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The Best Gigs I Ever Played In - by Pete Vogel

Poor JCE didn’t know the Pandora’s Box he would open by sharing his favorites list.

I imagine that a good percentage of Pencilstorm readers are working - or formerly-working - musicians and I imagine all have some wonderful stories to share about gigging.  When JCE originally posted about his top ten list, I knew this would snowball in many different directions: best concerts, worst concerts, near misses, etc. I thought I’d take a stab in another direction - which will probably lead down yet another path - and this is aptly called: The Best Gigs I Ever Played In.  Here she goes:

June, 1983 – Some Dive Bar in downtown Louisville, KY (The Toll)

The most famous band I ever played in was The Toll: I joined them while still in high school.  I met Brad Circone at a party (he was dating a classmate), and he asked me to join the band. I was actually a 9-to-5 punker and a total phony: I would meet up with the guys, jam to Clash and Sex Pistols tunes, then go home and crank up Ozzy and Zep.  I didn’t dare tell my bandmates about my ‘double life’ because I’m sure they would lynch me.

Myke Rock was our tour manager at the time; he booked us a Sunday night gig in Louisville, KY.  It was our first out-of-town gig, so I was both excited and nervous. We left on a Sunday afternoon: the band took two vehicles to the show, and we drove the six-hour journey from Columbus to Louisville.  We arrived at the downtown club at dusk and were shocked and disappointed that only three people showed up. Brad was pissed.

“Look—we just drove 6 fucking hours to play for these people, so we’re going to give them a show they’ll never forget!”

It’s amazing what raw anger can do to a punk band: we raised the roof that night.  Everybody was on top of their game: Doug Marrah (bass), Rick Silk (lead/rhythm guitar) and Brad (lead vocals, rhythm) put on a show for the ages for these three punk rockers in attendance. The crowd was beyond elated that we didn’t phone it in for the paltry turnout; they loved every minute of it.

I’d just graduated from 12 years of Catholic school so I was a little nervous about what transpired next: one of the female punkers came back to the dressing room and sat on my lap.  She had green hair and her breath was a toxic mix of alcohol, cigarettes, weed and lord-knows-what. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was a former altar boy and recent grad from Catholic high school.  

“I like drummers,” she said.  I wasn’t sure what to say back, so I mumbled something stupid like: “I like girls.”

We left the club around 3am and drove straight back to Columbus, arriving Monday morning around 9am.  We were groggy and despondent over the gig, but it was the trip of a lifetime and the best gig we ever played while I was part of the band.

I moved to LA in 1984 because I thought The Toll weren’t going anywhere.  While I struggled to make a name for myself in Hollywood, my former mates were signed to Geffen Records.  I left California in 1985 only to have my Cali roommate - Tommy Caradonna - sign with Lita Ford.

Ugh.

August, 1998 – Some Campus House Concert (The Balance)

The Balance was a six-piece jam band that I played with for three years (1997-2000).  It was a unique cast of characters that liked the “idea” of being in a band more than actually “being” in a band (i,e.. more bong hits than rehearsals).  The band was comprised of Rick Bahner (vocals, acoustic guitar), Huston Wolfe (bass), Ralph Evans (percussion), Mark Deffet (lead guitar), Kevin Deffet (harmonica, banjo) and yours truly (drums).  I always wanted to be in a jam band because you only had to learn three songs. That makes for an easy gig.

We were hired to play a house concert before house concerts were a thing; it was a campus party and it was summer quarter…..meaning we could play until all hours of the night.  The band actually rehearsed for this show and we were beginning to sound like a band, not just drunken stoners with instruments.

We always handed out percussion at our shows (shakers, tambo, bongos) and that night we had an enthusiastic crowd that was really interested in finding a groove with us.  We placed congas and bongos around the room, brought extra shakers and tambourines with us, and really engaged the crowd in becoming “one” with us.

[Caveat: Huston talked me into taking an ecstasy pill that night.  I thought my drug-taking days were behind me, but I was in a pretty chill mood so we split a pill between us.]  

The band really grooved and the crowd grooved with us.  There were some 40 or 50 people at the party and about ten of them were playing along with us.  We’d start into a groove on an old classic tune - “Ain’t No Sunshine,” for instance - and before you knew it, the groove transcended the band and spilled over into the crowd.  People who had never played an instrument in their lives were suddenly transported by the rhythm of the music and were jamming alongside us. It was truly magical—it was our own private Woodstock.  

We played until 3am; every song lasted 20 minutes.  No cops ever showed. [We figured if they did they’d simply grab an instrument and play along—that’s how magical that night was.]  We did lengthy versions of all our songs; the girls all danced and giggled, the guys jammed along with the band and it was an out-of-body experience for all those who were present.

ps. Ecstasy may have contributed.  

At the end of the show—while we were packing away our stuff—Mark Deffet said out loud: “We weren’t playing music tonight.  Music was playing us..” Amen.

August, 2000 – Barrister Hall (Brotherton)

I quit working with The Balance in 2000 because we were only capable of playing two good shows a year.  The other shows were ill-fated attempts at keeping any one of our alcoholic, stoner bandmates sober for the entirety of a gig.  Mission unaccomplished.

John Bolzenius introduced me to Kevin Brotherton, a clean-cut teetotaler who was seriously interested in playing good music.  He came from the Stevie Ray/Eric Johnson school of bluesy improvisation, so it was nice to play with someone who truly cared about tone (and sobriety).  He used to plug a Fender Twin along with a Marshall stack into an A/B switch and when he blended the two amps together it sounded like Neal Schon on “Lights.”  Fucking tone freak.

We added a bass player - Mark Cantwil - and I pulled double duty on drums and keys.  As a power trio it was fun to put out as much sound as possible; Mark had great vocal chops, Kevin had a huge guitar sound and I bought a new set of Yamaha Recording Customs for the sole purpose of trying to get the largest sound out of the smallest size drums (mission accomplished).  

Being in a power trio is fun—everyone has to work really hard.  Kevin was an average vocalist, but when he and Mark sang together it was really full.  We had a big sound for a power trio and it was very challenging to pull it off. And there were far less headaches dealing with three schedules as opposed to six.  

Barrister Hall was running a rare Sunday Night Rock Series for a while back in 2000, and we were hired to play one of its premiere shows.  We were very excited about being in the upscale club, where jazz, bourbon and cigars generally flourished. Unfortunately, the night of our gig only four people showed up.  We were so pissed about the lousy crowd that we took our anger out on our instruments. We blasted through original after original, jamming out instrumentals and playing as loud as we could.  The show was so much fun for those four lonely souls that the bartender actually stage-dove off the riser and broke a chair at the end of the show!

Thank God we didn’t have to drive home from Louisville at the end of that gig.


July, 2010 – Akron Italian Festival (Stadium 11)

I never really enjoyed playing in cover bands until I joined Stadium 11.  I had worked with two of its members back in the day -James Paat and Bob Mains - and they were top-notch musicians.  We assembled a setlist within a couple of practices, brought in Cliff Stanton and Mike Matko on vocals and bass, and within a couple of months were out playing big-time gigs.  

Stadium 11 fell together so quickly that we hardly had time to process it.  We all loved classic rock, so for us to cobble together 30 tunes only took two rehearsals.  The songs were a part of our childhood, so we didn’t have to work hard to get the arrangements in order.

James booked us a gig in Akron at the Italian Festival, we were opening up for a Journey cover band.  We knew Akron was rebounding from a tumultuous recession, but decided to play the gig anyhow. We thought it would be a total bust: drive two-plus hours to play for a dozen folks at a crappy event.  We drove up separately on a Friday afternoon and when we reached Lock 3 - a renovated space downtown - we couldn’t believe our eyes: There were thousands of people already milling about, the weather was perfect, and Lock 3 is essentially Akron’s version of Columbus Commons.

We arrived at the stage and a half-dozen roadies helped us with our gear.  They gave us bottled water and a dressing room. The roadies moved all our equipment to the stage and assisted in setting up.  As showtime approached, between 8 & 10,000 people were sitting on the side of the hill, ready to embark on some classic rock from these out-of-towners.

We hit the stage in full stride.  Adrenaline was high. Even though this was a new crowd, we knew they would like the songs.  We dove into cover after cover: “Too Hard to Handle” by the Black Crowes; “Roll With the Changes” by REO; “Alright Now” by Free, etc.  As we played song after song, the crowd slowly moved closer and closer to the stage and by the time we played “Kashmir” they were putty in our hands.  

