What's In Your Fridge: Stephen Hamm

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      What’s In Your Fridge is where the Straight asks interesting Vancouverites about their life-changing concerts, favourite albums, and, most importantly, what’s sitting beside the Heinz Ketchup in their custom-made Big Chill Retropolitan 20.6 cubic-foot refrigerators.

      On the grill

      Stephen Hamm 

      Who are you

      I’m a musician, performer and producer. I played bass in Vancouver proto grungers Slow back in the ’80s, was half of the vaudeville, burlesque duo Canned Hamm, and play bass in The Evaporators and piano in Sunday Morning. I also do a one-man band. I’ve recorded and produced other bands, written music for film and television shows, did a podcast called Waddayagonnado with fellow musician Terry Russell of Slow and Tankhog, and most recently I’ve taken to mastering the Theremin. In July I was in France taking lessons on this enigmatic instrument from two of the best: Carolina Eyck and Thierry Frenkel. If you need any tips on playing or basic technique for the Theremin you can me contact me through my website: stephenhamm.ca

      First concert

      Burton Cummings Dreams Of A Child Tour at the Pacific Coliseum. This was my first big rock concert way back in 1978. Burton would introduce every song by announcing the key it was in kind of a hoity faux British accent and would accentuate it with a pseudo-classical piano flourish. I was a student of the piano at the time so I appreciated this. He played his solo hits and a bunch of Guess Who favourites. His perm glistened in the stage light and you could see the sweat pouring off him and drenching his white polyester suit. He would run off stage between songs and come back super energized. Twelve-year-old me wondered why he was so sweaty, but I appreciated how the little rest periods backstage were so revitalizing for him. “Stand Tall” stirred something inside me, made we wish I had a lighter and made me feel ashamed that I didn’t smoke.

      Stone Bolt opened for him. They wore a lot of white satin and had a giant backdrop of a bolt made from stone. I was very impressed by this.

      Life-changing concert

      James Brown—this was at the Commodore in 1984. This was my first real schooling in showmanship. The room was still a little rough and had that amazing sprung dance floor. I was right at the front. He still did the splits. He danced, he shadow boxed. He screamed, and at one point he did a pirouette, pointed at one of the horn players and mouthed ‘I got ya!’, which meant the musician made a mistake and James would dock him $50 in pay for that night’s show. I didn’t hear a mistake but James did. He played the hits: “Pappa’s Got A Brand New Bag”, “Sex Machine”, “Cold Sweat”. He ended the night with “Please Don’t Go”. 

      Maceo Parker and the dude who announced the songs and conducted the band kept putting a cape on James and ushering him off the stage, but he’d come back time and time again. We pleaded for him not to go. Eventually he did. Hardest working man in show biz by a long shot. I know the guy was a dick in real life, but his shows were the full-meal deal—mesmerizing performances from everyone in the band. These days Bruno Mars puts in a good effort, but there was only one Godfather of Soul. I went home and me and the guys in Slow all worked on choreographing our dance moves. Later on, in acts like Jungle, Canned Hamm, and every performance I give to this day, the emphasis is on bringing the best show I can to the audience regardless of venue or crowd or any unforeseen challenges. This all goes back to James Brown. 

      The R&B Allstars opened up, which to my horror was made up of every surly, feather-haired, moustachioed musician that worked at Long & McQuade in 1984. I really hated those guys.

      Top three records

      Top three albums?  I can’t narrow it down to three so I’ll pick my pal and super-fan Fishin’ Jim Haddock’s three favourite bands.  For the last 30 years every time I run into Jim he asks me what my three favourite bands are.  To appease him I parrot back his three favourite bands.  The Who, The Sex Pistols and Slow. I usually substitute Slow with Daft Punk or The Bee Gees or whatever I’m grooving on at the time.  But here are my three favourite albums by Fishin’ Jim’s three favourite bands.

      The Who Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy  Okay, I know it’s a greatest hits package of their early material, but it’s all here: “My Generation”, “Boris the Spider”, “I Can See for Miles”, “Pinball Wizard”. These early songs were written when the Who were young, scrappy mods bashing it out in small clubs in London, making great music that culminated with Pete Townsend’s  over-extended masterwork: Tommy.  After that they kinda  started  to sound more like the Guess Who, or like they were hanging out with Burton. There’s a great documentary on Netflix called Lambert & Stamp about the band's managers. It sheds some interesting insight into how this rather awkward group of misfits was produced into the genius rock ’n’ roll band that they were. Meaty is still my go to when I want to listen to music that’s sum is greater than it’s parts.

      Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks Is there a more perfect pop album out there? Maybe Abba’s Arrival, but the guitar tone and playing on this (much like Arrival) are perfect. Johnny Rotten’s sneering vocals are still terrifying and angry. Every song is a hit. A few months after the Burton Cummings concert my buddy Terry gave me a taped copy of Bollocks—and every time Johnny swore Terry would push the volume on the tape to accentuate the dirty words. I missed that feature when I later bought the vinyl.

      Slow Against the Glass Ya I know I was in the band, and this is a shameless plug, but Slow is one of Fishin’ Jim’s three favourite bands so what can I do? These guys came along in the Vancouver music scene when punk was all about sounding like the U.K. Subs or G.B.H. It was boring and uninspiring. Against The Glass injected a blast of danger, funk (thanks to JB), and swagger back into rock and roll music—and really inspired all those Seattle guys who would go onto create grunge to throw out their bandanas and other bad ’80s glam attire and don tartan flannel and start listening to the Stooges.  Did I mention that my favourite record of all time is Fun House by the Stooges? Against The Glass is being reissued on Arttofact Records this August. Go get yourself a copy.

      All-time favourite video

      The Replacements “Hold My Life” The mid-‘80s is a time I hold dear.  Playing in Slow, I felt part of a bigger musical movement along with Green River and Sound Garden in Seattle, Hüsker Dü  and Soul Asylum out of Minneapolis. One of our contemporaries I really looked up to were the Replacements. Great music and messy, drunken performances. Same thing we were doing. So when they  signed to a major label and put out Tim I was a little worried they might be on the sell-out train. My fears were calmed not only by the fact that Tim was a great record, but by the video they put out for “Hold My Life”. See the Mats were contractually obligated to make a music video. If you were serious about playing real rock ’n’ roll in 1985 you did not want to make a stupid music video. That was something a crap mainstream act like Culture Club or Rick Astley did. The boys in Slow begrudgingly made a video for our single ‘Have Not Been The Same’, but we insisted that it be us playing live off the floor leaving the editor to sync up our playing to the music later on. 

      The Replacements took it one step further when they delivered the video for “Hold My Life”. The opening shot was a beat up old stereo in a crappy living room (that looked very similar to the crappy punk house I lived in at the time) playing the song, a copy of Topsy Turvy by the Young Fresh Fellows propped up in front of the speaker. Later in the video a guy sits down on the couch and has a smoke. The only other action in the video is the speaker vibrating and an ashtray falling off speaker. No footage of the band. The ultimate F.U. to the label and the mainstream. I remember when they debuted this on Much Music’s City Limits. I laughed a knowing laugh and felt I was in on the joke. To this day when I see that vid I get an irreverent smirk on my face.

      What’s in your fridge

      Fruit. Right now a lot of fruit.  I eat a lot of sad apples over the winter just to keep from getting scurvy so when summer’s here it’s all about fresh fruit. Blueberries are cheap and delicious.  I just bought a big bag of peaches. I’m gonna try grilling them. Should I be keeping peaches in the fridge? I don’t care. I like them when they’re cold and they hurt your front teeth.

      Pickles. I love the Polski Ogorki. That’s the ticket. Tangy, salty with just the right crunch—and I love saying Polski Ogorki.  

      Baby carrots. I try to keep the fridge well-stocked, but when I don’t make it to the grocery store I always try to have a bag of Baby Carrots on hand. Those conveniently packaged, perfectly sculpted nuggets of sweet, woody goodness. I love to have those to snack on. I figured if I enjoyed them it must mean: A) They’re really bad for you. Extruded from a mixture of mashed carrots and mine-tailings then bathed in formaldehyde and arsenic before being delivered as a delicious side to my deep fried zucchini; or B) they’re really bad for the environment. Lethal sludge left over from the previously mentioned process secretly let loose on the drainage ditches of fertile agricultural lands making them toxic, spreading cancer and infertility while some evil Carrot Barron laughs maniacally, counting the spoils of his ungodly enterprise. Turns out that's not the case. They’re milled from largely unusable, ugly large carrots that no one wants to buy and turned into delightful, healthy treats! They now make up 70 percent of the carrots sold in North America. In fact 20 years ago they saved the flagging carrot industry from economic collapse. So I went and got some out of my fridge and am enjoying them, guilt-free, while I write this drivel. Delicious!

      You can check out Stephen Hamm's work as Hamm One Man Band here