Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pier Platters - An Introduction

Ode to a fallen empire. I moved out to Jersey late summer of '88. The first job I got was at a record store in NYC. And it was miserable. I liked my coworkers a lot, but the store was, well, not my cuppa tea. The main floor was vinyl. This was back when records were still the reigning medium, though not much longer. But I worked in the CD/cassette department. This was a very Billboard centric store. Every Monday, the first job of the day was rearranging the Top 20 wall. Don't get me wrong. This establishment was very involved in breaking artists. Because the owner rented out his basement space to the major labels. If they had an artist that needed a push, the owner would buy boxes of an artists and store them in the basement. That counted as charting sales. When the artist eventually tanked, the owner just shipped the records back for a full refund and whatever he got in return. All on the artist's recoupable tab. Hooray. And for this, I made minimum wage, minus monthly dues to the instore union. I did get a pair of glasses outta the deal, which I still have and use, so I probly broke even on that scam.

Well, after about 9 months there, I finally got the call up I'd been hoping for, but doubted would ever happen. You see, one of the owners of the label I was signed to also co-owned Pier Platters. Now THAT was my kinda record store! The first time I visited Jersey to meet with the label, I ran over to Pier and dropped $200 on records I had only heard about in secret whispers with other hoarders like myownself. German Replacements promo discs with studio outtakes! Both dB's albums on one CD! And holy shit! A double LP of a festival of Austin indie bands that I didn't even know existed!

But right off the bat there was a problem. Ya see, Pier had two owners. The one I was in with was busy running the label. The other guy was running the store. And these two guys did not get along. At all. So here was the label owner telling his partner, "Here's your new employeeeeeeeeeeee!" Yippee.

OK. So I knew this wasn't gonna be easy, but there was no way I was gonna let this gig slip away. The pay was better than I was making, but more important, the perks were killer! The greatest records ever at cost! Little did I know, that was just the tip of the perks iceberg.

So I walked in knowing that I had plenty to offer this shop, but I would have to prove it. And fast! But I had a few things going for me. Besides my winning smile and sparkling personality, I had a mind for obscure rock and roll. I knew who had been in what band, which single had what otherwise unreleased B-side and so on and so forth. Although I quickly discovered that my field of knowledge was far narrower than I realized. There was one more minor issue. I was scared to death of my new boss.

Which brings us to the legend that is Bill Ryan. BILL RYAN! Grumpy, smokey, caffeiney, mumbling, arm itchy, growly Bill Ryan. I'm tempted to say there was a Bill Ryan running every record store back in the day, but it's just not true. I knew a bunch of them. They were no Bill Ryan.

I am absolutely positive that Bill wanted me gone the minute I walked in. I believe it no, I believed it then. He didn't know me. I was brought in by the enemy. Even then I knew that. Didn't take a West Point grad to see I was marching into a war zone.

And so I shall end this chapter with a cliffhanger. I had originally figured I'd write up a nice post on Pier for this blog as a commemoration of a wonderful time and place in so many people's lives, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that one mere post couldn't possibly contain the majesty that was Pier Platters. So many stories, so many people, so many pictures and mementos to gather for presentation. This story must continue! If you have any good stories and/or pictures, please leave a comment or email me for inclusion in forthcoming chapters. For on this blog, Pier Platters lives and breathes.

I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to mention the first record store to ever employee me. Back in Dekalb, IL, I musta stopped by Record Revolution daily. It was just part of my day. I was always hoping a slot would open up and I'd finally get to live the dream, working at a record store. That slot finally opened up. Two weeks before I was to leave Dekalb for the big move to Jersey and rock stardom. Nevertheless, Mark Cerny, the owner, asked me if I wanted that job, knowing I would be gone in days. I accepted. I think I may have danced around the store as well. Mark took the time to train me and fill out all the pain in the ass employment tax forms knowing I would only be there for a week. Well, after almost 35 years, Mark finally closed up shop and retired a few weeks ago. The Rev will be missed. Mark, Bobbo and all my old friends from The Rev, thank you so much for all the great memories. Yer ol pal O still thinks of you often and remembers you fondly.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cover Me With Roses Vol 1 & 2

In 1989, I compiled a cassette of cover songs to sell at shows. It was appropriately titled "Cover Me With Roses Vol 1." To commemorate the 20th anniversary of that tape, I recently digitized the original collection and added a few more songs from that period. The whole package with artwork and the original liner notes is available hyah.

And now, after 20 years, Volume 2 is finally available. A double disc set that I am extremely proud of. A collection of both live and studio recordings from the last two decades featuring so many of the various bands and musicians I have worked with over the years. Artwork and extensive liner notes are included and it is available hyah.

I am pleased to offer both of these collections free to all my friends. Hope you enjoy them!

Yer pal,

Saturday, May 23, 2009

They say it's yer birthday!

In honor of Richard and Phillip's birthday today, I proudly present the original appearance of the Otis Ball Boogie Squad!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

That Green TV Band

OK. Let's talk about the show Killer sez is "Without a doubt my FAVORITE Otis gig I played!" This really was an exceptionally fun show. Wesley Foundation June 24th 1988. Chicago's GREEN with Blue Green God and, for one night only, That Green TV Band.

(Special thanks to Jason Jerde and Tom Rose for coming up with this flier!)

When I was asked about performing on this show, my second guitarist told me he couldn't make the gig. I probly realized this could be the last chance I would have to perform in Dekalb, at least while I was a resident. Which turned out to be true. So I really didn't want to turn the show down. On top of that, we had given up our rehearsal space in Sycamore. I accepted knowing that I was gonna have to be creative.

With that in mind, I decided to put together what would end up being the first in a long string of one night only special performances. So as long as we gotta switch things up, let's start from scratch. What would be a whole lotta fun? Maybe an all covers show. Done. How bout a theme? Even better. Hmm. All science related songs? Don't think there are enough good ones. Gospel hymns? Not enough singers. Well, how bout TV songs? YES!

So we were a four piece. Me and Killer, Leslie Franks on keys and guitar, Kathy Howard on drums. Right around this time I ran into an old friend from high school and college, Jennifer Hunt. We were both music majors at Illinois State. Spontaneously, I asked her if she might want to play a show. I knew the answer before I asked. She was a vocal major who studied and sang choral voice, but she loved Pat Benatar and was dying to rock. Needless to say, she was in. This was when the show started coming together.

So if we're doing all covers with a second lead vocalist, this could hardly be called an Otis Ball show. Well, hell. If we're a TV band, let's just be That TV Band! Done. So if it ain't Otis Ball & The Chains, well, why the hell do I gotta be Otis Ball? No reason. Now it's show time.

One of my first favorite TV shows was Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. A live action saturday morning series about a government spy organization. And all the spies were chimpanzees. Oh. Also, they had a rock band.

Screw it. The front man for That TV Band is Lance.

So we had to learn a show from scratch. Or damn near. Killer and I had done a couple TV songs together over the years, but outside of a handful of goofin' around rehearsal moments with The Chains and a Partridge Family song or two, we had an entire set to learn. And nowhere to do it. Enter James Patrick Moran. The Patrick stands for Potwora. Mister Moran offered up his living room for a couple rehearsals cuz he's a good guy. And I think he was pissed at his neighbors.

Somewhere in here we were told the other two bands on the bill would be the band Green from Chicago and Dekalb's own Blue Green God. Well, far be it from us to leave a running theme blowing in the wind. (Or a kiss, for that matter.) Which is when we became That Green TV Band. The plan was, I would be Lance, the jerk band leader who berated the band. And they would bite their collective tongues until just before the end of the show, at which point they couldn't take it any longer. I think Killer was employed to fake smack me or sumthin. Anyways, right before the end, Lance would be run off at which point Otis Ball would show up to save the day and the set with a closing performance of Charles Manson's Birthday. Cuz we wanted to play it and it didn't fit in with the show's theme.

And that's the story. Two months later I would be off to Jersey to record an album and come up with the rest of the stories that will be filling up this blog in the months to come. Good thing I saved all this crap.

Grab yerself some That Green TV Band right hyah.

THIS JUST IN! Greg Dunlap came up with a copy of the set list!

WFMU's Three Chord Monte @ JC's Fatburger!

Took my best girl Gypsy and her pal Ali on an outing today to Jersey City's own Fatburger! My buddy Joe Belock was broadcasting his excellent Three Chord Monte show, as he does every Tuesday from Noon to Three EST over the WFMU airwaves.

And his special guest Todd-o-phonic Todd was buying Baby Fats for all his pals!

Ira and Georgia from Yo La Tengo were there for a guest slot!

We all had an excellent time and sure hope they do it again real soon!

