Sunday, August 28, 2011

Reprint of Feb. 14th 2004 Article "WLIR - The Bands"

Hello New York and everywhere else, I'm DJ Bird....welcome back to the Birdcage. Once again I'd like to spend some time discussing a topic other than Hockey. With the current state of the Rangers I can't really believe any of you would complain.

It occurred to me that the music and the bands who made that music during the great WLIR days were the real reason for the success of the station in addition to the wonderful listeners. So, I'm going to attempt to give you a little taste of my experiences with some of the different bands I was lucky enough to work with. This will in no way be a complete history, that would be a book I'm not prepared to write just yet.....but it should be fun.

Now before we begin my little trip down memory lane, I'm not claiming that I was best friends with most of these people but it was great fun to meet them and share some good times. Since I'm not a big kiss and tell kinda guy, don't expect me to "expose" anyone......I consider what we did together to be private moments that were just a part of the overall scene. And yes, I was truly lucky to be in the right place at the right time to have met any of them. I was just a dumb kid from Long Island that landed a killer job and lived out the dream of most kids my age........sex, drugs and rock & roll.

In thinking back on how I got involved in all this and it became obvious that there was one band that attracted me to the punk or new wave movement above all others, The Ramones. I still have vivid memories of the first time I heard "Rocket to Russia" and I can still see in my mind, scenes from the first time I saw the band play live. They were so different than anything I had ever been exposed to before that....and I was a fan instantly.

If I recall correctly, the mid seventies had most people my age listening to Led Zep, the Who, the Stones.....bands like that. Some felt the whole music scene had become stale and this new disco fever that was spreading prompted most of us to yell 'Disco Sucks'. The punk movement was born during this time and the Ramones were right there at the start. In '77 a buddy of mine clipped an 8-track from his brother.....Rocket to Russia.....wow. We listened to it over and over for weeks. I thought they were English as at the time I was unaware of CBGB's and the NYC club scene. Hey, I was just a kid.

Listening to WLIR I found the Pistols, the Clash and others were also making this really aggressive, new kind of music and liked it. In my junior year of high school I got some fake ID and went to the Malibu nightclub here on the Island and got to see the Ramones live. That was it....I was hooked. The energy was beyond anything I had ever seen before. It was raw, loud and fast......and a ton of fun. I had no idea that in a few years time I would become as involved as I did in this new music revolution.

Blondie, the Talking Heads, the Dead Boys and the Ramones were just a few of the bands that emerged from the NYC scene. I once heard a tale that when the Ramones played in England, many of the artists who eventually became part of the second British invasion were blown away and inspired by them including members of the Clash.

Moving ahead a few years to my club DJ days at Paris NY in Huntington L.I. I recall playing several song sets of the Ramones to the delight of the "slam dancing" crowd. When I was invited to work at WLIR I finally got my chance to meet the 'World Famous' Ramones, specifically Joey. I was surprised to hear Joey in an interview with Denis McNamara mention that when driving to a NY area gig in the black Ramones van, they always listened to the DJ Bird show and enjoyed my music selection. Imagine that.....Joey was a fan of mine.

I don't recall our first meeting.....but I do remember that Joey was a great guy and was happy to chat on a wide variety of topics. We did a bunch of on-air interviews and I was asked to host or intro the band on many occasions. I will never forget one show at the Ritz in NYC, they were taping for a future video for the tune "I Wanna Live" and unfortunately I was left out on the editing room floor in the final product. When I accepted the job at WXXP in Pittsburgh, Joey was my first interview and because he talked to me like a longtime friend I gained instant credibility with the listeners. We later did a show at a place called the Syria Mosque......I hosted and the band blew the roof off the joint.

So I guess I owe Joey and the band a lot as they played a big part in my career. In a phone call just before Joey's funeral, Denis and I agreed that we never saw a bad Ramones show.....that says a lot. I miss Joey and it's sad that I can't look forward to seeing the band play live again. They played their last tour in 1996 and I got to see them in the same place I saw then first, the Malibu. I think it's great that the band went out on their own terms, well before Joey or Dee Dee passed away. As Johnny said, "we want to end this while we are still at the top of our game". They were and they did.

The band I was most closely associated with is one that I had very little personal contact with. From Dublin, Ireland....U2. I became a fan from the first minutes I heard the Boy LP. Since those days I have heard that Bono was a big Ramones fan and that Joey was listening to the latest U2 release in the hospital before he passed. I became connected with U2 as I played the hell out of all their songs in the clubs and continued to champion their cause on radio. The day the played Live Aid in July of 1985.....they graduated from the great band I knew they were into a force that became unstoppable. That performance remains one of the greatest in rock & roll history in my opinion.

