Chris Stamey of the dB's on Ork Records | Interview

by John Dugan

I emailed Chris Stamey with some (simple) questions about Ork Records and working with Alex Chilton for an Economist piece on the Numero Ork box. Here's the complete interview.

 Television at CBGB

Television at CBGB

Hearing and seeing Television in 75 or 76, did you have an idea something new was happening? That this represented a new direction or not so much?
Much has been made of the way the band looked, the lack of shiny costumes and standard artifice, the lack of posing and rock-theatrics tropes. But the real--and very new--difference was obvious if you closed your eyes. They seemed to have sprung from a heritage that had lept over the blues and Chuck Berry, as if most of the 60s and 70s had not existed. It was an improvising quartet that touched both Albert Ayler/John Coltrane jazz and Midcentury Modern university music, with a freedom that was exhilerating and electric in the best sense of the word. I did connect it to a few rock things--the Hampton Grease Band live in the south, the Jeff Beck Yardbirds, a bit of the Who--but was riveted by the way the band sustained an attentive concentration. Listening, you had the sense that anything could happen at any moment, that danger was afoot, they were chasing down the molecules of time.

It's hard to say how that shock of the new happens. It's a flavor, difficult to describe. And rare. Like the judge said about pornography, " . . . but I know it when I see it." And there was no mistaking, from the first few notes, that Television was remarkable. They gave me hope.

A lot has been made of the whole CBGB scene, but I never heard any of the other bands that were remotely similar to Television.

And one clear difference--they rehearsed a lot! Extreme dedication there. They were a precision outfit when they needed to be, although keeping the guitars in tune without pedal tuners and guitar roadies made them seem less so. (There were no pedal tuners then, and no money for guitar techs, either, of course.)

One more thing: there was a sense that they were not lying to you the listener, and that they were trying to express difficult and perhaps important things in the same way that poetry does. It's hard to believe the degree to which most 70s rock was all about telling obvious lies to an enebriated audience, but I remember, I was there. 

What was the NYC "scene" around Max's, etc. like for you? Inspiring or not so much?
Max's was a nice club to play, but a bit weighed down by the legacy of decadence, maybe the VU live record had changed expectations there. Anyway, CB's was my hang, not Max's so much.  I could get in free at CB's but not at Max's!

What was your take on Ork Records at the time? 
I was somewhat on the inside, as Charles Ball from Ork was managing Alex Chilton as well (I was in Chilton's band), and he liked to talk about what was going on. I thought it was total chaos, another inmates-take-over-asylum situation, but it was true that the major labels were everywhere and that Terry Ork himself was constantly enthusiastic no matter what. But there was no illusion that it was a functioning business, just phone calls from pay phones and scraps of paper in pockets with holes in them. The book that comes with the Numero release talks about heroin a lot, but this was hidden from me, it did not seem like a part of this. The atmosphere was one of change and excitement, and it seemed like there was a lot of good-will toward the label from the NY press and label folks, that they, too, were ready for a sea change.

How would describe Terry Ork? Why would anyone make a record with him in those days?
Here is my description of Terry, from the book that comes with the record: "Terry was a benevolent presence in the scene. He was our Jerry Garcia, a smile big as all indoors, with a halo of chaos and insurrection. He gave everyone hope and encouraged all efforts, however nascent and tentative, with dreams of world conquest."

Do you think the label captured the spirit of that era?
"Little Johnny Jewel" is a great record that was their first but also their greatest accomplishment. It was influential in some quarters the same as "seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan" had been years earlier. I am not sure that the label ever topped that one. 

Is it accurate to call it the first punk 45 label?
This is a musicologist question, not one for me, what label were the 13 Floor Elevators on? The Seeds? It was probably the first American label to have such a strong French new cinema background. 

Was the label influential? Important?
Every Ork record was paid attention to because it was Ork. Same as Stiff. 

