Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Baxters - What Ya Gonna Do

What Ya Gonna Do

Don't Run Away

Hey Little Girl

After seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show when he was just 10 years old, Jim Keller knew he wanted to be a musician. Having been drawn to Ringo, Jim started drumming along to songs on the radio on a makeshift drum set that was comprised of upside down wastebaskets until his parents set him up with formal lessons. While in junior high, he played percussion in the school's marching band and by the age of 12 he was making $25 on Saturday nights performing at weddings. Then in high school he was in the jazz ensemble and orchestra.

Jim dedicated an hour and a half each day to practicing drums in his basement before finally starting to play in his first rock n roll bands. They'd perform at parties and play all the high school dances, doing material by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Savoy Brown; lots of blues-influenced and acid rock.

By the mid-70s a friend of Jim's encouraged him to audition for a band called In A Hot Coma. The band, which had previously been known as Marilyn, had recently changed personnel, and with that, their name. Jim got the gig as drummer alongside Jerome Brish (going by the name Alex Deluxe) on guitar, Scott Krueger on bass, Caleb Alexander on sax, and Martin Krohne on guitar.

This line-up of the band played a warm-up slot for Cheap Trick right before their debut album on Epic was released. It was a jam-packed performance and Jerome was wearing a pair of custom made, skintight leopard pants with nothing underneath. Unbeknownst to him, the entire front seam of his pants had split during one of their final songs. The audience was pointing fingers and the band tried to gesture to him that he had “fallen out,” but he didn’t notice until after they’d completed their set! Thinking he'd be the laughing stock of the city, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielson assured him after the show that the incident would be talked about for years to come, and that's a good thing!

In A Hot Coma would continue to incur line-up changes throughout most of their existence, but did stabilize themselves for a while with Jerome Brish, Richard and Gerard LaValliere, Guy Hoffman and a promising young keyboard player named Jill Kossoris. When Jill decided to leave the group after a couple years to form her own band, The Shivvers, the remainder of In A Hot Coma morphed into The Haskels.

Martin left In A Hot Coma in 1976 and joined up with another former IAHC alumni named Mark Schneider for the first incarnation of Red Ball Jets. When Mark later split from that band, the rest of the group continued on under the name Jet Pak while Mark continued to record and release tapes under the name Red Ball Jets. Meanwhile, Jet Pak got picked up by a talent agency and was playing frequently around the Milwaukee area until Martin left to play in his next project, Taurus, with a bass player named Greg Scott.

Greg Scott, born Greg Scott Malcolm, was also heavily influenced by the Beatles performance on Ed Sullivan and was enthralled by the music of the British Invasion. He got his first electric bass at the age of 13 and went on to play battle of the bands competitions, as well as small gigs and dances through his high school years. After that he continued playing in various bands, most notably a stint with jazz/blues guitarist Bill "Scat" Johnson, formerly of the Ink Spots.

Greg formed Taurus with some local musicians from his battle of the bands days. Martin Krohne was enlisted to join them through an ad in a Milwaukee newspaper. Though the band primarily played covers, Greg and Martin started writing original songs together. The two of them would trade off lead vocal duties and focus on harmonies. This group was short lived, however. Greg and Martin decided to start a new project and after recruiting Jim Keller and Scott Krueger, they became The Feel.

Backtracking to when Jim left In A Hot Coma, he hooked up with a Rockford-based pop group called The Names. They were managed by Ken Adamany, the company that helped bring Cheap Trick to the masses and later mis-managed the Shivvers. Meanwhile, Scott Krueger was playing in a myriad of bands, quickly became one of the most sought after bass players in Milwaukee. After In A Hot Coma he played in a cover band called The Craze before joining The Feel with Greg, Martin and Jim. Oddly enough, Scott played guitar in this band instead of bass. They primarily did British Invasion material.

Scott eventually left The Feel and went on to play in The Orbits, and later, The Shivvers. By mid-1979, Martin, Greg and Jim had come into their own as The Baxters, a well-rehearsed trio. After placing second at a State Fair Battle Of The Bands competition in West Allis, they made their debut at popular punk club, Zak’s, on New Years Eve alongside The Haskels.

