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by mbreen 06.12.2013
Posted In: Live Music at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Music Tonight: Blowfly Returns to York Street

Proto-Hip Hop legend/innovator Blowfly returns to Newport, Ky., tonight for a show at the York Street Cafe. The altered-ego of Clarence Reid, who wrote and produced R&B tracks for artists like Betty Wright and Wilson Pickett, "Blowfly" began releasing cult fave "adult" material in the ’70s/’80s, his cool, spoken flow setting a blueprint for rappers to come.

Blowfly (who appeared at York Street Cafe last September) has continued to put out albums, notably 2006's classically ridiculous Blowfly's Punk Rock Party, which featured reworked satirical renditions of hits by The Clash ("Should I Fuck This Big Fat Ho"), The Dead Kennedys ("R. Kelly in Cambodia," featuring Jello Biafra himself as a guest) and the immortal "I Wanna Fuck Your Dog," based on The Stooges' seminal "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Reid was also the subject of the interesting and acclaimed documentary, The Weird World of Blowfly, which you can watch through Netflix.



Tonight's show kicks off at 8 p.m. and features special guests Hurricane Hot Pants and Vampire Weekend at Bernie's.

 
 
by Mike Breen 06.12.2013
Posted In: Local Music, Festivals, Music News at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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PUBLIC Celebrates Debut EP by Giving it Away

Cincy trio makes its "Red" EP available for free download today only

Incredibly impressive young AltRock trio PUBLIC is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its first release, the four-track EP Red, today. In honor of the occasion, the band — one of the “Best New Artist” nominees at the most recent Cincinnati Entertainment Awards — is offering Red as a free download.

Those interested in grabbing all four tracks without paying the usual $5 will have today only to nab it at publictheband.com.

PUBLIC is currently readying a new single, “Honeybee,” which will drop in conjunction with the group’s appearance at the Bunbury Music Festival on the fest’s opening night, July 12.

Give the EP a listen below then go grab your very own copy.


 
 
by Mike Breen 06.11.2013
Posted In: Live Music, Music Video at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Music Tonight: Death Grips, Father John Misty and More

• Death Grips is a primal force of nature that seems built to subvert. Entering the world of this Sacramento-based experimental Hip Hop trio — frontman Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett, keyboardist/programming guru Andy “Flatlander” Morin and drummer Zach Hill — is akin to being trapped in a demented, all-immersive video game designed and conceived by Harmony Korine and Charles Manson. Strap in for a wild, sensory-altering ride.

Death Grips' full-length debut, The Money Store — somewhat improbably released by the bigwigs at Epic Records in April of last year  — is a dense, claustrophobic head-trip marked by Burnett’s rapid-fire raps, most of which are hard to discern amid the clanging sonic assault that surrounds him.

The Bomb Squad’s Public Enemy heyday is an obvious touchstone, as is any number of far lesser known art-damaged outfits. A glance at the lyric sheet confirms the workings of a paranoid mind. Try this from “The Fever (Aye Aye)”: “Blade cut me/Sewer drain grated/Bubonic plague/Spreaded faceless/Lurking in the deadest spaces.” 

The Money Store is challenging, fully-realized stuff, which makes the details of its follow-up, No Love Deep Web, released six months later, another fascinating wrinkle in the ongoing Death Grips narrative. The trio dropped the sonically spare (for these guys) album as a free download after Epic balked at releasing it so soon after The Money Store. The label supposedly hadn’t even heard the finished “product.” Then there’s the fact that the cover art features a photo of Hill’s erect penis with the album’s title written on it in black magic marker. 

And now for the only obvious development in Death Grips’ creative trajectory to date: They have since parted ways with Epic. (Preview by Jason Gargano)

Death Grips performs tonight downtown at the Ballroom at the Taft Theatre. Ratking opens at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door. 

Here's a video clip for Death Grips' "I've Seen Footage," from The Money Store. 

• Josh Tillman is a funny, hyper-articulate guy with an absurdist streak that makes itself readily apparent in interviews and between-song live-show banter. Yet you wouldn’t know it by listening to the seven solo albums he put out as J. Tillman from 2004 to 2010, all of which were pretty serious-minded, sonically straightforward affairs in the mold of the folkies he once supported as an open act: Damien Jurado and Richard Buckner. 

“When I was 21 I wanted to be (seen as) a 40-year-old alcoholic trucker,” Tillman said of his early, vanity-driven persona in a recent interview with KEXP.

Enter Father John Misty, a moniker/conceptual shift that seems to have unlocked the 32-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s playful side. FJM performs tonight at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $17 at the door.

The new outfit’s 2012 debut for Sub Pop, Fear Fun, is a musically diverse gem, moving from the lilting Folk of “Funtimes in Babylon” to the lush Pop gold of “Nancy From Now On” to the atmospheric rocker “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” with seamless grace. 

The affecting album-closer “Everyman Needs a Companion” brings to mind a meld of the criminally underappreciated Grant Lee Buffalo and the kinda over-praised Fleet Foxes (for whom, curiously, Tillman was the drummer from 2008 to 2011). Best of all is the rollicking, twang-infested ditty “I’m Writing a Novel,” which features some of Tillman’s most inspired word play and impassioned singing. 

Then there’s Tillman’s “performance” as Misty, which takes on a whole new dimension in a live setting. With his lanky frame, handsome, bearded face and slithery-hipped dancing, he conjures Jim Morrison as lounge singer — which, believe it or not, is a good thing. (Preview by Jason Gargano)

Here is the video for "Funtimes in Babylon."

Opening the show is Pure Bathing Culture. The upstart two-piece (and, when live, four-piece)  — led by old friends, romantic partners and Vetiver members Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman — filled the genre box on its Facebook page with “New Age/Slow Dance/Adult Contemporary/Spiritual.” Though it could be a joke on the band's part, the connection makes sense. 

“Pendulum” — a track off PBC's debut full-length Moon Tides — has the pretty reverb and general je ne sais quoi of an Indie Pop song, but its soothing lyrics about swinging like a pendulum and downbeat, sunset-on-a-beach vibe also reflect the band potentially using New Age as a legit influence.

By the time of Moon Tides’ release in late August, when the band leaders are doing the press rounds, hopefully someone will think to ask about this link and close the case for good. (Preview by Reyan Ali)

Here is PBC's video for "Pendulum."

Find even more live music options in Greater Cincinnati today/tonight here. 

 
 
by Brian Penick 06.11.2013
Posted In: Local Music, Music News, Music Commentary at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Guest Blog: Musicians’ Desk Reference, More Specifically

Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group is guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry guidebook, Musicians’ Desk Reference.

It has been killing me to remain so broad and vague this entire time about what exactly me and my staff have been working on, and while I will attempt to be slightly more specific this time around, I am afraid that you will inevitably be strung along for yet another 30-day span, inching closer to the release this Fall.

If you have been reading these entries (or know me personally), you know I am a musician, and that I have experience touring and working in the music industry for about half of my life. While I do not necessarily claim to be an expert (I believe it requires an extreme longevity with multiple facets of success and even some failure to be given that label), I can tell you that I have an understanding of how the working elements of this business function, and that I have been able to make a career as both a performer and a servicing agent. That being said, my passion (and I do consider myself a passionate person), has become helping others to succeed in this industry through sharing my experiences and knowledge. While competition certainly has its place and can keep you sharp, ultimately we are all in this together, trying to reach a common goal of finding success. The more we work together the better the potential is for any one of us to achieve these goals.

I truly believe Musicians’ Desk Reference is the next step in the evolutionary process to bind us together as a musical community. My overall intention with this project is to level the playing field as much as possible, everywhere from general theories of advancement to the specified documentation that an artist will actually work with. At the end of the day, we hope to unveil the unknown variables that musicians will face and provide the tools and the understanding and put the focus on what matters most: your music.

How do you know if Musisicans’ Desk Reference is something for you? The eBook encompasses several distinct areas of the music business, ranging from the inner workings of just starting out as a musician, down the necessary paths of recording, promoting, touring and eventually building a team of industry professionals to work for you. These topics are based on my own personal experiences as a musician and with operating The Counter Rhythm Group (my music industry promotions company), in addition to many conversations with musicians over time about what topics they are most curious about. Not surprisingly, many of the requests were in the same categories, so in the end the subject matter was not too difficult to choose from.

It is an exciting time for sure, as we are literally in the last two weeks of content creation, working right along schedule with our team of professionals we have amassed to help make the dream a become a reality. 

Looking ahead into the near future, I am excited to announce that we will be conducting some closed focus groups for the content, eventually leading into beta testing a full working version. All preparation is leading up to the release of the final product this Fall, and while I cannot give out too many specifics (sorry!), I can say that it will be a series of events not to be missed. 

