I was raised up in the later half of the 20th century. I started listening to music when I was a young boy. My first memory was my mom bought me a record called "16 Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford. It was kind of hillbilly. The next milestone was finding out about radio. The early years were filled with either "hillbilly" or jazz. Mom liked Elvis, Everley Brothers, and my dad liked Dixieland(Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, etc.) and Big Band swing (Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, etc.). I grew up learning to appreciate all kinds of music. This period of prosperity for America also brought forth many strange and divergent musical styles that at that time had no other category than "Pop". We all kind of found middle ground in the pop Top 40 radio of the late 50s and early 60s.
Since I was around 11, music has been an obsession with me. I listened to several teen oriented AM stations. I used to lie in my bed at night and secretly listen to the transistor radio I bought with my allowance. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC in the '60s. When I was about ten, there was a resurgence in traditional folk music and musicians like the Kingston Trio became popular in the college circuit. Folk music was being played in college coffee houses and even on national TV with programs like Hootenanny (hosted by Jerry Van Dyke, Dick's younger brother).. I was taken in by that partially due to the many historical references. Being raised in Virginia during the centennial of the Civil War, I became very interested in the history of the state.
And then there was the protest movement, bringing in such artists as Peter, Paul and Mary, who I still listen to for inspiration. My early folk music interest later evolved to groups like The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, and all of that folk rock / country spin-off music.
When I was around 12 or 13, I started to be interested in girls and being kind of shy, I thought if I was a cool musician I could get girls to like me. I have always been rhythmic and knew how to keep a beat. The first attempt to play music for me was a makeshift drum kit. I used a metal waste paper can with a Frisbee for a drum head. If I wanted the snare sound, I put aluminum foil under the Frisbee. Using two or three of these in varying sizes, I had something to bang along with the music to. I begged mom and dad for a drum set one year before Christmas. Then, on Christmas morning 1965 I got a snare drum and a little 13 inch cymbal, along with a MMO (Music Minus One) record on how to play the drums using brushes. It was my first step. I loved the drums. I wanted to get a complete drum set, but my mom said "no way you gonna have a whole drum set in my house!" So my friend John at school got an electric guitar that same Christmas,. and he offered to trade for my snare and cymbal. My first guitar was a Kay solidbody single pickup with a small Kay practice amp. That was it for me. I was on the way to fame and glory and GIRLS!
The first band I remember seeing was at my 8th grade graduation. The school had the dance in a big gymnasium and the band was a classic four-piece (lead, rhythym guitars bass and drums). They were called The Fuzz. I had never heard of them before. I remember being all nervous because it was the first dance I had ever been to. Everyone kind of milled around the bandstand waiting for something to happen. Then it happened. The band kicked into the three chord intro of a Kinks song called "Til The End Of The Day". It just about knocked me out! They were so loud and clean - I could feel it in my gut along with the butterflies I was already feeling. For the first three songs I just stood there with my mouth wide open. They were really tight. Later that evening, I remember they did "7 and 7 Is" by Love. In that song there is this build up in the middle that ends with an explosion. They used the piggyback silvertone top with the old spring reverb to recreate that sound.
I spent the whole summer of 66 in my bedroom playing along with all the best psychedelic music and really making some progress. I bought a book called 1001 guitar chords and learned them as needed for the songs I wanted to play. About this time I met some guys through the Boy Scout troop I was in who were also learning to play so we decided to start a band. It was called the Strawberry Philosophy. We would get together every Saturday morning at one of the guys' parents house to work on learning the new song for the week. We played "Psychotic Reaction", "We Gotta Get Outta This Place", "Hanky Panky", ... you get the idea. Our first gig was at an 8th grade graduation party. I dropped my pick during one of the songs and I just started slapping the strings with my palm. I hit the guitar so hard that I busted the pickup through the pickguard. Also, we had made a circular sign to put over the bass drum and cover up the other name that was printed on the drum head. During the first song, the Strawberry Philosophy sign fell off and the other band name was exposed. How embarrassing. This band consisted of Peter Squire (lead vocals, Shure Vocal Master PA system), Tom Henry (bass guitar, cheesy bass amp that our dogs kept pissing on. It had a silver grill cloth that had a big yellow stain on it), John Meyering (lead guitar, Ampeg Reverb Rocket that was loud as hell, cheesy red hollow body electric guitar with 6 pickups), Billy Quigley (drums, had a big blue set), and me on rhythm guitar and backup vocals.
