Flood (1990)
Don Caballero: For Respect (1993)
Jello Biafra & D.O.A.: Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors (1990)
Telstar Ponies: Voices From the New Music (1996)
Per ‘Texas’ Johansson: Alla mina kompisar (1998)
Steel Pole Bath Tub: Tulip (1990)
Cows: Cunning Stunts (1992)
Braid: Frame & Canavas (1998)
Black Heart Procession: 2 (1999)
Richard Buckner: Devotion + Doubt (1997)
Eric’s Trip: Forever Again (1995)
Rodan: Rusty (1994)
The Hair & Skin Trading Co.: Over Valence (1993)
The first you hear is an impenetrable wall of grinding, chainsaw-like guitars. Then there’s that steady, motoric pounding rhythm that never surrenders. And then this raspy gravel, a spooky baritone voice, like a raging fire and brimstone preacher, with hazy, slurred lyrics that wasp away like smoke.
Thin White Rope – a name taken from William Burroughs’ euphemism for ejaculation in Naked Lunch – formed around singer Guy Kyser and guitarist Roger Kunkel as its sole constants, along with a revolving cast of members to fill out the quartet being active between 1984-1992.
The group never really fit into the categories used to brand guitar dominated rock in the 1980s. Thin White Rope were too harsh to be labeled as jangle, too loud for the emerging alternative country movement and too dark to fit into the flowery Paisley Underground.
Their widescreen musical scope, borrowing equally from western and eastern influences, is perhaps best described by numerous artists they covered, including Lee Hazlewood (“Some Velvet Morning”), Can (“Yoo Doo Right”), Hawkwind (“Silver Machine”), Suicide (“Rocket U.S.A”) and The Byrds (“Everybody’s Been Burned”). Just as close to Television, Bauhaus and Joy Division than their more successful contemporary counterparts in ’80s American underground (R.E.M, The Replacements, Pixies), Thin White Rope’s desert psychedelia was a far more vast and difficult creature to cast. And despite enjoying a steady fanbase, especially in Europe, they sadly vanished from the common memory following their 1992 demise.
Diving into their album catalog once again is a reminder of how preposterously steady, strong and free of flaws their output was, which that has preserved incredibly well, save for some dated production techniques. Out of time back in the day, they are timeless in hindsight.
Thin White Rope immediately introduced their main modus operandi. The first song off their first album, Exploring the Axis (Frontier Records, 1985), is something of a surreal country-noir story entitled “Down in the Desert,” about a guy called Karl who headed south and came back changed by his experiences in the desert. (“Karl came back and he works and he smiles/But if you look closely there’s still something scared in his eyes…”)
Based out in the Northern California university town of Davis, Thin White Rope often returned to the desert as a recurring trope in their songs, both emotionally and musically. “Soundtrack,” from the same album, also laid a sonic foundation for what to come later; their ability to let an austere tune about alienation (“Windshields are like TV screens/I’m not involved at all”) explode into a ferocious assault as a sneering Guy Kyser goes full Mad Max (“She throws firebombs on the highway/Glass splashing and bushes burning”), revealing a band with a constant underlying rage – a beast they sometimes tamed, sometimes let loose.
Oh yes, they held us in a firm grip out on that ledge, but one also softened with beautiful melodies and a sense of melancholia and human kindness; elements that would be more prominent later on in their career.
With an uneven but promising album under their belt, they turned it all up a few notches on their somber, bleak masterpiece Moonhead (Frontier, 1987), allowing for more space, more tension, more power. Often completely drenched in feedback, but with glimpses of sunlight peeking through, Moonhead is one of the lost classics of the decade, it was once flourishingly described by British psych-guru Julian Cope: “[Guy] Kyser mumbles stripped down considerations about life, sex and death, and he seems a scientist who describes microscopic life forms. Mankind is reduced to puppet-like dimensions: around us, there’s an enigmatic, useless, obscure universe, apparently enemy of any feeling and thought.”
In the Spanish Cave (Frontier, 1988), probably their most well known album, is a tad brighter and even more varied than its predecessors. Ranging from almost joyous tunes (“Mr. Limpet”) to bulldozing guitar assaults (“It’s OK”), it features their most known song, the epic “Red Sun.” In a thorough review celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013, The Quietus points out how they created an alien take on the unfathomable vastness of the American landscape and its effects on the nation’s psyche, and how they used this landscape, not as representing a sense of freedom, but as an area of something uncanny and unsettling, summing up the album as a “potent, fantastical window onto a malign new phase of the American Dream.”
In 1988, at the height of their powers, Thin White Rope even packed up their unique take on American mythology and toured the Soviet Union, experiencing the earliest days of the empire’s revolution through a 15-date long tour, and returned with an album largely written while on the road. Their criminally underrated album Sack Full of Silver (RCA, 1990) was their first and only major label effort. One of a more subtle approach, showing the band experimenting further with dynamic song structures, fully epitomized on songs like “The Napkin Song” and “On the Floe.”
