by Stephen Seigel
Special to The Tuscon Weekly
August 5th, 2004
Best known as the voice behind new wave combo Wall of Voodoo, whose "Mexican Radio" can be found on any '80s compilation worth its salt, Stan Ridgway possesses one of the most distinctive voices of the last 20 years. His vocal style might sound a bit nerdy if it weren't for the fact that there's a certain creepiness to it, too, which serves his material well. Ridgway's songs are more like short stories ripped from the pages of pulp fiction books set to music than they are songs. And as great as Wall of Voodoo were (they certainly deserve better than the one-hit-wonder status bequeathed upon them), Ridgway's solo material, from his first album, 1986's The Big Heat (which contained gems like "Drive She Said," "Pick It Up and Put It in Your Pocket" and the title track) to his latest?this year's Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs (RedFly)?is even better. With shady gangsters with bad intentions and femmes fatale with a taste for danger lurking at every turn, Ridgway's songs are the sonic storytelling equivalent of the best that film noir has to offer.
Stan Ridgway performs next Thursday, Aug. 12 at City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. Mark Insley opens the show at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $10 at the venue, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 321-1000. For more information, call 733-6262.
by Ben Greenman
Special to The New Yorker
Issue of 2004-07-12 and 19
Stan Ridgway has been turning out distinctive noirish rock and roll since the late seventies, first as a member of the group Wall of Voodoo and then as a solo artist. Snakebite (Redfly) is among the better outings of his long, off-kilter career. In sixteen songs, Ridgway blends together rock, jazz, and blues in the service of his always strange, but never frivolous, storytelling. Over the years, his songwriting has become more personal, and, in addition to intimately narrated songs like "Our Manhattan Moment" and "Wake Up Sally (The Cops Are Here)," there's "Talkin" Wall of Voodoo Blues, Pt. 1," a rollicking retelling of the rise and fall of his former band.
Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs
by Will Harris
Special to Pop Matters
July 6th, 2004
Stan's the man when it comes to the voodoo that he do so well. (Yes I know, it's awful)
Even if he isn't remembered as one of the greatest musical storytellers of his generation (though there's little question that he will be), Stan Ridgway will forever rank high in the field of Most Distinctive Voice. That nasal delivery of his has been instantly identifiable ever since Wall of Voodoo had their commercial breakthrough in 1982 with, you know, that song.
Ridgway's never really been afraid to follow his muse wherever it takes him, as evidenced by such minor masterpieces as The Big Heatand Mosquitoes. Since leaving the constraints of the major label lifestyle in the early '90s, however (not long after the release of 1991's Partyball), he's really gone hog wild with the creativity. One minute, he's giving you the musical equivalent of film noir, then you turn around and find him doing a two-disc set of big band standards and Broadway show tunes, and performing them completely straight, no less.
Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs finds Ridgway close to the sound of his Geffen-era work (1989-1991). Divided into three acts, Snakebite is full of the sort of lyrical darkness that's been a hallmark of Ridgway's material since the get-go.
In Act One, "Wake Up Sally (The Cops Are Here)" is narrated by a several-time loser on the verge of getting arrested for having robbed a bus. Total haul: $12.00. Nice one. "Now, didja gas up the truck like I told you to?" he asks.
"No, we can't take the dog, he's gonna bark." A few songs later, in "King for a Day", another poor bastard ...or is it the same sad soul? ... is on the run, smoking crack, and bragging to someone (Sally, perhaps?) on his cell phone that, "Hey, I'm doin' 110 now / Can you still hear me on your phone? / I got a hundred cops behind me / And overhead I hear the choppers groan / Oh, I'm headed for the wall, now / Gotta hang up now, thanks for the loan".
In Act Two of Snakebite, it becomes evident that Ridgway is a man out of time. (If he wasn't, would he really be making lyrical references to Stubby Kaye?) Each song here could be a movie in and of itself, but every one of them would've been made before 1950. ?"Runnin' with the Carnival" would've been directed by Tod Browning, "God Sleeps in a Caboose" would have to have starred Henry Fonda, and there's little question in my mind that "Crow Hollow Blues" would've won Bogart an Oscar.
