Love Saves The Day pt 3

Love Saves The Day book cover

I read the rather excellent book Love Saves The Day: A History Of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence last year. Scattered throughout it are representative playlists of the music particular DJs would have played at a specific club in a specific year. While I was reading it, I bored people with snippets of information about the DJs and clubs and Youtube videos of some of the musical gems. I thought I’d collect these together and expand the text a little in order to bore a wider audience.

Part 1 : Part 2 : Part 3 : Part 4 : Part 5

In part 3, we find ourselves in the mid 1970s as the pioneering clubs are starting to be replaced by a new wave of bigger and more mainstream venues.

Flamingo was opened in Manhattan in 1974 by Michael Fesco, who had been running successful venues on Fire Island for the last few summers. Flamingo was very white and very gay – unlike the mixed (in both senses) clubs that had pioneered disco in Manhattan. The theatrical presentation and carefully-controlled exclusivity helped keep Flamingo at the forefront the Manhattan gay scene for the rest of the decade. The opening night DJ was Armando Galvez and this was in his record crate at the time. But honestly, I was just looking for an excuse to play some Disco-Tex And The Sex-O-Lettes.

12 West was the hottest new disco of 1975 and yet another club which paid homage to The Loft. But where David Mancuso’s club The Loft avoided labels (“The Loft wasn’t gay. The Loft wasn’t anything.- David DePino”), 12 West definitely catered to a gay crowd and especially the S&M subculture. Resident DJ Tom Savarese would be voted both New York and National DJ of the year in the next couple of years. Betty Wright’s “Where Is The Love” was one of the hottest songs in this period, becoming a mainstream hit in the UK and winning a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.

For various reasons, Walter Gibbons was never an acclaimed DJ but he was highly respected by the other DJs. He would take two copies of a track with a great drum break and seamlessly mix between them to extend the break up to five or ten minutes. Hip hop DJs such as Kool Herc were starting to do the same thing in the Bronx, but John Jellybean Benitez, who saw them both at work, thought Walter was far superior. Gibbons was also a great remixer and has the honour of creating the first track to be commercially released on 12″, “Ten Percent” by Double Exposure on Salsoul records. Previous 12″ singles had been DJ promo only.

Tom Savarese was replaced as resident at 12 West by Boston DJ Jimmy Stuard, who was great friends with top remixer Tom Moulton. So when Moulton produced a 19 minute “work in progress” acetate remix of Disco Inferno, it was to Stuard, and only Stuard, that he gave it to play. Moulton knew it was too long to release so he cut it down to under 11 minutes. That version became a club staple, was on The Trammps album and found its way in full onto the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The 19 minute version is still unreleased.

Sadly, Jimmy Stuard was in the habit of using the Everard Baths as a cheap place to sleep – DJ sleeping hours matching nicely the down time at a gay bathhouse – and died in the 1977 fire there which killed nine men in total.

[You can listen to the music from all the Love Saves The Day posts on this Youtube playlist.]

Frank Zappa in Eastern Europe, 1991

Frank Zappa

Featured image: Zappa in 1971 by Heinrich Klaffs

It’s just been announced that Alex Winter (of Bill & Ted notoriety) has finished his documentary Zappa, which was made with full access to the contents of the Zappa family vault.

Alex Winter’s Frank Zappa Doc ‘Zappa’ Premieres at South by Southwest

The premiere is at SxSW in March so I don’t know what’s in the film, but I’m hoping it will cover at least some of his summer sojourn in Eastern Europe in 1991. Within the space of a week, Frank attended celebrations of the withdrawal of the Soviet Army in two capital cities – Prague in Czechoslovakia, and Budapest in Hungary – and played with local bands at events in both cities. These turned out to be his last public musical performances.

The invitations didn’t come out of the blue. Zappa’s music was massively inspirational to the artistic underground in Czechoslovakia and that had led to a visit the previous year when he met the new President Vaclav Havel and was made a consultant to the government in matters of trade, tourism and cultural exchange. This was a serious enough appointment that he registered with the US government as an agent of a foreign power (you can imagine the smile on his face when he filled in that form). The Americans soon pressured the Czechs into dropping him – the wife of US Secretary Of State James Baker was one of the founders of the PMRC (Parent’s Music Resource Council) with whom Zappa had had a number of run ins during the Obscenity Wars of the 1980s – but he was still held in high regard in Prague.

Frank Zappa and Vaclav Havel
Frank Zappa and Vaclav Havel

He was invited to attend the presidential election in summer 1990 but declined. He did however accept an invitation to the celebrations marking the withdrawal of the Soviet Army, which had been in Czechoslovakia ‘temporarily’ for 23 years. The withdrawal had been delicately negotiated in large part by Michael Kocab, a musician and composer who was an acquaintance of Frank and was now also a member of the Czechoslovak government. Zappa then went on to similar celebrations in Budapest, having been invited by the city’s Mayor Gábor Demszky with whom he’d had lunch in Los Angeles back in April. Frank was apparently particularly amused that Gabor was going to see Ronald Reagan next.

The problem about playing guitar at these events, as was being expected of him, was that Zappa’s last tour had been in 1988 and had ended prematurely and acrimoniously (why is a tangent too far for this post, but it’s explained in Frank’s own words here). As a result, as he told the Budapest audience:

“At the end of the tour, I put my guitar in its case and I haven’t seen it since then”.

He’d been working on composition (including his last major work Civilization Phaze III, and the orchestral pieces that were released as The Yellow Shark a month before he died in 1993) and generally avoiding musicians, who he saw as an expensive complication to the process of making music. He told an interviewer just before he left for Europe:

[…] they want me to bring my guitar over and play. And I haven’t touched it for years. I don’t have any calluses! I don’t know what to do with that fucking thing. And if I don’t take it along with me I know a lot of people will be disappointed, but I know if I plug it in they’re going to be even more disappointed, [laughs] ’cause I can’t play anymore.

The celebration in Prague was on 24th June 1991 and included a concert by Pražský Výběr in the Sports Hall in Prague. Pražský Výběr had also been a symbol of resistance to the Communist authorities having been banned and, in some individual cases, imprisoned during the 1980s. They were led by Michael Kocab, moonlighting from his government minister job, and featured Michal Pavlicek on lead guitar. I’m not sure if Frank had heard any of the band’s music before but he was familiar with Kocab’s solo compositions such as the ballet score Odysseus. Anyway he tied back his hair, slowly pushed their jazz reggae vibe in the right direction and played some pretty good guitar on that well-known track, “Improvisation in A Major”. The back and forth guitar with Michal Pavlicek is particularly enjoyable.

Despite the title of the Youtube clip, Prague wasn’t his last performance. That came 6 days later on 30th June at the Búcsú (Farewell) Fesztivál in Tabán, a district of Buda which had a park often used for large events.

This time he played with a band containing some of Hungary’s leading jazz musicians – Gyula Babos on guitar, János Egri on bass, Béla “Szakcsi” Lakatos on keyboards, and Imre Kőszegi on drums – referred to as the Gypsy Friends. Jazz had always been a much more acceptable form of expression in the Eastern European Communist countries than rock music. Being a gypsy was, however, not as acceptable. The Roma had been treated as a source of unskilled labour by the Communist regime in Hungary and when the industries that needed that labour collapsed along with Communism, they found themselves out of work and subject to the old prejudices. Was Frank making a statement by giving the band that name? Mayor Demszky Gábor, now acting as translator, certainly seems momentarily surprised, as if he’s not sure what the rules are any more.

