Throughout the '80s and '90s, I was involved in my fair share of collaborative musical projects with a number of very talented and versatile musicians. The best of them all, and still the one closest and dearest to my heart, was the twin-guitar duo I formed in the autumn of 1988 with one Mark DeAngelis, a.k.a. Jet Screamer. We were called Living Guitars, a name I admit we stole from a '60s instrumental group. And the music we made still stands in my mind as some of the best music I ever had the pleasure of creating. We weren't together for very long... but we made the most of our all-too-short time. And what a time it was.
It all began, of course, with our association with the late, great Mr. Bill Berger and his Lo-Fi program, the story of which I've already covered on this blog. After the wonder that was Lo-Fi night, the first lineup Jet and I shared together, we were quickly booked to do more shared bills, with each of us performing solo sets. The great John S. Hall of King Missile (a total sweetheart of a guy, and still going strong to this day) gave us the second of these shows, on April Fool's Day of '88 at Cafe Bustelo, a spinoff of the great art-punk space ABC No Rio which lasted about a year before they got sued big-time by the coffee company they'd, er, borrowed the name from. At this show we met Jennifer Blowdryer, a writer and performer who'd recently moved to NYC from San Francisco to attend Columbia University and had quickly branched out into booking shows downtown. Jennifer was impressed with the two of us enough to not only give us a few more shows that spring, but also to eventually hire Jet as a guitarist in her newly formed band, Surftallica. Jet only played one gig with them, which I attended, and when I talked to him afterward, he expressed discontentment with the band's direction. I was quick to sympathize with him, knowing full well his talents deserved a more serious outlet.
By this time it was October '88 and it was just in the nick of time that our dear mentor Mr. Berger made the suggestion that since Jet and I both had similar styles and influences, we should play together and see what happens. Indeed, both of us specialized in solo guitar-and-voice workouts which reflected a love of the Ventures, Ramones, and Marc Bolan, so we knew he was likely right. I recall Jet and I meeting up at one of ABC No Rio's famous Sunday open-mic nights to swap tapes of our songs. We decided to choose two songs from each tape and try out the four of 'em together as a duo.
We wasted no time in adopting a rigorous rehearsal schedule. Jet had already been in a band himself, a more serious surf-rock trio called Jurassics, and was quick to instill his work ethic in Living Guitars, which in turn gave me an increased and more serious focus towards my music which I still employ to this day. We practiced everywhere we could. Jet's place, my place, Ultrasound Studios in midtown Manhattan (another recent victim of NYC gentrification, run by the awesome Jeff West), and most famously, the basement of Mediasound. This recording studio, housed inside a beautiful old church, was big news in the '70s and '80s, and if you have a record collection of any value, you likely own multiple albums which were made there. Jet worked as an assistant engineer at Mediasound, and we would practice there well past midnight.
One night at Mediasound, we took a break and Jet offered me the guided tour, which included a walk through their treasured master tape vaults. There, he selected a tape, and then ushered me into the main studio, where he threaded the tape onto the machine and pressed play. I expected to hear some rare Hendrix jam or something, but instead my ears were greeted by the sounds of a couple having sex! Jet explained that the guy was Axl Rose, the girl was a Guns 'n' Roses groupie, and the sounds they were making were then overdubbed onto "Rocket Queen," the last song on "Appetite for Destruction," which was mixed at Mediasound. He then told me the whole ridiculous tale of that session. It was pretty insane. (I went on to get to know and even record with Victor "The Fuckin' Engineer" Deyglio years later -- another great guy.) Jet was clearly risking his job to give me such an in-depth look (to say the least!) into Mediasound, and warned me we could get caught, but it didn't matter much in the end as he lost his job anyway when Mediasound went belly-up in March '89. I still have tapes of Living Guitars rehearsals which took place there. Here's a killer version of Jet's song "Cast Your Vote" from one of them:
Jet and I became tight very quickly, both as friends and most importantly as musicians. We built a setlist on songs we'd each selected from our own respective repertoires which grew so fast that by February '89, just three months after our first jam, we already had it together enough to play an epic 45-minute live set on Bill Berger's Hip Bone show on WFMU. We weren't the first band who'd made the leap from Lo-Fi to Hip Bone in that regard, nor were we the last, and it was a highly distinguished club to be part of. By then we'd also written our first song together: "The Zen of Driving." It began as a simple improvisation at practice and grew into a multi-part epic, one to which we kept adding parts until it got to the point where I finally said to Jet, "Man, let's finish this song and start another one already!" The process which yielded "Zen" was employed for just about every song we wrote from then on, and we made sure we knew when to move on to writing another one from then on too. Our songs grew out of long improvisations we would drift into at rehearsals, in which we would just play and play until we finally hit upon a new idea we both liked. We would then add other elements to that idea until we had a new song.
In my view the best song Jet and I ever wrote together was a beautiful slow jam called "Friday Evenings." We were improvising as usual one night when Jet suddenly hit upon an ominous sounding riff that grabbed me by the ears and wouldn't let go. Before I could tell him the riff had potential, though, he suddenly countered it with a beautiful, more upbeat-sounding progression which offset the ominous riff he had played just seconds earlier and took it to a new level. Then he started singing, off the top of his head, "On Friday evenings, I can go surfing." I added a lead guitar melody on top of all of this -- a dark, spacey part for the ominous riff and a lighter, more joyful part for the other one -- and we had our big hit song.
When we had the opportunity to appear on the compilation album "The Phoaming Edison Tapes," it was immediately obvious "Friday Evenings" was the song we had to immortalize. Jet was a bit of a surfer himself and his lyrics reflected the lifestyle, but I personally like to think of it as a sort of tribute to Bill Berger, whose radio show was the highlight of our Friday evenings at that time. We recorded it at Toxic Shock on lower Broadway, just off Houston St. with the great James Kavoussi of Fly Ashtray and Uncle Wiggly assisting us, and as I personally think "Friday" sounds much better on my original cassette copy than it ultimately did on vinyl, I've chosen to source this Soundcloud stream of the song from the tape (and besides, you know I'm all about cassette culture!).
Living Guitars played all over NYC throughout 1989. We started with CBGB of all places, then went on from there. Our all-time favorite venue was the Lizard's Tail in Williamsburg, a speakeasy many of our fellow Lo Fi-spawned acts (including Berger's own band Uncle Wiggly) called home. (More info about that magic place can be found in my piece about Williamsburg in the '80s and '90s.) ABC No Rio was our second favorite place to play. There, an entire life performance of ours was filmed by Tom Becker and featured on a Manhattan Access Cable TV show called "Young Gifted And Broke." And that bath house we played our first show at wasn't even the only oddly revamped venue that hosted us -- we also played the Gas Station on Avenue B, a (you guessed it) former gas station later to become notorious as the site of GG Allin's last stand, and XFH, an old funeral parlor which became the site of Living Guitars' last stand. We didn't know at the time it would be our final performance, so it's fitting to note the location and also that perhaps coincidentally, I smashed an old guitar at the end of our set.
A complete video of the show Living Guitars played at ABC No Rio in May '89 is now available for your viewing pleasure on Youtube. It will surely be enjoyed by those who saw us back then and those who've only seen either me or Jet perform in recent years alike. It's a tight set with a few original songs to start, eventually making way for a blistering block of covers at the finish. Please enjoy it. It's my way of thanking each and every one of you for reading this blog in such large numbers, and for making well over 30,000 visits (and still counting!) to the mighty Brazenblog. It's because of you, dear readers, that I've found the strength to keep going, as difficult as it's been lately with all the recent tragedies in my world. I'm damn proud of this blog and hope to keep it going even further still. Thanks so much for diggin' it, and please keep reading... and rocking.