With the Cossacks, how functional was Alex Chilton? How did he fit into what was happening in NYC?
He was brilliant, very kind, witty/sardonic, and a very very good musician. He was a bit sad at times, getting over the end of a love affair. He gradually modified his approach to playing the clubs to fit the wildness of what was going on around him, both out of enthusiasm and also just a desire to be popular and draw bigger crowds (in my view). 

PLEASE listen to this, as proof of his attitude, from a cassette at a rehearsal right before he and I played CBGBs for the first time:

He thought we were going to be taking over the world shortly! That was the spirit. Maybe you should give this as a hotlink in your article? 

Many view this era in Chilton's career as a dark time, is that accurate?
He got worn down, later that year (1977), as he was dirt poor in NYC but with everyone buying him free drinks at the bars. But his playing in the later live gigs (not the Ocean Club record, which was the first gig after only 2-3 rehearsals) was fantastic, great guitar playing. 

You had him produce your first solo single. How was working with him in the studio?
I learned a ton. It was a master class in making the technology serve the art, instead of the other way around. See the Ork book. Here is an excerpt from my annotated songbook (as yet unpublished), New York Songs:

"[H]e found the Beach Boys side of the song when he produced it for Ork later that month, with just the two of us playing all the instruments and singing all the parts, Alex turning compressor knobs until they cried for mercy, commanding that we “sing like hounds” on the backup “ah-oop”s. He arranged it on the spot so that every instrument had a purpose, his drumming hitting just the beats that were crucial, his concise guitar solo a marvel of economy in the thirds-harmony style of the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing” (the tune that was also the template for the rhythm guitar groove of his own classic “September Gurls”)." 

Ork teased a Chris Stamey album as a follow-up to "Summer Sun," but this never happened. Why?
They were broke. 

Remembering David Carr

by John Dugan

It's entirely possible that without David Carr, I wouldn't have done as much writing and editing as I have over the past twenty years. I landed a gig as a production artist and ad designer at the City Paper in the mid-nineties. I started writing music pieces, previews and reviews with the encouragement of the arts editor Glenn Dixon, but it was Carr as new editor-in-chief who made me feel as if I could do more than pay off my endless D.C. parking tickets by penning record reviews and band profiles. Taken with a long review of a new Sloan record that City Paper had published, he asked me about my craft, how I wrote, what my process was. You could say I was flattered. I sensed that he did that with a lot of writers out of curiosity and enormous appetite for journo shop talk, but also to help them realize what was particular about their process. Carr was a master of the compliment. He offered up his jealousy for anyone such as I who could play in a band and write well. That's the kind of compliment you keep in your pocket forever, just in case you need it.

Carr was a  passionate fan of music, too. I liked to drink in his stories of wild times with the Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du during his Minneapolis days.

He was also gracious in hearing criticism. I once met with him in his office to vent about some oddly nasty takedown pieces CP had published on local musicians. He respected my point of view as someone with friends in music, but defended the stories on the grounds that he liked the writer's voice. He was a writer's editor. 

Carr liked the idea of connecting people that might otherwise never cross paths. He invited me to start joining City Paper editorial meetings. Now, I wish I had attended more. He took me along for outings with writers, journalists and politicos. Once, after an AAN convention event, he somehow got a bunch of us into the Tibetan Freedom Concert after show at the 9:30 Club. Another night, he popped into the production room and introduced the staff to his buddy the comedian Tom Arnold who was sporting a George Hamilton-esque "I'm from Hollywood" glow.

When closing the issue on Wednesday nights, the editor was supposed to flip through the layout pages to be sent to the printer and sign off on them. In a loose CP tradition, the cover story writer brought in beer for the remaining edit staff, production artists and took a final look at their story. At some point, Carr got in the habit of asking me to sign off on the pages instead, which was interesting as I was drinking and he wasn't. It gave him a chance to visit with his family or jaw with the writer, but it also was like the captain standing on the deck saying Go ahead and take the wheel, this paper is as much yours as mine. David Carr treated a lot of us like first mates and that's something we'll never forget.

Cerrone for Time Out

by John Dugan

Rory Phillips recently posted a Guardian article about Cerrone, so I dug this out to share.

