Archive for Jon Paris

Johnny Winter (II)

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2016 by theguitarcave

W oke up with this song in my head and so I’ll just leave it here. Bassist Jon Paris, drummer Bobby “T” Torello and, of course, the incomparable Johnny Winter performing one of his signature tunes, the Bob Dylan classic, Highway 61 Revisted. Shot in the early 80s this is a SMOKING, almost Heavy Metal version of this song. There are also a couple of other good versions out there.

He totally killed with this song at the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash at MSG in 1992, even though hardly anyone mentioned it at the time. You know Johnny is the man when a legend like Steve Cropper applauds him warming up [see 30-35 seconds in on the video]. Johnny later related that he couldn’t hear his amp very well for this performance, which is what all of the signalling between him and G E Smith is about early in the song. He still totally killed it. I’m sure he dug playing with Smith, Jim Keltner and Booker T and the MGs. They had a really great stage band for that show!

I saw Johnny in the early 80s and he was great!! and saw him again later in the 80s and he was awesome! I’m glad there are videos of him in his prime because he was a monster and even though he was from Texas originally, he was always a NYC favorite. The next time you see me coming brother you better run… Indeed.

Incidentally, this is my 100th post on The Guitar Cave. What a milestone! As always I appreciate everyone who visits and views the TGC and encourage you to write in and let me know what’s going on. I always enjoy getting mail and hearing about other peoples’ guitar adventures. Plenty more to come, so stay tuned!

Letch Patrol Conquers the World

Posted in Music Business, Players, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2011 by theguitarcave

The late 80s and early 90s were a great time to be in NYC and were also a very transitional time in rock and mainstream music. By 1992, The Year That Punk Broke, many sub-cultures that had been bubbling under the radar of MTV and Main Street USA for years were projected out like hot spew from a volcano. Prior to this big eruption I was writing for a couple of magazines, meeting and interviewing many interesting axe-slingers and getting all kinds of free promo stuff. I had early promos of TAD, Mudhoney, Voivod, Sick of It All and many others that were really pretty electrifying. Hooking up with the VITAL VAN / LETCH PATROL crew took the whole thing to the next level because these guys were completely plugged into everything that was PUNK ROCK. We all lived in the The East Village of NYC and the neighborhood was a very different place then: dark, dirty, violent, dangerous and completely removed from the concerns and tastes of Main Street USA. This was reflected in the art, dance, theater and MUSIC that was created by artists living here because the environment allowed artists and entrepreneurs all of types to create their own realities. The punk rock scene began in NYC because of the dire economic realities of the 1970s/80s and because people wanted a reality of their own; an alternative to all of the mainstream music, fashion, art and lifestyles they found unappealing. They did what they wanted to do and created a monster that still influences and affects the musical and social landscape almost forty years later. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of everything that happened during this time and everyone I’ve spoken to has said the same thing. We knew at the time how lucky we were and how cool it was to be where we were, when we were. All of these experiences have stayed with us and continue to color our worldview today.

“As I said in THIS post, I met the Letch Patrol/Vital crew in the late ’80s, immediately after interviewing Mick Ronson for Guitar World magazine. We had all been in the same orbit for at least a year or so and were all in the immediate vicinity of the Tompkins Square Park riot of 1988. In the space of a few weeks of meeting the Vital crew and recording at their studio I had joined Vital Van. I was playing guitar in an East Village punk band, The Role Models with two lovely ladies named Christine and Suzanne and a drummer named Nigel, who today is a really boss designer/photographer. Letch PatrolShortly thereafter I would be rehearsing with Letch Patrol, playing as a guest at Rats of Unusual Size shows and jamming and recording with anyone who was up for it. Letch Patrol had already played some big shows and had a very notorious reputation by the time I came on the scene. (This story is a bit incomplete because I missed those early days) They were like most people in the East Village back then because they were PUNK ROCK/HARDCORE 24/7 and I mean they ate it, slept it, slept with it, woke up in the morning and took nourishment from it like it was the sun. I have never been like that about ANYTHING. People who knew me before I moved to NYC always said I should’ve been born a blonde because of my youthful inability to focus on anything for longer than thirty seconds. (Or maybe because they thought I was ditzy, I dunno. Stereotypes are so unfair, doncha think?) This explains why I was never a full-time punk rocker from a social or musical perspective. In the East Village though, there was PUNK ROCK and there was everything else and PUNK ROCK was a complete and total lifestyle, a saturation bombing and a DUDE…I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand DUDE…across this line YOU DO NOT…”  Because it was THE SCENE and it made for a great soundtrack to the ferocious jungle playground everyone lived in. Wayne Newton or Huey Lewis and the News just didn’t cut it and even a lot of heavy rock sounded too happy, optimistic and predictable. However, from a musical standpoint, Letch Patrol and other 2nd generation punks incorporated hard rock, metal and hardcore riffs/chord progressions into their music and this helped create a huge, frenetic sound that gave the music ATTITUDE the size of elephant butt. If you want to get all intellectual about it you could say it was a giant DECONSTRUCTION of popular music; stripping away all of the non-essentials and focusing on the one or two ingredients that mattered most. Since one of those essentials is what I call THE ROCK: the attitude to go onstage and physically move people, I could relate to what these guys were doing and I loved playing the songs. Playing loud and full-on to an appreciative audience is the best rush in the world, BAR NONE. The first drummer for Rats of Unusual Size, Andy, was a lunatic who would usually kick all of his drums over at the end of the performance. It was great to be onstage with them, playing the big rave-up ending to the last song and out of the corner of my eye see the snare drum go flying by into the audience. Playing with Letch Patrol was also a lot of fun even though we all busted on each other constantly. When I first met them I told them they all sucked and they said the same about me and the music I liked. However, once we were playing together we just blasted the songs full-tilt and sounded friggin’ awesome. They were all really smart and funny guys under the snotty attitude and we got along because I had a snotty attitude at the time as well. We had to because if you didn’t have some armor NYC would chew you up and spit you out pretty quick.

