NEW YORK WASTE, Fall 2010
State of The State, Indie-pendently Speaking: The Wood Is Good (VERY Good!)
Frank Wood & The NYC All Stars Rocked The Jersey Shore, I Was a Part of It and YOU FUCKING MISSED IT!
I got a call from Frank Wood two days ago. Usually I don't know what to expect when I see "Wood" appear at the top of my iPhone screen. Sure, my hopes are that he'll open with "We need The Baghdaddios to open for The Statues of Liberty at the Bowery Ballroom next month", but noooooooo, that never happens. It's usually something like "some crappy band from Long Island just cancelled on us so can The Baghdaddios play this Sunday at Otto's at 6:00?" Usually we accept because we love doing Frank's shows — and of course, anything having to do with Otto's usually means a party. But, still, a punk rocker can always dream, can't he?
This call was no different. "Hey, I need you to write an article for the New York Waste about playing with the Frankie Wood All Stars". Mind you this wasn't "How would you feel about writing an article" or "Can you do me a favor and write an article" — nah — there's always an immediacy to Frank's request: do it now, muthafucka………
And when does Frank need the article done by? "Saturday or Sunday"; mind you, this is Thursday night when he's calling me. "Uh, you want me to write you an article — fit for publication in the next New York Waste — in two, maybe three days, tops?!?" To which he replied: "So? I've written articles for them in a couple of hours". (Which, of course, begs the question: Then why don't you do it yourself?). Ah, Frank, reasonableness was never your strong suit.
A little background: I'm a musician. MBA educated. Pretty good with words. And, yes, sad to say, but about as undisciplined and horrible with time management as you can get! Perfect for a punk rocker. But horrible for something time-sensitive, such as being a writer, with a deadline. Especially if I'm being asked to write in a specific way, to include specific details, anecdotes, et al. This story was one such example. I've fronted my very own punk rock cavalcade, The Baghdaddios, for 18 years, come this November (there will be a slight pause for everyone to say "who cares") — for 13 of those years I've organized a Benefit to raise blankets and public awareness for the plight of the homeless (you may have heard of it, It's called Blank-Fest. Feel free to Google it, if you haven't already). So it's not like I'm a "flake" or I'm irresponsible. Far from it. As a matter of fact, I've held down the same publishing royalties position with a major record label (EMI, ahem, thankyaverymuch) for the past dozen-plus years.
But I'm also an artist and sometimes artists can't be expected to create on the spot. They need to be inspired. In fact, the hardest thing for me is right after Blank-Fest, when my dear friends, Glenn or Lucky ask me to synopsize the annual Benefit show's highlights — I often agonize over every detail, procrastinate, and suffer one re-write after another (or the inevitable post-Holiday-Season writer's block) — barely getting my story in by its deadline. And that's for something I LOVE to write about. Not that I don't love, Frank or the All Stars, let's make THAT clear.
But, man, a guy has limits. Especially with the clock ticking. But here goes.
My strange-but-true odyssey began with yet an earlier phone call from our aforementioned Mr. Wood, approximately one month ago. "Listen, I need you to play with the NYC All Stars this Sunday!" (Are we beginning to see a pattern here?) This time, of course, I didn't mind — even with it being two days away (ahem). Why? Simple: it's a format that can't miss. Frank, for all his bluster and demands can be charming, fun, compelling and - above all — entertaining. The concept of the band is simple. Frank basically puts his larger-than-life personality and persona out in front of some of the best indie and underground talent that NYC has to offer — no originals (unless you count The Statues "Jiggle Bum" — and I don't because they are big enough and original enough to count playing one of their tunes along with some of the all-time rock 'n roll greats!) — almost all of which you've heard on the radio while growing up. Cool standards (us pretentious music folk love to call them "chestnuts"): "Little Red Riding Hood"; "Money (That's What I Want)"; "Boom Boom Boom"; "Young Blood" — these and many, many more.
For years (make that decades) Frank has been the man behind the show, here in NYC (and elsewhere) — but over the years of MC'ing his epic productions a funny thing happened: Frank, himself became part of the show. His well-rehearsed patter between acts, his predilection for getting the particulars for an act (band members' names, their accomplishments, where they're playing next, etc) is the stuff that legend is made of. His repartee with the audience is unparalleled and if you've ever heard his distinctive gravel-toned delivery (think: the tree that Dorothy picks the apple off of in The Wizard of Oz) you can mark my words right here: Frank Wood is an original — which, when you think about it, is all that rock 'n roll is really about. Many a vodka-infused night I've witnessed shows where the talent wasn't as interesting as Frank was, as he was ushering them up on stage and hustling them off to make room for the next act. On nights like those Frank was the show! So it only seemed apropos that he would make it official and front his own band.
And the musicians behind him? Try this on for size: Danny Ray of Mad Juana fame, who's played with everyone from Johnny Thunders to Seamonster, wails on sax. Mikey Rats (aka Mike Linn), who's played with EVERYONE on NY's Lower East Side over the past two decades, holds down the beat on drums. Ditto Michael Fabian on bass! Dava of The She Wolves blows lead guitar like there's no tomorrow. Put it to you this way, only in a band like Frank Wood's NYC All Stars would the multi-talented Lani Ford (singer, songwriter, bassist for Stark — in addition to being a radio AND TV personality) serve as one of the (appropriately named) "Wood Nymphs" — Frank's dauntless backup singers. The fact that Frank even considered me for inclusion with these brilliant talents (was he drunk? Or desperate?) was more than enough flattery than this native New Yorker could handle!
