Monday, September 28, 2009

Pier Platters - Learning the Game

So where were we? A quick reread reminds me we weren't very far.

I started at Pier sometime in Spring of '89. For the first few weeks, I was picking up odd hours, mostly in the used album annex on 1st St. And a guy working there at the time, Ray, had me convinced he was in charge. He thought he ruled the used store. What did I know? He was, well, let's just say a wired guy. Putz also springs to mind. But I had to work this into a full time gig ASAP. I quit the job in the city thinking I was being offered 40 hours at Pier. Turns out, I was on my own. Brilliant. Genius.

OK. I clearly had to ingratiate myself to Bill Ryan, who ran the joint. Bill was a scary guy if you didn't know him. And at that point, I did not. He knew who I was. We'd met briefly a few months before when I first visited Pier and dropped a couple hundred bucks on Replacements rarities and similar offerings. Considering the Barn One circumstances we were introduced, I'm pretty sure I did alright on my first impressions. But that certainly wasn't gonna be enough to crash the gates. Thank god I had a winning personality and charming smile. Desperation didn't hurt neither.

My first task in the main store was inventory. I was handed a file cabinet of index cards and told to match them up with inventory stock. Clearly, this was my first hazing. But after my last job, I was prepared for boring make-work. I threw myself into the task at hand. It took some time and some awkward moments clarifying details with Bill, but I did it quick, did it thoroughly and managed to familiarize myself with the stock, which must have been the purpose of this mission. Either that or making me quit. No chance of that. I needed the job. But more important, I WANTED the job! Pier Platters was a record geek's dream.

What nobody knew was that Suzanne, the redhead you were all afraid of, would soon be going out to do lights for Sonic Youth. And then Nirvana. And then Beck. And REM. And numerous other acts that wanted one of the top lighting directors.

When I first started working at Pier, the big front window was framed with numerous copies of the same single. It was in a clear vinyl sleeve and didn't even have a picture sleeve. It was a dirty red colored vinyl and it was by a band called Mudhoney. I didn't know what that was all about. I'd never heard of them, so it couldn't have been that important. But nevermind.

So about the second week I was working in the main store, we received a number of boxes from a label called Sub Pop. I didn't understand why a store as small as Pier would be getting such a large shipment of records from a label I had never heard of. I figured I would have a busy day filing records. But I was wrong. It turned out that all these boxes only held two different albums. One of them was by some band called The Fluid, album called Roadmouth. The other title was some band called Nirvana, album called Bleach. Clearly, Bill Ryan had lost his mind. We'd be sitting on these frisbees forever. That day, we sold about 75 copies of those albums. And we were reordering before the week was done.

This was the first time, but certainly not the last, that Pier Platters blew my mind. In 1981, I bought REM's first single and I loved it. Then Chronic Town came out and I didn't care for it. I decided I'd give Murmur a try, but it was their last chance. I bought The Replacements' Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out the Trash album cuz I really liked the title. It was too punky thrashy for my tastes. But I figured I might as well get Let It Be when it came out, cuz nuthin much new was out that week. So you see, I knew everything about obscure underground bands. I even did stints DJing at ECC, ISU and NIU. I was a walking encyclopedia. I was a cup half full at best. And as I was realizing this sad, sad fact, I was also discovering that I was smack dab in the middle of everything. And I would soon be under the tutelage of one Professor William Ryan.

(Special thanks to Bill's favorite poker mark, Darren, for the sweet pic!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

DeKalb Rocks! Reunion - Post game OB&C

There was a reunion within the reunion. Like those Russian dolls. When I was asked to perform at the reunion, my first thought was I didn't have a band. I knew I had a bass player. Killer's been with me since '82. He goes back to PunkFest back in high school. He's my buddy and as fine a musician as any goofy front man could ever ask for. And he's fearless. We have a stage telepathy where he just seems to know where I'm going when I stray from the script. When there even is a script.

But who to play drums? I nosed around at hiring a pro, but then I remembered Killer telling me that our old roommate, Doug, had recently taken up drums again. You think he'd be up for it? Why don't you ask him, Killer? Well, I will. And he was! I'll be damned! That sentence musicians everywhere long to scream from the rooftops, "We're getting the band back together! "

Now it was just a matter of sending mp3s, a few phone calls and I'll see ya at the shows! But I wonder. I wonder if there's some way to make these shows really special. Maybe dig up an old song. Like maybe Hot Day! One of the first OB&C songs. The very first song ever played on the radio. Tom Ellett's Local Patrol on DeKalb's own, WKDI! Yeah. That's good. But I need something else. Something big. Like a special guest. HEY, VIPER!

I have often mentioned our old pals Kissyfish. Our sister band from Madison, WI. We played on each other's bills whenever we could. I can't speak for KF, but I loved booking those double bills just so I could see the band and hang out with them. And I have often been told I look a lot like their front man, Ryan. Twin sons of different bands. Ryan and I both did some wandering post those DeKalb days, but Ryan recently settled back in Wisconsin. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

So I shot a note to Ryan. Ryan has been better known over the years as The Viper, fastest uke in the midwest! Turns out, he hadn't played guitar in years. And he wasn't sure he'd be available for the weekend. Definitely not the first night. But he'd get back to me about the DeKalb show. Didn't look good.

As the weeks went by, I came up with set lists. We were walking on stage with zero rehearsal. Had to do as much pre-show planning as possible. Until Killer came up with the brilliant idea of squeezing a practice in. We'd have to do it Saturday afternoon, a matter of hours before the first show. Killer said we could do it in Doug's basement. Which I found quite amusing when I called Doug and he asked where we were rehearsing. heh

But he was fine with that. And with days to spare, I got a note from The Viper. He was in. Both shows. Oh, man. Dream band!

So there we were. Me and STD, pulling up to Doug's house for the first original OB&C practice in 23 years. Killer was outside before we even got out of the car. And as it turned out, Ryan was about 15 seconds ahead of us. We'd been following him for about a mile and didn't even know it. So after some catching up and makeshifitng a practice space, we got down to business.

As usual, I was the least prepared of the bunch. As I knew I would be. That's a luxury of fronting the band. Also too, I knew I could count on the band. We rehearsed both sets plus two extra songs that we didn't have time to perform at the shows. Luckily, STD filmed the practice, so I have outtake footage for the documentary! After practice, we were on the road to Abbey.

We were first on the bill, which means last band to soundcheck. I was fine with that. Get the pesky rock and roll outta the way early, leaving the rest of the night for minglin' and socializin'. And beerin'. There was plenty of all.

First pal to arrive was Jode! Jode and I go way back to 80's pizza delivery. STD and I DJed her wedding! The German wedding planner tried to intimidate us, but it didn't work. We had a Wookie bodyguard. She was also one of the privileged few to get an invite to the exclusive Ballroom Blitz. Always fun seeing Jode.

But that wasn't all. We had a couple more This Is Your Life attendees. The one, the only, Dianamal made it to the show! So we played her theme song. Really nice hanging out with her again. And then The Viper told me to go check out the bar. Where I found My Cousin Kenny's Pablo! I hadn't seen Pablo since the infamous Chicago ComiCon show! (Still waiting for those pics.) I got STD to take a picture of the OB&C/Kissyfish/MCK reunion.

I made a special pre-Otto's trip to the place where it all started. 516 S. First St. It was a trip crossing the railroad tracks and walking to the house. I made that walk every day for a year over 20 years ago. It's amazing to realize that it's all still there, relatively unchanged.

A couple more pals turned up at Otto's. I knew Stacey Deegan would be there. She was the one who finally twisted my arm into signing up on Facebook, which started this whole thing rock and rollin'. And she's working at NIU these days, so she was a whole lotta help on the ground getting this thing up and running. Plus, she had the NIU flag for the finale!

It was fun meeting some of the folks who were DeKalb high school students back when OB&C were playing the all ages basement shows back in the day. And it was an excellent surprise when Carl from IMSA showed up! I got to eavesdrop on a conversation between Carl and Ryan concerning a road trip to St. Louis many years ago.

The weekend flew by way too fast. While I'm still stunned I managed to cram as much in as I did, there just wasn't enough time. I could have easily spent the weekend just hanging out with STD, Killer, Doug and Ryan and still wished it had been longer. I guess we'll just have to do it again.

Addendum - Here's something fun I found! The Viper posted a note about the shows with a shot of the setlists!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

DeKalb Rocks! Reunion - Post game Night Two

Fortunately, we got in early Saturday night. Got some sleep and I was up by 9. Unfortunately, I spent the rest of the morning pacing STD's apartment. I coudln't wait to get back to DeKalb. We had a 4 PM load-in at Otto's, but I wanted to get into town early and do some sightseeing. I hadn't done DeKalb up right since I left in '88.

