A Special Tribute To Simon Stokes At Taix Restaurant, Thursday January 25th 2018
Last night, the special tribute to Simon Stokes inside the Champagne Room of Taix restaurant, looked like a parade of music legends I should have known, but didn’t really know at a few exceptions. Don’t get me wrong it was a cool and fun night, but may be I should start with Simon Stokes, the hero of the night, whom every single performer seemed to venerate like a rock star while performing a few songs of his immense discography. It’s quite amazing because the guy doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, although Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, among many others, was there to pay tribute to him. As soon as the night started, I got the idea, I was in for a long night of performers and collaborators showing us how incredible and diverse Stokes’ music was, and especially how influential he was, despite that his name is far from being an house name.
Simon Stokes and his band the Nighthawks signed up with Elektra the same day than the MC5, but one of his follow-up album “Simon Stokes & the Black Whip Thrill Band’ was banned in the USA, because of its offensive cover art which was showing women being bound and whipped. Of course the controversy got him a cult following, and he became especially popular with bikers. Stokes was influenced by blues, but his sound is often qualified of gritty, trashy, raw and harsh. In the 90s, he collaborated with ’60s counter-culture icon Timothy Leary, and in 2002, he released a country-rock album, ‘Honky’, featuring the Bellrays and Wayne Kramer while many of his songs were featured on the soundtracks of movies such as ‘Outlaw Riders,’ ‘Vice Squad’, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’, ‘Poltergeist III’, ‘The Hard Way’, ‘A Kiss Before Dying’, ‘Bad Channels’, ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’…
From listening to the diverse songs performed during the night, I can say that the music was bluesy, rocky, and country with a honky-tonk and sometimes an experimental side like some of the ones performed by the first performers Todd Westover, Harry Garfield, Tom Hensley (who worked with Neil Diamond on the ‘Jazz Singer’) Jon Wahl, actor Robbie Rist, Frank Meyer… many of these musicians have actually a foot (or more than a foot) in the TV/movie industry and they all interpreted a side of Stokes’ impressive catalogue, first with a single piano, then with a full band,
‘What I liked about Simon is that I was recording songs that I knew Neil Diamond would never did,’ joked Tom Hensley, mentioning a song ‘Show your tits’ used for a certain HBO show.
The show was organized by Bruce Duff, of Twisted Roots fame, who worked as a musician and a publicist all his life: if he has jammed with Wayne Kramer of MC5 or Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys, he was also publicist at Epitaph Records, PR for Circle Jerks, and ran XXX Records. All night long he did the same, playing in the band, even leading on vocals for a few songs, while presenting the acts.
As usual, Gabriel Hart (of Jail Weddings), who used to play in Simon Stokes’ band, gave us a very passionate performance, as this man can re-animate any song, and the raw bluesy piece he sang while jumping around, had a sort of Nick Cave vibe. Frank Meyer of the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs did a hard rocking hurling track from Vice Squad, followed by other performances by Bryan Small, Bruce Duff, and a number distorted to super dramatic proportions by Mason Taylorson, a man who has built a music scene of his own inside the Taix restaurant over the years. Lightnin’ Bill Woodcock, who had been part of the house band since the beginning, followed with a solo number, and all I can say is that each performer was amazing, sounding like lost rock stars I had never known about. This became even more real when Sean Wheeler came on stage with his Tom Waits look and graveling voice. This ‘other desert rat like this Stokes character’ as Jello Biafra called him later, is regarded as a stoner rock pioneer, who recently opened for the Flesh Eaters at the Echoplex. To bring more desert inside the room, I would add that his last album is called ‘Sand in My Blood’, and his theatrical stomping performance was something not to be missed.
Terry Reid, another lost legend also popular with filmmakers, calmed down the place with cooler honkytonk ballads sang with Magenta Harley, who had to be the only woman of the night. And talking about legends, back in the days Reid opened for the Stones, Cream, and declined Jimmy Page’s offer to become the lead singer of the band which was to become Led Zeppelin. Nick Oliveri (of Mondo Genarator, Queens of the Stones Age, Kyus) made a surprise appearance for a raucous song, then the rest of the night basically belonged to Jello Biafra, who, unsurprisingly, had an incredible stamina and stage presence. He was presenting the songs like a very knowledgeable music database, and had his arm constantly up in the air, while singing with his famous punk tenor tremolo voice. He seemed to have a great time, as everyone around me, and if the Black Whip Thrill Band reunited for the occasion (they had not played together for 25 years), and gave to Simon Stokes the chance to sing a few ones, they were soon joined again by Biafra, Wheeler, Reid, and Hart for a series of songs, while stretching the music till midnight.
Simon Stokes was called a great American songwriter, and a man who has enriched lives since the early 70s, with his incredible music and lyrics… Stokes looked a bit frail on his legs, but on stage, as he was performing his bluesy rock songs with a renewed vigor, he had found a new life. It was a night for the ages and for ageless rock ‘n’ rollers, and ‘Good night motherfuckers, we love you motherfuckers, good night!’ were the last words of the man of the night.