Sued51's Blog

Zulus. There really was a Boston band beginning with “Z.”  The Zulus were made up of former members of Human Sexual Response, the band I wrote about for the letter “H.” It took a while for them to settle on that name. Some might argue that they were more successful and more influential than HSR; their style of music was harder rocking than HSR, but I don’t think it was as creative. I would love to have posted a link to a YouTube video, but I think the quality of the posted videos is poor.

But I can’t let “Z” go without bringing up one of my favorite songwriters: Z is also for Zevon. Though he is not from Boston, Warren Zevon did have a Boston connection: he recorded “Life’ll Kill Ya” (2000) at Fort Apache studios in the New England Area. (I mentioned Fort Apache in my post about The Sex Execs.)

I was lucky enough to see him in Boston in the 1980’s at a club called The Metro. (I think I attended that club in at least 3 different decades when it had at least 4 different names.)

Warren Zevon at The Metro in 1980’s

Warren Zevon at The Metro in 1980’s

He looks like a “Excitable Boy” in these photos — so young and vibrant; it is hard to believe that he is gone. I still hear his songs on the radio: “Werewolves of London”, “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” and, of course, “Excitable Boy” — 80’s classics. And so I end this series with a pang of regret…

Yanni. Seriously? I couldn’t come up with a “y” entry Boston band for the life of me, but I do have a Yanni story.

I have mentioned in some of my other posts that I worked at concerts for 15 years as an usher/usher supervisor/head usher at various venues. During those years I saw a variety of musical acts, including some bands or performers I would never have bought a ticket to see, but ended up enjoying.

Yanni was one of those performers. I had seen his special on PBS so I knew that I enjoyed listening to his music; I found it uplifting and emotional. My husband-to-be was also working that night at the Orpheum theater taking tickets at the door. Of course the workers had to be there before the doors opened to the public. Sometimes if we were lucky, we saw sound check; if we were REALLY lucky, the performers would be wandering around the theater. My fiance and I were standing in the lobby before the doors opened, talking to a friend who I had brought to the show as a guest usher. Suddenly my love whispered, “Do you want to meet Yanni?”

With a quizzical look I said, “What?”

“Turn around now,” he whispered, which I did and came face to face with Yanni! And I mean literally, face to face! I am a short woman (5 ft 2 in before I shrunk), and he couldn’t have been more than an inch taller than me! I have to say he was a handsome man — what incredible eyes. I said “hello,” he said “hello” and walked on. My face stayed red for quite a while.

A bit later, my husband-to-be got his thrill. Yanni was dating Linda Evans at the time. She came right in the front door, in high heels and dressed to kill. As short as Yanni was, she was extremely tall, especially with the heels. So my husband came face-to-face with…her generous chest.  He and his friend at the door couldn’t stop talking about it after the show…their terrific vantage point and how gorgeous she was.

Oh, and the show was fabulous — a memorable night.

By the time I saw Willie Alexander, he had been around the Boston scene for 15 years. I knew his songs “Mass Ave” and “Kerouac” from the “Live at the Rat – 1976” album. We went to see him because he was one of Eric’s favorites.

On the AllMusic web site bio, they say he is known as the answer to the trivia question: “Who took Lou Reed’s place in The Velvet Underground?” But Willie is so much more than the answer to a rock trivia question. The most common word I saw used when researching this post was “survivor” because of the number of years he has been involved in music in the Boston area (over 30 years). But in the 80’s, Willie was also incredibly popular in France, so it isn’t only in Boston that we know of “Willie Loco.” His albums were released on the New Rose label. The single, “Gin” shown in my photo was more popular in France than in the US.

I have the Mass Ave cd, which features Willie’s song, and I believe somewhere I have the “Live at the Rat” LP, but my albums are packed away and I can’t get to them. I did manage to dig up a couple of singles I bought on sale at Strawberries for inclusion in this post. Kind of sad to see the price of $.19, but most people who ever saw him would say his performances were priceless.

Let’s face it, the letter “V” is a tough one– even trying to think of national bands is tough (the one-hit wonders The Vapors came to my mind). So I opted for Mike Viola who I think I probably saw once, opening for someone else I liked. He got a bit of press in the 80’s Boston Music Scene because of his age at the time (14 years old). Boy’s Life and The Outlets had been there before him (though they were not quite as young), but achieved more success at that time.

My reaction back then mirrored music writer Brett Milano’s as he expressed it in his 1996 article.  (I mentioned before I wasn’t a Stompers fan.) Beyond his age, he just wasn’t memorable for me. With research, I did find a blog with some Mike Viola and the Snap music.

A funny thing happened as I researched Mike Viola for this post…He interested me! One of the things I learned was that he wrote songs for and sang the title track for Tom Hanks’ 1996 movie, “That Thing You Do!” He also wrote songs for Russell Brand’s movie, “Get Him to the Greek.”

