Fort Worth's Erotic D swims with some of the biggest fish in rap. A veteran of controversial industry figure Suge Knight's Death Row Records, Erotic has worked with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, rapped with the group Life After Death, and gone on to a successful career producing other acts like D.O.C. (his 1994 album Helter Skelter) and MC Breed. A big name locally, constantly working with area acts at his studio Da Blackhole, Erotic took a tip from old boss Knight--whom no one has ever accused of slacking off the business end of his music--and formed his own record company. He's also working on a solo album.
Although far from done--release isn't planned until after summer--a listen to the rough mixes of Beyond 2000 reveal Erotic to have pulled off a neat feat: He's revitalized the rock/hip-hop genre, adding new layers of both sound and meaning, while keeping his street cred. As a result, Beyond 2000 won't alienate hardcore rap fans who might accuse other boundary stretchers like the Fugees of diluting the music--it has the bounce and the edge to pull buyers into the stores, but is deep enough to reward repeated listens. The album has a cinematic feel, with a sense of stories and scenes--street-corner vignettes, riots, philosophical snippets--passing by with the music, and there's a thematic link to the impending millennium and the need for action that runs underneath everything.
"That comes from my craziness," Erotic says. "Especially about movies. I've always been fascinated with sound and how it fits with the story of a movie, with its subject matter. I think an album should make people see what they're hearing, so I put those little scenes in between tracks--people talking or whatever--for the visual effect. It gives me a release for my crazy mind, and it lets movie people know that I can score soundtracks on my own."
The millennium theme predicts great change, confusion, and conflict; throughout, warnings are issued against joining "the new world order" as the sounds of upheaval--sirens, gunshots, screams--rage in the background. "I don't go to church a lot," Erotic says when asked about the origins of these ideas. "But I read a lot about it, all those books that tell you about the prophecies, the Illuminati, Armageddon, the Masons and all that. In fact, that's about all I read."
As a result, Beyond 2000 is gritty, but more than just gat-waving, stiff-dick boasting and generic ho songs, a change that Erotic feels the entire industry will have to make sooner or later. "I'm trying to put rap onto a new way," he says. "That gangsta stuff is over with; it's been said and done. If you were real, would you be telling motherfuckers that you shot somebody? No. Not if you really did. Besides, even if you are a gangsta, you still have got to show some skill [on the music]."
Erotic believes that the mainstream of rap is hidebound by ignorance. "A lot of people don't know how to get out of all that [cliche]," he says. "What these new rappers don't know is that with an act like that, everybody is going to try and beat your ass. Then they go to a new town and start doing that gangsta shit. They try you at home; you know they're going to try you out of state."
Erotic chafed under the notoriously self-interested Knight. "Suge was always talking about me doing stuff, but it was always when they wanted me to," he says. "I got tired of waiting on 'em." As a result, he's formed E-World Entertainment, a company with six other artists (Lotsa Lotsa, Mz. Allen, 6-2, Trauma Black, Spandoo, and Sophronia James) on the roster in addition to Erotic. E-World's first release will probably be a compilation album featuring the whole stable, followed by Beyond 2000, but Erotic has other irons in the fire, including a reunion with DJ Snake (Nemesis) to work on the follow-up to Poets and Gangsters. "We're still ironing out the partnership," Erotic explains.
In the meantime, he has a new TV show, called The Erotic Hour, which airs twice weekly from the B side of your cable box. "We're going to play videos, but there's a lot more to it than that," he says. "We're going to do sitcom-type stuff, interviews, everything like regular TV, but with the 'hood in there, straight ahead and uncensored. We're about to put things in the proper light and perspective in the rap game."
The Erotic Hour airs on channel 25B Tuesdays at 7 p.m. and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Johnny Hicks, 1919-1997
Johnny Hicks, the man who guided and came up with the name for the influential music program Big D Jamboree that dominated--for a time--entertainment life in Dallas, died at the age of 78 in Carmel, California, on April 9. Hicks returned to Dallas and radio station KRLD after World War II as right-hand man to Pappy Hal Horton, a popular and important radio personality and programmer. After Horton died, Hicks became responsible for all of KRLD's "hillbilly" (as country and western was called then) programming and had his own show, the make-or-break Hillbilly Hit Parade. The Jamboree had started around 1946 at Ed McLemore's Sportatorium as the Texas State Barn Dance; when, in 1948, KRLD began to broadcast the Sportatorium show, Hicks--by then one of the show's producers--came up with the new name. "It was kind of euphonious, and it stuck," Hicks would later say.