I guess from my first few paragraphs you may be under the impression that I wasn't crazy about playing with the All Stars. Not true. Actually, "intimidated" was more the word. Can you blame me? Even though these were standards we were expected to perform, it always is a challenge when you first sit in with random musicians — not as a "for fun" type jam but as an official "act". You have to feel out each others' "chops", make sure we're all on the same page with tempo, arrangement and key, things like that. And, once again, considering the formidable talent that was already in place, I naturally wanted to make sure that I would only add to the chemistry — and not detract.
I shouldn't have worried. Everyone involved was super-cool to deal with. Not one ego in the crew. For my first show with them I met, earlier in the day at Otto's for a "4:00 rehearsal" which really didn't 'start until 5:00 (here, I felt quite at home — I was even one of the first musicians to arrive — another "first"!). I was in rough shape, still not completely over a stomach virus from earlier in the weekend — and, of course, there was that whole "new guy intimidation factor" to deal with. So I wore my straw fedora that this hot, little blond on the U.W.S. bought for me, while we were out on a recent "date" (whose name I shall withhold, lest her boyfriend read it, here) and kept my Roy Orbison shades on. I didn't want to make eye contact with anybody — I just wanted to concentrate on the songs and get 'em down. Later, I realized what a genius I really was: in affecting some sort of house-band-type look, I had created a "role" for myself that I was comfortable with. With The Baghdaddios, being the front man, main songwriter and lead singer, I always have to be front and center. All eyes on me. If I have a bad night, the band sucks (even though my fellow band mates are all first-class musicians!). But when playing with Frank and the All Stars, I was just a cog in a machine — a very fine-tuned and melodic machine, sure — but a machine nonetheless. I could afford to hang on the side of the stage and if I didn't quite hit a chord right, NO matter: the others were there to pick me up. Teamwork personified!
My first show with the All Stars (at Otto's, on a recent Sunday) went without a hitch. By the end of our set I actually felt liberated! I was free to express myself — within the confines of the song — and collectively we laid a melodic canvas to which Frank painted a showman picture upon. Nice.
As I was packing up my gear to go back uptown Frank grabs my sleeve and croaked "Great show! You'll be going with us to Belmar on Thursday — you'll have to bring your amp and we have a great rate on rooms for you!"
Uh, say wha?
It's one thing, playing with the band on your own home turf, in front of mostly friends and fellow musicians — in what amounts to little more than a friendly jam. But now we're supposed to take this on the road? In front of strangers? And what's this about paying for a room?
No, I wasn't ready for this — and I told Frank so. He said that we'd "work out something" as far as the room was concerned (which still didn't make me feel all that better). As for my amp — coming off recent physical therapy for a bulging disc, I didn't feel like lugging anything around. No problem there as well, Frank had already arranged for me to ride with a real cool chap named Denton — HE would carry my amp to and from my apartment. My lousy iPhone kept cutting out whenever we spoke on the phone to arrange when and where he was going to pick me up, before the show, and so I only caught the first syllable of his name. At one point he said "like the City in Texas" and, as luck would have it, instead of thinking of Denton, TX, I thought of Denison, TX (hey, don't laugh, General Eisenhower was born there. I might be a history nerd, but I'm a well-informed one!). Anyway, I kept calling him "Denison" for the first 45 minutes of our trip, until we met up with everyone else, who called him by his proper name. Nothing like getting off to a good start with the guy who's going to have your back!
After meeting up in Manhattan, we drove to Bushwick, where we met with Frank and most everyone else. We stopped for a quick pit stop, after loading up a few amps and cabinets and were soon off. We stopped once in Jersey City to pick up another of our lovely Wood Nymphs, the indomitable Ms. Gig Lizzy (she's good people — and what a voice!). Denton, even though he was a Yankees fan, was more than happy to keep me occupied by turning on the rare, afternoon Mets game — R.A. Dickey was pitching a shutout against the Cardinals (all was well!).
Special mention should be made of the fact that our car was referred to as the "en" car. There was myself (Kenn), Denton, our sax player, Ben (Danny Ray was giiggin' overseas, I believe) and the Waste's very own "Crazy Glenn" Wernig! All made for great company and the car ride seemed to blow right on by. Soon enough we were "deep in the heart of Jersey" — I could tell this because of all the ponderous traffic circles you encounter on the local thoroughfares. Soon enough you could smell the Ocean air, which meant we were definitely within striking distance of the Shore.
Curiously, we all started talking about how we weren't crazy about staying overnight (not only did we want to avoid paying for a room but we were painfully aware that "last call" was two hours sooner in the Garden State — plus we didn't want to risk running into Snookie or The Situation — sorry guys!). I thought I was going to be odd man out — but once I broke the proverbial ice I found out that everyone was in agreement. We'd play the show, party a little, but I was having MY last call at Hurley's up on West 72nd Street.
