“Dick Clark”: Well-Engineered 45

Memory is a funny thing.  I can still picture myself standing at the checkout counter at School Kids Records in Columbus, Ohio having a chuckle with Curt Schieber over something – but was it a Great Plains 45 that had just been recorded?  Or was it over the delicious roasted Japanese-style peanuts* that I could only find at School Kids and would nourish me through college, where spending money was always in such limited supply?

Mark Wyatt of Great Plains rightly takes Zero to 180 to task for concocting a fanciful tale and then selling it as fact.  Yes, there was a Dutch benefactor – but hardly a wealthy one.  As Wyatt points out:

“Maarten Schiethart and Fred and Hans from the (now defunct I believe) Waaghals record store would be surprised to learn they were wealthy, let alone the producers of the one GPs single they put out, “Dick Clark”, the mix of which is identical with what’s on Naked at the Buy, Sell, and Trade.  Shadowline was a short-lived label that kicked the bucket for the same reasons many indie labels did…they got boned by their distributors.  Anyway, that ‘unplayable’ single sounds plenty fine to me, but then again I’m pretty happy with the way we molested the two cover tunes on the B side.”

Manufactured in the Netherlands but recorded in Columbus, you know

Great Plains 45Yikes, I really botched that one!  Not surprisingly, my blogging license is under suspension, although I was able to get the suspension lifted on the condition that I hire a fact checker.  Wyatt, in fact, is my probation officer, and I couldn’t have found a more patient and forgiving one.  Zero to 180 looks forward to buying Wyatt and the boys a beer or three when they venture east to place a show in the Nation’s Capital – another town noted worldwide for its homegrown punk and harDCore scene.

Great Plains might not consider themselves a “singles band,” but you could’ve fooled me with this cracking 45 that is also rather well-engineered, one cannot help noticing:

“Dick Clark”     Great Plains     1987

Paul Nini:  Bass
Dave Green:  Drums
Matt Wyatt:  Guitar & Backing Vocals
Mark Wyatt:  Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Ron House:  Vocals & Guitar
Doug Edwards:  Engineer
Great Plains:  Producer

Wyatt would also point out to a clueless Zero to 180 that the engineer on this 45 is none other than Doug Edwards, who would also spin the dials for Boys from Nowhere!  Boys’ Bassist Ted Nagel and I would hail from the same Cincinnati high school — the world just keeps getting smaller.  But wait, an actual Boy from Nowhere – Mick Divvens – would engineer (as “Donovan’s Brain“) Great Plains’ final 45, as Officer Wyatt observes with quiet exasperation in the comments below.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Great Plains without a healthy dose of humor, as evidenced by the double B-side (as noted by Wyatt above) — spirited covers of Pomus & Shuman’s “This Magic Moment,” as well as Grand Funk Railroad’s “Bad Time.”

Released on Homestead Records – home of Big Black, Naked Raygun, et al

Digital StillCamera

How wonderful to see my original Great Plains piece, if Facebook “likes” are a reliable indicator, starting to gain some traction.  Hopefully my nephew Jake in Minnesota – another music enthusiast with wide-ranging tastes – will continue to spread the word in the Heartland about these musical innovators who are ripe for rediscovery.

Breaking News!   Great Plains’ Facebook page reveals that the mighty Great Plains will reunite (first time since 2008) for “Sick Weekend” — March 24-26, 2016 — at Columbus music venue, Ace of Cups, who wants it be known:

“The only way to guarantee entry is to buy the weekend wristband.  We’re selling 250 of those and once they’re gone, they’re gone.  Each night of the fest we will release approximately 50 tickets at the door for $15 that are first come, first served. We will not be selling single night tickets in advance.”

Jake, forget your studies and grab your buddies – sounds like a road trip is in the cards.

Findlay, Ohio’s Wolfies Nuts:  they want your money

Wolfies Nuts* “Kakawateez” roasted nuts, I want to say, came in tall thin packages with some kind of totem pole-themed art and could only be purchased at School Kids Records due to the owner’s family business connection.  But the stupid internet cannot validate these claims, and I can feel my probation officer breathing down my neck, so let me have Wolfie’s Nuts take the story from here via their Facebook page.

