Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Of Chick, Coddies & Camaraderie

Reflections on Chick's Legendary Retirement Party
Saturday, January 17, 2015
The Ottobar

Chick Veditz went out with a bang at The Ottobar with help from The Yachtsmen, Chelsea Graveyard, Garage Sale & The Stents

Harry "Chick" Veditz's retirement party last Saturday night at The Ottobar was a textbook example of how to say goodbye to the working life with a BANG!, not a whimper. Four fantastic bands - The Yachtsmen, Chelsea Graveyard and The Screams at Midnight, Garage Sale, and The Stents - provided a rockin' musical backdrop to what was not just one man's farewell to the 9-to-5 rat race but a reunion of all his friends past, present - and future.


The Yachtsmen took Ottobar landlubbers on a smooth-sailing Sea Cruise

Chelsea Graveyard: Steptoe, Fernando and new guy Dr. Henri Van Lingenfelder

Yes, in addition to all the old rockers (you know who you are!) in the audience who gathered to pay homage to the man who ran Chick's Legendary Records in its two Mount Washington locations between 1978-1992, there were some youngbloods (including a few 20something hipster chicks decked out in all their clubland finery - and I'm sure their red heels did not go unnoticed by Chelsea Graveyard frontman Steptoe T. Magnificent, author of the randy chestnut "Red Shoes") scattered throughout the teeming throng - and not just kids there with their parents (like Rachel Milstein, who lent her familial support to Chelsea Graveyard guitarist Stevie Squeegee).

From the balcony, Rachel Milstein kept a close watch on her dad (white shirt) in Chelsea Graveyard

There was a huge turnout for Chick's Retirement Party at The Ottobar

It was great to see a Who's Who of vintage local musicians, music fans, and music critics on hand for the festive occasion, including: Skunkpuppies bassist, the Outrageous Gyro J. Scope (aka Ed Barker), his little bro Ronnie Barker, George Wilcox, former City Paper scribes Michael Anft and Michael Yockel (Mr. Yockel having a "quiet" night out away from his Mr. Mom duties at home with his indefatigable twin baby boys, Castor & Pollux, er, I mean, Tex & Miner)...


Open Mike Night with Anft and Yockel

...yet another CP alumnus (and, like Chick, yet another record store alumnus) Jim Maher, Mindi Siegel (Buck Subtle & The Little Planets), Cindy Borchardt (The Beaters, The Monuments), Rod Misey (former WCVT-Towson U. New Wave DJ '77-'90, whose current WVUD-Delaware U. podcasts are essential listening) , honey-sweet award-winning Maryland apiatrix Beth Sherring (there to cheer on her hubby, new Chelsea Graveyard bassist Dr. Henri Van Lingerfelder), Sharon Rudolph, Mike & Gail Maxwell, and three-quarters of The Slickee Boys - Kim Kane, Marshall Keith, and (Yachtsmen bassist) Mark Noone - in attendance. It was strange to see former Slickee Boys vocalist Noone sharing vocals with the other Yachtsmen, but reassuring to see him belt out the Slickees classic "You Gotta Tell Me Why" (a highlight of an impressive set). The Yachtsmen's caps, blazers and khakis evoked the sartorial spirit of their inspiration, millionaire Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island, but the coup de grace of their show was the placement of two martini glasses on a barstool. Very swank, Yachtsmen!


The Yachtsmen: Maximum martini rock & roll

"A long long time ago The Slickee Boys played at Harry Chick Veditz's record store in Baltimore. It was a hot summer day. But just as we set up a thunderstorm rolled in. Most of the people that were there to see us ran for their cars and split. But we squeezed into the store wherever we could fit. A few people stayed around to see us and peruse the records. Even with the rain it was still hot. But a fun memory." - Marshall Keith


Mark Noone of The Yachtsmen

Chick knows all too well the unifying power of rock & roll, regardless of era. Besides paying homage to his fave bands of the past - The Yachtsmen being a trio featuring Mark Noone of Chick's all-time favorite retro-psych-garage rockers, The Slickee Boys, and Chelsea Graveyard being an oldies hit parade of various Dave Wilcox-led Marble Bar ensembles (Poobah, Rockhard Peter, The Alcoholics, Problem Pets) over the years -  Chick has never closed his lobes to new exciting sounds around town. Case in point, Chick has only recently discovered and become a devoted fan of groups like Garage Sale and The Stents.


Garage Sale

The Stents


I only regret that I could only stay to catch The Yachtsmen (who, in addition to having great outfits, are great musicians to boot!)  and Chelsea Graveyard (who never sounded better!), missing Garage Sale (who have now been performing for - gasp!- 20 years!) and The Stents because my beloved Amy had to get up for work the next day. (Oh well, we will catch The Stents when they strike next, with The Idle Gossip, February 7 at Stoneleigh Duckpin Lanes in Rodgers Forge.)


Oy to the world! Suburban House Deli's menu includes a Basic Yiddish Dictionary

But Chick has also discovered the great unifying power of "Coddies," the codfish and potato delicacy (served on saltine crackers with a mustard topping - and often without any codfish!) that was a  common after-school snack in 1950s and 1960s Baltimore. They were easily the highlight of the food spread - catered by Suburban House Deli - on offer Saturday night, even spurring Chick to suggest that The Coddies would make an excellent band name. I heartily concur!

Coddies, crackers and mustard!

