Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sparks Drummer Project (8): Christi Haydon-Wilson!

Image result for christi haydon wilson1994's Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins was Sparks' first record in 6 years, and anticipation was high. The album was innovative, musically challenging but accessible, and altogether compelling, and a major hit in Germany and throughout Europe. Over time, it became THE album that grew on me most as time passed. Christi Haydon-Wilson played percussion with Sparks to support the album.

Christi was kind enough to talk about how she became a member of Sparks, and what Ron and Russell were up to in the years preceding the release of Gratuitous Sax, including the development of a film based on a Japanese anime comic book, Mai The Psychic Girl. Christi was the voice of Mai. We also talked about Cindy, the webseries Christi is co-producing with Larry Wilson, of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Adams Family fame. The website for Cindy is here and there's also a facebook page. Christi plays the fairy godmother "with issues," and is co-producing the series. And it's not too late to help the webseries air - there's a Kickstarter campaign in its last few days if you're considering a contribution. I am sure that even small amounts are very appreciated.

I am grateful to Christi for spending time talking with me and I hope you enjoy the interview.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Conversation with CJ Ramone!

I’d look over and see Johnny and Joey next to me, and I’d be saying to myself, “how did I get here?” And that was right up to my last days in the band. I still had that attitude.

Bassist CJ Ward was a member of the Ramones from 1989 to 1996, playing over 800 shows with fellow Ramones Joey (vocals), Johnny (guitar), and Marky (drums). CJ brought renewed energy and enthusiasm to the band, and played a big part in its longevity.

CJ was a huge fan of the Ramones, and joining the band was a dream come true. Hell, it’s EVERY fan’s dream come true! But CJ did it - and it was not without its challenges. Not only did he have to play well enough to meet the fans' high expectations; he was also replacing legendary Ramones' bassist Dee Dee Ramone, a punk icon and fan favorite.

CJ will release a new solo album, Last Chance To Dance, next month. The first single from the album, Understand Me?, can be heard here. If the album is anything like the single, we’ll have a treat on our hands in just a short time.

You can learn more about CJ and his current projects at his website and his Facebook page, and I also commend a 2009 interview with Mark Prindle that is well worth the read.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tommy Ramone And His Legacy - A Conversation with Ramones Tour Manager Monte A. Melnick!

"They had something going, and they stuck to it."

Monte A Melnick and Tommy Ramone
The Ramones were a raucous sort. They famously disliked each other, they traveled their entire career in a cramped van shuttling them from city to city, and their disparate personalities drew them further and further apart - even as the demands of their music required that they work together on an almost daily basis.

At the center of the storm was Monte A. Melnick, who was the Ramones' tour manager for 22 years - their entire career. Monte kept the operation running on time and made sure that, to the extent he could, the demanding touring schedule did not overwhelm the band.

Monte was a high school friend of Tommy Erdelyi, aka Tommy Ramone. Tommy was the original Ramones drummer and producer and was critical to the band's success. Tommy died of cancer on July 11, 2014. He was the last of the four original Ramones. Now they're all gone - three (Johnny, Joey, and Tommy) from cancer, and one (Dee Dee) from an overdose.

I love the Ramones. I saw them perform many times and met my wife in the mosh pit at one of their shows. As a drummer, I thought a lot over the years about Tommy's drum style and its importance to the Ramones sound, and Monte and I discussed this at length.  Monte, who is the 3D Theater and Audio Visual Supervisor at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, New York, is the author of On The Road With The Ramones, the definitive book on the band and their life on the road. You can learn more about (and order!) the book, which I love to read over and over, on Monte's Facebook page

I hope you enjoy our conversation about Tommy and the drumming style he created, the other Ramones drummers, and the Ramones' legacy. And a note of thanks to Monte A. Melnick for his generosity of time!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Conversation with Martin Gordon!

Kimono My House at 40: The Second In A Series

Boston 2007In this, the 40th anniversary year of the groundbreaking 1974 Sparks album Kimono My House, there was no question that I needed to talk with one Martin Gordon, who plays the brilliant and distinctive bass on that album.

We talked extensively about his time in Sparks, focusing on the great music that the band made when he was a member. Martin also provided a song-by-song analysis of each of the songs he performed with Sparks, entries from his personal diary detailing the rehearsal schedule for Kimono, and unique insight into Chris Townson, Sparks' "audition" drummer as they were forming the Kimono band. These follow the interview, along with rare photos and videos hand-selected by Martin for this project.

We also talked about the solo work that Martin has steadily released since 2003. If you have heard it, you know how good it is. If you haven't, give it a listen. It is brilliant, and well worth hearing. I highly recommend it.

Martin Gordon has had an accomplished career but I am not going to summarize his Wikipedia page here. Instead I suggest that you take the time to dabble on Martin’s website. It is a gem, full of information, inspiration, and history, all written with Martin's characteristic wit and insight that makes the site extremely addictive. I hope you’ll agree.  And best of all, you can easily find his music there.

I want to thank Martin for his generosity of time and energy, and I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sparks Drummer Project (7): Ronna Frank!

"We rehearsed in Ron and Russ's garage and their mother brought us lemonade"

Before there was Sparks, there was Halfnelson. And before there was Halfnelson, there was the Urban Renewal Project.

