John Watts is one of those rare gems in the music business – a singer/songwriter who continues to reinvent himself with each release and yet manages to retain his unique musical vision. Like any good art, his past releases still ‘feel’ contemporary even though they were created at another moment in time. Best of all, his musical output has continued to reach new heights with each album – he’s never released a bad full-length in a nearly forty year career. Whether he is operating under his own name or the Fischer-Z moniker, John Watts is undeniably the most under-rated artist to emerge from the Post-Punk/New Wave era of the late ‘70s.
Gather ‘round, my friends and let me introduce you to the absolute best cure for your blues: sugar. Well, “Sugar Sugar” to be more precise.
Yes, one spin of The Archies’ mega-hit “Sugar Sugar” can wipe away any negative vibe that is inhabiting your universe. Even if you aren’t a fan of ‘60s Bubblegum, you’ve probably heard this gloriously happy tune many times since it was released in 1969. Figuratively (and perhaps literally) the missing link between The Monkees and The Partridge Family, this slice of Pop love has been played millions of times all around the world, used in advertising and has been both praised and ridiculed by music fans everywhere. The fact that you still remember it today – regardless of your personal feelings – is testament to the power that “Sugar Sugar” has had on the listener.
An EXCLUSIVE interview with CHRIS COLLINGWOOD
When an artist attempts to alter their musical direction in even the slightest way, the final results are scrutinized by critics and hardcore fans alike. One of the few bands that were able to expand their artistic vision without losing their fan base was The Beatles. Since then, very few artists have been able to mature and grow without being lambasted on the internet by fans who felt betrayed by their beloved musical idols. Remember when Bob Dylan went electric in late 1965? One man yelled “Judas!” and the world spun off its axis. By the way, Dylan’s career recovered quite nicely, thank you! Even The Stranglers, one of the UK’s most popular Punk bands, was skewered once they became a bona-fide Pop/Rock outfit by the middle of the ‘80s. It would seem that their fan base wanted them to remain the scruffy, crabby crew they grew to loathe a decade before. So, what is an artist to do? Stay the same and lose fans because they don’t alter the formula, or alter the formula and lose fans because they didn’t stay the same? Chris Collingwood, he of Fountains Of Wayne (“Stacy’s Mom”) fame, has decided to do both – but with his new project, Look Park, he’s not in any danger of losing fans. At all.
Although it has been five years since Fountains Of Wayne released their last album, 2011’s SKY FULL OF HOLES, Collingwood has been working hard on mixing up his proven songwriting ‘formula’ and approaching the songs in new and more intimate ways. FOW bandmate Adam Schesinger has been busy with various projects, including the fab new Monkees album, but Chris has surprisingly kept a very low profile. One of the few times we’ve heard from him since 2011 was when he covered The Dream Academy’s “Life In A Northern Town” for the excellent ‘80s ‘tribute’ album HERE COMES THE REIGN AGAIN released in 2014. All the while, he has been working on new material and finally went into the studio with producer Mitchell Froom and recorded the most excellent LOOK PARK album. This ‘debut’ album is a collection of well-crafted songs that retain the melodic charm of FOW but takes Chris in new and exciting directions. One of producer Froom’s earliest claims to fame was his work with Crowded House, and Look Park travels a similar musical path as those albums from the Kiwi band led by Neil Finn. The album is filled with great melodic hooks, yes, but the album is warm and intimate. These are songs you fall in love with, and like true love, the album only gets better with time. The production is lush yet intimate and Collingwood approaches each track with a tenderness that was not as apparent as on his work with FOW. “Stars Of New York,” “Breezy,” “Minor Is The Lonely Key,” “You Can Come Round If You Want To,” and “Crash That Piano” are absolutely lovely without being maudlin or too mellow (not that either of those are bad things). Surprisingly, there is very little electric guitar on the album – acoustic guitar, piano and mellotron create an atmosphere that is inviting and melancholic. In essence, LOOK PARK is a beautiful piece of work. It is Pop and it is powerful – it’s just not Power Pop. Don’t fear, FOW fans, Chris has delivered the goods and they are glorious.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat to Chris Collingwood about the making of the LOOK PARK album and much more…
In a transaction closed on July 8, 2016, Alliance Entertainment Holding Corporation (“AEC”) has acquired from ANconnect, LLC (“ANC”) the ANC retail music assets and business, which includes vendor managed inventory accounts of Walmart and Best Buy.
AEC, the largest wholesale distributor of physical home entertainment audio, video and software in the United States and best-in-class distribution solutions, provides a high level of service in various disciplines including: mass merchant retail and wholesale distribution, consumer direct services, vendor managed inventory systems and independent music store fulfillment.
