Milwaukee rising: “Taking the City by Storm”

Kenny Baldwin at bar
Filmed before his death in September 2015, Kenny Baldwin was a musician in the Milwaukee punk scene and proprietor of the Starship, home of many formative gigs.

Milwaukee is among the smallest cities I’ve covered so far on FiveBands, but the passion and creativity of its rock-‘n’-roll scene has long rivaled the biggest towns on the musical map.

Sites like Milwaukee Rock Posters and social media groups like Lest We Forget: Deceased Milwaukee Scene are magnets for local lore, and scene veterans have been tireless in their efforts to make their history known.

Case in point: Taking the City By Storm, an epic documentary of the Milwaukee underground. Currently slated for release in 2018, the film is directed by Doug LaValliere (one of Milwaukee’s accomplished LaValliere brothers and a co-founder of the Prosecutors with Kevn Kinney, later of Atlanta underground sensations Drivin’ N Cryin’).

The producers are Judy Simonds and Clancy Carroll of the Dominoes and Clancy Carroll Band. (Carroll is also co-author of a new and improved book, Brick Through the Window: An Oral History of Punk Rock, New Wave, and Noise in Milwaukee, 1964-1984. Buy it via the Boswell Book Company site!)

Continue reading “Milwaukee rising: “Taking the City by Storm””

Never mind 2016: Here are 5 New Year’s gigs you should know about

"Sgt. Pepper's" style collage of 2016 deaths
2016 homage by Chris Barker.

Those of us who admire music-makers of renown shared many hard losses over the past year. And many us who treasure our own music scenes have lost local heroes as well.

Time passes, and young lions grow older — since their mortality reminds us of our own, and the music they made reminds us of our receding youth, it’s always personal. And for those of us of a certain age, 2016 seemed way too close for comfort.

But we’ll always have the music. On the eve of a year I hope will bring more good news than bad, I thought we’d take a quick tour of five shows from New Years past (and revisit some 2016 highlights from FiveBands): Continue reading “Never mind 2016: Here are 5 New Year’s gigs you should know about”

Fox Pass and the Modern Lovers connection: On the record with Jon Macey

Fox Pass' Michael Roy and Jon Macey in the studio
Michael Roy (left) and Jon Macey. (Courtesy Jon Macey)

I’m not just the author of FiveBands — I’m also a fan. Working on this project has given me the chance to discover groups I never heard of but would have loved from Day One. And of that growing list, Boston’s Fox Pass is one of my favorites.

Fox Pass started in 1972 as a high-school collaboration between guitarists/vocalists Jon Macey and Michael Roy. Early adherents of the New York sound of the Velvet Underground as well as Boston’s own Modern Lovers, Macey and Roy led Fox Pass through a succession of rhythm sections and hundreds of gigs until the band’s farewell performance at The Club in Cambridge on Dec. 27, 1978.

The duo moved to New York, where they joined their friend Tom Dickie to form Tom Dickie and the Desires (managed by the legendary Tommy Mottola). That band dissolved in 1982, and Macey and Roy parted ways until the late ‘90s. A reformed Fox Pass finally released its debut album in 2005 and a second in 2010.

While Fox Pass released just one single during the ‘70s, Jon Macey has generously shared some unreleased Fox Pass tracks from the era, which I’m honored to present here:

Let’s flip the FiveBands formula this time. Check out bands you know that crossed paths with Fox Pass:

Continue reading “Fox Pass and the Modern Lovers connection: On the record with Jon Macey”

I was a teenage Street Punk: Peter Rossi, NY’s glitter-punk underground and 5 bands you should know about

Peter Rossi in hat.
Peter Rossi.

Peter Rossi is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker — but in the early ‘70s, under the name Peter Ashley, he played guitar in Street Punk, one of the forgotten stalwarts of the New York music scene that rose alongside the New York Dolls and presaged the Ramones.

Now Rossi is combining his professional passions with a film project aimed at documenting and celebrating the bands, street artists and poets of New York’s protopunk scene. (The working title is You’re In or You’re Out/Urine or UR Out.) Rossi describes the style — which is in pre-production through his company Tantamount Productions — as “cinéma vérité meets ‘The Last Waltz,’ and he’s networking with his contemporaries and other fans to raise the money to bring the project to a screen near you. (As actor and veteran New York musician Fenton Lawless remarked in a Facebook discussion, the project is “what Vinyl promised but failed sooo miserably. … It needed a Peter Rossi.”)

While many bands that powered the scene have expressed excitement about gathering for a live event 40 years later, Rossi emphasizes that he’s not looking to document a reunion that simply retreads the participants’ back catalogs. “This is about catching up with the artists who still have the fire in their souls,” he says.

Rossi is rallying some of the top acts of the era to top the bill again and demonstrate the chemistry that made New York a catalyst for a new generation of music.

In addition the chart-toppers, the event will provide an opportunity to hear other, worthy bands that played Coventry, Mercer Arts Center and Max’s Kansas City, including the Magic Tramps, the Harlots of 42nd Street and Teenage Lust (all of whom we’ve profiled here).

And the list goes on. Without further ado, here are five more bands that were essential to Peter Rossi’s scene:  Continue reading “I was a teenage Street Punk: Peter Rossi, NY’s glitter-punk underground and 5 bands you should know about”

Return to the Rat: 5 more Boston bands you should know about

The Real Kids.
The Real Kids.

The votes are in, and veterans of the late-’70s Boston music scene focused on the Rathskeller (a k a “the Rat“) want you to know more.

I recently stage-dived into this scene armed with a copy of Looking for Lady Dee: A Punk Rock Mystery by Johnny Angel, co-founder of Rat regulars Thrills. Johnny’s book provided me with some useful clues about worthy bands that never achieved fame outside the region — but picking just five proved a serious challenge, even to a Boston dilettante like me.

Read more: Johnny Angel, Boston’s Rat and 5 bands you should know about

Former Rat scenesters agreed. Prompted by their advocacy — as well as some fantastic online resources including Boston Groupie News and the Music Museum of New England — here are five more bands you should know about: Continue reading “Return to the Rat: 5 more Boston bands you should know about”

Johnny Angel, Boston’s Rat, and 5 bands you should know about

Portrait of Johnny Angel
Johnny Angel, 2015.

There are 8 million stories in the naked city, and Johnny Angel has a few thousand of them. As founder of Thrills, the Massachusetts native (and current Los Angeles resident) played a major role in Boston’s late-’70s scene focused on the legendary Rathskeller, better know as the Rat (and a k a “Boston’s CBGB“). Thrills gigged with Boston’s finest as well as touring groups from the Ramones to the Dead Boys to U2; Angel has maintained those relationships as a musician, radio personality, print journalist and actor.

But how to tell the tale without the clichés of a standard-issue memoir? Johnny took a novel route in 2015, when he published Looking for Lady Dee: A Punk Rock Mystery. The book weaves together scrupulous autobiography with a film noir mystery: An old flame from his days at The Rat has disappeared, and Johnny teams with a punk femme fatale to find her.

Along the way, Johnny Angel pays homage to his band and a slew of others who pioneered the scene. Here are five you should know about: Continue reading “Johnny Angel, Boston’s Rat, and 5 bands you should know about”

Richard LaValliere: Milwaukee’s finest and 5 bands you should know about

Richard LaValliere with guitar
Richard LaValliere (photo by James Prinz)

More than four years gone, Richard LaValliere makes me angry.

As a kid, I had a brief but intense relationship with Milwaukee (where Richard electrified the underground music scene with bands like In A Hot Coma, the Haskels and Oil Tasters). Years later, we were accidental neighbors again in New York (where he continued his dizzying creative streak with groups like Scorpio Thunderbolt, Polkafinger, and Jones & Karloff). But when he died at 59 on February 8, 2012, I barely knew his name.

