Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Pengwins - Life After High School

A. Life After High School

B1. Look Around

B2. It's A Dream

THE PENGWINS (Kennedale, TX)
Life After High School EP
Fabb (001), 1978

Lannie Flowers grew up with equal affinity for the sun shiny pop sounds of the Beatles and the dark mystique of the Velvet Underground. Other early influences included British Invasion groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks, as well as the early glam efforts by David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, and T.Rex. His fondness of the heavy Detroit sound of the MC5 and Stooges predicated his appreciation for the punk rock era that was coming right around the corner. It was the DIY aspect that he loved most about it and he latched onto it like a duck to water.

Lannie was about eight when he got his first guitar, although he was still into baseball and didn’t put much effort into the instrument until the age of 12. It was then in the sixth grade that he started what eventually became the Pengwins. That’s when a friend of his from up the street named David Hamrick brought an electric guitar to show and tell for Christmas. All the girls were gushing over him so Lannie figured he needed to get in on the action. After school he went up to David and told him he also played guitar and they should start a band. They then asked their friend James Laxon who played drums to join and they were on their way.

Somehow they talked the organizers of the high school beauty pageant into letting them play during intermission. When they were jamming on stage girls started screaming and afterward high school girls talked to Lannie, the ones that otherwise wouldn’t have given him the time of day. So in his 12 year old mind, he knew he was headed on the right path. The band began playing dances and parties wherever they could secure gigs with an ever evolving cast of members until Lannie was about 16. At that time the Pengwins consisted of Lannie on guitar, David Bryan on drums, and Delbert Raines on bass. In 1977 Alan Petsche joined them on guitar.

At first they wanted to be Mott the Hoople crossed with Badfinger, playing melodic music with an attitude. Then punk came along and there was plenty of attitude to go around. They didn’t want to be just like the rest of the bands in the area. When Cheap Trick’s first album came out Lannie realized that’s what he has been trying to do. They replaced the jangle with more of an edge.

In 1978, the Pengwins did their first recording session on a Teac 4-track recorder in the room where they practiced with no outside producers or influence. Five original songs were laid to tape but just three of them surfaced on the “Life After High School” EP. They paid for the meager pressing of 500 copies by playing a couple of gigs. They had to do sets full of covers in order to get paid in the small town of Kennedale, which is just outside of Dallas, where no one wanted to hear music that wasn’t on the radio. Unsurprisingly, the Pengwins record didn’t sell very well there. They ended up giving most of the copies away at gigs. They did receive a favorable review in the local Buddy magazine but didn’t get positive reinforcement from any other media outlets.

Their problem at the time was that they were too different for the average Joe but not unique enough for the hard core punks to fit in with the DFW scene. They realized they had to travel to find their audience. They kept busy playing frat parties and high school functions throughout the state. Eventually they were traveling so much that the band became their full time job and in 1981 they were only home about 90 days out of the whole year. The early 80s had them opening for Thin Lizzy and Cheap Trick amongst many others. They even shared the stage with Badfinger and the Guess Who, who were still grasping for life.

The second Pengwins record came out in 1980, a self-released single featuring “Don’t Be A Girl About It” and “Small Vacation.” 500 copies of the single were pressed and it fared slightly better than their debut. Not only did they have more experience recording by that time, but they used an actual 24-track studio, Buffalo Sound in Fort Worth. Danny Wilkerson who took David Bryan’s spot on drums in late 1978 played on the record and contributed to the writing of the songs. Danny and Lannie would become the band’s primary songwriters for the next several years.

The Pengwins continued to record between 1981-1984 but none of it ever saw the light of day. 1981 saw them touring England for a month, mostly playing around the London area where they met a lot of interesting people. They were excited to find their new single was in the jukebox of a pub they went to. They returned home after running out of money but continued to stay on the road for the next several years, even making their way out to Alaska. In 1985 Danny stopped touring with the band but took on a managerial role.

