CHICAGO — Maybe you’ve heard about Billy Corgan’s prized Fender Stratocaster, the one responsible for the dreamy tones that defined Smashing Pumpkin’s debut album, Gish. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin reportedly borrowed the guitar from a friend, or so the story goes, and sold it to Corgan, who refers to it as the “guitar that changed the direction of our lives.”
“The minute I started playing on the Strat, it was like it came to life. It was like everything I was doing suddenly was amplified,” Corgan told Rolling Stone senior writer Kory Grow. “On that Strat, it was like you suddenly could hear every little thing I was doing. … Suddenly the sound of the band got way more beautiful, psychedelic and wide.”
He immediately recognized unique details: The cigarette burn on the neck. The initials “KM” engraved in the bridge. The sloppy artwork Corgan added himself, the f-word scratched into the paint, and, of course, the way it felt in his hands.
You can see the joy in Corgan’s face in photos of the rocker’s reunion with his beloved “Bullet Strat” documented on YouTube, and celebrated online.
“I’m literally gonna take it somewhere, and get it fixed up,” Corgan told Rolling Stone.
That’s pretty much how the story ended, until now.
As things turn out, “somewhere” is a converted auto-repair garage at 1828 West Belmont in Roscoe Village, home to Chicago luthier Geoff Benge’s guitar shop.
There’s a reason the “Gish” guitar ended up at Benge’s place. If you’re looking for a Chicago guy to fix your most precious guitar there’s probably nobody better, according to people who know about these things.
I first met Benge in 2008 at his fix-it shop’s former Lake View location. He told me about the one-armed guitar player who brought in a Regal guitar that had been carried across Europe during WWII, and now rested in pieces in its case. Benge fixed it up so good that when the owner first pressed his fingers against the neck, he cried. At home, the man said with joyful tears, his wife would do the strumming.
“If I can’t fix it, it’s not broke,” Benge says with a laugh.
He’s worked on guitars since he scored his first job emptying ashtrays at Sound Post, a long-gone Evanston guitar shop, when he as 14. He helped open Guitar Works, and did a stint in the repair shop at Chicago Music Exchange before building his own repair business based on referrals from a long list of renowned Chicago guitarists. Nicholas Tremulis, Liz Phair, Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones, Steve Albini and, of course, Corgan all count Benge as their trusted guitar repairman, and sometimes miracle worker.
For 20 years, Tremulis, a Chicago music scene stable, has had Benge electrify 1920s acoustic guitars.
In 1993, Albini, the famed recording engineer and owner of Electric Audio studios, had Benge convert a collection of right-handed guitars — including a rare aluminum Voleno guitar — so each one could be played lefty, in other words, upside-down and backwards.
On my recent visit, Benge and his pal and long-time collaborator, Kriss Bataille, ribbed each other about that.
“I remember asking Geoff if he knew why Albini wanted those guitars made left-handed,” luthier Kriss Bataille said.
“And I said, ‘No, I don’t give a f—,'” Benge said.
Benge, 54, doesn’t care much about that. It’s not like he played on Nirvana’s final record.
“You know what I remember,” he said, while twisting the tuner on a recently restrung acoustic. “Months later, Albini brought the guitars back and said, ‘Make ’em righty again.’ So, I did.”
In February, Corgan told Rolling Stone he figured his newly returned guitar was built in 1974.
After taking the guitar apart, taking into account it’s outfitted with one of Fender’s first die-cast bridge saddles and talking with a guitar electronics expert in California, Benge pegged the Strat as a ’75. But the serial number etched on the 3-bolt neck plate hints at a different story.
The Stratocaster’s exact vintage, well, that’s complicated. Corgan’s Stratocaster was built during the heart of the “CBS era” — a low point in Fender’s corporate history when the quality of each guitar was a crap shoot.
Between 1973 and 1975 Fender’s factory was in flux, lacked inventory and quality controls and, Norvell says, factory workers “went off script.” Back then all Fender guitars were made by hand, and put together with mismatched parts from unmarked bins. Sometimes, even guitar necks and bodies didn’t match.
“Billy’s Strat is more of a guitar on the cusp,” Fender Executive Vice President of Products Justin Norvell said.
Benge found the Stratocaster’s “flat pole” pickups were stamped with the date, Dec. 30, 1975. The guitar’s ’76 serial number hints that a Fender craftsman didn’t put the finishing touches on before celebrating on New Year’s Eve.
Another good find this time out of France with a familiar sound that could have come out of Manchester or the US in the 90s.
I can hear The Stone Roses, Primal Scream in psychedelic mode and vocals reminded me of Janes Addiction.
The three piece strikes again with a record that represents the band itself : beauty, chaos, tension and relief. This ep is the result of numerous jams where the drums/bass remain frenetic, and the guitar/vocals stand impassive in front of what could look like a big beautiful mess.
The band has proudly kept the same team as it’s previous LP to work on that new material: this has been recorded at le K7 studio with Franck Molin, mastered by Renaud de Saint Vaast, and cover designed by the mighty Chufy.
– an eclectic mix of UK garage punk, LA krautrock bass pop and Seattle drum and bass.
To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales today (Friday, March 20th, from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets. – Bandcamp
This is the debut album release from L’ÉPÉE , the band are Emmanuelle Seigner (Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle), Anton Newcombe (The Brian Jonestown Massacre) & Lionel & Marie Liminana (The Liminanas) . It is very rarely that a musical project lives up to the billing of being a ‘supergroup’. However, the exception to this rule comes in the shape of L’Epee.
A stellar combination of the talents of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe, cinematic femme fatale Emmanuelle Seigner and ice-cool pop provocateurs The Limiñanas (Lionel and Marie Liminana), L’Epee transcend artistic and traditional borders.
“We are living in very culturally insular times, so it feels really good to be swimming against the tide,” says Anton of the band’s bi-lingual, cross-continental approach.“There’s something really positive about branching out, collaborating and taking risks.” Far from being defeated by a world seemingly regressing into turmoil, L’ Epee’s strength comes from a long history of challenging the status quo.
From Anton’s legendary battles with ‘The Man’ with The Brian Jonestown Massacre to Emmanuelle’s eclectic screen career to The Liminana’s community-minded ethos- setting up their own record shop, L.G.D.C, and promoting gigs by the cream of the world’s garage rock scene (New Bomb Turks, Oblivians, Fleshtones, Revelators) -they share a fierce intelligence and an outsider aesthetic which, over the decades, has been sharpened to a razor’s edge.
Fitting, then, that their name translates as The Sword. “It came to me in a dream,” explains Anton. “I woke up and there it was, ‘The Sword’. Someone told me there had already been a band with that name so I flipped it into French. It suits the band because we’re united in a common cause.” This pent-up creative energy has been channelled into their extraordinary debut album, Diabolique. Named in tribute to Mario Bava’s 1968 cult classic ‘Danger: Diabolik’, it’s a musical masterclass where elements of garage, ye-ye, sleaze rock, cult soundtracks, sci-fi, spaghetti westerns and girl-group pop noir are combined with the cut-and-thrust zeal of a band bursting with ideas and energy.
All delivered by Emmanuelle in a sultry Gallic drawl which will send a frisson of recognition through anyone familiar with her iconic roles in, among many others, Frantic, Venus In Fur and Bitter Moon (all directed by her husband, Roman Polanski). “I’ve loved rock music since I was a kid,” she says, namechecking Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground and The Stooges as key influences.
“I always wanted to be a musician, but it wasn’t so easy in France as I couldn’t meet the right people. Then I became a model and then very quickly after that I did Frantic and became an actress. It worked for me, but in my heart I always wanted to do music.”
Having asked close friend Bertrand Belin to provide lyrics for three further tracks (‘Grande’, ‘On Dansait Avec Elle’ and ‘Lou’), the trio set to work at The Limiñanas’ studio in Cabestany, Southern France, in November 2017 -with Emmanuelle, ever the perfectionist, fine-tuning them the following February.
Satisfied with the results, the trio flew to Berlin to hook up with Anton and (Liverpudlian engineer) Andrea Wright at his Cobra Studio in Berlin Utilising a treasure trove of vintage equipment (“I’ve got way more ‘60’s gear than The Beatles and The Stones had, I’m mad for that stuff”, explains the BJM man), Anton set to work, re-recording the drums with Marie and adding -and deleting- tracks so that the shifting layers of sound suited the mood of each individual track.
“I’ve got plenty of other ways to express myself, so I really enjoyed taking a backseat, creatively,” he explains. “Lionel is such a great composer. There’s a very visual sense to his songs and I was very conscious of not stepping on his intentions too much. There were some really interesting sonic things I would add, like a track of the craziest feedback, to give a song a weird ambient quality. It’s the role that Brian Jones had in the Stones, or Warren (Ellis) has in Nick Cave’s band. Musically, they’re all over the map, but they make things happen.”
“It was so inspiring to see Anton work,” says Emmanuelle of seeing him in action.
“When we sent the songs to him they were good, but they were nothing like how it ended up. He’s so talented, like a genius. He made the whole thing darker, more interesting and more psychedelic.”
It was a very good festival showcasing some of the best young rock talent.
The venue itself is an old warehouse with cool murals on the outside, inside there was a good underground vibe with blacked-out decor, good size Live stage, bar and a couple of chill-out sofa’s.
I arrived a bit late to avoid queues so missed a few bands: Dead Naked Hippies, Something Leather, JunoDef and GayGirl and performances on the acoustic terrance.
The attendance early on was mostly band members and support, a few rock journalists, friends and fans. It was billed as a women’s rock festival so aside from the music I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone, including venue staff, fans and band members were all chilled out. It was one of the more relaxed atmospheres I’ve experienced at a rock festival.
The first band blew me away with the quality of songs, energy and performance, like all the bands here.
I like “shoe gaze” and enjoyed Wyldest‘s ‘dream pop’ songs. Really nice sound.
THYLA is another great band. Great songs, really impressive performances all round.
She Makes War
I discovered Tess Parks’s music through another recent discovery for me: The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Tess’s music has an authentic 60’s vibe that sits comfortably with music of the that era and contemporary guitar based music. Friendlies is favourite of mine.
Fans of Jefferson Airplane, Velvet Underground, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin to name a few will find more of what they like with Tess Parks’s music.