Monday, July 9, 2007

Willie "Loco" Alexander album reviews

Willie "Loco" Alexander deserves a full book or two for himself, so the least we can do is give him an entire chapter. Remember, to click on any chapter go to this address:

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2nd MCA album Meanwhile...Back In The States

Reviewby Joe Viglione
This album should have been listed in the VH1 book Casualties of Rock, the phenomenal sound and fury of Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band condensed and distilled into a homogenized and compressed postcard that hardly represented what the band was all about. In the first place, crediting bassist Severin Grossman, guitarist Billy Loosigian, and drummer David McLean with co-authoring "Mass. Ave.," the solo underground hit single that relaunched Willie Alexander's career, is downright blasphemy. Yes, the Boom Boom Band was a rock & roll treasure on the level of the Rolling Stones, a powerful, self-contained unit that could shake the rafters with their distinct and unbelievable sound, but they weren't around when Alexander stepped out of the Velvet Underground with the Lost bassist Walter Powers and recorded "'Cause I'm Taking You to Bed" at the Orson Welles Recording Studio (a studio under the famous theater in Harvard Square, Cambridge). That vintage recording completely blows away the remake, slyly entitled "For Old Time's Sake" to get by the MCA censors. You read that right, "Rhythm Asshole Baby" became "R.A. Baby" for the almighty gods at the record label, while "Gourmet Baby," a song about cunnilingus, was transformed into "Pass the Tabasco" -- and you can only imagine the frustration for an artist of integrity like Alexander, who was told to sing "I want to kiss you but you give me the hives" (the original lyrics were "I want to eat you but you give me the hives"). Not only were the lyrics censored, the sound was hollowed out, and producer Craig Leon got the band to play by the numbers. Here is the best example of genius being stripped and tortured. The bandmates seemingly went along with this fiasco, implying that Alexander was too "loco" to be given to the public in his raw form. Well, guess what, boys? You got all your fame from Willie "Loco" Alexander being just that. Imagine telling Mick Jagger to sit still and clean up his lyrics? Alexander and the boys imploded, walking away from a third MCA release, and both factions cut demos with producer Leon on their own -- Alexander recording four eerie and brilliant tracks that have never seen the light of day, but which head him in the direction of what he would put out on RCA in Europe for Solo Loco, vindication that he could get signed without the band that he rocked Boston with. The Boom Boom Band cut three sides with the late Matthew McKenzie of Reddy Teddy with Leon, but the tapes stayed on the shelf. What did find its way out of this maze was a blistering version of their live standard, "Dirty Eddie." Frustrated by the restrictions of MCA, the band tore into that filthy song about golden showers and Alexander released it independently so the world could see what the group was really all about. The flip side of the 45 was an even dirtier, if you can imagine that: "She Wanted Me" (aka "Nazi Nola," for scenester Nola Rezzo) is a song about anal intercourse. Alexander took the Velvet Underground one step further -- that band he was in was named after an S&M book, but Alexander's songs were usually about his own sexual escapades and depravity, real underground stuff that you won't find on Meanwhile...Back in the States. The tragedy of it all is that his music was commercially viable, chock-full of hooks and solid riffs, but not transferred to vinyl the way it should have been. Stephan Lovelace's earlier production of "You Looked So Pretty When" was Phil Spector meets Jimmy Miller, classic Stones by way of the Ronettes. Here Leon plays Dr. Frankenstein and does a Ray Conniff version of a hard rock classic. Now if that isn't enough to make the fans faint and the band implode, well, "Hitchhiking" and "Mass. Ave.," two songs that needed no censorship, still fail to make the grade, giving Alexander the good sense to go hitchhiking on Mass Ave. rather than put up with any more of this. The two MCA releases were issued in Britain under the title Pass the Tabasco, and despite this frightening essay on record industry misconduct, are worth picking up to get a glimpse of a couple of rock & roll albums that could have redefined '80s rock and the so-called new wave.

==================================================================== Willie Loco's Boom Boom Band back up Sal Maida's wife:Lisa Burns played in Roxy Music, Milk 'n Cookies, Velveteen)

