Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Eric Emerson (The Magic Tramps)

Today's subject is Eric Emerson, a singer/dancer/actor who, along with his band, The Magic Tramps, was one of the first, if not the first act to bring glam/glitter rock to the US. He was a brilliant performer who shone brightly but briefly; he died before he had the chance to celebrate his 30th birthday.

The Magic Tramps are little known to us because they had never had a recording contract during their existence as a group. It took drummer Sesu Coleman's efforts in recent years to collect existing recorded songs and release a compilation of their work.

Why didn't they have a recording contract? Coleman explains:

"... It was our last effort together to get a record deal. Up until now we turned down 6-8 recording contracts - with Eric
always thinking we could get a better one. Shortly after arriving in NYC we turned down Seymour Stein, President of Sire Records. I will never forget. He came to our early shows & loved us. He had a Dutch group called Focus at the time and Sire was based in Holland. He loved our theatrics & the fact Eric yodeled during the William Tell Overture. He said, 'I want you to be the first American band on Sire Records in The US. A perfect match with Focus.' We asked, 'How much ?' He said '$10,000 US & equipment & advertising & a West Coast tour & guaranteed 3 LP's.' We laughed!!! We thought we were getting offered $250,000-$500,000. Man, were we crazy."

"The clincher was he had a stipulation: He wanted his partner, Richard Gottehrer, to produce our first LP. We flipped out... 'No way - {we said} he produced the McCoys' Hang On Snoopy {a million seller}. We aren't bubble gum!!!'"

"Well, the rest is history. He signed the Ramones for $5,000. Richard Gottehrer signed Blondie for Private Stock Records. Sire signed Madonna, etc, etc, etc. CBGB's became a showcase for him & Sire records. God bless him, He's now in the R&R Hall Of Fame... And here we are... we always were waiting for the 'better deal' only to see our friends get signed."

Eric Emerson (June 23, 1945 – May 28, 1975) was born in New Jersey. Information concerning his childhood is scarce. He was born to John and Margaret Emerson, his father a construction worker by trade. He grew up in Hoboken, NJ and was trained in Ballet dance at an early age, to correct being "pigeon toed". It was through his love of dance that he came to frequent a small Lower East Side NYC club called The Dom, where he was spotted one night in April 1966 by the club's then-new owner, Andy Warhol, who was always keeping an eye out for interesting and beautiful people to put in his movies. Warhol essentially took the unknown long-haired kid from Jersey and made him a "superstar" by casting him in several of his underground art-films.

Emerson made his film debut in Warhol's 1966 classic Chelsea Girls, which debuted in New York City on 09/15/66. Eric was also featured in a few other Warhol films in subsequent years: 1968's Lonesome Cowboys, Andy Makes A Movie and San Diego Surf, 1969's The Mind Blowers directed by Harlan Renvok, and his final film appearance in Warhol's Heat, which premiered in New York City on 10/05/72.

When the debut album of The Velvet Underground and Nico was first issued, the main back cover photo (taken at an Exploding Plastic Inevitable performance) featured an image of Emerson projected upside-down on the wall behind the band. Emerson threatened to sue over this unauthorized use of his image unless he was paid. Rather than complying, MGM recalled copies of the album and halted its distribution until Emerson's image could be airbrushed from the photo on subsequent pressings. Copies that had already been printed were sold with a large black sticker covering the actor's image. The image was restored for the 1996 CD reissue.

Here is an excerpt concerning Eric from Black Jeans To Go Dancing At The Movies by Marilyn Bender:

"Emerson, who identified himself as 22 years old, a dressmaker and a hairdresser, was in black Levi's, a gray and white shirt, no tie, but a black t-shirt underneath. His blonde hair tumbled to his shoulders in a pageboy coiffure. His wife, Chris, 18, was in a low-belted, pleated dress and had her blonde hair cut in a Dutch bob. 'Someone has to have long hair in this family and he didn't want to cut his,' she explained."

At the time, Eric was living at 436 East 9th Street with his young wife Chris with whom he had his first child, a daughter named Erica, who was born in 1967. Eric had met Chris in Los Angeles and it was love at first sight. The two of them drove to Las Vegas the same night they met and were immediately married.

Eric also fathered another child with the Stillettoes' founding member/vocalist Elda Gentile, naming their son, who was born in 1970, Branch Emerson.

His youngest child, born to Warhol movie actress Jane Forth sometime around 1970, was given the name Emerson Forth. Jane Forth later said, "Eric knew everybody. There was not a day that you'd go out with him without meeting at least 20 people he knew."

Eric, however, was openly bisexual and had relationships with many of the Warhol Factory regulars. He was quoted in one interview, saying this: "I got really attached to my wife, and when she went out free-loving the way I did, I got crazy and went through a heavy gay-scene for a while." Once, when his father accused him of "being a little sweet," Eric responded that "What [my father] don't understand is that my generation can swing both ways."

While Eric was busy with his film-work and hanging out with all the other Warhol Superstars and the hangers-on who made up the scene at Max's Kansas City in New York, a group of musicians known as Messiah were making a name for themselves at a place called "The Temple of the Rainbow" in Los Angeles, CA. Messiah were an experimental three-piece group comprised of members Lary Chaplan (violin), Young Blood X. (guitar), and Sesu Coleman (drums). They were basically the house-band at the Temple of the Rainbow, and after a few years doing this gig, they decided they needed to write actual songs and hire a vocalist if they ever wanted to score the ever-elusive record contract. Guitarist Young Blood mentioned to the others that he knew just the right guy for the position of vocalist with their group, a guy he had met from New York named Eric Emerson. The band flew Emerson out to Los Angeles. Sesu remembers, "Eric fit [the group] like a glove. Now we were complete - a band with a singer and songs - the ultimate theatre. We at times played in funky blues bars as a blues band... we called ourselves The Magic Tramps."

After a serious earthquake rocked Los Angeles in February of 1971, the group had a meeting and decided to pack their bags and head for the East Coast. They were soon on their way to New York, where they were to become one of the pioneering and most important but overlooked bands of the then-budding Glam-Rock scene that was about to develop in Fun City.

They were hired to play in Max's Kansas City, where they were told by Paul Morrisey, "Rock and Roll will never fly in New York City - Cabaret is the way!" So they created two shows - one rock and roll and one cabaret.

They soon became the house-band at a place called the Mercer Arts Center as well. The New York Dolls got their start there, opening for the Tramps.

As Sesu Coleman said: "Our shows were very colorful, theatrical, original conceptually and musically. I think we were a bit misunderstood as we actually played original music with different time signatures, melodic choruses, lyrics, and stories. We always viewed our shows as an experience for one and all. Everyone was made-up and dressed-up - clothespins on their nipples, goldfish in their platform boots, anything went. That glam period was about show-and-tell, with audience participation. We had visuals, lights, colors, sometimes dry-ice for effect. We also brought various performers up on the stage to add variety. We tried to make the stage an environment and the music interesting enough to have the audience relate to the message. It was a fun and positive experience."

However, Eric wanted to continue exploring theatre and show concepts. He continued to work under a host of names - mostly solo efforts, working with other musicians and occasionally with Tramps roadie-and-sometimes member of the band Chris Stein, who would later go on to co-found Blondie. Unfortunately, Eric's various solo projects never took off. He was too much of an artist and individual. He never found that commercial musical groove that allowed him to be himself. 

In August 1974, the rest of The Magic Tramps got together with Eric at Barbara Winter's loft in New York City with a bass player named Walter ("Alter Ego") Greenberg to put together a theatrical show called "Star Theatre." It was their last effort together.

Early on the morning of Wednesday, May 28th, 1975, Eric Emerson's body was found lying next to his bicycle on the West Side of New York City. He was 29 years old at the time of his death. The cause of his death is officially listed as a hit and run and no one was ever charged or arrested in connection with his death. NYPD said the time of the accident was around 3:00 pm, shortly after Eric had returned home from a party at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Shortly after his death, rumors began to circulate that Eric had not been the victim of a hit-and-run driver, but had, in fact, died of a heroin overdose in the apartment of his then-lover Barbara Winter, ex-wife of guitar great Edgar Winter, and his body had been dumped with his bicycle in attempt to cover up the true facts and location of his death. These rumors have never been substantiated, nor have they been disproven. The NYPD's citing of a 3:00 pm time of death and the fact that his body was not discovered until early the following morning certainly suggest some kind of discrepancy in the "official" story.

In the book Making Tracks, Debbie Harry provided an account of the circumstances surrounding Emerson's death: "One night we were over at Eric's apartment working on a tape of Heart of Glass on his Teac four-track tape recorder when he suddenly staggered out of the kitchen looking ashen. He looked even more distraught and sad when we left. Being satisfied drove him crazy in the end because he had everything so he didn't care about anything anymore. He used to go out jogging every day, and did feats of physical endurance like strapping twenty-pound weights to each ankle and then bicycling up to the Factory. The next day we were sitting around the house just after we woke up when Barbara called with the bad news. "Oh, Eric got hit by a truck." He had been a good friend and inspiration to so many people. We didn't quite understand what had happened, but we went up to a party/wake held for him and saw a lot of people from the earlier glitter days. Eric's death definitely marked an end to the glitter period. We still miss him."

Andy Warhol on the death of Eric Emerson: "Some of those kids who were so special to us, who made our 60's scene what it was, died young in the 70's. They found Eric Emerson early one morning in the middle of Hudson Street. Officially, he was labeled a hit-and-run victim but we heard rumors that he'd overdosed and just been dumped there - in any case, the bicycle he [supposedly] been riding was intact."

This comes from Warhol associate Gerard Malanga: "It's been said somewhere that the good die young - and this is as true now as when looking back at Eric's sudden and unexpected demise, a void is left in the wake of his absence. We can only speculate at the artist he would have become. He was a mercurial free-spirit. For me, his enthusiasm was contagious - his encouragement sublime. He was almost selfless in this instance. Whatever the engagement, whether it was crafting leather goods, stitching fabric or writing a poem, he was in the moment of creation and of the moment as well. Eric's legacy remains a constant wonder. He was a friend for all time."

Finally, bandmate Sesu Coleman remembers Eric: "Eric Emerson - a book unto himself. Eric was a kind and loving person - a party waiting to happen. He was sensitive, non-confrontational and not at all a negative person. Creative, fun, misunderstood. Colorful, magnetic and magical. Life was his stage. Mickey Ruskin - the owner of Max's Kansas City, thought the world of him as did Lou Reed and almost everyone who knew him."

Now, let's hear some of the songs. Unfortunately, there aren't many songs with Emerson on vocals available. One of these is Magic in the Moonlight:

... Another is My Reflection:

These are the only two that aren't geo-blocked in my area of the world. I will, however, link you to the rest - perhaps you will be able to listen to them. Here's Ode To Jimmy Dean:

This is Hey People:

This is Warriors Of The Rainbow:

This is Smoke + Mirrors:

This is Trippin':

This is S&M-Leather Queen:

Finally, here's a rare video: Wearing leather chaps and completely covered in glitter, Eric Emerson sings two songs in Jackie Curtis' Vain Victory: the Vicissitudes of the Damned at La Mama Experimental Theater Club in May 1971 on opening night. Restored from 1/2" B&W videotape. This was the original counter-culture hit play starring Curtis and Candy Darling, Paul Ambrose, Agosto Machado, et al.

Monday, 18 September 2017

The Led Zeppelin Top 50 Countdown (#45-41) & This Week's Statistics

Hello, my friends! Led Zeppelin was quite a hit last week. Time for more.

Ginger Baker of Cream pioneered the idea of the heavy, heavy drum solo; Zeppelin's hard pounder, the semihuman John Bonham, followed suit. To understand Bonham, one has to realize that Animal, the character from the Muppet Show, was a composite of Bonham and Keith Moon of the Who. Bonzo, as he was known to his friends and fans, certainly earned the right to have one song a concert that he could turn into a ten-minute solo for his own self-gratification if he so desired, and Moby Dick was that song - though, in the studio, they at least keep that whale of a solo down to a (relatively) trim three minutes or so. Don’t sleep on that ridiculously grungy Page riff either, though - or Bonham’s underrated intro fill, sampled for the Beastie Boys’ What Comes Around. At #45, here's Bonham's drum-solo epic from Led Zeppelin II (1969), Moby Dick. This is the studio version:

The song began as a jam based around bluesman Sleepy John Estes' The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair. In concert it could stretch out as long as 30 minutes; this is the version that appeared on the live album/concert film The Song Remains the Same. Please note that the audio disappears from 1:04 to 1:11 (just 7 seconds). Other than that, it's fine.

At #44 is a groovy little acoustic-based number designed as a deliberate change of pace after the lead-off track of Led Zeppelin III (1970), The Immigrant Song. Friends marked a number of firsts for the band - their first predominantly acoustic song, first to feature heavy string arrangements, first to be vaguely Eastern-sounding in nature. The chorus is a little pat (“The greatest thing you ever could do now / Is lend a smile to someone who’s blue now”), but the sound is mesmerizing and would point the way toward’s much of the band’s musical future.

Friends would be Jimmy Page's last stab at psychedelia. Here it is:

The song was re-recorded by Page and Plant with the Bombay Symphony Orchestra in 1972, during their trip to India. This version featured tabla drums and sitars. Here it is: 

At #43 is a song from Physical Graffiti (1975), called Black Country Woman. It's an acoustic song recorded in the back garden of Stargroves manor house, in 1972 (around the same time as D'yer Mak'er). At the beginning of the track, recording engineer Eddie Kramer can be heard saying, "Shall we roll it, Jimmy? We're rolling on what, one, no, one again." followed by saying "Don't want to get this airplane on" about an airplane which is heard flying overhead, to which Robert Plant replies "Nah, leave it, yeah." Black Country refers to the area near to Birmingham, UK, in which Robert Plant and John Bonham were brought up.

A lovely song, from the burst of left-in studio chatter that begins it to Plant's "Whatsa matta withchoo, mama?" ending. That's not an easy acoustic guitar line Page is proffering, it's a deceptively simple (you try to re-create that riff on a six-string) acoustic number, marked by a crackling drum sound from Bonham and some nice harp playing, too. Yes, it's a dirty-dealing-woman song, but it doesn't come across as hateful.

Black Country Woman was played live at Led Zeppelin concerts only when it was merged into a medley with Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp on the band's concert tour of the United States in 1977. For this arrangement, John Paul Jones played an upright bass. This is it:

At #42 there's I Can't Quit You Baby, a blues standard written by Willie Dixon and first recorded by Chicago blues artist Otis Rush in 1956. It was Rush's first recording and became a chart hit. Led Zeppelin recorded I Can't Quit You Baby for their 1969 debut album Led Zeppelin. Their rendition generally follows Otis Rush's 1966 Vanguard version, but with different instrumentation and dynamics. Plant’s banshee wailing is on point and the rhythm section is as locked in as ever, but really, it’s a showcase for Page, who kills every little mid-verse fill he gets - and he gets a lot of them - before out-Claptoning Clapton on the song’s proper solo(es).

Here's Otis Rush's original 1956 version:

This is Rush's 1966 version:

And this is Led Zeppelin's original studio version:

Led Zeppelin regularly performed I Can't Quit You Baby in concert from 1968 to early 1970. This is a live version from 1969:

Finally for today, at #41, we have another song from Physical Graffiti (1975), called In My Time of Dying. In My Time of Dying (also called Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed or a variation thereof) is a traditional gospel music song that has been recorded by numerous musicians. The title line, closing each stanza of the song, refers to a deathbed and was inspired by a passage in the Bible from Psalms 41:3 "The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing, thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness".