Gradually we disintegrated as some lost interest, moved away, etc. Around 1967, I met one of my lifelong friends, Tommy Ashton. He was a couple of years younger than me. He had wild curly hair, never wore shoes (he claimed to have walked 10 miles in the snow one day), and Tommy had a nice flattop 12 string guitar. We started playing together with a guy across the street from Tommy named John Keeter. "Keeter" had a drum set and he could really kick the shit out of them. So in John Keeter's basement (1968), Tommy, John and I started my second band. We played as two guitars and a drummer. We did stuff like "Baby, Please Don't Go" by the Amboy Dukes, and "Born To Be Wild". I usually played the bass parts on my Fender Mustang guitar and Silvertone Twin 12mp. Tommy had some kind of electric guitar by then ( I think it was a Gibson SG). I started thinking about switching to the bass around this time. We couldn't find one, and I was really getting scared about my abilities as a lead guitarist, mainly with the appearance of Jimi Hendrix. So after working one summer and saving up a hundred and seventy-five dollars, I bought a Gibson EBO bass that matched Tommy's SG. Then I got a Fender Bassman and I was ready! Soon "Keeter" was out and Jim Adams became our drummer. This was strictly a garage band. We never really had a name during those formative times ('69- '71). But we were best buddies, listened to music and hung out together.
I gotta go back for a minute and tell you about something else. During 1968-1969, Tommy worked at a local mom-and-pop record store. He used to bring home lots of records to audition. We were pretty much in charge of ordering the store's inventory. We got to hear lots of unusual stuff. One of these records that we brought home was The Soft Machine, with it's twirly round cover. I couldn't understand it too well, except I liked Robert Wyatt's voice. So it went into the part of my collection that didn't get too much action. Another lp we picked up was "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" by Pink Floyd. Boy talk about strange! However, inaccessible most of it was, we did pick up on "Interstellar Overdrive", and incorporated it into our set.
Around 1968, I was still very involved in Boy Scout troop that was sponsored by my church. The Scoutmaster was a good friend. He sort of got me started looking at music in a serious way. I started playing "Heart and Soul" on his old upright piano. Anyway, the Boy Scouts were a really good experience for me in growing up. But the church where we met also had a big gymnasium. So after the Friday Night meeting broke up (around 9:00 p.m.), the pastor would allow me to bring in my buddies for a "practice". Tommy, Jim and I used to set up in this big empty gymnasium and play till three or four. We locked all of the doors, smoked, dropped, and CRANKED IT UP. I swear I saw fire coming from the speakers some nights! We were doing a lot of Pink Floyd, early Zeppelin, Zappa, Mott the Hoople, Cream, really heavy stuff.
So we grew up listening to Floyd, Crimson, English Blues (Beck, Clapton, Page, Mayall, Stones), Mothers, and probably many others as there was always new stuff coming out. Our band was later self-named Hold The Mustard. We continued to play together into the late '70's.
My use of controlled substances was a form of rebellion against straight society. So was my choice of music. Especially abstract stuff. I remember reading Down Beat magazine in the public library. During the '60's, they wrote about Sun Ra a lot. Somehow, Tommy got a hold of "Sun Song". It was pretty straight ahead jazz but the melodies were slightly bent. Very INTERESTING!!