It wasn’t until 1988 that the Pengwins released their next record, a six song EP that had great distribution and achieved moderate success. The next year Danny was able to arrange a demo session at Bearsville studios in NY with Rick Derringer producing. Then in 1991 they went to Memphis and laid down four more tracks with producer Jim Dickinson who had just done the Replacements Please To Meet Me album. A couple of those songs made it to compilation CD’s but for the most part all their work was for naught. With the grunge era fast approaching, there was no longer an audience for the Pengwins music.

They had come close to a record deal a few times but something always fell through at the last minute. Eventually they decided enough was enough and the band ended following a very long run with countless line-up changes and endless recording sessions. They played their final show in Fort Worth and called upon all former members to show up and play. The event made the front page news of the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Lannie built a recording studio in his garage and has continued making music, refusing to succumb to the corporate world. He’s released several acclaimed solo records in recent years and remains an active performer. Alan and Delbert started the Aaron Avenue Records label in 1994 and have released work by Lannie and other Texas artists. Danny’s continued to play drums in other groups including a cover band called The Waltons with Lannie. He’s also a commercial real estate broker and was Mayor of Annetta North. The Pengwins play reunion shows on occasion.

The song “What You Gonna Do” which was recorded during the Pengwins first recording session but never released was recently featured on the Texas power pop compilation album, Radio Ready on Cheap Rewards Records.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Lawnmowers - A Name, Not A Concept

1A. Want You Bad

1B. I Don't Care

2A. Never See You Again

2B. Radioactive Squirrels

A Name, Not A Concept 7" EP
Eddy (DMC-101/102), 1984

Daren Hess moved to Austin from Colorado right around Christmas 1979 to attend the University of Texas. His prior musical options consisted of bland radio rock and disco so he never had aspirations of being a musician. But on a fateful night during his first week at UT, Daren caught The Skunks playing a gig and was inspired.

A week later at the start of 1980, he was looking out the window of his Jester Dorm room and saw some guys playing lacrosse. He immediately grabbed his stick and ran down to meet them. One of the guys kept being referred to as Ramone. When asked if that was his real name, Chris Mudd explained that people called him that because he was in a band that played Ramones covers. Their drummer Mike Jakle had just moved back to Houston where he was playing bass with the Recipients so they needed someone to fill in. Daren, who had never picked up sticks in his life, said he could do it.

So they went back to Chris’ place where Mike had left his drums behind. The kit was broken down in the closet and since Daren had never set up or played drums before, he made a lame excuse to get Chris to set it up for him. Sure enough when they started jamming together it went smooth enough that Daren was given the gig and played a show the following week. Greg Potts was their bass player but his stay with the band was short lived as Mike Jakle moved back to Austin a couple months later and wanted to take over bass duties.

Coined the Lawnmowers, the trio did power pop covers by bands like the Jags, the Romantics, and the Beat while mixing in their own colorful pop tunes. They gigged once or twice a month in Austin including a long standing stint at Mike & Sal’s Pizza joint. Some times they would advertise themselves as Scot Free & The Prisoners or more commonly, Eddy And His Lawnmowers. Eventually Daren’s parents bought him his own 3-piece Gretsch kit. Being an art student, Daren drew the image of Claude Rains as the Invisible Man on his kick drum, an image they often used on show posters and other promotional materials.

In 1981, the Lawnmowers went to Sugarhill Studios in Houston and recorded three demo tracks with Andy Bradley. They didn’t have the foresight to release the songs at the time, nor the money to do so. They were mainly just out to have fun with this project and didn't take it too seriously. In fact, Chris, who had been playing in bands since junior high, was moonlighting with another band called the Chevelles that had an agent and made good money doing 50s covers.

Things would wind down in the summer of 1982 after Chris graduated, got married and moved away for a job opportunity. But they did manage to play a gig in Houston with The Haskells before venturing out to the west coast in a Ford Econoline with stops in Phoenix and Los Angeles. Mike then did stints with The Rattlecats and Doctors Mob while Daren went on to play in Alamo Choir which Mike also joined.

