Dom Mariani: An Appreciation

Dom Mariani: An Appreciation

Trying to get your head around Dom Mariani’s long and wide-ranging musical career can be both a confusing and an exhilarating adventure. Every time you get a handle on one of the great bands he’s been in, you find that there is another one to learn about. As you sort though all of this, two things become very clear: (1) Mariani has a deft touch and keen musical instincts, allowing him to approach each of his projects with command (2) You should never expect one Mariani band or project to sound like the one that came before it.

Mariani formed ‘60’s garage revivalists the Stems in Perth, Australia in the early 80s. The band released a smattering of singles and an album, At First Sight Violets are Blue (1987), that stand up to the best of all the fuzz psych releases circulating the indie markets at that time (think Fleshtones/Telltale Hearts/ Lyres/Chesterfield Kings/Vipers, et al). Their sublime track “She’s Fine” was included on Rhino’s The Children of Nuggets, a box set of songs by ‘80’s bands influenced by ‘60’s psychedelia and garage. But just as the Stems were promoting their first long player, and as they were enjoying both critical acclaim and success on the Independent charts in Australia and other parts of the world, they broke up.

“I was always into ‘60’s music, but originally maybe just the more well known bands, like the Beatles, Stones, and Kinks,” Mariani told me over the phone recently, by way of describing his personal musical evolution leading up to the formation of the Stems. “But then I discovered the Nuggets double album, and the Electric Prunes Underground record, so I saw there was this other kind of thing from the ‘60’s, which was more like garage rock, and I got totally into that.”

Mariani cites pressure from the band’s management and the label to relentlessly promote At First Sight, and the resultant exhaustion, as causes of the Stems’ untimely implosion. Also, he soon had another project cooking. While in the Stems Mariani met Darryl Mather, then with Sydney’s the Lime Spiders (another Children of Nuggets band) and later with the Orange Humble Band. The two discovered a mutual affinity for ‘60’s and ‘70’s radio pop and decided to get together and make music that would sound more like the Raspberries than the Stooges. The resulting LP, 1990’s Don’t Talk About Us, is now widely considered to be a power pop masterpiece.

“My musical background is very much steeped in Top 40 radio from the ‘60’s, things like the Monkees and girl groups and all,” Dom says when I ask him about the poppy departure the Someolves were from the Stems. “And even during the Stems, although we had kind of a hard rock sound, we were listening to things like the dBs and the Plimsouls, which were more pop.”

Don’t Talk About Us was recorded with Mitch Easter at his famed Drive-In studio in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Easter has continued to mix, and sometimes play on, Mariani’s recordings throughout Dom’s career). A great meeting of musical minds, an album made at one of the coolest studios in the world at the time, two songwriters with no apparent lack of inspiration . . . the future held no barriers for The Someloves, right? Wrong. Their label, Mushroom, would only agree to a second album if the band committed to tour to promote the first, something Mather – a studio animal not interested in playing live – refused to do.

Someone with less fortitude or creative drive might have given up after seeing his first two bands split up just when they seemed to be going on the rise. But Mariani was only getting started. After an enforced recording hiatus which was part of the contractual baggage from The Someloves/Mushroom situation, he exploded back onto the scene in glorious fashion a few years later with his new band, DM3.

To this listener’s ears, DM3 is where Mariani fully hit his stride, combining the adrenaline rush of the Stems with the pop craftsmanship of the Someloves. DM3s albums One Times Two Times Red Light (1993), Road to Rome (96) and Rippled Soul (98) are power pop gems (the first two are, anyway; Rippled Soul has some stellar songs but doesn’t quite match up in overall quality level with the others) with a little garage energy to them, and are where Mariani pulled off tracks that stand comfortably alongside records made by the likes of Dwight Twilley, Big Star, Badfinger, et al.

“We were trying to make records with a rock & roll edge to them, but also with great melodies,” is how Dom sees DM3, a project he clearly put a lot of himself into and feels passionate about.

Some of DM3s best songs weren’t on the three main albums, but can be found on the odds-and-ends collections Garage Sale Vols 1 & 2 (as well as a Mariani retrospective covered below). One of these oddities, “Hold On,” is something I have listened to at dangerous volume levels no less than eight times in a row on more than one occasion recently – an absolute dream of a power pop song. Another Garage Sale track, “Just Like Nancy,” is both one of the finest moments in DM3s recorded history and their swan song. This single, with its splendidly catchy chorus, chugging guitar riff, and sly, vaguely naughty lyrics (a “girl in boots” with “the power to overthrow ya”), was the last record made by DM3.