Reviewby Joe Viglione
The problem with Lisa Burns' solo album on MCA is the same trouble that plagued her backing band here on its two albums on the same label: the guy who got them into the studio, producer Craig Leon. Leon is a talented guy, and his demos for Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band, along with his demos for DMZ, another Boston band, were superb. But given a budget and the big room of Suntreader Studio in Sharon, VT, and this album, with its neo-Phil Spector sound, just falls apart. What a shame. On paper, it's a great idea. The talent is here, somewhere in the grooves; it just is not as cohesive as Leon's own hit, the remake of Spirit in the Sky under the guise of Doctor & the Medics. "Slow Burn" would be great girl group pop except that David McLean's drums are too far up in the mix, the backing vocals are too far down, and the pretty frills just don't have the ooomph that Spector and his clones put into their radio-friendly productions. "In the Streets" is Annie Golden of the Shirts meets the Shangri-Las, with really great material and a performance that gets lost. Leon failed to properly record Willie Alexander's "You Looked So Pretty When," originally put to independent plastic by the late producer Stephen Lovelace. That tune, cut around the same time as these songs on the second Boom Boom album on MCA, probably during the same session, would have been perfect for Burns' more than adequate vocals. But Leon's underproduction does no justice to any of this pop; where Lovelace successfully merged Spector's sentiment with Sex Pistols-style rock & roll, Leon strips it all down. Oh, there's the "Be My Baby" drumbeat to open the DeShannon classic "When You Walk in the Room," and three Moon Martin covers, including "Love Gone Bad" (with its melody almost borrowed from Tommy James' "Tighter Tighter"), but hitting it out of the park is another issue. It is the Boom Booms backing up Burns here, with Billy Loosigian on guitar, Severin Grossman on bass, and the aforementioned David McLean on drums. Willie Alexander, the guy whose talent brought this crew together, is nowhere to be found on this record (he's also missing from the Velvet Underground's Squeeze album on Polygram, sad to say). It's been said that the band, and perhaps the producer, felt Alexander was too "far out" to be commercial. It is Alexander's eccentricities that garnered the attention in the first place; his compositions and incredible backing vocal work, along with his passion for Ronnie Spector's hits, could have contributed here. "Some Sing, Some Dance," a tune later recut by Ray Paul & Emmit Rhodes, misses the mark, and so does the exquisite "Victim of Romance," another Moon Martin tune that just sounds like the recording was rushed. The opening cover of the Box Tops' hit "Soul Deep" is an excellent choice, but sounds like it is lost in a vacuum. Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band had a three-album deal with Leon and MCA; infighting dissolved the group, and Leon went on to produce demos for the band without Alexander, and demos for Alexander without the band. The tragedy of the Lisa Burns album is that, had everyone been on the same page as a team, with Burns opening for Alexander and utilizing the same backing band, '70s and '80s rock could have been redefined. These are large talents who got lost in the mix, and the 20/20 vision of hindsight sheds light on the failure of this recording to bring these artists to the public. A real lesson in musical waste. "Tell Tale Heart," another co-write by the singer, should be done the right way by Ronnie Spector; it would be vindication for Burns and for the forgotten soldier responsible for these musicians to be able to record in the first place, William Spence Alexander. Good voice, great songs, wonderful musicianship, weak record. You figure it out.

Solo Loco 1980

Interesting thing is that I was interviewed for Billboard Magazine by the late Roman Kozak the same day the New Rose/RCA disc arrived in my mailbox from France. These were "heady times" indeed at the dawn of the New Wave. If I could only go back now, twenty-seven years later, with the knowledge I have, so much more could have been accomplished. Hindsight being 20/20...

Reviewby Joe Viglione
It opens with a mournful wail that is the a cappella version of "Tennessee Waltz," the number one Patti Page 1950 hit that Sam Cooke reworked in 1964. Both artists never imagined this rendition, the naked voice defiant after his band and MCA deal collapsed. The genius of Solo Loco is best displayed on the French release on New Rose/R.C.A. Here tunes like "Are You Leaving" and "Eyes Are Crossed" provide the proof, as if any was needed, to why the Boom Boom Band got signed to MCA in the first place. Willie's songs have the inspiration, the intensity, the individuality that make for good listening, if not stardom. "Small Town Medley" is the kind of musical departure that the Boom Boom Band and producer Craig Leon did not understand. It's sheer brilliance, reuniting with his bassist in the Velvet Underground, Walter Powers III, engineer Ted St. Pierre providing the intense guitars. Walter Powers also adds a throbbing bassline to "It's All Over," an amalgam of sound, intricate piano lines, and drumming from Willie with multi-layered vocals, and percussion sounds the artist obtained by playing the drum sticks on the floor of the recording studio. Truly a work of art. "Hit and Run" is avant-garde techno jazz, the album event no doubt a catharsis for Alexander. He scribbles his voice, keyboards, and soul all over Solo Loco. With help from guitarist Peter Dayton, Ministry bassist Brad Hallen, and Lord Manuel Smith's exotic synthesizer noises, Alexander brings 11 originals and two covers to life in this cleverly warped sound environment. The album is a career moment, the electronic and eerie "No Way Jose" and the 45 that landed the deal, "Gin," concluding side one with perhaps the two most commercial songs on the record. Alexander would stay on New Rose for many years. Though there was major-label interest from Arista, Polygram, and RCA in the United States, his wife at the time signed the album to Greg Shaw's Bomp label. The Bomp release came out a year later with a different cover, rearranged tracking and without the lengthy "So Tight," a techno punk song about Harvard Square that has a great groove. Solo Loco contains an image of Willie Alexander duplicated eight times on the front and back cover with a stunning kaleidoscope of color schemes. Patrick Mathé at New Rose understood the tremendous talent he had signed and packed it lovingly. All one has to do is listen to the explosive remake of Gene Vincent's "Be Bop a Lula" to hear the forces at play, forces of total artistic expression.