The Jamboree radio show debuted in the middle of the State Fair as a half-hour spot emceed by Hicks. Gradually, as the show's popularity grew, so did Hicks': in 1950 he was rated the No. 3 Western DJ in the country by Billboard. The Jamboree's slot was expanded until, in September 1952, the entire show was aired, and soon gained a revolving slot on CBS Radio's national Saturday Night Country Style, also hosted by Hicks.
In his role as emcee, Hicks would act, sing, and generally clown around, usually in a red bent-brimmed hat--his "Johnny on the spot" hat--not unlike that favored by Ralph Kramden's pal Norton. There is a picture of Hicks at the 1949 State Fair--wearing what looks like an operatic helmet with thick braids coming out from under it--performing a comedy routine called "I Didn't Know the Gun was Loaded" from the back of the Light Crust Doughboys' famous bus (the one with a built-in PA and a stage on the back); a sign next to them advertises Slim Whitman as the Doughboys' vocalist.
Hicks also recorded quite a bit for Columbia and less for smaller labels like Talent; a couple of his cuts can still be found on the Columbia Legacy Country Classics compilation Hillbilly Boogie!: "Hamburger Hop" ("You really should go, 'cause it's swept the land/Everybody's going to the hamburger stand/When they put 'em on the griddle do the flippety-flop/Everybody's going to the hamburger hop") and "Get Your Kicks (From the Country Hicks)." Hicks obviously had a weakness for light-hearted hooks, but the cuts hold their own on the collection next to better-known acts like Spade Cooley and Bob Wills. His name also appears as co-writer on an old 78 titled "The Ballad of Candy Barr" about the life and misadventures of the notorious stripper of the time.
While on the Jamboree, Hicks saw the focus of the show change from country acts like Hank Williams and Webb Pierce (whom he termed "Shreveport hillbillies") to more rockin' acts like Ronnie Dawson and Joe Poovey. He also went on the road, emceeing package tours from Dallas that McLemore would put together. At its peak, the Jamboree drew 5,000 people, Saturday night after Saturday night.
Hicks and McLemore never did get along; Hicks walked off the show several times. TV and rock 'n' roll spelled the end for radio in general and shows like the Jamboree in particular, and in 1959 Hicks left for good; the Jamboree went on without him, on and off, until 1970. After leaving the Jamboree, Hicks worked as a country DJ. He left Dallas with his wife Regina for California in 1964, where he continued his work in advertising and radio and pursued writing, photography, and acting as well, until heart problems sidelined him.
And justice for all
For many, the producer of an album is a bit of trivia too arcane to worry about. This year's Music Awards admitted as much when--owing to space considerations--we dropped our examinations of the various nominees in this category; but producers can be as important to an album as the band or artist. Dallas has a particularly rich crop of talent in this area, so in honor of their contributions to the local music scene, we're telling you about them here--even though the race has been run. The nominees for local radio show were omitted from the Awards supplement for the same reason, and are included in the same spirit of tribute.
"I'm responsible for [Arista's] lowest selling record ever--Funland's Sweetness," says David Castell with a chuckle. Throughout last year, Castell was holed up on the outskirts of Denton, producing Green Romance Orchestra, ex-Pearl Jammer Dave Abbruzzese's ongoing project. The recording sessions were improvised on the spot, and Castell's role was akin to that of a documentarian, recording events as they occurred. The result was hundreds of hours of jam sessions, some of which were mixed and edited as songs for a possible album.
Back from Denton since the year began, Castell has returned to his usual studio work: He finished the mixing of the first cottonmouth, texas album for Virgin and is working on Buck Jones' debut for steve records. "I don't know what sets me apart," he admits. "I like noise. I hope that I'm making noisy records, because I tend to like that."
A few years ago, his name was attached to the major projects of notable local bands like Course of Empire and Funland. "Those were the old days. Long ago, I had a mobile truck and went around and recorded everybody at their houses. I didn't have a studio. As I went on to do bigger projects like Course of Empire, I bought bigger [equipment], and [now] I have an overhead. The smaller, unknown bands can't afford me, or they assume that they can't. There are a lot of younger bands [like] the Course of Empires of the past that I can't afford to help all the time, which is a drag."
To say Carl Finch's portfolio is eclectic would be succinct, but at the expense of understatement. Finch juggles both his individual projects and those of Brave Combo, the pioneering post-polka group from Denton. The Combo has collaborated with folk singers, accordionists, a tango orchestra, Tiny Tim, David Byrne, and, currently, U.S. Olympic ice skaters; Finch is putting together the soundtrack for some members of the U.S. Olympic team's skate routine at next year's winter Olympic games. "We're thinking about doing a 'Latin Elvis' medley," Finch says.
His production philosophy was reflected in the working relationship that Brave Combo had with the late Tiny Tim. "There was a part of him that was very much like us...an affinity for 'old' music and the impact [it] has had on 'new' music." he says. "That's very similar to what we do. We take old music and try to have it make sense for people who are living currently."
Finch has a special fondness for voice: "Very important to me, speaking as a producer. I have to find something...intoxicating about the sound of a person's voice. I love the idea that a person's voice is a unique stamp.
"I think as a producer it's really not your job to do what the artist wants," he adds. "You have to see beyond that. A lot of [producers] go into a studio and help the artist fulfill their vision; that's not my thing. Sometimes I can find the special-ness there that [the singer is] not aware of necessarily."
Finch's production philosophy involves striking a balance between what's cool and "what works with the music from a traditional point of view," he says. "So it's still polka music, yet the sound is palatable in terms of 'hip' society. In a lot of ways, everything kind of boils down to that. When you're in the business of selling records and trying to get airplay, everybody's playing pop music. It's hard to get away from."
Since his days as a new-wave visionary in Austin's The Pool, Patrick Keel has always searched for the pulse of tomorrow's music. He moved to Dallas at the dawn of Deep Ellum, founded with David Dennard the mightily influential Dragon Street Records, and has continued to spiral outward. Recently, Keel has ventured into academia as the innovator of Business of Music courses in the Dallas County Community College system. Keel and his students came up with the concept of the Eat Yer Vegetables CDs--class-sponsored, -recorded and -produced compilations featuring local acts.
The first featured a group called Dead City Radio, and their song, "Angie Wood," was a bona fide local hit. That group, of course, became the Grand Street Cryers, and Keel's scholastic projects garnered the respect, credibility, and power they deserved; a second volume of Vegetables is now available, and Keel remains busy in commercial recording pursuits as well.
Chad Lovell (winner)
The travails of Course of Empire might just have been the best thing to happen to local music in a long time. The band's decision to build their own studio in order to record their follow-up to Initiation--once derided and second-guessed--has become a reason to rejoice. The pregnant pause in COE's career forced drummer Chad Lovell to find a way of fighting boredom--if not a second job. Whether helping Doosu churn, Crimson Clay soar, the Lone Star Trio reinvent itself an Strap, or Funland dance (on the over-the-top "Bleed Like Anyone"), Lovell's hands and ears in COE's studio have shaped some of the most notable recordings of the last year.
Lovell considers himself a musician foremost: "I don't consider myself a producer the way Castell and the rest of those guys are. I mean, that's what they do. I'm just dabbling with it, a tech-dweeb guy who likes to twirl knobs and stuff.
"I just wanted to help some friends," he adds. "It's a way to give back a little, a way to share the wealth, so to speak." He pauses. "You know, I needed a way to stay around music, but I didn't want to go out and play drums with every band in town like Michael Jerome," he adds with a laugh, taking a gentle jab at his fellow COE drummer.
With the band finally adding a couple of tracks on their forever-upcoming album, Lovell no longer has to dabble with producing others to be around music. But don't tell the locals that. "I can't really do anything right now, because we need the studio," he says. "But people keep calling me--I guess I've taken on more than I thought. It's weird to be in a position where people really want your help, but you can't do anything about it."
--Scott Kelton Jones
"I'm sort of the 'cut-rate recording guy,'" Sam McCall says, explaining his penchant for working with untried talent. "A lot of the bands that come to me have never recorded before, and so I end up having to help them define their sound--at least, their recorded sound."
For the past five years in Denton's music community, McCall has become known for something other than playing bass for Brutal Juice: You went to him when your cash-strapped band needed a quality recording. It's an invaluable service to UNT student budgets; a McCall recording, usually recorded in an old house near the UNT campus, is renowned for quality approaching that of an expensive studio. The one band that tested the limits of his low-cost, low-tech values was The Grown-Ups, McCall recalls. "I just had a little eight-track, and they had so many instruments. They were a bunch of young kids with a lot of enthusiasm, and it was fun getting all of that onto tape," he says, sounding surprised. "I'm really proud of that 10-inch that they put out on Direct Hit."