The band sauntered on for a couple years, writing songs and playing shows and parties around the Midwest. They occasionally tried bringing in a second guitar player but typically remained a three-piece. Along with Martin and Greg's originals, The Baxters incorporated some covers into their set from the likes of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, with a sprinkling of British Invasion material carried over from their days in The Feel. At the height of their existence they had over 200 original songs in their repertoire!

The band did numerous 4-track basement recordings of some of their originals, and even laid down some tracks at Star Studios on National Avenue in late August 1980. Unfortunately, they were never able to get the money together to release a record. Their song "Don't Run Away" eventually saw the light of day on 1997's Great Lost Brew Wave CD, while "What Ya Gonna Do" finally got heard on the 2001 CD set, History In 3 Chords.

By the end of 1981 the band had run its course. Jim began his own business and stopped playing drums to pursue that and take care of his family. Martin and Greg then formed a top 40 band called Tommy Gunn before going on to play in a short-lived band called Invisible Babylon with Jerome Brish (who still insisted on being called Presley Haskel).

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.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Singles - Play It!

A1. Lookin' Round For You

A2. Nicole

B1. Sheena's Got A New Hero

B2. Just Another Girl

THE SINGLES (Santa Cruz, CA)
Play It! EP
Big Cheese, 1983

Rick Gallego grew up listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys and Motown. He got his musical start playing bass in a couple community college jazz bands and rock n roll cover groups before switching over to guitar. In 1982, not long after moving to Santa Cruz, CA, he began putting his own original band together. He wanted to emulate artists like Elvis Costello, The Plimsouls and Paul Collins' Beat, while incorporating 60s-style pop.

Through ads in BAM magazine and bulletins in a local music store, he formed The Singles with Marque Kelsey on guitar, Al Vergara on bass and David Townley on drums. After only a few gigs, Shawn Andrews took over on bass. Rick would primarily write the songs by himself, hoping they'd be as good as those from the artists he loved.

The Singles typically played 4-5 times a week around the Bay area. They built a small but loyal following in Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Jose, and San Francisco. In 1983 they went in the studio and quickly recorded four songs for a 7" EP. With financial help from David's dad, they pressed up a batch of what they believe was less than 500 records, with the possibility that it was only 100 or 200. The records were housed in oversized sleeves and came sealed. They sold the records at shows and gave a lot of them away. The local papers gave it good reviews and "Nicole" even got a couple spins on local San Jose station KWSS.

By early 1984 Jeff Smith took Marque's spot on guitar and Joe Laub replaced Shawn on bass. With the new line-up in place, they won a Battle of the Bands competition which helped them get a slot opening for Elvin Bishop at the Halloween Ball later that year.

By 1985 interests started to change and the band split up. Marque and Shawn went on to play in a band called Romp while Jeff and Joe started the Missionary's. Rick went on to form a band called Rickardo's Bandolero's that included a horn section as well as background vocals from Darby Gould who would later replace Grace Slick in Jefferson Starship. Rick then moved to LA to become an R&B songwriter, but that didn't quite pan out. He later recorded and produced music under the name Jiffipop, then later Cloud Eleven. He's also released five CDs of his own music.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Vertebrats - Diamonds In The Rough

A. Diamonds In The Rough

B. Jackie's Gone

VERTEBRATS (Champaign, IL)
Diamonds In The Rough b/w Jackie's Gone
Vb (Verte-5), 1980

Since a child, Ken Draznik had an affinity for the Beatles. He and his three brothers would substitute baseball bats for guitars as they played along to the songs buzzing out of their transistor radio. The only vocal "training" Ken ever got was singing church songs at his Catholic school. Later he played rhythm guitar along with bluegrass musicians, though they never performed publicly.

In the fall of 1977, Ken was rooming with a guy named Willie Wells who had an evening radio show on the local college station, WPGU. Though the station had an AOR format, Willie would occasionally sneak in songs from the Sex Pistols, Clash and other punk bands he had discovered. A listener named Roy Axford often called in to urge him to play more punk. The situation was remedied when Roy joined forces with Willie every other Saturday night for the 11-midnight slot on the newly coined Roy Bad Show. At the time, Ken was writing record reviews for the student paper, the Daily Illini, so he was regularly sent records and able to contribute new music to the show as well.