Marc Rentzer (guitarist for Letch Patrol): I knew Chicken John when we were teenagers in Florida. We both worked at Burger King and were big fans of punk rock. I decided to run away and move to NYC and John came with me. Back then John lived to be annoying and he pissed a lot of people off, but there were a lot of freaks who took to us right away. At the time I was going to a lot of hardcore shows and many of the people I knew were from that scene. The East Village at the time was dark and dangerous and as you went further east it just got worse — there were junkie needles in the sandbox in Tompkins Square Park! I didn’t like the Letch Patrol vibe but I thought the songs were cool and George Tabb insisted I join the band so…I did it like a follower because I was told how much fun it would be. And it was FUN right away! At the time, George was also in The False Prophets and they were really legendary and had a million fans so Letch Patrol had loads of people at our shows right from the beginning. We acted like we were really big rock stars and people started treating us as such. But I did lose a lot of hardcore friends because here I am playing in a dress in this weird band with punk rockers and a homeless guy as the lead singer! It was worth it though because Letch Patrol got some really great recognition from people I still hold in high regard. Hilly Crystal (CBGB’s owner) loved us and took money out of his WALLET to pay us and said he hadn’t seen anything like us since the 70s. We were like The Dead Boys. We had a great live show that was full of fun, danger and unpredictability. We played with a whole lot of aggression because all of us had rage from our youth that motivated us to play as hard as we possibly could. We wanted to take over the world and just acted like we were going to and people responded to that.

Letch Patrol- Marc Rentzer, Harris Pankin, Chicken John, George Tabb

Even though there was a lot of rock and aggression in Letch Patrol there was also Chicken John’s desire to be a reinvention of PT Barnum. “For me, the story is the whole thing,” he would say. Even at a young age his media and people manipulation skills were finely honed (this was true of many New York rockers) and it led to a type of theater I will decline to try to name or categorize. While I and many others were content to rock, it was always very important to Chicken to throw a monkey wrench in the gears of the system. I think we all related to that because we would sit around and watch Marx Brothers movies together. But he always pushed the envelope as far as he could. For instance, one of the funniest things the band ever did was release a cassette called “…And Then There Was Nothing” which was basically a blank tape. It had a nice cover and all but the cassette was just tape leader (there was NOTHING on the tape — get it?) Cheapest recording ever made, but it’s not like you could write or tab it out. I guess you could but there would be a whole lot of RESTS. I still get a laugh out of that…maybe I’m easily amused. There was a whole lot of this kind of overlap between art, music and performance in the East Village at the time and while most of the time Letch Patrol focused on THE ROCK, there were all of these moments and ideas that involved irreverent humor and waving a middle finger aimed squarely at the conventional expectations of the audience. It didn’t always work, but when it did it was brilliant and represented all that is great about the prankster tradition.

Marc Rentzer: Everyone in the band had ideas of how it should be and sometimes we had power blocs that were always shifting. I didn’t hate the fighting because we always fought, especially in rehearsals. We would say horrendous things to each other and we had to stop inviting people we knew to our space. Physical violence sometimes happened. I thought some of what we did outside the playing was okay, but sometimes it killed the momentum of the show. Chicken always wanted to give out a door prize or something and a lot of that stuff was funny, but we’d lose the energy level…probably because we didn’t rehearse enough. We had to keep prospective drummers and bass players away from (lead singer) Harris until the last minute. But there were quite a few shows that were great. I remember playing with Cheetah Chrome very early on and it was a great show. Just completely chaotic and out of control. It was also true that we were learning things from all of those guys we used to work for and hang out with. I’m glad you wrote about that on the first Vital Van piece, because those experiences have really stuck in my head over the years. Shane Fontayne! What a classy guy! Total class. He would bow to the audience…and mean it. Chris Spedding! What can I say? A bona-fide legend. And Johnny Ramone always took off his guitar and pumped it in the air at the end of the set. I thought that was great!! Those bands were introduced at CBGBs, it wasn’t like they came out and said, “Hi we’re blah, blah, blah.” The intention was that this is a show and it’s special and both the audience and performers are worthy of this kind of formality because it’s THAT important. Letch Patrol always tried to have the same attitude even if some people thought we were trying to be bigger than we were.

Normal people usually had trouble with a lot of the vibes and personalities in the East Village back then, but very few people in the neighborhood or the bands cared about normal. Harris, Letch Patrol’s lead singer, had a reputation being difficult, but he was also one of NYC’s best-known and most popular street sellers during those years. He would stand outside in 35 degree weather for hours selling books and he knew his stuff and got good merchandise. I bought quite a few, even Chris Spedding bought books from him. One of my favorite memories is Chris and Harris haggling over the price of Gore Vidal’s Burr. Hilarious! In that way the neighborhood was like an asylum — everybody was a little bit crazy and you’d just learn to roll with it and accept other people’s lunacy as they accepted yours. Letch Patrol certainly weren’t the only band crafting musical mayhem and soon after I began hanging out at their loft the guys found out I wrote for music magazines and persuaded, cajoled, threatened, pleaded that I do a story on them. Jim Fourniadis from the Rats set up a group interview with the guitarists from Letch Patrol, Purple Geezus, The Reverb Motherfuckers and Rats of Unusual Size. It was a whole lot o’ fun and in addition to talking to Marc, Jim, and Chicken John, who I already knew, I also met John Terhorst, Roy Edroso and the late Jerry “Dublee” Williams. While I never got to know Roy very well, John Terhorst and Jerry were guys I would see frequently over the following years and even if it was on the street, there would always be a whole lot of music and guitar to talk about. Sadly, Jerry, an extremely awesome pioneer of a guy, who played a real important role in a lot of NYC music over the years, passed away last year. Here is a pic from the interview session.

