A collection of the greatest music stories never told. Music journalist and author Jessica Hopper takes the reins for season two.
Here's the Latest Episode from Lost Notes:
The role guns play in songs is almost universal: from the heroic outlaws in country songs and narcocorridos, to early blues, rap, classic rock, and dancehall. Guns are tools of power.
Songs that suggest that guns are a problem are fewer and far between.
In recent years, concerts have become sites of mass gun violence. Rapper Nipsey Hussle was shot dead in the streets of LA. These events have reignited conversations about what music's response should be to the prevalence of guns.
Throughout music’s long-standing relationship with guns, there have been points at which artists or the music industry itself did become advocates for gun control. Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone tried to tackle the gun lobby after John Lennon’s assassination, for example.
But his call to action - like that of others - fell on deaf ears. And activism around gun control continues to be rare in the music world.
Imagine Memorial. Photo credit: Daniel Stark
In the early 1980’s, teenage Nermin Niazi and her older brother Feisal dreamt of making a record. They came from music royalty, after all. Many members of their family, including their parents, composed and performed traditional Pakistani music.
The Multi-Generational Musical Family. Photos courtesy of Nermin Niazi.
But when they finally got their chance to make music, the siblings did something entirely new.
One of the siblings' many fashion editorials in '80s Pakistan
They made an album that fused the Pakistani diaspora they belonged to with the British New Wave they loved so much. It was the perfect harmony of both their worlds.
Nermin, Feisal, and session musician Andrew Morris at Zella Studios.
Disco Se Aagay was released both in the U.K. and in Pakistan. And almost immediately, Nermin had to contend with the opinions of both her peers and the press, her white English audience and her Asian listeners. It was a conflict many people face in diaspora - too western for the east and too eastern for the west.
"East and West" Fashion Fusion
Nermin and Feisal’s disco dream didn’t get the recognition they had hoped for in its time. But it remains a masterpiece: a testament to something lost, something found, and something beyond.
Nermin recording at Zella Studios, Birmingham, England
Nermin, Feisal, and their LP with the Lord Mayor of Birmingham
Teenage Nermin in Akhbar-E-Jahan, Karachi, Pakistan
A Fashion Shoot with Nermin and Feisal
Billy Tipton wasn’t a star or a jazz virtuoso; he was a working musician from the 1930s until the late ‘50s. He toured small clubs, performed variety shows, and recorded a few records for a no-name label.
Then, in 1958, he walked away from his life as a musician. He became a family man, settling in Spokane, Washington, for the next three decades. Then, in 1989, Billy Tipton’s death made national headlines.
He had several health problems, and when he collapsed, his son called an ambulance. As the paramedics tried to resuscitate Tipton, they discovered that he was anatomically female. His bandmates, his sons, and ex-wives said they didn’t know.
His personal life became tabloid fodder and TV talk show gossip. And for some in the transgender community, Billy Tipton became a trans pioneer. But how do we apply our categorizations of identity today to someone’s story from the early 20th century? It’s difficult to say whether Tipton was confined, or actually felt free, without being able to ask him. His story isn’t so easy to tell - especially not decades later - and that’s why it’s important to try.
As a supplement to our episode on John Fahey, we share a conversation between Jessica Hopper and Carla Green about artist legacies in the era of cancel culture and #MeToo.
John Fahey has long been heralded as a genius. He’s a master of the steel-string guitar and a pioneer of what’s called American Primitive. He started putting out his own records in 1959 - just him playing acoustic guitar - and by the 1970s he had a cult following. By the early 1990s, Fahey’s work was being rediscovered and championed by the likes of Sonic Youth, Beck, and Pete Townshend.
John Fahey with the Grossman family in Italy - Credit and courtesy of Stefan Grossman
Fans spend years trying to perfect his technique and learn his music. There are articles, interviews, and documentaries celebrating his musical prowess and creativity.
A Lesson in C Tuning from John Fahey, on johnfahey.com. Photo courtesy of Melissa Stephenson.
This story is different. It’s a portrait of John Fahey through the eyes of three of the women who knew him best.
Throughout his life, Fahey undeniably suffered. And sometimes, that suffering would radiate out to the people around him. This documentary explores what it was really like to live with John Fahey.
Fahey album cover. Photo courtesy of City Hall Records.
