The Finer Points of Turntable Science, According to DJ QBert

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Photos by Marco Torres
DJ QBert displays his mastery of the turntables at Fitzgerald's.
If any ever decided to erect a Mount Rushmore-like monument dedicated to DJs and turntablism, DJ QBert's face would definitely be one of the chosen few on the side of that mountain. A pioneer of the craft of scratching, juggling and mixing, QBert visited Fitzgerald's Wednesday night on his "Extraterrestrium Guided Space Tour." He graciously took some time to speak with us before the show.

Rocks Off: Hola sir! Thanks for your time. What's your impression of Houston and Texas?
DJ Qbert: The art scene [here] is incredible, and throughout the whole tour, I have the most friends that I personally know [who] live here! My guest list in this city was the longest, ha!

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Josh Abbott Band: The Merry Pranksters of Texas Country

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Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/Shore Fire Media
Watch your backs around the Josh Abbott Band.
About the last place you might expect Josh Abbott to be doing a phone interview is...Nashville. His eponymous group is synonymous with Texas country, arguably the only act of its kind this decade to graduate to the very top tier occupied by the likes of the Randy Rogers Band and the Departed. That kind of drawing power gets them invited to events like tomorrow's Eli Young Band Block Party at Minute Maid Park, where Abbott's bunch will go on directly before the headliner.

His six-piece band can definitely crank with the best of 'em, but the songs that put him on the map can get downright sentimental. The band's breakthrough single and title track of 2010 debut album was the valentine "She's Like Texas," and 2012 followup Small Town Family Dream is centered around his tiny West Texas hometown of Idalou. Growing up on the South Plains, where the songs of native sons Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore set a high standard indeed, Abbott says he learned the value of writing his own music early on. Ironically, he wound up pulling a cover of legendary Lubbock maverick Terry Allen's "FFA" from Family Dream after the actual FFA objected to its depiction of farmers.


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Derek Trucks Keeps It All in the Family Band

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Photo by Mark Seliger/OnTour PR
The Tedeschi Trucks Band: The per diem costs alone must kill their accountant. From left to right: Mark Rivers, Tyler Greenwell, Kofi Burbridge (sitting), Kebbi Williams, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Mike Mattison, Maurice Brown, J.J. Johnson (sitting) and Saunders Sermons. Tim Lefebvre had not joined the group yet.
For many a bluesman, standing at the Crossroads is a mostly apocryphal experience, the stuff of myth and legends. But when Rocks Off reached Derek Trucks at his New York hotel room last month, the myth is quite real.

In a few days, he'll take the stage with the Allman Brothers Band for their annual run of shows at the Beacon Theatre. Except it will be the last-ever live dates with the venerable group for both guitarists Trucks and Warren Haynes, both having previously announced their departure. And - depending on which member speaks to the media on which day - may be the ABB's last live dates ever.

"It's a trip. We started rehearsals last night for the last run, and I can't tell who is processing what in what way yet. I don't know if we'll ever be on the same page about [any future for the group], but for me, this is it. And I know Warren as well," Trucks says.


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Peter Case Still Practicing "Conscious Continual Compassion"

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Photo by David Ensminger
Peter Case: "How can you have democracy when everything's secret?"
Thrice Grammy-nominated Peter Case (the Nerves/Plimsouls) is more than a pithy icon of the punk generation who helped foster the first wave of musical insurrection in both San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. He's also a deeply committed writer of songs, memoirs and poems, whose sinewy, spontaneous work draws upon deeply mined worlds ranging from Woody Guthrie and Beat Generation legends to progressive Latin writer Roberto Bolano, bluesman Big Joe Williams and visionary poet William Blake. He is like a sponge, effortlessly soaking up a diverse array of sources.

Road-testing his fresh-faced work for a new album, Hwy 62, Case is scouring the States this fall, stirring up potent bits of his catalog, too, while revealing his newest concerns. In addition, Case has just released Subterranean Hum, a collection of poetry co-written with yours truly. Rocks Off caught up with Case in San Francisco, where he resides near the ocean in a 100-year-old building surrounded by records galore.


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An Unfiltered Chat With Jello Biafra

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Photo courtesy of Alternative Tentacles
Jello Biafra (second from left) and his fellow Guantanamo School of Medicine surgeons
For more than three decades, Jello Biafra has remained the brassy conscience of punk rock, willing to knock down the sacred cows of politics and rock and roll. First honing his diatribes in the Dead Kennedys, next dabbling in film and spoken word, and ultimately joining forces with DOA, NoMeansNo, the Melvins, and Al Jourgensen for projects aplenty, he has remained ever-potent and enrapturing, a changeling that never quite sheds his skin.

As a news junkie, edgy showman, political reformist, and punk shaman, he has continued to curate fabled label Alternative Tentacles, survived a bitter feud with former bandmates, and kept retirement far away while firing up Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, his vociferous psych-punk band with ex-members of Victim's Family and Rollins Band.

