KANSAS CITY JAMMERS
by Aaron Milenski
While we collectors like to think that every rare private press album has some obscure or unlikely story behind it, more often we find that the musicians responsible for the album are as normal as we are (more so, since they aren't obsessive record collectors).
The story of the KANSAS CITY JAMMERS is probably akin to that of a lot of excellent bands who had short careers. As much as they loved music, and despite the fact that they had some local success, it really never was in the cards for music to become full-time careers, and they became yet another one-album wonder.
I discovered Jasey Schnaars on eBay, where he was selling one of the very last sealed copies of the album, and, through Jasey, Geoff Greif and "Bullet Bob" Thompson. As we discover much of the time, the musicians of the early 70s are not burnouts thirty years later, but are well-adjusted, have lived productive and successful lives, and still have fond memories of their musical life from the early 70s. Some of them have even had some musical success along the way. And, as you'll see by Jasey's response to the last question, it's possible to progress from rock and roller to a life of true happiness…
I was able to ask all three band members a number of questions about the Kansas City Jammers and the "Got Good (If You Get It)" album. Among the many surprises were the fact that Jasey wrote a song that I played on my radio show back in the 80s (by the Washington Squares), and that they have connections to the Doobie Brothers, Sha-Na-Na and a former Vice Presidential candidate.
AARON MILENSKI: The band was formed in Ohio. Why "Kansas City" in the name?
JASEY SCHNAARS: Relatively early in our development, 1969-1970, we were a quartet called "Crabgrass," featuring the vocal stylings of one James Bond Stockdale II (The eldest son of the Navy Admiral who was Ross Perot's running mate many years later.) Needless to say, we were not really fond of the name Crabgrass, but we couldn't think of anything better until Stocks's mom was out visiting us all at Ohio Wesleyan (n.b. this is the college that the band attended, just north of Columbus) at one point, and she suggested the Kansas City Jammers. When we all rolled our eyes and asked why in God's name we would call ourselves THAT, she informed us that it was a perfect fit. It seems that back in the very earliest days of the twentieth century, as jazz was working its way up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, the big-money publishing houses in Chicago, hoping to cash in on this new craze, hired young men who could write music as fast as lightning to go and sit in the back of the jazz clubs in the river towns like Memphis, Cairo, and Kansas City, and copy down everything they heard the black musicians playing there (one of the earliest examples of the white musical establishment ripping off Black American musicians - again!). These nimble-fingered thieves were called Kansas City Jammers, and Mrs. Stockdale figured that since we were making our ill-gotten gains by covering other people's music without their permission or paying any royalties, it seemed like a perfect match. True story!
BOB THOMPSON: Well you learn something every day. In any case we all hated Crabgrass - now how the heck did we get that name? We liked the idea that we might have a name associated with music history, albeit some apparently shady characters.
AM: Tell us about your post-Kansas City Jammers musical life.
JS: I stayed relatively busy after the Jammers, working as the session bass player, acoustic guitar player, vocal director and advertising copywriter at the Kingsmill Recording Studio in Columbus throughout the seventies. Had a BALL! In fact, they STILL play one of my commercials regularly on the radio out here (wish I had the residual royalties!) I also played out a lot with various bands over the years, but I never recorded with any of them. As a songwriter I got a cut with a Canadian country guy named Roman Gregory (that I got stiffed on regarding the royalties!) Then I got hooked up with Eddie Rabbitt's folks in Nashville when my brother Rocky, who was the head engineer at their in-house 24-track facility (THE first ON Music Row!) connected me to Thom Schuyler, one of their most successful song-writers. We got a cut with Eddie, "Nothin' Like Falling In Love" from his "Greatest Hits Volume II" LP (that got to #10 on Billboard's Top Country Singles Chart in 1984) and a single with a woman named Lane Brody ("Memory Now" in 1984 or 85). Then I got a single with The Washington Squares, "You Are Not Alone," that got onto the Top Ten College Singles' Chart in Rolling Stone Magazine, somewhere in the mid eighties. I'm still writing and recording tunes, and I still pitch 'em whenever I get back into Nashville (usually about once a year.) NON-musically, I've been teaching Freshman English here at Harding High School in Marion, Ohio, for the past 32 years, and I LOVE it!!! Any job that pays me ALL year to work LESS than half the year (182 days!), and then requires me to read Dickens and Shakespeare, can't be all bad!! Besides, I dig the kids too!
GEOFF GREIF: I went to graduate school in social work at Penn; Bob moved to Temple for medical school a year later and we became a duo on the Philly scene, playing clubs and restaurants. We were joined by a woman named Leslie Goresko and played for another year. Then I joined a group that Bob had formed called Stage Fright, which was folk/rock without a drummer. That group stayed together until about 1983. Career-wise I was working as a social worker, went and got a doctorate, and began teaching at the University of Maryland School of Social Work where I am now a professor and academic dean. I actually link my ability to write songs to my ability to be creative in academic writing - I had an outlet for my songs (the band) and Bob and Jase's support allowed me to innovate. When removed from that outlet (music) I turned it to academic writing. Many of my books are available and are on socially relevant issues (see amazon.com). My interest in men and fathers came not only from my own experiences but were nurtured by the close relationships I had with Jase and Bob. Clearly falling in with the right people when one is developmentally ready can springboard into a lot of great things; the communication we had on and off-stage was a precursor to building other, later relationships.
BT: I spent a year in Ohio making music with Jasey and friends and then, realizing I had to do something more serious with my life, I followed Geoff to Philadelphia. Music picked up there when I teamed up with Geoff as duo and then Leslie as a trio. By then I had given up the drums and switched to acoustic guitar and more vocals. We did a mix of popular tunes - The Eagles, The Beatles, etc - and original tunes which by now we had accumulated quite a few. Geoff was incredibly easy to work with. Just the right amount of Id and Ego.
Leslie went… I don't know where, and we picked up another female vocalist - Janet Kalkstein - and another guy and formed Stage Fright. We were all about positive energy and made some pretty nice music. Janet had an awesome voice and was a dream to harmonize with. We did a variety of clubs and generally had a great time. I had written a few more songs by then that I'm still pretty happy with.
At that point I was in medical school which put a serious crimp in my music time and so after a couple of years we went our own ways. I finished medical school, got married, had a family and put the guitar in its case for the next 20 years or so.
But in the past 4 years I've been at it again, maybe more than ever - certainly I've reached new levels of both music and performance. Nothing dramatic, but I've soloed for the first time - I love it - and have done some work with a pianist/vocalist and a cellist. With this group (BAM) I've made probably the best music of my life. The harmonies and playing with the cello are a dream.
AM: Can you tell us a little bit about the Mus-I-Col studios and your experience there?
JS: We recorded the basic tracks to the studio cuts on the LP at some little recording studio in Freemont, Ohio that we had heard of from a successful band in Marion, Ohio called "Little Eric," which featured a VERY young and incredibly talented Willie Craig, now known as Willie Phoenix in Columbus. He was the Black Bruce Springsteen who should have been HUGE in Da Biz! We took those tracks to be mixed and (maybe) added to at Mus-I-Col, where Robin Gulcher did a FABULOUS job adding the live cuts, which were recorded on an old Roberts i/4 track with the CHEAPEST little mics in the world, running through a bottom-of-the-line Radio Shack passive mic mixer. (That's my wife on the back on the LP with the totally cheap headset on, monitoring the live levels and gazing adoringly up at ME! - Is life GREAT or WHAT??). I don't think we REALLY got to know Mus-I-Col until we did the singles.
GG: We rented it out to mix but recorded the album at CEI studios in Fremont. Later songs for the (unreleased) 2nd album were done at Mus-I-Col.
BT: I had forgotten about Fremont. I remember writing the final verses of "Hairy Tongued Turtle" on the way there - and I remember that on "Family Song" we couldn't seem to end it at the same time and we finally gave up and left it. You can hear that on the album. I'll hear it until I'm in the grave.
Mus-I-Col seemed like the big time - I think they might have been a 16 track studio - which was just so magical at the time. I got to spend a lot of time at the mixing board which I found as fun as playing music. As Jasey said, we cut the singles there. I remember we got in a group of horn players for "Back Roads Woman", and hearing them riding up over the guitars and drums at the end just took me away. Serious chills.
