From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Truetone Music

tommy-keenelogo150frTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.

trutone410Keene: When I took my first guitar lesson, I’d been playing for a while. My first song was “Gloria”: three chords, E, D and A, over and over. I signed up for lessons at a local music store in suburban Maryland. On the drive up there, my mom and I were listening to the radio, and a song came on that completely rocked my world: the Who’s “I Can See For Miles.” I had just seen them on The Smothers Brothers Show, and an older kid in the neighborhood had seen them that summer opening for Herman’s Hermits. I went into the lesson and announced that I’d just heard this song on the radio and that’s what I wanted to learn to play. My teacher, a middle-aged man who looked like a cross between Burl Ives and Mitch Miller, just shook his head and said, “We first must start off with some scales.” Those lessons didn’t last long, and I basically taught myself how to play by pestering guitar-playing friends of mine to show me various chords and licks to standard rock numbers.

That memory of the mom-and-pop local music store stays with me. In Santa Monica, Calif., eight blocks from the beach, there’s a similar store I frequent called Truetone Music. One of the owners is Paul Flynn, also a native of the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area and a friendly guy who handles guitar repairs, intonations and general stress-free service. They offer a nice alternative to the sometimes intimidating corporate chain stores like Guitar Center, where you’re inundated by already marked-up holiday sales and endless kids wailing horribly to the latest drop-D music. Truetone has an unbelievable selection of vintage guitars and cool boutique amps, lessons for the beginners (without the Burl Ives attitude) and a friendly staff that is attentive to the needs of the novice as well as the seasoned professional. And don’t be surprised if you run into Dave Edmunds, Chris Spedding or Nigel Tufnel from the legendary Spinal Tap.

The Who’s “I Can See For Miles”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/ICanSeeForMiles.mp3

From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Rock ‘N’ Roll Dressing Rooms

tommy-keenelogo150frTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.

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Keene: Playing guitar last year with Bob Pollard’s Boston Spaceships, I made a new friend in Spaceships drummer John Moen. (John’s main gig is handling the skins for the Decemberists.) We were talking about various venues and dressing rooms when he introduced me to a new term: “fluffy.” As in, “Was the dressing room fluffy, meaning nice and accommodating to the artist’s needs?” The backstage accommodations on that tour ran the gamut from luxurious and very nice to downright stanky and nasty. Rock ‘n’ roll dressing rooms on the punk-rock, Frank Riley circuit are notoriously bad, the missing ingredient usually being the private bathroom exclusively for the performers. This inevitably leads to gangs of men peeing into any handy receptacle, be it a huge trashcan/piss bucket and various cups and bottles—or, if there’s a door handy, a nice patch of grass or a dumpster in the alley.

I was a bit envious when I visited John backstage at the Decemberists’ show at L.A.’s Wiltern Theater last fall. Not only were there dressing rooms, showers and bathrooms galore, I couldn’t help but notice the wardrobe case on display in the main room. Hmm, what shall I wear tonight? Maybe that shirt, which would go great with that pair of trousers! No more Motel 6 ironing boards or wrinkled shirts hanging on the seatbelt in the van that everyone knocks down when they get in—man, this is fluffy living! As I prepare to go out on tour this spring with the Tommy Keene Group, I’m sure I’ll run into some fluffy and unfluffy dressing rooms. If only I could borrow that wardrobe case.

“Big O Gets An Earful” from Boston Spaceships’ upcoming The Planets Are Blasted (download here):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/BigOGetsAnEarful.mp3

From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Led Zeppelin, Laurel Race Track, 1969

tommy-keenelogo150frTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.

led_zeppelin366Keene: I was extremely lucky as a kid, as my dad would take my brother Bobby and me to rock concerts. After the first one, which was the Dave Clark Five (whom he liked), he would just drop us off and pick us up. The shows were quite often on school nights, so it would be the old, “Meet me here at 11:00 after the show’s over.” In May 1969, I was introduced to Led Zeppelin. I’d never heard anything like them—they sounded like a rock band from Pluto. About a month later, we saw an ad in the paper for a two-night festival at Maryland’s Laurel Race Track, situated about halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The first night featured Led Zeppelin, Johnny Winter, Jethro Tull, Al Kooper, the Edwin Hawkins Singers and blues guitarist Buddy Guy. After an impassioned plea to Dad, we got the thumbs-up to go. The night of the show, my brother and I and my friend from down the street got dressed up in our little jackets and ties—this was a concert, remember—and got dropped off outside the track. What none of us had bothered to figure out was that this show started at 8 p.m. and had six acts on the bill, with Zeppelin going on last. It certainly wasn’t going to be over by 11:00!

