1984 - 1996
|Do you remeber the Eighties? Most people (of drinking age, at least) do. Problem is, most people remember a different decade than I do. People say "the 80's" and think, "Michael Jackson"; I think, "REM". People think "Madonna"; I think "Dream Syndicate". People think "Flock Of Seagulls"; I think "The Replacements". People think "Culture Club"; I think "Adam & The Ants" (...okay, so I shouldn't feel so superior). My point is, there was a lot of reeeeeally great music that came down in that much-reviled decade (a bunch more than the seventies crap being shoved down my throat everyday now) and I like to feel that, like the hundreds of great garage bands of the sixties, The Chant were at least typical of some of the better stuff we heard back then.|
Cast adrift into the Paisley Underground and punk scenes in LA in 1983, I saw soooo much cool stuff in the clubs around the city... the Rain Parade, the Long Ryders, Redd Kross, the Minutemen, X, the Unclaimed, the Last... even fronted a version of "Born On The Bayou" with The Carrie Nations... aka The Bangles (when they still rocked). It changed a lot of how I saw things musically and I brought a lot of that with me as I dragged myself back to Miami, my poverty-stricken tail between my legs.
No matter, it was good to be home, something of a big fish again, and I set about putting together my vision of a post-punk, neo-psychedelic, roots-rock band; a seamless blend of all the crap I'd been listening to since I got Cosmo's Factory and Let It Be for my birthday in 1970. It didn't really matter who we stole from; it just had to rock (or even better, swing). Jim Johnson was my first recruit, having been Charlie Pickett's "temporary bass player" and roommate, he pretty much knew where I was coming from (a quaint expression we really used back then) and he had a station wagon, too. There was a guitarist named Mike Patterson who was from Bakersfield, CA who, for all his better qualities, quit the band because I wanted to use tambourines and "a chick singer" (the oft-mentioned Jeanette Stout) in our recordings. Last I heard, he was out of jail now. Answering my ad in the paper for a drummer that was "into REM and David Letterman" was the one, the only, Todd Barry. Todd may not have been the world's greatest drummer (but he thought he was, and that's what really counted) but he was funny and well, he was the only one who answered the ad. (So funny that he's now a standup comedian and has been on Letterman two or three times now. He even knows Janeane Garofolo...sigh.)
After Mike's quick exit from the band, we stole Todd's next door neighbor Rich DeFinis from the Stan Still Dance Band, one of Pete Moss' numerous post-Essentials projects. It was a very small town, y'see. Richie was (and remains, I think) the master of understatement, both personally and musically. Like Mike Campbell with Tom Petty, Richie was rarely showy, but always, ALWAYS on the mark, and that's waaaay underappreciated in some circles. Plus, it let ME be the showy one. Cool.
Richie's joining the band took place in the middle of recording Three Sheets To The Wind, our first LP (yup, vinyl... weird, huh?). Things went well enough despite the turmoil, and I still look back on those sessions fondly. Overseen by Bob Rupe, Jim's high school pal and nowadays bassist with Cracker, the atmosphere was loose but productive, and L7 studios in Deerfield Beach was the site of alot of what I called "happy accidents"; weird things would happen, and the results would usually be beyond my wildest hopes. Layers of echoes rang like cellos, improvised lyrics said more than what I'd written, and I actually played well when I needed to. Weird, I tell ya. The record came out to almost unanimous critical acclaim, both locally and nationally. We were becoming the local BFnD, drawing crowds everywhere we went in FLA, and getting opening slots for national bands like the Swimming Pool Qs and Jason & The Scorchers. Money was actually starting to flow, even a coupla royalty checks. Things began to look like we actually knew what we were doing.
But success is such a transient thing... mere weeks after the release of Three Sheets... Todd announced that he was going back to college. He offered to stay on, playing on weekends as he could, but we were thinking of national tours, weeks in a van, scrambling for gigs, that sorta thing, not the odd show here and there. At the same time, Miami's always tenous original music scene was fading away again, and the search for some decent replacement in Miami for Todd was proving fruitless, leading Jim and I to think more and more about greener pastures in Atlanta, where "real bands" were plentiful and most of the club owners actually spoke English.
In early 1986, with Three Sheets... still playing itself across college radio playlists nationwide, Jim and I made the move to Georgia, with Richie following along a few months later. In the meantime, with drummer Frank Mullen (formerly of Gainesville's Roach Motel) and (for a time) guitarist Mike Hunter, we gigged about, trying to get back on our feet. A few noteworthy gigs ensued, but mostly we were a mess, never very tight, always shuffling members at the worst possible times...Richie started to pine for home (and his fiancee) and things weren't good enough for him to stay very long.
Two Car Mirage was quite a different story than Three Sheets. There wasn't much money coming in from gigs and morale was low anyway. Still, we were determined to follow up our masterpiece with a new bigger, better, badder album. We booked time in John Keane's studio in Athens on the recommendation of some guy in REM who said he'd produce the sessions, but ummm, forgot. Fine, Jim and I were more than happy to produce ourselves (with help from Mr. Keane, of course) and set about recording the six songs we had ready. Frank and Richie we still with us for these sessions and while more than up to the task, chops-wise, but Richie was falling into his funk, and made some of the sessions difficult - I like everything he did on tape, but I still have these sort of joyless memories of those sessions... like it was a lot more work than they shoulda been. Frank, on the other hand, never played better and I can only hope he holds those recordings in higher regard than the moody bastard I was at the time. $%&ing prima donna frontman.
Sometimes Mr. Keane seemed pretty uninterested in the sessions too, so we basically finished up the six tracks ASAP and went home, considering making it a 10" EP instead. CDs were becoming more and more prevalent though and everyone told us that was a REALLY stoopid idea... so instead, the tapes languished for over a year until we went back into the studio (this time in Atlanta, with the Mighty Joe Hamm on drums and Pat Johnson on lead guitar) and truly did produce the final 4 tracks that capped off Two Car Mirage. A really great sounding record that had some cool songs on it, but well, you never forget your first time, I guess. (The CD included most of Three Sheets, too...)
By the time it came out (as part of a package deal with DB Recs that included Multi-Color House and THE JODY GRIND), Gregory Dean Smalley had been recruited to play guitar for us. Actually, Joe had found the skinny little redneck (who it seemed, had tried to pick a fight with some blonde wussy-college-rocker boy - namely, me - in South Carolina about two years earlier) about six months before that, but we weren't really playing much, and rehearsing even less, so I didn't meet him till about a month before the album release party. We then set about figuring out which guitar parts he would let me keep, seeing as he'd learned all the parts on both records, just to be sure. And played them better, too. We became fast friends because I don't think I've ever known anyone else who loved Rock'n'Roll on as many levels and with no discernable "shame" about it, either. Great fun to play with and be around, and The Chant probably went on waaaay too many years afterward just because I couldn't say no to him when he'd say "C'mon man, let's play!" He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1993 and passed away three years later, and on the day he died, he called me up, in a haze, trying to set up a practice that night. We played one last time at his "farewell party", and won't play again. Period.
There are a handful of recordings we did with Greg; a track ("Grain Of Sand") on a Saints tribute album that came out in Germany called Neurotically Yours, a track on Jim's Monkees' Tribute Here No Evil ("Take A Giant Step") and an outtake from Two Car Mirage called "Wonderin' Out Loud" that Greg overdubbed some parts onto about a year after the fact. An effort is currently underway to put together an album of Greg's songs and performances with his numerous bands, and this track may finally find a home there. There's also some pretty rough-and-tumble versions of "I Don't Ask For Much" and "Jonesboro" on a live compilation out of Miami called Sun Brewed Action Music, recorded at our favorite club down there, Churchill's. Just try and find one of those. Without Greg, the rarest of all might be the Chemical Imbalance 7" (from around 1986) that pairs us on the same side with Sonic Youth. That's one smooooth segue. And if anyone wants to hear our version of "We Three Kings" done with E-bows, and a rockin' Charlie Pickett tune called "Bullshit", write Jim Johnson... he's got hundreds.
So soon there'll be a few Chant samples here you can download and remix into some kinda Puff Daddy monstrosity if you like; anything to get to that Hall Of Fame thing - just don't forget where to send the royalty checks. Thanks!
(Special thanks to the fan club, too.)
(Coming Soon! Shockwave Streaming Audio! Really!)
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