Filed under: Jeff Cowell
Since the re-release of Lucky Strikes & Liquid Gold last January, it’s rare that a week passes without some form of correspondence (usually type-written) from our favorite Upper Peninsula purveyor of Cosmic American Music. Originally issued in an edition of 200, Lucky Strikes & Liquid Gold has finally found a fan base exceeding its initial pressing run. With a diverse blend of ace arrangements and introspective songwriting, there is no apt comparison for this record. The soaring pedal steel and loner rock-bottom lyricism on “Not Down This Low” made it a clear choice and early forerunner for Cosmic American Music.
The music and mythology surrounding transient songwriter and Iron Mountain, Michigan native Jeff Cowell typically puts us in the mood for hitchhiking, rope swinging, blueberry picking, and pumpkin rolling. What is pumpkin rolling, you ask? We didn’t know either. Then our resident Michigander and engineer Blake Rhein shared with us this video of his cousin expressing himself in the rural art form, and we decided to pair it with a piece from Jeff Cowell’s rambling long-player, Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold. No pumpkins were harmed in the making of this video (except for all of them). Enjoy!
As we detailed in this blog post, Jeff Cowell’s corner of Michigan is a fascinating wonderland of locals, yokels, and all-around friendly folk from America’s Heartland. Issued privately four decades ago, Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold is unknown to most, even in the neighborly community of Iron Mountain. Considered front page news to us at the Numero Group, we can’t be upset with these precious picas inside The Iron Mountain Daily News. Doubling down on our chances of engaging the reader, Cowell took out a few classified ads, reiterating the points of the article in retail parlance.
If it is in any way unclear where you can purchase this album at this point, you can buy it on our website by clicking this link. If you’ve got to wait until payday to pull the trigger on this remarkable long player, feel free to keep this business card in your e-wallet as a reminder.
Filed under: Jeff Cowell | Tags: Bruce Swedien, Chicago Reader, Jeff Cowell, Ken Nordine, Kris Nordine, Word Jazz
“The premise was quite simple,” says Nordine.** “You had a musician who could play all sorts of different instruments. He could play drums, he could play flute, he could play piano, vibes, marimba, all of these funny sounds. Bruce would be in the control room and he would be recording everything on the fly. And I would be in the booth here with books. I had cookbooks, the Merck Manual, anything, old papers, scientific treatises.
“The show would begin and I would say, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ And out in the studio, he’s playing the flute or the organ and Bruce would have wind sound effects going behind it and I’d say, ‘Well, I was thinking about God the other day.’ And at that time, Bruce would change the atmosphere and so, instead of wind, there’d be chickens clucking. And then I’d react to the changes in the background and I’d talk about Aristotle and whether he ever ate eggs. Then I’d pick out a cookbook and maybe get a strange recipe for eggs Benedict or some strange eggs with truffles out of Escoffier. In those days, I used to drink beer. I’d have a six-pack during the first show and we’d do five shows in five hours, and by the fifth show I was a little looser.”
Snail Records started as a vehicle for Ken’s Word Jazz and some other side projects. The bulk of the work centered around radio and TV commercial production with Ken’s son Kris Nordine and a host of session musicians serving as the in house band. In the off hours, Kris would sneak in bands such as The Asteroids, Manfredo Fest, Bonnie Kolac, Paul Wertico, Howard Levy, and Tom Waits to name a few. Jerry Garcia once hung out at the studio as well. In 1974, Kris brought his childhood friend Jeff Cowell into then 16-trk studio to record what would become Lucky Strike’s and Liquid Gold. The Nordine’s would spend summers at a Chain of Lakes vacation home and Kris and Jeff met in 1966 as teenagers, bonding over the excitement of upcoming Beatles records. Jeff would often visit Kris in Chicago, and would come down for a week or so with a handful of folk and country songs that he had written. Kris formed a band and fleshed out the orchestration of Jeff’s songs, and with the help of his brother Ken Nordine Jr. they recorded two full length LPs which Jeff self-released on his Iron Mountain, MI label My Own Record Company.
**additional source material from the Chicago Reader
Filed under: Jeff Cowell
Jeff Cowell’s Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold drifts purposefully through the Upper Peninsula, making meaningful stops at dive bars and fire hazards along the way. Original copies of this record were assembled by hand and circulated amongst show-goers and bar crawlers on either side of Michigan-Wisconsin state line. You are never going to find an original copy of this, and we suggest you stop looking. If you are feeling bold, purchase this album right now from our website. If you are still a few tokes from committing to this privately pressed rural-rock odyssey, listen to the album on soundcloud, or watch the video.
Filed under: Jeff Cowell
Jeff Cowell’s Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold perfectly embodies all which is intriguing about Northern Michigan. At the very fingertips of the murder mitten is a mysterious land that looks more like rural Maine than Martin B-roll. It is a popular vacation destination for many Midwesterners, still a hard day’s drive from the Atlantic Ocean. And where there are out of towners, there are townies, a colorful and resilient community that Jeff Cowell elegantly epitomizes. We asked Jeff to rattle off some of the places that he used to hang out during the Golden Era, and he gave us an extensive list, broken into two chapters: The ’70s and The ’80s.
Chapter I: The ’70s
Log Cabin: 760 FDR Lane, Spread Eagle, WI (just outside Iron Mountain)
“The house would rock until closing. Years later I would do a single acoustic act there.”
Spera’s Party Mart: Spread Eagle, WI
“This bar was located on a chain of lakes which is popular with locals and summer vacationers. Often times I would stop there for a beer with Ken Nordine and his sons. My family and the Nordines had summer cottages on the chain.”
Poor Joe’s: 120 S. Sophie St. Bessemer, MI
“This place was dark and busy. One night the bartender passed out behind the bar. When no one could get a drink one of the patrons (nicknamed Crabcakes) took over tending that night.”
Furno’s: 405 5th Street, Iron Mountain, MI (presently Off The Wally’s)
“[Don] Furno specialized in homemade Dago-Red wine served from under the counter. The police seemed to overlook this detail. I think NASA could have used the wine for rocket fuel.”
Bomber’s Border Bar: N22200 Bomber Rd. Niagara, WI
“Lots of dancing and rock”
Mr. Flood’s Party: 120 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor, MI
“Mr. Flood had the best single and duo acts anywhere during this time. Interesting decor—the walls were covered with any item you could imagine.”
The Sawmill (presently Saw Mill Saloon): 1003 Maple Street, Big Rapids, MI
“Before we were married, Joanne and I spent many a night listening to bluegrass bands there. The stage opened up to the outside where a huge bon fire was lit. Lots of peanuts and beer.”
Chapter II: The Early ’80s
Milliman’s: 101-105 West B Street, Iron Mountain, MI
“The bar and grill was part of the old Dickinson Hotel. I had a honky tonk/bluegrass type band called ‘The Great Northern Iron Band.’ We played many gigs there.”
The Northwoods: 618 Ash Street, Norway, MI
“‘The Great Northern Iron Band’ played there a number of times. One night the place was hopping when the bar sponsored girl’s softball team walked in. They had just won the local championship game. They were ready to celebrate and before long they were dancing on the tables/bar minus some parts of their uniforms. Wild Night!”
The Last Chance (presently Spud’s Bistro): 1100 Vulcan St. Iron Mountain
“This was an old time bar with lots of wood for decor. The mayor of Iron Mountain owned this bar. The Great Northern Iron Band got started at this bar.”
Mister Mom’s: 1009 N. Main St. Norway, MI
“My band The Iron Town Blues Band played a Halloween job there made-up to resemble the mime Marcell Marceau.”
On February 3, 2014 The Numero Group will release ten road-weary tales from the wrong side of outlaw country. Jeff Cowell may have huffed the same narcotic air as Townes Van Zandt and David Allan Coe, but hunkered far from the Nashville city limits, nary a Cash or Paycheck would drunkenly slur through his tunes. Recorded in 1975, Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold is an isolated, backwoods loner epic, top-loaded with odes to hitch-hiking and rambling the crumbling Michigan countryside of Cowell’s hard-drinking youth. Previously available only out of the backs of borrowed cars, truck stops, campgrounds, and country-western bars between Algonac, Detroit, East Lansing, Cadillac, and Manistee, this LP now finds new life in similarly detached environs: the last remaining record stores.
Stream the entire album now via Soundcloud
Pre-order the album here