In 1984, Chris ended up back in Austin. Mike’s sister Dawn was the Lawnmowers biggest supporter. Her boyfriend offered to release a record for them so they took the opportunity to return to Sugarhill where they laid down four songs including more polished versions of two of the songs from the demo session a few years earlier. The double single was released to no fanfare as the band didn’t even play a gig to celebrate its release. However, “Never See You Again” did receive some airplay on local KLBJ-FM.

Mike ended up getting his engineering certificate and took a job at Sugarhill Studios. He currently is the proprietor of White Hat Rum. Daren has had a long, fruitful career as a full time musician having played with the Silos, Green On Red, Poi Dog Pondering, James McMurtry, Ronnie Lane, and others. Chris is still living a corporate lifestyle but manages time to play in a group called Buffalo Nickle.

The unreleased 1981 demo version of “Want You Bad” finally saw the light of day on 2013's Texas power pop compilation album, Radio Ready that was released on Cheap Rewards Records.

Monday, July 22, 2013

U.S. Mods - I'm Gone

A. I'm Gone

B. Government

U.S. MODS (Mesquite, TX)
I'm Gone b/w Government
Treblephone (TREB-52), 1980

Pat McKanna’s musical foundation started building at an early age as he was exposed to everything from the Beatles and Rolling Stones to Little Richard and Hank Williams through the jukebox at his grandfather’s pool hall. By the time he reached his teens in the late 70s, it was the Who, Jam, Clash and Sex Pistols that most influenced him.

Formed in 1978, the US Mods was Pat’s first band that did original material. He played lead guitar and sang while Jimmy Holcomb, who Pat knew from their junior high days, added rhythm guitar and vocals. On bass and backing vocals was Adrian Brooke, who was a couple years older than Jimmy but attended the same high school in Mesquite, TX. The three of them would be the core of the band.

Jimmy Holcomb grew up in a household full of Bob Wills, Buck Owens, and Jerry Lee Lewis records. Being an only child, listening to music was one of his favorite pastimes. As an early teen he got the idea that he could make music too. He and the two other boys would get together as often as possible and play along to the Stones and three chord punk songs. They didn’t have a steady drummer in the early days. They often recorded their rehearsals with Pat playing drums and then laying his guitar parts over that.

All three began writing their own songs and they would bring the finished compositions to practices for everyone else to learn. Being teenagers, the Mods were unable to play typical club gigs. Instead they had to resort to doing talent shows or Kmart battle of the bands competitions. They even played the Traveling Gong Show auditions and a McDonald’s anniversary celebration. Crippled due to their age and geographic constraints, they often conjured up fantasies of the band existing on a higher level.

In early 1980, they borrowed Quad Pi’s drummer Reagan Eskridge who was in the WW Samuell High School band drum corps with Pat. The four of them laid down the basic tracks for “I’m Gone” and “Government” on a 4-track recorder in a mini-warehouse. They added vocals, handclaps and tape echo in Jimmy’s bedroom using an Akai reel to reel. The songs were then mixed down to glorious mono. They succeeded in giving the tracks a lo-fi, yet very charming 60’s feel. With help from their parents, 200 copies of a single were pressed up on their own Treblephone Records with an accompanied foldover sleeve.

The records were sold at Metamorphosis and VVV Records in Dallas. Jimmy brought copies to North Mesquite High to sell and Pat would bring them to his school in Pleasant Grove. They sent a copy to Bomp Records in California which led to Greg Shaw ordering 30 copies for their mail order catalog. In recent years it was revealed that Shaw was a bigger fan of the band than they imagined as a review of the single was finally published in Bomp’s Saving The World One Record At A Time book which included the long lost unpublished final issue of Bomp magazine.

After the single was released, they saw an ad in a local music rag called Buddy for a drummer looking to play with people with similar musical taste, which was not commonplace in Mesquite. They were even more surprised when they called and it was a girl on the other end. Tracye O’Neal’s upbringing was full of music. She fell in love with the Beatles at the age of five during their performance on the Ed Sullivan show. She even refused to go out for dinner on her seventh birthday as to not miss a Dave Clark Five appearance on television.

Tracye wanted to be a drummer as long as she could remember. She would spend hours “playing” along to the Partridge Family albums using wooden horseshoe stakes for sticks and her sister’s bed for drums. Finally in 1978, to her delight she won a real drum kit. By then she had broadened her musical spectrum to include the Faces, the Stones, Bowie, Cheap Trick, the Kinks, and above all… the Who.

Tracye auditioned for the Mods and got the gig. With Jimmy and Pat being 17, they still weren’t able to secure gigs. They went to the Hot Klub to try and arrange an opening slot for The Doo, but that never materialized. They couldn’t build a fan base without playing shows and once Jimmy graduated a year later and went off to college at Baylor in Waco, that marked the end of the Mods’ nearly unrecognized reign.

Adrian, Pat and Tracye carried on as The Tickets for a short while with a guitarist named Lee. He was a bit older and more experienced and they played some gigs together but Pat was ready to change direction musically. He left to start the Trees, who went on to be one of the most popular groups in the 80's Deep Ellum scene. Adrian and Tracye continued on with Lee briefly until Tracye left for England in September 1981.

“Government” received some recognition on Hyped2Death’s Teen Line series several years ago and just recently, “I’m Gone” earned a notch on 2013's Texas power pop compilation album, Radio Ready that was released on Cheap Rewards Records.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bruce Moody - This Is It!

A1. Intro

A2. A.M. Romance

A3. You Do

B1. This Is It

B2. Terminally Hip

Fresh Out! EP
No label, 1982

Bruce Moody moved from Charlotte, NC to Houston, TX in 1976 and immediately joined a group called Circus that had a rotating cast of characters including guitarists Richard Morant, Danny Kristensen, and drummer Dick Ross. Ross would later go on to play in Austin bands the Vendettas and F-Systems before a stint with Joe “King” Carrasco. In 1978 Bruce hooked up with a prog-rock band called Artisian who were primarily doing original material.

By the early 80s Bruce began working on his own home demos using a Sony 4-track reel to reel. He wanted to get his favorite musicians from several different working bands in Houston to work on a recording session with him. After handing out his demo tapes, he was able to corral his old pals Danny Kristensen and Richard Morant as well as drummer Rick Richards. They got together one evening to go over four of his songs and then they all went into Wooden Studios and laid down the basic tracks in a single night. Bruce went back and did 90% of the overdubs with methods such as banging audio cassette boxes together to make rim shot sounds, clanking aluminum trash can lids, and so forth.

The resulting EP was released under the name Bruce Moody with the title Fresh Out! During the intro of AM Romance, the song playing on the radio is a Bruce original called “Survival.” Interestingly enough, Rick Poss (of Ric Tangle and the Squares fame, who previously played in a band called the Suspects with Rick Richards) played guitar on that track at an earlier session. Bruce played in various side projects with many other notable power pop musicians around that time including Terry Carolan of the True Hearts and in the fall of '82 did some time as a Crown with Joe "King" Carrasco.

Fresh Out! was purely a studio project so copies were placed in record stores in Austin and Houston where they saw moderate sales. Bruce, Rick and Danny decided to form a live act and along with keyboardist Keith Lancaster they became Walkee Talkee. That summer they were offered a stint in Galveston playing at the Seahorse. To better market their record they made new sleeves with the name Walkee Talkee on the front using the same records and inserts as the Bruce Moody version. It wasn’t long before they realized there was a band in New York using the same name which led to them becoming Private Numbers.

Private Numbers lasted through 1991 with Ric Plunk taking over on keyboards. The band saw some mainstream success with around a dozen videos receiving airplay on MTV. The band even had their own cable access show called Vox Pop which ran for a couple years in Houston.

