Sunday, June 9, 2019

[ENDED] Humble Bundle Science Fiction eBooks

Start Publishing has put together 20 science fiction ebooks -- novels and anthologies (including my Alien Contact!) -- in tiered options: you pay what you want, donate money to charity (Doctors Without Borders) and/or donate money to the authors and editors of the books you've purchased.

This "Humble Bundle" has been going on for approximately three and a half days already. But don't hesitate if this interests you as there are only nine-plus days remaining before this offer goes away.

As of this writing, there have been 3,035 bundles purchased, which is not too shabby indeed.

So, click on the "Purchase" button below and check out the titles being offered. And the great thing about ebooks is that you can read them just about anywhere and on nearly any device.

But time is counting down....

Monday, May 27, 2019

Editing: Unlikely Friends: James Merrill and Judith Moffett: A Memoir

Unlikely FriendsI know, I know... Where have I been these past nearly two months? (Sometimes a guy just needs to veg for a while....) Anyhow, here I am! But let me also add a teaser: I've been busy reading a new manuscript from Charles Stross for the next volume in his Laundry Files series!

In this post, the book that I want to introduce you to is by Judith Moffett. Now if you've read this blog regularly over these past years you will recognize her name, as I have written about her on numerous occasions. In fact, if you scroll down just a bit, in the sidebar on the right you will see the cover for her Hugo and Nebula award-nominated story "Tiny Tango," along with a link to the four-part series on how we turned this story into an ebook. And one of my earliest blog posts on Ms. Moffett's work was back in February 2010 entitled "Aliens Have Entered Mainstream's Orbit." Feel free to search this blog (see Search field on the right) for "Judith Moffett" for a list of all the entries.

In 1988, Moffett won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in the field of science fiction and fantasy. But what you may not know is that, long before writing sf, Moffett was (and still is!) a poet -- and a helluva poet at that. Here are just a few of her awards and honors: (1971) First prize, Graduate Division, in the Academy of American Poets Contest at the University of Pennsylvania; (1976) First Ingram Merrill Foundation Grant in poetry; (1984) National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship Grant; and, even after launching a successful science fiction writing career: (1998) Presenter at the Nobel Symposium on Translation of Poetry and Poetic Prose. But enough of the can read the complete list of "Awards, honors, and recognitions" in her Wikipedia entry.

Merrill & Moffett, 1993, International
Poetry Festival, Malmö, Sweden
I bring up poetry because that is the focus of her most recent publication, Unlikely Friends, a memoir of her near thirty-year friendship and correspondence with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill. I had the honor of line editing and copy editing the manuscript: more than 200,000 words of diligently maintained journal entries from throughout that friendship, carefully transcribed correspondence, photographs -- and above all, the personal insight gleaned by the author upon looking back upon those decades.

For those readers in the book/publishing biz, you most likely know that a Kirkus review is difficult to come by: the publication is fairly stingy with its reviews. That being said, imagine how difficult it is to not only get reviewed by Kirkus, but to snag a starred review as well. And that's exactly what Unlikely Friends did: it garnered a starred review -- and, to top it all off, the memoir is self-published! Here's an excerpt from that review:
"Her Merrill scholarship is exhaustive, as she spent years writing a book about his work while finding success with her own poetry. She and Merrill were rarely in the same place, but she lovingly describes a 1973 trip to Greece and moments at his New York City apartment. Both eventually struggled with serious health problems, but they remained close due to their obvious reliance on each other's intellect and their lifelong dedication to their crafts. Moffett's painstaking memoir is epic in length but remains consistently engrossing. Particularly noteworthy is her desire to get to the root of her own fascination with Merrill, and she reaches some surprising conclusions about herself. She tells her own life story of struggle and success with undying fervor, and Merrill's letters show him to be urbane, witty, a bit fussy, and generous when it mattered. The two were different in many ways, but Moffett's account of what they shared is authentic and impressive.

An absorbing, indispensable portrait of poets."
Kirkus starred review, January 23, 2019

If you have access to Facebook, Moffett has been publishing lengthy excerpts and photographs from the book on her FB page.

