Wednesday, December 23, 2009

THE WAYBACK MACHINE GOES NIGHTCLUBBING

The Allentown Morning Call newspaper has apparently been moving a lot of its old analog copy to the web.

So today I repost two old pieces from a column I developed there called "Nightclubbing."

The idea was to go out to the dives and small venues of the Valley and tell it like one saw it in short entertaining vignettes, written for a readership that didn't necessarily give a hoot about popular music. The aim was to elicit a smile, a laugh or a flinch and a grimace over the weekend, to furnish people with a reason to anticipate its next installments.

While this doesn't seem like any kind of radical idea in 2009, at the Morning Call in the late Eighties -- it was. You must keep in mind it was a very conservative newspaper with timid editors who viewed their function as lickspittles for the local status quo inviolate. This had guaranteed the standard of news was such that the most terrible and trivial of local acts, as well as national stars, always got blowjobs.

Even slightly sarcastic tongue-in-cheek writing or reporting which tweaked the locals flew in the face of all that. Naturally, it generated a lot of phone calls and letters, even a petition to have me banned. Unsuccessful, I might add.

I did "Nightclubbing" as a free-lancer and once I'd moved on it was continued by a stable of others. I never actually thought even parts of it would get to the Internet.

Technically, since I never signed any contract giving them rights to the stuff in perpetuity, they probably owe me some money for reusing it. The same would go for every other free-lancer they employed in the Eighties and whose material they have now migrated to the web for the sake of framing with digital entertainment advertising.




Hard Rock, Hard Knocks At Vfw Christmas Party

December 16, 1989

It was a mostly hard-rock Christmas celebration at V.F.W. Post 13, 1349 Hamilton St., Allentown, last Saturday night. About 100 holiday revelers turned out to make merry and enjoy the sometimes bitter musical fruit presented by four local bands which had volunteered their services for the evening.

Steve Kennedy And The Rock And Roll Originals (never mind that the band played mostly covers) got the evening rolling with teary yet heartfelt versions of The Box Tops' "The Letter," Roger Miller's "King Of The Road" and Neil Young's "Down By The River."

In a twist of unfortunate billing, a heavy metal act known as Bloody Corpse played next. (Perhaps a transitional band along the lines of America or The Eagles would have been a better choice.) The Corpses played fierce and mean covers by Judas Priest and Humble Pie. The audience responded enthusiastically, even when the act blew its tough demeanor by telling everyone that their guitarist's name was "Scooter."

Up next was another metal band whose identity was never established. The band didn't introduce itself, and party organizers still had no idea what the group's name was this week. This outfit, led by a lead guitarist who looked like Prince might if he had 20,000 volts run through him, opened with a series of Led Zeppelin covers.

The women in the crowd heckled the group relentlessly. After a time, the young ax-slinger lost his cool and hurled his guitar at his tormentors, bringing the set to an abrupt end. A short but sharp scuffle then ensued between the band and members of the audience who disagreed with this breach of club etiquette.

Dance band Anxious ended the night on an up note although many in the audience had fled during the melee.




Saraya Changes Speeds, Bad English Wimps Out

December 09, 1989

She walked, she talked, she crawled on her belly like a reptile!

Sandi Saraya, singer for the Polydor hard-rock band that bears her last name, was quite a sight Thursday night at Easton's State Theatre, where Saraya opened for Bad English.

She changed jackets three times. She wound herself up like a flapper from the Roaring '20s. She bared her nice-looking midriff. And still she managed to lead her band through a fair 45-minute set of rock. What a gal! The Charo of rock 'n' roll!

Saraya's show wasn't all hard-rock peaches and cream, however. The quartet from the N.Y./N.J. metro area eschewed the wisest strategy for opening acts: hit 'em hard, hit 'em fast and get off the stage. Instead, Saraya opted for verbatim renditions of plodding midtempo tunes found on the band's self-titled debut LP.

Saraya didn't kick into high gear until near the end with the double-time gallop of "Runnin' Out Of Time" and a fun but almost unrecognizable cover of Peter Frampton's "(I'll Give You) Money." The band closed with its satisfying FM signature tune, "Love Has Taken Its Toll." The 600-strong audience responded, but without the enthusiasm needed to merit an encore.

As soon as headliner Bad English hit the stage, every small child and junior-high school-age girl in the theater let out a high-pitched keening noise. Parents and security men flinched.

Bad English, which played at Allentown's Airport Music Hall a few weeks ago, delivered just what this audience craved: wimpy and meaningless lite- metal fluff. It was just what you'd expect from this unholy fusion of former members of The Babys and Journey.




L.V. Singer Landed Between Rock And Hard Place In LA.

February 02, 1990

Michael Horvath learned the hard way that the City of Angels is a hard place.