I apologize if the bulk of these blogs seem to relate more to the backstory and the generalities of the book rather than the specific content and the process behind the final product, but that is unfortunately the direction that it must take for now. While I have been hit with a wave of positivity from musicians familiar with the project, it is very clear that more explanation is required as to offer insight as to what we are actually doing over here. The process, as that of many servicing professionals, can often feel like a variety of desk jobs that exist in the world, with the obvious exception of working with fantastic clients and the ability to go to shows, travel and be among others with similar interests that are typically awesome. In all honesty, I sit at a desk and work on several computers, monitors and devices, working with my team to create, verify and edit content, hour after hour. It is nothing but work, work, work around here (especially lately), and I would not have it any other way.

 
 
by Mike Breen 06.10.2013
Posted In: Local Music, Music News at 12:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Tweens Sign to Frenchkiss Records

Local Noise Pop trio inks deal for new album with esteemed indie imprint

Most who’ve heard or seen the widely buzzed-about Cincinnati Indie/Punk/Pop/Rock trio Tweens knew it was only a matter of time before a national label signed the band. It was no shock, then, when it was recently announced that the band — which just played the MidPoint Indie Summer series on Fountain Square and was hand-picked to open a string of high profile dates for The Breeders —  had inked a deal with respected indie label, Frenchkiss Records.

Frenchkiss, which was started in 1999 by Syd Butler of Les Savy Fav, has become known for its consistently high-quality signings and ability to discover bands who’ve taken their acts to the next level, including The Hold Steady and Passion Pit. The label is currently home to acclaimed artists Local Natives, Bloc Party, Crocodiles and The Drums.

According to the label, the threesome — Bridget Battle (vocals, guitar), Peyton Copes (bass) and Jerri Queen (drums/baking vocals) — will be recording its debut album for Frenchkiss this summer. Tweens' next Cincinnati show is July 3, when they’ll perform as part of the outdoor Northside Rock and Roll Carnival.

Read CityBeat's recent interview with Tweens and keep tabs on the group at facebook.com/tweencity.

Here's a recent demo posted by the band for the song "Don't Wait Up."



 
 
by Mike Breen 05.31.2013
Posted In: Live Music, Local Music at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Free MidPoint Indie Summer Concert Kick-Off Tonight

Trio of great Greater Cincinnati Indie bands perform for series opener on Fountain Square

The first day of summer isn't for three more weeks, but MidPoint Indie Summer begins this evening.

The free, every-Friday concert event — sponsored by CityBeat's MidPoint Music Festival (which recently announced another stack of performers for this September's fest) — is part of Fountain Square's PNC Summer Music Series, which kicked off earlier this week. Shows start every Friday at 8 p.m., preceded by the 4EG Happy Hour (5-8 p.m.), which includes a special guest DJ each week (today it's DJ Ice Cold Tony) and lots of drink specials.

MidPoint Indie Summer shows feature primarily local acts, but also a few national touring performers. Click here for the full lineup so far.

Tonight's MPIS headliners are using the event to launch into a new phase of their career. It's officially the last show by 7-year-old, nationally-acclaimed Indie Pop band Pomegranates … but also the first show for the band under its new name, Healing Power. Pomegranates/Healing Power will be playing song from all five Pomegranates albums, "some we haven't done in years," the band writes on its Facebook page. Healing Power already has some solid bookings this summer, including dates with Cold War Kids, Ra Ra Riot and former Miracle Legion frontman March Mulcahy.

R.I.P. Pomegranates, and welcome to the world, Healing Power. Here's an oldie but goodie, from 2009's Lujo Records release, Everybody Come Outside! (The band has confirmed this one's in tonight's set!) Pomegrantes/Healing Power performs at 10 p.m.



At 9 p.m., great Covington quartet The Yugos perform, celebrating the release of their brand-new Life is Awesome and Then You Live Forever LP, a stellar exhibition of the band's twinkly/trippy, melodic Dream Pop. The album was posted today on The Yugos' Bandcamp page. Check out the fantastic first single from the album, "Dream Away" (a free download), below and grab your album download here to get even more pumped for the show tonight.


Kicking off the show in style at 8 p.m. is Cincy Indie Rock threesome The Never Setting Suns. The band has independently released a pair of strong albums so far, including last year's Time & Eternity. Download that album's "Meet Me There" for free here.

