Tonight is Quentin Tarantino Night on American Idol, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the passing of Delfonics founder Randy Cain (left), considering the Delfonics figured so heavily into the most charming scenes of QT’s Jackie Brown. The Delfonics were one of the first Philadelphia soul bands, and the perfect harmonies and dramatic arrangements—courtesy of super-genius instrumentalist Thom Bell—were indicative of the Philadelphia sound to come, if a little lower budget.
The Delfonics’ first five records or so (all Bell-produced) are pretty impeccable, and yielded Top Ten hits like “La-La Means I Love You” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”, as well as many other R&B hits. Like a lot of classic soul acts, their legacy lived on through sampling of their work, in addition to the support of Mr. Tarantino.
“La-La Means I Love You”: The importance of this song can’t be understated. It was an early codification and legitimization of the Philly sound, and it would establish Thom Bell as a super-producer and architect of a city’s sound.
“Ready Or Not Here I Come(Cant Hide From Love)”: You might remember this one from Missy Elllot’s “Sock It 2 Me” and The Fugees’ “Ready Or Not.”
“I’m Sorry”: This has a solid, emphatic beat.
Cain left the Delfonics in 1971, moving on to help form Blue Magic (though he didn’t play on their fabulous song “Sideshow”) He returned to the Delfonics in 1999.
Dan Seals, ’70s soft-rock one-hit wonder and ’80s country star, died on Wednesday after a struggle with mantle cell lymphoma. There aren’t too many second acts in popular music, but after one very big song (the No. 2 hit “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight”) and a few other top ten singles as “England Dan” with John Ford Coley, Dan Seals reinvented himself as a country star slowly building an audience, eventually topping the county charts eleven times before seeing his popularity slip away by the early nineties. The late eighties are largely overlooked as far as country music’s timeline goes, and largely for good reason as the popular music of that era would have confused and frightened the originators of the genre, but Seals’ biggest hit “Bop” is one of those songs that occasionally gets stuck in my head for an entire day. Buried among the synths and odd stylistic choices of the era are earnest, well performed vocals of a man who made the most of a second run at music fame. Several songs from both eras of his career are below the cut.
At 5 p.m. yesterday, Pylon guitarist Randall “Randy” Bewley passed away, and my beloved hometown of Athens is a lot poorer for it. Randy contributed to our town in multiple ways, as a member of a legendary band, as an elementary school art teacher, and as a father of two, an all-around great guy by all accounts. To call him a unique talent would be an understatement. I will put this in as delicate manner as possible: Randy Bewley was not a good “traditional” guitar player. He was not the guy you’d call upon to cover a song straight up. He was not a “strum the chords” kind of guy. But make no mistake of it: Randy was an amazing guitar player, one of the handful of true artists out there whose tone and style of playing was immediately recognizable.
Pylon started, as many great (and Athens) bands do, before its members were truly comfortable with their instruments, and they were a better band for it, using the members’ lack of technical prowess as a raison d’etre. Their early success around Athens gained the interest of the B-52′s, among others, and that led them to an opening gig for Gang of Four in New York in 1980. The pairing makes complete sense, with both groups’ emphasis on punk rock/new wave that has a good beat that you can dance to, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Pylon’s music is more universal, preaching about (and against) things like literacy, dancing, conformity, and the general nature of being cool. Pylon was aggressive, minimalist, danceable, Southern, and androgynous. Randy fairly stabbed at his guitar, usually in spiky rhythm with Curtis Crowe’s relentless drumming. Add to that Michael Lachowski’s menacing monolithic bass bum bum bums and Vanessa Briscoe (Hay)’s primal howls, and, wow, what a rad band.
Coming up around the same time as R.E.M., the band’s influence and history on the Athens music scene can’t be understated–they practiced at the original 40 Watt location–but it goes much farther than that. I often see this sort of thing written about Pylon: “Though they never achieved R.E.M.’s level of success….”, but let’s be frank, how many bands do? Pylon, before their first of two break-ups, opened for the Talking Heads, R.E.M. (who covered “Crazy” and called them the Best Band in America once in Rolling Stone), Gang of Four, the B-52′s, and the entirety of U2′s first US tour! Not bad for a band of four UGA art students who just wanted a free trip to NYC out of the deal, as the legend goes.
The band left behind three albums—two of which are out-and-out monsters—and in the last eight years of the dance-punk-indietronica-whatever-you-wanna-call-it renaissance, Randy’s spiky rhythmic guitar style has been adopted by a legion of bands, whether they know it or not. Though Gang of Four is the most bandied-about influence given for bands like Hot Hot Heat, Franz Ferdinand, and the Rapture, I’d like to think that there is just as much Pylon in there as well, and certainly Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s superior yawps opened the door for a host of nontraditional female singers like Kathleen Hanna and Karen O. As their music became au courant again, Pylon reunited for a number of shows and small tours over the last few years, but their getting back together always had the good-natured feel of “why the hell not?” rather than a cynical cash-in. And, good God, the band had not lost a step. In fact, I would say two of the best shows I’ve seen in the last five years were Pylon shows, sweaty, wild affairs whose departing audience bore the Permagrin™ of a communal good time. It’s no surprise, then, that DFA latched onto them, reissuing Gyrate last year and Chomp in the coming months. Half of DFA’s catalog owes a great debt to Pylon, and it was nice to see James Murphy and Co. acknowledge that fact.
I didn’t know Randy super well. He performed in Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s newest project Supercluster, and they recorded and practiced at my house often because my roommate Kay played bass in that Athens supergroup. To be honest, I played the role of weird roommate who hung around in the shadows, fairly in awe at the talent convened in my kitchen, munching on the army of snacks the generous Vanessa brought with her to satiate her bandmates’ collective sweet/salt tooth. Randy was always a gracious, nice guy, and I eventually got up the nerve to talk to both him and Vanessa, and what little acquaintance I have had with them I count as one of the great treasures in my life. He had also joined Hannah Jones’ New Sound of Numbers project, now called Sound Houses, and his presence has transformed that band into a kind of monotonal This Heat/Silver Apples dance band that was becoming one of my favorites in town. He remained possessed of that singular guitar tone and style, for better or worse. I once heard Supercluster try to do some (for charity) Elton John covers in the other room, and it was a glorious mess. Randy refused to play nice with the chords, as unique in approach as ever, dismantling the songs and reshaping them in his image. Like I said, it was kind of a mess, but, in retrospect, he stayed true to the style he created, a committed musical nonconformist until the end. That’s the greatest compliment I could pay any musician, really.
Pylon, “Danger” (from Gyrate)
Pylon, “Cool” (at the Knitting Factory a couple of months ago)
, music critic and all-around genius, died of a stroke in Seattle on Thursday. I didn’t know Rickey personally—I followed his byline and occasionally ran into him online in one way—but if you take just a few minutes to read about him today online, it’s easy to see how his death has affected people in the online music community.
Wright was an editor for Amazon for some time (that job brought him to Seattle), and his work appeared in publications like USA Today, the Village Voice, Blender, Harp, and the Seattle Weekly. He also won the 1999 Rhino Music Aptitude Test, a fact that seems somewhat trivial at first glance, but if you’ve actually seen the test or some of the people who have failed it miserably, you realize what a testament to his musical knowledge that accolade really is.
Besides all that, Wright just seemed like a good guy, opinionated and knowledgeable while remaining kind and friendly, even to those he might not ever meet face to face. Ned Raggett has a tribute to Wright that is far better than this brief one, and there is a Facebook group collecting memories and remembrances of Wright as well. Wright was 45.
Ben Sisario’s obituary of Estelle Bennett, the original Ronette who passed away last week at age 67, is heartbreakingly well-written, shining a light on the torments that she suffered from, including anorexia and schizophrenia, in her post-Ronettes years. [NYT]