(Back) Chicken John Rinaldi, Jim Fournaidis, Jerry Williams (Front) John Terhorst, Roy Edroso, Marc Rentzer

The article never ran in Guitar World but I don’t think it had anything to do with the guys I was interviewing or the way I wrote it. I had already received compliments from my editors on my ability to pull money quotes out of people and write a really tight article. But I was completely inexperienced on how an article should be pitched and it wasn’t until the following year that I was able to get anything published that I initiated (an article on Chris Spedding). Music magazines aren’t always the most forward-thinking entities around, but Guitar World sent me on quite a few interviews with underground/indie people so I think that the blame (if there is any) lies with me. It’s also true that when I did this interview I hadn’t been writing for the magazine for very long so maybe they thought I hadn’t earned it yet. My pitch went something like this (I’m in the blue type):

“So I wrote this article on these guys I know from the Downtown Punk scene. Totally irreverent, rocking out man! This stuff is taking off…ya know Seattle?”

“Can you believe that new Soundgarden album?”

“Uh-huh. I have pictures too and these guys look like a the kids, ya know…t-shirts and they just wanna turn it up and rock out. And there’s a lot of humor.”

“Humor? Guy-Man-Dude humor? or Teisco Del Rey humor?”

“Um..neither but I think the kids would enjoy reading about bands called Letch Patrol or The Reverb Motherfuckers. Gives a whole new perspective on bands named White Lion and Winger don’t you think?”

“I used to live down on Avenue B across from the Reverbs rehearsal space. Heard them practicing a lot.” (smile)

“Is that a good thing?”

“I really gotta take this call.”

I don’t have a transcript of the interview, but I remember most of what was said foreshadowed the music that would blow up in the United States a few years later and, in the process, make the overly-technical approach to rock/pop music that had occurred in the wake of Edward Van Halen’s appearance 10+ years earlier, obsolete. None of these East Village punk rockers had expensive rack mount units, a degree from a music college or a 10-hour a day practice routine, but then again, neither did Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden and all of those other bands who would be a big deal a year or two later. This is something everyone should consider now that Nirvana’s Nevermind is 20 years old: that album was the result of an underground scene that had been building for years and Nirvana was representative of literally thousands of bands who had the exact same outlook and battle plan for success. Nirvana happened to have been the band that made it but without that scene and many other bands, Kurt Cobain would’ve never been a household name. The 2nd band I had interviewed for Guitar World, Love and Rockets, were very vocal about what they considered to be outdated models of what a guitar hero is or should be and I would hear that repeated often on interviews. Technicality was on it’s way out and feel, riffs, songs and attitude were what people wanted to play… and hear. Letch Patrol and all of these EV guys were completely aligned with what would be front-page news in guitar magazines in the near future so even though the article didn’t run, it did, because it represented an approach to music that would from this time forward be thought of as LEGITIMATE.

Marc Rentzer:I was taking audio engineering classes but wasn’t doing too well with it…to the point that Jim Fourniadis and Dan from Vital were helping me with all my homework. Letch Patrol already had a vehicle we called the Letchmobile but John had started doing van jobs, casually at first, but then he realized there was a gold mine in this business so I decided making money was better than doing homework. He and I went out to New Jersey and bought a van, got business cards and pledged, just like with Letch Patrol, we would be the best. We undercharged other van drivers and we NEVER SAID NO no matter what time of day or what kind of job it was. Because we knew a lot of people, the business blew up right away. Louise from CBGBs gave me her Rolodex, can you believe that? We had phone numbers of bands and musicians who had just changed their number that day and I was already calling them and they’re asking me, “how the hell did you get this number?”. Both Hilly and Louise supported us and wanted us to succeed and that just shows you what kind of great people they were and what a fantastic community it was. I get emotional talking about it sometimes. We hadn’t been at it that long when Vinny, from Vinny’s Vans, a well-known guy in the cartage business walked up to me and said “You Guys Win”. We took all of his clients and we ended up getting thrown out of the original VITAL space because we were so successful and would come back from jobs throwing cash all over the place. I had to get a bank account because we were making so much money. Then we moved to the loft and then you came along and things really took off then. I can’t believe how busy it got. Working for all of those musicians you wrote about in the first installment was as great an experience as anyone could have. I knew as it was happening how lucky we all were.  Jon Paris — I went on tour with him and George Thorogood and everywhere we went people treated Jon like GOD because he had played with Johnny Winter AND because he is just such a super nice guy. They dressed me up as the Angel of Death for the Halloween show of that tour. I was backstage at a Robert Gordon show and there was this psycho there that everyone had to watch out for because he would wig and beat people up. So he fixed on me and started walking across the room toward me and Robert saw this happening and just cut the guy off. I felt like he saved my life and you know, if Robert Gordon said something, people listened. He just had that kind of vibe. We were the first van service that would go up to the middle of Harlem to pick up Jean-Paul Bourelly and his band and he ALWAYS hooked us up by giving us extra money. We had to charge more because it took a long time to go all the way up there to get them. It didn’t have anything to do with being in Harlem, it was all about the time factor. We had lots of bands that needed picked up so we had to be able to get to people, get them to their gig and go get someone else right away. Once Jean-Paul understood our situation we were best buds and what a player too! I remember when we all went and saw him play at CBGBs and I said afterwards it was like watching Hendrix. Of course I learned so much from Chris Spedding because he was around all of the time and I still use stuff he showed me back then in my playing today! We worked hard, but by being there and doing what we did, I had some of the best guitar teachers and influences right in front of me on a constant basis. When you think about it, how many people have that kind of opportunity?

Chicken John (guitarist/bass Letch Patrol):..My favorite moving job was the very first one. Someone gave me $150 to move their stuff. It was the most freeing feeling I ever had in my life. I remember every moment of that job. I was young. Strong. I shaved. Cleaned the van and then moved a lady’s apartment. Ate at DoJo afterward. Amazing.

