Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Happy Eggs (part 2)

The Happy Eggs also did many original songs to go along with our quirky covers. At that time in Charlotte, most bands were expected to play an entire evening - only one band on a bill. This required an extensive playlist. I think at one point we had 4 sets of material that contained around 80 tunes! Eventually, it became more common to have 2 bands on a bill - an opening act and a headliner. This was a good idea as far as I was concerned. It was physically very tough to play this manic music for 4 sets. (I remember I was shocked once I moved to San Francisco to find the common practice out here was having around 4 bands on the same bill). In Charlotte, it was also required that the bands supply the P.A. systems and microphones and sometimes a person to run the sound!

Our originals generally fell into two camps: Jamie usually brought in more pop sounding songs. These were fine tunes, many in the mold of some of the poppier Costello/Nick Lowe tunes that he was into. At times he worked with a very brilliant and funny lyricist named Mark X.. These songs were generally quick, short, maybe a little snotty and to the point. Fine economical writing. A couple of Jamie’s tunes ended up on The Spongetones first album (more on that later!).

The weirder and quirkier tunes were dubbed “Tweco’s Nightmare Music” (Tweco refer’s to a brand name on one of Murphy’s favorite pieces of costume head wear, and regardless of how it really should be pronounced, we called it “tweako” - much more appropriate!) Most of these songs were collaborative in the purest sense. I have very fond memories of being at Jamie’s house for rehearsals and basically we would start sticking together small individual parts that Murphy, Jamie or myself had floating around in our heads. The EP (which I will discuss in detail in a moment) was a prime example of song writing like this. Nothing was too crazy to try, and usually, Tweco himself (Murphy) would be responsible for some of the most twisted stuff we produced. Jamie would shine it all up a bit and presto - new songs!

We would also write lyrics to some of these songs in the same manner. We would sit in Jamie’s living room, drink beer and just throw stuff out there! There were a couple of tunes where we would literally trade off on a line by line basis. There were no rules or restrictions. The crazier the better, and some of this stuff was unbelievably hilarious to come up with and perform. At least to us!

Soon, Murphy started to bring in completed songs and lyrics. They were decidedly “Twekco Nightmare Songs” and a blast to play. I’m sure Jamie would still help polish them off if needed. I only contributed one complete song (which Jamie helped complete), and while it’s embarrassing to be reminded of it today, it was the first original song that I wrote the music, the lyrics and sang lead on!

In 1981, Jamie arranged for us to go in to Charlotte’s Reflection Sound Studio to record a 4 song 7" EP. Mark Williams was the engineer and Jamie was the producer. We were very excited about this because many bands we releasing 7" singles around this time. The most notable being REM’s coveted Radio Free Europe single (which I proudly own!). Jamie’s other band (The Spongetones) had also recently released a Jamie produced 7". That format was the craze at that time and relatively affordable to make.

On this record, all four tunes fell neatly into the "Tweco’s Nightmare Music" category. I think these really captured the essence of the Eggs best. I’m pretty sure Jamie would agree with this, because at that time, he had a more appropriate outlet for his pop songs with The Spongetones.

Here’s a brief run down on the tunes, as best I can remember.....

Wake Up: A great song to kick it all off! A very twisted main riff with the guitar, bass and synthesizer playing in unison with a cool harmony appearing at the last riff. Murphy also gets a very cool bubblin’ synth thing going on in the background. Listening to it right now, I am flat out impressed to the great sound and production Jamie got on this.! It gets real crazy during the verses. The riff switches to 5/4 while I doggedly stay in 4/4. Each line is song by a different singer in this order - Jamie, Murphy and myself. Some very weird backing harmonies by Murphy and Jamie really put this one over the top.

Rippy: After a very queasy intro sung by Murphy, the song launches into a tune about a psycho killer that likes to ride the bus. I’m pretty sure these are Murphy’s lyrics with Jamie coming up with the background vocal parts. This one is very Devo/Talking Heads influenced and I think most of the music is Jamie’s. Murphy's synth parts are inspired and the backing vocals are something to behold. Spot on. This one absolutely killed live.

And Sons Of Baskerville: This one was very collaborative. After a short intro of us making goofy vocal sounds, the song gets under way with a guitar lick in 7/4 that I had zipping around in my head at the time. Murphy adds some choice wolf howling that as far as I know, was the only reference to the Hound Of The Baskervilles that I assume Murphy was referencing in the title! The verse is Jamie’s and the lyrics are all Murphy’s and oddly, this is a sweet love song! Some more very inspired alternating backing vocals, and a nice little instrumental break near the end. The finale has the 7/4 guitar lick with Murphy pronouncing that he “believes in the strength of aspirin” which was a line I had come up with. I’m pretty sure this is the song that due to general weakness I was feeling from dealing with the flu while recording, I had to use double sided duct tape on my kick drum pedal to keep my foot from sliding off!

Fat Man: I think this is the first song we wrote as a collaborating team. I’m pretty sure Jamie had the song, but the lyrics were a blast with each of us throwing out some offensive line and stringing them together. We would usually start our sets with this one. Murphy would tape down a key on his synthesizer on some crazy setting and I would come out by myself and do a drum solo until the rest of the band felt like getting on stage. Not many punk bands were featuring drum solos back then...

At the end of this song there is a quick little hidden track of some of us and our wives murdering the theme from My Three Sons at my house. Jamie's on drums, Murphy may be manning the xylophone, the women are on percussion and I am the one playing saxophone, which was later used on our version of The Resident’s Constantinople!

