Sunday, September 25, 2011

All the Hipsters Go to the Movies/"his sense of space and time was slightly science fiction"/Sandy Bull 1974-75 NYC

On the Richard Dreyfuss-inspired backyard Mount Rushmore of 1960’s American guitar explorers that I am making, Sandy Bull stands as my Abraham Lincoln - Fahey as Washington and Basho as Teddy Roosevelt? Who other than Sandy Bull could be there playing with the original Patti Smith trio and then sitting in with the Don Cherry Group within the span of about six months in late 1974 to mid 1975. Who says the mid-70's were the lost years for Sandy? Not lost, just undocumented.

Lets pick it up in 1972 with Patti's review of the great "Demolition Derby" entitled "Keeping Time" from a 1972 issue of the NYC Metropolitan Journal. The whole thing is worth reading for the context/scholarship of what Sandy deems his "homecoming . . . a resurrection":
Maybe I'm a sap. Who can say for sure? When I was 18 I was living in a cabin down south. All the people played was Bach or Bartok. A slew of classical B's. Even the opera was Madame Butterfly.

No rock 'n roll ya understand. And no Billie Holiday. No blues at all. And what better B is there?

Christ how I craved a radio. 3 miles down there was an all night diner. The jukebox there just drove me insane. It ate up my quarters like some carniverous bird, chomp chomp. To me it was money never wasted; you can never get enough--music.

One rainy sunday I found some weird record stuck behind some Beethoven. Sandy Bull. Well it was B. It wasn't rock 'n roll it wasn't. Well I could run all night and say what it wasn't. But I couldn't say nothing on what it was. Fantasias. On Vanguard. Well I played the shit out of that record but the boy on the cover was completely foreign.

Sandy Bull. Some said he was dead, car crash. 3 notches under James Dean. Some say his end was more decadent. More Paris in the twenties. Slain in some alley. A fizzled goofball brain.

Well either way the record was a refuge and as about as elaborate as a Frankie Lymon fan could take. By mistake I left it down south when I headed for the big city. Often I regretted it. But like any fickle fan I soon forgot. Lost in the stars. Bob Dylan. The Doors. Smokey Robinson. The Empire State Building. The Soft White Underbelly...

And now. Outta nowhere. Seven years later he's back. I first seen him in a bar. Him and Bobby Neuwirth. He was recruting lucky suckers to check out the Latin stuff at the Cheeta. It's hot he said. Latin whoo whee it's next. you'll see, sex. he kept spinning words out around. juicy Lucy. got to be. Tennessee cream.

I just couldn't handle Latin night. I went to a spanish bar instead and drank tequila and a few bloody marys. That was about as hot blooded as I was feeling.

And later that week I checked him out. Live at Max's Kansas City. I went there with Tony Glover. Master of the harmonica and hard edged humor. That night he was real respectful. It was was more than just a gig he told me. It was a homecoming. A resurrection.

Sandy rose up and faced the music. It was the strangest thing I ever saw. His sense of space and time was slightly science fiction. A left over junk space. Passing of several moments never bothered him. And what I seen was so insane. He had this tape playback system all set up. It looked like a million tape recorders. They were all set up to spin out pre-recordings of himself. Track after track of rhythm guitar and percussion. He'd set them off and grab up a "live" instrument and play along like mad. Maybe I'm naive. But I just never seen nobody do that. What if Smokey Robinson came onstage with a cassette of the Miricles singing back-up vocals.

It seemed like he was bootlegging himself. I really dug it understand. I was just amazed. I got real nervous that everybody would feel cheated or think he was nuts. But the room was filled with fans. Tony was at the bar and I didn't want to act like I never seen Sandy before. But I didn't and everybody else was caught in his slow motion swirls and long-winded latin rags.

I gotta admit I was having trouble getting the beat. But the kid totally fascinated me. I mean nothing bothered him. Nothing meaning time and silence. If a tape snapped or a string broke he'd take his time. He'd fiddle around with the machines til he figured the problem out. A slightly mongoloid handyman. On the audience's time. And no one seemed to mind.