In October 1926, Reverend J. C. Burnett recorded Jesus Is Going to Make Up Your Dying Bed, but it was never issued. Blind Willie Johnson may have heard Burnett's song or otherwise learned some of his lyrics. Johnson recorded the song during his first recording session on December 3, 1927, as Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed and the second take was released as his first single in 1928. Here it is:

Versions were recorded by country blues artists like Vera Reed and gospel groups like the Soul Stirrers. The song gained greater prominence in popular music when Bob Dylan included a version (along with several others dealing with the subject of death) on his 1962 eponymous debut album. The song, closest to Josh White's version, had a slightly different name on the Dylan album, In My Time of Dyin'. Here is Dylan's version:

John Sebastian's 1971 version of the song, produced by the Doors' producer Paul A. Rothchild, under the title Well, Well, Well was also issued as a single. This is it:

Led Zeppelin's version, their longest studio track, transmogrified a gospel standard into a stadium hydra via Page's grinding slide, Jones' shape-shifting bass line, and Bonham's massive hopscotch groove. Record producer Rick Rubin has remarked on the song's structure, "The bass line in the fast grooves is so interesting and unexpected. It keeps shifting gears, over and over." This was a major statement for the band and a bid for critical respect. The length of the song could have resulted in disastrous over-noodling and interminable dragging, but Zeppelin manage to maintain interest throughout, with a variety of well-timed tempo and dynamic switches and one of Plant’s all-time masterful vocal performances (“Oh my JEEEEE-SUUUUUS!!!”). Why they undercut the whole thing at the end with a bad in-studio joke is anyone’s guess, but by then, they’ve earned the right.

In the May 2008 issue of Uncut Magazine, Page elaborated on the humorous reaction in the studio which can be heard at the end of the song: "We were just having such a wonderful time. Look, we had a framework for In My Time of Dying, OK, but then it just takes off and we're just doing what Led Zeppelin do. We're jamming. We're having a ball. We. Are. Playing."

This is the studio version:

These are the Led Zeppelin, live from Earl's Court, 1975:

Now, let's continue with last week's statistics; it was a good week for us: Just a 4% drop from the week before. Last week's Led Zeppelin story did great, but I was a bit disappointed by your reaction to Ferron. I didn't know her well before I did my research, but when I did, I realized she is a very special artist. I expected to get more visits and more comments, especially from our Canadian friends - she is a proud child of Canada, after all. In fact, my disappointment led me to change my schedule: I was planning to present another obscure musician, but I then decided to do the Oscar list, to boost my morale; and sure enough, in just a few hours, the Oscars had as many visits as Ferron did in more than two days. Eventually, it was visited twice as much. Which leads me to the question: Should I stick to famous names only? I mean, it's less work for me and more visits. On the other hand, I feel that I would be letting you down if I failed to present the full picture to the best of my ability. Also, I would be letting them down... I would appreciate any comments on the matter.

As far as visits are concerned, this week's winners were the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, and Australia. Greece, France, and Cyprus did well enough to maintain their all-time percentage, while Russia, Germany, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates experienced small drops. The United States is at the top for the week, but their lead on the all-time list is continuously getting smaller. For the first time ever they have a percentage under 40%. It seems that the United States are fighting against themselves... and losing.

Here are this week's Top 10 countries (you may notice that we have countries from four different continents in the top 10):

1. the United States
2. the United Kingdom
3. Greece
4. Canada
5. France
6. Belgium
7. Spain
8. Cyprus
9. South Africa
10. Australia

Here are the other countries that graced us with their presence since our last statistics (alphabetically): Angola, Argentina, Armenia, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Happy to have you all!

And here's the all-time Top 10 (Belgium has overtaken the United Arab Emirates, which now occupy the vulnerable position #10):

1. the United States = 39.8%
2. Greece = 8.8%
3. the United Kingdom = 8.7%
4. France = 7.3%
5. Russia = 4.8%
6. Germany = 3.6%
7. Cyprus = 1.36%
8. Italy = 1.25%
9. Belgium = 0.67%
10. the United Arab Emirates = 0.65%

That's all for today, folks. Till the next one!