Monday, April 29, 2019

Sunday Slowdown 4/28/2019

The Temptations – “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
Ann Peebles – “I Can’t Stand the Rain”
Syl Johnson – “Could I Be Falling in Love”
Donny Hathaway – “Little Ghetto Boy”
The Isley Brothers – “Lay Lady Lay”
Isaac Hayes – “Something”
Steely Dan – “Aja”
Stevie Wonder – “As”
Change – “Searching”
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes – “Wake Up Everybody”
Teddy Pendergrass – “Love TKO”
Brothers Johnson – “Strawberry Letter 23”
Al Green – “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”
Kool and the Gang – “Love and Understanding (Come Together)”
The Main Ingredient – “Happiness Is Just Around the Bend”
Ohio Players – “I Want to Be Free”
Deniece Williams – “Free”
Marvin Gaye – “Right On”
The O’Jays – “For the Love of Money”
Ramsey Lewis and Earth, Wind and Fire – “Sun Goddess”
Earth, Wind and Fire – “That’s the Way of the World”
The Spinners – “Love or Leave”
Little Sister – “You're the One (Parts 1 and 2)”
Sly and the Family Stone – “Family Affair”
Herb Alpert – “Rise”
Mary Jane Girls – “All Night Long”
George McRae – “Rock Your Baby”
Smokey Robinson – “Being with You”
Shalamar – “The Second Time Around”
Tyrone Davis – “There It Is”
The Intruders – “I’ll Always Love My Mama”
War – “Gypsy Man”
Curtis Mayfield – “Pusherman”
The Stylistics – “Heavy Fallin’ Out”
Prince – “Just as Long as We’re Together”
Commodores – “Flying High”
Jimmy Ruffin – “Hold on to My Love”
Average White Band – “Let’s Go ’Round Again”
The Trammps – “That’s Where the Happy People Go”
Rufus and Chaka Khan – “At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)”
Incredible Bongo Band – “Apache”
Barry White – “Your Sweetness is My Weakness”
The Pointer Sisters – “He’s So Shy”
Major Harris – “Love Won’t Let Me Wait”
Maria Muldaur – “Midnight at the Oasis”
The Manhattans – “Shining Star”

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Sometimes It's Prince in April 4/12/19

“For You” - For You
“Purple Rain (Piano Version)” - Piano and a Microphone 1983
“So Blue” - For You
“Blue Light” - Love Symbol Album
“White Mansion” - Emancipation
“Gold (Single Version)” - The Gold Experience
“Purple Rain” - Purple Rain
“Computer Blue” > “Darling Nikki” - Purple Rain
“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” - Single
“Gett Off” - Diamonds and Pearls
“Rock Hard in a Funky Place” - The Black Album
“Anotherloverholeinyourhead” - Parade
“Head” - Dirty Mind
“I Would Die 4 U” > “Baby I’m a Star” - Purple Rain
“I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man (Single Version)” - Sign O’ the Times
“The Rest of My Life” - The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale
“I Wanna Be Your Lover” - Prince
“Black Sweat” - 3121
“Kiss” - Parade
“Soft and Wet” - For You
“Sexy Dancer” - Prince
“Let’s Work (Single Version)” - Controversy
“Let’s Go Crazy” - Purple Rain
“1999” - 1999
“Uptown” - Dirty Mind
“I Feel for You” - Chaka Khan
“The Glamorous Life” - Sheila E
“7” - Love Symbol Album
“Pop Life” - Around the World in a Day
“Erotic City” - B-side of “Let’s Go Crazy”
“She’s Always in My Hair” - B-side of “Raspberry Beret”
“Raspberry Beret” - Around the World in a Day
“Little Red Corvette” - 1999
“When Doves Cry” - Purple Rain
“The Morning Papers” - Love Symbol Album
“Take Me With U” - Purple Rain
“U Got the Look” - Sign O’ the Times
“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” - Prince
“Partyup” - Dirty Mind
“Partyman” - Batman
“Irresistible Bitch” - B-side of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”
“America” - Around the World in a Day
“Do It All Night” - Dirty Mind
“The Bird” - The Time
“Sex Shooter” - Apollonia 6
“Chelsea Rodgers” - Planet Earth
“Electric Chair” - Batman
“If I Was Your Girlfriend (Single Version)” - Sign O’ the Times
“Hot Thing” - Sign O’ the Times
“Housequake” - Sign O’ the Times
“Cream” - Diamonds and Pearls
“Sexy MF” - Love Symbol Album
“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” - 1999
“Nasty Girl” - Vanity 6
“Do Me, Baby” - Controversy
“Nothing Compares 2 U” - 2018 Single