While you can argue endlessly (and people have) about whether Zappa played jazz, it seems fair to say he was ambivalent about it – that same month he’d released an album of instrumentals compiled from the 1988 tour recordings called Make A Jazz Noise Here. But he seems to genuinely enjoy playing with the musicians, who he’d only met the day before and had had a one song rehearsal with that morning. He gives them lots of space to do their thing and then jumps in when he sees fit. Or more precisely, kneels down since he plays the last few solos squatting. I wonder if he was having trouble hearing his guitar and wanted to get nearer the speaker cabinet?

The day after the Budapest concert, the leaders of the Warsaw Pact member countries met in Prague to complete the dissolution of the organization by shutting down its Political Consultative Committee. The Cold War was effectively over.

What only his family knew at the time was that Frank Zappa was dying, having been diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer the previous year. He made it to the Frankfurt Festival in September 1992 to conduct the Ensemble Modern on some of the pieces which became The Yellow Shark, but was too ill to even attend the remaining concerts in Berlin and Austria. He died on December 5th 1993 and was buried the following day in an unmarked grave.

Budapest thus became his final public performance as a musician.

Useful sources:
wiki.killuglyradio.com – A fascinating interview given as Frank was about to leave for Europe
books.google.co.ukFrank Zappa by Barry Miles, especially chapter 20

Love Saves The Day pt 2

Love Saves The Day book cover

[You can listen to the music from all the Love Saves The Day posts on this Youtube playlist.]

I read the rather excellent book Love Saves The Day: A History Of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence last year. Scattered throughout it are representative playlists of the music particular DJs would have played at a specific club in a specific year. While I was reading it, I bored people with snippets of information about the DJs and clubs and Youtube videos of some of the musical gems. I thought I’d collect these together and expand the text a little in order to bore a wider audience.

Part 1 : Part 2 : Part 3 : Part 4 : Part 5

The Loft is so central to this story that the whole book is named after the first of the invite-only parties David Mancuso held at his Broadway home.

Mancuso had been holding Leary-inspired (Timothy rather than Denis) gatherings for friends at his loft since the mid sixties. These had eventually turned into dance parties and he accumulated enough audio gear to fill the formerly industrial space with quality sound. After a break in 1969 to, in his own words, “go on a monk trip”, Mancuso resumed the dance parties. The first attempts were typical open rent parties – they were called Coalition and run with a couple of collaborators including a DJ – but they didn’t really work out.

So in early 1970 Mancuso took back control, including of the music, and sent out invites for a private party called Loves Save the Day – the name was inspired by proximity to Valentines Day and his former fondness for psychedelics. The parties had names but the venue didn’t, it was just Mancuso’s home. Eventually people started calling it The Loft and the name stuck.

The 1972 solo track Girl You Need A Change Of Mind from The Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks was a favourite of David Mancuso at The Loft and was picked up by a lot of other DJs as a result.

By the end of 1970, the Loft parties were at capacity and stayed that way for years. The door charge was only two dollars at first and there was no alcohol, or indeed anything else, for sale inside. But there was free food – organic and fresh, in line with Mancuso’s now clean living habits. And there was simple but effective decor including balloons – lots of balloons – streamers and powerful floodlights. The Loft was recreated to great effect in epsiode 5 of David ‘The Wire’ Simon’s recent series The Deuce – the DJ was the spitting image of David Mancuso although the name was never mentioned.

The Loft was David Mancuso’s home so the only event of the week was the Saturday night invite-only party. During the early part of most week, he would spend time in Woodstock in upstate New York before coming back on Wednesday to start preparations for the next party. Maybe that’s why he was so fond of this track by War called ‘City Country City’.

Nicky Siano was still at high school when he first went to The Loft. He also has the distinction of being thrown out by Mancuso for selling drugs – selling was strictly forbidden even if using was an accepted part of the night. Nicky got his start DJing at the Round Table, a mob-run cabaret club with a gay clientele. By February 1973, when he was still only 17, Siano opened The Gallery, a club very much based on the Mancuso template – mixed crowd, balloons and streamers, free refreshments.