The third act of the album contains some of the most personal songs Ridgway's ever written, including "My Own Universe" and "Classic Hollywood Ending", where he bemoans the way things were left between himself and someone from his past, using film as a metaphor:
Now I never knew how your curtain came down /
Or what was backstage in your mind /
We never played that lost reel we found /
The lights went up, and we'd run out of time /
And it's only when the curtain's down /
That the ending's understood /
Like an old time movie, like a film from Hollywood
At the fifteenth of Snakebite's 16 songs, it becomes evident that Stan may well be a fugitive himself, having spent much of his life running away from his own past. Despite carving a unique musical niche for himself, there's been an albatross around poor Stan's neck for over two decades, and it's apparently gotten too heavy to ignore any further.
The "albatross", of course, is the aforementioned Wall of Voodoo, or, more specifically, that goddamned "Mexican Radio". Though hardly the first '80s band to have the one-hit wonder tag slapped on them, Wall of Voodoo had it worse than others; when the ears of middle America hear a song called "Mexican Radio" and lyrics about "eating barbequed iguana", son, what you've got yourself there is a bonafide novelty hit. Never mind that Ridgway was waxing lyrical about American tourists visiting our Southwestern neighbors; for most folks hearing the song, it might as well have been "The Curly Shuffle".
And, let's face it, Stan's face popping out of a bowl of beans during the video probably didn't help things any, either.
Twenty years later, Ridgway has finally tackled those Voodoo days in song. ?"Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues, Pt. 1" appears near the tail end of Snakebite; reminiscent of Cockeyed Ghost's "Burning Me Out (Of the Record Store)", where Adam Marsland details his band's pissed-up departure from Big Deal Records, Ridgway painstakingly relates the rise and fall of the Wall. It's sad that the tale begins with the observation that, of the band's original line-up, "two are gone to heaven" (drummer Joe Nanini suffered a fatal blood clot in his brain in 2000; guitarist Marc Moreland died in 2002 from liver failure), ends with the admission that the band disintegrated as a result of the fact that "we were all just big assholes", and, in the middle, includes these lines:
One weekend, Marc's song fell out, the single they still talk about /
We made a video with Frank Delia behind the lens /
Labor Day Mexico, lots of beans and drugs and friends /
But all was gonna bust; how were chumps like us to know? /
We took off on that tour so long and played and sang our radio song, oh-woah /
Now, it seemed like that old voodoo dog we had was payin' for its fleas /
We lost control of our own band to the record company
It isn't all anger and regrets?although a hell of a lot of it clearly is. But Ridgway makes a point of acknowledging both up front, and in the song's finale says that "we had some punk-rock fun". ?And he's obviously still proud that "we practiced music night and day" and, as a result, eventually played the Whiskey-A-Go-Go "with Miss Ivy and Mister Lux" (the Cramps). After keeping it pent up for so many years, one can only hope that it's been cathartic for Ridgway to get some of this stuff off his chest, though some may wonder why it took long for him to get around to doing it.
I guess it just goes to show that, while master storytellers may know how to weave a yarn that draws the listener in and keeps them rapt 'til the very end, they oft have the most trouble just telling their own tales.
Stan Ridgway: A Thinking Man's Punk Survivor
by Tom Lounges, Times Correspondent
From The Northwest Indiana Times
Though best known to most music fans as the voice behind 1982's Wall Of Voodoo hit, "Mexican Radio,'' Stanard Q. Ridgway is anything but a disposable pop hero exiled to the retro/oldies section of your local music shop.
The 50-year-old former punk rock icon arguably is one of the rock generation's greatest storytellers, on the same level as Leonard Cohen, Jim Carroll, Tom Waits and his personal hero, Johnny Cash. His dark and sometimes disturbing lyrics often are creatively recycled Americana images and story lines culled from urban myths, pulp fiction novels and old film noir thrillers.
"I do read a lot, but I don't think that is where a lot of this stuff comes from," said Ridgway, denying any "high-brow" connotations.
"I don't know where these characters or these songs come from, they just come."
Writing songs since he was age 14, Ridgway cites his passion of putting pen to paper as a way reflecting himself outward.
"The best way to describe why I write songs is to pass along something (songwriter) Van Dyke Parks once said to me: 'Stan, we all write because it's the song of the self and in this world of confusion, the self needs to make a stand.' It's an affirmation of your connection to a world. That's the best reason to write. It's the reason I do it. I certainly don't do it to make money," he laughed.
Though staying well below the radar since he left Wall Of Voodoo, Ridgway has remained extremely busy in music. In that time, he has scored a half-dozen indie film projects, written soundtrack songs for a number of major films (including Mickey Rourke's "Rumblefish'' and "Simpatico'' starring Nick Nolte and Sharon Stone), produced other artists (like Frank Black and The Catholics), released a series of diverse solo recordings for a variety of record labels, and even landed a U.K. Top 5 single ("Camouflage").
Ridgway's latest CD, "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs,'' is perhaps his finest overall collection to date, despite the artist's self-depreciating comment nn "I probably should have stopped doing this a few albums ago, but just can't let it go.''
After years of moving from record label to record label, last year Ridgway decided to go it alone and formed REDfly Records.
Laughing at the notion of his suddenly being a record mogul, the one-time punk rocker explained he had grown weary of the politics and policies of record labels.
"Back when I started out, it used to be a three-month process to release an album. Now it's like eight months to a year,'' he groused. Ridgway said that if he had stayed with New West Records, his label since the late 1990s, "Snakebite'' would not have been released until sometime in early 2005.
Forming REDfly enabled the artist to release his new album via the Internet as early as April. The CD landed in the racks at such major "brick and mortar' retailers as Tower Records and Best Buy earlier this month.
Like the best of Ridgway's eclectic oeuvre, the 16 songs nestled into this "Three Act'' album are musical vignettes populated by a twisted cast of darkly-hue characters most everyone can relate to in some way.
His protagonists include a vengeful ex-husband ("King For A Day''), laborers on a chain gang ("Crow Hollow Blues''), and a mournful soul lamenting how life has by ("Classic Hollywood Ending'').
Ridgway takes center stage in one of the album's finest cuts, as he comes to terms with unvented emotions from his past ("Talkin' Wall Of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1'').
Ridgway cites such disparate artists as Marty Robbins, Frank Zappa, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan among his musical influences. He began his career doing soundtrack work for low-budget horror films and originally formed Wall of Voodoo with a group of friends as a means to do that.
Ridgway's trademark is his "Johnny Cash meets Orson Welles'' vocal style, which he accents with strings, brass, synthesizers, flutes, accordion, percussive devices and such mind-melting "old school" sound tools as a mellotron and a farfisa organ.
His bizarre production/arranging sense is akin to that of the late Zappa.
He Do Voodoo
by Eve Doster
Special to Metro Times of Detroit
June 23rd, 2004
It was 1982 when Stan Ridgway's art-punk outfit, Wall of Voodoo entered the charts. But when their catchy song "Mexican Radio" hit the airwaves, few were privy to the genius behind the band's concept. Originally formed as a sound track company specializing in cheap sci-fi and B-movie underground epics, Wall of Voodoo would be (wrongly) lumped in with new wave bands and enjoy the career boost of regular rotation on (then-new) MTV. The video, like the band, finally faded out of rotation, but if you thought that the music stopped there and the mind behind the bizarre hit faded quietly into one-hit-wonder status, there is something you should know: The best was yet to come.
After Wall of Voodoo disbanded, Ridgway went on to a solo career. Always teetering somewhere above or below the mainstream, Ridgway has spent the last 20 years churning out an alchemist's catalog of unique and thoughtful music. From his debut solo release, The Big Heat, to his Songs That Made this Country Great, Ridgway's ability to make music that adheres to no genre, yet manages to woo, is remarkable. His songs range everywhere from Broadway musical covers to synthed-out space-rock to traditional country music. To many, his ability to paint scenarios and to develop characters within his songs makes him a double threat: one part musician, one part author.
His latest release, Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs can best be described as abstract old-timey music with a hearty helping of Wild West ethos. Just when you think you know what you are about to hear, Ridgway changes the rules.
Holiday in Dirt (New West)
by Steve Terrell
From The Santa Fe New Mexican
Stan Ridgway turned 50 last month. He's been making records for more than 20 years, first with his band Wall of Voodoo, then on his own.
He's just made his best record in years.
And that's saying a lot. While he isn't seen much on MTV much anymore and while he's bounced around from label to label, Ridgway has produced a steady stream of fine albums, each one containing at least one song that's a complete jaw dropper.
But the new one, Snakebite, basically is a jaw dropper from start to finish.
The album lives up to its subtitle, Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs. Many of the songs deal with people who are trying to escape?from the police in "Wake Up Sally," from bad relationships in the black-humor blues of "King For a Day," from terrifying political realities in "Afghan/Forklift" and "Monsters of the Id", from humdrum small-town life in "Running With the Carnival," and from a Union Army firing squad in "My Rose Marie (A Soldier's Tale)."
