Posts Tagged With: Forever Valentine

Chris Stamey’s “Universe-Sized Arms,” from Ryan Adams

Stamey2015It’s not much of an overstatement to call Chris Stamey one of the great father figures to the music community around greater Chapel Hill, where the dB’s co-founder has toiled in the studio trenches with great honor for more than two decades. Chris was a key player in the early phases of the Whiskeytown saga, lending studio savvy at various junctures through the 1990s (including production of the great 1998 “lost” album, Forever Valentine). He also produced some spectacular post-Whiskeytown solo albums for Caitlin Cary.

More recently, Chris has served as producer, mentor and fixer for an entire generation of younger area artists, working with them on recordings and shows like the ongoing live performances of Big Star’s Third that he oversees. Brett Harris, Jeff Crawford, Skylar Gudasz and Django Haskins, among many others, have benefited greatly from the master’s assistance and guidance.

EuphoriaSomehow, Chris finds time to continue making records of his own, too. The latest is the aptly titled Euphoria (Yep Roc Records), a full-on rock record after the chamber-pop detour of 2013’s Lovesick Blues. Euphoria brings together a lot of the young guns from Stamey’s circle, alongside fellow North Carolina legends like Mitch Easter, figurehead of ’80s college-radio legends Let’s Active.

Of particular interest to Planet “Losering,” the album opens with a previously unheard song written by our man Ryan Adams, “Universe-Sized Arms.” Ryan wrote “Universe-Sized Arms” as a driving rocker, and Chris added a very cool orchestrated arrangement reminiscent of the old “James Bond” spy-movie soundtracks. Euphoria‘s other 12 tracks are quite fine as well, with Stamey’s usual surplus of melodic goodness plus a nifty bonus-track cover of the 1971 Tommy James hit “Draggin’ the Line” to boot.

Chris will unveil Euphoria with an album-release show Saturday night in Carrboro, and you can read a bit more about the record and details about the show here. I’m also delighted to be able to premiere the “Universe-Sized Arms” video below. Enjoy, y’all.

 

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Paying the bills on “Faithless Street”

DRAcheckSpeaking of folks with closets-full of Whiskeytown artifactsThomas O’Keefe’s latest eBay auction lot consists of a dozen items circa 1997-98, including a page of handwritten lyrics; an original copy of the “Theme for a Trucker” seven-inch vinyl single; and assorted pieces of tour and promotional paraphernalia connected to Whiskeytown’s time on Outpost Records. The lyrics, from a Forever Valentine-vintage song called “House for Sale,” probably have the most historical significance. But what caught my eye was this canceled check for $150, which Ryan Adams started to write to pay for his power bill before scratching that out and writing it for his phone bill. This is a snapshot of a moment in time, and not just because “Bell South,” “CP&L” and “Wachovia” were all swallowed up by other corporations long ago. The July 30, 1997 date is one day after Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac album was released.

It’s also a document of a place. I always thought of the Logan Court address printed on this check — in Raleigh’s University Park neighborhood west of Sadlack’s and north of the Hillsborough Street strip right behind Bruegger’s Bagels, at the intersection of Logan, Chamberlain and (ha) Hope streets — as the real-life Faithless Street, the setting for that time period’s songs. I lived just a few blocks away back then and remember going by his house a time or two, including one quite memorable afternoon in the spring of 1996 when he played me a bunch of demo recordings of excellent new songs that I don’t think ever came out (that’s in chapter six of “Losering”).

Meanwhile, bidding for this lot currently stands at $100 and closes on the afternoon of Thursday, March 12.

UPDATE (3/12/2015): The winning bid, $445.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Memories of South By Southwests past: Whiskeytown and Jenni Sperandeo

supabroadThis week will take me to Austin, Texas, for South By Southwest, the big annual music-industry hootenanny I’ve been attending for 26 years (check here for dispatches I’ll be filing for the paper). It’s a time and place that inevitably brings back memories of Whiskeytown because Austin during SXSW served as the setting for some key events in the “Losering” story, including the band’s big coming-out show in 1996 (see Chapter six); Ryan Adams making the deal for Bloodshot Records to put out his first solo record in 2000 (an event that happened in a bathroom — see Chapter 12); and the 2001 dust-up that inspired Ryan’s Gold song “Harder Now That It’s Over” (see Chapter 14).