We played 90 minutes without stopping and every song was better than the last.  We could hear the music wafting off the buildings in the distance and bouncing back.  People were dancing, milling about, getting closer and closer to the stage. When all forces come together like this: perfect weather, perfect setting, perfect stage, perfect crowd, perfect sound—magic truly happens.  Everyone was at the top of their game: James on keys, Bob on guitar, Cliff on vocals, Jeff Taylor (Mike’s replacement) on bass and yours truly on drums.

After the show, an older gentleman came to the front of the stage and whistled for me to come over.  I was a little nervous, he looked straight out of “The Godfather” with his jet-black hair combed back like Elvis.  I’m half-paisan, so I just imagined he was a long-lost relative coming to greet an old cousin.  

I cautiously wandered to the front of the stage: “What’s up?” I asked, guarded yet friendly.

“I just wanted to tell you that was the best rock drumming I’ve heard in 20 years.”  

“Wow…” I said.  “Thank you…I really appreciate that.”

I was embarrassed that I was nervous greeting him, because all he wanted to do was make my day.  What a kind soul—what a wonderful thing to say. What a perfect night.

Before the show began, I noticed an elderly hippie couple sitting in the center of the audience.  They both wore long white hair, tie-dye shirts and Lennon sunglasses. They looked to be in their mid- to late-60s.  I was concerned they wouldn’t like our set: we rock’n’rollers might be too loud and large for their tastes, but as we strummed the first chord they immediately got to their feet and remained there, dancing to every tune.  For the entire 90 minutes they never sat down, and grooved from one tune to the next.

Cliff and I decided to accost them after the gig to thank them for their enthusiasm and energy.  We walked up to them, shook their hands and said: “Thanks so much for dancing to our entire set. You totally made our day.”

The couple looked at each other, then back at Cliff and me.  The hippie guy furrowed his brow and said to us: “Who are you guys?”


August 2009 – Woodlands Tavern, Columbus (Matt Monta & The Hot Coal Band)

Playing with Stadium 11 was fun, but original music was still my passion.  I longed to play in a band that cared about original music, and Matt Monta answered the bell in 2009.  

He was fronting a band - The Hot Coal Band - but their drummer, Slim, was having back surgery and needed a replacement.  They asked if I’d sit in on a couple of gigs while they found someone else. Of course I jumped at the opportunity; even though I was a decade older than everyone else, I felt relevant playing with the young kids at all the cool spots.  

The Hot Coal Band was outstanding: Matt on guitar, harmonica and vocals; Bree Frick on cello, percussion and vocals; Andy Shaw on bass and trumpet; Chris Shaw on fiddle, mandolin and percussion and yours truly behind the kit.  We did 90% originals in the spirit of Johnny Cash on crack. It was pure magic.

We reached our pinnacle opening up for Deb Landolt and the Drifter Kings.  It was a packed house at Woodlands on a beautiful Friday night and the double billing was as good as advertised—which we did a lot of for that show.  

The gig itself was a blur: I could barely remember the details of the show, but it was 80 minutes of in-your-face rockabilly that featured everyone in the band.  I believe the only cover we did was Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” and we simply destroyed every song. The crowd whooped and hollered, danced all over the place and the venue was at fever pitch by the time we left the stage.  I remembered thinking to myself: “This is the beginning of something truly special.”

The band reached their peak that night.  A couple months later Andy left the band.  Two months after that Chris was gone, too. We hung on for another year with replacements but it all fell apart by 2011.  Go figure. A band that I thought would survive a decade was dead and gone within two years. Ugh.

There are many honorable mentions, but these five stood out because I distinctly remember the magical feeling I had after each show.  I will carry those memories to my grave. I’m looking forward to others’ posts! - Pete









Juliana Hatfield: The Pencilstorm Interview - by Jeremy Porter

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST FOR THIS ARTICLE - Listen while you read!

Juliana Hatfield has been on a roll. Her last three records have arguably been some of the best work of her 33-year music career. Pussycat (2017), was an unplanned rally-cry against the Trump regime, sometimes more subtle than others, but never without her signature pop overtones and cutting lyrics. Weird (2019), her most current release, leaves the political sentiments behind in favor of a modern indie-pop-rock sound.  And the …Sings Olivia Newton-John (2018) covers collection, a nod to her musical hero, was nothing short of a masterpiece.  And then there’s the back catalog. Her first band Blake Babies were a bit less refined and polished, but brought a real charm to the table with that innocence, and her early solo records – including her commercial high-water mark The Juliana Hatfield Three – Become What You Are (with her biggest hit single “My Sister”) were staples of early 90’s alternative rock and MTV’s 120 Minutes.  