As Chick posted on Facebook the next day:
"Once again The Coddies were the #1 food item people were talking about. Some new band should call themselves The Coddies - then again, maybe not." - Chick Veditz
 Watch the Levy brothers reminisce about eating coddies below:


Baltimore brothers remember coddies from American Food Roots on Vimeo.


 Chick continued his shout-out thanks to attendees and performers alike:
And of course; the four bands- The Yachtsmen, Chelsea Graveyard and the Screams at Midnight, Garage Sale, and The Stents- you all were incredible. You all gained a lot of new fans. I can't thank everyone enough. For those of you who had to leave and could not see The Stents, they will be Playing at the Stoneleigh Bowling Lanes on Saturday February 7th with the Idle Gossip opening. Some rock and bowl. I will be there so come on out. - Chick Veditz

Bowling with Stents is good for your health!

Besides Chick's retirement from work and strife, it was also a night that saw Dave "Dr. D" Zidek retire from his 10-year tour of duty with Chelsea Graveyard. Dr. D handed the four-stringed reigns over to Dr. Henri Van Lingerfelder at the close of Chelsea Graveyard's set, as the Z-man is now set to gig full-time with The Harlan County Kings.


Chelsea Graveyard bid adieu to bassist Dave Zidek (far right)

Dave Zidek: "Hey, now that I'm retired, I can watch Chelsea Graveyard from the audience!"

Head bowed, a vaclempt Steptoe reflects on Dave Zidek's departure from Chelsea Graveyard

Chick not only provided a night of free booze, food and music, but also dished out custom t-shirts to the performers.

"If any of you are wondering who made the two T-shirts shown in other posts they were done by Adam Turkel of Altamont Records. He is based in Florida but is from Pikesville. The first party shirt was loosely designed by me and then Adam did his artistic magic and you see how it turned out. It was 90% Adam and 10% me if that. - Chick Veditz

Adam Turkel-designed t-shirt commemorating Chick's August 31, 2014 Ottobar party

The other shirt was from a poster from that show that was on the Stents site. I really like it so I had some made for The Stents and Garage Sale.

Chick gave The Stents and Garage Sale got t-shirts of this classic poster

Go on the Altamont web site and you can see all the great items they have. Adam started  hanging out at my stored when he was about 10 and was working for me when he was in high school. Besides being a great artist he is a really good musician as well and is in a band down in Florida. Thanks for the great shirts Adam; everyone loved them" -ChickVeditz

(FYI, besides his Chick's Legendary Records and t-shirt design connection, Adam Turkel used to play in the local band The Beatings. Check out his '90s Baltimore rock days recollections in the Sleazegrinder book Gigs From Hell: True Stories from Rock and Roll’s Frontline.)


Stents buttons: "Bargain-priced Beauties"!


And speaking of those Stents posters, they are truly awesome. I don't know who their designer is (perhaps bassist Scott Sugiuchi, he of Hidden Volume Records), but everything they produce - be it buttons, 45 rpm record sleeves, stickers, whatever - is hip from toe to tip! I'd buy their records even if I didn't like the music, just for the art and design. The influence of vintage retro clip art and the design aesthetics of record labels like Norton, Estrus and Blue (labels where everything from the design to the recording was/is part of the whole package) is unmistakeable. And that's another thing they share with the like-minded power-garage-surf-pop & sounds-that-jangle souls in Garage Sale, whose guitarist Alex Fine is responsible for some of the "Finest" graphic designs in the Land of Pleasant Living (and drummer Skizz Cyzyk is no slouch either when it comes to boss fliers).

"Maximum Rock & Bowl!": Yet another collectable Stents poster

Thanks again to Chick, his lovely wife Arlene (who tirelessly runs around greeting everyone and making sure everything runs smoothly), and everyone who made his retirement party a blast! But the last word must, by rights, go to Chick himself - the man of the moment who made the occasion so special:
Once again THANK YOU< THANK YOU< THANK YOU to everyone involved who made the party such a good time and a success-especially the weather."-Chick Veditz



Related Links:
Chick's Legendary Retirement Party (Flickr set)

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Chick Calls It Quits, Heads Home To Roost

Chick's Legendary Retirement Party 
Saturday, January 17, 2015
The Ottobar
2549 N. Howard Street

Chick's Legendary Retirement Party (flier by David Wilcox)

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Harry "Chick" Veditz - ertswhile owner of Chick’s Legendary Records on Sulgrave Avenue in Mount Washington Village back in the day; longtime City of Baltimore and State of Maryland employee; and indefatigable collector of, well, everything  - is once again hosting a party for friends, co-workers, and legendary local musicians at The Ottobar in North Baltimore.

"This Chick is coming home to roost, baby!"

Last August, Chick threw a big bash (food, drinks, music!) at the Ottobar just to catch up with past, present and future friends and to feature three of his favorite local troubadours: Garage Sale, Chelsea Graveyard, and The Stents. That "Chicks-a-palooza" throw-down was such a success that Chick decided to hit the replay button and celebrate his official retirement this year from the 9-to-5 grind of gainful employment with those three groups at a Ring-in-the-New Year party this Saturday night. But the highlight of the evening may well be the addition of a fourth ensemble, Washington, DC's The Yachtsmen, whose line-up includes the charismatic and sartorially resplendent Mark Noone.