In 1969, there were a lot of young musicians that Tommy, Jim and I went to school with. It became popular to have "jams" at someone's house every weekend. Most of the music we played was blues-based, loud flashy rock-and-roll, riff-rock with long solos by all.. It was usually a big party with lots of our friends there. The circle of talent was expanding. Tommy and I became interested in blues music in 1967-68. I guess it started with Hendrix/Cream/Zeppelin/Beck heavy blues rock. Then we got a record by Paul Butterfield Blues Band called East West. It was so eclectic! It had blues, jazz, and even a raga like feel. Hold the Mustard used the East West song theme in our set from then on. The guitar of Mike Bloomfield was one of our favorites. We followed him into Super Sessions, then to The Electric Flag (another inspirational group for me). Harvey Brooks was one of my favorite bass players (check out Bitches Brew credits). I also used to name Jack Cassidy (Jefferson Airplane) and Jack Bruce.
During the years of late 1970 through 1971, I attended the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. My roommate was from Richmond and a musician. At the time I was a bass player but my bass did not get much use due to I did not have an amp or a band there at school. Since Lloyd had a guitar, he attracted lots of other boys who also were musicians. We started to play music in the dorms (acoustic mostly) and shared our musical interests. One big way college influenced me was my buddies used to go to the college radio station on weekends and bring home all of the weird records to "audition". We only brought back the crappy ones. My record collection increased from one crate to three in a matter of weeks! Some of the records that I remember discovering this way were "Joy Of A Toy" by Kevin Ayers, "1984" by Hugh Hopper, "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" by Capt. Beefhart, and Soft Machine's "Third". We all loved Beefhart and in those years we went to see him twice in rural Virginia. Of course everyone else came to see Jethro Tull and they booed the Magic Band off during their flawless execution of "Lick My Decals Off" album. More musical rebellion against my college-age generation.
After I quit school, I was back in McLean, Virginia at my parent's house. That started to get pretty tense. I worked as a bricklayer's helper for about 6 months. During that time, the "Hold The Mustard" gang started to get bigger. Some new musicians started jamming with us. One guy was Larry Brink. He was a drummer who liked to drop acid and play. His big influence at that time was Blue Cheer. He also brought back a record from England called "White Noise - An Electric Storm" that had a black-and-white photo of a lightening bolt on the cover. We used to listen to it in the dark. Larry used to have lots of people over to play. One night a guitar player named Tim Tanner dropped by. He was very talented as a guitarist and singer. Eventually, we started a band called Quiescence - that played a few Crimson tunes, Tull, Uriah Heep, Flash, etc. we also had Bob Reed on sax and flute and Tom Grignon on drums. Another great musician in that click was Peter Princiato who was a "rival" bass player. I remember one big gig we had was at Langley High school where we were to appear at the end of a talent show. Because of time, we were told that we would only get to play for ten minutes. We decided to play three of our best songs, just speed them up: we played 21st Century Schizoid Man (King Crimson), Rock 'n Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield) and ended with Pictures Of A City (King Crimson). Quiescence was short-lived because Tom was going off to school and Tim was thinking more about playing "professionally" in local top 40 bar bands. He was really good both on guitar and vocals.
I also met some black dudes at that time (Alfred Lewis - drummer, Gerald Montegue (Alto Sax), Raphael Whitley - Congas, Greg Coates - Bass, are a few who's names I remember). Eventually, I replaced Greg Coates in a 7 piece soul band called The Basic Expression. We played James Brown, Funkadelic, Kool and The Gang, Mandrill type funk. Got a lot of gigs at weddings, NCO clubs. But we never were on time for any of our gigs. It was total disorganization! But I learned a lot about the Bass, and how it was so important as a foundation to the beat. Up until then, I was playing the bass like a four string guitar. All over the neck, not too good at maintaining repetitious support patterns. LSD had an adverse effect on my rhythmic abilities (but opened up other musical visions that I rushed to discover). After three or four months with the Basic Expression, I quit mostly due to a lack of organization and some hints that some of the members were getting acquainted with heroin, which I never did.
So, Jim Adams and I moved back down to a little town in southern Virginia called Christiansburg. This was 1973. He had some friends who were renting a large farm house for next to nothing. Of course he didn't know that it HAD next to nothing in it. It was October and there was no heat! We were all there to start a Grateful Dead type band. It lasted about one month. I came back and called up Dave and Michael. I said "let's get a band together." I had already met them (see liner notes from Chronometers CD for that story). Within two days, I moved into the big house in Gaithersburg, Maryland. There was a band from North Carolina that had come up to the big city to make it, but they fizzled out shortly after arriving in the big city. At the time that I contacted them, only the drummer was still there. He was living elsewhere with his girlfriend. So I moved into a big empty house in November 1973. There was a black Manx cat living there named Mona.
