25 Songs for Norton’s 25th (and then some)

Well, this was supposed to have come out on 11/11/11, but steady work (not complaining about that, mind you) and the urgent search for a car precluded me doing pretty much anything else — including finishing off this tribute.

I can tell you that there are some people last weekend for whom the double-sticks weren’t the day’s lucky number. It was 25. As in a quarter-century of tear-em-down musical madness foisted upon the world — with a few extras years tacked on before that for bad behavior — by the fine folks at the coolest archival record label in the universe: Norton Records.

This was to have come out last weekend in the midst of the social event of the decade — the sold-out-for-months, four-night 25th-anniversary celebration at the Bell House in Brooklyn. Lots of great musicians showed up.

Anyway, I figured I’d honor this momentous occasion in my own special way. So here you go: 25 songs for 25 years — with triple awarded for damages.

*****

Billy Miller and Miriam Linna, the coolest couple in rock’n’roll.

Much of the coolness behind the label stems from the passions of the founders/proprietors/chief cooks and bottlewashers; the spouse-and-spouse duo of Billy Miller and Miriam Linna are such incredible music fans themselves. Their love of, and enthusiasm for, music has manifested itself in so many ways — as musicians, as ‘zine publishers and, since 1986, owners of this label — and their hearts still beat with the raging souls of teens from another time. When Dick Clark finally kicks, here are your next World’s Oldest Teenagers.

And, as someone who’s even happier learning than teaching, I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about music because of these two.

Miriam, a rock’n’roll fangirl from the rubber country of Akron via the nickel country of Sudbury, Ontario, came to New York in 1976 with The Cramps as their original drummer; she held the gig for a year and kinda looks at it as an interesting footnote, one she blogged about for a short while after Lux Interior’s death. Billy, a rock’n’roll fanboy from the Five Towns area of Long Island (just over the southern border from Queens), grew up around the corner from a rock great who went in a different direction: Joe Satriani.

Miriam and Billy met and found atomic passion in the NYC punk scene of the late ’70s, bonded over their love of primitive ’50s and ’60s rock’n’roll, formed a band called The Zantees — which later evolved into The A-Bones — and started putting out a zine devoted to their favorite artists.

It was through Kicks in the early-to-mid-’80s where I, and dozens, if not hundreds, of us learned in depth about Esquerita, the man who made Little Richard Little Richard (Big Audio Dynamite later plundered their article to write a lame song called “Esquerita”); Wanda Jackson, the queen of rockabilly; The Phantom, the masked man who recorded the original version of “Love Me”; The Trashmen, the “Surfin’ Bird” guys from the surf haven of Minnesota … the in-depth story of rock’n’roll’s greatest unsolved mystery, Bobby Fuller –

and a wildman, one-man, hootin’, howlin’ rockabilly machine from the mountains of West Virginia, named Hasil Adkins.

Haze’s music wasn’t totally unfamiliar to alt-music fans; after all, The Cramps

The first Norton record.

recorded “She Said” early on. But just as Billy and Miriam went to South Carolina to meet Esquerita (who, sadly, would die from AIDS-related illness in 1986) to write about him for Kicks, they made the pilgrimage to rural West Virginia to meet Hasil. Best gas money they ever spent.

Billy became one of his best friends, and would be one of his pallbearers in 2005. And as he and Miriam dug into Hasil’s haphazard collection of records he’d recorded in obscurity over the previous three decades, they realized someone had to release this music to a wider audience. And they were just the someones to do it.

Hence, they started their own label and named it after Ed Norton — the sewer worker from the College of Hard Knocks in Bensonhurst, not the serious actor from Yale — and released their first record: a Hasil compilation LP called “Out to Hunch.” Their efforts also made Hasil an in-demand performer his last 20 years and provided him a relatively comfy living.