The Urban Renewal Project was Ron and Russell Mael's first serious attempt at creating a band. An important member of the Urban Renewal Project was Ms. Ronna Frank. She played with Ron and Russell Mael from 1964-1967, providing percussive background and appearing on the one known URP recording - Computer Girl, composed by Russell Mael.

Today, Ms. Frank remains active in music as a composer for films and stage. Ms. Frank's website is a great resource to learn about her current projects, which she discusses a bit in our conversation. And you can learn more about Urban Renewal Project here.

I am grateful that Ms. Frank found some time to answer a few questions - and provide some fantastic pictures from the old days! I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sparks (Guitarist) Project: Jim Wilson!

It was special every day for me, just being in London for a month, and the only thing to do was to play Sparks every night.

Jim Wilson had the opportunity to live every music fan’s dream. Jim is a huge fan of Sparks going back to the 1980s – like me, he was an early member of their international fan club – and back then, he never dreamed that one day he would be performing with them on a semi-regular basis. Jim has done a number of shows over the past decade with Sparks, but most significantly, Jim played lead guitar for Sparks’ 2008 “21X21” London spectacular at the Carling Academy Islington, where they played every one of their 21 albums over the course of 21 days.

This only touches on the breadth and depth of Jim’s career though. He played guitar in the acclaimed rock band Mother Superior for years, he has recorded with numerous musical icons, and along with drummer (and fellow 21X21 alum) Steve Nistor and Daniel Lanois, he is currently supporting Emmylou Harris on her Wrecking Ball tour.

He’s also an affable and down to earth guy, may I add, and most generous with his time in speaking with me about the revival of Mother Superior, some of his other projects, and of course, the 21X21 spectacular – an event that would not have been the same without one Jim Wilson.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sparks (and Electric Prunes) Project: James Lowe!

It's fun being able to do this stuff. That's the message.

James Lowe is the founder – and one of the key driving creative forces behind – the Electric Prunes. The Electric Prunes’ unique and immediately identifiable style of music – heavy emphasis on production values, grounded in but not beholden only to psychedelic-rock, and fastidious musical craftsmanship – reflect Lowe’s vision. The Prunes have been around in various incarnations since 1967; the critical constant throughout this history is James Lowe.

The Prunes have just released a fantastic new record entitled Was.  The CD, which can be purchased here, has no less than 15 songs, with no loss of vision, power, energy, or musical direction.

James Lowe is an affable man, appreciative of life's opportunities (he lives half a year in the Dominican Republic), and proud of his work with both the Electric Prunes and Sparks.  We talked about the new Electric Prunes’ CD, as well as Lowe’s experience as the engineer on the 1971 eponymous debut album by Sparks, and as the producer of that album's follow up, 1972's A Woofer In Tweeter’s Clothing.

I hope you enjoy reading this interview with James, who was so generous with his time – for which I am greatly appreciative.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sparks Drummer Project (6): Steve Nistor

It was easily the most challenging thing I've ever done musically - Steve Nistor.

This is the sixth in a series of articles about the individuals that have drummed for Sparks. The focus of this piece is the acclaimed Steve Nistor, who drummed with Sparks during their historic "21X21" undertaking in 2008, where they played all of their albums in succession over a period of 21 (not quite consecutive) nights. I was fortunate enough to have attended the first five of the shows; it was an unforgettable experience. Steve Nistor drummed for each of the shows that I saw, as well as almost every one of the others. Also accompanying Sparks leaders Ron and Russell Mael were guitarist Jim Wilson, Steve McDonald, and Marcus Blake on Bass. Steve's on-line rundown of each show can be found here, and is well worth the read.

Given the diversity of styles that Sparks explores in their music, the complex arrangements of the songs, and the breadth of material, such an undertaking requires versatility and serious musical chops. That's Steve Nistor. He has played with any number of bands, and along with Jim Wilson, is currently on the road supporting Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball tour.  

Steve's Facebook page can be found here.  Steve was most gracious with his time, particularly in light of his no doubt frenetic schedule in the midst of a major tour. I am very appreciative that Steve took the time to reflect on the 21x21 experience. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sparks Drummer Project (5): Dinky Diamond, 1974-1975 - As Remembered By His Peers

Kimono My House at 40: The First in a Series

Dinky Diamond played drums on Sparks albumsThis is the first of a series of planned articles commemorating the May, 1974 release of the seminal Sparks album Kimono My House. Kimono was the first of three Sparks albums to feature the great drummer Norman "Dinky" Diamond, the subject of this article.

Kimono My House put Sparks on the map. The two albums that followed, also considered classics, are Propaganda (1974), and Indiscreet (1975). On these albums, Dinky Diamond made an indelible contribution to Sparks history. He brought originality and an innate sense of how to incorporate the drums into the complex arrangements of Sparks' principal songwriter, Ron Mael - not an easy task. As I discuss below, Dinky Diamond went far to set the template for Sparks drumming.

Diamond, who was voted Drummer of the Year in a 1975 poll conducted by Premier Drums, tragically took his own life on September 10, 2004. He will be forever remembered by fellow Sparks drummers, by those who contributed to those classic Sparks records and other musical colleagues, and by the fans of his music. Here, in their words, are tributes and thoughts about the great Norman "Dinky" Diamond - including a few additional thoughts of my own at the end. 

These individuals took time from their busy schedules to make these contributions. Needless to say, I am truly grateful.