Post-Fern (and pre-Zero to 180), Chris Richardson would pursue a teaching degree at (pre-“The”) Ohio State University, while enjoying the process of multi-track recording on a roommate’s Fostex 4-track “mini studio.” Future Fern manager and musician-in-training, Tom Newbold, would attend the same university and once arrange for a group of fellow OSU students to attend their first NRBQ live appearance in 1984 — a life-changing experience for all in attendance, as the band was especially combustible that night (Newbold would also stage periodic road trips to Cincinnati to see similarly incendiary performances of The Raisins).
WGUC’s PR director pulled strings for son to be model in 1978 ad for radio guide
Weekly bass lessons at OSU’s Evans Scholars fraternity house would also have a profound effect on Richardson, as budding bassist Newbold would expose the future music blogger to the counter-intuitive supposition that it is possible to write intelligently (Robert Christgau, Dave Marsh, Robert Palmer, Peter Guralnik, Lester Bangs) about popular music, including rock and other “beat” musics. Newbold would plant a seed that only required 30 years or so to take root.
[L to R] Michael Andrew Frank, Keith Bortz, Chris Richardson
Post-graduation, Richardson remembers seeing early Bachelors of Art gigs in Cincinnati, where he would begin his career as a classroom teacher for a primary arts school (with a Rookwood water fountain in the main hall) located directly across – coincidentally enough – former Fern venue, Shipley’s, in the University of Cincinnati area.
This Week @ Shipleys — August, 1984
Richardson would spend his final year in Cincinnati working on a very personal piece – an ecumenical plea for peace, love and understanding – whose lush, swirling mix attempts to trick listeners into recognizing the shared humanity that binds us all. Richardson would finish the song by taking his Tascam 4-track Portastudio into the woodworking shop owned by friend, Bruce Batté, who then whipped out his tenor sax one weekend afternoon in 1991 and (despite having reed issues that day) laid down some nice horn lines:
[Pssst: Click on triangle above to play “One (Love)” pop dub mix]
Richardson plays bass, guitar, organ, and drum machine parts, mixing the lead guitar lines and ghostly backing vocals so that the two parts switch places, left-to-right and back again, until just before Batté’s screaming sax takes over.
Richardson in studio – 1981 – with rick Mosher
At one point during the recording process, Richardson would consult with Ed Goldstein (post-Head Band, pre-Big Car Jack), who also owned an Alesis drum machine. Richardson would be intrigued by Goldstein’s advice to subvert the equipment’s intended functionality to create new and not-yet-imagined possibilities, while at the same time encouraged by the percussionist’s approval of Richardson’s decision to excise one or two of the high-hat taps to make the drumming pattern sound a little more human-like.
There would be another pivotal learning moment later for Richardson, who – when introduced to a fellow bassist – would innocently inquire, “So, you play the bass guitar?” and be met with a steely, “No — I play bass.” Bass as in bottom. Bass as in the deep end of the sonic spectrum. Bass notes that are felt but not always necessarily heard. Year later I would hear Roger Troy lead his own band at a small club directly across the river from Cincinnati and see someone masterfully put this bass-as-bottom philosophy into action and make something “simple” look so easy when, in fact, quite the opposite is true.
Fern Bassist in Seinfeld-esque “Puffy shirt” @ Bogart’s – 1984
(Pre-Rocksteady Kid) Richardson would attempt to imbue his final Cincinnati recording with a particularly heavy, though supple, bottom-end sound. After relocating to the DC area in 1992, Richardson would since discover an attic-ful of classic Jamaican 60s & 70s reissues (many on CD for the first time) that revealed the existence of a vast though mostly underground “bass culture” — a musical concept that would not percolate upward into popular culture until the latter part of the 1990s when dub-style remixes became standard operating procedure on pop radio, as well as in clubs and concert venues.