Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Little Ain't Enough....

We've been keeping a fairly light show schedule this year, which I'll explain below. Meanwhile here's a rundown of the recent gigs:


Back at Ground Zero again. I've come to enjoy playing here, the vibe is always great. We got paired on a bill with South Carolina punk rock stalwarts the Independents. They've been around for years, fronted by Evil Presley and anchored by guitarist Willy B. They're a mix of Misfits style pop-punk fused with a heavy ska influence. I'm surprised to see my old pal Jamie Jones working merch for them. She once played bass in the Beatdowns long ago. Now her boyfriend is the bassist for the Independents. I think she was only 17 when I first met her. It's cool to see she never really "grew out of it", unlike so many other kids from her era.

The opening band is from Tampa, Florida. They are called the Scurvy and are led by Brandon Ferguson. Brandon also roadies for older punk groups like Sham 69 and the Murder Junkies. Apparently they had a few shows strung together including this one, but they were all cancelled. So they simply drove all the way up from Tampa for this one show. I think it was worth their while; they get a positive response from the crowd. 

A lot of old friends and familiar faces have turned up. A fan from Pittsburgh named Herb Gailey altered his vacation plans to come to the show. I'm always impressed when fans of the band come from great distances or make special arrangements to catch a show. Darron Hanby is here, too. He's been making all our area shows here lately, from Spartanburg to  Charlotte to Hickory. It's cool to have such a dedicated following. 

We play before the Independents. My son Cody has come along on this one again. He helps me set up. The club PA has changed somewhat. The monitors have been hung from the ceiling, an unusual but practical approach. We do a quick line check and gather to the side. Jeff has made the club play a Cher song before we go onstage.We haven't played in several months so I can't help but feel a bit rusty. I'm glad we are on "home turf", so to speak. I put the set together. It is mostly comprised of new material from"WE'RE # ONE" and "OBSTINATE". I wasn't too sure how playing mostly new stuff would go over, but it all works. Pretty soon we are powering thru the encore. 

After the set we take some group photos and I catch some of the Independents set. We talk a little with Brandon from The Scurvy about maybe trying to put together something for a Florida run somewhere down the line. We'll see. It would be cool trip. After that we load up and hit the highway home. Always a good time at Ground Zero!


We rode down to Wilmington in a cold rain. Hard to believe it's spring. I slept a good bit of the way. I wake up amid a discussion of how divisive the climate of social media has become. Although politically we disagree even among ourselves, we all agree the vitriol and contempt people hurl from the safety of their Facebook accounts is overwrought. The self-sanctimonious virtue signaling is as equally annoying and hypocritical. We aren't perfect nor do we pretend to be. Ultimately all of the chaos serves as grist for the mill. With this band anything and everything is fair game. And more often than not, our satire gets taken at face value and our seriousness gets dismissed as a joke. Of course, we ain't gonna spell it our for anyone. Let 'em wonder. Its all just static to me. 

We arrive in town late in the afternoon. Despite the gloomy weather John 'The Baptist' Bridges has invited us to his place for grub. John is the man behind Mystery School Records. The tiny label is responsible for a voluminous amount of releases representing a wide array of music from the fringe. He's been responsible for issuing our last few releases in CD form. He and his wife always show us incredible hospitality when we visit, opening their home for us to eat, kick back and relax. He's proven to be one of the best friends this band has, and we are fortunate to have quite a few. 

The club is called Reggie's. This is our third or fourth time here. We are headlining an all day event put together by a local fanzine called Gray Matterz. There are artists and comedians in addition to a large number of bands representing a wide variety of styles. My initial thought is that it will be a clumsily thrown together DIY affair. No matter how well the intentions, these events are usually clusterfucks. However Im very pleasantly surprised to find this one is pretty well organized. Other than the unavoidable rain and mud of the parking lot, everything runs smoothly and according to schedule. The Gray Matterz folks have done great work with a monster job. 

We take the stage right at our scheduled time. We open the set with "Fight Like Apes", only the second time we've played it live. The first time we tried it was about two years ago. We didn't feel very good about it then, figuring we would revisit it later. It was only recently we decided to try it out again. It came together much better than previously and when we launched our set with it this time, it clicked. The rest of the set was a little more varied than the one in Spartanburg, crosshatching familiar older tunes with the newer stuff we've been playing. We crush it pretty handily before returning for an encore of "Death Train Coming" and "Fuck All Y'all". 

We make it out of Wilmigton in good time. Usually we hit a police checkpoint on the way out, but this time the road is free and clear. We encounter sleet and snow along the way but it doesn't slow us down. 

Few things can...

Ok so... whats been happening? Seems like things have been awful quiet as of late, doesn't it? Why the light schedule?  Well, we've actually been pretty busy. We are neck-deep in some recording projects including the early stages of writing the next full length album. Also, as I write this Mystery School records is shipping "WE'RE # ONE" on CD. It includes some singles tracks as a bonus. We've also got a deluxe 12" reissue of EP ROYALTY that will feature some unreleased outtakes from the HONOUR AMONG THIEVES album as well. 

We do have a few more shows on the horizon, including Durham NC on June 16 and a return to Philadelphia on June 30. And of course the big 35th Anniversary Show in the fall... and after that.... we shall see. 

But it might be pretty big news...

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Wolfpack Rides The Night...

Ten years ago, as ANTiSEEN approached its 25th anniversary, it became apparent that once again there was going to be another shift in their line up. Both bassist Doug Canipe and drummer Greg Clayton had tendered their notice leaving Jeff and Joe looking at an indefinite length of downtime. Jeff in particular was eager to keep busy, so while discussing the situation with him one evening on the phone, I suggested he make another solo record. 

At first he was skeptical but soon we were making a list of possible candidates. Initially the chosen line-up included Barry Hannibal on drums, Jimmy King on bass and Andy Krouse on guitar. Barry was an obvious choice as he and Jeff had so much history together. Jimmy was also an old friend and locally known having played in popular area bands since he was a teenager. I had suggested Andy because he had played with me in the Mad Brother Ward band. Although younger, he was a bad ass guitarist. 

I was tasked with making contact with Jimmy and Andy to see if they would be interested. Andy was aloof. He didn't expressly decline, but it was pretty clear he wasn't interested. I've never really figured out why. Jimmy didn't hesitate. However he had a caveat: he wanted to bring along a drummer, a guy named Jeremy Holcomb. Jeremy had served time in a indie rock band called the Talk, who had toured nationally but never got off the ground. Given his background, I wasn't sure he would be a good fit. Plus Jeff really wanted Barry. Jimmy made a strong case for Jeremy, assuring me he was a "slugger". It wasn't exactly "take us both or not at all" but it seemed his eagerness for the project would be diminished if Jeremy wasn't included. 

I figured at this point the deal was sorta shot. I didn't think Jeff would want to proceed without Barry on board, nor would he have the patience to see if another guitarist would be interested or available. However he sorta surprised me with agreeing to use Jeremy Holcomb.Then Jimmy told us that Mike Hendrix was interested. A longtime local legend and excellent guitar player, Mike was the leader of the high octane rock outfit the Belmont Playboys. A Clayton/Hendrix combo was gonna be a big deal. Suddenly things were falling together in ways I had not anticipated. 

The biggest surprise came when Jeff casually mentioned I would play second guitar. Although I had been helping assemble the band, I had not considered being a member. I could play punk rock power chords with the best of them, but the idea of playing with the caliber of musicians we were putting together intimidated me. Moreover, I had no equipment. Jeff can be pretty persuasive though, and before I knew it I was scrambling to get some guitar gear. 

Eventually we all assembled for an inaugural practice, basically a trial run to see if it would actually work. We knocked around some old punk rock cover songs, feeling everything out. Jeremy proved to be a good drummer, but he wasn't very well versed in the background the rest of us came from. The minor obstacle left things pretty loose but it still showed promise. I was just trying to keep up. Everyone was really supportive and helpful. It was clear I needed better equipment. The guitars I had were serviceable, but the amp rig I had clumsily put together sounded like ass. Fortunately Jimmy hooked me up with a sweet Fender amp and I was on my way.

