Adam Rado Remembered (1949-2021)

Dale Nickey:

 

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

Adam Rado passed on passed on March 15, 2021. He was many things. Composer, Educator, Husband, Athlete and Enlightened Atheist. He was also my best friend and the man I considered my brother.

I met Adam at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. I was enrolled in a performance workshop for aspiring singers to develop stagecraft. Adam’s girlfriend Mikki was enrolled in the same class. Adam was there to provide piano accompaniment for Mikki. Adam and Mikki were the stars of the class right off. Adam in particular, seemed to have a comfort level with live performance none of the other students possessed. So, it was surprising when both Mikki and Adam walked over to me during a tea break to complement me on the song I presented on the first night. They seemed like nice people and Mikki had a world class voice that had a soulful vintage quality far advanced from the other neophytes in our class

A few weeks later I had my first meaningful conversation with Adam at the front of Baxter’s guitar shop in Santa Monica where Mikki and I were attending yet another workshop. It seems our struggling Hockey club (The Los Angeles Kings) had acquired budding superstar Marcel Dionne. Adam was the only other human being in my world that knew or cared. Being a hockey fan in LA in the early 70’s was like being a member of a secret society, so we bonded immediately. It also turned out he was a long-haired, authentic hippy Rock musician from the 60’s who composed Sci-Fi Rock Operas, smoked dope and doubted the existence of God. Out of the blue, he invited me to come over to his house to jam. There was a lot of jamming in those days. His invitation course-corrected my life in ways I still struggle to quantify.

The jam sessions at Adam’s were my personal School of Rock. Adam was six years my senior and had ‘been there and done that’ in the 60’s – playing in clubs, making records and chasing Rock and Roll ghost ship. On a dime he had repurposed himself from a boiler-room rock drummer to Hungarian Synth Wizard composing a four-part, deep space rock opera called Time Traveler; a project that was years in the making. He had a Hammond Organ and a Moog synthesizer; instruments I had never seen or touched in person.

Adam was a natural teacher, like it was encoded in his DNA. Even when dispensing instructions, he made you feel like loyal lieutenant rather than an acolyte. I learned the etiquette of improvisation and Adam would use Hockey analogies to guide my muse when the language of music failed. There were always gentle, witty, talented souls in attendance who reflected human traits that Adam admired. Good people, good times and weed. Lots of weed.

Adam’s life was Idyllic. Alone on his private hilltop abode in Laurel Canyon, looking Down on the sprawling megalopolis of Los Angeles. Adam’s view was of the West Side. Frank Zappa lived close by and even the mighty Zappa lived in the shadows below the horizon of Adam’s Mount Olympus enclave. The real world intruded via his job with the LACSD as a substitute teacher. Adam latter thanked his dad for insisting Adam stay in school and earn his Bachelor’s degree at UCLA. That degree was the gateway to rewarding and consequential career as an educator that positively affected thousands of lives.

Not only did Adam and I share a love of Hockey. Adam actually played hockey. There is youth hockey and amateur leagues in every town and hamlet these days. However, In the early 70’s meeting someone who played hockey in Southern California was like spotting a white tiger. The fact that Adam and his girlfriend Mikki both played hockey and wanted me to join their pick-up league was beyond human comprehension.

So, I played Hockey with Adam at the fabled Iceland rink in Van Nuys Ca. Next to the police station. Though I would never graduate from Figure to Hockey skates, I developed quickly and was a fast skater. Thanks to Adam, I was now able to appreciate the sport on a deeper level. I was able to experience the joy of roofing a backhander, I jostled with pretty girls for pucks along the boards and had my face cut with a high stick. Adam said the cut looked good on me.

Eventually, Adam wanted to play real Hockey. The scrums got rougher, and broken body parts became a real possibility. Adam followed his Hockey Muse to the end of his life. I wish I could have taken that journey with him. But, he had his life sorted out and mine had not yet gained altitude.

In 1977 I fled LA. To live in northern California. I didn’t want to leave my friends behind. But the decision to leave was urgent. Adam didn’t let our friendship die on the vine. He invited himself up to Petaluma to stay at my place for a couple of days. Adam stayed in my funky but quaint apartment that occupied the top floor of a Victorian styled house that was common to the region. I remember jamming with Adam happily one perfectly sunny afternoon in a cloud of cannabis. Me on bass and him playing our little Roland synthesizer.

The gravitational pull of Los Angeles was strong and forced me to move back. I reconnected with Adam. Punk was the new thing so we started checking out punk clubs like Club 88, Filthy Mc Nasty’s; clubs I would eventually start playing in a few months’ time.

After years working on Time Traveler, he finally abandoned the project and started working on a new musical concept called The Future. Adam and his father collaborated on a killer logo morphing a musical quarter note into an intergalactic spaceship. In life he was always looking to the future and a civilization more evolved than this earthly one. Allegories to his migration from East Europe to a better land and future in America are easy to draw.

I was neither playing music or hockey with Adam but that didn’t matter. I was supportive and enthusiastic about his new pursuits, and he came to my gigs often with his longtime running buddy (and former bandmate) Rick Reeder in tow.

Adam and Mikki broke up sadly. But Adam was not one to discard people or indulge in toxic jealousy. Mikki remained as friend and musical collaborator. A long procession of girlfriends followed. Adam was a confirmed serial monogamist. The jams of our youth gradually gave way to poolside parties and barbecues. I still remember mining the depths of his Vietnam era icebox in his back yard behind his house; where I could always find an orphan beer or hot-dog condiments of dubious vintage.

Sometime during the early 80’s Adam and I drifted apart for a couple of years. We were both busy. He had started a new band – Humanoids on Parade. My band was named People in Motion. It was eerie that we still maintained a cosmic connection as our band-names described an identical human landscape in a three-word cadence.

I called and left lots of messages with hockey slogans. Eventually we reconnected. He was now a top instructor at Dick Grove music. He was teaching keyboards from a synthesizer player’s viewpoint. He looked healthy and hip. He had also developed an admiration of Asian culture. By further coincidence, I had as well.

