Hey, Hey, Heyman!

Hello all! Thought I would lead off this week with a little heads up about a new album from one of the best artists in all of power-pop and maybe music as a whole itself. Not only that, but a hell of a nice guy to boot. I recently had a chance to do an interview with Mr. Heyman and it was very fun talking about music with him. Not just his own, either, but his obscure desert-island faves as well.

Check out the review of his new album below and please pick his new disc up and give it a chance. Some of the best power pop around, in my humble opinion.

Anyways, here goes:

Richard X. Heyman – Actual Sighs
Turn-Up Records

A criminally overlooked melodic pop/rock auteur who usually only gains notice from the power pop underground, Heyman has had a much longer career than his cultish but impeccable reputation (creator of 5 of the greatest power pop CDs ever made, in my opinion) would suggest, a fact that comes into play in regards to this, Heyman’s latest CD release.

I’d like to say this is a new CD, and in a sense it is, but with a very interesting twist: for this CD Heyman has decided to resurrect his first 6-song EP Actual Size from 1986 and reissue it along with another fourteen songs recorded at the same time but unreleased until now. And, lest one think this is merely the twentieth anniversary celebration of that first EP, it is also in some ways a near 40 year anniversary celebration of his first musical forays.

A much sought-after drummer since his early teens in the mid-’60’s, Heyman began his career by playing for some of the hottest bands on the East Coast during that exciting decade (and beyond). Heyman also gained a wealth of valuable musical experience by backing up many musical legends as part of one of the most well-known backup bands on the East Coast. A CD comprised of stories about Heyman’s exploits with legendary musical figures would be a great buy at any price all on its’ own and maybe he will pursue that avenue sometime down the road. Heyman’s book “Boom Harangue” has some of these types of stories in it, but not enough for my taste. Time to write “Generation X. Heyman” as far as I am concerned. (Forward all royalites for the book title to my attorney, Richard!)

That he has managed to master a plethora of instruments in the intervening years and become a home-recording genius only adds to the immense musical shadow he manages to cast. By the late 70’s Heyman was plying his speedily improving guitar and songwriting technique in bands with fellow future stars like Tommy Keene. That it took almost another ten years for his first EP Actual Sighs shows Heyman’s devotion to his craft and not wanting any sub-par material to leak out.

Mixed back in the day by Ed Stasium, this EP-turned-epic-album has a cohesiveness which is more than just semi-surprising. Sure, all the songs were recorded at the same time so you expect a modicum of similar subject matter and musical ability, but all the cuts retain a brilliant freshness and a thematic parity that turns the album into more than just a cut-and-dried reissue project. It boggles my mind how undated these songs sound and how much they sound like some of the lo-fi pop that is all the rage today. All recorded in Heyman’s home studio, his living room. (And also the inspiration for another of Heyman’s great albums, titled ahem…..Living Room!)

I tried listening to the album before reading the liner notes just to test myself to see if I could pick out what was on the original release and what was left off. To my surprise, I couldn’t do it. I was sure I would be able to pick the wheat from the chaff but there is no chaff! What Heyman could have done (which would have rare and novel) would have been to let people listen to all the songs and compile six of their choosing for their own Actual Sighs EP. Though it would be criminal not to have all the songs, it would have more than illustrated the point that there is no filler on this album. Why he left any of these songs off of the orignal release is a mystery known only to Heyman, but thankfully he has corrected it and let these great tracks out into the sun after all these years.

Anyone into melodic pop on a par with Paul McCartney, Todd Rundgren and Emitt Rhodes will love this CD. Filled with sing-along melodies and hooks that burrow into your head like worms, this CD will no doubt become the CD you pop in your car stereo over the summer when you’re driving around looking cool. In fact, if I were to pick the first CD I’ve heard this year that could be classified as a great summer CD, this would be it. Pick it up and see for yourself.