But my most vivid personal SXSW memory of Whiskeytown is one of those small moments you remember without trying, or even really even knowing why you do. I was walking down Eigth Street in Austin’s downtown club district in 1998, when someone in a parked car waved me over. That turned out to be Jenni Sperandeo, who was then Whiskeytown’s co-manager.

“Get in,” she said. “I’ve got something you need to hear.”

So I did and she fired up a cassette tape of something Whiskeytown had recorded over Christmas; a scathing rocker that was the least twangy thing I’d ever heard them do. But it was great and I was pretty blown away. A desire to seize the tape and flee briefly flitted through my mind, an impulse I restrained. Later, however, I found myself wishing I’d made off with it. That was the first time I ever heard “Rays of Burning Light” from Whiskeytown’s Forever Valentine, one of Ryan’s greatest “lost” albums. Fifteen years later, it remains unreleased, so thank God for bootlegs.

Jenni and I talked for a bit that night before I resumed my club crawling, and in my memory the conversation was pretty upbeat. There still seemed ample cause for optimism about Whiskeytown at that point, even though Strangers Almanac hadn’t been a hit and the band was well into its revolving-door-lineup period. But they had just played a triumphant “Austin City Limits” taping that spring, and Ryan was still writing great songs. It seemed like only a matter of time before they would break through.

Alas, what none of us knew in March of 1998 was how much closer Whiskeytown was to breaking up than breaking through. Two months later, it was announced that Universal was buying PolyGram, a merger that would eventually liquidate Whiskeytown’s label and put the band into limbo; and Jenni would be out as Whiskeytown’s manager by that fall, dismissed in the wake of a semi-disastrous tour opening for John Fogerty (see Chapter 11).

All these years later, Jenni still works in the music industry. She became president of Dangerbird Records in 2012 — a label whose roster includes Fitz and the Tantrums, Butch Walker, Silversun Pickups and other notables. Her memories of Ryan and Whiskeytown are, shall we say, complicated. Not without fondness, but also rather jaundiced. When I got Jenni on the phone in 2011 to interview her about her time managing Whiskeytown, she had plenty to say, going back to Ryan begging her and Chris Roldan to manage his band almost as soon as they met.

At first I was, “You people are nuts. You’re great but you’re a kid and also crazy”…It was difficult to know who [Ryan] was at that time. He was self-mythologizing from the very beginning. Even as I was talking with him, I’d be thinking, “Well, there’s a very thick layer of bullshit on all of this except for the fact that you’re very talented.” He’d say all this shit about himself and his family and where he’d come from, a great deal of drama, but it was hard to tell if any of it was true…Me being a girl, I think he felt like he could stare soulfully into my eyes and get his way. He probably did, owing to my youngness and the stupidity of it all. Maybe a little less with Chris, but he was not as tied up with them as I was.

For all that, Jenni really believed in the band and the music. That was enough to make her willing to put up with it all.

It was challenging in some ways, but they were such a great band. What gets lost in translation about Ryan and how he ended up where he was was how great Whiskeytown was. I don’t know that he’s ever had that good a band around him, and that was the last time he had to take input from other people. I think Phil [Wandscher] gets lost a lot, he’s why they didn’t sound like just another rock-leaning alt-country band from that time. It’s not like Caitlin was a strong personality with him in that way. He encouraged her to be serious about it, and I don’t think she really was at that time. Phil provided the creative push for him there. Even now, I go see Jesse [Sykes] and Phil play and he’s amazing – and left-handed! Dude is a stunningly good guitar player, which Ryan was not. If you listen to those records, it’s that Phil piece on top of Ryan’s voice and the redeeming vocal part from Caitlin that makes it all work.

