"We deeply regret having to write this at all, so please forgive the impersonal form." So begins a fax I requested last week from DB Recs in Atlanta. Sorry, but I feel the same way. Cold, impersonal. Stunned, maybe. And very uncomfortable broaching this in a stupid-ass newspaper column. But it's not Stevie Ray or Big Sam or any of the other celebrity stars who crashed too soon, so it's not news, I guess. Not many people knew Jody Grind, though more and more were discovering the pleasantly in-your-face, jazz-folk-country influenced rock band from Atlanta since the recent release of their second DB album, Lefty's Deceiver. That's not to take away from Jody Grind's excellent 1990 debut One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure, which Dallas Observer critic Robert Wilonsky stated, "ranked among that year's finest albums."
I remember when Jim Johnson was working on that record as a producer, how excited he was about this new band's prospects, how they'd had to bother Peter Buck in order to borrow a specific guitar so the record would sound just right. That was something that set the Grind apart, the carefully placed instrumentation, often surprising but always contextual; they achieved everything bands like Cowboy Junkies aspire to. Lefty's Deceiver sounds like a breakout. The band evolved a bit, streamlined a little, and brought in revered percussionist Michael Blair to produce.
In April Jody Grind was playing live shows in Alabama and Florida to support the new album. Early Easter morning they were headed back north after a Saturday night show at Sluggo's in Pensacola, cruising along I-65 in two cars, nearing Montgomery, Alabama, when a camper apparently jumped the median and smashed head-on into one of the cars. Robert Hayes, who played stand-up bass and was 24 years old, and drummer Rob Clayton, 22, were killed. Close friend Timothy Tyson Ruttenber, a performance artist who used the name Deacon Lunchbox, was also killed. (The Alabama State Troopers/Highway Patrol, who reportedly investigated, do not have a listed telephone number in the state of Alabama, according to phone company officials.) Jody Grind had a series of shows scheduled that week, including a big fund raiser for the Georgia Environmental Council. The Hayes family has requested contributions be made in his name to that group. The phone number for the Council is 404-607-1262. A Robert Clayton Memorial Scholarship Fund for the Georgia State University School of Music has been set up, the number there is 404-651-3676. Ruttenber's family has directed contributions to Project Open Hand (404-525-4620). I think I'm just gonna sit here with this old Jody Grind "sneak preview" promo tape, the one that says "Happy New Year!" and "Welcome to the 90's" on it, and listen to singer Kelly Hogan jerk tears out of "Mood Indigo."
Because of a long and ugly history - too boring to go into here - with Miami cable-teevy monopolies Miami Cablevision and, now, TCI, I don't have the privilege of watching the Heat on the Sportschannel or the incredible array of cool stuff emanating from Cable-T.A.P.'s Channel 36 (on all systems). This prehistorical predicament also helps justify why I'm way behind on this item: This Saturday at 10:00 p.m. is the last airing of a show featuring the great Randy Bernsen. The program is produced by jazzmeister Ed Bell in conjunction with his WLRN-FM radio show Lunchtime Miami, with Victor Carlisle as director. I've seen it (on tape, of course, not cable). Great stuff. In future episodes, Bell intends to spotlight mainstream jazz and Brazilian and Haitian musics. Now if we can only clear up those nasty allegations about TCI's business practices reported not long ago in the Wall Street Journal, and settle my own dispute with these creeps, maybe I'll get cabled.
Or maybe I'll just cut out the middleman and go satellite. That way I could add radio to my pleasures by dialing in Galaxy 6 Satellite Channel 22 5.80 Audio, and then, on Fridays and Saturdays, I could listen to Steve Alvin's World Jazz Federation, Andy Harlow's Salsa Caliente, and Paul Ewbank's Sky Blue. I hear technology promises soon a small audio satellite dish that could be attached to your car window. And then, of course, we have to start thinking about Digital Audio Broadcasting....
How much of the big teevy tribute to Freddie Mercury were you able to stomach? The Mercurial one had a great, huge, operatic voice that ranged far and wide enough to carry Queen's theatrical song/presentations (and raunchy-rock enough for burners such as "Tie Your Mother Down"). None of the heavyweights who waddled out to sing Mercury music comes close. Liza Minnelli's hilarious vibrato, the flat meandering of Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey, the caterwauling of Annie Lennox - if this was a tribute, I'd hate to see the parody. My ol' pal Deborah Wilker up at the Sun-Sentinel hit on another downer: Most, if not all, of the perpetrators on the bill had something to sell, needed some exposure. Paul Young? Yikes, you're right Deb. Any starfest where Axl Rose doesn't sound half bad compared to the others is in real trouble.
The hype continues: Latest word is that the Slammie Awards will now take place June 25 at Button South.
Nuclear Valdez blows up! Purple Mustard murders perfect psychedelia! Billy Mann sells out! Picasso Trigger shoots for the top! All lies! (God, I wish I worked for a tabloid.) May Day. Square.
How's all that work? Find out in the latest installment of Lee Zimmerman's The Business of Music course at Palmetto High School on Tuesdays. The new semester begins May 5, and the fifteen-week course is a bargain at $11. Call 235-1360.
Jeff Sadowsky needs a couple more local bands for his latest compilation project, Just Say Thanks. Dial him up at 220-0431.
Recordings to keep an ear out for: Wire Train's No Soul, No Strain due May 12 from MCA: delightfully casual and smartly cool real rock. Anything by the Manic Street Preachers from Columbia. I've heard various advances, and while I'm not buying into "the new Clash" hype, I am convinced this band's gonna ring some bells. And topping the list, out now from Jeterboy, a super slab (oh, okay, cassette) of American rock called The Savage Ones by Johnny Tonite. Starring local stalwarts Randy Ruffner and Pete Moss (with plenty of groovy guests), Johnny rocks true and right, no phony, manipulative, smoky-mirrors b.s. here, just simple rock songs beefed up by invention and raw sincerity transmitted by voice, guitar, bass, drums, hand claps, and incidentals. You need this album if only to hear "The Great Pretender," a majestic piece that might be the most infectious (in a good way) song released anywhere this year. The whole thing is pensive-angst munchable tasty, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Seek it out, dear rockers.
Sax man Arthur Barron is back in town after touring the Far East. He'll play at Erny's on Tuesday. Call 407-276-9191.
Some time ago I was talking to an industry insider about Rooster Head, originally a studio band with two masterful albums to its credit. The career prognosis was not good, this person said, because the Roosters couldn't cut it live on-stage. Maybe this person was/is a bonehead, or maybe something supernatural happened in the meantime, but I saw the band live ten days ago, and wow. Psycho-Nazi-barking drummer Mike Vullo ravaged the place, smacking the two dozen or so Cactina attendees in the face with devastating tempo shifts and backbeats. Bassist Dave Cook (one of the groovy guests on the Johnny Tonite project) moved and grooved and provided a perfect rhythm second to back front man Michael Kennedy, lead guitar wizard Pete Moss, and pedal-steel colorman Bob Wlos. We already knew R.H. was a great studio band. Now I know they're equally awesome live. Check 'em yourself Friday at the Plus 5 (with Black Janet, Big Tall Wish, and Lyrics for Lunch) or May 16 at Washington Square with the Mavericks.
Instructor Doug Burris's Miami Beach High Rock Ensemble hit the road late last week. The itinerary called for them to compete in Lakeland and then perform four shows up in Pensacola.
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Now if we could only come up with a better name for it than "World Beat." Otherwise the music Miami knows as well as anyone has been granted full legitimacy via Peter Spencer, former Trenton Times music writer turned book author, and his tome World Beat: A Listener's Guide to Contemporary World Music on CD ($12.95). From Fela to Marley to Valerio Longoria, from Hawaii to Turkey to Africa, Spencer covers the basics and all his bases. It's a fun musical travelogue and a handy-dandy reference in one, and it's available from A Cappella Books. To order, call 800-888-4741.
Butthorn of the week: Miami Herald columnist Robert L. Steinback. It's nice to know he devotes prime research hours to reading New Times. But if he's going to write commentary based on New Times stories, as he did in a piece last week rehashing Jim DeFede's expose of the flawed Andrew Morello shooting inquest, he should either get a job here, or mention where his information comes from.
The media circus: In Living Color, like so many things born fresh and outrageous, has evolved, grown up, and is apparently on the fat-soft tip these days. According to TV Time magazine, the once-rad show wimped out when it came to booking rappers TLC. "Fox censors," as TV Time aptly puts it, were scared of the group's "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and the members' "condom accessories." The censors asked the rappers to tone down, to which TLC said no thanks. So much for a Men on Hip-Hop skit.
Pet corner: Two items from what is becoming the premier must-read, Animals' Agenda: 1) South Carolina state representative Tom Rhoad has worked to soften cruelty legislation involving hunting, and it's little wonder why. "If my bird dog goes into a covey two or three times," he reportedly told the SC legislature, "a few shots of number nine won't hurt him." Yeah. If only there were a way to arm dogs. 2) The government of Bangladesh set a bounty on rat tails in an effort to cut rodent numbers. Earnest citizens deployed pesticides in their pursuit of rats. The poisons wiped out innumerable snakes, owls, and cats - the predators that kill rats, or would kill rats if left alone to do so. There has, of course, been no discernible decline in the rat population. God, people are wonderful.