The former Slickee Boy singer has been in various bands over the years (The Wanktones, The Wranglers, The Rhodes Tavern Troubadours, Hula Monsters) but his latest group finally lets him act out his fantasy alter ego of millionaire Thurston Howell III from Gilligans Island while plucking away on bass guitar as well. His shipmates include Joel App and John Penovich, and like Noone, they are inspired by all able-bodied seamen, from Jack Kennedy to The Love Boat's Captain Stubing.

Thurston Howell III: A Well-respected Man About Yacht

I haven't been this excited about hearing some sea-faring rock & roll since the maiden voyage of Towson's Little Toot & The Boatniks back in the early '80s!

Watch The Yachtsmen play "You Gotta Tell Me Why" (Surf Club, 7-16-2011)


The retirement party is Chick's way of saying thank you to his family, friends, every customer over the years, and the bands. His sage advice to those he knows is always simple and true to his (vinyl at) heart: "Support local music and go play a record!"

Related Links:
The 2014Chicks-a-palooza Party (Baltimore Or Less)

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Balto Band Bash 2014: You're With the Band!

Or: Bravo, Balto Weirdos!

[Note: This is a salvaged draft of an earlier post (June 9, 2014 to be exact), most of which was lost in the Blogosphere thanks to Blogger's deficiencies, which are too many to go into; but now, like a moth drawn to the flame, I go cautiously once more into the fray...]

It was a trip down Memory Lane - not to mention The Marble Bar, Oddfellows Hall, Maxwells, Spirits, the 8x10, and so on and so on...

(May 24, 2014) - Tonight's the night! I made the Double-A List (thanks Bob, thanks Mindi!) of invitees to a private party called Band Bash 2014: "You're With the Band!" (Mission Statement: "We are paying tribute to our friends, families and others who have suffered through the hardships of repititous rehearsals, frightening feedback and decor-destroying equipment. This party is for you!") at Heritage Parkville Gardens Hall in the Parkville Shopping Center.

It was an offer no one could refuse: free hot and cold buffet (the cinnamon cake desert alone was worth the price of admission - if there was one!), free beer and wine, and free musical performances by a lineup of luminous local legends. History may have relegated them to being rumors in their own time and legends in their own rooms, but on this night in this room, they were beheld as rock avatars in the collective minds of everyone there with two ears and a taste for good, smart music.

Yes, in the age of Smart Food, Smart Drinks, Smart TVs and Smart Phones (not to mention Smart Asses, who are mostly found at comic book conventions and nightly on Fox News), there is such a thing as Smart Music, and it was made on this night by three bands with, as they say in Kentucky horse-breeding country, impeccable best-in-class "bloodlines": the bossa nova-and-a-more-a Trio Novo (keyboardist Bob Tiefenwerth, bassist Paul Reiger, and drummer Tim Taormino)...

"Kick out the jams, mofos!: MC Rod Misey introduces Trio Novo

...venerable rock vets OHO (featuring guitarist Jay Grabowski and drummer Dave Reeve, with guest vocals on a Kinks cover courtesy of Dave "Steptoe T. Magnificent" Wilcox), and the "progressive rock for the contemporary absurdist" stylings of Buck Subtle & The Little Planets (keyboard-vocalist mastermind Mark O'Connor, his singer-guitarist wife Mary Lis, sax player Mindi Siegel (with her signature "Coltrane on the Moon" sound), and a former Da Moronics rhythm section of bassist Charles Freeman and drummer Jaimie Wilson, Sr.).

Buck Subtle & The Little Planets

Mary Lis and Chuck Freeman of The Little Planets

Jamie Wilson & Mindi Siegel

Saxy Mindi Siegel toots her own horn while savy Mark O'Connor sings

Monkey To Man: Jamie Wilson's drumming has really evolved from Da Moronics days

Buck Subtle's set was highlighted by "Pluto's Not a Planet Anymore" (renamed "Poor Pluto" and appearing with seven more tracks on their new CD Lowdown, recorded at Baltimore's Invisible Sound recording studio and available from CD Baby, CD Universe and Amazon.com)...


Buck Subtle gives listeners the "Lowdown" (2014)

...and O'Connor's homage to Moby Grape singer-songwriter-drummer Don Stevenson's infamous middle finger salute on the cover of Moby Grape's 1967 debut album (which was airbrushed off on subsequent reissues).

Don Stevenson makes a point for Moby Grape

Basically, most of the musicians gathered in Parkville on this night could trace their roots to the "OHO-GOHOG Revue," a multi-tentacled assortment of like-minded bands including the original OHO (named after the initials of O'Connor, bassist Steve Heck & guitarist Joe O'Sullivan, with guitarist Jay Grabowski & drummer Jeff Grabowski bookmarking them as GOHOG), Dark Side, Trixy & The Testones, Food For Worms, Klangfarb, U.S.E. (United States of Existence - a neo-psych group featuring Trio Novo's Paul Rieger and Bob Tiefenwerth and former Ebeneezer & The Bludgeons singer Dennis Davison), Little Hans, and BLAMMO (Beleaguered League of Artists Meeting Mass Opposition).


Best of Baltimore's Buried (1980)

Their output over the years dominates the two Best of Baltimore's Buried records (the 1980 LP Best of Baltimore's Buried and 2003's Best of Baltimore Buried, Vol. 2 CD), which, far from sounding dated, hold up well compared to current professional recording standrads - damned well, in fact!