Flush with success, they started scouring for more musicians — present as well as past — to release on vinyl and those newfangled drink coasters that

The Untamed Youth, 1989. Derek (Deke) Dickerson, second from top.

became popular 20 years ago. And while The A-Bones recorded on their own label, this wasn’t gonna be a vanity-press thang.

Thanks to corresponding with the group’s guitarist over Benny Joy and Herbie Duncan records, they found a teenage surf band from Missouri called The Untamed Youth — the first blossomings of future rockabilly guitar god Deke Dickerson.

Names past and present came flooding into the Norton universe by the early ’90s. Esquerita and some of his unheard studio stuff, shortly after Hasil’s first LP. (His headshot adorns the Norton home page as the label’s quasi-mascot.) Another of their all-time faves, Link Wray, who released several collections of previously unheard studio work through Norton. Boston’s legendary Lyres, for a couple of 45s. The Flamin’ Groovies, both demo tapes and Roy Loney material. Johnny Powers, the Detroit rockabilly legend who was the only performer to ever have recorded for both Sun and Motown. (His “Long Blonde Hair” was one of my signature songs that I used to sing as a cameo with New Haven rockabillies Gone Native in the mid-’90s.)

The most-eccentric Dex Romweber and his Flat Duo Jets. Old R&B greats: Andre Williams, Geno Washington, Nathaniel Mayer, T. Valentine and the godfather of raunch, the proto-gangsta, Rudy Ray Moore. The Dictators’ mid-’90s reunion single, “I Am Right.” “All Tomorrow’s Dance Parties” — a four-song 45 that included Lou Reed’s first single from 1958 with The Shades, along with two Brill Building songwriting demos he recorded in ’62. The Hentchmen, young garagers from Detroit. The 5.6.7.8′s and Jackie & the Cedrics, from Japan. Even Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith’s longtime guitarist, whose “Nuggets” collection in 1972 was the Alpha, Omega and Rosetta Stone of garage rock going backward and forward, got the Norton treatment (his teenage garage band, Link Cromwell & the Zoo).

A big landmark came in 1998, when Norton began distributing the Etiquette Records catalogue. The label, owned by Buck Ormsby, the bass player for The Wailers, was the original DIY label, out of Tacoma in the early ’60s — the home, geographically and musically, of The Wailers and the group that would, sonically, be the first punk band, The Sonics. And Norton reissued all those killer sounds. That was a coup.

And the hits keep coming from the past and making the leap into the present. ? and the Mysterians recorded a live album for Norton at their big reunion show, October 1997 at the original Cavestomp! festival in New York. The Alarm Clocks, a teenage garage band from Parma, Ohio, who released one memorable single in ’66, “No Reasons to Complain,” was coaxed into recording again. Same with the early’-70s metro-NYC cult band Figures of Light.

And it was a thrill that spring night in 2007 when I turned on Conan and saw Mary Weiss, the lead singer of The Shangri-La’s, singing, backed by The Reigning Sound. It was to promote her first-ever solo album and first recordings in 40 years, “Dangerous Game,” on Norton.

The label’s only black mark, which I wear proudly: King Uszniewicz & the Uszniewicztones. So the story goes (and I still ain’t totally convinced), it was a Detroit bowling alley lounge band, led by a sax player named Ernie “King” Uszniewicz, that the late, great Cub Koda recorded and “produced” in the ’70s. (I always thought it was a goof foisted upon the world by Billy and Cub, since the sax sounded very much like Billy’s, but Mr. Koda himself, rest his soul, told me no.) The sarcastic quote marks are because this band was so timeless — meaning they had no sense of tempo. Imagine four instruments trying to cram into a funnel hole at once. Or the sound of air being slowly let out of a tire forever. And the first time I played my copy, in October of 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake happened 90 minutes later.

And they keep cranking. Most recently, they started re-releasing the catalogs of Phillies Records (The Ronettes and The Crystals) and The Shangri-La’s on LP. (Sony Legacy has been releasing the Phil Spector catalog on CD.) They delved deeply into the pre-Arkestra ’50s discography of Sun Ra for several volumes. Soon, there’ll be a Del Shannon LP and some new sounds from ’60s keyboard king Dave “Baby” Cortez (produced by Mick Collins of The Dirtbombs and The Gories).

And Miriam, one of the world’s foremost authorities on paperback/juvenile delinquent novels, has now channeled her literary passion into another branch of the business: Kicks Books. Street literature by Andre Williams, Sun Ra’s space poetry, most recently Nick Tosches’ Save the Last Dance for Satan, and coming up: offerings from infamous and legendary music scenester Kim Fowley and this guy Harlan Ellison. And maybe one day soon, Miriam will finish the Bobby Fuller bio she’s been working on for about a quarter of her life; she’s been getting pretty close.

*****

And Miriam and Billy, I should add, have played a part in four distinct and cool moments in this music fan’s life.

* One was in September 1991. They put out a call — The A-Bones were playing in a ’50s dance scene in a horror movie, and the scene was being shot at the Irish bar on Seventh and 14th (I think it was still McGovern’s then — but it had been home of The Strip garage-show series), and they were looking for friends as extras. I was off from work, and my then-girlfriend, Paola, and I drove down from New Haven to do the shoot.

I had a vintage blue bowling shirt that said FRAN’S CORAL LOUNGE on the back, so I chose that for my not-so-closeup. put up what was left of my thinning hair in bobbie pins, with plenty of pomade to slick it. Six hours of hurry-up-and-wait. The A-Bones would play a few bars, we’d dance, and the auteurs would stop it after 30 seconds and fuck with everything for another half-hour. Couldn’t get the damn pomade out of my hair for two days.

The end result of these six hours was a 30-second scene in one of the worst Z-grade horror pics of all time, I Was a Teenage Mummy. It came out the next year, and I finally saw it in the summer of ’95 at my pal Iggy’s house in New Orleans.  I was in it for a second and a half, Paola not at all. But I can now say I was once in a movie with SpongeBob — one of the other extras in the scene was a then-unknown Tom Kenny.

* February 1998. I had missed the ? and the Mysterians reunion show the previous October at the inaugural Cavestomp! music festival, of garage past and present, at Coney Island High in Manhattan. (The tradeoff: I was in San Francisco, on my first visit to California, and I saw The Cramps at the Warfield on Halloween night.)

But the success of Cavestomp! prompted the band to continue playing and touring. Saw them over the winter at Lupo’s in Providence, with The Lyres opening, and they were coming to New Haven, too, for a gig at the long-gone Tune Inn downtown, with The Swingin’ Neckbreakers opening. (Also managed phone interviews for the New Haven Register with guitarist Bobby Balderrama and ?, the latter of which was about a two-hour ramble.)

The show was great, but the company was better. To my surprise, Billy drove Miriam and some of their scenester pals up from Brooklyn in his yellow boat of a ’77 LTD II. (Who knew Billy drove? I didn’t think anyone in Brooklyn had a car!) And we polished off a good night of rock’n’roll — Billy, Miriam and crew, and all the Mysterians minus ? — with breakfast at the Twin Pines Diner in East Haven. It was a little surreal — my New York garage pals actually making the trip to my home turf for once — but a fun night.

* March 1998. My first and only trip to the South X Southwest Music Festival, in the thick of my time as the Register’s entertainment editor/music writer. Went with The Botswanas, one of the best bands to ever come from New Haven.

Anyway, Miriam was on a seminar panel on “Who Killed Bobby Fuller?” along with Bobby’s brother and bassist, Randy Fuller; another writer whose name escapes me; and the flack from Del-Fi Records. Joe Nick Patoski moderated. I met up with her afterward, and she told me she was going to get a beer with Randy afterward and invited me along. So, thanks to Miriam, I got to enjoy beers in some fancy hotel in Austin with her, Randy, Bobby Fuller 4 drummer Dalton Powell, who made the trip cross-state from El Paso, and one of the band’s old friends from L.A.

