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RADIO A-OK, ETC.

IN THEIR INFINITE wisdom, the University of Minnesota administrators who ran KUOM-AM back in the '60s decided that FM was a passing fad that would never catch on. So while we'll never know what might've happened to the operation were it not stuck on AM, it is clear that the current student-run 770 Radio K is making the best of the situation. Proof of that lies in the appropriately titled Stuck On AM, a two-CD set of local rock which serves as a benefit project for a new scholarship fund set up in the name of Kristen Pfaff, the late bassist for Hole and other bands who was also a U of M and Radio K alumna. The tracks were all recorded in the vintage KUOM multi-track studio set up by engineers with more heart than technical training, and lo and behold, the result is the best single local music comp in years. Props to the Radio K staff, especially Simon Peter Groebner, who--in addition to contributing to City Pages--hosts the Friday afternoon Off The Record show on which most of these sessions first aired. This Monday night the record gets its formal release party with a 10-hour, all-star showcase in both rooms at First Avenue. The first half begins at 5 p.m., is all-ages, and features (in order of appearance) June Sunday, Vibro Champs, February, Balloon Guy, and Low in the Mainroom, with Rainbow Girls, William & The Conquerors, Rex Daisy, 12 Rods, and King Can in the Entry. Part 2 kicks off at 9 p.m. with Stuart Davis, Rhea Valentine, Barb Cohen, Balloon Guy, and The Kelley Deal 6000 in the Mainroom, with The Wahinis, Rainbow Girls, The Mountain Singers, John's Black Dirt, and Dylan Hicks & Golf Ball Sized Boogie in the Entry. Admission is $4/$6 at the door for both shows, and all proceeds go to the Pfaff Scholarship Fund.

In other gig news, pure pop heartthrobs National Dynamite host a CD release party this Friday at 7th Street Entry. The musical MC will be ND pal Willie Wisely, along with Steeplejack, Dylan Hicks, and Kerry Fladland Surprise. $5, doors at 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, you can't ever say TC native Morris Day lacks guts. Since leaving The Time and heading out to L.A. back in the day (meaning the late '80s), he has more or less crapped out in both music and film. Yet when he hits the stage, he immediately assumes the persona of the coolest dude imaginable. Of course, that glorious back catalog of purple funk tunes is a potent elixir, as his recent reunion gig here with the Time proved. Tonight's round two. $15/$17 at the door. Tuesday, 7 p.m. First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Mpls.; 338-8388. (Hermes/Robson)

STUDIO NEWS

THE APPOINTMENT CALENDAR is filling up for St. Paul rappers Phull Surkle. They recently visited L.A. to make recordings with Evil E--best known as the DJ for Ice-T--followed by a short Midwestern tour with Ice. The group was hooked up shortly after the Surkle's monstrous performance opening for Ice-T at the Fine Line earlier this year. There's some talk of Evil E scoring a production deal with Def Jam or Tommy Boy, too, but no real news yet. Phull Surkle aren't putting all their eggs in one basket -- they're also recording independently here at Logic Recordings and Funkytown. A CD/cassette single, "Syrup," is due June 16, and a full-length, Everyday Life, is in the works. In July, they'll go out again on a package tour with Ice-T, 2 Live Crew, and others; we can expect a Twin Cities date.

And what about Casino Royale, the jazz trio that bonded with the Surkle to create the Cities' most visible live rap act? Phull Surkle will continue playing and recording with them, too. But Casino Royale are also turning to their own thing. They're planning a part-live/part-studio Royale record for summer release. Casino Royale plays the Cabooze this Saturday before Greazy Meal; Phull Surkle with Casino Royale will take the Loring Bar stage on June 15. Got all that?

In January, Austin, TX renegade country singer Kelly Willis (above) recorded demos at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, MN, with backing from pals Son Volt. Willis and SV's Jay Farrar previously collaborated on a track for the Red Hot+Bothered comp--a fine cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues." Recently, a four-song promotional disc from the Pachyderm sessions surfaced, which includes a song Willis cowrote and performed with ex-Jayhawk Gary Louris, along with more Son Volt-backed stuff and a collaboration with labelmates 16 Horsepower. One song, "Fading Fast," can be found on the soundtrack to the upcoming Winona Ryder film Boys, but there's no word on whether the rest will hit the streets before early '97.

The Generator label released its latest slab last week, a mighty split single with Polara and Chicago's Red Red Meat playing each other's songs. Red Red Meat interprets a sweet & grimy version of Polara's "Listening Now," while Polara's Jennifer Jurgens takes lead vocals for "Carpet of Horses" (from RRM's Bunny Gets Paid)--which just happens to be the best singing she's committed to tape. The Polara side was recorded at the Terrarium at the onset of their album sessions for Interscope, and if the sonic adventurism of "Carpet" is any indication, it's going to be a great full-length.

In other Polara notes, Ed Ackerson provides some smoking guitar parts on four songs of Tracy Bonham's The Burdens of Being Upright--not including her current smash "Mother Mother." Bonham (who's not related to those drummers, OK?) hooked up with Ackerson through Fort Apache studios and producer Paul Kolderie... Meanwhile, ex-Blake Babies/Antenna/Velo-Deluxe guitarist John Strohm, who played all over the first Polara disc, has been "sighted" around town, and may be joining the ranks of recent TC musical immigrants. Welcome, John. (Why does writing this paragraph make me feel like C.J.?)

The Blue Up? blew up last November, but only inasmuch as mastermind Rachael Olson is through with the rock-trio format. Olson, with bassist Carolyn Rush, has been working on electronic pop under the new name Anna (pronounced ahn-ah, like my first college girlfriend) for Radioactive Records (home to fellow ex-Columbia act Big Audio Dynamite). Haven't heard it yet, but insiders have cited Björk comparisons more than once. Meanwhile, 10-year Blue Up? drummer Renee Braachi is now full-time with Machinery Hill. (Groebner)

LOVE, "AMERICAN PIE"-STYLE

GROWING UP, WE had two Don McLean records in our house, Tapestry and American Pie, which contained songs that became classics ("Vincent," "American Pie,") and others that didn't ("Three Flights Up," "Orphans of Wealth"). They were all beautiful, and McLean himself became an enigmatic figure to me. He lived down the Hudson from us, some said, though no one knew exactly where. There was talk that, crushed by fame and its disappearance, he had become a recluse, an alcoholic who had given up on music. With "American Pie" and myself both turning 25 this year, it feels fateful to finally be able to question the man himself, who, I blush to learn, has been working all along, with a catalog of 20 albums and 12 world tours under his belt. (He'll perform Saturday at the Guthrie; see the A-List, p.31.)

"I haven't made an effort to be high profile, that's for sure" says a relaxed-sounding McLean. "My last serious hit records were in the early '80s. So as far as the general public was concerned, I dropped off the map... I always thought that the songs were the best promotion for me, and that if the songs would last, then they would take me with them. And they do. I've disappeared, but I've been on the radio every day for the last 20 years."

McLean on contemporary pop: "I just don't hear any great songs, that's the problem. You don't have the talent really coming along... Maybe the talent is to make good videos. Maybe kids don't really care about songs that much." On the success of "American Pie": "That song is bigger than anything I ever did, but it's also bigger than most anything anybody ever did. When I look back and realize what it's done for me, I don't like to complain about anything." And on doing it again, if he had to start all over in 1996: "I don't rap, I don't dance, so I don't think I'd make it." (Amanda Ferguson)


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