Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Wigs - File Under: Pop Vocal

A1. I Can See It Now

A2. Suzie's Got A Problem

B6. You Say Ono

180 Degrees (available on CD release only)

THE WIGS (Milwaukee, WI)
File Under: Pop Vocal
Streetwise (SW-3691), 1981

At the tender age of 15 years old, Jim Cushinery formed his first band with an accomplished 14 year old piano player named Bob Pachner. The band had fizzled by Jim's senior year, at which time he formed a short-lived jam band. It was after graduation that he got the idea to form a pop group. So he called on his old pal Bob Pachner to join in on bass. Then they recruited a drummer named Bobby Tews who Jim had played with in their school's jazz ensemble.

This first formation of The Wigs went ahead and recorded a single before they really honed in on any real songwriting skills. A local jingle house offered a package deal for four hours of studio time and 500 copies of a record for something like $400. So they jumped at the opportunity, perhaps a little premature.

It was Jim's intention for the band to be a four piece with bass, drums, two guitars and atleast two leads singers. He naively believed they could be the next Beatles. So the next point of order was to scour a battle of the bands that they were playing and find another guitar player/singer. He found a match in Marty Ross, who was the leader of a Rockford, IL band called The Look. Declaring that The Wigs had much better songs than his current band, Jim suggested Marty come see them play the following week in Kenosha. Marty obliged, and sure enough, the fully formed four-piece Wigs debuted at Marquette University in Milwaukee a week after that.

From that point on, they made occasional appearances at clubs like Fantasy's, the Palms and the Starship, but it was at Teddy's that they really established a residency. They'd often play gigs with local pop heroes, Yipes!, and before long they got to open shows for The Romantics, Greg Kihn, and others. They'd also head out to Madison, Green Bay, Chicago, upper Michigan, and other nearby spots to play shows.

The band was writing a lot of original material and their manager John Ertl saw their talent and potential so he started Streetwise Records with Nick Kuzulka, owner of Madison Street Studios in Waupun, which was 60 miles north of Milwaukee. Right before the newly formed label proposed making a Wigs album, Bob Pachner left the group. So Marty and Jim had to split the bass chores on the recordings. They spent days at a time in the studio, recording well into the night and sleeping on the office floor. The basic tracks themselves were all well-rehearsed and laid down very quickly, but it was the additions, such as backing vocals, piano, and horns that took a long time to complete.

The first run of the album, which was titled File Under: Pop Vocal, was released in November of 1981. It sold out very quickly and prompted a second pressing. They received universally stellar reviews and procured college airplay, even topping The Police's "Ghost In The Machine" on the local charts, which was released the same week.

Despite the local fanfare, the record didn't spread outside of Wisconsin. Having not made any real headway, they decided to break-up following a massive performance at Summerfest, where they shattered attendance records while headlining the main stage.

Bobby and Jim then moved out to LA and picked up a new bass player while Marty stayed behind and formed a band called Talk Of The Town with members of The Orbits and Shivvers. Though the west coast move was daunting as power pop was now giving way to hair metal, Bobby and Jim managed to convince Marty to move out there and join up with them.

While they were playing a gig at The Central (formerly Filthy McNasty's), film director David Beaird spotted them and wanted to put the band in a scene in his next film, My Chauffeur. By the time of filming, their bass player had taken a sabbatical, so they brought in their friend Val McCallum on guitar and Jim switched over to bass. While the movie earned them a place in cinematic history and somewhat elevated their audience, the sound of the band had morphed into something far more commercial than they ever intended and is hardly discernible from their earlier work.

The band recently got a hold of the original master tapes from the recording of File Under: Pop Vocal and remastered the songs for CD release. To their surprise a couple songs they'd forgotten they had recorded were found and thankfully salvaged ("180 Degrees" is included above). The songs didn't make the original release due to time restraints on vinyl, but they found a proper inclusion on the 2009 CD release. More "lost" recordings have been discovered and are planned for a future release.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Prosecutors - I've Got A Message

A. I've Got A Message

B1. Dead Man

B2. Prosecution Rests (Live)

I've Got A Message EP
No Label (CSR-63082), 1980

While in High School, Kevn Kinney started playing guitar and writing songs. At the time, he was also the roadie for the Haskels. Meanwhile, Doug LaValliere, having just gotten his driver's license, started learning to play bass. Doug is the baby brother of two of the members of the Haskels, Gerard and Richard, so naturally Richard introduced Doug to Kevn and the two started playing together.