A friend of Ken's started pestered him to play guitar with her 14 year old brother, Matt Brandabur. After finally relenting and hearing Matt 's guitar playing, he was blown away. They decided to get a band going, so with Roy on bass, The Vertebrats played their first gig on July 4th, 1979, with no drummer, microphones or sound system. They continued playing parties around town for the next few months with various drummers until convincing their friend Jimmy Wald to be their permanent drummer. Though Jimmy was a seasoned bass and guitar player, he had formal drum training when he was younger.

At the time it was standard for bands to play three 45 minute sets a night, so even though they were writing original material, they'd also have to cushion their set with a lot of cover songs. They blended a mix of punk and new wave songs from Jonathan Richman, the Ramones, and Iggy Pop with British Invasion material by the Stones, Yardbirds and Who. They'd have week-long marathon sessions in the living room of the house they rented just to learn enough songs to play out. When it came to writing original material, it was a very collaborative effort at first, where each member would contribute to the arrangements. Matt and Ken would do the bulk of the singing, focusing on harmonies.

A friend named Kent Carrico came on board to manage and help promote the band. Their mainstay was Mabel's, a jazz club that decided to give rock n roll a shot. The bar would open their doors early on Fridays and Saturdays for "Afternoon Madness," or "Football Madness" if a game was on. The Vertebrats would play a couple sets in the afternoon, then come back and play three more the same night. As a live band, they made an effort to connect with the audiences, to which they received admirable response.

In time, each band member started coming to the table with more fully formed songs to work on. They'd rehearse three nights a week and eventually were playing numerous shows each month. They never intended on making a career of the band, especially since Matt was still in high school and the rest of the guys had jobs. So they mostly gigged around the Champaign-Urbana area, and also ventured over to Chicago a bunch.

Their first recording experience was in the WPGU studios where their friend Willie Wells, who had since moved on to another radio station, still had some clout. He was able to secure them an off-air studio and using 8 microphones he quickly recorded a handful of songs for the band. During the session, they met Jon Ginoli who was the current night shift DJ.

Then, in the summer of 1980, they went to Faithful Studios in Urbana to record more songs. Faithful was an old house near a railroad track where a huge soundboard was shoved in to what used to be the pantry. Recording had to be stopped any time a train came by as it would rattle the house. Mark Rubel engineered the session which resulted in "Left In The Dark," "Teen Seen," and "Robbery." Their new friend, WPGU jockey Jon Ginoli, played the songs on his radio show a few days later, even though they never officially released the songs. Jon would later send the recording of "Left In The Dark" to Greg Shaw at Bomp, who included the song on the first Battle Of The Garages compilation LP that was released on Bomp's sister company, Voxx, in 1981.

In August of 1980, they recorded two more songs at Faithful with Mark Rubel, "Diamonds In The Rough" and "Jackie's Gone," which would become their sole single. They self financed the release using proceeds from their gigs. By this time it wasn't uncommon for them to draw 400 people to their shows at Mabel's, so they were able to press up 1,000 copies. They sold out of the first run pretty quickly, so they pressed up a second batch of 500 more. You could differentiate the pressings by the center label color: first pressings are yellow, second are tan. Ken did the graphics for the cover as that was his day job at the time. The band glue-sticked all the picture sleeves together in their living room.

The Vertebrats went out to Pasadena, CA in the summer of 1982 and recorded some songs with Greg Shaw. The session produced seven more songs, but by the time they returned home, Roy had gotten a good job offer and Jim and Matt wanted to continue school. So they called it a day. They all played in various projects after that and now get together to do Vertebrats reunions every three years or so.

In the years that followed the break-up, many bands would end up covering the song "Left In The Dark." The Replacements were playing it in their live set and it appeared on their cassette-only Twin Tone release, The Shit Hits The Fan. Uncle Tupelo also recorded the song early in their career. It was released as a promo-only 45 but didn't see a proper release til many years later when they gained control of their master tapes. Courtney Love also recorded a version of the song which was intended to be on her America's Sweetheart album, but ultimately didn't make the cut. But one of the most bizarre instances of the song came from a band called the Leonards, who finagled their version into an episode of the TV show Ugly Betty.

A decade after the band broke up, Parasol Records wanted to release a CD of Vertebrats material. First came A Thousand Day Dream and later Continuous Shows. The CDs showcase songs from the various recording sessions the band did, along with live material. A double 7" set called Revert was also released by Parasol, which includes the five songs they recorded at Faithful Studios. And most recently they put out an LP called Screaming Like A Mad Choir, with liner notes written by Jon Ginoli.