AM: Can you tell us a little about Owen-B and other bands who were your contemporaries? Who were the most popular bands in Columbus at the time? Did you know bands from Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, etc??
JS: The other guys might have gotten connected to some of these bands when they lived in Columbus in 1971-72, but I don't think I ever knew any of them. I was probably a) too shy; b) too busy; c) a total ass; or d) all of the above.
GG: Owen B's lead guitarist worked at a music store and he recorded a pedal steel guitar part on "I'm Your Hero" which was pressed as a single and appears, along with "Back Road Woman" on the 45. (It now rests on another CD we have pressed) There were two other local bands that used to play at Mr. Brown's Descent, which was the hippy/alternative version of the straighter clubs on High Street that drew the frat/sorority crowd. One band was the Dave Workman Blues Band and the other is Hard Sauce, and they actually recorded an album with one of the majors. Pure Prairie League came through Mr. Brown's Descent also at some point and was fabulous.
Non-LP 45 with Owen-B member moonlighting!
BT: There were other groups in Columbus at the time? Could have fooled me. Mr. Brown's Descent was our main gig for quite a while - It was a real dive - but popular. I dated the bartender - Jill - for quite a while. Her biggest claim to fame was having been the previous girlfriend of Pure Prarie League's lead singer and having written (she claimed) the words to "Amy". I can believe it because other than the title word, which is wonderful to hear in a song and to sing, the lyrics to that song are pretty trite.
AM: Did you play much outside of the Columbus area?
JS: We played in Detroit, Michigan, once or twice. We played a concert at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, opening for Fanny and Lighthouse. We did a gig or two in West Virginia, and we played a bunch of college towns all over Ohio.
(The next question is in reference to this note Jasey had sent me earlier: "Did you know that Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of the Doobie Brothers was in the class of '67 at Taft, just down Route 7 from Hotchkiss?? Denny Green of Sha-Na-Na was a classmate and buddy of mine at Hotchkiss. Nashville songwriter Larry Sherman lived in the room next to mine Freshman year at Hotchkiss. He had one of those weird, red Gretch Astro Jet guitars and a sweet Reverb Rocket amp.")
AM: Jasey, you went to Hotchkiss school in CT in the mid-60s. Were you aware of the many prep school bands that recorded albums at places like Phillips Andover, Northfield/Mt. Hermon, St. Paul's, etc?
JS: Nah, Man. I wasn't aware of ANYTHING like that going on! In fact, the POSSIBILITY never even crossed my mind!!
AM: The songs "For Father," "For Marti and "Family Song" appear to be about real people. How did your friends and family like being subjects of songs?
JS: For Father" came out of the typical adolescent male inability to communicate meaningfully with one's father. One of these days I'll have to send you the tune I wrote for my dad's 80th Birthday Party! It's only a WHOLE LOT different!!!! The lyrics to "For Marty" were written by my buddy and former KCJ lead singer Jim Stockdale, and he was writing about one of my wife's college roommates. In those days, Stocks wrote lots of excellent poetry, and this was one that I just happened to come across. The tune jumped out of my guitar pretty much instantly.
GG: "Fall" came from reflection on my childhood and "For a Sign" from being in therapy - not about specific people but about transformative experiences and contexts.
BT: Family Song is entirely made up. I've sung it so many times that the characters seem real.
AM: "Sing Me that Rock N' Roll" was a local hit in Columbus. Can you tell me a little about that?