Even the drive in from Chicago was exciting. When we passed the IMSA exit, it was as if we drove through a time warp. Next stop, DeKalb. Mission: Bring back the rock.

We left the toll road and drove down Annie Glidden Road. There had definitely been some changes, but before too long, we saw our first landmark. The Bottle Store sign. Reunited and it feels so good.

We booked a room at the Huskie Inn so we didn't have to worry about too much fun, morning traffic to the airport or where to take the Huskie babes! We made a side trip to the old Wesley Foundation, the site of so many memorable shows, including the OB&C, Kissyfish, My Cousin Kenny show, the night we all met. And walking into the Huskie Inn, we walked right through the MLK Mall, where all the outdoor summer shows were held.

So bags dropped off, we took a walk to The Junction diner, passing the old Record Rev on the way. Waiting for us in front of The Junction was a newspaper machine with the weekend Daily Chronicle. Front page above the fold story on the reunion. She still loved me!

After bottomless coffee, toast, meat and eggs, we headed to Otto's. We were early, so we took a walk down historic Lincoln Highway. Some of the old spots remained, some were gone and some were on life support. But the anchor business, Paperback Grotto, remained. It was there before us and there to welcome us home. If the town of DeKalb was a game of Jenga, the Grotto is the one stick you couldn't remove without collapsing the entire structure.

Meanwhile, back at Otto's, it was time for load-in. The bands were beginning to arrive. And I was in charge. It was a seven band bill and there was a lot of backline to deal with. If we had to deal with changing and storing seven different sets of drums and amps, we'd be there for a week. Luckily, everyone was happy to pitch in equipment for those of us who showed up without. We managed with two drum kits and 4 or 5 amps for the entire night. And Otto's was looking pretty full just from all the band members wandering around.

Dan Chambers opened the evening with a solo set of songs from his band Smile. Next year, we're getting the whole band back together! (I'm talking to you, Porcellino!) Up next was Eddy Be and blackcandlelove with a vintage set of DeKalb coffeehouse rock funkery. OB&C hit after that and then our DeKalb headliner. The return of The Service! I was especially proud of this coupe. And they delivered. By this point, I'd put a dent in the dressing room keg and The Service really hit the spot.

The Service left DeKalb just as I was showing up. I saw them a handful of times back in the day as a five piece and I even saw the pre-Service band, BB and the Guns, open for The Ramones. But this was the first time I saw the stripped down four piece. And I've been listening to their compilation CD, This Was The Service, on endless loop since I got back to Jersey. One of the highlights of this entire project was getting to know The Service. Just a pleasure. Great guys making great music.

happy hunting hit after The Service. Timed perfectly for my free beer drunk. One more show. Special guests galore! Blue Green God's Don Yanek was handling drums for the bulk of the show. And handle the drums he did. But when Parker called up FISHMAN!, well ... FISHMAN!

But the parade of DeKalb's finest hardly ended there. Tom Ellett hopped up to pound for a couple songs. And for the last song, Parker handed his bass to Tom Rose, reuniting two thirds of Blue Green God. Yanek kicked in KISS' Strutter and I swear I saw pyro.

I put down my camcorder after hunting so I could mingle. And mingle I did. Caught up with Diane and Cerny from the Rev.
Unfortunately, Bobbo was not to be found. Next time, we kidnap him. But the Deegan sisters were there! And a stroll outside for a smoke break caught Eddy from bcl schooling a young un on DeKalb rapping.

I managed to make it back inside for some SubVerts, who were even better than the night before. And Ring 13 closed out the night with special guest Tom Clark from Blatant Dissent, ending the night, once again, asking DeKalb to paint their dick.

And just like that, it was all over. But not without plenty of talk about next year. Oh, yes. Tom and I worked out all the kinks. We went into this having no idea what we were doing and it was an all around success. It can only get better. And bigger!

I couldn't possibly embed all the videos from the shows. So I made a YouTube playlist with over an hour of clips from the shows, as well as historic videos from many of the DeKalb Rocks! bands. Please head over to the DeKalb Rocks! Facebook group to catch up with all the bands, the memories and the future of DeKalb rock.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

DeKalb Rocks! Reunion - Post game Night One

It took two and a half months of phone calls and emails. We collected videos, pictures, fliers and bios. I wish I had some drama to make for a more compelling story, but start to finish, this must have been the smoothest festival in the history of rock.

