Rich Krueger. NOWThen. RockinK Music

Final_NOWTHEN_Final_cover_hi_resIt’s just over a year ago that Blabber’n’Smoke stumbled across Rich Krueger, a man who has become our second favourite singing doctor (Hank Wangford is still No. 1, sorry, Rich). Krueger is a working medicine man in Chicago but he’s had a contemporaneous career as a musician with his band The Dysfunctionells (with the album title relating to this weird yin/yan) and in the past 18 months he’s launched himself solo with a vengeance, even attracting the attention of the self styled “Dean of critics, Robert Christgau. NOWThen is his second album in less than a year following on from the splendid Life Ain’t That Long and, as with its predecessor, NOWThen is a wonderfully meandering set of grand songs.

Krueger is an astute observer of human behaviour and he writes about it much in the way of wayward souls such as Randy Newman and Terry Allen. And although he fits somehow into the American folk scene being a winner at the 2018 Kerrville Folk Festival, the album veers through rootsy numbers spiced with Dobro and swirling organ, piano based jaunts, Asian exotica and Mariachi stylings. At heart however is his razor sharp observation which he translates into wordy yet incredibly enjoyable songs. The best example might be the coming of age tale Don where Krueger weaves a fantastic(al) tale of a teenage buddy who was a “contrarian,” an admirer of Nietzsche and Hitler although most of his classmates were Jews. The song flows along with a fine fiddle fuelled country swirl as Krueger’s words spill out – almost a screenplay in miniature – as he just about diagnoses Don as a sociopath before breaking down what one should imagine as an aural equivalent of theatre’s fourth wall as he asks, “Did I entertain you?” as the song ends.

Krueger can delve into history, singing about the Wright Brothers or Huey P. Long, the songs part story, part surreal. Then there’s his own experiences as on the opening song, Kenny’s (It’s Always Christmas In this Bar), dedicated to his local watering hole and delivered in a manner which, should Billy Joel ever hear it, have him weeping, as Krueger plays a doo wop flavoured piano led pop song which knocks Mr. Joel for six. The Cajun flavoured O What a Beautiful Beautiful Day is a warts and all depiction of the trial and tribulations of giving birth with Krueger noting that, on a chance encounter with Tom Waits, Waits’ advised him to, “Write about what you know,” and Krueger, being a neo natal doc, knows all about the bloody mess which surrounds a delivery. Elsewhere, Wittgenstein, Pope and Robert Browning are springboards for songs but pride of place here might go to Girls Go For Arse’oles, an apology of sort for most males’ behaviours towards the opposite sex with the title borrowed from Robert Crumb.

With a cast of players which include Robbie Fulks, Gary Lucas, John Fulbright and Peter Stampfel, the album is expansive and eclectic (there’s even a mock advert with the Colbert Report’s Erik Frandsen voicing Krueger). When Blabber’n’Smoke first noticed Krueger we said he was a maverick and NOWThen kind of confirms that but it’s important to say here that he’s an incredibly talented maverick.


Rich Krueger. Overpass

Krueger coverWe do love our mavericks here at Blabber’n’Smoke, folk who approach music from a slightly different angle and Rich Krueger seems to fit that bill. He was a member of The Dysfunctionells (who described themselves as “THE Butt-Ugliest Band in Chicago”) and who recorded at various times with Peter Stampfel and Michael Hurley, so, a good maverick pedigree there.

Krueger, who works as a neo natal doctor in Chicago, is readying two solo albums for release and this EP is a foretaste of what’s to come. Recently he was a finalist in the New Folk category at The Kerrville Folk Festival and Overpass opens with the fine fiddle fuelled A Short One On Life, a song about a female barfly who picks up strangers in bars. With gritty lyrics, Krueger describes her hard life, nights spent with, “one night wonder(s) with a heart of gold and a name for his cock that no thinking person would ever even name a dog” before some slide guitar from Seth Lee Jones adds some muscle to the song. In Between, Kingfish is a powerful song about homelessness with Krueger weaving Huey P. Long (AKA The Kingfish) and Sam Walton (founder of Walmart and born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma) into the tale, contrasting their respective philosophies. Over a lachrymose fiddle and weeping accordion (played by John Fullbright) Krueger achingly highlights the plight of the underprivileged and ends the song with a surreal vision of Long and Walton sitting in an abandoned car beside a derelict Walmart with Woody Guthrie and Franklin Roosevelt for company. A potent symbol for the death of the New Deal.

