January 09 ,2013
1992. On a cold and rainy, November night in Cambridge, Ma. I was working in the basement of a church, making calls for an organization called, Peace Action. I was raising money to lobby against nuclear weapons testing and economic conversion. It was a regular night. I had played in the Park St station that afternoon, making some spare change and now I was at my part time gig.
I got a call from a fellow busker, Fordham Murdy, asking could I fill in for the opening act, which had cancelled. Fordham’s band Bannafish was headlining on a dreary Sunday night at the old Tam O’Shanter in Brookline. I asked my boss Sarah if I could leave work early and being as cool and supportive of my aspiring musical ambitions as she was, she told me to go take the gig.
I rolled out on my skateboard, hit the T, jetted home, grab my ax and accouterments and headed to the Tam. I was stoked.
I was even more stoked when I arrived at the Tam to see it completely dead and virtually empty. Realizing I was going to be performing for the sound guy, the bartender, the cocktail waitress, the band I was opening for and a random dude at the bar reading a help wanted section, I was excited.
You have to remember, this was one of my first gigs. I had probably had less than 20 or 30 gigs under my belt at this time. I got up there and played my heart put for my thirty minutes. I did my thing and put everything out there.
I walked offstage feeling like a rock star but really there was literally no one there who wasn’t working. No one except for that one random dude from the bar who approached me and paid me some nice compliments.
As I thanked him and started walking away he said, “I’m a drummer”. His name was Jeffrey Clemens and he said I could call him Thunder House. We ended up talking for two hours. I missed my train to Jamaica Plains and he begrudgingly offered me a ride home, which I thankfully accepted. I told him I was up from Philly trying to make it and played him some demos, which he was impressed with. We made plans to have a rehearsal.
Jeff had been in a band called Who Be Dat. They were a lot like the Chili Peppers. They almost made it but they didn’t and poor Jeff was so devastated about the whole situation of almost getting a record deal that he had just about given up hope on that type of success. He said he would play in my band but didn’t want to deal with any other bullshit. I said that sounded great to me and we met soon after for a rehearsal at his Brookline apartment.
Jeff still laughs at how I showed up at his place and seeing a box of cookies, I asked him, “Yo! Can I bust a cookie?” he said, in a very Larry David sort of way, “Sure, ‘bust two'”. We had a rehearsal or two followed by a couple gigs as a duo. After that, Jeff decided to try out Jim Prescott on the upright bass.
I will never forget that night. It was one of those first impressions that never leaves you. I was like, “who is this dude”? I had the a similar feeling when I met my long time producer and front of house guy, Chris D. I’m standing on the porch with Jeff and up pulls this ’79, faded orange, two door Charger. It was a real piece of shit of a car that happened to be cool as shit. Out comes Jim and he goes around and pulls this huge bass, about the size of his car, miraculously out of the passenger side. We all went down to the dank ass basement. I had my ’39 Dobro, Jim had the upright and Jeff had an empty beer case with some brushes. Jeff had a tape recorder and he recorded that first rehearsal. We played some of my early tunes, tunes like “shooting hoops”, “fresh Lila”, “crazy logic” and “bring it on”
Man, we all hit it off musically in a big way. To this day I don’t think we know what to make of each other as people, but musically, we connected. We had a sound right away. The sound of old wood, the sound of old blues and bebop jazz mixed with rock and roll and hip-hop. We had a delivery, a presentation and it was all right there. Looking back, that first night was pretty magical. That was sometime before the Christmas holidays in 1992. More than 20 years ago…Crazy!
I remember a week or so after that I was high as hell with a 40 of Crazy Horse and some take out Thai Food sitting on the Amtrak regional heading home to Philly for the holidays feeling real positive.
The day after I got home I walked over to South St and I ran into the Square Roots (now The Roots) shooting a video for their first Indy single, “Pass the Popcorn”. There was this buzz on another band The Goats rising and overall it just felt like Philly had this exciting Hip Hop thing going on. Live instruments, real shows. It was happening, right in front of me, right now. Music was in the air.
I came back to Boston after the New Year and it was on. Philly had charged me. Jim, Jeff and I started gigging right away. One gig lead to another and another to the next. We made some demos and I was sending them out wherever I could. I remember Jeff and I sitting in his car with the rain coming down, listening to this recording we did of “Crazy Logic”. It sounded so dope. It was the sound man! It was cool. Jeff produced this killer organ overdub and it just had a feeling.
A couple months later Mark Sandman of Morphine, rest his soul, hooked me up with the Monday night slot at the Plough and Stars on Mass Ave in Cambridge. That is where it all started coming together. We played the shit out of those Monday nights and kept the gig till we got signed and hit the road. During that time, Jasper and the Prodigal Suns emerged with the great Timo Shanko on bass and my rapping partner Jasper creating his own unique sound. Powerman 5000 was around too and we were all jamming and making our own scene in Boston.
That spring I sent demos to the New Music Seminar in NYC and the Philadelphia Music Conference. We were accepted to both and through the PMC we connected with our producer to be, Dave Johnson. I will never forget that night we showed up at the PMC showcase in Philly. We were to open for The Square Roots. When I got to sound check, MADD Maxx and Chuck Treece from The Goats were there just hanging out, checking me out. These guys were legends from my hometown, they had been digging on my demos and came out to support. I was freaking out!!
Dave Johnson came through before the show since we were supposed to record the next day. I don’t think he liked our look or something so when I asked him about the session the next day he said the studio was booked up. I was bummed to hear the news but it was show time and I had to hit the stage. I’m guessing the show went well and when we got off stage and Dave Johnson came back around. He said, “Great show, be at the studio at 10 am”.
The next day we went to the home of Ruff House Records and hit Studio 4. We started recording demos, many of which would be cuts on our debut record. By October we signed a 3 record deal with Epic Records. A Jewish record company gangster named Michael Caplan signed us and we were on our way.
That was 20 years ago and I was 20 years old. Holy shit 20 years. Now I’m on the plane to Nashville to meet up with these curmudgeons of a band and heat it up for another great year.
To all our fans, and especially those who stuck with us so long through thick and thin, we thank you so much. My heart is just swelling with the love I feel and the music I feel writing this story. We will see y’all soon at a theater near you and we can’t wait to share the love and the music with you!
Thanks, your friend,
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