Me I couldn't relax. Having a speeded up city pulse, I kept looking around at everybody. Wondering what they were thinking. True to his night at the Cheetah he was playing some quick hot latin stuff. But all that party beat was coming from one long necked blond and ten machines. Sandy Bull and his robot band.

Finally I settled down. Remembering my early southern upbringing I pumped a little southern langor in my veins. Then, after a rather textured swim in the Bull brain, I got real effected. He done two things that just knocked me out. Hit me so deep I nearly got sick. Knee deeep in the heart.

Ya know when somebody strikes a chord in you that brings up your past like puke? Real human memories. Not just nostalgia or bringing up baby stuff. The creepy memories that lurk behind your brain like dogs. Well Sandy started hitting all those chords in me. I felt I was some drowning singer going through all the greatest hits of his past. The greatest hit flops that is.

Sandy cut with the fancy stuff and moved into the Floyd Cramer classic "Last Date." I don't know if you remember that song. It was an instrumental and I hated it when it was out. It made me feel like a creep. They used to play it at dances. I was a real wallflower. Nobody ever asked me to dance, I'd wait all night for a "ladies' choice." But when a boy boy saw me coming for him he always got lost quick. Or else he'd bend down to tie his shoes (even if he had loafers on). Even worse, some guys would pretend they didn't hear me. I'd stand there waiting for a yes or no until the silence was so deadly I'd be forced to slink away.

Well I hated that music. "Last Date." It was real square. And I hated the word "date" Especially cause I never had any. Plus the last time I remember hearing that song was one hot summer night in Camden, New Jersy. It was at the Roxy Ballroom and as usual I wasn't dancing. I was standing near the window blending in with the wallpaper.

Anyway two South Philly guys pulled knives on a few Camden greasers. A fight broke out. Chairs were flying as well as screaming girls and limp corsages. Some guy named Chico threw a chair my my way. I started picking up the pieces. At that moment a bumblebee flew in and stung me in the neck. I fainted. I came to but nobody had even noticed. Pointed shoes were ripping round my head. The bumblebee was hanging out of my neck but the music playing was no Bumblebee Boogie. It was "Last Date" droning on and on. Like forever.

All that shit was floating around me while Sandy Bull was twanging it up on that little red-light stage. But I liked it a lot. I was feeling queezy and suddenly "Last Date was my favorite song. It reminded me of what will be never again.

After he finished that one he started wandering around the stage. Sorta mumbling to himself. Then he picked up an acoustic guitar, sat down at the apron of the stage, and without warning started singing "The Tennessee Waltz."

Well I nearly fainted. First cause he was singing. See I don't know much about his history so I never knew he had vocal chords. It shocked me like it must of shocked people when their silent film heroes started talking. Valentino or Nureyev. You just don't expect it. He sang neat and Dylan singing "Corinna Corinna" in 1965.

But it wasn't just that he was singing. It was what he was singing. "The Tennessee Waltz."

Now I done time, in my youth, down in Chattanooga. I got two favorite memories. One was Daddy Frank knocking out "Star Dust" boogie-woogie style from his tin-pan piano. The other was Aunt Ethel Maye.

Good ole Aunt Ethel. Ethel of the fire engine red hair and the electric movements.. The little honey that shocked the entire south by pinning 100-dollar bills in the cups and cleavage of her showy imitation leopard skin bathing suit. Everyone said that she had once spent a rather turid night with Hank Williams in a road side motel. Out of wedlock!!!! When she was out the door she was wild. But the reason I loved Ethel Maye so much was because of those nights she'd stay in, turn up the victrola, and cry herself to sleep.

She always listened to the same song "Tennessee Waltz" I think it was Patti Page singing it. It was nearly worn down. The grooves were getting slick. God how she played that song. Over and over til her heart would break. Her dyed henna hair spilling all over Grandma's baby blue satin comforter. I was too young to understand why she played that song and why it made her cry. It was a sweet pain I just hadn't learned.

