REVENGE OF THE
Looking back on these pieces from the perspective
of almost-2018. This is what I was doing in 1985.
I liked Long Ryders. Sid Griffin was an easy guy
to talk with. But a C60, or even one thirty-minute
side of a C60 yields far more dialogue than is required
for one interview piece. So I split it into two full features,
for two publications, mixing and sometimes overlapping
elements. The unedited bits left over – including the
interesting false starts and bloopers are then used for a fanzine.
There are plenty of fanzines around. No problem apportioning
them somewhere. Each interview I do, and there are plenty
of them, operates on this principle. The other thing that strikes me
now – reading the pieces back, is that rather than go for a
straight question-answer format, I prefer to set up some kind of
dialogue. Here, it is predicated on the idea of a kind of musical
evolution. After Punk, New Wave, and the emergence of electronic
groups such as Human League… where do Long Ryders revivalist
tendencies fit into that evolutionary process?
With 2018 hindsight, it’s obvious that this is a false premise.
There was no evolution. Just as Jazz was the dominant music of
the first half of he twentieth-century, so Rock was the dominant
music-form of its second half. The 1990s, in the UK at least,
was Brit-Pop, when Indie went overground, a gorgeous final
flowering of everything from Beat Groups, Mod, Psychedelic whimsy,
Freak-beat, and Garage-Band, tightened and edited by Punk sharpness.
Maybe Long Ryders were an advance tremor or that?
Maybe not. But its fun to speculate…
An interview with the Long Ryders
Sid Griffin takes a long pull on his whiskey sour. ‘“Sweet Jane”?’ He lounges across the counter picking critically at his burger and chips.
Tom Stevens slopes his ‘Daily Mirror’
down, cocks his head to the ponderous riffs of support-band New Age sound-checking on the Club stage beneath, and nods. ‘“Sweet Jane”.’
Griffin turns to me. ‘Won’t be long now,’ he indicates my cassette machine, ‘when they finish the sound-check we’ll do the interview.’ The riffs start up, stop, then start again interminably.
Meanwhile, Tom Stevens points out the ‘Daily Mirror’
topless page.5 pin-up, ‘see this? – WOW! – if this were a paper in the States, they’d have a picture of a shooting or something instead!’ We get into a disquisition on censorship, the hypocrisy of f*** and c*** in the text, to which every reader automatically supplies their own –uck and –unt. The Whitehousian euphemism that confuses the word with the deed. The fear of catching AIDS from newsprint. ‘If I had kids’ opines Tom earnestly, ‘I’d sooner they watch videos of people fucking than snuff splatter movies.’
Sid Griffin cuts in. ‘“1970”? They’re doing “1970” off the Stooges ‘Funhouse’
album, aren’t they?’ A tactile pause… then Tom nods, ‘yeah, “1970”.’
This is Long Ryders, prior to their gig at the Leeds ‘Warehouse’ Club, on Somers Street. A band named for the 1980 Walter Hill Western movie ‘The Long Riders’
, with Stacy Keach as outlaw Frank James. The ‘y’ is a nod at the Byrds. After years of Techno-Pop and Electro-Dance, this is the revenge of the American guitar. The sound of the ‘Paisley Underground’ from Los Angles… now run riot clear across Europe on its debut pioneering tour. The Long Ryders are: Sid Griffin (sideburns, guitar, harmonica, vocals), Tom Stevens (basin-cut hair, bass, vocals), Greg Sowders (drums, percussion), and Stephen McCarthy (guitar, steel guitar, vocals, autoharp).
You might’ve seen them on the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’
special on the American renaissance – or live at ‘Dingwalls’ or the Harlesden ‘Mean Fiddler’ – where they encore with Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge A Book”. You’ll have heard – or heard of, their ‘Native Sons’
(1984, Diablo/ Zippo Records) album featuring their near-charting single “I Had A Dream”, plus first-line ground-breakers such as “Wreck Of The 809”, and “Ivory Towers”. It was preceded by a USA-only EP “10-5-6” produced by Earle Mankey, for Indie Frontier label, which subsequently makes the UK charts on import-strength alone!
The Long Ryders made the cover of ‘New Musical Express’,
and ‘recall Buffalo Springfield’s buckskin hippie visions and the country-rock fusions of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, cranked up for the eighties’ quoth ‘Melody Maker’
. Although Robyn Hitchcock told me they were ‘just a Pub-Rock band’. Whatever, evolved out of the Sid Griffin-Shelley Ganz band the Unclaimed – the Long Ryders are HOT!!!
But now the New Age sound-check is complete. Griffin indicates we should begin – ‘let’s DO
it!’ I switch the tape machine to ‘record’…
SID GRIFFIN: Make sure it works, you might want to use this. I think for an interview you should have one, maybe two members of the band, and that’s it. I find that whenever three or four of us show up we all tend to talk at the same time and you don’t get anywhere. Also you say ‘did you like so-and-so?’ and one guy says ‘yes’, one guy says ‘no’, and another guy says ‘oh, I thought it was marvellous’. So it’s like… what sort of answer is that?
ANDREW DARLINGTON: You founded the Long Ryders?
SG: Yes, that’s true.
AD: Prior to that you wrote a biography of former Byrds-Flying Burrito Brothers member Gram Parsons, who influenced the growth of Country-Rock significantly prior to his sudden death in September 1973.
SG: Yeah, the book’ll be out in the UK in about two months time (‘Gram Parsons: A Music Biography’
, Sierra Books, 1985), a biography of Gram Parsons, and it looks REAL good. It’s got unpublished interviews with him and a lot of photos no-one’s ever seen. Gram talking to Emmylou Harris, Chris Hillman, Peter Fonda, and all those other guys. It looks real good, I’m real proud of it.
AD: Is it true that you resent Long Ryders being tagged a ‘revivalist’ band?
SG: Yes I do. If you wanna talk about influences – which you invariably do in an interview (is this taping pretty well, d’ya think? There’s not gonna be too much noise in the background…?), speaking of influence, it’s like, Gram Parsons and all that, OK, that’s fair, but I’m as heavily influenced by that first Clash album and the Sex Pistols album as any record ever made! I love Gene Clark (of the Byrds, who adds guest-vocals on the “Ivory Towers” track on ‘Native Sons’
), but Gene Clark is no more an influence than John Lydon is, you know? Johnny Rotten. So there you go.
AD: I’ve heard a lot of the so-called Psychedelic revival bands, and not been too impressed.
SG: I’m not either, frankly.
AD: But “I Had A Dream” has an original power that transcends the genre.
SG: Yeah, that’s the type of stuff we like.
AD: But there’s the odd situation in the States now where John Fogerty comes back after a ten-year absence with an album pretty-much identical to his Creedence Clearwater Revival stuff (‘Centerfield’
, January 1985)…
SG: Yeah, it’s done real well. Is it doing well over here?
AD: Not as well as it is in the States where it’s no.1, and where it still seems to be contemporary.
SG: Which I like.
AD: But doesn’t that mean that nothing significant has changed over there in that ten-year period?
SG: It’s a good point you’re making. In England people always say ‘you’re bringing the guitar back’. Well, we’re not bringing the guitar back from anywhere – ‘cos it didn’t GO anywhere in my country! And there’s this attitude sometimes in Britain to throw out the baby with the bathwater. And it’s like – the guitar never went anywhere. The people I listen to are Muddy Waters and Hank Williams, stuff like that, and Howlin’ Wolf. The heroes I had as a little boy, and still have now. The Byrds or whatever. The guitar never went anywhere, you know? There’s NOTHING
wrong with the guitar – THAT’S what I’m saying. I’m not saying it’s gonna feed the Ethiopians. And I’m not saying that by people in the Pop charts playing or not playing the guitar, it’s gonna help the British Miners. I’m not naïve. I’m just saying there’s nothing wrong with it – it’s a great instrument as it is.
AD: I once interviewed Country Joe McDonald (of sixties psychedelic group Country Joe And The Fish)…
SG: Ha! He’s got a good heart.
AD: But he said that when they made their albums in 1967 they were using what was then state-of-the-art technology. If synths and Fairlights had been available then, they’d have used them.
SG: I see his point. I’m on Country Joe’s side. I admit we don’t use synthesisers, we put ‘em on one track – and took ‘em off. To me it just sounded stupid. It was not our bag. We put them on “Too Close To The Light” – which is on the ‘Native Sons’
album. It was just like an American coming over to England and he wants to fit in so he uses an English accent. Do you know what I mean? It was a complete affectation.
