Monday, October 15, 2012

Baltimore Sounds: The Second Edition

Baltimore Sounds: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Baltimore Area Pop Musicians, Bands and Recordings 1950-2000
Compiled, written and edited by Joe Vaccarino
(642 pages, MJAM Press, Catonsville MD, 2012)

When area musicians told me about this long-awaited update to Joe Vaccarino's 2004 labor-of-love history of Baltimore's music scene, Baltimore Sounds  (the 368-page first edition - originally published in 2004 and covering the years 1950-1980 - is currently out of print, with used copies fetching up to $200 on, I knew it was an essential purchase. Not because it's definitive; not because it's exhaustively researched to be the "final word" on the subject matter; and not because it finally got my nome-de-plume right under the listing for Thee Katatonix (as original drummer "Tommy Gunn" - though Skizz Cyzyk pointed out that I was also erroneously listed as the Dark Carnival drummer instead of "Big" Andy Small!). (It's funny, I actually met Joe Vaccarino - a former bass player in the early '70s Howard County band Heavey Duty whose first album purchases were by the Beatles and Iron Butterfly - back in 2004 when he had a display promoting his book and celebrating local music down at the Enoch Pratt Central Library; when I told him I was in the book, he asked me to sign my autograph in his copy! "I'm really not worthy," I told him, but the guy's a musical history buff and would not be denied getting my worthless signature - which goes for considerably less than $200 on the open market!)

Joe Vaccarino: the Harry Smith of Baltimore music history
Rather, it was because it's truly a Herculean undertaking that no one else would have the time, energy or passion to pursue (and you would need a whole separate research team just to document all the people who played in Thee Katatonix alone! Or to list all the bands Skizz Cyzyk and Mark Harp played in!). It's a massive undertaking and, while it has its share of factual errors, what could anyone expect one man to do when faced with documenting over 60 years of music in the Baltimore-Washington area and surrounding counties all by himself, relying quite often on materials supplied by the musicians or related principals themselves?  (As Vaccarino himself explained, "Information compiled in this book has been collected from the most reliable sources known...nevertheless, errors in a work of such immense scope are unavoidable. Readers are encouraged to write the author so that they may be corrected in the event of a future edition.") It may not be the "final word" but, just by existing, it's already the most comprehensive book ever written about the Baltimore music scene. Or, as Rafael Alvarez commented, "Joe Vaccarino has done Baltimore as valuable a service as the one Harry Smith provided America's burgeoning folkie movement with his fabled anthology [The Anthology of American Folk Music]. This is history you can use and it's Crabtown through and through."

In his introduction, Tom D'Antoni cited the work as a "miracle cure for lost memory," writing that "Page after page, our life stories, or those of our fathers and mothers, unfolds, no matter what the era. 'Oh, man! I saw that band play at (add the location of your choice)!' And suddenly the flavors, the smells, even the touches from that place in time come to life again. That's the real value of this book."

Dave Cawley of Berserk, Garage Sale, Order Now
Case in point: When I told my bass-playing pal Dave Cawley that Berserk (the late 80s-early '90s pop-punk band he played in with guitarist Brent "Burnt Mattress" Malkus and drummer Skizz Cyzyk) was among the bands profiled in Vaccarino's phone directory-thick tome, he was ecstatic - and went out immediately to purchase it at Ukazoo Books in Towson. (Baltimore Sounds is also available at Atomic Books in Hampden, Normals Books & Records in Waverly, Trax On Wax in Catonsville, Now and Then Music in Arbutus, Greetings and Readings in Hunt Valley, and Mike's Music in Ellicott City.)

Dave quipped, "I never thought I could pick up a book and see the name 'David Cawley' in the index and find Berserk and Garage Sale in there!" (Though he was amused that Order Now, the band he formed with guitarist Mike Milstein (another ex-Katatonix player) and drummer Rick Davidson, only listed Davidson among its members - "And Mike and I wrote all the songs!," he laughed.) "I love that book, a real labor of love! I had to get it; my memory is so bad and it's cool to have info on all those bands. That era is gone so it's nice there is a book about it," he enthused. "And no Wham City crap!" (Hmmm, perhaps in a future edition?)

