Cry Cry Cry: ’96 Tears’

[originally appeared in Shindig! issue #127]

Saginaw, Michigan, is an industrial city about two hours northwest of Detroit. In the mid-20th century, migrant Mexican-American farm labourers in the region, seeking greater economic security and stability, settled in Saginaw to work at its auto manufacturing plants. Mexican-American kids in Saginaw in the late 1950s and early 1960s grew up with the Mexican music that their parents loved and performed – mostly the Tejano style, with its rollicking accordion and guitars – but they also listened to Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and other pioneering American rock and rollers. Those diverse influences fueled ? and the Mysterians’ ‘96 Tears’ – which, since its 1966 release, has gone on to be recorded by more than 50 other artists, and has become a modern-day classic.

Speaking from his home in Saginaw, Mysterians guitarist Bobby Balderrama tells Shindig! that the group  – which took its name from a Japanese sci-fi movie they saw on TV –  started as an instrumental combo, “playing the Ventures, Duane Eddy, all the guitar stuff.” He and fellow guitarist Larry Borjes, along with drummer Robert Martinez, honed their craft in his parents’ garage. “It was a two-car garage, so my dad parked the car on one side, and we practiced on the other side. We had our equipment set up there all the time.” However, when they played gigs, Continue reading

“Her Country”: An Interview with Author Marissa Moss

Women have always been an integral part of country music, starting with pioneers such as the Carter Family and Patsy Montana. Yet country music has also marginalized women musicians – even more so in the last decade. In 2015, a country radio consultant publicly stated that songs by women were “not the lettuce in our salad…[they are] the tomatoes“.  In 2019, women artists represented only 10 percent of the music played on US country radio stations that year.

Music journalist Marissa Moss,  who’s based in Nashville, saw women in country music making great music at the same time that the industry was focusing on “bro country“, and saw women trying to be successful their own way in an industry that wanted them to conform to very narrow stereotypes. Her new book Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be tells the stories of three female country musicians – Maren Morris, Mickey Guyton, and Kasey Musgraves. Through unpacking their experiences, it touches on racism, sexism, corporatization, politics, and oppression, and how all of those shape  performers’ careers and the music we listen to. The book is ultimately hopeful, but it also pulls no punches in describing how badly the country music industry can treat women.

I found Her Country to be an extremely thought-provoking and rewarding read, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Marissa about it.

Fiona McQuarrie (FM): What motivated you to write the book?

Marissa Moss (MM): I had been covering this beat in Nashville, at the time I started writing the book, for about eight years, and it just felt Continue reading

Deep Waters: ‘Wade in the Water’

[originally appeared in Shindig! issue 115]

The graceful, emotional ‘Wade on the Water’ has been a stirring musical expression of faith and hope for more than a century. However, the oppression described in its lyrics is not just an artifact from the past. While this article was being written, two US state governments passed laws that will affect minority communities’ ability to exercise their right to vote, and a white US police officer is on trial for charges related to the murder of a Black man. ‘Wade in the Water’ is important not only as a classic piece of music, but as a representation of historical injustices whose effects still have not disappeared.

‘Wade in the Water’ originated in the southern US in the mid-1800s, as a spiritual sung by enslaved African-Americans. In those communities, spirituals were more than just expressions of religious devotion. Some spirituals would be sung to alert freedom-seekers when it was safest to escape, without slaveholders (“masters”) knowing that information was being communicated.  The lyrics of ‘Wade in the Water’ reference the Biblical story of the Israelites crossing the river Jordan, but the lyrics Continue reading

The Count Five ‘Psychotic Reaction’

[originally appeared in Shindig!  issue 114]

When Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation was unleashed upon the world in 1972, it blew the ears and minds of many listeners who had no idea that so much great music had been lurking in the 1960s US pop charts. Among the rediscovered gems included on that anthology was ‘Psychotic Reaction’ by Count Five. With its repetitive rhythms, nasally vocals, wailing harmonica, and piercing fuzztone guitars, it epitomizes the garage-punk sound that Jon Savage describes as “pure noise and texture”.

Count Five hailed from San Jose, just south of San Francisco. According to historian Paul Kauppila, the Bay Area’s mid-60s music scene was “polarized”. South Bay bands had the same psychedelic influences as bands in the more prominent San Francisco scene, but their material was more

Continue reading

Johnny Rogan

I was very saddened this week by the news that music writer Johnny Rogan had passed away. It’s not an exaggeration to say that his biographies set a standard of quality and thoroughness that other writers can only dream of achieving. I first encountered his work when I chanced upon Starmakers and Svengalis, which is now one of my favourite books ever about the music industry. Not only did he tell amazing stories in that book, but writing it also required him to be familiar with complex court documents and financial statements, as well as the lives of the people he profiled. There are very few writers with the ability to draw on that many different types of sources and to spin them into compelling tales.

Rogan immersed himself in his book projects. He spent more than a couple of years writing many of them, but Continue reading

Lost One Rainy Morn: Ian & Sylvia’s “The French Girl”

[originally appeared in Shindig! issue 111]

‘The French Girl’ is the musical equivalent of an Impressionist painting: sparse lyrical images weaving together to create an intricately detailed world. Three silver rings, a dark-haired woman, a cozy room, glasses of red wine…..and then she disappears, and no one knows who she was or where she has gone. It’s romantic, but with an underlying and somewhat unsettling sense of unreality.

Ian and Sylvia Tyson wrote the song in late 1965, during what Sylvia described to their biographer John Einarson as “a very transitional period for us”. As the duo of Ian & Sylvia, they were stars on the folk rock circuit, and had already released four albums on the Vanguard label. Songs like Ian’s ‘Four Strong Winds’ and Sylvia’s ‘You Were On My Mind’ had brought them acclaim as songwriters. But they were well aware that Continue reading