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JoeMc on 08/30/2011 at 09:14AM

Fanny: June & Jean Millington Live at WFMU

Believe it or not, in the good-old bad-old days, it was a big deal to be a girl in a rock band. This idea seems a little silly now, when at a concert you're just as likely to see a woman playing a guitar as a man, but it was pretty unusual back in the late 60s and early 70s. Even more unusual were bands made up solely of women. They were out there, but they were barely on the music business radar. Early all-female bands like the Daisy Chain, the Daughters of Eve, Goldie and the Gingerbreads, and the Ace of Cups all did their share to break down some of the entrenched attitude towards women playing rock music. None of these bands, however, was able to make the next step up from small clubs and independent-label singles to the male-dominated world of big tours and major-label records. Only one all-female rock band was able to take the big step that finally leveled the playing field: Fanny.

Helmed by sisters June and Jean Millington, Fanny started out in the mid-60s in Southern California and experienced a lot of the same hostility towards women playing rock that their fellow all-female bands did. But they persevered, and by 1970, their first record came out on Reprise Records. They attracted big-name producers, recorded in world-famous studios, and developed a reputation as a killer live act. Fanny would go on to release four more LPs and a host of singles, two of which were Top 40 hits, and tour the world before calling it a day in 1976. Along the way they made fans of most of the rock royalty of the day, including George Harrison, Harry Nilsson, Todd Rundgren, and David Bowie. They even backed Barbra Streisand during her short-lived rock period of the early 70s.

After Fanny broke up, mostly for the usual reasons that bands break up (different musical directions, changes in lifestyles, record label shuffles), the core of the group, the Millington sisters, occasionally came back together to make music. June Millington became very active in the women's music scene, working with Cris Williamson and making her own solo albums. Now and then, her sister Jean would join her on bass. These occasional reunions were natural enough given their familial ties, but only this year have they combined forces to release a duo album under their own names. It's called Play Like a Girl and it's on their own Fabulous Records label.

June and Jean stopped by the studios of WFMU to play some of the songs from their new album last week and proved that they still have the fire and solid musicianship that made Fanny such an attraction back in the day. With Lee Madeloni on drums, the Millingtons played the kind of confident and seemingly effortless rock and funk you might expect from the sure hands of lifelong musicians. The limos and road crews of the big Fanny tours may be a thing of the past, but the talent that elevated the Millingtons to that level is intact and in effect.

Joining the Millingtons on two songs, and making the idea of playing like a girl literal, is Ari Natoli, one of the young graduates of the Institute of the Musical Arts (IMA), an organization June Millington founded to help girls develop their interest in making music. Who better to teach young women about rock music than the original pioneers of female rock? Check out the IMA here. For more on Fanny, see here. To hear the entire archived show, go here.

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JoeMc on 01/04/2011 at 01:00PM

Past As Present

Marika Papagika, from one of the few photos extant

It makes me happy to know that in a digital forum like the FMA, there is a cozy nook put aside for the excavations of crate diggers who don't shy away from the crackle of old shellac. A lot of great music has become forgotten or lost over the years because of changes in music technologies; fortunately, there is a small band of musical archeologists whose rediscoveries and recoveries remind us of what we've left behind. These people are making sure that past music of real worth isn't lost. In fact, they're ensuring that more people can hear it than ever before, through sites like this one.

One of these shellac saints is Baltimore's Ian Nagoski, who has for some time been transforming his love of music into musical archeology that is benefitting us all. I won't regurgitate the facts of Mr. Nagoski's career here; earlier this year a writer for The Washington Post did all of that much better than I could, anyway. You can read the article here. Suffice to say that a few gems have recently appeared on the FMA that we might have never heard without Mr. Nagoski's efforts.

Featured below is a track by Marika Papagika, a Greek immigrant who recorded over 200 records in the 1920s, and whose voice is beautiful and haunting in equal measure. Two other tracks are also available here. All of these tracks are included on a full LP of Marika Papagika's music newly issued on Mr. Nagoski's label Canary Records, in association with Mississippi Records, called The Further the Flame, The Worse It Burns Me. The LP comes with an amazing booklet with notes and photos explaining Marika's prominent role in Greek music in New York. It's really a must for any fan of music from this period. (For further study, check out the compilation of Greek music that appeared on Canary/Mississippi last year called Mortika: Recordings from a Greek Underworld. See here.)

Also featured below are a few other tracks from Mr. Nagoski's project from last year, String of Pearls: Jewels of the 78 r.p.m. era, 1918-1951, the first release on his label. La Niña de Los Peinos (Girl of the Combs) was the nickname for Pastora Pavón Cruz, possibly Spain's greatest flamenco singer; Amelita Galli-Curci, an Italian opera singer, sings Jules Massenet's "Crepuscule"; and Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, a Hindustani classic singer, has one of those pure voices you can't forget after hearing it (read more about him here).