The Gallery started slowly but when The Loft took a break for the summer, it attracted a lot of the refugees and soon became the most happening night in Manhattan. If The Loft was the home of the tripped out dancer, The Gallery was the home of the dancing queen. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the disco sound – ‘four on the floor’ bass drum and sweeping strings – was being invented. The Love I Lost by Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes on Philadelphia International Records is a prime example. The elements for disco were falling into place.

The Gallery made Nicky Siano the first star DJ. He also became mentor to Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles, who would be so influential that their clubs provided the names for genres of dance music – garage at Levan’s Paradise Garage and house at Knuckles’ Warehouse. But back in 1973, Frankie was the best balloon inflater at the Gallery and his friend Larry helped out and became Siano’s lieutenant and lover.

Siano was also one of the first residents at Studio 54 when it opened in April 1977, DJing on the nights when he wasn’t at The Gallery. Studio 54, which actually was a former CBS studio on West 54th St, was the culmination of seven years of growth in the club scene. But it was also a club that promoted spectacle over music. That didn’t stop it being a massive success.

Siano’s drug habits eventually got so bad that he was sacked from Studio 54, although that might have been as much to do with perceived DJing sins such as playing Kraftwerk’s Trance Europe Express before it was popular. But his partner at the Gallery, his own brother, also gave him an ultimatum – give up the drugs or I close the club. The Gallery closed in late 1977.

This track is from The Gallery’s heyday.

Ashford Traveller – double vs single drive

I mentioned earlier that this was a double drive model. It will actually operate as single or double drive. Here’s what that means.

The drive belt (special string, but string nonetheless) goes around the wheel twice. In double drive mode, one loop is on the bobbin and one is on the flyer pulley. So the bobbin and flyer are both driven directly, hence double drive.

You can see that there is a second groove on the flyer pulley. This allows a different drive ratio to be used. All this movement of the belt changes the tension but there’s a cunning knob and hinge arrangement to retension it.

In single drive mode, both loops go around the bobbin. A brake band (transparent so hard to see, but it has springs at each end to ensure tension which may be easier to spot) is put onto the flyer pulley to stop it turning. Only the bobbin is driven, hence single drive.

Specifically this is “bobbin lead” or Irish Tension single drive. Alternatively, you can single drive the flyer pulley and brake the bobbin. That would be “flyer lead” or Scotch Tension single drive.

Ashford Traveller – 4

No work on this yesterday because I was busy with other things. So a big push now to get it ready for tomorrow. There was more wax polish left in the tin than I’d thought so everything has had a second coat and, in a few cases, a third.

The first parts to be put together make up the flyer assembly. The flyer is the U shaped piece holding the bobbin. The base it all sits on (with the Ashford logo) is called the maiden board – I have no idea why.
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Ashford Traveller – 3

A milestone – everything is now sanded, waxed and buffed. You can still see the variation in colour, expecially in those legs (top centre). About three quarters of the tin of polish has been used. The next step is to figure out which bits will be difficult to get at once it’s asssembled and give those areas a second application.

Ashford Traveller – 2

The spinning wheel is made almost entirely out of New Zealand silver beech. It’s finished to a very high standard so all that’s needed is a light sanding with the supplied sandpaper, concentrating especially on cut ends, grooves and sockets which tend to be slightly rougher. If you were using an oil or varnish rather than a wax, you might need to treat it differently.
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Ashford Traveller – 1

In cahoots with some lovely and generous friends and family, I’ve bought Theo an Ashford Traveller spinning wheel for her birthday coming up this Sunday. It’s the double treadle, double drive model in natural wood. As it needs a finishing coat (I’m using Ashford’s own wax polish) and assembly, I’m going to try to get it up and running ready for the big day.

Here’s the first, and arguably most exciting, stage – unpacking it!

The box. The wheel was supplied by alpacaspinner.co.uk and safely delivered by Parcelforce.
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