Berserk boys with Shonen Knife girls at CBGBs, 1990

Dave also liked that the book listed the major venues and circuits that bands played, many of which he had long forgotten. Yes indeed, places like the bygone Memory Lane, Club Venus, Mansion TheaterCafe Tattoo, Talking Head, Club Midnight, and the Flamingo Lounge (which was located downstairs in the back of the Flamingo strip club on Baltimore's infamous "Block" - Fudgie Dobson booked bands at this late '90s venue that threw together perhaps the oddest-ever mix of hipsters and horndogs passing through its doors! I recall many a well-weathered pole dancer looking at me, realizing there was no interest or tip potential, and resignedly pointing the way to the back with a "You want back there, hon.")

Sample page from "Baltimore Sounds"

I loved that the entry for Dave's "surf-garage-mod bug music" band Garage Sale listed, among their numerous gig venues, "the Atomic BBQ" - this was just one of many episodes of late-'90s public access program Atomic TV that featured (de facto house band) Garage Sale in its lineup. (You can watch this episode, also known as the "Atomic TV Labor Day Cookout," online at the Atomic TV web site.)

Since I briefly played in bands in the late '70s and early '80s, and was passionate about music in that era of my lost youth, I naturally gravitated towards the entries for groups from that period. But there's so much more to learn about in Baltimore Sounds, like all the African-American Funk, Soul, R&B and Doo-Wop artists from the '50s and '60s, the psychedelic undergroup groups that played the Bluesette (A Go Go), Baltimore's Heavy Metal and Prog scenes, not to mention all those cover bands that played the county bar and high school circuit, like Paper Cup, Mannekin, and Shor Patrol.

The Bluesette Teen Discotheque

Of the latter type bands, Tom D'Antoni astutely observed that "A lot of the bands in this book sucked. And it doesn't matter one single bit. This book is not a "best of," it is an of, period...If your idea of musical perfection is six guys in matching burgundy velour suits , with huge collars and big hair, on a stage in Ocean City singing 'Brandy, You're a Fine Girl,' well that's OK with us."

In other words: to each, his (or her) own. Whatever your trip, be it hip or drip, it's all here.

Tori "Ellen" Amos's "Baltimore" promo single (1978)

And from Tori Amos (born Mary Ellen Amos, and whose first recording was a 1978 Orioles promo called "Baltimore") and LesLee Anderson (Marble Bar co-owner and chanteuse) to Frank Zappa and Zehn Archer, it's all listed here A through Z. I even learned that there was a '70s show band called Celebration that existed way before today's indie band of the same name featuring singer Katrina Ford; these guys wore tuxedos and played places like The Flaming Pit, Annabelle's in Towson, and the Holiday Inn circuit.

Joe Vaccarino and Ernie Berger of The Stratfords in front of Joe's memorabilia display at the Enoch Pratt Central Library

Skizz Cyzyk: Music Man About Town
Plus, Vaccarino added bonus sections at the end for local radio stations (WKTK!), DJs and promoters (e.g., Kerby Scott, Johnny Dark, Johnny Walker, Fred "Rockin' Robin" Robinson, Paul "Fat Daddy" Johnson," Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert) and record labels. Some of the graphics - including flyers, Globe posters, record labels and sleeves, and vintage advertisements - are a real treat. (I especially loved the many David Wilcox graphics for his and other Marble Bar-era bands.)

Thumbing through these pages filled with vintage black-and-white images and memorabilia, I felt like I was reading the latest issue of Mike Stax's Ugly Things magazine, another publication celebrating the history and diversity of lesser-known bands and musical genres in all their bygone glory.

OK page-flippers, to save you time, following is a highly selective list highlighting noteworthy '80s, '90s and 'Noughties local musicos (i.e., "My Era") listed in the updated second edition's index (bold indicates pages with pictures).

For the record, Skizz Cyzyk holds the record for most index listings!

