Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists compiled by our favorite artists. This week: New Zealand lo-fi pioneer Chris Knox and slide guitar songstress Peg Simone.
Listed: Chris Knox + Peg Simone
The tireless and talented Chris Knox first distinguished himself in the late 1970s as the lead singer of the Dunedin-based punk band The Enemy and later with Auckland’s more new wave Toy Love. He’s best known today, however, as one-half of the pioneering DIY pop band Tall Dwarfs. The slanted, blissful records that Knox and collaborator Alec Bathgate made for the Flying Nun label paved the way for a host of 90s kitchen-sink imitators, few of whom ever matched the majesty of, say, Slugbucket Hairybreath Monster. In and around recording 4-track classics by the Clean, Chills, and Verlaines, Knox branched out in a variety of mediums, and today keeps extraordinarily busy as a newspaper columnist, TV film reviewer, cartoonist, and animator. Not content to rest on his laurels as an icon in NZ’s endearing and enduring rock underground, Knox continues to keep in the thick of things musically, releasing A Warm Gun (as The Nothing) earlier this year.
This is a pretty arbitrary list that doesn’t include total faves like the Velvets, Conlan Nancarrow, Buffy Sainte Marie, Tod Dockstader, The Kinks, Delia Derbyshire, Otis Redding, Bill Direen, Ornette Coleman, Shostakovich, Syd, Abba, Incredible String Band, Bo Diddley, Bach, The Tinklers, Albert Ayler, Bread, Daniel Johnston, Trio, Charley Patton, The Monks, Ohio Express, Muszikas, Yoko, The Saints…
1. The Clean
Their entire catalogue is pretty damned inspiring, from their first made-for-$50 "Tally Ho" single through to the get-together-from-all-corners-of the-planet-turn-on-the-tape-and-see-what-happens approach of their 21st-century output. Although always better live––where you never know which band you’re gunna get; the blasé stoners; the pissed off punkers; the psychedelic voyagers; the dadaist dumbbells; the (Three) Stooges überbeasts or any combination of the above––they’ve never made a bad record. See them before you die.
2. John Lee Hooker
The early solo stuff does it best for me, especially the late ‘40s King sides. I can’t listen to the various collaborations he was saddled with from the ‘80s onwards, no matter how much he seems to’ve liked ‘em. Van Morrison, in particular, makes me wanna throw up as he tries to be as black as the master, an attempt forever obliterated in the first nanosecond that Hooker emits a vocal sound. Never truly well-served by any backing band––thanks to his non-reliance on the 12-bar straitjacket and idiosyncratic rhythmic choices––but Canned Heat do a surprisingly robust job on the Hooker ‘n’ Heat set.
3. Nina Simone
My fave is still the first I ever owned, her live and in-studio goodbye to America, It Is Finished, from 1974 which remarkably makes both "Kumbaya" and "Mr. Bojangles" into eminently listenable songs thanks to a beautifully sympathetic West African-styled backing band and some of Simone’s finest vocals. It’s available on CD bundled with two other live LPs including the extraordinary Emergency Ward which features just three songs––two by George Harrison––and some utterly subversive moments. My biggest musical regret is not going to see her play here when she was a mere 500 miles to my south…
4. John Cage
Any of the prepared piano stuff, the wonderfully illuminating Indeterminacy set where he trots out minute-long monologues to a random backing of David Tudor mucking about, and the first Cage I ever heard after buying an experimental music album purely for its cover, which was 20-something minutes of the aforementioned Tudor making the most horrendous noises from a piano scraped, whacked and generally tortured by various pickups, cartridges, mics and the like. It fucked mightily with my 16-year-old head. Which has never fully recovered, thank the lord.
5. The Beatles
For making my youth way more bearable and having the courage/cheek to release stuff like "Tomorrow Never Knows", "You Know My Name (Look up the Number)" and "Revolution #9," amongst many others, to an unsuspecting raft of pure pop fans. (If only they’d replaced "Obladi Oblada" with "What’s the New Mary Jane" on the double white…) And for allowing John Lennon to go on to forever democratise the avant-garde with his and Yoko’s Unfinished Music series. And for inspiring the shit out of the most diverse bunch of besotted would-be musicians that would and will ever walk the planet. Debit points for "The Long and Winding Road."
6. The Troggs
They were gloriously, brutally simple but could also produce songs of an ineffable beauty. See "Our Love Will Still be There" for a sublime example of the latter. They had way more hits than you think and their Troggs Tapes bootleg––available on the Archaeology triple cd set––is the funniest piece of happily snatched control room dialogue to ever leak out of a recording studio.
Were and are the most uncompromising band to come out of the whole Punk thing. See them live for an indelibly excoriating experience and listen to Chairs Missing and marvel that it was made three decades ago. For mixing hooky pop smarts and smartarse college obscurity in the same bar, they are unbeatable. If there’s a finer single than "Outdoor Miner" I will swallow my own head.