Mikki was still singing with Adam in his new band and became a bonified front woman along with Tina Gullickson. Her future husband Chris was welcomed into the collective as a brother with open arms by Adam. ABBA meets The Tubes with a SoCal twist. They had tunes, beats and looked amazing. The played the clubs and worked hard. Still not sure why they weren’t huge. As the 80’s lurched on, both our bands folded.

After the disappointment of HOP Adam started to withdraw from music. He played Hockey and traveled. My band fizzled as well. But I still flogged away putting out three albums on my own vanity label before bidding the dream adieu. Adam and I still did stuff together. I still went over to the Bulwer house a lot and watched hockey with him and smoked a lot of dope. Between periods we would steel outside in the night to shoot baskets in his driveway until play resumed. Sometimes we listened to records, got stoned and laughed. It was a wonderful routine that became a constant in my life.

I went through a bad marriage and a difficult divorce at the dawn of the new century (a union that began on the balcony at Bulwer). Adam invited me over to hang out. When I got there, I saw Adam had assembled friends Lance, Howard and Rick. Adam had organized a little divorce party. The talk was witty, the hot dogs were ancient, and the beer was cold. I felt better knowing someone out there cared.

Our life was always aligning. Or maybe Adam just set a good example. Adam was now teaching at UCLA to bright young people in the ESL program. It was a good fit. The students loved him as he channeled his creativity and passion into the curriculum and eventually would become administrator. So, when my District Supervisor at The Post Office asked me if I wanted to lead a team of classroom instructors to teach our new web-based Time and Attendance system, I said “sure, why not?” Maybe I couldn’t play hockey or convince Adam reboot his music career, but we could now join forces as educators against a government myopia that viewed teaching and creativity as mutually exclusive.

Life was different now. The century was new, and we were not. Adam crossed the 50-year threshold that I was hurtling toward. He was still looking for a heart of gold and I had found mine. However, this time Adam would follow my lead and find his life concluding love.

Renee was an administrator at the office and possessed a world conquering work ethic and saintly patience. As an up-and-coming Admin star, I knew an impact player when I saw one. We fell in love and would marry October 2006.

I called Adam and asked to him help me make a wedding video if he would be our guest and attend the wedding in Cambria California. He accepted and seemed enthused. Of course, his new girlfriend Eris Wang was invited to come as well.

Somehow, I had left out that fact that he was best man. He seemed surprised. I can’t imagine who he thought I would pick ahead of him.

Anyway, the wedding was great. An unsanctioned guerilla operation on the bluffs of Cambria overlooking the dramatic rocky coastline of California’s central coast. Adam stood next to me and handed me the ring I put on Renee’s finger sealing the covenant with yet another best friend. Eris stealthily ignored our Rabbi’s request for no videos and contributed dramatic shots that turned our humble home video into art. Adam signed as my witness and Eris helped me Velcro my yamlike on my head, insuring it would survive any wind event short of a Category 3 hurricane.

Then Adam had some news for me…

In the days following the wedding we would work on the video. I swear Adam put as much love into the video as I did. We collaborated, storyboarded, and came up with a stunning video. About this time, he told me that upon experiencing my wedding he realized he could commit to one women as well and asked Eris to marry him. His wedding would occur a mere sixty-two days after my mine and I would stand at his side as his best man. The wedding occurred on his outside deck at Bulwer, the mecca for so many life-changing events. Adam was saying hello to a new life and would soon be leaving Bulwer to pursue it.

Adam would leave his humble ivory tower atop Laurel Canyon for a fashionable high-rise condo on Wilshire’s West side, a stone’s throw from his work at UCLA. He seemed to adjust well. Walking to and from work often using public transportation to attend concerts at theaters and concert halls that dotted Wilshire. I remember the miracle of a 25 cent senior fare on an L.A. City bus to go see The Zombies with Adam at the Saban Theater. Meanwhile I left behind my life of cramped valley apartment living and moved in with Renee in Ventura County. Adam and I had flipped circumstance. He became the apartment dwelling urbanite, while I now lived in woodsy seclusion.

Adam’s 60th birthday party found Adam in robust health, revamping the ESL program at UCLA. New wife, new life. His father was still with us, 90 years old, alert and sitting with his son. Nice start to his sixth decade.

Then Adam got Cancer.

It was hard for him to accept at first, but soon he joined battle with his invisible companion. UCLA Medical did wonders pulling out every trick in the book to extend his life with cutting edge (sometimes experimental) therapeutics. Always there was Eris; giving Adam care and a reason to fight his cancer. He continued to play Hockey, visit with friends, travel, and pursue his career as ESL Coordinator at UCLA.

We remained closer than ever but saw each other less. However due to the miracles of facetime, texting, and social networks, we were in constant communication. I still made the pilgrimage from Ventura County to the West Side to watch hockey on TV or go see a live game or music event. As the visits dropped off, each one became more meaningful and goodbye hugs worked their way into our visits.

Adam had one more big surprise for me. He wanted to start playing music again.

I think for the first time in his life Adam started looking to the past instead of the future. The occasion was the 50th Anniversary of his old high school band Malibalavi (Yugoslavian for snot nosed little bandit). Luckily four original members still survived. The bass player Rick had died decades earlier. Since I was a bass player, knew Rick and was Adam’s best friend, I was given the honor of channeling Rick in live performance.

The invite couldn’t have come at a worse time. I was in the middle of navigating a family emergency. This was in June and the concert was to be in September. I told Adam I might not be able to participate. He was disappointed but understood and set about finding a replacement.

Thankfully, with six weeks left until the Reunion Concert circumstances allowed me to attend. I notified Adam I would be available. Adam was surprised and happy.

With one rehearsal and a soundcheck, Adam Rado and the surviving members of Malibalavi (Steve Hermann and Aleks Iilich) ambled onstage at The Jungle Room and did two sets of music from the soundtrack of our lives. Songs that harkened back to Adam’s days as the leader of the best band at Hollywood High School circa 1967. There was no better year or better place to be the best Rock Band. Eris set up a camera at the back of the hall and captured the gig for posterity and YouTube while Renee captured up close footage from the audience.

The gig was a big success. Me and Adam got to share our first-ever sweaty, post gig buzz. I wasn’t at the top of my game, but I did my job and didn’t embarrass myself. I told Adam that the gig felt special I just wanted to support him and his former bandmates. He said the night was special and was even more so because I was able to be there. He also told me I was the best bass player he ever played with. That buckled my knees. He never dished out praise lightly. I felt our friendship had achieved another layer of depth. Our final song “Last Time” by The Stones, was almost too poignant.

A week later we were still high from the success of the gig. I told Adam that I missed the band. He said he did too. Remarkably, a second reunion was scheduled commemorating the bands and musicians he associated with during his student days at UCLA. A year later we were back at The Jungle Room for a gig commemorating Champion Bear and his cover band, The Shit Band. This time I came better prepared and Adam’s friends Howard Sall and Bruce MacKay were added to the lineup. Adam expanded his role as drummer to include keyboards. The venue was crammed to capacity and beyond. My youngest son was in attendance and people actually flew in to attend. Me and Adam collaborated on an arrangement of ELP’s Lucky Man, And our performance brought down the house.

Science may still need to quantify the healing and restorative properties of music, but Adam seemed to thrive with the rediscovery of his muse. His energy for organization was boundless and a third Reunion was scheduled. This time we were going on the road to the home of Mikki and Chris in El Sobrante California – a few miles north of Oakland. Mikki was a longtime friend who had now ascended to the position of Matriarch of his adoptive family circle. We would celebrate Adam’s 70th Birthday and nearly a decade of survival with cancer. Mikki’s abode was spacious and had a surprisingly large outdoor stage and seating area. The Reunion had now become a “thing” that got bigger with each passing year. There was much revelry, wine, weed and dancing. Adam was happier than I had ever seen him since his diagnosis and played brilliantly. But the next day he was completely drained. I was in a state of exhaustion as well. During this period my mother was bedridden in my house and arranging for 24/7 care during our two-day sojourn was expensive and a logistical nightmare. However, with Renee’s help we pulled it off. I’m so grateful we did.

Now Adam was fully engaged with music to the point where he was practicing drums and keyboards at home; A state of affairs unimaginable for the last couple of decades. He was also collaborating with band mate Steve Hermann on a series of brilliant and devastating song parodies that eviscerated our (then current) dictator in chief. Having escaped the Russians in his youth, and knowing the perils of blind nationalism and Russian aggression, our (then) current climate was a little too much history repeating itself for Adam’s comfort.

Time marched on and yet another milestone was to be commemorated. Adam’s high school band mate and friend Steve Hermann was turning 70 a year after Adam. Yet another Reunion was scheduled for January 2020 in Redding California (Steve’s Home) at the ballroom of the Red Lion Inn.

Adam was fully engaged with music now and wanted to schedule rehearsals. Being a lifelong rehearsal junkie, I was happy to oblige. We found a posh studio in Northridge and started meeting regularly with a rotating cast of our expanding pool of musicians. The Hungarian synth wizard was back, and rehearsals were warm and productive. We really wanted Redding to be a great event.

By this time my mother had left home care and was in a long-term care facility with professional staff; and while the situation was sad, the stress on Renee and I had been greatly reduced. I prepped for the gig and maintained constant contact with Adam. The Reunion’s had now become our little franchise with friends and supporters growing in number. However, there was always the specter of inevitability. I this point I savored every gig, rehearsal, and social visit with Adam as a special occasion and confined finality to the back of my mind whenever possible,

The Redding Reunion was a huge success. I was staying at the Red Lion and overheard the front desk fielding a deluge of phone inquiries about the event. The hotel was a buzz of activity. This was the first time in my life that I performed as the hottest ticket in town. Nathan Banne (an original member of Malibalvi) was now a fixture in the group as singer. Each time I bumped into him in the lobby, he would drag me into a secluded corner to cram on our vocal harmonies. It was a wonderful time.

The band performed brilliantly that night, Adam (in particular) had his greatest drumming performance to date. The dance floor was crammed most of the night. You don’t pull that off without a great drummer. Our rehearsals paid off and we gave Steve a great birthday experience in his hometown in front of a packed house of friends, family and well-wishers. He seemed visibly touched.

I talked to Adam after arriving home and boldly stated that I though he and I were (in Hockey parlance) the number one and two stars of the gig. He agreed. The magic of music that we had experienced in our youth was again part of our lives. Adam’s UCLA retirement party was to occur in July 2020. We set about planning our fifth Reunion. We selected a venue, rehearsals were scheduled and we even started talking about going into the recording studio. Then Covid and the ides of March happened.

Little did I know that Redding would be last time Adam and I would talk face to face, play or hug . The next time I saw him alive was on his hospital in bed at home. Eyes, closed, out of pain and in dreamland never to return.

In the previous year, March 5, 2020 my mom died at age 94. It was meant to be I guess. 48 hours later her facility was shut down to visitors due to Covid. She would have died alone if she had lived longer. Covid was starting to take over the news and our consciousness. We had a rehearsal scheduled March 15 and had to “postpone” That’s the day the music died I guess. Adam passed on March 15, 2021; a year-to-the-day later. Everything is a cosmic convergence it seems.

No Covid didn’t take Adam, but I’m sure it aided and abetted his downward trajectory the last year of his life. The biological virus (coupled with the human virus that had shadowed our lives since 2016) resulted in a low-grade depression that affected Adam’s spirit and mine as well, I can only guess how the isolation and inertia depressed his immune system.

At the dawn of 2021 it was determined that Adam’s cancer had spread to his liver and Chemotherapy was the next option. Adam was still sharp and witty and walking on his treadmill at home to maintain his constitution. I told him he was the comeback kid and encouraged him to play his electronic drum kit for music therapy. At first the Chemo treatments instilled hope. He even walked home after the second session. Then somebody flicked a light switch and things started going wrong.

Adam started having breathing problems prior to his next Chemo session and he was hospitalized in ER and soon went home. The cause remained a mystery. Days later he went into ER again for the last time. The cancer had migrated to his lungs and he had days or perhaps weeks to live. He delivered the news to me via’ phone, saying “I am a dead man walking”.

