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by Johnny Best
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This is the old "COLUMNS" page. The "2001 COLUMNS" are here


I went out shopping this morning for canned food, candles . . . you know, the kinds of things that would come in handy in the case of a civil war. What else do you call it when an angry mob storms the vote-counting room of the Miami-Dade canvassing board? The board was so frightened and intimidated they called off the partial recount that they had announced just hours earlier. Make no mistake, the storm troopers have arrived. Can anybody else cluck like a chicken?

In the case of the Secretary of StateÕs abuse of discretion in cutting off acceptance of any recounts BEFORE the absentee ballots were even due, the Florida Supreme Court reversed (count them) 9-0. When a judge gets reversed unanimously, thatÕs the legal equivalent of a public whipping. Then thereÕs that hand-wringing judge on the question of a revote in Palm Beach, who made public protestations of his moral torture and yet wouldnÕt even order an evidentiary hearing. If it was me, I would have grabbed the case by its short hairs and said ÓOK, babe, letÕs party!Ó

Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga alone had the courage to follow the models of other states (like, could it be . . . TEXAS) and order the consideration of ÓdimpledÓ ballots. Texas law moreover specifies that manual recounts are to be PREFERRED. When asked about this stark hypocrisy the Bush attorney responded that, and I quote, ÓI really donÕt know what Texas law is.Ó Perhaps you might win an argument with an ostrich with such a tactic, but not with a Supreme Court justice. Never mind that 100,000 votes will still end up in the trash because the machines couldnÕt count them even ONE time. I made my call of the winner last issue, and IÕm still hanging tough . . . in my world.

This week IÕm going to touch briefly on the topic of followthrough, and if it sounds like a lecture, then maybe youÕre the person who needs to hear this. Becoming a rock and roll star (which I assume is your objection) is much like winning the lottery. YouÕve got to get absolutely everything right. The ditches of this town are filled with talented, inspired, ambitious and deserving people. And a goodly number of them are there because they pissed off the people who were supposed to help them. And the best way I can think of blowing it with this reporter is by not having my name at the door after youÕve taken the trouble to call me (at 310-360-0640) and IÕve gone out of my way to come see you.

Last time I checked, I wasnÕt yet world famous, and the average security person doesnÕt give a damn about your music or whether you get any press coverage. I DO get out to see a very high percentage of bands who call me up, and if I run into a thug at the door nowadays (as has happened twice this last month) I turn right around and go home (or move on to the next band). So all IÕm saying is follow through and make sure you take care of your potential reviewers. ItÕs a lesson that you canÕt afford not to learn if youÕre ever going to amount to anything.

Want another example? ThereÕs a band out there I actually liked alot, and they were supposed to called after the show to fill in some of the details. No phone call. The number they gave me is bad. No website I can find. Whatever. Follow through.

IÕve had a number of bands call me up to come out to THE CAT CLUB. This appealing venue is becoming a focal point for a kind of ÓunpluggedÓ scene which is growing with vitality. Styles range from folk-rock to jazz to blues and itÕs refreshing to see crowds of people turn out for the love of music, and not just clear out when their friendÕs band loads out.

BILLY D. JAMES invited me out to see her band ST. JAMES INFIRMARY there. She is a powerful torchy singer with great passion and DANNY STAG (guitar), J.B. FRANK (bass) and MICHAEL RUSSO (drums) get a monster groove going on ÓSufferÓ even without the surplus amplification.
On another night I was part of a standing room only crowd for JAMESTOWN. The band had a nice chordal sense and a relaxed but precise musical feel. ÓDonÕt Mind SayingÓ had a simple direct sincerity that was quite effective and I heard numerous other potential hooks here and there.
PAUL LANCIA of LAZY JANE told me he was working on a L.A. expedition for a bunch of the hottest bands in Las Vegas, perhaps around the time of the upcoming NAMM show. SheÕs talking about bringing multiple charter buses in and making a huge party out of it. So stay tuned and watch for that.


Last week we talked about the concept of being an artist. My argument was that every career that ever was launched required the two key elements of (1) a definable, recognizable and distinctive style and (2) great hit songs. It is this second area that is the greatest failing of not only virtually every undiscovered band but also virtually every SIGNED band in this business, even the most successful ones. ThatÕs right friends, the art of hit songwriting has slid so far downhill I donÕt think there is single act out there that couldnÕt be swept off the charts right now by a new writing powerhouse (and that of course is the good news).
This was brought home again to me the other night as I was aimlessly flipping through channels on pre-dawn TV when I came across an infomercial for a massive collection of R&B hits from the fifties on through the eightie. Every song was so accessible, so direct, so catchy, and it has nothing to do with a particular style. So much of the ÓmusicÓ of the last 10 years is so sadly lacking in concept, melody, inspiration, hooks, and all the other pieces that go together to make the magic of a true hit. ItÕs just really sad.

In the last two years that I have served as a correspondent for this periodical I have heard a fair number of likeable tunes. But very little of anything that you can hang your hat on (and if you must know, IÕm wearing a hat right now). I would be hard pressed to pick even ten songs in this whole town I would sell my house (assuming I had one) to put out as a breakout single. I hear a great deal of excellent musicianship, more or less competent solos and the like. But something very peculiar happens when a hit song happens in the studio. The musicians play better. They start coming up with great catchy licks. And the singers sing better, with more passion and feeling. Everybody just gets that extra shot of inspiration and it all starts with that HIT SONG. The fact that you can start a tune and keep playing to the end without completely falling apart just proves to me that you can keep time.
If youÕre a local band on the street right now, my best advice to you is to junk all of your material at least once every six months and start absolutely from scratch. You should be coming up with new songs constantly, and if you arenÕt youÕll never qualify as much of a songwriter. Go back and study the classics, not for the style they were built within (which is the last thing you want to imitate), but for the way they are structured. Notice how a lyrical concept is formed and developed. Observe how the sections are arranged to feed from one to another. Pay attention to how insidiously they implant themselves in your consciousness. And then try to sing one of your own songs to yourself and see which song wins. If you can find something strong enough to erase ÓWho Let The Dogs Out?Ó (which at least has a great conceptual hook) from your memory banks, you will have a definite shot . . . in my world.
In the meantime, I have caught a number of interesting shows lately. THE ASSHOLES called me up to see them at PALADINOS, rapidly becoming a key rock and roll watering hole driven by promoter JIMMY D. It was also a Bandwagon night and the bill featured a number of my other local favorites including CHIGGER REDD, SLIPPERY LIP and GLASS PACKED MAGGIE, all of whom have gotten considerable ink from me.
But I thought the Assholes were in especially fine form tonight. Notwithstanding their persistent lunacy, TIM ROSSI is one of the most fresh and inventive guitar players I have encountered. He rips off modal runs effortlessly and has considerable chops covering a vast range of styles from classic New York City jazz to riotous punk. Aaron Quinn on bass is rousing as well and the two of them beaming as they jam together is one of the musical delights locally. SEAN TOPHAM was fierce on drums and TREVOR (T-NUTZ) somehow tied it all together as the guy you would most like to have him pour a beer on your head (P.S. donÕt even think about actually trying it). At least one song ÓItÕs Finally Over NowÓ might be worked into a tongue-in-cheek love song parody, but it was all entertaining and enjoyable stuff and the crowd roared for more.
BASH (the new project of JAY, formerly of the HELLCATS) called me up to see them at the Coconut Teaszer. They have a professional presentation in the hard rock/metal vein, so weÕll see what they develop into. I also same CLEAND there as well. Lead singer APRIL has a potent scream going on and their topical song about the RAINBOW BAR AND GRILL sought to capture the mystique of our favorite after show watering hole.
THE GRAND AVENUE BAND called me up and I went to see them at B. B. KINGS up at Universal City. The parking lot attendant was dressed up just like the Jesse James. Must be a new theme attraction or something. In the bandÕs defense they were obligated to play mostly blues cover songs for the tourist dining and drinking crowd, but they performed with great enthusiasm and I invited them to send along a CD of some of their original stuff.Finally, I got called out to see GROANING MONA at the ROXY. They pack along a large ensemble of circus characters, and devote considerable stage time to theatrical skit comedy, often self-deprecating. But they also have a tight band going on with the unusual feature of two drummers up front playing essentially in stereo. ItÕs all quite manic and they show considerable jam potential as on songs like ÓI Mean To Tell YaÓ.
I want to thank all the bands who give me flyers as I am constantly running out of notepaper. But as anyone who reads my column knows, ya gotta call me at 310-360-0640 to reserve your showtime for a possible review.


