Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the fourteenth edition of Famous Quotes: A little quiz where the basic question is: Who said this?
It’s a deep dive into my published and non-published archives, quotes culled from 40+ years of yakking with rock ‘n’ rollers of all stripes – on the phone, in a bar, backstage.
1. He’s a world-famous producer,
0q1qand if you were a fan of ‘70s hard rock, you most certainly had albums he produced in your collection.
Here he is talking about recording the final track this famous singer-songwriter would ever do, winter of 1980: “First of all, he wanted no one else in the studio except whatever assistant I wanted. He wanted to just experiment. He wanted me to both produce and engineer and we were basically just going to sit in the room and have fun. He said ‘Let’s listen to some loops we have here and there.’ We had a drum track and a bass track and some other instruments going for what turned out to be [the song]. I cut a loop for that, drum loops and guitar loops, and basically, he and I played guitar over those loops.
“This is like what you imagine kids doing in their basement, but we were in a real room where we could just go crazy and do whatever we wanted and do it all ourselves. It was actually a guitar solo we were both playing at the same time. Then there was the rapping over it, the poetry reading with [another famous collaborator] and we were pretty much through and we finished it. That was the beginning of a bunch of stuff we had planned. But it started and ended right there with that one.”
2. They’re one of the many punk and post-punk bands that were raised on the Velvet Underground – or at least they discovered Lou Reed and the VU sometime in their early musical life. And then in 1988, about a dozen years after formation, they became his backing band for one special radio-sponsored gig on Long Island.
“For me, the Velvet Underground were every bit the level of a band like the Beatles,” said one of the singer-guitarists. “Lou paid us the ultimate compliment. He said – comparing us to the Velvet Underground –we were the only band that got it. [The VU] was an inspiration and probably a template, because I always liked the way (guitarist) Sterling [Morrison] played and how Lou would use the downstroke you hear on earlier albums, not really a strum, and this drone attack they had on the guitars and the repetition. A song like ‘What Goes On’ can literally go on forever. But it wasn’t just the rhythm. You think about a lot of the music out at that time, you compare it, ‘What Goes On’ or the break on ‘Rock and Roll’ on ‘Loaded,’ it’s almost the anti-guitar lead. That was another draw – they were doing things that were completely different and not done in the mainstream at all.
Added the band’s other singer-guitarist: “One of the first songs I learned on guitar was ‘Sweet Jane.’ The thing for me was the interplay between the guitars and the drumming style, just the primitive aspect of it. I’ve always been attracted to minimal rock. Apparently, he had heard our [faster] version of ‘What Goes On,’ and kind of approved of it. Basically, we met five or 10 minutes before we went on. He didn’t want to sing, because we didn’t have a rehearsal, so he said, ‘I’ll just play guitar in the back.’ I didn’t want to sing with him there, but I didn’t want to decline the opportunity to play with him so we went out and started singing.”
“It was really weird having him standing there behind me. I kept kind of beckoning him up, gesturing, ‘Come on, get up here and sing!’ And he did. I think we did ‘What Goes On’ as part of a medley, and he was a little taken back because of the bizarre [speedy] arrangement of the song, but he really enjoyed it. He got off the stage and said, ‘That was cool, what more can we play?’ So, we were thinking of song possibilities so we played ‘Sweet Jane’ which was a
thrill for me. It was a lot of fun. I think he had a real good time and really enjoyed playing with the band. When we were walking off the stage he said, ‘That was, like, some wild guitar playing.’”
3. In the ‘80s, she was just a teenage rock ‘n’ roll fan growing up in North Dakota, swaying to the sounds of a popular alt-rock band from down south. “I was a huge fan,” she told me. “I always appreciated not only their music but how they presented themselves, how they were these really thoughtful men. In the 1980s, there weren’t a lot of them running around. They seemed to treat women completely equally and were thoughtful about the environment. There was a lot of stuff I was really impressed with.”
This woman, a singer-guitarist, went on to co-lead one of the best bands to come out of the Riot Grrrl movement in the mid- ‘90s. And in 2014, she formed another band with the guitarist of that other band she’d been a fan of so long ago. That famous guitarist told me, “I might have a history in some people’s minds, but with this band I don’t have a history. We make it up as we go along. Aside from the actual writing, recording and playing, I get to hang out with people I like a lot. We’re all in great shape and you’ve gotta work hard to do this. The fact that it is harder makes it more special.”
Added the woman; “It’s a very natural songwriting opportunity with this beautiful, emotional guitar playing he does.”
4. It was April of 2017 and the guitarist of this famous band had just died unexpectedly. I was on the phone with Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and he was in shock. “I remember those days of going to [a club] and seeing them,” Perry said, recalling being in those audiences as “a dewy-eyed kid.”
“They would start off as a three piece and then another guy would come up on stage and then another guy and finally [the lead singer] would come out. They always had such showmanship and dynamics. But [the guitarist] was all about the song, the music. He played great solos, he knew blues inside and out and they just took it to the max. The image I have is him driving the band, whether he’s playing rhythm or lead. It was always about the band and about the show.
“I mean, man, if you saw that band when they were in their prime, you were spoiled, you probably expected that that’s how rock is. Well, no. They’re a cut above. They definitely were like Sly and the Family Stone and two or three other bands had that thing. They knew how to take a whole arena and just tear it up. They could stand toe-to-toe with any band in the world. And they did. [The guitarist] was, to me, the anchor.”
5. This anarchic punk band has been working and recording for 34 years. They have not always gone down smoothly, not even with those enamored of the genre. “[We] are a band out of time,” the band’s singer told me three years ago. “We don’t make any sense commercially and we don’t make any sense at all except on our own terms.”
They formed in Chicago. “We started out in the ’80s being a garage band into ’60s garage rock,” he told me. “We put on paisley and a pair of Beatles boots and thought we could fit in. But we were punks. We weren’t reverent enough and we liked fast, hard stuff that sounded new. We got thrown out of every club and would get in a fight with whoever was playing with us or putting on the show. It was always a mess. Being in the Dwarves, at some point we realized, ‘Oh no, we’re a punk band’ and we never looked back.”
“We always existed in a netherworld of punk rock that’s just different than anyone else. From the beginning, it was this strange amalgam of music. The first scene to pick up on us of any consequence was the grunge scene, where we were the token punk band. People hadn’t seen a punk band for a few years and everyone was going slow and sludgy, so they saw us and it was something different. To the grunge people, we’re a punk band, to the punk people, we’re a grunge band. We’re just one of the bands that didn’t join in all the reindeer games.”
There was this time when they were headlining a showcase gig in New York in front of fans and record company executives. “Everybody was there. I was up there on stage thinking, ‘This is our time, we’re finally going to do this!’ and I look over to my right and there’s my guitar player, with his mask on and this crazy look on his face. He’s naked on top of a bunch of speakers, peeing on a bunch of record executives in the audience.”
And so, he resigned himself: “This will never happen. There is no way. The world was not ready for us.”
1) Jack Douglas, speaking about John Lennon and Yoko Ono, recording “Walking on Thin Ice,” 2) The Feelies – first guitarist speaking, Bill Million, second Glenn Mercer, 3) Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney and Peter Buck of R.E.M, together in Filthy Friends, 4) Jay Geils of the J. Geils Band, 5) Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves.
VIDEO: Yoko Ono “Walking On Thin Ice”