Ground Breaking Compact Discs



quip to Mr. Parker regarding re-assembling the boys, it’s likely Three Chords Good and This is 40 might never have transpired, which in math even a 14th grade grad like me can do, would have led to little or no momentum to reissue this dormant project, hence no need to communicate what I am about to write and say, you being the judge of its value.

A gold star to John from Quake for putting up with me!  He’s learned quickly that there is a high price to be paid for being my friend, and a diamond for Graham Parker his own self, for recognizing that if not now, then when exactly to free Piss and Vinegar from the artist tribute deep sea and ride the new momentum created by the projects mentioned above.

I had somewhat high minded concepts about the content of this piece but threw 3 drafts out (a remarkable feat since normally I’m a one and done scribe).  Then I saw GP’s brief musing and it helped me find my heading.

Remarkably, this to my knowledge remains the only tribute CD ever compiled yet of cover versions of Graham Parker songs.  You would suspect that a 37 year career which contains a songwriting catalog that most could only aspire to would have inspired some other music label rocket surgeon to come out and play too.  I’m not sorry that no one else has joined the fray.  Frankly, it helps this one step to the head of the class.

There were good reasons and selfish reasons to conceive this baby in the spring of 1995.  Those of us who had been along for the journey with GP were profoundly irritated he was relegated to off the radar status in a Clear Channel radio music world.  We thought, if we could convey our respect and admiration for the artist’s art by spotlighting his songs (not that he ever asked us to do so), if would serve the dual purpose of a fresh coat of paint on his wordplay and might just jumpstart our flagging indie music label, which had quality, but no national outreach, and worse yet, little money.

Cover albums were high art in the 1990’s with legacy artists getting the treatment from the well known and the obscure.  And so it was that it took us a year from the embryonic optimism of April 1995, to the drama laden completion and release in 1996.  And by that time, well intentioned “tribute” records had become commonplace, which diminished our already diminishing fortunes, or at least rendered our modest visions of success even more modest.

I listened to this disc all the way thru for the first time in about 15 years just the other day.  I suppose that it was like many who labor intensely over a project, that once it’s done, it’s off to sail on the new sea.  That said, my re-visit was a happy one and here’s why.

I like this record…I always have.  There is a goodly amount of crash, boom, bang contained here.  The drums are alive in the mix but not in the way of the day where they were so loud it kept the headache companies in tax shelter homes.  The guitars are loud and thrilling, as Rock and Roll was born to be, and like GP, Brinsley and Martin have always played them…to the point, not flashy and memorable.  There is a quality blend of Rumour era reworking and a patch of Graham’s post 80’s solo standouts.  Since the man himself sketches on a broad canvas stylistically, we encouraged the musicians involved not to do paint by number pocket versions of tracks that were already definitive, but to invest themselves into the song template and offer up a shiny new dime. 

It’s intriguing to hear women sing Graham Parker songs.  He’s always struck me as a man’s man’s man, even though he can get tender on our arses.  I’m not sure it has aged well, but I remember that we listened with our mouths open (in this case, a good thing) the first time we heard Stephanie Sayers slink and purr her way thru Watch the Moon Come Down, a selection that Judd Apatow has smartly called new attention to by including the original on the This is 40 soundtrack…what a song…what a performance.  Skip ahead to the re-construction of Questions, something vaguely far eastern and long removed from the menacing Reggae of the original.  The genius of 22 Brides gender bending, You Can't Be Too Strong, our beret wearing lass Lauren Agnelli roaming thru School days, etc, etc.

As for the gents, GP got a band out of this CD for a couple of years after hearing The Figgs stomp thru Passion, a circumstance not to be taken lightly.  I love the goofball Reggae treatment (ganja the culprit?) of Start a Fire by Black Jelly bean, the stately stroll of Bill Kelly and the House of Cards on the re-imagined Pourin it All Out, and the country soul voice of Neal Casal on Black Honey.  I love the way Samuel St. Thomas Dylan’s up Mr. Tender, and have I mentioned The Health and Happiness Show’s joyful noise on Stupefaction?  I do believe I just did!

Piss and Vinegar was decently received when it was released and it got out there so we got to poke our noses into the music business nether region for a space in time.  It is not lost upon me that as of this writing in 2013, I don’t think any of the musicians still exist in their form on the CD either as solo artists or ensembles which absolutely appeals in a way to my still intact sense of the ironic.

As for our once hopeful and well intentioned indie record label you might rightly query?  After it became crystal clear that this piece wasn’t our ticket out of northwest NJ, we soldiered/floundered on for a few more years, victims of lack of capital, bad decisions, and the piranha fish pool that is music biz success.  Within 4 years, promised venture capital turned out to be snake oil (a phrase that has recently revived) my partner and co-owner of Buy or Die and I had a falling out, stopped speaking and haven’t resumed to this day.  The musicians, who we stupidly mostly worked with on hand shakes and good will, scattered like we were radioactive as people will do when you are wounded (with notable exceptions who remain friends to this day) and I spent the summer of 2000 living at and sleeping in my record store, separated from my first wife (soon to be divorced) and 9 year old son, broke, scared and in ruins.  In old school terms, a record industry casualty.  In new school terms, WTF happened?...which makes it even more gratifying that Piss and Vinegar has been deemed righteous and right for another chance at your ears. 

I’ll make no bold statements as to the merit and worth of this record, that’s up to you.  I will state that in my weekly role as indie retail record store owner (26 years and counting), plus host and programmer of The Paleface Parabola on internet radio, that it’s with conviction I state that I listen to a lot of music and am not bound by trends or ceremony and I believe this valentine to Graham Parker’s incredible songs and his equally incredible band is not at all a waste of your time, made even more special by the fact that what you are about to hear just crawled back from a lot of wreckage.

I see that GP has made a mention of me in his comments.  As I told him, Piss and Vinegar did not see life only because of me, but it wouldn’t have happened without me and that’s true truth.  The tiny staff of Buy of Die has returned to their neutral corners, never to be re-assembled again.  Yet mentions must be noted of Michelle (who carried us for years), Jeff (who came up with this idea), Glen (our artist and gadfly) and the musicians and friends who made most of this damn thing worthwhile.  Special mentions to my former friend Ray McKenzie of Zero Hour Records, a like minded fellow traveler and benefactor who also eventually crashed and burned!  And listen, if there is anyone reading this who was involved with the CD and feels they didn’t get enough of a mention, A) it’s a miracle you’re even reading this! And B) it’s been 13 years for crying out loud, I can barely remember what I did 13 hours ago!

To bring the journey back to the focus, I was as stunned as likely you were the morning I woke up and read Graham Parker and the Rumour had reunited and were releasing a new CD, plus being featured in a major movie.  I firmly embrace the post-modern potential for surreality of life in a Mitch McConnell world, but my thought was don’t toy with me, Parker!  Turns out he wasn’t.

I listened to Three Chords Good (though the New York Times might have had you seeking a different CD title) for about the 10th time all the way through today, about 7 or 8 more than is my norm.  I’m here to say that these guys are absolutely not mailing it in.  There are a lot of flavors as you would expect and the disc is better than we could have hoped for, but I knew that by the 3rd time I listened to the fire starter Coat Hangers.  I listened 3 times to confirm what the first 2 had already told me, that they were back and it was a good day that they had returned.  And that’s just one song on a disc where I count 7 that stand tall alongside the high bar already set.  Now, about that gay Christian Rock CD cover…

My wife and I went to see the group in concert this past December of 2012.  31 years had passed and they walked out to a standing ovation and met the love by opening with Fools Gold.  We personally knew a dozen hipsters who attended, and after the show, the consensus was that there weren’t enough superlatives.  It’s clear from reading his blog, that while the skinny fella might have once dismissed our praise as a passing phase, the man who has been on the long emotional ride is grateful and humble in this current place of wherever he and the band are going to.

I remember living in Asbury Park for a time in the late 70’s (actually I don’t recall as much as I could or should due to that period’s alarming frequent visits to the medicine cabinet).  I remember risking scorn or death by insisting to fellow pub denizens that GP and the Rumour were the equal to and perhaps the better of “you know who and the you know what’s.”  Turns out it wasn’t that foggy of a notion considering recent comments by Bruce.  I remain enthralled at the lasting impact of these early records, my Lord, life wouldn’t have been life without Howlin Wind and Heat Treatment in 1976, released 9 months apart and still possibly the best one-two punches ever thrown by a new Rock and Roll band.  The version of The Trammps’ Hold Back the Night was a freeze in my tracks moment, it couldn’t have been that good but it was.  Stick to Me remains a criminally underrated 1977 observations of a Fort Apache world.  Squeezing Out Sparks is iconic to the point where it’s pointless to add, so I won’t.  And then after The Up Escalator, it was over for 3 decades.  And those 3 decades were filled with top-shelf solo work and great records…many out of print.

This overview has gone on for 20 pages so the finish line appears ahead.  It’s off to plan for volume 2 which currently (and likely forever) exists only in my own head.  But really, can’t you embrace Joe Henry producing Piss and Vinegar redux with Mavis Staples or Bettye Lavette singing Old Soul, or Jimmy Cliff and the Aggrolites teaming up to Rock Steady on a mash up of Snake Oil/Howlin Wind, or the Rolling Stones covering Did Everybody Just Get Old?  Or…..

A short postscript is mandatory here to thank my partner for life, Nancy Marie, for transcribing and whelping my palaver into readability.  To show my appreciation you’ve got tomorrow off. 

For any advice, abuse or comments on this disc or this essay, Facebook, Jerry Balderson or E-mail, prodigalson1157@hotmail.com with the proviso, don’t ask me questions!

-- Jerry Balderson

I insisted on scribbling a new epistle for the renewal and redemption of this 13 year exiled museum piece you either hold in your hand or have just downloaded in some form or fashion.  It simply didn’t sit well with my increasingly picky 56 year young middle age memory bank (or at least what’s left of it) to revive this disc as it was.  So now, if you care to, you can read on to grasp context and perspective as to how it is now and a bit on how it was in 1996.  Huzzah and kudos to the writers who shared space in the original booklet; my friend and cohort in radio and print mischief, Bill Nutt and a high five also to Jon Tiven who did a lot of the heavy lifting to help get this disc together and also wrote an overview about GP.  Sorry lads…we’ll put you in the box set when it comes out in 2025!

I would be remiss also without pausing to send props to Steve Goulding, The Rumour’s high caliber drummer.  Had he not made his admirably/impish semi-