Maybe Jenni will have something else for me to listen to if I bump into her in Austin this week.

ADDENDUM: Jenni posted this link to her Facebook page with the following note, which engendered a quite-lively discussion:

I still don’t know whether to be embarrassed or proud of this, but it does sure remind me of that tingly feeling you have when you know you are right.

SECOND ADDENDUM (3/18/13): For those who care, I did SXSW 2013 recaps here and here. I’m just glad I didn’t have to contend with this guy.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chris Stamey ties it all together

StameyLSBChris Stamey has always been one of those six-degrees-of-separation types in North Carolina, where it seems like he’s produced, mixed, worked and/or played with just about everyone in the state over the past 30-plus years. He made his initial reputation in the early ’80s with the dB’s (a band that has always had Beatles-like stature in my personal college-radio cosmos) before going on to a long and well-respected career in some of the artier circles of New York new-wave art-pop.

Then he came back home to North Carolina in the early ’90s, setting up shop in Chapel Hill as a studio guru and working with notable area acts including Tift Merritt, Megafaun and, yes, Whiskeytown. Stamey produced numerous Whiskeytown recordings back in the day, including the “lost” album Forever Valentine. He also worked on the sonic overhaul of the 1998 reissue of Faithless Street and produced Caitlin Cary’s post-Whiskeytown solo albums.

Stamey has spent a lot more time producing other folks’ albums than putting out his own music for the last decade, although he did find time for the first original-lineup dB’s album in 30 years last year. But he just released his first solo album since 2005, the very fine Lovesick Blues. For more on that, go here for links to a new interview and a 2004-vintage feature about Stamey’s doings.

And just to tie all this together, this poster was done by Caitlin Cary’s husband.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Still more artifacts from long ago: The “Forever Valentine” cartoons

If Ryan Adams ever has a piece of paper in his immediate vicinity, chances are he’ll either be dashing off another set of lyrics or drawing something — he’s always been an obsessive doodler. And while he isn’t anywhere near his old bandmate Brian Walsby’s league as a cartoonist, Ryan definitely has a distinctive style of his own. Here are some doodles from a long-ago period covered in Chapter 10 of “Losering,” a few drawings that Ryan left behind in the studio where Whiskeytown was recording around Christmas 1997. This was a few months before the band played “Austin City Limits,” the sessions that yielded Forever Valentine (still unreleased all these years later).

Note the caricature sketches of everyone in the band, as well as producer Chris Stamey (who played bass on these recordings). I like that he did multiple versions of himself, as a “witch” and with devil’s horns and Jagger-esque lips; and also that he portrayed Caitlin with an angel’s halo.

RyanCartoon2RyanCartoon1

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ben Folds Five: Chapel Hill, represent!

I think one reason I was able to write this book so quickly was that I’d already been writing chunks of it for 20 years, kind of. Not specifically for “Losering,” of course. But Ryan emerged from the Triangle music scene, which I’ve been covering for the newspaper since the early 1990s.

That gave me a front-row seat to watch a lot of very cool things from close range, like the improbable rise of Ben Folds Five. The trio emerged in the mid-1990s as a genuine oddity, a three-piece pop band with piano as centerpiece instrument. I wrote a bunch of stories and reviews about them for the N&O, as well as a short feature for Billboard magazine when their debut album Ben Folds Five came out in 1995.

Like everyone else, I had no idea just how huge they were going to be back then. But danged if they didn’t go and get enormous in 1997-98, with a platinum album and the first “Saturday Night Live” appearance in local-music history. Somewhere in there, Folds also found time to contribute piano overdubs to Whiskeytown’s never-released 1998 album Forever Valentine.

Ben Folds Five ended abruptly in 2000, citing burnout as the reason for disbanding. But the trio of Ben Folds, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge is back together, with their first new studio album of this century. You’ll find details of that, and also a 2008 story previewing a one-off reunion show they played that year in Chapel Hill, here.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.