Host Jessica Hopper and reporter Carla Green had a longer conversation about John Fahey’s life and legacy in a bonus episode, coming out soon. Subscribe to Lost Notes to listen.
In 1999, a fan wrote a letter to Rolling Stone. He was advocating for one of his favorite bands.
He wrote: “One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary: They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time. Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done.”
That fan was David Bowie. And he’s talking about a band formed by June and Jean Millington.
In the mid-1960s June and Jean were teenage Filipina sisters who felt out-of-place in their Sacramento high school. Then they discovered rock and roll. They started performing at local teen centers and school dances - and eventually formed a band that would tour all around California.
A few years later, they landed in L.A. and took the Sunset Strip by storm. From open mics to an unprecedented deal with Reprise to a lifestyle rubbing elbows with Mick Jagger, Bowie, and Bonnie Raitt. Everyone said Fanny was supposed to be the next big thing. But by 1975 they'd disbanded and faded into obscurity.
Music journalist Dylan Tupper Rupert interviews the Millington sisters for Lost Notes. They explain the price women pay for being truly ahead of their time.
June and Jean then, Credit: R Neal Izumi in Honolulu
Fanny Live, Credit: Bob Riegler
The Svelts in 1968: Jean, Brie, and June, Credit: Steve Griffith
Practicing at Fanny Hill, Credit: Linda Wolf.
Fanny at Fanny Hill in Hollywood, Courtesy of June Millington
Fanny Hill album cover, recorded at Apple Studios in 1972
In 1968, Suzanne Ciani was a music student at UC Berkeley when she met Don Buchla. Buchla had just created one of the first electronic musical instruments, a modular synthesizer. It looked like an old telephone switchboard with knobs and wires, dials and faders. Ciani fell in love with it. And it became the catalyst to her career - one of the most consequential and influential music careers of the 20th century. Ciani has been nominated for five Grammy Awards for Best New Age Album. Her warm, inviting electronic compositions have inspired numerous modern, avant-garde synth composers.
But, without even knowing, it's far more likely you've heard Ciani's work in the commercial space.
Ciani tells Lost Notes about balancing her commercial work with her artistic career - and how the two worlds became symbiotic. "I learned so much doing commercial work,” Ciani says. "I learned studio techniques, production techniques. I think they really were synergistic; my commercial work really did support my artwork, [though] not in obvious ways.”
With both her commercial and her artistic work, Ciani inspired a whole generation of synth musicians, including featured sound artists
Suzanne Ciani in Keyboard Magazine.
1977 Promo Flier. Photo credit: Bob L.
Suzanne Ciani, live at RBMA Buchla Concert, 2016. Photo credit: Maria Jose Govea.
Suzanne Ciani live at Terraforma, June 2017. Photo credit: Michela Di Savino.
Suzanne Ciani live at Terraforma, June 2017.
When The Greatest came out in 2006, Cat Power was already an indie icon and a decade into her career. This album was her crowning artistic triumph: a crossover out of indie rock, backed by the legendary Memphis Rhythm Band. But by this time, too, her personal struggles had become public, even a defining part of her image. She’d break down at live shows, and cancel parts of her album tour. For poet Hanif Abdurraqib, her visible - and audible - pain are what spoke to him most. The moment he heard the opening notes of The Greatest, he knew this album might save his life.
Chan Marshall / Cat Power performing at KCRW. Photo credit: Larry Hirshowitz
Chan Marshall / Cat Power performing at KCRW. Photo credit: Larry Hirshowitz
Rob and his buddy Clif were teenagers when they founded The Freeze, a Boston punk band, in 1978. One of the definitive compilations of music from the Boston’s '80s hardcore punk scene was named after a Freeze song: "This is Boston, Not L.A." They opened for Black Flag, Fear, the U.K. Subs, and toured across the U.S. and Europe. The Freeze remains Cape Cod’s longest running punk band. Like most punk bands from this era, they sang about what they were against: religion, jocks, and conformity. But they were bratty, too, and aimed to offend. Now, 40 years later, Rob and Clif reckon with the lyrics they wrote as teenagers.
