Friday, March 30, 2007

FBO: 'Bass Bank: Mike Levine'


In terms of blindly exaggerated sense of self importance, eternally moustached Mike Levine of Triumph deserves a special place in the Failed Bands of Oklahoma Bass Bank. The Canadian three-piece doesn't well wear over time -- their songs seem firmly stuck in the hard/pop rock shlock of the the mid '80s; Rolling Stone once called them "mutant hoseheads," and the bands two original members Mike and drummer Gil Moore eventually wrestled control from the one member (golden-haired guitarist/vocalist Rik Emmett) who made their only memorable songs ("Lay it On the Line," "Magic Power" etc). Best off, Mike -- the only member who didn't sing lead -- likes to take credit for it all, a la Manzarek of the Doors.

Apparently Mike, who often wore a hockey jersey on stage, had been playing for six months with Gil in a "hootchie cootchie" band when he felt enough was enough. "I checked my bass at the door. I said I was leaving unless he wanted to do something special. I said, 'Gil, there is a market for a special kind of band and I think we could do something cool.' We found Rik and away we went." If only more failed bands had thought of that.

Mike also claims that he produced "anything that says Triumph on it" even though it was frequently credited to an actual producer. Mike also claims that he -- the bass player -- picked whether Gil or Rik would sing a song. "Rik would sing the softer or wimpier stuff and Gil would sing the tougher stuff."

One wonders if Levine was behind the decision, in 1984, to (originally) release the album "Thunder Seven" on CD only -- at a time when very few listeners had CD players.

Rik has claimed the reason he left was a "lack of trust" of Gil and Mike, who insisted on joint songwriting credits of his songs, including classical guitar compositions.

It's worth repeating. Triumph is not a very good band. Gil describes their sound as the "cross of the Who and Emerson, Lake and Palmer" -- this is NOT an area that anyone needs to travel in. When Rik left the band, Levine engineered bringing in a faceless guitarist from Aldo Nova to replace him, and let a new keyboard player sing Rik's songs. Sales suffered, to the point of nonexistence in the USA.

Presently Rik is in the studio recording and has invited Gil (not Mike) to help out.

--> Mike Levine, we just want to thank you.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY

**From March 22 to April 5, FBO is celebrating the forgotten, overlooked, abused or under-utilized bass by noting a handful of bass players you should know about.**

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

FBO: 'Bass Bank: Steve P Harris'


In the movie Wild One, Marlon Brando’s character is asked ‘what are you rebelling against?’ and he replies ‘what’ve you got?’ You can imagine a similar mode of thought going on in the mind of Steve Harris, London-born bass player for Iron Maiden. He turned down a try-out of his beloved soccer team West Ham at 14 (‘they want you in bed early and all that stuff,’ he says), chose bass over guitar, formed a band, named the band Iron Maiden (from a torture contraption he saw in a movie) and started writing all their songs. For subject matter, Steve is consistent – replicating the sound of machine guns, replaying the Charge of the Light Brade in the Crimean War under his galloping bass line that the guitarists follow (‘The Trooper’), telling both sides of the American Indian wars (‘Run to the Hills’), creating instrumentals to sound like Genghis Khan. His 13-minute ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ may be the only ode to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 18th-century poem that takes longer to witness than reading the original.

Whatever anyone's 'got' that's supernatural, horrific or violent is up for grabs, Steve - like a wild one - will take them on.

What you may not know about Iron Maiden:

* Their first two albums (‘Iron Maiden’ – featuring the eponymous single on the eponymous album; we love that – and ‘Killers’) is more bar-chordy and rock’n’roll at times, with the lead singer Paul Di’Anno’s more Bon Scotty growl than the high-pitched wails of Bruce Dickinson. Paul left the band after ‘Killers’ in 1981 (for a solo career with highly questionable album covers). Steve was part of the reason. "It's like having Mussolini and Adolph Hitler run your band. Because it is [band manager] Rod Smallwood and Steve Harris and that's it. There can't be anyone else and my character is too strong for that so me an' Steve was always fighting".

* FBO Member Terry Waska is a huge fan (OK, you probably knew this). He explains why Steve Harris is one of his favorites: "Because he’s got that move where he puts his foot up on the monitor and points his bass at the audience like a gun. If only I had a cool move. I came up with one I called 'The Thermometer', but I think it kinda freaked people out."

--> Steve Harris, we just want to thank you.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY

**From March 22 to April 5, FBO is celebrating the forgotten, overlooked, abused or under-utilized bass by noting a handful of bass players you should know about.**

Monday, March 26, 2007

FBO: 'Bass Bank: John Deacon'


You could have a sporting event without Queen's anthems -- 'We Will Rock You,' 'We Are the Champions' or 'We Want to Break Free' (with the prompter showing the band in drag) -- but it wouldn't be any fun. Either way, you couldn't have Queen without John Deacon, the bass player.

A man of mystery, John Deacon -- the last one most think of when they think of Queen, which is usually often -- wrote their biggest song, 'Another One Bites the Dust' built off a deceptively catchy but barebone-simple bass line. He's equally understated D-D-D-DDD-A line that anchors the remarkable song 'Under Pressure' (with David Bowie) is likely the music world's greatest bass riff.

Not gay (he has six kids and a wife), John deserves extra praise for the lyrics of 'Bites the Dust' -- which appears to be the gayest song ever recorded. It also features the best first word in a song lyric OF ALL TIME: 'Steve.'

'Steve walks warily down the street.'

Read and re-read that line. It is impossible to think of a way to describe motion that is more clunky and offers less aesthetically pleasing cadence than 'warily.' It's hard to say, much less sing.

For a guy most people don't notice, he created:

1) a supergroup's most successful single
2) the world's best bass riff
3) the world's best opening lyric
4) the most deliberately self-sabotaging lyric in terms of cadence and awkwardness

John originally played guitar then 'switched over.'

--> John Deacon, we just want to thank you.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY

**From March 22 to April 5, FBO is celebrating the forgotten, overlooked, abused or under-utilized bass by noting a handful of bass players you should know about.**

Saturday, March 24, 2007

FBO: 'Bass Bank: Phil Chen'


The creeping octave rise up the bass neck -- the backbone of disco. We all secretly love it and know that, in the end, the best one you've ever heard is on Rod Stewart's 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?' Who did it, you wonder? A JAMAICAN. A Jamaican of Chinese ethnicity named Mr Phil Chen.

Phil Chen has had a busy career working with people, including work with Bob Marley, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards and the Eurythmics. When the Jim-less Doors searched for their identity, and reformed in 1973 as the Butts Band, they brought in a bass player -- finally! -- and got Phil Chen. He says finding a groove is something that can't be learned; it just 'oozes out.' Chen says, 'It's like when you meet a girl and you have something intangible, you don't have to talk.'

--> Phil Chen, we just want to thank you.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY

**From March 22 to April 5, FBO is celebrating the forgotten, overlooked, abused or under-utilized bass by noting a handful of bass players you should know about.**

Thursday, March 22, 2007

FBO: 'Bass Bank: Paul Simonon'


Not one bass player out there -- be it Bootsy, Flea or Geddy -- doesn't envy the Clash's Paul Simonon for immortalizing the oft-forgotten role of the four-string plucker on the cover of one of the rock world's greatest albums London Calling. That the shot immortalizes the last seconds of a bass player's best bass (Simonon would regret not using the back-up) can be forgiven -- that a bass, and a bass player (even a faceless one) gets such focus is something the FBO heartedly backs.

Akin to an often bass tradition, Simonon was taught bass by a guitarist (Mick Jones of the Clash), but obviously went way beyond the 'put your finger there' type bass playing, as he put the reggae backbone to many Clash songs. He grew up as a football hooligan in Brixton, London (he'd later write and sing 'Guns of Brixton' on London Calling). That brash background, not to mention his looks (apparently Playgirl magazine once called him the 'hunkiest man'), certainly went a long way to help the Clash cause.

The cover shot -- photographed by Pennie Smith at a 1979 show in New York -- actually features Joe Strummer faintly in the back ground, but the focus is purely on the soon-to-die bass. Simonon later explained,"The show had gone quite well,but for me inside, it just wasn't working well, so I suppose I took it out on the bass." Simonon still has the pieces.

The only other album that FBO HQ can think of that so prominently features a lone member on a cover that's not a 'front man' or principal songwriter is the Rolling Stones' Get Your Ya-Ya's Out, with drummer Charlie Watts jumping with guitars in hand and a drum-toting mule behind him. Both album covers in question easily rank in the Top 20 best covers of all time.

--> Paul Simonon, we just want to thank you.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY

**From March 22 to April 5, FBO is celebrating the forgotten, overlooked, abused or under-utilized bass by noting a handful of bass players you should know about.**

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

FBO: 'Launched! Two Weeks of the Bass'

Watching the Shins on Saturday Night Live recently, FBO Admin found it charming how disproportionately 'into' the fairly unimpactful rhythms the bass player was. Bending his knees on the quarter notes -- like Blondie's bass player used to do -- but with a bit more intensity, he was the only one moving onstage. The songs -- fairly whiny testaments to discontent -- are enwrapped in the lead singer, certainly not the bmm-bmm-baa-bmmm bass patterns. We applaud this man.

Often in indie rock -- aka college-grad white rock with no hopes of the Top 40 -- we see the bass as the most mistreated instrument. Bass players are often last-second additions, people who've never played before, content to just hit the half notes that the guitar player points out on the fretboard. In recent years, some indie bands -- White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Kills, Black Keys, many others -- have paid the ultimate diss to our four-stringed friend: by not including it. A trend both disturbing and wrong.

This week FBO launches 'Two Weeks of the Bass' (beginning March 22 and lasting through April 5) which will include every other day an overview a bass player of our past worth knowing.

In other news, the FBO's adopted Trabant has been spotted at several places in a press-garnering trip to Bulgaria. Check back in a couple days for a couple real-live Trabant photos.

FBO Admin
Mobile HQ -- Sofia, Bulgaria

FBO: 'Finding Trabant'

In 2006, the FBO adopted the East German TRABANT, a car originally intended to be a motorcycle and made of a 'cardboard-like' substance that, on occasion, rats like to eat. On a recent press-garnering trip to Bulgaria, FBO Admin spotted many chugging alongside BMWs, VWs and Mercedes Benz cars on Sofia's streets. This one was parked:

Now back to Bass Bi-Week...

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY

Sunday, March 11, 2007

FBO: 'Arcade Fire Takes America'

The New York Times have devoted more column inches to the new Arcade Fire album Neon Bible than a handful of civil wars. Twice their Arts section has talked up the (mostly) Montrealian band, and once the NYT magazine covered the Fire. New York magazine and New Yorker, meanwhile, put positive words in, and the Rolling Stone of indie rock Pitchfork ( called it 'large enough to take on the whole world.'

It will be easy for many of us to dismiss it on these grounds alone, but it's actually worth the attention.

Much of the reviews, and talk, however, will discuss the one-line from the song 'Windowsill' -- where the lyrics weave around the line 'I don't want to live in my father's house no more,' until the slightly voice-raised substitution that we know is coming: 'I don't want to live in America no more.' (The lead vocalist is a Texan who moved to Canada.) The line is unfortunate. It's a far more obvious, more direct line than the Fire normally go far, something more fitting of a far lesser band -- say Nickleback or the Dixie Chicks. Still, it's easy to imagine doting crowds waiting and breathlessly poising themselves to cheer it, as Dylan fans once instantly erupted when the memorized lyrics -- 'even the president of the Untied States must sometimes stand naked!' -- came up in a 1974 live recording of 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)' just after Richard Nixon's resignation.

The one-line bonanza of press is reminiscent of last year when the Rolling Stones got more press than a couple civil wars, a World Cup and a mudslide killing 260 people over their absolutely horrible song 'Sweet Neo Con,' which they thinly denied was about George W Bush. Everyone -- from CNN to to USA Today -- took the bait and discussed the political diss. (No one bothered to note that the light reggae with made-up-lyrics-at-the-mic was one of the worst recorded songs in the past three decades.)

So don't get to uppity over the press love. That the AF is overhyped, and discussed for a rather sophomoric slip on an otherwise remarkable album, is not necessarily their fault. Go with tracks 1, 2 and 10 for a 'sampler.' Then download beyond as you like.

The Failed Bands of Oklahoma gives the Arcade Fire a four-fingered high five.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY

* The Citizen-Kane Award is awarded to artistic output and travel destinations that meet their seemingly impossibly justified hype or acclaim. Italy, for example, has long earned its CKA for being a travel destination that constantly earns its stripes. The Arcade Fire win a tentative 'Citizen-Kane Award' for the next month.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

FBO: 'Releases Adopted Zones Map'

It's hard to keep track of the geographical entities that the FBO is adopting. Hence, this: the newly created FBO Adopted Zones Map. We'll update it here from time to time, but feel to print out and update on your own as new places are adopted in the months to come.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY

Monday, March 05, 2007

FBO: 'Locates New Slogan'

This is it:

'He who comes to us as a guest, let him come with no reservation.'

-- Aleksandr Nevksi, in Sergei Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevski (1938)

The 1938 black-and-white film is generally considered a propaganda film for the USSR, with the hero Nevski making the afore-mentioned dictum in a fiery, patriotic 'Russia lives!' speech. We can do without the rest, but find this sentiment neatly matching our own at the FBO. So previously banned states and bands can certainly find a home here if THEY ask to be here. It will be taken as an admission of guilt, and an apology. And an apology we accept.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY