Monday, October 16, 2017

On The Deuce- This song should be that HBO's show theme song

Although I haven’t been catching all the episodes,  HBO’s latest series “The Deuce” has done a great job in triggering some memories. Some of us actually sit around and swap stories, romantically looking back at the old Times Square/42nd Street area with a fondness for the grit, smut and drugs that used to permeate the concrete. It wasn’t Kansas, and definitely not Disneyland, and I remember being offered a wad of cocaine in a phone booth once, grabbing a $5 dinner at Brew and Burger with an all you can drink side mug of beer (usually you got thrown out after 7 or 8 mugs) and getting the best movie value a quarter could buy.

But I never heard the nickname “The Deuce” until 1989.

In ’89, I had the insane idea of starting an independent record label with a buddy of mine, Gene Campanelli, and the first record we produced was a collection of New York City based blues and R&B artists. We really had no idea what we were getting into, but we made a few good print pieces that made us look like we had more than two nickels to rub together, and we convinced a bunch of local artist to work with us. It was a crazy time in New York for blues and r&b- there were clubs all over town- Dan Lynch’s, Delta 88, Mondo Cane and Mondo Perso, Terra Blues, Tramps, The Lone Star, and Manny’s Car Wash to name a few…There was actually a “scene” happening- and any night of the week you could crawl out and check out The Chris Carter Band with the amazing Frankie Paris, Pat Cisarano, John Paris, Diane Scanlon, The Holmes Brothers, The Belmont Brothers, and more. There was even the early and rough version of Blues Traveler playing at Mondo, and Joan Osborne was just cracking her pipes at Dan Lynch’s jam (we actually turned her down for that first record….but that’s another story).

When pulling together the roster for that first record, I happened to get introduced to Crispin Cioe -sax player for the baddest band on the scene- The Uptown Horns- I had always been a fan of Crispin’s playing since he played with Carolyn Mas in the late 70s and early 80s- and the Uptowns had become a powerful fixture in the NY r&b scene. With Crispin on alto sax, the remaining lineup included Arno Hecht on tenor, Bob Funk, trombone, and “Hollywood” Paul Litteral on trumpet.

In addition to being a very successful horn section for other artists (most notably, the J.Geils Band), The Uptown Horns Review was their own musical collective of players from the scene that regularly took the stage at The Lone Star, Tramps or any other place that can handle a large 8 to 12 piece band. The performances were classic R&B revues- with people in the band coming forward and doing songs, and then the band backing up a parade of “guest artists”- which could range from anyone from Bo Diddly Jr. to David Johansen, to Soozie Tyrell dropping by to do a few songs. The shows were magical, fun, and totally captured the spirit of a full blown R&B house party-

So when Crispin said the Horns would be cool with doing two tracks for the new record, we were thrilled- they were our headliner, our big gun that totally gave our project weight and validity. The record was to focus on original tunes-and the Horns had an instrumental called “52 Pick Up” and a song that paid homage to the Times Square neighborhood, “On The Deuce”.

The original "Third Rail Screamin'" CD cover -

With the interest in that NYC legendary neighborhood rekindled, I figured I’d share the tune with you, and give a bit of background on who actually played on the session. Reading the liner notes a while ago, I had forgotten what a powerhouse line up that band and session turned out to be- from the guys behind the recording console, to the background singers-it was an amazing track.

“On The Deuce” opens up with an audio snippet of ambient background- the Horns went to Times Square with a field recorder, with the intention of capturing some to the sounds of the neighborhood to weave into the track. I remember them coming back to the studio pleased as all get out with the results of the field trip. Some of the snippets you hear on the track include a bit of a three card monty game, and a random couple arguing about their rent payments and of course, the constant din of traffic, horns and sirens passing through the space.

We had tapped Steve Burgh to oversee & produce the recording session- he owned Baby Monster Studio- a somewhat worn and weathered but totally solid studio up a creaky set of wooden stairs in a building on 14th Street. Burgh was a interesting cat- it turns out he was friends with David Bromberg, Steve Goodman and John Prine, and had a hand in co-writing Goodman’s classic tune “Old Fashioned”. His engineer was a young Canadian guy- Gil Arbarbanel……who now lives back in Montreal and is involved in the finance world.
After we ordered the contractual obligatory pizza from Arturo’s, we got down to recording.

The Players
The Horns were hot to showcase their vocal protoge- a young soul singer from Nashville named Ben Houston. Armed with good looks and a classic smooth soul vocal range, Houston totally shines on the track, especially on the outro-vamp, where he ad-libs and fades off down the block.

Drums were handled by the amazing Tyrone “Crusher” Green. I had seen him play around town with so many different bands and loved his feel. When Crusher was on the throne, band just sounded better- it was only later on that I found out that this was the guy responsible for the drum track on Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances”. Loose but in the pocket, Crusher was masterful at giving “On The Deuce” an amazing sauntering feel.

Tony Garnier - who has been playing bass and traveling with some guy named Bob Dylan since 1989 was around for the session.

Charlie Giordano- on piano and organ. He had come off a stint as keyboard player for Pat Benatar and these days plays with the E Street Band. Yea, that E Street Band.

Guitar duties were in the hands of Danny Draher- one of the UH Revue regulars and another of Buster’s crew, Draher is still out there slinging the guitar and playing with more people than I can list here….

Background vocals were instrumental in defining the Horn’s vision on this song. At the time, there were three women who sang under the name of “BMW” Emily Bindiger, Sherryl Marshall and Leslie Wagner. Ms. Sherryl Marshall- who went on to a successful career as a Banshee of Blue with David Johansen, even showed up on a Dirt Napper album or two. She’s even played the famous Green Growler as part of my monthly singer-songwriter showcase!

Fred Walcott played percussion. Another veteran of Buster’s band, Fred was the go to percussion guy in NYC and beyond- playing with people like Son Seals, Shameka Copeland and rock and roll legend, Dion.

This track still kicks butt today. I think they should use it as theme music for the series, so if anyone knows the music director of “The Deuce”, send them my way.

It was fun tracking down all these players- and thanks to Crispin for letting me post the track up here.

The Horns are still out there. Shortly after recording this song, they got tapped to tour with The Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels Tour. You can still catch Arno playing with Dion, and Crispin keeps busy with his own band and acting as music director for a number of Kennedy Center shows. In addition, he performs regularly with one of the greatest rock and roll singers of all time, Ms. Darlene Love (If you haven't seen the movie "20 Feet From Stardom", do so).
Check out his site here for more:

And definitely pick up a copy of the 1994 release from The Uptown Horns-   It’s good for your soul.

And now, sit back and listen to “On The Deuce”

“On The Deuce”- The Uptown Horns

In the evening-steam is rising
Hot and sticky-on the street
Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well the lights are bright on Broadway-Never know what you can find
In the city there’s salvation-it’s enough to blow your mind
On the Deuce

Three card monty-for the wet behind the ears
Dealers hustling -with a smile that’s so sincere
Painted ladies who are old beyond their years
They’ll take you round the corner-set you up and disappear

Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well the lights are bright on Broadway-Never know what you can find
In the city there’s salvation-it’s enough to blow your mind
On the Deuce

Now they tell me there’s some stories-but it’s the same one every night
So many different faces  -but the price is always right-

Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well they say this place is changing-gonna tear these buildings down
It doesn’t matter where you go there’s a Deuce in every town
On the Deuce

Friday, January 6, 2017

The 2016 Bakers Dozen

Ok, so I blew one of my 2016 resolutions last year---to keep an active, monthly music blog…Nice idea, but just didn’t keep up. Not going to make the same declaration, but since I’m almost done with a new recording, which should be out out in the next month or so, I figure I’ll jump start this process again.

So now that 2016 is gone, I can publish my “Best of” list. I usually wait until the first week in January just in case someone drops a great, phenomenal record the night of Dec. 31, before midnight. Nothing caught my ear, since New Year’s Eve, so here goes. Usual drill, I’ll give you my absolute favorite, and then in no particular order a loose approximate top musical dozen IMHO for 2016. This was a good year-lots of great stuff-my fave:

Peter Wolf-“A Cure For Loneliness” - Just a real simple, rootsy album, with great feel, and great songs. Everyone of this guy’s solo discs have been strong, and this one is no exception. I’ve always been a fan of the Geils band, even in its ultra commercial success mode, and part of that admiration was the relentless commitment and energy that Wolf brought to the mix. You hear that on the this record-this guy is singing from the heart, he’s laughing, he’s got the blues, and he can toss out a full blown rocker. I caught him at the Bowery Ballroom this past February. Best concert I saw all year. Hands down. Maybe someday I can make a record this good-but I doubt it.

Other records I couldn’t stop playing this year:

Sturgill Simpson- “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” - Yea I know it’s nominated for album of the year. but even the Grammys get it right once in a while. This album is like a beautiful painting. Aching tunes, rich musical texture, and stellar musicianship. And a great Nirvana cover.

Yarn- “This is the Year”- From Tennessee, then Brooklyn, then back down south, if you have a chance to catch Yarn live, do it. They’ve been kicking around for a while, and have a number of records out. This is the first one I’ve picked up, and I love it. Low key, great country flavored tunes-just bar room solid. These guys tell great stories and make them real easy to listen to. One of my favorite songs of the year- “Sweet Dolly”- the band’s ode to Ms. Parton. Just an honest, innocent remembrance of falling in love with her when she appeared on the Tonight Show. How can you go wrong when a tune makes you smile?

Cymbals Eat Guitars- “Pretty Years”- All I really know about this band is that they allegedly come from Staten Island, and this is their fourth release. This is no country album. A fair share of distortion, guitars and overdriven production across all the tracks, but good tunes. There’s something in this mix that reminds me of the Clash….not sure if its in the guitars or the Strummer/Simonon/Jones flavored vocals. “Wish” is my favorite song of the year-play it loud.

Alejandro Escovedo -“Burn Something Beautiful” -Escovedo is just a badass. Simple tunes, telling stories, with guitars. His past few records have been stellar, and this one doesn’t miss. Lot’s of NYC tribute references here- somebody spent some time on the lower east side at one point, but he also writes a killer love tune. AE gut-punches you on the opening track with massive guitar chords- but somehow, like with so many of his other albums, he puts across songs with both energy and sensitivity that is sustained tune after tune. If there’s one singer-songwriter who can plug in and roll a little louder than the rest, its this guy.

Bombino-“Azel"- This guitarist from Niger is amazing. I can’t remember anyone taking on a Stratocaster in such a unique style since the first Dire Straits album. But Bombino is no Knopfler wanna be. Totally in command of the grove, the melody and passion, he and the band just push it from the get go, and even if you can’t understand the lyrics, it just doesn’t matter. Afraid “world music” is too granola for you? This ain’t finger cymbals, pan flutes and twangy sticks. Read this guy’s bio on Wikipedia and you’ll learn where this music comes from. This is a guy who has risked his life to play music and you hear it in the album. Check the live archive at for a live recording of this guy. Then buy this record.

Kyle Craft-“Dolls of Highland” - The first time I heard this guy I immediate bought the disc. Still trying to figure it all out. There’s a well orchestrated recklessness that jumps out of this dude. It’s  like Meatloaf meets T-Rex meets the Kinks, without the distortion. Unique vocals, unique writing, almost theatrical in a way, and maybe too over the top for some people, but I liked it. “Berlin” is a great tune about a stripper…..Another KEXP live performance worth watching...

Anderson.Paak-“Malibu”—The best thing I’ve heard out of the hiphop world since The Roots released “How I Got Over”. Anytime a hip hop artist throws it down with a real drum kit, that is worth a listen. And this isn’t just rap- it oozes serious funk, soul and r&b and real lyrics. Kinda gives me hope for the genre.

William Bell- “This is Where I Live” Seventy-seven year old singer with a voice like soul butter bourbon. Can make you cry. Why mess with a good thing? This guy is a treasure, did it back in the 60’s, and is still doing it…-

Eli Paperboy Reed- “My Way Home”- Reverend Eli sets up church in a garage. Raw energy. Great tunes. Sounds like it was recorded in 1966. Grit and soul saving rock n’ roll. Best reverb I’ve heard in years. Lock up your daughters, pass the hat…this ain’t yo’ mamma’s preacher.

Okerville River-“Away”- Will Sheff is a sneaky guy. He kinda made us think this band was through with “The Silver Gymnasium”. Then this record dropped out of nowhere. This takes a listen or two to catch the nuance of this album- it comes across real quiet, but he is writing his ass off, and it just grows and grows on you. Remember when a song could make you throw your fist up in the air?- Sheff is kinda reminiscing about that, but he also delivers it. Hopefully not their last effort, but if this is it, its a great way to go out.

The Jayhawks-“Paging Mr. Proust”- I do like it better when Mark Olson is in the band, but Gary Louris manages to pull this off. “Quiet Corners & Empty Places” is pure Jayhawks ear-candy fair, totally worming its way into your head. There are catchy hooks across the whole recording-sometimes a bit Byrd-like, but you also hear a band playing rough around the edges a bit….sorta like Wilco occasionally does. But the songs are good, and I listened to this one enough this year to have it round out the list. It’s a little different than some of those really clean, slick Jayhawk classics, but it still does it for me.

That’s it. Naturally looking forward to the next year unfolding. And of course, the new Dirt Napper record should set a pretty high bar for everyone across the joint. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.- fm 1/5/17