Willie "Loco" Alexander's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

Reviewby Joe Viglione
It may have been Genya Ravan who said, "What's the point of putting out a 'greatest hits' album if you have no hits"; the thinking, of course, is to use the words "best of" instead. But to the French, Boston, New York, and L.A. underground, Willie "Loco" Alexander is a true hero, an artist who is both prolific and original, and to those fans, these are his "hits." Outside of the live double LP Autre Chose on New Rose and the ultra rare Sperm Bank Babies LP (only 500 were pressed of this circa-1977 WERS radio broadcast by Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band), there are three studio collections of Alexander's work on the market, Northeast's 1991 U.S. release Boom Boom Ga Ga, Fan Club's Fifteen Years of Rock & Roll With Willie Alexander on New Rose's subsidiary released in France in 1990, and 1985's Willie Loco Alexander's Greatest Hits, also released in France on the Fan Club imprint. Eight of the titles here show up again five years later on the 20-track CD but, surprisingly, six of the titles were replaced. Of the six that you can find on Willie Loco Alexander's Greatest Hits, two of them are absolutely vital -- the "You Looked So Pretty When" 45 and its flip "Hit Her Wid de Axe." The original producer, the late Stephan Lovelace, was going through a divorce and refused to mail the original masters to the artist, so engineer Karen Kane EQ'd the original 45s of the two aforementioned titles and Willie's solo debut 45 "Mass. Ave." and "Kerouac." "You Looked So Pretty When," in particular, is essential to the story of this artist. The production, for an independent 45, is stunning: It's a rock & roll band emulating Phil Spector's "wall of sound" without a wall of sound, just with their instruments. It survives as one of the finest moments from the new wave of 1976. Decades later, it is still a powerful rock & roll statement, as is "Pup Tune," which both Fan Club releases shamelessly lift from the vintage Live at the Rat album. Both French releases incorrectly label the song as "Pop Tune," but that is so misleading. In actuality, it is a demented, sizzling rock masterpiece regarding Alexander's obsession with Ronnie Spector, a song about some omnisexual drunken stupor where a dog eats someone's panties and does unmentionable things with them. It is sheer brilliance, the maniacal performance of the band, with Loco screaming "baby I love you" over the ending. As Alexander writes in the brief liners, "This record is ten years of vinyl nuts and guts. Loco Boom Boom Gaga Rock & Roll." Don't let his eccentricities throw you off the scent; this is a very clever man with lots of rock, jazz, folk, and punk sensibilities. His version of Doc Pomus' "Lonely Avenue" is authentic, while the Gene Vincent cover, "Be Bop a Lula," is one of the most unique versions of this tune you will ever hear. Recorded after the breakup of the Boom Boom Band for New Rose/RCA in 1980, it shows Alexander truly Solo Loco. His ability to create rhythms with the piano or the drums and his grasp of desperation are what rock & roll is all about. The downside here is that the mastering of "Be Bop a Lula" sounds horrible on this disc, not as pure as what is on Solo Loco or the New Rose 1980-2000 boxed set. "Be Bop a Lula" sounds great on those releases, coming through loud and clear. This 14-song album holds lots of keys to Loco the artist. "Bass Rocks" is about Gloucester, MA, but the key riff is Lou Reed's "White Light/White Heat" melody. As a former member of the Velvet Underground, that melody is the only remnant Alexander chooses to give to the world, subliminally, to acknowledge his past. This album covers only the period starting in 1975 with the release of the classic "Kerouac" single, so there is none of his work for the Lost on Capitol or Bagatelle on ABC Records. It's a freeze frame of the solo work this dedicated artist has released to the world, a good collection of important moments in Willie Alexander's career.