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The 20 years between this recent renaissance and her early alt-rock success were a little quieter for Juliana, in the world spotlight at least.  She delved into some side projects – Some Girls, Minor Alps (with Matthew Caws of Nada Surf), and The I Don’t Cares (with Paul Westerberg). There were Blake Babies and JH3 reunion albums and short tours, and a string of solo records and EPs that often cast-aside the ear-worm poppiness for a darker, more sparse and spacious sound. Her touring schedule slowed down considerably, and while she never disappeared from the public eye, sightings were certainly less frequent. In 2009 she published her auto-biography When I Grow Up: A Memoir, a revealing and compelling look into her career, anxieties, and personal life. 

On Friday night, Juliana will return to the Detroit area for the first time in 18 years, by my calculations, for a show at The Magic Bag in Ferndale (Get your tickets HERE!). It’s a short, 10-city US tour on the heels of a UK tour in May, and we can’t wait!

We were lucky to catch up with Juliana recently to chat about her recent resurgence, her history in the Motor City, and if we might ever get that follow-up to the I Don’t Cares’ record. 

Jeremy Porter: You seem to be on a great roll with the last couple records – Pussycat, Sings Olivia Newton John, and this year’s Weird.  You’ve been consistently active and busy, but this recent string of releases seems exceptionally inspired, and now you’re playing out more than you have in quite a while. What brought on that change and do it see it carrying forward? 

Juliana Hatfield: I just feel time moving faster than ever before. I feel an urgency to keep producing work and not stopping because the world is hurtling toward destruction, or something, and it will all be over soon so I may as well push really hard until we all hit the wall as a species. Plus, I have gotten to the point at which I have streamlined my life to accommodate work and not much else.

JP: Pussycat was a personal response to the political climate after the 2016 election. Looking at it a couple years later, where do think we’re at now?  Are we still in the same boat or can you see any rays of light on the horizon?

JH: I don't even like to think about it. I don't think things look very good.

JP: JHSONJ was my favorite record of 2018 and the reaction seemed universally positive. We’re you surprised at the reaction to that record?  Did anything unexpectedly special, personally or musically, come out of that experience? 

JH: I was surprised at the love it got, yes. I was afraid that people were going to think I committed sacrilege on her catalog or that I tainted her legacy, because Olivia is so loved and such an icon. But I am really happy that people responded positively to what I did. They understood that I just wanted to show how much love I feel for her and her music, and to share that love. It was wonderful and unexpected to hear from Olivia, personally. A couple of times she tweeted to and about me and the album. That was pretty great, to get her public seal of approval.

JP: Weird feels like a natural transition from Pussycat and JHSONJ – not so much lyrically but musically.  The guitar tones,  arrangements and riffs have a nice growth but a consistent feel that sort of takes your natural pop vocals and vocal melodies and puts them above a musical bed that weaves somewhere between 70s classic rock and indie-pop-rock. Do you approach the writing process with a direction in mind? Or do you just sit down and whatever happens, happens?  Can you expand on that a bit and how it might relate to the feel of this trilogy of records as compared to some of your previous releases?

 JH: I never have a direction plan when I sit down to write. I have an open mind. But I do have habits and things that I tend to do over and over again. I can't change my instincts. I have a certain aesthetic preferences, and I have a certain natural, personal style that I have settled into and I produce all my own stuff which is why my stuff lately tends to have a sound and a feel. It's raw and unpolished but also really melodic. I am also in love with the mellotron flutes sound on my Microkorg keyboard that I acquired about five years ago so that sound ends up on everything I do these days. No matter how gnarly the guitars get, I always like to mix in some keyboard flutes. It sounds good with everything.

JP: The recent reissues of Hey Babe and Only Everything were really well done, as was the Blake Babies Innocence and Experience, from the remastering to the packaging.  How closely were you involved in those projects?  Any plans to follow up with the `93 JH3 album or The Blake Babies’ Sunburn record (hint hint)? 

