Archive for Chris Stamey

Chris Stamey’s “A Spy In The House Of Loud” Is An Unusual, And Excellent, Artist’s Memoir

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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It makes sense that Chris Stamey named his band The dBs, because he’s always been intrigued by the technical aspects of making music.

Stands For Decibels was this seminal New York-by-way-of-Winston-Salem band’s first album, and perhaps Stamey’s best song on it was “Cycles Per Second,” both reference points to music making.  So it makes sense that in his new book A Spy In The House Of Loud, Stamey doesn’t merely write about his bands, he writes about how they made records.  Even if you’re not a gear head, it’s fun, because he’s an engaging writer and he really was in the right place at the right time.

To place him in his proper coordinates, Chris Stamey came to New York midway through the ’70s and saw Television, often, in their earliest CBGB incarnations, quickly figured out the world was changing and that he wanted to play a role.  By 1978, he’d teamed up with fellow Southerner Alex Chilton in his post-Big Star solo foray.  Chilton and Television’s Richard Lloyd played on Stamey’s excellent initial singles, before he put together the dBs with fellow North Carolinians Will Rigby, Gene Holder, and Peter Holsapple.

If you were there at the time, and I was, the dBs were a remarkable anomaly in New York. An experimental pop band with an ear for the kind of radio hits their progenitors Big Star should have had, they existed in that post-first wave CBGB bands environment in which you could see, over successive nights, No Wave bands like DNA, the newest British important (from Gang of Four to XTC, Magazine to the Soft Boys), bands from L.A. like X, and Lou Reid’s latest incarnation.  New York was the center of the rock’n’roll world and the dBs were just slightly off kilter from the environment around them — excellent musicians with jangling guitars and a tight, propulsive rhythm section, two singer-songwriters vying for dominance, and a Farfisa adding color. They never quite made it, and some of it — explained in Stamey’s book — flowed from how they were never quite able to capture on vinyl — yeah, vinyl — that stage set that could bring down Hurrah or other clubs of the day.

Stamey went on to be a charter member of the Golden Palominos and release a number of solo albums, including one of the highlights of the 1980s, It’s Alright. Over time, as he moved back to North Carolina and raised a family, his influence on contemporary music shifted from musician to being the producer on several of the best albums of the age, particularly Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac, and Alejandro Escovedo’s A Man Under The Influence.  Most recently, it was Stamey who put together, following Chilton’s 2010 death, that series of all-star shows playing Big Star’s Sister Lovers, also known as Third.  In fact, Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live is one of the most remarkable documents of recent years, with Jeff Tweedy, Ira Kaplan, Robyn Hitchcock and so many more playing the music from this greatest of American artists of the ’70s and beyond.

And now Stamey has written a book.  A Spy In The House of Loud is fascinating reading for anyone who’s ever wanted to understand what happened when a new set of bands displaced the rot in Rock Music in the punk and post-punk era.  Stamey’s a musician and a fan, and he writes of his contemporaries with a rock critic’s eye.  But he also ably captures what happened when making albums shifted from an analog to a digital process — and all that got lost along the way.

Chris Stamey will read from his book at Politics and Prose in D.C. this coming Sunday, June 17th at 3:00 PM.

The dBs Waste No Time On “Falling Off The Sky”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 12, 2012 by johnbuckley100

In their first record release since Ronald Reagan was president, the dBs kick off Falling Off The Sky with a Peter Holsapple gem called “That Time Is Gone,” reminding us in a single song how much we’ve missed them.  They didn’t have to start with a Southern garage rocker, though the video of their performance at SXSW that’s bounced around the web gave an indication of why they’d want to start the album with maybe its best song.  But if a single slice of the apple can give people who may have missed them the first time around a sense of the band’s full flavors, “That Time Is Gone” is an incredibly tasty morsel.

You see, what has always made the dBs so special wasn’t that they were a two-songwriter band that alternated wondrously hummable pop songs with surprisingly kick ass rock’n’roll.  The secret to the band has always been that beneath Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple’s songwriting and singing was one of the best rhythm sections around.  Back in 1979, a band like the Plimsouls could offer, on paper, a fair bit of what the dBs brought to the party, but without Gene Holder on bass and Will Rigby’s special rum punch drumming, everything by comparison sounded flat.

Special too was the way the dBs were a crankily coherent outpost of Winston-Salem, North Carolina living in Manhattan.  They were playing pop songs at the same time the Bush Tetras were playing the Mudd Club, but the music was so infectious, and the band so fantastic live, any given evening that they played was an event.  This may be heretical to say, given that Stands For Decibels and other albums they put out have attracted such a cult following over the years, but they never really delivered on vinyl the magic they showed on stage.  Those first albums sounded just a bit too thin, too caffeinated.  And later, when Stamey had left the band for a solo career that produced, in Its Alright, probably the best record any semblance of the band ever created, the Holsapple-led dBs was missing something, that counterweight to Peter’s songwriting proving, over the course of a single record, to matter.  Peter’s songwriting was so magnificent that the few songs of his Syd Straw sang on the Golden Palominos records helped define the ’80s, but Stamey and Holsapple, friends and rivals, needed one another to hold a band in equipoise.

And now they’re back, and man do they sound good.  Falling Off The Sky is like a time capsule fallen back to Earth.  Head out to the mound, still smoking from where the space debris just hit it, and stand back in wonder.  Or better yet, go to Iota in Arlington Thursday night and see the Second Coming.

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