AD: You must be very happy with the response you’ve had to the album.
SG: It’s opened up a lot of doors for us. It’s enabled us to come to England and Europe. The gigs in the States are getting a lot better, y’know – we used to play some REAL DIVES
, I’m not complaining… I’m not saying… I know. It’s like Gene Clark said, if you don’t think you’re gonna play dives when you start out then you’re a DOPE. Y’know, you’re pretty naïve. And me and the fellers, we knew we were going to play some rough spots, and now, thank g-o-d, we can play places where we don’t look like we’re going to get the shit beat out of us on the way out the door. You know what I’m saying? We used to play some places full of… like, drunk Americans looking for a fight ‘cos they couldn’t pick up a woman that night! So, y’know, we’re playing better places now, and that’s good. We owe all that to ‘Native Sons’
, and I’m very proud of that. It looks like when we get back to the States we’ll be on a ‘quote-unquote’ major label. So… y’know, ‘Native Sons’
may be rereleased, they’re talking about it – on a major label, with a new mix.
AD: How does the song-writing quota break down within Long Ryders?
SG: Sometimes Stephen and I write together. It’s usually Stephen or I who bring a song in, then we all work on it. Both Tom Stevens and Greg Sowders contribute to songs on ‘Native Sons’
, but by and large it’s McCarthy and myself who do the lion’s share of the song-writing. I find it hard to collaborate with people, so when I bring in a song it’s – like, eighty-percent complete, and then I let them have a whack at it. But I find it hard to sit down with someone else and do a fifty-fifty job on a song. It’s worse the more people you involve. It’s not so bad maybe with one other person, but when you start getting three or four guys in there, then all you have is three or four guys who want the line to read three or four different ways. It doesn’t make any sense.
AD: Bands are increasingly using the studio as a compositional tool, to ‘layer’ songs and evolve them in that way.
SG: We can’t afford that type of experimentation. I’m not saying it’s right or it’s wrong. I have a tendency to shy away from it. I don’t think that’s our bag. When you do that, you know – Andy, the band tend to get up on stage and have a lot of tunes that are STUDIO
tunes, and they’re kinda difficult to play live.
AD: The Revox backing-tape syndrome?
SG: Exactly. You know what I was saying about one of our gigs, where some Punk fellows jumped on stage and started shouting into the microphone? Well, I really believe live performance IS a LIVE
performance, and the studio is something COMPLETELY different. And I like – like that night in, er – (you got any tape left in this thing…?) – last night in Manchester a guy took his pants off on the balcony and hung his moon – his fanny, over the balcony. And it was just a great moment. It was just – I admit, I admit it was childish, it was juvenile, it was infantile, but on the other hand, in terms of Rock ‘n’ Roll, it was a funny moment. Even women were laughing. It was just a funny moment. That type of warmth is so hard to find in life. How could you put THAT on tape!!!
THE LONG RYDERS, the great American renaissance, the Revenge of the American Guitar – or just a reassertion of traditional Rock values? Draw your own conclusions… but hear them first…
LONG AND LONGER RYDERS
1980 – ‘The Unclaimed
’ by The Unclaimed (US EP, Moxie Records M1036), pre-Long Ryders band, with two Sid Griffin songs, ‘Time To Time’ and ‘Deposition Central (The Acid Song)’ and two by Shelley Ganz, ‘Run From Home’ and ‘The Sorrow’
1983 – ‘10-5-60
