Sunday, July 13, 2014

John Carlucci Talks About The First Time He Saw The Ramones

With the passing of Tommy Ramone this weekend the social networks have come to life with photos and stories and fascinating tributes. (Not just about Tommy, but the Ramones in general.) It is especially cool to read stories from those who were in NYC during the '70s and actually caught a glimpse of punk history from the bar room floor. John Carlucci of The Speedies fame (also played bass with the Fuzztones for a stint) had a unique perspective on the NY underground scene - that of a highly impressionable teenager.

John Carlucci onstage w/ The Speedies
at The Rat in Boston, circa 1979
The following was posted on his Facebook page, and with his permission, I am sharing it with you.

My First Ramones Show

 I've been wanting to sit down and write this story for quite some time now. I did a few blogs in the My space days, but life got in the way and I never had the time. Hearing that Tommy Ramone passed away yesterday brought back some memories. So I thought I would share...I was inspired by some of the blogs & postings  I have seen today from others, Andy Schwartz, Chris Morris, Richard Manitoba & Binky Phillips to name a few.

 I grew up in Queens NY. I lived in Elmhurst, worked in Jackson Heights, & hung out a lot in Corona. I went to Newtown High School, and graduated in 1975. This was the same High School that Syl Sylvain, Arthur Kane & Johnny Thunders from the NY Dolls attended. It was also the High School Gene Simmons of Kiss attended. I knew I was musically inclined from the age of 6, but it was not until I was 14 that I purchased my first bass guitar. I saved the money I made delivering pizza after school, and purchased a 1969 Fender Jazz bass through a friend. The bass came from We- Buy Guitars on 48th Street & the person my friend got it from was Fred Smith,  who would become the bass player in Television. (At the time, he played with Blondie)

 Like most teenagers in the 1970's, I  listened to The Who, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Mott The Hoople, Bowie, Slade etc. I played in bands, but for the most part, we jammed in basements & garages around the neighborhood. 

 Then I discovered the NY Dolls in Rock Scene Magazine. I saw an ad in the Village Voice that they would be playing a small club on Queens Blvd called "The Coventry", so along with my two High School buddies, Joe Katz & Bill Muller. we hopped on the #7 train and went to the show, The drinking age in 1973-74 was 18. We were 16, but no-one cared & we were in. That night, I discovered a whole new world. A world where the bands on stage & the audience were the same. There was no barrier as I had experienced in typical Rock Concerts at large venues. Here the bands mingled with the crowd, and it was as if we were all in this together. The electricity in that room was something I never felt before.  In my gut, I knew I was witnessing something special. There was another band on the bill that night that I discovered for the first time, they called themselves, "The Dictators" They were brilliant.  I liked this new world. I wanted to explore it more.

RIP Tommy Ramone 
 As the weeks went on, I kept my eyes on the Village Voice ads to see who was playing the Coventry. I went a few times and had a few hits, but more misses, nothing as inspiring as the Dolls/ Dictators show I had seen previously. Then one day, we saw that the NY Dolls were playing the Coventry again. (Or so we thought) and we decided to go. When we got there, we realized it was not the Dolls after all, but a new band by "X NY Dolls members, Johnny Thunders & Jerry Nolan". They were a trio billing themselves as "The Heartbreakers". The third member was Richard Hell on bass.  He had just left Television, to be replaced by Fred Smith. Johnny & Jerry still had long hair.