We found our way to our seats, which were actually wooden folding chairs in the middle of the track on the grass. About halfway through the show, there was an announcement that anyone in the back seats could move closer to the stage, so we moved from Row L in Section C to about Row D in Section B. My dad, of course, had made it a point to write down our exact section and seat numbers prior to the show. (More on that in a second.) The crowd itself was something we weren’t prepared for. This was the summer of Woodstock, and various long-haired freaks and topless chicks were running around crazed and stoned out of their minds. We must have looked ridiculous: three kids, age 10, 11 and 13, with our little outfits. I distinctly remember some hippie dude coming up to me and offering me a hit of acid. Er, no thanks, man. Zeppelin came on about 1 a.m., and we were having such a great time we hadn’t thought about Dad or anything else, although if he had wanted to find us, especially after we moved seats, he was out of luck—there had to have been more than 10,000 people there. Zeppelin were loud, snarling and unbelievable. They started off with “We’re Gonna Groove,” which I didn’t know at the time, and went straight into “I Can’t Quit You Babe.” After “Dazed And Confused,” Robert Plant told the crowd, “Here’s a new one off the next album. It’s called ‘What Is And What Should Never Be.’” I’ll never forget that moment.

We were in our ultimate rock bliss when my brother left to go to the bathroom. Bad move! Dad, true to his word, had shown up outside around 11:00, and after we didn’t materialize, he persuaded the guys at the gate to let him in to look for us. Imagine what he saw walking into that place. (The one funny thing I remember him laughing about, but not at the time, was a guy passed out under the tap of the beer truck as the liquid kept pouring into his face.) As my brother came out of the men’s room, a hand grabbed him by the neck, and it was all over! He came back to the seats and said, “Dad’s pissed off as shit and we gotta go now!” It was past 2 a.m., but I said, “They’ve just started ‘How Many More Times’!” I remember watching John Bonham’s drum solo from the side of the crowd as we were angrily marched out. We were yelled at the entire way home, as it seems my friend’s parents had been on the phone to my mom and were threatening to call the police: “Where is our son?” The last thing my dad said to us as we got home was, “I don’t care if the Beatles are playing up the street, you’re never going to another rock concert again!” Two months later, the Byrds were playing downtown. “Hey, Dad, what do you think?” “Oh, all right, just keep those grades up!”

Led Zeppelin’s “What Is And What Should Never Be”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/WhatIsAndWhatShouldNeverBe.mp3

From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Silverhead

tommy-keenelogo118ebTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.

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Keene: I saw Deep Purple at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 1973 on the Machine Head tour, right after their seminal live album Made In Japan. We didn’t know who the opening act was, but some British guy came out onstage and offered a rather pompous introduction: “Are you ready for a really great band with some really great vibes?” Out sprang an androgynous-looking singer; all glittered up, he proceeded to remark about the lovely chandeliers on the ceiling and how they were really gassed to play D.C. It was their first American show, in the city where, as he reminded us, the Beatles played their first U.S. gig. The band was Silverhead, a British boogie-glam outfit that would release two ignored records but would later be known as the group led by Michael Des Barres, future husband of supergroupie Pamela (who later wrote infamous tell-all I’m With The Band). The show was unremarkable, but I couldn’t resist picking up their self-titled debut LP the next day. To my surprise, it was a catchy, rocking affair with great guitars and hilariously over-the-top vocals and lyrics. It was like watching Waiting For Guffman; you’re mildly amused at first, but after repeated viewings/listens, it keeps getting better. Another album, 16 And Savaged, led to the ultimate Big In Japan status but never translated to Europe or the States.

Des Barres went on to fill in for Robert Palmer when he bailed on the Power Station tour, and he’s had a steady career in TV, notably as Heather Locklear’s boss on Melrose Place. (He also played the restaurant host who employed the valet with the bad B.O. on the classic Seinfeld episode.) Bassist Nigel Harrison handled the same duties in Blondie, starting with their breakout record, Parallel Lines.

