Monday, January 23, 2023

Thoughts On Wilco, 2002, And The YHF Boxset

I have been meaning for some time to write about my time with Wilco in 2002. It was quite a journey, from hopeful photographer, to having ten pages of photos in the recent Yankee Hotel Foxtrot boxset. These are some of the verbal pieces of the puzzle that go with the visual ones. 

I first saw and photographed Wilco in Charlotte, NC in the summer of 1998. They played halfway through a remarkable show dubbed The Newport Folk Festival tour. Alongside Lucinda Williams, Dar Williams, Mark Eitzel, Marc Cohn, Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett, this show had everything but ticket sales on this day. A few of my photos from this show later end up in the 2014 Wilco best-of What's Your 20? I then saw them in Raleigh, NC the following year, thinking that I would photograph them opening for REM. However, I found out upon arrival that my pass was only good for REM, so I had to watch their set that evening from the lawn area.

In 2002, I spent the year convincing myself that my "big break" was around the corner. I had been working on larger projects, and any spare moment that I wasn't working in Charlotte, I was on the road taking photos. I didn't know where I was going, but I felt I was going somewhere. Even after six-plus years of living out of my car, with only my camera and gas money with me, I was still very hungry. And there were still a lot of artists that I hadn't worked with yet.

In the summer of 2002, Wilco played a free outdoor show at Vanderbilt University. The release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the year before was still a big deal for myself and many of my friends. I drove seven hours to the show, and discovered that I had arrived during soundcheck. I snuck photos of soundcheck through the fences, and then made my way to the front after the doors finally opened. At one point, I decided that I had gotten everything that I could out front, walked outside the venue, and decided to see if anyone would yell at me if I got photos from behind the stage, again shooting through the fence. Get something different, something cool. There's a few photos from Nashville, including from behind the stage in this new boxset.

A few months later, I was at my computer on a Sunday night, and an email came in from a magazine that I had been contributing to in California. "We have the chance to photograph Wilco for the cover story. Who wants it?" The magazine later admitted to me that the email had only gone out of their photographers on the East Coast, figuring that someone in New York City or Philadelphia would take the gig. In short, I yelled first (via email), yelled the loudest, and kept yelling until I got the gig.

They originally offered me $80 for the gig, but they eventually offered me $125 for the longer drive. I should have spent that money on a hotel room, in retrospect. To this day, I'll spend money on everything but myself. I was tough (I thought), I was living the dream. I drove all night to Philadelphia, sleeping in rest stops along the way.

Sleep deprived, and having spent a few hours wandering through Philadelphia, I arrived at the Electric Factory for what was supposed to be a 3pm photo shoot after the band's soundcheck. I had asked my friend Nicole Atkins, who had already met the band at a previous show, to tag along. Quickly, 3pm and 4pm flew by. Soundcheck was taking forever. I began to feel my sleep-deprived nerves crashing hard. I wandered around, found a Coca-Cola that I downed as fast as I could, and kept waiting.

While we were waiting, Nicole noticed a box of vintage Christmas lights from the 1940s. I had bought them in West Virginia for a dollar on a recent trip. "Do you think that they'll want to play with these?" she said. I don't know, I replied. We wired the lights up, and left them on top of my bag.

Wilco finally came out for the photos around 5:30pm, still a bit tired from the soundcheck. We quickly said hello, and I began to nervously take photos. Within a minute or two, Jeff Tweedy walked over to my bag, and said, "Are we supposed to play with these?" Question answered, I thought. "Yes!" I exclaimed, and quickly threw the lights at them. It broke the tension of the moment, and the band quickly joined in with the idea. Page 2 and 3 of Wilco's Best Of comes from this moment. The band only held them for forty seconds to a minute before they got too hot to touch, and I quickly unplugged the lights. But I knew that I had something good.

I knew that Jeff was a big Captain Beefheart fan, so I asked him and the band about Beefheart, and other artsists that everyone was listening to. I knew that Jeff and the band didn't come naturally to posing for photos. Their tour schedule for the day had my photo shoot on the schedule, next to a sad smiley face. I later had everyone sign the schedule, just for a laugh. Interacting with them, talking with them, and being a person with a camera, instead of being an unemotional, unblinking eye, was what I wanted in the photos. Let them think less about the camera, and the people will emerge through your lens.

