Talking about show business, baby, with Tom Heyman

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A founding member of Philadelphia rockers Go To Blazes, Tom Heyman built up a solid reputation as a sideman after the band broke up in 1997. Moving to San Francisco, his guitar and pedal steel skills graced albums and tours by the likes of Chuck Prophet, The Court and Spark, Russ Tolman, John Doe and Alejandro Escovedo. In between this extensive touring Heyman also dipped his toes into a solo career releasing two well received albums in 2000 and 2005 but it wasn’t until the release of a third album, That Cool Blue Feeling,  in 2014  that he recommenced his solo career in earnest hanging up his guitar slinger for hire sign for the time being. His current release, Show Business, Baby, is an album which he says is, “a straight-up love letter/homage to my late ’70s/early ’80s pub rock heroes Rockpile, Mink Deville, The Leroi Brothers and all of their many offshoots.”

Heyman this week embarks on a lengthy tour of Europe and the UK in the company of Dan Stuart, the pair of them playing a gruelling 33 shows over 33 days in nine countries but he was kind enough to take some time out on the eve of flying to Italy to speak to Blabber’n’Smoke. And mighty entertaining it was too as he spoke about his love of records and how Dan Stuart is bad luck for any liberal minded folk heading into an election among other things.

Hi Tom, how are you?

I’m good, just sitting here in my kitchen in San Francisco where it’s 70 degrees out, just getting my stuff together for the tour, the usual pre tour anxiety making sure I’ve got the right amount of picks and strings and stuff, covering my bar shifts and stuff.

The calm before the storm perhaps as it looks as if you and Dan are going to be barnstorming through Europe for the next month.

Yeah, it looks pretty brutal. I didn’t realise until we put up the poster that there’s literally not one day off but Dan and I have done this a bunch now so we know each other pretty well and we should be able to tackle it. The worst thing was I had to learn to drive a manual car for the tour and there was no end of ribbing from Dan for that. I had to explain to him that my dad’s from Brooklyn and he didn’t have a car until he was 30 so driving wasn’t a thing for us until we moved to the suburbs and there everyone just drove an automatic, whereas Dan’s from the west where they have more manual transmissions, so I had to take some lessons before we go.

So it’s like 33 dates in nine countries, you’ll be exhausted by the time you get to Scotland towards the end of the tour.

Well you could say ten countries because I consider Scotland to be a separate country from Britain, I mean you guys didn’t vote for Brexit, did you? But we’ll be at the top of our game by then, we’ll be really tight in our show business thing. The first night of the tour is always the trickiest so in this case Rome gets to see the warts and all thing, how the sausage is made but by the time we get to you it will be seamless.

So essentially it’s a two man show, you and Dan. What will you be playing for us?

We’re going to be joined by Sid Griffin on several of the shows, some in the UK and a couple in Europe and that will be fun but for the most part it’s Dan and me. I’ve been working up a bunch of stuff, songs from my new record which is sort of like a full on rock record but I wrote the songs like they were folk songs at first so five or six of them I can do solo –  instead of sounding like Rockpile they sound like Leadbelly. And I’ve been trying to learn a bunch of other interesting things so I don’t bore Dan on the tour and he won’t be seeing the same show from me every night, I’ll be throwing something different or new in each night. I could maybe pick a set list of 10 or 12 songs that work and play them every night and the audience would be seeing it for the first time but Dan would be seeing the same show from me night after night so my primary objective, aside from putting on a good show, is to amuse Dan in some way.

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And after your set you’ll be playing guitar with Dan.

Yes, I add the colour. And again, Dan’s catalogue is pretty deep and I’ve played a lot of his stuff with him before so we probably won’t be the same every night. We’ll probably take requests as some folk will want to hear his solo stuff while others will want a Green on Red song and then he’ll sometimes throw me a curveball. But if you play with someone long enough you can kind of anticipate things a little bit and its fun as well, kind of being kept on my toes. It makes it kind of exciting. For me it’s like the best of both worlds. I started out as a guitar player and I just really thought of myself that way for a long time so with Dan I get to do two things, singing my own songs and then playing guitar with Dan.

 

Will you playing any of your older stuff.

There’s one Go To Blazes song that I usually play called Bloody Sam which I wrote about Sam Peckinpah. It’s a significant song for me because it was the first one I wrote which worked well and it seemed to really resonate with people. I mean I didn’t sing it originally, I wrote it and played guitar but back then we had this extraordinarily great singer, Edward Warren, in the band so I didn’t see any reason in singing. But I still like the song and it kind of weirdly dovetails with one of Dan’s songs, The Day William Holden Died and of course one of Holden’s last great performances was in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. But then I’ve got a bunch of new songs I’ve written so there’ll be a couple which I’ll try to put in every night. It’s a way of getting the tyres on them, seeing how people react. I’ve probably got about a record and a half of songs ready but every time I make a record it seems like an even more futile gesture in a world of a diminishing music industry so I figure I’ll try to make two more full-length records and then reassess whether doing them is still viable.

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That seems to dovetail with Dan Stuart’s declaration that his latest album is going to be his last, at least in the sense that most folk would call an album.

That’s what he’s saying and I think he’s serious about that but who knows? It’s tough in these days of streaming music, folk just making playlists.

I take it you’re a fan of a good old-fashioned record album?

I can’t seem to let go of that. When I think of music I don’t think of just a song but I go back to the way I formatively listened to music which was on vinyl, side A and side B. That sense of getting past that fourth song to get to the fifth because that’s really good and then the third one on the second side is brilliant. It would take what, 30, 35 minutes to listen to a record and I would listen to it the way people read a book, I would just disappear into it. I really like blues and I’ve got the original Stax recording of Albert King’s Born Under A Bad Sign and I love that record, it just works so well. Even collections of songs such as The Beatles’ Red and Blue albums, they work as albums to me, they’re really curated. Look at Neil Young’s Decades, it really works. So I still think of stuff that way, of grouping songs together, thinking we need an uptempo song here and then another in maybe a different key before we get to the ballad, that sort of thing.

It seems so much better than streaming songs, there was the cover art, the liner notes

Absolutely and I come from an age when the liner notes were really good, there was like a personality in the best ones. I remember a Thin White Rope record and I opened it up and inside there was a heavy coloured piece of paper with a single spaced typed message from the band talking about a tour they did of Russia. They toured Russia by train and, by the way, this was way before Billy Joel went to Russia, and it seemed like this insane misadventure and it just made me feel connected to the band and it made me listen to the record really differently. That experience of holding a record is just so good. I was always really disappointed when the liner notes weren’t there, I mean country records didn’t tell you who played on the disc but then you had the LA records from the seventies like Warren Zevon’s Excitable Boy. There’s all the lyrics on one side of the sheet and on the flip side there’s a list of who played what, like Leeland Sklar, Russ Kunkel and Waddy Watchell and then there’s Jackson Browne on backing vocals and it’s like, WOW! That was exciting to me.

Regarding your own records there was quite a gap between Deliver Me and That Cool Blue Feeling.

Yeah, eight years really, how to explain that? Well I was really deep deep deep into the sideman thing and I was playing in some very active bands. I was with Chuck Prophet for several years and that included several European tours and multiple trips across the States. Then I was with a band called The Court and Spark who have now become hiss Golden Messenger and again we did lots of touring, I was playing pedal steel exclusively with that band. I also spent time playing with a guy called Lloyd Tripp, a rockabilly guy who had a band called The Vibes and then a later one called The Blubbery Hillbillies, you had to be over 250lbs to be in that band, and he was living in Texas when I was playing with him. I was doing some solo gigs from time to time but I was easily distracted. I was drinking a lot and I didn’t want anything to distract from my drinking. And then for a while I had a straight job, working in an office so you know, stuff got in the way and once I left Chuck’s band and left my job I went back to working in a bar and I was sort of at a loose end but I was always writing. The thing that really kicked things off again was a record I did, a collection of covers called Ballads, Blues and Union Dues, which I recorded live in the studio. I say about that record that anything you want to know about me musically you can find out on that record. So I made that and it was a very affirming thing, a real confidence builder and I was like, Oh, OK, I can do that.

At this point in the interview we were interrupted when Tom got a phone message urging him to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. Back to him…