"This Is It" was featured on 2013's Texas power pop compilation album, Radio Ready that was released on Cheap Rewards Records.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Los Reactors - Be A Zombie

A. Be A Zombie

B. Laboratory Baby

Be A Zombie b/w Laboratory Baby
Cynykyl (CY-5-02), 1981

Roger Scott was born and raised in Tulsa. His earliest musical inspirations were rockabilly and surf music but it was after seeing the Beatles on TV that he knew he wanted to play guitar. Following the British Invasion era, Roger opened his mind to psychedelic music and then found influence in the glam sounds of T.Rex, Bowie and the Dolls.

His first group was White Dwarf. They formed in early 1978 and mostly played covers of the Ramones, Sex Pistols and Kiss. After about six months Roger left to form Fast Noise with Dale Lawton and Brian Plummer. Brian eventually left that group to join the Jacks so Darrell Smith took his place on drums and Fast Noise was renamed the Passions.

They played originals as well as covers by groups like the Stooges, Johnny Thunders and the Buzzcocks. In late 1979 or early 1980 they added Tommy Gunn and changed the name to the Reactors. Then Dale left to form the Vindicators and later joined the Bridge Climbers who were previously called the News. The Reactors remained a three piece briefly until Roger asked Joe Christ (AKA Joe Danger) to join the band since he had just parted ways with the New Mysterians.

With Joe in the mix, the Reactors went from having a guitar oriented sound to being more keyboard driven. They worked on original material while still incorporating fun covers into their set. The only place in town to play original music in 1980 was the Bleu Grotto. Prior to that they had to play shows out of town or do gigs in warehouses and garages. When the Grotto opened their doors to original bands, more and more unique Tulsa groups came out of the woodwork.

The Reactors became Los Reactors after discovering other bands were using the name. They built a loyal following locally and played road shows in Kansas City, Fayetteville, Wichita, Oklahoma City, Norman, Dallas, Ft. Worth, etc. They opened for several touring groups and plenty of great regional bands like The Jacks, The Fensics, The Ralphs, and many others.

Chris Stearman and Michael McGee of Cynykyl Records took an interest in the band and offered to record them. They spent a week working on recordings in the late night hours at the Producers Workshop in Oklahoma City. Joe and Roger went back a couple weeks later to mix. Unfortunately Cynykyl didn’t have the finances to press the records, so the band eventually scraped up enough money to do it themselves.

“Dead In The Suburbs” was released in a small run. Having a 45 out helped the band secure more gigs and even earned them some college radio play. They sold copies at independent record stores in the towns they played and some copies were sold by mail order or at shows but most were sent out or given away as promotional copies to clubs, radio stations and fanzines.

They released their second single, “Be A Zombie,” a year later in 1981. The songs were recorded during the same sessions as “Suburbs” and released in an edition of 1,000 copies on Cynykyl. The band had no distribution lined up, no management, no tour offers, and a record deal never came their way. With the music scene moving in different directions and seemingly no way to take things to a higher level, the band finally dissolved.

After Los Reactors, Joe went on to front several bands including G Spot, The Healing Faith, and Bigger Than God. He then became a producer of underground films. Tommy Gunn played with various rockabilly and blues bands. Roger formed a prototype speed metal band called Revenger for about a year and then a black metal/thrash band called Cenotaph, which lasted nine years through several personnel changes and recorded two albums. Darrell Smith joined for the final incarnation of that band.

In 2000, Rave Up Records out of Italy released an LP that included the songs from the singles as well as unreleased studio and live material. A CD version followed in 2004. Los Reactors reunited in 2005, playing a few shows including the Dot Dash Festival in New York. They were scheduled to play a tribute show for Michael Automatic in 2007 but Joe was unable to participate as he was living in Atlanta. The rest of the guys played under the name The Adaptors to avoid any misconceptions. The Adapters continue to play locally with Jim Eason in place of Tommy and with the addition of Ian Scott on keyboards. Joe Christ passed away in June 2009 of a heart attack.