Music News

Two Archival Releases Fill in the Gaps in Phoenix's Musical History

Even the most ardent music fans have a skewered impression of Phoenix's early rock musical landscape. It starts with Sanford Clark and Marty Robbins, then you cross a whole spread of barren desert 'til you get to Lee Hazlewood and Duane Eddy, and then nothing until the early rumblings of Waylon Jennings and Alice Cooper.

Local music historian John P. Dixon has worked tirelessly to fill in the blank terrain, and two new releases continue that labor of love. The first one, The Mascot Records/Jack Curtis Story, collects nearly all the A-sides that local music impresario Curtis issued on his homegrown label between 1961 and 1968, plus a bunch of other rarities — including an alternate take of "Why Don't You Love Me" by the Spiders, Alice Cooper's earliest recorded incarnation.

Because it starts with embryonic rockabilly and wholesome teen idolatry and ends in the confused fog of psychedelia, the Mascot set is not unlike the endless supply of Joe Meek compilations that you find on Amazon. Like the star-crossed British producer, Curtis believed wholeheartedly in early Buddy Holly rock 'n' roll, made some adjustments to the game-changing Beatles, and then lost interest when drugs took all the fun out of rock. Curtis wasn't as nearly as eccentric or passionate as Meek — his platters were made to capitalize on and promote the music that was popular in his teen dance venues, Stage 7 and the V.I.P. Club.

But it does have its moments of lushly orchestrated soda-shop rock — and some just plain weirdness, such as local teen dream Frank Fafara's self-penned ode to idolatry or oppressive three-digit heat, "Golden One," ("The Golden One shines down / Shines down on the land / He crushes some before him / Leaves the others stand.") And there's the well-adjusted 1961 death-disc "Angel of Mine," wherein Nick Landers just wants to be left loving his teen angel without any voice-cracking hysterics.

Mascot did make some forays into soul, with Roosevelt Nettles becoming not only one of the label's better sellers but also the Mascot artist whose masters were most routinely leased out to national labels. Chess Records became a second home for his 1961 gem "Matilda," a credible ballad in the mode of Arthur Alexander. P-Nut Butter and The Spiders represent Phoenix's reaction to the British invasion, with the former playing the Beatles to the latter's Stones. After prog-rockers George Washington Bridge, in 1968, Curtis was ready to call it a day, shuttering his local clubs and his record-pressing ambitions in response to changing times.

As a companion piece to Epiphany's 1995 collection of Mike Condello's musical contributions to the Wallace and Ladmo Show, Condello and Company: Comedy Album Plus makes available for the first time an unreleased album of songs with Zappa-like song skits, cut during the same sessions that produced Condello's Phase 1 album in 1968.

While some of the many circa 1967-68 pop culture references herein may be too far removed from anyone under 40 (like the Mitch Ryder lampoon "Sock It Near Me"), the humor of "A Pimple Is a Sometimes Thing, " "Soggy Cereal," and "Comic Book" is undeniable and contagious. Rounding out that album are various Condello-related singles by the likes of Last Friday's Fire, Heckle and Jeckle, The Scallywags, and The Morgan Condello Combo.

Both are recommended reminders of a time in Phoenician history before the "never trust anyone over 30" mindset took over the country, a time when adults had the interest of the kids at heart. And that interest was just making sure they were having a good time.

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic