Monday, November 15, 2010

Richard Pryor (1968)

I first heard this in 1985, finding it at the local library only just one time (it later got checked out and never returned, apparently!). I remember not being totally bowled over or blown away by it, save for a couple of routines. I later found a copy at 2nd Time Around in 1990, after finding a few Laff LP's, and found myself enjoying it a lot more.

A curious debut album, this one. It's hard to believe that this was the same guy who would later record That Nigger's Crazy, let alone Craps (After Hours). Almost in the same way George Carlin's Take Offs And Put Ons has nothing in common with his subsequent works. The obvious thing to do was to compare this to albums by Bill Cosby or Flip Wilson, as Richard was light-years away from the kind of material they were doing, but this usually (and unfairly) gets comparisons to his subsequent work.

I know by the packaging (and several photo-shoot outtakes) that Richard and photographer Henry Diltz had wanted this to look like no other comedy album out there, but one can only wonder what record buyers were left thinking when they saw this in the racks, after seeing Richard on The Ed Sullivan Show and the like, usually wearing a nifty suit. The first pressing of the album cover had some outer border designs by legendary artist Rick Griffin, which for some reason was later replaced with a rather Andy Warhol-ish line of teeny little Statues Of Liberty in the outer border. Why that was done, I have no idea. And then there's no track listing on the back, so no-one could see what they were getting.

One criticism of the album is the stereo mix, with Richard in the right-hand channel, and the audience (and some slight ambience) in the left. Sometimes the laughter and crowd noise is actually louder than Richard himself!

Since this is obviously not a Laff record, I'm going to include it not only for completeness' sake, but also as a reference guide to many of the routines--often from the same recording sessions--that were used (and re-used) on the subsequent Laff albums, sometimes in better versions, or in either uncut or badly-edited presentations.

Super Nigger
The record starts out with the crowd applauding, and the MC announcing Richard; once it's over, Richard begins musing that he'd like to see a black superhero on TV one day. He goes on to describe the story of Clark Washington (a mild-mannered custodian for the Daily Planet) who goes into Perry White's office to quit his job, but acting on a tip that a local warehouse (where he goes to score his stash!) is ablaze, he decides to spring into action. This routine is actually more energetic and more fun than his being in Superman III...kind of a shame he didn't refer back to this routine for his appearance in that movie, which would have made it so much better!

This routine is all about watching girls playing and hollering away at the local park, and wanting to get into some heavy action with them. The funniest part is where Richard finds himself lucky enough to wrench the pantyhose off a girl he likes, but gets caught by her dad at the end of the bit.

Richard talks about once wondering if he was the only person on the face of the earth who passed gas, and wondered if certain people (like Jackie Kennedy, or even the Pope himself) did the same thing.

Prison Play
The setup of this routine (though left off of the album) is a one-act play staged at a prison. Richard plays the chief guard, an effeminate play director, a Southern belle, her father and brother, and Black Ben the Blacksmith. It's a tale of interracial love in the Deep South, and almost gets cancelled before it even starts, but resumes when all are assured that Ben gets killed during the play. When it doesn't happen, to the outrage of the warden, he demands it either happens to Ben, or one of the gay prisoners in the audience. The racial and homophobic themes in the piece are light-hearted and utterly hilarious. This is so different than anything Richard did after this that you have to wonder where he came up with this stuff!

T.V. Panel Show
This is another long piece, and--again--without the setup, can sound long and boring to the average listener. This is a piece about a late-night TV show that "has a lot to say, but really doesn't!". The topic under conversation is the origin of Man, discussed by the sleepy-voiced host, a snooty professor, a pompous anthropologist, a raucuous Black nationalist, and a female who gave up narcotics for God. It's interesting to hear Richard play five different parts with five very different personalities. A mostly unedited version of this routine can be found on the Holy Smoke! album.

Richard muses on liking to smell things, but talks about having bad breath, stinky underarms, and trying to check out both maladies in secret at a party.

Army Life
Prompted by a choice of either joining the army or going to jail, Richard signs up, expecting "hunting, camping, go[ing] fishing", but instead encounters a lunatic drill sergeant teaching the art of attack and self-defense. Richard has to go up and make with an attack technique on him, and ends up kneeing the guy right in the junk!

A short one where Richard lurches along, grunting like Frankenstein's monster, ingests a little LSD, begins grunting weirdly at the changes going on in his mind, and ends with Lyndon Johnson's drawl: "Mah felluh Americuns..!', leading to loud laughter, and a closing end. Too short to really get into, and a funnier and more creative version appears on Who Me? I'm Not Him.

And there we have it. I know that several shows at the Troubadour were taped for the making of this album (hence a lot of Laff LP's using the leftover material from these shows), and probably a lot to choose from. I don't think this album really showed what Richard was all about, but it was probably hard to catch on tape to begin with, or maybe there was a rush deadline for completion for it. With a lot of the material very experimental (and with routines perhaps performed just once), maybe producer Robert Marchese didn't know what to use, or wanted to present two different sides of Richard, with short, funny routines, and his longer, multi-character bits. It would be amazing to sit and listen to all of the shows in their entirety, as I'm sure there are some great as-yet-unheard material just waiting to be heard and released. Until then, enjoy the material unearthed on Evolution/Revolution.

Friday, October 22, 2010

L.A. Jail (1976)

Although technically not a Laff release, this deserves inclusion becuase of its similarity in content and context to the other Laff albums. It was released on the Tige Lily label, an offshoot of the Roulette record label, which is best remembered for being financed by Mafia crime-family ties. Tiger Lily was no different, apparently existing for tax and record-pressing scams. Mystery has always surrounded this particular release, as Richard himself is said to have supplied the recording for this album. Whichever way you look at it, everything about it smacks of exploitation and the making of a quick dollar, from the unimaginative cover and album title, to the choice of material.

It starts off fading up while Richard is adjusting the microphone, mumbling, not sounding ready or even interested in being onstage. And on it goes, repeating a few things already found on Are You Serious??? and Who Me? I'm Not Him. The only routine missing is "Black Ben The Blacksmith". The only notable cut on here is a word-for-word routine based on a recent viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he would later (and bizarrely) reference on the "Acid" routine on the Bicentennial Nigger album.

Anyone picking this album up to hear what Richard's early stuff sounded like was sure to have been disappointed and would rightly have them asking how he came to becoming a comedian in the first place!

"Craps" (After Hours) [1971]

Richard's second album, or, a second "first" album. Although I had heard a few bits from this on Richard Pryor's Greatest Hits, I didn't find a copy of this until 1998, when I found it at Turntable Treasures.

Some say that this is his definitive album, some say he was never better, but I look at it as him shedding his old skin again; almost there, but not quite. He seems to veer between the old shyness, and his new found "street tough" direction.

This was his first (and truly only) Laff album, primarily for the black audience, but this album was notorious even then for its poor recording quality. It was recorded at Redd Foxx's own nightclub in L.A.; I wonder if Redd was there that night and gave Richard some influence.

This album was somewhat of a cash cow for Laff over the next twelve years, with various and flat-out bizarre reissues and repackages. Parts of it were coupled with Redd Foxx routines on Pryor Goes Foxx Hunting and Down And Dirty. And then coupled with bits from Richard & Willie as Richard Pryor Meets Richard & Willie And The S.L.A.!!! Parts of it appeared on Supernigger and was repackaged with a new cover and title as Blackjack.

The first thing you notice when the album starts off is the smoky ambience, and then when Richard is talking, it almost sounds like he has a towel wrapped around his microphone for the whole album side. But once it gets going, it has some great parts. My favorite routine is where he gets busted by the cops at night, who tell him: "Up against the wall!...There is no wall!...Find one!"
There are segments from the "Girls" routine sprinkled throughout side one, and a couple of references on side two. Side one closes with routines on various preachers, namely the hillbilly preachers on the radio who announce a local appearance from God himself, the fire-and-brimstone black preacher, and the local street-preaching wino on the corner (no encounter with the junkie here). Richard tells the anecdote about himself running through a Vegas casino naked, jumping up onto a craps table and shouting "Blackjack!".

Side two is a little more clearer, and has some better routines. I like the bit about the cops breaking up the local guys singing on the street corner, and the guys grumble about it after the cops leave: "Move me!...If I didn't have to go to work in the morning...!", leading to loud laughter. The "Craps" routine is good, but would have a more heartfelt look back at the same situation in "Hank's Place"; actually, this was sort of re-created in the otherwise forgettable Harlem Nights.

The last five minutes of side two find Richard in more universal territory, with some hilarious bits about dope, gays, jerking off, cumming and farting (shades of the first album again). The audience is in hysterics, Richard thanks the audience, and the album is over.

