Friday, 29 January 2016

Pay Your Tax, Man

Taking their name from the 1947 John Steinbeck novel, or more likely the cheesy 1957 Jayne Mansfield/Joan Collins film adaptation of the same, The Wayward Bus was one of several studio projects from composer Tupper Sussay: musician turned advertising man and political agitator, and co-author of the biography of Martin Luther King’s assassin.

Tupper ‘rocked American music in 1969 with The Moth Confesses, a “phonograph opera” he wrote for The Neon Philharmonic’, apparently. His life reads like something out of a very long and convoluted film: Frederick Tupper Saussy III (July 3, 1936 – March 16, 2007) was a theologian, a restaurant owner, a King assassination conspiracy theorist, anti-government pamphleteer, and radical opponent of the federal government’s taxation laws. Born in Statesboro, Georgia, he grew up in Tampa, Florida and graduated from the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1958, releasing an album with his combo - Jazz at Sewanee - with a subsidy from the University. He studied piano with Oscar Peterson at the School of Jazz, and was ‘discovered’ by Dave Brubeck.

Saussy taught English at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, co-founded the ad agency McDonald and Saussy in 1962, but kept a hand on his musical career with recording dates and the occasional club sessions. He signed to Monument Records the following year and issued his proper debut album, Discover Tupper Saussy, which was produced by Fred Foster (Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson), with liner notes by Brubeck. He composed The Beast with Five Heads for the Nashville Symphony - based on "The Bremen Town Musicians" and designed to replace Peter and the Wolf as a work to teach schoolchildren about orchestration. For its 1968/69 season, the Nashville Symphony commissioned him to write a piano concerto for Bill Pursell.

He then wrote Morning Girl, a top 20 hit and Grammy nominee for pop band The Neon Philharmonic, and worked on TV ads for Mama Cass and the hateful Anita Bryant. He would later write several books, go on the run from the government after cocking a snook at the IRS, spend more than a year in prison. Oh, he was a creationist too, and believed that all anyone needed to know could be found within the pages of the King James Bible.

Anyway, if you want to know more about Tupper, go raid the interwebs.

Released by RCA in 1968, The Prophet features The Wayward Bus backing David Hoy, ‘psychic’, Tarot reader and stage mentalist. A cut-price Criswell, if you will, Hoy is best remembered for taking part in a stunt in 1977 to coax the Loch Ness Monster from its watery home. I’ve not included the b-side, as it’s just an instrumental version of the same track. The Wayward Bus released at least one other 45 on RCA, backing Tupper on two tracks, the dull instrumental Love Him and the peculiar vaudeville-inspired Edgar Whitsuntide. 

My thanks to The Squire for alerting me to this little nugget. Enjoy!

Friday, 22 January 2016

Gardening at Knight

Roddy: nasty synth plinkings, typically unpleasant TV variety show backing vocals, orchestra seemingly arranged by a man with a CSE in woodwork, evil disco-lite versions of standards and a lead vocalist who couldn’t sing his way out of a wet paper bag. But at least he could schlep a drunkard of a royal.

Sir Roderick Victor Llewellyn is a British baronet who, despite a lengthy career as a landscape gardener, gardening journalist and author will be forever known for his eight-year relationship with Princess Margaret, the younger sister of our own dear Queen Elizabeth II. The Princess and the poker began their relationship in 1973, when Llewellyn was 25 years old and Margaret was 43. Their highly publicised relationship was a factor in the dissolution of the Princess's marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon.

It wasn’t an easy relationship. She became deeply unhappy with Roddy’s love of the limelight and, after a row in 1980 Roddy did a runner. Margaret retaliated by taking an overdose. Shortly after they were reconciled he announced that he had met another woman and wanted to marry her. It has been alleged – by interior designer and socialite Nicky Haslam in his book Redeeming Features - that Snowdon had an affair with Roddy before he became the Princess’s pet.

Released by Phillips in 1978, our Roddy admitted in the press that he had ‘consulted the Princess before taking up an offer to make records and she had no objections – although she might have done to other careers. She likes my voice and she likes the idea of my becoming a pop singer. We are always singing together’. Serendipitously, Roddy was issued in the same year that Dame Barbara Cartland, the step-Grandmother of future-Princess Diana, issued her awful Album of Love Songs. Many of the musicians who worked on the album were better known for composing and playing on albums of library music - no wonder the whole thing sounds as if it were designed to be played in the lift of some tacky 'room by the hour' hotel.

Have a listen to Missing Her Again, a track from Roddy by Roddy Llewellyn, and just ask if you want to hear more. I have a copy winging its way to me as I write!