Eventually we stitched together a set list of choice cover tunes and a few old ANTiSEEN standards. Our first show was on February 2nd, 2008. The show was a bit of an event due to the "all-star" line-up. We sold out the club and played a somewhat ragged but fun set. I don't really remember too much, it sorta whirled by really fast. We had set ourselves up in a pretty large way. The question now was when, where and how to repeat it.

The next show came about three months later. By now we were really starting to gel. We booked into the Milestone and the resulting show was one of the 5 best sets I've ever participated in. It was just one of those rare nights when everything falls into place. I was more confident in my position. Jimmy and I stood off to the side slinging our guitars like long lost bastard sons of the MC5 while Mike flashed away licks a'la Johnny Thunders. It was a great show and I felt pretty proud and lucky to be a part of it. 

We headlined the annual Plaza Midwood 4th of July Pig Pickin that summer. This event was a pretty big deal; a bar-b-cue festival featuring fireworks and live music attracting hundreds and hundreds of people. I went in feeling supremely confident, but the show was a disaster. The sound crew hired for this event really didn't seem to have any clue what they were doing. To be fair, it was outdoors, and running sound outdoors is tricky business. The sound crew just didn't seem to have any way to compensate. I also think they weren't used to high volume hard rock. The PA couldn't keep up with what we were doing. It sounded like pure shit. Our onstage monitors weren't near powerful enough and nobody could hear what the other was playing. Fortunately Jeremy was right on point, nailing it together and keeping it from falling to pieces. It didn't help that steady drizzle of rain started to fall. We were just up against the elements. 

We rallied with another set on August 16th, Elvis Presley's birthday. We added a few covers of the King in tribute. We had also added the Sex Pistols song "Satellite". I also wanted to try to write some original material but nobody else was too keen on that. Everyone had full-time gigs they were focused on. This wasn't gonna be a vehicle for extra-curricular exploration. However we did start thinking that our take on some of these songs was unique enough to warrant recording a few. We had totally revamped the ANTiSEEN song "Warhero" as well as an old Mad Brother Ward song called "Need It Bad". We also decided to do a version of a song Clayton had recorded with the Australian band Rupture called "If I Had A Thousand Dollars (I'd Be A  Millionaire). Truthfully, we could've easily recorded everything we had been playing but finally whittled it down. 

We recorded late that fall at the home studio of Justin Williams, who had played with Jeremy in the Talk. Justin had some old analogue recording gear and had us set up in different areas in the house. It was interesting to see drums set up in the living room and my rig in the kitchen but we got a really good ambient sound. I was able to lay down my parts in one take and felt pretty swell about it. I also remember watching Mike rip the closing lead on "Warhero" and we all cheered. It was an amazing moment that we were lucky to capture on tape. The record came out a few months later and it still remains a proud moment for me. 

We played our final show in Raleigh around this time. It was a terrible set. We made every amateur mistake imaginable and stumbled thru the gig like we had never played together before. Honestly, it might be the worst show I ever played. To be fair, I think we all were in different places and heading different directions. Whatever the reason, it was pretty clear the project had run it course. We only met one last time for a photo shoot for the local free paper. We had been awarded "Best New Band", which was ironic in that not only were we all longtime veterans of Charlotte music, but the band was already finished.

The Mongrels was something that I remember with fondness, an adventure that I never would thought I'd get to participate in. Having recorded and performed with guys that I looked up to and respected was really humbling and gratifying. We made a really great record that I'm super proud of. I could've easily walked away from that project and felt justified. No regrets. It's now a part of Charlotte music lore. Perhaps someday when the planets align and we have nothing better to do, it might happen again. 

But lightning rarely strikes twice. 

As I write this we are readying a set for some shows in the coming weeks. March 17 will see us back in Spartanburg with the Independents, and April 7 we finally return to Wilmington, NC for Gray Matterz fanzine's 2nd Anniversary Party at Reggies 42nd St. We are also busy working on new recording projects that are coming together slowly but surely. So as always, keep your ears out for our rumbling thunder and we will see you all SOON. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Story of Mad Brother Ward (Part Three)


It was only after the demise of the Screaming Street Trash that it ever occurred to me there was any sort of following for the records. We didn't include a mailing address in the records but somehow people still managed to write me occasionally. I also learned of kids in the outlying counties that were fans, which was weird because we sorta openly courted contempt and hatred in our brief existence. There was a young band down in Clover, South Carolina that I heard about that covered my song "Hated". I got in touch with them and they were excited to have me come down and jam. I wound up getting onstage with them a couple of times. 

My friend Brad was in a band that I wound up recording some of my songs with one afternoon on a 4 track recorder. Really basic. It was done all on the fly, just goofing around for fun, but it turned out great. I briefly considered trying to release it, even going so far as contacting Malcolm Tent, but it never happened. Two of those songs were recently resurrected as new ANTiSEEN songs. It goes to show what can be accomplished, even at an extended length of time. It isn't necessarily what you produce in the short term, it's what can be produced over time as a whole. Persistence. It's a good lesson to have learned.

In 2001 a friend of mine named Ryan was promoting some shows around town. After a band he had booked cancelled out I suggested that he and I could quickly put something together. He agreed and I recruited a guy named Jose to play bass while Ryan got a guy named Chris to play drums. We got the OK from Tremont Music Hall. I wasn't even certain that adding the name Mad Brother Ward to the bill would have any effect, but Ryan put me in the headlining spot. We drew about 90 people on the night of the show. It was a very loose set but a lot of fun and gave me confidence to do more. 

I booked another show about six weeks later at a little bar that ordinarily didn't host bands. Ryan bowed out due to his own full time gig in another band. So I once again called Brad into action. With limited time until the show we tossed together a set of only six songs, all new material. It was a very sharp set that I think surprised people. The brevity of it only worked to our advantage. It was over before anyone knew what had hit them. Always leave them wanting more. 

For a short time I served duty as bassist for the Self Made Monsters, and it was a blast. After ANTiSEEN, the Monsters remain my favorite band to ever come from North Carolina. They're one of those rare bands that evolve and mature without losing the core attitude or style that makes them unique. Although together over twenty years, they've never gotten the recognition or respect they deserve. My tenure with them remains a highlight of my musical endeavors.

I also partnered with Brad once again starting a band called DRAT. He and I recorded another 4trk thing just for fun but it wound up on a compilation CD called 'Bomb Threat'. The song, called "All The Kids Are Doing It", is probably the best thing he and I ever wrote together. Around that time somebody was putting together a themed Tribute night at Tremont, where a bunch of local bands all did Misfits songs. Melanie, the manager of the club, mentioned all the drama that surrounded the positioning of bands on the bill; nobody wanted to be first. I volunteered DRAT and we knocked out a strong set that pretty much blew the other acts away. Afterwards they decided to continue, but I bowed out owing allegiance to Self Made Monsters. 

Around this time I met a guy named Joe Dead. Joe had recently moved to Charlotte and was looking for a band to get into. The weird thing was that I had actually heard of Joe. He had been in a band in Texas called Humungus, which was fronted by Nicki Sicki from Verbal Abuse. They had made a record with Cheetah Chrome, which was how I had heard of them. I think he was surprised that I knew who he was. I also discovered he was in Will Shatter's last band, Any Three Initials (aka A3I). We met up and tossed some ideas around, agreeing we should definitely do something. 

There was moment where I had to make a decision about doing my own thing or playing with the Self Made Monsters. I loved that band. I loved playing with them. However I also knew I couldn't serve two masters; one would eventually fall to the demands of the other. Deciding that my own trip was the journey best taken, I reluctantly served my notice to the Monsters. In hindsight, I think this was a mistake. Resurrecting Mad Brother Ward would prove to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated.