The transaction brings an expanded assortment of products to ANC customers, which includes product lines of CD, Vinyl, DVD, Blu-ray and electronic products from AEC’s current 480,000 in stock SKU base.
Many ANC employees will join the AEC team as part of the transition. In addition, physical product merchandising services for stores will continue to be provided by Anderson Merchandisers through a long term merchandising service contract, signed as part of the closing.
Following a short transitional period, distribution will operate from AEC’s Shepherdsville, KY 660,000 sq. ft. warehouse to realize expected synergies.
“ANC sells and merchandises some of the finest retailers in the United States, through brick and mortar and direct to customer websites” said Jeff Walker, CEO of AEC. “This transaction provides AEC with additional growth opportunity to continue servicing these retailers with a wide variety of product offerings and at the same time keep the high level of merchandising service Anderson provides, resulting in a winning solution for our new customers.”
Charlie Anderson, Chairman of both ANC and Anderson Merchandisers, said, “In a rapidly consolidating industry, this transaction for ANC results in the best possible outcome for our associates, as well as our customers. At Anderson Merchandisers, our close association with time sensitive entertainment product has presented the company with a unique growth opportunity for broad based brand representation in a dynamic industry.”
Alliance Entertainment Holding Corporation
AEC is the largest wholesale distributor of physical home entertainment audio and video software in the United States, selling to mass merchant retail brick and mortar stores, internet retailers, independent store owners and vendor managed services.
About ANconnect, LLC
ANconnect, LLC is a member of the Anderson Companies, and has led entertainment category success across North America. Anderson Merchandisers, LLC is an independent operating unit within Anderson Companies, and is a leading diversified retail services company across North America. Anderson Merchandisers will continue to perform in-store marketing and merchandising services for Alliance Entertainment
international sensation, steering the band away from their early Space Rock leanings towards an edgy Hard Rock sound. UFO became a force to be reckoned with, but by the end of 1978, he left the band. And to think he was barely into his twenties at this point. Schenker rejoined Scorpions right after leaving UFO, but soon realized he wanted to focus on his own thing. So he left – again – the following year. The Michael Schenker Group was his next project, although he moved away from the commercial sounds of his previous bands and embraced his experimental side. For the next thirty years, he focused on various other projects including a brief reunion with UFO, the McCauley-Schenker Group and other endeavors. By 2008, he was ready to embrace his illustrious Hard Rock past and formed Temple Of Rock. The band has had several line-up changes over the years but the most recent – and best – features Schenker joined by former Scorpions members Herman “ze German” Rarebell (drums) and Francis Bucholz (bass) plus guitarist/keyboardist Wayne Findlay and powerhouse vocalist Doogie White (Tank/La Paz/Rainbow/etc.). While on tour for their excellent 2015 sophomore studio album, Spirit On A Mission, the band was approached about recording their live show using a new technology called 3D Listening. The results can now be heard with the release of On A Mission: Live In Madrid. On this release, you can practically ‘feel’ the atmosphere of the venue even on the normal stereo mix of this recording. There’s even a version of the release that, with the correct audio equipment, will make it seem as if you are there in the audience enjoying Michael and the boys giving it their all on stage. The material during this scorching performance spans Schenker’s entire career including Scorpions, UFO and, of course, Temple Of Rock.
The resurgence of vinyl’s popularity has brought an excitement back to the music industry. The love and passion from vinyl collectors has never waned; however, there is a new generation that is fascinated and energized by the format. The amount of record stores that closed their doors in the ‘90s and ‘00s is staggering, yet there are more new record stores opening up and operating today than just a handful of years ago. Music fans are now bonding over their vinyl purchases again, and some bands are releasing albums and singles strictly on vinyl (and we have Record Store Day to thank for much of that). So, where does it go from here? Instead of waxing poetic and offering one man’s opinion, I decided to invite a few other folks to offer their thoughts on vinyl-related subjects. A special thanks to those that took the time to get involved in this virtual roundtable!
- HENRY PRIESTMAN (singer-songwriter/Yachts, The Christians, solo)
- THOM ZIMNY (filmmaker/Wings For Wheels, The Promise, etc.)
- KURT REIL (singer, songwriter, producer/The Gripweeds)
- ZEEK WEEKLING (aka BOB BURGER: singer, songwriter/The Weeklings)
- BILL KOPP (music journalist/Musocscribe, numerous liner notes)
- LANNIE FLOWERS (singer-songwriter/The Pengwins, solo)
- MICHAEL SIMMONS (singer, songwriter, producer/Sparklejets UK, The Yorktown Lads, etc.)