* November 1999. The Cavestomp! festival, Westbeth Theatre, Manhattan. It was already gonna be a momentous night, as it was the reunion show, after 32 years — and first American show, period — by the great lost American band, The Monks. If The Sonics were sonically the first punk band, then The Monks were spiritually the first.

Miriam grabbed me in between bands. “Hey! I want you to meet someone. This is the drummer from Richard & the Young Lions!”

“Holy fucking shit!”

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that a lot tonight,” Mark “Twig” Greenberg laughed.

You see, his band was my entry into the world of the garage sounds I hold fondly. The third Friday night of February of 1983, I saw The Raybeats and The Vipers at the Peppermint Lounge; a classmate at C.W. Post called around 8:30, woke me up, and asked if I wanted to go into the city. We grabbed a Village Voice at the 7-Eleven in Roslyn and I had really wanted to see The Raybeats, so bingo! off we went.

Was astounded by The Vipers, whom I had never heard of, and then, ironically, missed The Raybeats. A blonde from Los Alamitos named Carole, who was in Manhattan visiting a friend, grabbed me and brought me over to the bar for a drink. We ended up sucking face, then walking around the Village, and got back after their set.

Lenny Kaye was spinning records in the basement, and I heard this song with a distinct mid-’60s soulful beat, nasty fuzz bass, ringing noises, snarling vocals and wild screams, and I said “What the hell IS that?” So dweeby college senior went over to Lenny, bigtime rock guitarist, and squeaked, “What’s that song you just played?” It was “Open Up Your Door” by Richard & the Young Lions.

They were my gateway drug to garage. And Miriam introduced me to one of them.

Anyway, Twig and I kept in touch, and the next July, Richard & the Young Lions played a reunion show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, N.J.; I did an interview with Twig for my Register column that Friday. And yours truly was right in front of Richard Tepp (who passed on in 2004), screaming my head off as they started and finished the show with “Open Up Your Door.” One of the great nights of a music fan’s life.

* Another footnote: Miriam emailed me one day in 2009, shortly after my layoff from my first go-round at The Fresno Bee. She asked if I had any access to the paper’s archives and microfilm. I said not really and asked why.

She sent me (and I wish I could find it) a jpg of a Bee clip from the morning of June 4, 1968 — my seventh birthday, which would end with Bobby Kennedy being shot that night in Los Angeles. It was about a sailor stationed at the Lemoore Naval Air Station, 40 miles south of Fresno, and his wife being arrested on a marijuana charge. The sailor’s name was Erick Purkhiser — who would, ahem, grow up to become Lux Interior. (And the wife was not Ivy.) Miriam was putting together a series of blog posts after Lux’s demise because so many people were asking her about him, and her one year in The Cramps a long, long time ago.

She somehow found the clip somewhere. Great legwork.

*****

Anyway, I was heartbroken to have missed four nights of great shows last weekend (though grateful to be actually working): The A-Bones (of course), The Sonics, Andre Williams, The Swingin’ Neckbreakers, ? and the Mysterians (joined by LaLa Brooks of The Crystals), Deke and Ecco-fonics bandmate Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague doing double duty with The Untamed Youth and The Randy Fuller Four (which also included the BF4′s other drummer, DeWayne Quirico), The Dex Romweber Duo and a host of others. Guess I’ll be there for their 50th.

This started as another of my weekly Five Songs, then became 25 songs, then spiraled into madness. Not all the songs are Norton recordings (though most of them are). They’re all songs that remind me, in one way or another, of the coolest couple in rock’n’roll — and make me want to move home all the more. Can’t be away from this music too much longer, y’know? Anyway, a week late and a dollar short, here’s my salute to Billy and Miriam and the triumph of youthful enthusiasm. Thanks, kids!

