Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Frank Frink 5: are you ready for the country?

Before I listened to rock music - and long before I got into metal and punk, I listened - thanks to my parents - to country music. They played it in the house sometimes, on a big black and white console TV/ stereo that eventually lived in my room. I loved some of their LPs, and still have a couple of them (like my Dad's copy of Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which is one of the greatest country albums ever made, by my estimate, and one everyone I discuss it with agrees on, including Joey Only, Adrian Mack, Petunia, and, indeed, Nick Jones, below - we'll get to that presently).  

As a child, they brought me to concerts, too, at the Pacific Coliseum, by Johnny Cash - I'm guessing on August 24th, 1980,  and, I think, Charley Pride. (I have no clear memories of either show, though I thought "A Boy Named Sue" was funny, and clearly remember it on the set list, along with some gospel with June Carter Cash). When we would go for drives in the car, an old American Rambler, the cassettes we played on the little portable shoebox player were Jerry Lee Lewis, Charley Pride, Fats Domino, and Elvis' Gold Records (though later when I was starting to develop my own tastes we added the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies to the list, my selection of which was more a matter of chance, having found it in a bargain bin, than taste, though I still love that album to this day). As a result of those drives, I am still more familiar with Charley Pride's version of "Kaw-Liga" than either the original by Hank Williams or the Residents crazed cover of it, though I grant that it's the least of the three, and the most problematic politically (because a black man appealing to white audiences by singing a song about a wooden Indian, lacking any irony, and complete with faux-Indian yelps, is just disturbing, which was lost on me at age eight, which is about the time period under discussion).

However, you have to make a break from the music of your parents at some point, or at least I did. Once I got turned on to the Sex Pistols - at around age 14, in 1982 - I was part of the "country music sucks" club, rejecting all that country stood for, reviling it even more than disco (which I knew even less about). It was actually pretty common to say "country music sucks" among my peers in high school - country music was the out-group that helped us define our in-group, it was a consensus that even the headbangers and the punks could come together on. I still have friends who are part of that club - who take it for granted that they can proudly proclaim their hatred of country music and thereby bond with me. I'm not sure they realize that these days, when someone says that, I feel kind of sorry for them...  

Two things changed things for me, when it comes to country. The first was Eugene Chadbourne, and especially his album There'll Be No Tears Tonight - featuring John Zorn and Tom Cora. I got into Doc Chad in my 20's, despite the protests of my comrades in psychedelia, who basically forbade me to play Shockabilly or anything by Eugene when we tripped (though I would occasionally sneak something in). I still don't really understand what freaked them out so much, because even my father came to appreciate Doc Chad, delighting in particular in his cover of Phil Ochs' "Knock on the Door" and on the wittiness of "The Last Word in Lonesome is Me." Doc Chad's fusion of country music with jazzy, psychedelicized avant-gardism pleases me to no end - and is not just a matter of sending stuff up; he's said that he is quite, without irony, a fan of stuff like Roger Miller (whom he frequently covers), and that country music is as much a part of his palette as other stated influences (like Bugs Bunny and Boris Karloff). 

Back when I thought he was making fun of it, Doc Chad made it safe for me to listen to the odd country tune; when he told me his fondness for it was sincere, it helped crack the door a bit further. 

The second thing that swung me back towards country was digital technology, which allowed me to easily make playlists for my parents, so that we could listen to their music during Scrabble games. I found I could easily remember their favourite tunes - the things Dad would sing to himself as he went about the day, like Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me" (a troubling song to hear a family man singing to himself; it ended up being the last song he requested I play at the hospice, though wouldn't you know, I didn't have that particular CDr with me that day). Listening to those mixes with them, certain songs grew on me unexpectedly - like Roy Clark's "Yesterday When I was Young," say. So songs by artists I associated with country began to sneak their way onto my playlists - like Kris Kristofferson's "The Piglrim - Chapter 33," which for years was the only Kris Kristofferson song would acknowledge; it popped up on a CD mix I made to give away on my 38th birthday, which had plenty of folk (Dylan, Ochs, Townes van Zandt and such) but only one or two flat-out country tunes, like Hank Williams' "Lost Highway" or maybe some of the Rick Rubin-period Johnny Cash. 

I still wouldn't go so far as to say I loved country music, at that point. It wasn't really until my mid-40s that country music really took hold, and while I can't say whether the change was mostly one in me or in the culture, suddenly the stuff was all around me, with bands like Petunia and the Vipers pointing the way, to country swing, to authentic roots music, to some fantastic, moving, and very entertaining songwriting. Adrian Mack helped. Having a girlfriend who doesn't much want to go to punk shows helped. And seeing punks cross over into country music, assuring me that in fact this was respected and approved of stuff, that this was actually cool to listen to, helped. 

And though I have only seen them once, at the Railway, quite some time ago, the Frank Frink 5 helped.  

The following is an interview with Pointed Sticks' vocalist Nick Jones on his country/ crooner side project, the Frank Frink 5, who are going to be doing two of their seasonal shows this weekend, on December 2nd and 3rd, at Lanalou's (I will be missing the show on the 2nd, the actual country show, to see Pere Ubu - see my previous post - but I hope to make the 3rd, the "City Frink" night). Here's an email interview with Nick! 

Allan: Orient me, Nick, if you would - what's the backstory of the Frank Frink 5, once again? How long have you been doing this? 