Clif "Hanger" Croce & Rob "DeCradle" Rosenthal
The “I Hate Tourists” sleeve Clif made out of construction paper
The “I Hate Tourists” vinyl Rob listens to at the end of the story
The Freeze - Clif Croce, Lou Cataldo, Rik Andrews, Rob Rosenthal, Steve Wood
Rob Rosenthal and Rik Andrews performing with the Freeze
Gig Flyer - The Freeze with Black Flag
Rob Rosenthal and Clif Croce today
Lost Notes is a podcast about music’s untold stories.
This season the music journalist and author Jessica Hopper is looking at artist legacies. How do they hold up? How do they change over time? Learn how decades on a song can find new meaning, something different than when it was written. Find out what happens when we apply our 2019 politics to 1974’s songs. And hear from pioneering women who have been written out of music’s history.
Today's episode comes from KCRW's very own UnFictional, whose latest season launches today.
Perhaps you've heard the legend about the old Nat King Cole song, “Nature Boy.” One night in 1948, a strange-looking man in robes with long hair and beard, looking like a time traveler from 1968, waits at the stage door of a theater in Los Angeles. He has some sheet music for a song he's written that somehow gets to Nat “King” Cole, who is performing that night. Cole records the song and it ends up becoming a timeless standard.
But that's only one part of the unusual story of Nature Boy eden ahbez, a man so ahead of his time that he spent most of his life out of sync with the world. He was part of a small movement that lead to some of the main elements of what we now think of California "hippie" culture: natural foods, yoga, mediation and environmental conservation. This was decades before they became widely adopted. He became a national figure and wrote one of the most famous songs of the postwar period, all while living apart from modern society.Reporter Eric Molinsky produced this audio portrait as three-part suite, three stories from three different periods from the life of eden ahbez, featuring ahbez's friend Joe Romersa, writer Bridan Chidester, and farmer/historian Gordon Kennedy.
First presented in January 2014 on KCRW's UnFictional. This episode was produced by Eric Molinsky and edited and mixed by Bob Carlson.
While you await new Lost Notes episodes, our producers are selecting favorite music segments from other podcasts as part of a 'Reissue' series.
Today’s episode comes from Heat Rocks, a Maximum Fun podcast hosted by music journalist Oliver Wang and music supervisor Morgan Rhodes. On each episode, they invite a special guest to talk about a ‘heat rock’ - a hot album, a scorching record - for an in-depth conversation about the albums that shape our lives. Here, they’re joined by DJ/crate-digger Cut Chemist, who professes his love for the self-titled 1972 debut album by genre-busting funk/soul/jazz ensemble Cymande.
First presented in March 2018 on Heat Rocks. This episode was produced by Oliver Wang and Morgan Rhodes, and edited by Shana Daloria. Booking manager: Shana Daloria. Senior producer: Laura Swisher. Executive Producer: Jesse Thorn.
Photo courtesy of Maximum Fun
This installment comes from Toronto, Canada, where producer Clive Desmond recounts the strange story of his unexpected run-in with Prince on an empty ice rink in sub-zero temperatures. “The Dove” features Desmond’s typically wry, reflective, and gorgeously produced storytelling, and stands as one of the most unique testaments to a musical icon who launched a million stories.First presented in December 2016 on Pod Planet, a show co-produced by Desmond and Peter McHugh. Written and produced by Clive Desmond.
While we await new Lost Notes episodes, our producers are selecting favorite music documentaries from other podcasts as part of a 'Reissue' series.
The first is from Falling Tree Productions, who have produced some of the finest music stories we've ever heard. "Mad About The Boy", presented by music journalists and pop fans Jude Rogers and Ruth Barnes, takes look at the empowering flip-side of pop fandom.
"An unashamedly pro-girl show that pointed out the advantages of young ladies going through a ridiculous pop fan stage." - The Observer
First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on January 28, 2014. Presented by Ruth Barnes and Jude Rogers. Produced by Eleanor McDowall for Falling Tree Productions.
Very special thanks to Alan Hall and Eleanor McDowall at Falling Tree.
Jude Rogers' mother-in-law, Lillian Adams, during her Beatlemania days. Photo courtesy of Falling Tree Productions.
Aisha Ali, a young woman with Egyptian and Italian roots, moves from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles at the height of the swinging ‘60s, where she dances in some of Old Hollywood’s most storied venues. But a search for her deeper roots leads her to Southwest Asia and North Africa, where she single-handedly documents hours and hours of music and film from Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt. She goes on to publish six albums on her own label, ARAF, but much of it remains locked away on the reels which line the walls of her home in Los Angeles.