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Figgs are Back in a New Grove

This year is shaping up a busy one for TheFiggs. Mike Gent, Pete Donnelly and Pete Hayes have a 14th album on the way as well as a reissue of one of their earliest recordings. They’ve also scheduled the most amount of tour dates they’ve done in a few years (three of which happen this weekend), all of which all bodes well if you’re a fan. 

But the time since their last album, 2016’s On the Slide, has been one of the most difficult chapters in the 30 plus years they’ve been together. As we do every couple of years, Mike and I traded emails to catch up on the state of The Figgs, how creativity can flourish in the face of adversity, memories of being pimple-faced kids, a significant tour and the joy of seeing Neil Young. –Steve Reynolds

SR: First up, you’re doing a mini-run of shows this weekend, starting off with two sets at theMercury Lounge in New York on Friday as part of their 25th anniversary celebration. You guys played there the first year it was open – do you have any memories of that first time there, or any other memorable gigs there over the years?

MG: Yes, these shows this weekend are part of the touring we will be doing throughout this year into 2020 in support of the new record. My only memory of our first show there is that our road manager at the time got into an argument over our pay at the end of the evening and because of this, we didn't play there again until 1998 I think. After that '98 show, we didn't play there for a very long time because Brownies was our home base in NYC and then the Knitting Factory. (The one that was below Canal St.). Those two rooms were very good to us for a very long time, so we just stayed with them.  After both places went away, we decided to go back and try the Mercury again in the last decade, because I always enjoyed the vibe and sound of the room when I would go to see other bands play there. We've had some great shows there recently.

SR: The last time we spoke was back in the fall of 2016. On the Slide had been out for a bit and you guys had already started working on a new album. Things have been a bit rough emotionally since then, as five people close to the band have died in that time. What kind of impact did these losses have on making this new album?

MG: A big impact. I can't speak for the other guys, but it's been weighing heavy on me. Our friend Pat just passed away. He was a huge supporter of our band and a good friend. We officially started sessions for this new record in January of 2017. Again, I can't speak for the other guys, but it's been a very difficult record to make for me personally and most likely for the Petes as well. We were only 2 or 3 sessions in when Ted Collins died suddenly, which was a huge shock and just terrible. That knocked the wind out of us emotionally and it was very hard for the three of us to focus on the record -- or anything for that matter. As we started to return to the studio throughout 2017, we would be doing overdubs and there was Ted in the right side of our headphones. Then as the year ended and 2018 began, more people close to the band started to die. People that had worked for us in the past, and some very close friends. There was no way that all this loss and sadness would just be put aside. It's all over the record. That's not to say that it's one big downer, there is happiness, some funny shit, sadness, and everything else, but it does lean on the heavy side of things.

SR: Ted was a musician that you guys had known and worked with for decades. Can you sum up what he brought musically (and perhaps spiritually) to your work? And will we get to hear any of his playing on the new album?

MG: We all met Ted in the mid to late 80s because he went to Skidmore. Hayes knew him first and they were in a band together called Cement Bunny before Hayes joined our band. I always got along great with Ted because we liked a lot of the same bands and records and the two of us turned each other on to a lot of different music. We kept in touch when he moved back here to Boston after graduating and he was a big fan of The Figgs. He was always at the shows when we came through on tour and we stayed with him a lot over the years. Around 2011, when we needed some keyboards during the sessions for The Day Gravity Stopped, I'm not sure who suggested it, but someone had the idea to call Ted. He came over to the studio and played on some tracks. I enjoyed his playing and company so much I invited him to join the 2nd line up of my solo band The Rapid Shave which eventually led to him joining The Figgs. One of the things I really love and miss about playing with him was that no matter how much material I threw at him (a very large amount), he never seemed frustrated or put off by it. Just the opposite, I think he enjoyed the challenge. I would give him tons of new stuff to learn or sometimes call out a song on stage and he never blinked. He would listen, find the key, and off we would go. He is all over the new record playing keys, guitar and bass.

SR: You started working on this album in 2016 and we’ll finally get to hear it this year. Has it gone through a bunch of different versions as you’ve recorded more songs? Or did you not think about a final track listing until this point in the process?

MG: It has. On our way to the first session I remember telling Ted that Pete and I had been talking about making a triple album and his reply was "Yeah! Why not?" After he died, we switched over to making it a single record of just the tracks we had already cut with him. When we got into 2018 we continued to write and record and find stuff that we cut with him which was left off the last two albums, it became a double LP for a bit, and then back to a single LP with a track listing and everything. I kept having Ted's “Yeah! Why not?" in the back of my head though, which brought the band back around to our original goal of making a triple record. Even though we are in the final mixing stages and have begun mastering, we are still trying to figure out the final track listing and sequence. That’s how much material we have! On top of all of this, we have already started planning out the next record with a title and direction already mapped out for 2020.

This will be the final album in what we call the “Ted Trilogy.” The first two being Other Planes of Here and On the Slide. It will have similar vibe, artwork and layout. These records are all tied together in a few ways, partly because of Ted being on all three. They are siblings -- two sisters (Other Planes/On the Slide) and a brother (Shady Grove).

SR: You debuted “Brandenburg Gate” at your last show -- how many songs on from the new album have you played live so far? And has playing them live made you change anything to the studio versions?

MG: Good question. More than ever we have been writing in the studio. Something we never had the luxury to do too much of in the past. We've played a bunch of the songs in the last few years live and yes, have gone back and either rearranged and re-cut or tweaked the original take. We are still trying to decide what to include and what to leave off and put aside. There is a lot of tracks! I think once the record is out, we will try out some of the songs on it that we haven't played live yet. Once you try out material live, after a while you see what songs work well on stage, what people respond to as well as what songs fall flat and are probably just album tracks that don't really work live. We don't have many of those. I think Pete and I usually try to write songs that will work when we play them live.

SR: At this point in your career, have your standards for whether a song is worth releasing changed? Will you put more work into a getting a song right than you did in the past? And how long before you think, this isn’t worth our time and we should move on to something else?

MG: There are usually a few songs on each record that I spend more time on. Maybe not on the writing side but more on the recording and mixing end. As far as writing, these days if I am still thinking about an idea or song after a few days, I continue to work on it and finish it. If I'm quickly bored with it, I'll toss it very quickly whereas in the past, I would tend to spend too much time trying to make a bad idea into something usable, but I haven't done that in a long time.

SR: Why is the new album called Shady Grove?

MG: That's a little nod to Ted. He loved Nicky Hopkins and I remember having a few conversations with him about this Quicksilver Messenger Service LP called Shady Grove. It was recorded when Nicky was in the band for a short period and both of us liked the vibe of that record because of what he brought to the band. I had a few different titles, but Pete seemed to like this one the best.

SR: I seem to recall hearing that Pete Hayes had written a couple of songs since On the Slide -- is that true, and did you guys record them?

MG: Well, it's kind of true. Haha. The only song of Pete's that we recorded for this new record is called “Quitters Unite!” I wish there were a few more of his on this record but that's up to him to bring more songs in while we are rehearsing and recording. When we cut the basic track for “Quitters Unite!” I suggested that we play it as if we were on stage doing Pete Hayes Time, so I'm playing drums, Ted's on bass, and Pete is on guitar.

SR: Last year was a light one for Figgs shows -- that’s not the case this year. How do you figure out when to go out for a few days considering the schedules and the distance between the three of you?