Highly recommended companions to this are Live & Smokin' from April 1971 (three months after the recording of this), and his segments from Dynamite Chicken (1972), both of which overlap and contain a lot of similar material between them. Live & Smokin' was filmed at the Improv in New York in April of 1971, and while it has some funny moments, it's best viewed strictly as a historical document. A lot of fans point out the telling moment where RIchard makes a joke about White guys coming by for a visit at his house (which was a brothel), and the nervous pull on his cigarette afterwards speaks volumes. Also, the audience (whom you don't see) was probably more White than anything else, so their silence also speaks volumes...maybe they just didn't get "street" humor, or his material was just too raw for them to handle. Dynamite Chicken, as noted, features a lot of the same routines, but a lot of fans say Richard was plenty coked out during these segments. Personally, these are the only good parts of the whole cinematic collage, and worth picking up for, but it's a movie that's hard to watch without fist-forwarding through a lot of the other material!

Are You Serious??? (1976)

The first Laff release showcasing earlier and (mostly) previously unreleased material. Got this at Golden Oldies in 1997. The cover drawing, with a train zooming over Richard's head, is tied in with Silver Streak. The first half of side one is at the Troubadour, and the rest from P.J.'s. Good recording sound and quality throughout the record. A lot of the shorter bits from the first album are here, but funnier and with more energy. With all due respect, this is much better than the first album, and much more representative of what his early material was like at that time.

Side one opens with a lively organ-trio fanfare, leading to Richard welcoming the audience in a whisper: "I would like to make you laugh, I would like to make you cry, I would like to...make you!". Richard then goes into the bits about his old street gang back in Peoria, the "Girls" routine, war movies, and the submarine pep-talk. He also does "Army Life" from the first album, but the "Kill Class" part of it is much better here, funnier, and with some good variations. The funniest bit is when he talks about the hillybilly guy getting to call cadence while marching in line: "Eenie-meenie-minie-moe! Catch a nig--!", and gets promptly pummeled by the black guys before he can even finish the word!

Side two starts off with his fire-and-brimstone preacher "in the year nineteen twunny-nahhhn!", walking down the street "eatin' a sammich", and running into God himself, who asks for a bite. He goes from that into talking about his two different grandmothers: "One used to give me milk and cookies, and the other used to give me beer and reefer...and needless to say which one I liked the best!". Then there's the "Smells" bit from the first album, followed by "Being Born", probably a more visual routine (and probably not unlike the re-created routine you see him do in Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling ).

The last bit is called "Mankind", kind of a history of the world, zipping by via a string of zingers and one-liners. The oft-remembered line is of the first Thanksgiving, where the head Pilgrim blesses the dinner and asks if everyone is thankful, and asks the same of the person sitting next to him: "Yeah, massuh!". It concludes with JFK's "Ask not what your country" quote melding into the Texas drawl of LBJ: "All men are!. On that note, Richard thanks the audience, the show is over, and so is the album.

Who Me? I'm Not Him (1977)

This is where it started for me. I found a copy of this at Faubion's Fabulous Junk in March 1989, and was hooked from then on. The cover drawing is, I assume, tied in with the film Which Way Is Up?...or from a sketch from The Richard Pryor Show. It's a little odd to look these days, considering that he's up there now (the CD reissue has a forgettable cover, with a later picture of Richard in mirror-image).

The material goes between various recordings from P.J.'s and the Troubadour, but pretty seamlessly, and if you don't listen too closely, it almost sounds like one whole performance on each album side.

Side one starts out with an organ-trio fanfare, and Richard welcoming the crowd, talking with them for a bit. He mentions Peoria, and someone name-checks Aiken Alley, making Richard crack, "That's where the whorehouses are! You were there?". He goes into the anecdote about slipping in dog poo in his front yard while wearing a new cowboy outfit, marking that as his first comedy routine and sums it up: "And I've just been slippin' in shit ever since, trying to make money!".

He goes into routines about growing up as a black child with some funny lines ("I cut a girl's hair off, and pasted it back on...her dress!"), then getting into a street gang as a teenager. Eventually, his being out at night gets him caught and hauled into the police station, and then in front of a "Negro judge", who gives Richard a jail sentence sight-unseen, making Richard silently curse the judge: "I hope you turn White!".

He does the "Highway 16" bit, which shows off Richard's flair for starting a routine where he can take it and run with it any way he could. It starts out with his father asking an old-timer for directions to get to Highway 16, and the old-timer drones on and on about the old days around the town they're stuck in, totally forgetting about the directions he was asked about. This version has a great variation where some people are getting up and walking out wile he's doing the routine, and he throws it in: "You go about six over those people as you're going!".

After that is another routine about the faith healers on the radio, and of Richard's local fire-and-brimstone preacher "in the year nineteen twunny-nahhhn!", this time he runs into God, only in the form of a Sun. During the sermon, he delivers a classic line about money: "The root of all evil, unless you know how to handle it!".

Side two kicks off with another organ fanfare, and soon he's going into "Super Nigger" and the "Farting" routines, which are not much different than on the first album. Then come routines about the Army, war movies, and his impressions of Tarzan and Cheetah. After that is a great routine about Dracula conversing with a brother on the street (early shades of "Wino Dealing With Dracula"). The album side ends with "Frankenstein Taking LSD", only with longer and more inventive "tripping out" noises than on the first album, making the punch line much better. He gets a good round of applause for it, and that's where it fades out.

Black Ben The Blacksmith (1978)

I found this one at Golden Oldies in 1997, after a long dry spell without finding any of the Laff albums for a while. This cover shows Richard as a stablehand, putting a shoe on a horse, which doesn't seem to tie in with any of his movies. Then there was a reissue of this in 1982 with a different album cover and title: "Show Biz".

This would be the start of the Laff albums using different sources for material, often in the middle of a routine, or even before one was over.

"Prison Play" from the first album opens up side one, but nothing new, or anything different. The rest of the album side is also from the Troubadour, but in slightly lesser quality audio. He talks about feeling really energetic and juiced up ("I Feel"), then it cuts into his days growing up with the gangs on the back streets of Peoria, this routine being one where all the smaller guys gather up to watch the bigger guys have it out. Then it goes into a bit about being in jail and getting beaten up by one of the officers for stepping out of the chow line: "He didn't call me a nigger or nothin', 'cause there was a lot of colored cats hangin' around...he said things like, "Y-y-y-you dark person!".

Side two opens up with the opening part of the "Wattstax Monolouge", recorded at the Summit club in 1972, but with laughter edited in from another source, as the original source sounds like there's only a handful of people around him. Then it goes into the "TV Panel Show" routine (under the name "Black Nationalist") from the first album, same edits and all. After that, it goes into the middle of the famous "Wino & Junkie" routine, a bit about an angry father in the the neighborhood warning all the guys to stay away from his daughter, and then a bit about a TV show they used to watch in the old days, featuring an old singing cowboy, accompanying himself with a battered, out-of-tune guitar. (A better version of this can be found on The Wizard Of Comedy ).

The Wizard Of Comedy (1978)

Found this one at Golden Oldies in the summer of 1990, with the cover drawing of Richard's face in place of the Wizard Of Oz (must be tied in with The Wiz , which I haven't watched all the way through--rather, couldn't be bothered to). The CD reissue had a different, even hokier cover drawing of Richard dressed as a wizard.

This one was recorded solely at the Troubadour, although with a rather pesky amount of echo added to the tracks, making it sound like he recorded the routines in an echoey men's room.

Side one open with Richard thanking the crowd and then bantering with them, using corny accents and dialects (something he seemed to do a lot during those shows). He then goes headlong into "Hank's Place", reminiscing about the pool hall he used to sneak into and hang out at, even though he was a bit young to be there. He tells about the local carpenter giving an estimate to Hank on fixing the craps table; Big Black Irma, the local hussy who seems to tell everyone to kiss her ass (a little less harsher here than on the Craps album); Cool Breeze, the hustler who can sell someone anything, mostly by busting on someone who didn't have what he had to sell; Cold Blood, the pimp, and Torsey, the cop who busts in to beat up Cold Blood (who gets a little too mouthy) and to throw Richard out. A great, heartfelt routine.

After a piece on churches (where he compares his fire-and-brimstone preacher to the snooze-inducing White Protestant churches), he does a routine called "Heart & Brain", which is a little odd to listen to, considering how many heart attacks he would have in years to come, and the one that took him from us in the end.