Putting together a new band was a bit daunting. Joe suggested we continue to use the Mad Brother Ward name.This wasn't going to be a revival of the Screaming Street Trash, though. I knew this needed to be its own deal, rooted in what the old band had done while establishing its own identity. Through a little trial and error we finally formalized a line-up and were gigging out. We called it Mad Brother Ward & the Dividers. Musically the Dividers weren't anything like the Screaming Street Trash. It had a whole complete different energy and vibe. The guys that played in the Dividers were much more accomplished musicians. We were better equipped and more professional than the local punk bands of the time. We printed our own t-shirts which allowed us to undercut other bands prices. And we could see our influence. Bands upgraded their equipment and lowered their merch costs in effort to compete. 

I found that I could still get under peoples skin pretty easily, and without the violence that marked so many of the Screaming Street Trash sets. Kids were a lot more sensitive than the decade before. It was only too easy; all I had to do is deliver a barbed comment dropped in the middle of our set and watch kids erupt like angry ants on an upturned mound. But there was a method to my madness. I recognized that the relative success most local bands enjoyed was predicated on a social level - meaning that the music was secondary to to the idea of the event itself. Music merely served as a disposable vehicle to make the "scene". I wasn't shy on calling people out on it. And we built our audience in spite of it. They may not have liked me personally, but they respected the band and our music. We had a decent little run. Where I made my biggest mistake was in not ever recording the Dividers. If we had released something maybe we would've gained a little more traction. Who knows? 

In 2008 I participated in Jeff Clayton and the Mongrels. ANTiSEEN had some downtime and Jeff wanted to keep busy. What resulted was an "all-star" assembly of locally renowned musicians including local legend Mike Hendrix. Mike fronted a band called the Belmont Playboys, sort of harder edged rockabilly band. Back in the proverbial day, Mike had been a member of a legendary North Carolina punk band called No Rock Stars. So just the pairing of Jeff and Mike was a pretty big deal. Somehow I fell into the mix as a second guitarist, even though I really couldn't play. I drilled out my power chords and figured out where I could fit in behind Mike. We made recorded a 7" and I was stoked to have re-recorded an old Mad Brother Ward on it. 

Also in 2008 I made effort to reunite the Screaming Street Trash for the ANTiSEEN 25th Anniversary Pre Show Party. I had contacted Tom Nalley, who now lived in Arizona and he said he could fly out. Greg Clayton agreed to participate as well. I couldn't find Chris Wilson so I decided to use the Dividers bassist, Pyro Dave. Things went wrong straight away. Tom of course never got a plane ticket and Greg had a family emergency. Jeff Clayton suggested I just go ahead and do a set with the Dividers, but I felt we weren't in practice at the time, plus that wasn't what was advertised. So I cancelled it. I felt pretty rotten about that, and still do. 

One afternoon I was surprised by a knock at my door. It was Jon Bowman and Jeff Clayton. They had a big box they gave me. I opened it and was shocked to find it full of CD's of the Mad Brother Ward records. They had remastered the recordings and got Zodiac Records to release it. It's one of the most humbling gifts I ever received. 

I had always planned to quit by the age of 40. I was spending more time travelling with ANTiSEEN working as their merch man and roadie than focusing on my own band.  In 2010 I played the last Mad Brother Ward shows. We did a big show at the Milestone at the start of the year with the Flat Tires and decided to repeat the bill at Tremont late that summer. I distinctly remember being in the middle of the third song and realizing I was done. I shortened the set and disregarded the opportunity for an encore. I walked off stage and never looked back. 

I realize now I was never a good band leader. I do better in collaborative situations, such as what I had with Brad or what I did in Self Made Monsters and what am now currently doing. And as for the current situation, it wasn't anything I had planned or aspired for. It really came barreling in outta left field. Suddenly having the opportunity to travel the world and make records has been pretty rewarding, even if the circumstance under which the opportunity was afforded wasn't the best. I often joke about being a "middle aged novice", but I've at least had a little previous experience to draw from. 

Now the objective is to shoulder the load and take it a little further on down the line. As I wrote this Phil Irwin from Rancid Vat passed away. Saddened as we all were, I can at least temper the feeling with some gratefulness at ever having known him at all. And that gratefulness extends to all the colorful and unique characters that have populated my life. Their names read like comic heroes (or maybe villains), pro wrestlers and wild west outlaws - Whiskey Rebel, Commander PP, GG Allin, Bruce Roehrs, The Cosmic Commander of Wrestling, Mighty Joe Young - all now passed, all leaving a large mark on my life and outlook. Someday, long away in the distant future, some kid in some podunk town is gonna stumble across these names. And somehow, someway from far beyond the grave these names are gonna still change lives. 

And this is what gives me hope for the future.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Story of Mad Brother Ward (Part Two)


Almost immediately after our first show were offered the opportunity to play at a newly opened club called Heretic's. The guys that ran the place had heard the story of our set and unlike the Milestone, who had banned us for our antics, they actually wanted us to come and get crazy. We took the show but unlike our first effort we were pretty sedate. After that things kinda ground to a halt as Tom and I found ourselves without a rhythm section again.
I wanted to fill the downtime by working on new songs, but working with Tom proved difficult. He had wrote a song I thought might be the best direction for us to take. We called it "Dead End Sunday". It reminded me of the Lazy Cowgirls, a favorite band of mine. But Tom kinda stalled out after that. He would toss ideas around without remembering much of it. I started using a tape recorder just to keep the random ideas together. I don't think we used any of it, though. I went off alone and wrote "Need It Bad", "Shitkicker" and "Bloodlust Deathwish". Tom finally scored big when he brought in the music to what became "Kill The Scene".

Around this time ANTiSEEN hooked up with Jeff Skipski and his Baloney Shrapnel record label. Skipski expressed interest in releasing a second MBW record. Initially the thought process was for it to be a double 7". Tom and I really didn't have enough material for a double EP, but at this point I figured we could pull it off. We once again talked Greg Clayton to sit in for the recording. We also recruited a guy named Chris Wilson to play bass. Chris would ultimately prove to be the partner I needed.

We only got to practice once - the day before we recorded. The songs all came together pretty well. Greg had been playing with a band called Skullbuckle who had an untitled song that I loved. I told Greg if we should do it and he agreed. I didn't know the words so I improvised, a lot of it  nonsensical. We titled it "In Trouble". We also worked up a cover of the Plasmatic's song "Butcher Baby" which was a bit tricky. The toughest one was "Shitkicker". Tom never played that song the same way twice, and it made things difficult for the bass and drums to follow. Somehow we got it together and entered the studio the next day.

We had Jeff Clayton go with us again to produce. We were still sorta puzzling it together. At one point while working something out, Jeff got a phone call and excused himself. He was gone for awhile. When he returned he called us all into the control room. "GG died last night", he said. We all just sort of looked at each other. GG had been in town just the week before. I remember I had been driving up Central Avenue when a car rolled up next to mine, the occupant on the passenger side hanging halfway out the car window screaming "Mad Brother Ward, you cocksucker motherfucker!!" It was GG. I didn't know he was even in town. He was going to join ANTiSEEN onstage for their encore at a show they did that week, but at some point he simply disappeared and we never saw him again. I still really don't know what Jeff was feeling at the moment. He and GG had been pretty close.

Somewhat disheartened, we settled into the business of recording the songs. It went fairly smooth, but the session was longer than the previous one. I went outside and rewrote some of the words for "Bloodlust Deathwish" to make it about GG, sort of an impromptu tribute. Greg and Chris were squarely on point and finished their parts relatively quickly. Tom however had difficulty with everything. At one point something went wrong with his amp. He fiddled with it and got it working again. I think he was just stalling. He never had his solos worked out, and it quickly became apparent he was simply wasting everybody's time. Jeff and I finally decided  we could come back and punch it in another time. Again I did a few wrestling-style rants and got a quick mix down on cassette for reference. We would return to do a final mix a couple of weeks later.