MG: I really thought we should try to not play any shows in 2018 and try to focus on finishing the record. After 3 decades, we have never taken a full year off. At this point, it's important for us to take a break and clear the decks. This vacation didn't happen because we were offered a few decent shows and we needed money for the studio, some other expenses, and Pete wanted to put his record out and tour with his band last year, so our plans for the year changed and we didn't get the record finished or the Ginger reissue out. As far as doing long weekends, right now because of everyone having families, this is the only way we can tour. Our days of going out for months and months are long gone. Once all our kids are grown, it would be nice to go out for maybe 2 weeks at a time. This band always needed at least a week of shows to get the engine warmed up nice, so it's hard doing only a few shows in a row because we usually need to shake the rust off.

SR: After having a break from doing a lot of shows, how do you figure out the set lists at this point? You’ve got a new album on the way and a reissue, plus another 12 albums and singles and covers that you like to do. How does it all fit together?

MG: It's difficult to say the least. I have very strong ideas of what we should try to accomplish with a setlist and so does Pete. I lean too much towards wanting to play mostly new material, and Pete tends to want to do what's comfortable for him and wants to play what people want to hear. For the most part, fans pay to hear the songs that they know and love -- I get it. There needs to be a balance of both. One thing I love about our fans is that they are very patient with us trying out a lot of different music on them. I couldn't go out and just play songs from the past. We've never been that type of band. There needs to be forward motion and different material to present and try out. There must be a certain risk involved. There is also a sense of surprise for the diehards who do want to hear either new stuff or older songs that either have never been played live or if they have, not in ages.

If it were entirely up to me, I would love to go out and play shows where we just do new material with of course a few crowd favorites. Once the new record has been out for a while, I'd like to just play material from that along with some brand-new stuff and that's it, but I don't see that happening unless I could convince Pete to do it. The old songs will always be there for us to pull out when it feels good to. I remember we did those shows where we played all of Low-Fi. A few months after that, we did another show in NYC and a woman came up to me complaining that we didn't play anything from Low-Fi. Haha! You can't please everyone all the time, right?

When you start a band and play your very first show, there is a magic there that is never repeated. A sense of walking on a tightrope and not knowing if the material even works on stage and how people will respond. I love that feeling and aspect of playing a song that we've never played in front of an audience. It's a real thrill. Also, just because a drunk guy is yelling a song out at us the entire show doesn't mean we are going to be bullied into playing it! This is one of the things I love about doing house concerts. There is zero pressure to play anything except what we want to play. People are there to listen and really pay attention to the band, and we avoid the drunk guy yelling song titles at us, and even sometimes yelling out a song we have already played earlier in the set.

SR: Besides Shady Grove, this year will see the reissue of Ginger on vinyl. Was it hard to remaster the tapes from 1992? What songs do you think have held up the best 27 years later? Will there be a digital download with the vinyl for those of us that digitized our cassette copies to CD many years ago?

MG: A very long, difficult process. When we started this reissue, I had just finished the remix and vinyl reissue of The Man Who Fights Himself and asked Pete to take the lead on this one.

First, we had to make a deal to get the master tapes back from a former manager. Then we had to have the tapes baked (they were Ampex) and transferred. We decided to remix the record because we were never thrilled about the original mix of the record. Pete took a long time remixing for several reasons starting with the transfers being difficult. Also, it wasn't the best sounding recording to begin with. In 1991, we were still very inexperienced in the studio, our songwriting and arrangement skills were still years away from being good. We were Our gear at the time was a mess. I didn't even own an amp during that record and was borrowing a lot of questionable amps for about a year. That's how broke we were. My main guitar was a Fender Musicmaster II which has one single coil pickup. Not the best guitar to use in a trio or in the studio really. The drum kit Hayes had was falling apart constantly, and the studio we used had a great vibe but was not in any way a professional studio. These are the things I still hear when I listen to the record. Pete did a great salvage job. I will tell you that it sounds a lot better than the original cassette which had so many phase issues. I still like most of the songs on Ginger surprisingly. It's only the performance and production I was never thrilled about -- like looking at old photos where your face is filled with pimples and your haircut was bad. This is what Ginger always has been to me. Ha!

Having said all of this though, Pete did a great job with all the work he put into the reissue and there is something about the band that was captured on this record. This is what we sounded like in 1991, love it or not. We never played this way again really. Even by 1992 when it was finally released, we were already on to a new group of songs and changed from a trio to a quartet.