Dave Newhouse was living with his Aunt Juanita and attending the local community college. He moved into the Gaithersburg house in December 1973, Michael Zentner followed in January. Dave had a Wurletzer electric piano and a stereo Montgomery ward reel-to-reel tape recorder. We taped all the time. All of us put together little tape projects. Almost from the beginning of our communal period there were always many musical friends involved in our recording projects. Mike Bass helped us make our first two "studio" tapes ("Agar Squid" and "3 Days That Won't Soon Fade"). Dave also had some friends from Florida come up and visit: Mike Todd and Dave Cason. They had a group/project called The Teeunris Time Travel Club. Dave also had a saxophone playing friend from Pittsburgh named Mike Schwartz who added creative forces when he came to visit.
We had a drummer named Mike Apparetti when we first started out. Mike was a union drummer. His father was in the musician's union. He got us a couple of gigs in some sleazy night clubs and we had a hard time connecting with the audiences there. I remember one gig he got for us. It was a club in Laurel, MD. They hated us! In fact by the third set, the owner came up and offered to pay us for both nights right then, if we would pack it up and leave. Mike was pretty straight. He was a wedding-Bar Mitzva drummer. But he understood odd time signatures and I think our 5/4, 11/8, 13/8 time changes challenged him. He was also very good natured and easy going.
Dave would frequently hum trombone lines when we listened to tapes of our songs. He was primarily a piano player, but he always heard horns in the Muffin music. I knew a sax player from McLean, who I approached to join our band. He wasn't interested but recommended Tom Scott, from the Langley High School Jazz Lab. I called Tom, he came over and listened to our tapes, and I think he was immediately taken with our sound. Dave started to write sax, flute, clarinet lines for Tom. We spent six to nine months getting our new sound together. Mike Apparetti resigned during that period. I don't remember why, but I suspect it was lack of paying gigs.
When Mike Apparetti left, we asked Mike Bass to join The Muffins. Mike was doing multi-track recordings on his own and with guest appearances by all of the local musicians including Dave and I. He was not really interested in joining a band, but we talked him into filling in for a few months. During that time he wrote several tunes that we used in our repertoire. One was called "English", which was a cute melody with a bouncy beat and narration describing a tea party that goes sour when "THE INSECTS COME OUT!" But all is saved when the song breaks into the main theme from "Peter and the Wolf". We also did a medley of Bela Bartok melodies that Mike Bass assembled called "Bartok Stockpot". Mike was a snappy drummer, easily adapted to poly-rhymic melodies, and added some hyper-ness that wasn't there with the more "tame" lounge-style Mike A's drumming.
In the attempt to have our Muffin music heard by the masses, we agreed to play pretty much anywhere. Some of our early gigs were the Washington Area Free University coffee house, The Music Carry-Out (burned out neighborhood chicken carry-out that was gutted and fitted with a stage. Nothing else.), The All States Inn (local Gaithersburg bar), and an early gig at Wheaton High School (where we opened for Grits, our sister band who paved the way for weird music in DC). Grits were Rick Barse, Amy Taylor, Bob Sims, and Tommy Wright. They lived about two miles from us in G'burg. They always were very helpful to us, lending us equipment, and allowing us to ride on their coat tails into some of the more popular clubs in DC.
Mike Bass finally gave us notice. We auditioned several drummers over a period of three months. It pretty much limited our ability to write and rehearse new music because we had to teach the potential drummers our current songs. After while, we came upon Stu Abramowitz (a friend of Steve Feigenbaum and Ernie Falcone). Stu was a few years younger than us. He liked Buddy Rich, and also liked hard rock. He was loud. He also enjoyed the challenge of our music. We recorded several studio projects with him, including the stuff on Chronometers CD. However, by 1976, after a little over a year, Stu resigned and said he was giving up drumming. He actually sold his drum set right from the stage at our last gig (University of Maryland 7/76). Michael Zentner also left the band during that month.