If these tracks excite your curiosity, the FMA also hosts several tracks from Mr. Nagoski's curated compilation on the Dust-to-Digital label from 2007, Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics (1918-1955). Check them out here.

According to The Washington Post article cited above, soon to come from Mr. Nagoski is a compilation of music by Armenian and Syrian immigrants in New York provisionally titled Brass Pins and Match Heads. The article also mentions a compilation by "an Indian classical music singer"; perhaps Ustad Abdul Karim Khan? We can always hope! In any case, there should be much more music to come in the future through the efforts of Mr. Nagoski. Saints be praised!

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ian nagoski
JoeMc on 12/13/2010 at 12:30PM

Best of 2010: Live from 43 Monty

The WFMU Goose alertly surveys the WFMU live room.

There are many great things about the Free Music Archive, but one of the greatest is the number of live sets it offers that were recorded right in the WFMU studios at 43 Montgomery Street in Jersey City, New Jersey. More and more bands are jumping aboard the FMA, allowing us to share their live sessions with those who may have missed the original broadcasts. 2010 brought a bumper crop of great new live sessions of all kinds, from punk to electronic to experimental to whatever you call that thing Arrington de Dionyso was up to this year. The FMA was able to share a whole bunch of them.

New live music isn't the whole story, though. In 2010, the FMA continued to plumb the WFMU archives for worthy older sessions, too. WFMU has featured (and preserved) live music in one form or another for well over 20 years, and as the old DATs get dusted off and resurrected, hopefully there will be more "lost" radio sessions that will reappear on the FMA by bands still with us as well as some that are no more.

The mix I've made below is a collection of live music highlights from sessions added to the FMA in 2010. Some were performed as recently as a month ago, and others are almost ten years old, but all of them are from sessions worth checking out in their entirety. My choices aren't really representative of the great breadth of live music offered by the FMA; I just picked some personal favorites in a highly subjective way. I encourage you to dig in and make your own mix from the best of WFMU live music. You probably won't be able to stop at just one.


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JoeMc on 09/29/2010 at 01:00PM

The Street Meat Beat (Satellite 4, mp3)

One of the many Jersey City food trucks (photo courtesy ahemler/flickr)

Everyday at WFMU, usually around 1 p.m., a minor exodus takes place. This happens when the WFMU staff can no longer ignore the rumblings of their stomachs, and tearing themselves away from the divine work of serving the freeform gods, they tumble down the stairs, scattering to the four corners of Jersey City in search of nourishment.

Lunch is a freeform affair, unsurprisingly. Some seek Italian; some Indian; others dare to explore steam table fare from the local Korean deli. Where these freeform warriors most often end up, however, is at the neighborhood food trucks, those kitchens on wheels that serve everything from catfish to crepes, tikka to tacos.

Food trucks that knock out a small list of specialties day-in and day-out are one of the best dining options in Jersey City: cheap, easy meals dished out at a feverish clip. It's a culture adopted from Manhattan, where some food trucks have been at it for decades. Nothing new, but apparently, the lowly food truck is experiencing some sort of vogue right now, perhaps second only to the peculiar renaissance of the cupcake.

Why, just last week "The Great Food Truck Race," a series based on dropping popular food trucks in strange cities to see how they make out, wrapped up on the Food Network. A bit L.A.-centric, this series didn't really capture the New York/New Jersey food truck experience, even though the winners hawked their hamburgers to victory in Madhattan (I personally think Nom Nom Truck should've won). Still, it showed just how far food trucks have come in terms of respectability. Even New York Magazine did a feature on them this past summer.

Why the sudden interest? Like everything else, I would guess it's the Economy. It's easier for a couple of enterprising young cooks to rustle up the dough for an outfitted truck than it is to set up a fixed restaurant, especially in a city like New York with its astronomical rents and strict building codes. For a customer who might be strapped for cash and time (if you've got a job, odds are you're doing more of it), it's the perfect alternative to a sit-down lunch, fast and cheap. Most places don't even ask you to cough up a tip.

Not only that, but now that so many trucks are on a mission to cute-up, with brightly painted trucks and matching T-shirts for the staff, people who previously would never go near a food truck can feel more comfortable with the food truck experience. Folks like a clean-looking truck just like they like a clean-looking restaurant, and fear of ptomaine poisoning seems to be a thing of the past. Not that you still can't have an authentic sick-making experience, if you want one; there are still plenty of trucks around that seem to use the same oil to run the truck and cook the burgers. I, for one, hope they never disappear completely!

For your next trip to your local food truck, here's a tune to dial up on your iPod, phone, or whatever you listen to things on: "Street Food" by Satellite 4. They're a band of transplanted southerners and midwesterners who've made their home in Seattle, and they churn out a nice greasy sound that'll get you in the mood for some good street cookin'. They've got a new album coming out soon called Call Your Girl; in the meantime, enjoy this radio session.