In a fair world, Thin White Rope would be the real heroes. Instead they called it a day after perhaps the most complete effort in their career. The Ruby Sea turned out to be their swan song, described by AllMusic as ‘slowly shedding their more blatantly psychedelic influences and polishing their sound as a surreal and chilling rock band.’ Going out while being at the top of their game – with majestic songs like “Hunter’s Moon” and “Puppet Dog” – the band still had one ace up their sleeve.
As mentioned before, their studio offerings didn’t always mirror their audacious live shows. Fortunately they decided to tape their final 1992 gig in Ghent, Belgium, releasing the monumental The One That Got Away a year later. For a sense on how the band really sounded, this is highly recommended listening. (Play loud.)
But by then Thin White Rope had already vanished back into the dust. For almost 10 years they set the plough in the barren desert soil, finding only weeds underneath. No wonder then, that Guy Kyser returned to school and turned out to be a respected botanist. Working as a specialist for the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of California, he’s still affected by the desert.
A scientist describing microscopic life forms, searching for weeds to blossom.
We talked to guitarist Roger Kunkel about being a part of this history.
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Who growing up were your favorite musicians?
My father was a fan of popular country music. I remember listening to Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline on his reel-to-reel as a kid. He had a couple of Chet Atkins tapes that I fixated on. Later, my older brother started bringing home the usual suspects of late-’60s, early-’70s rock, including Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Creedence and The Doors. The Beatles made a big impression on me, but especially George Harrison because I was obsessed with guitar in general. By 17, someone gave me the Sex Pistols and first two Clash albums, and I was listening to the Ramones. I discovered the Davis college radio station KDVS, and I saw Iggy Pop. Everything changed.
Who inspired your guitar sound the most?
Chet Atkins was a big one. I loved the rock players, but I’d also watch “Hee Haw” and other TV shows so I could see the country pickers like Roy Clark, James Burton, Les Paul and Glenn Campbell. I started taking guitar lessons at age 6, following the Mel Bay Method. I wasn’t a very good student, but I knew I’d play guitar for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I convinced my parents I needed an electric. I’d plug it into my dad’s tube reel-to-reel and get a nice fuzzy distortion sound.
I started learning Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi riffs. It took a while to discover the blues and early jazz players I now love because no one I knew was listening to that. Hearing Django Reinhardt for the first time really knocked me out and showed me that you need to dig a little deeper to find the really good stuff. Once I was in college in the early ’80s, I was hearing so much new music it was almost overwhelming. I was also backtracking and discovering all the great music I’d missed. The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, T-Rex, and the Stooges come to mind as influences.
With bands like Game Theory and True West around at the time, I guess Davis was a rather vital musical area. How will you describe the musical environment surrounding the birth of Thin White Rope?
There really was a scene fed by KDVS and the college entertainment council who were bringing in amazing acts to the small, on-campus coffee house venue. Iggy Pop, Gang of Four and the Police came through. Local bands were producing records and getting national attention. Meanwhile, lesser-known touring acts like the Meat Puppets and Camper Van Beethoven were playing at house parties. Sacramento, which is much bigger than Davis, had a thriving underground punk scene, but not much of a college rock, alternative, post punk, art rock, whatever kind of scene.
I was doing my best to learn what I could. I fell in with an interesting crowd of people. We had a great time. The good thing was that there really was no set accepted style of music. Almost anything was embraced as long as it was something original and heartfelt.
Did you have a clear plan or idea from the beginning on what Thin White Rope should be when you first started out playing?
Guy had already been writing and singing with Joe Becker in a previous group called the Lazy Boys. They advertised at a local music shop for a guitar and bass player. That’s how I met them and our original bass player Kevin Staydohar. We worked on Guy’s songs. Guy and I had the general idea that a lead/rhythm guitar construct was kind of boring and that we would take a more orchestrated approach, having lots of intertwining lead lines.
Guy was already playing with a pretty heavy fuzz sound. He gave me an old Maestro Fuzz he wasn’t using. It didn’t produce the Big Muff sound, but I was able to find a big feedback sound with it. Guy went with a Marshall crunch and fuzz and I went with a Fender clean sound but we both had the ability to go into controlled feedback as well. Together this was great combination and the effect really came together on the Moonhead record.
You been called desert rock, linked to the Paisley Underground, compared to early Americana and what not. All in all you were thankfully hard to pigeonhole. How will you best describe the sound of Thin White Rope?
We were once described as a cross between Johnny Cash and Black Sabbath, and I like that. There was a purposeful desert aesthetic in Guy’s lyrics and album art and that’s because Guy did come from a small town in the Mojave called Ridgecrest. Some folks got the idea that the band lived in a desert, which Davis is not, although it gets damn hot in summer. It was impossible to shake the desert rock moniker so we generally ignored it.
