Year-End Report

Wow, that was a long four months. I did not intend to take that much time away from this blog, but there you go. Did you miss us? Nah, did not think so.

Anyway, the fall was for travel back to the USA — spent some quality time in Chicago and Austin, where Josephmooon enjoyed a number of gigs and even made a little pocket change to boot. The most challenging aspect of performing was learning how to sing along with the “karaoke” tracks we had created for the 23 songs on “So Far So Good” and the second album coming out in 2023, which Ronan and I today agreed will likely be called “Hand In Heaven.” We expect to release the song, “Hand In Heaven,” sometime in January 2023, followed by a new song each month for a few months, The full album should be downloadable in April.

Josephmooon performed four songs at the Hua Hin International Jazz Fest in early December. Ronnie Nice and I played along with the karaoke tracks, and it seemed to go over fairly well. Sometimes we do these difficult short appearances for something beyond the moment itself. Josephmooon was included in all the Jazz Fest promotion, so to the fans and musicians, we are a viable entity, even though only a handful of people saw our 15-minute set from one of the satellite stages (not near the main stage or traffic flow of the festival).

We can’t wait to do it again next year!

The primary purpose of my trip was to meet little Madi, my granddaughter born in April. We hung out a lot and did a bunch of baby things together. The parents were like, “Here’s the diapers, here’s the bottles, and some clean onesies. By-eee!” No problem. And while my attention was 100 percent focused on her when we were together, I can’t say everyone got the same kind of attention. Travel tends to turn me into a bit of a zombie, so I felt like I was on auto-pilot a lot of the time.

I did manage a great interview with an old friend, Michael James, for his weekly radio show and vodcast, “Live From The Heartland.” See it here.

I did not want this post to be a big bummer regarding the music I heard when I was back in the USA. But I have to mention that a lot of it seemed sad and disaffected. And when I mentioned this to some people who work with youth, they indicated that was a common vibe in their spheres as well. In fact, I realize the reasons for this malaise are myriad, and won’t attempt to soapbox them here. Hope for a quick turnaround, but the prospects of that are not looking good — even on a global level.

I found it more than a little amusing that in order to access some of the cheerier pop music I listen to in southeast Asia I listened to B-96 in Chicago, a station that I never would have listened to in the 1980s or ’90s.

The other bummer is that a lot of people I met with seem to have burdened themselves with a lot of “stuff.” Now, I had a lot of “stuff” until 2008, when I moved out of the big house that allowed me to keep a lot of “stuff.” On that score, I think I am a happier and less encumbered person having jettisoned most of my “stuff.”

But that is probably a topic for another time and place, my friends.

So, as we wing toward the New Year, opportunities abound. Music continues to inspire and rejuvenate, and we look forward to reaction to the new songs.

Stay tuned. I promise it won’t be another four months before we post again.

TP (ain’t talking ’bout Tom Petty)

In the early days of Josephmooon, Ronan suggested MANY ideas for “branded products,” from the fantastic (jetliners), to the ridiculous (cheese-flavoured toothpaste), to the practical (jackets, shoes, etc.).

Of course, Josephmooon toilet paper was on the list. No way, I said.

Just reminded of that phase on National Toilet Paper Day [26 August].

So much has changed in the last two years. A fascinating evolution.

Celebrate International Strange Music Day [24 August]

Truly, there is a “day” for everything, and Josephmooon certainly appreciates the existence of International Strange Music Day [24 August], which encourages us to “switch up our regular playlist for something eccentric and unusual.”

My relationship to strange music likely began with traditional artists, specifically the Beatles and Frank Zappa. Fascinated with John Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono, an avant-garde multimedia artist, I acquired all of her solo recordings as well as the albums she made with Lennon. Around the same time, Zappa was name-dropping artists like Eric Satie and John Cage as influences, so I journeyed to their camps as well. Phillip Glass. Steve Reich. Igor Stravinsky. Ditto.

Harry Partch was a genuine eye-opener, and it took a very long time for me to return a recording of his play, Delusion of the Fury, that I had “borrowed” from our local library, in Arlington Heights, IL. Of course, I had a library card, but I did not use it to remove the Partch album from the premises. I suspected I might need it for more than three weeks, and indeed that was the case. Forty years later, however, I finally returned the album to the library, as a publicity stunt to promote the 2017 release of Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars. There is no link to the fine Daily Herald story by Eileen O. Daday because it is behind a paywall, and that’s irritating.

Allow me to excerpt:

Nearly 40 years have passed since a vinyl record album by experimental musician Harry Partch was “borrowed” from the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. On Thursday, it returned and library officials accepted it with no questions asked.

“We understand things happen,” said Executive Director Jason Kuhl. “We try to be welcoming and want people to know there’s not some thousand-dollar fine waiting for them.

“We look at returns on a case-by-case basis,” he added. “If patrons have something like this, we encourage them to bring it back. We’re always willing to work with customers.”

In this case, the patron was Arlington Heights native Bill Paige, who said he wanted to come clean and return the collectible to its rightful place.

“It’s an artifact and in mint condition. I wanted to clear the slate,” said Paige, a lifelong music buff, who worked as a writer in the entertainment industry before serving as communications director of Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. While working for magazines that covered the entertainment industry and ultimately for United Press International, Paige had the opportunity to meet and interview artists ranging from Roy Orbison, Fleetwood Mac and Van Halen, to Boy George, Journey and B.B. King.

He chronicled some of those conversations in his first book — Everything I Know I Learned from Rock Stars — which was published this month by Eckhartz Press and includes a reference to the Arlington Heights library.

Partch is not in the book but he continues to fascinate Paige, with his ability to invent instruments and push the boundaries of Western music.

Kuhl said the library has not had a vinyl record in its collection since 1994. He likely will turn the album over to the Friends of the Library, whose quarterly used book sales generate funds for items such as special programs, equipment and art work.

Ever since those early days of music discovery, I’ve been interested in the fringes. I cannot recall the number of times I’d be listening to music with someone whose reaction to a certain jarring selection might be, “What the hell is that?” I don’t know. I don’t listen to it ALL THE TIME. But sometimes it doesn’t hurt to make your ears work a little bit to understand the cacophony. To try and put yourself in the place of the ARTIST who created a piece that might be unlistenable. What was he thinking? How does he gain satisfaction from its creation, if that is a goal at all?

Perhaps the best example of weird music is the collection I recently downloaded entitled, Excavated Shellac, music that existed only on 78 RPM records. When you go back that far in the history of recorded music, you can begin to recognize the origins of many moderns sounds and motifs. Everything old is new again.

There’s plenty weird music on my shuffle. I could be here all day making a list, but a short sampling would include Odd Nostrum, Juana Molina, NIN, Prefuse 73, Bill Callahan, Nadine Shah, the Shins, Ibeyi, Joel Ross, and Juliana Hatfield, who even titled a recent album, Weird.

So, do yourself a big favor, and find something really different to listen to today.

Be strange.

RIP, Jimy Sohns, Shadows of Knight

Ronnie Rice (Cryan’ Shames), with Jimy Sohns (Shadows of Knight)

As a young writer for United Press International [UPI], working in HX (the city code for Chicago), there were several opportunities to earn extra income beyond one’s regular hourly shift pay. One was writing reviews for the service’s weekly book section. I once reviewed Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Palm Sunday, and sent a clip off to his publisher with a note of admiration. He replied thusly:

Another was writing obituaries for celebrities. These would be stored in a computer “hold file,” and used only in the event of the person’s death. A kind of journalistic “dead pool,” if you will. I was never much for that income. And today, still, I dislike writing about the dead. Especially about individuals whom I admired and emulated in the abstract, if not in actual reality. It’s just sad, to bring up these memories, even though they are the experiences that eventually led to the life of today. So, I promise not to make this blog a musical morgue.

But after recently writing about the demise of Cliff Johnson (lead singer and songwriter for Off Broadway and other bands mostly famous throughout the U.S. Midwest), I would be remiss to ignore the passing of another local Chicago rock legend who doubtlessly inspired BOTH Johnson and myself to engage in this life of musical crime – Jimy Sohns.

As lead singer of the Shadows of Knight, Sohns etched his name into the annals of rock history with a Billboard Top 10 cover version of the Van Morrison song, “Gloria,” as well as a number of other regional hits including “Oh Yeah,” “Bad Little Woman,” and “Shake.” The Shadows of Knight were the house band at The Cellar, an all-ages club in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

The year was 1966. I was 12 years old.