A GIRL LIKE YOU 1982 New Rose

Reviewby Joe Viglione
Electro Acoustic Studios moved from the ambience of Boston's theater district (the drag queens would reportedly have knife fights outside this space across from where the famous Coconut Grove fire happened), the facility where the previous Solo Loco masterpiece was etched, way up to Bethel, ME, a studio in transition changing dramatically the sound of an artist in transition. If Solo Loco was vindication, the artist in complete control after losing his band and MCA contract, A Girl Like You is a trip deeper into the mind of this creative artist, further into the insightful ramblings of Willie Loco's psyche while he was assembling his new group. Commercial music this is not, though it reunites Alexander with Walter Powers, who was with the singer/songwriter when they performed in the Velvet Underground. Alexander downplays that part of his career, though he should be proud of it now; the tragedy was that the Velvets didn't pull a Doobie Brothers, allowing Willie Alexander's material to shift the course of the group the way Michael MacDonald gave that institution a new direction. Alexander is the beatnik to Lou Reed's street poet. Where Alexander gave us the wonderfully eerie "Video Games" on this 1982 disc, Reed countered with "My Red Joystick" in 1984, with Alexander drawing from his Kerouac obsessions and Reed coming from the school of Delmore Schwartz; it's too bad Reed and Alexander didn't team up and push the manager Sesnick out the door, the pairing would have been pure magic. And at the very least they could have played together at the arcade. John Dunton-Downer adds bizarre tenor saxophone, and the brilliant guitar work is from the late Matthew MacKenzie. The odd thing here is that when the Boom Boom Band and Willie Alexander went their separate ways, there was still a third album due on the MCA contract. Matthew MacKenzie fronted the Boom Boom Band and tracked tapes with producer Craig Leon while Leon produced four sides with solo Alexander as well. The shame of it is that they should have brought MacKenzie into the original Boom Boom Band to keep the peace, and much of this could have been the third MCA album. "Dock of the Bay" is fun, but it doesn't have the manic intensity of "Be Bop a Lula" from Solo Loco, or the effect the live Boom Boom rendition of "All I Have to Do Is Dream" had on audiences. "Great Balls of Fire," on the other hand, delivers what Loco's fans expect in a more subdued fashion. A Girl Like You works best when it plays exotic rock; "Bite the Bullet" is underground techno that is the antithesis of the Human League. Dedicated to Thelonious Monk, A Girl Like You is another reason why the great Genya Ravan will make comments like, "I think Willie is the best thing since sliced bread." "The Only Time" is Alexander's reinvention of the blues, while "Oh, Daddy, Oh" would've played relentless on Maynard G. Krebs' transistor had the song been around during the Dobie Gillis era. New Rose labelmates the Troggs caused a stir with A Girl Like You and Alexander takes the concept a step further. Not his most accessible album, but an important link in his deep and valuable catalog.


Reviewby Joe Viglione
Arguably the most concise overview of the prolific and quite valuable career of Willie Loco Alexander, this live album was recorded two years after he signed to what was the RCA-distributed New Rose Records label. His wailing cover of Tennesse Waltz retains the stark madness of Solo Loco, his post-Boom Boom Band release and New Rose debut. With the two prior MCA albums distributed in Paris by Barclay, there was an audience, and this band delivers the goods. The double vinyl includes a wonderful gatefold which has photos of the bandmembers with dates and cities -- Bordeaux on March 7, 1982; Mont De Marsan on April 6, 1982; Paris March 23, 24, and 25 -- 13 dates listed in all. Beyond the great document of a true cult figure, this is also the reunion of post-Lou Reed Velvet Underground members Alexander and Walter Powers. Though they toured the U.K. twice with Doug Yule and Moe Tucker, the eventual Polydor release, Squeeze was Doug Yule with Deep Purple's drummer, Ian Paice. This is partially what Squeeze should have been, and, on that level, it is of great historical importance. "Gin," the single that got Alexander signed to New Rose/RCA is here in a beautiful and rare live version. Joan McNulty, who produced the Buzzcocks live album Lest We Forget on R.O.I.R., was adamant about the recording of "Gin," which led to the European contract. The subtle version recorded here is evidence that the Confessions were truly the band for Willie Alexander; beyond the Lost, the Bagatelle, and his extraordinary Boom Boom Band, these are musicians who treat Loco with the respect he deserves. When the Boom Boom Band imploded, there was a third album that never got recorded for MCA, so producer Craig Leon did two sets of demos, one with Reddy Teddy's Matthew McKenzie on vocals backed by the Boom Boom Band, and a set with Willie Alexander solo. MCA passed on both, but two years on, McKenzie joined the Confessions along with "Ricky "Rock It" Rothchild" from Gary Shane and his band. The unreleased "Killer in a Trenchcoat," which was drenched in keyboards on the unreleased Craig Leon demo, rocks out here in its first official release. Boom Boom Band classics from "Radio Heart" to "Dirty Eddie," "Home Is," and "Hit Her Wid De Axe" are all catalogued in the exciting chaos that Willie Alexander projects when things are clicking. They click on Autre Chose, the album named after the French restaurant outside of Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA, where the artist had a day gig. 18 selections are here, uncensored, so you hear Loco do the things that made MCA cringe. Great stuff. The photos, the song selection, the performances, the dates of the gigs -- everything is here except where each song was recorded. This is two ex-members of the Velvet Underground touring Europe years later producing an album as vital as 1984's brilliant Lou Reed Live in Italy. An obscure single like "B.U.Baby" makes for a tremendous closer, with the band injecting the right jolts; the version here blows away the rare 45 rpm. Ricky Rothchild and Matthew McKenzie both passed away since this was recorded, but it stands as a terrific snapshot of a great band, and an artist that helped shape the rock & roll scene in Boston who, despite releases on Capitol, ABC, MCA, RCA, and myriad independents, has never been given the recognition he deserves. If they gave Grammys out for the best music recorded in a year as opposed to what is popular, Autre Chose would have been a frontrunner in 1982.

Willie Loco Alexander
P.O. Box 796
Gloucester, MA 01930


Reviewby Joe Viglione

When Willie "Loco" Alexander & the Boom Boom Band split after 1979's Meanwhile...Back in the States on MCA, Alexander immediately picked up the slack by having a Boston area power trio, the Neighborhoods, back him up on-stage while he began recording the first of his many releases on the European New Rose label. The original Boom Boom Band reunited 23 years later, only to go into the studio owned by the Neighborhoods' guitarist/vocalist David Minehan. The results are phenomenally great, only proving that had the rock & roll minefields not existed to stand in this juggernaut's way, Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band would have emerged as Boston's answer to the Rolling Stones, and then some. While there is new material here, the band doesn't shy away from recovering some of the music Alexander released after the split. "Oh Daddy Oh" from 1982's A Girl Like You album gets a driving new finish, while "Ogalala," originally issued on 1997's Persistence of Memory Orchestra CD, has a new perspective that gives Alexander the platform to go "loco," the stuff that made this group so irresistible in the first place. "Who Killed Deanna" from 1999's East Main Street Suite is one of the album's highlights -- the "Som-Som-Somerville" hook is haunting inside a true murder mystery that happened on the outskirts of Boston. That album also featured a track entitled "Ocean Condo II," which was a reworking of the original "Ocean Condo" from 1988's The Dragons Are Still Out, reprised here with Billy Loosigian's amazing guitar work as "Ocean Condo III," of course. The band also rocks out "AAWW" -- which some of the fans decipher as "All American Woman Wife" -- the flip of a 45 that was originally intensified by the band from the live Autre Chose album in 1982. It's a tasty way for the devoted to see how this material would've played out had the Boom Boom Band stayed together. Even the underground classic "Telephone Sex" from 1984's Taxi-Stand Diane EP finds itself resurrected here to good effect. Keep in mind that this group began by picking up the material Alexander was releasing on the independent Garage label in the mid-'70s, so one also gets the vibe that the group is truly going back to its roots and reinventing stuff that Willie did separately. A cover of scenester Emily XYZ's "Hey Kid" gives the band a different "new wave" feel, while Alexander and Loosigian combine to write four new tunes, including the interesting "Mystery Training," which dips into Willie's jazzier influences. The Boom Booms deliver close to 60 minutes of triumph, an album that is among their finest studio work to date, equal to the superb (and still missing in action) Craig Leon-produced demos from Dimension Studios in 1977 that landed them their deal with MCA. Dog Bar Yacht Club is no fluke; in performance Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band play this material flawlessly and with the fury they had when they reigned as the kings of the Boston scene.


Reviewby Joe Viglione
Released a year after the French label New Rose issued Fifteen Years of Rock & Roll With Willie Alexander, this is pretty much the same album with different cover art and some track discrepancies. It, of course, being a year older is Willie "Loco" presenting 16 years of his solo work. None of the material from the Bagatelle on ABC Dunhill, the Lost on Capitol, or his Boom Boom Band work released on MCA appears here, with the exception of "Dirty Eddie," the song considered "too dirty" to put out on either MCA release, it stands as a testament to what could have been had producer Craid Leon just let Willie be Willie. Boom Boom Ga Ga, references to some of Alexander's scat remarks and his wonderfully juvenile promotional scribblings -- "ga ga rock" -- taking this musical form back to its primal stages, is vindication for Alexander in the same way that Didi Stewart's One True Heart (not coincidentally, on the same record company) made her statement away from the politics of her major group and difficult business relationships. Both Alexander and Didi Stewart are true artists, and prime examples of how the business can stand in the way of important art. The art is here, from his regional hit single with Erik Lindgren which opens both the European and American versions of this disc, "In the Pink," to "Kerouac" and "Mass. Ave., his two Stephan Lovelace-produced local singles. The late Stephan Baerenwald, brother to Robin Lane & the Chartbuster's Scott Baerenwald, was the perfect producer for El Loco. His works of genius, the "You Looked So Pretty When" and "Hit Her Wid De Axe" singles included on the American release, but not the French. The two Garage Records 45's which were the demos that landed him his MCA contract, and the single "Gin," which got him the New Rose/RCA deal, are picture perfect moments in Willie Alexander's career. The fans of Loco may take this album for granted, having heard the songs so many times live and on previous releases, but for the world at large, Boom Boom Ga Ga is important history of a man with incredible musical depth and insight. It exists through sheer hard work and years of relentless performing. The live versions of "Pup Tune" and "At the Rat" from the Live at the Rat album are two other key moments in the career, as is "In the Pink." This is actually an extension of 1985's Willie Alexander's Greatest Hits which came out on Fan Club/New Rose in Paris, and because his catalog is so extensive, the 22 tracks make it more accurate than the single LP, but far from comprehensive. Some day Willie "Loco" Alexander will have the six-CD boxed set that he deserves, one of America's great underground heroes who has a catalog so vast and so musical that it is scary.