I think we were at the point where the thought of breaking in a new drummer on the music we had composed during the past three years was not going to allow us to grow. We had been working on a tune called "Not Alone" when Stu and Mike left. It was more extended than our earlier work. The early style was to write several two or three minute tunes and stick them together as a mini- suite. Chronometers ( the 20 minute piece) is actually five shorter songs stuck together. By late summer 1976, The Muffins consisted of Dave Newhouse, Tom Scott, and myself. We did try to work out some drummer-less pieces like "Solemn Music" from Henry Cow's Unrest lp. Also, we focused on improvisational tunes. We had a drum set at the house so we all tried our hand at that too.
During that summer, we started forming the Random Radar record company. Also, we started having concerts every weekend in our back yard. We built a stage, advertised free concerts, and found lots of other bands to play there for free. Some were off the wall like us, others were more mainstream. Anyone was welcome. We even formed sub-groups like Illegal Aliens, Catch A Buzz studios, Imrahil, and probably some others that no one ever heard of. These concerts were usually attended by around 30-40 persons but some got as big as 100 persons.
In September 1976, Michael Zentner found Paul Sears and introduced him to us. Paul was the drummer we had been looking for all of these years. He had a similar background to us musically and picked up on what we were doing right away. Within a month, we played a gig at American University (again opening for Grits).
This is what I describe as "The Muffins Phase II". It was a time when popular music was moving from Disco and California album oriented rock to New Wave and Punk. Of course, The Muffins were not influenced by the popular musical landscape, but our newer musical ideas were more aggressive. Our contact with Fred Frith and Chris Cutler from Henry Cow made us start to think about using vocals to convey more "serious" messages (as opposed to the lighter style we had used in our earlier songs like Chronometers. Also, undoubtedly, Paul was much louder and more intense than any of our previous drummers. So, by the end of 1976, The Muffins entering a new phase. Soon, we were introduced to a guy named Bill Poole. Bill was attending college locally and was from North Carolina. He was a very likable, soft-spoken guy who we soon drafted into managing our bookings. Bill did a good job and we were playing about once a month. It was difficult to get decent jobs in DC because it was a big blues and bluegrass music town. We used to rent out theaters and publicize our gigs with handbills (see poster collection on this website). We took money at the door. We had a band bank account and used to buy equipment with the money we made. We also started to rent big U-Haul trucks to carry our equipment (we had outgrown Tom's Econoline van -affectionately remembered as "the big brown turd").
So, through the years of 1977 through 1981, we continued to live together, and played many gigs in the DC and Baltimore area, as well as a few trips to NYC and Boston-Providence. Our fan base and musical acquaintances grew, we had some of our musical heroes come to visit and work with us (Fred Frith, Peter Blegvad, John Greaves all stayed with us when we were rehearsing for a gala event staged at the Trinity Theater in DC). We also continued to record in our home studio. Tom and his wife Colleen set up an 8 track recording studio in the basement of our house in Rockville. This is how we recorded Manna Mirage. It took about 4 months to record and 4 months to mix. We were exploring the capabilities and enjoying the luxury of having a multi-track studio in our house.
In May of 1981, we played our last concert at the Pennsylvania State University. Our break-up was amicable. We all felt that life was calling us to move on. Personally, I felt the need to play other music. I had been listening to Reggae and also the early Punk groups like The Clash and Sex Pistols. We had some friends who we met in '78 at the Zu festival in NYC. They were called Broken Music, because most of the instruments they had were cheap and broken. They had a political edge in their music similar to Gang Of Four. After our break up in '81, Dave and I began working with them calling the group Weekend. This name was a reference to the Jon Luc Goddard movie by the same name. This endeavor lasted through the summer of 1981.
In August, Paul introduced me to Danny Frankel from The Urban Verbs. They were looking for a bass player and I was asked to audition. The Verbs were a big name DC act. They had a recording contract with Warner Brothers records and had released two albums at the time I was asked to join. We played from 1981 through the summer of 1982. The band went on tour in Italy and broke up shortly after that due to health problems of two of the members.