We lived just one mile away from The Cellar. My father sold cars at the Buick dealership next door, and was “concerned” with the “bad element” that hung out there. Punks and ruffians. Rock and roll music. Sadly, the club closed before I was old enough to defy parental authority and attend on my own initiative.

Not gonna lie. More than half a century later, I’m still a little angry about it.

“Gloria” made a tremendous impact on me, regardless. It was an easy three-chord tune that could be easily strummed on guitar. Of course, a lot is lost in the translation when the band is not shouting the chorus “GLORIA,” while the lead singer spells it out, “G-L-O-R-I-A.” But going forward, it was absolutely on the set lists of any suburban garage band worth its salt.

I never encountered Sohns in any of my rock critic days. At one point he worked for the new wave band Skafish, but the magazine I had worked for, Triad, featured them well before that. Never saw any “reunion” shows, either. Sometimes memories are best left to stand alone.

About 15 years ago, I met a legendary Chicago disc jockey who had played “Gloria” on the air countless times. He told me about a rather sad encounter with Sohns that indicated the singer’s life had not gone as well as it might have, given its earlier celebrity. He eventually pulled things together, but health is a precious commodity.

Jimy Sohns was a childhood hero. I’m sad about his passing, but remain extremely grateful for the musical energy he left behind on this world.

Happy Uncommon Instruments Awareness Day!

Check it out – every 31 July is a special day designed to encourage people to explore uncommon instruments. There are so many! When I looked at the list, I noticed that a few already have a favored home in the Josephmooon / Austin, TX DIV., musical equipment room, specifically the hurdy gurdy and shofar. Yours truly also has enjoy time playing the djembe.

One day, while visiting the recording studio in which Gary Clark, Jr., had recently recorded his second album, I commented on some kind of exotic banjo-type kora hanging on the wall, Studio personnel happily told me that one day Clark had simply taken it off the wall to craft a few tasty licks that made it onto the album.

About the weirdest instrument I have on hand is the kazoo. Have to hum on that in celebration. Know any good songs with kazoo solos?

There are few enough in the rock lexicon, but THIS ONE SURELY COUNTS.

# # #

Cliff Johnson, RIP

“I have a lot of respect for people who put their problems out there,” Cliff Johnson told me in a conversation we had in 2011 (for a now-defunct website called Rocking Chicagoland), to celebrate the release of a solo career retrospective called, Razors and Rose Petals. “I draw strength from being in a dark place. Without pain, you cannot experience joy.

“Human weakness affects music in a great way. We’re going to share our fragility and our happiness. Why not?  I would not have known the humility and the joy I have in my life without having hit bottom.”

Cliff Johnson

Cliff Johnson left this world last Saturday (16 July 2022) and all one can say is, they broke the mold when he first entered it 70 years ago. Heaven has a new voice.

In those comments, Johnson was reflecting on the success of artists like Eminem or Amy Winehouse, who incorporate the processes of addiction and recovery into their art.

“I took my gift for granted,” Johnson confessed. “I’ve gone through drug and alcohol rehab. I was completely sober for several years. You have to want it for yourself. Today my support comes from my family and my listeners.”

Johnson perhaps is best known as the lead singer for Chicago power pop band Off Broadway, which was signed by Atlantic Records and enjoyed a brief but memorable run in the mainstream rock game. Wikipedia offers that the band’s debut album On was released in 1979. The album reached No. 101 on the Billboard 200 and spawned the single “Stay in Time”, which reached No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100. Off Broadway released a follow-up album, Quick Turns, in 1980 and continued touring for three years before breaking up in 1983.

I saw Off Broadway perform a bunch of times at clubs around Chicago and its suburbs. Of all the rock acts plying their trade at the time, Cliff and his cohorts were among the most consistently entertaining and unpredictable.

A decade ago, Cliff he was fronting a new band called the Happy Jacks – all too knowingly named for an early song by The Who.

“It’s like starting over,” Johnson said. “Even though I’ve matured, I’m still quite a child. It’s really all about the fans now. I’ve learned to have more respect for the listeners.”

Not that audiences always reciprocated.

 “I spent some nights watching 15,000 teenage boys give me the finger and throw firecrackers on stage,” he recalls.

Johnson was a musical warrior. His career spanned decades and included membership in Pezband, d’Thumbs, Off Broadway, and Black and Blonde. Yet he never forgot his roots.

“I can’t deny my influences – Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf. The Stones played it back to me. Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwin, and Peter Green of the early Fleetwood Mac – they were blues purists.”

Sadly, one project Johnson had hoped to complete appears to have never gotten off the ground – a cover album of his favorite “girl group” songs.

“My four sisters brought home every 45 that ever existed, and turned me on to songs like Lesley Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me,’ the Shangri-Las ‘(Remember) Walkin’ In The Sand,’ and ‘To Sir, With Love,’ by Lulu. That’s the music that inspired Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and the Pretenders to do their own style of power pop.”

Family also weighed heavily on Johnson’s mind, as much as the hard-knock life lessons provided by 35 years in the music business, as he proudly talked about his three grown children, and a grandchild who today must be on the cusp of becoming a teenager.

“They all see the love and effort I put into my music. Dedication is a great thing to pass on to your kids. Chuck Connors and Andy Griffith were the best role models on TV in the Sixties. They instructed their boys. Gregory Peck knew what to do when Scout ran from the dinner table in To Kill A Mockingbird. That’s the epitome of a good relationship with your parents.”

Rest in power pop, Cliff Johnson – a showman and shaman for the ages.

Progress Report

[Photograhy by Patrick Jacobs.]

If asked today, I would “estimate” that recording and mixing is 90 percent complete on the 11 songs featured in the next collection of music by Josephmooon. We’re just. That. Close.

Ronnie Nice and Bill Paige concentrate on getting a good sound for Josephmooon.

Seriously . . . spent several hours at Rocky Head Studios last week, working on lead vocal and harmony parts. Fortunately, my voice was strong and mostly in good form, with multiple takes typically resulting in a consensus that a desired result had been achieved. Working in the studio can be stressful and frustrating, but producers Ian and Ronnie Nice have a good sense of what “works,” versus an idea or notion that, in the end, just might not be worth pursuing.

Ronan writes the lyrics, of course, but as the “voice” of Josephmooon, the responsibility of “interpreting” those words – carving them from their original state; creating melodies out of thin air; considering the intervals and phrasing of the words; verse and chorus structures, etc. – falls to me. These songs did not exist before we made them, and now that they do exist, what?

Obviously, any songwriter would be encouraged to have their songs retain life over time, to be enjoyed by more and more people, to perhaps even inspire others to sing the songs themselves, to give them their own interpretations. That is just one of the reasons it is exciting to present another set of songs, new ideas and melodies just waiting to be discovered.

Good Morning

Her Smile

Only One Life

Just Do It

Me And My Homies

Banjo On My Knee

Can’t Be Beat

You’re (Not) In Charge

Hand In Heaven

Last Words

Something Good

These are the song titles. Still, a lot of work to be done, Liner notes and credits. Artwork. Bar codes. Soundscan codes (LOL does Soundscan even exist anymore?). Anyway, long alphanumerics that allow the tracking of “streams,” with the intended and implied reason being, “to get paid, m%$#&Fu*&+.” But it is a joke for a small, independent project like Josephmooon. Save for a viral Tik Tok video or other “break” that brings our music to a mass audience, our efforts remain for those whose ears are open.

Work continues. Refine. Remove. Promote. Repeat. The Josephmooon debut album, So Far So Good, was released 1 October 2021. Seems like one year is long enough to wait for something new. Stay tuned.

Laying down vocal tracks at Rocky Head Studios.

Mad Dog and the Barber

Wendy Herbert (Marg Szkaluba) & Mad Dog (Bill Paige)

Here at Josephmooon HQ/Thailand Div., we’ve spent the last six weeks preparing for a pair of performances of an obscure 1970s musical comedy titled, Marg Szkaluba (Pissy’s Wife).

Written by Canadian Ron Chambers, with songs by Paul Morgan Donald, Marg Szkaluba (Pissy’s Wife) was presented by Australian radio vet and actress Wendy Herbert (with guitar accompaniment by ur ‘umble) in the title role of Marg, a hard woman in a hard marriage – to a brutish lout named Pissy.

She finds her redemption through song, and is compelled to tell her story. At the end of the play she says, “If we don’t tell each other stories about what’s happened to us, we ain’t gonna learn anything or go anywhere.”

Anyway, my friend Wendy had performed the show in Hong Kong a decade ago – it ran in various venues for a year – and recruited me to play the character Mad Dog for a two-show revival here in Hua Hin. Her friend, Teri Fitsell, produced the show and assembled a small but professional team that allowed us to perform the show to two sold-out shows, and donate the proceeds to two deserving NGOs, Jungle Aid and Thai Hill Community Learning Center.

There is a script, which included the lyrics to 10 original songs, and a recording Wendy made when she originally presented the show, but nobody could come up with the sheet music or chords. That became my job, which wasn’t too difficult once I figured out the guitar in the recording was not in standard tuning, but rather tuned down a semitone, for some reason.

The songs are a mixed bag of styles that help Marg “sing” various aspects of her story. “Was It Love” is a faux doo-wop ditty about Marg losing her virginity at age 16; “Hints,” a funny, blues-tinged take on the advice promoted by womens’ magazines; “Get On Your Horse And Ride,” a galloping Western tune about her escape from the farm. Other titles include “Stupid Tree,” “Laughing Girl,” and “If You Have A Son.”

We rehearsed a lot – Wendy on her own with Teri sometimes, and sometimes with me to learn and get the songs down solid. We did a couple of appearances on Surf Radio 102.5, and a video interview with Heaven Hua Hin. The shows were well-received, despite some challenging ambient noise from the neighborhood. What are you going to do? People will have birthday parties with loud karaoke.

Just as rehearsals were starting, I was thinking about getting a haircut. “Don’t do that,” said Teri. “Mad Dog should have a bit of a rough feel.” True enough. My character is introduced as a “scruffy bugger (who) was pickin’ soft after having his head rattled by a cowgirl.”

This brought to mind the time I worked as an extra on The Road To Perdition. The two scenes we filmed go by at the start of the movie in about one second, so there is no picking anyone out of the crowd of 300 people they’d hired and costumed for the day. But I do recall making an extra $15 – “facial hair differential” – for being willing to not shave for several days before filming.

So, I’d been walking around like a shaggy mutt with a few weeks’ worth of beard scruff that I couldn’t wait to lose once the shows were over. Two days after the final performance of Marg Szkaluba (Pissy’s Wife), I bicycled over to my regular Thai barber for a shave and haircut. This guy doesn’t speak a word of English, but we manage to communicate. After numerous times in his chair, he knows what to do.

Ahhhh, that feels better. Now, back to the Josephmooon music. Will update on that soon.

Get A Clewley

Every other Tuesday, the Bangkok Post publishes a music column by John Clewley, an informed and informative journalist and occasional DJ. He regularly features the Transglobal World Music Chart, highlighting the releases that most tickle his discerning ears. Regrettably, as he points out, the May 2022 Top 20 chart features just one Asian artist, from Tibet – not Thailand.

Oh well, I guess all that “soft power” generated by Milli and Lalisa can be put on ice.

Poster for Danny Boyle’s Pistol.

Clewley’s current column also writes about Czech singer Lenka Lichtenberg’s “haunting” new album featuring poems written by her grandmother from a concentration camp . . . music films by director Steve McQueen (Lover’s Rock) and Danny Boyle (the six-part Pistol) . . . and Calypso Rose’s new recording of “Watina,” with guest guitarist Carlos Santana.

Well worth checking out for some new world beat music recommendations.

“‘Banjo on My Knee’ is a fine track.”

“There’s something really uplifting and special about the music of Josephmooon,” says Stewart Griffin. “‘Banjo on My Knee’ is a fine track.”

Songs from Rocky Head Studios, Part 1. Ian Nice, Crane, Josephmooon, Tony Marrinan, Tim Nicolai. by radio7stewart

Brand new Josephmooon music, “Banjo on my Knee,” in a world exclusive on Radio7Stewart.

The band has a voiceover at 7:13, and then the new song follows.

Thanks to Stewart Griffin. Thanks to Ian and Ronnie Nice.