At this point I started trying to figure out what the title of this record was going to be. In fact it was becoming more clear that I was making pretty much all the decisions. Tom just couldn't be bothered. I tried to keep him engaged but he seemed to have lost interest. I finally called him out on it. He insisted everything was fine, he just didn't have any real strong opinions on anything. Eventually I started to partner more with Chris on the decision making. Chris was a lot more proactive. It also didn't hurt that he took a job tending bar at Heretic's. The guys that ran then place welcomed whatever we wanted to do. We now had a "home" club, which was a good thing because we weren't welcome anywhere else.

I came upon the title "Am I Cool Or What?" from a children's album with the comic strip character Garfield. Something about the absurdity of it appealed to me. I was also trying to not come off quite so serious. Word was getting back to me that people felt I was trying to act like I was tough. I never felt that way. I didn't think about toughness or macho bullshit; I just was trying to put over some aggro and attitude. I wasn't trying to make friends. I thought the title "Am I Cool Or What" reflected that obnoxiousness without pretense. And the fact I got it from a children's album made it all the better. Generally this sort of irony isn't something I appreciate, but I felt it was sorta called for.

We went back to the studio a few weeks later to do the final mix. I also re-did some vocals. I changed some of the lyrics again to a few things, and re-did some things that I didn't feel were up to snuff. Then Tom finally laid down his lead parts. This took more time than the actual mixing. It was obvious that he didn't bother practicing anything in the time between the first session and this one. We walked thru the solo of "Bloodlust Deathwish" piece by piece and he still never really had it. He couldn't figure out the timing of where to drop it in, so it runs longer than it should. He didn't know where to come out, so it sorta ends abruptly. It was a mess. We tried to put together a solo for "Dead End Sunday" but it wasn't happening, either. Jeff Murdock, the recording engineer, finally did sort of a model solo for Tom to copy, but it was pointless.
"Am I Cool or What?" was supposed to be a double EP. I'm not too sure who squelched the plan, but I think Jeff Skipski decided it was going to be too expensive. It didn't matter because we really didn't have enough material for it anyhow. I decided to scrub "Dead End Sunday" entirely and also considered dropping "Butcher Baby" but got talked out of it. I've never been particularly enamored with our take on that song, but I guess it really doesn't matter now.

When the test press came in, Jeff called me. "We got a bit of a problem", he said. "The record has surface noise. This is because we're trying to squeeze too much on each side, so the grooves are smaller". When I heard it I could tell what he meant. It sounded thin and tinny. However it also added to the overall rawness, which could be a positive. I decided to let it go as it was. This wasn't Pink Floyd.

Around this time we were offered a show opening for a band called the Skatenigs. I didn't know anything about this band but their promo material boasted they were "the anarchy the Sex Pistols could only sing about" and how crazy their show supposedly was and all other sorts of self-aggrandizement. When they showed up it was in a giant tour bus pulling an equally massive equipment trailer. Apparently their shtick was sort like low-rent GWAR - lots of props like rubber dildos and stupid shit like that. They crammed the stage with massive amounts of gear. I told the Skatenigs road manager they might want to move some of their stuff. He told me just to be careful. I said that wasn't the kind of band we are. They grudgingly moved a few things.

After soundcheck we went and sat in the closet that served as the dressing room. It was also filled with more of the Skatenigs junk. Charles Inman, who had played bass for our first two shows, came in to say hello. While we were talking a guy came in and told us we had to leave, this was for the Skatenigs only. Charles looked at the guy and asked if he was in the band. The guy says he's with the band. Charles asked the question again, and again got the same response. Charles suddenly exploded. "I didn't ask you if you were with the band", he screamed, "I asked are you in the band!" Charles then proceeded to make they guy grab every bit of the Skatenigs stuff and kick him out of the dressing room. "This is OUR club!! This room is MINE!! STAY OUT". The guy scrambled to grab stuff and scurried away, terrified. We all laughed like hell.

Our set was a blur. I've since had people tell me details I have no memory of. Supposedly a pinball machine was damaged and chairs were thrown. I don't remember any of that. I do remember there was a guy challenging me to a fight, claiming I had spit on him. "Come on", he shouted, "Spit on me again, I dare you!!"

I have never wanted to spit on someone so badly in my whole life, before or since.

Unfortunately I was dehydrated and cotton mouthed. No spit was forthcoming. I simply stood there screaming "WHOOO!" over and over. People were throwing stuff at us, and we were throwing stuff back. It was like a small scale riot. The soundguy was with the Skatenigs and cut the PA, but we refused to leave the stage. Finally the club owner, Kevin, was telling me to "just play!" We were onstage 30 minutes and only got about four songs in.

After we got off stage we were told we had to leave, immediately. The Skatenigs were on their bus refusing to come off until I and everyone with me had left the premises. Apparently at some point Charles stood outside their bus shooting his gun into the air. Even after we had left, they refused to play. This was the band that bragged about being "real anarchy". I found out later that of the roughly 150 people that paid, only 4 asked for their money back.

The second record came out and, as with the first, was met with great reviews. Sure enough, the noisy pressing only added to the rawness. People never realized it wasn't supposed to sound that way. Flipside magazine said it had a "fuck-you quality" and MRR raved on it as well. Personally I didn't feel it was quite as good as the first record, but it was cool so many people liked it. Still, things didn't really happen. We had striven for a reputation of destruction and mayhem without really thinking about the ramifications. And believe me, nobody was beating a path to my door.

We played a show around Halloween and then another on New Years Eve, closing 1993. The New Years Eve show was recorded professionally. The show was a two day thing put together by the club for a proposed compilation CD to document the local music scene. It never materialized. I don't know who has the master recording for that. Our set was pretty awful to the tell truth. I noticed when I listened to the tape that Tom played half the set without using his distortion pedal. He just didn't have a clue what he was doing.
In early early 1994 we played a show which proved to be Tom's last with the band. He called shortly after to tell me he was quitting. He claimed he felt like his ideas weren't being accepted, but the truth is he never brought anything to the table. He felt I was always on his case and that it wasn't worth the aggravation. He would rather we part ways as friends and not let it fester. And that was that. He would start a band called the Irritations; a name I had given him. And truth be told, they were a killer little band. Tom suddenly was writing a ton of kick ass songs. I've since suspected he had been holding out on me. His drummer copyrighted Tom's songs under his own name without giving Tom credit. But for whatever it's worth - Tom wrote ALL of it. It didn't matter - by that point he was getting into hard drugs and burned out accordingly. It was sad to watch happen.

We tried out several people. I briefly considered taking on a guy named Shan Evans as Tom's replacement. We had talked about bringing him in on second guitar before Tom left, and he actually sat in on a few practices. He eventually confessed stage fright and we took a pass. Surprisingly my friend Brad, the same guy I had started playing music with and who I formed my first ever band with, offered to sit in. It was great to put all the bad blood behind us and finally move forward. He wasn't exactly joining the band as much as helping out, and he was pretty up front about that. I didn't care, I was thrilled to have him come in and help.
By summer we were practicing a little more regularly with Greg was sitting in more frequently. Having Brad in the band made a huge difference. He didn't play as well as Tom, but was better in the respect that he had more drive. Things were coming together better than before. One night after practice we decided to hit an "open mic night" at a local metal club. This place was populated with a weird cross section of lingering leftover hair-metal types and the nascent crop of kids suckling heavily on the MTV success of arena-grunge a'la Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and the like. The rule for the open-mic thing was that in the interest of diversity and improvisation, no established acts could play.

But we weren't ever interested in rules, were we? 
We stuck out like sore thumbs. Chris had a neon orange liberty-spiked mohawk. Brad had somehow daubed his face with Ace Frehley make-up. It was clear before we ever stepped foot onstage that we were interlopers and outsiders. We waited for the host band to finish their jam and then Greg made sure we were first in line. He basically kicked everyone off the stage, even literally taking drums away from some girl who thought she was gonna be first. We took our positions and people started to gather closer to the stage, wondering what the hell was going on. There were probably a good fifty or sixty people there, random bodies with nothing better to do on a weeknight in Charlotte.

We blasted into the first song and everyone literally stepped back two steps. It was the first time I really felt the force of the band itself, firing away as it should. Whereas before we were always sorta compensating our lack of tightness with craziness, this line-up could hold its own. We fired off three songs before anyone really knew what hit them, and stormed directly off the stage and out the front door. On the way out I heard a barmaid loudly say in a thick southern accent: "Now I liked that, that was GOOD!"

It was good, but it wasn't to last.

We were booked to open another ANTiSEEN show along with Tom's new band; sort of head to head combat. Unfortunately I wound up with the flu and passed out at work the afternoon of our show. I wound up in the ER that night instead. A lot of naysayers said I had "chickened out" but I didn't feel the need to prove myself at that point. Still, I really feel had we played that night we would've turned a corner. I think we were at the absolute strongest point the band had ever been. I regret that line-up was never recorded.

We played one more show and everyone went their separate ways. The Screaming Street Trash was no more. What was never meant to be more than a single record and show had grew and developed into a pretty memorable band. And if it happened under the name "Mad Brother Ward", it certainly wasn't done alone. Chris Wilson really hit the ground running when he joined, and is probably the real reason we ever had a second year at all. Greg Clayton and Brad Mullins' selfless help cannot go thankless. Those guys gave the band a proper viking funeral. And it probably sounds like I'm pretty harsh on Tom Nalley but if it weren't for him, it likely wouldn't have happened at all. And of course all the help, guidance and assistance from Jeff Clayton, Malcolm Tent, Jeff Skipski, and all the various members that served time in this most... difficult band.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Story of Mad Brother Ward (Part One)

I thought since things were relatively slow at the moment, I'd write a little about my musical past. I honestly don't spend much time reminiscing or wistfully pining for the "good old days", because frankly the "good old days" weren't so good. In fact mostly it was filled with useless trivial drama, petty jealousies and poor decisions. Somehow amid the stupidity and chaos I managed to make a couple of decent little punk rock records and play a handful of memorable shows.

So this is the story of Mad Brother Ward.

It all started initially within the context of the first band I was ever in. I met a guy named Brad while working in a pizza joint. After our shift we would usually sit around in the parking lot and talk about starting a band. At some point we stopped talking and started doing. And it all fell together pretty quickly. Initially I wound up on drums - not for any reason other than having access to a kit. Brad learned guitar quick and almost immediately starting writing songs. We hooked up with a couple of other guys and before we new it, we had the rag-tag combo out onstage playing our first show (opening for ANTiSEEN, of course).

Our band was called Failure. On the day of our first show I learned there was already another more established band with the same name. I didn't care. I figured the world was big enough for at least two Failures. Although Brad was the principal songwriter, I was sort of the defacto "leader" meaning only that I booked the shows and organized band practices. But everything was scattershot and off the cuff, nothing was too intently planned. We basically lived up to our name.
Very rapidly the line-up shifted and I wound up on guitar.  We knew we couldn't outplay other bands, but we could easily outshow them. And we really pushed as hard as we knew how to. We played a set in an old warehouse converted into an indoor skatepark and I smashed my guitar to bits. We were banned at the Milestone Club in Charlotte after our show ended with the building surrounded by firetrucks and police cars. We opened a show for the Holy Rollers, a band on Dischord Records. We lied about having our equipment stolen and asked to borrow theirs - and they actually let us. After the show they told us we had blew them off the stage. And on their own equipment. I could tell we were quickly becoming a popular local act, and really pushed to keep going for the jugular, even to our own detriment.

Around this same time their was a movement to bring an "alternative" radio station to Charlotte. It was led by something called the Alternative Radio Coalition, or ARC for short. Every month ARC would hold a meeting, usually at a local club. A keynote speaker would be brought in to make an address and then a band would play. I can't remember the details but I think what happened was the scheduled band cancelled at the last minute and the organizers were left scrambling to find a replacement. Apparently it was Fred Mills, then a local music writer, who thought it would be funny to get us to play. We eagerly accepted the offer.

By chance, Malcolm Tent was in town. He ran the now legendary record store Trash American Style up in Danbury, Connecticut. He also released records on his own record label, TPOS. I can't remember why he was in town, but Jeff Clayton and Joe Young brought him out to this ARC thing, raving that he had to see us. I still remember sitting outside anxiously waiting to play. This was sort of a big deal for us - an opportunity to upset a lot of the local scene taste-makers and demigods. There was a good crowd, around a hundred fifty or so people. They gathered up around the stage to check out what they thought would be another interesting "alternative" band reflecting their sensibilities and aspirations. Instead they got

When we launched into our set the volume of everything seemed to roar right back at us.The room was all concrete and steel and everything reverberated and echoed in the worst ways. Not that we played worth a shit anyway. That wasn't the point. As we rolled into the second song a mass exodus started to occur - the room quickly cleared leaving only a handful of people - mostly our friends. We climaxed our set with waves of feedback while Brad smashed his microphone with a brick. I spear-chucked my guitar against the back wall. I
After the set Malcolm came up and told me he HAD to put out a record for us. I was elated. Everything had fallen together exactly as I had hoped - we were the young upstarts challenging the convention of cool and establishing our name on our own terms. I knew what we were doing was the correct thing to do. But there was a push/pull duality to everything - I was very much into being combative and confrontational, while the others were more into just trying to get our shit together and playing as well as we could. A large part of my motivation was born from a deep insecurity coupled with an intense dislike of most everything. It was creating friction within the group. Truthfully we lacked identity and direction.  I didn't know it, but by the time we recorded a plan was already underway to give me the boot.

Our recording session went fairly smooth, but the resulting tape sounded terrible. My parts were almost completely mixed out and the remaining guitar was an embarrassment. It could've ( and should've) been a lot better but I had no say. The day after we finished I was told I was out of the band.

I gotta stop and qualify some things here. Hindsight being 20/20 I totally understand why the others were fed up with me. I'm still friends with these guys today, but at the time there were a lot of bad feelings tied up in this. Being kicked out of the band I started only fed my anxiety and hatred. I felt betrayed, rejected, confused and angry as I could possibly be. I didn't know where to go from this point, but I knew whatever I did, it had to be better than where I had left off.

Jeff called me up and was sorta trying to mediate the situation a bit. He had been a friend and mentor to all of us and now the loyalties were divided. "Man, I told them they need to reconsider", he said. "I told them I thought what they did was wrong". I asked what he thought I should do and was surprised at his response. "You should make your own record." I hadn't even considered that. I hadn't even really considered starting another band. But he began to explain the logic - find some people, write some songs, record them and see if Malcolm Tent might still be interested.

So I got busy.
I spent several days considering my options. I wasn't really thinking of anything beyond a one-off recording project, so I wasn't interested in having a "proper" band. However in those days, bands that actually recorded weren't very common, and any sort of boastful clams were met with doubt and suspicion. I contacted one of the past members of Failure and he was indifferent. He was more into the grunge thing that had exploded the previous summer (and he would later die of a very grungy heroin overdose, but that's another story). I also contacted the drummer, who I knew was also ready to quit the band. He wasn't anymore interested in helping me than he was helping them either, but seemed to adopt a "wait and see" position.

The girl I was dating at the time was friends with a guy named Tom Nalley. Tom was a quirky kid with a face hidden behind long locks of badly dyed hair. He talked in a deep-voiced mumble and seemed stoned all the time, but wasn't. In fact when he was stoned, it sorta balanced him out and he would become clear speaking and lucid. Sorta hardwired backwards. But he could play guitar, and play pretty good. We'd already been hanging out a bit. I knew he had a deep crush on my girlfriend so the situation was awkward for him -  and he was already an awkward personality to begin with. But he was on board with the plan, so we agreed to meet and see what we could figure out.

