Monday, April 27, 2009

Jeff Conolly Interview, Pt. 2

In Part One of Koen Goossens's 2001 interview of Jeff Conolly of Lyres and DMZ, originally published on the "A Peek Inside Jeff Conolly's Record Collection" website, the artist formerly known as "Pokemonojeff" gave the skinny on the roots of Lyres and DMZ, and his fondness for the Searchers. Here he discusses the Fugs, Pete Best, and other, even more arcane cover versions. To enhance your enjoyment, please tune in The Mal Thursday Show #4: Songs the Lyres Taught Us.

And now...Part Two:

KOEN GOOSSENS: On the Matador CD version of the On Fyre album, there’s a Kinks cover [“Never Met a Girl Like you Before”] that wasn’t on the original LP. Were you initially thinking of putting three Kinks covers on that record? The whole LP has that distint Kinks feel – “I’m Telling You Girl” also has those chunky Kinks-styled guitar chords.
JEFF CONOLLY: When we recorded the stuff for On Fyre, we weren’t thinking at all!

KOEN GOOSSENS: There’s also two Pete Best covers from that period [“I’ll Try Anyway,” “The Way I Feel About You”]. Isn’t it sad that he’s always referred to as “The Beatle That’s Best Forgotten” or something like that? Was there any special reason – other than the fact that they’re utterly great – to record two Pete Best songs?

JEFF CONOLLY: I’m obsessed with the “underdogs” of the pop world. They’ve experienced so much hustle and disappointment. Right now, I’m totally strung out on Tony Jackson, but that’s OK, because he’s where I started out in rock ‘n’ roll in the first place. My first LP was the Searchers’ Live at the Star Club.

KOEN GOOSSENS: You’ve also done three songs by the late, great Otis Redding, and it seems like they were tailor-made to suit your vocal range. Any comments on that? When you did the second version of “She Pays the Rent” on the Lyres Lyres album, you gave it the unmistakable Otis approach, much different than the first version. It’s like a completely new song.

JEFF CONOLLY: I wanted to distance myself from the Nomads at that moment [The Nomads had recently covered “She Pays the Rent” in the style of the original, faster version]. Now, I’m happy to be their friend, if they’ll have me!

KOEN GOOSSENS: What the Nomads were doing in the mid-’80s was basically just exactly what DMZ had been doing all along, seven or eight years before that. It’s like a full circle, isn’t it?
JEFF CONOLLY: I had a blast playing our first Continental shows with those guys in 1984 and we got to do it again in 1997 with Question Mark and the Mysterians. They were as great as ever. I miss Tony Carlson, the bass player, but he got married or something like that.

KOEN GOOSSENS: You also covered three songs that originally released as 45s on the IGL label [“But If You’re Happy” by the Scavengers, “”Don’t Tell Me Lies” by the Esquires, and “Never Be Free” by Dale and the Devonaires]. And once again, the Lyres’ versions got released before Get Hip and Arf! Arf! released their IGL compilations. IGL issued a plethora of great singles. Are you a collector of IGL 45s?

JEFF CONOLLY: I love “wimp rock”…It’s hard to sing well that way, you really have to be 14 or 15 years old to do it right.

KOEN GOOSSENS: Let’s move on to the really obscure stuff now. Where on earth did you dig up the unbelievably great version of Sandy Sarjeant’s “Can’t Stop the Want”? It took me ages to find that one! And long after Lyres did their version, a demo version by an unknown British band appeared on the Purple Heart Surgery comp, and it’s just as ravishing as your version. And I’m sure you’d never heard the version by the unknown band when you did yours.

JEFF CONOLLY: I have that Beat Club ’67 LP, and that’s how I “learned” that song…As soon as I heard that version, I knew it was a masterpiece, so I “constructed” my own mod arrangement for Lyres. I think I did some pretty good “sleuthing” that time. Later on, there’s a freakbeat reissue with the demo version of “Can’t Stop the Want,” and guess what? Boy, did that make me feel good!!!...I’d never heard that version, so that tended to confirm my “instincts” about the tune! Man, I was psyched, proud, it gave me a rush, because it said, “You heard the song for what it was,” a great freakbeat rocker.

KOEN GOOSSENS: It seems like you collect garage stuff from other European countries as well: “Seven” by the Sevens, from Switzerland, “Give Me Your Love” by Les Copains, from Germany. Any other European garage obscurities that you’d like to give a go?

