Monday, March 26, 2012

Blondie magnificent at Firefly Gala: Interview guitarist/songwriter Chris Stein

By Ray Shasho

BLONDIE was simply spectacular on Saturday night for the Second Annual Firefly Gala in Bradenton, Florida. The concert began promptly at 9:45p.m.under the stars on a beautiful tropical evening. The event raised an estimated $112,000 for The Forty Carrots Family Center, a nonprofit organization in Sarasota, Florida dedicated to strengthening families through educational programs for parents, children, and professionals in the field. The event was sponsored by The Dart Foundation.
Formed in 1974, Blondie amassed a huge Punk following at New York’s famed CBGB. The band later became known for their eclectic musical styles that included New Wave, Disco, Pop, Reggae and Rap. The band has sold over 40 million records worldwide. Blondie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Blondie hadn’t performed together for months, but based on crowd reaction at the packed mobile- amphitheater, you’d think you were reliving one of those incredible CBGB shows all over again. The band played a magnificent performance to a rapturous Bradenton gathering at the Concession.  
Debbie Harry continues to be totally hip, enticing the audience throughout the evening with coolness, glamour and vivaciousness.  Her voluptuous voice is stronger than ever and punkish struts even more apparent. An audience of donors and sponsors quickly became an audience of Debbie Harry and Blondie music fanatics. 

Blondie played all the crowd pleasers on Saturday evening including “Union City Blues,” “Dreaming,” “Maria,” “Hanging On The Telephone,” “The Tide Is High” (their cover of the 1967 Paragons tune) and “Call Me” (the band’s biggest selling single from the movie American Gigolo). An explosive one-two punch materialized when Blondie performed the most dynamic and favored tune of the night, “Rapture” including a deviation of the Beastie Boys (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!) and followed by the stalker inspired, “One Way Or Another” from their album Parallel Lines. Blondie also showcased new music from their critically-acclaimed release Panic Of Girls including, “Mother,” and “What I heard.” Blondie’s encore for the evening was the #1 Hit, “Heart Of Glass” a tune inspired by the German electronic group Kraftwerk.
Original bandmates, guitar virtuoso Chris Stein, and accomplished drummer Clem Burke, were both on stage playing with vengeance on Saturday night. Tommy Kessler traded guitar licks with Chris Stein and was also spotlighted featuring an array of incredible rifts. Bassist Leigh Foxx and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen complete an amazing group of talented musicians. 

At 8p.m Saturday evening I was escorted onto guitarist Chris Stein’s tour bus for a quick interview.

Fun fact about Chris …. He’s a huge wrestling fan from way back and has met everyone from Andre the Giant to Vince McMahon.  

Here’s my chat with legendary songwriter/guitarist/photographer/ cofounder of Blondie CHRIS STEIN.
Ray Shasho: Thanks for meeting with me today Chris, looking forward to a great show. I know you’re probably asked this a lot but who were some of your influences growing up?
Chris Stein: “Hendrix was a big influence and I was a big Stones freak. And more of a Motown fan prior to the British stuff. And I wasn’t a big Elvis freak when I was a kid. I liked Dylan; I remember seeing Dylan on Steve Allen when I was a kid and that was a big moment, but never made an impression on me until later.”
“But speaking of Elvis… when we went to Graceland it was awesome and not what you might expect… it’s kind of retro at worst. Some of it is a little weird but overall not as bad as one is led to believe. It’s kind of cool in a way.”
Ray Shasho: You met Debbie Harry when you were in the Stilettos?
Chris Stein: “Yea, we’re going to have our fortieth anniversary next year.”
Ray Shasho: Congrats! Chris you’re an excellent photographer, although sad, I liked your pictures featuring the last days of CBGB.
Chris Stein: “Yea, I’m going to start putting stuff out when I get back, putting things together for the Morrison Hotel people. Maybe in April I’ll get something on their website. The digital world is so seductive… I should do more film.”
Ray Shasho: Are you collaborating musically with anyone these days?
Chris Stein: “Just the guys in the band. I listen to a lot of music … a lot of strange stuff.”
Ray Shasho: What kind of music are you listening to these days?
Chris Stein: “A lot of Latin music … ‘Systema Solar’ they’re a great Colombian band. I like Overground Raggaeton. Modern Latin styles too. I was doing the research on old style Colombian music and it sounded a lot like Captain Beefheart or something …very funky.”
Ray Shasho: When you wrote “Heart of Glass” were you specifically aiming for the explosive Disco market?
Chris Stein: “No … it was supposed to be Kraftwerk but it just fit into the mold.”
Ray Shasho: So the band is headed to the Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida after tonight’s show?
Chris Stein:  “Just for the weekend. We haven’t played together for five or six months, but we sound okay, we remembered all the music.”
Ray Shasho: What was the origin of "Rapture"? I read somewhere that the melody was devised from a Turkish tune?
Chris Stein: “No-no. We loved Chic and the music that was going on at the time. We heard the first Rap thing in 1977 and it was very exciting that was it you know.”
Ray Shasho: You guys are actually classified as pioneers for the genre of Rap music.
Chris Stein: “Yea, a couple of guys from Wu-Tang Clan told us that it (“Rapture”) was the first Rap song they ever heard … which is kind of mind-boggling. Frankie Crocker broke it on WBLS nationwide. 
Ray Shasho: Anything you’d like to promote Chris?
Chris Stein: “China Mieville’s new book, he’s our buddy; this is his new book called ‘Railsea’ coming out in May. It’s a Steampunk Sci-Fi Fantasy thing. He’s a great writer.”
Ray Shasho: What’s the story about?
Chris Stein: “The world is all dirt (he doesn’t mention any oceans) and covered with these rails, and the trains go everywhere in this complex system of rails and if you step on the ground where the rails are the animals come and eat you immediately. So then there are these islands where the people live on. I’ve been waiting for him to do a Moby-Dick reference and this book has Moby-Dick references in it.”
Ray Shasho: You grew up on Brooklyn?
Chris Stein: “I went to the same high school as Woody Allen, I grew up in Flatbush. There was this local gangster called Junior Sirico and his brother Carmine Sirico. He was like ten years older than me and use to hang out at the local pool hall …. Anyway, he’s ‘Paulie Walnuts’ of The Sopranos. I never knew it but I just found out that it was him.”
Ray Shasho: Where’s Debbie Harry originally from?
Chris Stein: “Florida and New Jersey. Her parents came from Florida but she’s adopted so we don’t know for sure.”
Ray Shasho: Do you like a lot of the Pop/Dance music that’s around today?
Chris Stein: “Don’t you like “Pumped Up Kicks” and all that stuff … it’s a great song! I like that and “Moves Like Jagger” …. they’re really good songs. But I like the fact that everything is dance music. We love Beirut; they’re one of our favorite bands too.”
Ray Shasho: I’m looking forward to tonight’s concert.
Chris Stein: “Well, we really haven’t played for months …so if anybody screws up… (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: Are you planning another full-scale tour soon?
Chris Stein: “We do great on Europe and UK tours. We’re playing to 30,000 people in the UK and then come back here and play to a thousand drunks in a casino.”
Ray Shasho: Congrats on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There was a bit of a spat during the ceremony wasn’t there?
Chris Stein: “Frankie started pissing and moaning that he wasn’t going to play and he decided it was the right moment in front of 200 million people. People were saying … how much did you pay him for doing that? We thought the Sex Pistols were going to be the big thing. So he just started bitching on TV, he would have had to call somebody if he really wanted to play. I hadn’t talked with him in twenty years. We had already rehearsed.” 
Ray Shasho: Who were some of the bands you followed when you were part of the Punk and New Wave scene?
Chris Stein: “The Ramones, Richard Hell. Television when Richard Hell was still with them was really an amazing thing, it was exciting. The Ramones influenced so many people … the T-Shirts are there everywhere you go. For me the first two Stones albums are completely punk. I just heard “Satisfaction” the other day and I thought … that song sounds so punk.”
Ray Shasho: Chris thanks for chatting with me today, I’m looking forward to a great show.
Chris Stein: “Thanks Ray.”

Special thanks to Minta Getzen, the Forty Carrots Family Center, and the Dart Foundation.

Blondie official website

Forty Carrots official website

COMING UP NEXT an interview with the legendary IAN ANDERSON of Jethro Tull 

Contact author/columnist Ray Shasho at

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Ray Shasho is a product of the second half of the 20th century, made in the USA from parts around the world, and within him is every trend in music, television, politics and culture contributing to his philosophical and comically analytical reflections collected in his fine book of memories. ~~Pacific Book Review

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