 The opening act that night, were called "The Ramones". They all wore leather jackets, played cheap pawn shop guitars, and played really really loud. So loud, that it was impossible to hear the singer.  There were maybe 20 people in the crowd.They were nervous. They argued onstage, yet they kept playing at breakneck speed, what seemed to be the same 3 chords over & over for twenty minutes. The muted vocals, along with the 1-2-3-4 counts were barely audible, so I thought they played one 20 minute song. Then they unstrapped their guitars and bass & let them drop to the floor. The singer threw down his microphone and just like that, they were gone. This was 1974, before they had released any records. They were so weird, that we decided we had to see this again. A few weeks later, I noticed an ad in the Village Voice for a club called C.B.G.B's. The Ramones were listed for the following weekend, so we went. The PA at C.B.G.B's was much better than the one at the Coventry. I now realized that they actually played 14 two minute songs not the one 20 minute song I thought I had heard at " The Coventry". Plus, I could now hear the singer, & the lyrics were brilliant.  From that moment on, I was hooked. I went to these clubs every weekend. I finally got up the nerve to test the waters and see if I too could play on this club circuit.  Had I not seen The Ramones, Dolls & Dictators, & absorbed their DIY ( Do It Yourself) spirit, I doubt I would ever have gotten the nerve to get onstage myself.  Now I never made a million dollars playing in music, but I did land a major label record deal (on RCA), & I toured the world in bands. Music has taken me to many places. I have met many friends, even my own wife, through Music. Without the inspiration of bands like The Ramones, Blondie, The Dictators & the NY Dolls, I might never have gotten out of the old neighborhood.

John Carlucci as he appears today

John Carlucci grew up in Queens, New York and currently lives in Los Angeles. He has recorded or performed with Sylvain Sylvain, Clem Burke & Frankie Infante, Ian Astbury, Lemmy, Dave Vanian, The Ghastly Ones, The Beat Killers, The Hexxers, Rik L Rik, Deke Dickerson, The Sprauge Bros. Dawn Shipley, Truly Lover Trio, Nikki Corvette, The Odd Squad, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang & The Mighty Manfred.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Night That Will Live In Infamy: Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park

"Pop music, disco music and heavy metal music is about shutting out the tensions of life, putting it away." - Peter Tork

"Around '75 when the recession hit, club owners started going to disco because it was cheaper for them to just buy a sound system than it was to hire a band." - Tommy Shaw

"I feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes." - Hunter S. Thompson

Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, 1979
Photo by Diane Alexander White 

1979 wasn't a very good year for the Chicago White Sox. The team would eventually finish with a 73-87 record, which was only good enough for 5th place in the American League West. The team had a lackluster season without many highlights.

To get an idea of how things were going, the Sox sent one player to the All-Star game in 1979, as an obligatory gesture required by Major League Baseball. Chet Lemon came to the plate twice in that game and in one at bat he struck out; the other he was hit by a pitch. It was a pretty good metaphor for the way things were going that summer on the south side of Chicago.

Mike Veeck, son of White Sox owner Bill Veeck was the promotions director for the team. His father was known for hosting wild promotions over the years and even once said, "You can draw more people with a losing team plus bread and circuses than with a winning team and a long, still silence." He couldn't have had any idea how that remark would foreshadow one of the craziest moments in MLB history. 

His guerrilla promotion style was emulated by his son Mike who had made a guarantee to fans that year in spring training that no matter how the White Sox played on the field, the fans would have fun at the ball park. He couldn't have envisioned the circus that was coming on July 12.

A post Disco Demolition Night Mike Veeck in his office. 

It was Mike who came up with the idea of staging Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. The idea was, in accordance with a local radio station, that in between games of a double header they would blow up a giant pile of disco records in center field. It seemed like a harmless enough idea at the surface. What could go wrong? The White Sox were only drawing about 10,000-15,000 people a game during the first half of the season, and with the anti-disco movement making waves across the nation, it seemed like a good way to get a few more bodies into the ballpark.

Meanwhile, Steve Dahl was a radio DJ at 97.9 WLUP-FM. He had been fired from his previous radio spot at WDAI on Christmas Eve the year before when that station changed it's format from rock to disco. His hatred for disco became his rally cry at the new station and he often mocked his former employer on air, referring to their "Disco-DAI slogan as Disco Die.

