Atlantis

Spring 1978 until Spring 1980, Bethesda, Maryland

Personnel

Stephen Lewis – electric guitar, vocals
John Wilson – electric guitar
Ron Benbassat – drums
Mark Lerner – bass, vocals

We briefly added:

Matthew Laur – keyboards
Two girls I can’t recall – vocals

After a year or so, we added:

Dana Hinton – electric guitar
KC Kolvereid – vocals

Folks, this is where I will no doubt lose a few readers. The last post saw me playing catchy odd pop on national TV. Now we’ve got my first band as a bassist, formed when I was 14 and was just learning to play.

Some folks out there may have been cool when they were 14. They may have been talented instrumentalists and singers. They may have had good taste. Not me.

I had: Atlantis.

Atlantis

From left: John Wilson, Ron Benbassat, Mark Lerner, Stephen Lewis, Dana Hinton.

1. Beginning Bass

As I started 8th grade in 1977, I persuaded my parents to let me take up the bass (in addition to the trumpet, which I’d been playing since 3rd grade). We rented a Kay bass and a tiny Marlboro practice amp from Ellsworth Studios in Bethesda, and I started taking lessons there with a guy named Kit Kamien. Kit was the closest thing to a beatnik I’ve ever known. He was super cool. At the beginning of every lesson he’d say “Zip on back and plug in your axe.” I didn’t know anyone who could talk like that. He had me buy a book of Carol Kaye bass transcriptions and I learned the bass parts to a lot of Motown and pop songs that I didn’t really know. He’d indulge me by showing me the bass part to any song I brought in, which was pretty much always a Led Zeppelin song. He’d always try out new hipster slang on me. “Hey, Mark, check this out: Lip-lock my love muscle.”

Kit Kamien

Kit Kamien

2. Forming the Band

After a few months of lessons, it was time to form a band (right?). My friend Ron Benbassat lived nearby and played drums; I’d known him since elementary school, and we walked to junior high together every day. For a guitarist, we had to look further afield. John Wilson lived in another neighborhood and had gone to a different elementary school. But he was nice, and he had a guitar. I remember the first few times we played together, it was just the two of us at his house. He didn’t really have the all-Led-Zeppelin-all-the-time thing that Ron and I had, but we bonded over the first Cream record, playing “Spoonful” and Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine,” which had just come out. He also knew “House of the Rising Sun,” from a Frijid Pink record. I’d never heard of them, so I was impressed; the album cover haunts me to this day.

Frijid Pink Album

This is one seriously pink record cover.

Over the summer between 8th and 9th grade, my parents returned the rentals and bought me a Gibson EB3 bass and an Acoustic 136 amp. The band, still nameless, kept rehearsing. A friend of ours at school, Stephen Lewis, was supposedly getting really good at guitar. Unfortunately, he broke his arm, which delayed his audition. We had him show up to play just a couple days after he got his cast off and were amazed to hear him play the solo from “Stairway to Heaven” note for note; he’d been practicing while he had the cast on.

3rd and 4th Practice with Steve

This tape consists of many many versions of Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean" with a bass solo tacked onto the end, segueing into Eric Clapton's "Cocaine," with a very long drum solo. You can hear us just chatting away through the drum solo.

Once we had two guitarists, we felt like a real band. We named ourselves Atlantis, with typical 14 year-old grandiosity. Stephen and I split vocal duties. He was willing to scream like a little girl for the Robert Plant parts in the Led Zeppelin songs, and I’d tend to sing the tamer stuff. In truth, we both hated singing and knew we weren’t any good at it. Whenever possible, we’d do an instrumental version of a song.

The photo below shows John Wilson exhorting me on the back of my 8th grade yearbook to practice my “electric fish” (Get it? Bass? Fish? Oh I love to laugh) so that we can play Cream’s “Badge” in the next year’s Rock & Folk Night, the school’s big annual talent show. Auditions were in the band room at school. For some reason there was a puddle of water on the floor by the mic stand, and when Stephen stepped up to sing, he got a huge shock and screamed right into the mic. All the judges put their hands over their ears. We did not make the cut.

yearbook inscription

You can see a good sampling of our basic repertoire from 1979 in this cassette tape, recorded by our friend Matthew Laur: “Locomotive Breath” (Jethro Tull); “Purple Haze,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “The Star Spangled Banner” (via Jimi Hendrix); “Badge” and “Sunshine of Your Love” (Cream); “Cocaine” (Eric Clapton); “The Ocean,” “The Rover,” and “Good Times, Bad Times” (Led Zeppelin).

Atlantis tape box

Back then, space on a cassette was always at a premium, so I'd have music tucked away at the end of any tape. Very tellingly, I'd erased two songs from a Led Zeppelin bootleg to make room for 3 songs from a weird new record I'd bought, Nick Lowe's Pure Pop For Now People. Clearly a change was afoot.

“All Along the Watchtower”

“Cocaine”

For iPad, iPhone, or other non-Flash enabled devices, go here to listen.

Note that Stephen mangles the lyrics to the first verse of “All Along the Watchtower” and doesn’t even bother with the rest of the lyrics; we still manage to go on twenty seconds longer than Jimi Hendrix’s version. “Cocaine” clocks in at over six minutes and, yes, that is me “singing.”

3. The Desperate Years

One day in ninth grade, John and I both had our instruments stolen from school. Homeowner’s insurance came through for both of us; John got a black Telecaster and I bought a 1974 Fender Precision Bass from a kid at school. That’s still my main bass today.

As ninth grade wound down and we moved on to high school, we tried a few variations in our lineup: We played Led Zeppelin’s new single “All My Love” with Matthew Laur playing the synthesizer solo. Unfortunately, none of us was up to singing the song. We tried Heart’s “Magic Man” with two girls singing; it was a blatant ploy to get girls to come to our rehearsal and hang out with us. Unfortunately, they couldn’t sing very well either. We started asking random kids at school if they wanted to sing in our band. (I asked an older kid who was in one of my classes, Craig Lapine; he demurred but recruited me and Stephen for *his* new band, which would become the Nitz, about which more later.)

Finally, a guy named KC Kolvereid was signed on as a singer. He was, I think, two years older than us (I can’t find him in any yearbooks). He couldn’t sing that well, but was full of self-confidence. We also decided to add a third guitarist. Dana Hinton was handsome, popular, and had a lot of effects pedals. He’d been in the band that beat us out for the ill-fated Rock and Folk Night. As a guitarist, he was very fast and loud. (Once when he rehearsed at my house, he left his amp and all his pedals; Stephen and I plugged a guitar in, leaned it on the amp, turned on all the pedals, turned the amp all the way up, and ran from the room screaming, with the feedback looping and ringing out. We had a bit of jealousy to work out.)

Tape with Dana

"Atlantis w/Dana." Note that I taped over my sister Joy's copy of Little Feat's Feats Don't Fail Me Now. (You can see her name, upside down, at the bottom of the cassette label.)

Stephen and Ron were my best friends at the time, and I really liked John, but the two new guys were sort of strangers to me. The band got a lot less fun. In Bethesda, “southern rock” was a big thing. I found it sort of creepy and rednecky. But our new members were way into it, and really, what else are you going to do with three guitarists? The southern rock band of the moment was Molly Hatchet, and so we added a few songs by them to our repertoire. We played them at our only show ever, a school “coffeehouse” that took place outside on a lovely day in the spring of 1980. At that same show, Stephen and I performed with the Nitz for the first time. Afterwards, we realized that we both had a lot more fun playing with the Nitz, and so we let Atlantis, well, sink.

“Gator Country”

This track sounds hideous, but for one brief moment when I was transferring the file I kind of imagined that it sounded like the Meat Puppets. Like instead of out of tune and crappy, we were loose and fascinatingly drugged. But the feeling passed.

Post Mortem

Stephen has of course already shown up here (see the Oswalds) and will continue to in other posts. He is a photographer living in Brooklyn.

John Wilson lives in Colorado. Ron Benbassat is a doctor in Beverly Hills. Dana Hinton lives in Maryland. I can’t really dig up any information on KC Kolvereid; also, I’m not really sure his name was KC. I don’t know if any of these guys play music anymore.

I pretty much put the Led Zeppelin and Cream records away for good after this band. I can’t exactly say punk changed my life (not then, anyway), but Pure Pop for Now People did. In rather doctrinaire fashion, I suddenly had no use for big heavy British blues rock.

Kit Kamien had recently been diagnosed wth multiple sclerosis when I began taking lessons from him. (He wrote a great paean to his wheelchair, “Bitch on Wheels.”) I kept taking lessons from him for about 2 years until he couldn’t really see well enough to read music and he passed me along to another teacher. I didn’t like that guy as much and stopped lessons altogether. Kit passed away in 2007.

If you made it this far…

In digging through the tapes of Atlantis, I found a couple takes of a song that wasn’t exactly an Atlantis song; it was just me and Stephen. But I’m deeming it worthy of inclusion because it’s the first song I ever wrote. Co-wrote, actually. It’s an instrumental called “Vietnam” (because the sound of Stephen’s guitar feeding back through the vibrato on his amp sounded like chopper blades). I wrote the plodding beginning part and Stephen wrote the faster second part. Mostly it was an excuse to record a bunch of feedback. I can’t say there’s much to recommend the “song,” but hearing our 14-year-old selves goofing around and Stephen’s joyously freaked-out “Oh my god!” at about 5:06 makes me very happy.

“Vietnam”

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31 Comments on “Atlantis”

  1. THIS IS MY FAVORITE POST YET!
    Love Vietnam. Love it all. The fact that you have all those cassettes is just ridiculous and wonderful.
    I think you know of my bands from this era, which sadly, are lost to the demagnetized particles of time: Voyage, Little Dreamer, Ickee Phudj. Alas.
    Still, these reminiscences take me back to those basements and rec rooms. And isn’t it amazing that the record that changed it all – Pure Pop For Now People – holds up so well today?
    Thanks so much for getting this all down for posterity. Always a good time.

  2. Michael Causey says:

    Hail Atlantis.

  3. Mark Lerner says:

    Hail Ickee Phudj.
    Thank you both for reading!

  4. Nancy Howell says:

    Oh my, Mark, I never realized how much you looked like Bobby Sherman, until now.

  5. “The Goat Tape”? Very nice. Please do tell…

    Mark, you boys were pretty darn good for junior high! Steve sounds a little like Lou Reed (or maybe that guy from the Fall) on “Watchtower.” And I think I feel a little PTSD comiing on after hearing “Vietnam.” But some very cool sounds jumping off that skinny little tape.

  6. John Burdick says:

    Gotta say, Atlantis’ guitars sound better than mine from the same period. There is no document of my first jam session: “All Along the Watchtower” with four (4) electric guitars all plugged into the same Heathkit solid state amp that my dad built. I bet you wish there were. Actually, that was more like ’75. By ’79 we all Fenders too.

  7. martha says:

    100% agree with all 3 of you!! And I don’t think Gator Country sounds is bad at all, though I share your sentiments about southern rock. I’m downloading it.

  8. martha says:

    PS I have a photo of the Nitz which I will post at the appropriate time.

  9. Mark Lerner says:

    I should make folks sign some sort of liability waiver for downloading this stuff…

    The Goat Tape
    was so named because Stephen screamed “‘Scuse me while I kill a goat” during Purple Haze. Which we thought was hilarious.

    And I salute the quadruple-guitar attack of young John Burdick’s band. I would like to know the name of that first band (or yours, too, Frank).

    -Bobby Sherman

  10. Stephen Lewis says:

    Like the phoenix, ATLANTIS has risen! Maybe “has been exhumed” is better? Dana, I know it was 35 years ago but we tried to put all your settings back the way you left them. (except the master volume – that was Mark’s idea)

  11. Bill Fink says:

    wow – Marlboro amps … that really brings back memories … I think I blew out at least three of them during junior high

  12. CJ says:

    Nice to get some background on Ron Benbassat. Never knew him at school. The only thing I ever knew about him was that he and I almost came to blows over a slice of pizza at the the first reunion we ever had. It was at that place off River Road and took place during Christmas Break freshman year of college. Guess it was a 6 month reunion.

    Karten dared me to heave a slice of pizza across the room. My cousin Mark was there who was notorious among my friends for his tape measure, which I won’t explain here. Across the room I spotted Mike Votaw who was wearing a white serape or something. I heaved the slice with a perfect trajectory, and then, in a Cluseau-esque development, he moved and Ron took his place.

    Perfect direct hit right on the Polo pony. Ron was understandably perturbed….

  13. Stephanie Peterson says:

    This made my day!! It’s so cool that you kept all this stuff. I was so not cool in HS and totally missed out on all this. Thanks for making me smile ; ) Looking forward to the Reunion.

    Stephanie Peterson

    • Mark Lerner says:

      Thanks, Stephanie! In my relentless pursuit of truth, I will be writing about a few more bands from the high school years here at some point. Don’t know if I’ll make it to the reunion, but if I do I’ll try to wear something that goes well with pizza.

  14. Frank Randall says:

    Mark, hearing your 14 year-old, attitude-free delivery of Cocaine is strangely satisfying. As if “Cocaine” was the name of your runaway dog, and you’re bouncing along putting up “have you seen me” signs. I think it’s the most engaging version I’ve ever heard. Steve, is that your wah work? nice! I’m feeling the cloud lift over my Hot Tuna years.

    • Mark Lerner says:

      It would make a nice name for a dog.

      I kind of think everyone had a wah-wah, but anything fast or pulled note-for-note off a record was probably Stephen (formerly Steve). It never occurred to us that 3 guitarists playing through wah-wah pedals was maybe not such a good idea.

  15. Amy Rosen says:

    But does your sister know you bogarted her Little Feat tape? An enjoyable read as usual Mark, especially the weird little details. Also am I crazy or didn’t your late, very groovy sounding bass teacher look kinda like Cat Stevens? Crush-worthy look about that guy.

    • Mark Lerner says:

      If my sister didn’t know before, she knows now…

      I never noticed the Kit-Cat resemblance. Kit looked more like Elliot Gould, really. He was very tall, and stooped over, at least until he was wheelchair bound. He really was a great guy. I didn’t mention it up above, but I got in touch with him many years later, a year or two before he died, and he was still making music, still remembered me, and was still totally hip, plugging his weirdly titled collection “Tubal Ligation Jones.”

      • Joy Lerner says:

        Lowell George couldn’t touch you Mark. By the way, did you bogart any other tapes of mine…Very cool collection of memories.

      • Dan Eilenberg says:

        ‘Twas seeing Joy’s comment which brought me back to Atlantis. Hi, Mark’s sis!

      • Craig Lapine says:

        Hi Joy (and Mark and Danny and everyone else), I can’t speak to whether Mark bogarted additional tapes, but I am embarrassed to admit that for the last, oh, 30 years, I’ve had a copy of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits that says “Joy Lerner” in the upper right hand corner. I’m pretty sure I can put my hands on it. If you let me know where to send it, I’ll gladly return it.

      • Mark Lerner says:

        Craig will get his comeuppance in a blog post soon.

      • Craig Lapine says:

        “Comeuppance” is awfully foreboding. I wonder if this is related to those ominous asterisks around *his* in “*his* new band.” As for declining to join Atlantis, I’ll only say that you guys were (as you freely acknowledge here) fairly committed Zeppelin-heads and that wasn’t my cup of tea (nor was R. Plant’s range exactly in my vocal wheelhouse). Truth is, it has taken nearly the entire 32 years between then and now and my own drummer son’s flirtation with metal-dom to alter my appreciation for Page & Co. even a little bit. “D’yer Maker” is now part of our house band repertoire, though I can’t approach the guitar work I remember Stephen (ne Steve) being able to pull off at the age of 15.

    • Mark Lerner says:

      Bonus points for nostalgic use of “bogarted.”

  16. Dan Eilenberg says:

    More on Kit Kamien if y’all don’t mind … Not to overstate, but other than my parents probably the most influential person on my life. Kit was the consummate instructor, teacher, mentor, everything.

    Mark’s right. He did kind of resemble Elliot Gould, coupled with a slightly effeminate version of Tommy Chong–speak and mannerism; wide-eyed, big smile, hearty laugh, and boundless enthusiasm. Hard to sum up succinctly what made Kit so special but I definitely looked forward to hanging out with him (on Mom & Dad’s dime of course) as much or more than the actual music lessons. Sometimes he’d apologize because we didn’t pluck our guitars until the last five or ten minutes of a lesson. We’d be talking, mostly about music but everything else too.

    When it came to instruction he was very much precision oriented: making each note count, not playing runs in an iffy manner, striking chords crisply, etc. He was the first one to “hip me” (as he would say) to the notion that it’s not the number of notes one played but how the fewest notes should make the biggest impact. The best singular example was when Kit wisely imparted that George Harrison *said* more in the super-quick two-bar break before the last chorus of “Got To Get You Into My Life” than the three guitarists in Skynyrd collectively did in their endless “Freebird” outro. Every week, another epiphany for a slightly misguided thirteen-year-old aspiring headbanger.

  17. Dan Eilenberg says:

    Coming from the other, “rival” junior high, I was always slightly confused between Atlantis and Mosby’s Raiders. Similar repetoire, I think. Both bands dipped often from the well of Le Rock du Southern, n’est-ce pas? I think I remember seeing that blacktop show behind Whittier Woods. I was impressed that you followed up Molly Hatchett’s “Gator Country” with the Allman Brothers’ “Dreams” until I realized that you were doing Hatchett’s cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Dreams.”

  18. Deb Lewis says:

    Wow… this takes me back to the cafeteria at Pyle. It’s surreal listening to recordings of music I heard live so long ago. You guys are better than I remember you being– probably just sibling jealousy.


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