 
 
by Mike Breen 05.30.2013
Posted In: Local Music, Music News at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Original Cincinnati Music Show Coming to The Project

'CincyMusic Spotlight' to air Sundays beginning this weekend

Over the years, Greater Cincinnati has been lucky to have at least a few radio stations dedicated to giving original, local music some airtime. While WEBN (yes, that WEBN) strongly supported local music in the ’70s/’80s, most substantial local airplay now comes courtesy of community and/or low-powered stations, plus the occasional, short-lived niche show from a huge corporate radio outlet.

At 88.9 FM (or 89.1 FM in Northern Kentucky), Class X Radio's diverse programming and lineup of shows include the longest-running local music program in the area — Kindred Sanction — which got its start on WAIF over 25 years ago (the station also incorporates local music into its other programming). The community radio station WVQC (Radio Free Queen City) is run through Media Bridges and features numerous shows that spotlight Cincy artists (listen online or at 95.7 FM). And Northern Kentucky's powerhouse public radio channel, WNKU (wnku.org or 89.7 FM) integrates local artist cuts into its normal playlist frequently. 

This past April, 94.5 FM became Cincy Rock 94.5 … for a month. Owners Clear Channel threw a bone to local music after Northern Kentucky resident Josh Fields won a contest to program the channel until its May 1 conversion to a 24-hour FM simulcast of AM superstar, WLW. 

This Sunday, in what will hopefully be a more permanent occupation of some FM airtime for local music, another Clear Channel outlet, The Project (at 100.7 FM and 106.3 FM), will launch what looks to be a great new program, CincyMusic Spotlight.

One of the few conglomo-stations to consistently play "Alternative" music in the city (it also plays the bigger local bands, like Foxy Shazam and Walk the Moon, on a regular basis), The Project will now delve into Greater Cincinnati's music scene head first every Sunday night at midnight. The program will be made available as a podcast at CincyMusic.com, which partnered with The Project for the new show (podcasts will also be available at CincinnatiProject.com). You can subscribe to the podcasts at both sites starting Sunday. 

In a press release, the show is described as "a mix of the region's most talented musicians" and will also feature a "weekly recap of all the local music news from CincyMusic.com."

The program certainly has the right hosts in place. CincyMusic Spotlight will feature two local music/radio veterans — Venomous Valdez (who has done radio in the past, helped keep the MidPoint Music Festival running smoothly last year and currently works with local bands as a manager/road manger) and Joe Long (who helms the music blog Each Note Secure and was a former DJ on the late, great 97X/WOXY). 

Tune in this Sunday night and be vocal in your support of the show so CincyMusic Spotlight stays on the air and proves wrong the seemingly conventional wisdom that there are no ratings or money in "local music."

 
 
by Mike Breen 05.29.2013
 
 
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MidPoint Music Fest 2013: Round 2 Lineup Announcment

Shuggie Otis, Youth Lagoon, Kurt Vile and more set for September festival

The second round of announcements for this year's MidPoint Music Festival lineup was featured in this week's issue of CityBeat, on streets now. For those outside of Greater Cincinnati (or you lazy folks who don't want to walk to pick up a newspaper), here's the official press release:

For Immediate Release

Artist Announcement “Round 2” for MPMF.13

Original Pioneer Shuggie Otis to headline Washington Park 

Opening Night 

Cincinnati, Ohio, May 29, 2013 —Last month, after almost 40 years, Shuggie Otis, released a new album.  

In September, MidPoint Music Festival (MPMF.13) will present Otis, one of the most mysterious figures in pop music history, as this year’s original pioneer.  He will headline in Washington Park opening night with Cody ChesnuTT.

According to the New York Times (NYT), Otis’s album, “Wings of Love” (Epic/Legacy), which includes 14 previously unreleased tracks, is being packaged a alongside a reissue of his previous and most celebrated recording, “Inspiration Information,” from 1974.  

“MPMF has always been known for the pioneering music we showcase, but I am especially excited and proud to present Shuggie Otis,” said Dan McCabe, artistic director of MPMF.13. “Unlike other original pioneers presented at past MPMFs like Ralph Stanley, Booker T. and Van Dyke Parks, Shuggie’s impact is only just now coming to light.  Shuggie Otis speaks directly to the MPMF artist who often sacrifices success and notoriety for their art.”

On May 3, the first 13 artists were announced for the twelfth edition of the downtown Cincinnati festival happening September 26-28, 2013.  Today, 14 additional artists are being released:

SHUGGIE OTIS/KURT VILE/ YOUTH LAGOON/ 

ON AN ON/ BATHS/ MURDER BY DEATH/ BLEACHED/ SATURDAY LOOKS GOOD TO ME/ SAN FERMIN/ SECRET COLOURS/ NAT BALDWIN/ WILD CUB/

THE SHILOHS/BIRDS OF CHICAGO

SHUGGIE OTIS: “He’s the unsung hero of blues and funk. His music is so potent that it only blossomed 30 years after it was first released.”  - Questlove

“…a missing link between Sly, Jimi, Stevie, Prince and Frank Ocean." -Rolling Stone

KURT VILE: One of Coachella 2013’s 10 Must See Acts – Rolling Stone

“Wakin on a Pretty Daze” is a SPIN essential and a real testament to putting a great deal of effort into making something feel effortless.” - SPIN

YOUTH LAGOON: “8.7 / BEST NEW MUSIC. Wondrous Bughouse looks inward and discovers the endless possibilities of imagination and introspection.” -Pitchfork

ON AN ON: Broke new ground on their latest recording with accomplished producer Dave Newfeld (Broken Social Scene, Super Furry Animals, Los Campesinos!)  

BATHS: Just yesterday (May 28, 2013) second album Obsidian named “Best New Music” by Pitchfork.  Debut album Cerulean, blurs the line between post-modern pop and the LA beat scene and earned “Best Of” recognition from Pitchfork & The Onion’s A.V. Club.

MURDER BY DEATH: "They've cultivated a cult-like fan base via their unique sound, which mingles elements of country, indie rock and alternative music into collections of songs that are the sonic equivalent of 'No Country For Old Men.'"— PureVolume

BLEACHED: “…originally found cult status with their punk band Mika Miko. It's the ole "they've cleaned up, but are still same degenerates you know and love" trick. . – The Village Voice

SATURDAY LOOKS GOOD TO ME: The jubilant fun of Motown and Northern soul with a decidedly indie approach. 

SAN FERMIN: A pastiche of post-rock, chamber-pop and contemporary classical composition.

SECRET COLOURS: Revel in being the bastard seed of the '60s psychedelia and '90s Britpop bloodlines. 

NAT BALDWIN: Double bassist/singer-songwriter Nat Baldwin's spent years as the Dirty Projectors bassist and former disciple of free jazz legend Anthony Braxton.

WILD CUB:  “…[Wild Cub’s] brand of darkly-tinged new wave recalls elements of the youthful abandon of John Hughes soundtracks, the baleful allure of Greg Dulli, and the clockwork electronics of New Order’s middle period.” – KEXP

THE SHILOHS: The Vancouver foursome released full-length debut, So Wild earlier this year.

BIRDS OF CHICAGO: “They project organic gospel, hillbilly, folk and soul elements that bridge traditional and modern approaches." – Chicago Tribune

To view the whole list of artists for MPMF.13 to date, visit MPMF.com.

MidPoint Music Festival continues its 12-year tradition as the region’s frontline of music exploration, featuring an impressive and diverse lineup.  Music fans everywhere flock to Cincinnati in September to be a part of this long running music event that started in Over-the-Rhine (OTR), the Cincinnati neighborhood that’s as cutting edge as the festival itself.    

OTR remains a pivotal location, home to a number of MPMF.13 stages.  OTR is on the National Register of Historic Places and was voted best Cincinnati Neighborhood in CityBeat’s Best of Cincinnati publication in 2011 and 2012.  Since 2004 more than $255 million has been invested in the revitalization of OTR, including the $48 million renovation of Washington Park, which includes an outdoor music stage that serves as one of MPMF’s main stages. 

Ticketing

Advance tickets are on sale now at www.mpmf.cincyticket.com. All-access passes are $69 and VIP passes are $169

About MPMF 

Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival has developed a reputation as the place to find your new favorite band. MidPoint's embrace of emerging artists reflects the same pioneering ethic of Cincinnati's celebrated music history and its present day music-makers. The MPMF storyline continues to be diverse, dynamic and adventurous. Stay up to date at MPMF.com, like its official Facebook page, or by following the festival on Twitter.

MPMF.13 is made possible thanks to the generous support of its sponsors, including Dewey’s Pizza and Biore. 


 
 
by mbreen 05.24.2013
Posted In: Live Music, Local Music at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Live Reggae Galore

Fest and release party make Greater Cincy a Reggae hotspot tonight

• The annual food/music fest Taste of Cincinnati — Cincy’s unofficial “start of the summer” — doesn’t begin until tomorrow, but tonight you can get an outdoor music fix that couldn’t be more “summery.” Reggae Culture Splash 2013 goes down 7-10:30 p.m. tonight at Washington Park (1230 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine). 

The event features a stellar lineup of contemporary Jamaican Reggae stars, headed up by singer/songwriter Luciano, who is credited for helping keep socially/religiously inspired Roots Reggae music thriving in the face of an increasingly electro-dependent Dancehall craze.

Speaking of Dancehall, fellow Culture Splash performer Sister Nancy is credited as being the first female DJ in the genre and is also a fantastic vocalist. Also scheduled to appear are producer/artist Milton Blake, local collective Black Youth Faith and more, including DJing from I Vibez, Queen City Imperial Sound System and Frankie D. 

Unlike most Washington Park concerts, Culture Splash is not a free event. Tickets for Reggae Culture Splash are $25 at the gates. The tickets will be available starting at 5 p.m.

An after-party will be held at Grammer’s (1440 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine) at 10 p.m.; admission is $10 before midnight and $20 after.


• For some more local Reggae flavor tonight, you can check out Cincinnati Reggae greats The Cliftones celebrate the release of their latest single, the fourth to be issued this year, with a show at Southgate House Revival in Newport. The 9 p.m. event also features performances by Magic Jackson and The Almighty Get Down. 

In January, just before winning the 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for “Reggae/World Music,” the group released “Hard Ground,” which was mixed by noted producer Jim Fox (who has worked with Black Uhuru, Barrington Levy, Culture and other Reggae superstars and legends).

In March, The Cliftones’ “Hold Steady” was released. That one was mixed by DJ Prophesy (Bassnectar, Glitch Mob) and mastered by one of the greatest Dub producers ever, Scientist. 

The ’Tones latest, “Gone (Warn Mi),” is another Prophesy/Scientist collaboration, as is the "limited release" track the group dropped on Soundcloud recently, "Run Come Down." Check both out below:


Be sure to show up early to tonight's release show; free download cards for the new single will be given to the first 100 people through the door. The group will unveil another single in late June and are planning on issuing a 12-inch vinyl EP in August. The Cliftones are gradually moving toward a full-length release; it’s tentatively scheduled to drop in October. For more on the group, visit thecliftones.com.

 
 
by Brian Baker 05.24.2013
 
 
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Ray of Light

How the late Ray Manzarek guided one writer down the path to Rock obsession

Last Monday, while surfing through the various music sites I routinely monitor in the course of a day, a brief notation in a chatbox simultaneously caught my eye and stopped my heart: "Ray Manzarek RIP."

A quick Google search confirmed the terrible news that The Doors keyboardist had passed away on May 20 in Germany while seeking treatment for bile duct cancer.

By virtue of my mid-'50s birth, I am an actual child of the '60s and the parade of my musical heroes joining the choir invisible has seemed to pick up the pace here in the new millennium. So many have fallen, it's difficult to keep track.

My dear friend Rob, a high school bud from my Michigan hometown, has for years sent out emails with the name of a recently deceased musician in the subject line, which has led those of us in our immediate circle to refer to him as The Reaper. A few years back, he sent us an update about a new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album and from his simple subject notation I came to the horrifying conclusion that Tom and the boys had gone down like Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

Fortunately, that was not the case.

Rob was in the midst of trying to send us all a message from his phone about Ray's passing when he got my email. He hates it when I scoop him, but this was not a scoop that I could lord over The Reaper. This was as devastating as a death in the family. 

I teared up a few weeks ago when my comedy hero Jonathan Winters died and it was the same when Ray's death became a verifiable fact. Ray Manzarek wasn't simply one of the thousands of musicians who I greatly admire. He was the guy who made me listen to music.

My earliest exposure to Rock came, oddly enough, via The Ed Sullivan Show. For you youngsters, Sullivan was a well-connected entertainment reporter who wound up hosting radio shows in the late '20s and emceeing theater revues in the '30s and '40s which led to one of the first television variety shows, Toast of the Town, in 1948. Eventually renamed after its stiff but brilliantly intuitive host and talent booker, The Ed Sullivan Show occupied the Sunday-at-8 p.m. slot for 23 years.