I really love this record. The writing, performances, arrangements and the production are all top notch. Jamie did a fabulous job on this (with the help of Mark Williams). Though I would have preferred using my drums instead of the studios' kit, I think this is an awesome record. Though I haven't mentioned Kenny (our bass player during this), I would like to say that he did a great job on this record!

Also - if Murphy or Jamie read this and would like to add and/or correct any of it, please do so in the "comments"! I would welcome it...my brain did the best it could on this recording made almost 30 years ago!

The cover art was created by me, literally using old school cut and paste! I had done many flyers at that point, so I offered my services. We released it on Jamie's "Ovo" label. I do not know how many were pressed, but unfortunately, a bunch were lost at Greg Shaw's Bomp warehouse, never to be found. We occasionally get requests for copies of this record, but they seem to be all gone for good. I only have two!

We sent tons of them out to record labels hoping someone would pick us up, but no one did. There was a funny rejection letter from Ralph Records saying more or less "anyone who plays DOA and Timothy is either a real sick puppy or my kind of guy"


Very cool.

If you have not gotten yourself a digital copy of this incredible EP already, I think it's time to Getcha one now!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Happy Eggs (part 1)

At some point in 1980, Jamie approached Murphy and me about cranking up The Happy Eggs again, but this time it was going to be a whole different ball game than the band that made the 12" single. Jamie was interested in turning it into a punk/new wave band. By this time (thanks to Jamie) I had pretty much accepted that this was indeed fabulous music and while of course I cannot remember the particular details of the discussions that followed, the three of us decided that it was a go.

Murphy would be switching over to a monophonic Korg synthesizer, and the three of us would handle vocals. Jamie knew a bass player - Kenny - and he was brought on board. Our goal was to have a blast, play well, be open to any kind of music and have an insane stage-show. It was the Alice Cooper in all of us! We were naturally irreverent fellas anyway, so no music or style would be spared!

We were a bit older and definitely more experienced than most local punk bands in Charlotte. The Milestone Club had given the area youngsters and punk rockers a place to hang out and see great bands. It was a heavy staple in my diet and I could see the scene evolve. There were bands sprouting up everywhere - some awesome and some sucked - but it was a scene and for the most part a lot of fun. But I remember I felt a tad anxious as to how the scensters were going to accept the Eggs. It’s silly of course, but to these kids, the worst thing you could be was to be a poseur, and since it is my nature to worry, of course I hoped that we wouldn’t be labeled as such. After a while, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about what the kid’s thought. While we certainly were not “punks” (we all had real jobs!), we certainly were licking our chops at the thought of embracing the snottiness. Here we were, 3 smart-ass pals since high school, and since the three of us would be sharing the vocals.....we all had microphones.

Good God!

It was decided that we would play a mixture of covers (straight versions or drastically rearranged versions) and originals, and this evolved into quite a repertoire. The covers were insane. There were some straight up covers of punk and new wave songs. Lots of Costello, Police, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, Lene Lovich (!) even some very uncool covers for the time such as Adam and the Ants, which at first made me a bit uncomfortable, fearing that to kids would hate it and give us shit about it. I remember people yelling“Black Flag kills Ants dead” (man..that takes you back, huh?) and that sort of bothered me, but it didn’t take too long for me to get the appropriate "piss off wanker!" attitude and it was indeed fun to get a reaction.

There were also some very..bizarre..covers we would do. Again, some straight some not so straight. Between us, we had many years of being rock musicians already under our belts, so the choices here were quite unique. Some of them were hold overs from our glam rock days and these seemed to fit in quite easily into a punk/new wave context: Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Sparks (I think about 3 songs!) And Alice Cooper. Some didn’t fit in anywhere: The MonkeesYour Auntie Grizelda pops into mind. And there were many that Jamie would do his magic on and reconstruct into new wave madness. He really liked ska beats, so many of these were rearranged into hyper-fast ska beat beauties: Cream’s Mother’s Lament, Mother’s of Invention’s Let’s Make the Water Turn Black, Spirit’s Dark Eyed Woman. He also came up with a very twisted Devo-esque arrangement of The Doors’ Hello, I Love You that was fabulous!

We did 2 versions of Bloodrock’s D.O.A. We were all familiar with it because there was a while when you couldn’t help but hear it on the radio! (I actually saw them open up for Grand Funk). At first we did it pretty darned straight - Jamie wanted a pretty faithful version. We tried. But dammit, there were just too many quiet parts and me and Murphy could not resist the opportunity to kid around with it (remember...we had microphones!). The nature of the song and the lyrics were ripe for fucking with and we were relentless. Finally, Jamie threw up his arms and gave up on doing it straight. He rearranged it into another brilliant Devo-esque and angular new wave classic which clipped along at a pretty good pace so Murphy and I had very little opportunity to throw in our...embellishments!

But it was Jamie’s arrangement of West Side Story’s Jets Theme that to this day, I think is one of the most creative and brilliant pieces of rock and roll genius I have ever had the pleasure of playing. Ever. He took the original and maybe a tiny bit of flavoring from Alice Cooper’s Gutter Cat vs The Jets and stood it on it’s end. It was fast and full of attitude. It rocked hard..It was funny and it really showed what the Eggs were all about. It’s a snotty masterpiece that retains the original spirit and adds a heaping dose of modern (at the time) irreverence. It was in our wheelhouse.

Coming up next - we write the songs, we record the songs, Jamie turns into the busiest man in showbiz and much, much more!

And don't forget! Go here and buy!
The Happy Eggs E.P. on iTunes