Monday, November 20, 2006

7 1/2

Well, 1986 is not even close to being done. Unlike other entries in this series, this one has to be written pretty much from scratch, so it'll be a bit longer before its arrival. So happy Thanksgiving, and to those overseas who don't celebrate our quaint American holiday, have a nice stretch of days.

And all right, for those desperate for this series to continue, here you go: a halfway point between jumps.


Human Switchboard, Who's Landing In My Hangar?
J. Walter Negro and the Loose Jointz, Shoot the Pump.
Art Pepper, Arthur's Blues.
Richard Thompson, The Knife-Edge.

Human Switchboard were from Kent, Ohio, and consisted of guitarist/singer Bob Pfeifer, Myrna Marcarian, who played farfisa organ and also sang lead, and drummer Ron Metz. The Switchboard, which formed in 1977 and began touring nationally by decade's end, faced the grim prospects for an "underground" rock group in the U.S. in the early '80s--getting great reviews but having no record companies interested in them, playing half-empty clubs, going broke. Eventually, the group collapsed.

Yet the band had a great driving sound, inspired in part by the Velvet Underground--they had a fatalistic, angry sense of mission, sometimes leavened by Marcarian's vocals and whirring organ. As Tom Carson wrote on the liner notes to their LP, the Switchboard had a sense of "3 A.M. desperation being exploded by rage or good times or both...while you were hearing it, it felt like the truth." Here's the ferocious title track of their only LP, Who's Landing in My Hangar? The record went out of print and has yet to be released on CD; Pfeifer eventually wound up running Hollywood Records in the early '90s; Marcarian is now with Ruby on the Vine.

Human Switchboard

J. Walter Negro and the Loose Jointz's "Shoot the Pump," a great lost early hip-hop/rock/Latin fusion masterwork, was brought back from the depths by Tofu Hut in early 2005. Read John's fantastic article, which is the one of the best things ever posted on an MP3 blog. It's a complex, sad story that references everyone from John Hammond and Chris Blackwell to the Clash and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

By the late '70s, the saxophonist Art Pepper had returned after some two decades of addiction and imprisonment. "Arthur's Blues," recorded on August 15, 1981, a year before his death, is one of his finest moments, with Pepper soaring, musing, wailing and ultimately finding deliverance through seven intense choruses. On Arthur's Blues.

In 1981, Richard Thompson was at loose ends. He didn't have a recording contract, and was unhappy with the tracks he had made recently with his wife Linda (eventually they would re-record them all to make Shoot Out the Lights). Looking to make a bit of income, Thompson started his own mini-label, Elixir, and recorded an all-instrumental LP called Strict Tempo! with the drummer Dave Mattacks. Most of the tracks were traditional songs (and Duke Ellington's "Rockin' In Rhythm") but the album's closer, "The Knife-Edge," was a Thompson composition in which RT plays acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, mandocello and bass. On Watching The Dark.

See you soon. And farewell to two great ladies: Ruth Brown and Ellen Willis.

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