Cuz my baby girl Gypsy loves her some Fatburger!
Caption for image
Check out the playlist and audio archive right hyah. And special thanks to my buddy Brian Musikoff for manning the digital image capture gizmo.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Otis Ball's Phone Phun

This is a small collection of answering machine messages I have received. Here is the download link.

The first is a track I like to call Crazy Lady. I think it's self explanatory.

The second cut is entitled I Dig That Song. It's a message from a record company executive. Or rather, mogul. His preferred title.

Next up is a message called I Hate My Roommate. NSFW

Finally we Have Robert Hang Up. I do not know the callers. It must have been either a wrong number or a crank call gone wrong.


Misc vids

In 1991, I was alerted that a Banana Splits tribute was in the works. I got to work and recorded I Enjoy Being a Boy at the wonderful and muc missed Snacktime Studio. By the time I finished the track, I had lost all the information on the label that was releasing the tribute. But this is a song I had always wanted to do, so I hardly regret the effort.

This is an excerpt from the pilot episode of Uncle Tiny Tim's Rock Futon, which I recorded this past December. Hey, Adult Swim! Check this out!

And this is a promotional video produced by Bianca Miller in 1989. It's still pretty damn good.

This is a music video for the Otis Ball & The New Chains song, Fire Needs Oxygen, featuring Jersey City's own Bridge & Pummel roller derby team.

And we'll wrap up this post with one of my faves. Johnny Sunshine! fronting Super Karaoke Fun Time Band at Hoboken's Sinatra Park a couple summers ago.

Lust For Life '90

Let me start of by saying that I don't have the date for this performance. Not the biggest deal, but very unlike me not to date an archive piece. This is only relevant in that I can't remember if this performance was for CMJ or NMS 1990. Which brings us to the start of our story.

'Love You Til I Don't' was released in January '90. Label relations were strained from the start, but that's another story. For CMJ (or NMS) that year, Barn One booked an entire night at Tramp's to showcase their roster. Quite a number of bands were on the bill, including many who did not have albums out at the time. (And may have never released albums. Memory fails.) BO had a habit of raving about, then losing interest in projects.

This show was to take place on a Tuesday night, the last night of CMJ (or NMS.) For some unexplained reason, I was chosen to "close" the night. Which meant I would be going on at 2 AM on a Tuesday, long after everyone had either gone back to their hotels for an early morning flight or already flown home.

In addition, my drummer Chris had cracked his spine riding The Cyclone at Coney Island a week or so prior to the show. Clearly, this was a nothing to gain, nothing to lose proposition. So why the hell not have some fun? It was an opportunity for a one time only performance.

I had my bass player, Rich Grula and he was always up for anything. I enlisted a couple Pier Platters coworkers, Artie from Earth Pig and Lyle from Damen. But why stop there? I knew there would be a number of musicians at the show. So I would bring all my guitars and all my amps and recruit a band.

First thing to do was go buy some poster board. I wrote the lyrics (I am famous for my poor lyric memory) on the poster board. Next, I took a roll of perforated computer paper and wrote the chords out. I could indicate the changes with my feet in a game of rock and roll Twister.

One of my roommates, Marie Javins, was hosting a friend of hers for the rock weekend. Karl Straub of The Graverobbers. (He was later to immortalize Pier and me in the 'Mark Robinson' 7") He was and still is a great guitarist. And he was in.

The night of the show, we roped in a couple attendees. Ira of Yo La and Jim DeRogatis of the band Airliner and rock journalism excellence. The original plan was to start with Rich, Lyle and myself and bring up the guests one at a time. But I must not have spread the word, because the stage was filled from the start.

No rehearsal, no real plan, other than to play until we were done. And with that, I proudly present 2 AM on a Tuesday night at Tramp's.

Karl Straub kindly offered his memories of the evening

otis, my memory of it is prob sketchier than yours-- i also cannot remember whether it was cmj or nms. i'm not even completely certain what either of those things are, at this late date. i recall that a band called "sweet lizard illtet" played, and maybe another band where the drummer used water cooler jugs as part of his kit? maybe that was another show. (editor's note - sounds like Barkmarket to me)

beyond that, my clearest memory is of the next day, when i was browsing in see hear (is that right?) hip bookstore, and lyle (who i did not recognize) was behind the counter. he said to me, "hey, great show last night" or some such, and i made the mistake of saying, "oh, were you there?" if i'd been thinking more quickly, i'd have realized that anyone at that show while we played would, statistically speaking, probably have been on stage. He got a peevish, or miffed, look on his face, and then started miming drumming, so as to jog my memory.

(I have to say, it was the most hostile mimed drumming I have ever seen, before or since.)

my weak response was that it had been pretty dark on stage, and i'd never really gotten a good look at him. This did not appease him, however. Lyle, if you're reading this somewhere, I'd just like to say, maybe now that so many years have gone by, I could make it up to you by meeting you somewhere and buying you a beer. Although, since I don't remember what you look like, the same thing would probably happen again.

at approx. 2:50 of part 3, you have documentation that I used to climb up on things, preparatory to jumping off of them, while strapped to a guitar. It was a way of enhancing the natural excitement over the fact that we were about, against all odds, to finish the song. There was a lot of demand for that sort of thing, in that era.

Rich Grula added:

Oddly, I have no memory of this show. I mean, nothing. The only thing I recall is that we used to jam on Lust For Life, but this whole she-bang, it's my own personal 17-minute gap.

Did we really play a gig with only one song? Wow.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Ballroom Blitz

The following was posted on Facebook on April 19, 2009, the 20th anniversary of The Ballroom Blitz. It is the last in a series of posts that can be found at my buddy Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss' blog. Colicky Baby Records and Tapes I strongly suggest you read those posts for full effect. But I imagine you could just jump in hyah, if you so desire. On with the show.

Ready, Steve? Killer? Bouj? Alright, fellas. LET'S GO!

Twenty years on, it still took half a bottle of vodka to write this post. There we were. It was supposed to be the big homecoming show. But due to oppression beyond my control, it had been canceled. I was going back to Jersey on the 20th. The knuckleheads had less than a week to correct their mistake and book a make up show. To their credit, they did manage to get that together. Even suckered in Dale Tulk, soundman to the Dekalb/Sycamore stars. In hindsight, I wish they hadn't. He deserved better. But you play the Ball where it lies, so to speak. Or the Blitz, if you weel.

The big show was off. Apparently the Northern Illinois University campus was too delicate to withstand a promotion consisting of naked stick figures. They weren't even anatomically correct! But that post has been posted. Whether you're just joining us or you have been impatiently waiting for each new episode, I recommend you download the audio version of the backstory, the PAS 23 cassette.

I suspect Stronger Than Newspaper Tom Lung may have some additional comments on this zip. I prefer to comment videologically.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah. April 19, 1989. A Wednesday night. Somehow, one Matthew Boone's event hall had been procured. I was tempted to say "rented," but that would have involved a deposit. Too bad about their lax business practices. It was an interesting venue for a rock show. To the best of my knowledge, it had never been used for a rock show before and CERTAINLY not since. (At least some of those involved learned valuable lessons on this day, though not all.) In hindsight, I'm sure it was nothing more than a dining hall for rent. But to those of us used to church basements, university commons and old man drinking clubs, it looked like a venue better suited to proms or weddings. My god, it was practically a ballroom! Disco ball included! (Which is not to be confused with a disco Ball. That would take us back to the late 70's and remove us from the story at hand.)

Kissyfish was driving down from Madison, the Chains were in their various Chicago area locales and I woke up in Dekalb. With a grapefruit lump in my gut. I had a bad feeling about the evening show. Not only was it booked on a weeks notice, but given the circumstances, let's just say that there was not a whole lot of promotion. And it was a Wednesday night to boot. And I sensed another boot could well be imminent, if we didn't watch all our P's and Q's. And stick figures.

Enough beating around the bush. We knew it wasn't gonna be the best Otis Ball & The Chains show. Christ, we had a pretty good idea it wouldn't even be the best of the tour. And it wasn't. That would be the IMSA show, discussed in the previous post. But goddamn it! There was a job to be done! I spent the afternoon with the Public Address System crew, which is documented in the PAS 23 mp3s linked above. We were all understandably nervous for our own reasons. They needed a successful make up show to print the next edition. I coulda used some cash to get home and make up for taking two weeks off of work for a no budget homecoming tour. Thankfully the Cover Me With Roses cassette and T-shirt sales were doing fine. I was far more concerned about leaving my Dekalb reputation in tact. God knows why.

So we loaded in that afternoon. Kissyfish showed up, loaded in and we spent the afternoon pacing. Which changed not one thing of the impending show. Doors opened. $4 admission. Seemed overpriced to me, but I wasn't promoting the show. My concern was what happened on stage.

Good thing. Attendance was light early on. Not only did I know everybody, but between Kissyfish, OB&C and the PAS crew, we coulda handily defeated em in a fist fight. And that is not bragging about our collective pugilistic skills.

Kissyfish opened the show. I thought they were fine. But Ryan was not happy. More than once he apologized from the stage. I dunno why. They sounded just fine then and now. They opened with an excellent Hava Nagila. An arrangement I would blatantly steal over a decade later when asked to play at my cousin's wedding. They did a decent amount of their hits and a couple new songs, but ended after about a half hour. They were clearly feeling as nervous and unsure as I was feeling. The smell of curse was in the air.

Up next was No Eraser Head. One of the PAS crew. An old Dekalb pal. Soon to join me in Jersey and roadie for the OB&C midwest tour a year later. (I'm sick of saying "that's another story." Figure it out.)

NE was a unique performer. Like BB King, he couldn't play guitar and vocalize at the same time. Unlike BB King, he couldn't even play guitar. But that didn't stop him. Nor should it have. He did what he did and there was no one else doing anything similar. Before or since. He choose to use the first half of his set to both encapsulate the story of the show and do a greatest hits of his stand-up routine. All in about 5 minutes. For his second song, he performed a Stooges song backed by an old vaudeville routine. Rather than go into detail, I implore you to watch his entire set that night.

Under any other circumstances, I would have thought this No Eraser Head set was the greatest performance I had ever witnessed. But for the fact that the owner and/or manager of the venue had appeared with her two young children. She was looking for her money. Ironically from this anniversary vantage point, there could not have been more than 20 people in attendance. I knew she wasn't getting paid. The PAS crew knew she wasn't getting paid. Fuck, she probly knew she wasn't getting paid. Meanwhile, NE was playing a solo guitar version of I Wanna Be Yer Dog while two other gentlemen explained the definition of "To come" and smashed 78 rpm lacquer records over their heads. Me? I was curled up in a ball in a shadowed door jamb.

But now it was time. Might as well get this over with. I guess if ya gotta play a show, might as well throw in for the handful of friends who showed up. So Otis Ball & The Chains took to the stage one last time.

I guess we all knew this could be it. And it was. While Otis Ball & A Chains would play with A Kissyfish one year later, this collection of musicians and old friends would never gather again. Not all at once. Some attendees would disappear, never to be heard from again. (Steve Laux! Phone home!)

If this was a movie, (and someday it may be! All copyrights held by One O Ball and Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss!) the show would have been amazing, properly documented and hundreds would have been streaming in after the big football game let out. But that is not what happened. The attendees who were attending were already attending. We knew this was "a major loss for the band." (You are watching the accompanying videos, aren't you? I didn't upload em for my health!) And the video is very poor quality. But a rock show is a rock show. There are a lot of things I am lazy about. But when it comes to show time, well, it is show time.

And that is where our story does take a turn for the better. You see, while the audience was sparse, they were all hardcore. So they all acme prepared for The Request Bucket. TRB. An OB&C mainstay. (Along with acronyms.) At most shows, I would put out the bucket. Fans were invited to drop requests in the bucket. Not Otis Ball song requests. ANY song requests. And we aimed to please. The very first time The Request Bucket was employed, we got a request for a Metallica song. Leper Messiah. Well, we did not know Leper Messiah. So we made up a song on the spot. Called Leper Messiah. THAT is how The Request Bucket works.

This fucked up show was a financial disaster. It was not to be anything resembling an ego gratifying homecoming show. But thanks to the fifth member of the band, TRB, it was a success. My buddy Jody had been making notes for months. She came to the show armed with at least two dozen requests. The Associations' Windy! New York, New York! You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman! Green Acres! And someone requested Ballroom Blitz.

So the show happened. Which is more than we expected at the time, under the circumstances. And I do have to say, despite the doom hanging about two feet above the dance floor, despite the fact that NO ONE was making any money that night, despite the fact that we might never see each other again, we managed to end the night with the most triumphant rock moment Dekalb has ever seen. Or not seen in this case.

For the big finale, we called up Kissyfish to join us. We chose two very special covers and an anthem to end the night, the tour and the very special friendship all those in attendance were bonded by forever and always. As I did that night, I would like to dedicate these three songs, this rock and roll encore of all encores to all those on stage that night, all those in the audience and all of you who have joined us in this 20 year anniversary remembrance.

From Otis Ball and Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss, thank you, friends.

And so it begins

Having tested the waters on Facebook, it is time to unleash the stories, videos, pics and mp3s on the world.

Welcome to the Otis Ball MP3 Club. Won't you come on in?