Garlic in Popular Music

There are a considerable number of people on this planet who are not yet aware of the existence of a restaurant – The Stinking Rose – that celebrates the garlic bulb in all its glory, with garlic infused into the majority of the menu offerings.  With only two locations (one in Beverly Hills, the other in San Francisco), I’m afraid this dream destination will simply have to remain one for the indefinite future for many of us.

In the meantime, I will to have content myself with garlic-themed music for my soul food.      But do songs about garlic exist?  Here’s what Zero to 180’s investigation turned up.

As it turns out, garlic songs – at least here in the States – are at least as old as the blues.  Sylvester Weaver‘s “Garlic Blues” from 1927, it bears noting, will turn 100 in 11 years:

“Garlic Blues”     Helen Humes with Sylvester Weaver & Walter Beasley     1927

Not much else would appear for a couple decades, it seems, until The Max Brüel Quartet from Denmark released their jazz instrumental composition in 1955, “Garlic Wafer.”

“Garlic Wafer” by The Max Brüel Quartet – side one, track 2

Garlic 45-b 1966 would bring another garlic sighting, when Capitol subsidiary label, Tower, released its single “(Get Off That) Booze & Garlic Bread” by garage rocker, Denny Rockwell.

This 45 deserves, if not partial credit, at least an asterisk

Garlic 45-aGarlic 45-aa

Two years later, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and his Quartet would channel the spirits, and beat John Lennon to the punch in the process, with the wryly-titled “Instant Garlic” from the group’s 1968 album, Insight.

Instant garlic’s gonna get you — gonna knock you right on the head

Garlic LP-bb1972 would see the release of NRBQ‘s (Eddie Kramer-produced) Scraps, a wide-ranging album that would include the whimsical and dadesque “Who Put the Garlic in the Glue.”

“Who Put the Garlic in the Glue” by NRBQ – back when the Q stood for Quintet

NRBQ LP-a[42 years later, Lin Brehmer from Chicago’s CBS affiliate XRT would single out NRBQ’s “Who Put the Garlic in the Glue” for her October 22, 2014 ‘Hump Day Unusual Moment‘ segment.]

Sometime in 1977 — within the confines of Italy, appropriately enough — garlic would get the funky instrumental it so richly deserves in the form of “Garlic Salt” by The Joy Unlimited Group & the Continentals:

“Garlic Salt”     The Joy Unlimited Group & the Continentals     1977

1978 would see the final album – Spaceguerilla – from German progressive jazz-rock group, Missus Beastly, with “King Garlic,” fittingly, as its closing track.

“King Garlic” by Missus Beastly — Side 2, track 4

Garlic LP-fBefore decade’s end, Leo Kottke would do his part to advance the cause with the release of 1979’s Balance, an LP that would include “1/2 Acre of Garlic.”

“1/2 Acre of Garlic” by Leo Kottke —  Yugoslavian PressingLeo Kottke LP-a

1979 would also see the release of a Folkways album – Folk Songs from Latin America by Suni Paz – that would include the heartfelt paean “Al Ajo (To Garlic)”:

“Al Ajo (To Garlic)” — side 1, track 4

Garlic LP-e1979 would prove to be a banner year, with the release of the soundtrack to George A. Romero’s vampire-themed film, Martin — an album that would include “Garlic Chase #6.”

“Garlic Chase #6 — side 1, track 7Garlic LP-a

But the big breakthrough for garlic in song would come by way of Chapel Hill foursome, Superchunk, who no doubt “sweated out” vast amounts of garlic recording their unabashed 1990 declaration of bulb love, “Garlic” — the B-side of a split single on noted indie label, Merge, along with Seaweed and Geek (“released to go with a US tour of the three bands”):

“Garlic”     Superchunk     1990

By the turn of the new century, it was a whole new era for Garlic in Popular Music, and even LeeScratchPerry and Guided By Voices would eventually get in on the game, as you will note on the list below — a public service from the tireless research staff at Zero to 180.

Garlic in Modern Pop:  An Exhaustive & Exhausting Discography

Also Worth a(n) Historical Asterisk

Bobby Gregory‘s Country Comedy LP includes a comic routine “We Always Feed Our Baby Garlic” that is also illustrated at the very bottom of the album cover – dead center:

Garlic LP-d

The “contents” of Side A from Monty Python‘s Previous Record from 1970 – written from the perspective of a ‘Harley St. dentist’ – is an amusing bit that includes a ‘Where’s Waldo’ game:  can you find the phrase “stinking garlic”?

Garlic LP-c

Brian Jonestown: Anti-Google

Once upon a time, kids – this might be hard to believe – the world’s second most valuable brand had the following naive-and-somewhat-puerile corporate ethos:  “Don’t be evil.”   Honest.  This private firm then went public and promptly went back on its word in the course of doing business with more repressive regimes around the world and responding to shareholder pressure to maximize return on investment.  Tax Justice Blog reveals all:

“In 2012 alone, Google dodged an estimated $2 billion in income taxes by shifting an estimated $9.5 billion to offshore tax havens.”

Google, no doubt, has better uses for this money and is in no way planning to keep all the money for itself.  Most fascinatingly, when you Google (ironic?) the phrase “don’t be evil,” the search results show the Wikipedia summary blurb for “Don’t be evil” in the present tense (i.e., “…is the corporate motto”), but when you click on the Wikipedia entry itself, the statement suddenly becomes past tense:   was.