JS: The story behind "Sing Me That Rock And Roll" is a doozie! Geoff and Bob had graduated from Ohio Wesleyan, where we all met, in 1971; and they both decided to stick around Columbus for an extra year to see if we could "make it" while I was finishing up my senior year in school. We cut the LP in the winter of '71, and had a ton of fun promoting that; but then Geoff got into grad school at the University of Pennsylvania, and by the fall of '72, it was just Bob and I left in Columbus, and Bob was busting his butt preparing for the Med. School Boards. We were all still writing songs, and one day when Bob and I stopped by Mus-I-Col studios to pick up some of their bulk-erased tapes to use for our recording projects, we saw that they were running a special where in one could get x-hours of recording time and x-copies of a 45 rpm single for some crazy-low price. So Bob and I teamed up with a friend of ours, Jim Clevenger, and we recorded my "Sing Me That Rock And Roll" on one side and Jim's "Woman Of The Forest" on the other. Originally I don't think we had any plan to actually release the record to anyone, but our engineer at the time, Robin Gulcher, went absolutely nuts over "Sing Me That Rock And Roll," and felt that he could get us some local air time if we had a band. So the three of us put it out as The Kansas City Jammers and it took off locally. It made such a local splash that we were able to charge obscene amounts of money for gigs, enough to pay for Geoff's flying in from Philly, pay the roadies to lug around all the equipment, and pay for the addition of Everett Armstrong on bass, allowing me roll over onto guitar whenever we weren't doing a trio set. Needless to say, we had a fabulous time running behind this record!
I was student-teaching in Marion, Ohio, that spring of '72, and it gets pretty easy to get along with one's students when you've got the number one record in town! It was a hoot!!! The follow-up single with Geoff's "I'm Your Hero" and Bob's "Backroads Woman" was recorded in the summer of '72, but it was never released because by that fall, Geoff was back in Philly at the University of Pennsylvania, and Bob had joined him there at Temple University's School of Medicine. The irony here is that Philly is MY home town, where I had grown up and performed (even Jim Croce open for me once at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr!)
BT: That song was a lot of fun. I remember with Geoff, pitching it to studios in NY but it never got heard by the right folks. Two bumpkins in the big city. It did rise up the charts in Columbus and that was fun to watch.
AM: Was there a point when it seemed like you had a shot at national success?
JS: Did we think we had a shot at the old "One Hit Wonder" Status? Probably. Did we ever think we were going to "Make It" in da bidnezz? I seriously doubt it. Bullet summed it up pretty succinctly when he noticed that whenever we got together to "practice," we would make music for all of a half an hour and then spend the next three to four hours throwing our elbows all to hell playing "Stoop Baseball" (A great inner-city game/form of self-torture). What we WERE really good at was driving all over the country buying and selling KILLER guitars (including the Fender Tele/Esquire on the cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" LP!! If you are a hard-core guitar lunatic, then MAN, have we ever got some GREAT stories for you!!!)
BT: It never seemed a serious likelihood, given our penchant for stoop baseball in stead of practicing. I remember that it galled us that the group America (A Horse with No Name) was so lame and yet had so much success. They had a clean sound though - a slick sound - and I know we'd never care enough about the details to have their kind of success.
AM: In 1971, you decided to record and release your own album. At the time, was it something you did in hope of it spurring you on to a major label contract?
JS: Speaking only for myself, I don't think I REALLY thought that that was going to happen. At the same time, however, I knew that stranger things had happened in this goofy business, so I wasn't in any great hurry to close any doors or burn any bridges. My sense was that Geoff was always the driving force behind everything that the Jammers ever did, and if HE wanted that to happen, then definitely there was at least a chance!
GG: We did it specifically to sell to a major with the hope that it would get re-recorded - we had product and wanted to showcase it. Bob and I made a trip to NY and left it at a number of companies. One company knew our work - the producer told us they had it up on the wall as the worst produced record they had ever heard (though he liked the music, he reassured us.) Recognition is better than anonymity!
BT: We were never going to work hard enough or be serious enough to be "a success". We were all about having a good time. Playing was fun for us - and it showed. We continually had people tell us how much they liked how much fun we had on stage. It's what we were known for. We played to each other and got off on each other. If it wasn't fun to do or to listen to, we didn't do it. So if someone wanted to bestow stardom on us we were ready, but otherwise...
We did it because we loved it. I loved playing with Jasey and Geoff. We'd be laughing on stage at some little musical trick Geoff would do on the guitar or the way Jasey was carrying on with the bass. Geoff used to mimic some of the bad-ass stars of the day by playing the guitar with his tongue, or playing it over his head or behind his back. And it sounded good! Characters. But harmless.
AM: How many copies of the album were pressed?
JS: I THINK 500. I may be WAY off, but I sure don't think that we pressed any more than that. 250-300 is also possible.