Thirty, but still flirty

It’s time to give Cerrone’s  disco originals another spin.  By John Dugan

The music of disco pioneer Giorgio  Moroder has gotten a thorough reappraisal in recent years, but another influential producer, France’s Cerrone (Jean-Marc Cerrone), has been a bit neglected. Which is strange, because Cerrone is far from obscure: He sold more than 3 million copies worldwide of his raunchy 1976 debut, Love in C Minor, and DJs and artists of many stripes still hold his penultimate album, Cerrone 3, in high regard. You’ve probably heard more Cerrone than you think: His recordings are heavily sampled by everyone from Daft Punk to Lionel Richie. On the 30th anniversary of his breakout year, five albums by Cerrone get the royal treatment with CD reissues and a vinyl box set on the Malligator/Recall label. Also this month on Recall, Cerrone by Bob Sinclar—a 2001 million-seller mix-CD—finally reaches the States. 

We recently gave Cerrone a ring while the drummer, composer and singer was passing through New York. When not touring, he’s planning a huge dance party for next October in New York’s Central Park ( featuring his and Nile Rodgers’s bands playing live to 70,000 dancing people. He hints that he may bring the Chic/Cerrone tour to Chicago sometime thereafter—all part of his efforts to make dance music a live experience. “That’s why I do this business: to play, not to be an engineer or a DJ and play the music of someone else,” Cerrone says in a thick accent. “The emotion come[s] from the body and specifically the drummer.”

“I don’t make music for radio, I make it 
for myself and the discotheque.”

His music career started one Christmas, when the fidgety 12-year-old Parisian got a real drum kit from his mother. As a teen, he convinced Gilbert Trigano, the devout communist who ran Club Med, to hire him to put together bands to play at the resorts. For four and a half years, Cerrone booked some 40 funky rock bands at the Club Med “villages” in Italy, Spain and elsewhere. It was a big learning experience, evidently. “It was also the beginning of a sex life, because trust me, at the beginning of Club Med, that was really something,” he remembers. “A lot of people ask me questions about [Studio] 54 and how fun that was. Trust me, the Club Med was stronger. You can’t imagine.” His band the Kongas held residency at St. Tropez and penetrated ’70s New York with “Anikana-O.” Cerrone picked the best bassists and keyboard circuit for himself.

When he recorded a 16-minute song for his first LP, it was designed for a purpose the biz had yet to envision. “If you go back to that time, all major companies, all radio look at me like a strange guy coming in from the moon. And everybody said to me, ‘How can we play 16 minutes on the radio?’ My answer was always, ‘I don’t make the music for the radio, I make it for myself and then for the discotheque.’” Moroder had hit gold a few months earlier with Donna Summer, and Cerrone’s debut joined disco’s first wave of smashes in ’76. 

In August of ’77, Cerrone unpacked his first synth. “We started to find a few sounds that were so strange. So I play the drums with the synthesizer live.” The result, “Supernature,” is a disco landmark, and a punk one. Friend Lene Lovich contributed sci-fi–inspired lyrics for Cerrone 3 and loads of other Cerrone releases.

The reissues sport the original scandalous album art—think a naked woman on top of a refrigerator. “At that time, about ’75, [we got] the pills for the girls not to get the baby,” he says. “You don’t imagine what kind of a revolution [it was]. So when you produce music for the discotheque, you try to find sex. It was logic to get a girl on the front of the sleeve.”

It’s also logical that he makes a nice euro from sample publishing. “I don’t think it’s bad for me to ask for so much,” he says. “That kind of music needs a real atmosphere, otherwise you’ve fucked up.”

Cerrone by Bob Sinclar and CD reissues of Cerrone’s first five albums are out Tuesday 14 on Recall Records.

November 9, 2006


Rick Buckler of The Jam, 2008 Interview

by John Dugan

I recently noticed a site where I used to freelance is having technical issues posting its archives. For that reason, I'm grabbing some of my pieces from that site and reposting here. First up, Rick Buckler from The Jam. Rick was about to embark on a February 2008 tour of the U.S. bringing From The Jam to Chicago. I also caught the show, which was great for what it was.

