Saturday, January 26, 2013

NEMB - The Middle Room

A. The Middle Room

B. Torture

NEMB (Baltimore, MD)
The Middle Room b/w Torture
Green Records, 1981

Lee Warren grew up in Daytona Beach, FL. His musical taste was highly influenced by the discovery of Alice Cooper and New York Dolls records in the early 70s. From there he got into glitter bands like David Bowie, Roxy Music, and other stuff from England he had read about in the pages of Melody Maker and Rock Scene.

In 1977, Lee started attending the University of South Florida in Tampa. At the time, southern rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels Band dominated the airwaves and the live club circuit, which he wanted nothing to do with. Fundamentally, he liked the sound of distorted guitar and when he moved to Tampa and found others who shared a common interest, he immediately set out to form a band.

Lee introduced himself to a student in a dorm hallway who was wearing a Kinks t-shirt. His name was Bill Carey and he had transplanted from Naples, FL to attend school at USF. Bill collected vintage guitars and was a fan of bands like the Velvet Underground, Stooges, NY Dolls, Mott The Hoople, and the early CBGB groups.

Realizing they were into a lot of the same music, the two started frequenting Mi Backyard, a kind of a redneck bar with a picnic and BBQ area that began having punk nights in the spring of 1978. The first time they went they saw a power pop band called Just Boys playing. It was decided that they needed to form their own band.

They started writing songs together with Lee singing and Bill on guitar. Then they brought in Bill’s girlfriend Joyce who also played guitar. They posted ads on bulletin boards around campus to find other members and met a bass player named David Bowman. They completed the line-up with a 15 year old drummer named Val who was an advanced placement student in college. She had a Mo Tucker sensibility about the way she played minimalist drums without utilizing cymbals.

They named the band the Art Holes and played their first gig at a rehearsal space rented out by members of a local band called the Jackers. Lee never sang in front of people before and had a bit of stage fright, but they made it through the show and people liked them. The band started getting other gigs around town and neighboring Sarasota. Eventually Allen Esser took Val’s place on drums and gave the band a more powerful sound.

Lee graduated in 1979 and moved up to Baltimore. Bill and Dave continued playing together in a band called the Jetsons, who later became Stick Figures. Meanwhile, Lee began working on songs with a drummer named Rick Sugden, who had coincidentally had a short stint in the Jetsons. In late summer/early fall of 1980, Lee met George Poscover through an ad he'd posted in a record store. Rick sort of drifted away once George came into the picture and since they couldn’t find another drummer, Lee bought a Roland CR-78 rhythm machine.

Lee called the band Non-Erotic Male Bonding, or NEMB for short, since some club owners objected to the full version of the name. On Saturday April 4, 1981 a Gender-Fuck Party was held where attendees went into a closet where a Bolex film camera was setup with a cable release that advanced the film one frame at a time. On that night a version of NEMB that included Lee, George, and a guitar player named Charles Freeman performed.

Lee’s old band mates Bill and Dave took a hiatus from Stick Figures and came up to Baltimore in the summer of 1981. They joined Lee and George, who were working on some NEMB demos. The temporary line-up recorded two songs that would be released as NEMB’s sole output in a run of 500 copies. Their version of “The Middle Room” became the soundtrack to the Gender Fuck Party film that had previously been shown without an audio track. Lee and George can be seen in the film between :07 and :14.

Bill, Dave, and the rest of Stick Figures ended up moving to New York and tried to get something going there. Unfortunately things didn’t pan out and the band soon drifted apart. Lee wanted to move to New York as well which brought an end to NEMB. In February 1982, Lee and Bill along with Rachel Bowman from Stick Figures formed a new band called King Of Culture. They played frequently in New York for a couple years with numerous line-up changes and released a single on Green Records. Not making enough money to sustain themselves, the band eventually split apart. 


Stick Figures - Crayola Bowling

A1. N-Light

A2. Ellis Otivator Dub

B1. Crayola Bowling

B2. September

The Stick Figures EP
Green (2581), 1981

Sid Dansby moved from Jacksonville to Tampa in 1978 to double major in engineering and music at the University of South Florida. He grew up playing a wide range of percussion instruments including tympani, vibes, and xylophone as well as guitar, violin, and piano. His brother Robert, who was an art major at the same college, picked up violin at an early age and played drums. Their school introduced them to multi-track recording and synths as their musical influences gravitated towards the glam sounds of the New York Dolls, Bowie and the unique compositions of Soft Machine, King Crimson, Zappa and Beefheart.

During their first year at USF, the Dansby brothers met Dave Bowman, Bill Carey, and Lee Warren who were in a band called the Art Holes. That band ended the following year when Lee graduated and moved up to Baltimore. Sid and Dave then discussed starting a new project to make music unlike anything else they were hearing. They brought in Bill Carey as well as Dave’s sister Rachel. After trying out a few different drummers, Sid's brother Robert became the permanent choice.

The new band was coined the Jetsons and they played around the Tampa area frequently. There was a very vibrant music scene happening there with a myriad of venue options. The band developed a strong following working clubs like the Buffalo Roadhouse, Ms. Lucky’s, and Mi Backyard 2-3 times per month. They even played sets before films like Eraserhead that were being shown on campus.

Everyone in the band was proficient at multiple instruments so they often switched things around. They all came up with general ideas for songs and typically they’d work them into complete compositions together. The band primarily played original material but they’d throw in maybe one Iggy, Roxy Music, or Jonathan Richman song per performance. After a while they decided to change their name to Stick Figures.

The band earned enough money from gigging to go in a studio on Davis Island in the middle of the night and quickly lay down the tracks for a four song EP. Community radio station WMNF was a big supporter of the local music scene and one of the station’s DJs named Pam Wiener became the Stick Figures manager. She also helped them release their 7".

Each member designed their own unique sleeve and then ran off copies on a Xerox machine before getting together to stuff the records into the sleeves. They received airplay on not only local stations, but even John Peel played Stick Figures on the BBC in England. In fact, the band was picked up by UK indie label Glass Records and were supposed to put out a record with them.

In 1981 the band set out for New York in hopes of finding a broader audience. They continued to be prolific, churning out two or three new songs every week and amassing a repertoire upwards of a couple hundred original songs, but they didn't play out much. After recording most of an album, the struggle to survive in the big city proved too much and things fell apart.

Stick Figures played their finals gigs in Atlanta, back to back nights supporting the Fall and Lounge Lizards.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Menlo Park - My Heart

My Heart

Wrong Side Of A Gun

MENLO PARK (Ashland, KY)
My Heart b/w Wrong Side Of A Gun
Wrong Planet (103260), 1980

Growing up in the late 50s and early 60s, Mike Fitzpatrick was exposed to a lot of different styles of music. He picked up a guitar at an early age and by the sixth grade had formed his first band, the LTDs. By high school, he was playing in a band called the SoundWave with Gary Kesling on drums. Mike and Gary continued playing together for many years through various incarnations. By the mid 1970s, they were going by the name Lather.

A seasoned guitar player named Ed Fields was asked to join them on bass. Ed grew up watching American Bandstand and listening to AM stations on the transistor radio his mom got him when he was eight. He first met Mike at the Boys Club in Westwood, a suburb of Ashland, KY where every Saturday night there was a dance. Instead of chasing girls, the two watched the bands that played and intently studied their techniques.

By 1979, Mike and Ed were ready to try something new. Fully aware of the new wave crave, they wanted to put a fresh spin on the 60s music they had been playing for so long. They began working together on original songs and brought Gary back in on drums. They recruited a bassist named Dave Copley, who had played in a metal band called Shotgun with Ed back in '74. They concentrated on writing catchy pop songs, giving extreme attention to the vocal harmonies.

Since there were few bars and school dances to showcase their music in Ashland, the band often ventured out to Huntington, WV, just across the state line. They had come up with between 30 and 40 original songs but still had to incorporate some covers into their set to appease the crowds. They did material by the Beatles, Kinks, Zombies and other British Invasion acts as well as contemporary groups such as Elvis Costello, the Clash, the Police, Shoes and even Devo.