You remember that song don't you? About this couple that were dancing to the "Tennessee Waltz" The girls best friend comes up and cuts in. She watches helplessly while her sweetheart and best friend fall in love while they're waltzing. One of those songs that reek of chiffon and clean bare shoulders. A completely white tragedy.

I suspected that Aunt Ethel Maye, in spite of being a hot number, had been burned pretty bad once.

Meanwhile Sandy Bull was still singing. Slow and southern. Tears were running down my cheeks. I thought cause of Aunt Ethel. Me being very sentimental. But not. It was me crying for me. For much the same reason. I was all grown up. Once burned myself. I ordered some mint gin quick.

I was sorry Sandy Bull was no victrola. I could have listened to him sing all night. But he finished it up. People were cheering and he meandered off stage and went to the bathroom. I was getting sloppy drunk. The kind that isn't hip at all. Tony and his girl Sue were talking soft to each other. A lotta people were daydreaming. Some were begging for an encore. I went downstairs and hailed a cab. The cabbie dropped me off three blocks from my house cause I was puking in the back seat. When I finally fell in the door of home sweet home I put on Chris Connor singing "Stella By Starlight" and other lullabies for lovers.

Seven months later his record comes out. His fourth I think "Demolition Derby." On which he plays the guitar, electric guitar, electric bass, oud, cowbell, conga, sandpaper, spare change, bass drum, foot cymbal, Indian bass drum, dumbeck and steel drum. whew.

Theres a lot of Latin in that record. "Sweet Baby Jumper" is my favorite. It's like being at a Puerto Rican block party. "Gotta Be Juicy" is just that. Real sleezy stuff. Sandy Bull is no goody-goody. I ain't hot for long instrumentals. Especially India stuff. I got western movement. That's why I can dig Sandy's stuff. Even at its most "cosmic" its still sleezy...juicy...American. Yeah its a real cool record.

But best of all it's got a pretty haphazard version of "Last Date" and "Tennessee Waltz." Not sounding much better than when live at Max's Kansas City. And just as powerful! Matter of fact. The funny thing about the record is that it seems live. On the spot. Take one only. Sandy Bull and his robot band turning on the switches once, just once.

I'm not too good at reviewing stuff. I don't know any technical shit and as you might have noticed I'm not hot on the adjectives. But the record is neat. No Bullshit.

Its especially good if you've had a heartache like Aunt Ethel. Like Bette Davis. Like Ida Lupino. Like Kim Novak. Like Me. Late at night I put on a black silk slip, smoke a million cigarettes. Just fall to pieces on that baby blue satin comforter that Aunt Ethel sent me when I turned sweet sixteen. I cry and cry. Wondering when my man is coming home. As Sandy Bull is crooning long and southern that "Tennessee Waltz" on my old hi fi.
This is the context in which Patti, Lenny and DNV had Sandy not only open the historic "Rock n Rimbaud III" at the Blue Hawaiian Discotheque at the Hotel Roosevelt in NYC on November 10, 1974, but he joined them as a fourth member (founding member of the PSG?!) on the opener and close of the set.

The early Lenny, Patti and Richard trio recordings need to be released properly! I know there is b&w video footage which has never seen the light of day. The "Rock n' Rimbaud" set itself is awesome, and here they are with Sandy on oud ("All the Hipsters Go to the Movies" - dissertation forthcoming on Patti's "poem") and on bass(?) for "Land"). Does the Bull set exist on tape somewhere?:

Next is a taste of the Don Cherry Group live at the Five Spot in NYC on June 7, 1975. Cherry's "Brown Rice" is possibly the best Can album of the 70's, no? Don't have a track name here but you get Don on trumpet, electric piano and vocals, Sandy (mostly on guitar), Frank Lowe on tenor and soprano, Roger Blank and Ed Blackwell on double drums, Hakim Jami and William Parker on bass, and Selene Fung on ching. Not too far off the line-up on the string of Cherry lps from the era like "Relativity Suite."

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