And as I was writing this, I remembered that in 2016 I had noted in a blog post the receipt of her most recent poetry book (at that time), Tarzan in Kentucky: about life on her farm, grief (the loss of her husband), and other poems of a more personal nature.

Both Unlikely Friends (print and ebook) and Tarzan in Kentucky (print only) are available from your bookstore of choice; the links here will take you to

"By culling a trove of letters and journals, Moffett has written an account of her friendship with Merrill that somewhat suggests the vivid quality of a novel. In every chapter the events of particular years are given the importance they had when they happenedthey are not simply bridges to some later, more important time, but events in their own immediacy. The dense braid of writing by the various Judys of those years, and the Judy now reflecting and summing up, gives her narrative the four-dimensional effect of deep time. It's a love storylove of literature, of friends, of idealized figures who were also real people. It will send you back to Merrill's poems, and Moffett's too."
–Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Mars Trilogy and
New York 2140

Monday, February 25, 2019

Dream Crazier

This post promotes the contents of the video, not specifically the brand name Nike.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh

Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968The title of this blog post is actually the subtitle of this book. The actual title, Astral Weeks, probably wouldn't have intrigued you, snagged your attention, unless you were a huge fan of musician Van Morrison's early work.

Published just this past year in hardcover (357 pages) by Penguin Press, Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 may be one of the most mind-boggling, and weird, books I've read in quite some time.

All the events of note take place in 1968 in and around the city of Boston. I spent some time back in the day in Boston and its surrounds: used to hang out in Harvard Square; ate regularly at a grinder shop in Kenmore Square, while watching all the addicts (in the shop!) nod off; when I couldn't snag a bed at the only youth hostel in town, I would kill time all night in a Dunkin' Donuts, buzzing out on coffee after coffee, until the city came awake in the early morn. Made many a hike from Beacon Street across the Mass Ave Bridge -- and back again -- just because....

Some of the "characters" in this book include Jim Kweskin, of the Jug Band fame, who gave up the band for a place in Mel Lyman's Fort Hill Community (aka commune) in Roxbury. Did you know that Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, though from New York, played the Boston Tea Party (music venue) a total of 43 times between 1967 and 1970? The VU cited the Tea Party as their favorite place to play in the whole country! Others in the book include Jonathan Richman (of the Modern Lovers fame) and, of course, Van Morrison, who, at the time, was living in Boston to avoid certain Mafia connections to his music label in New York!

In fact, it was the Velvet Underground who taught Jonathan Richman to play guitar, as detailed in this excerpt:
"Jonathan, can you make this curve with your ring finger? VU guitarist Sterling Morrison asked Jonathan Richman.
     Richman had brought his bingo-prize guitar to the Tea Party and lingered in a corner of the dressing room until members of the band offered him something in the way of lessons. "They physically taught me how to play," he recounted. "That's where I got everything."
     The band eventually took to their sixteen-year-old mascot. "Occasionally, I drove them around in my father's car," Richman recalled. "I would go to some of the parties they'd go to. I was part of this crew."
Astral WeeksThen there was T. Mitchell Hastings, a 1933 Harvard grad, who, in 1954, invented a transistor radio to work in an automobile. Hastings loved classical music, and set up a string of radio stations for classical music; eventually, all the stations failed, except one: WBCN in Boston. Hastings, who kept the station open only during business hours, was talked into renting out the graveyard hours (midnight to 6am) to Ray Riepen, who planned to broadcast free-form rock music during those hours. The very first song played was by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Within two months, Riepen took over programming of the entire station -- and thus FM rock radio was born.

And interwoven throughout the book, and throughout these many events, is the story of musician Van Morrison and the writing and recording of his classic record album Astral Weeks

On April 5, 1968, one day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., cities across the country were like powder kegs, just waiting for the fuse to be lit. In Boston, city officials were brainstorming ideas to keep people off the streets that evening. Singer James Brown was in New York that morning filming a TV special, and he was to perform at the Boston Garden later that evening. Someone proposed:
What if the Brown concert was broadcast live on television? It was an audacious, nick-of-time proposal. Each home viewer would be another person not on the street. WGBH was the obvious choise....