Too Late!  already evil

Google = Evil [Tax Justice Blog]

Fortunately, Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre have never felt pressured by any do-gooder mandate — if anything, quite the opposite.  The guiding principle from the band’s inception has been clear and unfaltering:  “Keep music evil.”  Would you be surprised to learn that the Brian Jonestown Massacre has its own Super PAC – The Committee to Keep Music Evil?

        Evil, yes.                                               Shoegazers, too?

Keep Music Evil-aKeep Music Evil-b

Despite the overt Stones and Beatles references, Brian Jonestown Massacre represents a generational shift in modern rock where Velvet Underground-style drone – not blues (as noted in my earlier piece about DC-area modern rockers, Gist) – is the lingua franca for many of the up-and-coming beat groups here in the new century.  Anton and the boys would make explicit this musical approach in the title of their first long-player Methodrone, issued by the very visionary Greg Shaw (who left us much too early at the age of 55) on his Bomp! label.   Newcombe would write and engineer “That Girl Suicide” along with the fourteen other tracks on this album – although the comments below would strongly seem to suggest some inter-band grumbling:

“That Girl Suicide”     Brian Jonestown Massacre     1995

Anton himself would attach the following comments to the above YouTube clip :

“I picked out a matching guitar and bass for an ex-girlfriend Diana… matching because she wanted to learn. We were sitting in her bedroom, and I said play this “the bass riff” and I did the rest, then tricked the group bit by bit at the next practice. Everyone still thinks they wrote it. Whatever. Go listen to all their records of all the great songs they wrote and get back to me. I could actually care less. I’m too busy writing new songs.”

Oh, and one more thing:

“Let me add – the actual session is live at the compound with the group – one take… that’s why the vocals are not so hot… we were all in the main room… and everyone did a good job. Including Brian Glaze. Travis Thrillkel was good in these days with me on the psycho bits and Jeff was great at rhythm, we both had this country old school Chet Atkins thing in our blood that would pop up sometimes… with all the other junk.”

“That Girl Suicide” would never enjoy the experience of being singled out for 45 release, although the song, curiously enough, would be deemed important enough for inclusion on Caroline artist showcase, I Hear Ya!  Fall 1995 – Caroline Distribution CD Sampler #11.

 Not sure how I feel about this

Brian Jonestown Massacre-aLip Magazine identifies “That Girl Suicide” as one of “10 Brian Jonestown Songs You Need to Hear” and has this to say about it:

“An early track from their debut, Spacegirl and other Favorites, that revolves around a repetitive guitar riff and off-kilter vocals.  ‘That Girl Suicide’ showcases some of the band’s early shoegazing influences.  Featured in the movie DiG! and a long-time fan favourite.”

A huge tip of the hat to Joel Gion for demonstrating through deed that being “just” the tambourine player need not be the musical equivalent of being relegated to right field.  I remember coming away from a particularly inspired 9:30 Club performance convinced that Gion had just about stolen the show.  In 2014, Gion would tap into his own creative spirit by putting out his first solo effort, Apple Bonkers, with instrumental support from BJM members past and present – Matt Hollywood, Jeffrey Davies, Daniel Allaire, and Miranda Lee Richards – along with Pete Holmstrom of The Dandy Warhols, Ryan Van Kriedt (The Asteroid #4/Dead Skeletons) & JasonPluckyAnchondo (The Warlocks/Spindrift).

Of course, that was then – Anton’s music has evolved considerably, as one would expect.  The Guardian checked in with Newcombe, who relocated to Europe in 2007 and now lives in Berlin – link to this 2014 interview.  Wait – The Guardian checked back in a year later.

Brian Jonestown Massacre:  Then and/or Now
(image courtesy Lip Magazine)

Brian Jonestown Massacre-cWake up, DC!  The Brian Jonestown Massacre return to the 9:30 Club May 5th this year!

35 years of righteous food & quality sound (and low ticket fees)

930 Club-cakeZero to 180 is particularly obsessed with 2003 B-side (!) “Nailing Honey to the Bee”  — and, fancy that:  Julian Cope and I are equally fascinated with this limited-edition 7″ (although I am befuddled by Cope’s description of “Bee” as an “electronic instrumental”?).

Debt of gratitude to Bill Hanke, who is blessed with an uncanny set of musical antennae  and who first insisted that I check out Brian Jonestown Massacre when they played DC’s Black Cat in the late 1990s (Backstage, of course) with The Greenhornes as warm-up act.

Bill Hanke:  true sports rocker

Bill Hanke

“Day Sleeper”: Gaze-strumental

Zero to 180 is still trying to determine why “shoegazer” is some sort of epithet, as this subgenre of indie/modern rock is but a modern update of the psychedelic sound, as much as it might pain old-timers to hear.  Violating its must-be-at-least-20-years-old policy yet again, Zero to 180 feels compelled to offer as evidence a glorious shoegazer instrumental by Brooklyn’s own, Longwave, that clocks in at just under three-and-a-half minutes, in keeping with the letter and spirit of this music history blog.  You’re only cheating yourself, by the way, if you take the tonearm off the record before reaching the song’s effects-laden climax — a musical moment I never tire of hearing:

“Day Sleeper”     Longwave     2002

Day Sleeper” would be the title track of an EP that would be released twice – first in 2002 on Fenway Recordings and then again the following year in the UK on 14th Floor Records.

CMJ New Music Report would have this to say in its May 17, 2003 edition:

“Band discovered opening for The Strokes.  Fenway Records originally released the killer Day Sleeper EP in October, 2002 which really helped build an early fanbase.  Fans of The Strokes, Interpol, BMRC [Black Rebel Motorcycle Club], Vines will love this — but so will Joy Division, (old) U2, and Bauhaus fans.  Album produced by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips).  Band totally down for in-stores at your stores.”

CMJ  would also report on the Day Sleeper EP around the time of its release in their November 11, 2002 edition and — against Zero to 180’s express advice – not go with the title track as the song to push before radio audiences.  Rather, CMJ would select the EP’s second selection “Everywhere You Turn” as the “focus” track.  I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Freedom of choice:  “Day Sleeper” EP available in two designer colors

Longwave EP-aLongwave EP-b

Judging from the number of YouTube views, but a small fraction of the world’s population seems to know of this outstanding instrumental that deserves a worldwide audience.  Write your elected officials and demand that a sliver of the public radio airwaves be set aside for new and interesting sounds in contemporary music instead of endless angry talk.  I will never understand why the quality of radio is so unbelievably bad in the Nation’s Capital, a market that is ill-served in the extreme.  Isn’t the “free market” supposed to come to the rescue?  WFMU saw fit to play this song, but then again the notion of a “free-form progressive commercial station” would only make the heads of radio executives spontaneously combust.

Band photo – courtesy of Discogs.com

LongwaveLongwave offers this EP for purchase on Bandcamp – click here to investigate further.  Intriguing to see that Japan has also gotten the word.

RC Mob: Transit Advocates?

You may recall me telling you how Tom Newbold dragged me to see Great Plains despite my misgivings.  My young befuddled spirit had not yet cottoned onto the ‘radical’ notion that great music (gasp!) isn’t always about great musicianship.  In fact, sometimes all the hemi-demi-semi-quavers and musical gymnastics can get in the way.  It took me at least a couple decades before it dawned on me that being impressed is not necessarily the same thing as being moved (although it can be pretty magical when the two do happen to intersect).  This emotionally-disconnected die-hard music fanatic remembers Newbold telling me about musical moments that moved him to tears, and I remember at the time thinking, I want me some of that.

Ticket stub for both NRBQ shows (spliced together) at Stache’s – Sept. 20, 1984

NRBQ-aaNewbold would drag a group of us to that first “life-changingNRBQ show, which was promoted by School Kids Records’ Curt Schieber, interestingly enough.  That first night’s performance was so incendiary, Newbold and I found ourselves standing in line for NRBQ’s second show, even though that had not been our original intention.  Judy Pinger would tell me later that she and her friend, Diane, ran into the ‘Q between shows at the nearby 7/11, where she got an autograph from the late great drummer, Tom Ardolino  (“Tom Ardolino at 7/11” it would read in hilarous deadpan fashion).

Oh, dear:  it says “T.C. & the Cats” was the opener!  Don’t tell Mark Wyatt, or he’ll pull the plug on this blog.  but wait – didn’t RC Mob fill in at the last minute, Judy?

NRBQ-bbMy roommate, R.J. Rothchild, however, surprised us all by leaving after the first show, rightly surmising the improbability of “lightning striking twice” with the same intensity.  R.J. turned out to be right (much to my frustration) but of course, I lied when we met up later and told him that the second NRBQ performance was just as amazing as the first.  I’m a horrible liar, and I’m pretty certain R.J. saw right through me.

Loveable cut-ups:  The RC Mob (with original drummer) switch instruments

RC Mob-aHold on a blippity minute – isn’t this supposed to be a piece about The RC Mob?  Right!   As it happened, a local band from Columbus – The Royal Crescent Mob – would open for NRBQ that warm September night in 1984.  It always frustrated me terribly (and I suspect, Big Car Jack‘s Ed Goldstein, as well) that ‘The Mob’ had found a way to forge funk and rock in the same combustible way as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, although history would fail to take sufficient note of this “musical synchronicity.”   You can see for yourself:  the Chili Peppers would release their first album that same year, 1984, thus proving that both bands were independently mining the same musical vein, albeit from different parts of planet Earth.

Flyer for free show at Bernie’s Bagels (R.I.P.)

RC Mob-cEven worse, although the RC Mob would amuse the crowd at the NRBQ show with their rockin’ version of The Ohio Players‘ 1975 radio hit, “Love Rollercoaster” (which The Mob then laid down on tape the following year on 1985 album, Land of Sugar), the Chili Peppers would steal the Mob’s thunder 11 years later by releasing a hit version that everyone now associates with the former and not the latter, who almost certainly gave them the idea.  Oh, the injustice!

“Love Rollercoaster” would be included in the TV ad for K-Tel’s mindbending LP

The scuttlebutt at the time was that The Mob’s guitarist used to mow the lawn for one of the Ohio Players!  Ed Goldstein and I would marvel at the band’s formidable rhythm section each time we had the opportunity to see The Mob when they took their seismic road show to Cincinnati.  This rhythm section would include not just bassist, Harold Chichester, and drummer, Carlton, but also guitarist, B, who never took a guitar solo —  a concept that completely bent my mind. Still does.

Washington-area readers (if, indeed, they exist) might be intrigued to learn that The RC Mob once tore up DC’s fabled 9:30 Club in 1987, back when the venerable venue was kissing cousins (abstract Abe Lincoln reference – get it?) with Ford’s Theater and locally famous for (a) “that smell” and (b) guaranteed encounters with over-sized rats should you dare to venture behind the club.  Land of Sugar would also feature stand-out original track, “Get Off the Bus” which may not be as supportive of mass transit as I imagined it to be.   In fact, the lyric would seem to advocate otherwise, shockingly:

“Get On (or Off?) the Bus”      Royal Crescent Mob at DC’s 9:30 Club     July 26, 1987

Just now discovered the source of my confusion:  The song would be titled “Get Off the Bus” for Land of Sugar but then (mysteriously) re-titled “Get On the Bus” two years later for 1987 album Omerta.  This immediately brings to me John Lennon’s similar sort of ambivalence when he sang the following lyric on the White Album version of “Revolution”:  “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know you can count me out … in.”  Yep, the two situations are completely analogous.

Think of a band whose studio recordings never came close to matching the power of the group’s live performances.  Zero to 180’s list would include The RC Mob, and this blogger cries tears of pity for those who never got to witness the band at the peak of their power.

Royal Crescent Mob (L to R):  Harold Chichester, B, David Ellison, Carlton smith

RC Mob-bIn Memoriam:  Stache’s
Excerpt from the August 2, 1998 edition of OSU newspaper, The Lantern

“The reason the place stayed open when [former owner] Pete [Herman] was here was because of Curt ,’ [current/final owner, Dan] Dougan said.  The ‘Curt’ who Dougan is referring to is Curt Schieber, host of WWCD 101’s ‘Invisible Hits Hour.’  Schieber, one time co-owner of Schoolkids and Used Kids Records plus his own production and record label, started bringing shows to Stache’s under the label No Other Presents in 1983.  ’We were doing things in 1983, bringing in the kind of shows, that had never been played in Columbus,’ Schieber said.  Schieber and his partner Mark Moormann went out of their way to bring acts which might be considered Alternative or Underground music.’  We knew there was an audience for it, because we were selling the records,’ Schieber said.  Schieber brought such bands as The Violent Femmes, The Replacements and The Butthole Surfers through Stache’s doors.’  Stache’s has always been able to offer a well balanced diet of music,’ Schieber said.  Schieber brought his final band to Stache’s in 1988.

The bands didn’t stop coming to Columbus.  Stache’s has continued to bring in a wide variety of talent.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers [see what I mean?  aargh! -editor], Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden and Nirvana are just a few of the better known names that have played the venue, Dougan said.  Stache’s has also supported local bands.  ’I think the bands in Columbus are great,’ Dougan said.  ‘Columbus audiences don’t realize how great the bands are here.’  Stache’s has given artists, who may not be well known to mainstream society, a chance to play, and for Dougan that is what the bar is about, Dougan said.  ’It’s not about what’s going to be the next big thing.  It’s the other shows, that aren’t big, that make it work; artists who are good at their craft,’ Dougan said.  Whoever they are coming to see, Stache’s does have it’s regulars.  Lisa Mirman, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, has been visiting the club for 12 years.  ‘It’s my favorite hole in the wall,’ Mirman said.  ‘It’s the only place to see a band.’

Dougan plans to open a new bar, ‘Little Brothers,’ in the Short North in the old Gene’s Furniture building.  ’Same attitude but a little bigger,’ Dougan said.  Up until the move Dougan will host a series of benefit shows to finance the new location.  The next benefit will be Nov. 27 and at this time Ishkabible and Dog Rocket have signed on to play.  Stache’s may be closing, but the memories remain in the stories of the many people who have spent time there.  Like the time The Red Hot Chili Peppers played in jock straps [here we go again – sigh], Dougan said.  Or, when Sun Ra had 15 people on stage including a group of fire eaters.  There is even a rumor that a Stache’s patron smashed out the windows of Nirvana’s van because Kurt Cobain flirted with the patron’s girlfriend.  But, when asked about that rumor Dougan just smiled and said, ‘no comment.”

* Johnny Davis would also celebrate Dan Morgan and Stache’s under-sung role in fueling the vitality of Columbus’s 1980s local scene in his piece “Stashed Away” for Columbus Magazine.

The Black Watch: Please Watch

You can scan the alphabetical listing of musical artists on the right-hand side of this blog, but good luck finding The Beatles (does The Beatle Buddies count — or Beatle Novelty Songs?).  And yet those lads from Liverpool permeate the spirit of this website in all sorts of ways (e.g., the previous entry on Sloan, just to name a recent example).  Messed up, isn’t it?

2002’s ‘Jiggery Pokery’ LP

Black Watch Jiggery Pokery LPWould you be upset if Zero to 180 violated its must-be-at-least-20-years-old policy by featuring a fantastic Beatle-ish track by Los Angeles modern rockers, The Black Watch — “Tennis Playing Poet Roethke Said” from 2002’s Jiggery Pokery album?  The song is represented on YouTube with a single clip (1,303 views – seriously?), as it lies in wait for you to discover its viola-driven charms:

“Tennis Playing Poet Roethke Said”     Black Watch     2002

Check out the Beatle bass on the bridge — fool your friends with the fib that Sir Paul himself is driving the bottom end on this tuneful track.  They just might fall for it!  Note, too, the deadpan humor of the song title and a lyric that dares to rhyme “extremely barbituated” with “likewise situated”  How many literary-themed pop songs can you cite that are this danceable?

Frustratingly little written about this song – and yet it hit the #10 spot on College Music Journal’s RAM (Realtime Airplay Metrics) College Crucial Spins list in November, 2002.