Reviewby Joe Viglione
Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band signed a three-album deal with producer Craig Leon and MCA records back in the '70s, but the group imploded after tracking just two albums which failed to capture their magic. Decades later, the Tokyo-based Captain Trip records has seen fit to issue this single CD, which includes portions of two live shows and a bonus 45 rpm. It achieves what the major-label releases did not. The CD begins with material engineered by Jesse Henderson at Boston's notorious nightspot the Rat on August 27, 1976, exactly one month before the recordings this band made for the Live at the Rat album (September 27, 28, and 29 with Jesse Henderson as well). "Pup Tune," "At the Rat," and "Kerouac" sound much clearer on this CD, a better mix than what was released on the legendary double LP from the nightclub, and three more songs to boot. The performances are excellent. Eight additional titles were recorded in May of 1976 at the Club in Cambridge by Erik Lindgren of the band Moving Parts. Dramatically different than the Rat recordings, this earlier tape is muddier -- bootleg quality, but that doesn't stop the power from seeping through. These are historic concert tapes of the band performing "For Old Time's Sake" (aka "Cause I'm Taking You to Bed"), "Garbage Man," and a rare live version of "Gin," the single that landed Willie Alexander his post-MCA deal with New Rose/RCA in Europe. The woman in the audience talking at the prelude of "Garbage Man" is totally annoying, and it is a sin marring what is a fine performance. This is a slow, very nasty version of the sexual escapade that is "Garbage Man" -- as close to the sound of Alexander's former group, the Velvet Underground, as the Boom Boom Band cared to get. This song, along with "Dirty Eddie," caused much controversy in the "Loco" camp. Reportedly, the band became afraid of letting Alexander be Alexander on MCA, but the whole reason they got signed was because of his ability to write great rock & roll with no inhibitions. Hearing this CD will thrill as well as infuriate the devoted followers of Willie Loco because it preserves the power of his performance, and proves that producer Craig Leon and the members of the Boom Boom Band should've just let loose in the studio and allowed the artist the opportunity to do what he does best. The demos that secured the deal with MCA were brilliant, and there was no need to re-record them except in a live setting. "Mass. Ave." is an all-out rocker on this CD, the May performance one of the Boom Boom Band's earlier shows boasting a raw energy and enthusiasm resulting in total artistic expression. "Rock 'n' Roll Lick #76," a masterpiece of song construction, is sublime and, along with "Rhythm a Baby," reveal how cohesive and extraordinary this ensemble was. People say that Barry & the Remains were a live phenomenon which studio recordings failed to capture. That could be said of the Boom Boom Band as well. However, this disc, and the long out-of-print Sperm Bank Babies live radio broadcast from 1976, are able to set the record straight. This is primal Willie "Loco" Alexander with his Boom Boom Band before the politics and the recording industry did a number on them. What it lacks in production is more than made up for with the spirit and energy that sizzle in these CD grooves. The two bonus tracks at the end were released on Somor records and are outtakes from the MCA sessions recorded by Craig Leon. "Dirty Eddie" was perhaps the finest single tune produced for MCA and was rejected for being "too dirty." The band, the label, management, and the producer attempted to "refine" Willie Alexander, and in doing so, stifled him and derailed their gravy train. "She Wanted Me (Nazi Nola)," a live reggae track recorded in the studio, is completely raunchy, and half trying, obliterates the other recordings that were released on the two MCA Boom Boom Band albums. France and Japan revere Willie Loco Alexander for the genius that he is, and this album, despite the jarring caused by the three different tape sources, is very powerful and lots of fun.


Reviewby Joe Viglione
11:00 P.M. Saturday is a good title for this recording by the nine musicians who made up Bagatelle, who performed covers as well as originals. It is an anomaly in Boston rock & roll history. Covering tunes from James Brown to The Beatles, the band consisted of three main vocalists, Fred Griffith, Rodney Young, and David "Redtop" Thomas. The fourth singer also played piano and percussion, the influential Willie "Loco" Alexander. Alexander's tune, "Everybody Knows," is included here in a beautiful way. It would be re-recorded by producer Craig Leon for his 1978 debut, Willie Alexander & The Boom Boom Band on MCA Records. The Bagatelle and Larry Fallon arranged this recording, the latter having worked with Keith, The Looking Glass, and producer Jimmy Miller, among others. The vocal harmonies on tunes like "Hey You" mixed with flute remind one of Rare Earth. Coincidentally, they perform Rare Earth's first hit, "(I Know) I'm Losing You," but the version here is influenced by the Temptations 1966 hit. To hear a young Willie Alexander, the man who would usher in the new wave in Boston, singing "Back on the Farm" with horns and Motown style vocals is pretty groundbreaking. An a capella take of the traditional "Every Night" opens side two. Reminiscent of Boston's the G Clefs with a mix of gospel and soul, it shows the wonderful diversity of this band. Their version of The Impressions "I've Been Trying" sounds like a studio take until you hear the applause at the end. The saxophone of Steve Schrell and trumpet of Mark Gould make for a jazzy version of "I Can't Stand It," but the lengthy improv disturbs the momentum of the album. Live covers of "I Feel Good" and the medley, including "Please, Please, Please," "Gloria" (not the Van Morrison tune), "Crying in the Chapel," "I Only Have Eyes For You," and "For Your Love," make this an interesting document, but it is the inclusion of early Willie Alexander which makes it historic.