JH: I had nothing to do with the Only Everything re-release. The company doing it did not inform me that they were doing it, nor did they send me a copy. I don't own those masters ("OE") so that's how that was able to happen without my involvement. American Laundromat Records handled the other stuff, and they are great and I am personally in touch with them about all the other re-releases. I hope to do more re-issues with them. I want to do "Bed" on vinyl but I can't find the master tapes. I'll keep looking.

JP: The I Don’t Cares record really seemed to come out of nowhere to a lot of people, a wonderful surprise. Was that just a one-off or is there a possibility for further collaboration with Paul Westerberg?  We heard from him a bit around that release, but not so much from you – care to talk about that project a little?  

JH: It was a one-off but it could conceivably happen again in the future. It is up to Paul. I didn't talk much about the project in deference to Paul. It was mostly his songs and I thought I should step back and not be the mouthpiece.

JP: When you played in Detroit quite a few years back, at the Magic Stick, if I recall correctly, you mentioned during your set that your father was from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I am from Marquette, in the UP, so I have always wanted to follow up about this! Can you talk about that a little?  Where in the UP?  Have you spent time up there?  .  

JH: My dad was raised in Indiana but later in life ended up living in Houghton, Michigan. He got a job at a hospital up there.  That's where he died, in Houghton. My mother was raised in Detroit. I used to visit my grandparents in Birmingham when I was a kid.

JP: The Magic Bag Theater is a really nice room in Ferndale, Mi.  Great sound and an intimate vibe. What can we expect when you come to Detroit (Ferndale) in June?  Who is in the band, and will the setlist be pulled from your entire catalog?

JH: I am not sure yet who all will be in the band. But I know we'll be playing songs from all over my vast catalog.

JP: Any special stories, recollections, or feelings about playing or visiting Detroit or Michigan over the years?

JH: I've had some good show experiences there. Lots of fun times. Playing with Jeff Buckley was fun.

JP: What's next for you after the tour?  I think I saw some recent photos from a recording studio? 

JH: I am in the studio now trying to finish up a new album before I go to Europe at the end of May.

JP: Thanks Juliana – we’ll see you in Ferndale! 

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Jeremy Porter lives near Detroit and fronts the rock and roll band Jeremy Porter And The Tucos - www.thetucos.com

Follow them on Facebook to read his road blog about their adventures on the dive-bar circuit -
www.facebook.com/jeremyportermusic 


Twitter: @jeremyportermi | Instagram: @onetogive & @jeremyportermusic | www.rockandrollrestrooms.com

 

A Baseball Song For Your Father's Day - by Colin Gawel

Dad Can’t Help You Now - by Colin Gawel

If you have worn out your copy of Cats in the Cradle by Father's Day, please give this song two minutes and thirty-four seconds of your time. Dad Can't Help You Now tells the story of a nervous father watching his young son attempt to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam in "the last game of the season." It resonates with any parent who has struggled with their emotions while watching their kids play youth sports. It is a song for Dad on his day (or any day) and also seeks to take its place in the National Pastime Songbook alongside songs like Glory Days and Centerfield.


You can download a copy of the song with this SoundCloud link.

Click here to find it on Spotify and add it to a playlist.


What do critics think of it?


"Rather than trying to shrug off the dad-rock label, Colin Gawel's 'Dad Can't Help You Now' fully embraces a part of this Watershed songwriter's life that is entirely inseparable from the artist he has become. Gawel refuses to rest on the laurels of his youth, instead turning his keen eye to the boy standing right in front of him."
- Joel Oliphint / Pitchfork, Columbus Alive

"Colin is one of the few songwriters who survives the transition from adolescent rock and roll to songs that describe the condition of growing older. "Dad Can't Help You Now" is a guaranteed heart tugger for anyone who has ever had kids. It is full of kindness, wisdom and great songwriting."
- Eric Zimmer / host, The One You Feed Podcast.

"Colin Gawel is a great voice of America and this is a great song of America's pastime."
- Lou Brutus / Nationally Syndicated Rock Radio Host

"Our listeners and community love Colin Gawel and his music! And what a great song to get you excited for baseball season and perfect for Father's Day weekend"
- Maggie Brennan / Music Director, Host of Global Village WCBE 90.5FM

Lyrics

It's the last game of the season, you are standing out on the mound
Bases loaded, score is tied and the batter has a full count
And you are staring in at the catcher and I've never been more proud
But my heart shakes buddy cause Dad can't help you now

I'd trade every kiss i ever got to get you one more strike
I'd volunteer to paint the Eiffel Tower for a lazy fly ball to right
Now remember that it's just a game but don't forget to cover home
you're not alone out there but Dad can't help you now

Now the trick to life is to get back up after you get knocked down
and winning's fun but you learn a lot more when you get punched in the mouth
now i know these things but I'd still prefer to never see you frown.
to never see you frown

Now the pitch looked good to me, but the ump he didn't agree
and as the winning run it crossed home plate, you turned and looked at me
And you're fighting back those tears as you slowly walk off the mound
and my heart breaks buddy but Dad can't help you now
You'll get em next time buddy but Dad can't help you now.

Credits

Dad Can't Help You Now - by Colin Gawel
Superior - The Best of Colin Gawel
Produced by Mike Landolt for Curryhouse Records
Recorded by Rick Kinsinger


Lima is Alright! Cheap Trick Live Wednesday, June 12th - by Colin Gawel

Budgetwise, I always figured Lima, Ohio as more of a Foghat town. But I guess that’s not fair considering I’ve never seen a show in Lima. In fact, I’ve never met anybody who has ever seen a show in Lima. Still, the city council must have passed that hat or cut the 4th of July Fireworks expenses because Cheap Trick will be playing at the Lima Civic Center Wednesday June 12th. Click here for ticket info.

If you are wondering why Cheap Trick is playing a Wednesday night in Lima, join the club, but it’s just par for the course these days. Cheap Trick has moved into completely uncharted territory for a band of their pedigree and history. THREE NEW RECORDS in less than FOUR years plus the usual non-stop touring. No gig seems to be too big or too small. In the entire history of rock n roll, I can find nothing comparable to what Trick are doing in the later stages of their career. They are playing like a band still trying to make the rock n roll hall of fame. Heck, they have 60 more shows scheduled in 2019, including Madison, WI the night after this gig. Whew.

A very wise man once said “Everything Works If You Let It,” and Cheap Trick cannot or will not stop working. We are all the luckier for it. Catch em’ while you can. There will never be another rock band quite like them. To learn more and have some fun, just Google the words: Cheap Trick Pencilstorm. Hope to see you in Lima. I’ll be about 15 rows back having my faced melted by Tom Peterson’s 12 string bass.

Listen while you read! Click Here for a Spotify Playlist of recent Cheap Trick Tunes (and a couple Watershed too).

Colin Gawel plays both solo and in Watershed. Cheap Trick is the reason they started a band in 7th grade.


Pencil Storm & Proust, Remembrance of Bands Past, part one: 98 Colours - by JCE (intro by Ricki C.)

When I first received this piece from the best friend I have whom I have never actually met in person - JCE - his main question was, “Is a blog about a band from the 1980’s nobody has ever heard of outside of Virginia a proper topic for a Pencil Storm article?” My reply – of course – was, “That’s EXACTLY what a Pencil Storm article should be.”

My thought is: probably every 10th or 20th Pencil Storm reader has a band in their past that nobody outside their circle of friends has ever heard of. (For example: My lovely wife Debbie’s version would be The Lindley Boys, a kind-of new wave power-pop cover band that employed her childhood boy-next-door friend Jay as soundman.) (For that matter, mine might have been Willie Phoenix’s 1978 band, Romantic Noise.) Does that make that band any less important or – more particularly – any less LOVED than Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Motley Crue, Mumford & Sons, (or, in Colin’s case, KISS), etc.? My main problem with the The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is that it’s core CONCEPT is far too ELITIST. Rock & roll is an art form that ANYBODY can – and has – mastered. And the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame caters only to The Stars of the form. History is written by the winners: The Eagles, Queen, Journey, Bon Jovi and Radiohead are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; The MC5 and Mott The Hoople are not.

Myself, I subscribe more to Ian Hunter’s point of view in The Ballad of Mott The Hoople, March 26, 1972 – “Rock & roll’s a loser’s game / It mesmerizes and I can’t explain / The reasons for the sights and for the sounds.” Here’s a blog about a band you never heard, or heard OF. (From what I’m reading here, by JCE, I bet you would’ve liked ‘em.) – Ricki C. / June 3rd, 2019.