They practiced in Kevn's basement for a while before bringing in their first drummer, Marty Weidmeyer, who was coincidentally the sound man for the Haskels. But by the time they had enough material to play a show, Marty decided he was going to leave the group. So they brought in Vicki Sanders so they could begin gigging. After a while she left also, so they brought in Jim "Tess" Tessier. Thus began the archetypal line-up of the Prosecutors.

They stuck it out for a while, playing shows and even recording a few songs for a 7". Unfortunately the track "Brute Force," which was the bands signature set closer, was left off the record because the drummer was unhappy with the take and they couldn't afford to redo the drum tracks. So they ended up including a live version of "Prosecution Rests" in its place. The song was recorded at the Starship when they had Kenny Baldwin sitting in for them on drums. Thankfully "Brute Force" surfaced on the History in 3 Chords CD compilation of Milwaukee bands, released on Splunge in 2001.

Although Tess played on the studio recordings, he ended up leaving the band before the 7" was released. Basically the Prosecutors were being offered shows opening for major acts and were ready to start traveling, but Tess didn't want to lose his job, so he left the band. They were going to call it quits at that point, but they sunk a lot of money into the recording and pressing of the record. So they brought in Jeff Shapiro in order to continue playing and sell off the records they had. Because of the timing of the release, Jeff is both pictured and credited on the back of the sleeve, rather than Tess.

Eventually things fizzled when Kevn moved out to Atlanta. He started Drivin' N Cryin', a band that is still active to this day (Note: "Drivin' N Cryin" was also the name of a Prosecutors song).

Most of the copies of the single do not include the picture sleeve and even fewer have the lyric insert. "I've Got A Message" and "Dead Man" could be heard on the Great Lost Brew Wave Album, while "Prosecution Rests" made an appearance on No One Left To Blame.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Orbits - Make The Rules

A. Make The Rules

B. Phenomenal World

THE ORBITS (Milwaukee, WI)
Make The Rules b/w Phenomenal World
No. 1 (007), 1980

Scott Krueger's first band was called Marilyn with Mark Schneider, Jerome Brisch, Caleb Alexander and a flurry of rotating drummers. They played garage-y tunes including sixties staples from the Yardbirds, Mindbenders and others. They only played out a couple times before morphing into In A Hot Coma. At that time in Milwaukee, there weren't many places to play and no one else doing that style of music, so they often got a poor reception at their shows. Scott eventually left and Jill Kossoris joined the group on keyboard. Later deciding that she wanted to front her own band and play her own material, she went on to form the Shivvers. From there, In A Hot Coma became the Haskels and the Milwaukee music scene started to erupt.

Meanwhile, Danny Zelonky put out an ad looking for people to play in a band influenced by the Stooges, Velvet Underground and Roxy Music. Scott Krueger and Breck Burns answered the call and started playing guitar and bass, respectively, in this new group called the Drones. They played out a few times, covering songs by Badfinger, Flamin' Groovies, and even tried a couple originals. In fact, the first original composition Scott and Breck wrote together was "Life Without You," which would later surface when the two joined the Shivvers. More on that in a bit.

After their time with the Drones, Scott (now on bass) and Breck (now on guitar) formed the Craze with Jim Richardson (drums, later in the Shivvers) and Howie Epstein (vocals/guitar, later in Tom Petty's band, now deceased). Having a repertoire of 60s covers, they played out a lot but Scott and Breck eventually parted ways from the group.

Breck then found Bob Wren and the two started rehearsing together. They even played a show as a guitar/drum duo under the name Bob and Breck. After about six months of writing material and perfecting their songs, Breck tapped his old friend Scott to join the band. The sound of the Orbits was initially very pub rock-oriented, but they soon morphed into a very tight and aggressive, mod-sounding group with heavy British influences.

The band went in the studio to record two songs, "Having Fun" and "Smart Suit, Shirt, and Tie" to release as their first 7". Unhappy with the results, they scrapped the idea and it was never released.

They went to Shade Tree Studios in Lake Geneva a short while after that to lay down two more tracks, "Make The Rules" and "Phenomenal World." Using the late night hours at the studio to get a better rate, they hammered out all the music tracks in a single four hour session and finished all the vocals and dubs the next night.

The single was released on their own No. 1 Records in an edition of 500 copies. They sent records out to try and get reviews in magazines like Bomp and Trouser Press and also pushed to get airplay (which they achieved on Chicago's WXRT).

All in all, the band played around 40 shows in the year and a half they stuck it out. They had about 10 original songs (written by Scott and Breck) as well as some covers. Hammering out short and sweet 20 minute sets, they primarily stuck to the Milwaukee club circuit, frequenting Zaks, the Palms and Starship. They did however venture to Madison where they got to open for Ultravox.