Regardless of who is elected president we are in for a wave of cultural repression, but I did notice one thing that the major media outlets apparently missed. Just before accepting the Democractic nomination Al Gore gave his wife an extended French kiss and the Republican spinners cynically accused him of staging an act of passion. Then I was watching a tape of an old debate by Gore against Dan Quayle and guess what Gore did when he came off stage. He gave his wife a big fat wet kiss, and there was no lingering Clinton scandal to try to neutralize at that time. So IÕm inclined to conclude that what you see is what you get. Big fat wet kisses, now thereÕs a platform we can all endorse . . . in my world. Get out and vote, or we may lose the right to make out in public!

There used to be a concept called A & R. Can anyone tell me what those initials stand for? I was talking to a friend the other day about what really builds longterm music careers. My point was that when you have an artist, with a recognizable personality and style and you combine that with great hit songs (regardless of writing source) those are the two keys. And then I suddenly realized, ÓartistsÓ and ÓrepetoireÓ. ItÕs the classic formula.

So this week weÕre going to talk a little about what it means to be an ÓartistÓ. It means you have your OWN sound that is so unique that when they play your record people can instantly say ÓI know who that isÓ. So, so many bands I hear sound just like ALICE IN CHAINS, or just like METALLICA or . . . well you name it. Now understand me clearly. I love these bands. They carved out a stylistic niche for themselves for all time. And thatÕs precisely your problem, cause you ainÕt them. And unless youÕre 10 times better than them you ainÕt never gonna be them. How are people going to know itÕs you when you sound like someone else? The interesting thing about true artists is that even when they are TRYING to sound like someone else, they STILL sound like themselves. So unless youÕre planning on spending your career as a bar band doing a tribute thing you better develop some kind of style.

OK, stop the presses. IÕm sitting here writing about all this and bang I get a CD in the mail from a band DAKOTA MOON that absolutely knocked me on all fours. Incredibly professional production, great mix, fabulous vocal harmonies in the R&B vein but uniquely combined with latin, and a broad range of rock influences. This is what IÕve been preaching about folks, a band with their own inescapable style. I should have guessed they were already a signed (to Electra) band but when the real string section kicked in on the last song that was kind of a dead giveaway. That kind of production doesnÕt come cheap. Researching this band on the web I find they have charted already in various European countries (all this after I had already made my judgment which by the way was before I heard the strings).
They are still waiting for their first worldwide hit . . . but to my ears itÕs in the can with Ó(She) Keeps Me Coming (Back)Ó, the best song IÕve heard this year not yet on the radio. This wicked uptempo smash about metaphors for obsession will launch the career of this band without a doubt, assuming their label is smart enough to go on it. And not just that one song, their material is loaded with hooks that could be mined for future chart-toppers. They are playing the Whisky on October 31 at 9 PM sharp and you must, must be there if you want to see what a group whoÕs about to become a superstar looks like just before they do. Remember I told you this.

Glitter Glam night at the Coconut Teaszer presented another strong lineup, starting with YOKO DEATHRAY, driven by the drumming of RAYMOD, an inventive and multifaceted player who conjures up dark rythyms heard nowhere else. PIETER on bass was grooving hard and DAVOID on guitar hit some good strides as well. I found this group refreshing and listenable, and though they threw in some effective changes of pace, I thought they were most effective uptempo. They also made an appearance at THE BLUE SALOON a couple days later, so they are getting around. Also appearing that night were SISTERS GRIMM, who are so popular with local bookers, and STORYTELLER, a band that can bring down the house on a good night. Then there was a mystery group, HUNGRY DOLLS, who I hardly even recognized without their 15 inch flaming prop penis (pizza pizza anyone?). I couldnÕt stay for NEON BOMB that night but see my Pretty Ugly review.

Once again, no email, no fliers. Call me at 310-360-0640, I put you in my datebook, I come see your band, I rave, you become a gigantic superstar. Pretty simple system, donÕt you think?


Never before in the history of pop music has so much drivel been passed off as songwriting. There is actually a prominent artist out there who mixes together samples of other records in his live show and calls that an act of ÓwritingÓ. Another huge act just got sued for lifting entire verses wholesale from other records. How creative! When Napsters justify their track pirating they frequently argue that thereÕs only one good song on the CD anyway, so why should they have to pay for the whole thing. In the days when the record business actively marketted ÓsingleÓ records, without a half decent song you didnÕt have a prayer. Now they spend fortunes on flashy videos, put your face on a hamburger stand drink cup and hope the public wonÕt notice the difference. Well, obviously IÕm not the only one who has.

WhatÕs it gonna take to turn this thing around? IÕll tell you. ItÕs gonna take a cluster of hit songs on the level of the Beatles. Read your history. The Beatles petrified everyone, even Dylan. ItÕs like, damn, weÕd better get writing harder cause our stuff isnÕt that good. There are contemporary quotes from everyone that say the same thing. The Beach Boys produced Pet Sounds to stand up to the Lennon-McCartney shadow. The Stones felt as if Sgt. Pepper was a gauntlet thrown at their feet. Motown had the same effect. Every heard of the Brill Building? (Carole King used to have to listen to Neil SedakaÕs hooks in the air vents while she was working on her own stuff). Not to mention Tin Pan Alley.

What IÕm saying is that standout competition raises the water mark for everyone. Golden ages of songwriting run in cycles, and what we are witnessing is one of the lowest ebbs ever. If youÕre comparing yourself to whatÕs out now and think therefore youÕre good enough I think youÕre in big trouble. Forget about all the bands that surfaced last week and who will disappear just as quickly. When the next big thing hits everyone will instantly know, that they better ship up or get cut-out. DonÕt let the pendulum hit you in the head . . . in my world.

One of the bright spots on the local scene is RAYKO who dropped in on the Whisky the other night. Rayko has a strong streak of bouncy pop which she supports with a clear melodic sense on songs like ÓDandelionÓ. At the same time she has a more gritty funk side that expresses itself as another dimension. Her band is very tight as well, with some tasteful use of record scratching which I rarely credit as an instrumental performance, but in this case I think adds a great deal of ambience.

On the same bill was CHIGGER REDD and SLIPPERY LIP. MICHAEL STANSBERRY of Chigger is the closest thing we have to a southern boogie guitar hero. Winner of numerous local awards, he once again treated us to that wailing guitar while CHRIS STANSBERRY (another RCN award winner) hammered on the bass. ÓWhisky Soda PopÓ had the crowd rocking hard as did the delightful contemporary singalong, ÓBitchÓ.

STACY of SLIPPERY LIP was sporting her new pink coif for this show, as she continues to experiment with her image creatively. ItÕs the kind of free spirited thing that you associate with artists that have longevity, capable of reinventing themselves continuously. The band always sounds great, and guitarist TONY DEPETRO had a great bluesy grind going on ÓUnder My SkinÓ.

We all know it can last forever, you canÕt even keep trying forever, but still the death of bass player LEIGH LAWSON of SPIDERS AND SNAKES at 37 of a massive heart attack cannot be taken as timely. A versatile and creative musician who served in many local side projects (some may even remember the stint he did with my own band last year) he will be missed by those who love real music. In the meantime glitter and glam continues to live on at the Coconut Teaszer. Last month FOXY ROXX made a rare Hollywood appearance, surprising because they are the epitome of a classic strip band. But they made the trip up from San Diego and pulled out all the stops for their stage performance. Singer TONY STARLIN was literally hanging from the rafters, placing his body in so much peril I thought he might hurt himself.

In fact, it was bass player BOBBY SOXX who took a leap off the stage and hit his head on the low ceiling, but after a couple quick stitches the show went on. Credit the band for their exhuberant energy on songs like ÓMixed Up WorldÓ and ÓWho Killed MTVÓ.

Another band who has done the Sunday night glam thing is SPUR. They have a righteous rock and roll thing going with some terrific guitar solo work, and ERIC on bass is a solid groover. The next show in the series is at the Coconut Teaszer on Sunday, October 8. In the meantime if you want me to come see your band, call me at the new number 310-360-0640. If you do call me and I canÕt make it out for some reason, you WILL get a call back from me to reschedule. ItÕs only fair.
Bite On Hollywood - Fade To Black - For Immediate Release - L.A. Scoop - Welcome to the Jungle - Inside the Industry - Metal Ledge - In My World - Blues News - Igneous Rock - Industrial Strength - Supersonics - Special

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