8. Neutral Milk Hotel
Were the best thing that America produced in the ‘90s and Jeff Mangum is a force of nature who could only go into retirement, leaving behind a tiny catalogue that's unique and largely unheralded (y’know, in the real world) ‘cos expectations were too high amongst those who loved him and he’s the humblest guy in the world. Second biggest regret is never seeing the whole band live but touring with some of ‘em and sharing two gigs with Jeff will always remain as peak musical moments. Not to mention he and Laura Carter shattering the complacency of a tiny campsite in rural New Zealand with a totally improptu and incredibly spiritual mini-concert. I am not given to things spiritual. This was a glorious anomaly.
Consciously first heard in the above-mentioned "Tomorrow Never Knows" and first seen in action at the end of an early ‘70s performance by the NZ branch of Scratch Orchestra, the power of the repetition involved in a continuous band of plastic passing over a chunk of magnetised metal became a core ingredient of Tall Dwarfs and my solo work/play. Now that a virtual version of the concept is at the base of so much contemporary practice that power has diminished, but one day I shall patch together all my old 1/4 and 1/2 inch moebius strips into some kinda apocalooptic whole and the world may end happily ever after.
The war dance of the Maori is a lot more than something done before an All Blacks rugby game. It is an expression of passion and power that never fails to electrify, thrill, awe and bring tears, whether performed by one human or a whole roomful. It has a primitive––no, a primal––power and depth that has never been successfully captured in a recording. Which, I guess, is the natural fate of such things. And all the better for it.
Brooklyn songwriter Peg Simone slips ghostly slides and detuned anarchy into her blues-bitten songs––Memphis Minnie filtered not just through Zeppelin, but also Sonic Youth. Her latest album, The Deeper You Get, updates the boys-club idiom of bottleneck blues with startling feminine assurance and modern imagery. She recently signed on for guitar duties with Jonathan Kane's February––further proof, if you still need it, that the girl can play.
1. Led Zeppelin
ALL ZEP ALL THE TIME! (Channeling the classic rock radio announcer…imagine the booming reverb on the voice).
2. Reid Paley
His songs are great. They’re smart, laced with a wickedly dark wit, and they f&*%#ing ROCK. Go to the Reid Paley Trio MySpace page and listen to “Your Polish Uncle” (one of my faves) for just a little taste of what this guy delivers. I think “The Dark Sky” is one of the most beautiful songs written. His gritty voice booms with a power that can fill every nook & cranny of a room at full volume and seeps into every pore of your skin on his beautifully crafted ballads. His rock is bluesy & jazzy and swings with a gut-wrenching conviction. His new album Approximate Hellhound is by far one of the best things I’ve heard in a long, long time. Whether with a trio or solo, Reid is a force. Powerful, raw, and authentic.
3. Jonathan Kane’s February
The blues taken to the nth power and then some. To say that Jonathan Kane’s interpretation of the blues is mind-numbingly powerful would be an understatement. It’s a commanding aural experience. One hell of a drummer, a booming bass & 3 (sometimes more) guitars. How can you go wrong?
4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
A great movie about a fictional rock band with an unbelievably amazing soundtrack! I wish I’d had the chance to see the stage version. The script is smart and painfully human. Anyone who’s ever been in a band or just simply loves music will be impressed by the fact that the music totally does ROCK and makes sense. Everything in this movie is spot on. I’ve seen it about 50 times & counting.
5. Jimi Hendrix: Angel
Clearly everything the man wrote & performed was otherworldly but this song for me takes the cake every time. It’s as if you can feel it and him move through every thread of your being. As an adolescent I was somewhat obsessed with him & convinced myself he was trying to contact me when, while sitting in my bedroom listening to his records, the poster I had started to move as if a wind were blowing by. Although I realized the air conditioning vent below the poster was probably the reason, it was more exciting to think it was some astral connection.
6. Flamenco/Gypsy/Arabic Music
I'm always drawn by anything reminiscent of any of these styles of music. The percussive rhythms and minor keyed tunings are soul rumbling. There’s so much out there to listen to in any of these styles but there’s a really great film, called Latcho Drom which is all about gypsy music in different parts of the world. It explores the lives of the people making it and how it spread from place to place, taking a little bit from each interpretation. Fascinating movie, amazing heart wrenching music.
From Manchester, England, Bone-Box is a collection of amazing musicians playing songs which are a cleverly orchestrated blend of pedal steel, Spanish guitar, upright bass, archtop guitar, violin, keyboards, banjo & a horn section. All of this is led by Jay Taylor, who sings with a voice so full of gravel it’s as if you can feel the scratch at the bottom of your own throat.
8. Danny Stiles
He has a radio show on WNYC every Saturday night from 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. The bulk of his show consists of old crooner standards from the 30’s on up, throwing in the occasional show tune, and never quite failing to end the show with Shirley Temple, which is demented on several levels. It’s especially enjoyable when he starts to sing along to the records. Totally worth checking out (he can also be streamed online allowing folks to listen 24 hrs a day!)
9. The Gospel Singer by Harry Crews
Harry Crews’ first published novel. My two favorite characters in this book are The Gospel Singer’s looney younger brother and sister––Mirst & Avel. These two jumped right off the pages at me and grabbed me by the ears & yelled “write a song about us!!!” So that’s what I did.
10. Laughing Hyenas
One of the best bands EVER. Their songs were an unforgiving, relentless onslaught of the blues at the rawest level. “Hard Time Blues” is a standard on the iPod & never, ever gets old.
By Dusted Magazine