Rocks Off's David Ensminger rang up Biafra before he hits the road for Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin and Houston's Continental Club this Sunday night. Here are some excerpts.


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Jim Peterik Still Has That Eye of the Tiger

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Photo by Lynne Peters
Survivor co-founder Jim Peterik, who has developed a fondness for purple hair dye, today.
An answering-machine message not only changed Jim Peterik's life forever, but led to the creation of one of the '80s biggest anthems that can still be heard all over the place some three decades later.

"When I played the message, I thought someone was pranking me, because our road manager, Sal, did a pretty good impression of Sylvester Stallone," Peterik says today.

But no, it was legit: the actor/director was putting together Rocky III and needed a blood-pumping song to start the movie off after his original choice, Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," proved unattainable.

"The message was like 'Yo, Jim, that's a nice answering machine message you got there!" Peterik says with his own impression. "I really like that song you have called 'Poor Man's Son.' It's got a street sound, and I want that for my movie!"


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Remembering Jack Bruce, Cream's Gentleman Bassist

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Photo by Marek Hofman
Jack Bruce with a constant companion.
Note: Cream bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce, universally recognized among his peers as one of the greatest instrumental talents in rock history, passed away last Saturday at age 71. Rocks Off's Bob Ruggiero was lucky enough to speak with Bruce this past spring, and would like to re-run this interview that originally appeared on May 6.

He's best known to the average classic-rock fan for the scant time in the '60s, fewer than three years, that he spent singing and playing bass for a quiet little trio named Cream, alongside subdued guitarist Eric Clapton and noted shy-guy drummer Ginger Baker. But Jack Bruce has certainly had a multi-hued career since those acid-drenched days of white rooms, strange brews and tales of brave Ulysses.

In addition to his work with other groups and collaborators, Bruce has also released a series of very-much-underrated solo efforts, beginning in 1969 with Songs for a Tailor up through 2003's More Jack Than God. In these discs he stretched out not only his string-thumping, but also the genres he explores in his material, in particular his leanings to and love for jazz.


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Now Just Freeman, Gene Moves on Past Ween

Categories: Inquiring Minds

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Photo by Franco Vogt
Life wasn't so sweet for Gene Ween in 2011. In fact, it was pretty sour, hitting a tragic low at a concert in Vancouver, during which the former Ween front man mostly lay sprawled across the stage floor, incorrectly mumbling his own lyrics, his band eventually abandoning him onstage.

The drug-induced meltdown ultimately became the impetus for two life-altering decisions: After 25 years playing alongside guitarist Mickey Melchiondo (AKA Dean Ween), the artist, born Aaron Freeman, first quit Ween and then got sober.


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Ray Johnston Now a Baller With a Guitar

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Being a baller was his ultimate dream, but sometimes what you want isn't always what you get.

That's the case for former Dallas Mavericks player turned Texas musician Ray Johnston. His current album is called No Bad Days, and that's also his life's anthem.

"Thinking about the theme of the album No Bad Days, to me is the strongest song I've ever been a part of writing and I think it summed up my last ten years as far as getting a shitty diagnosis -- sorry, crappy diagnosis -- and doing my best to turn a lot of frowns upside down," says Johnston. "It was really dark for a while, man. Having leukemia five times in 12 years, there's a lot of pissed-off moments, but my parents wouldn't let me sulk."

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CBGB Survivor Cheetah Chrome's Creed: "Honesty and Quality"

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Photo by Anna O'Connor/Plowboy Records
Alongside fellow contenders like Johnny Ramone, Cheetah Chrome became one of the titanic, blistering guitarists launching the first wave of CBGB-era punk into the stratosphere of American culture. Yet his origins erupted a few years earlier in down-and-out Cleveland. As an authentic, no-bullshit rock and roll soldier, he helped propel two groundbreaking units there: Rocket from the Tombs, with David Thomas of Pere Ubu, and the Dead Boys, with his mate Stiv Bators. Together, these bands fomented a warped sonic renaissance and soon rendezvoused with history.

Since leading the attack with tunes like the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," Chrome has taken a slightly crooked path by working with a variety of equally laudable figures, such as Ronnie Spector, Nico, Jeff Dahl and more recently New York Dolls alum Sylvain Sylvain, his partner in the Batusis. As his memoir A Dead Boy's Tale: From The Front Lines of Punk Rock recounts, street smarts are a crucial part of his DNA; hence, his new album, the swaggering Solo (incredibly, Chrome's first full-length solo outing), evokes a gritty spirit of survival without hauling along tons of sentimentality.

Rocks Off's David Ensminger reached Chrome on the road before his gig Friday at Fitzgerald's with Houston's Born Liars, the Guillotines and the Drunks.


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