Vital Van was completely intertwined with Letch Patrol and Vital Music Records. It’s hard to mention one without talking about the other. One example of this is that the van service did a lot of deliveries for the New York Art Studio Kostabi World and Paul “Ena” Kostabi, a great guitarist who’s been involved with some pretty major art and music stuff over the years and his band Youth Gone Mad were also very involved with Vital Music Records and the whole music scene that Letch Patrol and The Rats shared. This overlap led to lots of shared business, gigs, records and associations that constantly re-fertilized the creativity and business fields. As van drivers we did stuff that was completely crazy — going to places in NYC that were barely on the map because someone called us after finding our number on a flyer stuck to a light pole. One of my first solo jobs was moving a junkie lady of the night who lived on the edge of the Red Hook projects at 10 pm on a really cold November evening. As Marc says we never said “NO” and for 2-3 years we were the premier van service in NYC, which I’ve always thought was quite an achievement. There were many people involved who made it happen and that in itself made it a fun place to be. I’ve written stories from those days and I think it would make for a funny, cool and interesting book, not only because of the subject matter, but also because of all of the personalities involved. They define what NYC character is all about. While I don’t remember Vinny from Vinny’s Van Co., I do remember a guy named Eric Konheim. Eric was a total nut and the one guy who gave Vital a run for the money on the ability to go the extra mile all the time. His voice-mail said it all — “I AM NOT A MAN, I AM A MACHINE.” His van was an awesome tricked-out ride that looked like it had come right out of The Road Warrior: wire mesh on all the windows, huge bubble locks on the doors and a big wire cage separating the front of the van from the back. He lent it to us to do jobs occasionally and we loved taking it out. Like us, he would go to any neighborhood, at any time, to move whoever had the money to pay for it. Back then hardly anyone had credit cards, there was no Zip Car service, and people didn’t try to move their sofas on the subway (like now). There were way fewer cabs, many dangerous neighborhoods and the murder rate was a couple thousand per year. Eric usually worked for 10 months at a clip and then took really exotic vacations and during one of these trips he was killed in the spring of 1991. He was definitely a dude who had what Iggy Pop called, A LUST FOR LIFE and his death and the funeral we all attended affected us, maybe more than we knew at the time. That whole scene was about a lust for life and Eric’s death, in retrospect, maybe was the beginning of the end of an era.

I played bass in Letch Patrol full-time for 6 months and then came back later for their recording of the Bay City Rollers song, Saturday Night, which was produced by none other than Chris Spedding. As a session player, Chris had actually worked with The Bay City Rollers back in the day, so he was a natural choice. This all occurred around the time this picture was taken with the very lovely and legendary Tish and Snooky, Chris Spedding and Chicken John posing in a stairwell. Letch Patrol had gone through many personnel changes. George Tabb had left almost two years before and had put together Iron Prostate and they were already on their way to being well-known and semi-successful. Marc would leave Letch Patrol and Vital and would join up with Iron Prostate a year or two later. A really awesome bass player named Gavin had played with the band and worked for the company, but had then moved on and that’s when I started playing bass in the band. Before Marc left we rehearsed and played two shows together with me on bass, he and Chicken on guitars, Harris singing and the late Chuck Clearwater on drums. That period was very frustrating because even when Letch Patrol was trying, it sometimes felt like the universe had turned against us. I can remember waiting around a whole Saturday (watching some very bad bands) to play at some squat fest only to get onstage and have the NYPD shut the whole thing down just as we started our first song (we were supposed to close the show). Another show we were supposed to do got cancelled because of drummer issues. But it was fun playing the songs — I especially liked I Am the King, Drinkin’ Metal Intro and Bloodbath — and (later) recording with a legend like Chris Spedding. Since he knew all of us, he was a very low-key producer and his very funny and very British sense of humor made everyone feel at home and relaxed. I remember us discussing whether it was better to have the music real loud in the phones (which I liked) or a more balanced, low-volume thing (his preference). He said something about missing the nuance if it’s too loud and I said “nuance…in Letch Patrol? Really?” and Chicken said “nuance schmuance!” and we all started laughing and that was the end of that. Around the time of the recording, or a short time before, Pete Marshall started working with Vital and was also playing in Letch Patrol. He and I did some jobs together and had a good time and a few pretty memorable work days and we also alternated off and on being in the band for the next year, although Pete did most of the playing. I believe Marc came back and did a show or two, but he had begun pursuing other things as well.

Pete Marshall (guitarist/bass player for Letch Patrol): I was just always amazed that Spedding would actually voluntarily hang around with us! For awhile I had his yellow Flying V and ’68 Deluxe Reverb amp for some reason. At that point, the guitar was unplayable due to the Steinberger trans-trem, and no parts could be found. It was still cool as hell to look at and hold in my hands though. I used his Deluxe Reverb at the very last Ditch Witch show at the Pool Bar, then I think John took the guitar and amp back since I couldn’t find parts for the Trans-trem. (Leslie West used those pretty well in the mid-nineties. Maybe that’s why Chris had that guitar) I remember recording at Baby Monster studios on Broadway and they had a small box 50 watt or Marshall JTM 45 head on an old Basketweave 810 cabinet, and I was trying to talk John into at least trying that combo for some of the guitar tracks, but he didn’t want to for some reason. I brought a Musicman Stingray bass with me, and John hated it and wanted me to play the Gibson Grabber, which just sounded like mud direct to me. I think that’s why your bass track was used for Saturday Night. Through all of this Spedding sat there playing my black Epiphone Spirit, which was kind of a Les Paul special w/ humbuckers. I had my ’59 Junior there also, so I have no idea why he was playing that guitar. But he told me he really liked it, and it was a really big thrill to see him effortlessly playing Brown Sugar by the Stones on it. That guitar had an x2n Dimarzio pick-up in it; I figured he would have hated that. So I did my tracks and left and later I was handed a cassette of the finished tunes. I can account for doing 2 Letch Patrol shows, one at CBGBs and one at the Cat Club, but I’m sure there were more. Oh yea! New Years at Downtown Beirut! Sometimes I was in the band, sometimes I wasn’t. Sometimes I was a guitar player, sometimes I was the bass player. I did the short West Coast tour with them too and after that I think it was over.