By Joe Viglione
GateHouse News Service
Fri Aug 03, 2007, 01:43 PM EDT
Beverly -

As far as rock musicians go, Gloucester’s Willie “Loco” Alexander is not your usual suspect. When he walks through a door, you don’t have to clear a path for his ego. He’s not loud, he’s not showy and instead of asking if you know who he is, he’s a lot more likely to ask who you are.

For those who don’t know Alexander, he is to the Boston music scene sort of what Andy Warhol is to art. During the ’70s, he broke down barriers and fused rock, jazz and blues into an original sound delivered with no reservations. For more than 40 years he’s been performing with a number of different bands, beginning with The Lost, later with Bagatelle and then there was a short stint with The Velvet Underground. But Boston fans know him and love him best for the music he gave them with the Boom Boom Band, a fixture at the Rat in Kenmore Square during the heyday of punk.

Along the way Alexander has been called a lot of things, from musical genius to cult hero to rock ’n’ roll survivor.

“I knew of Willie through musician friends in Boston who spoke of him reverentially (‘Dude, he played with the Velvet Underground!’),” says bass player Mike Rivard, who with his trance-funk outfit Club d’Elf is a bit of a Boston fixture himself. “I was struck by his old-school Boho persona, and admired his ability to retain a kind of child-like creative space, with a flavor of the Beats to it.”

Alexander himself gives one of the best quick takes of his own style in a short video shot a while back when he and his band, the Persistence of Memory Orchestra, were touring the Basque Country in Northern Spain.

”The first time I got here they were calling me garage rock. I never thought I was garage rock. I thought I was pretty accomplished … I mean, I don’t read music, but I know what I’m doing on my instrument,” says Alexander, who insists he never played in a garage — maybe a lot of basements, but never a garage.

“Now, it’s called punk jazz or avant-garde something or other. It doesn’t matter, they call me something different every decade.”

Then, a voice off camera asks Alexander what a group of kids milling in the background would call him.

“Old,” he laughs.

Older maybe, but never old. Alexander is busy these days spinning off a new sound from the Persistence of Memory Orchestra and digging down into his Gloucester roots for new directions.

And Gloucester should be thrilled. For centuries, artists have used colors, words and songs to make Gloucester look beautiful, mysterious and sometimes heartbreaking. Alexander’s music has done something different — it’s made Gloucester look cool.

Fisheye for the Gloucester guy

Alexander has a new album in the works from the Fisheye Brothers, the same guys who play in the Persistence of Memory Orchestra — Jim Doherty on drums, Stephen Silbert on guitar and Mark Chenevert on sax. Alexander handles the piano.

“It seemed like a good time for a new project,” he says. “We have a new name for a new vision.”

Alexander says the new music is a little more guitar-oriented than the work he’s been doing for the past few years. But that hardly describes the Fisheye Brothers. The new sound is actually a scorching, salted-earth confluence of psychedelia and pure punk abandon — a punishing, bruising sonic assault. Think Iggy meets Lemmy by way of Bevis Frond and Comets on Fire.

As for the content, the band’s name says it all.

“A lot of the songs will be about Gloucester,” he says. And why not?

“I love Gloucester, this is where I lived as a boy. My dad was a Baptist minister; I live about a block from where his church was,” he says.

The Old First Baptist Church of Gloucester, near City Hall, was directed by the Rev. Edward Gordon Alexander. Willie went to the Forbes School through the third grade and then the Central Grammar.

“They have old people in one of them, other people in the other one now,” Alexander says. “Condos are the big trend ... churches don’t have choirs in them, they’ve converted to people living in them.”

His mother was in the Cape Anne Symphony. “She played the violin,” recalls Alexander. “I run into people here, they knew my dad and stuff. It’s really nice hearing reports of what life was like back then. I don’t see too many of my generation from school — I guess the people I went to school with left, they didn’t go fishing.”

Alexander already has a batch of Gloucester-inspired songs, including “Lady of Good V” ”Bass Rocks” and the somewhat eerie “Fishtown Horribles,” a song which draws on Gloucester’s annual Horribles Parade.

And like so much of Alexander’s music, the songs thump with contagious rhythms. Hear an Alexander song once and you’re safe — hear it twice and you’re doomed to have it play in your head all day.

But Alexander’s contribution to the Gloucester art community goes beyond the music he records and performs with his various bands. He recently completed the soundtrack for Gloucester filmmaker Henry Ferini’s film about poet Charles Olson, “Polis Is This.” Alexander and Ferrini have worked together before on short films that combine the filmmaker’s eye for odd visual detail with the musician’s ear for rhythms both with notes and words.

And Alexander’s own artwork, collages of images, headlines and words, are a favorite in Gloucester. Like one of his heroes, Jack Kerouac, Alexander strings together words and pictures that bump together and sometimes shoot off jarring new ideas. Call it free expression, call it poetry, call it whatever you like — it makes you think and feel, and that’s the point.

Alexander says he plans to have some of his artwork on display when he and the Persistence of Memory Orchestra play at the West End Theater on Main Street in Gloucester next month. That show may be a good chance to hear some of the material from the Fisheye Brothers’ new album.

“About half the stuff is about Gloucester,” says Alexander. The other half is about the Pacific Northwest and the “emerald green hillsides, timbered mountains and pristine lakes” of Idaho. Alexander says he makes that trip frequently; it’s home for his wife, photographer Anne Rearick.

“They’ve got hot rodders out there, the drive-in restaurants with girls on roller skates ... it’s like the ’50s in Boise, Idaho,” says Alexander who was particularly impressed with the number of souped-up cars that showed up at a Fourth of July barbecue.

“Not that I know how to drive. I write songs about them,” he says. “They have a big book and record store; we saw a Snake River stampede, a rodeo out there ... I haven’t written my rodeo song, but I know it will come.”

Vintage Loco

Although there is plenty on the horizon for Alexander, there are fans that still want to hear the old numbers. The best shot for that might be Aug.16, when Alexander joins blues artist Dave Sag for a night of music at the Rhumbline in Gloucester. Sag has a residency there, and he invites a variety of guest artists to perform their own music on his nights.

There’s no guarantees, but there will probably be a lot of requests for “Mass. Ave.,” a 1975 release that, to this day, still stands as a Boston rock ’n’ roll anthem. Horror writer Stephen King, who also has a popular column in Entertainment Weekly, calls the song one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll songs ever.

“(Mass. Ave.) has a rattle-box guitar and the weirdest male falsetto ever laid down,” says King, who calls it “Boston punk at its best.” King puts Alexander in a class with the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.

But so do a lot of other people. Now that there is a Music Museum of New England being put together — an online site that will eventually be a physical, tangible place to see and hear artifacts from the New England music scene — Alexander is getting more attention. And maybe a little more of the credit he genuinely deserves.

Although you can listen to the Fisheye Brothers or the Persistence of Memory Orchestra and appreciate them for the music they’re performing today, with Alexander you almost have to consider the history.

Alexander and his band, The Lost, opened The Boston Tea Party, Boston’s seminal rock club — sort of a New England version of CBGB’s — on Jan. 20, 1967. From The Lost, Willie went on to Bagatelle, an R & B-styled band that one could compare to the latter-day Boston group Tavares.

Another important name on Alexander’s resume is of course the Velvet Underground. Led by Lou Reed, the band that blazed the trail for an entire decade’s worth of punk and new wave artists that followed.

When Reed left the Velvet Underground, Alexander was invited to join and tour Europe. Alexander suggested they change the name, so as not to step on Reed’s shoes, but when he got off the plane he was disappointed to see the marquee still said “The Velvet Underground.”

Willie was signed to MCA records in 1976 thanks to “Mass. Ave.,” which was pounding out on the jukebox at the Rat, then the known as the Rathskellar Nightclub. Two albums were released, but infighting stifled the third. Willie recorded a disc on his own, “Solo Loco,” and landed on the RCA-distributed New Rose label in Europe in 1980. That’s four major labels in a span of 15 years, a vast catalog of sound and songs, but not the fame that Alexander deserved.

Still, Alexander has his loyal fans, particularly among Boston’s family of rock musicians. For a lot of people who have followed in his footsteps, he’s been the leading light who opened doors for younger peers.

Rivard remembers playing with Willie at a tribute show for Mark Sandman, who headed up the Hypnosonics and Morphine, two other big-name Boston bands, before he died in 1999.

“I was one of the many musician friends who came together that day to pay tribute to Mark and ended up backing up Willie on the Morphine song ‘Super Sex,’” recalls Rivard. “He rocked it, and I know Mark would have been proud.”

And that’s the type of comment that would probably make Alexander proud. The music, and what you can do with it, has always been the thing that’s counted most.

“I still enjoy playing — if I didn’t I wouldn’t do it,” says Alexander, who admits he still gets nervous before he performs. “But I do it, I just do it because it seems like the best way to express yourself — to communicate something.”