Best of Baltimore's Buried Bands, Vol. 2 (2003)

Note that the "Great OHO Schism" eventually split the band into Jay Grabowski and Mark O'Connor camps, with Grabowski carrying on the brand name and O'Connor branching off into new, Not OHO (NOHO?) ensembles like Blammo and now Buck Subtle & The Little Planets.

In a just world where the cream always rises to the top, Outrageous, OHO, Food For Worms, or Blammo would have been not just the Best of Baltimore but recognized as among the best in the world at what they do: creating funny, melodic, danceable rock songs, with the added heft of actually being thought-provoking (that's what you get with a bunch of artists and Philosophy majors - it's almost a categorical imperative!).

Remember, these were the pre-Punk days when "Prog" wasn't just another four-letter curse word (one described by The Rock Snob's Dictionary as "the single most deplored genre of postwar pop music, inhabited by young musicians who, entranced by the eclecticism, elaborate arrangements, and ostentatious filigrees of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper era, distorted their enthusiasm into a seventies morass of eternal song suites with multiple time signatures, ponderous space-cadet or medievalist lyrics, ridiculous capes and headpieces...and an overall wretched bigness of sound, staging, and hair") but a sign of intelligence like Roxy Music, Eno, or Van Der Graf Generator. Always self-effacing, Mark O'Connor would later write "Prog Man" for Blammo, which both celebrated and lampooned the Prog Rock Era: "I'm a Prog Man, with my synthesizer/I'm a Prog Man, I'm your tranquilizer.")

Probably what held the GOHOG pack back is the fact that they were just a bunch of ordinary looking guys more concerned with making music than projecting image, unlike the majority of today's hair-today-gone-tomorrow flash-in-the-pans and glammd-up American Idol prima donnas.

Gyro J. Scope in FFW's "It Needs a Haircut" music video

And, other than "singing human lightning rod"  Gyro J. Scope (Ed Barker) - whose OHO-inspired Outrageous may have been the best (albeit outrageously short-lived and unheralded) local prog rock group to emerge from the '70s and whose "Who Am I? Where Am I?" is the hands-down highlight of the Best of Baltimore Buried LP (narrowly eclipsing OHO's "We'll Be Famous When We're Dead") -  there was no truly charismatic frontman leading these various lineups. (Gyro would go on to play with both Food For Worms and Blammo.)

Listen to Outrageous play "Who Am I? Where Am I?"




These well-schooled rockers weren't concerned with window dressing and they never took themselves that seriously - they were funny, clever, and self-deprecating. Indeed, Food For Worms - with O'Connor, Grabowski, Barker, and Reeve all contributing songs - may very well have been Baltimore's answer to 10cc, another too-clever-for-their-own-good band blessed with multiple songwriters but without that shining star frontman or easy-to-peg identity.

The folks at Hyped 2 Death Records (a great singles compilation resource) called FFW's sound "good guitar-and-wheezy keyboards Human Switchboard Velvet Monkeys garagewave" and sell copies of the group's 1981 single "I Don't Wanna Be President/Another Crack in the Jaw" at the rare collectible price of $19!

Food For Worms 1981 single: Collectible "Garage-wave"

But I prefer the band's own characterization of their sound as "Gothic Pop, Slavic Funk & Balkan Bop at its best!"

Food For Worms: Gothic Pop, Slavic Funk & Balkan Bop at its best!

Food For Worms was notable also for being one of the few local bands to not only make a video, but to have it air on MTV, back in the days when the fledgling 24/7 cable TV network actually played (and was desperate for)  music videos. In fact, my girlfriend Amy Linthicum and her friend Liz Crain had cameos in the crypt-rocking video for 1983's "It Needs A Haircut, (about a long-haired corpse getting a posthumous makeover) as shown below.

Watch "It Needs a Haircut."




The FFW tradition of smart and smart-ass rock carried over into O'Connor's next musical venture, Blammo (whose ranks included Gyro J. Scope and Bob Tiefenwerth), as witnessed in his amusing anthem "Sweet Home Balt-amore" - another in a long line of songs about his hometown (e.g., "Horrible Place" about the then-new downtown showcase Harborplace and "Fun In Nicaragua" with its topical lines during the Iran-Contra Scandal about a certain Orioles pitcher: "Dennis Martinez, your home is where the heat is!").

Listen to Blammo play "Sweet Home Balt-amore."




If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: along with Randall Peck (Boatniks) and David Cawley (Berserk, Garage Sale), Mark O'Connor is one of the few area artists whose songs make me laugh out loud.

What a treat this night was! It was like going to a wedding reception except the band(s) didn't suck and the DJ wasn't obnoxious (indeed, the evening's MC was none other than former WCVT psych-rock jock Rod "The Mod" Misey!). And this wedding, marking the marriage of classic '70s-on-up Local Prog Rock to Baltimore Weirdos (AARP Edition), was thrown and paid for by the largesse of Paul Reiger, Esq.