Friday, 15 January 2016

The short, unhappy life of Rick Grossman

There I was, innocently searching the interwebs for more music by Vinny Roma, when I stumbled across this: Hot Romance, the debut (and only) album from the delightfully coiffured Rick Grossman.

Not to be confused with the Rick Grossman who played bass for Australian New wave band the Divinyls, our Rick grew up in the Chicago area. A keen amateur musician, in 1978 he opened up his wallet, gathered together a few some session musicians and set out to make an album of his songs. The result was Hot Romance. Issued by Thunderbolt Records in 1978, Hot Romance – as described by Liam Carroll of Rebeat magazine - is a collection of songs ‘about how good Rick Grossman is at sex. How he has so many babes following him around all the time that he practically has to shake ’em off with a stick. It’s a bizarre, yet beguiling, juxtaposition: this sunny, laid-back music partnered with Grossman’s vaguely rockabilly Lothario persona. At one point, he equates casual sex with eating Kellogg’s cereal, as if that’s a thing.’

It’s an odd record: neither the light pop-rock settings from the band, his jazzy piano flourishes nor Rick’s flat, nasal croon could possibly charm a lady enough for her to slip between his black nylon sheets. His lyrics – when decipherable - are atrocious, the drummer is dreadful and the whole thing smacks of being recorded in one session for as little money as possible. The guitar solo on New York, Now You're Alive is indescribably awful.

Unsurprisingly, Rick didn’t sell many copies of Hot Romance, so he gave up any ideas of pop superstardom, married his girlfriend Susan (who clearly hadn’t paid much attention to his lyrics either) and went in to business, creating a credit card system for the shipping and loaning industry. Before long Rick was climbing the corporate ladder, becoming chairman of medical equipment rental firm Trans Leasing International.

Rick, Susan, and their three children moved to Highland Park, one of the better of Chicago’s many suburbs. But although life should have been sweet for the successful businessman and his family it was far from that. In July 1992, Rick and Susan were arrested: Rick on a charge of battery and Susan on a charge of disorderly conduct, according to Highland Park police. Later that year the couple divorced.

The problems between Rick and Susan were nothing compared to those between him and his son Michael. As the Chicago Tribune reported, on the outside, Rick and Michael presented ‘a portrait of father-and-son calm, a pair the neighbours glimpsed in brief but serene snapshots: bicycling near their Highland Park home, walking the golden retriever, playing by their pool.

‘But behind the facade was a not-so-pretty picture’.

Michael was quiet, his friends said, and he told them that he and his father did not always get along. He told some that their arguments turned violent, though it seemed this violence did not spill over on to his two sisters, Kimberly and Joanna. Officers were called because of disputes over custody, and for fights between father and son. In July 1993 the police were called because the two were fighting over Michael’s desire to keep a cat.

One Thursday night in October 1996, Rick decided he wanted to play his piano. Apparently, banging out his songs on the keys proved too loud and distracting for Michael, his 17 year-old High School football star of a son, who was trying to do his homework. Michael became so enraged by Rick's loud, unrelenting playing that the teen grabbed a carving knife and stabbed his father repeatedly. Rick Grossman was just 44 years old.

"Who knows what happened?" said Richard Grossman's brother Larry. "It seemed like they got along fine. Everybody got along fine, I thought." In a sadly ironic twist, Rick had also been a benefactor of the Juvenile Protection Association, a private organisation in Chicago that treated abused children and their families.

Although there was evidence that father and son had an explosive relationship, police said they believed that Rick’s piano playing was the flash point for the rage in his son.

"That seems like the catalyst for this whole thing," Highland Park Police Chief Daniel J. Dahlberg told the Chicago Tribune. "That's what got it started." The two allegedly exchanged words, and then Michael went into the kitchen, picked out a knife and stabbed his father repeatedly in the neck. When officers arrived shortly before 8 p.m., Rick was outside the house, bleeding heavily. Michael was taken into custody a short time later. With his father still alive, Michael Grossman was charged with attempted murder. His mother arranged for the bond that got Michael out of jail. Authorities increased the charge to first-degree murder when Rick Grossman died while on life support, at the Highland Park Hospital.

"His mind must have snapped," said Larry Grossman, trying to explain what had happened between his brother and nephew. "Like I said, who knows what happened?"

Michael wound up pleading guilty but mentally ill. He claimed that he was schizophrenic, that he had heard voices telling him to kill his father. Defence attorney Jed Stone portrayed Michael Grossman as the product of a severely dysfunctional home. Divorce, drugs, domestic abuse and violence were all part of the Grossman household, Stone said, despite the outward facade of affluence and respectability. "Everything was not hunky-dory on Keats Street, and it never was."