The process was an education for me. SubVerts and Ring 13 came and went before I arrived in DeKalb. I had seen The Service a few times with their original singer, but I never saw the four piece they became. Smile formed after I had already left. I knew of them from a compilation of DeKalb bands I purchased while I was working at Pier Platters. I did manage to catch the tail end of Blatant Dissent while I was in DeKalb. And I certainly saw blackcandlelove a few times. We musta shared the bill at least once or twice.

Now who am I forgetting? hmmm thinkthinkthink Oh, right! HAPPY HUNTING! Pardon my shouting. happy hunting!

I was looking forward to the shows for a number of reasons. Could not wait to see all my old friends and, also too, meet so many of the folks I'd been corresponding with the last couple of months. And I was damn near exploding in anticipation of walking the streets of DeKalb one more time. She was the one I never got over. I only left because I had to, baby, I never stopped loving you.

But the band I wanted to see was happy hunting. I never could figure out how I got a deal over them. I suspect they feel the same way. They should. If beer could play guitar, it would sound like happy hunting.

Well, I got into Chicago the night before. My fake manager, Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss (henceforth referred to as STD), picked me up at O'Hare International. This was the first time I'd been back in town since '03. We went out for a couple beers and some late night bar food. Didn't matter. Wasn't gonna be getting much sleep that night with the knot of anticipation kicking in my gut.

Saturday morning finally arrived. Beer and smokes for breakfast, then it was of to the suburbs for rehearsal with The Chains. Seemed like a decent idea. It had been 23 years. And we had a show that night. Packed up at 2:30 and the caravan took off for the big city.

Finally arrived at The Abbey Pub. DeKalb Rocks! Reunion night one was about to begin. I hesitated just a moment. Once it started, it had to end. I wanted one last chance to roll in the fresh cut grass of anticipation. I opened the door.

A band was doing soundcheck. They were LOUD! Which meant ... they coulda been anybody. Rock bands are loud. HUP! Only took a second to realize it was, for the first time since 1986, Blatant Dissent. But what was this? A five piece? Holy christ. Clark AND Fowler on guitar! This was mighty.

I approached the three gentlemen watching the soundcheck. I recognized two of em. Matt Parker and Dave Fishman. Two thirds of the original happy hunting. (The other member being Tim Fowler, on stage with BD.) The reunion had begun.

The guy I didn't recognize asked me if I knew who he was. He pointed to his T-shirt. It was the Otis Ball & The Chains gag shirt I had designed. Well, this must be Tom Rose. Ya see, while Tom and I had been in constant contact putting this weekend together, we were acquaintances at best back in the day. It was great to finally put a face to the voice.

Tom took me around and introduced me to RIng 13 and SubVerts. The bar was crawling with musicians. STD, The Chains and I grabbed a table and ordered an early dinner. Or was it a late lunch? Either way, this was gonna be a long night.

OB&C was first, followed by Ring 13, happy hunting, SubVerts and the night closed with Blatant Dissent. The whole evening was truly a reunion. Every time you turned around, there was someone else you hadn't seen in over two decades. Goddamn, even Roman Around made it! (Anyone seen Helen?) It was truly a magical evening.

As Blatant Dissent was wrapping up their set, Tom came up with the killer ending for the evening. All the bands go up and do an All-Star version of the Ring 13 hit, Paint My Dick. Bruce of Ring, Tom and I fanned out and grabbed everyone we could find. BD didn't know anything about this. As they hit the last chord of their set and began to exit the stage, they found Bruce and me blocking their way. And we had back-up.

And then it was time to pack up, call the limo and rest up. Cause we were doing it all again the next night. Back home in DeKalb. Otto's, here we come!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

DeKalb Rocks! Reunion - Pre game

2 nights, 12 sets, 7 bands reunited. And it appears this was the first annual. Gotta say, 100% success. But let me back up a bit.

I confess. I was a Facebook naysayer. IT'S TRUE! People, I was the guy that would never sign up. You know me. Everybody knows me. You know plenty of me. But I got the call. Like an old girlfriend you never got over. A voice from the past you always hoped you would hear, but knew you never would. "DeKalb is looking for you."

And that is the message I received from my ol' pal Stacey. She was the DJ on WDKI that had the shift before mine. We've kept in touch over the years. Here or there, we'd check in. Usually her shouting out about another fallen landmark from the town left my heart in. And my dangling participle. Probly still dangling. From a tree branch inches from the lagoon.

Anyways, Stacey sent me an email that I should hook up with Facebook cuz a group had kicked up to locate and document the music scene from DeKalb, IL in the 80's. Now ya see, I only lived in DeKalb for a little over three years, but DeKalb has never left my heart. I packed a lifetime into those three years. Christ, that townstole my heart. Never cared about a high school reunion and never lasted long enough at any one college to remember anyone enough to bother with alumni weekends. And never cared about footballs. But when DeKalb came looking for me, I wilted like ... well, like a basil plant in my yard during a long, hot summer. (Sorry, basil plant.)

So I bit the bullet and Facebooked up. The karaoke band was winding down and I could justify my breakdown to the intranet set with the idea that another online presence for One O Ball wasn't a bad idea. I've always been a proponent of least amount of effort promotion. So with that, I went through the sign up rigamarole. And immediately searched for this DeKalb Rocks! group.

Oh, my. So many long lost friends. So many bands from the distant past. So many pictures. So many memories. And my "Friend Request" inbox filled like a mob rat's car in the Hudson. (Speaking of, and totally unrelated, Wise Guy season 1 was reissued on DVD a couple weeks ago with a $15 list. For that price, you should own it.)

Almost immediately, I dove into the archives, posting mashnotes and love letters to my old heartthrob. She was the one I never got over. Ordinarily, I would show some restraint. But you know how it is with that one you never got over.

Didn't take too long before the creator of the group, Tom Rose, sent me a note. He was taken with my enthusiasm. Tom and I had been on a bill or two back in the day. He was a member of Blue Green God, who were on the That Green TV Band bill. (See the earlier post. You look it up. I'm on a roll. No time to search for a link.) But we didn't know each other at the time, outside of a vague acquaintance.

So, cutting to the chase, round about May, I got a note from Tom asking if Otis Ball & The Chains would be interested in appearing on a DeKalb Rocks! Reunion bill in Chicago in August. I had to pass. I'm running an owner operated business, I've got a 13 year old dog, just unpossible. Nice idea, but you know, ya can't go back. Besides, why is it in Chicago? Shouldn't it be in DeKalb?

Tom told me he knew there was a market in Chicago and he didn't want to bite off more than he could chew with two shows. Well, goddamn. What if I could get a DeKalb show? It's CornFest weekend! The annual back to school event for Northern Illinois University. Piece of cake! He dared me. Fucker.

So after a quick Google search, I found the website. They had a handful of cover bands and a lotta empty slots. I shot out an email. Hey, CornFest! I'm gonna hand you a bill of the cream of the crop of 80's DeKalb bands for the music stage. Couldn't have been more than 90 minutes before I received the response.

"I apologize Otis, but we are all booked up for this year's fest. Thanks for the interest."

That was it. Now it was personal. Not only was I gonna perform, but I was gonna book the DeKalb show.

So I sent out a note to the club that was the premiere live venue when I was there. Otto's. A quick websearch told me they still were the place to play. Another 90 minutes and we were in. My sweetheart wanted me back. Wanted all of us back. Goddamn. I'm going home.

What followed was a whole lotta emails, phone calls and persistence. All credit to Mr. Tom Rose. He pulled the trigger on this event. He was doing ground work long before I got involved. He tossed me some contact info and we became new best friends. We were in constant contact for the next 3 months. Contacting bands, working promotion, digging up archives. It was work, but truly a labor of love.

The time flew by. And so many bands were in with so little effort. First all in musta been happy hunting. And honestly, I was a Ball of jelly just knowing I was gonna get to see happy hunting again. Two nights in a row! We were contemporaries. I was always amazed they never got signed up. They were The Replacements without the deathwish. Parker had the songs, Fowler had the licks and FISH! had the attitude. Plus, they soon added Mundo, who they could always fire for a good story.

And the reunions just kept falling into place. Ring 13 and SubVerts, who were DeKalb before my time, but their legends lived on. Ring had done a reunion at Otto's just a couple years ago and packed the place. SubVerts were Chicago's punk rock pioneers, via DeKalb.

And with a little persuasion and nudging, we got our headliners. The Service's return to DeKalb and Blatant Dissent (or do you say Blatent?) finally reuniting, after many false starts, in Chicago at The Abbey Pub. Some more emails got us blackcandlelove and a solo performance from Dan Chambers of Smile for DeKalb.

And that's how it all came about. I guess there's more to tell. So stick around.