Monday, February 20, 2012

The Shivvers - Teen Line

A. Teen Line

B. When I Was Younger

THE SHIVVERS (Milwaukee, WI)
Teen Line b/w When I Was Younger
Fliptop (805-65), 1980

Jill Kossoris was four years old when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. While over 70 million American viewers tuned in to see the historic performance, Jill was too young to be up that late to watch the Fab Four. But she did hear them from her bedroom and caught wind of the excitement. From that point on she was inspired to be in a band.

As a classically trained pianist with 12 years of lessons under her belt, Jill got her first taste of playing in bands with her schoolmates. First came Cream & Coffee, an interracial group that performed Al Green and other soul material (she was the "cream"), and then a very short lived group called Eclipse that played standard rock fare. But things really started to take shape when she placed an ad in the Bugle stating: "16 year old girl looking to start a band. Into Patti Smith, The Rolling Stones... etc... No Hippies."

After sifting through a myriad of phone calls, the most promising one came from a 25 year old bass player named Richard LaValliere. For the entire summer Richard would drive to Brown Deer from Madison to rehearse with Jill in her parents basement. They would work on songs by the Yardbirds, Stones, Roy Orbison and others. Eventually Richard brought in his brother Gerard to play guitar with them.

Prior to that, bassist Scott Krueger was playing in a band called Marilyn with Jerome Brish, Mark Schneider, Caleb Alexander and a rotating cast of drummers. Through continuous line-up changes, that band eventually became In A Hot Coma. By 1977 Scott left the group and started playing with Breck Burns and Danny Zelonky in The Drones. So Jerry Brish joined up with Jill, Richard and Gerard for yet another incarnation of In A Hot Coma. Rob Bielfus was their drummer at first, but when he left to play a stint with the Lubricants, Guy Hoffman stepped in to fill his shoes.

The band continued practicing in Jill's parent's basement. But after a couple years, through her discovery of bands like Big Star, she wanted to take things in a more melodic direction as well as assuming a leadership role with her own band. So following her departure from In A Hot Coma, the guys played one more gig before changing their name to The Haskels and taking up residency in what would soon be coined the Haskel Hotel.

After that, Scott Krueger introduced Jill to Jim Richardson, a well-seasoned drummer who began playing at age 11. Richardson was backing 60's garage greats like Question Mark and the Mysterians and Shadows of Knight by the time he was 16. In the early 70's, he played in a band called Death that featured a young James Chance on sax, who later made a name for himself with the Contortions in New York.

After Death, Jim had a short stint in a group called Forearm Smash with Death front man Brian Koutnik, Howie Epstein (who went on to play with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) and Breck Burns. After a couple gigs, Jim, Breck, and Howie regrouped with Scott Krueger to form The Craze, who would become a very active unit, performing mostly 60's covers. Scott and Breck would later reconnect in The Orbits, and after that, The Shivvers.

Jill and Jim quickly realized they shared the same love for 60's British power pop, Motown, girl groups and the Phil Spector sound, as well as more cutting edge groups like the Stooges. They were completely open minded about music and didn't want to be pigeonholed into one particular sound. The two discussed getting a band together for months before finally auditioning musicians, hoping to find others as open minded as they were.

First to join was Mike Pyle on rhythm guitar. Though he'd never played in a band before this, he made the cut out of 25 musicians auditioned. He was very into folk, country-blues and the jangly 12-string sound of The Byrds; plus he could sing! Next up was Richie Bush, a bass player from Racine that grew up listening to Motown and was open to playing anything. Finally, after a few months of playing together, a slick blues guitar player named Jim Eannelli, who had previously been playing in a band called Mannequin as well as The Blackholes, completed The Shivvers line-up.

Jill started writing songs, but was terrified to bring them to the band at first. Being a classically trained pianist, she soon realized that writing pop songs was a whole different ballgame. When working on arrangements she'd write every minute detail of the song from the intro to the outro, even incorporating guitar solos. The rest of the band was very receptive to her ideas and helped her bring the songs to life. A unique quality of the band was that all five members could sing.