Adam chose to forgo life extending therapies. He wanted to go home and pass in hospice care. We had two living Zoom memorials with Adam present and participating. They were beautiful but incredibly bittersweet experiences. Nobody said all the things they wanted to say, and after the second zoom party a third one was desired but never happened.

Adam went home on a Saturday night, Renee and I came to see him on Sunday. The day of rest. His friend and colleague Mark was there and luckily brought an acoustic guitar. We took turns playing songs and light classical pieces by his beside. Eris was fussing over him as usual and told us he was aware of our presence. I played him Tuesday Afternoon by the Moody Blues. I song I know he loved and had a light non-religious spirituality about it. We would return the next day.

Next morning Eris called and said she needed us to come as soon as possible. Adam’s time was close. We made the long trek from Thousand Oaks to West L.A. with remarkable ease. Monday afternoon and no traffic or rain. It’s as if the great cosmic architect had cleared a path for us. I saw him in bed motionless and silent. I went up to talk to him and kiss his forehead and realized he had already left. The rest of the room was processing his loss. I broke down in tears. At least, he was alive to me a few minutes longer than everyone else. I still feel my final farewell was incomplete.

We sat with Adam in repose for a couple hours after his passing. The room took on it’s own atmosphere of conviviality and memories. That’s how Adam would have wanted it. He was the host of one last party, one last friendly gathering. Only he chose to leave early; and I realized that throughout the entirety of his life, he never wore out his welcome. Not once.

Traffic Records – Atascadero (Shop Review)

Atascadero

If you’re looking for a patch of deep red in the ocean of blue that is California, the town of Atascadero is your place. Texas without the twang. Cowboy boots, Trump regalia, utilitarian architecture, and churches as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Diversity comes by way of “Larry Elder for Governor” signage on front lawns and car bumpers.

If you’re a digger, the thrift shops offer no relief; unless your meat is tacky, white gospel albums on vanity press, bad country western and (up trending) Bill Cosby vinyl.

However, there is a cultural oasis in the center of town; Traffic Records, on Traffic Way; conveniently accessible by taking the “Traffic Way” offramp on US 101. And yes, Traffic albums are available. Look hard though, their neon open sign is barely visible, and their storefront signage is curiously located a couple doors down from the actual shop.

Traffic is a neat and clean, open space run by an affable owner who eschews the aloof, superior vibe given off by too many record store personnel. He seemed to appreciate our company as much as our patronage. A comfy couch offers safe haven for long suffering spouses and girlfriends of vinyl junkies. Traffic offers reasonably priced new vinyl, a gem strewn five dollar used section and a ‘worth your effort’ budget vinyl area where I found a near mint dollar copy of “The Unforgiven”. We also picked up a DVD copy of Leonard Cohen (Under Review) for a fiver. Me and the missus were so happy, we gladly parted with a hefty chunk of petrol money for a Traffic Records tee shirt.

Safe to say there is no other locale in Atascadero that proudly displays the painted visage of Ziggy Stardust front and center in their brick and mortar. Also available are strings, books, some electronics; as well as a couple of Frankenstein guitars languishing on the wall in consignment purgatory. I rescued a nice one for two bills that had a Music Man Albert Lee body, and a viable replacement neck with locking tuners; a birthday gift from the missus – I married well.

Apologies to The Chamber of Commerce; but Atascadero is a culturally barren patch of civilization I’ll likely never visit again. However, if you’re on your way to somewhere else, Traffic Records on Traffic Way, off US Highway 101 is well worth the detour.

Talent Is An Asset (“The Sparks Brothers”) Movie Review

Starring Russell Mael & Ron Mael

Directed by Edgar Wright

Theatrical release June 18th

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 6/22/21 – Sometimes incongruity is nice. This was my first time out to a movie with the missus since the attack of the Covid Monster. So, we trekked out on Father’s Day to an empty theater in an empty mall that – in bygone days – would have been choked with consumer mayhem.

With the onset of Covid, band documentaries began littering the ground like falling leaves. In an era of non-existent record sales and an indefinite embargo on live performances, music junkies were left stranded in a wasteland of streamed concerts performed in virtual bell jars and half-baked rockumentary curios; all designed to keep the non-essential commodity of popular music in the brain stream.

Binge watching the rock music of my youth on YouTube had become my happy place when I caught wind of The Sparks Brothers documentary. Another band bio to toss on the heap; except this one was directed by highly regarded filmmaker Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of The Dead). Moreover, knowing Sparks as an uncompromising band, I expected a well-crafted, sincere work. I wasn’t disappointed.

Remarkably, the movie earned theatrical release and was playing at my local AMC mega-plex in the hard right country music enclave of Thousand Oaks; a happenstance too strange and irresistible to ignore.

Sparks is a band that boomer-aged music fans might remember from the early 70’s as a blip on the Billboard radar screen. Another in a line of American acts too creative or offbeat to blossom in their homeland (see Scott Walker, Jimi Hendrix, The Stray Cats, Chrissie Hynde etc…). Sparks left America and two failed LP’s behind to become glam sensations in Britain; climbing to Number 2 on the charts with the epic 1974 single, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for The Both of Us”. The band got a big push from Island Records and could be spotted stateside on shows like Don Kirshner’s “Rock Concert” and American Bandstand. They made an impression and critics either hated them or were intoxicated by them. Very view understood them.

For the hard-core Sparks fan (there is really no other kind), the film is a banquet of witty interview spots, archival still photos, creative stop-action animation and long forgotten video bites from an era when music was good and still mattered. Fame was earned the old-fashioned way – by relentless touring, publicity junkets and good records. Edgar Wright’s film brings this era gloriously to life by saving the color cinematography for the band and its music; consigning celebrity talking heads (Michael Myers, Patton Oswalt, Jane Weiland, Weird Al Yankovic…) to black, white and gray. Somehow, all 25 Sparks albums are referenced in the film.