We sat down one weekend and wrote two songs straight away; "Hated' and 'Take Ya Down". I also wrote a song called "Give It Up" and an instrumental thing that never had words put to it. The next weekend we met up at ANTiSEEN's practice place and Greg Clayton volunteered to sit in on the drums. We drilled out the songs, focusing on "Hated" and "Take Ya Down" as a possible single. Feeling satisfied, the very next weekend we went into the studio to record them.

We went to the same place I had recorded with Failure the month before. Jeff Clayton was along to help produce the session. The owner, a guy named Jeff Murdock, had the place set up for recording his own band. He suggested we just use the drums that were there as they were already set up to record. Tom would double his parts and add bass, as we had no bassist. While there I decided to add another song, one from my old band called "Goin' Crazy" (I figured since I wrote the words I had equal rights to it) and I played guitar on that since Tom didn't know it. It turned out great. Then I then took a half-assed stab at the instrumental I had written with Greg sorta improvising along the way.

Once we had the basic tracks down I got ready to do the vocal parts. While setting the mic levels I started doing old-school pro wrestling rants just as a lark. Clayton sorta pricked up his ears and came out of the control room. "Hey, give some of that a little more thought, we should record it." So after laying down my vocals we recorded several of these rants and then quickly mixed the thing together. The entire session took about four hours.

Jeff sent a copy of the tape to Malcolm to see if he would be interested in it. I was optimistic; it was better recorded, better preformed and at least as well written as the Failure tape. In my own estimation, my recording was just all-out meaner. It had a biting ferocity that the Failure recording lacked. Failure leaned heavily in a pop-punk direction, and honestly had some killer songs, but their recording lacked the out-and-out balls it really needed. I had also recorded fewer tracks so mine sorta held a tighter focus.

Macolm Tent agreed. He wanted to issue the Mad Brother Ward single. I was pretty elated, if not surprised. At first he was going to release both the Failure and MBW records simultaneously. At this point I had kept the recording a secret. I didn't want anyone knowing what I was up to, especially if Malcolm had opted against releasing my record. Now that it was happening, I concocted a plan where I'd have him bookend the box of Failure records with copies of my own. This would be how they would learn that I had carried on. Petty? Yeah, but my attitude was fuck 'em.

Sometimes fate intercedes and conspires a direction and course you originally had never intended nor foreseen. In the story of Mad Brother Ward, this would prove true repeatedly and constantly. The first was when Malcolm decided to pass on the Failure project and focus solely on the MBW record. This was the validation and victory I had strived for. And I had achieved it on merit, without resorting to any underhanded or backstabbing tactics. It was just simply a better recording. The second was when I was offered an opening spot on an upcoming ANTiSEEN bill. To put this record over I would have to play some shows, so it was basically time to put up or shut up.

The first thing I considered was the futility of having a band with identifiable members on equal footing. I knew whatever I did would be focused on one person - me. I hadn't ever considered nor aspired to be a frontman before, but now I was going to have to for this to work. I wasn't interested in participating in a democracy anymore. From here on out it would be a what I would later describe as a benevolent dictatorship - I allowed voting power, but I had veto power. My primary co-conspirator would be Tom. He was my writing partner and right hand man, so I sorta figured the "band", as it were, to be just us two. Anyone else would be welcome to come and go as they pleased.

I had acquired the nickname "Mad Brother Ward" from Jeff. We were joking about what our names would be if we were professional wrestlers. He said my name would be Mad Brother Ward because I was "always bitching about something". I immediately adopted this as my stage name. I now needed a name for the band. Tom and tossed about ideas - Mad Brother Ward and the... ?? Then one night we were watching the old exploitation movie 'Street Trash' and Tom remarked that the name "Street Trash" sounded like one of those horrible L.A. metal bands. We then looked at each other and knew that was it. Mad Brother Ward and the Street Trash. It was Greg Clayton who said, no, it should be the Screaming Street Trash.

And that was it.

By this point we had recruited the rhythm section away from Failure. Their defection to my band only exacerbated the ill feelings between my friend Brad and I. This was to my eternal regret. Brad had been my best friend for a long time; the guy who I started playing music with, the guy I had the best working chemistry with. This probably still holds true; some of the best things I've ever written were done with Brad. However he had chosen to trust the word and ideas of the other guitar player in Failure. Their popularity quickly waned as they struggled along, eventually changing their name once or twice before ultimately breaking up.
The first show was on January 9th, 1993 at the infamous Milestone Club in Charlotte. The bill was ANTiSEEN, Cocknoose and us. The room was oversold and tightly packed. Although the winter weather was freezing outside, it was like a sauna inside. Our guys were working up courage and fortitude via bottles of Cisco. We finally hit stage. It was chaotic and shambolic, nobody was much in time with the other and the whole thing was a mess. At some point I noticed a guy I had a beef with and went after him. We exchanged blows and the crowd scattered. We got pulled apart and somehow the set continued. I spotted him and again we squared off before we were separated once more. I think the whole set lasted about fifteen minutes. It's a hazy memory at best, and probably best lost to time.
The rest of the show only got crazier and more violent as the night wore on. I would argue it was one of the more crazy shows that this town has ever witnessed. I mean, think about that line-up. Add the Cosmic Commander of Wrestling and some skinheads to the mix and the situation was a powder keg among flying sparks. suffice it to say it was a long night, and would be a long story to write. Maybe another time.
The Mad Brother Ward 7" was released 10 days later. Tom titled it "Hated By All". Seemed fitting. We expected and anticipated the inevitable bad reviews from MRR and Flipside. We just knew they were gonna hate it. But then to our surprise, both publications heaped it with praise. It wound up on both Tim Yohannon and Jeff Bale's Top Ten lists (as well as several others) and was described as "the best all-out punk attack record of the year". Several other small fanzines picked up on the scent and came to the same conclusion. It wasn't super-stardom, but it wasn't bad.

All the drama, hard work and aggravation had paid off. I had accomplished everything I had set out to do - make a record, play a crazy show and piss some people off. My work was finished. Or so I had thought. Almost straight away we were asked when we would we be doing another record, when the next show was going to be and what was next?

It wasn't gonna be easy...


A few notes on whats happenin'... For the last several years it has been somewhat customary to play a "small" show at the infamous Thirsty Beaver Saloon in Charlotte. The owners, brothers Brian and Mark Wilson, are both longtime A-SEEN fans going way waaay back. However as of late the tiny bar has been in the cross-hairs of developers. The tiny abode is now surrounded by a towering condo building, dwarfing the bar and swallowing all the available parking. The bar has survived and thrived however, their plight gaining international news notice by everything from the TV tabloid show Inside Edition to the New York Times.

Meanwhile the Wilson Brothers have also opened a Tex-Mex style restaurant with the same quaint charm of the Beaver bar, only with a little more elbow room and a lot more parking. It's called the Tipsy Burrow Cantina. It was only logical we would play there this go 'round. So on December 16 we celebrated the holidays Destructo style! Setting up on one end of the restaurant we plowed thru a set of old and new; a few things off the new album we haven't played live before, a few tunes we haven't played in ages and capped with a cover of the Kinks "Father Christmas". We were also treated to the spectacle of Jeff Clayton in full Santa Claus garb, with a big sack of goodies which he occasionally pilfered thru and tossed to the crowd. It was a great night and we appreciate everyone who made it out.

It looks like we are gonna spend most of this winter wood-shedding and writing. We are currently focused on some projects that I don't wanna mention just yet. It's some cool stuff, though. After that, a new album? Those ideas are already percolating as well. Anything is possible. Just coz we get quiet don't mean we ain't here.

Until next time...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2017 Tour Journal (Part Two of Two)...

Previously I wrote of our pre-tour launch and the opening days of our tour with ZEKE and Against The Grain. If you haven't yet read Part One, I'd advise you to do so now. And if you have read it... read it again!

And so the adventure continues...


One of the perks touring Texas is a stop at a Whataburger.  The Whataburger chain doesn't extend too far beyond the Texas borders, so a pilgrimage is always in order. I mean, let's be realistic here; it isn't the best burger on the planet but it stomps the dogshit outta McDonalds. Back home in North Carolina there is a small unrelated chain of burger joints also called Whataburger. The Carolinian version is more like something served in a bad elementary school cafeteria - some sort of shriveled rubbery slab of dried patty served on a stale bun garnished with dirty wilted lettuce and and unripened heel slice of tomato... I mean, we have friends who actually enjoy that farce so we always tease each other over it. Anyway, although this visit was somewhat of a letdown, the Texas Whataburger remains superior in every respect. 

We are staying the night with Phil 'Whiskey Rebel' Irwin of the infamous and legendary Rancid Vat. He's quite a character and I always enjoy listening to him pontificate on any given subject. He welcomes us into his home and we have just enough time to settle before rounding up and heading out to the club. Its a really nice fall evening, I watch the sunset thru the van window and feel anticipation. San Antonio is one of my favorite places to play.

The club is called The Limelight. We played here before on our tour with the Meatmen. At some point between then and now the club has changed ownership. It seems a little nicer than the last time we were here, but essentially it is unchanged. After loading in I go and sit in the van. Sometimes you need a little downtime away from everyone else. I think of how we were parked in basically the very same spot the last time we were here. I watch people walk by, heading to the area bars and restaurants oblivious and disinterested in underground rock and roll. It's moments like these where I feel like some sort of fugitive. I have only one goal to accomplish and then move on to another day in another city for another show. 9 to 5 ain't no way to make a living.

We take stage and drive into the set. I like playing here. We always have a great response in San Antonio. The crowd here isn't as jaded as Houston or Austin can sometimes be. It's still funny to see Latino kids sporting rebel flags. Everyone seems disaffected by usual punk rock dogma and cliches. These people rock out, and really that's all that any of this is ultimately about. We get an encore tonight. I love this city.

After the show we head back over to Phil's. He sets up a round of shots and we drink a toast to the many friends we've lost. We sit up for awhile on the back porch sipping beer and discussing the finer points of alcohol consumption and job loathing. The irony is not lost that we -  tattooed ne'er-do-well ruffians - have all been cited as exemplary workers at our respective jobs. The subjects change and morph into a variety of topics and opinions. Sitting out on Phil's back porch sipping beer in the cool fall air is one of the highlights of this tour.

DALLAS - Oct 20

Before leaving San Antonio we head over to restaurant managed by Phil's son, Elvis. Elvis has set us up for lunch so we make good work of his hospitality. We then scurry up the highway to Dallas, arriving in rush hour traffic. As we slink slowly thru the city I set up motel arrangements. We are able to score rooms about a mile away from the place we are playing. I even score an upgrade - king beds!

Hey, I'll take whatever perks I can get.

The club is called Gas Monkey. It's actually a restaurant. I guess it's tied into some TV show, but I really don't know anything about it. There is a large patio area with a giant stage set up. Kyle from ZEKE jokes its the nicest Applebee's he's ever played. To be fair, the entire set up is nicer than most clubs we play. The staff here are all pretty cool and helpful. The downside is that we discover another "scene" thing in effect. A lot of people refuse to come here and the bands that play here are labeled "sell-outs". Whatever.

Although this is a high-end establishment, nothing here is free. Everything is merely discounted. Some of the others order food but I opt to save my money. The backstage greenroom is actually a private VIP lounge on the second floor overlooking the patio below. It has its own bar staffed by a young lady who sits quietly and patiently for drink orders that never come.

Our set feels weird on this big stage. Playing outside all the sound evaporates above you, so if people are cheering (or booing), you really can't tell. Plus it's pretty windy, so who knows what that's doing to the sound. Earlier in the day I managed to pull a muscle in my abdomen. It's a dull pain but uncomfortable. I have a hard time working up any energy but I think we still played well. There are the usual handful of locals who know us right up front. They are into it. A couple a ladies come and stand in front of me and take a bunch of pictures. After the set they introduce themselves (I believe their names were Sheila and Carrie - I still wanna see the pics!). They tell me that I "rocked", so I really shouldn't be too self critical. Ultimately I feel like we still connected in the end.

I watch ZEKE from behind the stage. They drill away in their usual ultra-high speed manner. They toss a few mid-tempo dirges in there, too. At one point Marky and Kyle do this cool call-and-response thing with their guitars, knocking off the lead break from Led Zeppelin's 'Heartbreaker". They volley the lick back and forth before mangling the whole thing back into their own image. It's a cool spot.

After the show some of the Against The Grain guys introduce me to Kelley from the band Mothership. Somehow thru the course of conversation we discover we all know Erik Sugg from the Raleigh-based band Demon Eye. Erik was the guy who bailed me out when I had my infamous guitar malfunctions in Raleigh several years ago. It's interesting how interlaced and inter-connected the backroads and alternate avenues of music can be. I'm sure a lot of folks use these opportunities to "network", but I just enjoy the curious coincidences. Even thousands of miles away from home, you realize it's a small world.

We load out and head down to the motel, stopping at a gas station to load up on some junk food. I also grab some over-priced medicine. Despite my best efforts, I have managed to catch some sort of cold/flu bug. This is gonna make the rest of the tour less than comfortable. Fortunately we are close to the finish line.

AUSTIN - Oct 21

On the way out of Dallas we make a side trip to visit the cemetery where the legendary Von Erich wrestling family are buried. The patriarch, Fritz Von Erich, ran wrestling in Dallas for years. He had six sons; Jack, David, Kevin, Kerry, Mike and Chris. Jack died at age six in freak accident. The rest all followed their father into professional wrestling. For several years their popularity in Dallas rivaled anything in sports or entertainment. The boys were regularly mobbed everywhere they went. Sadly things went awry in 1984 when David died of enteritis while on a Japanese tour. Over the course of the next eight years, Mike, Kerry and Chris would all take their own lives. The business tanked in the wake of seemingly endless tragedy. Fritz died of cancer in the late nineties leaving Kevin the sole remaining Von Erich. It takes a few minutes to locate the graves. They are all modest and not well kept, save for a bouquet of yellow roses placed on David's grave. It's almost as if fate and history have condemned this family. It's less depressing than ominous. Nature abhors a vacuum, ever more so in the unreal world of professional wrestling.

We hit a truckstop with a Denny's for a late breakfast and scoot back down to Austin. Trying to find a room turns into an unpleasant adventure. Apparently there are multiple sporting events occurring around Austin. I don't keep up with this sort of thing so it's all just a giant hassle as far as I'm concerned. We make calls and stop at multiple places, all have no vacancies. We finally decide to wait and chance it down the highway after the show.

The club is called The Lost Well. it is located on the east side of Austin, far away from the usual venues located along 6th Street, Congress and Red River. It seems that all the clubs are closing as Austin is slowly giving up it's status as a music capital in favor of more pedestrian Millennial expectations. The whimsical unofficial city motto "Keep Austin Weird" no longer applies, unless you somehow find coffee shops, piano bars or DJ's with laptops belching robotic beeps and whistles "weird". I don't. I don't even find it interesting. Oh well, nothing lasts forever.

We load in to the small dive bar. It's a dark cramped room with a tiny stage. The stage is curiously punctuated with a support pole sticking up thru it. Naturally it would be right on the side I have to set up on. I make a mental note to be wary of it. It's too small to backline so we have to store our gear in an awkward spot until time for our set. There is a small trailer out front selling tacos and such. The boys all grub on it and rank it high marks, but I have no appetite. My head is full of crud and I feel pretty lousy.
Marky has agreed to jam "Death Train" with us. Since we've been opening with that, we decide to move it to the end and add "Burning Money" for the opener. We haven't played it in a long time, maybe a year. We also "Funk U" to the set - it's been at least two years since we last played that. Apparently some of the guys in Against The Grain are fans of it, so we wanna surprise them. Barry and I go over the songs and we feel confident we can pull them off. It's cool we can do stuff like this. Ideally I'd prefer we practice them, but sometimes the best stuff happens when under pressure.

The set is a good one. Once the adrenaline kicks in and the sweat starts to flow, my head clears and I can tap whatever reserves of energy I have. Somehow, its always there. The pole doesn't affect me too badly. The crowd is pretty large and seems into it. We knock off the unrehearsed songs really well. "Funk U" feels a little wonky, but we pull it off. I doubt anyone could even tell. When Marky joins us I can feel the crowd pop. I let the opening notes dissolve into feedback and then we hit - hard. It sounds mammoth with the second guitar. We blitz the song pretty furiously and its a great close to the set.

After loading out we hit the highway back north. We finally score rooms in Temple, about an hour up the road. Physically I feel pretty rough, but my spirits are high. We've been playing some great sets this tour.


After shaving the extra hour off our trip last night, today's jaunt was a fairly brief three hour ride. Riding up thru north Texas we past the mammoth Texas Motor Speedway and then, just past the Oklahoma state line, the Winstar Resorts Casino. It's a weird sight sprouting up in the middle of nowhere here on the plains; a maze of towering hotels and casinos designed to resemble world landmarks such as Big Ben and the Empire State Building. Oddball sights like these pepper the otherwise boring monotony of long highway rides.
The club is called The Blue Note. The front end is essentially a pool hall while the backside houses a stage. The stage is rimmed with blue rope lighting that has the appearance of neon tubes. The room is choked with a thick haze of cigarette smoke, which doesn't bode well for my congestion. ZEKE are already here and loaded in. The promoter is named Matt and really does a great job making us feel welcome. We load in our gear and he starts to prepare us a meal. There are two big grills outside and he loads them down with steak. There is also a big walk-in cooler filled with beverages and we are told to simply help ourselves. I opt for an energy drink. Usually these things make me feel like shit, but I figure sipping one slowly might be beneficial. Matt soon has everything prepared and we feast out on some really great fajitas.

Against The Grain have played here several times before and are already familiar with the staff and have a local following. I only watch a few minutes of their set, but they kill it. They invite Jeff up to join on their cover of "I Stole Your Love". After their set it takes a few minutes to change over the gear. It's a deceptively small stage so things are cramped. I try to clear the sickness from my head and chest and set up my rig. We do a line check but I can't really tell much difference. I trust my own stage volume.

The set is strong, probably the best one of the tour. We open with "Burning Money" again. I like opening with this song, its easy to play and really sets the pace. I lean into each song and violently bash out the power chords. I allow the guitar to drone and the amp to feedback, moan and hiss. The monitors aren't really working like they should and Jeff is getting frustrated. The soundguy come to the lip of the stage and makes a quick fix. It's not much of an improvement, but it's still better than nothing. We drive thru the set and it's really really strong. Marky gets up with us at the end again for "Death Train" and we tear this city a new asshole. I walk off the stage knowing we have gotten the job done.

After the show I get to talk briefly with Lloyd Nickell, merch peddler for the Dwarves. Also a guy named Corey Johnson, who surprises me with a deep knowledge of my old MBW stuff.  People sorta mingle and there seems to be an air of procrastination - we all make our reluctant good-byes. Nobody really wants this to end. This package has been a great one. It would be cool to piece it back together for another run elsewhere down the road. We gather up for group pictures. Tonight will all go our separate ways; Against The Grain will return home to Michigan, we will return to North Carolina. Both bands have nearly twenty hours of drive time awaiting us. Zeke will continue their tour heading due west towards their hometown of Seattle. But for the moment we embrace our waning time together. It's been a helluva run.


After the tour we were home for a few days. We had scheduled this final weekend of October before the tour was finalized. Unfortunately we weren't able to keep one of the dates, but the other was a festival show built around us. We didn't wanna break our commitment to it, although it put us in the awkward position of travelling ten hours for a single show. This is where professionalism meets common courtesy. So we piled into the van once more and headed north to Michigan and the Smoke Rituals Festival.

We leave on Friday night to break up the trip somewhat. We cruise quietly into the night before stopping in West Virginia just shy of the Ohio border. The next morning we hit a Shoney's breakfast bar and trek the rest of the way. Still sick from whatever I caught on tour, I try to sleep as much as possible. Honestly, it's a pretty easy ride.
The club is called the Maidstone Theatre. It's a smallish cinder block building painted bloodred with it's name painted in giant black lettering along the side. I have no idea how or why it gets called a "theater" (or as they spell it, "theatre") but it's an interesting place. The giant stage nearly swallows the room. As with the bar we played in Austin, there is a pole that juts up thru the middle of the stage, again on my side. There's already a band onstage setting up. We sorta load in around them. The entire affair seems smaller than I anticipated, but I'm ready for anything.

The promotor, Rick, does a great job organizing everything. He orders us food and makes sure we have everything we need. There's a guy here with a table set up selling homemade effects pedals. I talk to him a bit and he's really cool. I wish I could try some of his stuff out, but this really isn't a good environment for that sort of thing. I get his card. His company is called Daddy-Daughter Pedalworks. I think he lets his daughter do some of the artwork on the pedals. It's some cool stuff.

Our friends Drew and Lorie Toth show up. They have brought along the infamous videographer "Punk" Rick Scullion with them. He's traveled down from Canada to videotape our set. We spend time catching up a bit. Our pal Lance Runngren and his wife Melissa are here, too. Lance's band Busby Death Chair are also on the bill tonight. Tesco Vee shows up. I'm pleasantly surprised. Tonight is turning out great. 

We finally take the stage and knock into our set. I can't really hear too well. The monitor mix is pretty weak. I also have to contend with the pole, which is situated right in my way. Other than that, it's a great set. The time spent on the road really has us primed. Even with the lingering crud in my head, I feel pretty good and my energy is strong. We blitz thru one song after another without stopping. We get called back for an encore and then it's over.

After the show we all hang out a bit. We take some group pics with Tesco. Punk Rick and I have a shot for the road. I really don't drink too much anymore, but I figured it was... medicinal.  Before I know it we are back on the highway, headed home...

This run of shows was a good one. Personally I felt we were tightly focused and preforming at high level. I am 46 years old - hardly a spring chicken but far from the seasoned experience of the others. There are times that are admittedly difficult. There are long stretches of abject boredom, cramped conditions, stiff muscles and sore backs. I got sick and felt like hell for half the tour (and still carry a lingering hack as I write this). You miss your friends and loved ones, even if only for a relatively brief separation. But the time we spend onstage, the time we spend interacting with fans (both longtime and brand new), the time spent with old friends and the experiences and sights along the way are what make these trips memorable.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the dedication and hard work of Todd Goss and Brandon Robinson, who truly keep the whole thing together and running (mostly) smooth. These are not small men, and they curl themselves up in the van with the rest of us riding the endless miles without comment or complaint. They help load, unload, set-up, tear-down, sell swag, tape, tote, glue and mark. Sometimes they bounce and sometimes they usher. Sometimes they even literally carry the water. I can't say how much I appreciate them and everything they do. 

With a season of shows behind us we are on focused on writing again. We've got a few things working, so we'll see where it goes. Personally speaking, I'm eager to put together a large enough batch of songs for a new album. We also have a few other recording ideas we are working on that I don't wanna reveal yet. It gonna be killer, though. The upcoming season may seem quiet but believe me -  we are going to be working hard behind the scenes. We have lots of cool stuff planned as we barrel down on the 35th anniversary next year...

So hold on to yer britches!!