Side two starts out with a routine about being in the elementary-school production of "Rumpelstiltskin", complete with voices of the school principal, and all of the kids in the play (this would have been fun to have watched!). "Worms" sounds like a re-write of Bill Cosby's "Hoof & Mouth" routine off of his first album. The next bit, "Country & Western Show", features an old singing cowboy (early shades of Mudbone) called Hank Tudds, who songs a country/western lament about why he killed a tractor, complete with an out-of-tune guitar to accompany him.

The last bit, "Japanese Movies", is a routine that was probably more of a visual thing that doesn't quite work for just listening to it; it consists mostly of a samurai who has to commit hari-kari. It's interesting to consider that Richard did this many years before John Belushi did this on Saturday Night Live. On that note is where the album ends.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Outrageous (1979)

I bought this from an antique store downtown called The Time Machine on a cold, blustery afternoon in December 1989. This was the second one that I found and bought. This was the first that had a two-sided album cover (those corny liner notes on the back would never be seen again!), this one with Richard behind one of those photo-op cutouts, with his head sticking out above a bodybuilder's body, lifting a huge barbell; on the back, he's clad only in his boxers! I'm thinking that the cover is tied in with The Muppet Movie.

This album is the start of patchy sound and recording quality, mixed in with abrupt and sloppy editing, making for jarring listening. Also, this is the start of the record labels having scant titles for the routines; often where there would be a dozen routines on an album side, there would only be five or six titles shown, and usually not representative.

Side one is mostly from the Troubadour, in varying degrees of recording and sound quality. He starts out very timidly: "Thank you very much, and I would like to...make you...heh-heh-heh...that's what I'd like to do!". He goes on about getting a ticket for the first time, and actually thanking the cop who gave it to him. Then he goes into a routine about a surgeon performing an operation, only it's actually a suit he's been stitching together! Then there's the "Improvisation" bit where he does an imitation of a black man being beaten up by cops during a riot, and the cops say to each other afterward, "Wait, that's not the right one! Ah well, let's go!".

The sound quality improves a bit where he tells about his old street gang getting ready to have a rock and bottle-throwing fight with a rival gang, and almost gets into it with his own guys for copping out and not wanting to do it. Then there's bits about being overseas in Germany, musings on what kind of guy Jesus was, and concludes about wanting to end the show with a bang. He tells the anecdote about stripping down and running through the casino stark naked, but laments "Then you gotta come back and get your clothes. You know, it's embarrassing, because of goose-pimples and you shrink up...[nasal white person's voice] I though Negroes were built better than that!".

Side two is where the cheesiness and choppy editing starts coming in. It starts off with the "I Feel" and "Hit me with a brick!" routines that were heard on Black Ben The Blacksmith , only slightly edited down a little bit. The best bits are about Terry Austin, the neighborhood tough-guy who gets the snot beaten out of him by a wino, whom they pay off with a bottle of wine; there's another "Highway 16" routine, very imaginatively done, this time with a truckload of feathers that got jack-knifed, and then Dracula and the brother on the street (we finally find out why Dracula doesn't like dark meat here!).

The rest of the album side is filled with the poorest-recorded material on any of the Laff albums. It cuts into the middle of a rendition of "Mankind", but with some interesting variations that include Moses, Julius Caesar, and even Frank Sinatra ("Aw, he'll never make it--he's too skinny!"). Then it cuts into a rendition of "Heart And Brain" and "Playboy Club", whereupon it cuts abruptly into loud applause from a different recording, and then fades out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Insane (1980)

I found this one at Golden Olides in the summer of 1999, still sealed. I hadn't found any of the Laff albums for a while at this point, and this was one I had definitely never seen anywhere. The cover drawing is of Richard standing in a padded cell, in a straightjacket (was this supposed to be tied in with Stir Crazy ?).

Side one starts off nicely with bits on growing up in Peoria. I like how he describes it: "Whatever you think about when you hear the name, that's what it's like!...One person threw up!". He talks about his early-morning exercise routine, and goes into a bit about the school bully, on whom he and some buddies get revenge on by overloading the barbell he's going to lift up during a school assembly (this was performed on a few TV appearances, and seemed to be a favorite bit to some).

Then it goes into some poorly-recorded but funny bits about New York subways, bad Coke machines ("your Coke comes pouring out, with no cup!"), and the dirty movies playing on 42nd Street. He talks about the then-popular nudie adventure movies, playing for an audience of guys with coats in their laps who get angry when the movie is found laughable: "Dont'cha have any ruh-spect!?!?". The last bit is about a woman who comes onto him in a Chicago hotel room; Take off your clothes, she purrs, and Richard does, and "she put them on, and left!".

Side two finds Richard at some pretty strange/unfamiliar venues, or in front of audiences who didn't get him. It starts out with him telling one-liners, accompanied by a pianist (!?!?!?), using a Jackie Mason-type accent, and the audience isn't terribly interested. Then it cuts into another set in front of an unruly audience, and he's not going over very well with the audience, or they just don't get the material. The rest of the side comes from the Troubadour, with his fire-and-brimstone preacher/faith-healer closing the album, but using the same bits from Who Me? I'm Not Him .

Monday, October 18, 2010

Holy Smoke! (1980)

A personal favorite, this one. I found the cassette copy of this on Halloween of 1990 for two dollars at the Hill-Top Pawn Shop. I didn't go trick-or-treating or coke out on candy or watch any horror movies that night, I just put this one in and spent the evening with Richard.

Side one is mostly from P.J.'s in 1968. Richard is in a very silly mood on this recording, but obviously having fun onstage and with the audience, with whom he banters with throughout most of that set. He does one bit, like a Shakespearean-type "prove your love to me" scene, and compares it to what it would be like in the present day; he drops a small F-bomb during the bit, and laughs almost sheepishly about having even said it.

There's also another funny bit about trying to make a great speech, but finds that what he's trying to say turns into complete incoherent mush. After that is a short, poorly-recorded segment, mostly about TV commercials about toys, mouthwash and deodorant, which sound a lot like routines from George Carlin's Take-Offs And Put-Ons LP. Then we're back at P.J.'s, where Richard closes his set by making a speech, which again collapses into incoherent blabber, but then tries to start up a sing-along, sneaking in phrases like "up your ass" and "screw the world", which gets a lot of laughs, and it's over.

Side two is mostly from the Troubadour. After a small musing on the invention of the chair, he goes into "T.V. Panel Show" (re-named "Talk Show"), but this is pretty much the fullest and most uncut version out there (it runs about eleven minutes). Among the restored parts include when the host says, "But first, a word from our...No?...well, we begin the conversation!"; we also hear Miss Hazel Dumpwood's story about how she found God (sounds like she did a lot of drugs!) and at the end of the bit, when the host signs off, he says, "And remember our motto....". There is none, the show is now over, and so is the bit.

There's also another piece about some Whitey old-timers reminiscing about the year 1968, and the fun they had about giving blacks a hard time, and the subsequent Watts riots. The album side ends, somewhat stupidly, with Richard making a bunch of corny mouth-noises, sort of like the "Being Born" or "Frankenstein Taking LSD" bits, but then cuts into loud applause in the middle of it, and the album is finished.

The album cover drawing, with smoke shooting from Richard's ears while he has a surprised look on his face, is kind of corny, but doesn't seem to have anything to do with his movies. There was an album from Laff by Richard & Wille called Richard's Firecracker , with a drawing of a black man running down the street while on fire. I'm just glad that wasn't the cover for this one!

Rev. Du Rite (1981)

I found this one at 2nd Time Around in 1999, buried amongst the ninety-nine cent and twenty-nine cent albums that nobody seemed to want, and that they couldn't even give away. Their "comedy" section was buried among these unwanted slabs of wax. The cover drawing, I assume, is tied in with Marty Feldman's 1981 film In God We Tru$t.

Despie the rather abrupt splices in the opening, side one starts out promising, with familiar-sounding bits about neighborhood girls, the hillbilly calling cadence, and his father with the X-ray vision. But when it gets to the title track, the speed of the tape mastering is way out of hand, and too fast-sounding (wasn't someone monitioring this?). The same thing happens with the closer, "Boobs", a rather experimental courtroom-drama bit.

Sandwiched between those two is a great bit about watching dogs get stuck end-to-end, and watching circus elephants "letting it all hang out". Following that is a bit of a guy who needs to go to the pay-toilet, but doesn't have a nickel, and trying to beg one from a kid, and then the kid's dad, but then it's too late!!!