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JoeMc on 09/02/2010 at 04:00PM

Charles Kellogg: He Could Sing Like a Bird. Literally.

Charles and His Travel Log

Being partially of Polish extraction, I always get interested when I stumble across Polish-related music on the FMA. Today I spotted a little number called "Polish Dance," and I clicked on the little arrow next to it expecting to hear a brass band, or perhaps a little village orchestra. What I heard instead was both thrilling and ridiculous: It sounded like some oversized canary had snorfed up some Benzedrine with its birdseed and began to trill maniacally.

I soon realized that this was not a real bird, but a whole different type of bird: a loon named Charles Kellogg, who flapped his wings and chirped his way to immortality in the 1910s. Dubbed "Nature's Singer," Chuck was kind of like that other Bird, the one with the saxophone, except his axe was his nimble larynx. Yes, folks, prepare yourselves for the awesome technique of the Charlie Parker of bird imitation records, Mr. Charles Kellogg, spotlighted below.

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JoeMc on 08/12/2010 at 03:00PM

Ripped from the Pleura (Misiaczek mp3)

OK, I'm admitting right from the get-go that this week's post is more or less an excuse to post the above picture of Brigitte Bardot. I mean, honestly: Don't you feel better having seen it?

I haven't been able to figure out where it's from, a movie or an old movie magazine, but I guess it doesn't really matter. It's all over the Internet. Why wouldn't it be? Unlike some of the more famous posed pictures she's known for, this photo seems to catch B.B. in a reflective, private moment.

And as many of us do in such private moments, she just happens to be playing the guitar in the nude. Or close to it, anyway.

What chanson is she strumming and trilling? "La vie en rose"? "Non, je ne regrette rien"? "Harley Davidson"? Well, it could be just about anything. My personal choice would be "Comic Strip," but that's because I'm a weirdo.

I don't know for a fact that today's song by Misiaczek is about Brigitte Bardot, but since the singer records in France and sings mostly in French, it's a safe bet that his Brigitte is our Brigitte. "Misiaczek" means "teddy bear" in Polish, by the way, and the album this is from is called La Fantaisie des biches with an arrow pointing to him on the cover.

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JoeMc on 08/05/2010 at 11:54AM

Guardian Alien: Making Contact

At Cinders Gallery (video capture courtesy stovids)

Some folks believe in guardian angels, benevolent beings that watch over us and protect us from harm. But what if there are other beings out there, also watching over us and waiting to make contact? Anybody who's flipped through, say, The Field Guide to Extraterrestrials, or has seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, has most likely wondered: What if there are guardian aliens out there?

Brooklyn's Guardian Alien wonders this same thing. Loudly.

Helmed by Greg Fox -- a busy fellow who also drums in Teeth Mountain, Liturgy, Dan Deacon Ensemble, and Man Forever (Kid Millions/Oneida) and plays solo as GDFX -- Guardian Alien follow the road to enlightenment previously trod by the likes of Hawkwind and other space adventurers. If we're going to make alien contact, what's going to get their attention more, anyway? A 5-note ditty played on a xylophone or an 18-minute trance epic of guitars, synths, drums, and caterwauling vocals?

Here is a recent attempt at contact from a few weeks ago, recorded at the Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn. Greg Fox is on drums, of course, as well as Casio synth-guitar, with Turner Williams on japanese banjo, Camilla Padgitt-Coles on synth, and on vocals and ecstatic dancing, Alex Drewchin (who, by the way, when she's not chanting to or howling at the stars, leads a completely different musical life as a singer-songwriter).

For more Guardian Alien, check out another live recording, released as Sing Like Talking, also on the FMA here. For more Greg Fox, there's plenty of Teeth Mountain and Liturgy on the FMA, as well as some GDFX, Guardian Alien's immediate precursor, including a great session on Talk's Cheap with Jason Sigal from earlier this year.

Be sure to have a look at Guardian Alien's MySpace page for more videos, helpful advice on how to behave if you are the first human to meet an alien, and other useful teachings. They will also be playing live tomorrow night at Conspirastock (see here for more info) and appearing later this month at Shea Stadium in Brooklyn.

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JoeMc on 07/28/2010 at 12:00PM

Eddie Morton: From Wearing Blue to Singing It

Although pop music these days is as sexually frank as it ever has been (sometimes boringly so), there was a time when singers had to be more creative in expressing adult themes in their music. This was the heyday of the double entendre, when the great trick was to mask your dirty talk in otherwise innocent scenarios that the hipsters would recognize but that the Guy Lombardo fans might miss.

