Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Duck’


Today, we’re taking a look at four recent titles pressed for audiophile-level vinyl excellence by the Run Out Groove label!

Run Out Groove embraces the Paisley Underground with the vinyl premiere of The Dream Syndicate’s The Complete Live at Raji’s.  Recorded on January 31st, 1988 (not 1989, as indicated on the original CD release of the truncated album), the set captured the underground heroes prior to the release of their Ghost Stories album – and a year prior to their breakup.  But the line-up, at this point consisting of Steve Wynn (vocals and guitar), Paul B. Cutler (guitar, vocals), Mark Walton (bass, vocals), and Dennis Duck (drums), was as tight and attuned to each other as possible.  The fifteen songs played that evening at the Hollywood club and preserved here on four sides of 180-gram, colorful swirl vinyl attest to that.

The original Live at Raji’s was released by Rykodisc as the band’s final album, following Ghost Stories. The 2004 expansion – the basis for this vinyl release – added four tracks including two covers (the fast and furious opener, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean,” and Bob Dylan’s ominous “All Along the Watchtower,” rendered with a dollop of Hendrix inspiration) and two Dream Syndicate favourites – “When You Smile” and “Tell Me When It’s Over.”  The sound on the vinyl as mastered by Paul duGré is full and warm, with dynamics that well translate the intimacy of the venue and the power of the performance – particularly in Cutler’s searing lead guitar and Wynn’s fiery growl.  The spare, aggressive overall sound owes to the swaggering likes of Television and The Velvet Underground as well as to the rawer, electric side of Neil Young, whose frequent collaborator Elliot Mazer produced the original live album.

The two LPs are housed in a sturdy gatefold containing liner notes by Pat Thomas, who co-produced the reissue with Run Out Groove’s Matt Block.  Now Sounds’ Steve Stanley has designed the bold jacket, and both of the discs are happily stored in black protective sleeves as per Run Out Groove’s typical attention to detail in packaging.

Though never commercially successful, Paisley Underground darlings – the Dream Syndicate were critically acclaimed and held up their version of neo-psychedelic rock n’ roll through the vapid MTV-dominated synth years of the 1980s. Influenced by the Velvet Underground, Neil Young and Television, the Syndicate led by vocalist, guitarist and band leader, Steve Wynn, formed the original version of the band with guitarist Karl Precoda in 1982 after moving back to Los Angeles.

Drummer Dennis Duck, who played in the Pasadena band, Human Hands, joined the Syndicate and suggested the band’s name in reference to Tony Conrad’s early 1960s NY experimental ensemble that included John Cale. The band performed their first live show at Club Lingerie in Hollywood on Feb 23, 1982 and later signed to Slash Records’ subsidiary, Ruby Records, releasing their enigmatic and best known album, “The Days of Wine and Roses.” After a brief hiatus in the latter 1980s, Wynn, Duck and bassist Mark Walton joined with guitarist Paul Cutler who had produced the band’s very first EP. By 1988 the band was on Enigma Records and began a relationship with producer Elliott Mazer, who produced Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away.” Mazer produced “Live at Raji’s”. 

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When the Anti- Records’ publicist tells us we’re all likely to write that the follow-up to 2019’s These Times is “new and different,” it turns out that this time to be accurate.

The Universe Inside takes a dramatic left curve from the more traditional singer/songwriter neo-psychedelic alt/pop and alternative rock that has dominated the work of Steve Wynn, who led The Dream Syndicate in the 80’s, had a long and storied solo career, and re-formed the band in 2012 with original drummer Dennis Duck, Mark Walton, the longest lasting of the early bassists, and new guitarist Jason Victor. Together they’ve produced two full-length studio recordings and a live album, which solidified their earlier psychedelic leaning while also rocking harder and greater intensity. But if you can remember all the way back to Wynn and Dream Syndicate’s first and most significant breakthrough in 1982, The Days of Wine and Roses, a 7-plus minute mix of Dylanesque verses with lengthy guitar jams, which points in the direction of the band’s newest work.

Even so, nothing prepares one for the 20-plus minute opening track, “The Regulator,” a groove based jam that relies on the guitar interplay of Wynn and Victor, but features additions from Chris Cacavas on electric piano, Marcus Tenney on sax, and Stephen McCarthy on electric sitar. Wynn offers on vague paragraph of lyrics that’s repeated which suggests “songs and sounds that soothe the savage soul,” in a voice that’s a mix of Leonard Cohen’s deep bass and Tom Waite’s gargled gravel resonance. But the emphasis is on the repeated question, “have you heard?” and the band’s expansive instrumentals, mixing jazzy moments with more ethereal sounds, all driven by Walton’s relentless bass line and the song’s refusal to end, repeatedly rebirthing into the long, lasting groove.