LiveDaily Interview: Rick Buckler of From the Jam
January 10, 2008 09:01 AM
By John Dugan
LiveDaily Contributor

In 1977, The Jam stood out from the rest of the punk explosion pack. The band had been honing its craft in pub gigs for several years and, while full of punk energy, the power trio also knew its '60s chops--mod rock, soul and even psychedelia crept into its compositions. The Jam also boasted Paul Weller, a songwriter with a class perspective.

The band only punctured the US charts a few times and, by 1982, the trio had split after releasing a No. 1 UK album, "The Gift." The group's rhythm section was particularly distinctive in its time--and now, it's back.

Following on successful tours of the UK last May and November, From the Jam -featuring original bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler of England's mod-punk godfathers The Jam--will hit the States for 13 shows this month. Weller, who's issuing a deluxe, two-disc version of his second solo album, "Wildwood," this month, won't be joining them, however. Rather, Russell Hastings of Maximum High sings Weller's parts and plays guitar. To learn more, we spoke to Buckler as he enjoyed his teatime at home in the South of England.

LiveDaily: One thing that occurred to me is that From the Jam are touring as a four-piece, not a power trio. Is that because of keyboard needs?

Rick Buckler: Yeah, It was initially because of the keyboards. There are some songs like "A Town Called Malice" and "The Gift" that you really couldn't do without the keyboards, but Dave [Moore] is a good guitar player anyway, so it just gave us that chance to put in those guitar parts live that The Jam never did--that, obviously, we put onto record but never really played live. We had keyboard players and horn sections and backing vocals to augment the band, but we never had a second guitar. It's a nice little avenue to explore. It certainly adds to it; it's more like people remember from the record rather than necessarily the old live sound.

The overdubbed solos are there.

Yeah, all those nice little extra guitar things that are on the record. 

So Russell and Dave are both playing guitar? 

Russ is the main guitar, if you like, and Dave flits between keyboards and guitar.

As for Russell's voice, does he turn extra Wellerisms on, is it his own singing style, or in between?

It's entirely his own thing. He sings in the way that he sings. He doesn't come from a million miles away from Paul or from us, in the south of England. He's his own man and does his own thing. I don't think he regards it as filling anybody's shoes. I don't know if you know, but, years ago, he was a big Jam fan himself. He had been to several of the shows, [including] the last one. I only bumped into him a few years ago. I knew what he had been doing. I had been running a website, the, and each year I used to put on a show in the Woking/Guilford area and hire a few bands in. And one of the bands I got in was Maximum High, which Russ was in.

I was always quite impressed with his stagecraft. I think he really fit in. When we first got together with him to put The Gift [an earlier band that covered Jam material] together, it all fell in really nicely. He had the passion for the songs and understood what was needed from the songs.

How did The Gift and Bruce Foxton get together? 

Bruce was doing Stiff Little Fingers and was also in another band called Casbah Club. We ended up being on the same bill at Guilford. I called him up and [asked] him did he fancy jumping up and doing a couple of numbers with us. We did "Smithers-Jones" and "Tube Station," I think. The reaction was fantastic. He did one or two more guestings with us. By the end of 2006, we decided to make the whole thing concrete and do the thing properly. We ended up with a May tour of the UK, and went on to the bigger tour that we've just finished in November and December. I think Bruce discovered, as I did, that it was great fun to revisit the Jam material, and that the original Jam fans, as well as new ones, were out there and wanted to hear it. Everybody was a winner.

The music seems so relevant and so many bands draw on The Jam. Everything has come back around in a lot of ways.

I think that is all due to Paul's songwriting. A lot of the songs have lasted the test of time. In some cases, it's unfortunate that they still have meaning with "Little Boy Soliders" and what have you. The world doesn't seem to have changed that much. Paul was always very good at observing things and translating them into verse, at it were. That is obviously what has lasted.