Always looking to explore new terrain, after the demise of DM3 Mariani showed yet another side of his wide musical range. In 2003 he and his new act The Majestic Kelp released an album of instrumental tracks, Underwater Casino. The sound here is something like a meeting between Dick Dale, Ennio Morricone, and Martin Denny – a Spaghetti Western on the beach in Hawaii.

Dom: “What started out as just kind of a quick surf guitar record became something more than that. The songs started to take on some additional character, kind of a soundtrack feel. It’s quite an interesting group and we’re exploring a lot of different things you can do with instrumental music.”

I ask Dom if he feels any difficulty in connecting to the audience when the Majestic Kelp perform live, without the benefit of vocal parts like catchy choruses people can latch onto:

“It has been a learning curve for me. It kind of divides the audience. Some of the people who have been listening to my bands over the years get into it, just like they would the Stems or DM3. But other people are kind of standing there saying, ‘So when is he going to start singing?’ Some have said, ‘I think Dom’s gone off the planet with this one.’ But other people will just dig it for what it is. “

The Majestic Kelp released a second collection of instrumentals, Music to Chase Cars By, in 2006. Here they continued to explore some of the same musical themes approached on the first record, but also added some horns, one track filled with Byrdsian jangle, and a bit of a tougher guitar sound on the surf tracks.

In 2004 Mariani put out his first solo album, Homespun Blues and Greens. A much more personal collection of songs than any of his other projects offered, the 11 tracks here sound like they could be open letters to a close friend or lover, saying things that are difficult but necessary to communicate. The gentle psychedelia on some of the backing tracks cements the sense of contemplative emotion.

“I toyed around with the idea of making a solo album for quite some time, but initially was uncomfortable putting something out with just my name on it. For a while I thought of calling it a DM3 record, but that didn’t seem right, because there really wasn’t a band there to drive it. So I thought, instead of coming up with another band name to add to the list, I’ll just put my name to it. And the songs are kind of reflective, anyway, so it makes sense for it be labeled as a solo record.”

If all the great music wasn’t reward enough in itself to Mariani for sticking with things through all the band breakups, he was honored with a career-affirming retrospective put out by Citadel Records in 2005. Popsided Guitar (Anthology 1984-2004), a 2-CD, 38-track collection compiles highlights of Dom’s varied career, including songs by all of the aforementioned acts as well as a few from his solo album, and it also throws in one song each from one-offs Mariani did with bands The Stonefish and The Stoneage Hearts. There could have been a few more Stems tracks, but really there is little to complain about on the comp. The selections are well chosen and bring to magnificent life a career that has not received its due attention and appreciation.

One Mariani project not covered in the Popsided Guitar comp. is the reformed Stems. After having excellent compilations of their stuff put out by both Citadel (Mushroom Soup, 2003) and Get Hip (Terminal Cool, 2005), as well as seeing a 2-CD reissue of the At First Sight record (2003, Warners Australia), the band released a set of newly recorded material in 2007. Listening to Headsup, you’d think The Stems had never gone away. The 10 tracks further the band’s legacy as psych garage masters, especially the riff-heavy “Liar” and the assured rocker “Hellbound Train.” Listening to this record, you can easily see why Little Steven once invited the Stems to perform at his Underground Garage festival in New York.

So are the Stems fully reformed now, can we expect another release from them sometime sooner than the 20 years which separated their first two LPs?

“We are talking about doing another recording, although I’m not sure when that will be. We’re thinking about doing something like the Flamin’ Groovies Jumpin’ in the Night record, where it’d be some favorite covers alongside some originals.”

And what might some of those covers be?

“Well, we’re talking about doing all Australian songs. ‘Friday on My Mind’ by the Easybeats is one we’re thinking of. ‘Come On,’ by the Atlantics. We’re also looking at some of the very early Bee Gees stuff, looking for something there that might be appropriate.”

Dom is also at work on a third Majestic Kelp record, one with vocals, including some Beach Boys-style harmonies. He looks to finish the album by the end of this year and hopes for an early 2009 release. And while he is taking some down-time now after a recent Stems tour, he seems never too far away from the next gig, whether it be in Australia, Europe, or at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, where the Stems performed this year and where Mariani expects to be again next Spring, either with the Stems or on his own. Prolific and diverse as he is with his music, no one should be surprised if by that time he has a totally new band trying for a sound and feel different from all his other projects.

Psychedelic Sundae Ice Cream Headache

A friend sent me these. One of my good freinds. After hearing them,
you will know why.