Side two sounds like it's pretty much from one set, but very muffled-sounding all the way through. There's no energy in any of the bits, which seem to not go anywhere, save for the last bit (shades of Lenny Bruce), about a jealous guy interrogating his wife about a mysterious book of matches, the toilet seat being left up, and at the end tells her that she can leave if she doesn't like it: "Wait, where are you going? You can't leave!". Cuts abruptly to audience clapping, and a fast fade-out.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that this album won the Grammy that year for Best Comedy Album. I really don't see how!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Supernigger (1983)

The worst. The absolute worst. This one was obviously slapped together to cash in on the release of Superman III , hence the cover art and the title (how'd they get away with that one, anyway? They should have known he'd sworn off using that word!). I only have the cassette of this (bought at 2nd Time Around), with just the back-cover drawing of Richard as a pimp, touching down in a big ol' white pimp-wagon Caddy.

This one has cuts from Craps (After Hours) and what seems like bits from Black Ben The Blacksmith and The Wizard Of Comedy. The main offender is the editing at the end of the title cut; just when the excited white person happily cries out "It's Super Nigger!", the recording cuts off into laughs, and then onto the next segment.

Nothing "new" or interesting on this one, no rhyme or reason, just a slab of wax to cash in on with.

Richard Pryor Live! (1983)

I found this one, still sealed, at Golden Oldies in October of 2010. This was the final Laff release, and--oddly enough--completes my collection. By the cover graphics, it's trying to look like an official release (shades of Here And Now), but the cover drawing of Richard keeps it in the amateur section.

This one is a bizarre cross between repackage and ripoff. The first half of each album side contains material from previous albums, while at the same time, presenting material from a release also titled Richard Pryor Live! , an album on the exploito label Phoenix 10. I've seen it around, with a poorly-processed head shot of Richard on the front cover, and was also released as a picture disc.

Side one kicks of with "Black Ben The Blacksmith/Prison Play" (uh-gain!), only this time, the tape source sounds really flat here. The remaining eleven minutes come from the other Live! album, coming from the Troubadour. Richard's fire-and-brimstone preacher is here, with the ever-hilarious tale about eatin' a sammich "in the year nineteen-twunny-naaaaahhnnn!" (though there is a funny variation where the preacher is trying to hit on one of the ladies who comes up to be healed!). There's also a good bit about a lineup at the police station, with a car thief who has every excuse in the book about why he was caught stealing a car. The last bits are about war movies, and movie stars going to the bathroom. No differences in these performances.

Side two consists mostly of side two from The Wizard Of Comedy, all the way up through "Country & Western Show". The last seven minutes are from P.J.'s, and here's where it gets weird---the bits pick up just where we left them on side one! He tells of the game about "who can poo-poo in their pants the most", but then it goes into the same bits from before about movies stars in the bathroom, war movies, and then the submarine routine. Even though it's two different recordings from two different venues, it's jarring to hear the same routines almost back to back.

This was Laff's final Richard Pryor release, and it's not too hard to see why. Two years later, the label itself would be history.

Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974) [2005]

I came across this one by accident at Circuit City in November of 2005, and I didn't even know it was out. I picked it up and was amazed that not only did it consist of a lot of early stuff, but was endorsed by Richard himself. The 2-CD set went to the cash-register with me.

It's divided into two distinct halves: the early, experimental years of 1966-68, and the "street humor" years of 1971-74, where he finally sheds off his old skin and became the Richard Pryor we all knew and loved.

Disc One opens with Richard at the hungry i in San Francisco, sounding like any ordinary standup comedian of the times, relating safe, sanitized tales of growing up in Peoria, but the audience seems to be merely tolerating him. Then the set veers between sets recorded at P.J.'s and the Troubadour, but this time in vastly sound-improved and unedited routines that came from some of the Laff albums. And then some of them were different versions altogether, making them a real treat. It was great to hear "Hank's Place" unedited, which is a revelation; he gets a major round of applause when he does his imitation of Black Irma, which was well-deserved. Plus, his classic fire-and-brimstone preacher bit, and the old-timer relating tales whilst forgetting directions to Highway 16.

Disc Two consists mostly of Craps (After Hours) , which was a little disappointing (I would have preferred more unreleased stuff), but the sound is a lot cleaner here, and a major improvement, even for something that was poorly recorded to begin with. Then it has the "Wattstax" monolouge, uncut and unedited, which has some great bits throughout it. My favorite part is an alternate version of "Super Nigger", especially the part where Supe takes his sweet time choosing what kind of crime-fighting gear he's going to wear that day while disaster is happening.

The real piece of treasure for me was "Street Corner Wino" (recorded at The Comedy STore in 1973), in which the street wino has a conversation with one of the local hoods, who tells him the story of how he robbed and beat up a white farmer guy looking for some easy tail in the alley. It's so outrageously hilarious that it's easily the funniest thing Richard ever laid down on tape. I won't give away any of the story have to hear it to believe it.

On December 1st, I e-mailed Richard, wishing him a happy birthday, telling him about the new CD, and thanking him for all of the great laughs I had listening to his albums and watching his movies over the last 25 years. I like to think that he got it and read it, but I guess I'll never know. He left us nine days later.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fonzarelli The Great

April or so of 1984, Bryant Elementary School, in the second grade. We had an assembly in the gymnasium that afternoon. We perked up a bit when we heard it was going to be a "magic" show, so that was something to look forward to.

After a few words from the principal, the magician came on. No corny tux or top hat or anything on this guy, just a simple suit, and he did the usual tricks for us, which was interesting.

The one thing that I remember happening was that he blew up a couple of those long, tube-like balloons, and put them up to his mouth: "Mick Jagger"' he said, and then sang, "Gonna miss you...".

Hilarious. Then, he challenged someone to come up onto the stage and take part in a balloon "sword" duel. My best friend at the time, Mitchell Campbell, got up out of the audience and was on stage. The magician handed him the "sword" and asked, "Do you have any last words?". Mitchell answered, "Your mama!". Big laugh from the crowd. They did a sword-fight routine for a while, which was hilarious.

Anyway, it was a great show, and before we knew it, it was over, and we were back in class, talking and laughing about the show. Then the teacher told us all who it was: she said the name Henry Winkler, and all of a sudden I realized that that was The Fonz who had given the magic show! We didn't recognize him without the leather jacket, and I should have recognized him from the movie Night Shift, which was on cable TV quite regularly, but didn't.

He pulled a really big one on us with that one!

Monday, June 28, 2010

He would have been 20 today

Just into the summer of 1990, at my friend James' house, the mama kitty there, Taboo, had just given birth to a litter of kittens in his closet. This was not the first time a cat had had kittens not far from him; a few years before that, one cat had had her kittens in his very bed, with the slimy newborn baby kittens squirming about at his feet, which woke him up!

Among the kittens was a male cat, black with salt-and-pepper stripes all over his body, and a diamond shape over his shoulderblades. He was James' favorite, and would sleep with him at night when the kitten got a little older. When it came time to find the kittens a new home, I was also taken with the little striped one, so I took him home, and named him Alvin.

And that's where he stayed with us for the rest of his life. As he grew older, he really hated being picked up and held; he'd growl at you when you did it, and then hiss when he wasn't let go soon enough. But he loved chicken, and was always there when some fresh, hot fried chicken was brought home from the grocery store, or out of the deep fryer. He could never get enough of that.

He also loved biscuits. Whether they came out of the oven, or from the store, he ate 'em up. We found that out once when we had left some biscuits on the kitchen table overnight, a a few of them had been knocked over onto the floor, and had some little bites missing from them. We never had any mice in the house when he was there, but he always seemed to be on patrol for them, poised not far from the rear bedroom door, waiting for something to scurry by.

He wasn't a mere pet, but really my little buddy, always there when I needed him, or when I wanted to pet or play with him...when he was in the mood, that is.

The years went by, and all of a sudden he was celebrating his fifteenth birthday. I knew he wasn't going to be around forever, but looking back at all the things that had happened in those intervening years, it was like he had. But by then, he was getting skinny, wandering in circles around the house and was drinking and peeing excessively...but he still loved his chicken!

A futile trip to the vet showed that he was shutting down internally, little by little, and he wasn't going to be around much longer. It wasn't easy news; I knew it was so as I laid him on the steel examination table, but I knew I'd feel better that I tried to save him in the end.

On July 20th, the next day, after noon had passed, Alvin quietly left us. After I got home from work, I had to dig a hole in the backyard and put my little buddy in the ground. It was the hardest thing I had ever had to do at that point. It was hard to get on with things for a while, because you always expected him to come around the corner any minute, and then you realized he wasn't.

Happy 20th birthday to Alvin. We still miss you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Don't touch that dial!

What I really miss are the local TV channels that were independently run. A lot of them in and around town have long since been bought and sold by the movie studios that turned them into little networks of their own. Eventually, a lot of those ended up being resounding failures, and are no longer in existence, with just bare little skeletons of what once was left on the old channel number.