Does humor belong in music?

Black Watch LP - Led Zep VBlack Watch mastermind, John Andrew Frederick, was kind enough to humor Zero to 180 when it recently tugged on his skirt, pleased that this history blog was featuring a song from 13 years or so ago while at the same time eager to emphasize that there’s a new Black Watch release that any self-respecting enthusiast of contemporary popular music would be remiss for excluding from his or her song library.  Highs and Lows, says John, is the latest Black Watch album on Austin’s Pop Culture Press Culture.  You can pick up the album via Pop Culture Press’ FB page – or at Sears, where all the cool kids shop.

John Andrew Frederick – in CinemaScope

John Andrew FrederickClick here to check out an informative and funny piece from Kevin Bronson of buzzband.la in which Frederick finally comes clean and confesses to “Beatle worship” — includes link to frighteningly catchy new track “Quondam Redhead.”

Indie, indeed:  8th Zero to 180 piece tagged as Modern Rock

Sloan: Lost in Translation?

It’s an old story north of the border, and in fact, Zero to 180 would be legally barred from writing about Sloan in Canada due to their massive popularity.  What would be the point?

Ah, but here in the States, Sloan is almost a dirty secret.  What’s our stupid problem?

The “Canadian Sgt. Pepper’s”?

Sloan LPSloan’s sophomore release, Twice Removed, would even be voted twice by Chart Magazine as (hold onto your hat) “The Greatest Canadian Album of All Time”!  That’s right, ahead of Neil Young’s Harvest and Joni Mitchell’s Blue.   At Sloan’s 2012 performance of their entire Twice Removed album, Zero to 180 would strike up a conversation with a fan from Up North and be struck by the young man’s bold declaration that this LP was revered (by more than a few) as a Canadian Sgt. Pepper of sorts.

And yet, the music venue hosting the show – DC’s Black Cat – was having none of it.  Despite having previously played the club’s main stage to a full room, Black Cat made the dubious and disconcerting decision to squeeze the band and its fans check-to-jowl into its tiny “Backstage.”  Oh, the indignity and blatant disrespect.  Seriously though, Black Cat – what the funst?!?

Sloan in 2011 at DC’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel (hourly rates available)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Twice Removed would be the band’s second release for David Geffen – yet another testament to Geffen’s savvy (DGC would also be home to Sonic Youth, Nirvana, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub, The Raincoats, Pere Ubu, John Doe, Aimee Mann, and Southern Culture on the Skids, while flagship label Geffen Records would bear witness to XTC, The Chameleons, Tommy Keene, The Misfits, Hole, The Simpsons … and er, the aforementioned Neil Young).  Despite having invested $120,000 in the making of Twice Removed, Geffen would do little by way of promotion, and the band would soon find themselves dropped from the label.  But hey, you can’t keep a good song down, and even this $2000 promo video for “People of the Sky” – filmed in the director’s backyard – does nothing to diminish the song’s oversized appeal:

“People of the Sky”     Sloan     1994

“People of the Sky” would hit the #58 spot on the Canadian chart in late 1994.

Sloan singlePop Matters makes a credible case for Sloan as Canada’s Beatle-ian counterparts — before you snort derisively, however, please allow Aaron Pinto to count the ways:

  • 1. The band’s lineup never changed after its first album was released.
  • 2. Each member was indispensable and irreplaceable.
  • 3. Each member had a distinct, unique personality.
  • 4. Each member could sing.
  • 5. Each member could write. (In the case of the Beatles, three did regularly.)
  • 6. Every album is essential and different from the one before it.
  • 7. There are enough albums to constitute a complete career, but not so many that it’s a burdensome task to listen to and keep track of them all.
  • 8. They were a tremendous live band.
  • 9. They cared about their band image—every album except one features each member’s likeness on the cover.
  • 10. The band always possessed a sense of humor, be it in its lyrics or its public interactions.
  • 11. They broke up instead of continuing and potentially tainting their band legacy with a lineup change or a bad album.

Mr. Pinto disturbingly writes about the band in the past tense, though the band’s website gives no formal indication (will try not to read too much into the statement “no shows booked at the moment”).  Has Sloan officially disbanded?!

Hey, did you know that Zero to 180 has a Facebook page where you can go and “like” stories that have earned a place in your heart?  It’s true.  Zero to 180 is channeling the spirit of Sally Field as it earnestly asks you to like it – papa bear could use some sugar.

Chameleons Create Way to Rock

In 1983, while The Ferns were recording a pair of original songs in the ‘modern rock’ vein, The Raisins had already been profiled the summer before in an arts piece for short-lived alternative weekly The Outlook entitled, “Raisins Create Another Way to Rock.”  The final section of that article – “The Problem” – would affirm The Raisins’ distinctive sound and musical sensibility, while acknowledging the additional friction caused by the band’s insistence on originality, at a time when Cincinnati was still very much in thrall with a more classic rock approach:

“Record labels want cliches, [Rob Fetters, guitarist] said, commenting on the nature of the music industry.  ‘We want to invent cliches.  Some labels say we weren’t commercial enough, and others said we’re too commercial.  One label said they wanted material that sounded like Styx and Foreigner.’

Although [bassist, Bob] Nyswonger said they were musically influenced ‘by everyone,’ Fetters said, ‘We don’t want to copy another group’s sound.’

Referring to a popular rock song, Fetters said, ‘Only an idiot would say, There’s only one way to rock [Sammy Hagar’s 1981 radio hit of the same name].'”

Chameleons 45-a1983 would also see the release of a soaring single – “Up the Down Escalator” – by UK up-and-coming modern rockists, The Chameleons, who were likewise exploring alternative ways to “rock,” as it were.  “Up the Down Escalator” would traffic in the same sort of chords (I-IV-V) as many a blues song, intriguingly enough — and yet sound the furthest thing from the blues.

Pop Matters would lavish the following praise on this stand-out A-side for its 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the ’80s:

“Manchester band the Chameleons’ debut Script of the Bridge is one of the great unheralded post-punk albums of the ‘80s.  It’s strong from start to finish, but they really nailed it with the first single ‘Up the Down Escalator’.  It’s a galloping rocker with a massive wall of guitars by Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies over John Lever’s rousing drumwork.  Frontman Mark Burgess delivers an impressive vocal performance, conveying all the restless urgency and simmering unease exhibited by the song’s title (never mentioned in the lyrics), ‘Oh, must be something wrong boys’.”

“Up the Down Escalator”     The Chameleons     1983

I can only imagine how unsettling this lyrical ambiguity must have been for US audiences, as evidenced by MCA’s decision to re-title the song for the American market, “Up the Down Escalator (There Must Be Something Wrong, Boys).”

“You either swim or you drown…”

Chameleons 45-cThe Chameleons, who disbanded in 1987, would reunite in 2002 for a series of dates that would find the band in especially fine form for their appearance at Washington, DC’s Black Cat, for which the band would be supported by Springhouse, whose drummer – Jack Rabid, proprietor of The Big Takeover Magazine – would review Script of the Bridge for Trouser Press.

Knob Twiddling by Colin Richardson – no relation to Zero to 180’s nephew

Chameleons 45-bIn 2011, Mark Burgess and drummer John Lever – as “Chameleons Vox” – would perform Script of the Bridge in its entirety at a pair of shows in Oakland and New York City.

Bachelors of Art: Married to Music

The dissolution of Cincinnati’s The Ferns by 1985 would find Rick Mosher in common cause with keyboardist Tim Miller (ex-Dog Pound).  Rick & Tim’s new musical unit would play out live around town – but eventually grow weary of Cincinnati’s fairly provincial views with regard to modern sounds in popular music.  The situation would come to a head.

Mosher in a candid moment – early 1980s

Rick Mosher - early 1980sAs Mosher recounts:

“We left Cincy in 87 and never returned.  We could not afford to live in MA, so we
lived in NH and commuted in for gigs.  The scene was way different than Cincy;
you played one 45-minute set, usually with three other bands.  You started on
Tuesday nights and had to work your way up to weekends by drawing crowds.
No one got paid until you made the weekend rotation, and then you were lucky if
you got $50.  It was a blast playing in front of strangers in a big city!  We made it to
the weekends within a year or so, headlined occasionally.”

Before leaving town, however, the band (possibly Mosher) came up with a brilliant name: Bachelors of Art.

(L to R) Rick Mosher, Mark Richards, Jim Faris, Tim Miller

Bachelors of Art-1989

The unmarried musicians, with Mosher as principal songwriter, would set to work on recording songs for their debut album, Bag.

“I wrote all of the songs on Bag, and we recorded the whole thing on a ½ inch Tascam reel to reel.  We dedicated one track to SMPTE [timecode] so we did not have to record keys to tape.  The drums were mixed to stereo and the vocals got two tracks.”

“‘No Reaction‘ was written about girls and not getting recognition as a band.  I am
sure you can hear the lead section is directly ripped off from [Bram Tchaikovsky’s] ‘Girl of my Dreams‘!  I was pretty happy about how that song came out given our limitations.  I think it has one of the best drum sounds on the record.”

[Pssst:  Click on triangle above to play “No Reaction” by Bachelors of Art]

“‘Safe to Be Alone‘ was written after I read a book [1987’s And the Band Played On] by Randy Shilts about the AIDS crisis.  I was pretty moved by the story, which documented how the disease made its way to the US and how it spread throughout our continent.”

[Pssst:  Click on triangle above to play “Safe to Be Alone” by Bachelors of Art]

The Bachelors would play in the Boston and NYC areas primarily over the next 7 years – even playing at storied CBGB’s, as Mosher’s ReverbNation bio notes.  “We had been in Boston for a couple of years when Bag came out,” says Mosher, “It opened some doors for us.  We found a lawyer who worked pro-bono and eventually recorded a second project [1992’s G] in a real recording studio.”

Bachelors of Art’s 1992 follow-up, G

Bachelors of Art-1992aa

1994 Bachelors of Art cassette EP

Bachelors of Art-1994aaMosher and Miller, moreover, “put together an exceptional recording studio, Binery Studio, and recorded many bands through 2006,” as reports ReverbNation.

The Bachelors – alas and alack – would part ways in 1994.

Unfinished Business:  Zero to 180’s Q&A with Rick Mosher

Q:  At any point in the group’s history did band members ruin the story line by getting married?
A:  Tim got married first!  There were three bachelors in the group still, so we did not take issue.  When we finished pursuing the original scene, the final members of the band learned 60 covers and got a regular gig in VT playing ski lodges, very lucrative.  We changed our name then to “the good timin’, hot-doggin’, ski party band!”