For those not familiar with Sparks, the film is an opportunity to view the case study of a workaholic band who wouldn’t compromise or go away quietly. Front-man Russell Mael is a certified Rock idol possessing God-given charisma and the only voice on planet Earth capable of handling brother Ron’s jittery anthems of self-deprecation, rancor and humor. Ron Mael writes the songs, plays keyboards and famously sported a Charlie Chaplin mustache that will forever be conflated with Hitler’s; two likeable oddballs glued together by blood and fate, navigating a world changing faster than art can imitate.

There are ultimately no happy endings in life, but The Sparks Brothers gives us one for the moment. Ron and Russell are two opposite sides of the same coin. Living good and consequential lives; eschewing the comforts of marriage and children to fully immerse themselves in music, art and agreeable routine. Ron has taken the same morning walk through his neighborhood park for 20 years. Russell frequents the same coffee house and orders the same thing every morning 7 days a week. They make records at their Los Angeles home studio oblivious to the rest of the world and its inhabitants. Now, they’re having a third act renaissance complete with top ten records and a lovingly rendered, Oscar-worthy documentary feature. The whole world needs a happy place right now. The Sparks Brothers movie provides one. Maybe music is an essential commodity after all.

Dean Ford Remembered

Remembering Dean Ford (1945-2018)

Leader of The Marmalade

By Dale Nickey

(The Hollywood Times) 1/14/19 – New Year’s Eve past me and the missus were watching the telly waiting for the ball to drop. Out of the blue, apropos of nothing, I wondered out loud who would be the first Rock Star to leave us in the New Year (2019). Dean Ford passed on New Year’s Eve. I knew him by his birth name Thomas McAleese. He was one of the gentlest, most talented souls I ever met.

Ireland gave us Van Morrison, Wales gave us John Cale, and Scotland gave us Dean Ford. He was a proper pop star with the sixties rock band The Marmalade. Ford aka McAleese co-wrote and sang their number 3 UK hit Reflections of My Life in 1969 (top 10 in the US).

Ford second from right

When I met Thomas it was at the home of mutual friend and musician Dominic Bakewell. Thomas had rented the back cottage that I had previously rented when we were going through our “communal band house” phase. He was an affable gent, and I was a confirmed anglophile. I was eager to discuss the folk music of the British Isles that was my (then current) obsession. He politely told me that none of that interested him and that his musical heroes where black Soul artists. I had no idea of the musical pedigree Thomas possessed at that time, but he made an impression right off.

We were not close friends but we were warm acquaintances.  I would see him several times throughout the decades, and our conversations were always joyful and interesting. He loved to talk music and never seemed to grow tired of the subject. I knew him as a humble chauffeur who had conquered the evils of alcohol. I knew he had a daughter he adored but who lived at the other end of the continent.

Dean Ford (right) and your author 1991

Memories abound. One time Dom played me a home recording of one of his tunes we had performed together in our old band. I recognized the song, but when the vocals came in I was taken aback by the soulful, angelic tenor, with perfect intonation and vibrato. It was Thomas of course. The track was a textbook example of how a great singer can mine out the greatness in a song. Dom played me another song that featured a tasteful saxophone solo; again Thomas. Another song had a honey sweet harmonica break. Guess who?

It was around this time I connected the dots between Thomas McAleese, Dean Ford and The Marmalade.

One time in the 90’s, I showed up at some tatty open mic in Northridge. There was Thomas, Dominic and Pat Allen, slumming for a performance fix just like me. I brought a little baritone ukulele that Thomas fell in love with. He played and cradled it the whole night. I was thinking about just giving it to him. God, I wish I had. I went up and did my song. Thomas really loved the bridge and was generous with his praise. I always cherished that compliment because it was so specific and I knew how genuine Thomas was with his words and opinions. Of course, when Thomas went up to do his numbers, it divided the assembled throng into two groups. There was Dean Ford, and then there was the rest of us.

One night Thomas invited me to a gig he was doing at a little club in Santa Monica just down the street from McCabe’s. I brought a female companion who showed little interest in going but went along anyway. Thomas was on his game and sang like a bird as usual. He knew all the tricks. He told me many times about his favorite piece of stagecraft while playing solo; which was to stomp his foot on the bandstand in time with his guitar to create a little ambient bass drum effect that would add a bit of oomph to the performance. This night I actually saw him perform his parlor trick up close. My companion was transfixed. I guess she had never been in close proximity to such an amazing voice. She complimented Thomas effusively after the set. On the way home she asked many questions about Thomas, his music and his circumstance; too many. Clearly, I occupied second place in her affections that night.

Once during the Holidays, I was invited to Dominic’s to sit around the fireplace, drink and yak. Thomas had just acquired a beautiful Taylor guitar he was showing off like a newborn. He even let me play it. By chance, I had just taught myself the standard Misty and started playing it. Thomas fell in easily, knew all the lyrics and sang it impromptu in a manner that would do Johnny Mathis proud. It was a buzz to accompany such greatness. Even for just one song.

The last time I saw him was at a memorial service for Dom’s sister Bimmy. We talked at length; mostly about music of course. It’s like we picked up the same conversation we started 30 years prior. I mentioned that I had attended too many memorial services in recent years. I had no idea the next one I would attend would be for Thomas. The world is a terrible place Thomas, but I didn’t want you to die.

Just before Christmas past, I received his latest work (My Scottish Heart) in the mail for review. I had profiled his previous album (Feel My Heartbeat) and my review was a love letter to his wonderful songwriting talent, voice and the Scottish soul imbedded in the grooves. I did a double take when I realized this was a double (2 CD) set; being of a certain age, and knowing that Thomas was now into his seventies, I had to wonder if the abundance of music on offer resulted from the lengthening shadow of mortality and a desire to put out as much music as possible just in case. A scant few days later, I had my answer.

Thankfully, I have my certitude about what comes after this world. My certitude tells me Thomas is just fine and waiting for the rest of us to show up. Farewell Thomas, I wish we all had more time.

David Lewis – “Among Friends” (Album Review)

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

David Lewis – Among Friends

Wow Records – Release Date 6/25/20

Nice to listen to music without context sometimes. My first scan of this music suggested a very young, precocious artist. The second coming of Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame perhaps. Lyrics ahead of the artist’s years; a gentle, youthful voice offering his bouquet of epiphanies with humility. Comparisons to Al Stewart and Nick Drake are easy to draw and impossible to ignore. Then I read the bio. The real story behind the artist is quite surprising.