Now, pop music stars, "You can look it up!"
  • The Accused: 2
  • The Alcoholics: 6
  • The Beltways: 33-34
  • Berserk: 35
  • Beyond Words: 36
  • Big As a House: 36
  • Boy Meets Girl: 51
  • David Cawley: 35, 176
  • Martha Colburn (The Dramatics): 132, 539, 549
  • Skizz Cyzyk:  35, 43, 60, 124, 154, 176, 181, 183, 231, 236, 251, 303, 373, 398, 417, 430, 441, 442, 501, 524
  • Da Moronics: 111
  • Dark Carnival: 114
  • Elements of Design: 140
  • Food For Worms: 165
  • Freewater: 169-170
  • Garage Sale: 176
  • Ginger: 182
  • Joe Goldsborough: 56, 137, 397, 501, 506
  • Greenberry Woods: 191
  • Grey March: 192
  • Mark Harp: 31, 63, 68, 200, 227, 265, 316, 335, 373, 465, 484
  • Hassassins: 201-202 
  • Helicopkter: 205
  • The Jennifers: 236
  • Judie's Fixation: 246
  • Kicksouls: 251
  • The Last Picture Show: 266 
  • Liquor Bike: 275-276
  • Little Gruntpack: 276
  • Little Hans: 276
  • Loose Shoes Rhythm Band: 280
  • Lungfish: 284
  • Mambo Combo: 290
  • Matt Clark 5: 298
  • Motor Morons: 316
  • NEMB: 322
  • Null Set: 335
  • OHO: 337-339
  • Order Now: 344 
  • Pearl Fishers: 359
  • Pleasant Livers: 369
  • Plow: 370
  • Pooba: 373
  • Pornflakes: 373
  • Question 47: 385
  • Reactors (Charm City Reactors): 341
  • Tommy Reed: 6, 11, 476
  • Rumba Club: 414 
  • Square One:  461
  • Thee Katatonix 485-486
  • Wally and the Weirdos: 527
  • David Wilcox: 6, 94, 352, 373, 377, 407
  • W.O.D.: 526
  • Frank Zappa: 552
My only (minor) quibble with this impressive undertaking is, I would have liked to have seen entries for the major music venues where bands played (e.g., The Marble Bar, Galaxy Ballroom, Brass Monkey, Girard's, 8x10, Cafe Tattoo, Memory Lane, Hammerjacks, Hanratty's, No Fish Today, Talking Head, The Rev, The Ottobar, Towson's Oddfellows Lounge, etc.). Each venue/club seemed to develop its own unique crowd or "scene," which in many cases became just as interesting as the bands that played there. Maybe in the next edition?

*** Baltimore Sounds: The Video Documentary ***

As a companion to his Baltimore Sounds book, Vaccarino is currently working on raising money to create a video production about local music. On his Baltimore Sounds web site, Vaccarino writes: "If you have anything to contribute - historical, artistic, monetary... - let's talk about it. We would also love to find vintage video footage of local bands. For more information contact Terry Willaims via email at"

Below is a 10-minute promo clip for the video project:

*** Reviews for the 2004 first edition of Baltimore Sounds ***
"Baltimore Sounds" first edition (2004) covering 1950-1980

Baltimore Business Journal - May 28, 2004
"...the most comprehensive book ever written about Baltimore's music scene..."

Susie Mudd - Music Monthly - June 2004
" would take me pages to tell you everything I like about this book, the most important thing is that it was born out of a love for our music (I share that love) and includes so many bands and artists. Congratulations and thank you Joe Vaccarino for caring enough to put out such a wonderful book... This is a must have for every music fan in Baltimore."

Brennan Jensen - City Paper - June 30, 2004
"...To call this decades-spanning documentation of Mobtown musicianship - from the ensembles of A New Day to Zzzap - a "labor of love" is an understatement. For Baltimoreans of a certain age, the tome presents nothing less than a sonic life story: Here are the bands from your wallflower days at local teen-center mixers, your senior prom slow dances, your boogie nights at the local singles lounge, to the celebratory waltz of your wedding reception. From cookie-cutter cover bands to up-and-coming musical pioneers, they're all here."