With Brutal Juice gone, McCall has more time to produce and guide new bands. Albums from Cornhole and The Banes are forthcoming, as is what he describes as an "experimental project" with a new group, Q.
Keith Rust's status as the George Martin of area producers probably guarantees his nomination even if he turned out nothing but used-car jingles. The house producer-engineer at Crystal Clear Sound watches over and conducts an amazing array of local projects, and it's rare that any area musician makes the big time without having cut his or her studio teeth under Rust's tutelage.
While Rust's ultimate ambition is to own the Boston Red Sox, his love of music and ability to nurture talent are what drive him as a producer. In the past year, for example, he's lent his engineering and production talents to projects for Hagfish, Jeff Liles and cottonmouth, texas, Tripping Daisy, the Reverend Horton Heat, and James Gabrianno. Can Fenway Park be far away?
"The Adventure Club" (winner)
KDGE 94.5 FM
Sundays 7-10 p.m.
Once upon a time, "alternative music" meant something; Now they give away a Grammy for that category. That's why a program like The Adventure Club is so refreshing: Hosts Josh Venable and Keven McAlester riff on local bands--and other genuinely alternative groups nationwide, with lots of bootleg stuff--with dry wit, bickering like an old married couple, spinning discs from local groups that deserve more airplay, and commenting on the influence and merits of bands with knowledge and smarts. Sometimes their sophistication lingers in "hey, this is a cool tune" territory, but Josh and Keven know what they're talking about. They've met these bands and helped cultivate their styles in the way all aficionados do: by giving the source of devotion the kind of exposure and feedback it craves, to know they're meeting a need. The Adventure Club is rare programming nowadays, everything that most local radio shows should be but aren't.
--Arnold Wayne Jones
"The Local Show"
KEGL 97.1 FM
Sundays 9-10 p.m.
Host Chris Ryan's Sunday-night show has been an intriguing offering from the Eagle's hard-rock corridors. Though Ryan can--and will--play local artists like Solinger (whose music is consistent with KEGL's format), he also opens up to include anyone he thinks is good and deserves to be heard, like Fisher, whose Seal-attends-mass-with-Jars of Clay material would otherwise be anathema to hard-rockin' 97.1.
Starting a year ago, The Local Show started emanating live from the Rehab Lounge. After Ryan's one-hour studio program, featured bands then take the Rehab stage for in vivo performance. All in all, it's a refreshingly open-minded and well-conceived effort to focus on up-and-coming Dallas and Fort Worth musicians.
KNTU 88.1 FM
Sundays 10-11:30 p.m.
Maybe it's ignorance or low self-esteem on the part of potential contributors, but Kelley Pound, one of two DJs for "Seeds," a show on the radio station of the University of North Texas that has long welcomed local acts, has been surprised that they haven't received more submissions.
Of course, it could also be that since its creation 10 years ago as a showcase for local talent, "Seeds" has been on the air irregularly. Passing through generations with "zero budget," as Pound says, the station has been run by volunteers who "produce everything you hear on our own time." She and fellow student Robert Hamilton resuscitated Seeds in its present format in January 1996, after a year off the air. Each week, the live show features four local music acts who each get up to 20 minutes of airplay. Talents range from Baboon, Brutal Juice, and the Reverend Horton Heat to some "crazy lady" who sings folk ditties about subjects like being addicted to denim.
This is not the typical staple of 88.1 FM; the show has always been an alternative to the station's staid jazz format, which exists mostly to promote UNT's astounding jazz school.
Pound and Hamilton, of course, are students first, and their incarnation of "Seeds" expired with the school year in May. "We're getting really comfortable now," Pound laments, "and it sucks we're going off the air." The show will return in the fall, if someone is willing to take over the chores. "I think Seeds has a really, really good chance of coming back because it has been so successful in the past," Pound says. "It's just a matter of finding students around here who are concerned with local music and are willing to give the time and effort--without getting paid, without getting any credit for it--to bust their ass to promote local music and bands."
KTXQ 102.1 FM
Weeknights 9-10 p.m.