David Lewis is a college professor, PhD and academic. Somehow, he’s also found time to develop into a skillful singer/songwriter recording artist. He is currently a professor at the London School of Economics who did his graduate studies at Cambridge University where he met the man who would later become artist John Wesley Harding. The 80’s would find him busking and collaborating with Harding, placing three of his cowrites on various Harding albums. Lewis finally put out his own debut in 1996 (No Straight Line) with such luminaries as Robert Lloyd and Peter Buck.

David Lewis

Now in 2020, David Lewis has released his new long player “Among Friends”. The album was produced by lifelong friend and collaborator Wesley Stace (AKA John Wesley Harding) at Danielson Studios in the New Jersey countryside; and the album is reflective of that pastoral setting. The musical foundation is predominantly soft, well recorded acoustic guitars interrupted by the occasional neo-psyche/folk/prog Amuse-bouche. Lyrical gems aplenty are to be found on “Among Friends”. David Lewis is clearly an artist who likes to read and think about things. However, his existential musings come with a spoonful of sugar rather than vinegar; and are easily consumed by the casual listener.

click here to buy Among Friends

What follows are some of the highlights on “Among Friends”: 

“Fixed Star” is the obvious choice as the gateway track to the album, with a sprite guitar riff hooking together the verses, one thinks of The Cure battling a rare bout of optimism. 

“Unswept Leaves” dips its big toe in the pool of Psychedelia with flanged guitar pushing forward Lewis’s unthreatening vocal style. 

“Three Sides” gets a little darker, blusier and noisier with a Booker T. organ riff and some splashy/messy drum work that somehow remains in the pocket. 

“Whisper to Me” – Nice rolling acoustic guitar arpeggio whose similarity to Nick Drake’s Three Hours is self-evident. The opening suddenly breaks into a neo-prog interlude that could pass for a Yes outtake circa 1968, then back to a recapitulation of the guitar/voice opening. 

“What’s True” – a two time beat, and a loping guitar rhythm brings to mind John Hartford’s “Gentile on My Mind”, and shares that song’s wistful aspect.

“Softest of Years” – This song stands as the lyric tour de force of the album. A reflection on youth with a static arpeggiated guitar and a series of lines that anyone of a certain age will nod in agreement to. Key line “Life reimagined, but how much is true?”

“Close the Circle” is a song of amends and owning the mistakes and harm we inflict on others. Could serve as the Alcoholics Anonymous step 9 theme song.

“Time to Dream” – Light folk confection about the passage time and getting on with it.

“Temporary King” – Rare piano statement that might have been exploited more often on the album. Key line, “Who knows what fate can bring to a Temporary King who hides behind an old illusion”. Standard descending chord progression done nice. 

This writer will admit to a personal bias in favor of the album format as a 10 song (or less) artistic statement. With the signature voice of David Lewis and the musical policy of “Among Friends” firmly set as acoustic guitar driven Folk-Rock, the twelve songs on “Among Friends” flirt with being too much of a good thing. However, one must consider how few albums Lewis has put out over the decades. Clearly, the New Jersey sessions found Lewis and company on a creative roll, so the desire to ‘put it all out’ is justifiable.“Among Friends” has a lot to offer across all generations with lyrics deep enough to engage souls who’ve ‘been there’ and a youthful aspect that can reach tweeners, Gen-X’rs, and indie-oughters. David Lewis is a unique artist who presents as both older and younger than yesterday.

JANDEK – New Orleans Monday (CD Review)

Authored by Dale Nickey: 

New Orleans Monday – Corwood Industries (0822) Audio CD (2016)

Originally reviewed in 2016

Jandek Revisits “Ghost Passing”

Jandek has just released his newest work “New Orleans Monday”. This is a recorded live performance on CD. It will also see release on DVD relatively soon. 

Jandek breaks with tradition here and gives us a live rendering of music previously conceived in the studio. In this case, we have a piano fantasia with eerie electronic accompaniment. We get the same instrumentation and format as his last studio release (the 6 cd box set) “Ghost Passing”. On that record, we were treated to six separate hour long piano fantasias paired with the relentless electronic noodling that had all the charm of a dentist drill run through a studio sound processor. Imagine Eric Satie composing a score for a B-list horror flick.

On this record, (limited to one CD and one hour) the sonic experiment is far more sustainable and listenable. Without the benefit of artist credits or visual evidence, the identity of the electronic musician is open to conjecture. However, Sheila Smith would be the prime suspect; and her weapon of choice seems to be a theremin or ribbon controller of some sort. 

Jandek’s skills as a pianist are modest. However, he delivers his walking basslines, filigree and note clusters with audacity and elan. The fantasia is a nineteenth century compositional form roughly analogous to what we would call New Age. Heavy on improvisation and imagination, light on orthodoxy. The form was a response to the mathematical precision and unforgiving strictures of the Classical/Romantic period as practiced by Beethovan and Brahms. In Jandek’s hands the fantasia has been bent and twisted into a barren Salvador Dali landscape, at other times both pianist and accompanist descend into a maelstrom of crashing bass notes set against an electronic squall. Ironically, these dissonant, chaotic moments are the most interesting and most faithful to the Jandek ethos. 

Jandek’s piano performance is solid throughout. Missteps are few; and, all in all Jandek reveals himself on “New Orleans Monday” to be a far more confident, nuanced instrumentalist than he was on his magnum opus “Song of Morgan”. One wishes the relentless electronic nattering would lay out a few minutes here and there as a palette cleanser if nothing else. Less surely would have been more on this record, and that goes sixfold for the aforementioned “Ghost Passing”.

No way around it, “New Orleans Monday” is a makeweight release. No new ground is broken conceptually or musically. It’s hard to make a case for its existence except as an affordable alternative to “Ghost Passing”. If you are a Jandek completest and acolyte, “Ghost Passing” is a must own, as it gives you all the above described in gluttonous portions with a high-gloss studio finish. However, for the less committed, this Reader’s Digest version (New Orleans Monday) will do just fine thank you.