Similarly, the not to the same degree or length, the four other tracks feature extended instrumental interplay. “The Longing,” which features Wynn in his more comfortable singing voice describing that inner desire to live, to love, to communicate, coming in at 7 and a half minutes. The other three are all in the 10 minute range, but not all these lengthy jam oriented pieces are created equal. “Apropos of Nothing” is appropriately titled, while “Dusting Off the Rust” is a superior instrumental built on a more substantial jazz riff and relying on Tenney’s fuller horn sound, playing trumpet as well as sax. They slow things down to a haunting, slower pass with long searching jazz tones on the guitars and horns as Wynn at first talks through his poetic lyrics, but it builds of course again to an expansive, psychedelic feel to match Wynn’s mention of “psilocybin lysergic psychedelic dreams.”

These long trippy jams recall an era in the 70’s when bands like the Grateful Dead and Allman Bros. were notorious for long, spacey instrumentals, but the addition of Tenney mostly on sax, give The Dream Syndicate a decidedly jazz orientation which will appeal to some who appreciate the idea of seasoned musicians jamming freely. But compact, singer-songwriter pop/rock, this is not.

“The Slowest Rendition” by The Dream Syndicate from the album ‘The Universe Inside,’ available now

In the ever-expanding universe of Americana music, I have a few criteria, two of which are 1) is the instrumentation, for the most part, real and 2) can I drive to it .When considering the newest release from neo-psychedelia practitioners The Dream Syndicate, I found The Universe Inside chock-full of amazing musicianship and suitable for a long, winding road trip.

The songs on The Universe Inside are, to say the least, expansive, clocking in between seven and a half and 20-plus(!) minutes. That latter opus is the lead track, “The Regulator.” Paired with a video shot by David Dalglish, the song, at times lounge-y, other times nearly frantic and swirling with sax (courtesy of guest Marcus Tenney), paints a picture of adulthood in decay and youth stepping up to take over. Band founder Steve Wynn, in heavily-manipulated vocals, sings of “Calendar boys dusting off the rust/The scarcity of the soul/Blown fuses.” A little apocalyptic, but aren’t we all feeling a little that way right now?

Since the band’s 2012 return, their music has been based around four-minute rock songs with an experimental flair, with occasional detours into jam territory. Here, though, there are no such limits or boundaries. Perhaps guided by a sense of mortality that shows in his lyrics, Wynn has decided to make the album he’s long wanted. “(All That’s Left Is) The Longing,” a somewhat more straightforward song, directly addresses a life of efforts made, summed up during one last death rattle – “All that’s left from before/Is the final twitch and spasm.” “Apropos of Nothing” has a little bit of twang amongst its nine and a half minutes before a drastic tempo change two-thirds of the way through. And “Dusting Off The Rust” has the band doing just that, prog playing their hearts out in a nearly 10-minute instrumental.

The Universe Inside wraps with its most song-like offering, “The Slowest Rendition,” a two-parter stretched across eleven minutes. Part One, the most lyrical offering on the record, is a frank examination of putting away childish things – “To think I once would have welcomed/In delight, this chaos that flickers in the night” – and a true look at aging – “The waking hours and questions slowly seep/Into one another.” It’s a good damn song. Part Two features a tempo change, more sax, and a man grasping one last time for some measure of control: “I’m the amateur director/On a badly lit mystery.” We all want control. And, right now, none of us have it.


The Universe Inside was produced by John Agnello, Adrian Olsen and the band, recorded and mixed by Agnello and Olsen, and mastered by Greg Calbi. The Dream Syndicate is Wynn (lead vocals, guitar and harmonica), Jason Victor (guitar), Chris Cacavas (keys), Mark Walton (bass), and Dennis Duck (drums). Featured players include Stephen McCarthy (electric sitar, guitar, bass, pedal steel and background vocals), Marcus Tenney (sax and trumpet) and Johnny Hott (percussion).

“The Longing” by The Dream Syndicate from the album ‘The Universe Inside,’ available April 10th

The Dream Syndicate is:
Steve Wynn – lead vocals, guitar, harmonica
Jason Victor – guitar
Chris Cacavas – keyboards
Mark Walton – bass guitar
Dennis Duck – drums

Special guests: Stephen McCarthy (electric sitar, guitar, six-string bass, pedal steel, backing vocals)

released April 10th, 2020

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When one thinks of the Dream Syndicate, it’s not just the wild abandon with which singer/guitarist Steve Wynn, drummer Dennis Duck, bassist Mark Walton, and lead guitarist Jason Victor perform – it’s the carefully constructed songwriting of Wynn that comes to mind.

By now every rock critic in the country has predetermined who he or she feels Wynn reminds them of and what they think of that style of songs. This time, don’t! Which brings us to The Universe Inside. Every article or review ever written will claim “this is new and different”- well, it is! Just look at the song lengths: 20:27, 7:36, 8:56, 9:55 and 10:53. Ok, sure – the Syndicate have occasionally committed a long song to vinyl, “John Coltrane Stereo Blues” was 9 minutes with live versions over the ten-minute mark.

For the first time, every song is a group songwriting effort. What seeps in are Dennis Duck’s knowledge of European avant-garde music, Jason Victor’s passion for 70s prog, Mark Walton’s experience in Southern-fried music collectives and Wynn’s love of vintage electric jazz.