Aisha Ghazaiya Dance, c. 1983, West Bank, Egypt. Photo credit: Ahmed Baron.
Aisha In The Studio, c. 1965, Hollywood, CA. Photo credit: Maurice Inez.
Aisha Dances with Bedouin Musicians, c. 1973, Nazlet Es-Samman, Egypt. Photo credit: Ali Ashur El-Gabry
Aisha Raqsat Al-Shaer, c. 1965, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Maurice Inez
Aisha Dances With Khyria of the Banat Mazin at a Wedding Party, c. 1997, Luxor, Egypt (Video still). Photo credit: Ahmed Baron
A handful of reels from Aisha’s extensive collection. Photo credit: Myke Dodge Weiskopf
Flexi-discs are thin plastic or plastic-coated paper records, and in the 1980s they were all the rage in fast food. Burger King teamed up with the popular sitcom character ALF for such hits as “Melmac Rock” and “Take Me, ALF, to the Ballgame.” But McDonald’s truly upped the ante in 1989 when it ran the biggest flexi-disc promotion ever, sending out 80 million discs (playing the “Menu Song”) as inserts in newspapers all over the country. If one of those 80 million recipients was fortunate enough to not only find the plastic disc, but recognize that it could be played on their turntable - they’d win a million dollars. Charlene Price of Galax, Virginia was that lucky winner, and her son Scotty keeps the record as his most prized possession. Reporter Richard Parks III ventured out to Galax to become one of only a handful of people to hear that winning record, and along the way he discovered the complicated history of the family that claimed the prize.
Scotty’s most prized possession. Photo courtesy of Richard Parks III.
Charlene at the Price is Right, her grocery store. Photo courtesy of Richard Parks III.
Charlene’s boyfriend striking a pose with a large sum of money. Photo courtesy of Richard Parks III.
Tammy at the Galax motel. Photo courtesy of Richard Parks III.
Scotty in front of the house he grew up in, where he found the winning record. Photo courtesy of Richard Parks III.
The story of how the Shaggs came to be a band is almost as unbelievable as the music they produced. If you know about them and their fabulously shambolic cult album Philosophy of the World, it’s likely thanks to one of their famous fans. Frank Zappa declared them “better than the Beatles,” Kurt Cobain cited Philosophy of the World as an all time favorite, and countless others have sung their praises over the years. It was a mother’s prophecy to her son, Austin Wiggin, that he would have daughters who would be in a successful rock band. Despite his girls’ complete lack of interest in playing music, he heeded his mother’s words and turned Dot, Betty, and Helen Wiggin into the Shaggs. Writer Susan Orlean reflects on her time profiling the band for The New Yorker in the late ‘90s, and their strange trip to unexpected fame.
The Shaggs. Image courtesy of Geoffrey Weiss
The Shaggs live, Fremont, NH Town Hall. Image courtesy of Matthew Thomas.
Shaggs practicing. Image courtesy of Matthew Thomas
“Rules for Shaggs Dance.” Image courtesy of Matthew Thomas
The Shaggs. Image courtesy of Dot Wiggin
Betty Wiggin-Porter, left, and Dot Semprini at Dot's home in Epping, NH. The two sisters sang and played guitar in The Shaggs. Photo by Avishay Artsy/KCRW.
Country musician Glen Sherley embodied the adage “write what you know.” What Glen Sherley knew was prison. A string of armed robbery convictions offered him a grand tour of California penitentiaries by the time he was in his late thirties. He found his ultimate refuge from those long, lonely days by writing songs and recording them on reel to reel tape. One of those tapes landed in the hands of Johnny Cash the night before his legendary Folsom Prison concert.
Cash was so impressed with what he heard that he closed his show the next day with the song from that recording, “Greystone Chapel.” Sherley was in the audience to witness this thrilling moment, and a life-long bond was formed between the two men. Johnny Cash pulled a lot of strings to pluck Glen Sherley from prison, and tried to set him up for success. But for someone who’d spent most of their life behind bars, success on the outside proved to be a very tricky road to navigate.