Judy Simonds — who actually lived the Milwaukee scene and is working to document it in depth — is helping me learn more about the amazing kaleidoscope of creative projects Richard LaValliere powered over nearly 50 years of his short life. (Check out the Richard LaValliere memorial page she runs on Facebook.) I haven’t asked her about his personal trajectory, or whether he was also frustrated that his work wasn’t heard by more people.

But for my own selfish reasons, I’m angry that I hadn’t heard Richard LaValliere until very recently — and that the audio and video record he left behind is so tantalizingly sparse. You should hear him, too. Here are five of his bands you should know about: Continue reading “Richard LaValliere: Milwaukee’s finest and 5 bands you should know about”

Gene Harlot remembers: Glitter punk, Coventry and the Harlots of 42nd Street

Gene Harlot, the Harlots of 42nd Street
Gene Harlot, the Harlots of 42nd Street.

Good news for fans of classic glitter punk: FiveBands’ recent retrospective of the early ‘70s scene at Coventry in Queens prompted a response from Gene Harlot himself, lead vocalist for New York underground legends The Harlots of 42nd Street.

Gene sets the record straight on a few points about the Harlots (who New York Dolls frontman David Johansen calls his favorite band on the scene) and shares a motherlode of Harlots memorabilia, including photos, flyers and the band’s own fan newsletter.

“Love the article and the take on the scene as well as the shout out for me and the boys” Gene writes, “though, unfortunately, it’s a little inaccurate as are many things from that time frame.”

The Harlots of 42nd StreetContrary to claims by Coventry founder Paul Sub, “the Dolls were not once-a-month regulars at Coventry,” Gene maintains. “In fact, the Harlots were (even though not as famous in the scene as the Dolls … perhaps that’s why the club owner ‘remembers’ it the way he does), and we were the headliners on all occasions, including New Year’s Eve (again … does it really matter?) when we packed the place, as usual. Continue reading “Gene Harlot remembers: Glitter punk, Coventry and the Harlots of 42nd Street”

Like Bruce Springsteen? 5 bands you should know about

SpringsteenThompson
Bruce Springsteen and Robbin Thompson reunite in Richmond, Virginia, August 18, 2008.

By the time 23-year-old Bruce Springsteen officially introduced the E Street Band in October 1972, he’d already put together at least half-a-dozen musical groups, building a core of backing musicians and experimenting with different kinds of lineups.

Among Springsteen’s notable efforts: the Castiles, his first serious mid-’60s band; Steel Mill, a long-haired hard rock outfit that toured the country and opened for some major acts of the era; and The Friendly Enemies as well as Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, two big ensembles that Springsteen built expressly for a couple of memorable shows. These last two lineups played just one and two gigs, respectively, but they’re still remembered as the first time Springsteen combined some of his core rock musicians with horns and other enhancements that tapped into the R&B traditions of the Jersey Shore.

If you’re interested in the toolkit Bruce Springsteen used to engineer his sound, here are five bands you should know about: Continue reading “Like Bruce Springsteen? 5 bands you should know about”

Like Nirvana? Community World Theater and 5 bands you should know about

Portrait of 64 Spiders.
64 Spiders.

It opened on Valentine’s Day 1987 and shut down after one last Circle Jerks gig on June 28, 1988 — but during its short span, Community World Theater in Tacoma, Washington, hosted formative gigs for a cast of musicians who would shape the industry in the 1990s.

As a footnote in history, the refurbished 1924 movie theater run by local promoter Jim May is most often mentioned as the venue where Nirvana played some of its earliest shows under names like Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew and Ted Ed Fred (as well as its first show under its final moniker on March 19, 1988).

But scratch the surface of the wonderful live history compiled by Mike Ziegler to discover hundreds of connections to other bands of vast influence.

Direct from Community World Theater, here are five bands you should know about: Continue reading “Like Nirvana? Community World Theater and 5 bands you should know about”