After the Verbs, I met another friend of Paul's named Nick Brown. Nick was a keyboardist who had a Moog and a VCS3 synthesizer. But more importantly, he was writing some great pop music under the name of The Scientific Americans and The Higher Primates. It was a blend of electronic and reggae pop. We worked together as a duo with a drum machine. We met Carl Peachy (guitarist) and Mark Muscato (drummer) and formed The Primates. The band had some gigs and we recorded in home studios and had some really great tunes. However, again it was a labor of love, money being a secondary consideration. The band continued for a couple of years and gradually fell apart as some members went on to other musical endeavors.
Around 1985, I started to get together with Peter Hophner and John Fletcher (guitarist and drummer/singer/lyricist, respectively). We worked on some ideas they had and called the band 18 Brume (some leftist political reference to a famous date in French Communist history?). The band was anti-Reagan and very leftist political. We recorded with a drum machine, John on vocals, Pete on guitar. Then John began playing drums. The band never got out of the basement. This was disappointing to me since we had a great garage-band sound and some interesting song ideas. By 1987, it was over.
Next, I met some guys calling themselves Shock Opera. Jon Brayton and Eddie (?) were guitarists and songwriters. They had some recordings of their music and it was fast and loud and irreverent. Similar to Iggy Pop. We had a lot of fun, but again limited success. By 1988, life in the DC area was getting too expensive. I was now married and had three young children (Jessie born 1983, Nikki born in 1984, and Shannon born in 1987). I was working two jobs to pay the rent. My parents had moved to South Carolina in '78 and I started to think about getting out of the rat race. In 1989, I found a job in SC and moved to Columbia.
For the next five years my bass guitar sat under the bed and I did no playing, except for a 1990 Muffins re-union. I did have an acoustic guitar and always kept that going. I started thinking that I would have to put music playing on the shelf for a while. Then in 1994, I met a local guy who was looking for a bass player for a country music band he was forming. I really had nothing better to do so I started working with them. It was mostly the Top 40 Country sound that was starting to become a national craze. Line dancing and everybody's a cowboy! EEE HAW.
The band became known as The Abilenes. We had this guy playing steel guitar named Charlie Mitchell. He was an old veteran of the honky-tonk circuit. His playing set us apart and above most of the other local bands. There's something about a steel guitar that just reeks of country. We began getting lots of work and soon had many regular gigs. In 1995, we were a five piece band: Danny Clamp (guitar, keyboard, lead vocals), Barry Dukes (guitar), Pete Chaplin (drummer, vocals), Charlie Mitchell (steel guitar), and myself on bass. Eventually, Danny and Charlie quit. We continued with another steel guitarist and expanded the music format to include Southern Rock, "Beach" and oldies-Top 40. But the steel guitar presence kept us sounding more country than anything else. This band eventually lost the country sound with the departure of the steel guitarist. We continue to perform as the Fender Benders (a guitar-bass-drums trio). It is a low-maintenance, good-time band and continues to find work in the SC VFW, festival, honky-tonk circuit.
During the time of The Abilenes, I met a drummer from Columbia named Rick Sutton. Rick is a record collector and has a very wide interest in progressive rock and jazz. He and I met Marc Minsker, who played guitar and formed a part-time power trio. It was called Super Tiger for our first gig, but later changed to Siberian Mine Blast. We recorded on an two track cassette recorder and released a CD in 2000. The band dissolved after three or four gigs. We could not really find work in Columbia (our style was obscure '60's psychedelic music). We broke up when Marc moved away to Texas.
The Muffins got back together in 1999. I don't remember how or what the circumstances were now. It must have been some internet catalyst. But one day a tape arrived from Dave with new musical ideas for me to work on. The plan was to get back together during the Summer vacation and record and play a gig in DC. This we did. It was so amazing that all of us had somehow maintained our chops and we were really psyched up to be together again. Now two years later, it still amazes me. How much farther we will go, only time will tell. Love to all of you.