Silverhead circa ’74 on YouTube after the jump.

Continue reading “From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Silverhead”

From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Baldwin Fun Machine

tommy-keenelogo150frTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.

organ440Keene: At a Palm Springs consignment store a few years ago, I came across a Baldwin Fun Machine, an old, tacky-looking keyboard that was priced at $125. It turned out to be the best $125 I’ve ever spent. With push-button controls, you can dial up all kinds of cheesy sounds like flute, banjo and vibraharp. The main keyboard has three octaves, with a separate octave for bass and percussion. Dig these samples you can whip up: Foxtrot, Swing, Country (real, I suppose), Pop Rock and the best, Soul Rock! Every time I sit down and turn it on and start playing, an idea seems to form for a song. It might be a full-fledged number or an idea for a Bob Pollard intro tape, but I always seem to get something out of it. Songs that have sprung from one of the these sessions include “Texas Tower # 4” from Crashing The Ether; “Late Bright,” the opening track from my new record In The Late Bright; and “Lost Upon Us” from the Keene Brothers’ Blues And Boogie Shoes. (On the latter, that’s the Soul Rock button you hear at the beginning.)

The Keene Brothers’ “Lost Upon Us” from Blues And Boogie Shoes:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/LostUponUs.mp3

From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: “Dark Shadows”

tommy-keenelogo150frTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.

barnabas375Keene: Like many kids in the late ‘60s, I would run home from elementary school to catch soap-opera phenomenon Dark Shadows. A daytime serial that combined horror (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man) and classic Gothic fiction (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Taming Of The Shrew), Dark Shadows, for a time, was as popular as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Laugh-In. Sociologists said the audience comprised mostly kids, housewives and college students who allegedly dropped acid before they tuned in. The major plotline consisted of a certain reluctant vampire, Barnabas Collins, who initially was quite an evil character. He found an empathetic doctor, Julia Hoffman, who fell in love with him and was forever trying to cure him of his vampirism amidst various stories of time travel and entanglements with villains and witches. One of the latter, Angelique, when spurned, placed the dreaded vampire curse on Barnabas for eternity.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 1988, I found that my local video store carried the episodes on VHS, which I would rent and then tape. (All of the episodes are now available on DVD.) I can’t really explain my fascination with the show—certainly nostalgia about my youth plays a big part—but I find the characters to be especially endearing and the plotlines endlessly engaging. There are 1,250 22-minute episodes that I’ve watched at least 10 times each; it’s like having a repertory theater company that plays over and over in my living room. Johnny Depp, a noted Barnabas fan, is currently involved in a Dark Shadows feature-film project. (He’ll play Barnabas.) Word has it that Tim Burton is also attached; let’s hope he tones down some of his heavy-handed cartoon tendencies and remains loyal to what we Dark Shadows enthusiasts find so lovable about the show.

YouTube clips after the jump.

Continue reading “From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: “Dark Shadows””

From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Sparks

tommy-keenelogo118ebTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.

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Keene: I remember seeing Sparks on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert one night in the ‘70s and instantly focusing in on the keyboard player. He was dressed as a prototypical nerd—button-down white shirt, bowtie and glasses—but the most curious thing about him was that he had a Hitler mustache. What the hell? That was my introduction to Sparks, fronted by the Mael Brothers, Ron and Russell, a pair of L.A. natives transplanted to the U.K. after finding overnight stardom there. I rushed out to the record store and bought Kimono My House, their third album that opened the floodgates to continuing acclaim across the pond and varying degrees of indifference to this day in the States. Their sound can best be described as glam rock complete with driving guitars, thumping beats and operatic vocals served over an endless supply of hilarious tongue-in-cheek lyrics supplied by Ron, main songwriter and that keyboard player, while brother Russell, the consummate frontman, handles the vocals.

On this past Valentine’s Day, the Brothers Mael performed their new album, Exotic Creatures Of The Deep, in its entirety, as well Kimono My House from start to finish before returning for a smorgasbord of other nuggets from their canon of 21 albums as encores. With perfect sound, a top-notch young band (including Steve McDonald from Redd Kross on bass), I felt like I was transplanted back to the Fillmore East as a psychedelic light show flashed on the back scrim.

