By Lee Zimmerman
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By Liz Tracy
Common courtesy dictates that you should never telephone anyone even peripherally involved with the music business until noon -- at the earliest. Yet it's coming up on 4:30 p.m., and Psycho Daisies leader Johnny Salton is still struggling to pull it together to talk about his band's new album, Snowflakes Falling on the International Dateline.
"Just hang on," stalls bassist Jill Kahn. "He's comin'. He needs to open the other eye. We have practice tonight, so he was gettin' his, uh, rest in before we play."
Last spring, the Florida Music Awards presented the Psycho Daisies with a first-place honor for Best Pop/Rock Band. In this column, I noted that the group "emerged from retirement" (May 30, 2002) to accept the award. A couple of weeks later, Kahn mailed me a flyer for an upcoming show with the message, "Rumors of our retirement are greatly exaggerated. Still alive and well."
The award -- actually a six-inch trophy -- now rests in Kahn's living room. "Some plastic piece of shit," Salton growls when he finally gets to the phone, recalling the "embarrassing" night. Then he's apologizing for the delay.
"Hey," he says in a voice sounding like it's buried beneath a rusty coffee can full of old grounds and bird suet. "I was just takin' a nap, man."
Beginning when he was the ferocious guitarist for Dania Beach-based Charlie Picket, Salton has been active since the early 1980s and remains the exemplar of South Floridian psychedelic garage rock. Allmusic.com terms Pickett a "fine performer" and documents his backing bands, from the Eggs to the Magic City Three (MC3), also noting Salton's "fireworks" all the way up to the Psycho Daisies. Particularly impressed with the Daisies' 2001 effort It's No Fun to Be Paranoid, writer Kurt Morris praises the "mix of Britishy psychedelic rock and Detroit '70s rock. While Johnny Salton's vocals weren't spectacular, it really didn't matter because the guitar work made up for them."
At the end of the '80s, Pickett quit music to go to law school (he's now a practicing Palm Beach County attorney) after a string of albums under his name. That's when Miamian Salton and Fort Lauderdalian keyboardist Bill Ritchie formed a partnership that would ultimately become the Psycho Daisies. A revolving-door membership has plagued the band, most recently when drummer Bobby "Boom Boom" Gold left last summer. He was replaced by Scotty Upton, "a younger guy," Kahn explains, "with kind of a punk aesthetic goin'." Salton's still worn and torn from too much instant euphoria; his band has fallen victim to its most base inclinations, stumbling through drug-addled decades. A few didn't emerge on the other side: original drummer John Galway (ex-Eggs) died of AIDS in the early '90s, and original bassist Marco Pettit perished of a drug overdose in 1998, to be replaced by his fiancée, Kahn. And in some local circles, Salton, fond of taking long sabbaticals punctuated by brief returns to activity, has a ways to go to prove he's not a washed-up junkie.
Now, with Snowflakes in the can -- and available at Blue Note Records in North Miami Beach -- the band's higher profile of late has included three shows in as many weeks at Alligator Alley on Oakland Park Boulevard, where owner Carl "Kilmo" Pacillo counts himself an ardent supporter. "He likes us," Kahn says. "It's nice to play there and nice to work for him. Unlike Churchill's, he treats musicians nice, and you get a little money." And every once in a while, the Daisies report, Pickett will join the band on-stage.
Snowflakes, while energetic enough to suggest batteries recharging, clearly indicates Salton's oil-stained antecedents: the Dream Syndicate, Velvet Underground, MC5. The presence of five songs over the six-and-a-half minute mark makes it hard to pinpoint an exact centerpiece, but the nearly nine-minute "Losing Touch with My Mind" includes a minimal stuttering riff and a rambling Salton rant; his voice is as gruff as Tom Waits after drinking a ground-glass smoothie: "You know I'm sick/I'm fucking sick and tired/When I can't find my dealer/So I have to take that long walk/That long walk up to the methadone clinic/Well, I gotta go up a hill and then down another hill/And I'm way down at the bottom..."
At 7:44 in length, the raspy detox recount "Just Because" reaches a midway instrumental crescendo that's as beautiful and classic-rock destined as "Layla." A few rows over in the covers department, check out the ghostly choir backing the shambly chorus of the Bevis Frond's "Lights Are Changing" and the vicious bite of the Gun Club's "She's Like Heroin to Me."
Sensing a thematic thread about the dark side of the spoon running through Snowflakes? Ritchie reports that Salton's hard living has smoothed out some. "He's had his trials and tribulations," he explains, "but now he's as healthy as he's ever been."
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