Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll- Start Spreading The News

Shanghai Aug 2012Be it in Canada, or while visiting our neighbours to the south, I have always been an east coast type of guy. Give me Halifax over Vancouver, St. John’s over Victoria and, most definitely New York over Los Angeles. In the past I spent a lot of time in both New York and L.A. as back in the good old days these were the two epicentres of the record biz. L.A. can have its charms in the short term, what with the weather and the ocean, but it is strange to be in a town where nobody walks. I walk everywhere and think nothing of a quick jaunt from the Beach in Toronto to downtown. People in New York walk. Manhattan streets are an obstacle course of fast moving people, yellow cabs, constant honking and ever present sirens. There is an energy and attitude in NYC that is sadly lacking in L.A..

Hilly and RickmanNew York’s bar scene was always more interesting to me as well. I haven’t been to the city for about a dozen years but back in the eighties and nineties I was there at least a rolling-rockcouple of times a year. I always stopped by CBGB’s regardless of who was playing. Nine times out of ten owner Hilly Kristal (seen here next to Alan Rickman, who plays him in the film) would be in the house and a cold Rolling Rock was available at the stand-up bar. Even though it is stocked in pretty well every bar in Ontario now back then it was a pretty exotic beer. I am curious to see the CBGB movie sometime this summer or fall and ever more curious to see my pal Taylor Hawkins portraying Iggy Pop. .

I loved hanging out at The Limelight as they played fantastic music and the old church was crawling with all of the New York nightlife freaks. For a Cam Skull Ring Dayscouple of years the club, owned by Canadian Peter Gatien, was the place to be seen in NYC. It is too bad that Peter couldn’t make his Toronto club Circa make a run of it. Le Bar Bat at 311 West 57th was always a fave hang out. The cavernous club was located in the space that once housed the Mediasound Recording Studio. Owner Michael Bassani was a very hospitable host and for years a had a VIP made out to “The Skull King” (back in my skull ring phase).  The card would come in very handy when the line-ups went around the block and thirsty Canadians needed a drink.

The polar opposite of Le Bar Bat was Kennedy’s which is located just down the street at 327 West 57th. This was a musician hang-out and you never knew who would be sitting in the back bar listening to the great juke box and talking rock’n’roll.  It was the kind of place where you could walk in after a year or two and Maurice the bartender would have your beverage of choice in front of you before you had even seen him. AT 1:00 AM you might find Rod Stewart’s band having a drink after playing a show in Montreal earlier in the evening. They were one of those bands that would stay in two or three cities a tour and take a private jet to their evening show and back.

Coney Island HighConey Island High was a cool club down on Saint Marks Place where more coney island high-thumboften than not you could run into Joey Ramone holding court. Both sadly, are long gone. The Scrap Bar over on MacDougal was the early nineties NYC cross of Rock’n’Roll Heaven and The Bovine in Toronto. Jaeger was plentiful (well before it became popular in Canada) and the bar was the home away from home for rockers Guns ‘n’ Roses.

I never made it to Max’s Kansas City before it closed but I was spotted a few times at Studio 54, The Cat Club, Danceteria, The Tunnel, The Bottom Line, The Ritz and The Underground Garage. If I was to go to New York now one of my first stops would be Manitoba’s down at 99 Avenue B. The bar is owned by former Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba and is just a place I feel totally at home at; cool tunes, cool folks and cheap booze.

Ok, enough about bars. Who were the bands that influenced the sound of New York? Here is who I think had the most impact in the modern era (with apologies to the Brill Building).

1.       The Velvet Underground

I was not a first generation Velvet Underground fan but there is no denying they were the most influential New York band of the modern era. Once John Cale and Lou Reed starting making music together the landscape in New York shifted. Add in the blessing and support from Andy Warhol and rock became art. I was turned on to their song writing by way of their covers by David Bowie, Japan, and, if you can count it as a cover, Lou Reed. I have always preferred the live version of “Heroin” on the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal” Reed album than any of the Velvet Underground versions I have listened to. I still don’t spend a lot of time listening to them but, as stated, their influence is undeniable. To paraphrase Brian Eno the Velvets did not sell a lot of records but everyone who bought one started a band.

2.       The New York Dolls

Another band that never sold many records but influenced a generation of rockers. They were before punk but influenced punk bands on both sides of the pond and right across North America. Two seminal albums were released in their heyday, their eponymous debut and the prophetic “Too Much Too Soon” and then, after reuniting with surviving members (four of the Dolls have died), they have released another three better than average discs. Malcolm McClaren put the Sex Pistols together after hanging out with The Dolls.