“Good Morning” from Exotic Creatures Of The Deep:

Tommy Keene Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape And Gives You A Free MP3 To Download

tommykeen540On the title track of his new In The Late Bright (Second Motion), singer/songwriter Tommy Keene claims, “The nighttime world has lost its appeal.” Don’t get the idea, though, that this notorious night owl likes to turn in early with a good book; he just tends to chill in his L.A. abode rather than go clubbing. “Remember when you were young, you wanted to go out because you might miss something?” he asks. “Well, I’m sort of over that. I’d rather sit at home and make my own fun.” Like create a MAGNET mix of his favorite tunes to get you in a “late bright” mood.

Keene—a genuine power-pop legend responsible for 1984 classic Places That Are Gone and subsequently employed by Paul Westerberg and Robert Pollard and admired by the likes of Jeff Tweedy and Pete Buck—will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week.

Continue reading “Tommy Keene Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape And Gives You A Free MP3 To Download”

From The Desk Of Ben Lee: Gabriella Cihomsky

benleealogo750news118d“No guilt, all pleasure,” sings Ben Lee on his forthcoming album, The Rebirth Of Venus (due April 28 on New West). Lately, the 30-year-old Australian singer/songwriter has been on a mission to deliver radio-ready pop songs for the rest of us, mixing up hooks and politics and letting it all hang out. Shortly before he appeared on Jay Leno last week, Lee did a Q&A with MAGNET on the topics of Venus, his recent marriage to Ione Skye and the “mistake-pop” of his past and future.

As guest editor of magnetmagazine.com this week, the world’s most enlightened pop star shares thoughts about his latest revelations—from music to monkey gods.

gabriella360bLee: I’ve been working with Gabriella Cihomsky, a 15-year-old Carlsbad native, on her debut album for the last few months. She’s a young pianist/songwriter in the vein of Carole King and can already write a song that will make you cry. I’ve been co-producing her album, and it’s just been so inspiring to watch her develop and to turn her on to records that are shaping her world. One day I played her Harry Nilsson’s (version of Randy Newman’s) “Short People,” Nico’s “These Days” and some Stereolab. I watched her eyes light up the way mine did as a kid hearing music that blew my mind. But the cool thing is, she already gets it. Music is second nature to her, and I really think her record is gonna turn a lot of people on. She has a ’60s Burt Bacharach/Laura Nyro vibe mixed with love of grooves and weird sounds. And her songs just kill. I’m constantly in awe of her talent.

“Your Dance Floor” from 2007’s Sweet EP:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/YourDanceFloor.mp3

This concludes “Ben Lee Week” here at magnetmagazine.com. Thanks to Ben for writing about some really thought-provoking and fun stuff. Go to the store and buy all his records and The Rebirth Of Venus when it comes out April 28.

From The Desk Of Ben Lee: Christopher Isherwood

benleealogo750news118d“No guilt, all pleasure,” sings Ben Lee on his forthcoming album, The Rebirth Of Venus (due April 28 on New West). Lately, the 30-year-old Australian singer/songwriter has been on a mission to deliver radio-ready pop songs for the rest of us, mixing up hooks and politics and letting it all hang out. Shortly before he appeared on Jay Leno last week, Lee did a Q&A with MAGNET on the topics of Venus, his recent marriage to Ione Skye and the “mistake-pop” of his past and future.

As guest editor of magnetmagazine.com this week, the world’s most enlightened pop star shares thoughts about his latest revelations—from music to monkey gods.

isherwood350Lee: Christopher Isherwood was a wonderful British writer from the ’40s and ’50s who is most famous for the short story “I Am A Camera” (from his Berlin Stories collection), in which he introduced the world to the character of Sally Bowles, the blueprint for Cabaret and even Holly Golightly from Breakfast At Tiffany’s. All of his stories are fantastic. They’re descriptive and insightful but also incredibly sensitive. Two of my favorite works by him are his novels A Single Man and My Guru And His Disciple. He moved to Los Angeles in the ’50s and became a disciple of the guru Swami Prabhavananda. One of his great accomplishments was he managed to write about spirituality in a very articulate and non-mushy way. Whether writing about vows of abstinence in Hollywood or the decadence of Nazi Germany, he always managed to hit a very human, wildly intelligent and compassionate tone.