My buddy Max, along with Zack and Lars, the excellent programmers at the Alamo Drafthouse, curate a film series called Video Hate Squad. Every month, they screen a movie that only came out on VHS, and never had theatrical or DVD release. They show some great stuff. It got me to thinking: could one do a similar thing with that other maligned format, the compact disc?
My previous looks at “lost classics” have been about stuff originally released on vinyl, even if it eventually made it to CD. Most collector-y types focus only on vinyl, which is as it should be, but even the lowly cassette has enjoyed a resurgence of late. A lot of the best stuff in the CD era also saw release on vinyl, and just existing on vinyl lends a release a certain gravitas, gives it props in the appeal to posterity that are lacking if it only saw release via discos compactos. But there’s gotta be a few good finds that were CD-only, right?
When this idea occurred to me, the first CD-only alb that sprung to mind was C.C. Adcock’s self-titled debut from 1994. It is also known as Houserocker, since that word is visible in the cover photo taken in front of some rundown record shop. Don’t know how this album ever got released in the first place, because it was seemingly made only for me.
Eileen Jones, the only film reviewer currently worth reading, had this to say about the Coen Brothers:
I’ve come to realize… the Coen brothers make films for me, more or less exclusively. The Coens don’t know this, of course. I just happen to be the perfect audience for their films, and though other people stumble into theaters and watch their stuff and even like some of it, they like it without really appreciating it to its fullest extent. It’s all perfectly calibrated for ME, see, and that leaves the rest of you kind of out in the cold.
I feel the same way about Houserocker. It’s like if you drew a Venn diagram with two circles, one for people who read Guitar World magazine in high school, and the other for people who have read Shane Bernard’s history of swamp pop, and the only place where they overlap is ME, and then you made an album for that audience (of one).
If you are one of those rare individuals who can name all of the guitar players on Ozzy’s solo albums, know who Nuno Bettencourt and George Lynch are even though you don’t want to, and yet also own a copy of Sugar Bee by Cleveland Crochet or anything by Cookie and the Cupcakes…
Then, as Jerry Reed once said, “Pay attention, I’M ABOUT TO SING YOUR SONG, SON!”
Though not a household name, looks like C.C. Adcock is finally enjoying some recognition recently, nearly twenty years after the release of his debut album. Adcock got one of his songs on the True Blood soundtrack (WTF?). He is a film music supervisor, most recently scoring Friedkin’s Killer Joe. Rick Saunders wrote about him on his blog in 2009, and Adcock even got a write-up in the Austin Chronicle in 2012. My friends will know how much it pains me to be on the same side of anything as Margaret Moser, yet here we are.
In the various articles I’ve seen Adcock mentioned, there hasn’t been much said about his debut album, except that it exists. Perhaps this is because it was released on a major label back when people still bought CDs, yet it wasn’t a hit. Well, who cares – it’s great! Hey, I got a copy, and I was the only possible audience for this album, anyway.
Even though the CD was the dominant format from the 90s-early 00s, being a CD-only release tends to give records of the era a bargain-bin veneer. They manufactured a shitload of them, so there’s no rarity, no hand-numbered sleeve collector scum value. Another problem is that the vast majority of those CDs were released on major labels during an era when “major label” became (and remains) synonymous with “absolute garbage.” If you don’t want to waste your valuable time, using “widely released on compact disc in the 90s-00s on a major label” as shorthand for “probably shitty” is, generally, a good rule of thumb. Despite all this, Houserocker is an exception. Great record. It even got reissued in 2000 on the Evangeline label (again on CD), and apparently nobody cared then, either.
I first heard of C.C. Adcock through a write-up in one of those guitar magazines – Guitar World, Guitar Player, Guitar for the Practicing Musician – don’t remember which one, exactly. You’ve got to keep the mid-90s context in mind: just like what we think of as “The Sixties, Man” didn’t start until the LATE 1960s, the early 1990s were still the 80s for well into half of the decade. It’s not like at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve 1989, all the guitar players changed out of their spandex and into flannel shirts.
From the pictures back then, Adcock looked like a dude that coulda been equally at home in one of those late-era L.A. (not LA) hair bands like The Four Horsemen, or just as likely to be backing up Dwight Yoakam. Did somebody at Island think they could have a hit with a swamp pop Jason and the Scorchers? Who knows. Long hair, cowboy boots, flashy jackets; I suspect he owns clothing with silver conchos on it. Whatever man, I like David Lee Roth, too. Like Lemmy said of the hair bands in Decline of Western Civilization II – if they can pull off being pretty, more power to ’em – wish I was.
Sure, Nevermind came out in 1991, but in 1994, people still thought guitars with pointy headstocks were cooler than vintage Strats. You could still buy an old Tele for less than the cost of a Steve Vai ESP with that stoopid handle on it. Hell, Jack Oblivian could still afford a Supro Airline. Hair metal was on the wane while the Seattle Sound was spawning copycats across the land, but the imaginary major label nouveau swamp pop/hair rock market (population: me) had yet to be tapped.
Out of this morass, C.C. Adcock’s debut album was dumped onto an unsuspecting world. How Island Records (again, WTF?) managed to release this record in 1994 is a mystery for the ages. Tax write-off? Money-laundering scheme? Or, most far-fetched scenario of all, somebody working at the label actually liked good shit? That last one seems least likely, given the rest of the Island roster at the time: The Cranberries, Nine Inch Nails, Melissa Etheridge, PJ Harvey, etc. Maybe these names invoke some misplaced sense of 90s nostalgia for you, but if so, please pull your head out of your ass. Awful, just awful, shit music.
Somehow this label releases a record that not only has good original songs, but also sports excellent Bo Diddley, Arthur Alexander, and Art Neville covers AND appearances by Warren Storm and Tommy McLain! To make things weirder, it was produced by some trust fund kid who once dated Kate Moss (and who, sadly, later committed suicide) whose dad was known for “discovering” the Cranberries. Again, WTF? None of this makes a lick of sense. There is a word for this, and that word is “inexplicable.”
Nobody covers shit this good, especially today. Hell, the Church Shoes, a young band I like quite a bit, almost killed it for me by covering fucking Tom Petty the first time I saw them. Good lord. You’d think the easy availability of every song known to man thanks to the intertoobz would make for better choices for covers by contemporary bands. Instead, things have only gotten worse since 1994. If any band today could pull off convincing Bo Diddley, Art Neville, and Arthur Alexander covers all on the same record, I would hail them as conquering heroes.
The alb starts out with a sampled needle drop (soooo 90s!) and then some crickets and swamp sound effects. This is one of the things I love about this record, actually – it is gimmicky and slick, but somehow stops just short of being over-produced. It isn’t ELO, but it also doesn’t have the kind of recorded-in-a-drainage-culvert sound that many 90s bands playing with roots idioms went for. Those sounds may have been a justifiable reaction against hair metal or the safe blooze of Alligator, Blacktop Records and the like, but it also made those bands sound very much of their time. Meanwhile, the sound of Houserocker has aged remarkably well. You can tell they had a pile of major label cash to spend on taking the time to, say, make the multi-tracked feedback on the fadeout of I’m Just A Fool To Care harmonize just so. Money well spent.
I actually heard the record on a cassette promo that I think I liberated from a pile at the college radio station. This would have been a few years after it came out, when presumably Island had long since given up on C.C. Adcock joining the ranks of U2 in their shitty 90s rock pantheon. I threw it in the bag of tapes for the van when the Revelators toured with the Oblivians in Europe. I distinctly remember Greg O’s take when it made its way into the cassette deck: “It sounds like he’s trying to use a different crazy vintage guitar sound on every song.” It was a totally accurate assessment, but he said it like that was a bad thing. That’s what makes this record AWESOME.
Lots of surprises on this album. Though bordering on overproduced, there are no wanky guitar solos. You know my hatred of the “tasteful guitar solo” and there are none of those to be found here. There are guitar solos, but they are weird, funky, kind of fucked up ones. There will be three or four different guitars overdubbed on the same song, but they are all playing interlocking rhythm parts with a lot of interesting interplay. If you like rhythm guitar, this is a great album. None of the guitars are having a wank using the mixolydian mode like you would have needed the tab from a guitar mag for back in the day. And how about this line from the opening track:
Yeah he mounts me like a stallion
Yeah he rides me way down south
and when I wake up in the mornin’
there’s a mange dried around my mouth
Well… all right, then. The Trueblood thing makes a little more sense, now. You wouldn’t expect a coon-ass from Louisiana doing a duet with Tommy McLain to slip in something that sounds like the swamp rock version of Butch Things by Billy Hamon as the opening track. Yeah, I know the song is actually a really cool lyrical idea built around Louisiana folk traditions, but still, that isn’t the first thing I thought of when I heard it.
This is followed by that great version of Bo’s Bounce. Then, some more good original tunes with some crazy production flourishes, a killer rendition of Arthur Alexander’s Sally Sue Brown, and the Art Neville tune I’m Just A Fool To Care with Warren Storm on drums(!). Another great rocker, Do Right Little Lady, has a million interlocking guitar overdubs that then drop out for a weird, sparse solo that sounds like a Theremin. And, lastly, the big closing number with Tommy McLain, which is actually a craftily-written “answer song” to McClain’s classic Before I Grow Too Old. Only ten songs; you can listen to the whole CD in the time it takes to drive five miles in Austin rush hour traffic. In a world where a goddamn Batman movie can now be three hours long, it is nice to hear somebody who can get to the damn point.
Though he has recorded with Little Band o’ Gold, Adcock made only one other solo album, Lafayette Marquis, in 2004. Sadly, to my ears, that one does cross the line into overproduced, hitting a kind of Z.Z. Top/Eliminator groove that just isn’t as much fun as his debut. Given his track record of one album per decade, maybe we can expect another Adcock solo album in 2014.
In the meantime, enjoy Houserocker, a twenty-year old CD-only album better than most new records released on 180-gram vinyl with gatefolds and hand-numbered sleeves. You’re welcome.