He and his co-host Gary Meier organized a mock organization called the Insane Coho Lips, an anti-disco fraternity that used the "Disco sucks!" moniker as it's anthem. The Insane Coho Lips were mostly listeners of his radio show and they numbered in the thousands. Dahl would organize anti- disco events and the Cohos would show up in droves.

When a discotheque in Indiana switched from the disco format to rock in June of 1979, Steve Dahl and his followers were there. They showed up by the hundreds and the police were called to keep the peace. Later on, he and his followers attended a teen disco in the Chicago suburbs. Again, the cops were called. Then, a few days after that, he urged his listeners to throw marshmallows at a WDAI van that was parked at a shopping mall where a teen disco had been built. Again, hundreds showed up and they chased the van out of the parking lot eventually cornering it in a nearby park. Police were called and the incident ended without violence. A week or so after that, hundreds of Cohos were denied access to a promotional event in Hanover Park, Illinois and several fights broke out. Over 50 police officers were called in to straighten out the mess. It seemed that no matter what the event was, if the Cohos were called in, chaos ensued.

Naturally, Mike Veeck figured Dahl and his anti-disco campaign to be the perfect liaison to the event he had planned. And of course Dahl was on board with the idea. What better way to put an exclamation point on his Disco Sucks campaign than by blowing up several "hundred" disco records in a stadium? To make the promotion even more alluring, Mike Veeck announced that tickets to the doubleheader that day would be a mere 98 cents, a reference to where WLUP-FM was on the radio dial.

Steve Dahl in the late '70s

Veeck had hoped that this promotion would draw 20,000 people, about 5000 more than the usual crowd. In the weeks prior to the event, Dahl had invited his listeners to bring disco records they wanted to see be destroyed to the radio station. He was worried that the promotion would fail to draw a crowd, and this was an attempt to get a handle on the number of people who might be attending. Veeck hired enough security for 35,000 people, expecting that to be more than enough to manage the crowd. His father Bill Veeck, worried that the promotion might be a disaster, checked himself out of a hospital where he was undergoing routine tests. His fears were substantiated when he saw thousands of fans approaching the ballpark, many of them holding signs that used profane language.

Dahl's worries about attendance turned out to be fruitless. Not only did the 44,500 seat stadium sell out, but an additional 20,000 people remained outside, most determined to get in. 

Some were content to stay there, but the majority became angry and began to crash the gate. People were running through turnstiles, climbing over fences and darting past security. The official attendance inside was announced at 47,795, but nearly everyone who was there estimated it to be closer to 60,000. The seating areas were overflowing. People filled the stairwells and the entire concourse was packed with fans trying to make it into the stands. The crowd was so enormous that the police had closed down the off-ramps extending from the Dan Ryan Expressway. It was by far the largest crowd during Bill Veeck's ownership of the team.

As fans walked in, they were instructed to deposit their records into a giant box that was provided near the entrance to the stadium. The boxes filled up quickly, and because of the overflow, many fans took their albums to their seats with them. Meanwhile, a very popular young model named Lorelei who had made some public appearances for WLUP that summer, threw out the first pitch. As the game got underway, Mike Veeck received word that people were crashing the gates and attempting to enter the stadium. He sent extra security personnel  to deal with the situation, which left the field unattended. Fans began to throw record albums and singles frisbee style, and much to the horror of the players on the field, flying vinyl came sailing in from all angles.

Tiger outfielder Rusty Staub remembered record albums slicing through the air and sticking into the ground upon landing. He encouraged his teammates to wear batting helmets while playing their positions on the field. "It wasn't just one, it was many," he said. "Oh god almighty, I've never seen anything so dangerous in all my life."

Attendees also threw empty liquor bottles onto the field and shot bottle rockets at the players. Play was stopped several times due to the constant barrage of foreign objects being thrown. Hand made banners were hung from the stadium's upper decks that read DISCO SUCKS! and other phrases that weren't as "friendly."