Next up Krueger takes a sharp turn on Yesterday’s Wrong (Green) which is coloured by tablas, sarangi, tanpura and kanjira giving it an undeniable Indian sound. It rambles for over six minutes in exotic fashion as Krueger seems to lament the loss of innocence that permeated the sixties and the ecological nightmare we all face. Recalling Donovan or The Incredible String Band it’s hypnotic. What Are We is perhaps the most straightforward song here in terms of its delivery as Krueger offers up a Randy Newman like piano song with soulful vocal backing. Here he sings of Nero setting Rome alight and suggests similarities with his present day President. A hidden song at the end, Kerrville, Oh My Kerrville, written back in 1991, finds Krueger with acoustic guitar identifying with his idols, musical and otherwise, on a humorous take on the festival which is somewhat tongue in cheek but stuffed full of arresting images.

It’s a tremendous listen and it bodes well for the forthcoming albums. You can buy the EP here


Have Moicy 2 The Hoodoo Bash Red Newt Records


The 1975 album Have Moicy! was the summit of what Greil Marcus has called The Old, Weird America, a term he coined to describe Dylan’s basement tapes which he saw as a continuation of the spirit of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. What Marcus missed was the true keepers of the spirit of Smith’s groundbreaking collection, the musical misfits, smokers and tokers who constituted the extended Holy Modal Rounders family and who were responsible for the delights contained in Have Moicy! After surviving the sixties (and leaving behind him a slew of discs that, among other things, added the word psychedelic to the folk lexicon, graced the soundtrack to Easy Rider and funked up The Fugs) Peter Stampfel regrouped the Rounders without Steve Weber and with Michael Hurley and Jeffrey Fredericks and his Clamtones recorded what critic Robert Christgau called “the greatest folk album of the rock era.” While in 1975 Neil Young was heading for the ditch, Stampfel and his allies were manning a gleeful and zany outpost armed with fiddles and guitars taking aim at the absurdities of the day. Songs about hamburgers, alimentary canals and robbing banks delivered with zest, rock’n’roll, doo wop and folk reimagined in their imaginary world.

Have Moicy! ended with the song Hoodoo Bash, a saw fiddle fuelled and surreal gathering of the tribes all bringing Thunderbird wine and a pound of hash. Stampfel sings, “Lovers or strangers we’ll all go through changes when we get the good old spirit down at the hoodoo bash.” Fittingly enough The Hoodoo Bash is the given title for this long waited follow up of sorts to the 1975 masterpiece. The genesis of the album is too long to be repeated here but Stampfel had been considering some sort of sequel for some time. With original collaborators Jeffrey Frederick and Paul Presti deceased and Michael Hurley eventually declining an invite Stampfel still had Robin Remailly and Dave Reisch from the original disc and in a reflection of the earlier sessions managed to marry New York and Oregon freakiness with his inspired invite to Baby Gramps and Jeffrey Lewis to join in, the stage then set for this second summit meeting.

It’s important to state that this is not an attempt to remake the earlier album. While that may have been Stampfel’s original vision, with Hurley, Frederick and Presti out of the equation it couldn’t be. Instead it has the same irreverent yet respectful take on old time American music going back to minstrel shows and up to early rock’n’roll. Recorded without overdubs and no chance to listen to the tapes (other than for producer Matt Sohn) it’s an unholy mess but wonderfully so. Instruments wheeze and splutter, plink and plonk with the rhythm wavering and voices appearing from nowhere on the choruses. The ensemble are completed by Kristin Andreassen, Zoe Stampfel and The Dustbusters and it’s a song by a member of The Dustbusters, Rich Man Poor Man that best displays the wonky groove they found and worked on while the instrumental Banjolina shows that there was indeed a lot of work put into rehearsals with the ensemble playing here incredibly tight. Scattered throughout the album, Stampfel’s goofiness, Lewis’ witticisms and Gramps’ seadog saltiness are all aired while all three Dustbusters contribute songs that sound as if they were written a century ago.