We quickly had to set up everything backstage when the doors were about to open, and the band helped me carry my gear away. The rest of the shoot was all done backstage, with me clicking away in the hallway, and their dressing room. Back then, I shot with two cameras. One with black & white film, and the other with color. I'd had this high-falutin' idea that we could combine both sets of photos in a cut-and-paste style, as much as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot utilized a collage aesthetic. The magazine agreed to this, and then quickly ditched the idea as soon as I sent them the photos. It's not a great loss, in retrospect, but it is interesting to view both sets of photos with this in mind.

While Jeff rested backstage with friends, I ended up talking to the other members of the band for some time. John Stirratt offered to take me drinking after the show, which I really wanted to do, but I convinced myself that I should drive back home after the show. I politely declined, but I still need to take you up on that sometime, John.

The magazine told me that they didn't need any live photos, and I already had burned much of my film on the posed pics. Despite that, I was eight hours away from home, and I wanted to get some new live shots of the band. All I had left was the majority of a color roll, and a color slide roll that was tucked deep into my camera bag. Much of what you see in the YHF boxset comes from those two rolls.

Again, I drove through the night, sleeping again at rest stops when I started to nod off. I got back home to Charlotte at 1pm, slept a few hours, and ran camera for a City Council meeting at 5pm. Then went home, slept, bought more film, and spent the following day in Athens, GA with Guided By Voices, sitting on the floor of a record store with Robert Pollard, trying to convince him to let me buy a rare Left Banke-related album. Pollard told me last year that he still has that album.

One of my favorite compliments of my work came from Wilco's publicist after she saw my photos. "They're smiling in their photos!" she said in an email. "They never smile in photos! How did you DO THAT?!?" In recent years, I've noticed that Wilco is often smiling in their press photos. Those were different times, but I like to think that I started a trend.

Several years ago, the band got back in touch with me about photos for their Best Of. By that point, I had let my organization lapse, and could only find a portion of the photos from that day. When the world shut down in 2020, I spent months getting my photo archives back together. I even found that slide roll of live shots, including prints I had made for myself at Eckerd's.

My work on the recent boxset didn't come through the band this time, but through another avenue. I had met producer extraordinaire Cheryl Pawelski in line for a show at SXSW in Austin, Texas in March of 2002. Within five minutes, we were talking about a mutual favorite of ours, the Left Banke. In 2021, when Cheryl and I were shepherding the release of post-1968 Left Banke recordings, she sent me an email with a question. "Didn't you work with Wilco? In 2002?"

I assumed that they would just want the unseen posed pics from the Philadelphia shoot, of which there is still a lot. Being a completist, and partially because I was so proud that I had found the slide roll, I made a separate folder for all the live shots. I even used the Eckerd's prints as a guide for balancing the colors. It wasn't until they sent me the boxset that I realized that they had only used the live shots. Unseen for twenty years, even to my eyes. But there they were, for all to see, another part of the adventure from those fleeting days.

Here it is, twenty years later. The intervening years were filled with blind faith, ups and downs, and more miles than money. I believed that I could create something good, and that I could make all of this happen from Charlotte, NC. I even kept believing even after I should have given up on such notions. I should have been rational, turned my back on it all, and moved on. But I couldn't, and I didn't want to. I did, and still believe that I could create something good. The circumstances can change, but the heart does not, if you're willing to keep going.

I'm really glad that the musicians that I photographed that day are doing well, and are still creating on their own terms. I don't know when or if I'll get to speak to them again, but as they plan their next tour, I look forward to seeing what happens next in this ongoing visual conversation. And that I, and my camera, are here to continue it.

Here's to the past, the ongoing boxset of life, and what comes next to turn your orbit around.

-Daniel Coston
January 23, 2023

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Last Few Days

The last few days. Photos of several events, MLK Daybreak Of Freedom concert, Charlie Starr and Stevie Tombstone at the Neighborhood Theatre, Something Rotten photos for Theatre Charlotte (show opens this Friday!) and the CFS Youth Showcase, where I was finally there in person to accept their Heritage Award. 

Lots more to come. See you soon, and see you on the road.


-Daniel

January 17, 2023

The Cyrkle's Etsy Page Is Back Up And Running

https://www.etsy.com/listing/1324422956/cyrkle-center-of-the-world-cd


Spread the word, and best wishes,


-Daniel

January 17, 2023

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Working On Issues With The Cyrkle Etsy Page

Hello everyone. If you ordered the Cyrkle CD in the past few weeks, you may have received an email today saying that your CD is on the way. We've been dealing with some technology issues today, so please disregard that email. 


The Etsy page should be back up and running shortly, so please email the band directly for CDs until the page is back up and running. Thank you.

-Daniel
January 12, 2023

RIP Jeff Beck

A true gentleman and character. Working around him on the 2013 Brian Wilson tour was an amazing experience.


More photos here soon. Safe travels, Jeff.


-Daniel

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Music Explosion Interview

 

The Music Explosion: Sunshine Games

by Daniel Coston

Big Takeover Magazine 

Issue 91, out now


In the fall of 1967, the Music Explosion rode the wave of “Little Bit O’ Soul”. The catchy song sold over a million copies, launched the careers of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz of Super K Productions as bubblegum svengalis, and put the band’s hometown of Mansfield, Ohio on the map for spawning great Garage Rock.


After many years away, bassist Burton Stahl and the Music Explosion returned to the stage last year, touring with the Cyrkle, the Outsiders, and fellow Mansfield legends, Dean Kastran and Dale Powers of the Ohio Express. “Little Bit O’ Soul” may have only lasted for two minutes and eighteen seconds, but all of these years later, Burton and guitarist Rick Nesta are still thankful to ride that wave.



Coston: The Mansfield, Ohio area produced three hit bands during the 1960s. The Music Explosion, Ohio Express, and Crazy Elephant. It’s amazing, the amount of talent that was around that area.


RICK NESTA: In Ohio, there’s a small ski area called Snow Trails, and they used to have shows there every night with the Mark Three Trio, and the sax player of the group was Grover Washington, Jr.. They were a little more smooth jazz, but they were trying to extend into some Rock & Roll clubs. Our lead guitar player, Don “Tudor” Adkins, Tudor and myself would sit in with the Mark Three Trio at these smoky basement clubs. 


There was a lot of inspiration that came from them, because they were all accomplished musicians, and they were at least ten years older than us. We got schooling from some of the guys that had already polished their trade as musicians. 


Coston: Your first single was a cover of “Little Black Egg”.


BUTON STAHL: When we went to New York to record “Little Bit O’Soul”, we recorded five songs. One of the others was “Little Black Egg”, so were recorded both songs at the same time. Jeff and Jerry liked that one, so they released “Little Black Egg” on Attack Records, which was their own record label that they had come up with. Jamie [Lyons], our singer, did such a great rendition of that. Jeff and Jerry then worked out a deal with Laurie Records for “Little Bit O’Soul”. 


Coston: When you recorded “Little Bit O’ Soul”, did you think it was a hit? 


Stahl: The one thing that stuck in my mind, was I wanted things more like a Rolling Stones song. The song was a little more melodic and pop, but when Jamie and I came back to the hotel room, we worked on doing the intro to the song, with more staccato, and a lot faster. Then we went back in and played it for Jeff and Jerry, and everybody was just on top of it. We had a whole lot of great people that worked with us. Ritchie Cordell, he was playing congas, and keyboards. They put it all together, and we heard it put together in the studio, it was like, “Wow! That’s pretty good!” 


Coston: Were you aware that “Little Bit O’ Soul” was going up the charts?


Stahl: Our managers had a marketing plan for the West Coast. Rick’s mom and dad started calling long distance to radio stations, saying “We’d like to hear Little Bit O’Soul” again.” You get enough people doing that, the music producers and going, “Hmmm.” That’s what happened. We were getting picked up, and all different parts of California, and Arizona.


Coston: You then toured with several groups, including the Easybeats. 


Stahl: We all became really good friends with the Easybeats. Their bass player, Dick Diamonde, taught me more on bass than I had ever known before. I stayed in touch with him for a long time.


Nesta: We toured with the Easybeats for five weeks on the Gene Pitney tour. Gene Pitney had six or seven acts that he toured with. He was a great guy. The Easybeats were definitely an inspiration. When we started the tour, they had two tour buses to take care of all of us that were on the tour. The congregation point was at 55th and 7th Avenue, in New York City. As we walked on the tour bus, WABC announced, “The number one song this week, for the second week in a row, is “Little Bit O’ Soul!”” Half the bus booed!


Stahl: The Buckinghams, the Easybeats, the Happenings. Everybody started booing us as soon as we walked in, because we didn’t know them, and they didn’t know us. It was like, “What are we in for?” 


Nesta: Do you know the name Ronnie James Dio? That was Gene Pitney’s bandleader, at the time. Gene had seven or eight guys that backed him up for his performance, and Ronnie was the leader of the Pitney band. He was a great musician, but he was also a schoolteacher. 


When we were in New York, we would hang out at Steve Paul’s Scene. The first time there, we walked down the steps, and Steve Paul said, “You gotta be somebody for them to get in here!” We said, “We’re the Music Explosion!” and he let us in.


Coston: Tell me about playing American Bandstand in February of 1968.


Stahl: It was phenomenal. We had to pantomime the record, but the people just loved it. We had our stuff that we had bought on the Sunset Strip. People are looking at me like, “Who is this?” And then they heard the song, and they’re like, “Yeah! We love this song.” 


The song was already a hit when we did that taping in February of ’68, but people still loved the song. We had a new song coming out, so we played that. It was so much fun to stand on a stage that you’d seen every Saturday afternoon since you were a little kid, and all of the sudden, you’re part of the scene. 


Nesta: That might have been my first time in California. We did the show with Blue Cheer. It was a thrill, because growing up, and watching Rock & Roll with Dick Clark, that was a bridge that you crossed only when you’re able to climb the mountain. 


Coston: Tell me about the singles that followed “Little Bit O’Soul”.


Nesta: “Sunshine Games” had great energy in the studio. Tight recording, lots of rhythmic things.


They had all of this great equipment, but then you take it down to these little speakers that you have in the dash of your car, and then mix it, so that it sounds good when you’re driving around, listening to the radio. That was just around the beginning of eight-track. I never thought that “Sunshine Games” came out with the right dynamics on a car radio. But I think that Burton will agree, we were all excited about “Sunshine Games”. We thought it might have been a little better than “Little Bit O’Soul.” 


It kind of stalled out around 45 on the Hot 100, and Kasenetz and Katz made a strategic move to pull the record while it was still going up, and put out the song “We Gotta Go Home”, which was a good song. And who knows what a good song is until the public hears it, and they have the final decision if it will sell a million copies, or not. 


Stahl: Our B-side of “Little Bit O’ Soul” was “I See The Light”, and when people heard that, they loved it. It was just a great song. We thought that that one might hit. 


Nest: On the West Coast, there were some stations that played “I See The Light”, instead of the A-side. In some markets, it was a double hit. 


Stahl: People didn’t know what side to play! The B-side sounded like something it would sell. If it had gotten a push, it could have been a really good follow-up. 


Coston: How did the band end? 


Stahl: For me, I was ready to get out of it. I wound up not as happy with everybody. Rick was still in the band, but we wound up with some other players. Our guitarist, Don got drafted, and had to go to Vietnam. All this stuff was going on, and it was hard to find out what our niche was. I thought, “Maybe it’s time for me to get a job.” 


Nesta: I was invested in the band with Tudor. Losing him was like losing the inspiration.


We were doing a show in Akron, Ohio, and Jeff and Jerry came. They hardly ever came to any shows. They said, “This is going to be the last show of the Music Explosion. The name is going to be Crazy Elephant.” And that was my stepping off point.


Coston: How was it to take part in last year’s Re-Livin' The Dream tour?


Stahl: That was a lot of fun. The Cyrkle headlined the show, and backed us up. The Cyrkle is a great band. Our friend Jamie Lynch came along with us, as well. I couldn’t believe that there were two thousand people out there in the audience with gray hair, but they still knew how to clap their hands, and have a good time.


Coston: What is it like to be able to play with your friends for fifty-five years?


Nesta: Fifty-five years go by in a hurry. Every day, you turn on the news, and some other musician has left us. So it’s great that the friendships survived, and the music survived. I’ve guess you’ve got to count your blessings. 

Monday, January 2, 2023

NYE Events

Saturday, photos of the Press On event at Devil's Logic with David Childers, Paleface and Letters To Abigail. Saturday, photos of Chasing Pheonix's NYE show in Newton, NC, then back to Charlotte for the Avett Brothers NYE show. Today, called Maurice Williams to tell him that the Avetts covered Stay during their show, and he was thrilled. 


My thanks to everyone that friended me or said hello after the Avetts started posting my photos from the show. You can see more at danielcoston.com, or ay my Instragam page, @danielcostonphotos. And thank you to everyone that was a part of the madness that was 2022. I may just have a future in photography, after all.

See you all again soon, and see you on the road.


-Daniel
January 2, 2023