Q:  Your joining The Max brought a modern pop aesthetic to what had been a power trio “jamming” approach.  The Max’s evolution into The Ferns would allow you to embrace a more structured, modern rock path.  How you describe the change in artistic direction from The Ferns to the Bachelors of Art?
A:  Well, The Raisins had a huge influence on everyone, especially me.  Going to music school for college also opened up the world of theory to me, which had a big influence on my writing.  I am still convinced that some day I will be able to craft a 12-tone pop song!  I was always a big fan of groups like the Eagles and The Who etc, which also influenced my writing and playing style.

Mosher, 1981, in the studio with The Max Max & Bluegills - Rick Mosher

Q:  Looking back, what are your jazz impressions of the Boston music scene in the late 1980, early 1990s when the Bachelors were plying their art?  What favorite covers did the band enjoy playing?
A:  We played some 80s classics given our instrumentation – The Cure, Blue Nile – and our drummer at the time was a big fan of Canadian music, so we played stuff that I had never hear, Blue Rodeo for one.  We always played one cover in our one set just to get a read on the crowd.

Q:  With regard to your latest work, how long did it take for you to write and record these songs?
A:  I did “release” something new two years ago — the album was released under the name Dean and was called “Closer” after the title track.  I feel very good about the recording, though it took too long to complete – two years!   I feel overall it represents some of my best songwriting and playing.  Tim [Miller] is on it somewhat, and I played with a solid drummer [Tom Evans] and excellent bass player [Clayton Young].  Unfortunately, scheduling became difficult, so after awhile, I ended up doing most of the vocals.  Tim played keys, me on guitars, keys, harmonica, and dobro.  It was a lot of fun to make and reflected my transition from marriage to being single and the changes in the structure with the kids, who were pretty young at the time.

Richardson & Miller once substituted subversive lyrics in 2nd grade singalong

Miller & Richardson-1972ReverbNation adds a little more to the story: – :

Dean was formed in 1999 as a solo project.  The first release was more of an EP, with 7 songs, and Rick played pretty much everything.  After working through some major life transitions, death and divorce to name a few, Rick wrote a batch of songs, which were finally recorded and mixed this year.”

Link to Rick Mosher’s Dean – courtesy of ReverbNation

Rick Mosher & friend – in a Jimmy Bryant mood

Rick Mosher and friend

6/9 Chords, Maj 7ths, and Tritones

With the departure of founding members, Michael Andrew Frank & Keith Bortz, and the arrival of the two RicksMosher & Haller — plus new drummer, Bob Mitchell, who was (get this) from a different high school, The Max had evolved into The Ferns.by 1983, most historians would agree, with bassist Chris Richardson being the lone member (though not initially) from the original Max and the Bluegills era.  This change in personnel would result in a pronounced shift away from blues-based improvisation and toward tighter songcraft with a more contemporary rock sound.

The Ferns, as it turned out, would largely be a summertime configuration that was active between college semesters.  As Mitchell expounds:

“The Ferns were interesting because we were nineteen or twenty years old playing original songs in bars and clubs, songs that were written mostly by Rick and Rick. Great songs, but unfamiliar originals nonetheless.  Therefore, the sizes of the audiences were never a serious threat to the fire code limits.  We did cover The Clash, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello and [Bruce] Springsteen.

“There was never a shortage of gigs with Newbs [Tom Newbold] as our Manager.  He used to make flyers and posters that looked like ransom notes (different letters and pictures cut out of magazines and glued together).  Then he would staple them to every telephone pole in Clifton.  The venues I recall playing were Shipley’s, B.W. Talgoods, Bogart’s, and The Jockey Club.”

 Note “ironic” use of kitschy album cover  +  Star Wars spoof, with Haller as Chewie

Ferns-Live-cFerns-Live-b

 It would be a stretch to say The Ferns were contemporaries of The Raisins

Ferns (and Raisins) at ShipleysYes, The Ferns had somehow given someone the slip at Newport, KY’s beloved and bedraggled punk venue, The Jockey Club, and once played a set of their modern rock originals without incident there.

Haller, unperturbed before big Jockey Club show

Ferns @ Jockey Club-aMosher mid-point, unaware of camera      Mitchell — surrounded by pine paneling

Ferns @ Jockey Club-bFerns @ Jockey Club-c

Rick Haller (music) and Bob Mitchell (lyrics) would collaborate on a song – “Every” – that The Ferns would record on glorious one-inch tape at a 16-track recording facility adjacent to Cincinnati’s legendarily-industrious Mill Creek Valley in the late summer of 1984.

[Pssst:  Click on triangle above to play “Every” by The Ferns]

Rick Haller:  Guitar & vocals
Rick Mosher:  Guitar & vocals
Bob Mitchell:  Drums & vocals
Chris Richardson:  Bass

Mitchell recalls the creative process:

“I wrote the lyrics of ‘Every’ to address all the girls I had fallen for at that point, real and fictional, as if they were one person.  Rick Haller wrote a nice melody for it.  And, he had the best singing voice of all of us.”

One’s ears cannot help but be drawn to the shimmering 6/9 and Major 7th chords being expressed by guitarists Haller and Mosher, in case you’re wondering precisely what that is tickling your ear.  Richardson also points out that it was actually Mosher who came up with the sweet, string-bending bass line on the chorus that helps tease out the “Major 7-ness” of the C Maj 7 chord.