I’ve voted already, I’ve done that. You know, it’s really scary just now. I’ve got a friend who has a silkscreen business and I was thinking of getting a T-shirt done for the tour saying “I did not vote for that motherfucker” but hopefully people can tell that I didn’t. If things don’t turn around on November 6th I don’t know what I’m going to do. This weird nationalism seems to be creeping everywhere. I followed the Brexit vote because I studied in England and I’ve got friends there and I was watching the vote and it was like, it’s close but the big cities haven’t come in yet so it will be alright, and then when the final result came in I couldn’t believe it. A funny thing is that Dan Stuart flew into the UK for a show at Glastonbury with Twin Tones on the day of the Brexit vote. And then later that year in November Dan and I were going to do a tour so he flies in from Mexico on the day of the election and I pick him up and get back to the house. We’re not watching the results because Hilary’s going to win we reckon,  so we’re playing guitars, sorting out the tour when my wife comes in and says, “Guys, turn on the TV,” and it’s like this red wave sweeping across the screens and we can’t believe it. So Dan is like some kind of bad luck charm, don’t let him come to your country if something bad is on the ballot. He caused Brexit and he caused Trump! But then here we are talking about music and Trump barges in because there’s no getting around it, there it is. I didn’t get the T-shirt but I’ve got a couple of songs that say a few things about the situation, not directly but it will be there, I’m not afraid to speak up.

Well, unless The Tories call a snap election in the next few weeks, you and Dan should be clear to land. Is there anything else you’d like to say before you head to the airport?

Not really aside from this straight commercial pitch. I’m going to have all my records on sale and I’ll have lots of vinyl, real records. Don’t make me take it home with me, buy them on the night and avoid that hefty postal fee, I’ve covered that for you. Vinyl’s great and records make a great Christmas gift so don’t make me take them back home with me. My baby needs shoes and she likes Italian shoes and they’re expensive so help me out folks.

And with that we let Tom get on with his packing. The tour with Dan Stuart meanders across Europe hitting Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and France before a brace of UK dates. You can see the itinerary here.

The live pictures are from Tom Heyman and Dan Stuart’s Glasgow show in 2016.

 

 

 

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Dan Stuart. The Unfortunate Demise of Marlowe Billings. Cadiz Music

danDan Stuart finally kills off his alter ego and supposedly his recording career with this third instalment of the strange and troubled tale of Marlowe Billings. Billings, the suicidal expat who travelled to Mexico to kill himself after his marital breakup and subsequent incarceration in a psychiatric hospital, has served Stuart well over three albums and two novels (the second book published to tie in with this album release and sharing its name). The origin of Billings’ himself is somewhat foggy but is believed to be associated with the writer B. Traven, author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and whose own identity is still something of a mystery these days. It’s a smoke and mirrors trick allowing Stuart to stand apart from himself as he entertains, releasing his records and touring, his profession surely but one which he has often debunked as when he wrote this regarding the response to an earlier album, “…some grudging critical respect, really a sympathy fuck for days gone by… well the planet could get along without Stuart’s morbidly self-righteous world view just fine. His inability to lighten-up and endure life’s little insults like the rest of us had grown old and tired, like Stuart himself.”

Who knows if this is part shtick or really how Stuart sees himself? He said in an interview some years back that, “the creative process is largely about trust and deception… two sides of the same coin,” What we do know is that since his arrival in Mexico he’s appeared, to fans at least, as revitalised, with the Marlowe recordings welcomed and acclaimed and on The Unfortunate Demise of Marlowe Billings he delivers what may be his best effort yet. The themes are familiar but they are delivered in a variety of styles – low key confessionals, pedal steel laced laments, sixties rock’n’roll rumbles and punchy Tex-Mex blues –  his stellar accomplices playing their hearts out.

Stuart/Billings is still hurting from his cuckolding and several songs relate to this. He is despondent on Why I Ever Married You and then sneering on the Dragnet styled Joke’s on Me while You Were The Flower glistens with low slung guitar twangs recalling Johnny Rivers’ Secret Agent Man. The latter song introduces the one salvation of Stuart’s ruined relationship, his son, with whom he has remained in contact. The cycle of birth and death tops and tails the album. The opening March 5, 1961 is Stuart’s birth date and the song is a tender rumination on the emotions engendered when a child arrives (he later radiates a father’s pride on Here Comes My Boy). The closing song, Upon a Father’s Death is Stuart’s most nakedly autobiographical song to date as he reminisces about his own father and muses on the tangled twists of father/son relationships singing, “Just look at Jesus trying to live up to all that shit, impossible.”  His troubled adolesence  colours Tucson which is a splendid Tex-Mex riff of a song with parping Farfisa organ a la Doug Sahm which eventually disappears into its own rabbit hole.

In the midst of these rueful snippets of autobiography Stuart throws in some superb songs which are allied in the sounds but which roam further afield. Last Century Blues finds him singing of a Zelig like character who dodged the draft, roomed with Manson and Jim Jones and who ended up running coke for the Contras and selling it to the Crips. The Day William Holden Died is a sensitive bonding with the late actor and his sad demise while The Disappeared is an evil sounding song with rattlesnake percussion and Peter Green like Manalishi guitar solos as Stuart salutes the armies of South American mothers who still rally to this day to find the fate of their beloved long after the turbulent wars and coups which scarred the sub continent for far too many years.

Gathering this album together Stuart has relied on friends old and new. His Italian buddies Antonio Gramentieri and Christian Ravaglioli are present and correct while J. D. Foster and Tom Heyman also contribute with Heyman’s pedal steel an essential ingredient on many of the songs. However it’s producer, Danny Amis, a founding member of Los Straitjackets who is his right hand man here, co-writing several of the songs and adding guitar, bass and keyboards throughout.

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Stuart says this will be his last ever album citing the current preference for digital streaming and such as the death knell for this tradition. Again one hopes this is part of his mythologising but if not it’s a glorious swan song. The accompanying book is a more straightforward affair than his previous “false memoir” The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings. Whereas that came across like a collection of weird flashbacks to Stuart’s early days The Unfortunate Demise of Marlowe Billings is a conventional narrative for the most part with our hero escaping to Mexico and getting caught up in the murky and deadly intrigues of the cartels. While parts of it coincide with the album it stands on its own two feet, hardboiled fiction, akin to the current fascination with Narcos and El Chapo and even Breaking Bad although Stuart weaves his own story into the pages and allows himself some sweet mental revenge in the epilogue.  He says the story is 65% true and there are several episodes which offer an insight into his thoughts as when he describes himself as, “a lazy writer, songs came easy and he didn’t take them too seriously. He didn’t have the courage or stamina to write serious fiction.” Well, he has done here. The novel has an introduction by Stewart Lee, the comedian, which suggests that the book is sufficient  recompense for the lack of further songs from Stuart. We would respectfully disagree and hope that this is not the last we here from Stuart or even Billings.

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Tom Heyman. Show Business, Baby.

a1381658475_16For two decades Tom Heyman has been a vital part of the San Franscisco music scene, a go to pedal steel man and guitar slinger who has recorded and played with the likes of Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovedo, Russ Tolman, Mark Eitzel and John Doe. He came to Blabber’n’Smoke’s attention when he released his third solo album, the late night wallow that was That Cool Blue Feeling and we got to see him play live when he toured over here with Dan Stuart and Fernando Viciconte. On Show Business, Baby, Heyman wanted to capture the experience of “seeing a great band getting down in a small club, “citing his love of bands such as Rockpile, The Flamin’ Groovies and NRBQ, an experience he knows all too well having spent ten years with Philadelphia’s Go To Blazes and he succeeds in spades.

With 13 songs, all hovering around the three minute mark, the album is an excellent collection of taut and punchy numbers, many of them capable of being inserted into The Groovies’ Teenage Head with no seams showing. There’s a sense of juvenile delinquency (and more so, inadequacy) on several of the songs along with tons of swagger and snot –  the closing number, Sonny Curtis’ Baby My Heart (with Heyman digging into Bobby Fuller’s version) is straight out of Nuggets. The curling guitar riff which kicks off the album on Baby Let Me In sets the scene as Heyman snarls and whines impotently at his girl who’s locked him out as the band barrel on magnificently, a Seeds like keyboard stab incessant along with a deranged guitar solo from Heyman.  It’s a great start to the album but throughout there are songs which just spring from the speakers brimful of attitude, stuffed with memorable riffs and stomps. The cowbell happy Show Business recounts Heyman’s time as a bartender, What In The World is NRBQ meets Bo Diddley while Whiskey Wolf kicks off with a Dragnet like guitar riff as Heyman sings of a 9-5 guy transformed into a booze fuelled predator at the weekend with guest guitarist Eric Ambel howling at the moon on his “rip snorting guitar solo.” Meanwhile the hero in Out West dreams of getting it together by heading for the coast of the setting sun as the band clatter along like Joe King Carrasco and All Ears has the pounce and drive of Nick Lowe’s Rockpile.

On a couple of the songs Heyman comes across as a successor to Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter whose hip sense of sneer ruled songs such as The Golden Age Of Rock’nRoll. Etch A Sketch is a clever metaphor for a broken heart while Little Killers is one of those songs stuffed with rock’n’roll cliches tossed off with a cool attitude and a fine pop sensibility. Finally, there’s a magnificent cover of Dion’s Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms) which is heavier than the other songs here, an evil sounding organ fuelled blast with pummelling drums, it’s like a Vanilla Fudge cover of Dion’s fuggy folk psychedelic original leading one to wonder whether Heyman could investigate a late sixties voodoo vibe somewhat further.