Menlo Park, named after the research lab where Edison invented the phonograph, went to the Recording Workshop in Chillicothe, OH in May 1980 to lay down two tracks, “My Heart” and “Wrong Side Of A Gun.” The songs were engineered and mixed by staff instructors at the school and since the band was so well rehearsed, they finished up in a single evening. Using funds they earned from playing gigs, Menlo Park released the songs as a single on their own Wrong Planet imprint in a tiny pressing, which they recollect being only 100-200 copies. Despite the optimistic "First Pressing" notation on the center labels, another batch was never made.

For the next two years, Menlo Park became the regular band for student practice sessions at the Recording Workshop, which was located about an hour and a half from their home town. They were there every six weeks. One of the songs they recorded there, "Run And Run," won a talent contest from a radio station out of Huntington, WV. The band was given studio time to re-recorded the song in a Huntington studio and then it was included on a WKEE compilation album that was released in 1981. The song was played on the air just one time at two in the morning.

In January of 1982, the Recording Workshop released their own compilation album featuring three of the bands that recorded there the summer before. Five Menlo Park tracks were included on that record. Not long after, Gary left the band and they went through a couple different drummers before Ed departed as well. In 1986 Mike and Gary reunited to form a new band called the Return. Several years later, Dave joined them and the band is still going strong to this day.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Cyberphonics - Losers

A. Losers

B. All The Time

Losers b/w All The Time
Cyberecords (CYB 1001/1002), 1981

1979 saw the birth of a new Dallas-area band called The Cyberphonics. Drummer Paul Cox and guitar/keyboardist Mike Pierce began collaborating and then recruited their friend Steve Mentzer on guitar and Paul’s brother Glenn on bass. All self-taught musicians, they focused on writing original material.

Their first gig was part of a multiple band bill on March 14, 1980 called “Stars Over Texas,” which included The Telefones, The Doo, Quad Pi, Teenage Queers, and others. Glenn worked as a delivery driver for a local company and struck up a conversation about music with a dock worker named Scott Light. After mentioning the band, Scott asked if he could try out and soon landed the job as lead singer. The five-piece Cyberphonics began playing at punk and new wave spots like the Hot Klub and Metamorphosis.

In 1981, they went to Crystal Clear Studios in Dallas and self financed a quick session that produced two songs, “Losers” and “All The Time.” It took them several more months to come up with the funds to get records pressed. Paul worked in an office supply store so he was able to print the foldover covers and lyric inserts there. He also cut over-sized manila envelopes to house the sleeves and records in a promo package with rubber stamps on the front. Most of the promo packs were sent to labels or radio stations while the rest of the copies were given away to fans.

The band rehearsed five nights a week for hours on end. Tensions began to grow within the band and it was decided to move forward without Mike Pierce. They replaced him with guitarist/songwriter John Churchill who Scott knew from Jr. High. Scott moved over to keyboards and did some guitar parts while he and John shared lead vocals. They changed the name of the band to The Look but that only lasted for a single gig and then they played a couple more shows as The Nu-5. Ultimately, it was decided they could only be known as The Cyberphonics and they changed the name back again.

They acquired talent and business manager Bruce Stover & Associates and he took the band into the studio to record a four-song demo to shop to record companies. BSA told the band not to worry about gigs and concentrate on writing songs. Management eventually took the band to Los Angeles to play Madame Wongs in China Town, Gazzari’s on the Sunset strip, and the legendary Troubadour. On two separate occasions, the band opened for the Romantics. They even got their music to a rep at Geffen, but still, they never got their big break.

The band continued to practice but rarely played in public. BSA took the band into the studio three other times to record more demos, but no other records were released and no major labels came knocking. In 1984, BSA told the band the drumming was the reason they didn’t have a record contract so Paul was fired and replaced by David Lee. The chemistry was lost. John went back to school and before long the band had fully run its course.