But for a long time, a typical day on one of the channels was pure heaven. In fact, KSTW-11 in Tacoma was a longtime favorite. In the mornings there would be your typical cartoon shows, some reruns after those, a few game shows; then, The One O'Clock Movie, another two hours of cartoons, three hours of sitcoms, the 8 O'Clock movie, the local news, and then it was off to bed!

They had some great shows on that channel in the afternoon. As a pre-schooler, in the afternoon, I would see Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? followed by The Munsters and All In The Family. Later on, I'd see What's Happening!!!, WKRP In Cincinnati, Sanford And Son, Taxi, and M*A*S*H before the movie came on. After the 10 O'Clock News was Barney Miller and Benny Hill, but those were on a little too late for me.

Forget TV Land, this channel had it all! Eventually, it was bought by Viacom to become the UPI Network. KTZZ (which used to have cool cartoons like Heathcliff and Inspector Gadget and local shows like The Spud Goodman Show) became the WB. The less said, the better. KCPQ-13 became the local FOX network, but they somehow always stayed true to what they once were, and always kept the local news at 10 P.M.

Another favorite channel back then was WTBS, shortly to drop the "W". That was another great channel that showed great cartoons and reruns, plus a lot of obscure and long-forgotten movies; the first place I would see some of my favorites, and for some, the only time I ever would. That's where I first saw Willard and its sequel, Ben, not to mention Frogs and Devil Dog: The Hound Of Hell. Over time, the movies and reruns they showed got a lot more tame and unimaginitive, and TBS eventually became just another pay-TV channel. Like a lot of them did, including the USA Network, which once showed Night Flight and USA Up All Night, with loads of cheesy, no-budget sex-comedy movies.

Small wonder why TV has long since lost its charm for me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

K-Tel Hell

One obscure little aspect of music lying around the house were some of those album collections of the hit songs of the day, compiled and packaged and even hawked on TV by your friends at K-Tel and Ronco. We had a half-dozen or so of those things, and sometimes they were played all the way through, or just a few select cuts were played with any regularity.
Some of the album covers were entertaining or funny, sometimes (in the case of one album) with a sticker promising KC and Andy Gibb POSTERS!--INSIDE!.

Some songs were great, some were utter garbage, and some were just plain embarrassing (and I'm speaking of the turn of the '70s into the '80s). Like, for every good song by Elton John or Linda Ronstadt, there would be cuts by KC and the Sunshine Band or Rick Dees. I seem to remember the first time hearing Black Sabbath anywhere was from a collection called Power Rock, and sure enough, there was "Paranoid" on it.

As the years went on, the song selection on these records could be interesting. One was called Rock 80, with new cuts by Cheap Trick, the Ramones, The Pretenders, Gary Numan and others. There was another called Radio Active, with new hits by the Police, the Who, Genesis and others of the new MTV era.

There were a few compilations with songs that were just fun to listen to, mostly from the Ronco label, some of them even endorsed by Don Kirshner himself (!). I began to hear songs like Dr. Hook's "The Cover Of The Rolling Stone" and "Wildwood Weed" by Jim Stafford, each containing references that I was way too young to understand, but just hearing the voices on the records was hilarious enough. Thanks to this kind of upbringing, I knew about Cheech & Chong and Hudson & Landry as much as I did about Ernie & Bert!

One favorite of my sister's was Don Kirshner presents FUN ROCK, which featured mostly a lot of top-40 hits from the bubblegum period of the early '70s, but she liked it a lot. It had stuff from Ray Stevens, Sam The Sham, the Archies, the Lemon Pipers, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. Pure corn, in retrospect, but it grew on me, and it was fine enough for someone who wasn't even in school yet.

One day, my sister was at school, but the record player was on that morning, and I recognized "Winchester Cathedral" from what I thought was FUN ROCK playing. When it ended, I knew that "Woolly Bully" was coming up next, right? No. It was another K-Tel album playing, one called Best of Britain, which I hadn't heard yet.
And what song came on after that...?


Holy shit! I though Satan himself was behind me in the living room, bellowing at me...but, no, it was Arthur Brown with the song "Fire", which frightened the life out of me, and then excited me. I had never heard such a frantic mix of menacing vocals and organ before, but I loved it as soon as it was over, and couldn't wait to hear it again. Later on, on the same album side, I got to hear cuts by the Kinks and the Zombies that would also make a strong impression on me.

But there was one song on another collection that never did, and one that I really, really hated. It was "Playground In My Mind" by Clint Holmes, with that nauseating chorus in the song that goes "My name is Michael, I got a nickel...". You know the rest (I sure wish I could forget it). I would literally leave the room whenever I heard the song playing.

So, for every good song, there was a really bad one.

But, the seed had been sown.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Night Flight

In late 1983 or so, we discovered another cool music-video show on the USA Network called Night Flight. It was a four-hour show that featured music videos, state-of-the-art/computer animation, clips from old and new movies, old and sometimes very obscure cartoons and film shorts, standup comedy routines, music-video countdowns, and classic and obscure music videos and concert films.

And, very often, this was typical of just one night's show. Sometimes, there'd be a sort of "theme" night; like, say, drugs. They would intertwine standup comedy routines about cocaine and smoking grass with an old silent-comedy film about the evils of doing cocaine (in the middle of one such film, they dubbed in the song "Footloose" when the main guys were shooting the stuff into their veins and dancing like madmen).

Another staple of the show was the 1936 classic "Reefer Madness", with always a short clip of it shown somewhere during the course of the show. That, and clips of W.C. Fields, The Three Stooges and very obscure Looney Tunes shorts were pasted in there as well (that's where I first saw the infamous clip of Porky Pig slamming his thumb with a hammer and stammering "Son of a b-b-bi-bi-bi!"). Another theme was the latest in clay animation, where they showed John Fogerty's "Vanz Kant Danz", Frank Zappa's "Inca Roads", a clip from Fantasia, and other arty new-wave videos with the latest in animation and claymation.

In a way, "Night Flight" was what MTV should have been. Music, plus comedy and cartoons and wacky films and God knows what else that would fit into the pot. A lot of people remember the show as a sort of "MTV for stoners", which wouldn't be far from the truth.

The music videos were always great. One night, they had a "Tribute To Pink Floyd", showing some new videos from The Final Cut, which I had never seen anywhere else, and then capped it off with a couple of segments from Live At Pompeii, which I had never even knew about. I remember being totally blown away by that. Just the four guys, playing in an ancient, empty Roman amphitheater. Whoaaa...!

Another night, they showed clips from a Black Sabbath concert from 1978, and another night, recent clips from a Ten Years After reunion concert at the Marquee in 1983, which was bitchin'. They would also show films such as The Doors Are Open and the Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil.

Another thing on the show that made me a devout fan were the music videos from the German music show Beat Club , primarily from 1967 to about 1973; some in black-and-white, some in color, and some of them in lysergic mind-melting color. Knowing a lot about music from that era, even back then, it was amazing to see videos from bands I knew about, but never saw in action. A handful I remember seeing were by Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Canned Heat, Yes, the Who, the Small Faces (before I knew who they were), very young Bee Gees, and "This Wheel's On Fire" by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity. I've been a fan and collector of footage from that show ever since.

I think this was more than half the reason we got this thing called a Video Cassette Recorder in mid-1984, in order to record a bunch of stuff from Night Flight. After all, that's among some of the earliest stuff we recorded on it. We caught a cool Frank Zappa special that he had compiled especially for the show in 1987. Still have that on tape, as well as some other parts of shows we taped in the mid-'80s.

Like all great things, it continued over the years, but grew shorter and shorter and less interesting as time went on. I think they ran out of cool stuff to show, or out of ideas, and the show wasn't as interesting as it once was. The last time I remember seeing the show anywhere was New Year's Eve of 1995, on a local channel that was carrying the sad remains of it, but at least with two gems to behold: a short film called "Suspicious Circumstances", and the classic Lenny Bruce animated short "Thank You Mask Man".

Pop Clips (1980)

Back in 1980, when I was four, we were the only ones on the block with a new thing called Cable TV. A lot of the neighbors would want to come over to watch TV shows they couldn't get anywhere else, or movies, or just see things with better reception than at home. One of the cable channels was called Nickelodeon, which I frequently tuned into in the mornings, as they had a two-hour sort of poor man's Sesame Street type of show, called Pinwheel.

Later on in the week or maybe on the weekend, at around 9:30 PM, there was a music-video show called Pop Clips, and Dad used to let me stay up to watch it with him. My sister would either be in her room, or at a friend's house overnight, but my Dad and I would see videos from the newer bands of the day, or old favorites still going strong.