The “Saturday” single was cool and there was another one after that called “The Ballad of Fred” that I didn’t play on. Letch Patrol had become like Vital Van in that there was a steady rotation of people. I saw my last Letch Patrol gig at the Cat Club in NYC late in ’91 and it was a lot of fun. The band was on and they were having a good time. There was a West Coast tour later that year, but soon after, the band disintegrated. Chicken went on tour as the guitarist for GG Allin, but then came back and worked for Helmet on a tour or two because Page Hamilton had also been working with Vital Van just as his band was getting big and knew Chicken would deliver in the roadie/stage manager capacity. A few months later I left Vital Van. Trying to be in bands that were taking over the world and simultaneously running a business that NEVER SAID NO! was hard on everyone and I think it was natural that we would burn out and have to move on. I was a few years older than the others and had been driving (professionally!) for almost 4 years before I started working at Vital, so I really needed a change of scene. In addition to carting bands, Vital went out of town as roadies, moved apartments and houses full of furniture, had corporate accounts and did last minute delivery-type stuff. Some weeks it felt like all we did was work. I found it hard to really focus on what I wanted to do musically and while it was great to be working for so many awesome musicians, my songwriting, guitar and bass skills really developed once I had moved on. It was also becoming obvious that the music scene and downtown NYC was changing. While punk rock was still very much in vogue, the old-school performance art/theater aspect of the 80s East Village was not as appreciated. The successful units of the 90s were no BS PUNK ROCK (like Iron Prostate) because that is what the kids wanted.

Marc Rentzer: In 2006 I was playing with George Tabb again in Furious George and we were one of the last bands to play at CBGBs before it closed. Of course we played with Cheetah Chrome from The Dead Boys and it was really a fun, but also sad night, because it was closing the book on a huge part of many people’s lives. I don’t know what can be said about it that hasn’t already been said. I know it was very important to me and I’m proud of everything we did and feel lucky to not only have been around so many great players and artists, but also to have met and spent time with so many quality people. That whole period with Letch Patrol and Vital Van completely changed my life and since then, nothing has been the same. Did we become rich and famous? No. Did we even achieve the modest success that many others enjoyed, especially in the 90s? No. But that era captures the imagination of many people. My son was reading a book the other day and Letch Patrol and Furious George are mentioned in it. He’s 12 years old and it’s basically a kid’s book, but we’re in there. I’m going to a photography/art exhibition later today that has all of this stuff from New York City’s punk years and I’m in a few of the photographs. I can say I was there and we accomplished enough that people still value what we did as important enough to document. I think that says a lot. It was a long time ago and my whole attitude on life and playing is different from what it was then. I play to have fun and rock people into having a good time. I’m not trying to take over anything and I don’t have all of that anger and rage I had back in the day. But I still have a lot of energy and our performances still convey everything that meant something in those days. Times change and people change, but the important stuff remains the same because it IS important and you always have to remember why you started doing it in the first place.

George Tabb and Marc Rentzer still play together in Furious George. Marc has also been the go-to guitarist for a whole lot of punk stuff in the city lately, from tributes to people like Johnny Thunders to playing with The Murder Junkies. Pete Marshall is currently playing in legendary lady Bebe Buell‘s band. Chicken John has written a book that probably explores the metaphysics behind Letch Patrol and life in general much more than this post does. Titled The Book of the Is, it’s a collection of essays on engineered disperfection or failure, if you’re into the whole brevity thing. I would encourage anyone and everyone to pick it up as I’m sure it will be remarkably entertaining. While this story seems to be a retrospective report and most of the bands, clubs and personalities from those days are something or someone else, the spirit that was so much a part of that scene remains the same and can be found in the youth of today. I just met a couple guys this week who took me back to that period — they have a very underground band and the one guy has a van and moves other bands around. It was really fun and a little bit funny to be in their presence for a couple of minutes because HOLY DEJA-VU! We had a mutual very-cool vibe with each other. It’s a real pleasure to know that the things that moved me and the things I was a part of are still important, especially to people who were barely alive when this story I’ve told took place. To be a part of this circle of life is tremendously rewarding and it’s important to recognize that participating in it is really the definition of success. Fame, money and extreme comfort are all very nice things, but there is something to be said for drawing satisfaction from being a part of this great ongoing thing that will continue without you, but always contains you because you were there and a part of it. While neither Letch Patrol or Vital Van conquered the world, the possibilities of the world were definitely made clearer to a bunch of guys who aimed higher and went further than they might have, had they not aimed for an impossible and distant horizon. They will also forever be a part of the great tapestry and tradition that is New York City Music and Entertainment (PUNK ROCK!) and there isn’t anything better than that.

ALL Letch Patrol group people photos and Guitar Interview photo courtesy of Marc Rentzer. Photo of Tish, Snooky, Chris Spedding and Chicken John courtesy of Chicken John.


Posted in Music Business, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2011 by theguitarcave

Many things that have made my life exciting happened completely because of timing, synchronicity and luck. While it is always good to try and plan a future and be prepared for anything, there are many situations that I couldn’t have plotted out. For instance, I was introduced to the VITAL VAN Community the same day I I interviewed Mick Ronson for Guitar World Magazine. After the awesome interview I met the VITAL crew while I was recording at the Vital Studio for a session that I had nothing to do with arranging. Within a couple of months, not only was my Mick Ronson article about to be published, but I had also served as a roadie and tech for Robert Gordon, Chris Spedding and The Merchants of VenusShane Fontayne’s band at the time. Chris and Robert need no introduction but if you are in the dark about who they are look no further than HERE. Shane Fontayne was in the under-appreciated band 80s band Lone Justice for a time and has also has played with a whole cast of rock superstars from Springsteen to U2 to Paul Simon.  This was the beginning of a three year odyssey of meeting many different players and learning a MILLION things about the music business. Because VITAL provided moving, transportation and roadie services, I was able to put the experience I had from the previous years as driver/party set-builder to good use. But it wasn’t like I’d set out to do this, it just happened. After my experiences at VITAL were over I knew so much more about the music business and guitar playing that it’s hard to conceive how life would’ve turned out had I not had been involved and while I certainly can yap with the best of them, I did a  lot of listening and the knowledge all of the great players I met became a part of me.

