KIM FOWLEY:The Man, The Legend, The Sheer Wordage
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Eddie Cochran was one of the great record producers, which a lot of people donât realize. He comes out of that 1957-59 era, and he was a wonderful guy who let me sit there and watch him work. He thought I was a cool guy and he tested me in Sharon Sheeleyâs house, who wrote âPoor Little Fool,â and together they wrote âSomething Else,â and he played me âYou Ainât Heard Nothing Yet,â by Jackie Wilson, which is on the hard-to-find-now Jackieâs Al Jolson tribute, done by Jackie Wilson. He just sits there and says, âThis is GOD, listen to this.â And I went down and watched him make records, and he had his manager Jerry Capehart at Goldstar actually playing drums on a suitcaseâthe Eddie Cochran records did not have a drumsetâthe big singles, which was Cap, the nickname of Jerry Capeheart, playing drums. And he used to wear a Captainâs hat. Anyway, they had this group the Four Young Men, they had a label with American Music and we covered them as Gary âAlley-Oopâ Paxton and the Hollywood Argyles. I was co-producer, âYouâve Been Torturing Me.â The first song I ever wrote was the B-side, called âThe Grubble,â for those of you who really care. Now back to England again. We made a surf garage record there at Olympic Studios, which wasnât a garage, with Ritchie Blackmore, pre-Deep Purple, it was called âSatanâs Holiday,â youâll find that amazing. Garage isnât necessarily rock. Now Cat Stevens was a songwriter at Ardmore & Beechwood the same time I was in London in 1966. I gave him a lyric one day and he said, âIâm going to go down the street and write it,â and he calls me up from a telephone box and sings it, âPortobello Road,â which is the B-side of âI Love My Dog.â Back to the scene of where we did the âSatanâs Holidayâ record in â64, when I came back to London in â66, I produced Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi pre-Traffic in the Hellions. And Jackie DeShannon had sent me her song âDaydreaming Of You,â and I produced it, they performed it, and of course later on the Searchers started doing âNeedles and Pins,â I believe we were there first with that West Coast folk-rock 12-string song, pre-Roger McGuinn and the Byrds. And of course I had 15 songs recorded on five Byrds albums, some of which are still unreleased, later onâso that circle came together. Speaking of Three Dog Night, who we talked about earlierâon the album youâll hear Danny Hutton, the founder of the group singing sing âShh-Boomâ under the name the Alpines, which was done in the same church studios in the same place we did the Bush recordâŚ
What killed garage records, at least until punk rock, garage music kind of stopped when music got serious and the concept albums started, like Tommy by the Who and King Crimson and SF Sorrow by the Pretty Things–when you started having gatefold artwork, and the bandsâ pictures disappeared from the artwork and dragons and fire started showing up.
You have to remember everything wasnât a band. You think of it as a band, but one thing everyone forgets–during this time, the singers were separate from the musicians. And often times the musicians that they said played on the record or youâd think played on the records, didnât. And youâd have people showing up and guesting, multiple recordingâwhich wasnât then considered an art form, like Dave Edmunds did later or Todd Rundgren. Like for example on the 1957 garage classic âThe Endless Sleepâ by Jody Reynolds, that was Al Casey playing the guitar and bass, who later played on Pet Sounds and later played on Duane Eddy recordsâI mean, he wrote âLandlockedâ for Godâs sake. I mean, heâs still at it, and thatâs one reason I moved out here to Redlands, because his producer is Roy Swedeen. Whoâs that? Why heâs the guy who was the Misunderstoodâs last drummer. And we have a record coming out next month on Zip Records out of San Francisco, under the name Sand featuring Kim Fowley and Roy Swedeen and our side one/cut one is called âUnderground GarageââŚ.
Punk music was very important, because the group the Damned, for example, the Clash and the Sex Pistols, those three for me, and even songs like âEnglish Wipeout,â those are classic, great underdog–somebody mustâve had a few hundred dollars and five minutes to make an albumâit sure sounds like it. And the Ramones of course, that first album is God. Rock ânâ Roll and white people doing it are generally coming from inferiority, madness, confusion, poverty, anger, hatred, denial and tragedyâand so of course the finances are gonna be shitty and the rewards are gonna be equally horrible . None of us really realized how badly we were gonna be treated because no one ever thought it was art, and no one ever thought it was genius, and no one ever thought it was good. It was kinds of like, well, itâs not as good as the Beatles or Frank Sinatra, so therefore it doesnât exist.
What did you think when Elektra put out the Nuggets album?
That was nice. Greg Shaw was already doing it with Pebbles, anyway.
You said no one recognized it as art, but apparently some people already hadâŚ
Well, after the fact. But that was generally the rock intelligencia. Remember what they say about jazz–the jazz critics killed jazz and the rock critics killed rock. When you had to justify something stupid, then that innovation goes away. Who listens to music? Iâm going to say this, because nobodyâs ever said it in print including meâthe lonely people buy all the music. And all the rest of itâs bought by people for the party. So the people who arenât invited to the party get to sit home by themselves and listen, or in their car or walking down the street or on their walkman, and then all the people who are popular and attractive, the hear the same music with other people. So you have the listening experience of two separate sets of people. Then of course you have older people reliving their youth, or you have disillusioned young people who arenât getting it from Britney Spears or Westlife or bands like that, and thatâs valid pop music tooâand all these boy groups and girl groupsâ20 years from now MOJO will have an issue about the intellectual aspects of Christina Aguilera vis-Ă -vis American Idol vis-Ă -vis Justin Timberlake, who 20 years from now, weâll say those were good valid records, but now theyâre not underground enough so people arenât considering that. But sometime, you know that movie with Judy Garland called Meet Me In St. Louis? Robert Walker, the actor playing Jerome Kern says it best: The popular music of today is the folk music of tomorrow. Circa 1946. And I think heâs right. Because when I went to New Orleans and met the Royal Pendeltons in 1996, they wanted meâwe were talking about making a record togetherâand they called the worst studio in New Orleans, really bad, and I said âWhy are you there?â And they said they were trying to get that soundâI said you donât go there, you donât go to a crummy place, you go to a good place, you go to an interesting place. You donât go to a place thatâs just bad to be bad, you go to a place that captures the sound just like in the Bushâs record that was a Christian studio. It wasnât necessarily atmospheric like maybe S&L was, or Goldstar may have been, or where Zappa recorded, but you can cut a hit record anyplaceâit doesnât necessarily have to be politically correct.
But then again thereâs another thing I want to go on the podium about, and itâs about two words: âRecording artist.â Hereâs what Kim Fowley says. Technology got better and the humans got worse doing rock music. Make that a headline. In other words, Roy Orbison doesnât look like Brad Pitt does he, but he was glorious when he opened his mouth and sang, wasnât he? But nowadays with image and cheekbones and haircuts and internet/MTV/Top of the Pops demeanor, maybe theyâre not going to have a good record, theyâll become product but not necessarily become immortal. It is disposable stuff that might be good for a quick fix like a chocolate bar, but its not gonna be a feast, like an MC5 album or Funhouse or something.
I was on a plane once with Greg Shaw from Bomp Records, and he said when the politics get repressive, the rock ânâ roll gets great. Guess what? Weâre getting there. Weâre right there, with this war in the Middle East. Watch the music get really good now. The next 18 months is gonna be really goodâbecause thereâs some new version of PF Sloan, whoâs going to write his âEve Of Destructionâ or a new version of Bob Dylanâs going to come up with âMasters Of War,â or thereâs going to be a new bad boy rock ânâ roll band whoâs gonna be really noisyâŚ.and it starts all over again. Because every time thereâs a rock revolution, it s always from the street, itâs not industry-driven, itâs always from a place that nobody anticipated. The closest thing to that in recent years, thereâs two towns right now that I call Garage Record towns, and one of them is Detroit, Michigan. And I went up there in 1997. Four record stores had a contest, asking which obscure rock personality still living do you want to record with, and Kim Fowley won. I thought it was great, because they paid meâI did 68 songs in six daysâI did an unplugged album, I did a rock ânâ roll album in the studio called Michigan Babylon, and then I did a live album. And we had a riot with a militant lesbians and lipstick lesbians, and after Andre Williams sang I got up there and they rioted, and then during a surf instrumental which I thought was interesting, Outrageous Cherry people, Troy Gregory was up there, Matt Smithâthose are names known to the Detroit community. Matt was the producer of the Go, who did âBubble Gum,â which was co-written by Kim Fowley, which of course is on the album. Well, Jack White was in the group, he came after the âBubble Gumâ demo was done and he and Matt had their encounter in the studioâone of the results was that Jack White formed White Stripes with Meg, and the rest is history. But in 1997, Jack hadnât done White Stripes, and the epicenter of everything was Ghetto Recording studiosâonce again it was the ultimate garage place, in the Cass Corridor, itâs in a building that looks like itâs condemned, in a big theater, and thereâs living quarters up there, and you could have up to 90 people in that place, and all kinds of beer-drinking, etc decadence, etc., but the records were really good out of there, and we did that whole record up there, Michigan Babylon, in one day. Just like the old days. And I told Joe Foster who was A&R at Creation and later Poptones, I arranged for Poptones to acquire some product by Outrageous Cherry and Ghost World, which is John Nash, and then the Witches is Troy Gregoryâs band, very goodâand he was in Killing Joke for five minutes, he was a bass player in Killing Joke. And the guys are connected, because the guys in â97 in Detroit were quizzing me about these old recordsââHey man, how did you do that?â We just showed up and did it, so letâs do it again. So we went and we recreated the same thingâitâs just going in there and doing it, instead of worrying about it. We didnât have any songs, and I said, âCan anybody play âWipeoutâ or âGloriaâ? Whoever can in this room will be the drummer.â And thatâs how we formed the group that recorded–about 90 people showed up, and we just made records of various combinations of people in the studio drinking beer and eating greasy food.
I think pop music is a glorious beast and anybody who can make a living doing anything in pop music, even if theyâre horrible, you have to congratulate them for making a living out of it, because hardly anybody does.
How do your albums fit into that scene?
Hereâs how Kim Fowley the artist fits into garage rock. Apparently according to a story I heard, there was a famous French composer, somebody who never performed his music in his lifetime, and Picasso the painter and another guy, after the guyâs funeral, went over to his flat in Paris to put things in boxes and give it to his mom or his relatives, and under the bed they found his sheet music and they took it down to the Paris opera house and this conductor, and said, âWe donât read music, can you please play this stuff?â And he started playing it and all the musicians started crying and sobbing, because it was this masterwork that later changed the world of French classical music. I see myself as in death, five years after Iâm dead, people will start finding my unreleased stuff and theyâll start reexamining this music I did as an artist when Iâm not allowed to get in the way of its content. Kim Fowley in person is an overwhelming super-used-car- salesman personality. Iâm almost six-foot-five, Iâm like a giraffe on steroids and Iâm also not very attractive, I look like a serial killer, I look like a modified Frankenstein. As a matter of fact, as an actor Iâm the last person to play Frankenstein on national television on ABC–I was the musical Frankenstein, so youâve got a Frankenstein on a giraffeâs body, and walking into a room, people arenât going to be listening to music from someone like that, but as the body is being eaten by worms and rats, they are going to say, âGee this guy was pretty good.â If you could overcome my presence. Thatâs why my musical perception of myself in regard to pop music or rock ânâ roll product is–Iâm really good at producing bands and singers and ideas and even a bunch of people who arenât a band, who arenât even vocalists, I know how to walk in a room of just a handful of cooperative people and make something wonderful. Which a lot of people canât do. Anybody can record the Beatles or Queen but not everybody could record some of these one-hit wonders, or even interesting fascinating obscure records Iâve done. And I really enjoy that. And sometimes when thereâs no one around, or we have 10 minutes at the end of a recording date, Iâll jump up and say, âIâve got a song, donât you guys go home until I sing it,â and they all laugh and I laugh and we do itâsome of those things turn into Kim Fowley albums, and some of those things turn into demos for other artists. Some people shouldnât make records, other people never make records, and other people like me made too many records. I just made too many records. This year alone I have six albums coming out. Iâm 63 years old and itâs all new stuff, in various countries under various categories under various names, and people say, Why? And I say, well, I also have five movies coming out, three as an actor, all five as a composer or publisher and I have one book and three box sets, plus six more albums as a producer/writerâand all of this is out of Redlands, California., 75 minutes east of Hollywood.
I have with Teenage Fanclubâs drummer–I had him produce me, Frank McDonaldâin Glasgow. The other city I was gonna tell you about besides Detroit. Glasgow is a brother city to Detroit in terms of how rock ânâ roll things are. If I was reading this article and I was a guy between 18 and 30 and I wanted to make a record that would change the world, thereâs only three places I would go in the year 2003: Glasgow, Scotland, Detroit Michigan, or send me an e-mail and Iâll tell you how to send me a tape. It has to be a fairly different song and have a different musical noise, and if its any good Iâll do itâthatâs just why people like me continue to have things going on, because we didnât die yet, we didnât go to jail yet, we didnât go to the mental hospital yet, weâre not in the grave or the hospital yetâwe visit those places all the times.
The next question–did any any garage band ever make a Pet Sounds or Sgt. Peppers? Yeah, Nuggets âwhen you put it all together, because all these garage records were never designed to be an album, the classic garage tracks were designed to be cheap thrill, guilty pleasure kind of singles. The name of this article should be âGarage Rock: Rock ânâ Rollâs Guilty Pleasure,â because when you go into a party and people ask you what your favorite record is–âLet It All Hang Outâ by the Hombresâand then you can tell somebody that itâs better than a record byâŚ.
Because when things get too fancy and too fake, itâs time for a dog to come in and shit on the floor and track mud in, and dirty up the arena a little bit. Itâs just like diseases and wars are Godâs way of cleaning houseâyou need a whole bunch of Pete Waterman puppeteer prefab rock projects to pave the way for the next group of unwashed bastards who are going to march in and offend everybody with their cheapness and their tension and their inferiority and their anger and their need for revengeâŚ
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