- DAVE RAYBURN (singer-songwriter/podcast host)
- PETER JACHIMIAK (Senior Lecturer in Media & Cultural Studies at the School of Media, University of South Wales)
- GARY FITCH (vinyl enthusiast)
- TIMOTHY BISHOP (podcast host)
Like Rock ‘n’ Roll in the ‘50s and the British Invasion of the ‘60s, Punk rock changed everything. It began as a musical movement in 1976, yet it became something much bigger. Punk infected every aspect of pop culture – from fashion to art. Punk became a badge of honor for the younger generation and a punchline to bad jokes told by their parents. Bands like Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, UK Subs, Buzzcocks and so many others climbed to the top of the charts in England and caused a stir around the world. The sudden rise of Punk inspired thousands upon thousands of amateur musicians to rise up and create a racket. It was a glorious thing. However, it is often forgotten that one particular British band was the first to release a single in England, the first to release an album, and the first to tour the U.S. If you guessed Sex Pistols, then you’d be wrong and should be sent to the back of the queue. The correct answer, if you paid attention to the title of this feature, was The Damned.
The Damned was formed by Brian James (guitar), Captain Sensible (bass), Rat Scabies (drums) and Dave Vanian (vocals). Uncompromising and entirely unpretentious, The Damned were great musicians out to have a good time. Armed with a load of great songs (mostly penned by James), The Damned became one of the most popular Punk outfits in the UK. Signed to Stiff Records, they beat all the other bands to the record shops with their “New Rose” single and Damned Damned Damned album. Their popularity and desire to have a good time didn’t mix well with the other serious, politically-charged Punk acts, and they were essentially ostracized from the ‘Punk Club’ by various legendary managers who felt The Damned were over-shadowing their own acts (i.e. The Clash and Sex Pistols). The band soldiered on, but James threw in the towel after the second album. With Sensible moving to guitar and the band switching gears musically, The Damned fought back with a string of singles and albums that expanded upon their musical roots while still retaining the Punk energy and attitude. Sadly, with so many line-up changes and musical detours along the way, they began to confuse all but their faithful followers. The most surprising thing is that the band’s desire to explore these new musical avenues is what made them BETTER than many of their contemporaries. It seemed to work for The Clash, but not so much for The Damned.
Now celebrating their 40th Anniversary, The Damned remain the most under-appreciated of all the original Punk bands. The current line-up of the band includes Vanian and Sensible, both of whom are still as charismatic and entertaining as they’ve ever been. However, it hasn’t always been easy for the band. From old record label contract issues that drove Rat and Captain apart, to a constant stream of great musicians who have come and gone, The Damned’s story is a long and convoluted one. THE DAMNED: DON’T YOU WISH THAT WE WERE DEAD is an absolutely brilliant documentary that sheds light on the band’s history and offers an inside look at a band that deserves far more attention than they have ever received. It doesn’t matter if you prefer “Neat Neat Neat,” “Smash It Up” or “Grimly Fiendish” – this revealing film by photographer/director Wes Orshoski (Lemmy: 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son Of A Bitch) is as honest and funny as any music documentary you’ll ever see. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be cursing the screen and wishing it was longer. It’s heart-breakingly sad and soul-stirringly joyful. Toss in some insight from contemporaries and fans like Fred Armison, Chrissie Hynde, Lemmy, Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode), Mick Jones (The Clash), Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Steve Diggle (Buzzcocks) and many others and you’ve got one of the best Damned documentaries you’ll have the pleasure of watching. See what I just did there?
ALICE IN HOLLYWOODLAND:
Although she is forever associated with the late ‘70s Los Angeles Punk scene, Alice Bag’s journey over the last forty years has taken her everywhere from East L.A. to Nicaragua and back again. To some, she remains the lead vocalist of The Bags, but there is far more to Alice Bag than a rare Punk single and an appearance in the documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization (as The Alice Bag Band). Her status as a legendary Punk pioneer led to a career as a highly respected educator, feminist activist, and author. Her critically acclaimed books Violence Girl (2011) and Pipe Bomb For The Soul (2015) have been warmly embraced by her longtime fans and those who were previously unfamiliar with her musical career. She has inspired generations of young girls and women with her outspoken and thoughtful views on feminism. While largely absent from the music scene over the years, Alice has taken the Punk esthetic and made a real difference in the lives of those she has inspired. She may not have sold millions of records over the years, but she has remained true to her cause, and in turn, made an impact that is still being felt.