I listened to a series of songs on YouTube. I’m an 80’s power pop girl at heart, and he really fits the bill. I can see critics saying his music is rather derivative and generic (listening to Strawberry Blonde I actually heard a little XTC, “Mayor of Simpleton” kind of sound, but then, I always loved THAT band), but it is fun music.

And to think I could have seen him way back when…

There actually was a Boston Band beginning with U: Unnatural Axe.  Although I knew of them (they had a sort of “legendary” status–there was a documentary movie made about them), I never saw them. I became a fan of Richie Parsons later; I saw him in the band Future Dads (Lee Harrington from the Neighborhoods was also in that band). I was always amazed and honored when I purchased records or cds at Newbury Comics and he was at the register!

That being said, I’m going to cheat again and talk about U2. Boston was their home away from home in the beginning of the career before they became successful worldwide. I never got to see them perform at any of the small clubs in town, but I did get the chance to see them talk up close and personal at the Paradise. My roommate Julie had a U2 fanzine (with a friend from Chicago). When the band was filming their documentary, “Rattle and Hum,” they set up a press conference with their fanzine authors/editors. Julie had two tickets; because Lisa lived in Chicago, she couldn’t go, so Julie took me as her “photographer.” Although they never used any of the footage in the documentary, it was SO exciting to be there!

Adam, The Edge, and Larry were there for quite a while, but no Bono. The audience was a little nervous and distracted, I think, wondering when and if he would show up. Maybe that’s why the footage wasn’t what the director had envisioned. Then…there he was, arm in a sling, from dislocating it during a concert at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC a couple nights before (September 20, 1987). So…my photo has some “historical” significance after all, I guess.

I have so many Trademark stories…way too many for this post. They were definitely a “go-to” band for Jane and me; we went to see them just about every weekend for a while. We eventually got to know them and thought they were a great bunch of guys. Not too long after we started seeing them, I bestowed upon them my ultimate compliment: I drew a picture of them; like the Atlantics, they signed it for me.

Right from the start, there was this “meant to be” kind of vibe. We discovered them because Jane worked with the sister of the guitarist, Matt Langone. Jane didn’t know her well, but when she mentioned her brother’s band was playing in Randolph and that she was going to see them, we decided to check them out. We loved them right away: great harmonies, great danceable songs, and LOTS of energy. We were hooked! I don’t remember ever seeing Matt’s sister again, but I’m happy she gave us the impetus to see the band.

Then there was someone Eric knew who knew the keyboard player, Jack Moran. She brought me into the dressing room at a gig and introduced me to him. I don’t recall her name or if I ever saw her again either.

Then came the final coincidence. I became friends with a girl named Julie who worked in the same building I did. I introduced her to Jane and we all became friends. Soon after that, Julie started dating a guy in a band. Lo and behold, her boyfriend was a drummer in a band whose guitarist was the cousin of The Trademarks’ bass player, Rick Hollowell. They played together a couple of times, including a gig at a frat party, and a gig at BC (not events we would have found in The Phoenix). We became official “followers.” We knew the band member’s girlfriends too (not well…I don’t think they really liked any of the girls that followed the band), and it turned out to be a very fun time in our lives. There are lots of personal stories I won’t get into here, but we were depressed and aimless for a while after they decided to break up the band. 

Fast forward to the present: the lead singer, Dave Morrison is a poet. He published a book of poems called “Clubland” about his experiences playing with The Trademarks and other bands; one of his poems was read by Garrison Keillor on his radio program. Matt still plays in a band called the Trash Mavericks.

I will always be rooting for their success.

Now I know I should say The Stompers but, similar to my experience with the Fools, I never really liked them. They always struck me as arrogant, and yet, they are obviously talented or they wouldn’t be still at it.

No, I’m choosing a short-lived band I went to see several times called the Sex-Execs (great gig memory: Sex Execs and Lou Miami at the In-Square Men’s Bar).

I found two of their songs on YouTube:  “My Ex”  and Tami-itis. They really did dress in suits like on the photo at the left and the “My Ex” video. They made very danceable music, and they had a saxophone and a harmonica! Great stuff!

I found this brief Sex Execs history on the web site for saxophonist Ed GershonGershon was quickly inducted into the Boston power pop/soul/punk band the Sex Execs in 1982. The Sex Execs included guitarist/saxophonist/double-visionary Sean Slade and bassist/producer Paul Kolderie, who have gone on to produce dozens of rock hits, including the recent “God Bless the Go-Gos.” Also aboard was harmonica wiz Jim Fitting (later of Treat Her Right and The The), and drummer Jerome Deupree. According to Wikipedia, musician/producer Joe Harvard and members of the Sex Execs, engineers Paul Q. Kolderie, Sean Slade, and Jim Fitting built Fort Apache Studios as a collective in 1985. 

Not sure I would really call them “punk”, but I agree with the “power pop/soul” part of the description. Listening to their music now, there are elements of other 80’s bands like ABC. And yet, their image preceded the early 90’s lounge revival that produced bands like Squirrel Nut Zippers.

The band was a finalist in the 1983 WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble. Unfortunately for them, they were up against Aimee Mann (who I LOVE) and “Til Tuesday, who would go on to be signed to a major label contract and achieve national success.

Rings at Uncle Sam’s in 1981

Uncle Sam’s was definitely one of my go-to destinations when I first started hitting the clubs. As a South Shore suburban girl, I hadn’t yet graduated to going to the clubs in Boston. Uncle Sam’s often booked bands that were “local” yet “national” –bands from the area that had major label contracts: Robin Lane and the Chartbusters (which I also could have featured here for “R”, but I didn’t have any photos), The Atlantics, and of course The Rings and Private Lightning. The latter two were on the downward slope by the time I was going to see them. Their major label LPs were not selling as well as their record companies had hoped, and it seemed large-scale fame had passed them by.

The Rings got airplay with the song, “Let Me Go”, but I loved the whole album and played it to death. One of my favorite songs was “Who’s She Going Dancing With.” I couldn’t help but get up and dance to that one! And listen to “Love’s Not Safe” from the second album and tell me you don’t want to dance! Watching the video for “Let Me Go” and listening to some of the music, in retrospect I am struck by how similar the vocal style is to Ric Ocasek from The Cars (and the clothes style too).

While researching for this post I found a blog about The Rings that I think does them better justice than I can. (If you’d like a little history of the band, check out this link.) I loved reading the comments on the blog — like most of the people who wrote them, I feel privileged to have seen The Rings play. The band was TIGHT and professional and great LIVE.

As I chose and scanned these two photos I had taken a year apart, it struck me how in the second photo the band looks relaxed and seems to be having a good time. The difference in Michael Baker’s clothes also fascinated me. The outfit in the first photo seems so calculated to be cool and SO 80’s; I think the t-shirt and jeans in the second photo suit him much more.

The Rings at Uncle Sam’s 1982

Michael Baker ended up doing a lot of producing. And proof of how small the Boston Music Scene was back then: the guitarist for The Rings, Mark Sutton (right front in the photo below) ended up playing with Dave Morrison (I’ll talk about him in my post for the letter “T”) in a band called True Blue.

There were a few Boston bands beginning with “P” (such as the Pixies or Pastiche), but I’m choosing Private Lightning. Jane and I went to see them many times at Uncle Sam’s in Hull.

As with many of the other bands I have written about like The Atlantics and Neighborhoods, they had a major label contract but it didn’t lead to success. The album just didn’t do them justice. Seeing them live was an uplifting experience; they weren’t a dance band but there was energy! I agree with the review I read online…the talent is evident through the production flaws. While searching for links for this blog, I found a story written by one of the members describing his experience with the band. (I also found a wonderful music blog that mentions a lot of the same bands that I have.)

Private Lightning had a different sound than most of the other bands I went to see at the time, less punk or new wave, and more…artsy, dramatic, and orchestral. I loved the lead singer Adam Sherman’s soaring vocal style and Patty Van Ness’ violin. It was music to sing along with…like Meatloaf. Physical Speed is such a summer driving song!

Looking back at it now, I think they just didn’t fit into any niche. As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t get to see them enough.

Mission of Burma was one of the loudest local bands on the 80’s Boston scene (there’s a reason why Roger Miller got tinnitus in his ears). They were originally a trio with the addition of a tape manipulator/sound engineer. Going to see them was a crap shoot…they could be amazing or they could be awful. When you went to a bad gig, you weren’t in a hurry to go back; it could be like listening to too many fingernails on a blackboard at excruciating decibel levels. Once after seeing them at the Rat, my ears were still ringing the next day!

One of my college friends had a crush on the bass player, Clint Conley. I could understand her attraction: he was handsome, intelligent (he became a producer on a local TV news show), and his songs had the most airplay. You could actually sing along with them. Unlike me, my friend was one of the most soft-spoken, most shy, intelligent people I ever met; she was an animal lover and a vegan. It amazed me that with her personality that she loved the band so much; it was such a surprise. She would go to see them regularly, and even though it was painful to her, she would talk to Clint; she liked him that much! She was quite devastated when the band broke up; she talked about the final gig for weeks before it happened.

My favorite Mission of Burma story is only indirectly about them. One of the most well-known (and most covered) and accessible songs they recorded was called “That’s When I Reach for my Revolver” (of course it was one of Clint’s songs). (It’s funny to read the comments on YouTube…people think that Moby wrote the song…not true though his IS a good version.) Years after the band had broken up and I was working at the Orpheum Theater, Soul Asylum was opening for Keith Richards. The ushers were hanging around watching sound check and talking to the band; the band members were friendly and down-to-earth. It was a wonderful surprise during the show when the lead singer of Soul Asylum said, “This one is for the ushers!” and they played “Revolver.” It was a memorable gift at the time. I didn’t know until now that they actually played that song regularly. (YouTube has a version from 1989 in Minneapolis.)

et cetera
%d bloggers like this: