Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chapter Thirty Five: "Tropical Trash - 'Fear of Suffering.'"

Tropical Trash made me cut myself today.

I was listening to their new seven-inch "Fear of Suffering" while shaving. One of the sides ended unexpectedly on my record player. I jumped to run and grab the record before the needle spilled and scratched into the label hole. That jump cut my face with the razor, straight into the cheek. Blood, pain, fear of suffering.

Jim Marlowe granted me access to this latest marshy exploration of porphyrized sound Tropical Trash has delivered unto the masses (or the lesses, who knows). Everything here is juggernautish, rhythmically, aesthetically, and artistically. It's some of the best disjointed rock ever put onto rekkid. It's a tomcat, or maybe a tomcod, or a tomboy, or a tombstone to most things before and after. I'm trying to say its definitely in the running for my favorite release of 2012.

The music contained within this disc is a challenging assault on reality. The band made my listening experience confrontational from the start. My hands were shaky enough from too much coffee, too much beer from the night before. Pulling out the 45, the inner sleeve came out. I was too inept to push it back in. The white vinyl is armed with a white unlabeled label. What side do I play? What speed? Fuck it, I put it on and figured it all out. All of it. I understand everything now. It's all clear. And scary. And I think I accidentally spilled sweetened condensed milk on the right upper hand of the record's cover, unless it came like that. As I became engrossed in the music, I began to imagine that they did put a smudge of sweetened condensed milk on every cover, just to thatch people's brains a little more.

It's a mysterious recording, but I've always enjoyed the mystery a seven-inch can convey. Hearing something unsolvable ups the ante for me. Keeps things uncontrolled and darkened; makes you wonder who these people are, what they do. Are they some cult locked in a cave somewhere making these noises. Maybe.

Side one is "Baltimore," and it takes up that whole side. I tried listening to it in my normal record-listening stance: sitting on couch in front of the player. Instead, I was immediately twisting large populations of hair from head, pacing the room in anxiety, wringing my hands, stasis achieved.What have they done? What are they doing? "Baltimore"'s punched lyrics drive in-between a looming bit that sticks like metal in your mouth. Guitar sounds crash into each other until suddenly entering a "jazz" phase of improv'ed noise spread that sounds as if the band is destructing its guitars at a dank anchored correctional facility somewhere under the ocean. Then it all comes back, and that strange punching lyrical assault becomes a spiritual hand to lead you through to the end.

Then side two squashes all hope. "False Crypt" starts the side off hammering your pores away with overlapped vocals and Jordan's drums careening and jolting into time travel. I think the song is - what - a minute long? You could call it "related to black metal" but that would be wrong. It's just fucking fast and loud ugly and amazing. And then before you can stop cutting your legs with the razor you kept from the bathroom, "Pentagram Ring Finger" starts making you bob your head to what I guess might be mid-tempo in the Tropical Trash Fields of Gold.

"Raw Mind" delves left with a riff that sounds like it was recorded backwards, but was not. And again, those strange lyrics. It's demise makes you think something might resolve, but you are left to hold your head and weep, digging until callouses form on the tips of the digits. Horns have shown up at this point in the recording, and I don't mean those of the devil, but rather the instruments, playing the devil's music. "Burning Ghost" ends it all with a prankful stomp forward that at points comes the closest to something resembling straight punk on the record, but it actually doesn't.

This oddly balanced, frightening seven-inch is pretty perfect in that it sort of blankets Tropical Trash's sounds, which can range in a lot of different directions. They are soldiers constructing bridges between full-blast noise quests leading into improvised sparseness that can then shoulder a variety of tempos and styles in-between. Jim, Jordan and Kirk have assembled some intense and creative rock, bolting it down with clamps to a blab board and letting it wean. Highly recommended.   

Available on the Sophomore Lounge/Tropical Trash bandcamp, and at fine record stores in Louisville (including at Jim's new one, Astro Black Records, I would assume).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chapter Thirty Four: "Love Kills: The Wild World of Vinnie Vincent."

On May 21, 2011, Diane Cusano drove herself to the sheriff's office covered in blood and smelling of alcohol. Cusano told the police she and her husband had argued over a woman he had spoken with on the preceding Saturday. Cusano explained that during the argument, her husband, rock guitarist-songwriter Vinnie Vincent, had told her to get the fuck out of the house, smacked her in face, grabbed her by the hair, drug her through the leftover glass fragments of a broken plate on the floor, and threw her to the ground four more times. The police visited the Vincent/Cusano residence. Vincent refused to answer any questions about the incident and was arrested. On the property, police also found four plastic containers containing dead dogs. A tiny neighborhood in Rutherford County, Tennessee, suddenly received rare media attention as Cusano's story quickly became public.

I wondered at this point if somewhere in Hollywood, KISS bassist-vocalist Gene Simmons was saying to someone, "I told you so," framed by a weird tongue-flick and a wry comment about how many women he has slept with.   

Wait. Let's skip back a few tracks.
In 1985, I started listening to KISS. I don't mean casually, I mean I decided to dedicate myself to the band. It wasn't necessarily love at first site; my father had attended some of the defining KISS concerts of the mid to late 1970s, and owned "KISS Alive!" on vinyl and eight-track. I have very early memories of him playing that (dubbed) eight-track version on Saturday afternoons, usually while running through some housework. It was thrown into a blender of the other music he sometimes pulled out on Saturdays. While I read comics, he was fixing or cleaning something in the living room, listening to "Wings Over America," Three Dog Night, or "Alive!" At some point my brother absconded with that vinyl copy of "Alive!" (it seems to have passed between us since; I think I currently have it now), and I would listen to it in his room here and there. But I was never solely or truly hooked on the band; they seemed bizarre and scary to me at first, which is the main attraction KISS can have to a kid.

Oddly, it wasn't until I was 11 or 12, staying up late on Saturday nights, that I got sucked into the KISS universe via MTV. The band had released its latest album, "Asylum," and the single "Tears Are Falling" seemed alright with me. I had already fallen into the weird world of 1980s glam and heavy metal, sported a jean jacket with inked logos on the back, and a half-assed mullet. Metal videos were my background and foreground throughout my days, and I dug the poppy flamboyancy of that song. Next thing I knew I was playing it at show-n-tell in music class and severely addicted to purchasing every single release KISS had. I collected obsessively, buying both the older KISS of the 70s, when they wore they makeup, and yes, relishing in the newer KISS of the 80s, sans makeup and built on more pop-rock goodness. I studied each vinyl album I bought, learning all of the lyrics, reading all of the liner notes 1000 times, trying to decipher who the producers and other songwriters that contributed to the band. Each album was an odyssey for me, and I would spend months re-listening to each one. I skipped the chronological lifestyle and bought them in random order. I had most of the 70s output when I finally hit what I considered their obscure years, the end of the 70s and the early 80s, when KISS sales had been low and their albums were not events as they had been at one time.

This isn't meant to be a history of my love of KISS, but is a long path that brings us back to the mysterious Cusanos. During my travels of purchase, I hunted down what would become my favorite album by the band: "Creatures of the Night," released in 1982. "Creatures" can be a confusing record to understand, especially to a 13 year old without the aid of the Internet, I suppose. It was definitely a transition record. It was the last album the band recorded while still wearing makeup (before the reunion shows), the last album recorded for their long-time record company Casablanca, the second album to feature their "new" drummer Eric Carr. The album was released with two covers; the one I bought was a re-released version without makeup, showing guitarist Bruce Kulick, who had nothing to do with the album.

 The original cover showed the band in makeup, featuring original guitarist Ace Frehley, who really had nothing to do with the album.

In fact, the guitarist used on the record was a mystery, being a lineup of uncredited musicians. The SOUND of the album grabbed me, though. The drums were the heaviest I had ever heard, and their was a spark in the music that left behind the band's attempts to fit in with yacht rock, pop and disco and of the late 70s. It was heavy, loud and wonderful. And there was a co-writer on three of my favorite songs I did not recognize: Vinnie Vincent.

Vinnie Vincent had been hired to replace the legendary Frehley, and this was big news in the KISS-world, which can have devoted fanatics to the behind-the-scenes minutiae that existed within the band like a soap opera; almost like hard rock pro-wrestling. According to Vincent in a 1995 interview, although Frehley was credited on the album, "Creatures" basically represented try-outs by the band for a new guitarist. Several guitarists played on the record, including Bob Kulick. Eddie Van Halen also showed interest in disbanding Van Halen over conflicts with singer David Lee Roth and joining KISS. However, when Frehley officially left the band after the release of "Creatures," it was Vincent who was selected. Vincent joined during the tour for "Creatures," adopting his own makeup, that of the Egyptian Ankh, rumored to be designed by KISS frontman Paul Stanley.

The band released its 1983 album "Lick It Up" and suddenly sales jumped. With the heavier drumming style from Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent's guitars (and songs) on "Creatures" and "Lick It Up," KISS had left behind their attempts to fit in with the pop charts and were now accepted in the circle of glam metal bands of the 1980s. "Lick It Up" was also heavily promoted due to the fact that the band decided to remove its makeup and began making more popular music videos. Besides being a guitarist, Vincent also brought to the table his songwriting style. Of the ten songs on the album, eight were co-written by Vincent. In a sense, both Carr and Vincent were very important and instrumental in furthering the career of KISS, which at the curtain call of the 1970s, seemed to be faltering.

Cusano hailed from Bridgeport, Connecticut. His parents were musicians, and are rumored to have made their own Country and Western recordings in the 40s and 50s. Born in 1952, he quickly began attempting a career in music. Some sources credit him as recording a demo as early as 1965 with session bassist Neil Stubenhaus called Younger Generation, which gained a lot of local attention. Desperate to make a living as a musician, Cusano spread himself out into a variety of bands playing a variety of music, including jazz and funk-pop. After graduating in 1970, Cusano started Hunter, which recorded a demo that same year at the Connecticut Recording Studios, where he would later work as a session guitarist for many recordings.

The first professional recording by Cusano came in 1976, with the release of the seven-inch "Happy Birthday USA," a single written in attempts to cash in on the bicentennial of the nation. Cusano was credited as Winnie LeCoux and plays guitar and sings, along with keyboardist/vocalist Kid Cashmir, who tried his own solo career, but is more known for managing and dating a young Cyndi Lauper.


Cusano's career began a slow march through several acts in the 70s. He played guitar on a soul/R and B album by the band Hitchhikers in 1976, which also featured some of his songwriting, especially on the b-sided track "This Song's for You Mama."  That same year he contributed to this 45 from Black Satin:

Connections and more connections and working whatever job he could land finally brought Cusano into the band Treasure with keyboardist/vocalist/producer Felix Cavaliere, formerly of the Young Rascals. It was 1977, and yacht rock was in the air. Cusano's song "Innocent Eyes" was released in South Africa as a single. After Treasure split, there was more studio work that eventually led him to land a gig with fellow Connecticut singer-songwriter Dan Hartman, providing him with his biggest break to date.

For Vinnie, Hartman was the big time. In an interview at the 1995 Chicago KISS Expo, Vincent discussed his adoration of Hartman, a poppish/disco-ish singer-songwriter who had worked with Edgar Winter, whom Vinnie considered the prototype of LA glam. The 1978 album "Instant Replay" featured Cusano on a few tracks (including sharing a solo with long-time "Saturday Night Live" band leader and "Late Night with David Letterman" member G.E. Smith). Cusano also appeared in this happy funtime video from the album. I swear, it might be the smiliest I've ever seen the man. Check out the dance moves in this "soul-disco" classic:

It was not actually too far from where KISS was at that year, when they released "I Was Made For Lovin' You" in order to keep up with the disco craze. To paraphrase Paul Stanley from the documentary "KISS X-Treme Close-up, "everybody liked a big bass going up their wazoo." The "Instant Replay" album featured photos of Cusano, the video, and while the album peaked at #80, it brought Vinnie his first international exposure and touring. It also led to appearances on several music television shows, including "American Bandstand" and "The Midnight Special."

More session worked with Laura Nyro, Felix Cavaliere's solo album "Castles in the Air," and this Kim Fowley-produced track by Tommy Rock in 1979:

Vinnie started couch-crashing in Los Angeles, and through his connections with Hartman, Cusano gained a spot in Edgar Winter's touring band, as well as gigging in LA with drummer Carmine Appice's band Rockers, who included one of Cusano's songs on their self-titled 1982 debut full-length. He added some guitar to the soft soul rock cranked out by the band Heat on their album "Still Waiting" in 1981. I can handle some early 80s soul-rock - I was basically raised on it sitting next to my Mom's stereo - but not this stuff. Shudder.

While working as a session player, Vinnie was also writing material for himself, other artists, and oddly enough, the "Happy Days" and "Joanie Loves Chachi" TV shows. Paying the bills however he could, he got himself a manager. This manager just happened to be the same manager as one Paul "Ace" Frehley, who was busy looking at material for his upcoming solo venture, Frehley's Comet. More on that later. The point is, Cusano was working it; writing songs, making demos, shopping his talents around. The song "Back on the Streets" seemed to be some sort of winner right out of the gate. Co-written with Richie Friedman, this tune has gotten some travel during the 80s. First, Vinnie's version, with him on lead vocals, recorded in 1981:

It would eventually be recorded 6 times in its entirety. The first commercial use was when it was picked up by the band 3 Speed and recorded for the soundtrack to that classic film "Voyage of the Rock Aliens" in 1984:

The song will surface later. Another of Cusano's demos would surface survive his initial recordings and eventually lead to the connections that would change his life. "Tears" was co-written with Adam Mitchell, a writing partner Cusano teamed with on a few songs. To make a long story short in the middle of an overly long story, Mitchell was also brought in to "freshen" up the songs KISS was currently working on for their next album "Creatures of the Night." As mentioned before, KISS' careers were hanging in the balance at that moment, and "Creatures" had a lot of pressure to hit big. Mitchell connected Cusano to Gene Simmons, and the quote I've read a million times in a million places has been that they got along great. There were rumors and talk that Frehley was leaving the band. Cusano began performing ghost sessions for KISS in the studio, along with several other guitarists, almost as auditions. However, Simmons and KISS did not bite. Yet. Instead, through the family of connected KISS-people, Cusano and Mitchell's "Tears" were sold to former KISS drummer Peter Criss for his 1982 solo album "Let Me Rock You":

1982 began to erupt for Cusano. Simmons then recommended Cusano as a replacement guitarist for the band New England, a group that had originally been produced by KISS singer-guitarist Paul Stanley. Cusano eventually took over as lead guitarist and singer, renamed the band Warrior and began work on an album.

Robert Fleischman was brought in as the main vocalist. Cusano was concentrating on getting the Warrior album finished, as well as still enmeshed in some session work for Was (Not Was). However, all Warrior business would come to an end (sort of). While KISS slung a revolving door of guitarists through the "Creatures" sessions, Vinnie, who had co-written many of the songs on the album, officially became the newest member of the band. Frehley quit after a brief promotional tour in Europe. Cusano became Vinnie Vincent, a name changed suggested by Simmons, and he was given the persona of the Ankh Warrior.

"Creatures" didn't really revive the band's career, but seemed to keep them afloat, heads barely above water. It gained positive reviews, though, and was revered by die-hard KISS Army fans as a return to the hard rock sound the band seemed to have left behind on the last two albums. Vincent learned the set list as quick as he could and was set out on tour, playing arenas for the first time in his life. In an attempt to have his own signature guitar look to compete with Frehley's well-known Les Paul, Vincent decided to use a guitar designed for Randy Rhoads by Jackson Guitars. Rhoads had passed away in March 1982, so it actually became associated with Vincent, who used it the rest of his career.

The video single for "Creatures" was, in fact, a Vinnie tune originally called "Loud and Proud," but re-written to become "I Love It Loud," a concert staple for the band since.

As I mentioned earlier, "Creatures" became my favorite album by the band in their discography, featuring Vincent's songs and Carr's drums. However, ticket sales were low for the tour, which limped on into 1983. Shows were cancelled, arenas were half full. I found this regionally relevant quote on www.vinnie-vincent.com (which offers the most complete bio of the man I can find) from Lexington's The Herald-Leader: "Maybe this would be a good time for KISS to call it quits. The heavy metal rock theatre group brought its act back into Rupp Arena last night to a less than spirited reception from about 2,500 survivors of the KISS Army" (Herald, 1/7/83).

What "Creatures" did do was set the stage for KISS' return with their follow-up, "Lick It Up." A few things buoyed "Lick It Up." First, the band had a semi-coherent lineup, instead of the confusing mess of trying to promote an album not knowing whether or not fan-favorite Ace was in the group or on the album or not. The band also decided to take off the make-up that had defined their image and reveal their faces for the first time in a decade on a special prime-time MTV special in September 1983. This bought them a lot of attention.

The band committed themselves to the video age at that point, as well, releasing videos for "Lick It Up" and "All Hell's Breaking Loose." The songs on the album were still hard rock, but catchy, and appealed to the metal fans of the era. Eight of the ten songs on the album were co-written by Vincent. I t was this fact that cemented in my teenage mind that Vincent was a songwriting genius. GENIUS. Well. I was thirteen. But, despite his rep as a shredding metal guitarist, if you look back on the 70s and early 80s output, it's all about hard rock songs, not shreddin'.

Basically, with the "Lick It Up" tour, Vinnie's relationship with KISS hit the rocks. He had never officially signed a contract with the band based on disagreements on what his role was and how much he should receive, and this just grew into an immense sort point between him and Simmons and Stanley. He supposedly threw about the idea that he was solely responsible for the resurgence of KISS. He also began to take elongated un-cued guitar solos that through the band off during concerts. At the end of the European leg of the "Lick It Up" tour, Vincent was out. But, since the band could not find a replacement in time for its North American tour, he finished out that tour, which seemed to cement the dead relationship between him and Stanley and Simmons. 

In mid-1984, Vincent seemed to immediately begin work on starting his own band based around new material he had written, as well as the demos from the Warrior project. Robert Fleischman was brought back, and Vinnie spent all his time in the studio. He sent the demos to former KISS road manager George Sewitt, who, as mentioned before, was Ace's manager. 

Oddly enough, when Ace left KISS, he went back to an old song he had received from Sewitt, a tune called "Back on the Streets" written by his replacement before he was called to join KISS. A demo was recorded in 1984. However, Vincent decided to keep the song for himself.

Again, according to www.vinnie-vincent.com, who were quoting KISS writer and expert Dale Sherman, Sewitt was able to procure an massive record deal with Chrysalis for Vincent's project. It amounted to somewhere in the vicinity of four million dollars over the course of eight albums. A pretty huge deal based on Vincent's songs. The band was to be anchored with the big name of Vinnie Vincent Invasion, which I deemed to be somewhat narcissistic at the time. And still do today, really. But I was ready. I was a fan of Vinnie and awaited the album. Being a huge KISS fan, I followed everyone who had left the band, except for Peter Criss, and that was just because I didn't really care for Criss' 1978 solo album. I owned every other solo project spit out by the band members that were starting to get spit out of KISS in the 1980s, including (of course) Frehley's Comet. Vinnie had been replaced by Mark St. John in KISS, who left after one album and released his solo project White Tiger, which was one of the worst albums I had ever heard at that time. Vinnie had to better.

While he worked on the first VVI record, his songs began appearing on other artists' albums, as well, including those by Wendy O. Williams (produced and aided by Simmons and Stanley). 1985 came and went and the world became a very different place than what Vinnie existed in as far as both early Warrior or even the music and image he had projected with "Lick It Up" in 1983. Pop and glam metal began to climb the charts. By the time 1986 rolled into existence, bands such as Poison, Motley Crue, Cinderella, and Europe were teasing their hair and wearing lipstick. Pink leather was the new look and Vinnie adapted. He kept the Jackson guitar, teased his hair to a scary level, dressed in purple robes and black lace on his arms. His face was done up in smears of thick eyeshadow and liner. He almost looked unrecognizable. In August 1986, the debut album dropped on an (completely unaware, unsuspecting and for the most part, uncaring) populace. One warm summer night, my thirteen-year-old self sat and dropped his jaw while watching this on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball": the first video from Vinnie Vincent Invasion, "Boyz Are Gonna Rock."

OK, let me explain the context here.

Yes, 1986 was a time period when the rock charts were dominated by some pop and hard rock, but glam rock and metal were everywhere that year. But not all metal is or was the same. Speed and thrash metal were in existence, as well, being led by Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, Venom and Exodus. They disassociated themselves from the glam scene, playing faster and scarier music. They eschewed the glam and glitter, sticking mostly with black leather and less pretty looks. There existed a complete variety for those of us immersed in the metal genre. Pop/glam metal sold the most, though. Motley Crue had released "Theater of Pain" and started wearing pink and sold a billion copies of their ballad "Home Sweet Home." Bon Jovi were ranked among the glammers, playing a catchy hard rock. In fact, metalheads often argue about the metal credit given to such bands Bon Jovi, Cinderella, etc. It doesn't matter to me; I loved all of it. But you have to admit, while songs by White Lion or LA Guns had sex smeared through them, they were essentially poppy and fun to sing along with. Parents still hated it, but a fun Bon Jovi song is only a step away from a Bryan Adams Top 40 hit.

Motley Crue

Poison arrived and popularized the showiness a slight step forward, basically wearing full women's makeup. They're music was not aggressive in any sense, but again, very fun and easy to latch onto as far as an upbeat chorus about partying and having sex goes. But they were called on it, and they used it, and suddenly glam metal bands were all trying to outdo each other with higher hair, more makeup, more loud colors. It was known as Fashion Metal for a reason. And bands like that were appearing everywhere all the time, crawling out of the woodwork like little dolled-up maggots sporting white spandex pants and permed hair. Boys raised their falsetto voices higher and higher, bared more skin and got tighter and tighter pants. Bon Scott was rolling over in his grave. Lemmy was rolling his eyes. I was having a ball.


Vinnie Vincent Invasion seemed to take all of this and go extreme and oddly to the left with it. Sure, he's glam, but he looks like a 60-year old leftover drag queen performing in a dying nightclub somewhere in Vietnam because he missed the memo and the boat when the war ended. His drummer Bobby Rock looked like a pro-wrestler going through a sex-change. The only other bands I can liken their look to at the time might have been Twisted Sister, whose makeup and costumes almost seemed to mock everyone who wore makeup and costumes. I don't think Vinnie was mocking people; he wanted that young crowd, that massive audience, and he was going to take all of the elements, turn them up to 19, eat some cocaine, and give it to the kids, whether they wanted it or not.

And the music: this was not easy to listen to. Sure, the chorus to "Boyz Are Gonna Rock" is singable and memorable. But the song was hostile and just threatening. Not a Death or Black or Speed Metal threatening about death and violence and war and Satan, but rather an invasive attack on whatever. It was like a coup against glam. I mean, the song opens with a harsh feedback, overlayed by more feedback being whammied the hell out of, and then that mean sounding riff. Rock's drums sound like his pounding punching bags when he hits his toms. And then Fleischman's high-pitched squeal of a voice, which again is taking the falsetto and getting intrusive with it. This was not "Every Rose Has Its Thorns" or "The Final Countdown." It was heavy and scary. Vinnie's solo is a monstrous shredded pile of 750,000 notes that makes Eddie Van Halen sound like he was missing a hand. And the solo ends with the guitar sounding like its going to kill itself. Feedback and a billion notes being pulled, puked and whammied everywhere. The video ends with the band losing their minds and destroying all of their instruments while mountains of feedback keep climbing.

I fucking loved it. This was music made for 13-year old males addicted to MTV in 1986. It was stupid, fun and loud. And, yeah, stupid. But, wow, it was great.   

I managed to find a pretty perfect and fun criticism of just this video on the ryeberg site written by Ernest Hilbert, who manages to dissect the video almost frame-by-frame, pelvis thrust-by-pelvis thrust.

The entire first VVI album ran like that, too. It did not disappoint. The songs were in-your-face aggresso-glam, running through noisy shreddy guitar solos and sonic screams. Vincent seemed to let all the lack of solos he received in KISS just blow out his arms to an almost unnecessary degree. Even the poppiest material ended in layers of that feedback and tortured screams. The album even ended with a looped feedback-fest that would play continuously on the record player unless you walked over and removed it yourself. It was just a sheer violence on vinyl.

I remember driving in a car with my father to Florida. The family took four big vacations when I was a kid, all of them to Florida. We would drive straight through for something like 123 hours. Every now and then my Dad would let my brother or I play a cassette in the car that all of us had to listen to, and my choice was the debut VVI album. Now, my Dad came from a rock background. He had seen KISS on their infamous 1974 tour that eventually led to their epic "Alive!" record. It was during VVI's song "Twisted" that he finally piped up and said, "I guess this guy thinks his shit don't stink cause he can do that on the guitar. I'm sorry, but I can't listen to this anymore." Tape ejected. The only one refused on the whole trip.

By the time the debut album was released, Fleischman had been replaced with an unknown singer by the name of Mark Slaughter. There are infamous romantic stories of a search for Slaughter based on an unmarked demo tape, but there are also stories of Fleischman not being happy with Chrysalis' contract and refusing to sign. In the end, after reading various accounts, Slaughter's drafting also seemed to be a thing requested by the record company, who deemed him more marketable (and cuter) than Fleischman. Work began on a follow-up album. Either way, Slaughter lip-synched to Fleischman's voice in the "Boyz Are Gonna Rock" video. Fleischman, who was a singer in Journey before Steve Perry was hired, recently discussed his days in VVI in an interview, divulging that while he thought Vinnie's songs were great, he was self-destructive, and that "nothing is very honest about it, you have some guy lip synching to my voice for starters!."

Meanwhile, besides finally including his own version on the debut record, Vinnie kept making money off that old standby, "Back on the Streets," this time from John Norum in 1987:

 The second VVI album was "All Systems Go," released in 1988. In my opinion "All Systems Go" was the band's attempt to align a little more with the times and release something slightly less aggressive and a little more digestible. The songs are much more glam-pop than the previous attempt, and the band dressed a lot less INSANE than they did before. I mean, it was still late-80s glam weirdness, but it was toned-down considerably, leaving the band resembling their peers to a much greater degree.

I mean, the hair has fallen a few degrees here. And, again, while Mark Slaughter had a great voice, he also seemed to me more charismatic than Fleischman. In fact, while there are still moments of Vincent's extreme shredding and fall-out points of aggresso-glam scattered here and there on "All Systems Go," Vinnie seems to have returned to writing poppier material. Vincent wrote every song on the album alone, and he seems to have concentrated a little more on being catchy pop-rock, as opposed to trying to prove to everyone that he wins the contest in collecting and destroying notes on the guitar. The lead-off single from the album is a good case-in-point. So much so, that I was afraid the band may have gone too soft for my teenage hormonal brain cells.

I mean, the differences here are pretty intense. Vinnie looks pensive, like he cares about that girl in the video, instead of looking like he might tear her apart with the neck of his guitar. But, all in all, I felt like "All Systems Go" completely succeeded in what it was shooting for. Again, its a great example of the pop-rock that was being delved out in droves in that 1986-1989 period. Ballads were falling everywhere you looked, and pop-metal was the soundtrack to every damn prom there was. Vinnie's guitar-style on that album aligned with those successes White Lion and Poison and Dokken and Great White were all figuring out; lower the testosterone a smidge and girls will buy the albums, too. I mean, even though "Heavy Pettin'" is as misogynistic as most of the glam-rock being cranked at the time, this song has as much of a sing-along feel as something from "The Little Mermaid":

And I also think it comes down to the delivery put forth by vocalist Slaughter. Although he and Fleischman both sing pretty intensely high-pitched falsettos, Mark Slaughter has a very easy-going attack on the mic. He can sing some aggresso-glam, but seems to fall much more on the glam-pop side than anything present on the first album. And then there was this "gem":

"Love Kills" did stuff for VVI, Vinnie Vincent and Mark Slaughter. They finally sort of "hit." Not only was the song a glam-pop-metal ballad, which was all it took to often sell well in 1988-89, but it as also rode on the piggyback of promotions for the film "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master." I mean, Freddy was even in the video. Dokken had done the same thing with the film before. Metal video tie-ins to pop-horror films in the 80s were big news at that point, and VVI cashed in. Suddenly, Vinnie was all smiles as his band started to really get the slightest shot of notice. Still, "All Systems Go" tanked. Low sales.

And then they broke up.

It was big news to those of us who actually liked the band. Chrysalis had decided to drop the band from its huge deal and Slaughter decided he could do a better job. The split was messy, with bassist Dana Strum leaving with Mark to form the even poppier band Slaughter, which would have even bigger hits. Slaughter and Strum were prettier than Vinnie, and very vocal about how much of an asshole he was, supporting claims Gene Simmons had been making since 1983. In fact, that seemed to dominate most of the articles and interviews written about Slaughter. "One of the happiest days of my life was Aug. 28, 1988. That's when I was through with that band. There was only one good thing about it--it was my stepping stone to building Slaughter." (LA Times, 1990). In fact, Mark even wrote a song on the debut Slaughter album called "Burning Bridges" about how much he disliked Vinnie.

News from Vinnie's side seemed to become sparse real fast. In fact, it was the beginning of what became a seemingly blacked-out period for the man. I remember reading rumors that he was starting a new project that would culminate in the greatest guitar rock album of all time, the much-heralded "Guitars from Hell," or "Guitarmageddon" idea. Robert Fleischman was supposedly back in the fold, whom Vinnie preferred. But remember, this was pre-Internet, and Vinnie just seemed to, in my perception, disappear. Also, with the early 90s came the death of pop-glam-metal popularity. Bands already eschewed the glitter look for more leather and sleaze, Guns N Roses ruled the planet, and then suddenly one day they were considered too fancy pants and Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruled the planet. Vinnie's legacy was slowly being snuffed like a pink lacy flower in a tidal wave of grey Seattle rain.

While working on demos for "Guitarmageddon," it turned out Vinnie managed to (oddly) sell another song to KISS for their (again) comeback album. "Unholy" became the lead-off single for KISS' 1992 disc "Revenge." And again, shortly after, Simmons immediately bad-mouthed Vinnie. Some of the "Guitarmageddon" demos were released on a 1996 EP titled "Euphoria," although I never saw these on any shelf near me. Listening to them now, they have more of a VVI sound nearer to the debut album, which makes sense, although go further away from the pop Vincent had accessed with the VVI, especially on the track "Get the Led Out":

In fact, while writing this post, its the first time I've ever listened to these songs. Vincent was definitely going for some heavier material in the early 90s. This also reiterates my point of completely losing track of Vinnie during that decade. In the 2000s, I heard rumors of another project called the "Vinnie Vincent Archives, Vol. 1," which was to be a cassette-only boxed set released by Vincent himself, featuring many of the home demos and songs that are now easy to find on Youtube. This bizarre idea was also to contain an hour-long "LP" called "Speedball Jamm," which was a collection of "instrumentals" written and "produced" (a lot of quotes here for a reason) by Vincent. "Speedball Jamm" is actually a collection of live in-studio warm-up sessions; basically jam sessions of just Vincent shredding the hell out of his guitar as fast as he can. Over an hour of it. And hey, for the die-hards, here it is:

In 2003, Zoom Records released a Vinnie Vincent Invasion box set, which featured the two VVI albums.

Of all the slight tidbits and rumors I heard about Vincent, he seemed to have lost his shreddy mind. He was showing at KISS conventions throughout the 90s for interviews and such. There was also the lawsuits with KISS over his claims to lost royalties. In fact, Vincent has sued the band several times for either using his image or his music. It almost seems to be his career, at this point. Due to never having signed a contract to officially be a member of the band back in the early 80s, his lawsuits are defeated at every turn. He has sued for royalties from "Unholy," the "KISS My Ass" tribute album, "Lick It Up," and even to have all defamatory comments made by Stanley and Simmons over the years retracted. The last lawsuit I read of was in 2009, when Vinnie sued for his likeness being used on Simmons' reality TV show, "Gene Simmons' Family Jewels." In 2010, he was barred from seeking bankruptcy protection from paying somewhere in the realm of $80,000 to KISS.

Besides the tongue-lashing Vinnie has received over the years from Slaughter and members of KISS, others have come out blasting him of "unethical" behavior. Accusations have flown left and right of strange deals made over the years that have amounted to taking money from fans for recordings or guitars and never delivering, as well as plagiarism. Again, by the mid-90s, while I still listened to VVI and KISS, I had stopped pursuing any gossip or stories surrounding Vincent. During my research on this entry, I did run across Chris Czynszak's dissection and examination of the strange case(s) of Vinnie Vincent on the Decibel Geek Podcast. Czynszak's research and knowledge far exceeds mine, and he goes into much more detail about specifics as far as these courses run, including several interesting interviews with people who have dealt with Vincent personally. Check out those shows at their web site

One strange issue that did also arise during the 2000s was the case of the message board battles, which I had heard vague rumors of and got the details from those podcasts by Czynszak, who was actually semi-involved. There exist two "official" Vincent internet message boards where fans congregate and discuss all things Vinnie. The original was the Double V Forum, which was very popular. However, through a strange set of circumstances, it sounds as though Vincent himself became involved with the message board and started censoring and deleting any posts he did not agree with, and eventually kicked fans off of, well, his fan board. In retaliation, the fans started the Vinnie Vincent Forum, which became controversial among fans. Again, see those Decibel Geek podcasts for details (especially part II of Czynszak's coverage).

I stopped following most KISS trivia on these regards years ago. And the land of Vinnie and his musical career and doings grew darker and darker to me, to a point when it all seemed he had retired to a quiet home with his daughters and wife outside of Nashville.

Until May 21, 2011.

I've had a trouble finding any new developments with the court case in Nashville involving Vinnie or his wife Diane in the year since it happened. In June 2011, it was reported that it had been temporarily "retired" for a year as long as Vincent underwent anger management therapy. As far as my reading of this goes, he pleaded neither guilty nor innocent, and has not been charged or convicted. That year has barely passed, and I can't find any articles about the outcome. That same month, Vinnie spoke, releasing a statement claiming the incident had been exaggerated and that the media had lied. The best report I've seen was delivered back then by the Nashville Scene, which also features Vinnie's statement.

Other appearances seem to be Vinnie's Youtube page, a website for Guitarmageddon Guitars featuring the Vinnie Vincent guitar (although I believe that deal never actually happened), and a link to his official online forum , which reads that there is a $500 annual membership fee.

All of this amounts to a strange career and life for a musician that still has basically rabid fans that have followed everything I've mentioned here, including the court cases, fiercely. There seems to be one unifying factor amongst most of those fans, and that is they wish Vincent would move beyond whatever behavior or situations he seems to constantly find himself in, and just make more music. I was inspired to write this piece based on a buddy letting me borrow a DVD called "KISS - Invasion (A Look at the Lost Egyptian God, Vinnie Vincent)". The disc features footage of KISS being interviewed for the program "Night Flight" circa 1982 while promoting "Creatures of the Night.". Over the years I've heard nothing but criticism of Vincent based on obsessively reading whatever falls out of Simmons or Stanley's mouth. After seeing the footage of Vinnie being interviewed on this program and at various conventions from over the years, he came off as such a genuine, nice, sincere, modest dude. All of the stories behind the scenes disagree with this. Either way, whether he has self-destructive issues, or is unethical, or insane, or whatever, he wrote a lot of songs I've enjoyed listening to since 1986, and that's all I really pay attention to when I walk over to my record player.     


Though I'm pretty well-versed in Vinnie stuff, I couldn't have written something this ridiculously long and detailed without the help of these sites:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chapter Thirty Three: "Big Derby Nights."

The transvestite did not want to be friends with anyone in the room that night.

We had tried several times to bring her into our fold, offering her drinks, grabbing her hand and pulling her to the floor, singing songs and catching her eye to establish contact. Almost every attempt was met with a pensive glance away, a glaring retreat that led her gaze to the vomitous blue walls that surrounded us in this plaid sea of horrors and miscalculations. We were seeking the beauties found in the sights and sounds of Derby 2012; instead we became wrecked and stranded by a tidal wave thunderstorm. Nay (or maybe neigh), there weren't no thunderstorm to it, but rather a peopled avalanche running from the unleashing of a wet hell from the heavens in split seconds.

Suddenly, two-thousand cheats, rogues, scoundrels, plaid-shorted frat-boys, spray-tanned blondes, gutterpunks, day drunks and  villainous untrustables clung to each other and fell through the rains of Kentucky into the tiny barroom, crowded around a karaoke mic, half-butts haunched onto the few tables, stepping on toes and knees in a balmy version of "fun." O, this was Derby 2012, and we had found it, breathing molded sticky vodka breath straight in our faces to a point that the air was sucked from the room from the amount of carbon dioxide. "We're running low on oxygen, Captain!" I yelled. No one moved, but just kept sucking more and more.

The crush of the sway caused by inebriated stumbles and lost footing pushed us like a suffocating Who concert, except we weren't; we were in Louisville in a room, and the smell of liquor hung in our faces, forcing us to sit. It's here where we met the black transvestite. I was too busy fending off strays and bums who had mounted an attack at the doorstep of our table to talk; it was my partner-in-crime/ladyfriend Cori who tried to break the ice. Whenever I turned back to check her progress, the blood sloshing into my eyes blinded me from knowing how well things were going. The Paranoia, Agoraphobia and lack of whiskey in my hand  made me just not really care at that moment, either.

We had left the bungalow that night with the intent to experience the sweet sounds of buskers and other street-time entertainments. To be clear, it was not Derby day official, yet. It was Derby-Eve, also known in Louisville as Oaks Day. And to be honest, its the night that people let loose much more than on Derby itself. That anticipation of a day soaked in bourbon and sugar-water, when risks can be counted on both monetarily, legally, publicly and healthily, often leads the goers to preemptively attack, maybe with hopes of washing the dangers away of the morrow with a nighttime party beforehand. Oaks Day in the Highlands can just seem wilder than Derby night, and often, people never even make it to the Derby because of Oaks Night. Those that are untrained, that is.

We started late, as Louisvillians do. Cori was fresh from a seven hour nap and when I greeted her at her apartment, she added, "it's gonna be a late night anyways." Concurring, we swashed beer immediately to awaken ourselves to this ill-begotten holiday to head into the thankless Kentucky night air. My idea was to mingle with the array of street musicians and then to a block party I had been alerted of that was supposed to contain polyparous beer kegs that were said to multiply with each hour. We turned right, then right, then right, and were on Bardstown Rd Central, awash in the Oaks/Derby crowd. A black Ferrari pulled in front of Wick's Pizza. Plaid-shorted polo-shirted monsters mingled with odorous thrills in the night as we mangled our way toward the hot dog stand to greet a saxophonist friend of mine who had recently returned from living on the beaches of San Francisco. "This place is a dry small place sometimes," He murmured when we interrupted his music. "But I'm glad to be back. Except I left my beautiful Hispanic girlfriend there. I'm a fuckin' masochist, or somethin'." A wave of assholes drowned us as we said our good byes and wandered South, in search of food and keg.

This year seemed less inhabited by buskers and more by cocksuckers than the previous, as men strode with women in struts that were irrelevant and showy; a bigger beef round-up than Nero might muster, maybe. Cori complained of hunger pangs and we stopped for American-Mexican, dining amongst a crowd of cops and teens, gorging on pork tacos and three-cheese queso. Bass pumped from the tinted windows of Model A's as we found ourselves walking down the dark spits of Sherwood, searching for that keg thing. People walked past, empty and dry. This ain't it and not for us, we concluded.

We turned out attention back Northward, scuttling between the high heels and call-outs. I had added a clause to our evening that we stop and see my brother Derrick at his normal karaoke service at the Taproom, blocks down. There were eery lightning flashes that lead us hither, and before we knew it, we stood before the establishment, questioning our own motives. The security hench approached us asking for IDs, but next to him stood the owner, who motioned us past, wading off the bouncer with "I know 'em; they're cool." We were still dry as we walked in, and I snaked my in-between slobbering menchildren to procure a whiskey-soda and Falls City. 

The juke was packed to the gills with slobberers, and we decided to take a breath outside. It was then that the rains came, punching and scraping our sides with like an icy rapture. Like a wave, the dormant hooples outside fanged their way back into the establishment, breaking codes of population immediately. This was no ordinary rain, but a full-out Jonah storm, teeming in its entrenchment and bleak in its let-up. My ladyfriend excused herself inside to wrestle her way to the restroom. I held onto our drinks in the flood, anchored by an iron table hooded by an umbrella, under which five of us huddled. We were strangers, but brothers and sisters in escape from the lightning. Finally, the downpour broke through our spirits, and after Cori returned, we both dashed inside to Hell.

The Taproom was a swamp of drunk breaths and attempted dance. Cori and I tried to smile, but the crush was too much and the oxygen ran low. One thing was for sure: we knew we were going to die in that place. So we turned to survival tactics. "Get me a shot of whatever tequila they can pour the fastest," She said. I obliged. Upfront, past the profaned and blurred eyes of patrons, a black transvestite was overturning Ike and Tina's version of "Proud Mary." We bought more alcohol. At the bar, I was tossed aside by a 600 pound woman who seemed to not understand physics and their relations to physical space. I declared I would find that particular science, myself.

The beer turned to tequila turned to bourbon and back to beer, and as soon as our tolerance was destroyed and simultaneously upped, we began to join our fellow swamp people in soul tunes and rock numbers on karaoke mic. I communicated with my brother through text, unable to reach him through the masses physically. "I'm singing Hedwig's 'Sugar Daddy.' I don't think the frat boys here will get it." He responded: "You will get stabbed." I stood on a chair, feeling warm and drunk, trying to find that Oaks/Derby family feel that can pop into your blood in Louisville on these nights. It was barely there, but I faked it. I yelled the lyrics. No knives were ever unsheathed.

Soon the bar had temporarily emptied and we were saved from the squash, except for our own bad decisions. We continued our quickened pace of pouring libations into our groins as the rains turned on and off from the heavens, holding us captive in the place. There was the table with the transvestite. I had lost track of the conversations as another wave of soaked bastards bombarded and took over again. It was four AM. Only two more hours of bar-time left. Cori led the bar in a sing-along of "Creep." Memory began to fall from the holes in my pockets like pebbles. I remember returning from the bathrooms, walking toward her rejoined table, only to vomit pork tacos, as solid as they had gone down, into my mouth, swallow it, and turn and walk back to the bathrooms. In my feeble attempts, I tried to capture the night through photos, and mostly failed, being jobbed with puking and whirling about on the dance floor. My last legal memory was standing next to the transvestite as she and Cori belted out "Hakuna Matata." Blood ran down my forehead and into my eyes.

We rode home on the backs of wart hogs, drenched, at six AM. It was in the morning when I realized I had spent nine hundred and seventy-two dollars on drinks, and had only a hangover and sliced hand to show for it.

Most of Derby Day itself sat as a recovery period. I somehow remained inebriated for most of it; an alcohol-poisoned cowhand feeling somewhere between hay and grass. There were eggs and bacon I cooked to the soothing tunes of Public Enemy, followed by a sickly viewing of "Singin' in the Rain," which only seemed to make my head spin as Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly mapped out the linguistic exercise contained within "Moses Supposes."

I barely listened to coverage of the race on a boombox, tuning in the same AM radio coverage my family had listened to as a tradition most of my life growing up. Terry Meiners and the crew at WHAS talked about the same bullshit: hats, pop-handicapping of the races, the weather. In some ways that bible of familiarity is comforting, reminding me of the first Saturday of every May of childhood huddled around my Father's stereo console in the living room in Fern Creek, the family sticking close to home and making bets amongst ourselves. In other ways, it is maddening in its stupidity. After having lived in Lexington for over a decade, the "Horse Capital of the World," and having spent a few years both working on and around horse farms, as well as a three year stint as the audio producer at Keeneland, I've learned to despise the sport of kings as the cruel, fucked-up event it is. There is a culture of Derby that is ingrained in me, and I can dig the celebratory worldliness Louisville morphs into every April and May. But I can never really support the race and the reason it happens anymore.

Cori had to work a few hours at her vet office that evening, and then we decided to set out for the debut show of Louisville's grand new venue/art collective/studio, The Mammoth. A project long in the making and one that has required and seen an extensive amount of successful hard work, The Mammoth is a large old brick warehouse built in 1865 as a storage facility for Civil War military medical supplies on 13th and Maple, West of downtown Louisville. It has since been used by a long list of Louisville businesses, including, at one point, Louisville Paper, which still remains painted grandly on The Mammoth's side.

The building was bought recently by artists/activists Aron Conaway and Hallie Jones, former organizers/owners of a similar co-op, The Lava House. The Mammoth reaches new heights in their quest to create and run something inspirational for the community here, .promoting both art, music, freedom of expression on every level. Care has gone into its restoration to make it a completely environmentally friendly and sustainable project.

After being picked up off the floor from our recovery stance from the night before (that of smeared sick peanut butter stuck in the carpet), I re-inspired our journeys into the Derby Night with fried chicken and greens. "Man up and power through" was our motto as we left for the continuing festivities. Fueled, we drove down to13th and into the industrial district The Mammoth lived in, boggled and entranced by the oncoming dusk and surrounding old warehouses that act as neighbors to Aron and Hallie's new home.

For its inaugural show and its introduction to the public, The Mammoth had assembled a festival that had begun at  four PM consisting a variety of interesting acts that would play until nearly two AM. The festival contained a combination of some of my favorite Louisville acts, including Madame Machine, softcheque, w.n.b.a, Ohlm, Opposable Thumbs, and Parlour, as well as Lexington's Ford Theatre Reunion and the return to Louisville of California's Faun Fables.

Poster by Justin Kamerer of Angry Blue

The sheer massive quality of The Mammoth, its insides and outs, its history, its appearance, everything about it, says nothing other than this place will become the pontiff of art spaces and venues in Louisville. I was thoroughly impressed. The space contained within and without is like a mini-city in and of itself. Entering from the 13th St side, we wandered through the imposing gutted innards, which was full of art pieces, old respected venue signs (Swan Dive!), televisions playing bizarro videos, snacks, broken pianos, an old car, and various other mysterious items. On the outside of the left side of the building snaked a collective of artists painting on the walls and canvases. That long line eventually ended with a truck selling beer. On the right side of the building, was the newly built stage, that opened out into a fenced-in field.

We had shown late, joining the outskirts of the large gathered crowd who were watching Ford Theater Reunion perform against the backdrop of the red brick brick building. Dusk fell, lights were projected behind the band, climbing the four (or five?) stories of wall, and images were projected from other points of the artspace onto the sides of the other warehouses. Added to this mystique was the ever presence of that night's weather news spectacle: The Super Moon. The year's largest moon rose and hung over the field the rest of our time there.

Ford Theatre Reunion completed their always interesting show, even playing through a brief power outage by singing the rest of the song a cappella, ending with a drum solo, and then kicking back in as the power was restored with perfect timing on the beat. As Faun Fables set up, we couldn't help but wander through the building. I can only see millions of possibilities for this place. We eventually managed to connect with Aron, who was running to and fro, still installing lights and fixing any problems as they arose. He gave a quick tour of one side of the building, and described the work that had been and needed to be done, which we appreciated.

Cori and I had taken to beer again. I was finally taught by a kind fellow that one cool punk-rock trick of opening a beer with a lighter (yeah...so what, ok?). We traversed the building, the fields, everywhere there was something to see. As motor bikes jetted up and down 13th, the only reminder to those of us there that other things were happening connected to the Derby in the city, Nils of Faun Fables tested a flute into a microphone. The shrill caw he made echoed throughout the mostly abandoned area. "That shit just bounced back from the moon," He said.

I say mostly abandoned, but in essence, this isn't true. With The Mammoth there, that block of Western Louisville is definitely living and breathing, and on Derby night it was filled with folks running from the touristic side of the Derby life and into something that immediately felt more community-inspired. I'm not knocking the scenes that exist Downtown, in NuLu, or along the streets of the Highlands. But on Derby night that field, all of us there, well, it illuminated (excuse me for waxing a bit romantic) something kind of magical.

It was a coral reef of music-lovers that surrounded the stage as Faun Fables began their tome-like poem-songs. The crowd stood roped into the acoustic and visual ambiance the building and field provided. The surrealistic thanksgiving was encouraged and melted together by the BOOM of the string of bikers, born on tearing through 13th on unknown cues, the incensed hang of the Super Moon, and the wanderings of friendly dogs.

Faun Fables

Eventually the show was joined by a carousing police helicopter that perused the show several times with a spotlight. We scratched our heads and pointed skywards as the 'copter circled and illuminated the field, the band, and the patrons, its shuffle of its rotors adding to the noise of the evening. We wandered if the machine was checking up on our party, but it was revealed the next day that there was a man(or woman)hunt for a killer of a groom at Churchill Downs itself. Murder had been added to the activities of the Derby race, and had taken place right under the noses of the race-watchers. The body had been dumped a few stalls from the day's rose-crowned winner, I'll Have Another.

Our stamina running short, we left The Mammoth and made one last stop at the Taproom, the scene of the crimes from the previous night, to catch one set contained in the infamous annual Derby Party put on by my brother's band The Fuckmunkys. There was sweat and drool slung everywhere as we jogged in place to the beat of such songs as "Auto-erotic Asphyxiation" and "Put the Devil Back in Rock n Roll." Spent, bruised, exhausted and elated, we limped my big jaw home.

The Fuckmunkys

To be honest, I don't even remember how the night ended. I do know that Sunday after Derby doesn't count as a real day on the calendar, though.