Top Ten Albums of 1997

1. Geraldine Fibbers, Butch (Virgin)
Crazed on bathtub crank, Patsy Cline’s ghost screams after witnessing an accident between a pickup truck filled with migrant workers and an old jazz guitarist on a mule. And you are there.

2. Dear Janes, No Skin (Geffen)
A painfully wonderful bipolar foray wherein the musical analogs of sweet and sour meet the lyrical equivalents of yin and yang. Home to my song of the year: “Sore Thumb Baby”.

3. Crisis, The Hollowing (Metal Blade)
The album title is apt, as Karyn Crisis can’t possibly have anything left inside her after this cathartic musical upchucking. Share the stain.

4. Katell Keineg, Jet (Elektra)
The year’s sweetest and most moving pop record. Change your living will now to ensure “One Hell of A Life” plays as you slip into the void. Your loved ones will dig the gesture.

5. Midnight Oil, 20,000 Watt R.S.L. (Columbia)
I normally ban compilations from my year-end list as a matter of principle, but Midnight Oil demonstrate so many of their own principles here that I feel I can ignore my own.

6. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Barafundle (Mercury)
Wild orchestral psychedelia from Wales. No, I didn’t think I needed any of that either until I heard this record. Now I can’t seem live without regular doses of it. This scares me.

7. Dog’s Eye View, Daisy (Columbia)
A great record by the type of band I normally hate: young, smart, hard-working, earnest, male, American, sensitive, clean. The exception that defines the rule. Don’t tell anyone, okay?

8. Misfits, American Psycho (Geffen)
Forget Glenn Danzig’s tedious Jim Morrison-fronting- Ministry shtick. The Misfits have–and in so doing have created their biggest, baddest beef-cake of a record to date. Heavy!

9. Jamiroquai, Travelling Without Moving (Work)
The revolutionary video for “Virtual Insanity” had people focusing more on the Jamiroquai look than on the Jamiroquai sound. Big, big mistake: the sound beats the look any day.

10. Can, Sacrilege (Mute)
Not Can, really, but instead a collection of works by contemporary mix-masters who have detonated the Can canon and built strange new things from the fragments. Extremely cool.

Interview with Moe Tucker (1997)

“There really wasn’t any sense of novelty about me being a female drummer back then,” recalls Maureen “Moe” Tucker of her days as the legendary Velvet Underground’s rhythm engine. “And I guess that is kinda weird when you sit back and think about it now, but it never really occurred to me to think about it that way until people started posing that question years later during interviews. Of course, one of my theories is that everybody was so drugged back then that they didn’t notice I was a woman.”

It may not have been just the drugs, as there were plenty of other things that plenty of other people weren’t noticing about the Velvets during their five year musical run: the limited fame (or infamy) that Tucker and her bandmates (Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale and Nico in the early days, Doug Yule later) garnered during their heyday came largely through their involvement with Andy Warhol’s notorious Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a primordial precursor to today’s multimedia concert extravaganzas.

After the E.P.I. had run its course, the Velvets soldiered on to release three influential but commercially doomed albums. They didn’t survive making their fourth record without Tucker, however: Reed fled the band shortly after he, Morrison, Yule and stand-in drummer Billy Yule (Doug’s brother) recorded Loaded during a pregnancy-necessitated Tucker sabbatical. While that album spawned two of Reed’s most enduring songs, “Sweet Jane” and “Rock and Roll”, it suffered immeasurably by replacing Tucker’s unique and influential mallet-driven, cymbal- free, stand-up drum sound with Billy Yule’s stock rock fills. Tucker retired her mallets shortly thereafter.

“When the Velvets were done, it never really occurred to me that I should find some other musicians to play with,” she recalls during a recent phone interview from her south Georgia home. “I was just like ‘Oh well, that was fun, now I gotta get a job’ . . . and I just never thought of playing again, certainly not to make a living or anything. I had a family and it wasn’t even a thought that I could do music while the kids were all little.”

While Tucker may have vanished from the public eye throughout the ’70s, she remained in the music community’s collective consciousness: for every angst-driven singer- songwriter who worked to emulate Reed’s style and every art- driven music auteur who strove to mimic the many moods of Cale, there were dozens of rock-driven bands who built their sounds around the grinding, metronomic support-guitar-on-minimalist-drum axis first mastered by Tucker and Morrison.

Tucker herself finally popped back up on the nation’s musical radar with two home-made albums, 1981’s Playin’ Possum (“cut between diaper changes”, she notes) and 1987’s MoeJadKateBarry, that found her reinventing both classic tunes and her musical craft: she eschewed her drum kit altogether to play guitar and sing. In 1989, MoeJadKateBarry collaborator Jad Fair (of Half Japanese) suggested Tucker field test her new oeuvre by joining him on a European tour.

“When Jad called me about the tour, I told him ‘Well . . . see how much I can make ’cause I’m supporting my family and I can’t just go off and play rock n’ roll'”, Tucker explains. “So he did, and I think we figured out that if I did a six week tour I would make as much as I would have if I worked at Wal-Mart for the whole year. And even then I had to think about it, ’cause this isn’t a part of the country where you just go out and get a job whenever you want one, and Wal-Mart wasn’t about to give me the time off. But I did it, and it worked out okay.”

Tucker’s next two solo albums, 1989’s Life in Exile After Abdication and 1991’s I Spent a Week There the Other Night helped foster one of the most unlikely reunions in rock history: the first record featured Reed in a guest role, the second found Reed, Morrison and Cale stopping by help out on the very Velvety number “I’m Not”. By 1993, the original Velvet Underground had been fully reactivated for a European tour.

“When we decided that we’d do that tour it just assumed that we would do Europe, because Europe always was and still is the best fan base for us,” says Tucker. “When we get a royalty check, three-quarters of it is from over there. And we just really wanted to play there since we never had done so. We were going to do something in America before things fell apart [due to the ever volatile Reed-Cale chemistry] . . . but I’m really pleased that we did what we did, ’cause we really had a great time.”

That unexpected reunion gained a heightened sense of poignancy for all involved when Morrison became critically ill while working on and touring behind Tucker’s 1994 album, Dogs Under Stress. “Sterling just wasn’t feeling right when we were touring in October, but he just thought he was having stomach problems,” Tucker recalls. “Then a month later, he and John and I met to do something at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and when Sterling walked into the hotel lobby we were just floored at how horrible he looked. We insisted that he go to the doctor and find out what was wrong, and he went to a medical facility in Pittsburgh where the doctor told him he had just pulled a muscle!”

The doctor was wrong. “A couple of months later Sterling had to go home to Poughkeepsie in a wheelchair, he couldn’t make it on his own steam because he was so far gone to stomach cancer,” Tucker continues. “He did the whole chemotherapy thing and the reports we were getting was that he was doing okay. So I was thinking ‘Okay, he’s very sick, but he’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna take a while, but he is going to be fine.’ And the next thing I knew I was getting a call saying ‘If you want to see Sterling, you better get up here now.’ So even though we knew he was sick for almost a year and fighting it, it was still a surprise when he died. It was a real big shock for me.”

It took a long-time musical pen-pal to help get Tucker musically motivated again after Morrison’s death. Singer- songwriter-guitarist Mark Goodman had sent Tucker demos of his Velvets-influenced songs in 1990, requesting that she consider playing drums whenever his band, Magnet, was able to record them. Last year, Tucker and Goodman finally made it into the studio: the result, an album titled Don’t Be A Penguin, marks the first time Tucker has stood behind her drum kit for a complete studio album since 1969’s The Velvet Underground. Tucker is now touring with a four-piece version of Magnet that will make a stop at QE2 on Tuesday night with (the band) nobody opening.

“I had just been a complete dead ass after Sterling died,” notes Tucker. “I hadn’t had the interest or whatever and just couldn’t get myself going. So I convinced myself to get off my ass and tour after Lou said to me ‘Now, Sterling wouldn’t want you to be doing this to yourself. He’d want you to be working and having fun.’ So I’m making myself do it. And I have to say that it’s fun, particularly not having to be the leader this time out.”

Tucker’s also working these days to develop yet another musical role for herself. “I’d like to get more into producing,” she explains. “I really enjoy it a lot. I’ve done a few records already, and my approach is basically one of ideas: I make sure that a band understands that’s how I work, and that they also understand that it’s their music and if they don’t like my ideas, they have to say no to me. That’s worked out well so far, everyone I’ve worked with has been very receptive and have said that they really liked what we did together.”

While Tucker’s current efforts as singer, guitarist, drummer and producer, may all seem to lie on the fringes of the contemporary music scene, no one knows better than she does that hindsight may someday color it all differently. “I always knew the Velvet Underground were special when we were together,” she notes. “I always thought our music was incredible, but I don’t think any artist thinks, when they’re working on something that ‘Oh, in thirty years people will still like this.’ I don’t do that now. I didn’t do that then. I don’t think anybody thinks that way . . . so the whole way people view the Velvets’ work today has really just been an amazing, surprising development for all of us.”

Interview with Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band (1997)

“I got into performing music with this band was that all composed of art students,” recalls Peter Wolf, a one-time Boston Museum School of Fine Arts student himself. “I met them at a party one night and we just started playing and I got the bug. I became so obsessed with the music and we ended up getting some live gigs that were just so immediate and so exciting, sorta like a falling-in-love-for-the-first-time kinda thing.”

The bug has driven Wolf ever since that first art-school band, the Hallucinations, earned themselves a music history foot-note by regularly opening for the Velvet Underground during the Velvets’ quasi-residency at the Boston Tea Party club. The hyper-kinetic Wolf then went on to front the J. Geils Band from 1967 to 1983 before embarking on a solo career that’s included four albums to date, including his brisk new disk, Long Line.