In July 1998 Judge Stephen Walter sentenced Michael to 24 years in prison, with the understanding that the young man would likely only serve eight to nine years. Judge Walter also recommended that he receive continuing psychiatric care.

Let us remember Rick not as the victim of a heinous crime, nor as one of the catalysts for his son’s troubled mind, but for his recorded legacy, and take pleasure in the soft rock stylings of three tracks from Hot Romance.


Friday, 8 January 2016

Dear God!

A huge, happy and healthy New Year to you all!

I love XTC, with a passion bordering on mania. Since the very early 80s I have followed their every move and, after they finally called it a day in 2005, I have continued to follow the solo career of the band’s chief songwriter Andy Partridge and, to a lesser extent, the calling of former members Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory.

Mainstream success may have eluded them but, take my word for it, they are the quintessential British pop/rock band: over the course of 14 albums XTC barely put a foot wrong. And, in Andy Partridge, the band had a lyricist on a par with Elvis Costello, John Lennon and Ray Davies, and a tunesmith as good as Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney.

I’m lucky enough to have met Andy, Colin, Dave and former keyboard player Barry (Shriekback) Andrews and they are all absolutely delightful. Further, I have recently interviewed Andy for an article I’m penning for Songwriting Magazine, and he was candid, funny, honest and incredibly generous of his time. I simply adore this band.

But it was never a smooth ride. The XTC chronicle is one littered with bad management, internal squabbles, rows with record producers, health issues and even a six-year strike when the band refused to record any new material for their label. It’s pretty much the Badfinger story without the suicides.

In 1986, in an attempt to break the band in the States, Virgin records decided to pair them up with American producer Todd Rundgren (who, fact fans, had also produced Badfinger). The result was Skylarking, one of the best and most complete albums of their career, yet the sessions were fraught – with a prolonged battle of wills between Rundgren and Partridge. ‘Todd and Andy were like chalk and cheese as personalities – they didn’t hit it off from the start,’ recalled Dave Gregory. ‘Things just went from bad to worse. Andy was saying how much he hated the album, and when we returned home, he was very depressed about it. But having said that, Skylarking is probably my favourite XTC album.’

Rundgren pushed Andy’s buttons in more ways than one: he decided on the running order of the album before the recording sessions had even begun, came up with an album title and cover concept which the band rejected, and responded to studio disagreements by simply walking out, leaving the threesome to stew until they were willing to accept his vision.

As Partridge told Uncut magazine: ‘It was very difficult for me because Virgin basically told me to shut up and be produced, “because you’ll only ruin it and make it weird”. Todd wanted to process us through as quickly as possible, and we’d be fighting about the quality of takes. I hate sarcasm and he’s extremely sarcastic. His ego matches the size of the man.  It was like one Brian Clough stood on the shoulders of another – with a wig. It obviously got everyone down cause we were fighting and we never usually did, and then we got barred from mixing so it took quite a few years to realise he did a fantastic job. His people skills are like Hermann Goering’s.’ 

Sessions may have been tense, but the results – heard at their best on the corrected polarity version issued on vinyl in 2010 and on CD in 2014 – speak for themselves. Skylarking is a masterpiece.

The Skylarking sessions yielded a song, Dear God, that was originally left off the album and relegated to the B-side of the album’s first single, Grass. However, when the track started to pick up radio play in the US – and attract major notoriety – Partridge’s atheist anthem was added to US copies of the record. And it’s that song that I present for you today.

Dear God is the work of  a genius songwriter and of a band at the very height of their powers: both bucolic and brutal, Dear God is a brilliant iconoclastic missive. So why would producer Rundgren decide to re-record a piece of audio perfection for his dreadful 2011 album (re)Production?

On (re)Production Todd records his own versions of songs he had produced for other artists, in what AllMusic called ‘a logical enough endeavor skewed into the bizarre by his decision to rely entirely on electronic instruments’. Some of the tracks are ok (and, before you start on me, I’m not a Todd hater: I love the first Nazz album and I have a number of records that he appears on or has produced in my collection), but this collection is a self-indulgent mess. Back to AllMusic ‘To his credit, he’s indulged in some radical reinventions, particularly on Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” and the New York Dolls’ “Personality Crisis.” Tellingly, these are two artists with whom he remains either personally or professionally close, but he also can’t resist tweaking notorious sparring partner Andy Partridge by taking the piss out of “Dear God” via an onslaught of claustrophobic drum machines and processed vocals’.

(re)Production is designed to amuse nobody apart from its creator. But don’t take my (or AllMusic’s) word for it, have a listen to Todd’s version of Dear God, compare it to the sublime original and judge for yourself. For good measure I’ve also included Todd’s take on Meatloaf’s Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad … make that one out of three, Mr. Rundgren!


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