Unfortunately, after having built a strong, steady following, Breck decided to take a break. They regrouped a short while later, but it wasn't the same. The crowds had greatly dissipated by then so the band ceased to be.

After that, Scott tried out and promptly secured a spot as bass player for the Shivvers. Breck followed suit about a year later as the guitar player for the Shivvers, but by that time the band was winding down. More on the Shivvers in the future.

"Make The Rules" could be heard on Powerpearls Volume 2. Sing Sing Records reissued the Orbits sole single at the end of 2009.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Explosives - Come Clean EP

A1. Come Clean

A2. Summertime Come

B1. I Won't Go Back To Work

B2. I'm An Explosive

Come Clean EP
Black Hole (BH 6171), 1979

Freddie "Steady" Krc (pronounced kirch) started playing in bands when he was just 10 years old after seeing the Beatles on TV in 1965. Growing up in La Porte, TX, the first live show he ever saw was the Sir Douglas Quintet. He eventually became a hired side man, picking up gigs drumming with many legendary country artists including Jerry Jeff Walker and BW Stevenson.

Waller Collie, who was a few years older than Freddie, joined on as Stevenson's bass player. He and Freddie made a strong rhythm section. Meanwhile, Cam King and Freddie met and realized they shared a love of pop songs. Some of their favorite bands from the time were Blondie, Generation X, Sex Pistols, Boomtown Rats and Tuff Darts. So the three got together to start their own pop band. The name The Explosives came from the back of a bowling shirt that Freddie picked up at a vintage clothing store.

It was late 1978 when the band started rehearsing. The original line-up also included Reese Wynans (who later played with Stevie Ray Vaughn) on Hammond organ, and they also had Tom McMahon (formerly of The Bodysnatchers) on guitar for a little while, but decided they worked best as a three piece. Freddie, Cam and Waller not only sang and wrote songs, they were completely in tune with one another. They possessed a natural knack for being able to play anything off the cuff.

By June of '79 they really started progressing as a band. They recorded their first four song EP (featured above) at Loma Ranch in Fredericksburg and released it on their own Black Hole Records. Two pressings were made, the first with black and red sleeve, the second with purple and orange. They received local airplay and got distribution which helped the record sell well. At the end of June they played their first gig at popular punk club, Raul's. When they performed live, Freddie would set his drums at the front of the stage so all three were positioned along side each other.

Around this time, The Nervebreakers manager Tom Ordon, brought Roky Erickson of 13th Floor Elevators fame to play Dallas with the Nervebreakers backing him. Roky's manager mentioned to Tom that he was wanting to bring Roky back to Austin to play shows and he needed a permanent backing band. The Nervebreakers were unable to make the commitment. After one gig with The Re*Cords backing Roky, Tom suggested they hook up with The Explosives and a deal was struck. They played their first show together at Raul's in late August. Typically the Explosives would play their full set and then another set with Roky.

The band started gigging multiple times a week in Austin and played throughout Texas with regular stops in Houston, Dallas, Lubbock and Nacogdoches. Because the members were all seasoned musicians and could play really well, they started doing gigs outside of the normal punk arenas to expand their audience so they could make a real living out of their music. This caused a bit of a backlash with the local punk scene, where the band would be ostracized for being "too professional." Nevertheless, they worked hard and earned themselves slots opening for bands like the Ramones, Joan Jett, Nick Lowe, Flamin' Groovies, B-52s, Psychedelic Furs, The Records, and even surf legends, The Ventures.

The Explosives went on to self release two more 7"s, the Push The Button EP in February of 1980 and the power pop classic "A Girl Like You" single the following year. They were on the cusp of signing a large record deal after that, but declined due to lack of a central figure to make wise decisions for them. Unfortunately by the time they finally secured proper management, they were running out of steam.

The band soldiered on a little while longer and recorded an album after touring the west coast. Half of the Restless Natives LP was recorded in San Diego while the rest was done when they got back to Austin. CCR bassist Stu Cook produced the album. By this time the endless time spent together on the road, playing shows constantly, doing radio interviews and photo shoots was taking its toll. Then Freddie's father died in July of 1982, shortly before the album was released. They decided to part ways after that.

Cam moved out to LA and played with Chris D and the Divine Horsemen, then moved out to Nashville for a long time before returning to Austin. Freddie took a break from writing songs for a few years, putting his focus on being a session man. He eventually got the motivation to start writing again and would always fly Cam in to play on his records. They now both play in the Freddie Steady Five.