REMEMBERING THE GOOD TIMES I HAD HANGING OUT WITH A BAND CALLED 98 COLOURS

by JCE

For a few golden years around 1985-1988 or so, I spent a lot of time with a band called 98 Colours, making new friends and even being a roadie for a few days. I was living in Charlottesville, VA, where I attended the University of Virginia from 1981-1986. I was always on the hunt for good bands. Charlottesville had a pretty decent music scene, with clubs like the Mineshaft, Trax and the C&O. Bands like the The Deal and the Michael Guthrie Band, which were great power pop bands, were percolating around the area providing a good local scene along with touring acts that came through my college town. My favorite band, although far from the biggest, was 98 Colours. I became good friends with them: Randy, David & John. I want to share a few stories about the good times I had with this band called 98 Colours.

A Slow Start…

I had a college buddy that always went to rock n roll shows with me. After about a year of finding nothing but boring rhythm ‘n blues bands like The Skip Castro Band and Johnny Sportcoat & the Casuals, we started to discover some of the aforementioned bands that were more up our alley, so to speak. After seeing 98 Colours open for someone and liking their sound quite a bit, we started to look out for them. One night we saw that they were on a bill with a psychedelic garage rock band on tour called Plan 9. We headed to the C&O for the show. 98 Colours never played and we left after a couple of electric organ-drenched tunes from Plan 9. Years later, Randy still swears that 98 Colours never had that gig. I contend that they probably got to drinking that afternoon and blew it off. I guess we’ll never know for sure. So I guess you could say that my love of the band got off to a slow start.

Randy (bass and vocals)…

In my grad school year of college (1985-86) I had a friend who began dating Randy and she knew that I liked 98 Colours. She also thought Randy and I would get along. So one night, Randy put me on the guest list for a show they had at the Mineshaft. 98 Colours was the only band on the bill, so they played a couple of sets that night. Between the first and second sets, Randy came and sat at the bar with me. We had a great conversation and I found him to be a really genuine person right away. If I remember correctly I was watching my favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, on the bar TV that night. I mention this because a year later I was temporarily living on Randy’s couch and surviving on cheese sandwiches, and one night we were watching the 1986 World Series, the one the Sox lost when Bill Buckner (R.I.P.) let a routine grounder go between his legs. Anyway, LeRoi Moore was there hanging out, and he bet me five bucks the Mets would win. They did, and I paid up. LeRoi (R.I.P.) was a sax player that would occasionally play a few songs with 98 Colours. Of course he became rich and famous years later playing in the Dave Matthews Band before his untimely death in 2008. I often think about the fact that I lost a five dollar bet to a guy who, according to the internet, eventually had a net worth north of $40 million. Anyway, at this point, Randy and I had become close friends.

Little Sister… and the 98 Colours Crew…

Soon after meeting Randy and becoming friends with him, as well as Dave, his brother, I started dating a girl who I took out to Trax one night when 98 Colours was playing. I remember saying to her, “Hey those guys up there are friends of mine, they’re super nice.” She then says to me, “I know they’re nice, they’re my brothers.” That was a shock. Of course I thought right away that it was probably not too cool to be dating my good friends’ little sister. But no one seemed to have any problem with it, and we flamed out pretty quickly anyway. I went to see 98 Colours at every opportunity. There was a group of people that I got very close to. All of them grew up around Charlottesville and none attended UVA. I had gotten my undergraduate degree in the spring of 1985 and most of my college friends had graduated and left. I stayed at school to pursue a Masters degree, and I liked some of my fellow students, but I LOVED the people I met through 98 Colours. There was a crew of people around that band that I will never, ever forget.

Being the Opening Band…

98 Colours played a lot at the Mineshaft and Trax, often headlining, but sometimes opening for bigger bands. I remember talking to Randy, David & John years later and asking them about some of the bands they got to open for. The Neighborhoods were always cool, and they slept on the couches of my closest friends on several occasions. But 98 Colours agreed that one of the nicest, and best bands they ever got to play with was Jason and the Scorchers. That particular show was also one of the best sets I ever saw 98 Colours play. There was general agreement that the biggest jerks they ever had to deal with were The Replacements. That does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for one of the greatest bands ever, but true to their reputation, The Replacements were apparently drunk, ornery, and not much fun to be around.

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Clipping from a Charlottesville newspaper – I have every demo they ever made, but

unfortunately 98 Colours never made a proper record.

