new york punk - The I-94 Bar
Kevin K ought to be huge: Think Stonesy street punk, imbued with the outlaw attitude (and sometimes lyrical obessions) of Johnny Thunders, with whom Mr K used to knock around. Temper those elements with some spiky melodies and you're halfway there. His last album (and first for Canberra's Vicious Kitten) "Magic Touch" was a grimy masterpiece. This one lacks some of its poignancy and more measured moments, but it's not far behind.
Three years ago, family tragedy thrust Sonny Vincent from being a cult New York punk legend into the role of full-time carer.
Based in Europe for two decades from where he prolifically recorded and toured, he was suddenly pulled back to the USA by a home gas explosion and fire that left his son, daughter-in-law and grandson on life support in a North Carolina hospital.
Sonny’s family has survived but his music is on indefinite hold. Day-to-day life now revolves around his 12-year-old grandson Cayden, still undergoing skin grafts while trying to live the life of a schoolboy. Sonny hasn’t picked up a guitar since that fateful night and has been existing on donations.
With Australian label Vicious Kitten no more, someone Down Under has to fly the flag for Kevin K, a true standard bearer for the New York Bowery music scene and someone with something to say. That Mr K does so with feet variously planted in his old stamping ground of New York City, his sometime home of Florida, occasionally Japan and, more often than not, Europe, with various local backing bands in tow, is an indictment of the wider musical world rather than an indicator of a guy with severe wanderlust.
To say that my behavior occasionally borders on obsessive compulsive when it comes to some popular music, especially if there is caffeine or alcohol involved, is like saying Bob Marley was into marijuana.
Riddle me this, Batman: In these digital times, why put out a CD of a live recording in a box set and split it over two discs? A strange attempt to mimick the vinyl exprience of flipping an LP over after it hits the run-out groove? Yes, Barflies, these are some of the weighty societal issues we trouble ourselves with at the I-94 Bar. Let’s back the truck up a bit here…
“Butterflyin’” is an upgraded version of a Dolls boot that’s been doing the rounds since Steve Jones was old enough to do time in an adult detention facility. Not that he’s the only one who swiped something from the Dolls’ output. It’s taken from a 1974 WLIR radio broadcast. An additional six live tracks, from another undated radio show, are the icing on the cake. More about them later.
The rock and roll family tree of Lower East Side garage rodent Kevin K is enough to cause even Pete Frame heartburn, the past quarter century and change a revolving door of true believers like Aunt Helen, The Toys, The Road Vultures, Trash Brats, Freddy Lynxx and The Corner Gang, The Kevin K Band, The Real Kool Kats, and now The Hollywood Stars. Along the way, he’s shared a thousand clammy club gigs with various Ramones, Dolls, Heartbreakers, and Dead Boys, shoring up a curriculum vitae that doesn’t really call for a cover letter.
If it feels like Kevin K albums are falling out of the sky like rain, remember that we're in a rock and roll drought, compared to the '70s and '80s. The walls are closing in, not tumbling down and we need stuff like this like Kim Fowley needs fame. So be thankful for another small mercy and the 18th studio effort under the Kevin K moniker.
Orthodoxy is not the Richard Lloyd way, so this book was never going to be a straight-forward elucidation of the histories of his bands (“Just the facts”.) It’s a weirdly charged ride through the man’s life, using vivid snapshots and taking colourful detours, and it reverberates like his guitar playing.
Lloyd was the rocking yin to Tom Verlaine’s ethereal yang in seminal New York band Television. You could say he kept his guitar partner from lapsing into total six-stringed self-indulgence and flights of fancy, giving the band its rock and roll sensibility.
It’s an important point but his book is about much more than that. Lloyd is also a solo artist of note who has passed through the orbits of people like Jimi Hendrix, Anita Pallenberg, John Lee Hooker, Keith Moon, Buddy Guy and Keith Richards, to name a few.
What you need to know is that Lloyd has been in and out of mental asylums and rehab, used every drug known to Western civilisation (and probably a few that aren’t) and the scope and variety of his sex life would give the late Lou Reed cause for pause. He also has a unique philosophy on human existence.
Lloyd has always felt like an intruder in everybody else’s world, a fully-formed adult even as a child. He lived with bipolar disorder sitting on his shoulder, pulling him up and down. You get the feeling that his (at times impenetrable) brand of spirituality was either a product of that or his anchor, and it runs thematically right through his writing.
It’s might be a truism that Kevin K is rock and roll’s best-kept secret. If you’re a regular here you’ll no doubt be sick of hearing it (and I’m sick of writing it.) But I have to say it again: Kevin K is rock and roll’s best-kept secret. So if you’re in the dark, just go with the flow and get acquainted. Trust me, it'll all be for the best.