Surprisingly, nearly forty years after she started her musical career, Alice Bag is finally releasing her very first full-length album. Anyone expecting Alice to dip back into the past and relive her glory days with The Bags will be sorely disappointed. Instead, Alice incorporates many of her musical influences into a cohesive collection of songs that range from edgy Garage/Punk nuggets to instantly hummable ‘60s pop gems. The raw, straightforward production adds a tense atmosphere to the recordings, allowing Alice’s emotions to run free. There is some darkness in her lyrics although they are far from hopeless – she allows the listener to fill in some of the blanks and react accordingly. However, the album is filled with wonderful melodies and inventive arrangements. At its core it is Punk, but only in spirit. Musically, it is a potpourri of influences reaching back to the ‘60s. Like any good album, Punk or not, it turns expectations into revelations. The album Alice Bag is a superb look at the modern world by someone who has seen it all. It is intelligent without being preachy and raw without losing its playful charm – a simple, heartfelt triumph that sounds better with each spin.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Alice Bag about her album and her music career…
The Detroit Rock ‘n’ Roll scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was unlike anything else happening in the world at the time. New York was certainly tough, but there was an artistic flair that added a touch of respectability to it. The West Coast scene certainly had its moments, although the hippy-dippy flower-power movement took away some of its thunder. But Detroit? It was a hotbed of unbridled energy, attitude, and bravado. While Motown was in many ways the soul of Detroit, the Rock ‘n’ Roll rumble in the streets was loud and often frightening. But it was also invigorating and electrifying. It was raw and pure. It was Garage Rock with the power of Punk and Metal (neither of which were musical genres at the time!) yet it could also be artsy like the East Coast, and hippy-dippy like San Francisco and L.A. It was a melting pot of attitudes and ideas. And it was where the Grande Ballroom was born.
Unlike any venue before or since, the Grande was not just a concert hall – it was a meeting place for creative minds, disenchanted youth and people of all race, class, and creed. It may have promoted shows by local and touring bands, yet it also embraced the sexual revolution, psychedelia, the drug culture, and, most importantly, freedom of expression. The club Detroit bands like MC5, The Stooges, The Frost, The Third Power and SRC were regulars, while The Who, Pink Floyd, B.B. King, Led Zeppelin and many other major bands would always play there while on tour. The Grande became THE venue to play for every major Rock band once they had already conquered the East and/or West Coast. For some, it was even more important! The Grande was the brainchild of Russ Gibb, who some remember as one of the instigators of the ‘Paul Is Dead’ hoax of the late ‘60s (or was it a hoax?). Along with controversial counter-culture figure John Sinclair, they turned an old 1920s dancehall into something truly mind-blowing. Although the Grande shut its doors more than four decades ago, it remains one of Rock’s most iconic venues.
The power and glory of the Grande Ballroom may be part of Detroit’s – and Rock ‘n’ Roll’s – history, yet the larger-than-life venue’s tale remained largely untold. Director Tony D’Annunzio has addressed that situation with Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story. An emotional rollercoaster-ride of a documentary, Louder Than Love opens up the doors of the Grande and allows the main players to tell their story with passion and honesty. This is not just a documentary about a Rock ‘n’ Roll venue; this is a film about how music and art can make a difference in the world. Alongside members of the Grande’s inner circle and Detroit icons (Russ Gibb, John Sinclair, MC5’s Wayne Kramer, Alice Cooper, The Amboy Dukes’ Ted Nugent), there are also interviews with legendary artists like Roger Daltrey (The Who), Lemmy (Hawkwind/Motorhead), B.B. King, Don Was and many others. This is a story that needed to be told and Louder Than Love is a triumph in every way.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with director Tony D’Annunzio and MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer about Louder Than Love and the Detroit Rock ‘n’ Roll scene…
Swedish trio Peter Björn and John have created a musical universe that is constantly evolving. However, they’ve managed to retain their unique charm that made them press darlings a decade ago with “Young Folks”. What many didn’t realize is that that hit’s parent album, Writer’s Block, was the trio’s third in a career that has seen them stretch the boundaries of Pop music. While Top 40 radio’s Pop guidelines are pretty rigid, Peter Morén, Björn Yttling and John Eriksson treat them like elastic rubber bands, bending and twisting those guidelines into new and exciting aural avenues. They’ve even managed to carve out musical careers outside of PB&J while never lowering the quality control level on the albums they record together. And can you believe they even collaborated with Canadian hip hopster Drake a handful of years before he became a musical sensation?
Breakin’ Point, their first album in five years, finds PB&J offering up a collection of songs that are so instantly lovable that you’ll swear you’ve been in love with them for years. Every track on the album is a potential hit single – the melodies leap out and grab hold on the first spin. Their songwriting is based in classic ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s Pop/Rock, but the production, arrangements and inventiveness is thoroughly modern if not outright forward-thinking. They’ve sidestepped the experimental moodiness of some of their past albums and embraced their more playful side. This isn’t an album that tries to revisit their past glories – it creates new ones.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to track down band member Peter Morén, who kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about Breakin’ Point, PB&J and more…