New York Rocker - #14 - September 1978
Parallel Lines (Chrysalis)
Blondie is not a fun group and the age of innocence is over. True or False? I'm reviewing Side Two first because no side was indicated and I like Side Two better. True or False? Debbie Harry sings marvelously here because her voice was electronically altered in the studio and because people have become used to it. Well? It's the best new album since This Year's Model and one of the most inspiring records of the last five years. Clem Burke's drumming is about as solid as possible and he pushes the songs on towards victory. Jimmy Destri pops out as master songwriter with "11:59" and "Picture This." True or False? Debbie Harry has the exciting knack of altering her vocal style to fit th lyric and mood with impeccable brilliance. "Sunday Girl" is a beautiful home to Ellie Greenwhich without being nostaligic. "Heart Of Glass," formerly "Once I Had A Love," formerly "The Disco Song," is Kraftwerk cum Talking Heads and will not be a disco hit. A twelve-inch on red vinyl will not be issued. Buddy Holly's "I'm Gonna Love You Too" (via Buddy Knox, via the Hullabaloos) is a cheap exploitation of the Holly craze "sweeping" the nation. Fact or Fiction?
This album can give you chills and make you cry. True or False? The Holly song will be an American single and will flop. "Just Go Away" is a brilliant Debbie Harry composition, carried off masterfully. Who else could sing a song like this? The whole album is crystal clear and rock solid, placing the songs and vocals in the limelight. They past the test. Hmmm? "Hanging On the Telephone" is raw and energized, a perfectly updated version of the Nerves classic. There are a couple of boring songs on the album. Which ones, huh? "Picture This" is a perfect recording of an amazing song with "legendary" stamped all over it. A hit of monster proportions, and the best pop single since "Waterloo." Debbie Harry will make people forget Linda Ronstadt, Who?
Blondie will sell lotsa records. Blondie will be very rich. I am jealous. You are jealous. You don't care. We are not happy. Nobody is happy. You will run out and buy this record. You will rewrite the lyrics of these songs in bathrooms and on graffiti-streaked walls. My mother would not understand this record. I don't know what I'm talking about. Alan Freed died for rock and roll. Most of this is true, but some of it is very untrue. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is which. Won't you please help me?
by Alan Betrock.
NEW BOYS IN THE BAND
by Diane Harvey
NIGEL HARRISON (bass): A founding member of Silverhead, an ex-member of Ray Manzarek's Night City, Nigel toured the rock & roll world (U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia) several times with these bands, joined Blondie in the fall of 1977, and toured it all again on a six-month jaunt that included such exotic locales as Thailand. Nigel co-wrote "One Way Or Another" (from Parallel Lines) with Debbie Harry.
When was the first time you ever heard Blondie?
"Rodney Bingenheimer played 'X Offender' on his radio show. I loved it immediately. It had so much personality. I was in Night City then, and the first time they heard 'Look Good In Blue' they thought it was a commercial for Head & Shoulders shampoo!"
How did you come to join Blondie?
"I met them through my friend Toby Mamis, their publicist. Toby thought I'd be right for the band but felt odd about pulling me away from Ray Manzarek. I'd been with Ray since September of 1974 and he was very good to me. Ray and Night City are great musicians but they were basically 'White Negroes' and they had an idea of what they wanted to be that I couldn't relate to.
"I sort of met the Blondies in L.A. at the Whiskey, then met them officially when I flew into New York. I got in at 7 in the morning; it was cold and rainy. Peter Leeds (manager) called me and the band met and we all went down to this cold, damp, scuzzy rehearsal hall and I just threw myself into it."
You have the most professional experience of anyone in the band. How did you start playing?
"When I was about twelve, I decided to send away to a tacky catalog for a six-string lead guitar. I waited forever and when it finally arrived, it was a bass! At that point I decided it was cool to play bass.
"My first band was called The Musketeers. We all knew how to tune our instruments individually but we never realized that we had to be in tune with each other! I was in that and three other bands where we were carted around by the guitarist's father - like a mini-version of the Jam - before joining the Smokey Rice Blues Band, my first professional group. When that fell apart, I worked in factories and moved to London, to 19 Abbey Road, which I thought would be real rock & roll, but it was real boring.
"I used to wash dishes and search the ads in the back of Melody Maker. I called up about anything - 'Topless Go-Go Dancers for Zurich Wanted' - anything to get out! So there was this ad which was meant to read 'Erotic Relaxed Musicians Wanted' but read 'Erotic Relaxers Wanted.' So I called and subsequently joined Michael Des Barres and Silverhead.
"They gave me 25 pounds a week and I was extremely happy. Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice of Jesus Christ Superstar managed us for a month and then we went with Deep Purple's management and Purple Records. We did a first album in 1972 and toured the U.S. with Deep Purple.
"I was really quite naive when I first came to the U.S. In New York for the first time we met Stevie Marriott and went off to his hotel where he had sandwiches brought in on a gold tray and got us drunk and played us all these Humble Pie tapes. He gave us this whole show-biz rap and before we left he handed me this big jar of pills and said, 'Look, mate, when you're touring over here in the States you'll get such a rush from playing that you'll never be able to sleep. So take these.' So I had them for a while and then we were leaving to play in Washington. Like a fool, I thought there would be Customs between states, so I threw them all down the toilet. In Washington someone gave me a
qualude and I said, 'Oh no, I just threw a whole jar full of these away!'
"Anyway, Silverhead was together three years, we did five tours of America and toured Europe and Japan playing to as many as 25,000 people. It was the epitome of being in a rock band - we worked ourselves to death.
"We did a second album, 16 And Savaged, and then we all started to go over the top. Michael Des Barres was so into the fantasy of rock & roll that the idea of splitting the band up was part of it. We'd get stoned and think about how cool it would be to see the headline in Melody Maker, 'SILVERHEAD BREAKS UP!' We said 'Yes! Yes! and then like fools we did it. That was 1974.
"Our last gig was great. It was with the Dolls at the Santa Monica Civic. L.A. was buzzing then like never again."
So you were very close to two of the biggest movements in rock: the British pop explosion of the Sixties and the glitter days in L.A.
"I moved to L.A. during the glitter days after Silverhead broke up. I used to hang out on the Strip with Rodney and Kim Fowley and all these maniacs. But I grew up in a town called Stockport, near Manchester and Liverpool. It's almost Merseyland and I guess it's a fairly hip place. Freddie & the Dreamers and the Hollies came from there. I was lucky: I saw the Beatles at the Cavern. The Stones opening for the Ronnettes was more impressive, but it was seeing groups like the Who and Small faces when I was thirteen or fourteen that really made me want to play.
"I think I was a rocker. I used to wear blue jeans, a black and white striped shirt, leather jacket and Beatle boots."
How about your song on the new album?
"My song is sort of a weird movie theme, something I've had on tape for awhile. I played the music for the band and said 'Isn't this great?' and they fell for it. Debbie wrote the lyrics. It's hard for me to write lyrics. I've never felt confident enough to put something on paper and say, 'Look, this is me.' Nobody in this band was any problem with songs; if we followed through with everyone's ideas, we'd have a triple album!"
FRANK (The Freak) INFANTE (guitar): A veteran of such Jersey City bands as the Rogues and the End, Frank rose to the status of local legend with a band called World War III. This group lasted five years and brought Frank together with Clem Burke (also then in his third group, Sweet Revenge - so much for the myth of overnight success). WWIII made it as far out of Jersey City as Boston, where they played with Aerosmith at the Fenway Theater in 1971.
Frank joined Blondie shortly before Plastic Letters in the summer of '77, playing bass. With the arrival of Nigel Harrison, he's gone back to guitar. His song "I Don't Know" is a highlight of Parallel Lines; Frank sings and plays lead on the number, and contributes rhythm guitar and backing vocals to the whole album.
"Joining Blondie was such a surprise. Everything escalated so quickly - like travelling through space. We went around the world and I really didn't know what to expect.
"With Blondie everything is 'show business.' I was always against 'show business' but everything is 'show business.' But playing the guitar comes first. Everything else, like pictures and interviews, is secondary. Playing is a feeling, a lifestyle. I'm not a model and I don't want to take over the world. If you're lucky enough to be doing what you want and people like it, it's good.
"Rock & roll isn't music, it's an attitude. You can play the wrong note and it can be the right note... Some people are into making things sound bad. Once you get into art and philosophy and all that bullshit, people start smashing up pianos. I'm not into that. I mean, you break windows and feel good but what do you have left? You can work with a guitar."
Are there guitarists you admire or were influenced by?
"Keith Richards, Johnny Thunders, Peter Frampton, whoever it really is on the Sex Pistols records. I like straight-ahead rock, that feeling of power. Ultimately the thing is to get to a really primitive point, like the natives in Africa who just beat themselves into a trance, captured by the rhythm. Drums are the main thing.
"With music you can take the intellectual approach or the visceral approach. When I heard Emerson, Lake, & Palmer I know they don't feel that; they think it out. To me the whole sound is one long solo... Blondie uses both approaches. We play what we feel, then think about the sound we've made.
"If you're playing to a bad audience, it's like fighting a battle. There has to be some kind of communication - clapping, dancing, something on the part of the audience. They can't just sit and stare; that's when you know they're taking it on an intellectual level and it's not rock & roll anymore. They should go see a symphony.
" 'I Don't Know' came out whole. I just sat down with a tape recorder and started to say words and then I started to sing them and play guitar. What does it all mean? It doesn't mean anything but maybe it does mean something. It's a puzzle that doesn't fit, that is no whole. You take whatever you want out of it."
Do you think music is like that?
"Yes, I think music is really controlled chaos."
MIKE CHAPMAN: PRODUCER
by Harold Bronson
Producer Mike Chapman, once removed from his baronial digs in the hillier regions of Beverly Hills and ensconced in the recording studio, sheds his bemused candor for the adrenalized form of super ham. The studio becomes a circus with ringmaster/clown Chapman guiding the band through their moves, alternately evoking a program of 1930s movie scenes with everything from pirouetting ballet dancers to drunken Notre Dame hunchbacks.
"Recording for me has to be fun," says Chapman, "and this recording has to be most fun of all." We're at Whitney Studios in Glendale, to which Chapman has just returned after a grueling five weeks producing Blondie's new album. His current project, referred to as "Mike's New Group" or "Lips," groups four ace musicians - Jerry Donohue (ex-Fairport Convention), Gerry Conway (ex-Cat Stevens), Steve Goldstein (ex-Gary Wright), Rusty Buchanan (ex-Sugarloaf) with three glamorous girl singers - Lawless Smith, Sue Richman, Andrea Robinson. Varied, and incorporating jazz elements mostly by way of Goldstein's incredible piano playing, the presence of the girls was motivated not by Charlie's Angels but by Chapman's awareness of the success of Abba and Heart.
Originally getting his start as a lead singer of a London band, Tangerine Peel (who recorded three singles for U.K. MGM), Australian Mike teamed up with Nicky Chinn. They wrote songs together; Mike produced in the studio, Nicky made the deals, and the partnership scored big in the early '70s with Suzi Quatro, Sweet, Mud, and (a few years later) with Smokie.
Moving to Los Angeles three years ago, Chapman, until recently, had been frustrated by his lack of American hits. He had to realize that you can't make the same records for Europe and the US. This year he's increased his work load: "I was only home for two weeks the first six months of this year. I realized that if I wanted to make it here I'd have to work harder." So he's finished albums with Blondie, Exile, Smokie, Suzi Quatro, Rick Derringer, and recorded three songs with Nick Gilder - and that's in only six months!
Chapman, who rarely goes to concerts or clubs - and when he does, finds most acts boring -
caught Blondie at the Whisky. He was so invigorated by Blondie's "fresh, crazy, new music" that he went back the next two nights. "I was in hysterics every night," he says. "Sometime later I saw them again and heard they were looking for a producer, and I really wanted to work with them.
"I love their first LP; the arrangements and ideas were great, but it was badly put together. Initially I was nervous because I didn't know if I could better record what they'd done before, but still keep it fresh. It was a hard album to make because nobody was used to the discipline I require when I make an album. In the past they'd record and it'd be 'I guess that's okay.' It took lots of energy to get the tracks down and make them better than okay. I'm glad I did it."
Chapman also has a high regard for the vocals of Deborah Harry: "She's a much better singer than people think. Her pitching is exceptionally good. I don't think there was one time when she was singing out of tune."
Parallel Lines is described by Chapman as being more "polished, tight and varied" than the band's previous efforts... "It's a good light listening - that's what Blondie's all about." It also marks the first time Chinn-Chapman have failed to contribute a song to one of their projects. "The sort of success that Blondie requires has to come from within the group, from their songs, their attitude. I don't write Blondie-styled songs, and I wasn't gonna shove my songs down their throats."
The Rick Derringer album, If You Weren't So Romantic I'd Shoot You, started out with Chapman only requests to produce three sides: "I finished the three songs and was in Switzerland working with Smokie when they called me and asked me to finish the album. I told them that all I had was eight days and they said fine. I wanted to make the album, but not rushed, working very hard 20-hours-a-day sessions, which is how we did it. I really didn't have enough time to make it as well as I would have liked.
"I don't know if I'd have the time, but I'd love to make Rick's next album. I now understand his talent, and we could make the next one three times as good as this one. He's one of the best rock 'n'roll guitar players I've ever heard. Incredible!"
Nick Gilder was another project Mike had to abandon. Originally asked by Chrysalis president Terry Ellis to produce three songs, Mike had to bail out of the rest of the album, to be finished by his affable engineer/production assistant, Pete Coleman, who got his start in engineering Flamin' Groovies sessions when they first recorded in England in 1972.
