David Fricke on Joey Ramone's First 45 and Robert Wyatt - Rolling Stone
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Joey Ramone’s First 45 and Robert Wyatt’s Lost Hendrix Session

Joey Ramone

Joey Ramone

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

In 1967, 16-year-old Jeff Hyman of Queens, New York was nearly a decade away from inventing punk rock as Joey Ramone. He was already making records. In the late winter of that year, he made an irresistible offer to a neighborhood psychedelic trio, Purple Majesty: He would take them into a proper studio and produce a single. The band – singer-guitarist Doug Scott, drummer Andy Ritter and Joey’s younger brother, bassist Mickey Leigh, all barely 13 but writing their own tunes – jumped at the chance. Joey and Purple Majesty cut two songs, a group original called “In This Day and Age” and a version of the Blues Project‘s “I Can’t Keep From Crying,” at Sanders Recording Studios on West 48th Street.

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46 years later, that single has finally come out. Lost-wild-rock specialists Norton Records have issued Purple Majesty’s Joey-produced debut with lavish, if belated class: on purple vinyl with a picture sleeve. The label has done its best with the subway-tunnel fidelity, dubbing from the only surviving acetate, which Scott found lurking in an old Beach Boys album cover. Musically, beware: Purple Majesty were kids, at a time when School of Rock was a euphemism for geology class. Scott’s solo on “In This Day and Age” is impressive, though, by the lopsided-grading standards of obscure garage-nugget collecting. The Blues Project song is evidence of a precocious hipness too; the original had only come out a few months earlier.

Historically, though, this is a sweet addition to Joey’s legacy, probably the earliest surviving evidence of his determination to find a life in music. “Joey couldn’t see any roadblocks,” Scott says in the short liner note. Those would come later, as the Ramones fought their way into history. You can see teenage Joey looking forward in the cover photo: sporting glasses and short hair, sitting at a drum and holding up a xylophone stick like he’s counting off a blitzkrieg bop.

A Wyatt-Hendrix Experience

The fall of 1968 found Robert Wyatt, the singer-drummer in the British psychedelic trio Soft Machine, adrift in Los Angeles. The Softs had broken up – temporarily, as it turned out – after several, exhausting months of touring the U.S. as an opening act for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix, in turn, gave Wyatt shelter (a room at a house rented by the Experience) and opportunity: recording time at one of Hendrix’s favorite studios, T.T.G., to work on demos.

Those tracks – two songs and a pair of suites, largely one-man affairs with Wyatt on vocals, percussion and keyboards, with additional recording done in New York and London – are officially issued for the first time on ’68 (Cuneiform), one of this year’s finest archival surprises. Hendrix plays on one song, “Slow Walkin’ Talk,” written by Softs associate Brian Hopper; the former happened to be at T.T.G. and offered to be Wyatt’s session bassist. The result is minor but soulful Hendrix – a nailed-down groove with adroit flourishes, the kind of thing the guitarist would jammed on when he was an R&B sideman. Wyatt later returned to the tune, adding new lyrics and recording it as “Soup Song” on his charming 1975 avant-pop LP, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard.

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Wyatt’s more immediate future can be heard in the 18-minute “Rivmic Melodies” – a series of miniatures the revitalized Softs used as the building materials for Side One of their 1969 album, Volume Two – and his epic, escalating ballad “Moon in June,” eventually recorded by the Softs on 1970’s Third. The ’68 recording has, over the first half, a magnetic, solitary tenderness – a spare, pained romanticism enhanced by the grainy, fragility of Wyatt’s voice – that rises in jazzy, electric turbulence as Softs bassist Hugh Hopper and organist Mike Ratledge enter the song. Ironically, the rendition on Third would be the last Soft Machine recording with lyrics.

Wyatt left the group a year later, ultimately pursuing an eccentric, still-compelling solo career. Many of the records he has made on his own sound a lot like ’68: private, searching, quietly but permanently gripping. ’68 was a beginning; it sounds like only yesterday.

In This Article: Joey Ramone, Soft Machine


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