Autumn 1999 to Spring 2000
John Linnell – vocals, keyboards, accordion
Dan Miller – guitar, keyboards, vocals
Mark Donato – drums, harmonica, vocals
Mark Lerner – bass, vocals
Joined on Conan show by:
Jay Sherman-Godfrey – guitar
Joined at Bowery Ballroom show by:
Wurlitzer 103 Band Organ (Bob Stuhmer, operator)
1. Back Story
This story starts out in late 1989. I took Nancy Howell on our first date, to see the Maudlins. I loved the band, and my friend and fellow former Oswalds member Stephen Lewis had just started playing lap steel with them, so it seemed like a good date idea. The show was at a little secret club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn called the Quiet Life, located on the ground floor of a former funeral home. It was run by WFMU DJ Nick Hill and musician and artist Brian Dewan.
The opener was John Linnell from They Might Be Giants (the keyboard-playing half of what was then a duo), doing a set of his State Songs; he’d been engaged for many years in a project to write a song for every one of the fifty states.
You can see the Quiet Life in the They Might Be Giants video for “The Guitar” (featuring Laura Cantrell on vocals).
That first date went well, and over the next years, a few things happened:
Nancy and I got married (in a ceremony presided over by Nick Hill). The Quiet Life closed (it didn’t last long), and Nancy and I moved into the ground floor space. Our housemates were Nick and his wife, Alex, and Brian Dewan and John Linnell. When Nancy and I had our children, the former Quiet Life—basically one large room—now housed our bed, two cribs, and my printing press. The freaky taxidermy forms you can see in the photo up there were still on the walls, painted in glow-in-the-dark paint.
Almost 10 years (!) after that first date (we had moved out of Brooklyn to Manhattan), Linnell called me to see if I could play bass on a few songs for a solo record he was making of his State Songs. Mark Donato was tapped to play drums on the recordings, which comprised 4 of the 16 songs on the album. We were both a little confused as to why Linnell wanted us, since he’d really only heard us as a rhythm section in Flat Old World, a rather non-rock, non-pop project. I was intimidated because even though we were pals, Linnell had played with some pretty serious bassists: Graham Maby, Tony Maimone, Danny Weinkaupf. But the recordings went well, and the record came out on Rounder.
I’m not uploading any songs from the actual record here, just live recordings; it’s for sale at the usual places and is well worth your money. It can also be sampled in its entirety via Spotify or Grooveshark. I love this record; it’s so weird, so varied, and yet so cohesive. Linnell’s songwriting is even cleverer when you get inside it as a player: musical themes suddenly fit under one another halfway through a song, narratives unfold elliptically. It’s really fun as a bassist, too. “Oregon” has a bass line that climbs chromatically (and slowly) through all 12 tones. “Idaho” has a big fat pedal tone; certainly on a per-note basis, it’s the most I’ve ever been paid for a recording.
I subbed a few times on bass, mostly in 1991 and 1992, New York City
Nancy Lynn Howell – vocals, guitar
G. Doug Pierson – guitar
with a large and revolving cast of members and hired guns, including at various times
Fats Kaplin – accordion, fiddle, and pedal steel
Larry Eagle, Jeremy Dreesen, Ken Meyer, Steve Holley, Robert Bond, Albert Caiati, others – drums
Jeff Myers, Wayne Hammond, Arturo Baguer, Hank Bones, me a few times, others – bass
Alan Goodman – lap steel guitar
Gib Wharton – pedal steel
Ken Pierson – accordion
These two cowboy hats had been playing in New York City for a couple of years already when, as I described at the end of my Oswalds post, I stumbled onto them at this gig that I attended on a whim with Laura Cantrell:
Here’s what the band sounded like at the time. This recording was produced by the drummer, Robert Bond. [For iPad, iPhone, or other non-Flash-enabled devices, go here.]
“Nine Mile Hill” by Clovis Noches
1979 to 1982, Bethesda, Maryland
Every band means: Every. Band. So let’s go back to 1979.
I had been playing bass for about 2 years when I got to high school. Since third grade, I’d played trumpet in the school band, but when I entered high school in tenth grade, I gave up the trumpet. We returned it to the place we’d rented it from for seven years.
The jazz band at our school, or stage band, as it was called, was a class. I think it was pretty early in the day, like 2nd period. I remember eating my bag lunch in the class and then buying another lunch at lunchtime nearly every day.
A piano player named Sam Jannotta and I were allowed in as tenth graders, and for that first year we stuck to each other closely, since everyone else was older and seemed better than us. There was another piano player and two other bass players, so we’d both get the last choice of songs to play on.