With this sleek, sharkskin suited (with a hint of glitter), album, a hymn to tight rhythm, cool riffs and snarly rock attitude, Heyman succeeds perfectly in his quest to capture the joy of close up musical nirvana. It would be a joy to see him deliver any of this live.

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Terry Lee Hale. Bound, Chained, Fettered. Glitterhouse Records

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Texan born, long domiciled in France, Terry lee Hale is a survivor. Throughout four decades of changing fashions and tastes he’s continued to deliver thoughtful and sometimes meaty deliberations on the plight of man. Like his long time associate, Chris Eckman of The Walkabouts, Hale found that Europe was a more fertile territory for his lean tales and dark folk blues than his native land, his albums in the main released via German labels. His last album, The Long Draw, a thought provoking mix of Dylan like rambles and punchy roots rock was one of our favourites of 2013.

Intriguingly, for Bound, Chained, Fettered, Hale sought out the services of a producer, arranger and guitarist who he had long admired and who is, coincidentally,  a Blabber’n’Smoke favourite, Antonio Gramentieri of Sacri Cuori,  Dan Stuart and Hugo Race fame. Hale ventured to North Italy to record the album with Gramentieri in the producer’s chair, the pair recording live for the most part, Hale on acoustic six and 12 string, Dobro and harmonica with Gramentieri providing bass, electric guitar and lap steel. Unlike The Long Draw it’s an uncluttered reflective album, no raging against the political machine here. Instead Hale seems to be musing on life, relationships, aging and death. Gramentieri weaves his magic through the songs, as a player yes, but more importantly in his assemblage of some of his local cohorts (Christian Ravaglioli, keyboards, Franco Neddei, synth and mellotron, Diego Sapignoli, percussion and Franceso Valtieri, sax) whose spare contributions add a fine light and shade to the songs. Gramentieri has a light touch, the arrangements always at the service of the song and Hale is front and centre throughout, his voice up close; rarely has he sounded better.

Aside from The Lowdown, a raunchy blues number that wanders finely into Tom Waits territory with Gramentieri scowling via his guitar parts as Hale wails on harp and a baritone sax parps, the album is a quiet affair. The opening title song finds Hale sounding like Bill Callahan as he recites his words over a distant guitar grumble and dusty Dobro delivering a back porch Don Juan like philosophy. Acorns belies its gentle, almost breezy, delivery with its cryptic words, a broken love affair, a faltering memory clinging to fleetingly recalled events while the following instrumental, Flowers For Claudia, a brief one minute interlude, does seem somewhat elegiac. Age and memory seem to crop up again on Can’t Get Back (Just Like That), Hale’s guitar given just a dusting of guitar, organ and percussion allowing the lyrics to stand tall although the meanings remain vague.  Scientific Rendezvous is more structured with Gramentieri’s guitars and lap steel somewhat menacing as Hale recalls The Walkabouts’ spookier European moments on a song that is again something of an enigma. Here he could be singing about cloning or artificial insemination but the song’s mention of daddies and mommies does seem to relate to birth while the opposite end of the life cycle is the subject of the following song, Signed Blue Angel. Here he has adapted words written by an eight year old grandchild of an old friend on a death. While this might seem cloying it’s surprisingly fresh and direct, a child’s reference to angels and butterflies given a sincere reading and set within an almost Appalachian melody with gliding lap steel and a hint of cowboy balladry. It’s offset by the following stark threnody of Jawbone, an arching summary of the cycle of life and death and dust to dust. An elemental song given some heft from Gramentieri’s atmospheric guitar stylings and Franco Neddei’s muted synth playing it’s spine tingling as Hale balefully repeats the title towards the end. The album ends with another low down blues number, the slow burn of Reminiscent. More full blooded than The Lowdown, Hale picks forcefully, Gramentieri the gut in the bucket as the song slouches along like a grim reaper looking for his target.

Bound, Chained, Fettered is an excellent listen. Its slow groove, Hale’s fine vocals and words and Gramentieiri’s sonic additions all adding up to a chilling and absorbing adventure. It’s available now and Terry Lee Hale is currently touring on the continent, dates here.

