Deniz tek : Lemon, Issue #14 - 1992
An article by GOOSE
Dr Clean, Iceman or Mr Noise
the many faces of Deniz tek
DenizTek is an extrordinary man. Not
because he's just orderred a smoked salmon
sandwich with hash browns for breakfast.
And not only because he was the axe-wielding rock soldier commanding the legendary Radio Birdman blitzkreig.
Not even for his ability to lure ex-Stooge Scott Asheton back on to the 'live' rock circuit. These things all earn great respect but it's kinda how comparatively
"straight" this one time purveyor of musical anarchy really is that makes him truly
exceptional, truly praiseworthy.
What you may not know about Deniz is that virtually every day he's saving lives in an Emergency/Trauma Centre in Montana in his guise as mild manered Dr Tek.
He also spent time in the U.S. Marine Air Corps piloting F18 jet fighters amongst other things. In fact whilst doing his stint at Kaneohe Marine Base in Hawaii, his division was scrutinised by the writers for Top Gun. Deniz's nickname of "Iceman" was actually borrowed for Val Kilmer's character in the Hollywood blockbuster.
And without even a hint of schmuckiness, Tek is the proud father of a family co-produced with wife Angie Pepper, chanteuse once famous for her work fronting Sydney's The Passengers.
Not your typical drugged-out long-haired musical miscreant eh?!
But whilst these achievements alone would hardly spur my interest in interviewing the man (though hell...I'd love to probe a doctor for a charge after all the times they 've probed me ! ! ), it' s the juxtaposition of outstanding musician and ' credible member of society ' , Mr Noise and Dr Clean, that's truly fascinating.
At 40+, despite his Faustian youthful locks, Deniz Tek has
much to give this world of ours. And the new album "Take It To The vertical" proves his
worth ain't just medicinal!
If you don't know of Deniz's pioneering musical heritage, then friend...you're ignorant!
I'm not going to dwell on the past by any means, but Radio Birdman single handedly introduced this antipodean backwash called Oz to the unmitigated glory of the Detroit sound - The Stooges, The MC5 and many other then obscure gems who gave birth to the proceeding decades of local guitar-powered rock.
Perhaps most markedly in Sydney and Adelaide where countless well-meaning inspirants tried in vain to emulate that particular Birdman energy and power.
But the main reason we're breakfasting in this diner together is to
discover what Deniz is up to now, we'll broach the history a little later on.
As we settle down to the day's first meal together, Deniz and I are joined by long-term Tek friend and musical cohort Hitmen Johnny 'Hitman' Kannis.
Kannis gets us chatting with a great anecdote about of mutual hero Iggy Pop. Seems the Ig's always getting depressed about his lack of mainstream 'crossover'
success after all these years in the music business, so a friend in the business advised him if he really wanted to do something about it he needed to clean up his reckless 'wild child' image.
The way he could do this, said the friend, was to go along to the forthcoming AMCOS (the U.S. equivalent of APRA) Ball and hob nob with the industry executives.
"Clean up the look" said the friend. "Get yourself a nice suit and impress them with the change". Iggy enthusiartically ageed and set off to the formal hire place. That night a crowd of conservative executives stared, mouths gaping, at Mr Osterberg strolled into the auditorium with a blond on each arm and outfitted in full Nazi SS uniform! And of course Iggy couldn't see what he was doing wrong. The archetypal rock'n'roll bad boy lives on.
Deniz, on the other hand is and never has been interested in that archetype. "I used to be criticised for that" he explains.
"I think in music, the way the music industry is, and also in the past the way the fans were, the worst thfing you can be is a professional person.
Have attitudes in the nineties change at all?
That's just not allowed. It's much better to be a guy who doesn't do anything and just lies around the house anrd smokes dope all day, and is on the dole and be a musician ... that's what the record company wanted.
Cause that guy can be manipulated and be on call to do things and he'll go along with everything they want him to do. Guys like me, I'm not gonna go on tour 300 days a year. . .
I'm not gonna go down the mall and sign autographs, I got other things to do. But I'm probably gonna put more effort into my music than other guys who don't have have other things in their lives. I've never seen it written down anywhere that you can't take care of sick people and still play music."
Is it still regarded as a bad thing for a rock'n'roller to be a responsible member of
"I've noticed that there's more acceptance now. People are more tolerant of
different ways of getting by. And one of the nice things about taing ten years off is that you can come back and do whatever you want.
There's no expectations at all, ard it gives you a lot of freedom."
His record label boss John Foy of Red Eye claims Deniz is a "totally new artist now", but of course there's always going to be an inevitable correlation to Tek's Birdman and Visitors days...
"I'm happy to be thought of as a new artist and I'm also comfortable with the past. I'm happy to be an ex-member of Radio Birdman ...
but it's fine to be thought of as new also, and if nobody's heard of Birdman that doesn't bother me a bit. That had it's time and place and now it's time for this!"
For Take It To The Vertical Deniz assembled a band of friends and celebrities of varying notoriety. He's joined by another Birdman / Hitmen in guitarist and, for these sessions, keyboardist Chris Masuak.
Wife Angie Pepper supplies baking vocals, no real surprises there I guess. Then things get a tad more exotic with a New Orleans guy called
Dust Peterson on bass, and Little Richard's own sax player Grady Gaines. And of course
the man they're all talking about, original Stooge Scott Asheton on the drums.
Will this be the band he brings with him to Australia for the tour?
"Yeah...we probably won't bring out Grady. He's busy this time of year playing Blues festivals around Europe...but the rest of it'll be the same band.
Oh and Pip Hoyle (ex-Radio Birdman ) will also be playing keyboards "
I couldn't help but ask how Scotty's doin' nowadays, I mean it has after all been a while between drinks, as they say. Deniz assured me he's doin' just fine.
"...He hasn't lost any power that's for sure. He's doing really well.
He's one guy who still makes me feel young. "Take It To The Vertical" was recorded in
Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, Texas under the productive eye of engineer Andrew 'Mort' Bradley, actually the old 'live' sound mixer for Radio Birdman and now a successfull jazz
producer with twelve Grammy nominations under his belt.
Deniz isn't kidding when he says there's still a lot in the new sound to appeal to the old fans. His famous Epiphone has all its previous drive but a much clearer cutting edge, a pure power not unlike the splendour of classic Flamin' Groovies tracks like "Shake Some Action". He admits that this was a very deliberate move away from the Marshall stack ovverive to a cleaner guitar sound...
"We played through small Fender amps, a Super Six and a Pro Reverb. No distortion units or any effects. To play loudly with a lot of distortion is fine and I've done a lot of music like that but I like to hear the sound of steel pick hitting steel strings and being able to let it ring out without being muffled by a lot of electronic distortion."
How about "If Looks Could Kill" on the album-there's some real tasty, almost Standells-style 60's freakout fuzz guitar on it.
"Chris (Masuak) should get credit for that idea. He's the guy that threw the fuzz box at me and said 'try this'!"...
Chris also threw those few bars of "96 tears" classic organ riff at the end of "Me And Gene", a great little driving song about freewheelin' to the strains of Gene Vincent.
The only non original on "Take It To the Vertical", it war actually written by guitarist Ron Schuster from Deniz's stateside band Zero House. "We play Roadhouses locally...I just liked the song so much I had to record it."
My personal fave on the album is "Ships In", an acoustic blues piece with some excellent slide, reminiscent of those essential Rolling Stones albums from "beggars banquet" through to "Exile On Main Street".
For this Tek used a 1953 Supro Airline Model he bought down in Florida for a mere $75.
"The guy would only take fifty for it but I talked him up. It was worthit!". What a guy!!!
But "Ships In" and a lot of this album have a personal warmth that I can't quite imagine in the moshing beer halls he'll be playing on this Australian tour. I mean the Prince Of Wales in St Kilda ain't exactly noted for its sensitivity.
"I think the live stuff's going to be pretty high energy, most of the way through, but with a few slow songs like "Ships in" or "I Miss You Too Much".
Much from the Visitors' days thrown in for variety. But most of it's gonna be pedalto the floor!"
"I like your t-shirt". Deniz motions to one of my prize possessions, my Alice Cooper "Love It To Death" shirt printed by a friend.
It's one of my all time favourite albums. I got into that album about six month before I came to Australia in 1972. My first band here T.V. Jones used to cover several songs off that-I'm eighteen, The ballad Of Dwight Frye."
Needless to say I'm rapt. Far too many people associate Cooper with the pathetic cabaret he becames in the late seventies. The Alice Cooper band of '69-'74 were some of Detroit's finest.
If you know not of what I speak, then look 'em up. They were a great hard rock band. "Yeah, it was a terrible mistake to sack that band" my soul mate Deniz concurs.
Prior to coming to this country in 1972 Deniz Tek had grown up in that same U.S.
state of Michigan. So I had to know,did the young Deniz actually get to see any of these Detroit luminaries in their prime?
'Yeahi...I grew up in Ann Arbor which was kind of the hot bed of it all. I usedd to go with my friends and I saw the Stooges a few times.
The MC5 were local heroes, and they used to have free concert every Sunday afternoon in Gallop Park and they'd usually have one famous headline act and it'd be someone like Johnny Winter or Savoy Brown or somethin' like that and all the local bands would get up and play and you'd have like six bands in one afternoon.
So I saw local guys like The Five, The Ups, the Rationals...The SRC always played there. We used to see Ted Nugent there all the time with The Amboy Dukes. He was always really humble and a regular guy until - "Journey to The center Of The Mind" came out and then you couldn't talk to him anymore.
He became the Ted we all know now overnight (laughs).
But he was kind of a joke. People'd take the piss out of him all the time. But he was a hell of a guitar player!"
I began to tell how whilst talking with Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson recently we had talked extensively about certain bands copping flak for being too derivative of their heroes.
I remember a time when Birdman too were written off as mere copyists and revivalists, rehashing old Stooges and MC5 riffs and ideas. But just as the Black Crowes' first album far outsold its alleged influences like "Exile On Main Street", so too are there arguably many people around Australia who are more familiar with Radio Birdman than the Stooges. But therein lies a purpose to all this...
"It provides a link from the future to the past. We didn't conciously try imitate the Stooges or the MC5, but obviously we were big fans and if anybody talked to us and asked us what sorta stuff we were listening to, or if anyone came over to our house or our parties or anything, that's what they found out. You take that inspiration and
you rework it in something else.
Tek's own illustrious career is at last becoming available on CD. The entire back catalogue of Radio Birdman recordings are finally being re-released in full, rather than in compilation form as in the put. And at a budget price!
You filter it through your own experiences and abilities and it turns into something new.
Then when people fimd out where you got your inspiration from they can go back and discover those records and it' s great.
It opens up communication through time.
Like I never found out about Robert Johnson and Elmore James until I got it from listenin' to Stones' records and read their interviews which said where they got that stuff from. Then I went back and found out about Elmore and it opend up a whole new world. So I think it's a valuable service."
"It's good that they're doin' it as the master tapes are all deteriorating. For some reason tape stock from that era, the late seventies, is all falling apart now.
We remastered The Visitors album the other day, took it up to EMI, put the tapes on the machine and these oxide flakes kept coming off the tapes and the machines kept slowing down...
but they're able to process it somehow so the tapes can be played two or three times before it completely falls apart. So all those old tapes are disintegrating for good "
Whilst we continue to breakfast just across the road from the hotel that was once the legendary Oxford Funhouse, scene of all those halcyon Birdman gigs, I ask Deniz if he sees much of his other old cohorts these days.
"I saw Warwick when Chris Masuak's band The Juke Savages played at the Hopetoun last week. I went out drinkin' with Pip Hoyle last night. Pip's in the video (Run Out Of Water) -as Chris can't play guitar and keykards at the same time Pip showed up to fill in.
And I had dinner with Rob the other night... everybody seems like they're doin' okay ".
Rob Younger seems to hold a particular place in the heart of Deniz Tek. There's a deep respect there that goes well beyond nostalgia for youthfull glory...
"I've always admired Rob for having an absolute mastery of the English language.
He's incredible with words, he can just throw one-liners out original, all night long off the top of his head. I've always thought that the perfect next career for Rob, when he's finished with music, is to be a talk show host!
He'd be very confronting and funny at the same time, he'd be great."
Contemporary music generally holds little real appeal for Tek. Whislt he applauds the idea that a band like Nirvana can become a huge success with "that raw sound they have", he doesn't think "their songs are very interesting, personally". But Deniz is most enthused with contemporary U.S. blues and R&B he has recently discovered on the Alligator and Black Top labels.
"I really like The Palladins, and James Harmon, and the Kinsey Report. I was kinda excited to find there's some great new 'old' music being made, not just rehashing the past but new guys pressing forward..."
And that's Deniz Tek. Sure he may not be your hell fiire, wild kind of a guy, but he's passionate about his music and to this day instills a blistering raw power as steel pick his steel strings.
Don't think for one moment that just 'cause this man's so comitted to his medical career, that rock'n'roll is now a part-time hiatus for him, that he is in my way half assed about his music. I said before that Tek is an exceptional man, and his ability to do several things concurrently must be the ultimate proof of this.
I mean I couldn't work in an Emergency centre. At a crucial time I'd probably have some song floating around in my head and get distracted. Deniz the doctor and Deniz the 'Iceman' pilot have a way of coping with this:
" usually if it's a busy shift or there's heavy things going down I don't think of anything else until the shift's over. The other thing is you can compartmentalise and whilst I'm taking care of sick people music doesn't intrude. I think that in aviation there's a lot of value in that also.
Guys that climb into the cockpit of a jet have to be able to leave their family problems behind. Y'know...the wife's goin' out with someone else or the kid's on drugs.
They climb into that cockpit and if they don't do everything exactly right they're gonna die...and may be kill other people too.
One of the requisites for that is to totally compartmentise your mind.
They screen pilots for that ability in psychological tests. If you're not that sorta person...you're just not right for the job."
Whether compartmentising his mind or taking it to the vertical, Tek sure is one different spud to most you'll encounter in rock'n'roll.
I came away from this breakfast quite overcome with the integrity of this individual, and feelin' good at having shared a few laughs with him. I also felt disappointed that I hadn't ordered a bigger breakfast 'cause at the end of it all Johnny Kannis paid!
Such is rock and roll.