Voyages Into – Rock Vol. 1
Voyages Into – Rock Vol. 2
Voyages Into – Folk Rock Vol.1
Voyages Into – Folk Rock Vol. 2
Voyages Into – Pop Psych Vol. 1
Voyages Into – Pop Psych Vol. 2
Voyages Into – Garage Vol. 1
Voyages Into – Garage Vol. 2
Voyages Into – Psychedelia Vol. 1
Voyages Into – Psychedelia Vol. 2

Lovingly compiled by musicologist and all-around 60’s music guru Ben Chaput, these ten comps feature some of the best obscure sides late ’60’s music has to offer. For the past ten years or so, rare psychedelic rock, garage and freakbeat have occupied the hearts and minds of music collectors everywhere as well as helping to empty their wallets. Scores of labels have popped up in the last decade dedicated to nothing but digging up and re-issuing rare private press releases as well as long-forgotten records put out on major labels. Think about how popular and noteworthy the Nuggets boxsets are and the Pebbles compilations and some of the other boxsets seeking to give listeners the best music of the ’60’s. Then, think about this great series of sets featuring some of the best music of the ’60’s all geared towards the collector and music freak, with rare songs never used on any other compilation. Truly, with this set of well-put-together comps, fans of this kind of music have hit the motherlode.

Though the info on each of the ten comps in this set could fill a book, let’s examine them briefly enough to whet your appetite but not too much as to keep you hungry enough to purchase this fantastic set.

Rock Vol. 1 features great lost bands like Primitive Man, Floating Bridge, The Bone, The Branch Estate, Elephant’s Memory (the same band who later backed John Lennon and Yoko Ono), Plant Life, The Holy Mackeral (featuring Paul Williams of Evergreen and Rainbow Connection fame) and many, many more. Anyone into the brain-searing sounds of 60’s rock is going to love this volume. The guitars sturm, the drums drang and the bass keeps the bottom end covered while the Mellotrons, farfisas and other instruments spice up the proceedings. Why aren’t these artists famous today? It’s a question I asked myself after listening and one which you will ask yourself as well. Better yet, grab some doobage and listen to this comp (and this whole set) with a couple of like-minded, music freak friends. They’ll be jealous of you, for sure.

The second volume of the rock set follows up the great sounds of the first volume by featuring cuts from such obscure groups as Noah (produced by Randy Bachman of BTO and The Guess Who – he also contributes guitar), Think, Wrongh Black Bag (featuring Saturday Night Live’s beehive queen Christine Ohlman), Adam Wind (produced by Booby Hart), Morning Rain (featuring guitarist Dean Parks) and many, many others. If you want to rock out, this is the CD of the set you want to listen to!! Again, very cool hard rocking sounds as good as most of the stuff done by artists who ended up as household names. These are not songs best left unheard. This is some of the best work done in the ’60’s, obscure only because the stars didn’t align properly for these artists. A big part of success is luck, some have it and some don’t. These artists unfortunately had very little – but their music is still top notch as this whole ten CD set will prove to you.

Anyone who loves the jingle-jangle of twelve string guitar and introspective lyrics will love the first volume of the folk-rock set, which features bands like The Unknowns (a Paul Revere and The Raiders side project), The Bows and Arrows, Messengers (the first white band to be signed to Motown), The Tweeds, The Sages, The Underground and many, many others. Talk about your twelve-string jangle! Seems every band was trying to take a page from either the Beatles or the Byrds on this CD, though more often than not the derivativeness is more than made up for by the sheer energy and passion of these artists. This is the best of the best here, uncomped and fresh as a daisy to your ears yet lovingly retro at the same time! So you wanna be a rock and roll star…..

Taking it’s lead from the first comp of folk-rock, the second dives in with some even deeper cuts from the likes of The Jokers, Mystics, The Striders, The Moonrakers (who later evolved into the band Sugarloaf), The Ill Winds (actually the surf band The Chantays of “Pipeline” fame under a different name), The Good Time Singers (showcased on the Andy Williams show for three years and featuring soap actor Michael Storm), and many, many more. Let me tell you, if you love folk music spiced up with a little jingle-jangle, this second volume is for you. Byrds-ian moments abound and it is just cool to hear this great stuff for the first time. Again, the questions must be asked: why didn’t any of these songs or groups hit the big time?

The late 60’s were teaming with bands who wanted to meld the melodic with the psychedelic to create mind-blowing rock which would break new ground. Though we all know the classic bands who made the most impact, the first volume of the Pop-Psych set gives seekers of the obscure some really tasty offerings from Stained Glass, Central Park, Poe, Five by Five (featuring Muscle Shoals vet Eddie Hinton), Underground Sunshine and many, many others. Some of these selections are a little more pop than psyche but you can tell something is in the water as all of these songs are showing trippy influences. This is great stuff and my personal favortie volume of the whole set. Do you see the trails? I do, I do!