3.       The Ramones

With their machine gun attack and two minute songs The Ramones proved that anyone could form a band. Steeped in attitude the New York “brothers” made up the rules as they went along. A twenty minute set might include over a dozen songs and when they were played the set was over. Their Toronto show at The New Yorker in September of 1976 was the spark that ignited the Toronto scene. I just finished “Commando – The Autobiography Of Johnny Ramone” and quite liked it.

4.       Patti Smith

In a lot of ways, Patti brought literacy to the New York scene. A well respected writer and poet she had no qualms about quoting Rimbaud or speaking about William Blake or even Mickey Spillane. Inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe and driven by guitarist Lenny Kaye, Patti was like none before and none since. Her album “Horses” is one of the most inspirational albums of all time and had a huge effect on R.E.M, U2, The Smiths, Sonic Youth and hundreds of others.

5.       Television

“Marquee Moon”, the debut from Television, still holds up to this day. There were two distinct eras of Television, one with Richard Hell and one without. Although Hell went on to success with his band The Voidoids (“Blank Generation”) it is doubtful that “Marquee Moon” could have been made with him still in the band. Television did not sound like any other New York bands of the time and that is perhaps why the album still sounds so fresh today.

6.       Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five MC’s

The Sugarhill Gang may have had the first rap hit single with “Rapper’s Delight” but it was Grandmaster Flash who were the first hip-hop band to be inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. They brought both the turntable and socially conscious lyrics to the foreground (witness “The Message”). Live the group were unbelievable with Flash, aka Joseph Sadler, using his decks like weapons and the combination of five unique rappers each using their individual styles creating an absolute monster sound.

7.       The Beastie Boys

Three frat boys went from goofy misogynist party hip-hop to some of the most intelligent, relevant and inventive hip-hop ever recorded. From young punks to elder statesmen the band never released a bad album and was constantly at the forefront of their genre. Their debut album “Licensed To Ill” was the first rap album to top the Billboard charts and sales are currently at just under ten million copies. For a more mature Beastie’s record try “Paul’s Boutique” which made sampling an art form.

8.       The Strokes

I know people are not enamoured of their new album but back when they released their first album “Is This It”, some six weeks before 9/11, the band brought back a swagger and attitude to New York rock’n’roll that had been missing since the days of The New York Dolls, The Ramones and The Heartbreakers.

9.       Blondie

Although it looked like more style than substance there was a lot of substance in the music of Blondie. “Heart Of Glass” may have been a disco hit but it was a clever disco hit. “Rapture” incorporated all of the musical styles from the streets of New York and “Rip Her To Shreds” reeked of their CBGB’s roots.

10.   The Talking Heads

Back in the seventies you were either a Max’s band or a CBGB’s band. Talking Heads were one of the few bands that straddled the fence between the two competing clubs and were equally welcomed by the art scene, the punk scene and the celebrity scene. The band was one of the long term survivors from the original scene and sold tickets and records on par with the best of New York bands. They were more than critical darlings.

Honourable Mentions – Mink DeVille, Robert Gordon, Willie Nile, Jess Malin, Suicide, The Contortions, Elliott Murphy, Jayne County, The Dictators and Kiss.

Chrissy 3I was saddened to hear of the passing of Chrissy Amphlett from the Divinyls after a courageous battle with both breast cancer and multiple Chrissysclerosis. I worked with Chrissy and guitarist Mark McEntee over the course of a couple of albums, although I did not work with them when they had their Chrissy 2monster hit “I Touch Myself”. Chrissy was incredibly driven and passionate about the music she created and pushed whichever label she was on at the time to fight for success. I remember being grilled by the two of them over a lunch in Los Angeles over the slow start to their latest recording in Canada. As opposed to being pissed off I became motivated to work harder.

I encourage everyone to read Darryl Vickers piece this week on the wonderful Jill Sobule. I was lucky enough to work with Jill when she released her debut album “Things Are Different Here” and she was one of the most talented and nicest artists I had the opportunity to work with. Check her out.


Cam’s column appears every Thursday

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Click on the banners of all of our great sponsors including The Shanghai Cowgirl, Toronto’s hippest rock’n’roll diner at 539 Queen Street West.  I bovinepatio1_largefinally had my first beer at the Bovine Tiki Bar last Saturday night. We Canadians are a hardy bunch and even though I was wearing a parka it was nice to have a drink on the now fully equipped and ready to do rooftop bar (and yes there are heaters). There was a small gaggle of us in the below zero weather but come spring and summer this is going to be the place to hang out. Can’t wait until the BBQ is installed and we can all reminisce about the old rooftop bar at the late great BamBoo.

DBAWIS_ButtonCameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

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One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll- Start Spreading The News”

  1. Strummer Says:

    Why The New York Dolls aren’t in the rock hall is beyond me.Just about everyone else you mentioned is… and i.m sure the Dolls influenced many of them…

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