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.

“Stomp”: First Recording of a Clavinet?

Someone posted a short list of “clavinet-fueled songs” that, of course, included “Up on Cripple Creek” by The Band.  One commenter quibbled that the song should have been #1 on the list, “not only because it is better but because it was first” – but was it?

The Clavinet is “an electrically amplified clavichord that was manufactured by the Hohner company of Trossingen, West Germany from 1964 to the early 1980s.  Hohner produced seven models over the years, designated I, II, L, C, D6, E7 and Duo.  Its distinctive bright staccato sound has appeared particularly in funk, disco, rock, and reggae songs” (Wiki).

Hohner Clavinet D6

Hohner Clavinet D6

Two other clavinet commenters indignantly asked, “No Terry Adams?”  My point, exactly.  One NRBQ song previously featured on this blog that makes great use of the clavinet – “I Say Gooday Goodnite” – was recorded October 9, 1969 vs. “Up on Cripple Creek,” a Capitol 45 that was released October 17, 1969.  Okay, victor goes to The Band.

But wait:  NRBQ’s first single, “Stomp” had been released April, 25, 1969 – a whopping six months earlier – while even the second single, “C’mon Everybody” (released July 29th) came out almost three months before “Cripple Creek.”  Both songs feature Hohner’s new play toy and had, in fact, been recorded December, 1968.  Check out the driving “Stomp” – particularly the ending, with the clavinet’s percussive punch on the final chord:

Steve Ferguson, original guitarist, wrote both sides of NRBQ’s debut 45

But is that really the earliest use of a clavinet on a popular recording?  I’m a bit skeptical.  Here’s an illuminating quote from the October 5, 2012 edition of The New Statesmen – in a piece entitled “In Praise of the Clavinet:  It’s 40 Years Since Stevie Wonder Showed Off the Otherworldly Range of This Keyboard“:

“In 1964 the first clavinet was produced, based on the venerable clavichord, an instrument with a 400-year pedigree that used blades called “tangents” to strike the strings.  Clavichords were impractically quiet and a clavinet got round this by replacing the tangents with hammers that plunged down on to a string when a key was depressed.  That string was pressed into a metal strip, or “anvil”, which made the string vibrate.  The vibration reached magnetic pickups for a sound that could be fully amplified.

Not only did it produce a magical percussive twang across five octaves of 60 keys, but it was also dynamic, meaning notes could be sustained and pressed with lesser or greater force to vary volume and attack.  The high notes were bright, the middle range punchy yet mellow and low notes had a visceral growl.  Following a few false starts Hohner made the clavinet C in 1968, the keyboard Wonder used during his golden years.  After a left turn with the L – triangular with reverse-colour keys and now as rare as a mountain leopard – in 1971 they introduced the more durable D6, the keyboard hundreds of bands relied on for the next 10 years.”

Stevie Wonder rightly gets credit for his body of work on the clavinet, yet it’s frustrating that another world-class clavinet innovator – Terry Adams – gets nary a mention.  This needs to stop.

That small assemblage of “clavinet-fueled songs” sure could use a companion list of other towering moments in clavinet history — such a list would at least include “Free Ride” by the Edgar Winter Group;  “Me and the Boys” by NRBQ:  “Attractive Girl” by The Termites (rocksteady-era clavinet!); and “White Rum” by Sly & the Revolutionaries.  What other songs merit inclusion on this companion list?

By the way, according to Discogs.com, The Termites’ debut album, Do the Rock Steady, (which includes “Attractive Girl” – see above) was issued in 1967 on Studio One – is this the new record holder for earliest clavinet recording?

Possibly the first clavinet credit on a 45

Stax Clavinet 45Funny to note the existence of Clavinet.com, The Hohner Clavinet and Pianet Resource Homepage – “dedicated to the preservation of the funkiest instrument known to man.”

Clavinet Update:  Zero to 180 would address the clavinet controversy a year later with this item on Don Sebesky and then again 2 days later with this playful Marc Bolan piece.  Special thanks to Jim Kimsey, who offered “Six O’Clock” by (NRBQ fan) John Sebastian & The Lovin’ Spoonful – recorded in 1967 and tied with “Attractive Girl” by The Termites.

Tom Ardolino’s Ferocious Backbeat

Around the 7:55 mark in this heartfelt video tribute to ‘Q drummer, Tom Ardolino (who passed in 2012), there is powerful testimonial from one of rock & pop’s most storied session drummers, Earl Palmer, remarking on Ardolino’s prodigious wallop [“playing that backbeat!”] and inimitable playing style [“twirling that drumstick, will you look at that guy – how does he do that?!”] as a result of witnessing Tom drive the band from backstage with Max Weinberg at Conan O’Brien’s NBC show, while the ‘Q rocked out “Over Your Head”:

NRBQ Plays The Conan O’Brien Show in 1994 – Check out the drummer’s technique!

This much-beloved band once enjoyed a radio hit in 1980 with “Me and the Boys” – one of three key contributions to rock’s great canon of songs that celebrate the joy and wonder of the automobile (the other two being “Ridin’ in My Car‘ from 1978’s At Yankee Stadium and “Little Floater” from 1989’s Wild Weekend on Virgin).

“People” the B-side was recorded live 9/27/78 at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art

NRBQ 45-x“Me and the Boys” was also released as a 45 by Bonnie Raitt, as well as Dave Edmunds.

1994:  The Year of NRBQ

NRBQ would also record a version of “Baby Let’s Play House” with Michael Hutchence of INXS (4 letters, too!) that very same year – 1994 – on an Elvis Presley tribute entitled, It’s Now or Never.

“I Say Gooday Goodnite”: Hello Goodbye from NRBQ

I picked up an odds & sods collection of NRBQ tracks – Stay with We – taken from their short-lived stint on the mighty Columbia label.  One tune that I found to be particularly energizing – “I Say Gooday Goodnight” – was identified in the CD’s liner notes as “previously unreleased,” which I found to be rather unjust:  had Columbia allowed NRBQ to release a second proper album (the label’s “arranged marriage” with Carl Perkins, Boppin’ the Blues, from 1969 doesn’t count), this spirited recording of Steve Ferguson’s 87-second romp would undoubtedly have been on there:

NRBQ CBS 45 picture sleeve

You Can’t Keep a Good Song Down

I am happy to report that “Gooday Goodnite” has recently been revitalized by those irrepressible Spampinato Brothers:

“Shilo”: First Pop Use of Toy Piano?

Two songs were recorded in 1971 that featured toy piano lines:  “Butterfly” by Danyel Gerard – a big international hit – and “Only You” by NRBQ, a song from their Scraps album that was released as the B-side to “Ain’t It All Right.”Only You - NRBQ 45

For the longest time I thought 1971 might have possibly been the year in which toy piano made its first appearance on a pop record.  But then I happened to hear Neil Diamond‘s “Shilo” – written and recorded in 1967 – which features a toy piano in the song’s instrumental bridge:

“Shilo”     Neil Diamond     1967

Can anyone point to a popular musical recording prior to 1967 that includes toy piano?

Toy Piano Update (Nov. 2013):

Wow – the story has suddenly gotten really complicated.  On the one hand, we know Neil Diamond recorded “Shilo” in 1967, and there even is(was) a video on the web purporting to be an early live performance of “Shilo” at The Bitter End in New York City from August 1967.  However, Tommy James and the Shondells released a string of five singles in 1967 – the final one of the year being “Out of the Blue,” which (I recently discovered) features some toy piano accompaniment.  So, two songs from 1967 – Neil would still seem to be, given the chronology noted above, the likely winner of the toy-piano-in-pop-music-contest, right?

Not so fast.  As it turns out, Bert Berns, the owner of Neil’s record label, Bang, adamantly refused to release “Shilo” as a single despite Neil’s protestations.  This was a deal-breaker for Neil, so he left the label and signed with MCA imprint, Uni.  Bang would eventually release “Shilo” as a 45 – but not until 1970 (which then prompted Neil to re-issue his 1968 debut album for Uni but then add a brand-new arrangement of “Shilo”).  Complicating matters is chart information on Wikipedia saying that “Shilo” was released as an A-side in September 1968, even though by then Neil had already signed to Uni, who had released his first album – which did not include “Shilo” (told you it was complicated).  Even if “Shilo” had been issued as a 45 in the summer of 1968, it is now clear that “Out of the Blue” by Tommy James was first on the radio airwaves – we have a new winner!

Toy Piano as “Serious” Instrument: On Philip Glass’ website the accompanying notes to 1997’s, The Art of the Toy Piano, provide some fascinating historical background:

In Philadelphia, 1872, the German immigrant Albert Schoenhut began manufacturing toy pianos according to his own newly-invented design. Wooden mallets struck sounding bars made of metal, replacing the fragile glass sounding-pieces used in toy pianos at that time. His new instrument could better withstand a child’s rough handling and its gamelan-like timbre is the sound of the toy piano as we know it today. By 1935, the A. Schoenhut Company had produced over forty styles and sizes of the toy instrument with prices ranging from fifty cents to twenty-five dollars –“a piano for every purse and taste”, boasted its 1903 catalogue…

The toy piano was intended as an educational tool. The more expensive models stood nineteen to twenty-four inches tall, had raised black notes instead of imitation painted ones, full-width wooden keys and a range of two to three octaves. An instruction manual taught a child such American favorites as Home Sweet Home and Yankee Doodle.

In 1948, John Cage composed his whimsical Suite for Toy Piano.   Using nine consecutive white notes, this became the first “serious” piece ever written for a toy piano.