Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Wall Of Voodoo Camouflages Stan Ridgway - Parte Uno

Wall Of Voodoo took new wave synth-driven rock and successfully married it to the ‘spaghetti western’ style sound of Ennio Morricone (‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’), to produce one of my favourite tracks of the mid 80s ‘Far Side Of Crazy’. The song was indicative of the oft time eclectic (think Devo) sound of a band which never quite made the leap to cross over from indie to mainstream success.

The roots for Wall Of Voodoo can be traced back to an small time independent film score company called Acme Soundtracks. Their business headquarters were based in Hollywood and happened to be across the street from the underground punk club The Masque. The man behind Acme Soundtracks was one Stan Ridgway. Ridgway was a frequent patron at The Masque, and one of the regular bands was The Skulls, featuring guitarist Marc Moreland. Soon Moreland and Ridgway found themselves jamming regularly at the Acme Soundtrack offices, initially with a view to working on music for several film score ideas Ridgway had been toying with. Fellow Skulls’ members Bruce Moreland (bass) and Chas T. Gray (keyboards) soon joined in on the impromptu sessions, and when former Black Randy & the Metrosquad drummer Joe Nanini joined the fray, the first line-up of Wall Of Voodoo came into being. The band’s name evolved from a comment a friend of Ridgway’s made in reference to the style of Acme Soundtrack’s music being less like Phil Spector’s ‘Wall Of Sound’, and more like a “wall of voodoo”.

The band soon found themselves regular players on the Los Angeles new wave circuit, moving away from straight punk with a heavier emphasis on synth/organ tracks. Ridgway’s nasal toned drawl style vocals added to Wall Of Voodoo’s unique sound. They were signed to the I.R.S. label and in 1980 released their eponymous debut EP. The stand out track was a synthesizer laced version of the Johnny Cash classic ‘Ring Of Fire’, an indication as to the future direction of Wall Of Voodoo. Their 1981 debut full length album ‘Dark Continent’ reflected the gelling style of Wall Of Voodoo, and featured the single ‘Call Box (1-2-3)’, with the album peaking at #177 on the Billboard chart. Soon after bassist Bruce Moreland left the band, leaving Wall Of Voodoo to continue on as a quartet, with Chas T. Gray assuming bass and keyboard duties.

Ridgway’s background in soundtrack work clearly influenced the sound of Wall Of Voodoo, with a strong cinematic quality evident on their next, and most commercially successful, album ‘Call Of The West’ (US#45). The 1982 LP yielded Wall Of Voodoo’s best known song ‘Mexican Radio’. The song could best be categorised as loopy pop, but as chaotically weird as it was, it was just too catchy to resist (well just like Devo I guess). It peaked at #58 in the U.S. and #64 in Britain, but Australian’s tuned to ‘Mexican Radio’ in greater numbers, pushing its ratings all the way to #33 in mid 1983. Around this time keyboardist Bill Noland was added to the line-up, returning Wall Of Voodoo to quintet status, and allowing Chas T. Gray to focus exclusively on bass duties. The follow up single ‘Big City’ failed to capture the same attention, and following an appearance at the U.S. Festival in May 1983, Stan Ridgway parted ways with Wall Of Voodoo to pursue a solo career. Ridgway later claimed a factor in his departure was an increasingly unsavoury lifestyle within the ranks of the band, including excessive drug use. I.R.S. released the 1984 album ‘Granma’s House’ as an anthology of sorts to Ridgway’s tenure with the band. Drummer Joe Nanini and keyboardist Bill Noland also parted ways with Wall Of Voodoo during 1983.

A chance encounter at a Los Angeles party with newly returned bassist Bruce Moreland, led to singer Andy Prieboy being recruited as Ridgway’s replacement later in 1984. Prieboy had already had a colourful, and at times controversial, career as an aspiring songwriter/performer fronting San Francisco new wave band Eye Protection. At this time the band’s line-up was Andy Prieboy (vocals), Marc Moreland (guitar), Bruce Moreland (bass), Chas T. Gray (now back on keyboards), and new drummer Ned Lukhardt. Wall Of Voodoo resurfaced in late 1985 with the album ‘Seven Days In Sammystown’ (OZ#50). The album featured the aforementioned classic ‘Far Side Of Crazy’, a dark yet alluring track that proved their was life beyond Ridgway in the Wall Of Voodoo sound. ‘Far Side Of Crazy’ reached #23 on the Australian charts, spending 21 weeks inside the top 100, though its brilliance didn’t translate to sales in the U.S. It was backed by one of the more clever promo videos of the era, highlighting the band’s ongoing dedication to the whole ‘western’ motif. Thematically and musically the rest of ‘Seven Days In Sammystown’ ventured into some dark and confronting areas, but the mood is sometimes compromised by an overly slick production treatment.

The follow up album ‘Happy Planet’ (OZ#83) in 1987, did little to re-establish Wall Of Voodoo as a challengingly inventive group, though a radically reworked version of the Beach Boys’ ‘Do It Again’ (OZ#40) indicated they were still keen to take chances, though perhaps misjudged ones. The rest of the album is too self conscious in its efforts to be odd, and as a result lacks the off the cuff inspired feel offered by their earlier work.

Wall Of Voodoo released one final album, though it was a live recording. ‘The Ugly Americans In Australia*’ was released in 1988, having been recorded on the band’s last Australian tour at The Palace Theatre in Melbourne (with a few tracks recorded in Bullhead City, Arizona). But following the tour Wall Of Voodoo parted ways for good.

Following the dissolution of Wall Of Voodoo, Andy Prieboy had one of his songs ‘Tomorrow Wendy’ recorded by fellow ‘spaghetti western’ rockers Concrete Blonde on their breakthrough album ‘Bloodletting’. Prieboy released his debut solo album ‘Upon My Wicked Son’ in 1990, the record’s sound reflecting Prieboy’s diverse stylistic influences, from vaudeville to opera. It was followed by the 1991 EP ‘Montezuma Was A Man Of Faith’, which featured a countrified version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’. Prieboy’s most critically praised album was 1995’s ‘Sins Of Our Fathers’, showcasing an adventurous songwriter and performer, unafraid to push stylistic and thematic boundaries. Prieboy has more recently worked on a play titled ‘White Trash Wins Lotto’, an acerbic take on the life of Guns N’ Roses’ singer Axl Rose.

Guitarist Marc Moreland released the solo album ‘Plan 9 To Las Vegas’ in 1997 and worked on occasion with Concrete Blonde projects. Drummer Joe Nanini played with country rock band Lonesome Strangers and later released a 1996 EP under the name Sienna Nanini-Bohica. Sadly both Nanini (2000) and Moreland (2002) passed away in recent years. As discussed in the next post former front man Stan Ridgway would return to the name Wall Of Voodoo in later years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post you got here. I'd like to read more concerning this topic. The only thing it would also be great to see on this blog is some photos of some gizmos.
Kate Watcerson
Phone jammers