JEFF CONOLLY: Same story, if I think that I can “do something” with a recording that I get turned on to, or maybe “get something” out of taking it apart, seeing what makes it work. It’s still that boorish think-tank shit again…

KOEN GOOSSENS: Lyres’ Live at Cantone’s LP featured two songs by related bands, the Customs and Classic Ruins. Did Frank Rowe write “Geraldine I Need Money (More Than I Need You)” especially for Lyres? The Classic Ruins’ version was released in 1986, years after the Lyres version.

JEFF CONOLLY: No, he’d been doing it for a few years. I was pretty whacked out on that one…I think I heard an organ part and decided to give it a try, plus we split a single with them that didn’t exactly ever come out where they did an incredible “How Do You Know.” Unbelievable singing from Frank Rowe.

KOEN GOOSSENS: What version of “Busy Body” inspired you to cover it? Rot Lee Johnson’s original or later versions by the Jolly Green Giants or Jimmy Hanna and the Dynamics?

JEFF CONOLLY: I can’t remember…That was a big rule: no original copy of the 45, no re-recording.

KOEN GOOSSENS: You covered quite a few songs that were originally written during the 1950s that are more familiar in later, 1960s versions. Who, for example, inspired you to do a version of Frankie Laine’s “Jezebel”?

JEFF CONOLLY: The Teddy Boys’ recording is unbeatable and I was hooked on trying to recapture that wimp-rock singing style in a gig setting…at the time.

KOEN GOOSSENS: Same thing with Jimmy Reed’s “Ain’t That Loving You Baby,” a la the Beau Brummels? And what about Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired” or Bill Haley’s “Skinny Minnie”? Lee Curtis and the All-Stars’ version is really wild!

JEFF CONOLLY: More of the same, just trying to find songs that “fit” and make people feel rocked-out at the gigs, really…”Sick and Tired” is through the Searchers’ Live at the Star Club with Tony Jackson, again. That’s such an inspiring record – it really captures that sickening feeling of playing a rock date in Hamburg.

KOEN GOOSSENS: Have you ever heard Perry Como’s original version of “Glendora”? I ask you this question because I’m sure you took the Downliners Sect’s version as your inspiration and not Perry Como’s. I was pretty amazed to learn that Como ever recorded such a sick song!

JEFF CONOLLY: It’s sickening…Greg Shaw sent us a demo tape in 1976 and that help start a pattern of learning “underappreciated classics” for DMZ and later in the Lyres…That’s just what happened. None of this was planned, it just evolved into this learning curve…

KOEN GOOSSENS: Not too many people noticed it, but didn’t Roky Erickson copy the Lyres sound – complete with tremolo guitar – for his song “Don’t Slander Me”?

JEFF CONOLLY: Roky Erickson never copied anyone!!!

KOEN GOOSSENS: The Chesterfield Kings/Lyres split single where you covered each other’s tunes was a nice surprise. Whose cool idea was that?

JEFF CONOLLY: Andy Babyuk is a real nice person, and he suggested it to me. It took a long time to get that out. It came out twice, you know, with different Lyres tunes by the Kings.

KOEN GOOSSENS: “Frenzy” by the Fugs was another great choice for a DMZ cover. Such a great song that is.

JEFF CONOLLY: That second Fugs LP was total revolutionary mind-blower back in 1966. We used to have to hide it from our parents! What’s the big deal about Lou Reed? “Frenzy” is just as rockin’ as anything he’s ever done. “Cycle Annie”? Nah, not as brutal, too scholarly…

KOEN GOOSSENS: When can we expect a new record of yours?

JEFF CONOLLY: The new DMZ Live at the Rat came out really nice on Bomp [the five remixed 1976 recordings were originally issued as two 45s on the Chunk label in 1995]…And Lyres records are ready for release right now, but nobody has any money! All the record labels are broke!!!

KOEN GOOSSENS: One last question: please let it be known to the world just exactly who did the original version of “What’s a Girl Like You (Doing in a Place Like This)” because I haven’t got a clue.

JEFF CONOLLY: That’s a group from Cincinnati, Ohio called “Them” on James Brown’s King label. They later changed their name to “It’s Them” because Van Morrison got pissed!

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