Harry Caray commented on the number of non baseball fans in attendance.
Photo by Diane Alexander White 

White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray commented on the number of non-baseball fans that seemed to be in attendance. Mike Veeck later mentioned that the odor of marijuana was strong, and it even seeped up into the press box, were Harry Caray and his partner Jimmy Piersall talked about it live on the air. The gathering outside was also throwing records and burning them in small bonfires in the parking lot. The circus had come to town, but despite the constant pandemonium, all nine innings were played. The Tigers won the first game 4-1.

After game one ended there was a 20 minute break. Then, Dahl, Meier and Lorelei walked out onto the field. They immediately boarded a jeep and took a "victory lap" around the stadium. The fans showered them ("lovingly," according to Dahl) with firecrackers and beer. After getting the crowd whipped into an anti-disco frenzy, the three walked out to center field where the vinyl-filled box awaited them. The box had been equipped with explosives, and leading up to the moment of detonation, Dahl fired up crowd even further with a chant of Disco Sucks!. 

White Sox pitcher Ken Kravec had already taken the mound, warming up for his scheduled start. Aside from the catcher, other White Sox players remained in the dugout wearing batting helmets for protection. Lorelei recalled later that the scene from Center Field was surreal. Firecrackers, bottles and record albums continued to fly out of the stands onto the playing surface. Some people, fearing the worst, tried to leave. Unfortunately this was almost an impossible task, because of the would-be gate crashers. Security had padlocked every entryway at Comiskey Park except for one.

Photo by Diane Alexander White 

According to the Chicago Reader, Dahl reportedly told the crowd, "This is now officially the world's largest anti-disco rally! Now listen... We took all the disco records you brought tonight, we got 'em in a giant box and we're gonna blow 'em up REEEEEEEEAL GOOOOOOOD!"

At that, Dahl set off the explosion, destroying the records and leaving a giant hole in the spot where the box had been placed. With most of security personnel still guarding the entrances to the stadium, it became very easy for fans to run out onto the field, which thousands did. 

As the first wave of troops emerged from the stands, Ken Kravec and his catcher ran back to the dugout and barricaded themselves with the rest of the team inside the clubhouse. In total, it's estimated that about 6000 people took to the field. Fans were climbing the foul ball poles and pulling up grass. Some made piles with the remaining record albums and set them on fire. The equipment that was remaining in the dugouts was taken, and the bases were dug up and stolen. The batting cage was destroyed.

Meanwhile people were still chanting Disco Sucks!, even as Bill Veeck stood at the area where home plate had been and with a microphone begging the crowd to go back to their seats. A huge bonfire raged in center field. Harry Caray also attempted to restore order by addressing the crowd through the public address system. PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR SEATS flashed on the center field scoreboard. 

Strangely, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was playing through the stadium speakers. People sang along and were dancing around the shards of vinyl that were burning on the outfield grass.

Photograph by Diane Alexander White 

After what must have seemed like forever (it was about a half hour after the explosion), Chicago police in full riot gear arrived on the scene. Those on the field immediately began to disperse but before order was restored, 39 people were arrested for disorderly conduct. It's been estimated that over 30 people left Comiskey Park that day with injuries.

Despite the gutted dugouts, the stolen bases and the damage on the field, Bill Veeck wanted desperately to play the second game. After order was restored the grounds crew spent almost an hour cleaning up the mess that had been left behind on the field. Eventually umpire crew chief Dave Phillips declared that the field was so badly damaged that it was unplayable.  After making a call to American League president Lee McPhail, it was decided that the game would be played on the following Sunday. 

This enraged Detroit manager Sparky Anderson who claimed that the White Sox were responsible for the field's condition. He argued that only an act of god could postpone a game, and that clearly wasn't the case here. The next day, McPhail forfeited the game to the Tigers 9-0. He claimed that the White Sox hadn't lived up to their expectation of keeping the field in good playing condition.

Later Sparky Anderson said this about the crowd: "Beer and baseball go together. They always have. But I think those kids were doing things other than beer." Mike Veeck noted that as soon as he saw that first person shimmy down the outfield wall, he thought, 'My life is over!' Rich Wortham, a White Sox pitcher from Texas stated, "This wouldn't have happened if they had country and western night."

The next morning Steve Dahl began his show by reading the indelicate headlines from the local newspapers. He feigned ridicule at the outrage saying, "For the most part, I think everything was wonderful. Some maniac Cohos got wild, went down on the field. Which you shouldn't have done. Bad little Cohos..."

That 2nd game forfeiture remains the last time a game was forfeited in the American league. (In 1995 a National League game at Dodger Stadium was forfeited due to a baseball promotion that went awry.) Baseball analyst Jeremiah Graves said, "To this day Disco Demolition Night stands in infamy as one of the most ill-advised promotions of all-time, but arguably one of the most successful, as 30 years later we're still talking about it."

Let's make that 35 years... 

Monday, July 7, 2014

CRUEL SHOW ALERT! Inaugural BIgfoot Ball to be Held at Briar Patch Sept. 20Th

Fire dancers, stilt walkers, hoopers, costumed denizens, jugglers and freaks!

The Briar Patch will open it's gates for the season a bit later than normal this year. On September 20 the Briar Patch will host the Inaugural Bigfoot Ball which will feature four bands including headliners The Rumpke Mountain Boys

This bluegrass band from Cincinnati is legendary in the festival circles for their all-night campground jams and their intense stage performance. They cover everything from Primus to Dylan, to the Grateful Dead to Ween. They've played obscure songs by Pink Floyd and Tom Waits. Not to be outdone by their rock and roll forefathers, The Rumpke Mountain Boys are quite affluent at writing their own material as well. Obviously they draw from a wide spectrum of influences to add to their creativity.  

In 2009 Jason Wolfe told, "We started out like most string bands, trying to learn many varieties of music, traditional, bluegrass, folk, blues and gospel. We had a completely different line-up back then. As the band members changed and grew so did our musical tastes and influences as well as our ideals on performing live. So we made the transition from traditional bluegrass festivals to smokey bars and more diverse venues and music festivals."

Poster design: Jason Boten (Thank you!)

Joining the Rumpke Mountain Boys in this genre-bending festival are King of the Tramps, The Maw and Johnny Reeferseed and the High Rollers. Each one of these bands personifies a unique musical experience that will take you to the top of the mountain, and by top of the mountain, we're talking about that space between Aurora Borealis and the Ursa Major. 

King of the Tramps have created and  mastered one of the more unique styles in the Midwest. Toss the Black Crows, the Band, and the Rolling Stones into a kaleidoscope and give it a twist and what you will get is a funky vision of who King of the Tramps are. It's original and bright, rolled with ever-changing glimpses of psychedelia. Todd Partridge has been reincarnated as a hobo and he sings his songs with such conviction that one might think his shtick is authentic. Hell maybe it is authentic. Nothing is what it seems when King of the Tramps are onstage... especially when the kaleidoscope begins to turn.

The Maw are well... The Maw. If you are unaware of this band, then it's possible that you do not know anybody in the local music scene. And if you do know somebody in the local music scene, ask them about The Maw. They will likely tell you that this band is a must-see and that it will probably change your life for having done so. At the very least it will change the way you think about the Des Moines music scene. This band isn't messing around. Clearly aware of the cosmic weirdness they convey, they draw you in like a spider sitting deep inside his web, and just when you think you have a grip of what's about to happen, they unleash their fury on you. It'll be interesting to see this band in their element at the Briar Patch.

