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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, Feb 25 1998
Selvin Watch: We Meet at Last Joel Selvin and Dave Marsh -- longtime friends, colleagues, and even bandmates in the rock-crit group called the Rock Bottom Remainders -- had a slight rift in their relationship recently. As Riff Raff mentioned last week, Selvin's forthcoming book on Sly Stone is part of a new series of rock 'n' roll oral histories. The series is called On the Record and is being released under the editorship of Marsh. Sources tell Riff Raff that this latter aspect of the project is what caused the problem. The books were being published and marketed as Dave Marsh books, with Marsh's name on the spine and the real authors' names appearing only on the back cover. It's fairly weird that Marsh, a jut-jawed bore on the subject of things like free speech, would deny writers proper credit for

their work, but he didn't respond to Riff Raff's attempts to discuss the matter with him. Selvin, having heard from a local bookseller that he wasn't credited with his own book, protested -- and word is that he ultimately prevailed. While the first volumes in the series -- on Sam & Dave, Sun Records, and Black Sabbath -- are missing the authors' names, Selvin's Stone tome (which with works on Motown women and George Clinton make up the second trio) will be properly credited. Riff Raff is generally content to sit on the sidelines and toss spitwads Selvin's way, but this time we thought it right to check the facts with the man directly. We found Selvin cordial and forthright; he demurred at going into the details of his disagreements with his buddy Marsh, but said they had been "resolved to my complete personal and professional satisfaction. Everything is just as it was before." Selvin continued: "Conflict is a part of my life. I don't have any problem with it -- as you know." (Riff Raff thinks this was a veiled reference to us.) The Chron's top pop critic was happy to fill us in on the book itself, and made it sound kinda interesting. A key part of it, he said, came from the recollections of one Hamp "Bubba" Banks -- a key Stone associate, the husband of Stone's sister Rose Stewart, and the provider of, as Selvin put it, "eight hours of unbelievable stories." Even a private detective couldn't find Banks; Selvin related that, having heard Banks ran a hair salon on Third Street, he combed the neighborhood door to door to find him -- and ended up securing the first interview Banks had ever done. One disappointment: Stone, rumored to be one of rock's great living casualties, was unavailable. "I tried the front door, I tried the back door," said Selvin, "but he didn't want to talk to me. But then what's he going to say? 'Yeah, I did that shit'?" The book -- complete with the words "By Joel Selvin" on the cover -- will be out in June. (B.W.)

Bells ... Big Bells One recent rainy February day as Riff Raff wandered the UC Berkeley campus, we were struck by the harpsichordlike music coming from the carillon -- or bells -- of the 307-foot-tall Campanile. No matter the composer, the instrument sounded phenomenal -- right up there with ones we'd heard in NYC and England. And the way it was being played hinted that real human hands were involved; most of the carillons in the States are now operated by mechanical drums (think of a big music box), or computers, rendering them little more than bland digital ghosts. At the top of the squeaky tower elevator we found University Carillonneur Geert D'hollander and his 61-bell, five-octave instrument. Newly arrived from Flanders, Belgium, D'hollander has close-cropped hair and that patient, refined manner that seems genetic with European classical musicians. He gave us a quick carillon history lesson. He said the instrument was born in the Low Countries in the late 1400s, and that its original composers were cats with names like Matthias van den Gheyn. He told us that carillons are the largest acoustic instruments on Earth. (Fact: The low G bell in UC's Sather Tower weighs 10 tons and spans 6 1/2 feet.) D'hollander said you just can't make music on digitally driven carillons, because the computers can't hit those double fortes and triple pianos the way God intended. A carillon purist, he was especially critical -- in a sad, resigned way -- of Grace Cathedral's carillon in San Francisco, where the "great bells" are operated by an organ inside the church. At Berkeley, the carillon is played via a keyboard mounted in a plexiglass enclosure just underneath the bronze bells. The keyboard itself resembles a loom, with keys that look like knife handles. The player depresses the upper-register keys with closed fists, the lower by way of foot pedals. He told us you can play "anything with a melody" on a carillon; harmony, too. Dynamic changes in rhythm, however, are impossible. Fine and dandy, Riff Raff concluded. An amazing instrument. So why do so few students prick up their ears when the carillon kicks in? Must have something to do with the repertoire, which is almost exclusively classical. Although D'hollander and the university's other carillonneurs will occasionally play film scores, the instrument doesn't exactly lend itself to mosh pit or dance club tunes. Still, D'hollander insisted, "I'm sure they'd react if the carillon were silent for a week." But D'hollander doesn't need to accommodate the masses: Berkeley's carillon program, the only one of its kind in the U.S., comes complete with a $2 million endowment. Which means D'hollander is rather like a musician who won the Big Spin: He gets to play whatever he wants. (Philip Dawdy)

Jealousy Is a Bitch From the pages of Wyatt Riot No. 3, the obsessive fanzine dedicated to Track Star frontman Wyatt: It pisses me off [writes the author, who goes by the name Owen] that Wyatt is always tuning the guitar while the other guy just stands there and smokes. It's not fair that Wyatt does all the work and the other guy just stands there puffing away, looking at his tattoo, and trying to think of more ways to look like Tom Waits. That guy hella sucks.

It's About Time Last month the Cat's Grill and Alley Club -- home to DJ parties of all stripes -- closed for two months for much needed repair. Jet, the Cat's booker (and by the way, does anybody in this town have a last name? From now on, call us Riff!), whom you may also know from KUSF, says the owner wanted to spruce up the place. That desire happened to coincide with a lot of retrofitting the city said had to happen in order to bring the building up to code. Cat's will get a major overhaul, which should assuage clubbers who say that the sound sucks, the room is cramped, and the bathrooms are disgusting. (Riff Raff -- uh, Riff -- once saw a hole in the men's room toilet that allowed boys to pee directly onto the floor, and some thick-ass grime in the back room.) The renovation will include a new sound system, renovated johns, a new dance floor, and refurbished bars in the front and the back. As for the current lineup of DJ nights and live music, most will return in the same slots. Jet says that the April grand reopening is tentative: "It's like they're drilling for oil with all the work, but if all goes well we will open the first of April. But I wouldn't bet my child on it." (R.A.)

Those Darn Punks If you were lucky enough to catch the Swingin' Utters opening for X awhile back, you might have noticed a new old face in the band. Spike, lead singer for Me First & the Gimme Gimmes, has taken up a permanent position in the Utters as bass player. Kevin Wickersham, who appears on all the Utters albums to date, left the band last year to concentrate on teaching and playing music with the Working Stiffs; the Utters, who rarely come off the road, were forced to tour with temporary bassists until the right man could be found for the job. The Utters leave to join the Warped Tour early this summer with Spike in tow. (S.T.)

Oops Folks in the swing scene, like Riff Raff, care about minutiae -- the beauty of a proper hem, the ignominy of an extra letter. Some swingsters pointed out that technically we were wrong about Mortified, the New Morty Show's major-label debut that we wrote about last week. The record will be released by Atlantic/Slim Style, not Atlantic. No matter who puts the record out, Connie Champagne & Her Tiny Bubbles will still be managed by Solo Music. Also, in his live review of X, Jeff Stark inadvertently put a double "n" in "Johny Hit and Run Paulene." Sorry. (J.S.)

"We'd like to play three selected hit singles -- the three easiest.": Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), and Bill Wyman (


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