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Flyer for the Scorchers show with “special guests” 98 Colours

The “Tour”… and my big chance to live the rock n roll life of a roadie…

I got out of grad school at UVA in the spring of 1986 with a Master’s degree. (editor’s note; Holy shit, Colin, were we aware Pencil Storm is employing bloggers with Master’s degrees? Are we BUDGETED for this? I think Anne Marie is our only other shot at this higher education bracket.) Time for the real world, but I decided to delay it a bit longer, as I had no desire to immediately get serious about a career. I took a job doing outdoor maintenance and stayed in Charlottesville to keep partying with 98 Colours and the crew. I got my friend, who was still Randy’s girlfriend, a job at the same company. That summer, 98 Colours manager/friend Maynard organized a mini ‘tour’ down through North Carolina. The band would play the Fallout Shelter in Raleigh, Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem and the New Deli in Greenville. The band asked me to join them for the trip. I was thrilled. On a Thursday morning (I think), Maynard and Dave took a car and John and Randy took a car and they headed to Raleigh. Randy’s girlfriend and I had to work, so the two of us left that evening. We arrived at the Fallout Shelter just in time to see the opening band pack up. 98 Colours followed with a great headlining set. After the show, we all set about the task of finding someone willing to put us up. I hit it off with a young lady attending N.C. State who had a house nearby which she assured me had a couple of couches, but by the time I informed the rest of the crew they already had been promised accommodations on the floor of a nearby apartment. Their loss, my gain.

When we met up again the next morning, John (drummer) switched to my car for the remainder of the trip so Randy could ride with his girl. John is an awesome guy to be around. I treasure the couple of days I had travelling with him, my Ford Escort loaded with drums and Milwaukee’s Best beer. Our next stop was Winston-Salem. We washed up after the drive in a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant bathroom and then went to Ziggy’s to set up and drink some (more) beers. It was a beautiful day, which was fortunate since the bands play outside at Ziggy’s. I danced some at this show and it was really fun with all of us hanging out really late afterwards. John had a hilarious drunken “dance-off” with a guy who was a Marine that was there. The Marine finally admitted defeat when John did an amazing super-speed version of a dance called the Potato Digger that just couldn’t be matched. We slept on the floor at someone’s house and got up the next morning for the final leg of the “tour.” My car had received a parking ticket which I threw away.

The final gig in Greenville was an opening slot for Southern Culture on the Skids. The venue, The New Deli, offered all of us free food and it was the best meal we had gotten since we left Charlottesville. 98 Colours played to an enthusiastic crowd of East Carolina University students. After the set, Randy, John and I went out back to the parking lot while the others stayed inside to watch Southern Culture’s set. After a few minutes hanging out by our cars drinking more cheap beer, three police cars screamed into the parking lot and gave us all drinking in public tickets. That one I paid. That was the entirety of my career as a roadie, except for one other show in Richmond, VA when I lugged equipment for 98 Colours opening for the Neighborhoods at a club called New Horizons.

Grateful for the Impact on My Life…

Randy, Dave & John all turned me on to new music, and that is something for which I am truly grateful. All of them had great taste in music. I used to feed Randy’s bird when he was out of town and he encouraged me to hang out in his apartment for as long as I wanted and sample his record collection. I recall discovering the Screaming Tribesmen (from Australia) and also the Outlets. I still love those bands. I have many, many stories related to 98 Colours and my friends that were part of the Charlottesville music scene. My wife, Janet, was away at Old Dominion University during most of these adventures, but she grew up with these guys and she knew them long before I did. We’ve been married 28 years now and I probably would never have even met her if it weren’t for the 98 Colours crew. Randy and Dave were in our wedding party. My life would be much different without them.

Thank you guys, truly.

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I skated relentlessly back then and Randy knew he had a fan when I painted their logo onto my favorite ride.

(editor’s note: If any of our other Pencil Storm writers or - even better - any of our Pencil Storm READERS would like to contribute to the Pencil Storm & Proust series, please feel free to send a submission to Pencilstormstory@gmail.com.)

Ricki C. and JCE (John, to his friends & family) first bonded over their shared mutual love of Boston's Finest Sons - The Neighborhoods - and everything extended out from that rock & roll ripple.  JCE lives in Culpeper, Virginia with his wife & daughter, and he & Ricki are STILL waiting for the long-rumored NEW Neighborhoods record to be released. Maybe in 2019.