Sullivan didn't care for Rock & Roll, but he knew teenagers were viewers and would attract advertisers, so he began booking the artists that would become the foundation of Rock in the '60s. I saw The Beatles on the Sullivan show in 1964, when I was 7 years old — I liked the music but I distinctly remember thinking, "I wish those girls would stop screaming so I can hear it." By the following year, The Beatles became a cartoon series and largely stopped being real people in my comic-book-obsessed head. 

Sgt. Pepper changed that in 1967. So much changed in 1967.

The catalyst for all that change was The Doors' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in September of that magic year. I didn't know anything about the band beyond its interesting name. I always watched Sullivan for the bands (although I was just as intrigued by the plate spinners, magicians and comics; George Carlin was an early favorite), so I looked forward to it as much as any of the others who had displayed their wares for Sullivan's audience.

Until The Doors' hypnotic vibe came pouring out of the tinny speaker in my grandparents' old black-and-white Zenith, music had been little more than an accessory in my life. I didn't follow music or collect it or pay much attention to it beyond checking it out on the occasional TV program (Sullivan, Hullabaloo, Shindig, sometimes American Bandstand on a rainy Saturday). The bands were fun and interesting to watch — by then I'd seen The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Dave Clark 5 (whose big beat, roiling Farfisa organ and frenetic guitar hooked me more than most) and many more — but I had not yet been infected with the Rock virus.

That September evening, I camped out in front of the TV to see what Sullivan had in store before The Doors played the final segment. There were the standard array of variety acts that made Sullivan a star in his own right and there was a sweaty, bug-eyed comic who was pretty funny (it turned out to be Rodney Dangerfield, making his TV debut). 

At commercial, I ran into the kitchen, probably for a chocolate chip cookie stack, and when I got back to the living room, there was Ed, arms folded across his chest, ramrod straight as if a stagehand had shoved a mop handle up his ass all the way to the base of his skull. 

"Now, The Doors...here they are with their newest hit record, 'People Are Strange.' "

The insistent lope of the first single from The Doors' sophomore album, Strange Days (which was still a week away from being released), emanated from the television and I stood staring at the set, afraid to sit down for fear of missing something. In two brief minutes, I was galvanized, pulverized and mesmerized, between Robbie Krieger's three note guitar intro, Ray Manzarek's circus organ, John Densmore's shuffling beat and Jim Morrison's trance-like presence. The best was yet to come.

Without a break, The Doors — with dozens of actual doors forming a backdrop — segued straight into their real hit, "Light My Fire," which had come out just after the first of the year. When I heard Ray's masterful intro, I remembered having heard a bit of it on the car radio before my father changed the station, presumably to get away from it. 

For the first time in my life, I got music. 

"Light My Fire" seeped into my DNA and I went through what seemed like an alchemical transformation, touched by the philosopher's stone of The Doors' cryptic groove. It felt like every molecule in my body had changed places with every other molecule in my body. Outwardly, I looked no different. Inwardly, I was not and would never be the same.

Morrison was clearly a compelling figure onstage as he writhed without seeming to move to any great degree — and the emphasis when the word "fire" erupted from his throat was hair-raising — but it was Ray Manzarek who commanded my attention. I kept wanting the camera to get back to Ray so I could watch his hands and see how they corresponded to that transdimensional sound he was creating. Morrison's smoldering role in The Doors' passion play was clearly evident, but Ray's position was so much more subversive and fascinating to me. 

By the time the Doors completed the two-and-a-half minute single version of "Light My Fire," I was paralyzed (the first time I heard the long version, probably a few months after the Sullivan show, my head nearly exploded). It was the first time I can remember thinking, "Play something else. Play that thing over. Play someone else's song. Just do that to me again."

From that moment on, I pursued music. I found the cool radio stations that played Rock and Pop and began paying strict attention. Motown had already been in full swing for a few years and that sound got its hooks into me as well. I kept an eye out for a repeat Sullivan performance by The Doors but it never happened; little did I know at the time that Ed and CBS executives had told the band to change the "girl, we couldn't get much higher" lyric in "Light My Fire" because of its possible drug connotation, which Morrison agreed to do and then either defiantly or nervously forgot. Sullivan was furious and reportedly shouted at the band after the show, "You'll never do the Sullivan show again," to which Morrison allegedly replied, "Hey, we just did the Sullivan show."