For proof that local stations desperately want credit for breaking the next hometown hit, look no further than Q102 and "Texas Tapes." Promos for the show proudly bill it as the "longest-running local music show," and want you to know that our backyard rocks and they're the reason why. As Buddy Wiley--Q102's local point man--notes, it was "Texas Tapes" airplay that first introduced Grand Street Cryers' "Angie Wood" to Redbeard and the regular rotation that instantly catapulted the band into the realm of next big thing. Along with bite-sized doses of local acts every weeknight, "Texas Tapes" now sponsors a live show every Sunday evening at the Dark Room, much like the Eagle's (KEGL 97.1 FM) "Local Show" at the Rehab Lounge.
"Obviously, the intensity of local music coverage has increased dramatically over the last few years," Wiley says. "But even with us doing our thing and Chris Ryan doing stuff at Rehab, it's still about the bands. We give them a weekend of promos that they could never afford; they get their name out there. The shows are early and free, so people can get out to see bands they may not have heard of before without any hassles. They may just find something they really like."
--Scott Kelton Jones
KNON 89.3 FM
Wednesdays 8-10 p.m.
Dave Choas is kind of an elfin guy, the host, the ringmaster--anything but the controller--of a two-hour slab of heavy (as in the black, bloody side of Ozzy and the Scorpions) metal known as "Twisted Kicks." From a single window above a funky neighborhood high in the dilapidated KNON mansion, Chaos and his copilot, Bridget Kicks, send out 120 minutes of headbanging delight that would appall students of commercial radio almost as much as it would Journey fans. Sometimes songs run into other songs, only to abruptly fade out. Seconds of dead air tick by between public service announcements and commercials, and local bands drop by to spin their demos, make fart noises, giggle, and tell tales from deep inside the metal underground.
If you like DJs who can accent their jokes about Congress with a wide range of boinnggg noises, or PSAs read by Sammy Hagar, "Twisted Kicks" will frighten and disturb you. If, however, you happen to like the mix of cartoon and cacophony that constitutes all of the hyphenated metals--death-metal, speed-metal, decaying-skull-with-flaming-eyeballs-metal, and all the rest--there's probably no purer or more delightful spot on the radio dial.
"Our motto is 'real people, real radio,'" Chaos says as he shuffles through a pile of CDs in the control room. "And real mistakes." Chaos, a first-generation punk who's been doing the show since "around" 1990, originally shared the two-hour spot with a metal man. There, he made a discovery: metal fans actually supported the music they loved. "Then I started listening more to the music," Chaos recalls. "Stuff like Rigor Mortis and Cannibal Corpse. The stuff I heard was way more outrageous than anything the punks were doing; gradually, I got into all the metal subgenres."
Although Chaos still devotes around a quarter of his total airtime to punk, "I play as much local stuff as I can get my hands on," he vows, as most of Pump'n Ethyl wanders into the studio. Frontman Turner Scott Van Blarcum tells a tale involving a bar in Irving, a shot glass, and a lacerated hand as Pat the Hat gives Bridget a much-needed backrub. Chaos cues up a song and pauses to take a call. "Which song?" Chaos asks the caller. "The one about 'in deed?' Ummmm..." When your playlist leans toward demonically distorted vocals, you sometimes have to help your callers ID a song, but this seeker is a bit off base. "The one after the Amy Grant song?" Everybody looks up--this isn't the first call like this; KNON's request line is apparently only one digit removed from a popular contemporary Christian radio station--as Chaos proceeds to sweet-talk the young lady seeking the "in deed" song.
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"What you need to do is turn your dial a little further down, to 89.3, 'cause that's where I am. Come on down and hang out with me for a while, OK? 89.3, that's right. See ya." Chaos hangs up with a laugh, relishing the idea of winning another set of ears for metal.
Our own Bobby Patterson reportedly has a cut on the upcoming five-volume Rhino '60s soul compilation...A new band is born: The Drive-By Orchestra is local ubiquity Drew Phelps, Ezra Boggs (ex-Tabula Rasa), Ed McMahon (Ten Hands), and dual Petes, Drungle (Tin Man), and Young (Liquid 3). "You can tell everybody in the band has a music degree," Boggs admits, "but it's still really ear-friendly"...Corn Mo and Brutal Juice will both be on a compilation from Which Records titled Show and Tell that will feature beloved TV theme songs. Mo will cover the theme from Charles in Charge, although not with the more accurate lyrics Street Beat suggested ("Charles in charge/of your neighborhood/He's a force for evil/not for good") and is hoping to meet the mercurial Todd Bridges, who contributes the vocals to his own theme from Diff'rent Strokes...
Street Beat uses only the finest chunk white tuna at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.