Host Paul Reiger (Trio Novo) and MC Rod Misey

Apparently Mr. Reiger is doing quite well, thankyou, as a lawyer! As Bob Tiefenwerth remarked later to me, "You see, you should have stayed in law school!" (Bob's right about that - as he was when he also told Mark O'Connor that he never should have sold his Mellotron, as later lamented in the Blammo song "You Never Should have Sold Your Mellotron"! O'Connor's Mellotron melancholia also surfaced in another Blammo song, the Gyro J. Scope-sung "Prog Man": "I'm a Prog Man/I would never sell my Mellotron!" Both songs are available on Best of Baltimore's Buried, Vol, 2.) By the way, Tiefenwerth's impressive art was also on display this night, along with other paintings and art by Connell Byrne, Maureen Nolan, and David Wilcox.

I thoroughly enjoyed Paul's latest collaboration with Bob, but I hope that someday he might coax Dennis Davison back to Charm City so that he and Bob could once again don their love beads and Nehru jackets and revive, if only for one night, their trippy cult '90s neo-psych band United States of Existence.

Listen to U.S.E. play "Anything Goes" with The Association.




Before we arrived, Amy remarked that she wouldn't know anyone there except for Mark O'Connor and Dave Wilcox (The Alcoholics, Problems Pets, Grand Poobah Subway, Chelsea Graveyard & the Screams At Midnight, et al), but the minute we walked in she was immediately greeted by her good friend Mark Silvestri! (This being Smalltimore, Mark's brother Matt is good friends with Paul Reiger's wife and...there ya go!) And I ran into my old pals Alexandra Doumani and Jay Ludwig (Jay and I were in The Boatniks, whose ranks also included Katie Katatonic, Randall Peck, and Rick and Stephanie Eeney).


The Boatniks: Tom Warner, Randall Peck, Jay Ludwig, Katie Katatonic

It was a great night to catch up with countless old friends of both symbiotic camps - musicians and fans - alike. Folks like "Mrs. Steptoe" Alice Wilcox, the always affable Chuck Gross (The Beaters) (who in the midst of all the music couldn't stop raving about Svengooli and Me TV's Saturday night lineup), and my long-time-no-see college pal Mary "Myrtle May" Crivello, who grew up in Hamilton and thus was well-aquainted with the GOHOG Revue, especially Outrageous and the many Mark O'Connor ensembles from the '70s and '80s. Myrt reminisced about hanging out with the Barker boys during Outrageous practices in Hamilton, and I promised her I'd make her a copy of the four-song Outrageous suite appearing on Best of Baltimore's Buried Bands, Vol. 2.

Mary "Myrt" Crivello & Tom Warner reunite

Speaking of which, I think I stumbled onto Gyro's Outrageously obscure web site, Fastelder.com ("Electric Music for the Wilted Mind"), where one can listen to all four Outrageous songs on that CD sampler - "A Letter From Kevin," "Faggy Goats at the Neck of the Woods," "Madman Serenade," and "The Laughing Man" - as well as capsule reviews of them.

I love the description of "Faggy Goats": ""A decade before Spinal Tap did Stonehenge with dwarves, Gyro J. Scope wrote this masterpiece about elves, bowling (again, ahead of the curve) and Goats of an alternative persuasion" with what may be the first bass solo run through a Fuzz box and ending vocals inspired by Ethel Merman. A masterpiece indeed! And the chicken solo in "Madman Serenade" is wonderful as well!

"Be kind in your evaluation," Gyro asks on the fast Elder web site.  "This was the 70's. The effects available at the time came in two flavors - Fuzz & Wah...Double tracking was done with two tracks" and "Loops were pieces of tape splice together, and a flanger was somebody's thumb on the rim of a tape reel (hence the name!)"

All the more's the glory that Outrageous, like its other like-minded "avante-fringe" peers in the GOHOG Revue, made such fantastic sounds over the years - sounds that were recalled and celebrated anew this very night.

But I digress...back to the party!

In summary: Thanks Paul and thanks all ye bands for an evening bash that was a bona fide smash!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Baltimore-Washington Rockway: Singles Going Steady

A Look Back - and Forward - at Tru Fax & Dark Carnival

Following are some thoughts about some tracks lost between the cracks of time, a celebration of some great local music by Tru Fax and Dark Carnival that I've been too lazy to review - until now!

Tru Fax & The Insaniacs @ 2013 SoWeBo Festival

Just the Fax, Ma'am!
Running into the perpetually perky Diana Quinn at the Black Cat club in Washington, D.C. last week (for the first stop of Buzzcocks's 2014 North American Tour) reminded me that I was criminally negligent for not reviewing the latest music from her classic and long-running D.C. pop quartet, Tru Fax & The Insaniacs. You see, I bought a 5-song CD-EP ( a steal at $5!) from Diana back in May when her group played the 2014 SoWeBohemian Festival.

The Mighty Quinn: The perpetually perky rocker Diana Quinn

Way back when I played drums (if that's what you want to call my limp-wristed attempts at keeping a beat) in Towson's first punk band Thee Katatonix (circa 1979-1980), we were good friends with the Insaniacs - they were our favorite D.C. group (along with The Slickee Boys and Black Market Baby, natch) and I was particularly close to Libby Hatch, the original Insaniacs bass player (formerly of The Shirkers) who tragically passed away before her time after a 1998 motorcycle accident. Perhaps the Kats bonded with the Fax because we were both underdogs whose technical ability was sometimes questioned in the early days: Katatonix frontman Adolf Kowalski used to boast, "We're the worst, that makes us the best!" while Washingtonian Magazine actually named Tru Fax the District's "Worst Band" of 1980. For their part, the Insaniacs wore the dubious award as a badge of honor, even flaunting their status as "Washington's Award Winning Band"! in their fliers, as shown below:

Tru Fax: "Hear Them Do Their Worst!"

Perhaps it was this self-effacing, ego-free attitude that so endeared them to me. Despite having two "rock chicks" in the early lineup, their onstage vibe was always that of cool nerds, like something out of a Daniel Pinkwater young adult novel, rather than "New Wave Punks." Back then, now noticeably slimmer guitarist David Wells was roly-poly and bespectacled, while Michael Mariotte wore big, thick tortoise-shell specs that made him look more like an accountant than a rock & roll drummer. They didn't care; the band was about making pop music and having fun, not putting on airs and copping attitudes.

"We adhere to the original punk ideals of musical simplicity, purity, and high satire, and we're committed to having fun." - Tru Fax Mission Statement

Their sound was accurately characterized by Silver Spring Penguin blogger Jennifer Deseo as "a mixture of buzzsaw guitars and Debbie Harry vocals...a gritty sound juxtaposed with a bubbly beat" accompanied by "cheeky irony that makes punk deliciously irreverent" ("Local Licks: Tru Fax and the Insaniacs," March 28, 2008). Deseo added that songs like "Betsy's Dressed Up," "Friday" and "Pictures Of You" mirrored the punk end of Blondie's Parallel Lines (a list to which I would add the new song "Quarry House," with its soaring "Atomic" vocals intro). "Other tunes - 'King of Machines' and 'Washingtron' nod at Stooges," she continued, "and 'Love Love Love' is a gabba-gabba-hey! away from The Ramones." So Tru(e)!

Listen to "Love Love Love."



The Debbie Harry-style singing of Diana Quinn is an especially spot-on comparison, but as far as songwriting goes, my girlfriend Amy had an even better analogy. "Diana Quinn is either the Ceil Strakna of D.C. or Ceil Strakna is the Diana Quinn of Baltimore!" she observed one day. The comparison to former Boy Meets Girl and Big As a House singer-songwriter-guitarist Ceil Strakna is apt, as both ladies had the song-writing chops to match their outstanding vocals.


Charm City's Diana Quinn: Ceil Strakna fronting Boy Meets Girl

And it doesn't stop there: Diana also plays in two side bands, the retro/alt Honky Tonk Confidential and the '60s "Girl Sound" ensemble The Fabulettes.

Tru Fax would soldier on after Libby Hatch with various other bass players (Jamie Cramer is the latest) and Diana would win a 1998 WAMMIE (Washington Area Music Association award) for Best Rock/Pop Female Vocalist, but over the years I lost track of them. Until, thanks to the encouragement of the Kats' Adolf Kowalski, Tru Fax rekindled memories of their late-70s/early 80's brilliance by once again gigging in Charm City with the Kats, first at the Metro Gallery in February 2013 and then at the 2013 and 2014 SoWeBohemian Festivals. (Diana also performed at the 2013 Honfest in Hampden with her swinging '60s "Girl Group Sound" band The Fabulettes.)

Watch Tru Fax play at the 2013 SoWeBo Festival.



Watch Tru Fax play "Chinese Wall" at the 2014 SoWeBo Festival.



Though they only released one album (1982's Mental Decay on Wasp Records, with Tim Carter on bass guitar) and one classic 45 (1980's "Washingtron" b/w "Mystery Date" on Wasp Records), Diana reports that a new CD is in the works for release in the fall of 2014.

Tru Fax's "Washington" 45 (Wasp Records, 1980)

Tru Fax's "Mental Decay" LP (Wasp Records, 1982)

This is good news, very good news indeed! (According to their official web site, Tru Fax had originally planned to release a CD in 2007 that would have included their vinyl 45 and album, plus eight new songs, but it never came to pass. So far, only four Tru Fax songs - live versions of "King of Machines," "Chinese Wall," "T.V. Me," and "Washingtron" - have appeared on a commercially available CD, 1997's hard-to-find 9:30 LIVE!: A Time, A Place, A Street 2-disc set, recorded during the final days of D.C.'s old 9:30 club.)

9:30 LIVE! CD (1997, Genes Records)

Perhaps now, since their long player Mental Decay only came out on vinyl, there will finally be digital versions of that album's "Love, Love, Love," "What the World Needs Now," and "Mars Needs Women" for the world-at-large (at least the world beyond The District) to enjoy at last! And maybe (please!) that Killer B-side "Mystery Date"?

I'm a secret admirer of Tru Fax's "Mystery Date"




According to recent posts on the Tru Fax Facebook page, we can count on the following songs to appear on the new CD: "Beautiful World," "Pictures of Dorian Gray," and hopefully personal fave "Chinese Wall."

In the meantime, here's are some more clues to what we can expect from the Insaniacs based on their latest EP teaser release.


TRU FAX & THE INSANIACS
5-Song CD EP (2014)

Tru Fax & The Insaniacs 5-song CD EP


1. "Washingtron" (2014 update)


We're all Washingtrons!

This sounds like a beefed-up, slightly faster re-recording of the 1980 original that became an instant anthem for all residents of The District. (Of course, I may be wrong - since I no longer have a phonograph that works, I can't compare it to the original 45. If it's not a rerecording, then the original is holding up very well!) Diana adds some additional patter and vocal dubs, but this is still basically the unadulterated timeless classic that remains as relevant today as almost 35 years ago, even with all its time-topical references ("Accu-tron watches" and the movie Tron - of course!).

Over crunching guitars, Diana states the case for D.C.'s conflicted white-collar workers who want to pursue idealistic-elitist dreams but often end up as anonymous cogs in a dreary bureaucratic machine:

"We don't know nothing, we want to know less
It's all too hard, the world's a mess - it's not our fault
The things they told us turned out to be lies
We know the truth has got to be disguised - for our protection
Just wanna make it but before it's spent
I wanna live a life that's Heaven sent" 

It all leads up to Mariotte's driving beat signaling the famous chorus:
"I used to work as a waitron in the lounge of the Hiltron
Now I work for my Senatron and I live in Arlingtron
I'm just a Washingtron, we're all Washingtrons, Washingtrons"
It's great to have a anthem that defines your city. Diana's done that cheekily for DC, in the same way Blammo's "Sweet Home Balt-amore" has defined Baltimore as The City That Bleeds or KISS has defined Detropia as "Detroit Rock City."


2. "Britney Spears"


"Of all the jilted Mouseketeers, I love to hate for Britney Spears"

This must be a few years old, because Britney Spears today is "so 15 minutes ago," but nonetheless it's a blistering skewering of today's cookie cutter talent-challenged pop divas. Or, as Diana sings:

"Pop culture doesn't make any sense, made up of starlets with lots of pretense
American Idols who don't know how sing, rock stars who just go bling, bling, bling"



Britney Spears: Mother of the Year?

Diana continues,

The thing that really baffles me, makes me wanna drink, makes me wanna flee
No matter when I flip on my TV, all I see is Britney
I wanna smash the television, toss my fanzine
Watch a train collison, take some Thorazine
Get a missile launcher, shoot down a satellite
Yeah I think I wanna pick a fight

Erstwhile Mouseketeer Britney Spears

Of all the jilted Mouseketeers, I love to hate for Britney Spears
I hate to love for Britney Spears, I hate to hate for Britney Spears

Who cares if she's a bad mom, likes a line of coke with her cheese and salam?
I don't think she's such a cutie when she flashes me her waxed patootie

I love the sentiments behind this melodic rant, and look for future put-downs of here-today/gob-tomorrow disposable pop stars like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and their twerk-and-roll ilk.

3. "Mental Decay"


"Now that I'm older, I'm falling apart"

Though its the title of their 1982 long player, this marks the first appearance of a lyrically clever song every Baby Boomer can relate to.


When I was younger, I used to be smart
Now that I'm older, I'm falling apart
I just can't seem to cogitate smart
My cerebellum, it's not in my heart

I'm getting slow, I'm getting slow
I'm getting stupid you know

As I get older, I seem to think less
I can't do addition, my life is a mess
My intellect's lacking, I'm outta control
The Gallup Poll asks me, I answer 'I dunno'

I don't know, uh, uh...
'What's the capital of the Soviet Union?'
'Is it Russia?' I just don't know!

What's the question again? Where am I?

I've got my eyes in circles, I listen to KISS
I know I'm demented, but isn't it bliss?
I'm getting senile, this mental decay
My favorite expression is 'Have a nice day!"

The lyrics ring all too true for this AARP member, and David Wells' rollicking guitar solo proves that he, for one, isn't suffering from any osteoarthritis.

4. "Quarry House"


The Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring, MD

After a soaring vocals opening (think Debbie Harry-circa-"Atomic"), Diana pips "Welcome to Silver Spring!" before singing the praises of the Quarry House Tavern, a "dive bar" in Silver Spring, MD, that's popular with musicians and fans of rockabilly music.

If you're not in the mood, sick of culture and fine food
Want a place that's full of paramours and dudes
Where the johns are lacking clean, and the staff's a little lean

In a town named for a spring
Full of shops and movies and bling
Beneath the surface hell, there's a clientele strangely warming

Don't you need a place to hide, from the everlasting tide
Where nobody seems to notice life's not perfect?

Only a band with Punk/New Wave street cred can do justice to a skewering of DC's yuppified suburban paradise, and Diana & Co. don't disappoint as they find a place more to their calling, an even more underground 9:30 Club for those outsiders who do notice that's "life's not perfect" - and are glad of it!

Silver Spring: The kind of place where life is worth living

5. "Message To You"
 



This is Tru Fax's hilarious parody of those infamous  "419 scams" - you know, the fraudulent advance-fee mail or e-mail requests (similar to the "Spanish Prisoner" scams of the late 19th century) often associated with foreign nations like Nigeria (419 is the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud). Famous variations feature either a Nigerian Prince or royal family member requesting financial assistance from you - yes you! - because not only do "we hear you are confident and have strict criteria" but we're hoping you're also very stupid! After all, who wouldn't want to send money to a total stranger promising untold riches - it's a no-brainer, n'est pas?!?

To assist an unfortunate widow, we came across your address
And crave your kind indulgence, with this very important business
My father was a wealthy man, he died in a plane crash
Can you please help me with a transfer, 'cause I really need the cash

CHORUS:
This is a message to you, please sincerely respond
We seek your cooperation, from way across the Pond

Please observe with confidentiality
I'll provide you with hospitality
100 million dollars we guarantee
60 for you and 40 for me

We hear that you are confident, and have some strict criteria
Please don't forget to send the fee to my bank here in Nigeria

This is a funny song with beautiful guitar strumming.

*****************

DARK CARNIVAL
"Book of Love" b/w "Second Chance"
Limited edition red vinyl 7"
(Merkin Records, 1989)

"Book of Love/Second Chance" 45 (Merkin Records, 1989)

I mentioned before how the (thee?) Katatonix connection helped rekindle memories of the criminally neglected tunes of Tru Fax & Co. Well, they also helped stir memories of another criminally neglected local band from that era called Dark Carnival. You see, two outstanding staples of Thee Kats' live shows over the years have been "Book of Love" (especially during their neo-psych phase) and "Second Chance," and both poptastic tunes were penned by lead guitarist Charlie Gatewood (aka "Mr. Urbanity") dating back to his late '80s days leading this Kats spin-off group whose ranks included Katatonix drummer "Big" Andy Small and bass player Ken Malecki.

In 1989, Baltimore's Merkin Records released a limited edition red vinyl 7" of the two songs. "Book of Love" was technically the A-side but, like classic era Buzzcocks "singles-going-steady," it was basically a double A-side release, with the songwriting quality making this arguably the greatest post-punk record ever to come out of Charm City. (Berserk's 1991 "Giant Robots/When I Think" 7", also on Merkin, begs to be part of this discussion as well!) (For D.C., the best single debate would come down to Tru Fax's "Washingtron/Mystery Date" versus Tommy Keene's "Back To Zero/Mr. Roland.")





Despite that, this rare collectible is virtually impossible to find on the open market, unless you want to fork over $15 for a German distributor import. I recall buying a copy from the band when they played a record-release show at the Galaxy Ballroom back in the day, but alas, it's long been lost in the black hole that is my vinyl 45 collection (shame too, because it came with a lyric sheet insert that rightly puts the spotlight on Urbanity's urbane wordplay).

What makes this single so, um, singular, is that both tunes merrily spin around the record player with nary a stitch: there is no filler, no dead space, no wasted lines. Pop perfection in just a little over three minutes flat: songwriting craft at its best.

A-Side: "Book of Love"

Fast-tempo guitar and drums race through this pop confection as Mr. Urbanity sings "I want to read the Book of Love/I want to see what you know between the pages." On the bridge, Gatewood throws in a change-of-pace reggae guitar riff (think Jonathan Richman's "Egyptian Reggae") that shows the influence of this musical style on the eclectic guitarist. (When I first met Charlie Gatewood at Towson State University circa 1980, he was working at a record store and always talked enthusiastically about reggae records - that is, before he discovered the similar joys of punk, New Wave, and post-punk while playing in Thee Katatonix.)

Watch Thee Katatonix play "Book of Love."



A version of "Book of Love" also appears on Thee Katatonix's Thanks Hon, 30th Anniversary CD (U.K. Spud, 2009). The Katatonix version is notable for adding keyboards to Dark Carnivals's guitar-only propelled mix. Both versions are outstanding and compliment one another.

B-Side: "Second Chance"

Watch Thee Katatonix play "Second Chance."




Mr. Urbanity's paen to love-at-second-sight reflects its subject's immediacy, the Boy Meets Girl rush best deconstructed by The Kinks as "Girl-I-want-to-be-with-you-all-of-the-time/All-day-and-all-of-the-night."

The song opens with the fairly typical rush-of-crush lyrics...

I don't wanna have took everywhere to find you
I don't wanna have to look anywhere at all
I was looking through the photographs
Yeah I think you're unforgettable
And I wanna see you once again for a laugh
 
Look out, look out, here I come again
I wanna see you, I wanna talk to you
I wanna love you to the end
With breakneck speed, the tune continues, with Urbanity's words adding, on second pass, more indelible images:

I was looking through the photographs
And I think you're almost edible
And I wanna see you once again for a laugh
 
Look out, look out, you know I'm gonna call
I wanna hold you, I wanna scold you
, I wanna have it all!
The track's opening and closing guitar onslaught signals the obvious effect playing harder-edged riffs in Thee Katatonix had on Urbanity.


Merkin Records Seedy Sampler (1989)

Another Dark Carnival song, the industrial-toned "Back to the Factory," appears on the 1989 Merkin Records Seedy Sampler album. Despite the exceptional pedigree of Gatewood's songwriting and the band's musicianship, Dark Carnival's back catalog consists of just these three songs. Alas. Gatewood and Small eventually returned to the Katatonix fold, where Mr. Urbanity's melodic pop tendencies and image-packed lyrics (especially on songs like "Ordinary Sunday," "Shake, Shake" and "Daisy Chain") - and Small's rock-solid beat - continue to shine.

Note: Should you try to track down Baltimore's Dark Carnival records, be sure not to confuse them with Detroit's Dark Carnival, a band featuring ex-Destroy All Monsters singer Niagra and ex-Stooges Ron and Scott Ashton.

The other Dark Carnival: I'm pretty sure that's not Mr. Urbanity in heels!


********************

Related Links:
Tru Fax and The Insaniacs (Facebook)
Tru Fax and The Insaniacs (www.trufax.com)
Tru Fax and the Insaniacs (My Space) (there are lots of videos here!)
Tru Fax & The Insaniacs (15 tracks to hear @ ohmytracks.com)
Radio Baltimore: Tru Fax & The Insaniacs (Mobtown Shank)

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