Fern “creation myth” crafted by Manager, Tom Newbold

Ferns-Live-dThe Ferns would delight in the considerable leap in technical sophistication at Cincinnati’s Reel Pro sound studio — a markedly superior experience to past recording efforts and one that stands.out in Mosher’s mind to this day:

“I remember there was a separate drum booth, very tight quarters.  I think the board was a small Trident?  The engineer knew his room well, and I agree, I am still blown away by the fidelity.  The engineer had a friend in watching the mix, and on ‘Nice Try,’ he used a slap back echo on the snare — he also manually panned the octave guitar part during the “what do you think” section!  This was also, I think, the first time we double tracked vocals, and I think we did some form of that on every song!  We recorded this at the end of one summer, I think the final mix was completed the night before I went back to Syracuse.  It was a great, creative experience in my recollection!”

Another Newbold notable — with sales pitch for Ferns 45

Ferns-Live-aBut alas – as Mitchell remembers – the group would not hold together much longer:

“It was the end of the summer of 1984, and we were all going back to our respective colleges.  That was it.  After we recorded these songs, I don’t think The Ferns ever played together again.”

Mitchell would subsequently form a new group, (pre-Snoop) Dog Pound (“after The Ferns wilted”), with Haller and bassist Newbold (a ‘protege’ of Richardson, who gave lessons to the future Fern manager in exchange for 6-packs of Tab cola and lyrics to Raisins songs written primarily from memory), along with – foreshadowing – keyboardist, Tim Miller  (trivia:  Richardson’s second-grade classmate).  Mitchell would later join forces briefly with tight Cincinnati power pop trio, The Castaways.

Zero to 180 (using Newbold’s bass) guests with The Dog Pound – Columbus, 1985

Dog Pound + Zero to 180

Principal songwriter, Rick Mosher, meanwhile, would be preparing to make his big move eastward

Ferns & Tritones at Cincinnati’s Bogart’s — Next friday:  male fantasy show

Ferns (& Tritones) @ Bogart's

The Tritone, as I would learn, is the interval exactly halfway between (i.e., 3 whole steps) a root note and its octave.  Together, the root (e.g., C) and its augmented 4th (F#), or flatted-fifth (however you want to look at it), make for a sinister pairing of notes (commonly known as “the devil’s interval”).  Dr. Willliam Irwin, in his October 31, 2012 piece on Psychology Today‘s website, “Black Sabbath and the Secret of Scary Music:  The Devil’s Interval – Is Evil in the Ear of the Beholder?” would point out the irony of heavy metal’s lumpen reputation, given its origin in the complex and intelligent realm of classical music:

“From the opening riffs of the song ‘Black Sabbath‘ through most of their classic albums, the music can sound downright evil.  It shouldn’t be surprising then that the secret to this sound is something known as the Devil’s Interval or diabolus in musica. The sound is so ominous that this interval was supposedly banned by clerics in the Middle Ages for fear that it would raise the devil himself.  Still, what actually makes this musical interval sound evil?  The diabolus in musica is also known as a tritone (or diminished fifth).  Spanning three [whole] tones, the interval violates a musical convention and sounds dissonant, producing an unsettling feeling in the listener.

“You might suspect that the boys in Black Sabbath rediscovered this tritone in a dusty old tome and purposely used it to create a sinister sound.  But no.  The tritone came to them by way of classical music.  Geezer Butler was a fan of The Planets, an orchestral suite by the composer Gustav Holst.  On the day before Tony Iommi came up with the epoch-making riff for the song ‘Black Sabbath’  Butler played ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ on his bass.  Guess what figures prominently in ‘Mars’?  The tritone.  It must have stuck in Iommi’s subconscious because out it came the next day.  The tritone became a signature element of Black Sabbath’s music and a mainstay in later heavy metal music.”

 1983 Ferns 45 proves that Keith Bortz initially served as the band’s percussionist!

Ferns 45

“Stern Productions”:  playful nod to long-time Fern fan, Joe Stern

 

Ferns Trivia:  Six Raisins of Separation

Legendary Cincinnati band, The Raisins – who would exert a strong influence over the group’s overall sound and musical sensibility – played matchmaker in bringing together The Ferns, when Raisin keyboardist, Ricky Nye, in fact, introduced Mitchell to Mosher during a break at a Raisins gig.

“Deep Twang”: Swervedriver’s Surfgaze

1991’s “Deep Twang” – the B-side of a bonus 7″ single from UK’s fabled Creation label – would seem to anticipate the psychedelic surf instrumental sounds that the Mermen would later bring, to great relief, to the DC area on their one and only visit in 1995:

“Deep Twang”     Swervedriver     1991

Big Takeover‘s Jack Rabid has championed Swervedriver from the band’s earliest days, and yet the group remains “one of the most underrated acts of the ’90s,” acknowledges the Washington Post.  Furthermore, says the Post, “this UK band stood out as they rocked too hard to be shoegaze yet had too many dreamy textures for the mainstream.”   As with Roy Lanham, Swervedriver found themselves too jazz-leaning for hard country fans, and too funky for the cufflink crowd, since one person’s ‘shoegaze’ is another person’s modern psychedelic pop.  Undeterred, the band would forge its own path.

Swervedriver 45 “Surf Twang” / “Deep Twang” would enjoy release the same year as the band’s first album proper, Raise.

Swervedriver – performing this Wed., March 25th at DC’s Rock & Roll Hotel – is touring behind their first album in 15 years, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You (check out “Lone Star“).  NPR’s First Listen weighs in on the new one – also, check out this recent interview with Adam Franklin.