It will be on vinyl with a download card that will have a bunch of outtakes, a cd which will also include the remix and outtakes. As far as just a digital option, this will only be available on our site. It won't be on iTunes or any other digital platforms.

SR: Last year you did a very interesting experiment -- writing, recording and releasing a song digitally each month through Bandcamp. Did that project make you rethink the whole “making an album” process?

MG: That idea started in January 2018 because I had a lot of decent tracks left over from Headphone Music and I thought it would be a good way to clear the decks. As I got a few months into it, I switched gears and started the challenge of writing, recording, and releasing something new each month. It was hard to do! Some of the songs and recordings I think are really good, and on others I can hear that I was forcing it a bit too much and then quickly had to rush something to a finish because there was a deadline. There's a full 12 song record there and maybe at some point I will release them together in a physical format. In the end, I think it was a successful experiment. Something outside the usual practice of making a full record and then releasing it.

SR: The other day you posted a photo of the DATs (SR note -- that’s an acronym for digital audio tape, a format that kind of came and went in about a decade) of the master and mixes for Received, the solo cassette you put out in 1999. (I should inform folks that two of the songs on the cassette, “Never Tell” and “Creeping Secrets,” later ended up on albums by The Gentlemen.) And you opened the last two Figgs shows with “Servo Lock” from that cassette. Does this mean it’s going to get remastered and reissued at some point? And what was your mindset at the time of making and releasing it? Were you looking for a place to put this random collection of songs?

MG: I've been working on getting a new master together of Received for the last few months. It's been a bit of a challenge. I explain the whole thing in some very long-winded liner notes that I will post with the release but basically, at the beginning of 1999 I started filling a new notebook with a lot of ideas and new songs. While this was happening, I was invited to join The Gravel Pit on their cross-country tour supporting their new record SilverGorilla and figured that I should put something together very quickly, so I would have something to sell on the tour. When I listen to it now, I can hear me scrambling to get everything on tape and finished before we left on tour! I was kind of burned out on the regular, expensive studio process, and wanted to capture the energy of when you first write a song and it's still fresh. I think I did that. I was living in an apartment in NYC and most of my equipment and gear was either in our rehearsal space upstate, or touring truck, so I had limited stuff to work with. I only made 50 of them and they sold out within the first week or so. It's been out of print ever since. It's only going to be available on our site and Bandcamp for a short period and then I'll put it out of print again. I do consider it my first solo record though, and that little tape does have a lot of...heart?

SR: Speaking of that Silver Gorilla tour, I recall that the guys in the Pit started backing you up on a few songs and that’s basically how The Gentlemen got started? Or has my brain conflated that story over time?

MG: That's right. That is how The Gentlemen began, on that tour. I would open the shows with a solo set, then The Pit would come out, play their set and I would come out and play a bunch of different stuff. “Mosquito” from Silver Gorilla, some of the new solo stuff from Received – “I'm Coming Over Later," I remember playing that. We did "Sucker" by Mott The Hoople every night. When we returned from the tour, the four of us (singer Jed Parish was busy with his first solo record) decided to set up a show and I remember scrambling to pull together enough material for a full set. It was a fun and exciting time because besides this happening, The Figgs were just beginning a very productive and great period as well. 1999 started out a really bummer for me but as the year progressed, all this fantastic stuff started happening, beginning with the Silver Gorilla tour.

SR: Lastly, we are both huge Neil Young fans, and you told me you recently got to see him do a solo show from the front row. I’ve never been that close in all my years of going to see him -- how was it? Did he play any songs that surprised you?

MG: Oh man, that show was great. The closest I have been before this one was 7th row at RPIFieldhouse in Troy, NY on the Ragged Glory tour. (SR note – I was at that same show!) For this one, we were in the front row of the theatre but they had added a small VIP section in the orchestra pit so there were some people in front of us. I hadn't seen him solo since the early 90's when I saw him do a show right before Harvest Moon came out. This was a similar show. Lots of pianos and guitars surrounding him. Definitely the smallest place I ever seen him in, and the closest. Fantastic! Some surprises – “Birds,” “There's A World,” “Speakin’ Out,” a few songs from Le Noise which I like a lot. He was in a good mood too, which always helps.