Stampfel opens the album with his reboot of Del Shannon’s Searchin’ complete with spooky hoodoo chorus voices while New Fiddler’s Dram is classic Stampfel weirdness adapting the old chestnut into a tale of, as he puts it, “a patricidal mother fucking skull fucking sociopath.” It works a treat as does Eat That Roadkill, originally a minstrel song called Carve Dat Possum, it has a similar macabre pull as those old racist cartoons that depicted black folk as simple folk happy just to sing.

Lewis in the main takes Stampfel tunes as a start point, he channels the sixties in Nonsense, a wonderful ditty that does recall the psychedelic sweetness of Random Canyon, Intelligent Design could have sat easily on a Fugs album and It’s No Good is a skeletal slice of beat freak folk, a Horse Badorties for our times. As for Baby Gramps, his songs are shanties of the utmost saltiness, his voice growling and burbling in fine fashion on Nailer’s Consumption and Crossbone Scully. While I’ve kind of separated the contributions here, throughout the album there’s a fine degree of cross fertilisation, lead vocals swapped and shared, a true collective effort.

A wonderful collection of songs that see saw away with Stampfel’s love for (and his long standing subversion of) old time music proudly at the helm, The Hoodoo Bash is an essential listen for anyone beguiled by the idea of old, weird Americana.

The album is available here

Peter Stampfel & The Ether Frolic Mob. The Sound of America. Red Newt Records

Peter Stampfel at 72 might be the grand old man of American string band music but anyone who has seen him play recently will attest to the fact that he is one of the “zingiest” characters you could ever hope to meet. He wears his years well and his infectious bonhomie and general zest for life and for music puts many younger musicians to shame. He is a bona fide Blabber’n’Smoke hero having accompanied, enlightened and thrilled us over 40 years of listening to music and he has a list of achievements which are way too numerous to mention here. We did list some these when we wrote about his last Glasgow gig here where he filled the room with a sense of joy. Over the past decade he has seemed revitalised with a slew of albums with various co conspirators and The Sound of America takes us bang up to date while offering Stampfel an opportunity to revisit his roots.
Never a man (in his youth) to swerve various intoxicants ( and the first to include the word psychedelic in a song, Hesitation Blues in 1964), Stampfel has named his latest line up after the habit in the 19th and early 20th centuries of performers using ether to enhance their and the audience’s enjoyment of their shows. Although he states that the current line up has “no druggies, alkies, people with major character flaws, ego problems, or douchiness of any variety” they manage to capture the essential irreverence , bawdiness and general mayhem that has characterised the best of Stampfel’s recordings which from the very beginning sounded as if they were being played by folk coming at you from another universe where oxygen was only one of the gasses they needed to live on. If you think that freak folk is the domain of Devandra Barnhart then a listen to Stampfel should dispel that notion forever. As he says he’s always taken great joy in bending and twisting traditional material.