Nick: The Frank Frink 5 have been playing gigs since 1982, in one format or another.the current lineup is Butch Norland (me), Billy Clyde Frink (Randy Carpenter) Dash Schmidt (Gord Nicholl) Jelly Bean Beaudine (Bob Petterson) Stinking Tim Connors (Jon Card) and Mink Frink (Scott McLeod) .Past members and guests have included just about every scenester from our generation, including Dimwit, Brian Goble, Rockin Ronnie Scott, Stephen Hamm, Ford Pier, Barry Taylor and more. In fact, pretty much every Vancouver drummer named Taylor (and there are a lot of them) has played in the band at one time or another!

"Live on the Mud Bay Delta, probably 1983 or 84???", provided by Nick Jones

Thank you! So ttell me about Country Frink - City Frink. What are the differences going to be between sets/ lineups/ approaches?

Same lineup, but the first night will be country music in the Gram Parsons/ Buck Owens/ Roger Miller/ Johnny Cash mode... the second night will be more eclectic, mostly 60's and early 70's classics ranging from the Standells to Redbone, and everything in between...Lee Michaels, obscure Kinks, Buddy Miles, Mashmakan and so much more .

Did you always like country music and crooners and such or did you ever reject that stuff in your youth? If the former, what were formative influences? If the latter, what was your road back? 

The closest country music came to my radar when I was young was watching the occasional episode of Hee-Haw... but in 1981, after the advent of Hardcore, I turned my back on punk rock as it had become (violent, musically limited, intellectually dogmatic, misogynistic, and exclusionary, particularly to women and girls) and started playing rockabilly with Buddy Selfish. That led to country, and Randy would have been the principal influence in introducing me to Gram Parsons and his many incarnations... it expanded from there.

What kind of music did your parents listen to, anyhow? Did they have any impact on your tastes, positive or negative or...? Are there any songs you got from them that you really, really love? 

My Dad was past president of the Edinburgh Jazz Society, so through him I heard Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sinatra etc etc.... I loved, and still love all of that music. I never thought it was square.

If you were going to name five country artists (or crooners) that most punks would off the cuff turn their nose up at, who you think they should give a chance to, who would they be? (Can be on the basis of songwriting or singing or playing or whatever you like, but maybe let us know why you picked'em!). 

Obviously Johnny Cash, because everyone loves the Man in Black, but Hank Williams, because he was the Chuck Berry of country music, Buck Owens, who invented a new type of tougher, west coast country, Ray Price, because his music swings, daddy-o, and of course, Gram.... the Keith Richards of country, who despite his image being so overwhelming, was a very good songwriter, and an incredibly emotive singer.

Do you have any actual "guilty pleasures?" Bands or albums that you're kind of embarrassed by liking? (It's weird - I actually am quite proud of loving Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads, have even had it on my wall, though I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't get it... but I am kind of embarrassed that I own and have fondness for Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell). Do you ever include a song in a Frink set that you're embarrassed of liking, as a way of fighting back against your own embarrassment? (Does this question even make sense?). 

Well, if you knew the history of the Frinks,we usually tried to play the most embarrassing songs we could find. How about "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo?" Or "Honey?" Or "Tennessee Birdwalk"... I keep a copy of K-Tels' Goofy Greats close at hand at all times! And Gunfighter Ballads is a wonderful record, no need to feel guilty about that! We often do "Big Iron," or "El Paso"...even "Cool Water"... Bat out of Hell??? Uh...no... I guess ABBA might count? That is, if liking pure pop genius can be considered a guilty pleasure.

Are there ever disagreements about songs that are included on a Frank Frink Five setlist? Do people have the power of veto? 

 Yes, I do. Seriously though, we all have a remarkably similar take on what constitutes a good Frinks song. We did however, veto Dimwit wanting to play songs by Budgie...

Are there any "original" Frank Frink Five songs? I actually don't know this. Do they still feature in the set, if they exist? 

 We wrote a stunning Neil Young tribute called "Emma Joe" that we played a couple of years ago. We also play "Thinking of You, Drinking For Two," by Sawhorse, off the second Bud Luxford record. I wrote that. We're also playing a song that Randy and Buck wrote for the Modernettes called "Tears Will Fall". That will be on the country night.There might be more. Memory ain't what it used to be.

This has been a kind of rough year for celebrity deaths. Will there be any special songs added to the set in tribute to anyone who passes? (Prince's "Erotic City" might be fun). 

No special tributes to dead guys by the Frinks. Of course, almost all of the songs we play are by dead guys.

Are there any heroes of yours, country-music-wise or crooner-wise, that you've met and interacted with? (In your "other" career, do you ever do merchandising or such for country singers?). 

 The only country band I ever worked for were the Dixie Chicks, and I went out of my way to avoid interaction with them. As I do with most artists I work for. Its a job.
By the by, the Pointed Sticks have a gig coming up, right? Anything special or unusual about that one? 

Well, its an early show. Doors at 7, the Top Boost, who are a stunning young band from New West will be onstage at 7:45, followed by the talented and sexy Eddy D and his band, then us. We have to be off stage at 10:30 , as I'm told the Fox turns into a pumpkin then. I've noticed that Keithmas is on the same night, which is unfortunate, but the Rickshaw goes until 1, so there is plenty of time to attend our show, and still make the 2 minute cab ride to the Rickshaw to catch La Chinga, Rich Hope and Biff do their Keith impersonations.One great night, two great shows...... as for what surprises the PS show might bring, you'll have to be there to find out. We always have a rabbit or two up our sleeves...

The Frinks at Lanalou's, "a couple of years ago..." photo by Corinne Kuan

Here's the link for the Facebook page for Country Frink - City Frink (Dec. 2nd and 3rd at Lanalou's) and for the Pointed Sticks show at the Fox Dec. 16.... see you at one of them, at least?

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