-December 1998-

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Fein Ramblings/December 98

kiiiiiiiiuuuuk (cat did this)

Dave Alvin is opening shows for Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. It's a thrill to see him in such august company.

When Dave announced in 1985 that he was leaving the Blasters to form his own band, I asked who the singer would be, since his brother Phil was the Blasters singer. "Me," he said sheepishly. I had heard him sing once or twice at Blasters shows, and it was pretty grim. Today he is a marvelous singer: that he persevered with his vision and art is inspirational. And he uniquely overcame the curse of LA roots bands: many emerged, and nearly as many failed. Dave is blazing his own trail, and leaving his past a distant memory.

Not me, though: I like his past. I have board tapes of Blasters shows in 1980 before pianist Gene Taylor joined on, and they are tremendous for the excitement of Dave's inspired guitar-playing. In those days he was applying very loud hard-rock to old songs. It was revolutionary (well, the Cramps do the same thing, their way) but it never got any further than those old shows.....





Dave Alvin



Ral Donner










New Colony Six




Young Ray Campi


The first singer I ever met was Ral Donner. Well, Ronnie Rice.

Maybe you've heard of neither.

As a teenager in Chicago I became friends with Ronnie Rice, who had had several local hits. At Xmas time, 1964, he took me to Ral Donner's house on the north/west side, near Devon and Harlem. I was awed; Donner had been the first singer to successfully cover Elvis with his 1961 version of "Girl Of My Best Friend." But Donner's career never again reached that height, despite some brilliant follow-ups. (His "I Got Burned," on Reprise, is a masterpiece.) By this time he was living with his mother in a rundown house whose walls were covered with pictures of Elvis. Donner had a Cadillac up on blocks in the driveway; he said he'd had a Corvette, but the insurance payments were too high. I thought, "Sure, a big rock & roll star can't afford car insurance." In fact, Donner was envious of Rice, who was on the radio at that time, albeit on a Clearasil commercial. I remember that he thought that the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" was the worst song he ever heard, and that he was recording a song called "Poison Ivy Leaguer" (not the same as the Elvis song of the same period!) against the "collegiate" people who were ruining rock & roll.

I never said to a word to him. I was all shook up.

Donner provided the Elvis voiceovers in the mock-documentary "This Is Elvis." He died in 1984. Rice became lead singer of the New Colony Six, and is now a very popular Chicago oldies singer.


No, I met other singers before him. I went to a record store in Old Orchard in Skokie Illinois on a rainy cold Saturday afternoon in the fall of 1962 and was face to face with Peter Paul & Mary. To say I was terrified is an understatement. It was a small store, nobody else was there, and I did not know what to do. Introduce myself? Maybe they were waiting for someone and would laugh at me. Ask them to sing something? They weren't holding guitars. Buy their album and ask them to autograph it? I already had their album and I'd be damned if I was buying another one. (This brings to mind musicians complaining about sometimes signing other people's albums at in-store appearances. That is perfectly logical, if the person already has your album at home. Ray Campi had Hank Williams sign an Ernest Tubb songbook because that's what 15-year-old Campi was carrying at the time.)

I snuck up to the counter and bought Bobby Darin Sings Ray Charles and ran out.


No, in fact, the first singer I met was a crew-cut geek about 20 from Kentucky who had just moved into my friend's aunt's rooming house in Chicago. He played us a 'track' from a recording studio and showed us how he was going to sing with it. The music went da-da-da-da-da-da and he sang over it, then there was an equal period of silence, then another da-da-da-da-da-da and silence, a guitar break, and a final repetition.

It was 1960. I was 14 and here I was with an actual singer, someone who was making a record, yet I couldn't resist offering advice.

"Shouldn't you sing in the silent parts and let the da-da-da-da-da-das answer you?" He looked stunned: humiliated. He asked us to leave. I don't know if he ever made the record because the next week he hanged himself in that room.

Of course I was not laughing about it, then or now, but in the annals of a future field of endeavor, this was a seminal moment: I gave someone a bad review and they killed themself.

It's something today's rock crits can only dream of.

Philippe Manoeuvre, editor of Rock et Folk Magazine in France, was on the Poker Party last week. He said that he had recently interviewed Bill Wyman, who said he made a big mistake leaving the Rolling Stones.

Millions and millions of mistakes. All dollars.


When I wrote the first edition of my book, The LA Musical History Tour, in 1990, I went out to Roosevelt Cemetery in Gardena to photograph Joe Turner's grave. It had no headstone, so I took no photo. I called Mary Catherine Aldin, who knows about such things, and she said yes, there was a headstone -- just recently the Blasters and others had held a benefit concert to raise the money for it. They gave the money to Joe's widow Pat, then Pat apparently forgot to buy it.

Someone eventually did, and today there's a headstone for both Joe and Pat, and his sis.

Looking for Joe's grave the second time, in 1997, afforded a special treat for musician Skip Heller. After he and I searched in vain for the grave I realized we were 180 degrees off and needed to drive to the opposite end of the cemetery. I asked Heller to man the wheel.

"But I've never driven" he protested.

"This is a cemetery" I said. "Who are you gonna kill?"


I try and recount stupid things I've said and done, so others may not follow in my idiotic footsteps.

"Look before you leap" is a good motto. In 1974 I went to the Beverly Hills Hotel to interview Neil Sedaka, who was on a comeback comet. To show my familiarity with his oeuvre, I said "You know, I liked your hits, but I think the best song you ever wrote was a flipside, 'Forty Winks Away.'" I felt good for a second or two, til the frown crossed his face and he said "Barry Mann wrote that."

While I'm at it I'd like to apologize for some stupid reviews I've written. In 1973, writing for Variety I panned the Helen Reddy tv show which I had no business reviewing. There was, is, nothing wrong with Helen Reddy. I was just angry that she wasn't Aretha Franklin or Wanda Jackson. Sorry, Hel.

Same John Denver. He played Universal Amphitheater and I wrote that he was too homey and folksy, and that his show was rated "Gee."

His problem was he wasn't Jerry Lee Lewis. And that wasn't his problem, it was mine.






Big Joe Turner





Art Fein & Neil Sedaka

Wanda Jackson

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