Hoehn-ing In On Some Great Pop

I am back yet again to write about the best music ever created, if I do say so myself….and I do! I wrote this review about a recent reissue of forgotten Memphis power-popper Tommy Hoehn’s best album. With a new album by Paul McCartney not too far away thanks to a label owned by the very same people who help get me awake in the morning, I figured it was a perfect time to write about one of Sir Paul’s best students. So, here t’is:

Tommy Hoehn – Losing You To Sleep
Air Mail Records

Memphis has always reminded me a lot of New Orleans. Not only are both world-class cities with their own rich histories of influencing almost every aspect of the world’s culture from cuisine to art, but they both have a similar way of closely guarding their own, almost to a fault. Take, for example, New Orleans: there are stars from New Orleans that are worshipped like kings but are unknown, or long-forgotten, in almost every other place in the world. There are also plenty of other musicians who are virtual prisoners – so addicted to the way of life they are used to that they cannot succeed anywhere else no matter how hard they try because they simply do not, or cannot, fit in with the rest of the world and end up living in obscurity, despite their abundance of talent.

It is the same way in Memphis.

Though filled to the brim with people with more musical talent than they have a right to possess, there are also tons of the musically walking wounded – artists who should have, could have, had-it-but-lost-it, close-but-no-cigar careers – who just couldn’t conquer the hold (or curse) Memphis has on them.

Probably the biggest rock band from Memphis who should have made it but didn’t is the band Big Star featuring Chris Bell and Alex Chilton (formerly of hit band The Box Tops who had a monster song called The Letter). Influential to a host of ’80’s rockers but whose own albums sold hardly anything, the band remained a footnote in the history of rock until bands like the Replacements started namechecking them and covering their songs. Following up not far behind that legendary band in the Memphis obscurity sweepstakes is Tommy Hoehn, who has himself sang backup with Big Star (on Sisters/Lovers), and had been a vital part of the mid-70’s Memphis pop scene.

A master at McCartney-esque pop filtered through a Southern point of view, Hoehn was poised to break through big time in the mid-70’s when he was signed to London Records after the label caught wind of his first album, the enigmatic, self-released Space Break. Soon, he was hustled to New York City and given free reign to record his melodic but quirky love songs. The result was Losing You To Sleep, a weird little pop record that has a ton of Beatles and Big Star influences right down to it’s production. In this Air Mail Records version (a Japanese import) it is also paired with the EP that followed, I Do Love The Light, which is also an intriguing example of mid-70’s pop. Anyone checking out these albums and looking for the huge hooks of the Raspberries or Badfinger will come off a little confused as Hoehn’s hooks and clever wordplay sneak up on you only after repeated listening. But, when you do put the time in, you will be rewarded with the benefits of one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated pop records of all time.

Encouragingly, Hoehn is still recording today, often recently as a duo with fellow Memphis pop also-ran Van Duren who has also seen a career resurgence with an all-new solo album and reissues of his own older, overlooked Memphis masterpieces.

For his part, Hoehn deftly continues to make masterful pop and is a definite survivor who should never be counted out. Even though the classless inbreds who run radio might never notice him, I often hear his best work played on some cool satellite radio shows, webcasts, and Pandora. A truly cagey singer or band could take any one of the smartly-written tunes on this reissue (and any of his other albums) and probably get the hit record Hoehn deserved.

Anyone interested in McCartney’s ’70’s work and Todd Rundgren will find plenty to like on this wonderful reissue as the songs are all top notch with plenty of great performances. Killer Memphis pop, in a nutshell.

So, there you have it. There is a lot more to the story and maybe I’ll hit you with some additional info in the future (in the meantime, find the two albums Hoehn and Duren have done as a team, Blue Orange being the best of those) but for now, check out as much of the work as you can of the names I’ve dropped and I am sure they will provide you with many hours of fantastic music.

SCAFFOLD “Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall 1968” CD (el/ Cherry Red)

Review by P. Edwin Letcher

SCAFFOLD “Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall 1968” CD (el/ Cherry Red)… It was a swinging time for music in England in the ’60s. It was also a pretty cool era for comedy. Scaffold was a comedy trio that mixed a smattering of music with a whole bunch of funny bits. Paul McCartney’s brother Mike was in the group and that’s probably why Scaffold received a bit more notice than a lot of other comedy acts of their day. The liner notes mention the group being forever remembered for a novelty singalong called “Lily the Pink.” Unfortunately, that piece wasn’t part of the set they performed here. There is a jolly touch of whimsy in one of the rare musical accompaniment numbers, “Ten Whiskey Bottles,” in which the singer gets progressively smashed while guzzling hootch and progressively screws up the lyrics. While some of this is very funny, it requires an awful lot of undivided attention to get through the heavily accented banter. Fans of Monty Python, with the requisite patience to sit still for an hour in an otherwise quiet room and just listen, will be rewarded with some classic irreverent British humor.