Hey Mark, did I botch the above postscript by relying on my memory’s jazz impressions?

Great Plains’ Presidential Punk

Remember Tom Newbold?  Before he became manager of The Ferns, Tom and I once had quite the shouting match over Birthday Party’s “Release the Bats” (as previously recounted in the Zero to 180 piece, “Winged Mammal Theme“).  At the time of the incident, I was convinced that ‘Newbs’ was merely trying to provoke.  The song’s humor eluded me, it pains me to say, nor did my musical range of vision recognize the validity of “shouty” vocals or alternative approaches to melodicism.  Only years later did it occur to me that Newbold’s enthusiasm for “Release the Bats” was, indeed, genuine.

I also remember Tom playing Gang of Four’s Entertainment, which I found rather amusing, but not for the right reasons.  Newbold’s embrace of punk and hardcore was a minor sticking point, as I had yet to be liberated musically, while my political consciousness was still in a state of deep slumber.  But it was impossible not to be swept up in the intensity of Tom’s belief in the power of music as a transcendent force, so when Newbold insisted that we check out Great Plains – led by songwriter and vocalist, Ron House – who could say no?

(L to R) Dave “Manic” Green, Mark Wyatt, Ron House, Paul Nini, Matt Wyatt

Great PlainsI’d be lying if I said that Great Plains instantly swept me off my feet.  It took at least a handful of shows before I started to understand why Newbold championed the songs of House, who I just now learned was co-owner of Used Kids Records, one of my favorite Columbus hangouts on High Street, along with (the recently-departed) Bernie’s Bagels, where I got to see The Royal Crescent Mob in the mid-80s playing their ferocious brand of funked-up rock, with a rhythm section that rivaled, if not surpassed, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, it is in no way an exaggeration to say.

House’s less-than-tuneful singing voice and the band’s more shambling moments would distract some of us initially from seeing the wit and originality of Great Plains’ music.  A turning point for me came, though, when record store owner, Curt Schieber, told me one day at School Kids (upstairs from Used Kids) that a wealthy Dutch benefactor** and passionate Great Plains fan had just underwritten the entire cost for one of the band’s 45s.  The deal, unfortunately, was conditional upon the Dutchman also engineering the session, so when Schieber informed me that the recording levels were so ridiculously high as to make the single virtually unplayable, we both had a good chuckle.

1984 Great Plains LP that was, literally, born in a barn

Great Plains LP“Pretty” is an adjective I would not use to describe the band’s sound, and yet Great Plains prove they can be melodic when they want to be on this absurdist slagging of Ohio presidential notable, Rutherford B. Hayes – a song that shows the band at their ‘poppiest’:

“Rutherford B. Hayes”     Great Plains     1984

Rutherford B. Hayes” (Zero to 180’s choice for an A-side) would remain an album track, sadly enough, that was originally released on 1984’s Born in a Barn, as well as live album, Slaves to Rock and Roll and 1989 UK release, Colorized! (not to mention 2008’s Live at WFMU).

Photo of Ron House by tinnitus photography – courtesy of Big Takeover

Ron HouseWorth noting that the “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau, would see fit to review Great Plains’ recordings, while Ron House would prove to be a worthy subject for a number of publications, including The American Prospect, The Columbus Free Press, Noisey, and Rubberneck, among others.  Would you be surprised to learn that Dr. Demento himself would write and record an intro for Great Plains compilation, Length of Growth 1981-1989, released in 2000?

Today’s piece was inspired by a delightfully nutty smart phone app, Presidents vs. Aliens, that my daughter loves to play.

Presidents vs. AliensBefore you go, though, Zero to 180 is compelled to ask:  How many of you learned the US presidents while drinking milk in your elementary school cafeteria?

US presidents on milk cartons

All you need to know about Rutherford B. Hayes in just 60 seconds – courtesy of PBS

** Don’t believe everything you read, kids.  This bit about the wealthy Dutch benefactor and the too-hot recording levels is yet another example of good intentions running roughshod over the truth.  Click here for a postscript that attempts to set the record straight.