I describe the band as noisy guitar rock with a blues and country influence. We had some influences that were common to bands of the day, like the Velvet Underground and ’60s garage bands. We also had some less common influences like Doc Boggs, Slim Harpo and Lee Hazelwood.
I’m interested in your tour in the USSR in 1988. Not many bands did this before you, I would think. How did that tour happen in the first place, and what was it like?
This was a surreal trip. We were working with an Italian booking agency that had a connection to the Ministry of Arts in Rome. They had some kind of sister city arts exchange program worked out and had had some Russian musicians come and perform in Italy. The reciprocal was to be Italian musicians visiting the USSR. We were inserted into the equation and flew to Moscow with two Italian bands.
It was December and incredibly cold. We played in Moscow at a fancy theater. It was shown on Soviet national television. We then travelled by train to Tbilisi, Georgia for four sold-out nights at the famous opera house. No one had a clue who we were, but we were an American rock band, so it didn’t matter. The 1988 Armenian earthquake hit. We drank green vodka and ruined a beautiful traditional dinner thrown for us by a local family with projectile vomiting – there is a long version of this story.
We flew to Lithuania and played two cities in basketball arenas and almost froze to death, arrived back in Rome later than expected and had no flights home. We found room on Pan Am 103 and made reservations but couldn’t find a connection from New York to San Francisco and cancelled our reservations last minute. Heard about the bombing at the airport the next day. Made it home alive, dazed and confused.
Thin White Rope have a remarkably strong album catalog. You established a rather unique sound from the beginning, but also pushed yourself into new sonic terrain all along. How will you describe the evolution of the band?
Naturally, we matured as musicians and became smoother, more capable guitar players. Guy’s voice developed into a bigger, more resonant instrument. Guy’s songwriting got more ambitious, more poetic. It was unfortunate that we had a revolving cast of bass and drum players. This affected the sound of the band in somewhat unpredictable ways, but ultimately our live performances got strikingly better. We went from a shaky and uneven live band to being known for our powerful shows.
You had a short stint with RCA. How was your experience working with a major label back then?
Not so good. The only RCA record was Sack Full of Silver. It sold less than our others as far as I know. It’s a common case when an indie band gets a major deal and the major doesn’t do any promotion. They’re just hoping the band’s fan base is growing so it’s time to snatch them up. In the ’80s –and maybe today, I don’t know – being on a major was bit of a scarlet letter. The indie distribution networks like Rough Trade wouldn’t touch it because it was the evil corporate BMI. So it didn’t last.
Looking back after all these years, where do you consider Thin White Rope’s place in music history? What are you most proud of during your existence?
I believe we’ve achieved the title of most famously un-famous band or something like that. ‘Criminally ignored’ was one we heard that had us laughing. I do think we were an influence on a lot of bands. I’m very proud of the live CD and I’m so glad it got made because it almost didn’t. I had to talk Guy into doing the final tour. The recording captures the band at its peak in its most intense and raw state, ploughing through most of our catalog. I can listen to it and remember exactly how that felt.
What’s your favorite Thin White Rope album?
Moonhead has to be the quintessential TWR record. The first album Exploring the Axis was very frustrating. Even though it turned into something interesting, it didn’t feel natural. With Moonhead we had found our sound. Next to that, I think our covers which are mostly on the Red Sun and Bottom Feeders EPs are my favorite recordings.
Why did you call it a day?
The band had been together for 10 years. There were some personal frictions; not too bad, but not helpful. There was the belief that the music business is a corrupt and unfair place to be. It seemed that you could be the best band in the world and still not make a living. We were getting more popular in Europe, but not in the States. It was time to enter a new phase of life. And the biggest reason was that Guy quit.
Are you guys currently in touch?
Guy and I actually played together for a couple years in a bluegrass band. He’d gotten into banjo and I was playing mandolin. Unfortunately, this fell apart when the guitar player moved back east. Matt Abouresk lives in Connecticut, so we just say hello on Facebook. Stoo has moved back to New Orleans. Joe Becker lives in San Francisco and I’d love to see more of him. Steve Tesluk is a veterinarian in Ashland, OR.
Any chances to see the band ever come back again?
Seems that Guy does not feel he wants to do this. I don’t want to put words in his mouth about it, but I think he simply feels he is a different person now.
Jeg bodde i Bø i Telemark i noen år, og er godt kjent med denne delen av landet. Utallige ganger tok jeg fatt på siste etappe av turen ned til bygdebyen, og suste da over Resjemheia med stjernene som teppe og den funklende Bøgata som endelig mål.