Boston's Mayor White agreed to cover Brown's lost earnings from concert tickets (more money than the city even had in its coffers!), and the show went on.

As rioting in DC came a few blocks from the White House, James Brown took the stage in front of approximately 1,500 souls and launched into "If I Ruled the World," a vision of a better life for everyone.


Reports started rolling in from police officers all around the city: Boston was a ghost town. "The city was quieter than it would've been on an ordinary Friday night."

All in all, 1968 -- in Boston, at least -- was a very good year.

Monday, February 18, 2019

(Whipped) Cream of the Crop

Photo of Pop's Resale, Lexington, KY, courtesy of virgil_caine31

Friday, February 8, 2019

Keith Richards Quote

"Life's a funny thing, you know... Nobody wants to get old, but they don't want to die young, either. You just gotta follow this thing down the path...."
–Keith Richards,
Under the Influence,
a Netflix documentary, 2015

Friday, January 18, 2019

Michael Bloomfield - If You Love These Blues: An Oral History by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenom

"Michael Bloomfield was so much more than a great guitarist. Raconteur, musicologist, renaissance man, mensch, painter, ultimate appreciator are some of the words used to describe him. I've heard it said often that if you knew Michael, you were changed by him, and that when he walked into a room, his charisma and energy made it difficult to focus on much else."
–Bill Keenom

Bloomfield An Oral HistoryLast summer I read a book entitled Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero by Ed Ward, and wrote about it briefly in a blog post dated July 10, 2018. I've been a fan of Bloomfield's music for decades, and after reading this book, I knew I needed to read more.

The search took me a while, but eventually I tracked down a copy of Michael Bloomfield - If You Love These Blues: An Oral History by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenum. My hardcover copy was missing the compact disc that is supposed to accompany the book. The paperback edition doesn't have a CD, but the publisher, Hal Leonard, provides a URL on the back cover so that the reader can access the music online. One problem: The URL is not valid. I've written to the publisher about this, but so far, a week later, I have not received any response.

The subtitle of this book is "An Oral History": the entire book consists of excerpts from interviews with Bloomfield's bandmates, producers and promoters, roommates and friends, and family (including his ex-wife). And, of course, the guitarist himself. The majority of these interviews were conducted by the book's authors, but some, as in the case of Bloomfield, were from prior interviews as the book was published in 2000, and Michael passed away in 1981. But what makes this book unique is that the interview excerpts are provided in chronological order, with excerpts from two or more individuals regarding specific events so that the reader can experience this from multiple viewpoints.

I just counted the markers -- nearly 20 of them -- I placed on various pages in the book denoting quotes that just had to be shared when I wrote this post. Obviously, far too many, but I'll see what I can do about narrowing them down to a very important few.

"When I came back through Chicago in '62, [Michael] took me down to the South Side to hear some music. He said, 'Man, you've got to meet Muddy.' So we go to Pepper's Lounge, and Michael walked right up to the bandstand and said, 'Hey, Muddy.' Muddy says, 'Hey, Michael, how're you doing?' And Michael says, 'I'd like you to meet my friend John Hammond.' I felt like I was going to fall down. And then, in the middle of Muddy's show, he calls Michael up to play with him. I was mind-boggled. And Michael was great. He knew all the details of cool stuff. He was a wonderful guy. I valued his friendship more than I can ever say. He was just a terrific person."
–John Hammond Jr.

"...There were other musicians, but Michael was the first one that I befriended and who befriended me. He was a Chicago guy, I'm a New Yorker, and we hit it off, personality-wise. Michael was quick and very witty. And we were able to jabber on easily....[Michael] always had somebody that he was pushing. It if wasn't the Staple Singers, it was Albert King or B.B. King or Otis Redding or Howlin' Wolf. He, more than any single musician, kept bringing me records and mentioning groups to me. Prior to 1965, I knew nothing. I wasn't in the rock & roll world. It wasn't part of my private life. I'm a Latin music fan, a jazz fan of sorts, but I never listened to blues much or rock & roll at all. I think the music industry owes Michael far more than they realize. Besides being a very special musician in what he brought out of the guitar and how he made people feel. I don't know if I would have been that successful early on if it wasn't for Michael, his knowledge and his awareness and his prodding me to bring these artists to the Bay Area. So, as great a guitar player as Michael was, he was really a teacher."
–Bill Graham

"When Michael first came to San Francisco, for some reason, he befriended me. I had just started to play with the Jefferson Airplane, and I'd never played electric guitar before, really. He showed me how to bend notes, and to feedback and sustain things, and I was really thrilled. Because in those days some of the East Coast guitar players were very guarded about their secrets and the way they did stuff. I knew guys who used to turn away from you when they played so you couldn't see how they were doing it. Michael was a really sweet guy and a brilliant guitar player, and he was really instrumental in getting me into being an electric guitar player."
–Jorma Kaukonen

"Around December 1968, Michael and Nick Gravenites helped Janis Joplin set up the Kozmic Blues Band. Janis had left Big Brother. She was very frightened about what she was going to do about putting a band together....They came in, and Michael took the time to make everyone feel good, and they whipped that band together really quick. He was kind of like an A&R man. He selected the tunes—a lot of them were Nick's—and then he went on and made sure everyone could play them. We had other music directors who were really unessential. Michael was really the one who put it together. Michael played on a few of the Kozmic Blues tracks. I still get people come up to me, if they're real sharp, young guitar players, and they'll say, 'Was that you playing on "One Good Man"?' I'll say, 'No, that was Michael,' and they'll go, 'I knew it! I knew it!'"
–Sam Andrew

"When I was 17, I thought I was good enough to gig in black places and hold my own. You had to hold your own. If you shucked, then you had no business being there. You'd not only be a white kid, you'd be a fool. You'd be a punk and a fool....Several guys took me to be almost like I was their son—Big Joe Williams, Sunnyland Slim, and Otis Spann. They took me to be like their kid, man; they just showed me from the heart. They took me aside and said, 'You can play, man. Don't be shy. Get up there and play.' What I learned from them was invaluable. A way of life, a way of thinking, a whole kind of thing—invaluable things to learn. I used to hear Elmore James, Sonny Boy, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King—way before they were known anywhere but the ghetto....I was interested in it from a musicological standpoint. I was trying to discover where the old blues singers lived. I met cats like Washboard Sam and Jazz Gillum and Tommy McClennan and Kokomo Arnold. I used to have a band with Big Joe Williams....By then it was a scholarly thing. Like Paul Oliver and Sam Charters, I wanted to know the story of the blues, and the best way for me to learn was to actually meet the guys."
–Michael Bloomfield

"In 1969, I produced the Fathers and Sons album. We brought in all these great players: Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, and this great band—all in the Chess studio. I had Michael, Paul Butterfield, Buddy Miles, Duck Dunn, Sam Lay, and every blues musician in Chicago. Michael named it. He said it should be called Fathers and Sons, because that's how he related to Otis Spann and Muddy. He gave me that title, and he insisted that that's what it be."
–Norman Dayron

In my previous Bloomfield blog post, I state that the guitarist died alone in his car from an apparent cocaine and methamphetamine overdose: two drugs that Michael would never touch. So the question remained: Why?

In this book, through interviews with Christie Svane, Michael's girlfriend at the time of his passing, I learned what may have driven the guitarist further into the darker realms of loneliness and despair. And Norman Dayron speculates as to why cocaine was found in Michael's system after his death, a drug that Norman knew Michael absolutely refused to use. Again, it's all speculation, but indeed quite plausible.

Michael Bloomfield - If You Love These Blues: An Oral History by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenum (Miller Freeman Books, 2000, 280 pages).

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Book Received: That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound by Daryl Sanders

The Thin, Wild Mercury SoundSo I asked for, and received, a copy of Daryl Sanders's recently published tome, That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound (Chicago Review Press, October 2018), from my daughter and son-in-law for Christmas. (I learned years ago that one needs to provide a Christmas "wish list" to family, otherwise one ends up with questionable -- and often impractical -- tchotchkes as gifts. This way, one always gets what one wants! So, a huge "thank you" to my family!)

The book's subtitle: "Dylan, Nashville, and the Making of Blonde on Blonde" sums up exactly what this book is about. Blonde on Blonde was Bob Dylan's seventh studio album, released on June 20, 1966 -- and holds the distinction as the first rock double-album.
Blonde on Blonde SACD

To accompany my reading of this book, I had previously purchased a copy of the limited release of Mobile Fidelity's Original Master Recording of Blonde on Blonde: a stunning three-LP box set mastered at 45 RPM. This LP release is no longer available (except on the secondary market), but the Super Audio CD (SACD) version is still being sold at retail, and that is the link I've provided.

"Detailed and diligent, Daryl Sanders has played local detective, seemingly digging up every Nashville cat who was in Studio A when Dylan did it his way in 1966, changing country and rock for good."
–Clinton Heylin, author of Trouble in Mind: Bob Dylan's Gospel Years and Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited

"Major victories like Blonde on Blonde often seem inevitable and easy. But Daryl Sanders has interviewed the survivors, noted the casualties, and pondered the battlefield strategies that conquered a country."
–Daniel Wolff, author of Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"Vinyl Sucks, But I Love It."

"Any REAL audiophile or home theater enthusiast knows the truth...that vinyl sucks. It does. It sucks, but I love it. Here's a fun little video explaining why vinyl sucks and why it still matters."
–Andrew Robinson, Tech Writer

Friday, December 21, 2018

Book Received: The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

I have received my comp copy of The Labyrinth Index, courtesy of Lauren Hougen, Associate Managing Editor at St. Martin’s Press. It's always a joy to receive an actual physical copy of a book I have worked on, especially this series, which is so near and dear to my heart, going back to WorldCon 60 in 2002, when I first met Charles Stross....

You can read about my work on The Labyrinth Index in my blog post on April 8, 2018.

And if you are new to Stross's Laundry Files series, or haven't picked up a title in a bit, you can catch up with a recap of the series to which I have provided a link in my blog post on November 17, 2018.

"Imagine a world where gnarly Lovecraftian demons are all too real yet are routinely neutralized with high-tech wizardry by a supersecret British spy agency, and you'll get an inkling of the genre-bending territory Stross explores in the Laundry Files novels."  –Booklist

Monday, December 3, 2018

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane by Jeff Tamarkin

Got a Revolution!Here's a trivia question for you: Who was Jefferson Airplane's first female singer?

So I was reading the recently published (August 2018) autobiography Been So Long: My Life and Music by Jorma Kaukonen, founding member and lead guitarist of both Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna -- and the book was fairly boring, focusing more on Jorma's drug abuse and marriage problems than I would have preferred. So I sought what I hoped would be a much better read and found it in Got a Revolution! by journalist and music critic Jeff Tamarkin (Atria Books, 2003, 408 pages). The subtitle, "The Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane," truly sums up the career of this band: in-fighting, relationships, drugs, arrests, etc. -- but unlike the Kaukonen book, the music was always the focus.

To answer the trivia question above: Signe (pronounced "Sig-nee") Anderson was the first female singer in Jefferson Airplane. She appears on the first Jefferson Airplane album, Takes Off, released in 1966 by RCA Victor (catalog number LPM 3584 (mono) and LSP 3584 (stereo)). However, her husband was having ongoing conflicts with other members of the band, so when Signe became pregnant, she decided to leave the band to raise her family.

The band The Great Society had opened for Jefferson Airplane during many of their concert appearances. The band members included Grace Slick, her husband Jerry Slick, and Jerry's brother Darby Slick. Marty Balin, one of the founding members of the Airplane, was intrigued by Grace's singing and stage presence, so when Signe left the band, Marty asked Grace to join -- and she said yes immediately. (Note: Two of the Great Society's band members had recently left for India to study Indian music, so the band was essentially defunct anyhow.)

Grace brought with her two songs: "Somebody to Love" (written by Darby Slick and originally titled "Someone to Love") and "White Rabbit," written by Grace herself. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Jeff Tamarkin, on the band's recording of their breakout album, Surrealistic Pillow (RCA Victor, LPM-3766/LSP-3766, 1967):
...The next session that day was for the other song Grace imported from the Great Society, "Somebody to Love." With that group, Darby Slick's composition was played almost as a midtempo shuffle. The first change the Airplane made was to virtually double the tempo, cranking it out at a breakneck pace that remains nearly static from verse to chorus. The Airplane version is tightly reined, placing Grace front and center and leaving no slack...
The second change was lyrical, a reference to "in bed" being softened to the more radio-friendly "in your head."
All told, it's a tour de force performance and, upon its release in early 1967, it would become, along with "White Rabbit," one of the defining recordings of the era.
Surrealistic Pillow was a tight, in-your-face, commercial endeavor, which may be difficult to comprehend considering this was the Jefferson Airplane, one of the premier psychedelic San Francisco bands. The average song length on the album was approximately 3 minutes, with only one song tracking in at just over 5 minutes. Where the band stood out, however, was during their live performances, when Jorma, Jack Cassidy (electric bass), and Spencer Dryden (drums) would get into a groove that could last for 10 or more minutes. This Jefferson Airplane can be heard on their first (and best) live album entitled Bless Its Pointed Little Head (RCA Victor, LSP-4133, 1969).

But getting back to the song "White Rabbit" the book, Jeff Tamarkin details how Grace Slick wrote the song:
Inspired, Grace sat down to write a new song of her own. Drawing on her love of all things Spanish, she fashioned a snaky bolero rhythm. Then, thinking back on her childhood fantasies, she suggested a correlation between the mystical worlds of those timeless tales and the quests that she and her fellow seekers were undertaking as young adults:

One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
And the ones that Mother gives you don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice when she's ten feet tall.

There had never been another song like "White Rabbit." Originally called "White Rabbit Blues," it was Lewis Carroll meets Ravel meets Sketches of Spain [Miles Davis]. Electric guitars and snare drums piled atop one another, blatant drug allusions crossed paths with bedtime stories, all climaxing in a smashing crescendo, a bellowing Grace inventing a catch phrase for her generation, "Feed your head! Feed your head!"

Throughout the book, Tamarkin also covers the side projects -- solo albums, bands, book projects, etc. -- of each of the Airplane members: the original members as well as the band members that followed in each of the band's later incarnations, including Jefferson Starship, Starship, and Hot Tuna. For example, in 1987, Paul Kantner spent time with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in support of their revolution. He self-published his experiences in Paul Kantner's Nicaragua Diary (Little Dragon Press, 1987, 113 pages). His other band members had refused to journey with him to Nicaragua at the time because they felt it was too dangerous.

And, drummer Spencer Dryden eventually joined up, in 1982, with bassist Peter Albin (Big Brother & The Holding Company), guitarist John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service), guitarist Barry Melton (Country Joe and the Fish), and keboard player Merl Saunders (Jerry Garcia) to form the band Dinosaurs. Their first self-titled album was released on the Relix Records label (RRLP 2031) in 1988.

"Go ride the music...."

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Recap of Charles Stross's Laundry Files Series

The Labyrinth IndexFor those who have been with me on More Red Ink over the long haul, you know that I have been involved in all nine volumes of the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross: acquiring the first two volumes for Golden Gryphon Press, then working on volumes three through seven for Ace Books, volume eight for Macmillan UK, and the current volume, The Labyrinth Index, for Tor/St. Martin's Press. [1]

In preparation for the release of this latest volume, author Charles Stross presented, on, a "five-minute orientation briefing before Human Resources take over for your induction paperwork. Please try to pay attention: there won’t be an exam, but your life may depend on it."

So if you are getting ready to read The Labyrinth Index and looking for a recap of what's gone on previously in the series, then look no further than

Speaking of which, when you read the "five-minute orientation" and you come upon the name " X-Division of the Special Operations Executive," just pretend it actually reads "Q-Division. (We won't remind Charlie that it's always been a "Q"....)
Q-Division (formerly Q Department in earlier volumes) – the Laundry’s official name; originally part of SOE during WWII.
The Labyrinth Index was officially released on October 30 and is available from Amazon, or your bookseller of choice.


[1] You can read about my work on The Labyrinth Index in my blog post on April 8, 2018.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Now Reading: What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean? The Moby Grape Story by Cam Cobb

What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean?One of the premier San Francisco bands during the '60s was Moby Grape: 4 guitars (including bass) and drums, in which all 5 members of the band wrote original music and sang on one another's songs. One of the tightest, rocking bands in the entire San Francisco scene. They should have been big -- HUGE, in fact -- but the universe conspired against them. Of course, the immaturity of the band members themselves and the idiocy of the Columbia Records PR department didn't help any, either....

The band was originally formed by manager/promoter Matthew Katz and musician Alexander "Skip" Spence, both previously associated with the Jefferson Airplane.

When the band finally signed with Katz, they should have read the fine print in the contract. And they also should have consulted a lawyer. (Not that any bands did in the '60s....) Katz had gotten them regular gigs at The Ark club in the Bay Area, and they were satisfied with his efforts and just happy to be performing regularly, so they signed the agreement without hesitation. But when they signed that agreement, unbeknownst to them, they also signed away ownership of the name "Moby Grape" to Katz. That clause would come back to bite them in the ass big time.

The entire history of Moby Grape has been thoughtfully written by Cam Cobb in his book What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean? (Jawbone Press, 2018). Cobb has interviewed the surviving band members, plus he has pulled together previous interviews from other sources, and he has placed the events surrounding Moby Grape within the history of that time and place.

For the cover of their first Columbia Records album, simply titled Moby Grape, the band drove around various Bay Area locales for hours, with their photographer, trying to find just the right setting. And by the time they finally did find that perfect setting, Don Stevenson was so burnt out and pissed off, that he gave "the finger" during the photo shoot. In addition, the band selected an American flag as a prop in the scene, but given that this was 1967, the era of the Vietnam War, the Columbia Records execs got skittish and painted the flag in orange so that it wouldn't stand out. Later, after the album was released, and these very same execs saw "the finger" on the cover, they had the finger air brushed out on future cover printings. The original release also came with a fold-out 22-inch x 28-inch poster of the front cover, with Don Stevenson's "finger" in all its. glory.

The album was released on June 6, 1967, in both mono (CL 2698) and stereo (CS 9498); Sundazed Music reissued the album on both CD and LP (in mono) in 2007, but both reissues are currently out of print as well.

Author Cam Cobb on that first Grape album:
....It isn't simply an album of contrasts, however. It's a dialogue. The songs unfold in a sequence that represents a lyrical and stylistic conversation. The singers dialogue with one another from song to song, and within the songs themselves. As the album charges forward, it's filled with sharp, unexpected turns in speed and style, jumping from one genre to another, blending genres, changing tempo, changing key, and all the while holding everything together. It's an album of alchemy and exuberance. Moby Grape is an album made by five musical alchemists–six if we include producer David Rubinson. It's also an album of joyful exuberance, from the first note played on the guitar, and the first moment the band starts to sing. This is one of those rare albums that's both of its time and timeless.
But back to Columbia Records and 1967: At the time, the Beatles were dominating the singles chart simply because their songs were so strong, so popular, that they remained in the Top Ten for many weeks. Columbia's PR idiots thought that they could duplicate this phenomena by releasing five singles off the Moby Grape album simultaneously (that's ten of the album's twelve songs), thus being able to dominate the charts. The problem they didn't anticipate is that radio stations, receiving five singles at once, didn't know which one to play, and some stations chose not to play any Grape singles at all. Does the word "overhyped" come to mind? The singles essentially bombed, and the overhype resulted in the album receiving a number of undeserved mediocre reviews.

Rock critic Paul Williams [1], editor of Crawdaddy magazine, wrote the following in the June 1967 issue:
Well, it took me a long time, but I finally figured out who Moby Grape remind me of: The Everly Brothers. Also Buddy Holly, Buffalo Springfield, middle-Beatles, Byrds, New Lost City Ramblers, The Weavers, Youngbloods, Daily Flash, and everybody else. Above all, the Grape give off this very pleasant sense of déjà vu. Rock has become so eclectic you can't even pick out influences–you just sense their presence. I don't really know why the Grape remind me of The Everly Brothers. But it's a nice feeling. Moby Grape is one of those beautifully inextricable groups with four guitarists (including bass), five vocalists, five songwriters, and about twelve distinct personalities (Skip Spence alone accounts for five of them). The Grape is unusual for an SF group in that it does not have an overall, easily identifiable personality from song to song. Their music is always unified; it's their album as a whole that's schizoid. In fact, much as I like it, I enjoy the songs even more one at a time (for your convenience, Columbia has issued almost the entire album on singles–which is particularly nice because the mono mix is far better than the stereo, which must have been done too fast).
Ten days after the release of Moby Grape, the band arrived at the Monterey International Pop Festival, having been invited earlier to perform that weekend. This is the festival that introduced the world to Otis Redding, The Who, Janis Joplin, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. The Grape had one of the coveted Sunday slots until, that is, their manager Matthew Katz had words with two of the promoters of the festival, record producer Lou Adler and John Phillips (of The Mamas & The Papas). Katz wanted over a million dollars for Moby Grape's appearance in the film that the promoters were shooting during the festival. Not only did he and the band not get their million, but the promoters got so pissed at Katz they demoted the band to the opening slot of the entire festival, when attendees were still being seated, etc. And not only did the band not appear in the film, but their set wasn't including in the official audio release of the festival either. In fact, it wasn't until 2010 that some of the songs from the band's Monterey performance finally appeared on a "Live" compilation release from Sundazed Music.

This misstep by Matthew Katz, along with other ongoing issues, finally led the band to sever its relationship with their manager. The problem, however, was the ownership of the band's name as previously mentioned. Within a few months, Katz was managing -- and promoting -- another band by the name of "Moby Grape."

Venues were booking this bogus "Moby Grape" thinking it was the original band. Lots of confusion and frustration ensued for the band, for promoters, for venues. The situation got so bad that some venues started advertising the original Moby Grape as the "Columbia Records Recording Sensation" as a way of convincing ticket buyers that this was the "real" band.

Cam Cobb actually begins the first chapter of What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean? with a discussion of Moby Grape's first reunion album, 20 Granite Creek [2], which was released by Reprise Records (the band was no longer with Columbia Records) in 1971. Sort of a jump forward before starting at the beginning of the band.

During one of Cobb's many interviews with Grape guitarist Jerry Miller, Miller had this to say about the band:
See, what we had with the Grape, the whole idea–I never had the idea of playing with three guitars before Moby Grape. And then, if you've got three blues guitars, it doesn't work. But we had Peter, who played the nice flngerpicking beautiful stuff. And Skippy would lay down this awesome rhythm. He put the palm of his right hand on the strings back by the bridge, and when he'd play it would give kind of a popping sound. They used to do that a lot in Texas. It gives a good percussion effect.

Bob and Don were tight with the drums and bass. Then Skippy would build the next rhythm level. Then Pete would play some pretty flngerpicking stuff, and I'd figure out how to glue them all together. With some little hot licks, some blues licks, and a few little jazz licks. You couldn't put three blues guitar players together and make it that easy. But it was easy, because nobody stepped on each other's toes.


[1] Paul Williams, a personal acquaintance of mine, passed away on March 27, 2013. I did a relatively brief memorial blog post on April 16 of that year, in which I link to some major newspaper obits. Paul was an amazing individual, and if you're not aware of all that he accomplished in his too-short life, please check out this post.

[2] 20 Granite Creek -- a century-old mansion -- was the address in the Santa Cruz (California) mountains where Moby Grape holed up to record the album of the same name. The front cover of the album was designed to look like a postage stamp, with the band name and album title in the cancellation mark.