Among the videos I remember seeing were "Love Stinks" by the J. Geils Band, "Do You Remember Rock & Roll Radio?" by the Ramones, "Play The Game" by Queen, "Fish Heads" by Barnes & Barnes, plus cuts by newer bands like Cheap Trick, the Police, the Knack and the Shoes. One particular favorite was "One Step Beyond" by a nutty bunch of guys called Madness, with a bunch of funny-looking guys doing all kinds of hilarious dances throughout the song. We would just crack up watching this one! I would get to brag to my sister the next morning about all the cool videos I got to see.

I don't remember how long the show was on, but it was interesting and fun to watch, and--yes--it was the precursor to MTV. One other thing that amazed me about the show later was finding out that it was created by Mike Nesmith of The Monkees.
After the show was over, as was the channel's broadcasting day, there was a clip of a mime-type character would wave goodbye and then turn out a light, with the Nickelodeon logo across the bottom of the screen. I didn't know what a nickelodeon was at that time, so I assumed that it was the name of the guy onscreen, and maybe that he was the channel's mascot.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Requiem for an old schoolmate

In the years since I've graduated, I have always been more curious about the people I went to elementary school with. Forget junior high and high school, you pretty much knew what the people around you were going to be, or turn out like.

In the case of many school friends from the early school days, they were your friend for about a couple of years, and then they simply vanished off the face of the earth; or you moved, and then you vanished from the face of the earth, and, in either case, were pretty much never seen again.

With the advent of MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, I've found some old friends from the old days and added them to my ranks, but didn't bother with "Hey, ya remember me from the time I lent you my crayons in Ms. Swanson's class? I never got 'em back! Let's hook up and have a beer and talk about the old days!". I think we all have better things to do, truth be told.

But there are some people who went off into the wrong direction, not through any fault of their own; maybe it was just the environment, peer pressure, or maybe older siblings who showed them the way. A few fondly-remembered childhood buddies ended up with arrest records a mile long apiece, stemming from back in the early 1990's. I guess it was just as well that we lost touch over the years.

But I would still remember the old days and adventures from time to time, and often wondered whatever became of them, and hoped that they had turned out okay, even if I would never see them again.

I opened the paper this morning, and saw that an old schoolmate, Anthony McCane, passed away last week from pneumonia. In the years after our time together, he had slipped into the gang-member/drugs life, and got paralyzed in a shootout in 2002; he subsequently turned his life around and became a tutor, teacher, coach, mentor and friend to everyone he came into contact with. I would never have seen the former aspect of his life coming, as I remembered him as a pretty good guy back then, but he more than redeemed himself afterwards. I'm happy for him in that respect, but I'm a little sad that I can never be able to reconnect and say "hi" again. This is not the first time, and certainly not the last. Rest in peace, old friend.

Friday, February 19, 2010

"Get off the stage!!!"

September, 1984. I was with my Dad, my uncle, and a friend of theirs to go and see Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night at the Puyallup Fair Grandstand. I wasn't a fan or anything; I was just eight, and had no option but to go along with them. I don't remember much about the concert, except for two things. One was that a brawl broke out a few rows behind us towards the end of the Three Dog Night set, and a lot of guys were jumping in to break it up.

The other thing was the short comedy act that took place while Steppenwolf's gear was being broken down in order for Three Dog Night to play their show. The comedian's name was Ross Schafer, and he was one of the guys from one of the local Good Morning, Seattle -type of shows that were on in the early weekday mornings.

This guy comes out on stage in a pink sweater (of all things!) and proceeds ahead with his stand-up shtick. But I can't hear what he's trying to say, because the audience is booing, shouting, cussing at the guy, and throwing him the finger, followed by a chant to Get off the stage!. He cut out early to avoid any objects being thrown onto the stage in his direction.

I learned then and there that it was not a good idea to try to do comedy in front of a loud, rowdy, beer-drinking crowd who were there to hear "Born To Be Wild" and "Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog". Especially while wearing a pink sweater. Yikes!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I need a charge!

When I go out on long bus rides to get to and get back from somewhere, I make sure I have plenty of musical entertainment on me. No use sitting there listening to other people's boring converstaions or screaming kids for longer than I really need to.

In this day of digital thingamajigs to play music on, I still use a Walkman. I have had a half-dozen Discman-type players over the years, but they've all fallen apart somehow, or just plain died out on me...and I took care of them the best way I could, ya know? The headphone jack has gone faulty on me, or the player skips and stutters like no tomorrow (and this is one of those non-skip models!), the homemade CD's just won't play, or something holding the door closed has broken off, and now I have to put a big rubberband around it to hold it shut so it can play.

You know something? The Walkman has never failed me, always works, and as long as I have plenty of battery power, it'll do just fine. Especially the batteries. You can always tell when you're starting to run low, because the pitch of the tape speed starts to drop.

When you're listening to a Yes cassette on a Walkman, and all of a sudden, Jon Anderson's voice begins to sound remarkably like that of Isaac Hayes, it is time to put in some new batteries!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

And that was it!

March, 1998. Practices at Tom's became less frequent. First, we knew our songs pretty well, and were quick to learn new ones. Secondly, we had no gigs on the horizon (hardly anyone else was out scouting places to play). Lastly, Tom was now working with a side-project of his with our old buddy Dan on drums, and the bass player from the band godheadsilo. Not only were our get-togethers happening a lot less, The Pace itself seemed like an afterthought. There was even a trio rehearsal without Tom one evening, as he had other things to do.

We came up with the idea of hitting some of the local open-mike shows in and around town...getting up there, blazing through five fast songs, and leaving the stage a smoking wreck behind us. But the concept died out after an unsuccessful attempt at Cole's Oasis in Ruston, as the bands there were bogarting the stage, and we seemed to lose interest in the whole thing as it got later and later. And then, Tom's off on a vacation to Washington D.C. for a couple of weeks.

I was told that we'd be getting together once he got back, but my phone wasn't ringing for about a week after that. When it did, I was invited by Tom to this party at a house a couple of blocks down from Tom's place. When I got there, I found that not only had the other guys been playing without me all that while, they were the evening's entertainment. But they were doing something with the old Thomas organ, delay pedals and percussion, and it wasn't what we had been doing. And it sure wasn't interesting. I left the house before the party even started.

May, 1998. I was called to a rehearsal, as the Pace were invited to open another show at the Central on the 8th, in a few days. When I got there, the rehearsal room was in total disarray, and I was using Dan's drums; he lately had tuned his snare really loose, making the whole rehearsal sound in slow-motion. We plowed through some of our old favorites, but we were rusty. When the day came, I tried to call Tom to see what time we were going to pack up for the show, but no answer. I went over there, and the other three guys were playing the same bit they had played at the party, only now they had borrowed an Optigan organ from Guitar Maniacs. I was told that this was what they were going to do onstage that night, and that I was invited to sit in with them. Sit in! With a band I was already in! Or was I?

I helped lug the gear in and set it onstage. We brought Dan's drums, but Winter was insistent on not taking the snare with us, for some odd reason. We were on first, on a bill that included the RC-5, the Notorious Brodies, and the Goddamn Gentlemen. I placed my microcassette atop Winter's guitar amp to record the show. Winter announced that the show was for the ladies in the audience. And off we went.

They started off with Tom playing repetitive guitar lines fed through a phaser, Lincoln on the Thomas organ's bass pedals, and Winter on bongos. Midway through this long, droning piece, one of Tom's buddies shouted, "Play something that rocks!!! Let's rock and roll!!!", making Tom crack back, "This is anti-rock!". Having no snare made things difficult, but I made up for it using a pair of felt-head mallets I had bought the day before, playing lots of washes on the cymbals.

We moved into another piece that was reliant on Winter playing guitar through the delay-pedal, piling lines and notes atop one another, which was slightly more interesting, and got some applause. And then they moved into some sort of ballad written by Tom, now playing the Optigan, and Lincoln on the bongos. The applause at the end seemed almost feigned and sarcastic.

The show was over....and so were The Pace.

Quite a shame to have ended with such an embarrassing end, as we were so much better than that, and had so much more to offer. But, it had been quite an enjoyable ride while it was happening, and a hell of a great start for me.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Meanwhile, Back at The Central Tavern

February 18, 1998:

A squeak of feedback greeted Winter as he stepped up to the mike and greeted the crowd: "Hi, everybody! We're The Pace!".

It was our first gig since our New Year's Eve show at the Central Tavern, and we had come quite a way since then. We had added some new songs, kept some favorites, and added a new original instrumental to close the show with. Winter kicked off with the opening riff to the first song, and we were off!