Long Line‘s a lot more personal than my other solo records,” Wolf tells me during a recent phone interview. “I’m trying to dig a lot deeper emotionally than I have in the past. There’s still the woofa-goofa-mamma-toofa-loverboy-with-the-green-teeth thing, but there’s also a more retrospective, analytical aspect to the performances and in the approach I used for writing the songs.”

While Wolf handled most of the song-writing chores on Long Line, he did enlist Will Jennings and Aimee Mann for a pair of collaborations each. “I really respect her work,” Wolf says of Mann, “So I gave her a call one day and we got together and we just started working. It was simple as that. Little bit of sugar, little bit of spice. Aimee’s got a lot of ideas, so she brings a lot to the party.”

Much to his chagrin, Wolf found himself with plenty of time to contemplate all those ideas after his last album, Up to No Good was released in 1990. “There were certain legalities and problems that I had with my old record company, MCA, that kept me from moving on for a while,” he points out. “And then once all that got resolved, I had to find the right new home [Reprise], so it all took a lot longer I thought it would.”

Once the lawyers were out of his life, Wolf replaced them with a pack of Boston-based musicians (guitarists Stu Kimble and Johnny A, key-man Brian Maes, bassist Tim Archibald and drummer David Steffanelli) and hit the rock n’ road for almost a year and a half before heading into the studio. “I’ve known these guys around the New England area for years,” Wolf enthuses. “They’re really great musicians and have been in and out of a lot of bands, and I’ve worked on different projects and different film scores with them. So when I decided to go out again, they were my first choice to get behind me — because they’re very energetic players. They also understand my attack of the stage and all my solo stuff and some of the old Geils stuff, which is not as easy to play as one might think.”

Given that no-one can play J. Geils Band music quite as well as the J. Geils Band could, I ask Wolf why he left that group in 1983 just as they’d finally attained some modicum of commercial success with their twisted blues-pop party album, Freeze-Frame  “To be honest with you,” Wolf explains, “it really was creative differences. It’s not a cliche. Y’know, there’s a couple of people in every band who make up the band’s creative nucleus — be it Lennon-McCartney, Jagger-Richard, Henley-Frey, Tyler-Perry, whatever, whoever. In the J. Geils Band it was myself and Seth Justman, and we’d each feel this song was better than that song or that song wasn’t good enough or this was the direction where we should go — and we just finally got to a point where it seemed sorta stagnant, not getting anywhere.”

“The bizarre thing was that the band thought it would be best if I pursued a solo career and they just sort of continued as the J. Geils Band. They even put out an album without me (1984’s You’re Getting Even While I’m Getting Odd, which went nowhere). So that was a really difficult, painful period, ’cause I loved the band and I was sorta like the manager and it was, y’know . . .” Wolf trails off and is quiet for a moment.

“The whole thing was just kinda schizophrenic,” he finally notes, reflectively. “People wondered why was it called the J. Geils Band instead of the Peter Wolf Band or some other name. People didn’t even know who J. was. [He was the guitarist] To this day people come up to me and say ‘Hey J.! Oh, you’re not J.? Who’s J.?’ But those are things that happen. To me, it was a great band and I put a lot of energy into it and I’m kinda proud of the accomplishments we achieved. It’s just unfortunate that we weren’t able to keep it together since we’d finally achieved some commercial acceptance after many, many, many years. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t enjoy that.”

What Wolf’s post-Geils solo career has lacked in lucre, it’s made up for in risk-taking and stylistic experimentation. 1984’s Lights Out, as an example, found Wolf working with hip-hop demigod Michael Jonzun, while Long Line finds Wolf delivering perhaps the purest blues songs to be found in his long career in blues-based music.

“I never considered myself a bluesman,” Wolf notes, emphatically. “But I have dedicated a great amount of my life to that particular music. I learned from Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf and John Lee Hooker and got to know those great bluesmen by spending many, many, many, many days and hours with them back in the ’60s — I was Muddy’s unofficial valet for a while and went on tour with John Lee Hooker once. I learned so much from all those great artists, and I finally feel like I’m starting to come into my own in getting to where my writing and performing are maybe near their level. So I hope that I’m able to continue with it, because it’s something that I love very much.”

“Y’know, last night I went to see Bruce Springsteen at an acoustic show he was doing up in Lowell, [Mass.]. We were talking afterwards about how things were different in music now, how radio had changed and how there wasn’t as much loyalty in the business anymore and how music all seems very fragmented these days. And Bruce said to me, ‘Pete, the only thing we can do is do what we do and try to turn-on audiences the grass roots way and just keep on chugging.’ It’s funny to hear that from a guy who’s coming from stadiums, but I’ve come out of arenas, too — so I guess in the end it’s really all just like what John Lee Hooker used to say: ‘If it’s in you, it’s gotta come out’. At least that’s what I feel about myself these days.”