All of this work has paid off for Chapman. As a songwriter he's had two hits apiece with Suzi Quatro ("If I Can't Give You Love," "The Race Is On"), two with Smokie ("For a Few Dollars More," "Oh Carol") and one with Exile ("Kiss You All Over"), already more hits than he had last year. And as a producer, with Exile's record and Gilder's "Hot Child in the City" racing up the charts, it appears that he's finally gotten the handle on hit records for the American market.
Exile, a Southern band whose pop/r&b sound recalls Player and Boz Scaggs, are celebrating the first fruits of success in a 15-year career. "At first I did them a lot of harm," Chapman admits of their three-year association. "Due to my insecurities, I tried to give them a Mike Chapman Sound - it didn't work; I fucked up their sound and screwed up their morale. I've learned a lot since then. We've worked with Exile's basic sound and greatly improved it."
Smokie, the number one teen band in Europe, have completed The Montreux Album. Lacking strings, the sound is more raw, approaching Smokie's live sound. It includes their last two hits ("Oh Carol" has sold a million), and their next single, the band-composed "Mexican Girl."
Suzi Quatro's new LP, If You Knew Suzi, finds her with a more mature image: "Suzi used to be typecast as the rock 'n' roll star, and everything she did was rock 'n' roll. From lots of exposure on Happy Days (as Pinky Tuscadaro), her cult rocker image contrasted with her family TV show acceptance. At the same time Suzi felt restricted by her previous image, by always having to be the rocker, so we've elected for a more diverse, pop sound." The new LP features songs by Suzi, Chinn-Chapman, and covers of the Kinks' "Tired of Waiting," Derringer's "Rock 'n' Roll Hoochie Koo," Tom Petty's "Breakdown" and Stevie Wright's "Evie." "Come to think of it," Mike contradicts, "there's more rock here than on her previous LP." (??)
Chapman admits to an enormous change as a producer from the time when he ruled England with the Sweet, Suzi and Mud. But the change is less one of a lifestyle than of perspective. "I'm making better records now. Before I was making records for the English market. Consequently I wasn't having hits here. Now I'm making records for the American market, which is more MOR-oriented. You see, I love MOR records. But if the American market changes, I'll change with it." Mike, whose favorite group was once the Easybeats, acknowledges his current favorites as Chris Rea's "Fool" and Foreigner's "Hot Blooded."
Unfortunately there wasn't much time to go more into detail on these and other subjects. The interview was squeezed into moments during the recording process. "I'll probably get home (from the studio) at three or four in the morning. I have to be up for a Suzi Quatro string session at nine. I'm mixing some of her tracks later that afternoon, and that evening we're back here working on basic tracks."
It's all in a day's work for Mike Chapman.
GETTING TO KNOW GARY VALENTINE
by John P. Browner
When we last heard from Gary Valentine (in NY ROCKER #11), he had just recorded his first solo single "The First One" b/w "Tomorrow Belongs To You" with the backing of the Mumps, and was searching L.A. for the right combination that would become his own band. In February of this year, Gary formed the Know with two other transplanted East Coasters: bassist Richard Dandrea (who hails from Long Island) and drummer Joel Turrisi (who was raised in Rhode Island). The single was released on Beat Records and, despite some distribution problems, reached the #8 spot on Record World's new wave chart. Gary tells his story this way:
The band was formed in the usual way of just meeting people around and finding you have musical tastes in common. I was working at the Roxy in L.A. and I started talking to Joel about what kind of music I liked. That was a few months before we really got together to play. When I heard his style - which was kind of jazzy - I really liked it. But what impressed me most was his ability to play in a lot of different styles. He hadn't had much experience with the simple pop stuff that I do but he adapted right away.
Richard was introduced to me by a mutual friend, Steve Zepeda, the publisher of L.A. Beat magazine. Richard had been with a band called the Motels. I was already playing with Joel at that time so Richard came to rehearse with us and it worked out. We first performed at the Whisky in March when the Mumps and the Quick were playing there. We had been together for about a month. When I heard that the Mumps were coming, I called (Mumps manager) Joseph Fleury in New York and asked if we could do a surprise set, just a few songs. So one Saturday, unannounced, we played six or seven songs before the Quick came on and got a rousing response that was pretty encouraging.
Since then we've played the Whisky quite a few times, most recently in June when we opened for David Johansen. We also played the Mabuhay in San Francisco a couple of times. I like the Whisky because it's comparatively large and you can see the band from wherever you are. People dance in front of the stage which adds a lot of excitement. I wish that happened more here. The only place that has it seems to be Hurrah.