For true believers, the second volume of the Pop-Psych set gives lovers of mind-bending melodic rock even more acid-tinged songs. Featuring artists such as Knack (not the group who did “My Sharona”), Six O’Clock News, Proposition, Jennifer’s Friends (produced by Vanda and Young of the Easybeats and, later, the people who produced rock band AC/DC’s first few albums), English Setters, Truth, and a heaping helping of other bands all trying to push the boundries of how pop music should sound by injecting some psych into the brew. I am amazed at how great this music sounds. It’s no wonder there are so many great psych masterpieces being unearthed all the time. There’s a wealth of stuff here and hopefully the volumes will keep coming.

Thanks to The Beatles’ and the other British Invasion bands’ simplistic yet supremely catchy songs at the beginning of their careers, millions of teenagers decided to pick up guitars and drumsticks and passionately bash out their own catchy brands of rock and roll in their garages. Hence, the term garage rock! So many great artists started this way and so many great songs were brought to life, it is just a great visceral thrill to hear the songs on Garage Vol. 1 for the first time and pretend I am listening to a great radio station in the mid ’60’s and hearing this guitar revolution as it originated. Garage rock gave birth to punk and now is all the rage again in the ’00’s! Long live rock. Great bands featured on Volume 1 of the Garage set are the Uniques (featuring Joe Stampley who later became a chart-topping country singer), The Reactors, The Eastside Kids, Shannon Cannon (produced by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint), The Five Sounds, The Contrasts and many, many others. Listening to this set makes me want to strap on a guitar, call some buddies and start a band of my own. Great stuff.

As good as Volume 1 of the Garage set is, the second volume of the Garage set is even better! Filled to the brim with more great obscure songs by some of the best unknoiwn bands ever, the second volume takes the visceral thrills of full-throttle garage rock to new heights. Anyone into balls-out rock and roll needs to get this pronto. Groups featured on this volume include The Distant Cousins (produced by Bob Crewe), The Hombres, The Wild Ones (featuring the original version of the classic hit “Wild Thing”), The Spotlights (featuring Leon Russell), The Street Corner Society and many more! If listening to the unfettered power unleashed by this primal rock and roll doesn’t give you a thrill, you simply have no soul. This is killer stuff!

By the late ’60’s most young adults had begun experimenting with drugs, be it pot, pills or an hallucinagen of some sort. The effects of the drugs opened minds and many musicians who experimented with these ingestibles started to create a form of rock seeking to mimic in sound what they felt in their minds while they were tripping. The results were called psychedelic rock and the music became a fad once the Beatles recorded Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, the first major release featuring this sort of trippy version of ’60’s rock. Part and parcel of the ’60’s musical experience, psychedelic rock cannot be left out of any musical set seeking to encapsulate the music of this time period. With that in mind, Volume 1 of the two volume psychedelia set features some trippy rock from the likes of Boston Tea Party, The Raves, The Believers (a group connected to singer Joe South, who produced and wrote the song featured here), Glass Family (record label honcho Mike Curb and Davie Allen of the Arrows were connected to this band), The Folkswingers (featuring Glen Campbell on guitar) and many, many others that will leave you tripping for days and wishing it was the ’60’s all over again.

The second half of the two volume set is just as trippy and wild as the first. It features bands such as American Express, Martin Martin, Mass (featuring Billy Joel on piano), The Mission as well as a passel of other artists trying to take rock and roll into the stratosphere. Many songs are on this CD but there isn’t a bad trip in the bunch and at least every other song had me scratching my head and wondering why these songs and these artists didn’t reach more of an audience. Pass the windowpane!

Fans of ’60’s music are just going to go apeshit over this set. Not only are most of the songs included on these volumes incredibly obscure yet still fantastic, but most of these songs have never been comped before, so they are totally fresh and not the same songs appearing on the Pebbles and Nuggets ’60’s sets. A definite bonus are the liner notes. Brief yet informative, the notes manage to squeeze in just enough info on the bands to get you hooked and often include an anecdote about which bandmember eventually went off to work with this famous musician or what other groundbreaking band they joined. Very fun to read and informative as hell for being so brief. Also great are the annotations for which label it was recorded and the serial numbers on the original records. Great info for the collectors and music geeks such as myself. The vintage radio commercials spliced in between the songs are VERY cool. Featuring major bands and artists from the period and in line with the particular volume they are featured, these “commercial breaks” help make each of these CDs seem as if they are being beamed in by the coolest radio station ever. If you can only buy one “boxset” this year – this is the one to get.

You can get these comps exclusively at: http://members.aol.com/voyagescd/voyages.html