When most people think of these kinds of songs from pop music's past, what generally comes to mind are old blues songs from the 30s: "Let Me Squeeze Your Lemon" (made famous by Charlie Pickett); "Bed Spring Poker" (the Mississippi Sheiks); "Ain't Got Nobody to Grind My Coffee" (Clara Smith, among others). Or, they might think of later R&B songs that continued the trend in the 40s and 50s: "Big Ten Inch Record" (Bull Moose Jackson) "Let Me Play with Your Poodle" (Lightnin' Hopkins) "I Like My Baby's Pudding" (Wynonie Harris) and so on. But double entendre wasn't the exclusive province of blues singers, as today's selection makes clear.

Vaudeville performers from the early days of the 20th Century recognized that a little bit of naughtiness attracted the paying customers, and the songs written for them by the songwriters of the day took this into account. Songwriting and publishing giant Harry Von Tilzer penned this little number with Andrew Sterling in 1912 that toys with the phrase "getting it" in two slang uses that persist to this day. Eddie Morton, a former Philadelphia policeman turned Broadway songster, waxed it: a former boy in blue getting a little bluer!

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JoeMc on 07/08/2010 at 02:53PM

The Wedding Present: 25 and 4 to the Floor

At the Black Cat Club in Washington, D.C. this past April (Photo courtesy mehan/flickr)

Legendary British DJ John Peel was always vocal about the bands that he considered a cut above the rest. From the late 60s until his death in 2004, Peel made a practice of devoting large segments of radio time to the bands who pleased him most. Undoubtedly, his most famous endorsements were two bands that were so constantly celebrated by Peel that they became identified with him: the Fall and the Undertones. The Fall appeared on Peel’s program more times than anyone else (24!), and as for the Undertones, his feelings about them may best be gauged by the fact that he asked for a lyric from “Teenage Kicks” to be carved on his tombstone after his death (to at least one commentator’s displeasure).

But coming up not too far behind the Fall and Undertones on Peel’s list of perennial favorites were those lads from Leeds, The Wedding Present, who appeared on Peel’s show so many times that you can now buy a six-CD set of their sessions. In fact, if you were to add in the sessions Wedding Present founder and only consistent member David Gedge logged as Cinerama, then Gedge and mates are second only to the Fall on the Peel Love Index. A worthier tribute no man could ask for.

Well, Peel may be gone, but the band he loved lives on: The Wedding Present continues to record and perform, 25 years after their first show and single. And they still play on the radio, as evidenced by this track from an appearance on KEXP earlier this year. The song is as yet unrecorded, so it’s all exclusive-like; they’ve been playing it live, but it hasn’t yet made its way onto a 7” or CD. Go out and get it, boy!

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JoeMc on 06/24/2010 at 02:00PM

Crapple Dumpkins for the Germophobe (Roy Atwell, mp3)

Charles Korvin about to take the plunge courtesy Evelyn Keyes

For almost a week now, I've been fighting off a bad cold. Last week I couldn't call it what it obviously was; but now that summer is officially here, I can say with conviction that I have an especially annoying case of that seasonal favorite known as the "summer cold."

Summer cold? Ha, there's nothing cold about it. Particularly since last weekend, with the thermometer darting into the 90s, the last thing I want to do is sip tea and crawl under the covers. Having a cold in the winter is natural; you put on your sweater, daub your runny nose, and keep the Fisherman's Friend under your pillowcase. Having a cold in the summer is just wrong. It's hard enough to be comfortable when you're feverish and stuffy, but add in grotesque humidity and heat and you feel as if suffocation would be a mercy.

One of the only consistent comforts of being sick in any season, and it's one of the best reasons for the invention of television, is that you can sit on a sofa watching DVDs all day and no one accuses you of being an indolent sloth. Being somewhat perverse, one of the films I chose to watch during this past week of joy was about an epidemic of small pox. This is sort of like watching airplane disaster movies on a plane, but hey, at least when everyone's dying from small pox, a summer cold doesn't feel so dire.

The name of this particular film was The Killer That Stalked New York. Grammarians among you will notice from the choice of relative pronoun that the filmmakers are not talking about a killer who, but a killer what. The "what" in this case is the small pox. A sweaty blonde diamond smuggler played by Evelyn Keyes carries it in from Cuba (a land of plague, apparently, even in 1950) and proceeds to infect man, woman, and child along the way to her rendezvous with her sleazy husband. The sleazy husband, a musician (ha!) played by the dimple-chinned Charles Korvin, has been making time with this Sheila's sister while she's been off smuggling for him. It's okay, though--the jane has the last laugh. Or at least, the last grimace. Although she's covered with sores and doomed to die, he goes first, off of the ledge of a building, about 20 stories up. Splat.

Anyway, The Killer That Stalked New York put me in mind of just how flimsy we all are, and how the smallest thing, often something we don't even know is there, can make us ill. That's right about when I found Roy Atwell on the FMA.

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