Snakebite starts out with "Into the Sun," a breezy tune full of hope and promise. It reminds me of "Lonely Town," from Ridgway's 1989 Mosquitoes?except while the lyrics of that song were full of foreboding, "Into the Sun" is outwardly optimistic. The singer is driving to some desert home "where the coyote walks the toad/The tumbleweeds speak in secret code ... Out where the sagebrush sings our song." His voice sounds full of confidence, and a harp in the second verse gives the lyrics a grandiose veneer. But the backdrop of electronic noise, sounding like some flock of prehistoric birds, hint at some gathering inner storm that threaten the singer's scheme.
That sense of impending undefined doom?"something in the air, moving like a southbound train"?resurfaces in other songs. In "Afghan Forklift" a warehouse worker in Arkansas is overcome with that feeling when he notices two crates "marked Top Secret, headed for Afghanistan." We never learn exactly what's in the crates, but apparently it's serious enough to prompt the forklift operator to try (in vain) to call the president." A repeated minor-key folk lick, punctuated by Ridgway's piercing harmonica and low French horns add to the sense of dread.
"Monsters of the ID," an inspired cover of a Mose Allison song are Ridgway's main political statements on Snakebite. On "Monsters" he lets loose with the screeching, rumbling electronic noises (usually rising at the end of the verses), as well as horror movie choruses and some pretty impressive harmonica. Singing in a lower register than usual, Ridgway moans, "The creatures from the swamp/Rewrite their own Mein Kampf/Neanderthals amuck/Just tryin' to make a buck/And goblins and their hags/Are out there waving' flags..."
While many of his characters are "fugitives" of one kind or another, Ridgway refuses to run from his own history. He sings of the band that launched his career in "Talking Wall of Voodoo Blues Part 1." With guitars suggesting both hillbilly and Mid-eastern music relentless drums and rubbery keyboards, Ridgway recounts the band's brief history?from the innocent days of "punk-rock fun" to signing 200-page contracts, MTV ("Labor Day in Mexico/Lots of beans and drugs and friends") the pre-destined rip-off ("We played a show for 40 grand/And the manager took every cent") and break-up, for which Ridgway shares in the responsibility. ("I did my best to patch it up/But we were all just big assholes.")
While you can still hear the Wall of Voodoo echoes throughout the work, this is Ridgway's rootsiest album ever. There's a tasty country fiddle (played by Brantley Kearns) in "Wake Up Sally." "Crow Hollow Blues" with its sinister banjo sounds like Ridgway's been listening to Tom Waits' Mule Variations. "Your Rockin' Chair" is basically a hillbilly stomp, though the subtle keyboard counterpart in the refrain plus the bamboo flute give it an otherworldly quality. Alison Krauss could do a fine version of "Rose Marie."
But the real trick Ridgway pulls off is combining these diverse elements without it feeling forced. He makes it sound like slide guitar and bamboo flute and spook house keyboards were meant to be played together.
Saints and Scoundrels by Hecate's Angels. Ridgway's wife Pietra Wexstun is as responsible as anyone for the basic sound of her husband's records for the past decade or so. A keyboard magician always reaching for the out-there, she also has a warm, soothing voice?kind of like a sexier Laurie Anderson.
This second album by Wexstun's band Hecate's Angels is more vocal-oriented than the previous one, 1996's Hidden Persuader, though both efforts are marked by an ethereal, almost mystical sound incorporating elements of jazz, electronica and world musics. Both have a soundtack quality to them.
Perhaps the strongest is the opener, a jazzy tune called "Way With Words." Also notable are the dreamy, boiling, guitar-heavy tune called "Patterns" then a slow lament called necklace, featuring Ridway on a twangy tremelo guitar.
And there are some spacy, mysterioso instrumentals here: "The Innocents," "Moon Maid's Lament" and "Appalachian Raga," which features Wexstun on dulcimer and autoharp as well as keyboards.
Blood by Stan Ridgway and Pietra Wexstun. Fans of Hecate's Angels' spooky instrumentals and Ridgway's darker tunes won't want to miss this collaboration, a musical score for an art exhibit by Mark Ryden. http://www.markryden.com
The brooding music sounds like it could have been the greatest horror movie soundtrack, which is appropriate for Ryden's disturbing images of bleeding big-eyed Margaret Keane children. The CD package, designed by Ryden with several samples of his creepy portraits?is amazing itself.
NPR Interview link click HERE
NPR Interview link click HERE