Monday, December 9, 2013

Queen of Wootube Needs Your Votes to Keep Tiara!

Back in college in California I was asked to sing in a musical about the Kent State shootings (the same incident Neil Young based his song "Ohio" on). Also singing was talented girl with a bluesy voice and a sassy attitude. We got to be friends and started singing at campus coffeehouses together. Fast forward a few decades: I am once again singing in coffeehouses, but now based in Boston, and working on the companion "songtrack" CD to the novel I am slowly writing. There's a torch song that could use a bluesy female vocal. I am paging through my Occidental College magazine's alumni notes, and a name catches my eye - Rebecca Lynch, the girl with the bluesy voice and sassy a. And she's now living in Massachusetts, just west of Boston, and still singing the blues. I tracked her down, we caught up over Indian food, and I lured her into the studio and said "Sing!" The resulting track, "Same Heart Twice", is one of the highlights of the Songs from Next Big Thing album.

Local filmmaker Cindy McKeown caught it on video, and I'm happy to say "Same Heart Twice" was voted Video of the Month on Wootube, Worcester Channel 3's local music program, and is now up for Video of the Year. We would love it if you would click here and vote for "Same Heart Twice" (it's the last video on the list, voting ends January 16 at 9 AM, and you can vote once from each device/IP you use) so Becky can remain Queen of Wootube and keep her tiara. Thanks!

ps - "Same Heart Twice" and the Songs from Next Big Thing album are also available from iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby, and better yet, come free when you buy the book!

pss - You can hear Rebecca sing with her bands Becky and the Hitmen and Soul Flyer, both of which also feature Brice Buchanan and John Coffey from the "Same Heart Twice" video. Brice was also the lead guitarist of my '80s band Loose Ties. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ten '80s Boston Bands That Mattered (And Still Do)

Mission of Burma

When my band Loose Ties moved to Boston in 1981, we found a stunning array of local music waiting for us. Here's a list of some of the bands I think had a significant impact on the '80s Boston scene. For the purpose of this list, I'm leaving off the acts who were already nationally known (i.e., the Cars, Aerosmith, Geils, Jonathan Richman, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters). I'm also leaving off some faves who never made it big despite making some great music (The Wages, Sensible Shoes, Half a Care, Ata-tat, Class Action, The Rafters, Relentless Cookout and, um, Loose Ties…). Here we go:

Human Sexual Response  Who doesn't want to be Jackie Onassis? HSR featured a solid punkish rhythm section and four singer/interpretive actors, including lead voice Larry Bangor. Their gigs were a riot, and often unique (witness the Halloween glow-in-the-dark skeleton outfits), but their antics didn't always translate to record, and their more serious art-rock side confused the folks who thought they were getting the next B52s. Bangor and the rhythm section went on to form the Zulus (who had to change names - twice - for legal reasons).

Mission of Burma  Boston's pioneers of loud, assaultive, raw nerve-jangling sound. Live, they were like a freight train going by, but their records had layers of complex interplay. Roger Miller went on to form Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, just as sonically inventive but with a lighter touch, and drummer Peter Prescott went on to form Volcano Suns.

Til Tuesday  Aimee Mann's follow-up band to the punkier Young Snakes, Til Tuesday was a disciplined synth pop/rock ensemble, no extended guitar solos, just song after song of Nu Wave hooks and unsmiling attitude. After winning the '83 Rumble, they were signed to Epic and released a great single and video ("Voices Carry") and a fine sophomore album (Welcome Home). Loose Ties opened for them a number of times, so we can attest that at least guitarist Robert Holmes occasionally smiled offstage.

Berlin Airlift / Rick Berlin the Movie  Berlin was already a scene veteran when he founded the Airlift, having fronted the art-rock Orchestra Luna in the '70s. Berlin Airlift had a heavy, dense sound (think Bowie's Berlin period) that underscored Berlin's dramatic (but natural) presentation. Their best songs were like archetypes (quick, think of a better title for a punk love song than "I Hate Everything But You") but their androgyny might have kept record companies away in the age of Reagan. The mid-80s Rick Berlin The Movie was funkier, with singer Julie Wood adding fire, and late great guitarist Steven Paul Perry stepping out front for a song or two each set. Berlin is still going strong with the Nickel and Dime Band, and new songs that are just as anthemic ("We're not getting off the stage!" he sang at the recent Let's Go to the Rat film benefit).

Push Push  Dennis Brennan was also a scene vet by the time he founded Push Push in the early '80s, after being frontman for the soul-influenced Martells. Push Push was more of an edgy power pop machine, with great players (Adam Steinberg on lead, Jay Feinstein on bass, and also a great songwriter, David Birmingham on drums) and songs that were both melodic and punchy. They rounded out their sets with cool covers ("Making Plans for Nigel," the Box Tops' "Cry Like a Baby") and the only downside to seeing them live was that your date always ended up wanting Dennis more than you. Push Push came close - a development deal with Capitol - but never quite landed a record contract - so they released two albums locally, both called Can't Wait (which I'm still waiting for on CD). Dennis is still singing, very well, every Wednesday at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge.

Throwing Muses  I saw Throwing Muses at one of their first gigs, at Chet's Last Call, a hockey bar overlooking the Boston Garden. Kristin Hersh's singing was unlike anything I've heard before or since, compellingly sincere but with weird melodic leaps at unexpected places. I bought their cassette, which included a country song written by their dad. The Muses released a number of albums on 4 AD before Tanya Donelly left to form Belly.

The Schemers  Formed in Rhode Island, The Schemers became known for such guitar-driven radio-friendly hits as "I Want Some Fun" and "Nothin's Shakin' in the Valley of Love," combining Beatles-y riffs with 'we're not gonna take it' vocals. They won the Rumble in 1984, and played throughout New England until their break-up in 1987. Guitarists Mark Cutler and Emerson Torrey went on to the more sonically adventurous Raindogs, who released two albums on Atco/Atlantic in the late 1980s. Cutler performs today both solo and with a band, and The Schemers reunite for special occasions, like the recent Let's Go to the Rat movie benefit.

The I-Tones  How did Boston end up with a bona fide reggae band? Credit Jamaican-born guitarist Chris Wilson, who went on to run reggae label Heartbeat Records. Their reggae cover of "Walk On By" was a staple on V66, Boston's short-lived music video channel, and they kept the Western Front in Cambridgeport in business for years.

The Atlantics  The Atlantics had already released a major label LP by 1980, but had their greatest success independently releasing a string of catchy singles in the early '80s including "Lonelyhearts" and "Pop Shivers." By this time they were a polished Nu Wave outfit (albeit one driven by Fred Pineau's crunching guitar) and they often headlined the Channel, Boston's largest club, tossing in treats like Gary Glitter's "Rock'n'Roll" to the faithful before splitting up in 1983. Guitarist/songwriter Tom Hauck, singer B. Wilkinson and drummer Paul Caruso also went on to form Ball & Pivot.

Knots and Crosses  Late in the '80s I happened to catch this band at Club III in Somerville. After a decade of more or less covering my ears at shows, I was pleasantly amazed to hear a band based around an acoustic guitar. With a rich sound and a phenomenal singer (Carol Noonan, as close to Sandy Denny as you can get on this side of the Atlantic), Knots and Crosses both revived the folk rock of the '60s and hinted at all the "unplugged" music about to come. Carol went on to release 3 albums on Rounder, and now runs the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Maine.

Honorable mentions:

The Neats
The Lyres
The Neighborhoods
November Group
Face to Face
Salem 66
Planet Street
Del Fuegos
Bim Skala Bim / Mighty Mighty Bosstones
John Lincoln Wright
Girls Night Out

Apologies if I left out your favorite '80s Boston band, and if so please make your case for them below!

Terry K

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ghosts of Kenmore Square

When the Rat went down to the wrecking ball, man, no one seemed to care
Those hard hat guys had no idea the Clash had once played there
They should have saved that dressing room wall, inch thick with graffiti
Every band that ever laid claim to R.O.C.K. City

Now some candy-ass four star hotel stands on that hallowed ground
On windy nights in the heating ducts you still can hear the sound
The Neats, the Lyres, the Neighborhoods kickin' out their dirty jams
As the restless crowd chants "one more song" at the stroke of 2 AM

            So dig out that leather jacket
            Comb back that silver hair
            Tonight we'll rock it one more time for the ghosts of Kenmore Square
            Tonight we'll rock it one more time for the ghosts of Kenmore Square

Now the tribes have all been scattered, the Deli Haus long gone
The punks have all got Starbucks cards and latest Android phones
But some of us still walk these streets, extend our middle finger
At anything called progress that keeps a band from singin'

            So dig out that leather jacket
            Comb back that silver hair
            Tonight we'll rock it one more time for the ghosts of Kenmore Square
            Tonight we'll rock it one more time for the ghosts of Kenmore Square
("Ghosts of Kenmore Square," (c) 2013 Terry Kitchen, from Songs from "Next Big Thing")

I've been thinking a lot about the Rat, and the '80s Boston rock scene, which are at the heart of "Next Big Thing," the novel I've been working on for the past few years (and is finally coming out this month). And I'm not the only one - Boston filmmaker Andrew Szava-Kovats is doing a documentary called Let's Go to the Rat!, and a bunch of us from the scene are doing a benefit concert for the film at Johnny D's, on Wednesday August 28. It will be my band Loose Ties' first official gig since 1988, and it's been fun listening to and re-learning our old songs (some of which are actually pretty good, not that I'm biased). Our drummer is even coming in from Michigan for it.
     It will also be fun to hear the other bands, all survivors of the scene - Rick Berlin, who's one of the local artists the book is dedicate to, old friends The Schemers, LIzzie Borden and the Axes, Men and Volts, and Jamie Shaler (plus some special guests). None of us got rich, but we all feel we were a part of something special. If you're in town, please come celebrate with us on Aug. 28. And keep your eyes open for Andrew's movie. And, oh yeah, buy the book (which comes with a bonus CD/download key -
      In the meantime, here's "Ghosts of Kenmore Square" -