Kevin K has been plying this trade for 40 years and almost as many albums. His latest American crew, The Krazy Kats, are in synch with his modus operandi of gritty but melodic rock and roll.
As the title reveals, Kevin's latest studio album takes a generous leaf out of the New York Dolls book while slyly alluding to his longtime adopted home of Florida.
Kevin K was always going to end up back on Rankoutsider, the label run by ex-Lazy Cowgirls frontman Pat Todd. Like Todd’s current band, The Rank Outsiders, the label specialises in down-to-earth, streetwise rock and roll music - of which Kevin K is the embodiment.
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that there’s a distinctive Kevin K Sound: It’s no frills, guitar-laden punk rock, with a very tough edge, informed by life in the dives and gutters of New York City’s Lower East Side. Kevin’s plaintive vocal sits oddly but comfortably with the gritty sound of his bands.
CBGB is, of course, no more. It’s a designer clothing store run by Detroit old boy John Varvatos.
At this point, permit me a personal aside.
No matter how many times the new owner’s rock and roll cred and commitment to “tastefully” preserving elements of the old club on The Bowery are thrown at me, I can’t come to terms with this particular march of progress.
My own CBGB experiences may have only been as a beer-swilling tourist living vicariously through the sounds of those on-stage, but turning a rock and roll hovel into a shop selling $300 T-shirts will only get you so far.
In these times of re-packaged music there might well be a sucker born every minute. At various times, that sucker has been you and me. So when an adept pusher of pre-loved material and sometimes extraneous bonus items like UK label Jungle puts out the clarion call for worshipers of Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers to sign up for yet another collection of posthumous mixes, who are we not to answer?
Kevin K's nailed what he does. And that's make monstrously good rock and roll records. If you agree and you're a fan, pride yourself in the knowledge that you've found out what the rest of the world has yet to.
Another Kevin K album, this one a “Best of” out of France, and the obvious question remains: Why isn’t Mr K in the firmament as one of underground rawk’s best-known stars? The guy’s consistency over fuck-knows-how-many albums is staggering, and all of these tunes are ‘keepers’.
Phillippe Marcade was briefly drummer and then frontman for long-running New York City band The Senders, and a close confidant of many on the CBGB and Max’s Kansas City scenes.
Born in France, for the most illegally living in NYC, he rode the rock and roll roller coaster as hard as anyone in Lower Manhattan.
“Punk Avenue” - the title is a play-on-words reference to the Park Avenue location of Max’s - is a fantastic read. There are no dead spots; Marcade tells his story colourfully, underlined by droll, self-deprecating humour.
I ain't owned that beautiful Nina Antonia book about Johnny Thunders for years-poor people can't have nice things - ya always have to sell it all to eat and smoke. "Everything is in the pawnshop", you dig? But all those swanky Heartbreakers photographs are etched forever in my mind.
Mr Prolific is back - and for the last time with his French band The Real Kool Kats. It seems the demands of incessant touring and putting out four albums a year (without any diminution of quality) convinced everyone it was time to de-convene. While that’s a pity, this album is a fine postscript that stays true to their collective Kool Kats creed of dirty street punk rock delivered with the precision of a well-oiled switchblade.
Mutator - Alan Vega (Sacred Bones Records)
"Mutator" is Alan Vega's 12th solo album and also his first posthumous record of (apparently) several more to come on Sacred Bones Records. Vega also released nine collaborative LPs in his lifetime, Suicide a total of five studio and five stand-alone live albums (not including a rather incredible box set). Not a bad innings at all.
The I-94 Bar’s Bob Short once observed that most people don't get into much music past their 20s, and I agree; and Suicide are a classic example. Of the people who fell head over heels for this outfit when they first heard their first LP (I still remember where and when I heard it, and also when and where I heard a UK bootleg of the Clash support gigs) most seem to rave only about that first LP, but seem unaware of the second, or even the ROIR tape, or any of the band's later LPs.
Of Vega himself, only a handful seem aware of the extraordinary impact his first two (now unavailable) LPs had on the underground, and the overground impact his third, "Saturn Strip" had, particularly in Europe.
You have to ask the question - at least rhetorically - about why ex-Deadboys guitarist Cheetah Chrome hasn’t been more prolific under his own name. If you want answers, go and read his gripping and nakedly revelatory autobiography, “A Dead Boy’s Tale”, but while you’re waiting for it to ship, grab this stunning mini-album.
Far be it from me to claim that I had my finger completely on the punk rock pulse of the Murder City back in the late '70s and early '80s, but try as I might, I just can't remember this show ever taking place, but nearly a quarter century of recreational beverages, better living through chemistry, three kids, and a 15-year adjustable rate mortgage may have dulled my synapses a tad.