The 21-year-old Allentown resident, who currently is the lead singer for hard-rock band The Mob, went there in September 1988 to break into the music business. Seven months later, the hard-rock maw which spawned superstars Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses chewed him up and spat him out out on the asphalt of Sunset Strip, flat broke and bereft of possessions.

Horvath had left Allentown after the break-up of Chillz, a heavy metal band that he and long-time friend Frank Sarkozy had started while they were students at Freedom High in Bethlehem. Like many aspiring young musicians, Horvath was convinced he needed to go directly to the glittering heart of the recording industry -- Los Angeles -- to succeed.

But Horvath's hopes came a cropper thanks to an entertainment scam -- pay to play -- that is unique to Los Angeles. The swindle has generated increasing cries of foul in the national press. Horvath explained how it works.

"There are three main clubs in Los Angeles: The Whiskey, Gazzari's and The Country Club, which is the top of the heap. If your act wants to play The Country Club, you send your demo tape to the promoter. If he decides to give your band a slot, that's when the hard part starts.

"You have to give the club owners money up front for the opportunity to perform on their stages. It can be anywhere from $500 to $2,500 depending on the night and your location on the bill. Then they set a ticket price and give the band members tickets to sell. The band keeps the money from the ticket sales."

Another catch is, the competition is so fierce that it's difficult for band members to sell enough tickets to recoup their initial cash outlay. So most acts lose money -- lots of it.

Horvath said that Hollywood club owners have the musicians between a rock and a hard place. To be seen by representatives of major record labels and gain a theoretical shot at the brass ring, bands must play on these stages. If a band can't afford the asking price -- out of sight is out of mind. Plus, there are always new bodies to fill the places left by the fallen and those who won't pay.

"Band members wind up out on Sunset Strip right before their shows, selling tickets for whatever they can get! I couldn't get anywhere," said Horvath.

"Finally, I had my apartment broken into. Everything was stolen -- I was left with nothing."




Drumming Up A New Name -- Again Modest Success Reaches Out And Touches Ex-lehigh Valley Musician

August 25, 1990

Jimmy Degrasso, drummer for northern California-based hard-rock band Y&T, has changed his name ... again.

As a Lehigh Valley denizen and former Liberty High School grad, he was Delgrosso.

Then as an Ozzy Osbourne sideman/Y&T member, Delgrasso.

Now, on the new Y&T album, "Ten," it's Degrasso.

"Yeah, I had to change my name in the phone directory," said the drummer, alluding to the price of even modest success in the music business.

But Degrasso doesn't mind such minor inconveniences. In fact, in a recent interview, he's predicted even greater success for Y&T. Degrasso touted Y&T's new album as one which would build on a fan base that is mainly the result of years of journeyman touring throughout the States. "We have been able to play sold-out arenas as well as smaller clubs, which is nice," he said.

"In the smaller places it's great to be close to the fans, but there's nothing like hearing the bass drum through a big P.A. in the arenas!"

The former Bethlehem resident also reflected on the ups and downs of the hard-rock business which has taken him from performing in dive bars with Valley-based cover acts like Magnum to working West Coast studio dates to doing a short stint backing notorious pigeon-eater Ozzy Osbourne to subbing with the obscure pop-metal of Ireland's Mama's Boys to playing the garden-variety hard rock of Y&T.

* On Magnum: "They're still around?! Heh-heh. One of my former students called me the other day and said, `Guess who I'm drumming for now?'"

* On Ozzy: "Ozzy was a great guy to work with. The nicest guy, but when he drinks ... Everyone knows about those problems."

* On the vagaries of stardom: "The funny thing about the business is that, sooner or later, you always wind up opening for someone who opened for you. And everyone treats everyone lousy."

* On Y&T: "It's a good situation. The organization is real good about letting everyone do work outside the band between albums and tours."

Y&T was formed in the Bay area in the mid-'70s as Yesterday & Today by singer/lead guitarist Dave Meniketti. The name was shortened to Y&T after two albums of likeable, if oafish, hard rock. (Sample lyric from the first album song, "Alcohol": "After a while, I had a few drinks/ My head got fuzzy, I couldn't think!/ Alcohol, alcohol -- tomorrow morning I'll be climbin' the wall.")

Over the course of more than a decade, the band hopped labels, from London to A&M to Geffen, with Degrasso joining in 1987. Degrasso said that Y&T was relieved to be free of A&M and with a label committed to breaking the band.

Regardless, critics have not been ladling the milk of human kindness onto "Ten" and, as of now, the LP is not in the Billboard charts.




Other selected Nightclubbings:

Locals stick it to Prong

The Hegins Pigeon Shoot

Commander Cody

Gwar, Jason Bonham, Murphy's Law and Mucky Pup.

Part of the Morning Call's Wayback Machine.

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