1) Come On Now
2) I Just Wanna Make Love To You

We were going to segue into the next song, like we did the last time. Oh no! My right drumstick broke in half not even a few bars into the song. I kept on the crash/ride cymbal until I could fish myself up another stick during the segue into the next song.

3) I'm Not Talking

Sounds good, we're playing great, but I'm not hearing the vocals at all through the PA. Neither could the other guys, so it wasn't just me.

4) The Nazz Are Blue

When we finished with this one, the only thing missing was the sound of crickets and tumbleweeds. Did the crowd not like that one? We'd better drop that one next time.

5) I'm Talking About You
6) Too Much Monkey Business
7) Daddy Rolling Stone

Still sounds good, maybe just a little too fast for the crowd. When we announced this song and the next one, Tom quipped, "The Kinks are on our side!"

8) I Need You
9) Time Is On My Side
10) I Don't Mind

"And now we're going to go surfing!", Winter announced, and we tore into a cut from the Beatles' Live At The BBC set, only rocked up a little harder.

11) I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You)
12) Circles
13) Fortune Teller
14) Rosalie

Still good, but "Fortune Teller" was too fast. More people were coming in, and they seemed to like what we were doing. One of Tom's friends in the audience was drunkenly howling for us to play The Who song "So Sad About Us", making Tom quip, "You're making me sad!".

15) Take This, Brother, May It Serve You Well

This was an instrumental that we had come up with a few weeks before. Winter started off with a staccato two-note riff, and I lurched it forward with military-like drum rolls. Tom and Lincoln joined in, and then I began with 4/4 on the snare, but with a Bolero-type rhythm on the hi-hat (borrowed again, only this time from the other band after us, the Deadbeats). After two passes, we launched into a heavy, jazzy triple-time signature, with lots of feedback and distortion. I slowed it way down on the drums, and then brought up all the way again, with more feedback and distortion. Bang! All over and done. "Elvis has left the building!", the soundman intoned over the PA system.

As we were packing up our gear to take off the stage, Tom's friend kept pleading for us to play "So Sad About Us", even offering to sing it for us, oblivious to the fact that we had finished our set. Someone else requested Santana's "Soul Sacrifice", which cracked Lincoln up. Listening to the tape I made of the show (on my Realistic microcasette recorder again) at home later on that evening, the vocals were almost inaudible on the tape as they were on stage. So it wasn't just me!

A week later, after we had finished a rehearsal, we went off to a party being thrown by a friend of Tom's, over on the north side of town. We all piled into Tom's van, now up and running, and went to this party. I didn't really know anyone at this get-together, but I tried to enjoy the vibe. Most of the crowd went down into the basement to listen to a band there play, which was good, but the drummer was way too busy on the hi-hat.

Later on, Lincoln visited the bathroom, and noticed there were no drinking glasses in there, but there were some of those darned tea-candles burning away on the counters and shelves. So, he bent down, turned his head in order to drink right from the faucet, and as he was slurping from it, he began to smell something burning! It was a small patch of hair on one side of his head, but thankfully caught it in time before any noticable damage was done.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy New Year!!!

New Year's Eve, 1997. We were ready to play our first real show, at the Central Tavern at 6th and Proctor. This time, I managed to get myself a black suit jacket from the local thrift shop. Tom lent me an old pair of black sunglasses that had actual dark glass in the lenses (shades of That Thing You Do!). Lincoln was lent some money so he could get his SG Junior in time to play the show. The lugging of gear up the stairs and into Winter's and Lincoln's cars weren't so bad, as we had no organ to take with us this time.

We got there, and began a soundcheck. I'd never been on a music stage before, and it was exciting, setting up the drums under the orange and green lights. Winter, meanwhile, was writing down copies of the setlist on the big paper placemats that normally have plates of food set on them. Tom had managed to borrow the hi-hat from Bon Von Wheelie's drumset, as Girl Trouble were going to play after us, so I was relieved at not having to play that ratty homemade thing, or just my cymbal.

Tom and I brought his tape deck to plug into the mixing board to get a recording of the show, but we didn't have the right type of plug-in, so that wasn't an option. I'd remembered to bring my Realistic microcassette recorder with me, and so it was set atop the PA speaker next to the drums.

It was showtime! Winter said, "Hi, everybody! We're The Pace!". And off we went:

1) I Just Wanna Make Love To You
2) I'm Not Talking

Tom wanted to take the time to ask if the band has any New Year's resolutions, and I recognized this bit from the Yardbirds' BBC disc; Winter said he was going to continue the way he was going, Lincoln said he was going to play the guitar, and I said "Try[ing] not to smoke and drink so much!".

3) I Ain't Got You
4) Beautiful Delilah
5) I'm Talking About You
6) Heart Full Of Soul

So far, so good. The crowd was getting off on what we were playing to them. Tom quipped, "You can never have too much Chuck Berry!".

7) Let It Roll On
8) Too Much Monkey Business
9) Love Me Like I Love You
10) I Ain't Done Wrong
11) Evil Hearted You

Damn, we were on fire! Winter asked if anyone had anything to drink, and I gave him a swig from my bottle of Diet Pepsi. I changed the tape over just at Winter was introducing Lincoln and him singing the next song.

12) The Nazz Are Blue
13) Baby, Scratch My Back
14) Smokestack Lightning

We were on top of the world! "You guys are hot!", someone shouted to us. But we were nearing the end of the set, and Nick (the soundman) said over the PA, "One more song!", but Tom pleaded for two.

15) I'm A Man

We had planned to have Winter kick it off on the harmonica, Tom follow, Lincoln join in, and then me kick it into gear. But,we felt rushed, so I joined Winter after two harmonica riffs, and off we went.

16) The Train Kept A-Rollin'

I yanked off the sunglasses, and we proceeded to rip the place apart with this one. At the end, we went head-first into a cacophony of feedback, and me hammering hell out of the drums. Bang! All over and done!

Wow, what a show! After we broke everything down and stuck it way behind the stage (we could get it later), someone asked me for my autograph on the little flyers we had made on a Xerox. Very cool! We took the guitars to Winter's place, where he took a quick joint break, and then the rest of them were off to see the new year in. I went home to listen to the tape. It was a little drum-heavy for being next to the kit, but it all came out good, and the guys were happy with it when I played it for them at my place the next day.

Oh yeah, there was a $20 waiting for me at our next practice, my cut for the night. Not bad for a first paid gig!!!

There Are But Four Paces

A week after the Halloween show, we convened at Tom's place to play. When I came into the practice-room, I noticed that the red drumset was gone (Brandon had taken it home); there were a few loose drums flung into one corner of the practice-room. They were Winter's; some old, black Ludwig drums that had seen happier days.

As Winter and Tom were plugging in and tuning up, I forgot about the organ, sat in a chair and began to sort the loose drums out and seeing what we had; two snares, a floor tom, a kick-drum with no pedal, and a rack-tom attached to the kick. The better snare of the two was held up by two old music-stand bases, kind of a makeshift snare stand. There were also a few old cymbals leaning in the corner, two of them with massive holes on the outer edges.

Next thing I know, I'm sitting there with drumsticks in my hands, playing the snare with my left hand, and hitting the bass drum (lying on the floor, face down) with my right. I joined Tom and Winter in some songs they were trying out, and damned if it didn't sound good! And that situation is what we built on that November.

At the next practice, our friend Lincoln joined us as second guitarist, using one of Winter's spare guitars (which never kept in tune). We began to get serious about this lineup's sound, so we got our hands on a kick-drum pedal, and we found the remnant of a cymbal stand; the only usable cymbal was one of those marching band crash cymbals, but I began to use it like a crash-ride, alternating how hard I hit it for riding and crashing. We tarted up an old hi-hat stand with the other two cymbals; it sounded a little messy, but it passed for a hi-hat in practice. Better than using my tambourine for a hi-hat!

The Yardbirds' BBC Sessions collection had just come out, and I brought a tape of it for the other guys to check out. Next thing I know, Winter and Tom are learning a bunch of songs from it by day, and we're playing them later that evening. Being influenced by Bill Bruford and Bobby Caldwell, I began to play with a lot of drive and sharp timekeeping, and Winter was yearning to play them that much faster, so we did. No wonder we were called The Pace!

We also began recording some of the songs we knew into Tom's Yamaha 4-track recorder, mostly as demos to shop around to prospective venues in and around town. We recorded the instruments through the Peavey PA head, which had the reverb up a little too much, but the recordings sounded good for being homemade. I played all the drums, tambourine, and even the organ for "I'm Talking About You". For a short while, there was a harpsichord upstairs in one of the banquet rooms, and I recorded two harpsichord tracks for a potential cover of "For Your Love", but we never used it, and Winter never cared for that song, anyway.

