Friday, August 31, 2018

Remembering Pitch-A-Tent Records - Ten Foot Faces, Spot 1019, Wrestling Worms

This has been the year for me to reconnect with music from my past. At the start of the year, I fell into a Charlie Parker kick, which included getting my beloved Complete Savoy & Dial set stolen out of my car, along with a smashed window in sub-freezing weather. (I found another copy shortly thereafter, at a reasonable price.) Then I got the Parker Dean Benedetti Mosaic box out of the library. Then, with Mosaic on my mind, I set out to find copies of all of the Bud Shank albums that were reissued the box Mosaic devoted to the saxophonist.

At some point during all of that, I pulled out the compilation At Dianne's Place, which I received in 1988 when I was doing the zine Discourse. The compilation featured bands that had played in a club in Santa Cruz. Despite the fact that Dianne's Place existed for a mere six months in 1986, it hosted bands that you might have know (Camper Van Beethoven, Vomit Launch) and others that you should have known (keep reading). At the time it probably felt like a place where people were doing what they had to do to get their music out there. In retrospect - which I'll admit is filtered through a wistful set of glasses - it was probably pretty magical.

A few crazy connections floated to the surface as I listened to the record and waxed nostalgically. For one thing, it was exactly 30 years ago that I first heard it, a few months before I (finally) turned 21. Also, four bands on the album would eventually put out albums on CVB's Pitch-A-Tent label., all in 1988.  One was the Donner Party, which included future Quasi member Sam Coomes. (At the time I was wearing out their debut album, also self-titled, on Cryptovision, which helped me make it through a trying summer of heat, irresponsible roommates and mice.) I'd eventually pick up the second Donner Party album but I never got around to the other three bands - Ten Foot Faces, Spot 1019 and Wrestling Worms. 

For a few months this year I hit all the local record stores in hopes of finding them. I can recall seeing them around fairly frequently back in the day. Now, no luck. The two record stores I visited in Denver didn't have them either. At this point, they fall into the category of :not as easy to come by, but not really "rare" in the big dollar sense." For months I had been eyeing up copies on Discogs wondering which one and which seller would offer the best deal. I finally took the plunge and have this report on them.

Ten Foot Faces
Daze of Corndogs and Yo-Yos

Of all three groups, these guys probably should've gone somewhere. Maybe they did. Maybe they're still at it. Maybe there is another half dozen beret-wearing bloggers talking about how great this slab of melodic garage punk is too. "You're Blowin' My High" was also on At Dianne's Place, a song with one of the greatest transitions from the bridge to the final verse. But even before that, they open the album with Henry Mancini's "The Party" and "Run for Tin" in which singer Rod Barker can barely spew out the words about his set of wheels, but still does.

This album recalls an era when bands could be funny or clever without hitting you over the head with it. "Back to Bedrock" begins with a Hanna-Barbera sound effect, but the novelty ends there. It just becomes a great song. "I'm In Your Mind" moves beyond their edgy semi-snotty sound and plays up the band's ability to do an overdriven Byrds sound too. A song like this could fit in nicely on Little Steven's Underground Garage show. If any more evidence of their power was needed, they close the album with a cover of MC5's "Rocked Reducer No. 65 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)." Barker's illustrations throughout the lyric sheet and record label remind me of the zany quality in the work of Gideon Kendall, late of Fake Brain.

Spot 1019
This Word Owes Me a Buzz

The title of this album was a recurring phrase that some friends and I would use whenever we were feeling frustration with anything in the world. Ironic considering the fact that I didn't really know the album until about two weeks ago. Spot 1019, who had already released one album on Pitch-A-Tent prior to Buzz, was one of those bands that I had heard good things about but that I never got around to hearing. Moreso than Ten Foot Faces, they seemed poised for bigger things around that time. By 1990 they were on Frontier Records, an indie label that might have been a step or two about Pitch-A-Tent but that was the last I heard from them.

I decided to go out of order and buy this before getting the self-titled debut, in part because I wanted to hear the record that I had referenced all the time. The four-piece is definitely darker than Ten Foot Faces, a little more punk rock. Vocalist Joe Sloan is a little nasal and more of a belter, but he sounds pretty theatrical too. One has to wonder what kind of performance they unleashed on an audience at Dianne's.

Spot 1019 could've been right at home on a bill with Death of Samantha. Sloan is just as literate as John Petkovic too. The album opens with the line, "My memory takes me back in time to the pillory of lovers lost." Later on the same side, Sloan (with help from bassist Jimb Lyons) sings, "I try to drop a hint/but all I drop is my drink/God give me strength." This same song, "Think and Grow Thin," also contains a satire on Jim Morrison's infamous "Dawn's Highway" story, which Sloan fires off at rapid-fire speed.

Despite their near-hardcore tempos on a few songs, a country music background can be felt in the melodies here, and in Greg Winter's galloping beats on a few songs. The album is a really great balance of elaborate tracks ("Bucket of Blood") and the more basic punk stuff ("Peace War," "Free Men Bear Arms"). The latter also presents a sarcastic take on the gun issue that probably wouldn't float these days.

Wrestling Worms
Wrestling Worms

The rather lo-fi Wrestling Worms track on At Dianne's Place ("Vegetable Tune") recalled Pittsburgh's Stick Against Stone to my ears, and those of anyone who remembered that local group and heard the Worms. Funky bassline, a bunch of horns all taking turns soloing quickly over a vamp, and a vocalist who had a flair for the theatrical delivery - we had that too!

Aside from the lack of disposable income, I never picked up the Wrestling Worms album because my friends at WPTS (where I would DJ about six months later) said they didn't really dig it. 30 years later, I figured time might make any lackluster moments a little easier to take. Maybe even enjoyable. Plus the 11X17 foldout/lyric sheet reveal the Wrestling Worms had grown ELEVEN members, six of them playing horns, with one of the drummers doubling on French horn. What could go wrong?

Truth be told, the album is growing on me. They are some great horn charts on the album, which involve trumpet, trombone, and saxophones ranging from soprano to tenor, with clarinets added occasionally. But percussionist Andrew Bigler does the majority of the lead vocals, in a thin voice that sounds like he's heard a lot of Frank Zappa. What he sings gets clever and surreal, but his delivery starts to sound the same after awhile.

The fact that 11 people could pull off in the studio is commendable and for that reason alone, Wrestling Worms is worth a good rediscovery.

Of course the big question now becomes - where are all these folks now? Who has continued to play music and who did it for awhile until it was time to move onto something else? These are the things I need to know. While I could very easily go onto Facebook and type in the names of a select few, it would be more exciting if we made a connection here. There you go, bands.

Finally, if anyone reading this has the sole album/cassette by Dianne's Place contributors Barnacle Choir, I'd sure love to get a copy.

Now I'm off to get a copy of the first Spot 1019. And you should pick up At Dianne's Place, but make sure it has the booklet.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

thanks for the good review of Days Of Corn Dogs and YoYos on behalf of the whole band. Sadly Rod is no longer with us but Chuck and I (Devin) were jamin' last weekend and Tony is doing a Kiss spoof cover band !