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Glitterhouse Records

 

 

 

 

 

Dan Stuart, Tom Heyman, Fernando Viciconte @ The Fallen Angels Club. Glasgow 25/2/16

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That sardonic grin, the black humour and occasional snarl can only mean one thing, Dan Stuart is back in town. With a new album under his belt, the invigorating slice of punk/garage rampage that is Marlowe’s Revenge, recorded with Mexico’s Twin Tones, Stuart is carousing around the country and further abroad with what he called tonight an old-fashioned variety show. No jugglers or performing animals, no comedians or showgirls but some comedy and political satire was promised. Fancy words for what was in reality Stuart and chums (in this case and for the rest of the UK dates Tom Heyman and Fernando Viciconti) but there was an element of an old fashioned package tour in there, Stuart the MC, providing the introductions (and the comedy) as he goofed about and mugged unashamedly before getting down to business. There were laughs and chortles aplenty, an impression of a besotted fan (with a Cockney accent) who remembered seeing a gig back in ’86, an ongoing argument with his amplification pedal, the occasional (and noisy) plumbing in the venue and his infamous brush with spear guns in an Edinburgh hotel just some of the pearls thrown to the crowd.

For those who want the wasted youthful Stuart from his days in Green On Red or who have honed in on his well publicised meltdown and incarceration in a mental institution prior to his flight to Mexico this larger than life and invigorated presence must have come as a bit of a surprise. For sure Stuart has a chip or two on his shoulder and there’s still an element of danger, of teetering on the edge about him but over the past few years he’s produced an amazing body of work. The sublime Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings record, an EP of home demos and the raw vitality of the new album along with his “false memoir” which is as good a rock’n’roll binge as any published since Ian Hunter’s Diary of A Rock’n’Roll Star. Tonight he appeared fit and limber, racing around the stage, energy in abundance and if there’s a devil on his tail then it’s going to have its work cut out trying to keep up with him.

With the introductions done Stuart introduced Fernando Viciconte on stage. Argentinian born, now domiciled in Portland Oregon, Viciconte has only recently returned to the recording studio after some health problems. Portland buddies, Peter Buck, Paul Brainard and Scott McCaughey are all on his new album, Leave The Radio On and tonight, armed only with his guitar he offered some insights into the album, in particular a moving Kingdom Come. He delved into his Latin roots for a sweetly affecting song sung in Spanish before a muscular reading of True Instigator from his 2011 album of the same name. However his most powerful and moving song was his closing tribute to the late Jimmy Boyers, a stalwart of the Portland music scene who recently passed away. Here Viciconte sang Hank Williams’ Angel of Death imbuing it with a Johnny Cash like gravitas.

Next up Dan Stuart introduced us to Tom Heyman, an SF musician by way of Philadelphia who has a CV to die for (Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovido, Go To Blazes, John Doe) and who recently released the excellent album That Cool Blue Feeling. Stuart’s introduction provided us with one of the lines of the night as he tried to describe Heyman’s music ending with the immortal words, “It’s not fucking Americana!” Perched on a stool and hunched over his acoustic guitar (with a very interesting headstock) Heyman parried Viciconte’s high and lonesome leanings with his bluesy and folky urban cool opening with Time and Money from the new album. Cool and Blue showcased his fine guitar picking on a wistful love note while Always Be Around saw him ringing notes from his instrument. A fine raconteur himself Heyman added to the merriment of the night when he spoke about his shared experience with Stuart, both having played with the mighty Chuck Prophet and both then suffering from PTCD, that is, post traumatic Chuck disorder. Black Mollies sounded like something that Bobbie Gentry might have recorded had she been on steroids and he topped his set with a great delivery of Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks, a song that, to my mind, does touch all the Americana bases (we could argue this all night), whatever it’s a tremendous song. Heyman again closed his set with a cover, a fine and heartfelt rendition of Phil Ochs I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore.

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Time then for the ringmaster to jump into the spotlight and with Heyman remaining on stage to add his guitar to Stuart’s the man launched into the aching Over My Shoulder from the new album. The Whores Above was the snarling Stuart beloved of old and was followed by a cover of Lou Reed’s Vicious, Stuart’s riposte to one of the reviews of his latest disc and a riff he defiantly returned to throughout the night with him deriding the reviewer prior to Name Hog. While he and Heyman were able to whip up some fine storms on their guitars there were quieter moments, his emotional scars on show on Why I Ever Married You and there was a tender reading of The Greatest, Stuart’s paean to Mohammed Ali, one of his heroes. Heyman was sterling on guitar throughout, whether punching out taut lines or adding some cutting slide and bottleneck and abiding Stuart’s rather random approach to guitar tuning. And of course, despite his disdain for the rock’n’roll ride, Stuart delivered several songs from his past, songs that once were pulverised by the garage abandon of Green On Red but now sit finely in his canon. Rock’n’Roll Disease, Baby Loves Her Gun, 16 Ways (with Heyman really on the ball here), Gravity Talks and Time Ain’t Nothin were all delivered, the latter less of a punk sneer now, more a reflection on the arrogance of youth. Scattered throughout the set, for some these songs might have been the gravy on the pie and there’s no denying the frisson of hearing Stuart revisit these but overall the new songs show that he still delivers and he does so in spades.