Contrary to popular rumor, the people in Blondie and I are still good friends. We don't see each other that much these days because I'm based in L.A. at the moment, although I've seen Jimmy, Clem and Nigel quite a bit since I've been back. Chris wanted to jam with us when we played at Max's but we never made it down there.
I'm still tied up with the Blondie machine: publishing deals, contracts - I'm trying to wend my way through. So I'm still hooked up with them but not in a way that's restraining. They did my song, "Presence, Dear", on Plastic Letters and I own part of the publishing company so we're still involved in a business sense but we don't really talk about it. We haven't talked about it for a year or so.
We'd like to play in New York a few more times, get some press here, and the beginning of a following so that when we come back again people will remember and come to see us. We're going to go back to Los Angeles, play some gigs there, and then start recording something since my current single was done with other musicians. I want to have something released soon. We're ready to do an album right now.
Chrysalis and Sire have expressed interest but nothing concrete has occurred as yet. The single has gotten some airplay in L.A. especially on Rodney Bingenheimer's show. Actually it's been played more here. Meg Griffin of WNEW has been playing it a lot.
Chrysalis was interested in making some sort of publishing deal with me where they would give my material to the various artists on their roster but I was more interested in a recording deal so we didn't finalize anything.
I'm starting to get a little press about my songwriting which is pretty gratifying. People have started asking if they can use my stuff. Lisa Burns has approached me and said that she was interested in anything that I thought might be appropos to her. I have a few songs that I'm going to show her.
The music we're playing now is in the same vein as the songs I was writing when I was in Blondie. Then, it was really just fun. I just played all the time and I really didn't have to worry about anything. Now I feel like I'm really putting myself on the line. The songs have a larger scope now and since I'm singing they're more my songs. I'm more interested in the lyric content now. In Blondie I only wrote the music on some songs.
It's hard to define or put a label on one's own music. Richard Cromelin said in an article in the L.A. Times that the music was "contemporized nostalgia" which isn't really a bad phrase, but I try to escape from the yoke of advocating Sixties-type music. That's just the music I was brought up on so of course it's in me.
I'm always trying to write different kinds of songs. "In the Know" is different from my usual fare because it's got a funky sort of beat as opposed to the pop beat I use most of the time.
"I Like Girl", "In the Know", and our cover of Jonathan Richman's "Road Runner" seem to get the best response. "Tomorrow Belongs To You" doesn't always go over as well as I'd like it to. I think it has a lot to do with the way I perform it. "I love you, you love me" lyrics I never worry about. Nobody's going to really analyze them. But in "Tomorrow Belongs To You" I'm trying to evoke an image that will create a mood in the listener.
It's supposed to be about the nihilistic trend in club-goers today - not just the New Wavers, but singles bars and stuff like that. I'm just reporting symptoms of something I see. "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" was the Hitler Youth anthem. I thought people would pick up on that and get the wrong impression because the song is actually about people who don't think there's a tomorrow, "No Future" and all that. I want to feel like there's a reason for existence.
"I Like Girls" is my militant song about when I used to live on Christopher Street, the gay capitol of the western world. I was walking down the street and I felt like telling them that I liked girls and I just started saying it to myself and it turned into a song: all the reasons that I like girls.
Originally "Ariel" was going to be about Ms. Marvel who is a Marvel Comics character but I didn't want to do that because The Readymades have a song called Supergirl so I just came upon the idea of a girl with wings who people think will only do them harm. It's also about the relationship of the sky to a girl with wings.
Richard wrote a song called "You Don't Know Me" which is an angry-young-man tune. I like playing it because it gives me a chance to sing someone else's ideas and I get to play a mean guitar break.
"Presence Dear" is a love song I wrote about my girlfriend Lisa. It's very universal. Blondie's version is different from the way we do it. Clem had a lot to do with that. He more or less took control of the production of it and made it sound like Abba and it sounds really good. I can't complain. It was on the charts in England for several weeks and it got into the Top Ten. That does a lot for me.
It's more raw when we do it. The way we do it wouldn't get as far as their version. Their's is tending toward MOR. Ours is more Dylanesque in that people listening get put more on the edge. They're more affected by it.
One of the reasons I left Blondie was because I wanted to play more guitar when we recorded. I didn't think there was any reason why I shouldn't. I thought that a band should tap as many resources as it had. I really like playing guitar. I think I can express myself a lot more on it. It's easier for me to sing when I'm playing guitar than when I play bass. I never really thought of myself as that good a bass player. In fact I always played it like a guitar.
I'd like to do a song playing the drums. In fact that's my next band. It's going to be called The Bookworms. I'm going to play drums in it and wear dark glasses and smoke cigarettes.