John Lewis - Baltimore magazine, September 2004
"Anyone interested in the local music scene will enjoy paging through (Baltimore Sounds)... Extensively researched, the book chronicles a vast array of groups, from chart-toping pop acts to bands that barely made it out of the garage. Best of all, Vaccarino uses vintage ads, old business cards, record labels, snapshots, and publicity photos to illustrate the book, and these images show the players in all their grooving, twanging, rocking, and head-banging glory. The photos taken at local high-school gigs are particularly cool. If you were too young to catch the Playmates (formerly the Cruisinaires) at Woodlawn Sr. High School in the early 1970s, here's a chance to get a peak at those shows. And if you were there, you'll be thrilled that someone cared enough to assemble this book."

Style magazine - December 2004
"Where are they now?... An illustrated encyclopedia of Baltimore area pop musicians, bands & recordings from the likes of Gary and the GTO's, Calvert Hall's The Nomads, Paper Cup, Crack the Sky, and Great Train Robbery. Hey, you might even be able to dig up dirt on your brother's old disco band."

Rambling Rose - Baltimore Afro-American - April 2005
"...illustrating the history of bands and individual musicians from Baltimore and the surrounding area, from teenage amateurs to professional hitmakers; from 1950s rhythm and blues vocal harmony groups to 1970s headbangers; and rock, soul, jazz and country. The book includes biographies and discographies with more than 2,000 images of bands, musicians, vintage advertisements and photos of hundreds of popular and rare records..."

Jim Hughes - 2004
"Way to go, Joe V! Fantastic! This is the book we've needed for years! All your research, hard work and investigation has paid off. Now, every musician and fan will be able to see their old friends, favorite bands and what took place in the golden era of rock and roll history. The flavor of the period is captured by the various ads for clubs, teen centers, and favorite hangout restaurants throughout the book. The section on radio stations, personalities and DJ's is a particularly nice touch. We can't relive the past, but through this book we can certainly celebrate the glorious past of the entertainment scene in our area. As for myself, I consider it fortunate to have been a part of it all. As I was reading the advance copy, I couldn't put it down! You, Dear Readers, are in for a real treat. Joe, thanks from all of us, past and present musicians included. Rock and roll never dies!"

*** Joe Vaccarino's bio from his Baltimore Sounds web site ***

It all started way back when... Even as a teenager Joe saved memorabilia (band cards, photos, etc) from bands that he knew, or bands that his groups appeared with on multiple billed events. Joe's own groups barely got out of the basement, while the ones he worked for as a road manager (Sage and Bandit) worked extensively at clubs, teen centers, proms, frat parties, pool parties, concerts, etc. An older brother of an early childhood friend was a drummer for the Horde and later Cherry Smash. As a pre-teen brat Joe enjoyed peering in the window of their basement practice room and listening to the bands. He took an interest in the bass guitar and was a member of several neighborhood bands. Joe went to many teen center dances and was intrigued by local groups such as Seed, The Boat, Penny Candy, etc. He rarely missed any of his high school dances that featured groups such as Grand Jury, Majestics, Wizard, Flagstaff, Pine Street Station, Ellicott Brothers, Grapes of Wrath, Jupiter & the Jets... Around 1974 he befriended the local band Sage and became a road manager. Working the circuit during the mid-'70s Joe remembers multiple bills with groups such as Appaloosa, Royal 5+1, Joshua, Wintersunn, OHO... He also attended many parties and concerts with friends in local southern rock band Dragonfly... Working with his brother Mark in the '80s, they booked many great groups to play at the Back of the Vac: bands such as Nightshift, Gary Brown & the Doubts, the Boucher Brothers, Richard Taylor & the Ravers, the Danny Lough Band, Wally & the Weirdos, Vinnie D, Daryl Beard... the list goes on...

Fast forward.... Some friends at the Arbutus Record Show (read about the monthly show on our NEWS page!) began publishing a magazine as a tribute to '60s era local bands titled "Charmed Times." Joe was eager to contribute, but his knowledge at the time was more '70s oriented. When the magazine folded, Joe continued to search for information about local groups and any records that they released. Eventually the Baltimore Sounds book was created. Joe chose the moniker "pop" music as it encompasses most mainstream musical styles including rock, R&B, soul, country...

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Anonymous scott carberry said...

very excited that this is available again! Thanks for the good word, Tom.

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