Dette fjellpartiet mellom Notodden og Bø kan også betraktes som et musikalsk overgangsparti, fra bluesbyens rike til folkemusikkens kongedømme – en highway fra elgitar til hardingfele. Mattis Kleppen kommer selv opprinnelig fra Bø, og er selvsagt godt kjent med denne heia som en musikalsk brobyggende passasje. Han har selv brukt mye tid på utforske musikalsk mangfoldighet i mange ulike sammenhenger opp gjennom åra.
Kleppen er bassist med utdannelse fra jazzlinja i Trondheim, og underviser selv i musikk ved ulike institusjoner i Trøndelag. Med bred bakgrunn som utøver i en rekke sjangre og med tallrike konstellasjoner fra ulike kontinenter, blant annet band som Cucumber Slumber og African Pepperbirds, er han kanskje selve personifiseringen av sjangerutroskap (det er et kompliment). På El Bokko har han først og fremst med seg Kenneth Kapstad (Motorpsycho, Spidergawd, Monolithic mm) på trommer, Kristoffer Lo (best kjent fra Highasakite, men også en veldig spennende soloartist) på tuba og gitar, og firedobbel landskappleiksvinner Ottar Kåsa på hardingfele.
Det er et dyktig og vidtfavnende lag, som evner å sette de musikalske visjonene ut i praksis. Plata er et møte mellom to av Telemarks viktigste musikktradisjoner, passende nok lagd som bestillingsverk til Telemarkfestivalen 2015. Her møtes også Norge og verden, og ulike sjangre – plata en smeltedigel av stilarter, uttrykk, former og grenseløshet.
Det kan bli spennende toner av slikt, og Mattis Kleppen er mer enn kapabel til å binde det hele sammen. Prosjektet Resjemheia ble først iverksatt i 2013, da med Highasakite-vokalist Ingrid Helen Håvik i en sentral rolle. På El Bokko er vokalen mindre fremtredende, til fordel for utforskninger av hva som skjer når sjangre møtes: Vestafrikansk ørkenrock møter norsk slåttetradisjon, møter improjazz, møter amerikansk blues … Det hele koker ned til at musikken kan være grenseløs, slik verden kan være det, hvis man bare hever blikket over sin egen nesetipp. At mye av verdens tradisjonsmusikk har et slags usynlig bånd, et felleskap, gir mening til prosjektet.
I lekenhet og den frie tilnærmingen ligger også mye av nøkkelen til at dette er så bra. Kleppen & co. klistrer ikke noen afro-groove på norske slåtter for liksom å gjøre det eksotisk. Dette er ikke postkort-turisme. Musikerne går inn i låtmaterialet med dyp musikalsk forståelse, som sammen med åpenheten fungerer som døråpner til en annen verden. Resjemheia er kanskje en transittetappe, men det er jo også et sted å befinne seg: mellom stedene, på vei.
Det starter så vakkert i Kivledalen i Seljord (”The Maidens of Kivle Valley and Ali”), der Mattis Kleppen sitter alene med bassen, myser over grantoppene mot sola og tenker på Ali Farka Touré – ser jeg for meg. Det er rart med det, at de frodige dalene midt i landet vårt og det karrige ørkenlandskapet i Mali har så mange berøringspunkter – tror jeg også han reflekterer over.
På neste spor kommer resten av laget susende inn over ”Resjemheia og Nordafjøllsen” på en suggererende karavane av ørken-groove. Her kommer Ottar Kåsa med fela, først som en gjest som kikker innom, men snart en integrert del av den ville ferden nedover strykene.
Hva er dette? Folk-prog? Kraut-jazz? De ti åpningsminuttene setter uansett en standard som holder seg plata gjennom, fra de mer dvelende og dystopisk mektige partiene (”Jesus Makes Me Quiet” og den nedjazza ”Bb’s Song”) til rytmiske og geografiske bukkesprang (”El Bokko”, ”Afrobike”). Hele plata er som en spinnende globus, der Bamako blir til Bø, der tuareger går i bunad og Seljordsormen titter fram et sted langs Mississippis elvebredder.
El Bokko holdes hele tiden oppe av en høyst kompetent gjeng. Jeg vil særlig trekke fram Kenneth Kapstad, som virkelig bærer mye med sin omfangsrike stil og kompromissløse drivkraft. En ekstra klapp på skulderen også til utgiver Crispin Glover Records, som i tillegg til CD har gitt ut plata på en høyst forseggjort LP-versjon i begrenset opplag. Det er den verdt.
Band som Atlanter og Sudan Dudan er blant de mange som har tilført norsk musikk et grenseløst spenn de senere årene. Mattis Kleppen og hans Resjemheia føyer seg ikke bare inn i denne kategorien, de drar utviklingen ytterligere videre. Jeg håper gruppa fortsetter sin reise, og neste gang jeg tar bilen over Telemarks tinder og heier, vet jeg hva som skal være soundtracket til turen.