BACK IN THE USA (well, Southern California, anyway)
I got back into the country a week ago, fresh off of an out-of-left field, solo acoustic tour with Glen Matlock, in Canada. I had gotten a last minute call seeing if I was available, as my old friend, and brother of the Punk Rock Wars of the 70’s, Tommy Ramone, who was originally booked, was ailing and could not make the dates, and could I fill in. It had been billed as a Sex Pistol/Ramone quasi-Punk Rock bill, with each guy doing what it is they do now, these many years after Punk, as we knew it, was long over. I had my reservations about it, as I never really thought of myself as a Punk Rocker to begin with – despite whatever protestations History has raised in defining me. Hell, I never thought of The Dictators as Punk Rock either, for that matter! Again, History seems to have decided otherwise. And, History never asked me, so there ya have it.
Like I say, I had some reservations, mostly concerning the audiences and their expectations. Would they be coming to try and relive those Punk Rock days, through the music of two veterans of the 70’s scene, even though those two veterans’ music nowadays gives only a passing nod to those times. But those were exactly the kind of expectations I feared, and had little hope of, or was desirous of, fulfilling. Glen’s music has expanded over the years, and it was he, of course, who wrote/co-wrote the four greatest singles of that era – namely the four Sex Pistols singles, when he was the bass player for that legendary band. Those records still sound like an impending revolution already at the gates of the city. The wall of angry guitars, a galvanizing lead singer with a venomous delivery, and a strong rhythm section (well, until Glen left and they brought in a guy who could not play a note, let alone write songs, namely Sid Vicious). One thing that gets overlooked regarding the Sex Pistols was their mastery of tempo. Yes, the tempos. Where many bands, mine included, seemed overly pre-occupied at times with playing as fast as possible, the Pistols found the sweet spot – a tempo where the confluence of thick sheets of guitars, made every guitar chord fat and brutal, every spat lyric corrosive, and elicited, no, demanded, immediate and extreme reaction, and that is exactly what they got back – in spades. It was excitement personified. Of course, they also had the great Chris Thomas producing – another leg-up.
Glen did whip out GOD SAVE THE QUEEN & PRETTY VACANT during his sets, and they still pack a wallop, even on acoustic guitar. The audience loved the chance to clap along, or sing along to those two every night, and did so with unbridled glee. And, they fit in well with his newer songs, as well as the Rich Kids songs he played. He also played DEAD END STREET, by The Kinks, and a Jacques Brel song that had been recorded by Scott Walker, and whose name I never did get. So, there was variety as well in Glen’s sets.
Glen’s approach was a high energy, audience engaging one. He stood while he played, got the audience to help out on a few choruses, and he even got them to quiet down when he needed them, too. It was impressive, it was fun, and it was never lacked for energy or audience engagement. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Glen’s set every night. He’s a terrific writer, a solid musician, and a soulful singer, too.
My own approach was probably more singer-songwriterly, for lack of a better, more descriptive term. I sat when I performed in order to draw the audience in to what I was doing, and I mixed up tempos, feels, guitar hooks, and everything I had at my disposal in order to represent myself as best I could. I had some rockers in there, of course, some to sing along to, and most told a story that usually managed to engage and hold the audience. I even played some songs from the upcoming Del-Lords record, ELVIS CLUB, including FLYING, which Eric sings on the record. I usually opened with a rockabllly, by way of Eddie Cochran, version of LIVIN’ ON LOVE, another Del-Lords tune, from our first record, that Eric also usually sings. Some nights, when the audience was in a particularly attentive mood, I would play SAVING GRACE, the title song from my second solo record. I think of it as my best song, and when the audience is there for me, it usually goes over the best, too. But, the circumstances really do need to be just right for the song to do its thing. Sometimes, if the crowd was too antsy, instead of SAVING GRACE, I would throw in LISTENING TO ELVIS, a song from the early Del-Lords days, once recorded by Syd Straw. It’s got a fun story to it, a Tex-Mex feel, and always works well live. AND, so as to hold up my end of the Punk theme, I closed every set with The Dictators’ STAY WITH ME, which The Del-Lords, and Little Kings (my band with Dion) also recorded, was written by Andy Shernoff. I made sure to dedicate it to Tommy Ramone each night, as well. At the end of the shows, no one was more surprised than me at how well it all went.
A week of shows with Glen, and all of them were successful. I got to really like Glen, and found him to be very smart, generous, talented, and a good hang. His supercool girlfriend Debra helped out with driving, and selling the merch, and felt like a great protective big sister the whole way – a great traveling companion. Besides also being very smart and a great hang, she is a ferocious supporter of animal rights, and a lover of all the furry four legged ones who grace our world. I appreciated her on all counts. I was sorry to have to say goodbye to both of them at the end.
Glen and I wound up each night with a stab at ALL OR NOTHING, a great classic rockin’ soul tune from a favorite band of both Glen and myself, The Small Faces. It was a lot of fun, and the audience loved it. It was also another example of Glen doing what he could for me and my own cause. He wanted to make sure I got my due, and went out of his way more than once on my behalf. I am eternally indebted. The match-up of Glen and myself turned out to be a perfectly complimentary one, with two very different styles and two sensibilities that also were a good pairing, and an easy shift for the audience to make.
Now, I am back home with my wife, where I belong. Now, it’s all about The Del-Lords and the new record. It seems that iTunes scooped us on the release by putting it up for sale more than a month early but things like that hardly matter anymore in these days of a continually crumbling record industry, and an ever leveling playing field. ELVIS CLUB is now available on our own website, Bandcamp, as well as on iTunes.
Things are starting to happen on the Del-Lords front, with really nice reviews starting to come in from all over the world, and a ton of great responses from our collective friends on Facebook and elsewhere. While good reviews were never of that much interest to our old record labels, as the major label record industry sort of looked down their nose at reviews, when they acknowledged them at all, as the number of sales they could potentially generate was not a number high enough to intrigue the overblown, cost ineffective, and eternally cumbersome record industry. They used to figure that the impact of great reviews topped out somewhere around 40,000 units sold, and that number did not phase them one way or another. Nowadays, if we sell 40,000 copies we will earn many times more money than we would have earned on a major label, if we had sold 400,000 copies. The record industry ate itself, destroyed more careers and great records than it ever broke, and now I salute the major label record industry that remains with a solid middle finger, and a hardy, “FUCK YOU!!”
But, I hold no grudge. What, after all, would be the point of that. It would only add to my personal burden, and do nothing to rectify what happened to us back in the 80’s. I take that grudge and put it into The Del-Lords present and future, where it can do the most good.
So, here I am, a week into the baseball season, with my beloved Yankees decimated by injuries to several of our best players, and run producers – making for a very inauspicious beginning to the 2013 season. But, I am a true fan, so of course, I will eat my kishkas out all season long once again, and stand with my team, rise or fall.
In June, the band begins to play, and we are currently working in a new bass player, as Duke, who had been named the “new guy” had to bow out. We do believe we have the perfect guy on tap, but we will make no official announcement just yet. But, it should be noted, optimism within the ranks is at an all-time high. It was a sudden change, and luckily it happened early on, and sooner rather than later.
I will now be checking in here with news, opinions (oh, I got as million of ‘em), ideas and maybe just to shoot the shit for awhile with you, my friends.
ELVIS CLUB on GB Music is available now on our website, Bandcamp, and iTunes, and everywhere else on May 14th.