They practiced for a couple months to get their songs tight and then Eannelli informed the band he had booked them a gig at Zak's, a club at Humboldt and North that recently started hosting punk nights following the recommendation of Jerry Brish, who was now going by the moniker Presley Haskel. Afraid they weren't yet ready for a live show, Jill reluctantly agreed they had to go out and do it. Once the first show jitters were out of the way, things start escalating very quickly.

The Shivvers improved as they continued playing gigs. They'd only get to practice once or twice a week because they'd often be booked the entire weekend. It was not uncommon for them to play Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays consecutively, upwards of three hour sets each night! Playing so much meant they'd have to pad the set with cover songs which ran the gamut of Iggy Pop to Roxy Music to Abba. All the while, Jill would try to present a fresh and new original song each week. With upwards of 150 songs in their repertoire, they'd have enough material to always keep it fresh.

The Shivvers went in the studio fairly early on, recording "Teen Line" before they'd even presented it to a live audience. This would be Jill's first experience in a recording studio. They rushed through the session and without having hired a producer to tell them what to do, the recording didn't quite capture the energy of the song. Regardless, the record sold extremely well, despite the fact they never thought to bring them out to their shows! But all the local record stores carried it and Greg Shaw gave it a nice review in Bomp magazine.

It's interesting to note that there were two distinct pressings of the record, but foggy recollections from all the band members make it entirely unclear as to which came first. They could be differentiated by the label color: one is black with silver print while the other is silver with black print (the latter seems to be much more common). It is believed that the first pressing contained 500 records while the second pressing was 1,000. If that's the case, it would likely seem that the black labels came first. But throw into the mix the fact that one irate member destroyed a large number of records upon being let go from the band, and the mystery continues. Then, to add even more confusion, three different colored sleeves exist! The standard ones are black and white, but they also printed up a very small amount on pink and turquoise paper. Typically, they would run off a batch of sleeves, then each member would take home 25 sleeves, records and plastic bags. After folding and manually cutting down the sleeves with scissors, they'd place them in the plastic bags with the 45s and bring them to the next practice. It's likely only one batch of 25 colored sleeves exists.

Meanwhile, Breck Burns decided to take a hiatus from his band, The Orbits. When they tried to regroup several months later, they found their fans had moved on and the band ultimately fizzled. By this time, The Shivvers had made quite a name for themselves and were pulling in crowds of several hundred people at their shows. So former Orbits' bassist Scott Krueger nudged his way into the line-up of the Shivvers, replacing Rich Bush. Shortly after, the song "Life Without You," which was the first song that Scott and Breck ever wrote together back in their Drones days, was entered into The Shivvers repertoire.

The Shivvers never signed a management agreement, but they did have a booking contract with Ken Adamany And Associates, a company that was most renown for boosting the career of Cheap Trick. Unfortunately, Adamany had no idea how to market The Shivvers. For one, they criticized the single, saying Jill was singing off key. But more importantly, they didn't understand what the band was trying to do. The Shivvers did try other companies, but kept running into the same old reps that were more concerned with how Jill should dress (i.e. more provocatively, less/more make-up, etc). The idea was to mold her into a typical rock chick singer. But that was the antithesis of what Jill was about. Ultimately, "management" failed to accurately describe the band to record companies and they ended up being rejected by both Arista and Elektra.

Nonetheless, the band continued playing music the way they wanted to. No self indulgence, no crazy solos, just fun, catchy pop songs played with a lot of energy. But when they felt they had reached their peak and nothing happened, it was difficult to maintain the excitement and enthusiasm of it all. Jim Eannelli left the group and was replaced by Breck Burns. Soon after, Jim Richardson and Mike Pyle decided to move out to Boston to try and re-establish the band there with hopes of getting signed. But when no one else followed, the eminent demise of The Shivvers was realized. Their final show was headlining the "Rock Stage" at Milwaukee's Summerfest in front of several thousand people on July 3rd, 1982.

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