Letch Patrol


The East Village of NYC back in those days was like Tombstone Arizona in the 1880s; wild, wide-open and dangerous. The VITAL crew was perfectly at home in this environment and the vibe of the people involved attracted many other musicians and some of New York’s most eccentric characters. VITAL VAN started primarily as a partnership between the two guitar players in the band Letch Patrol, along with a couple of other guys in another band, Rats of Unusual Size, who had started Vital Music Records. Chicken John, founder of VITAL VAN, and guitarist/writer in Letch Patrol was and is a total man with a plan. Over the years Chicken has: been GG Allin’s guitarist, owned and traveled with the Circus Rediculous, owned and operated the Odeon Bar in San Francisco, built a truck that runs on garbage, sailed from California to Italy on a Junk Boat, was a candidate for Mayor of San Francisco in 2007, and about a billion other things. He was a mover and shaker at the very young age of 22 and at the time we met was on page 3 of the NY POST for being one of NYC’s most notorious scofflaws. He has a book coming out in this fall that I’m sure will be very entertaining and enjoyable. Mark, the other guitarist from Letch Patrol had his own van and contacts in the punk-rock underworld and was the Ying to Chicken’s Yang in the business partnership. They had been friends going back several years and had already been involved is some very wild and crazy times together. Jim and Tom from Vital Music Records were running the office, working jobs (my first official job was with Jim and we ended up playing in each others bands off and on over the next 5 years) AND were signing artists for singles on their new record label.

The company was based in a loft on 2nd avenue, four blocks south from my apartment at the time, totally in the middle of where everything was happening. A typical day at the loft was like being in the middle of an animal menagerie run by Monkey Business-era Marx Brothers with special appearances by Paola Passolini, Keith Moon and Freddie Mercury, as well as a host of other sparkling personalities. In addition to the van service and record company the loft was home to a guy named Harris, the singer for Letch Patrol. He was also a very well-known street bookseller, so every wall in the loft that wasn’t a window held a bookcase full of books. Less than a block away was the Cooper Diner, our food and hangout zone. A few years earlier it had been the Binibon Cafe, notorious in East Village lore as the place where writer, career criminal Jack Abbott stabbed a young waiter to death. We were treated royally by the Greek family who took over the place, especially The Guy who was a spitting image of Dan Ackroyd. Right up the avenue was Ron Wood’s club Woodys and CBGBs and St. Marks Place were within stumbling distance. As soon as I joined, the business really started to take off and while I have always brought a lot of energy to every situation, there was already plenty of energy and creativity at VITAL, so once again, it was all about the timing and luck. The company developed a good reputation and had many repeat customers. The first full year I was with the van service the business cleared more than $300,000 and we EARNED every dime.

KISS in Guitar World

Paul Stanley — Was not impressed! Gene Simmons — Stones fan, great talker!

This new relationship I was developing with the music business allowed me to see it from many angles. I had begun writing and interviewing musicians about 4 months prior to joining the van service so I was meeting people at the front of the business; performers, management, publishers, editors, publicists and they all tended to have at least a modicum of sophistication and polish and the settings were much more formal and polite…usually. Then there was the other side, which was loud, vulgar and dangerous at times. Away from the offices and publicists rock and roll can be pretty messy and it falls on the roadies, drivers, techs and sometimes the performers to MAKE IT HAPPEN! and GET THE JOB DONE! That was the VITAL creed, and I could more than handle that, but it sometimes made for uncouth appearances and conversations at the magazine offices or on Guitar World interviews.  I went to interview Paul Stanley of KISS straight from a driving job and Paul was not impressed! I was dressed for roadie work, totally wound up from rushing from the job to the interview, awed to be meeting Paul Stanley and babbling like an idiot. I don’t know that Paul is overly impressed with anyone and when you are facing a guy who is sitting in an office with his feet up on a desk the size of a pickup truck that holds nothing but 2 speakers, and the rest of the room is bare except for a straight back chair and 3 walls full of Gold and Platinum records, you kind of just have to wing it and hope for the best. I did my best, but the conversation was a bit strained although maybe he was preoccupied with something else like “IS IT TIME TO BRING BACK THE MAKEUP?” It’s Paul Stanley after all, he had bigger things to worry about than our 35 minute interview. On the other hand, I interviewed Gene Simmons on the phone because he was in LA at the time and we talked for like 2 hours. Gene loves to talk and is a really sharp interviewee. I had been to see the Rolling Stones in concert at Shea Stadium the night before and he was impressed with that because he has always been a big fan. Gene’s got a pretty mean reputation in the business, especially these days, but he was a really nice guy when we spoke and was interested in my opinion on subjects we were discussing. That always blew my mind…that people like Gene wondered what I thought. He obviously didn’t have to stroke me and neither did any of the other people I interviewed. We had a really good rapport, especially since neither of us was fond of Hair Metal.

Doing the VITAL roadie gigs was a lot of fun and totally educational. Most of the bands were drag and drop — drive them to the gig and pick them up when they were finished. Sometimes on the weekends we would do as many as 8-10 different bands a night. Higher-profile bands like Robert Gordon, The Merchants of Venus, former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor and others, we would help set up the equipment and then stick around to ensure the gig ran smoothly. This included changing strings, helping with sound, fetching drinks (shades of the Kool-Aid lady), dealing with any problems onstage as they arose and keeping people who were not known to the band away from the dressing room. This is when I learned things like the best way to string and stretch out the strings of a guitar before a gig, how to set up and take down a drum kit even though I wasn’t a drummer, how to set up other guitar rigs to the player’s specifications, how to stack and wheel large amounts of equipment effectively in and out of the club and that ROBERT GORDON ALWAYS USES A STRAIGHT STAND FOR THE MICROPHONE. The first time I set up the Robert Gordon band alone I did everything perfect and Chris Spedding and Kenny Aaronson gave me the thumbs up and they started playing and Robert came walking out and was making his way to the mic and then took three steps straight back and stood there looking at me and looking at the mic stand. DOH!! It was a funny moment and he was laughing too. I ran onstage bringing a straight stand to replace the boom stand that was there and the show began. During this time I learned all of this info and technique that I then applied to my own guitar rig and playing. Shane Fontayne used an Echoplex and I had just bought one so it was really fun to watch him work it and check his settings. He and Chris Spedding were real masters when it came to using echo/delay to create either a really lush sound or the classic slap-back that works so well for punk, rockabilly or rock and roll. Here’s Shane with Sting and punk legend drummer Josh Freese

Jean-Paul Bourelly was another guitar player we worked for on occasion and he was always fun to drive around — great guy, great sense of humor. One day while driving all over the Bronx picking up the other guys in his band he laid a rap on me about the Stratocaster and Jimi Hendrix that really made an impression since I loved Hendrix and the Strat was my guitar of choice at the time. I followed his advice to use 4 springs for the whammy bar and to set put the action “up a little bit” and that has been my set-up ever since. He totally blew me away when I saw him play, especially a very memorable gig at CBGBs. I still remember — it was the kind of gig where afterwards I just wanted to go home and play!

