Chances are you don't know who Fred Cole is.
In 1964, he was simply known as "Deep Soul Cole" (aka the white Stevie Wonder). He gigged around California for a few years in and out of bands, but finally had a cult hit ("You Must Be a Witch") as part of the band Lollipopp Shoppe in 1967.
And then decided he had enough of the music business and headed for Alaska. Along the way he met a young lady named Toody and they fished, hunted bears, and fell in love. But, Fred had music in 'em, and like John Lee Hooker says, when it's "in 'em, it gots to come out."
Through the 1970's Fred messed around in other bands: cover bands, a country-western band, even a hardcore punk band. He and Toody settled in Portland, Oregon and sometime in the 1980's formed the band Dead Moon with Toody on bass, Fred on guitar, and drummer Andy Loomis.
I first heard Dead Moon in the early 90's while DJ'ing college radio at the University of Kentucky. I was digging through stacks of records for anything new and interesting and came across their album Defiance.
The artwork on the jacket was all black and white: a black and white photo of the band on a black background with white lettering and artwork. I slapped the vinyl down on the turntable and cued up the first song on the second side, Walking on My Grave."
And I was blown away....
Since that day, I have become increasingly enamored with Fred Cole and Dead Moon. Here's a guy old enough to be my father, making some of the purest, most honest rock and roll I have ever heard. Fred Cole is a bit of a purist. He doesn't use any effects pedals and records strictly in mono. He builds melodic rockers out of jagged, minor chords over which he lends his wavering, wrenching voice. I'm convinced he records in a few takes with no overdubs, to capture the raw feel a new song has before it's played a zillion times. The recordings are less than perfect, with audible missed notes, fingers scraping on strings, and rhythms that wouldn't stand the test of a metronome. It's this imperfection, like diamonds in the rough, that makes his music so alluring, urgent, and compelling.
On another level are his lyrics. With the aid of his tormented howl he writes songs about the disillusionment he feels from belonging to a generation who sold out their youthful ideals of the 1960's, as demonstrated in the topic of this journal entry.
His songs simultaneously celebrates the rebellious iconoclastic and laments the emotional toll of being an aging outsider in a world of squares:
Down the road, I can still remember being here a long time ago
I looked in the mirror trying to see what it was they'd killed in me
And why can't I no longer believe?
I wandered around and I swore by god I would never give in no matter how hard they fought
I’ve waited too long to have it any other way
And rather than try to be the 50 year old teenager like Steven Tyler, his lyrics often portray a cynical and jaded man, who views the Johnny Rotten-come-latelys with a dose of skepticism and even a bit of contempt:
Streetwise kids in an act of defiance, out to defeat what's already behind us
Rattle and shake their political can, giving directions without any plans
There's a new kid on the block, he's taking my place... walking on my grave
He also has a fascination with superstition. For instance, Dead Moon always plays gigs on Friday the 13th. But it manifests itself in song as well:
Tried whiskey to ease your hex, it made it worse, my life’s a wreck -"Graveyard"
So I lie and I cheat, I rob and I steal
I try to hate you, woman, but I never will
My love won't die no matter how hard I try
My woman's got an evil eye
And he's also capable of the occasional ballad...
Headlights on the highway, there’s a mist coming down
I can hear someone crying, I know that sound
Dead Moon proves that pure and honest rock and roll is not solely the domain of the young. Throughout the late 80's and early 90's, Dead Moon gigged incesseantly, mostly in Europe, particularly in Germany. To this day, they spend a good portion of the year playing club dates across Europe and a handful in the states, almost always on the west coast. For this reason I have yet to see them live, but I keep hoping someday I will be able to rectify that. Their live performances are the stuff of legends: small, intimate venues with all-out, sweat-pouring performances full of raw energy that bands half their age can't even begin to approach.
A few years ago, Fred opened a small guitar shop in Clackamas, Oregon - a suburb of Portland. While I was in Portland a couple of weeks ago I decided to find it. I knew they were in town because they are playing gigs on the west coast through March before heading to Europe for the summer. In the back of my mind, I was kind of hoping I would have one of those little chance encounters but, alas I couldn't be that lucky. But it was fun visitng a place owned and frequented by one of my rock and roll heroes. The place is called Tombstone Music and also doubles as the headquarters for Fred's independent label, Tombstone Records.
Inside was your typical guitar store scene - tons of guitars, sheet music, and pedals with guys sitting around trying out various models.
There were also old show flyers and artwork lying around and tacked to the walls.
There was one large piece of black paper with the words Dead Moon scrawled across the top of it and some half-finished artwork at the bottom of it. It was lying on the counter by the front door. One of the guys standing around picked it up. He looked at the guy who was tending the shop and said "What's this?" And the guy answered "Oh, Fred was working on some artwofk for the new record the other day. He never could get anything he was happy with and gave up."
Oh well, maybe I'll check back at Tombstone Music sometime when I know they're in town. It's nice to have heroes. I mean I know he's just a normal guy like you or me, but it's the nature of the relationship between the fan and the icon to place them on a bit of a pedestal. Fred Cole has lived his life on his own terms, not buying into the 9-5 life or selling out his ideals of what rock and roll should be. Fred Cole is the epitome of the potential of rock and roll.
Fred Cole is rock and roll.