FABULOUS FIRSTS: Debut Albums That Shook My Little World – Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd (Piper At The Gates Of Dawn) :

Gee, I wonder where The Beatles dreamed up all the weird and wonderful ideas that gave us Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane? I guess it was just a coincidence that Pink Floyd was recording their first album just down the hall at the same time The Beatles were entering their most musically adventurous phase. I’m sure Paul McCartney’s visit to The Floyds session for a listen had no influence at all on what The Fabs were doing…yeah sure.

Pink Floyd entered EMI studios with LSD addled leader Syd Barrett and recorded an album of wacked-out yet tightly focused ditties and acid jams that changed music forever. Anything was possible after this paradigm shifting debut. Pink Floyd not only established its brand; but it created a whole new musical dialect (psychedelia) and gave us a Rock and Roll icon for the ages (Barrett) in one shot. Pretty good for a rookie combo.

Top 10 Greatest Rock Covers #4 (The Clash “I Fought The Law”)

The Clash – “I Fought The Law“

“I Fought The Law” was originally a bracing but unthreatening rebel squawk by The Bobby Fuller Four (composed by Sonny Curtis). The Clash sunk their rotting teeth into it and made it belch flames. The guitars squalled, the drums thundered and Joe Strummer’s sandpaper n’ Drano rasp gave the song its soul and menace. Ultimately, The Clash became a haircut band of a different stripe; generating boatloads of record sales and MTV airplay. But, they always talked a good game (and yes) ‘The Law’ ultimately won.

Jandek – Live at The Bootleg Theater (8/5/16)

By Dale Nickey:

jandek and sheila
Photo by Dale Nickey

He Returns…

(LOS ANGELES, CA – August 5, 2016) – Nestled in the outer frontier of Downtown L.A.’s ever expanding tent community is The Bootleg Theater – a funky but chic performance complex that houses both a first rate community playhouse and a concert hall. On Beverly near Alvarado; this was the chosen site of Jandek’s return to Los Angeles on Friday night.

Jandek’s current level of popularity means that he can pack out a 300 seater in any major city in the Western Hemisphere whenever he wishes. It’s a good place to be. The Representative of Corwood Industries and Poet/Spoken word artist Sheila Smith now comprise Jandek ‘the collective’. They’ve mind melded. They dance and writhe together, exchange verse as a married couple would morning chit-chat. Sheila appears to be everything to The Representative; muse, collaborator, manager, mother superior and daddy’s little girl all wrapped into one. Our Goth Princess of the pre-apocalypse wears angelic concern and adoration on her face every second she’s in the orbit of The Representative.

Arriving early, I grabbed an orphan set sheet that was amusing in its mis-information. Rap, Hip-Hop and Country Blues were listed as stylistic signposts though none of those styles were in evidence on this Los Angeles Friday. The list also indicated there would be some harmonica playing by both The Representative and Sheila, but that never transpired.

Jandek and his ensemble emerged from the backstage area and took the indigo blue-lit stage. Some discreet dry ice provided the requisite graveyard ambiance. The Representative of Corwood Industries sat in a strait backed wooden chair at stage right, facing stage left where Sheila Smith sat opposite and gazed back; swaying in thrall to the vibes, the beats and periodically swigged from a corked vial of some mysterious potion. Jandek had an identical bottle which resided in the briefcase at his side. Neither Sheila nor The Representative would be playing instruments this evening. And their positions on stage reminded me of two boxers eyeball wrestling each other from their neutral corners. However, tonight; instead of trading jabs, they would be exchanging love, verse, and sweat. Moreover, instead of throwing haymakers and round-house rights, The Rep would stand in the center of the ring and howl at the moon from the depths of his soul.

sheila
Photo by Dale Nickey

The set begins with The Representative seated. Eventually he would rise slowly and tentatively from his seat and unfurl his lanky frame in the manner of a 6 foot 2, black-clad Praying Mantis performing its morning yoga. The Representative was in a dancing mood as he stomped, stretched and shuffled all over the stage. Music stands with neatly typewritten text occupied prominent positions on the stage, but there was plenty of freestyling on offer. Being a nerdy Rock scribe, I dutifully took notes to document the concert. However, it soon became a moot exercise. I moved to the edge of the stage to open an unobstructed portal to the energy source, and that energy was pure and powerful. For the audience’s part, they stood, stared, swayed and were generally mesmerized the entire set. Sometimes the collective energy of the band would flag, but they would always rebound with a second wind and more inspired free playing. After a long and winding closing piece where The Representative tore open his soul with primal urgency, he calmly sat back down, then telepathically signaled to Sheila the set was over. The Jandek ensemble left the stage en mass to a lusty ovation.

Maybe it’s just the post-gig pheromones talking, but the band assembled for this show probably ranks as Jandek’s finest. Drums were absent and replaced by a beatmaster working knobs and faders at the back of the stage. Flanking the rhythm desk was a bassist and guitarist Will Toledo. Toledo deserves special mention in consideration of how much responsibility rested on him to provide harmonic structures and atmospheres consonant with the ethos of Jandek. Echo and delay were used liberally and effectively by both Toledo and the bassist. Moreover, the dynamics and tempo ebbed and flowed organically despite the metronomic strictures of the ever present beatbox.

Call it the ’emperor’s new clothes’ if you wish. Jandek will always sound like an incoherent din to the moral majority. But, for those willing to be hypnotized, A Jandek gig is a mega-decibel baptism of sound.  Jandek prays out loud with guitars, bass and beats at full volume; and we get to evesdrop. Often he just clenches his entire body and howls in rapture.  The Representative soaks up our adoration and then flings it into the heavens. But make no mistake, he’s not he’s not playing for us. It’s a ritual he would perform regardless. He was creating before the cellphone, CD and home computer. He played before you were born. He’s played sitting on a chair beside a window. Now he’s playing for time. He’ll be 71 in October. There’s no time left for anything else.

jandeksitting
Photo by Dale Nickey

Visit Corwood Industries >>>> http://corwoodindustries.com/

Cover Girls – Cheesecake Delight

Cheesecake –  Emerging sub-genre attracts vinyl collectors with an eye for the ladies.

By Dale Nickey:

Mary Tyler Moore

We have all seen them at one time or another in a junk shop or in our parents (or grandparents) ancient record collection; a long lost vinyl LP with a purdy girl on the cover and insufferable easy listening music within.

Objectification or high art?  Probably a little of both.

Context is everything. Imagine a time before cellphones, music videos or color television. Recorded music was an emerging power and the beast demanded product. Audiophiles had to make choices between mono or stereo. We’re talking the 1950’s and pre-Beatles 60’s; a black and white world that grabbed it’s visceral thrills where it could. Enter The Cheesecake record cover.

In the main, the fledgling record industry was run by ugly white guys. Many of them on the wrong side of 30. Many of the pre-Beatles recording artists not named Elvis, Frankie or Bobby were session men, film composers, TV composers, arrangers and producers. They all made music that was good, bad or indifferent. However, one reality was clear; sticking a bald, bespectacled studio mole with nicotine teeth and goatee on the cover was box-office poison.

In a marketing move that presaged the MTV era’s obsession with female eye candy, record companies started contracting models for fashion shoots to create album covers that would stop any red blooded American male hot in his tracks and start him reaching for his wallet. Mary Tyler Moore paid the bills as a first call record cover model on at least half a dozen titles.  Sometimes you got a twofer when the dish on the cover was also the main course on the vinyl platter (Julie London, Doris Day, Peggy Lee). Often the cover girl would have a tenuous connection with what was going on inside the cover. Other times, the outside cover would capture perfectly the atmosphere of the music on offer.

What follows are some classic examples of The Cheesecake cover during the genre’s heyday, and also some entrants from later decades that were faithful to the original spirit.

Esquivel – Other Worlds Other Sounds (1958)

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Ten years prior to 1967’s psychedelic summer of love, artist’s minds were in expansion mode courtesy of the space race. Cowboys Vs. Indians were replaced by The Invaders from Mars vs. The U.S. Army. The Russians first entered space with the Sputnik satellite on October 4, 1957 and our heads were never the same. Everything seemed possible and the last unknown frontier seemed sexy as hell. This cover is a classic example of Cheesecake appeal crossed with otherworldly allure. Oh yes, the music inside stands the test of time as well.

Tabu by Ralph Font and His Orchestra (1958)

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Musicians and artists have always had a bit more license to push the buttons of puritanical mainstream culture.  In the 50’s inter-racial lust was beyond comprehension in straight white America. On this cover, its very easy to see the hot vibration between the two characters portrayed. However, musically speaking, Arthur Lyman owns the Taboo sub-genre.

Julie London – Julie (1960)

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Here is an example of the Cheesecake in question being the artist in the grooves. Julie London was a top notch pop singer and a actress of some note. Here we have a big budget cover that is a perfect example of Cheesecake appeal provided by the artist herself.

Jackie Gleason

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Jackie Gleason was a huge (sic) talent and his mainstream success in the 50’s and 60’s allowed him to venture into music making. Not a trained musician, and only a passable singer, Gleason acted as executive producer and artistic Svengali on an avalanche of chill records that were mostly excellent and easy on the nervous system. His album Lonesome Echo was a chill masterpiece sporting the only record cover ever designed to order by Salvador Dali. Most times however, Gleason’s cover of choice was an expensively staged Cheesecake cover that illustrated whatever mood the rotund visionary wanted to convey.

The Cha Cha Covers

Mary Tyler Moore again

Sometimes Cheesecake cover art ventured into sexual exploitation (and many times) soft core pornography. The term “sex sells” started during the 50’s and early 60’s when it was discovered that discreet pheromone manipulation could flog anything from cigarettes to dish detergent. Cha Cha was a hugely popular form of Latin dance music that pushed forward spicy rhythms and smoldering sexuality. Most Latin flavored albums of the period relied on Cheesecake for subliminal outreach.

Whipped Cream and Other Delights by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass (1965)

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For the record, there was no Tijuana Brass, just Herb Alpert rattling around in A&M Studios Hollywood multi-tracking platinum selling light instrumentals for Radio, TV and the world. This album sold north of 5 million and was a common sighting in the used bins in every thrift shop and record store. Now it’s a rarity due to the recent interest in Cheesecake covers. This cover is considered classic. And in case you wondered, the model is covered in shaving cream. Fun fact, model Dolores Erickson was three months pregnant at the time of the cover shoot.

Roxy Music (The Kari-Ann Cover 1972)

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As we moved into the seventies, music became heavier and more serious; consequently artists assiduously avoided any marketing strategy that was arch, crassly capitalistic or that carried the odor of “sellout”. Roxy Music didn’t care. They were cutting edge glam-prog musos of the first order, but also worshiped high fashion and 50’s kitch. Hence, this homage to the golden age of Cheesecake. They would continue to display Cheesecake on their covers for the first five albums. Most notably, Siren – featuring a future Mrs. Jagger – Jerry Hall.

Deborah Harry – KooKoo (1981)

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Generally, the idea of Cheesecake was to glorify the beauty imbedded in womanhood. To make something attractive and alluring. Blondie bombshell Deborah Harry took a different tact. The New York punker decided to enlist modern artist Giger to desicrate the form and add some shock and awe. That he did. This cover served to puncture the idea that Cheesecake only existed for the hollow pleasure of the purchaser, and the objectification of the woman.

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Bjork – Vulnicura (2016)

We come full circle with latest record from this century’s Cheesecake mutation. Forget Lady GaGa, it was Bjork that shattered the kaleidoscopic ceiling of Cheesecake. She appears on each of her records in different incarnations of herself, but always shielded by a character and a concept that seeks to express the mood inside the record: the epitome of the Cheesecake ethos. However here, Bjork morphs womanhood into an existential hybrid who wears her vulnerability courtesy the gaping wound in her chest, but protected by spikes emanating from brain and embrace.  Moreover, with her extraterrestrial, Icelandic aspect, Bjork closes the Cheesecake circle with 1957’s Other Sounds Other Worlds.