It was almost this time last year that rumors began swirling about Lawrence’s favorite alterna-rock station jumping ship for the more serene (though so far less profitable) waters of Top 40 radio. But throughout KLZR 105.9’s identity crisis there was, in KJHK 90.7, at least one station that, for better or worse, was a bastion of nonconformity. Better when you would find yourself in a midday set that included the finest hip-hop, rock, house, and metal around — and worse, much worse, when enduring a “classic” by Philip Glass. Now it seems that those esoteric types in their ivory tower have had to join the rest of us victims in the brave new world, where cities are markets and generations are demographics … sort of.
“It’s not really a format change,” assures programming director Justin Montag. “There was this research and marketing class that did a survey with 500 students, and due to the results of that survey we’ve decided to play more new music, more rotation cuts.”
More rotation cuts, yes, but more from a college station that likes to add everything from Morrissey-for-the-new-millennium Elliot Smith to such underground hip-hoppers and DJs as Dilated Peoples and DJ Food. So, in short, there are no teeny-mmm-boppers on the horizon, just maybe a little fewer of those songs that make you wonder whether the jock enjoys sadomasochism toward the listener.
“It’s basically so more new music will get played, and listeners will know what the popular college radio music is at that time. In the past there would be anywhere from 80 to 100 CDs in rotation,” adds Montag. “Now that’s, like, 56 to 64 cuts, and now DJs have to play eight rotation cuts per hour instead of just five. So instead of hearing, say, the new Stereolab once a day, now you’ll hear it three to four times a day.”
It’s another policy that sounds suspiciously like commercial radio’s tendency to engrave certain songs into your brain, but Montag promises that the average listener will still be able to stop thinking about the chorus to The Anniversary’s “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” by the end of the day. “It won’t be like the old Lazer, where you get the same song once every half hour; the DJs still get to chose what rotation tracks they play,” he says.
In another change that has little or nothing to do with those meddling marketers, Montag and the KJHK staffers have decided to give a little “Morning Zoo” twist to the age-old Jazz in the Morning routine. “We’re doing a new show now called Breakfast for Beat Lovers, and we’re trying to take the old ‘Funky Fridays’ thing and do it, like, every day,” Montag says, referring to DJ Bill Pile’s popular weekend starter. “It’s 9 to 12 (a.m.) every day, and so far it seems to be going pretty well. We’ve been giving away stuff like subscriptions to Urb magazine, tickets to the DMC competition and to Del and Blackalicious, and some CDs and stuff too.”
Fear not, Johnny Dare, Montag and his mates don’t have their sights set on you — yet. “It’s sort of, but not exactly like Mancow,” he says, “but with a lot better music.”
Somethin’ is burnin’
Now that Kathie Lee has announced that she plans to leave Regis to fend for himself in the mornings, the search is on for a co-host who doesn’t want to be a millionaire. If the show’s producers want to broaden their demographic, they might find their answer in Kansas City.
“It’s sort of like Kathie and Regis, but it’s more like two silly college kids cooking college food,” reports Alison Saunders of Sister Mary Rotten Crotch, whose band plans to be the guests on Spatula City, a Webcast cooking/variety show. Think of it as Ainsley Harriott with film students instead of a British guy and lots of punk rockers.
“Oh, we’re going to play some songs,” assures Saunders. “I’m not clear as to if any of them have seen us, but they’ve heard us, and they should know what they’re getting into. So they may not be fully prepared for the onslaught, but they’ve had a taste.”
Apparently, director Amy Heckerling (Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), one of the players behind www.nibblebox.com, had a taste of Sister Mary too and decided what she liked, as did the two highly educated fans who chose the group to perform and be guests for the pilot taping.
“The site is geared toward college students, and they already had a couple of shows on there that emphasize music,” says Michael O’Brien, who is co-producing the series with Matt Blum, both of whom are self-professed music fans and, of course, college students. “Since college kids go through the whole ‘Oh, what do I cook?’ phase, and since we like bands, we just sort of combined the two.”
As brilliant as that sounds, according to O’Brien, not everyone was blown away when they heard the idea. “We actually pitched this idea to KU’s TV station, but they hated the idea.” Instead O’Brien took advantage of a lecture by site founder and director Doug Liman (Swingers, Go) to grasp Liman’s groundbreaking concept for “taking entertainment to the Internet” and actually mold something entertaining to fit that cliché.
Accordingly, O’Brien and Blum chose an entertaining band that is anything but cliché to kick off the series — and some cuisine that could be just as saucy as the performers. “I heard it was going to be chili,” claims Saunders. “But I know Liz (Nord, singer) will be wearing her frilly apron.”
The series will tape with different bands for 16 weeks throughout the summer and begin running in the fall. O’Brien claims the spots for bands are about half full, so hungry talent should contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for Sister Mary, the group members will take what for them is a sabbatical before they come back to play on Friday, July 7, at El Torreon with Kosher, Ultraman, and Johnny Black and the Assassins, which makes it sort of an unplanned family reunion for Saunders.
“I just found out I’m related to the bass player in Johnny Black. He’s my second cousin. But I didn’t find out until he came up and said, ‘Do I look familiar to you at all, beyond band stuff?’ And I looked at him and said, ‘Did we ever have sex?’ And he was like, ‘No, we’re cousins.’ So I said, ‘I’m really glad we never had sex.'” Aren’t we all? But they’re not down for the count
Day jobs are a sad fact of life for musicians who have yet to hit the big time and even for some who have. Even sadder, though, is when those pesky day jobs mean relocation for one of the band members. It’s been done before, but it’s awfully hard to keep a band together when its members live in different states. The Welterweights are in that unfortunate position right now, with drummer Dave Orvis receiving the ominous “offer he can’t refuse.”
“He’s basically just getting transferred. It’s a neat opportunity, and he didn’t pass it up, so the show we’re playing at Davey’s is most likely going to be our last one,” guitarist-vocalist Nate Williams says of the gig on Thursday, June 22. “I was driving to work today listening to that new Billy Bragg and Wilco, Mermaid Avenue II. It bummed me out because I realized that the first Mermaid Avenue record was playing overhead at Streetside Records when I ran into Dave for the first time in years. It sort of bookended Dave’s career in The Welterweights between those two albums.”
The Victor Stands and Eddye Grogan will also play that night. In an interesting turn of events, Grogan will take over Orvis’ place behind the kit when he does move from KC. “He’s a singer-songwriter guy,” Williams says. “He’s played a few gigs acoustically that I’ve seen him at and, actually, he’s my across-the-street neighbor, but I’ve known him longer than that. I knew he was a drummer all along, but I’ve never actually seen him play drums until recently. When we found out Dave was leaving, it was like, ‘Aw, gee, we need to find somebody and be practicing quick so we’ve got sort of a reserve member in case Dave is leaving any time soon.’ When we first found out, we weren’t really sure how soon he was going to have to move out there.”
Before Orvis does make the move, however, The Welterweights plan to head back into the studio to record the follow-up to their Lou Whitney-produced debut, The Dress Rehearsal EP. “That was January of this year, and we went back again in March and did some mixing, but it was a weekend warrior kind of thing. Got in there for a couple of days and talked to Lou quite a bit before we went in, so we knew we were on the same page with him. He’s the kind of guy that I trust fairly implicitly anyway,” Williams says, noting that the band will be recording the next disc in town at Wheeler Audio. “Down in Springfield at the studio it was the first time the four of us had been together in a recording studio, even though I think all of us had some exposure to that before, even if it was really limited. We’ll see how this second chance goes.” Other chances to catch The Welterweights will be at Westport Flea Market, Sunday, July 2, and as always at www.thewelterweights.com. — Robert Bishop
Cane is able
Few performers start out with the kind of pressure that Pure Cane vocalist Cori Holbert has been put under — by her own bandmates no less. Chris Bihuniak, the group’s guitarist and songwriter, claims Holbert “really has the potential to be the next KC diva, kind of along the lines of an Ida McBeth.”
Strong words, especially when your audience exposure to date has been limited to a handful of shows, including one at the Grand Emporium, and a self-released demo last year. But that’s about to change. Pure Cane will use its self-described “eclectic mix of blues, rock, and soul” to kill two birds in one night when the band releases its first full-length CD and plays a gig on Saturday, June 17, at Davey’s Uptown.
“I’ve been selling CDs at my office, and people are blown away with the quality,” Bihuniak says of the disc that was recorded in an undisclosed home studio. “But the live show and our singer, they really need to be seen to be appreciated.”
Prince isn’t using that symbol thing anymore
Those singing the blues because ER is in repeats for the summer would do themselves well during that show’s time slot, 9 p.m. on June 15 to flip the dial to Lawrence’s public-access channel, channel 19 — sorry, KC residents — and catch Crossroads: A Living History of the Blues. That episode will feature Alan Murphy, the artist formerly known as Ricky Dean Sinatra, playing a couple of songs with buddies in tow.
“A friend of mine, Merle Zuel (of Stu’s Midtown Tavern), asked me and Lee McBee to do something,” Murphy says. “I brought Steve Dahlberg into it because he’s been playing a lot of guitar on the CD I’m putting out, Sins of Douglas County. We just had a few tunes, and we rehearsed them once, then ran through them, and it worked out great. Lee and I are mutual admirers and always wanted to jam around. That was the first time … and it was a lot of fun, just a down-home porch thing — folk, blues, country, and picking, if you know what I mean.”
One of the songs to be featured, “Rocket of Love,” is from that upcoming disc. “On the CD, ‘Rocket of Love’ is going to be with (BR5-49 singer) Chuck Mead. I cut that track with him, and it was a gas. We did it in one afternoon. We got together and wrote a couple of songs for BR5-49; one of them they’re doing right now, called ‘She Ain’t Talking to Me.’ When we were doing that, I just played him ‘Rocket of Love,’ and he said, ‘Wow, let’s record that tomorrow,'” Murphy recalls. “It’s just a silly little love song. It’s country, Hank Williams gets revved up a little bit, and that’s about it. We do an even slower version with Steve and Lee on it, kind of a true country version of it.”
Those two songs are hardly the extent of Murphy and Mead’s collaborations. “Right now we’re writing a song over the phone. It’s real easy because he and I have been writing songs for about 13 years now. We knew each other during the Homestead Grays days,” he says, mentioning Mead’s band from the era when the Arista recording artist called Lawrence home. “I just told him, ‘Hey, I’ve got this chorus, this first idea but not a lot of lyrics, but I like the title. It’s called ‘I Am Not the Man for the Job.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I’m there.’ So when he came down, I showed it to him on guitar, and we were talking about what tempo and thinking about taking a Tex-Mex direction. I just sent him a tape, a minute of it, and now he’s putting his parts to it. So I’ve got to put on another melody or chorus, a guitar part, and other stuff. When it gets done it’s a true collaboration.”
Whether that song will be on Sins of Douglas County is currently unknown, but when that disc does see the light of day, tentatively this fall, it will have been a long time coming; sessions began about two years ago. During that time, Murphy also had to drop the Sinatra name he’s gone by since the ’80s; believe it or not, somebody else was using it before him.
“There’s a guy that was Ricky Dean in the ’60s and the ’70s and put out stuff. He lives out in California; he never ventured out here, so we never knew about him. We get this CD, he’s on this compilation, and it turns out the guy wears high heels and stuff and was a total camp show,” Murphy relates. “The track that was on the CD was, like, a tenth-rate imitation of ‘Purple People Eater,’ a novelty tune from the ’50s, so it was pretty funny. We didn’t know that during the time. We never heard from him, and I doubt he even knows we exist, but obviously it’s prudent and wise not to go by that.” Probably a sound decision — if not for legal reasons, then just because that other Ricky Dean is something nobody wants to be confused with. — Robert Bishop