The Return of Merseybeat

    Perhaps it was the most untimely demise of original dreamer Freddie Garrity.  But did I really neglect to mention when last we took the virtual Ferry cross the Mersey that none other than Frank Lee Sprague – yes, he the still-taller half of those supremely rooty-rockin’ Sprague Brothers (not to mention an authentic cousin of The Man Who Invented Sixties Music Himself, I kid you not!!) — has been very busy indeed “on the side,” helping keep the meaty, big and bouncy spirit of the M-Beat alive and very thriving here in Century 21?

I hardly would’ve believed it possible myself …UNTIL, that is, I heard for my own a deceptively, disarmingly charmful little disc called Cavern, and on it some of the best, most magnificently melodic p-o-p this side of your fave rave Searchers EP of yore.

And also, here I felt I was the only lad left on the block who thought a certain P. McCartney wrote many of his best songs EVER for….. Peter and Gordon.  But Frank Lee too has obviously been listening lots to “I Don’t Want To See You Again,” as well as to some of the more rough ‘n’ tumblest circa-’62 cellar sounds this side of The Big Three.  When not channeling a certain Jane Asher as muse, that is.   

Alas, the dank, sweaty, musty, subterraneanly homesick aura of those magic long-gone days and particularly nights beat again right there deep down in Frank Lee Sprague’s very own Cavern.   

Meet you there soon?    

“the perfect book for the advanced record collector” (Ear Candy)

One of the great things about collecting rock and roll music is that there is always an undiscovered gem lacking from your collection just waiting for you to discover. This year (2005) celebrates the 30th year that I have been such a music junkie. LOST IN THE GROOVES is a book that celebrates albums that fell through the cracks in the “classics” description. Included are albums that: might have sold well initially but are now pretty much ignored (“McCartney II”), works by artists that were not taken seriously at the time (Herman’s Hermits, etc), obscure artists of merit, and generally lost gems that demand reevaluation.

I had quite a few of the discs mentioned such as: “Muswell Hillbillies”, “No Dice”, “Klaatu”, “L.A. (Light Album)”, “McCartney II”, “Subterranean Jungle”, “Face Dances”, “Pacific Ocean Blue”, “Hillbilly Deluxe” – just to name a few. But, I found many more that I now need to hear! I only take issue with one entry: Pink Floyds’ “The Final Cut”. I bought it when it first came out and 20+ years later still say its crap!

I’ve already given LOST IN THE GROOVES several readings and, armed with a yellow highlighter, have made note of which albums I need to add to my collection. This is the perfect book for the advanced record collector/music fan! (Ronnie, Ear Candy)

“championing the underdog even when he turns out to be Paul McCartney” (Jambands)

… A month or two after I finished Kill Your Idols, I discovered another recent book, Lost in the Grooves (edited by Kim Cooper and David Smay), almost by accident. If upending the rock canon is a worthy goal, this book has the approach I like: positive, off center, championing the underdog even when he turns out to be Paul McCartney. The book is a series of capsule reviews of uncelebrated favorites, and although the pick with which I agree most, Spirit’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, isn’t all that obscure (it went gold, after all), more than half of the book is stuff I’ve never heard of at all. There’s a bit of the anti-canon thing – Jim O’Rourke writes that he’d rather hear about Sparks’s Propaganda than Pet Sounds, but, to balance that out, I can’t help being amused by O’Rourke’s comment that "Propaganda is the standard to which I hold myself and everything else." (Imaginary dialogue: "Well, Jeff, I guess A Ghost Is Born is shaping up pretty well. But it’s no Propaganda.")… (Patrick Buzby, Jambands.com)