Glen’s son Bruce Sherley, at home on his ranch in Bakersfield, California. Photo credit: Peter Gilstrap.
Glen Sherley’s final resting place at Shafter Memorial Park on the outskirts of Bakersfield. Photo credit: Peter Gilstrap.
Glen Sherley’s daughter, Ronda with her dog Tank, at home in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. Photo credit: Peter Gilstrap.
Family portrait: Ronda, Glen and Bruce Sherley in a scrapbook photo, taken in the early ‘70s. Photo courtesy of Ronda Sherley.
Glen Sherley onstage at Vacaville Prison where he was incarcerated, recording his live album on January 31, 1971. Pedal steel guitar player Lloyd Green is on the far right. Photo courtesy of Ronda Sherley.
Glen Sherley tears it up onstage at Vacaville for 800 of his fellow inmates. Photo courtesy of Ronda Sherley.
Johnny Cash stands as best man at Glen Sherley’s second marriage at Cash’s home in Tennessee. June Carter Cash pins a carnation on Glen as Nickie Dobbins, soon to be Nickie Sherley, looks on. Photo courtesy of Ronda Sherley.
Hearing the name New Edition is likely to conjure a lot of thoughts. Bobby Brown, those sweet dance moves, and the recent BET biopic to name but a few. Usually not too high on that list is the fact that they’re from Boston, but New Edition’s Boston roots run deep. So when they filmed a music video in Los Angeles with the Lakers during the height of the 1980s Celtics/Lakers rivalry, it was quite a shock to their hometown supporters. Find out how it happened, and how an assist from Michael Jackson ensured that New Edition stayed a band long enough to even get to that point.
New Edition - My Secret (Didja Gitit Yet?)
R&B Vocal Group 'New Edition' Portrait In Basketball Uniforms Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty
Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) is known for using complex time signatures and his five octave vocal range to ruminate on his pets, the wonderfulness of women, man’s stunning stupidity, and the splendor of every damn thing in the universe. But when writer Kristine McKenna met Don, he was preparing to leave music forever. This intimate radio portrait features exclusive interviews and archival tape with one of music’s most legendary eccentric geniuses.
Don and Kristine McKenna at his house in northern California, 1985. Photograph by Nick Chase.
Don was extremely well read and there were lots of books in his house. That antique boombox was his music delivery system. Photograph by Nick Chase.
Don and his beloved cat Garland. Don regarded Garland as a peer not a pet. Photograph by Nick Chase.
“Painting is a color straight-jacket and I love putting it on,” said Don. Photograph by Nick Chase
Photograph by Nick Chase.
Pirate radio blew up in the 1990s as the technology became more affordable, and easy internet access wasn’t quite yet a thing. Underground, unregulated radio stations became some of the best places to hear local music. WBAD in New York was among the most beloved. They played unsanitized hip-hop, most of which wasn’t being touched by mainstream hip-hop radio. And no one knew that all this was being delivered to them by their friendly neighborhood UPS driver. Once the nightly news came calling though, everything changed.
WBAD Radio Transmitter. All photos courtesy of DJ Cintronics.
The life of one of the world’s most ubiquitous rock n’ roll anthems - the song that every teenager bangs out on their first guitar - stretches far beyond the Kingsmen’s definitive version and “Animal House.” As performed by the Kingsmen, and as it began tearing up the charts “Louie Louie’s” ambiguous lyrics became the target of a lengthy FBI investigation. By this point, its writer Richard Berry had already sold the rights to this soon to be national phenomenon in order to buy an engagement ring. But the song comes back into his life later in a most spectacularly 1980s fashion.
Portrait shot of "Louie Louie" songwriter Richard Berry.
Richard Berry performing in a nightclub, date and location unknown.
Richard Berry with his wife Dorothy.
Pages from the FBI investigation into the perceived
vulgarity of "Louie Louie's" lyrics which began in 1964.
Hear a preview of Lost Notes, an anthology of some of the greatest music stories never truly told. Top journalists present stand-alone audio documentaries that highlight music’s head, heart and beat, with host Solomon Georgio as your guide. These eight stories include a look at the FBI investigation into a classic rock anthem, unheard conversations with Captain Beefheart, a critical examination of New Edition’s basketball connection and the chronicle of a man plucked from Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash and thrust into the spotlight of country music stardom.