Through the years I have seen so many of their shows. In the days leading up to the recordings at Madison Square Garden that became Rattle and Hum, I was at the Nassau Coliseum in what was a run thru for that movie and LP. I was supposed to interview Bono but it didn't work out.....so I'm sitting there in an empty arena as they took the stage for a soundcheck. I had my own private show, me and U2 and about 20 minutes of pure joy........it blew me away. At one point Bono looked down and asked, "so....how does it sound ?" Exactly how does one respond to that ?

The only way to describe the live U2 show was that it was like a religious experience. Everyone sang along with each song and Bono played the crowd like a master. The Edge was always amazing......he's an under rated guitarist in my mind. I recall a show during the "Unforgettable Fire" tour that I attended with Donna Donna from LIR. We decided to go at the last minute and got seats in the very last row directly across from the stage, hardly prime seats. It was wonderful to watch all the people reacting to each song as the show went on. At one point, Donna had to go to the bathroom and she missed out on hearing Bono offer a tribute to WLIR that made the hair on the back of my neck stand. I still get chills thinking about Bono thanking us in front of all those people.

U2 remains one of my all time faves and I even enjoy going to see the tremendous tribute band UF (Unforgettable Fire) It's almost like seeing the real band as they have a lead singer who's a dead ringer for Bono and they are gifted musically. I look forward to U2's next recording which I hear is coming out great.

Joan Jett was a guest on the John Debella show on WLIR when I was a kid and I instantly fell in love with her and her "Bad Reputation". It was with great pleasure that I went on to not only meet her (we went to a diner after a show to have cheese burgers and fries in Long Beach) but I got to host a whole slew of her shows. While I haven't seen Joan since she was in Rocky Horror on Broadway I do still get e-mail from Ricky Byrd her longtime guitarist.

The best part of intro-ing the Blackhearts was the feeling just before the show was to begin. The sound guy always played a tape of cool tunes. As showtime approached the final song on the tape was from the Who, Won't get fooled again. It would get louder and louder....building the excitement of the crowd. The band along with Joan would finish with their warm up and gather next to the stage entrance where I would be, waiting for my cue to walk out onto the stage. As the final notes of Pete Townsend's guitars played, I'd get the nod and walk out.....but only after making eye contact with Joan....just to make sure she was ready.....and then boom, the applause, the intro and then "Bad Reputation" to open the gig. Well before I met her I saw a few of Joan's shows, one famous one was a WLIR show outside at Fireman's Park in Hempstead and she led a chant of "No RAIN !" and the damn rain stopped.....pretty cool.

Speaking of Joan, she was a big fan of a band I enjoyed, the Replacements. One night I was lucky enough to host a show of theirs at Heartbeat in Oyster Bay. I popped in backstage to meet the guys and ended up in a Jack Daniels drinking contest.....I lost. While I only had to walk on stage and introduce them, they had to play a show....and boy did they ever ! The encore featured each member of the band trading instruments as well as a wild rendition of a Led Zep song.

Mick Jones was of course a member of the Clash. They played many now famous shows here in NY but the one that sticks out for me was at Shea Stadium. They opened for the Who with a 45 minute, tight as hell set that might have been the best show they ever did. Mick later formed B.A.D and that's when I met him. I was the board op for an interview with Denis McNamara at the station and Mick and I got along really well. I couldn't believe I was hanging out with this guy. A few years later I hosted one of the sold out shows in NYC and he knew me right away.....grabbed me to go and talk backstage. We smoked a little and renewed our friendship. The show itself was amazing.

There was a day that I remember when a charity event was to take place here in NY and a lot of "our" bands were involved. Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger of the English Beat/General Public along with Suzane Vega were in studio with Donna Donna and I was invited in to intro and DJ a live "toasting" session by Roger.....I'm sure I played a dub UB40 12" and Rankin Roger kicked out some serious toasting.....the other thing I remember was how cool Ms. Vega was. She and I spoke on politics among other subjects off-air.

One of my favorite bands of the 80's was from Aberdeen, Scotland. APB was a trio whose funky baselines and catchy lyrics caused quite a stir in the scene. They played both NY and Pittsburgh so I hosted many of their shows....Ian Slater, the singer and base player became a guy I could just hang out with. "Shoot You Down" is still a fave of mine.

Secession was another Scottish band I worked with and I was lucky enough to host their first ever performance here in the States. The venue was a place called LaCache (formerly Reds) and the place was packed for the sound check ! What a great night. We also had Belouis Some play there as well as the Ramones amonst many others. In it's short time, LaCache had some great nights with me spinning some nights and Rude Boy spinning others. It was across the street from Spit so that area (Levittown on Long Island) was really hopping for a while there.

Before I worked at WLIR I was at Paris New York and one night we were lucky enough to present live, Public Image Limited. Johnny Lydon is almost everything that is said about him.....but they did kick ass. Admittedly, I was kind of afraid of the guy based on his reputation so we didn't really make friends. He wasn't the terrorist to work with that I had heard about....but damn close.

The first official thing I ever did in the name of WLIR was to host a show with David Johansen . He was promoting his "King of Babylon" LP and I was in awe. This was the guy who fronted the New York Dolls....a living legend. He was also Buster Poindexter, his alter ego. I once saw him at the Lone Star Cafe in NYC at a Yellowman show. I made the mistake of calling him David (he was dressed as Buster). Once the bartender alerted me to my mistake "Buster" and I spent the rest of the night hanging out. Years later at a Buster show I went backstage and was surprised to find that David remembered me and we shared a few stories including the time that his wallet was found by former Rangers goaltender Dan Cloutier.

One of my all time favorite bands of the era was The Cult. They had a real hard edge during a time when the scene was beginning to lean toward a more electronic dance sound. I was lucky enough to meet and interview both Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy. Billy was more down to earth but Ian sure had a presence. I actually asked him about similarities with Jim Morrison of the Doors and currently, Ian fronts the new version of the Doors. Ironic, don't cha think ?

Perhaps the strangest guy I would meet and befriend during those WLIR days was Alain Jorgensen of Ministry. After an interview at the station I was asked to drive him back to his hotel before his show that night. I liked him right away. We had already spoken by phone a few times as we tried to book them at Paris NY. Each time instead of Paris, Spize was selected as that place was set up better for concerts. Anyway, Al was into some serious partying....and back then, so was I. We discussed what would happen that night when they took the stage at the Malibu with no intention of playing a single song off the hit LP "With Sympathy". His attitude was "fuck 'em, it's my band, my show......I'll do what I want". He and I shared that attitude. Not everyone enjoyed that night as much as he and I did......too bad. I thought it was great.

One of the great advantages of working at WLIR was listening to some of the local talent and getting the chance to become part of their story. Two bands come to mind that never made it big.....but it was great just the same. The Dancing Hoods were a Bob Waugh favorite and I liked 'em right away. They were good guys and had a few pretty good records. Another local product was Aku Aku who I knew of as I had worked with Neil Hooper, the lead singer when he was in The Statix. I think I enjoyed working with local bands as much if not more than those who were much more famous. I still think fondly of the SPUDS from Pittsburgh. That's 'Special People Under Doctors Supervision'. Great guys who's b-side I played on the air.....and the Sponges were another Pittsburgh band, I liked them too.

I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention that I spent a short but unforgettable time dating the woman who fronted Dominatrix, a NYC band who had a hit of the same name. Dominique Davalos was a wonderful girl and I fell in love with her at first sight. She later had her own band, Dominique and I hear she still plays gigs with a band called the Delphines with Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go's fame out in L.A.. I will never forget the time we spent hanging out in clubs in NYC or one weekend at my house on the Island. She even made a few movies including her role as the base player in Howard the Duck.


There are so many other bands and musicians I had the pleasure of meeting and working with. Robert Palmer, New Order, The Bangles, UB40, Modern English, Gang of Four, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Alarm....the list goes on and on. And there are those who I didn't meet but whose records I played every night for almost 17 years. I still love to hear the vocals of Paul Young, the sweet voice of Alison Moyet and I still think fondly of all those nights in the clubs where people would go nuts for Interferon's "Get Out of London" or Re-Flex's "Politics of Dancing". I still love cranking up Homosapian by Pete Shelly. Heaven 17, The Human League, The Thompson Twins....all great stuff.

There were so many bands covering so many different styles of music. Punk, wave, dance, ska, reggae, rockabilly (I have some cool Stray cats stories) even hip hop made it's way into the mix. Who could forget the Beastie Boys first single, Cookie Puss ?

I want to thank all of you who were kind enough to leave a comment or sent me a note after reading the last article I wrote on WLIR. It's great to know that the work we did back then meant so much to so many of you. Feel free to leave a comment here or, drop me a personal e-mail.....I respond to all of them when I get the time and I love hearing from you. DJBird@hockeybird.com

----}- Bird

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