Posts Tagged With: Corrosion of Conformity

Next up: “The Big Book of North Carolina Music”

ncblueNot quite a year ago, I found myself at an industry convention gathering with some of my rock-writing peers, doing what we all do at these things — swapping stories, telling lies and catching up about projects we had in the works, real as well as imaginary. Talking to another writer I knew, I mentioned that I was working on a book proposal for a history of North Carolina music. His reaction was…surprising.

“Yeah,” he scoffed, “that’ll be a short book.”

Words were exchanged, some of them unpleasant; no, it didn’t go especially well. But almost a year later, I am pleased to report that this “short book” has taken a major step from abstraction to reality. I’ve come to terms and shaken hands with University of North Carolina Press for a book with the working title “The Big Book of North Carolina Music,” which will have a format similar to UNC Press’ 2008 best-seller “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue.”

uncpressWhile this won’t be an encyclopedic A-to-Z history of North Carolina music, my “Big Book” will cover a lot of ground in its 16 chapters — from Charlie Poole in the 1920s to “American Idol” nearly a century later, with Blind Boy Fuller and Rev. Gary Davis, Arthur Smith, “5” Royales, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs, the dB’s and Let’s Active, Superchunk and Squirrel Nut Zippers and Ben Folds Five, Nantucket and Corrosion of Conformity, beach music, 9th Wonder and J. Cole and more in between. It should come in at close to double the heft of my Ryan Adams book “Losering”; and while that still isn’t nearly as long as it could be, it’s nevertheless the most ambitious book project I’ve ever taken on.

But the beauty part is I’ve already been working on this book, piecemeal, for more than a quarter-century. I moved to Raleigh in 1991 to take the News & Observer music-critic job, and my first day was Jan. 15 — two days before Operation Desert Storm started in Kuwait. That was a time when the Worldwide Web wasn’t much more than a gleam in Paul Jones’ eye, back when most people still got their news by reading it on paper or watching the 6 o’clock news.

I must confess that I didn’t come here thinking the News & Observer would be a long-term destination, but it just worked out that way. Back when newspapers were still prosperous, the desired career trajectory was to spend five years or so at a mid-sized paper like the N&O before trying to move up to the New York Times or some other prestige publication. For a variety of reasons, that never happened. Most of the opportunities that came my way over the years felt like they would have been lateral moves rather than upward ones, although I did get a call from the Washington Post in 1999. But that was right after the birth of my twins, Edward and Claudia. At that moment, starting over in a big city was just not in the cards.

So I stayed in Raleigh and I’ve never regretted it, in large part because North Carolina music turned out to be fascinating and beguiling in ways I never imagined before I lived here. When I arrived, I was fairly well-versed in the North Carolina music I’d heard from afar on college radio — Connells, Let’s Active, Flat Duo Jets and such — without knowing much of anything about the history from farther back. So I’ve spent my years here filling in the history, bit by bit, learning as much as I could about North Carolina’s wildly varied music.

Despite the many variations of this state’s music, I do see all of it as of a piece and part of the same continuum — and “The Big Book of North Carolina Music” will, I hope, tie it all together as one story. I’ve spent the past few months going through my archive of stuff to get it organized (see below), and now begins the real work. TBBoNCM will be my side-project for the next two years, the thing keeping me up late nights and weekends and days off. If all goes according to plan, it will be done and dusted by the end of 2018, with publication to follow in 2019. Fingers crossed!

And yeah, whenever it’s done: I’ll be sending an autographed copy to that colleague.

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Pure gold: Corrosion of Conformity

DRACOCRyan Adams may not play in his native state of North Carolina anymore (as we’ve covered), but he definitely remembers and represents where he came from. For example, there’s this Instagram photo he posted a few days ago, in which he’s wearing a T-shirt bearing the classic spiked-skull logo for Raleigh hardcore legends Corrosion of Conformity.

COC has been around since the early 1980s, becoming enough of a thrash-metal trademark to inspire a 2010 “Saturday Night Live” sketch starring a middleaged band called “Crisis of Conformity.” They were one of the main reasons that Ryan’s Patty Duke Syndrome bandmate Brian Walsby was inspired to move to Raleigh in the mid-’80s and still pretty much ruled the town at the time Ryan himself arrived from Jacksonville in the early ’90s. And COC is still at it all these years later, with a tour opening for Lamb of God on this year’s schedule.

Despite never having anything like a mainstream “hit,” COC stands as a great example of how staying power is what really counts over the long haul. The band’s best-selling album, Deliverance, peaked at just No. 155 on the Billboard 200 album-sales chart after it was released in the fall of 1994. And yet Deliverance has never stopped selling, to the point that it’s very close to reaching a very significant milestone.

I recently checked in on Deliverance‘s U.S. sales figures via Nielsen Soundscan, and it now stands at 499,000 copies — within just 1,000 copies of earning a gold record for half-a-million copies sold. So sometime in 2016, it should become official.

Somehow, COC earning a gold record before Ryan seems right and just. I expect Ryan himself would agree.

ADDENDUM (10/15/2016): A piece of long-ago COC history from 1984.

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Big in Europe: The Connells’ “’74-’75,” updated to 2015

ConnellsVid

The Connells, 1993.

When Ryan Adams made his way from Jacksonville up to Raleigh in the early 1990s (as outlined in the “Before” section of “Losering”), there were a handful of big fish in the Triangle music scene — Corrosion of Conformity, blackgirls and Superchunk, among others. But one of the biggest was the Connells, who were part of a wave of jangly guitar-pop bands that followed in R.E.M.’s wake. While the Connells were a popular regional draw on the college-radio chitlin circuit of the Southeastern U.S., their music was accessible enough that they always seemed like a band that should have been bigger elsewhere, too.

By the time Ryan was hitting his stride with Whiskeytown in 1995, however, the Connells suddenly were bigger elsewhere. And not just big, either, but huge. In one of the Amerindie underground’s odder success stories, the Connells briefly hit the big time overseas in the mid-’90s with “’74-’75,” a pensive and moody ballad from the band’s 1993 album Ring.

“Big in Europe” is a well-worn joke in the music industry, but it really was true in the Connells’ case. Where Ring barely grazed the charts here in America (peaking at No. 199 on the Billboard 200), it made the Connells stars in Europe, with its “’74-’75” single going all the way to No. 1 in Norway and Sweden while cracking the top-10 in another nine countries across the continent. It even earned a platinum record in Norway to go with gold records in Germany and Sweden.

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David Hoggard in 1974 and again in 1993 with his wife Susan and daughter Alison, from Mark Pellington’s video of the Connells’ “’74-’75.”

A major part of “’74-’75″‘s success was its evocative video, which juxtaposed then-and-now images of members of the class of 1975 from Broughton High School in Raleigh with yearbook photos and footage shot in the fall of 1993. Two Connells members had also gone to Broughton; all three of my kids in recent years, too. Anyway, “’74-’75” is the rare video that actually enhances a song, never getting too heavy-handed while implying more than it says. It remains a great curio of mid-1990s North Carolina music.

Hoggards

Alison and Susan Hoggard with a picture of David, who died in 2013. Still from video shot by N&O photographer Juli Leonard.

Back in 1994, when “’74-’75” was in the early stages of its run, I tracked down and interviewed all 16 people in it to do a story for the paper. In honor of the 40-year anniversary of Broughton’s class of 1975, we decided to update it again to the present day — but literally this time, by editing new footage of everyone into director Mark Pellington’s original video. The band’s representatives were kind enough to give us permission to do this; and we didn’t quite get full participation, but close: 15 of of the video’s 16 subjects agreed to be photographed again, as did the Connells themselves.

So here is “’74-’75” circa 2015, with superlative visuals and editing by two of my News & Observer photojournalist colleagues, Travis Long (whose work documenting local music in Raleigh has been referenced here before) and Juli Leonard; plus accompanying stories that explain a bit more about the video and where everyone in it is nowadays. Pulling this beast together was an immensely labor-intensive process, so we’re all somewhat relieved now that it’s finally done. But we’re also counting down to the 50-year anniversary in 2025.

We’ll see who all is still standing by then.

http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article44889822.html/video-embed

ADDENDA: In response, nice Blurt essay by the estimable Fred Mills. And wow, over in England the BBC noticed!

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North Carolina’s family tree rambles on

As 1994 turned into 1995, just around the time Whiskeytown was coming together, I undertook a rather insane project for the News & Observer: to construct a local-music family tree, showing lineup connections between different North Carolina bands through time. I took inspiration from English music journalist Pete Frame’s family trees, which were elegant-looking genealogies of classic bands. So for a couple of months, I carried around a big piece of paper with diagrams, circles and arrows, soliciting input from people at shows.

I got input from around 100 people and slaved over it for months, doing several dozen versions before I finally let the darned thing go. It never really felt “finished,” but I had to stop at some point. What emerged was something closer to a solar system than a family tree. I was fascinated at how it was possible to link up so many notable local acts from a quarter-century, spanning wildly disparate styles — everything from Corrosion of Conformity’s hardcore to Squirrel Nut Zippers’ hot jazz.

Superchunk, Arrogance, the Connells, Ben Folds Five, The Right Profile, Cry of Love, The Veldt and other notables were all in there, too. Dubbed “N.C. music galaxy: The big bang theory,” it was published in March 1995 and captured a key moment in local-music history. Within two years, the Zippers and Folds were both on their way to platinum, and I was positive Whiskeytown was soon to follow (read the danged book for further details).

At the time this was published, the worldwide web was still taking shape, and the newspaper’s big projects were printed on dead trees. So the only way to see the whole thing in a readable state is on whatever paper copies remain; I’ve still got a few and they’re yellowing with age. Someday perhaps I’ll put the whole thing online, although the thought of trying to update it makes my head explode. But here’s a relevant chunk of it, maybe one-sixth of the big picture:

Over on the right edge a bit more than halfway down is Whiskeytown (“Whiskey Town”), then recently arisen from the ashes of Ryan’s former band Patty Duke Syndrome. And look in the upper left corner, where the Red Clay Ramblers reside. Idiosyncratic stringband to the stars, the Ramblers were already a long-standing North Carolina institution in 1995, and they’ve become even more of one since. They’ll mark their 40-year anniversary this month and there’s a feature about it in Sunday’s paper, which you’ll find linked from here.

As for the 1995 local-music galaxy, I wrote an accompanying essay that attempted to explain it. And here is how that concluded:

So what does it mean? As much or as little as you’d like. It certainly doesn’t imply that the Triangle music scene is one big happy family. But I think this shows that it is, at the very least, one family.

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