She Said — Hasil Adkins

Chicken Walk — Hasil Adkins

Sally Wally Woody Waddy Weedy Wally — Hasil Adkins

I Wanna Kiss Kiss Kiss Your Lips — Hasil Adkins

Santa Claus Boogie — Hasil Adkins

Rockin’ the Joint — Esquerita

Esquerita and the Voola — Esquerita

Let’s Have a Party — Wanda Jackson

Love Me — The Phantom

Rumble — Link Wray

Ace of Spades — Link Wray

Big City After Dark — Link Wray

Link’s Boogie — Link Wray

My Love for You Is PetrifiedJack Starr

Some Kinda Fun — The Untamed Youth

You’ve Got to Understand — The Untamed Youth

Hey Elly May — The Untamed Youth

Santa’s Gonna Shut ‘Em Down — The Untamed Youth

The Girl Can’t Dance — Bunker Hill (w/Link Wray & the Raymen)

Hide & Go Seek Pt. 1 / Hide & Go Seek Pt. 2 — Bunker Hill

Jail Bait — Andre Williams

Hello Lucille … Are You a Lesbian — T. Valentine

Rockin’ This Joint Tonite — Kid Thomas

Mister Santa Claus — Nathaniel Mayer

Goo Goo Muck — Ronnie Cook & the Gaylads

Susie Q — Dale Hawkins

Long Blonde Hair — Johnny Powers

All Kindsa Girls — The Real Kids

Squat With Me, Baby — The Great Gaylord w/The A-Bones

Go! Go! Go! — The Del-Tinos

Surfin’ Bird — The Trashmen

Surfin’ School — The Hestiations

Surfin’ School — King Uszniewicz & His Uszniewicztones

Little Dead Surfer Girl — King Uszniewicz & His Uszniewicztones

Chances Are — King Uszniewicz & His Uszniewicztones

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans — King Uszniewicz & His Uszniewicztones

Do Wah Diddy Diddy — King Uszniewicz & His Uszniewicztones

Mum’s the Word — The A-Bones

Button Nose — The A-Bones

Judy — Rudy “Tutti” Grayzell with The A-Bones

The World’s Greatest Sinner (with Timothy Carey) — The A-Bones

Mama Rock — The A-Bones w/Johnny Powers

I Am Right — The Dictators

Baby (I Still Need Your Lovin’) — The Lyres

Shake It Some More — The Lyres

No Reason to Complain — The Alarm Clocks

A-Rula-Mata-Gali — The Neanderthals

The Crusher — The Novas

What a Way to Die — The Pleasure Seekers

Hipshake Shimmy Kitten (live) — The Kaisers

Merry Christmas Loopy Lu — The Kaisers

I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend (1975 demo) — Ramones

Shakedown – Bobby Fuller

Pamela — Bobby Fuller

96 Tears — ? and the Mysterians

Do You Feel It — ? and the Mysterians

Sally, Go ‘Round the Roses — ? and the Mysterians

Your Love — Lou Reed

(There’s Gonna Be a) Showdown — New York Dolls

Sweet Little Rock and Roller (1973 Hollywood demo) — The Flamin’ Groovies

Roll Over Beethoven — The Flamin’ Groovies

Shake Some Action — The Flamin’ Groovies

In and Out — Larry & the Blue Notes

One Potato / Two Potato — Elite

The Witch — The Sonics

Psycho — The Sonics

Louie Louie — The Sonics

Wailers Dance Party — The Wailers

Louie Louie — The Wailers

Dirty Robber — The Wailers

Out of Our Tree — The Wailers

Whittier Blvd. — Thee Midniters

Jump, Jive and Harmonize — Thee Midniters

Land of 1,000 Dances (live) — Thee Midniters

Don’t Come Back — Mary Weiss

Stop and Think It Over — Mary Weiss

It’s Lame — Figures of Light

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One Response to “25 Songs for Norton’s 25th (and then some)”

  1. jmucci Says:

    Cool article Fran… great songs too… a lot of which I’ve never heard of… I’ll have to check them out.

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