Lincoln was soon to be getting his hands on a Gibson SG Junior, which was going to be much better than the beat-up Fender Strat that refused to stay in tune. I noticed my snare drum had a rip in the bottom head, so one evening, I showed up early with a small roll of tape to remedy that. I took the drum apart and put a piece of tape over that rip, but then I didn't want the top skin to rip on me, so I put a few strips of tape on the underside of the top head. When I got the drum back together and tightened the strainer as far as it would go, I ended up with a very sharp and loud snare sound. It sounded amazing! Then again, we all did together--hard, loud and fast. After practice was over, I would get home after midnight, and my ears would be still ringing.

At the beginning of December, Tom gave me a call one evening to tell me that we had a show happening for us on New Year's Eve (as an opening act) at the Central Tavern on 6th Avenue. We immediately compiled a setlist, and began to practice how many songs we would play within a 45-minute time frame, timing ourselves. We ended up with sixteen songs.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Halloween Show

The day came. Where we were going to play the show was at this two-story brick building on North 6th and K Streets. We lugged up a flight of stairs and then crammed into Winter's car all the guitars, drum parts and amps we were going to use. We dropped it off at the place, went back, and then lugged the organ and the rest of the drums up the stairs, into the car, and into the place. Inside of the place was open and vast, with an upstairs, where the PA speakers (and the Kustom amp that I was using for the organ) were.

The evening came. Dan arrived, and soon the other guys had decked themselves out in thrift-store suits (I hadn't found anything of the sort for myself). But, Dan had one more thing he was going to wear for the show: he pulled out a full-sized paper bag with little holes for his eyes, and put it on for a laugh. "The Unknown Drummer!", I exclaimed.

The lot of us walked four blocks down the street to the place where the show was going to happen. The people who lived there had put those little tea-candles on every available surface around the place, including the organ, and the Kustom head on top of it. I blew them out. The only way we could fit the organ in the space we were going to play was limited by the access to the nearest outlet. So, we had it turned around so that I had my back to the crowd. Not what I wanted, but that was our only option. Dan put the bag on his head.

I brought my Fostex 4-track recorder (due to lots of previous use back at home, track two was wearing out rather quickly) and one microphone with me to record the show with. I set the microphone atop Winter's amp.

Showtime! Where's the setlist? Nobody has it...son of a bitch!

"Guess we'll have to wing it!", Tom announced. And off we went. The songs we played were:

1) I'm Not Talking
2) I'm Talking About You
3) Handsome Devil
4) Too Much Monkey Business
5) Evil Hearted You
6) Heart Full Of Soul
7) Beautiful Delilah

Did I mention that the amp to the organ was upstairs? I couldn't hear it at all, though I had it up as loud as it would go. The PA being upstairs didn't help, either. Sounded like the vocals were in another house. But we somehow managed to get through the show, despite one guy in the crowd drunkenly howling "Free Bird!". We continued, getting to the songs we just knew would knock 'em dead:

8) Lost Woman
9) Who Do You Love

This was where it really picked up. During "Lost Woman", I looked over at Dan, and not only was the bag still on his head, he had it turned completely around; he was hammering away and not missing a note! The false ending worked out really well. The crowd ate that one up, and asked for more while Winter and Tom were trying to remember the next song we had planned to play. Someone shouted, "You guys know all the Yardbirds!".

During "Who Do You Love", I was banging the tambourine and maraca, which popped like a lightbulb on the rim of the tambourine. Beads flew everywhere. And then at the end of the song, I smashed out the skin of the tambourine on the chair I had been sitting in. What a crowd-pleaser! What a show!

After I got home, I played the tape. It was awful. The microphone had fallen off of Winter's amp and was dangling behind it for the whole show, and that was pretty much all you could hear for the duration of the recording.

Two days later, after being able to leave our gear there, we took it all back down the stairs to Tom's place, back in the practice room. During the second trip to bring the organ back home, Tom happily discovered a small bong of his that he had shoved into the back of the organ (through one of the holes in the backboard) for safekeeping.

And then there's Mods!

October, 1997. During the daytime, while church meetings and such were going on above us, Tom, Winter and I couldn't make a lot of noise, so we had to practice as quiet as possible. We were making up a list of songs we were going to play for this show, as it was going to be all cover tunes. We had picked out songs by the Yardbirds, and a handful of songs from the first Kinks album, though none of the familiar songs (and most definitely not "You Really Got Me").

We would listen to an album on Tom's old record player (one of those old ones I remember from elementary school) and pick out the songs we wanted to learn. We would then play along to the song with our instruments as we listened to it, and then played the song through on our own a few times. Thus, we learned certain songs in a very quick, easy and effective way.

Towards the end of the month, and after a half-dozen practices that way, Dan joined us for late-evening practices (after Tom made his rounds through all parts of the church, making sure no-one was there). Winter's girlfriend, Jazzmyn, and other friends hung out in the living room space, listening to what was happening in the practice-room. It was a long living room, with the kitchen on one end, and the practice room on the opposite end. The place was furnished with old couches and restaurant-booth seats.

Winter and Tom would pick out certain songs, we'd play them through two or three times, and then we'd move onto the next one. Dan wasn't too familiar with the type of stuff we were playing, but he would learn it, play it his own way, and it worked every time. I was coming to grips with the Thomas organ, and though it was similar to my Wurlitzer back at home, it had reverb and lower-keyboard bass notes that I could use with my left hand.

On some of the songs, I merely banged the tambourine, as there were no particular keyboard parts in "I'm A Man" or "Evil Hearted You". On one rendition of "Heart Full Of Soul", Winter forgot the words, so I filled in, and then he said I should sing that one when we played it. I couldn't turn my microphone up that loud, as the PA speaker was hanging right over myself and the organ, and it would border on feedback. At least I had one song to myself!

Tom and Winter had taken the Kinks' song "Long Tall Shorty" and gave it new words, and called it "Handsome Devil". The words they now sang were not too far from the original, but we all got a good laugh out of it, especially at Tom's other title for it: "Long Tall Satan".

We were playing loud, fast and hard on these songs. Sometimes, Tom or Winter would call out a title, we'd play it (and very well), and it would immediately find itself on the setlist, tacked on the wall amongst Xeroxed shots of The Who and The Yardbirds. Some of them included "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" and "Who Do You Love". I was recording these practices on one of those hand-held GE tape-recorders, and though the sound came out distorted when I played it back afterwards, the energy on them was amazing (ain't that how it always happens?).

After three practices with Dan, we were ready to play the show.

We'reThe Pace, baby, is that clear?

September, 1997. The phone rang one evening. It was Tom, a guy who had read one of the musicians-available flyers I had posted around town during the past couple of months. He said he worked at Guitar Maniacs downtown and also that he had a practice space with a lot of instruments to be played, and would I be interested in coming down for a jam the next evening? Sure. He told me it was in the basement at the Episcopal Christ Church, and to knock at one of the basement windows.

That's where I found myself the next evening, not far from my old stamping grounds, knocking on one of the basement windows. One of the guys came out to bring me in; his name was Winter and he was the guitarist in this gathering. The place they were at was the caretaker's quarters of the church, and that was apparently what Tom did during the daytime. We met, and then I was helping them lug a full-sized Thomas organ into a good-sized room, where the walls were covered in blue shag-carpet. Drumset, guitars, amps, PA. They had it all. And so we plugged in.

We began to play, mostly Yardbirds and Who tunes that they knew. Sounds like they had paid attention to the influences listed in my ad. Wow, I thought, These guys are on the same page as me. And not a bunch of 47-year old alkies, either! Their drummer, Josh, appeared at the last minute, and we played through the Yardbirds' "Evil Hearted You", which was interesting to hear.

They liked what I was doing, as they invited me to come back again for the next jam. I got to know these guys a little more over the next few jams that happened, as other guys came and in out of the picture. Seems Winter and Tom were figuring out who was the most workable and stable players. Josh was their drummer, but he didn't turn up much. Actually, the drumset belonged to one of the guys, named Brandon, but he would play Tom's bass while Tom and Winter were on guitars. The jams continued.

After about a month, Tom called me and said that we had an offer to play a Halloween show, and that he had a drummer who could sit in with us for a few practices leading up to the show. Great! It was going to be him, Winter, me and his old friend, Dan, from Olympia, with whom he'd played in an earlier project. I was in!

We would hang out before and after jamming, talking about what kind of music we were into, and about past band experiences. They told me about a show they had played in the summertime with their drummer, Josh. Seems they had played on the roof of the coffee place down on North Division and I Streets, Temple Of The Bean. I asked what they called themselves. "The Pace", Tom said. Very cool!