Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos - Steve Ter­rell

Stok­ing the flames One of the lonely things about be­ing a mu­sic critic and a lover of off-the-beaten-wall mu­sic is that you tend to get very ex­cited about songs and al­bums and artists that no­body you know, not even your hip­per friends, not even most of your hip­per on­line friends, has ever heard of. You’re the one per­son in the for­est when the tree falls and you scream, “Yes! There was a sound!” But even those who be­lieve you don’t re­ally care.

That’s ba­si­cally how I felt when the self-ti­tled new al­bum by Si­mon Stokes and The Hea­then An­gels came out. It made my day when I got a re­view/air­play copy in the mail (in an en­ve­lope I suspect was ad­dressed by Stokes him­self with ac­tual Kate Smith postage stamps. God bless Amer­ica!). But the few peo­ple with whom I shared my ex­cite­ment only seemed puz­zled.

I don’t care. This al­bum is ev­ery­thing I like about Stokes — boozy biker rock, some cred­i­ble honky-tonk, even some mad folk-in­spired bal­lads that would make your typ­i­cal folkie wet his pants in fear. I might just crank up my iPod and blast it in my car when I stop at red lights and in­flict it upon other driv­ers and hap­less pedes­tri­ans. Those with ears to hear will know the weird joy that is Si­mon Stokes.

What you should know about Si­mon Stokes: He was born in Michi­gan, the grand­son of a big-band leader, and moved to Los An­ge­les in the mid-’60s to dive into the rock ’n’ roll biz. He had a band called The Flower Chil­dren — though it’s hard to imag­ine that this tough old bird was ever a flower child. The group had a song called “Miniskirt Blues.” How­ever, I never heard this song un­til the ’90s when it ap­peared on The Cramps’ al­bum Look Ma, No Head, with guest vo­cals by Iggy Pop. (There’s a pow­er­ful new ver­sion on Hea­then An­gels.)

In the late ’60s, Stokes formed an­other band called The Nighthawks, which re­port­edly signed to Elek­tra Records on the same day as The Stooges and The MC5. In 1973, he re­leased The In­cred­i­ble Si­mon Stokes & The Black Whip Thrill Band, which un­for­tu­nately be­came more no­to­ri­ous for its S/M themes than for its bruis­ing blues rock (and a pretty out­law-coun­try tune called “The Devil Just Called My Name”).

Stokes seemed to dis­ap­pear af­ter his 1977 al­bum Buz­zard of Love, resur­fac­ing in the ’90s to team up with Dr. Ti­mothy Leary on an al­bum, Right to Fly — also known as LSD (Leary Stokes Duets); the best song from that col­lab­o­ra­tion is “100 Naked Kan­ga­roos in Blue Ca­noes.” Stokes also helped pro­duce The Rad­i­cal, a cool al­bum by Amer­i­can In­dian Move­ment leader Rus­sell Means.

My fa­vorite Stokes work of all time is his 2002 al­bum Honky. There were guest spots by Wayne Kramer and The Bell-Rays’ Lisa Kekaula, but this def­i­nitely was Stokes’ show. Songs like “Ama­zons and Coy­otes,” “Johnny Gil­lette,” “Ride on, An­gel” (a Black Whip re­make that’s even bet­ter than the orig­i­nal ver­sion), and “No Con­fi­dence” rep­re­sent Stokes at his roughrid­ing strong­est.

Look Home­ward, Hea­then An­gels: The new al­bum is def­i­nitely Stokes’ great­est since Honky, but that just means I like it bet­ter than the one al­bum be­tween the two, Head, which was a good record with some great tunes, though more home­made and lo-fi. Most of the songs on Hea­then An­gels fea­ture a full band — a solid group of rock­ers who per­fectly com­ple­ment the old mas­ter.

The open­ing song, “Hey You,” is an in­stant Stokes clas­sic. With the Hea­then An­gels play­ing a thump­ing beat be­hind him, Stokes sings about a con­fronta­tion be­tween a man on edge

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