Tav Falco, Panther Burns

Tav Falco is an American-born musical performer, performance artist, actor, filmmaker, and photographer. He has led the psychedelic rock-and-roll group Tav Falco's Panther Burns (named after a plantation in Mississippi) since 1979. He moved to Europe in the late 1990s and since 2002 has been touring with a stable formation of musicians from Paris and Rome in his Panther Burns group.

Born Gustavo Antonio Falco, he eventually chose the stage name "Tav Falco." Falco was raised in the country, between Whelen Springs and Gurdon, Arkansas, and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1973. He started the nonprofit Televista "art-action" video group in Memphis to document local musicians and artists in the mid 1970s with fellow Arkansas poet, performance artist, and videographer Randall Lyon. Falco and Lyon were both heavily influenced by the work of their mentor and friend, noted Memphis color photographer William Eggleston. Alex Chilton was impressed by a 1978 performance of Falco's at The Orpheum in Memphis that culminated in the chainsawing of a guitar. The two teamed up musically and evolved into the self-styled "art damage" band, Tav Falco's Panther Burns. The group recorded a first album for Rough Trade at Ardent Studios in Memphis, after a previous 1980 session for the label at Phillips Recording was temporarily shelved (later rereleased on Marilyn Records as The Unreleased Sessions in 1992).

Just as he began his early career documenting other artists using video and photography, Falco devoted some of his musical career trying to bring attention to great traditional artists obscured from the media's view. He introduced their work to his audiences and to writers following his work by performing Panther Burns shows on billings with these artists, recording interpretations of their songs, and occasionally collaborating with some of them on projects for small record labels he's been associated with, like Au Go Go and New Rose. Among these artists were blueswoman Jessie Mae Hemphill and rockabilly pioneer Charlie Feathers. Falco and Lux Interior of The Cramps worked on the photography and liner notes, respectively, for the 1982 Honky Tonk Man album by Feathers, whose energetic, hiccup-styled vocals from the 1950s influenced both vocalists. Others of his area music heroes who have performed at Panther Burns events include Cordell Jackson, R. L. Burnside, Mose Vinson, and Van Zula Hunt. While releasing numerous Panther Burns albums on small international indie labels, Falco also has co-released some recordings by his band and other Memphis-area artists on his own Frenzi label.

Falco has appeared as an actor with small parts in films such as Great Balls of Fire! (1989 - USA), The Big Post Office Robbery (1992 - Hungary), Highway 61 (1991 - Canada), Downtown 81 (2001 - USA), and Wayne County Rambling (2002 - USA). Long a student of the tango under European and Argentine instructors, he also appeared in Dans Le Rouge du Couchant (2003 - France) as a tango dancer, choreographing his part in the film. Several short films he has appeared in, most of which he also produced and in some cases served as the filmmaker, have been shown in underground arts venues like The Horse Hospital in London. In 2003 six of Falco's short films were accepted and archived into the permanent collection of the Cinémathèque Française in Paris. The short films archived are Love's Last Warning (1996), Born Too Late (1993), Helene of Memphis (1991), Memphis Beat (1989), Shadetree Mechanic (1986), and 71 Salvage (1971). A selection of Falco's short films were shown in a retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française in 2006.

Tav Falco has collaborated with the American underground author, rock writer and journalist Erik Morse on a dual, 450-page encyclopedic history and psychogeography of the city of Memphis, Tennessee. The two volumes together are entitled MONDO MEMPHIS. Falco's book is a study of Memphis beginning with the Civil War up to more recent autobiographical accounts in the city. Morse's roman noir follows a West Coast graduate student and his encounters with a Memphis secret society. The volumes are published by Creation Books, and the paperback edition of Falco's volume is set to be published in November, 2011.
Falco has said his main artistic purpose is "to stir up the dark waters of the unconscious."

Panther Burns

Tav Falco's Panther Burns, sometimes shortened to (The) Panther Burns, is a rock band originally from Memphis, Tennessee, United States, led by Tav Falco. They are best known for having been part of a set of bands emerging in the late 1970s and early 1980s who helped nationally popularize the blending of blues, country, and other American traditional music styles with rock music among groups playing in alternative music and punk music venues of the time. The earliest and most renowned of these groups to imbue these styles with expressionist theatricality and primitive spontaneity were The Cramps, largely influenced by rockabilly music. Forming just after them in 1979, Panther Burns drew on obscure country blues music, Antonin Artaud's works like The Theater and Its Double, beat poetry, and Marshall McLuhan's media theories for their early inspiration. Alongside groups like The Cramps and The Gun Club, Panther Burns ranked among the contributing influences and progenitors of the Southern Gothic-tinged roots music revival scene that arose during the last two decades of the 20th century and continued into the early 2000s.

Artists who have referenced Panther Burns as one of their influences include the American alternative music artists Southern Culture on the Skids, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Jack Oblivian, the Royal Pendletons, and The Gories, as well as lesser known regional artists like Tampa's Barons of Love and Orlando band leader Aaron Jarvis. In Europe, neo-psychedelic groups who have cited the Panther Burns as an influence include England's Spacemen 3, and Psychedelic Ubik; Scotland's Primal Scream; Germany's Cuban Rebel Girls (named after one of Falco's original songs), Legendary Golden Vampires, and Tumbling Hearts; France's The Dum Dum Boys; and Italy's Time Machine.

For Panther Burns' own professed influences, the list is lengthy, from The Cramps to Bix Beiderbecke, Jessie Mae Hemphill, The Sonics, Mack Rice, Chuck Berry, Phineas Newborn Jr., Calvin Newborn, Frank Sinatra, Booker T. and the M.G.'s, Einstürzende Neubauten, the Johnny Burnette Rock and Roll Trio, Brian Eno, Marlene Dietrich, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Xavier Cugat, Junior Kimbrough, Laura Dukes, Mud Boy and the Neutrons, Chris Spedding, Jimmy Reed, The Nightcrawlers, the Velvet Underground, Junior Parker, Othar Turner, Charlie Feathers, Howling Wolf, Mose Vinson, Van Zula Hunt, Cordell Jackson, Ronnie Hawkins, the Ventures, Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley, Skip James, Pat Hare, The Doors, R. L. Burnside, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Fahey, Joe Meek, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Gene Pitney, and Elmore James, among many others Falco has listed over the years.

After forming Tav Falco's Panther Burns and making their first recordings in Memphis, the group soon evolved as a rotating crew of additional musicians hailing mostly from Memphis, New York, and New Orleans. In the early 1990s, Falco moved to Vienna and later, Paris; at that time he began working more with European musicians. He currently resides in Vienna.

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