GEOFF GREIF: 1000.
BT: I'm thinking 500. It seemed like a lot at the time.
(Later, they pretty much agreed it must have been 500).
AM: Tell us about the album cover photos.
JS: They were another of Geoff's ideas (See? He IS the Jammers!!) The idea was that someone would be flipping through the records in the LP bin at the record store, come to our album, and see that WE were all "really surprised" that THEY were there, looking at US. So, we were supposed to look really surprised/mind blown. In reality, it was an EXTREMELY sunny day, right after a fresh snow fall, so it was off-the-scale BRIGHT out, making it incredibly difficult to cop a wide-eyed look of surprise (Obviously, Bob couldn't even keep his eyes opened!) What anyone actually thought when they came upon the LP in the record store is anyone's guess now, but at least THAT was the idea. Weird, huh?
BT: My then girlfriend, Jill, did the actual artwork and layout.
AM: The live tracks on the album are much more in a blues-rock, almost heavy, vein than the rest of the album ("Messiah" is also in that style.) Is this more indicative of your live sound? Did you use acoustic guitars in concert at all?
JS: Yes, as a live act we were much more of a Who-Stones type band with Bob's AWESOME vocal harmonies. Looking back, I think that if we had featured more of his voice, we would have had a much better shot at the big leagues. Geoff and I were pretty mediocre vocally, I think, but Bob brought something extra-special to everything that he sang, giving it a style that no one else could duplicate. After the LP was released, we DID start to do an acoustic first set, but hard-core high-energy rock and roll was what paid the bills for sure.
GG: We used acoustic guitars in certain settings, usually clubs, when we wanted to throw something different at people and when we wanted to push ourselves more - that was later in our development. Usually we were paid for dance music and that is what we provided in the vein of those two live songs. Imagine being at a frat party and trying to dance and the band pulls out Martin guitars and starts playing their own songs - I don't think so. We were very market driven.
BT: Boy, thanks Jasey, but really he was the star. He was the cutest, goofiest and lead singer to boot, and all the girls hung all over him. On top of that, his wife, Syd, was (and is) a beauty with a personality like mother-earth. Geoff and I both secretly wanted to be Jasey.
AM: When you decided to put the live songs on the LP, was it because you felt that was an important part of who you were, or was it more of a matter of the recordings being available when you needed them?
GG: Probably some of both, plus we wanted to showcase a wider part of our music - "Messiah" was the only other hard rock song on the album. We have a studio recording of "Midnight Watch" which is not very good and quite inchoate; the live "Midnight Watch" is more fun and segues immediately into "Driver" giving the album a different feel.
AM: You have a whole bunch of studio recordings that were not released. Was a second album ever in the planning stage?
JS: Definitely!! Especially if either of the singles had generated any interest from a larger label. We were READY!
GG: Yes, and we have a second album. In addition we have a few other CDs of various live songs and other recordings (some on the two singles we made) that were recorded in the studio.
BT: Some of our post-album recorded material is awesome. I like listening to "Got Good if You Get It" for the history - and all the rest for the music.
AM: When listening to the record, I hear influences from Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, and a number of harmony-based folk-rock groups (i.e CSN and the like.) Am I off the mark? Whom did you think you sounded like at the time? ("Sing Me that Rock N' Roll" references the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Stones and the Beatles, for example.)
JS: You are RIGHT ON the Mark! Add The Who and The Band to the list, and you've got us!
GG: You are on the money. As a guitarist, Neil Young was a big influence. We loved the Beatles' harmonies and loved the energy of the Stones - great dance music which is what any good band had to be good at playing at that time. Bob's voice is a dead ringer for Neil Young's (and America's singer), which enhanced our ability to play his music. Jasey's was a dead ringer for James Taylor's, which opened up that folk/rock side.
BT: My biggest influence then was Neil Young. He wrote some killer tunes and had a killer voice. I still love doing his material, though my recent fave is John Prine. I got off on harmony and so CSN&Y and the Eagles were influences.
AM: In a band with more than one songwriter, there are often conflicts. Did you all work well together and connect well to each other's songs? You're still friends all these years later, so I assume there was a real feeling of collaboration?
JS: Geoff was THE songwriter of the band, without any doubt! Bob and I wrote an occasional song, but Geoff was THE songwriter!! After the first LP, Bob really started to write some FANTASTIC songs, truly beautiful pieces. Coupled with his wonderful voice, his songs gave him the complete package! Again, if Geoff and I had decided to become Bob's back-up band, we'd still be doing stadiums!! (Editor's note: Jasey is being modest here-he sings most of the leads on the album and is an excellent singer. Geoff is a terrific singer too.)
GG: We were looking for product that we liked. Jase had written a great song for his wife, which is on the second album. We would have put it on the first if he had been ready for us to record it. If someone brought a song in, the other people would enhance it if possible. I think we felt that a good song from one person helped everyone else. I can remember very few fights in the years we were together and those were always resolved quickly. Bob and I obviously remained close as we played together for another decade. Only geography has prevented collaborations with Jasey.
BT: We liked each other, had few pretensions to greatness, and loved doing good music. So if anyone had a decent song to share we were all over it. It was fun to do a good job on a song I wrote, but almost as much fun if it was Jasey's or Geoff's. Heck, if someone had a potential top 40 hit it was to everyone's benefit to make the most of it. Some of the best times were sitting around the living room with guitars trying out each other's songs. That's partly why I gave up the drums. You couldn't sit around the living room and play a trap set with the guys.
Live 1973 with Everett Armstrong guesting on bass
AM: Your musical style, while distinctive, isn't especially unusual or freaky in any way, and wouldn't have sounded out of place on the radio in the early 70s. Are you surprised that all these years later you've got a cult following among people who collect psychedelic and other unusual music? And are you surprised to have a cult following in Japan?
JS: I really can't say much about why anyone ELSE likes our music, but I do know why I like it. Geoff writes great images and lovely melodies. Bullet's tunes are so hauntingly beautiful, it's just heart-wrenching! As for Japan, who knows? The REALLY liked the Washington Squares too! (I got much bigger royalties from Japan than I ever got from this country's playing of their song!)
GG: Our music is fairly mainstream because we were fairly mainstream, uncomplicated, normal people w/o any one being a standard deviation or two out there interpersonally. Interestingly enough, we were all better as part of something than individually. Bob and Jase are fabulous singers and are made better by their harmonizing and tag-teaming on the lead singing. There was no standout, drop dead musician who people would come to hear - they would come to hear the group because of the mood we created. We were very good at translating the fun we were having with each other to the audience. So, if someone was down, they could come and hear us and get an emotional lift and feel connected. As testimony to this, all three of us have gone into very people intensive professions.
BT: Am I surprised? I'm astounded! Who'd a thunk it. Japan?
AM: Do you remember how much studio time it took you to record the album?
JS: My GUESS would be four hours up in Freemont and another three or four in Mus-I-Col, but I could be WAYYYYY OFF!
GG: Two days?
Bob: Six months.
AM : Artists often have different taste than their fans. What's your favorite song from the album?
JS: "Driver" has the best memories for me - I LOVED doing that song live!!! "Fall" is probably my favorite piece of music. "Hairy-Tongued Turtle" has the most amazing lyrics (Bob finished them in the car on the way to Fremont!)
GG: Bob and Jase have both written incredible songs since the album was recorded that I love listening to. Of my songs on the album, "For A Sign" and "Fall" - both for the personal reasons I gave - are ones I like, though I think the quirkier, darker, voyeuristic "Live in Harmony" might be the most interesting to me.
BT: "Family Song" was the first song I wrote, and even though it is from my imagination, I get off on the imagery of the characters in it. So that's my favorite, mistakes and all. I did love doing "Driver" live and I like the live feeling it gives me on the listening. I also like "Messiah." Heck I like them all.
AM: Is there a story behind "Fingers, Foot & Fade?"
JS: Here's what I THINK that refers to: Geoff's "Fingers" were playing the guitar, I THINK my "Foot" was the one manipulating the wah-wah pedal, and I THINK Bob was the one riding the fader in the control room of the studio.
GG: I was playing guitar and Jase had the wah-wah pedal (he always had the good feet in the group) with Bob on the recording knob. I was fiddling around and we wanted something we would share to close with; Bob's girlfriend (at the time - just to clarify that) said it was a great sound to make love to - a high compliment.
BT: She said that? Make love to who?
AM: The stories you tell fit in with a theory I've always had about the rock and roll business. A lot of the most talented, and certainly the most literate, songwriters and bands never make the big time because at a certain point there becomes a choice: give up or delay your college education and/or jobs in order to spend a few years touring and sleeping on floors, and also dealing with all of the hassles in the business, whether it be playing crappy clubs for nothing, getting ripped off by record labels etc… The more you have to lose (in terms of jobs that pay, an education that promises well for the future, and if you're older, a family), the less likely you are to take a shot at it and go through all of these things in a hope for success. I think not only do music fans miss out on a lot of great bands who give up rather than do these things, but also that we end up with a somewhat dumbed down and messed up state of music, as the ones who survive are either those who only care about success (rather than "quality") or those who don't necessarily have the brains or talent to do anything else. Obviously there are exceptions, mostly in the case of people who are completely obsessed by their desire to get their music out there, but my own experience on the small side of the music business is that if this kind of artists doesn't succeed while very young, they get out of the game completely. Comments?
JS: GREAT LAST SECTION!! I've got to take this in pieces:
1) "Sleeping on floors!" I'm sure this gave everyone a laugh EXCEPT BOB! So often, when we would be out on the road, we would get one motel room with two beds. My wife and I would always claim one because we were married, and Geoff was such a light sleeper that he couldn't sleep AT ALL if he had to share the other bed, so he and Bob would always flip a coin to see who got the other bad - and, I swear, Bob ALWAYS LOST!!!! It was UNREAL!!!!
2) "Ripped off" handed me a laugh because I think our BMI publishing company is "Rippedoffagain" Music. (The Nashville folks put me into ASCAP so you'll have to ask Geoff about that BMI stuff.)
3) RE the last part of that question: This is a delightful theory, and it's probably got a TON of truth in it. I don't know, though. In W.P. Kinsella's novel, Shoeless Joe, J.D. Salinger goes on this long rant about how writers write because they HAVE TO, not because they choose to. I think that's true for all three of us, at least in terms of what we have written. I'm not all that sure that any of us ever really hungered for any great musical success. We were having a ton of fun just doing what we were doing, and when it came time to get on with our more-adult lives, we were happy to do that too. I was bummed when Geoff first moved to Philly to go to grad school, more because I was going to miss HIM than because I was going to miss playing out with the Jammers (and I LOVED playing with the Jammers!) But our friendships were far more important to me than the music was.
GG: I agree with the theory; we had recorded two albums by the time I left to go to grad school. I believed I had given it a great shot and I wasn't going to make it any more than we had already. A lot of guys were hanging in there for years and I saw their lives going nowhere. It was also a very tumultuous time (civil rights/Vietnam/gay rights) with personal growth theories flourishing - it was important to try new things and push that envelope; for me there were social issues that needed addressing in my small way.
BT: Yeah, frankly we had more going on in our lives than the music - more intellectual aspirations. The music was enormously fun and still is. The greatest thing I can imagine doing to have a good time. Better than ice cream. Better than sex. Well, it last longer, anyway.
In the same vein, there are some phenomenal musicians in this little town of Lewisburg, WV who would knock you socks off - both musically and performing. You'll never seem them because they have other lives to live. I love hearing them and playing/singing with them, but for most of them that's where they'll stay. I include myself in that group.
AM: Finally…Jasey, can you tell us about your solo CD?
JS: Oh, yeah, the "Solo CD." Okay, Bro - here's the scoop: After the Jammers, I worked in another studio here in Columbus, the Kingsmill Recording Studio, throughout much of the seventies. I was like their utility infielder; I played a lot of bass tracks, a bunch of acoustic guitar tracks, an occasional electric guitar track, even ONE (Oooooohhhh!) banjo track (which was an absolutely hilarious - and amazingly successful attempt to repair/replace an accidentally burned banjo track on some high-budget commercial where they'd flown in some banjo-picking stud who jetted out of town before the accident required my extremely limited services, all in the very dark ages before sampling, digital punch-ins, etc.)
I also did a ton of vocals, wrote a lot of commercials, and was encouraged to keep writing songs for the house band, an outfit that turned into a local country-rock band called "One Track Mind." Meanwhile, my brother Rocky, who had been working at Sigma Sound Studios in Philly during their disco phase (Rock's got some amazing credits and the gold and platinum records to prove it!) had decided that disco was dying and it was time to finish his college education. So he enrolled at Middle Tennessee State U. outside of Nashville (The only school in those days that would let him major in recording engineering without being a music major) and headed to Tune Town. There, he got snapped up by Eddie Rabbitt's organization (in 1981 Eddie got more air time than anyone on the planet and consequently had more money than God), who hired Rock to build and head-up the first in-house 24-track studio owned by a publishing house on Music Row. With Rock working there (Gotta LOVE nepotism!), he got me hooked up with their amazing staff of writers: Thom Schuyler, Even Stevens, Billy Joe Walker, Jr., Anthony Crawford, and a completely-unknown and un-recorded Paul Overstreet. It was a songwriter's heaven!!! Anything we wrote that we wanted to record, we did! And, best of all, the Rabbitt folks would pay to fly in ANYONE in the world that we wanted to have play on the demos!!! Elton John's drummer would fly over from London, Jim Horn would bring his sax in from L.A.; it was incredible!!! And late at night the most amazing people would just walk in to lend a hand on backing vocals or to run out for more sushi and beer.
In all honesty, I was pretty flipped out by the whole thing, so I tried to cop the lowest profile possible, but I totally loved it and I got several cuts out of the deal, so it was literally every dream come true for me! The CD represents the complete collection of recordings that I was able to find, years later, that still had my rough vocals on them. The usual drill was that I'd get to cut the reference vocals when the initial rhythm tracks went down, but when the REAL singer would show up (for most of the high-speed country tunes on that disc, Joe Diffie was our "Rent-A-Hillbilly" vocalist), my tracks would be history. The CD came into existence to be a fund-raiser for "The Senior-High Ecumenical Youth Group of Delaware, Ohio," which is a group that my wife has run (and I've been her #2) for the past thirty-some-odd years. Among other things, we go off to build/repair houses for needy folks every summer (This summer we'll be in Johnstown, Pa, starting June 13th. Come on down!!!!)
Several years ago, one of our counselors was working for a company that makes industrial CD's, and he got us a GREAT deal on the pressing, so we turned the tunes into shingles for someone's roof. Over the years, we've actually raised a bunch of money with this ploy!! Since we were trying to make money on the deal, we severely limited the budget for the graphics that accompanied the CD, otherwise we'd have had room to include the names of the amazing players on the CD (Billy Joe Walker, Brent Rowan and Ray Flacke on lead guitars, Michael Rhodes and Spady Brannon on bass, Larry McCormick on Piano, Al Perkins on Slide and Dobro, Eddie Bayers on Drums, among others). Just being able to watch those amazing people work was absolutely UNreal!! A bunch of the tracks were recorded at the Old RCA #1 room where Elvis did his stuff for Chet Atkins. Crazy!!! With all of this in mind, added to the AMAZING years I spent with the Jammers, when you meet my wife one of these days (my eighth-grade sweetheart), and if you could meet my amazing kids, you'd be able to see that I'm not kidding when I tell people that literally ALL of my life's dreams have already come true! How many people do you know who can honestly say THAT???? Pretty lucky, huh!!
I know I've gone WAY overboard on this story, Aaron, but your question really reminded me of how remarkably fortunate I've been. What a ride!!! Supposedly there is some religious sect somewhere that believes that we get to choose the lives we live, before we are born. If this is true, Man, next time - get in the line for MY life!! I know that it'll probably be one of those crazy-long lines like the ones that lead to whatever is the new craze at Cedar Point, but hang in there, Aaron. It's DEFINITELY worth the wait!!!! Thanks, Man, for reminding me of all of this! What a wonderful gift!!!! THANKS!!
© Aaron Milenski 2004
The Lama Workshop