We asked folks to give us their top six songs by musicians born or based in Buffalo and to explain their choices. Our first selector is DJ and Booking Agent, Jillian Mertz (who also does triple duty as one of the storytellers in the Sounds & Echoes series). Jillian keeps her finger on the musical pulse of the Nickel City through her agency Little Red Booking. You can find out more about her work on Little Red Booking’s facebook page. Without further adieu here is Ms. Mertz, and her top six selections reppin’ the Buffalo music scene:
1. The Vores: “Love Canal” The Vores E.P. 7″ (1978)
A good friend sent me this song earlier this year. I became fascinated with the Love Canal environmental disaster after happening upon a photo from the late 70s of a kid wearing a protest placard that read “We’ve Got Better Things to Do Than Sit Around and Be CONTAMINATED”. He was holding a black flag that said “Love Canal” with a skull and crossbones and had this look of disgust. So I think this kid is directly connected to the Vores song (which was written around the same time this photo was taken). At one point the lyrics explode with “Contaminated/ We’re All Contaminated!” Toxins, rashes, birth defects, distrust of government: what better subject matter for a punk song? And it was local, right in our own backyard. The Vores took instruction from that kid’s placard and breathed life into it, contaminated life. Flipper also wrote a punk song about Love Canal around the same time which is awesome, but I do prefer this Vores tune. I was unfortunately too late for the Vores, for the original Buffalo punk scene. But here it is! (thanks MJB)
2. Baseball Furies: “Get Activated”; Greater Than Ever (2002) Big-Neck Records
The Baseball Furies are a garage/punk band originally based in Buffalo and transplanted to Chicago in 2003. They got their name from the hoodlums in the film Warriors, and they used to dress up on stage in the outfits and painted their faces. I’ve only seen them play a reunion show, and it was off the hook. Such a frenzy! All the guys have gone on to do other amazing projects (like White Savage and Violent Lover’s Club). Hopefully they’ll hit home for another soon! Meanwhile, enjoy the track “Get Activated” off their second album.
3. Rick James: “Super Freak”; Street Songs (1981)
What can I say? It’s Rick James, bitches, inventor of Punk Funk and Freakism (and alongside Prince, my personal Michael Jackson). Born in Buffalo and buried in Buffalo. Everyone here has their own Rick James story. I was at a restaurant when his entire family came in to eat following his memorial services the week he passed away, and sat a table away. Also, while I was in Dublin, Andy Bell (bass player from Oasis) deejayed select tunes one night following his gig and Super Freak was one of them. Everyone rushed the floor and it felt really cool to be an ocean away and hear something local and to share that freaky fever with a room full of Irish and English fans that totally identified. He’s up there for me because he didn’t come from much, but he gave so much – he gave his whole life. Even when things became really knotted, he toiled through and continued to spread genuine positive energies. Most importantly, he always kept it real and maintained a critical approach to music, race, politics, and culture, ultimately claiming L-o-v-e to be his greatest purpose. Super Freak is simply the jam of jams (and you can’t beat the Temptations’ support vocals!)
4. Raw: “All My Life”; Livin’ Proof (2005-2009) In The Streets Records
Raw is one of my brother’s best friends and greatest inspiration. Born in Buffalo, based in Niagara Falls/Buffalo. He’s been rapping and doing music for over 15 years. Extremely prolific, Raw wrote and recorded over 150 songs within a 2-year span. Quantity without compromising quality! He has around 300 total recorded songs and he’s only 31. Unfortunately he is currently serving time for the next 10-15 years, but Raw continues to write his life in song and makes sure it’s felt.
5. Jack Topht: “Buffalo”; Americana Update (2006) Unsigned
For anyone not from Buffalo or unfamiliar with its history and demog[rap]hics, let this song be your bible. Jack is a great source of information because he carefully considers all sources. Besides being an awesome rapper and devout drinker of rap coffee, he is also an awesome listener and observer. When he performs it’s always fresh and unpredictable, and most importantly sincere. He really loves Buffalo and, in my opinion, he’s one of its most promising citizens. Jack’s songs are also 100% American. When I think of America or Buffalo, I think of Jack Topht. I can say with certainty that he and his (musical) companion Lindsey make Buffalo and America a better and more interesting place.
6. Fashion Expo 1990 [Now known as Gilded Masters of Acid House]: “1991”; (2007) Unsigned
Fashion Expo 1990 is an Acid House music duo that began as a solo project of Miles Kirsch until he met his musical teammate Mike Sleater at a Buffalo house party in 2007. Described by Miles as “electronic music with a rock & roll mentality”, Fashion Expo salutes, celebrates and reinvigorates acid house music that developed over 20-years ago in Manchester, England. I don’t think there are many people making this specific style of music in America let alone in Buffalo, and it simply blows my mind. Some people might consider Fashion Expo 1990 unfashionable at this day and age, or in this region, but it is actually received incredibly well in these parts. The boys even made it to the grand finals in the Artvoice “Battle of Original Music.” The contest relies strictly on audience votes. (Perhaps my theory is true, that Buffalo and Manchester share the same cigarette, so to speak. Or maybe it’s just my fantasy!) Miles and Mike utilize 80’s and 90’s analog keyboards and samplers, combining live instrumental music with the borrowed in an effort to resurrect a past time that they were, interestingly enough, never a part of. Fashion Expo 1990 changed its name when Mike moved away, and Gilded Masters of Acid House was born (which is Miles solo). The selected track “1991” signifies the end of 1990. Accordingly, the set is usually closed with this one. Chooon!