Over the next four years, my reverence for The Doors grew exponentially and I continued to be captivated by everything they attempted. I was not deterred by what some critics deemed inferior songs on Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, and the epic tales of Morrison's booze-and-drug consumption merely added to his mythic status. Only his conviction for public indecency was worrisome, from the standpoint that a jail term could have stopped them from recording and touring. 

I was not even dissuaded when I realized that Ray was only four years younger than my father.

After its April 1971 release, L.A. Woman became the soundtrack for the end of my sophomore year in high school and the beginning of my 14th summer. On July 3, 1971, my stepbrother Rick and I were listening to WVIC in Lansing when we heard the news of Morrison's death from a supposed heart attack in Paris, where he had decamped just after the release of L.A. Woman. 

I was devastated, but I thought, "At least it wasn't Ray."

After Rick and I discussed what we thought were the band's possible options for a while, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote a letter to the surviving Doors, imploring them not to quit in the wake of their terrible tragedy. I told them, "You can't quit. It's not what Jim would have wanted, it's not what we want and, if you're honest with yourselves, it's not what you want." 

I found a Doors fan address in one of my Rock mags and mailed the letter off a few days later. (I would send an eerily similar letter to the Allman Brothers four months later, just after the death of Duane Allman; those are the only two fan letters I have ever sent). 

A few weeks later, I received a hand-signed form letter from Danny Sugerman, who was The Doors' second manager, which stated that the band appreciated their fans' concern and best wishes and they were definitely staying together and working on a new album that would be released in the fall.

Other Voices was an amazing album, although critics generally hated it. I looked at as if it were a Ray Manzarek solo album; from that perspective it was great. The following year, they pushed even further into Jazz territory on Full Circle and then decided to officially end The Doors. Ray began his real solo career with The Golden Scarab in 1973, followed by 1974's The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll, Now It's Out of Control.

Scarab was magnificent (particularly the unhinged instrumental, "The Moorish Idol," the first song I heard from the album on a college radio station), as it offered up serious musical chops but also something that Morrison found difficult to achieve; whimsy and humor. Out of Control was aptly named as it was slightly chaotic, but it was Ray so I found plenty of ways to love it. I still do.

After that, Ray took a zig-zag approach to his solo career. An Electronic Rock version of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," a collaboration with Phillip Glass, was extremely cool, but his work after that was sporadic at best. He did a couple of cool albums in the late '70s with his new band, Nite City, and he produced the first three X albums in the early '80s (their version of "Soul Kitchen" is harrowing). 

As an artist, Ray tended to stick to collaborative situations (although he did release a true solo album in 2006, an instrumental set of originals titled Love Her Madly, presumably the soundtrack to a B-movie he wrote, directed and starred in). In recent years, he had done a couple of albums with slide guitarist Roy Rogers, including the blazingly excellent Translucent Blues in 2011. And of course, he and Krieger famously pissed off John Densmore when they relaunched The Doors, first as Riders on the Storm, then as the 21st Century Doors and then, due to legal acquiescence, as Manzarek/Krieger.

The fact is, with Doors record sales topping 100 million worldwide, Ray could do whatever he wanted to do, for as long as he wanted to do it and he did just that. But it could be equally argued that Ray did exactly what he wanted in The Doors as well, because that gothic Rock sound didn't exist before The Doors' debut album in 1967. While many tried to replicate it in the aftermath of their staggering success, no one could quite master the formula of Morrison's shamanic poetry slam, Densmore's fluid pulse and Krieger's combination of Rock swagger and Jazz swing. 

Most importantly, they could not fathom the incredible musical ability and intuition of Raymond Daniel Manzarek, and without that, there would be no Doors. 

I would have come to Rock in some form or fashion; weeks after seeing The Doors on Sullivan, I heard Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze," yet another subatomic moment, and weeks after that was my first mindbending spin through Sgt. Pepper. 

But it was all teed up because of The Doors and their singular keyboardist, the man who revealed the universe of music to a 10-year-old boy in Michigan and sent him on a pilgrimage to find more of the same, a journey that continues to this day with the same passion and dedication that marked its initial steps over half a century ago. 

I would guess that my marching orders from Ray right now would be similar to those I offered to him and his grieving bandmates in 1971: Keep going, because it's what I want, it's what we want and, if you're honest with yourself, it's what you want.

 
 

 

 

 
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