Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In between San Francisco and the Fullham Greyhound

The White Caps put out the horrific America, America/Blind Girl 45. The San Francisco line-up was documented with the now hard-to-find Talk To Me single. The other sessions that yielded that platter may someday come to light.

The best document for the post S.F./pre-touring line-up has to be the first self-titled Colorblind James Experience L.P. which features the "hits" Considering a Move to Memphis, Dance Critters, A Different Bob and Fledgling Circus.

Meaning no disrespect to the host of great players who have done their time with the Experience, I've always considered the line-up of Chuck, Ken Frank, Jimmy Mac, Dave McIntire, Joe "the Bone" Columbo and myself to be not only the definitive band but also the one that best represented Chuck's vision.

That being said, I can't stress enough the importance and the fondness I have for the 1985-1987 line-up of Chuck, Bernie Heveron (upright bass), G. Elwyn Meixner (guitar/banjo), Jimmy Mac and myself. It was a completely different band that was in many ways more diverse, less focused and more humorous than any version before or after it.

The biggest difference was the more "democratic" approach the band had. It was closer to Chuck's early jugband days in the Water Street Boys. Save for Jimmy Mac, everybody sang and everybody contributed original material.

Bernie's contributions included the popular First Day of Spring ("She's a witch!"), Three Feet and Nocturnal Emissions. G. Elwyn's songs included his own I Gave You My Number (which exists on the "Live at Jazzberry's" cassette) and Poor Able, which later appeared on the Crossing Lake Riley LP by his own group the Wilderness Family. I tried out a bunch of songs but the one's that stuck were the instrumental Havoc Theme and the song that became a millstone around my neck, Summer Of Love.

The gigs were often chaotic and silly and bounced from Bernie covering Sesame Street songs ("Hey, Kid! Where'd you get the lid?"), G. Elwyn's 10-minute workouts on Ry Cooder's Chevrolet and my primal scream nonsense on S.O.L. Chuck would bide his time while everyone took their turn until he could launch into Rodeo Night, Walking My Camel Home or some other chestnut.

G. Elwyn was the first to leave, needing to pursue his own leadership role in the Wilderness Family. The W.F. also released its own LP, Crossing Lake Riley, on Personal Effects' Earring Records. For the short time they were around, they offered the Rochester scene a completely unique sound of Gary's beautiful voice and very underrated guitar backed by upright bass, drums and accordion.

G. Elwyn originally had been the vocalist on Chuck's "German Girls" but Chuck went in and re-recorded his own vocal once Gary split.

Bernie's departure was more problematic in that his song "First Day of Spring" was included on the first LP, getting airplay on John Peel's show, and talk of touring was in the wind. Night after night in England Chuck would find himself apologizing to fans that we were not going to play FDOS because the guy who wrote it was no longer with the band. Regardless of what one may think of the song, Chuck would never sing someone else's song unless it was some time worn gem of Americana. Some fans were irate, to say the least.

Once the line-up got overhauled with the addition of Ken, Dave and trombonist John Ebert, Chuck took the opportunity to end the democracy and place himself as sole songwriter. I encouraged that as well having experienced an immediate sense of band focus after G. Elwyn's departure. Not contributing original material played a big part in Bernie's decision to leave to. For awhile he put his own band together, Flatfoot, to highlight his songs.

For many fans, the sheer absurd fun and potshot approach of the early line-up was everything. Many did not transition into the touring line-up. It was more focused but for them, too much was lost in achieving it.

1 comment:

david d. mcintire said...

As one of the guys in the new band, I remember being very intimidated for the first several shows, knowing how well the old Heveron/Meixner line-up had been received. It seemed to subside over time, but even a couple years later I remember fans audibly lamenting the loss of the earlier combination. The humor was a very strong component there, and I can't say that I myself brought much in the way of mirth when I joined. The new group was focused with great intensity on playing Chuck's songs and only Chuck's songs, which I certainly thought best. And I think that we allowed Chuck to unfurl his own humor more effectively.

I went to see the '85-'87 CbJE several times, and I thought they were the only band that mattered in Rochester. I also thought to myself at the time that it was the only band that I'd be interested in joining. I especially loved the epic quality of "He Must Have Been Quite a Guy" and "America, America." In all honesty, Chuck's material was the only stuff that registered with me. I did become a big Wilderness Family fan, saw them many times and played their album to death. "Crossing Lake Riley" and "Acres of Clams" were my favorites. Their accordion player, Eileen Fugman, was a friend of mine from Nazareth.

I also well remember some British fans getting very irate when Chuck explained why we weren't going to play "The First Day of Spring." There were a couple of very uncomfortable encounters over that.