There was another cover to end the night, Fernando bounded back on stage for this “unholy trinity” to delight us with their rendition of The Stones’ Dead Flowers, some of the audience joining in on this song that perhaps, many years ago, set the young Dan Stuart on his wayward path. A fine end to what was a fantastic evening. Mr. Stuart is on the road for several more weeks, the dates are here, if he’s near you then do go and see a man who is rock’n’roll to his fingertips and prepare to be amused, transfixed and mesmerised.

Dan Stuart With Twin Tones. Marlowe’s Revenge. Cadiz Records.

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“He was safe here; this was the place he loved – sanctuary, the paradise of his despair.”
Malcolm Lowry – Under The Volcano.

Malcolm Lowry, author of Under The Volcano, a novel about a drunk and disillusioned ex consul falling apart in Mexico, was an English writer who fled to Oaxaca, Mexico back in the 1930’s following a marital breakup and a spell in New York’s Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital. Dan Stuart, known primarily as the singer of the now lauded Green On Red, trod this self same path around five years ago, rebuilding himself with the assistance of his alter ego, Marlowe Billings, under which name he wrote a “false memoir,” The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings and recorded an album of the same name. Mexico, despite its murderous reputation, appears to have been some kind of salve for the battered and bruised Stuart as he slowly re-entered the music business, however he seems to have been somewhat repelled by the current rules of the game, the sanitisation, the pigeon holing that goes on; he wanted to sound dangerous, to get some revenge on the business that all but chewed him up and spat him out back in the eighties. Holed up like some Graeme Greene character Stuart recorded some songs with a Mexican engineer, Daniel Sanchez Jimenez, who added some rudimentary percussion backing to Stuart’s guitar strums (a little black egg shaker and thumped telephone directory). Some of these songs were released briefly on Stuart’s A Little Guitar EP but he wanted more, some danger, someone to really spark off of.

“In Mexico your wishes have a dream power. When you want to see someone, he turns up.”
William Burroughs – Junky.

Stuart already had a foil, the mercurial Italian band, Sacri Cuori, who are like a dream band from an Alexandro Jodorowsky vision but they were 6,000 miles away. Burroughs’ drug stained quote is apt however as Stuart found a bunch of Mexican upstarts via Google who played scuzzy surf and garage rock, Twin Tones they were called. Contact made, turns out they had some mutual friends including Steve Wynn and Danny Amis from Los Straitjacket, and lo, holy mescalito, a union was formed and thus came about Marlowe’s Revenge.

Bolstered by the retronuevo garage blasts, fuzzed guitar and cheesy organ throbbings of Twin Tones Stuart lets loose his demons here, his voice snarling, sneering, sometimes vulnerable. Hola Guepo (Hello Beautiful) is a blunderbuss slice of 60’s fuzz punk, the guitars snarling like a two headed dog as Stuart pens a poisonous will for his wife singing,” you’ll get my ring, wear it from your neck, try not to choke on it.” He returns to his sense of abandonment on the spectacular guitar blazoned epic Soy Un Hombre, almost spitting out the words, “I’m a man who has always loved you no matter what the world had to say but you decided to leave with another less worthy than me.” There’s despair on the melodrama of Last Blue Day, a song that recalls Loudon Wainwright’s desolate Central Square Song on the opening bars before the band weigh in with a hefty thump sounding like a psychedelic version of The Band, Stuart at the end of his tether, dark thoughts on his mind with this stark image, ” darkness greets me as I open my door the rope on the crossbeam hangs to the floor.”

There’s  bi-polar mood swings throughout the album, rage, despair, defeat and a manic edge to some of his Boho tales of life on the skids, the cannibalistic fantasies of The Whores Above swimming in a scuzzy garage punk morass of guitar and organ mixing up Burroughs, Bukowski and Brion Gyson, an evil laugh from Stuart catching the unhinged joy of narcotic revenge. I‘m All Over You is an amphetamined Dylan sneer,  the tune pummelled into submission by massed handclaps and a stratospheric guitar solo while Name Hog roots itself in a Lou Reed strut as Stuart snarls his contempt of the treadmill rock’n’roll route.