’ (EP, PVC Records PVCM 501) with ‘Join My Gang’ (Griffin), ‘I Don’t Care What’s Right, I Don’t Care What’s Wrong’ (Des Brewer and Steve McCarthy), ’10-5-60’ (Barry Shank and Griffin), ‘And She Rides’ (Sowders and Griffin), ‘Born To Believe In You’ (Griffin). Features bass-player Des Brewer. These five tracks later added to expanded 2011 edition of ‘Native Sons’ (Prima SID 024)
1984 – ‘Native Sons
’ (US Frontier, UK Zippo ZONG 003) with side one: ‘Final Wild Son’ (Griffin and McCarthy), ‘Still Get By’ (McCarthy), ‘Ivory Tower’ (Barry Shank, guest backing vocals by Gene Clark), ‘Run Dusty Run’ (Sowders and Griffin), ‘(Sweet) Mental Revenge’ (Mel Tillis, steel guitar by Dave Pearlman), ‘Fair Game’ (Griffin and McCarthy). Side two: ‘Tell It To The Judge On Sunday’ (Griffin, saxophone by Phil Kenzi), ‘Wreck Of The 809’ (McCarthy and Stevens), ‘Too Close To The Light’ (Sowders, Griffin, McCarthy, Stevens), ‘Never Got To Meet The Mom’ (Griffin), ‘I Had A Dream’ (McCarthy). Reviewed as ‘a modern American classic’ (Melody Maker)
1985 – ‘I Had A Dream’ c/w ‘Too Close To The Light (Buckskin Mix)’ (Zippo 45-2)
1985 – ‘The Lost Weekend
’ by Danny & Dusty (1985, Zippo ZONG007) guest session on a duo album by Dan Stuart of Green On Red, and Steve Wynn of Dream Syndicate
1985 – ‘State Of Our Union
’ (Island ILPS 9802) with side one: ‘Looking For Lewis And Clark’ (Griffin), ‘Lights Of Downtown’ (McCarthy), ‘WDIA’ (Griffin and McCarthy, with Pedal Steel by Vic Collins, plus Snake Davis And His Longhorns), ‘Mason-Dixon Line’ (McCarthy), ‘Here Comes That Train Again’ (McCarthy), ‘Years Long Ago’ (Stevens). Side two: ‘Good Times Tomorrow, Hard Times Today’ (Griffin), ‘Two Kinds Of Love’ (Griffin), ‘You Just Can’t Ride The Boxcars Anymore’ (Stevens), ‘Capturing The Flag’ (Sowders, Griffin, McCarthy, Stevens, Birch), ‘State Of My Union’ (Sowders and Griffin)
5 October 1985 - ‘Looking For Lewis And Clark’ c/w ‘Child Bride’ (Sowders and McCarthy) (Island IS 237) UK no.59, also as 10” EP with ‘Southside Of The Story’ and ‘If I Were A Bramble And You Were A Rose’
1987 – ‘Two Fisted Tales
’ (Island ILPS 9869) with side one: ‘Gunslinger Man’, ‘I Want You Bad’, ‘A Stitch In Time’, ‘The Light Gets In The Way’, ‘Prairie Fire’, ‘Baby’s In Toyland’. Side two: ‘Long Story Short’, ‘Man Of Misery’, ‘Harriet Tubman’s Gonna Carry Me Home’, ‘For The Rest Of My Days’, ‘Spectacular Fall’
1987 – ‘I Want You Bad’ (Terry Adams) c/w ‘Ring Bells’ (Griffin) (Island IS 330)
1989 – ‘Metallic BO
’ (Overground OVER16) edited from 89-minute bootleg C90 tape with radio dialogue, covers ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ (Thirteenth Floor Elevators), ‘Route 66’, ‘Brand New Heartache’ (Everly Brothers song covered by Gram Parsons on his ‘Sleepless Nights’ LP), ‘Prisoners Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ (Neil Young), ‘Dirty Old Town’ (Ewan McColl), ‘Billy Jean’ (Michael Jackson), ‘Circle ‘Round The Sun’, ‘Six Days On The Road’ (country song with multiple covers, including the Flying Burrito Brothers), ‘Anarchy In The UK’ (Sex Pistols), ‘Masters Of War’ (Bob Dylan), ‘Sandwich Man’ (Stephen McCarthy), ‘Blues Theme’ (Davie Allan And The Arrows), ‘PIL Theme’ (Public Image Ltd), ‘I Shall Be Released’ (Dylan)
1994 – ‘BBC Radio One Live In Concert
’ (Windsong WINCD 058) with, recorded live at Mayfair Club, Newcastle 1987-06-03, ‘Prairie Fire’, ‘A Stitch In Time’, ‘Harriet Tubman’s Going To Carry Me Home’, ‘I Want You Bad’, ‘I Had A Dream’, ‘You Just Can’t Ride The Boxcars Anymore’, ‘Gunslinger Man’, ‘Looking For Lewis And Clark’ and recorded live at Rendezvous Club, Chester 1985-10-15, ‘Ivory Tower’, ‘Final Wild Son’, ‘State Of My Union’, ‘Lights Of My Downtown’
(born 18 September 1955) went on to record
solo, and as part of the Coal Porters