Being a drummer myself, I know that some songs come back to one easily, and others are a bit harder to remember how to play. Which Jam songs were the trickiest for you? "Tube Station" is a bit of a workout on the hi-hat, right? Were there any you had to work at?

I hadn't played for 12 years [before The Gift]. I was literally at the starting point again. I just put in loads and loads of practice. It's not too bad; I'm lucky enough that if there are things that I can't remember, I just pull the album out and listen to it, and refresh my memory on certain bits. It did take me a while to get back up to speed. It all seemed worthwhile, and we had a lot of fun doing it. It's not that difficult. It's like riding a bike, but knowing that you are going to take part in a race, not just go down the shops.

People are going to be watching.

I did find that a bit of a shock--people were watching more intently than I thought they might do. I really thought that I better shine up my shoes and everything.

Last year you celebrated the 30th anniversary of the release of "In the City," The Jam's 1977 debut. Why is "In the City" still a classic? I always think of that being the pubby, punky side of The Jam. How do you feel about that record?

That was the culmination of what we had been rehearsing for, for the first five years. It was the best of what we could put together to do that first album. There wasn't a lot of songwriting involved. It was already there; we just had to record it. In that way, it was fantastic and it was done live in the studio as well. ... It was a learning curve with us. With [1977 follow-up album "This is the Modern World"], we tended to be a bit more delicate in the way we did things without trying and testing the songs. To come up with an album before you take it out to the crowd was a weird thing for us. People didn't know the material. The whole thing was a very long learning curve. By the time we got to [1978's] "All Mod Cons," I think we'd got it together about the way that we did things. Each album was a turning point for us, a musical idea or just in the way we worked. The whole thing of, "This isn't a hobby anymore chaps; you really have to get this together," dawned on us quite early in '77, because we did two albums in '77, you see.

There is that Beatle-y evolution with The Jam, "We're gonna outdo what we did on the last record." That's the mark of an ambitious band, trying to one up yourself.

It was always a bit strange for us; we never really felt like we had a groove like some bands have. You see bands that, once they find a particular thing that works, they stick with it and ended up sounding samey. We never saw ourselves in any particular slot, we managed to stay out of the rut by simply dodging it all the time. I think that's what kept us alive musically: that we could continually experiment. Maybe that's why Paul, in the end, found that he had nowhere else to go with it. I don't necessarily agree with that view, but some of the things he said near the end, he wanted to move on. I thought The Jam was very much moving on anyway.

It seems a bit odd, considering that Weller played some Jam tunes the last time I saw him in Chicago--in 2004 I think it was--that getting back together wasn't a possibility for him. Was there any discussion?

He's pretty much drawn the line and said he's not into any sort of band reunion and made all sorts of comments about how destitute he would have to be [laughing] and all sorts of things. So there didn't seem to be a lot of point, but, on the other hand, we did make it known that, in the early stages, that the door was open to him anytime and still is, if he wanted to come along and have a bit of fun. But we didn't want to get tied up in the perception that if Paul wasn't involved then it couldn't happen. Because, as far as myself and Bruce are concerned, that's not the way things were. We were two-thirds of the band, and we probably have every right to go out and play these songs, as much as Paul has. Our only concern was, how would the fans take to that sort of scenario? And we've found that they've been very happy with it. Most Jam fans have been waiting for this for a very long time. I think they are a little let down that Paul won't get involved, but I think that's Paul letting himself down. I really don't know what Paul thinks about this because he's very difficult to talk to and we haven't--at least I haven't--spoken to him in a long time. He has got his own career and his own thing happening, and maybe that's where he wants to focus himself. And if he doesn't want to get involved, fair enough. It should never really stop me and Bruce from doing what we want to do.

If you have a proper balance of doing it for the love of the music and for the fans, people seem accepting. I don't get the sense that you are just doing it to make money.

In reality, we are obviously doing it to earn some money. We couldn't do it if we weren't earning money. But the only reason we are able to earn money is that we have people who want to come and see the show. It all sort of follows, so I don't feel guilt for being paid for the job I do. We are having a great time doing it.