Lest it be thought that these are just the musings of a misanthrope set to a farfisa and tremeloed heaven (or hell) Stuart actually delivers a bona fide (although slightly skewed) love song on the delicious Elena, a twisted Tom Petty like song that some brave radio shows might pick up on while Over My Shoulder is almost tender. Zipolite is a script in waiting, a sonic Mexican riposte to Alex Garland‘s The Beach, the band ominous as waves crash and dogs howl in the mix, this is really quite wonderful. Stuart winds it up with the languid flow of The Knife, a song that allows the band to show their mellow Santos & Johnny side although there’s a hint of menace in the guitars as if they’re being honed to kill; his whispered words recalling Brando’s utterances in Apocalypse Now.

Marlowe’s Revenge is an album that will surely please those who hanker for the unruly days of Green On Red, Stuart teetering on the edge, still sounding dangerous. However, This Dan Stuart is older, maybe wiser, certainly bearing more scars. I’ll leave the last words to his old sparring partner, Chuck Prophet, “It’s like I tell people, mark my words: Dan Stuart will end up in jail or an institution or living above a discotheque in Mexico City still writing real songs and shaking his fist at the world.”

Dan Stuart is embarking on a lengthy European tour including a date in Glasgow on 25th February where he’ll be supported by Tom Heyman (whose album Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed here) and Fernando Viciconte. A compelling performer this is not to be missed. All tour dates here.

And here’s a taste of Twin Tones

Book Review #2. Dan Stuart. Barcelona Blues. Padre Lindo Press.

Barcelona Blues

Dan Stuart wears an alter ego, Marlowe Billings, in his “false memoir” The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings that relates his formative years and rock’n’roll life before his eventual deliverance to a psychiatric institution. Barcelona Blues, a book of poems by Stuart, ditches this conceit and nakedly opens with an introduction that details his Spanish wife’s infidelity in 2010 which led to another short spell in care before he headed to Barcelona for a prearranged gig in the midst of what he calls “a severe depressive episode.” So far, so fun. In Barcelona Stuart is supposed to play at a testimonial show arranged for a sick member of his wife’s cousin’s band. Paranoid and wasted he describes it as the worst night of his life. He stays on in Barcelona for a time, seeking refuge among Andalusian immigrants and in the red light district while falling for a local femme with whom he has “a short but intense affair.” His introduction ends “these poems are really for her.”

Stuart has written candidly about his marital problems in the sleeve notes for the magisterial reissue album, Arizona: 1993-95. Barcelona Blues catches him with the wounds raw and weeping, seeking solace and anonymity in a Barcelona tourists wouldn’t recognise. The cover features an ugly blackened pig foot that resembles a deformed penis strung on a wire found hanging outside a garage in a gypsy quarter. The poems feature Stuart for the most part in cafes and bars observing life around him, police assaulting suspects, young mothers with push up bras pushing baby strollers, sullen teenagers on the cusp of sensuality, oafish men whose primary pleasure is “futbol.” Odours of food and tobacco are vividly captured and there’s an overall sense of menace with Stuart, the outsider, having to tread carefully amongst these bruised people while frequent use of Spanish colloquialisms reinforce the sense of alienism. When he gets personal he tells us that his anti depressants cause impotence leading him to rely on a “blue pill” while overdoses and domestic violence cloud those he gets close to.

The book is a visceral rush urging the reader to pursue it to the end where Stuart seems to accept the scuzziness around him as preferable to the frigid Catholicism and brutality of the Franco regime While the title recalls Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues Stuart’s poems are not set out in verse form and there is none of Kerouac’s Zen mysticisms here. Instead Stuart captures the documentary style of a Kerouac poem such as Bowery Bums while Hemingway’s poems such as Montparnasse may be another influence. Another Hemingway piece, his recollection of his Paris days in A Moveable Feast might be more apposite to reference while Stuart’s current domicile in Oaxaca, Mexico inevitably leads one to recall Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano. Stuart sets the poems in sections which appear to be named after geographical districts in and around Barcelona although each one can stand separately from the others. As with Beat poetry there is a sense that the words were written to be read aloud and fortunately Stuart has provided an example which you can hear below.

Barcelona Blues is just another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is Dan Stuart these days. His Green On Red days are well documented, thereafter he seems to have had periods of calm and some very turbulent times. His recent reappearances, on record, live and by written word hopefully signal that he is coming to terms with the past and looking to the future.