I missed being in on any Mick Taylor gigs. I’ve always thought his period with The Stones was really awesome and that he is one of the most underrated players ever. His guitar was at the loft when I first started and I was able to play it. At the time I thought that it might’ve been the one of the Les Pauls from the Get Yer Ya Yas Out period, but according to this thread that guitar was lost or stolen in the early 70s. Mick Taylor did like his Les Pauls with Bigsbys though ’cause the one I played had one as well! Chicken had some great stories of doing these gigs, like the band getting paid in nickels for a performance one night! Mick and Ron Wood have been stepping out together lately…Could a Lynyrd Skynyrd style 3-guitar line-up of the Stones be on the horizon? (Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

Another really cool cat was blues and rock player Jon Paris, who was Johnny Winter‘s bass player for a long time. Jon was a totally cool guy and not only played great guitar, but also sang well, played awesome bass and was a killer harp player. He is still at it too — I’m only writing in the past tense because I saw all of it in action many times. He had a Black Telecaster with a string bending/damping system that I haven’t seen before or since. It was a combination whammy bar meets Clarence White pedal steel B-bender. The first time I took him to a gig he took that guitar out of the case and I said, “hey I have a black ’72 Custom — WHOA what the heck is that thing?” I was pointing to the little metal arms and he just started fooling around and it sounded fantastic. I said “COOL” and then went and found a parking space for the van and came back and watched him play until I had start picking up other bands to take them home. Jon did Springsteen-esque sets, especially at a former blues bar on 2nd avenue, Dan Lynch. We usually didn’t go back and pick him up until 4:30-5:00 in the AM and it wasn’t uncommon to see Jon playing the guitar behind his neck and duck-walking Chuck Berry-style to a bunch of people who, by this point in the evening, could barely stand. He had superhuman stamina when it came to rocking an audience.

Not only did VITAL VAN move a whole lot of rock and roll guitar players, but we also had regular work with local businesses including Forbidden Planet NYC, and Village Comics. We also transported materials for art installations including several trips with a coffin that weighed almost 600 lbs. In addition there was a ongoing affair with local keys superstar Joel Diamond and his very heavy Fender Rhodes piano. We also got frequent calls from drummers, JT Lewis and Ronald Shannon Jackson…who described me as “the guy who looks like Jeff Beck”.  Another regular client was The Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. Their contact person, a woman named Ginny Wilson, was the greatest and they gave us a lot of work as they performed all over the country. We would sometimes have to pick up their drums and equipment from Kennedy airport at whatever hour. They were based in a studio on lower Broadway that was right out of the Three Stooges Ache In Every Stake short. (The Stooges are Ice Men trying to take a block of ice up a very long staircase) The staircase to the Laura Dean dance studio was that high…we’d get nosebleeds.

Guitar World was giving me a lot of interviews with the NOIZE genres: like punk, hardcore, metal and early alternative guys like Paris Mitchel-Mayhew from Cro-Mags, Piggy from Voivod, Jimi Hazel from 24-7 Spyz, Dr. Know from Bad Brains, Pete Koller from Sick of It All and others like Forbidden, Armored Saint and Shotgun Messiah. All of these bands were really intense and the shows they played were totally pummeling, in-your-face excitement. But talking with them was a blast ’cause they were all really mellow, especially Dr. Know, and Jimi Hazel from 24-7 Spyz. Paris from the Cro-Mags gave me one of the most quotable lines ever with regards to potential managers: “Don’t trust anyone who looks like Doug Henning or Geezer Butler…”. It was really enlightening that while many of these dudes played completely heavy uncompromising stuff, their range of influences was really broad. As Dr. Know said of his band’s mix of many musical styles, “man needs other things in his musical and nutritional style to keep him healthy.” I could certainly relate to that given all the different players I was meeting at the time. Page Hamilton from Helmet worked with VITAL for a short time just as his band was blowing up. Of course Helmet went on to own heavy music for a couple of years in the early/mid-90s and since I got the chance to see the band early on, hand out and talk with Page, it wasn’t any surprise to me that they did. He was a guy who knew exactly what he wanted and his band had a sound and live show that totally ruled.

Chicken roadied for Helmet on some of their first tours, but I had already departed VITAL VAN by then as had most of the others who had worked for the company. Like the other crew jobs I have written about, it was very easy to burn out on this kind of work and it was also hard for me to get something of my own going. That came later when I had a more stable kind of gig. Hustling and being in bands works for some people but I wasn’t able to concentrate on what I wanted to do while simultaneously having to worry about other bands and musicians needs. The weird and long hours thing had gotten pretty old too as I had been working that kind of schedule for almost 5 years. But what I learned during these days has stayed with me forever and still comes in handy from time to time. The advice, anecdotes, discussions and experiences became a part of the way I do things and for that I am eternally grateful.