Special guests: Stephen McCarthy (electric sitar, guitar, six-string bass, pedal steel, backing vocals)

Steve Wynn says “The Regulator” is a microcosm of The Dream Syndicate’s new album “The Universe Inside”. “It was just a formless, trippy mass as we all started playing together,’ says Wynn. “There was an early 70’s drum machine—a Maestro Rhythm King, the same model used on Sly Stone’s “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”—with Dennis locking in and setting the pace. Stephen grabbed an electric sitar because it was the first thing he saw. Jason and I were kicking pedals on like lab monkeys in a laboratory and Mark was a lightning rod, uniting all of those elements into one tough groove. I collected a list of random, unconnected lyric ideas that I kept on my phone. I tried them all out in random order in my home studio just to see how they would feel and that one-take test run is the vocal you hear! There’s just so much lightning-in-a-jar, first take excitement on this record.”

The Dream Syndicate is:
Steve Wynn – lead vocals, guitar, harmonica
Jason Victor – guitar
Chris Cacavas – keyboards
Mark Walton – bass guitar
Dennis Duck – drums

Special guests: Stephen McCarthy (electric sitar, guitar, six-string bass, pedal steel, backing vocals)

“The Regulator” by The Dream Syndicate from the album ‘The Universe Inside,’ available April 10th

Expanded version of seminal debut from cult band, includes unheard extras and a bonus 7” by 15 Minutes.

• a reissue of “Days of Wine & Roses” endorsed by the entire band!
• a vinyl reissue of their original 4 song 12-inch EP (long out of print)
• exact facsimile replica of Steve Wynn’s rare “15 Minutes” 7-inch single

Plus: new interviews with Kendra Smith, producer Chris D., & Paul B. Cutler (who recorded the “Down There” EP), ephemera from the Dennis Duck archives – Lovingly curated by Dream Syndicate archivist Pat Thomas.

An exceptional early ‘80s guitar-powered gem, remastered in full and includes the band’s debut indie EP and both tracks from main protagonist Steve Wynn’s earlier combo 15 Minutes.

With few exceptions, the bands that rose from L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene in the ’80s had only one real thing in common — all of them were obsessed with the rock & roll touchstones of the mid- to late ’60s, whether it was psychedelia (the Rain Parade), country rock (the Long Ryders), or AM pop (the Bangles). But while most of these bands looked to the sunny side of ’60s rock, the Dream Syndicate were the Paisley Underground’s juvenile delinquents, smart but cynical and happy to spread bad vibes for the hell of it.

Nearly all of the Paisley bands were audibly Californian, but while they hailed from Davis, Californiathe Dream Syndicate’s key influences were significantly from the East Coast: the Velvet Underground (particularly White Light/White Heat), and mid-’60s Bob Dylan (think Highway 61 Revisited). At the core of their sound was the bracing thrust and parry between Karl Precoda’s lead guitar, noisy and elemental but inspired in its wanderlust, and the sharp report of Steve Wynn’s rhythm guitar, yielding a tougher and more abrasive sound than their peers. Consequently, the Dream Syndicate’s debut album, 1982’s The Days of Wine and Roses, is arguably the finest LP to come out of the Paisley Underground’s salad days, and ultimately atypical of the movement, a blast of beautiful but ominous rock & roll chaos whose speedy guitar-based attack was held in place by the intelligent minimalism of bassist Kendra Smith and drummer Dennis Duck. While the Dream Syndicate’s influences were obvious (the initial vinyl pressing of The Days of Wine and Roses included the helpful run-off groove message “Pre-Motorcyle Accident”), the way they manifested themselves were not; the skronky impact of the guitars recalled the Velvets, but Precoda’s billows of noise had a personality all their own, and though Wynn’s vocal delivery had the bite of both vintage Dylan and Lou Reed, his lyrical voice was his own, offhand but deeply personal at the same time. And Chris D.’s no-frills production captured the Dream Syndicate gloriously, and the greatest pleasure of The Days of Wine and Roses is how well this band plays together, like a miraculously contained explosion that seemed to be going a dozen places at once but confidently and fearlessly rolls forward, and the expressive jams on “Then She Remembers,” “Until Lately,” and the title cut are outstanding. The Dream Syndicate would be a very different band when they cut Medicine Show two years later, but while they would remain an interesting band to the end, The Days of Wine and Roses captures them at their peak, and it’s essential listening for noise guitar fiends and anyone interested in ’80s alternative rock.

The Days Of Wine And Roses’ is as timelessly potent as the records that inspired it.” Uncut
Central to the hugely influential Paisley Underground scene of the early 1980s that spawned Green On Red, The Bangles, Long Ryders and Rain Parade. 

“Arguably the finest LP to come out of the Paisley Underground’s salad days.” AllMusic

With a nod to the Velvet Underground, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Dylan, packed into an incendiary slow-burn punk fuse, ‘The Days Of Wine And Roses’ is a glorious, upbeat sprawl, everything that rock ‘n’ roll should be.