A special pre-album release review:
April of 2019 will see Happy Growl Records release a 2-CD set by Kenny Baldwin’s band Locate Your Lips. Kenny was a drummer with Tony Williams-like jazz – fusion aspirations, but he also had a regular music gig as the owner of a Milwaukee punk rock club called the Starship. The more Baldwin was exposed to the aggressive music being created by the bands that played at his club, the farther he leaned toward the genre. Teaming with progressive-rock bassist Andy Cavaluzzi, Baldwin began making music as a duo called Locate Your Lips. The music being released on the 2-CD set For Kenny (HG001) is produced by another musical son of Milwaukee, Jim Eannelli (who we last heard making music with Peggy James). Our connecting thread here is Gary Tanin of Daystorm Records and if you are now thoroughly lost, please bear with me because the story of LYL has more than a few twists and turns.
Eannelli came on the scene when he was hired to do some carpentry work at Baldwin’s club while trying to make ends meet as a guitarist. When he heard Cavaluzzi and Baldwin jamming music that he described as “loud, raw, furious, and magnificent . . . [that sounded] akin to a hurried bison migration in the wild.” As Eannelli tells it, “They were playing out as Locate Your Lips and I remember thinking I could never be in a band with such a strange name. I casually suggested that their unconventional duo of drums and bass needed ME as their guitarist (even though I didn’t know how I was going to make them sound any BETTER!)” Listening to Disc One of this set (recorded live at MIlwaukee’s Cafe Voltaire) one can hear the pulsing bass and drum foundation that captivated Eannelli long before he officially came on board as a member of LYL.
I get the punk roots nature of Locate Your Lips, but there is more going on here than a trio thrashing away – these are carefully crafted songs. There is way more musical aplomb present than I recall from the true punkers back in the day. The closest I got to being a fan of punk was Husker Du, but I could only listen to them so long before I wanted to hear something else. It was good music, but it didn’t captivate me like other forms of rock. The tracks heard on For Kenny are very listenable and it is obvious that Eannelli’s guitar work did make LYL sound better. Under different circumstances, LYL wrote songs that could have been hits. They could have been bigger than Husker Du, but alas, this scenario just wasn’t in the cards.
The live tracks were mastered from a tape made by a fan when the live set was broadcast by WQFM. Veteran Milwaukee producer-musician Gary Tanin (who had previously played with Baldwin in the 1970s) has done a remarkable job resurrecting the show. CD One and CD Two were recorded back in 1984 and 1985. CD Two comes from an album length studio recording that was never released. The studio tracks were recorded live with the final vocals added later. Their music was the end product of a 8-month period of creativity sparked by Baldwin and Eannelli returning to Milwaukee and reconnecting with Cavaluzzi.
Baldwin had taken a side track when he joined the Milwaukee techno-pop synth duo Colour Radio. The group, with Eannelli on board to form a more conventional band lineup, pushed off to Los Angeles to make an album. Baldwin was eventually fired for ‘creative differences’ and Eannelli quit in protest. The pair found themselves back in Milwaukee where Eannelli picks up the reformation of LYL story: “We got off the plane and went over to Andy’s house. I hadn’t even unpacked, It was: ‘Dude, we’ve got to start a band!’”
Tanin and Eannelli agree that Baldwin’s drumming was the key to the band’s sound. Tanin says, “He played the pocket behind the beat like John Bonham” while Eannelli has a slightly different vision: “Kenny was a jazz drummer who fell in love with the carnival of punk.” To my ears, there is more than a little resemblance to Stuart Copeland of the Police. Baldwin has the ability to add a furious beat to the songs but he also has a very musical quality to his drumming. Cavaluzzi’s bottom end is solid throughout and Eannelli’s guitar playing is both fierce and refined. Their vocal harmonizing is spot on in every track. Straight ahead rock, jazz tinged fusion, and a side order of funk make this an extremely enjoyable album. Jim Eannelli has produced a fitting tribute that will make everyone who knew Kenny Baldwin (and even those who didn’t) smile.
Top Piece video: Live from For Kenny live CD: Waiting for You to Run