That settled, we found a cool little place, right on the beach where we could get a few beers and stretch out for an hour or two. No, they didn't serve ice drinks (and they didn't take credit cards as well) — but other than the occasional stares we would get from the regulars there (you can take the rockers out of the Village………) we got along fine and we were quickly reminded that a dollar goes an awful lot further once you get beyond the borders of NYC. After kicking up a few waves and knocking back a few cold ones, it was decided that we'd beat a hasty retreat to a local restaurant.
Dinner was great — the sun, setting over the Western horizon as we sat on the dock serving area, overlooking a canal, which made for a nice backdrop. Our poor college-aged server didn't know quite what to make of our tattered and slightly-sun-tinged group — but we made sure to be on our best behavior and not live up to the obnoxious New Yorker stereotype. In the end we were loud and boisterous but we did tip well and everyone had a pretty good buzz going — with the exception of our drivers (thankfully!).
Next up was finding the Hotel where Frank and those who were in for the long haul would be staying. With nowhere else to go, we followed along. At one point there was some cell phone activity between our car and the lead van as we circled around a block and then turned around to go back because somebody (and don't ask who because I was pretty much sleeping off my dinner-time strawberry daiquiris) saw "sheep". Again, we're all NYC residents. You don't get a chance to see barnyard animals everyday (although, frankly, at that point, I could have given a rat's ass) — so, like the strangers in a strange land that we were, we backtracked — only to find that the "sheep" that someone in the van saw were actually only plastic lawn decorations (nice to know I wasn't the only one sporting a buzz!).
Once Frank and company made it to said hotel we decided to just go on to the club. There we parked and I — for one — continued to sleep off my happy hour libations. Soon enough it was load in time and we found the stage crew at Bar A, where we were kickin' it that night, more than accommodating.
Of course there's always that one bouncer who takes his job a little too seriously — most of the guys in charge were cool, but there was this one guy who kept patrolling the back patio, as we were loading in and using his best "cop voice" in order to let us know who was in charge. You know, whether you're in "the City" or you're out in "the burbs", some things never change. This one dude kept focusing on Dava; apparently it doesn't matter that the "beer" she was drinking was one of the non-alcoholic variety (Buckler) — the fact that she had ventured "outside the perimeter" with her 0% alcoholic beverage in hand meant she had broken some sort of law (did she risk being thrown into an imaginary jail?) — and, true to form, our babysitting bouncer turned to me (why ME?), in order for me to inform the person who was standing TWO FEET AWAY FROM HIM that she had run afoul of "the law".
Now if you've ever met Dava, I'm sure you'll agree with me that you wouldn't be surprised if she had been voted Least Likely To Raise Hell in her High School class. She's professional — wouldn't touch alcohol before the show, mind you. But there I was, waving my arms and parodying the whole thing right there for all to see: "Dava, damnit, if you don't take that non-alcoholic beer inside there's going to be trouble". Fortunately she got the joke, laughed it off and, shaking her head the entire rest of the time, brought the offending beverage back inside. A big legal catastrophe was thus averted!
Set up didn't take long at all — we were soon ready to launch. And then, just like that, we were announced and began our set. Don't ask me what we played or what order we played it in. 'Twas all a blur. A joyous, manic, Frank-Wood-fueled, rock 'n roll blur. All pistons were hitting that night — solos were taken, drum fills fell in place, bass and sax notes graced the stage. And all three Wood Nymphs (our 3rd Nymph was Stella K — who was cool enough to ride in on the back of her husband, John's, motorcycle for the show — talk about an entrance!). I remember playing along with "Money", "Riding Hood", "Jail Bait" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" (NO ONE plays up the "dirty ol' man" card better, on stage, than Mr. Wood!) — and being struck by how good it sounded on stage. Throughout all of this I noted that the crowd alternated between pockets of spontaneous dance, bopping their heads to the catchy rhythms, pumping their fists and throwing back the occasional shots and beer swigs. Even while concentrating on hitting all my parts correctly it was hard not to get caught up in the whole party atmosphere.
And just like that, it was over. Being the battle-honed pros that we are, we had our stuff off the stage in lightning-quick time. Was it perfect? HELL NO! It wasn't meant to be. Its rock 'n roll, god-damnit — it's always supposed to be a little rough around the edges. Yeah, It was raw. It was sweaty. And it was Hella-fun! In the end, we all felt like we trotted our best out there — and the crowd more than appreciated it. Shit, we'd play there again anytime — and rumor has it we may very well do so again before the Season's over.
There was an outdoor patio, complete with bar — and THEY took credit cards — and so it came to pass that yours truly had a few for the upcoming ride home. Glenn and Ben needed to be dropped off at Otto's so it was good to stop in and say "hi to the family". By 2:30 my amp was safely tucked away inside my apartment, Denton was on his way home and I was sitting in Hurley's, telling anyone who would listen how great it was to play "the Jersey Shore".
Looks like I won't be retiring this straw fedora and shades for awhile. To paraphrase Mel Brooks: "It's good to be an All Star".