Booker (Bukka) White and the Blues — Then and Now (2)

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2011 by theguitarcave

Part 1 is HERE

While many guitar players have taken the humble beginnings of blues guitar styling into the realm of blues guitar virtuoso over the years and have done it very well: Johnny Winter, Otis Rush, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, Roy Buchanan, Jeff Beck, and Buddy Guy, to name but a few, there have always been those more concerned with the most basic elements; feel, nuance, and (here comes my favorite word again) atmosphere. Two of my favorite superstar bands, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, both did very faithful or very perverted takes on the blues idiom and the blues sound. Both were obsessed with using technology or limited technology to get a sound that was either faithful to the original or a hyper-realistic redefinition. Jimmy Page was a master at recording and production and always stressed the importance of distance miking and microphone placement as two very overlooked ways to achieve an interesting sound of the blues or whatever the vibe of the song required. “Distance equals depth”, he has said many times in interviews. Led Zeppelin did many versions of blues influenced material and always created an interesting sonic approach that built upon what one could hear on the original song — When the Levee Breaks is a very good example. Someday I’d like to write about stuff I learned from listening to and reading about Jimmy Page, but in the meantime this is fascinating reading for anyone who is interested. A guy by the name of Bill O’Neil explores Led Zep’s studio wizardry and I think he does a really good job. The articles on Ten Years Gone and In My Time of Dying are very enlightening, especially if you’re a guitar player who might be doing some recording soon.

The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet

The Rolling Stones, when recording Parachute Woman, a no-frills chugger on the Beggars Banquet album, all gathered around an early Phillips cassette recorder and “overloaded” the levels so it came out greasy and slightly distorted. This was fed into the main board later. The (acoustic) guitar on Street Fighting Man, was recorded the same way, and while I don’t know that Keith has ever said one way or another, the studio release of Jumping Jack Flash sounds very similar to me. The Exile on Main Street sessions are legendary for the very DIY locations and methods of recording of what turned out to be probably one of the most lo-fi blues-authentic major releases ever. As I mentioned already, Mick Jagger copped his whole vocal style from the blues and it’s very apparent on the Beggars Banquet through Exile recordings. Both Keith Richards and Jimmy Page adopted the “open tunings” of many blues players — Booker White, Skip James, Robert Johnson, Son House, and later Muddy Waters — to achieve the same kind of guitar sound that their heroes were getting on these early records. Tuning to an “open” basically means tuning the strings so that the guitar is playing a chord without any fingers fretting the strings. This allows the player to play a chord, bass line or shuffle rhythm on the lower register, while simultaneously playing licks or melody lines on the higher strings. It also allows for interesting drone effects and when combined with a capo, allows a player to play the same patterns all over the neck in different keys, allowing the player to adjust for sound effect or to complement the vocal key he or she wants to play in. Keith Richards began using these tunings on the studio version of Jumping Jack Flash and the Beggars Banquet album and it signaled a new era for the Stones sound. I also think that Jumping Jack Flash might be the first open-tuned top 10 hit ever, but I’m not sure about that. Jimmy Page not only used the traditional open tunings, but also made up his own and I’ll explore all of this in more detail in a future post. There are literally endless possibilities and it’s something anyone should fool around with just to see how it might change the sound of the musical style or even song one is trying to play.

The Jam Messengers at Booker White's grave

A groovy great band that has come on the Cave Radar lately is The Jam Messengers, a righteous duo who understand the essence of the blues, dangerous living, analog dreams and bourbon washed down with Furry Lewis. I’ve known singer Rob K. for a long time. He and his partner for many years, Scott Jarvis, were NYC’s premier downtown bluesy rhythm section, the furious and notorious Workdogs. They had a lengthy, glamorous career on the once rough streets of the Lower East Side and had many a fine side-man and woman sit in with them. I was lucky enough to catch quite a few of their shows including one with Blues Explosion founder Jon Spencer, another on the same bill with modern-day blues twister, Poppy Chubby, and quite a few with the late, great Jerry “Dublee” Williams. They made quite a few recordings and I believe some of them are still available if you check out their website.

The Workdogs "Roberta" album

Rob K is still a blues entertainer-philosopher supremo front-man extraordinaire, now with a new partner, “Uncle” Marco Butcher, a guy who wakes up and drinks the blues for breakfast. They recently finished a tour of the eastern/southern states and there are rumors they will be returning over the summer. While in Memphis they visited Booker’s grave and Booker was pleased and said “Yea, so you shall go to the Big Apple and Shake ’em On Down!” (I’m paraphrasing). They tore it up for two nights in NYC and were able to record a whole lot of songs with Scott Jarvis while they were here so I’m sure there will be even more blues in the future for fans of their music. (Check out my review of their CD Dictionary of Cool in the sidebar) Marco lays out successive fiery riffs and swinging grooves on the guitar…while playing traps and shouting along on the choruses simultaneously! Holy cow is that super impressive! His open-tuned, slide-induced riffing and chooglin’ through a dirty Fender Champ would please Booker White, of that I am sure. So would his great sense of time and keeping the beat right up the big old butt of the audience. Rob K. is a master of the church-brought-low — a modern-day Testifier with a capital “T” — and he preaches his life gospel to all of the faithful and the faithful leave redeemed and relieved of all burdens. Politics, sexual roles, the profane and the mundane have all changed quite a bit since the days of Booker White and Rob K is a man with his finger on the pulse and his foot on the gas. Real blues singers throughout the years have always prided themselves on pushing boundaries, musically and lyrically, and the trouble with the majority of mainstream blues is that many an artist has retreated to the safe confines of the cliché. Not so with the Rob and Marco and this is an important common thread to the blues legacy and it resonates with people all over the world, because in just a short space of time, these guys have done some serious TRAVELIN’! Yea!! Taking it to the people like you are supposed to and hitting them with music and a message that the people need.

Because of artists like the Jam Messengers, Workdogs and many others that I will profile in the future, somewhere men like Booker White and Howlin’ Wolf, and women like Sister Rosetta and Memphis Minnie are pleased and maybe a little surprised that their artistic efforts and life stories have not only left a deep impression on the skin of this world, but continue to inspire lost souls who struggle through the muck and the fog of the jagged night in search of that sound, that feel and deliverance from all that is common and predictable. Through their recordings, films, stories, and performances these greats of yesteryear have left behind a legacy that can inspire and lead any musician with interest and an ear to the Promise Land.