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Green On Red

Corralled in with the neo-psychedelic Paisley Underground scene that amassed a foothold in the anything-goes 80s, GREEN ON RED sounded as if they were the love-child of PETER PERRETT and NEIL YOUNG’s CRAZY HORSE. And spearheaded by desert-rock begetter Dan Stuart, the competition was such that progenitor peers The RAIN PARADE, The DREAM SYNDICATE, The LONG RYDERS, TRUE WEST, among many others, squeezed each out of what would’ve been a lucrative market for at least two acts.
The aforementioned Stuart (vocals/guitar), Jack Waterson (bass), Sean Nagore (organ) and Van Christian (drums), bore the name of The Serfers, back in 1979, when they emerged from Tucson, Arizona. A year down the line after relocating to L.A., a much-needed switch of monikers (to avoid any confusion with the local surf-punk scene), resulted in the roots-y GREEN ON RED taking shape. In the process, both Nagore and NAKED PREY-bound Van Christian were respectively replaced by Chris Cacavas and former LYDIA LUNCH side-kick Alex MacNicol.
This revised quartet were quick off the mark in terms of recording, and in the true spirit of punk they dispatched their inaugural self-financed, self-titled EP (aka lead track: `Two Bibles’) in the summer of ’81. A rather run-of-the-mill record, it fitted more into the post-punk pattern than any country-rock collusion. This assumption changed almost overnight when Dan found that unmistakable acerbic twang for their second eponymous record; the 7-track mini-LP, GREEN ON RED (1982) {*7}. Regarded as a treasure of its ilk, Cacavas’s spiny keyboards reminded one of RAY MANZAREK’s bursts of 60s psychedelia with The DOORS, whilst dangerous Dan buzzed all over `Death And Angels’, `Black Night’, `Aspirin’, `Illustrated Crawling’ and `Apartment 6’. Its connection to the “real” Paisley Underground post-punk scene was grounded in the fact that it was predominantly produced by future DREAM SYNDICATE guitarist Paul B. Cutler under the umbrella of STEVE WYNN’s Down There imprint; indeed the latter was a guest on GoR’s next project.
Comprising a dozen tracks this time around, the westernised GRAVITY TALKS (1983) {*8} drew comparisons to JOHN FOGERTY’s more rockier outings; in essence moving away from the rambunctious garage-rock of their teething times. Organic organist Cacavas was again the catalyst for each “Velvet-y”, SEEDS-like sprinkle of sonic sound; served best by the opening title track, `Narcolepsy’, `5 Easy Pieces’, `Blue Parade’, `Cheap Wine’ and Chris’s own spun-and-sung composition, `That’s What You’re Here For’. At this stage there was no better exponent of psychedelic roots rock than the glorious GREEN ON RED.
Released on Enigma Records; almost simultaneously with Stuart’s DANNY & DUSTY moonlight project, “The Lost Weekend” (alongside Steve “Dusty” Wynn), GoR’s next booking per se was GAS FOOD LODGING (1985) {*8}; their first offering to feature the distinctive steel-guitar style of the newly-recruited Chuck Prophet. The album delved into the psyche of America’s wasteland towns and cities that, in Dan’s mind at least, were propped up by drunks, down-and-outs and delinquents (e.g. `Hair Of The Dog’, `Drifter’ and `Sixteen Ways’). Indeed, The LONG RYDERS were also to rail against the rough-shod Reagan-era regulations on their “State Of Our Union” LP, so with irony-laden “beaten generation” tracks such as `That’s What Dreams Were Made For’ and `Sea Of Cortez’, country-rock had shifted gears whilst blossoming from its southern roots. Then again, a far-reaching rendition of trad-track, `We Shall Overcome’, possibly stretched the sentiment too far.
Hungry for any morsels of kudos dished out to their aforesaid Paisley peers, GoR inked a deal at Mercury Records for NO FREE LUNCH (1985) {*5}. And rush-released in order to ride the boxcars of the roots-rock migration, the mini-set sold well enough in the UK to dent the Top 100. However, America was slow once again to take a substantial bite, and when they did, they added a 13-minute re-hash of HOWLIN’ WOLF’s `Smokestack Lightning’. Dan’s desperate attempts to sound like a cross between NEIL YOUNG’s alter-ego, ROGER McGUINN and MICK JAGGER, led to several accusations of them selling out to the majors. However, that was definitely not the case, even when one reflected on the easy-and-freewheeling context of `Time Ain’t Nothing’, `Jimmy Boy’ and a cover of WILLIE NELSON’s `(Gee Ain’t It Funny) How Time Slips Away’.
When MacNicol duly bailed thereafter (he later passed away in January 2004), percussionist Keith Mitchell would take up his drum stool for the Jim Dickinson-produced THE KILLER INSIDE ME (1987) {*5}. Another derivative dirge-driven set that couldn’t quite muster enough support to rekindle their early promise, the inclusion of gospel-rocker `Born To Fight’ probably didn’t help desert-rock Dan’s cause. The man’s screeching pleas on the title track more or less fell on deaf ears; at least after hearing the track, but that was thankfully countered on `Mighty Gun’ and opener `Clarksville’.
It was clear that GREEN ON RED had lost favour with a fickle fanbase, and by the fall of ’87 they’d called it a day. Whilst Waterson released a solo album, `Whose Dog’ (1988), CHRIS CACAVAS & THE JUNKYARD LOVE released a fruitless self-titled set the following year.
Not yet ready to lay down their palettes, Dan and Chuck opted to get GREEN ON RED back on track. And fleshed out by session players; including bassist Rene Coman and the aforementioned producer/drummer Jim Dickinson (ex-TAV FALCO’S PANTHER BURNS), HERE COME THE SNAKES (1989) {*8}, led them back to the promised land. Initially beset by problems at the soon-to-be-bust Red Rhino Records (GoR had forever seemed to be on the verge of a UK breakthrough), thankfully this set had been saved from the grim reaper by Restless Records; and the fledgling China imprint in Old Blighty. The album in question showcased a blues-y, bolshie and gutsier guitar sound; exemplified on the JAGGER-esque `Keith Can’t Read’, plus `Rock’n’Roll Disease’ and `Change’. Undaunted by their travails (drummer Brent Newman came in for Dickinson), GREEN ON RED played a blinding concert that was documented on the Anglo-sized LIVE: IN LONDON AT THE TOWN AND COUNTRY CLUB ON FRIDAY APRIL SEVEN NINETEEN EIGHTY NINE (1989) {*5}.
Clocking up the release of three albums in the space of just several months, November ’89 unfettered the Glyn Johns-produced THIS TIME AROUND {*5}. EAGLES player Bernie Leadon was welcomed aboard GoR’s more mainstream-lined, back-to-basics set, though Dan’s drunken-bum pseudo persona was wearing mighty thin on an unimpressed y’all country-rocker, who’d probably thought that GARTH BROOKS was its savior. Despite the good ol’ boy patina served up on several of the pieces, the songs `Couldn’t Get Arrested’ and the title track single were still worth the ticket price alone. Produced by AL KOOPER and bit-player J.D. Foster, respectively (the latter in conjunction with the “Gruesome Twosome”: aka Dan and Chuck!), the blame for GREEN ON RED’s downfall lay at the door of the rather average “Off Beat” recording: SCAPEGOATS (1991) {*6} and the ironically-titled TOO MUCH FUN (1992) {*6}. As psyche-frolic Brit-rockers PRIMAL SCREAM dug in their rock’n’rolling-stoned brogues along the well-trodden footsteps of GoR, a cover of the CARPENTERS’ `Rainy Days And Mondays’ (penned by PAUL WILLIAMS) was a terrible way to bow out.
DAN STUART and the prolific CHUCK PROPHET both went on to drop a plethora of reasonably-received solo sets; the themes mainly Americana and roots, but nothing could substitute the healthy and organic salad days of the great GREEN ON RED. Therefore, it was indeed unsurprising when Dan and Chuck broke from these commitments to take the old band (a la Cacavas, Waterson and Daren Hess; but not Jim Bogios) on the road again. From recordings this reunified group cut in Tucson, AZ, on 9/04/05, VALLEY FEVER: LIVE AT THE RIALTO (2006) {*7} consolidated to why GoR had been so essential to the history of rock.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2019

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