Johnny Reeferseed and the High Rollers have established themselves as the Des Moines' favorite party band.As three time Marijuana Music Award Winners, they have been lighting up stages across the midwest since 2006. They have been featured in the pages of High Times magazine, and when they recorded their funky classic "Light Em Up" they did so joined by rap/rock legend, Afroman. JRSeed and the High Rollers don't play as a band much these days, but when they do, they always draw a crowd. Everybody loves a party and we couldn't think of a better way to kick ours off than with these guys.


Pertinent Websites:

The Rumpke Mountain Boys

King of the Tramps

The Maw

Johnny Reeferseed and the High Rollers 

Briar Patch official 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Photo Blog: Dark Star Orchestra Rock the Val Air Ballroom Monday Night

We arrived at the Val-Air Ballroom about 15 minutes before showtime on Monday night and the parking lot appeared to be empty. This was unexpected, as in the past The Dark Star Orchestra had always drawn pretty well in Des Moines. There were a few cars in east parking lot but the west side of the building sat vacant. I could see that a small crowd had gathered near the entrance to the ballroom, but it wasn't close to what I expected. Typically, there would be a line that stretched out into the parking area.

Cveckian and I wandered up, me half expecting the security officer to tell me that the concert had been cancelled. I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that there were only a handful of people there. Turns out it wasn't cancelled, but according to the security officer, the Val Air had made a mistake and advertised the concert as a Sunday show. This validated my own thinking - I had posted on my Facebook wall on Sunday morning that the Dark Star Orchestra concert was that night, only to be corrected by several people who provided links and proved that it was indeed on Monday. By that time the Val Air had caught their mistake and made the proper changes on their website. This caused considerable confusion on my part, and I couldn't figure out why I would think otherwise. Now I knew.

"We are only expecting about 200 people," the security guard told me. That was quite a contrast to when I had seen the band a few weeks prior at the sold out Dark Star Jubilee in Thorndale, Ohio. 5000 people attended that event.

Cveckian and I made our way inside just as the lights went down. The concert started with Rob Eaton telling the crowd about the difficult day his band had experienced. A major storm had blown through during the afternoon, and many pockets of Des Moines and West Des Moines were left without electricity.

"We pulled in about 12:30 this afternoon, and shortly after that, the building lost power," he explained. We sat around, until just a couple hours ago when the power came back on. Somehow our incredible stage crew got everything together and has us ready to go." The band broke into "Alabama Getaway" and the party was on. (Entire set list at the bottom.) 

Rob Eaton of Dark Star Orchestra This and all photos by
Cveckian and the Bigfoot Diaries (Click to enlarge)

Jeff Mattson, formerly of the Zen Tricksters plays the part of Jerry Garcia
in DSO. 
Jeff Mattson, Rob Eaton and Lisa Mackey sing "They Love Each Other." 

Skip Vangelas plays bass with DSO. 

Wide view shot of the band

Rob Eaton and Lisa Mackey in the dark

Rob Eaton and Lisa Mackey in the light

Jeff Mattson and Rob Eaton find the groove in "I Need a Miracle."

The audience, though small brought their brightest smiles. 

Rob Barraco is an incredibly tight keyboard player. He shifted back and forth all night
between his Kurzweil and his Hammond B3.

Jeff Mattson and Dino English keeping it on the tracks. 

Dino English and Rob Koritz master the drums during the Drums/Space segment.

DSO in their wide shot glory. 

Rob Eaton and Lisa Mackey during "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad." 

The band turns it up a notch. 

The Dark Star Orchestra played til after midnight. Not a bad way to end a rainy Monday. 

Set One: Alabama Getaway, Picasso Moon, They Love Each Other, It's All Over Now, Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues, The Way You Do The Things You Do, Looks Like Rain, Dire Wolf, Mama Tried, Mexicali Blues, Touch of Grey

Set Two: Feel Like A Stranger > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Man Smart (Woman Smarter) > Foolish Heart > Drums > Space > I Need A Miracle > Visions Of Johanna > Gimmee Some Lovin' > Going Down The Road Feeling Bad > Johnny B. Goode

Encore: Forever Young