The Sound of America is essentially an opportunity for Stampfel to visit the alternative American songbook surrounded by his latest conglomeration. The Ether Frolic Mob are a shape shifting bunch, a moveable feast depending on who is available and who turns up on the night. While their ages range from the twenties to the eighties they all buy in to Stampfel ‘s medicine show elixir which guarantees a good time for all with no hokum. Stampfel writes several songs while others are credited to Ether Frolickers John Cohen and Walker Shepherd (the latter a co write with his dad, Sam Shepard). The rest are either traditional or penned in the backwoods or tin pan alley. Stampfel mentions Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music as a touchstone while also acknowledging his supreme collaboration with Michael Hurley, Jeffrey Frederick and others on the fantastic Have Moicy album (indeed he promises in the album notes that the Frolics are in the process of creating Have Moicy 2). While his is the dominant voice and he is undoubtedly the driver here there this is a democratic show with various members taking lead vocal and all joining in on fiddle, banjo, percussion and general mayhem. It’s random, at times thoroughly unhinged with Memphis Shakedown and New Fortune marginally sharing the prize for out there wackiness. Stampfel howls and wails on the former as only he can do and listening to it one is transported back to the mid sixties and the Rounder’s Indian War Whoop. While there are several wonderful instrumentals that lurch and sway excellently as displayed on Wild Wagoner the songs allow the Mob to shine and particular mention must be made of Hubby Jenkin’s masterful interpretation of Charlie Patton’s Shake It Break It. Stampfel himself offers a hilarious mea culpa on Back Again while Gonna Make Me with John Cohen on vocals zips us back to the very first Holy Modal Rounder recordings in its simplicity. Hey-O is another comparatively uncluttered song where Stampfel inhabits a childlike innocence able to deliver insults that no one could take offence to.
The Ether Frolics Mob might embody an anarchic principle where it seems everyone can do what they want and there’s always the possibility of falling into chaos but at their heart they employ their talents to enhance the whole and when the full ensemble launches into Golden Slippers or Deep In The Heart of Texas there’s an exhilarating effect even without resorting to a sniff of ether. Such wild shenanigans are unlikely to ever bother the BBC playlists but Stampfel and The Ether Frolic Mob mine a fascinating vein of American music and deliver it with a passion that is inspirational and above all else enjoyable.
For further information on the songs check out the extended liner notes here while you can buy the album here

Peter Stampfel and The Worm All-Stars. A Sure Sign of Something

Blabber’n’Smoke makes no excuses for featuring Peter Stampfel again. This Greenwich Village veteran and peer of Dylan back in the early sixties continues to amaze us with his vitality and infectious enthusiasm. His Glasgow gig back in January with Jeffrey Lewis was a sheer delight and in person he is simply astounding, a pleasure to spend a few moments with. So much so that at that gig I stumbled away without picking up a copy of the album he’s recorded with Lewis. Nevertheless of late Stampfel has been on a roll both live and in the studio and this collaboration with Dutch avant garde musicians The Worm All-Stars is a fine addition to his canon.
Stampfel met these guys when he was in Amsterdam for a screening of the Holy Modal Rounders’ documentary, Bound to Lose. Invited to perform after the screening they offered to back him up. According to Stampfel’s delightful liner notes he was so enthralled by them he invited them over to New York to rehears some songs. He then followed them back to the Netherlands to record this album.
The Worm All-Stars consist of Lukas Simonis on guitar and bass, Nina Hitz on cello and keyboards and the astonishing Alan Purves on all manner of percussion and noseflutes with all three contributing to the vocals. Although described as an avant garde noise troupe they manage to carry off a very fine old country type sound allowing Stampfel to indulge in his love of traditional Americana. Several of the songs are old traditionals while others are more recent, written by Stampfel and his compadres with one contribution from Simonis.
Of course this being Peter Stampfel this album is far from a retread of old and new folk numbers. The band add a tremendous sense of adventure and at times plain old sonic wizardry while Stampfel stamps his authority all over the piece, vocally and musically. Recalling the wild adventure that was The Holy Modal Rounders in their earlier incarnations songs like Last Chance and Peg ‘N Awl disinter the old Harry Smith Anthology sound and revive it much as Victor Frankenstein did with his creature, awesome and dangerous yet with a simple sense of wonder.
Revisiting songs from his past there is a fine version of Midnight In Paris from Have Moicy while the infamous Rounders song Fucking Sailors in Chinatown which opens the album is as anthemic as ever. This should have been on the Rogues Gallery CD spawned by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies if there were any justice. Simonis’ song, Maximum Spare Ribs is a mutant Ghostriders In the Sky with the ghostriders replaced by insurance salesmen! Time and again one is struck by the playing on this album but special mention must be given to percussionist Purves who populates all of the songs with all sorts of clutter and clatter. Stomping bass drums and skittering sticks abound with perhaps the best example being the aforementioned Last Chance where the cacophony is added to by some excellent violin screeching and fine guitar from Simonis. Stampfel and Hitz work brilliantly together on the skeletal One Will Do For Now which creaks and groans like old timber.
The album is well packaged with liner notes on all of the songs by Stampfel. He pays special mention to Shambolar, a song originally by Sherriff and the Ravels from 1958 describing it as “the Rosetta stone connecting African music, Caribbean music and doo-wop. The version here offers full rein to Purves’ percussion on a chant that could as easily have come from Paul Simon’s Graceland or an old Fugs’ record. The connection, I’m sure is there.
An added bonus to this excellent album for Scottish listeners is a hidden song at the end. Percussionist Alan Purves originally hails from Edinburgh and he provides a spoken tale, A Wee Fortune, a scatological account of a night out in Edinburgh from his youth which is darkly humorous and brings to mind a meeting of Ivor Cutler and Irvine Welsh.
Buy it here
Drunken Banjo Waltz

The Jeffrey Lewis Peter Stampfel Folk Show

Living legend, Grammy award winner, mentioned in Dylan’s Chronicles, what else is there to say about Peter Stampfel? Well, quite a lot actually. Stampfel was (and is) a Holy Modal Rounder or HMR if you prefer. To my mind an HMR trumps any accolade such as an OBE, CBE or any of that crap. From the dawn of the sixties Stampfel has pursued a musical course that has occasionally bumped into the mainstream (see Easy Rider) but for the most part has been a dirty secret shared by aficionados of underground and left field music. Apart from the Rounders he’s been a member of The Fugs, played with Gary Lucas (of Captain Beefheart fame) and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of American folk music.
Hooking up with Jeffrey Lewis, enfant terrible of the NY “anti-folk” scene seems to be a stroke of genius if their gig at at Mono on Friday night is anything to go by. Although Lewis performed some of his routine fare the night belonged to the legacy that is Peter Stampfel. Tremendous versions of songs from his extensive oeuvre were offered to a sold out crowd. Here’s some photos from the night.

Holy Modelling

Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps. Outertainment. Red Newt Records.

Way back in the 1960’s there were none so weird and way out as the Holy Modal Rounders. Initially an acoustic duo comprised of Peter Stampfel on banjo and fiddle and Steve Weber, guitar, they jerked songs featured on the Harry smith Anthology of American folk music into the psychedelic sixties. In a decade long musical odyssey they ganged up with the inflammatory Fugs for a few albums and featured on the Easy Rider soundtrack. With members coming and going (including both founders) at various times their journey culminated in a zenith with Have Moicy!, a collaboration with Michael Hurley and Jeffrey Frederick that is generally considered one of the lost treasures of the 1970’s. A Stampfel/Weber reunion in 1999 produced a fine album in Too Much Fun that revisited some of the glories of their first two albums.
Since then Weber has for the most part retreated from the music biz (although he has released some vintage live recordings recently). Stampfel however ploughs on and over the years has released albums with The Bottlenecks, The Du-Tels (with ex Beefheart guitarist, Gary Lucas) and as a solo act. No matter the format however he retains a goofy childlike sense of wonder and above all an enduring love for and knowledge of American folk music.
Here Stampfel teams up with a character who seems to be as idiosyncratic and, well, as goofy, as him. Baby Gramps is a Seattle institution having busked and played there since perhaps the sixties. A well kept secret until he appeared on Rogues’ Gallery, a collection of pirate themed sea chanteys a few years back, Gramps has a voice that has been described as Popeye like and he shares Stampfel’s irreverent and iconoclastic approach to the classics of old time American music.
The result is a triumph, the best album Stampfel has been involved in since Too Much Time,. As a duo they stamp their personalities on individual songs while complementing each other vocally. Indeed it’s not too far fetched to say that Stampfel has eventually found a replacement for his long lost soul mate Weber. While the overall sound and feel of the album owes more to Gramps’ grizzled approach which keeps Stampfel’s often hyperkinetic style in check there are moments when both do let loose. Blues, folk and tin pan alley songs all get the treatment. While Gramps starts the album in fine style with Buzzard on the Gut Wagon, a growled hammered blues with vocals that recall Beefheart, he excels on Monkeys have No Tails in Zamboanga, a nonsense song that uses a style similar to Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence with some fantastic vocal interplay between the two, Gramps burbling and gurgling while Stampfel wails along, fantastic stuff. Stampfel’s contributions range from a wonderfully high and lonesome version of Heigh Ho (yes, the Disney song from Snow White with massed whistling) and a delightfully dotty ditty about the toilet habits of his puppy dog. He gets to showcase his fiddling chops on Wake Up Jacob which with Uncle Eph’s Got the Coon and Bar Bar is the nearest we get here to a Holy Modal traditional sound with Gramps taking the Weber part. The chalk and cheese pairing of their vocals is best seen on their rendition of Surfing Bird, the sixties garage punk staple which gets a demented outing here and demonstrates that there is no need for amped up fuzz guitar to create a cacophony. The album ends on a triumphant note with Ghost Train of Freak Mountain , described by Gramps in the liner notes as
“based on the mysterious legend of the ghost train running through Freak Mountain, which is a real place, but not found on any map.”
Well, no map perhaps but its topography is well described here.
While the likes of Seasick Steve have popularised traditional American folk blues recently this album portrays two artists who are steeped in the idiom but who present it through an unpolished, intensely personal viewpoint. It might not be pretty but it is pretty amazing. Special mention should be given to the unobtrusive bass playing of Dave Reisch who has served with Gramps, Stampfel and Michael Hurley over many years and who performs the same duties here and Curtis “King chamberlain who adds little touches of jaw harp, penny whistle and jug.

Norman Savitt and Friends.

Norman Ira Savitt is New York based guitarist who has long had an association with Peter Stampfel and their small circle of (mutual) friends. Armed with a deep knowledge of old time American music and familiar to those who frequent the websites and message boards of folk like the late Tuli Kupferberg (of The Fugs) he has released his first ever album, a meditative and peaceful collection of instrumentals based on his finger picking skills. Whether solo or accompanied by harmonica, cello, violin or penny whistle the result is wistful, at times elegiac with pieces dedicated to Ken Kesey and Chris Whitley (an old friend of Savitt’s).
It’s always tempting to mention John Fahey when a guitarist releases an album like this and although Savitt’s playing lacks Fahey’s baroque eclecticism and occasional dissonance the feeling generated when playing the album is similar to that of Fahey’s more straightforward pieces, Alex at Six in particular fits this bill. David Amram’s penny whistle on this tune evokes primitive cultures and the quills used by Canned Heat on Going Up The Country. Elsewhere Savitt, (with the aid of Eugene Friesen on cello) conjures up wintry English folksong on Prayer for Peace and Celtic mist on Alone. Howard Levy (from Bela Fleck’s band and who produced) adds some haunting harmonica to several tunes while violinist Susan Mitchell colours the tribute to the Reverend Gary Davis, One for the Rev where Savitt uses some Davis licks to great effect.
Savitt’s liner notes indicate his affinity to nature and the great outdoors and in an untutored, Carradine like zen mood, one could imagine that listening to this album is akin to watching a pebble fall into a still pond and digging the ripples long after they’ve gone.
Both albums are available here

Finally while we’re on things Rounder related a mention for Charlie Messing. Sprawling Epic. Charlie Messing was once a Rounder, late in the days but a member of that fabled troupe so a sneak preview of his forthcoming album was serendipitous. Apart from his part in the Rounders story Messing has played with Link Wray and Robert Gordon and backed up Loudon Wainwright. In addition he has a wealth of tales to tell of the New York scene from the boho sixties to the punk seventies and beyond which used to be available on his now defunct webpage. Indeed he’s like a musical Zelig, being there at fortuitous moments and this is reflected in his music.
Sprawling Epic looks to be a fairly eclectic pick of his own songs and a few choice covers (including Tom Waits, Michael Hurley, Dean Martin and Blind Willie McTell) all sung in his peculiar and endearing hangdog way. Low key and laid back it has a simple charm. Check back for news of the release date.

Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps Bar Bar
Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps Buzzard on the Gut Wagon
Norman Savitt and Friends Alex at Six