Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sapphire Thinkers - The Official Story

The Sapphire Thinkers - From Within (1969)

The Sapphire Thinkers are a perfect example of a band with all the right ingredients for success that still failed to make it. Their songs were well-written, tastefully arranged, and catchy as hell. So where did it all go wrong?

Bill Richmond and his brother Stephen certainly had an early advantage - both grew up in a musical home with father Bill Richmond Sr. who was a touring jazz drummer with Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra and many others in the 40 and 50s.  By the early 60s their father had turned his attention to screenwriting, penning his first script The Ladies Man in 1961 with Mel Brooks.  Bill Jr. wanted to be like his Dad and was learning jazz drumming for several years until heard the Beatles and everything changed. By 1965, he ditched jazz and formed a garage pop band called Billy and the Kid.

With Dad's connections, the brothers landed a publishing deal at Decca records and released one single, "Shutdown / Trouble in Mind," with Bill and Stephen playing all the instruments. (Listen to a sample here.) The single came out a year later, but went nowhere.  By that time, Bill had moved on anyway.

By 1966, Bill was now attending Pierce College in Woodland Hills, CA, where he took classes in music theory and arranging. He also was getting closer to his high school girlfriend Peggy, who attended Pierce with him. When Peggy unexpectedly got pregnant, they soon married and Bill brought her into the fold for his new musical project, the Sapphire Thinkers. The band again featured Bill's brother Stephen, as well as neighborhood friends Tim Lee and Chuck Spihak on bass and guitar respectively.

The band gigged around Los Angeles, playing at parties and a memorable gig at the Cheetah in Santa Monica. They didn't have a manager, but knew they wanted to record an album so they booked time without a record deal. Richard Kaye, a friend of the band and the son of a prominent music producer, agreed to produce the band. Kaye found the band a record deal with Hobbit records, an upstart label distributed by GRT, a conglomerate company that also owned Janus and Chess records, among many others. 

The album From Within is a very appealing example of '60s sunshine pop, similar in sound to other LA co-ed groups like the Mamas and Papas and the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, but with a more underground sensibility. That the band was able to accomplish sophisticated arrangements and complex harmonies without a big budget and name producer makes the album all the more impressive.

However, by the time the album was released in 1969, the softer psych pop sound of the Sapphire Thinkers was now out of vogue, no matter how well-written it may have been. Also adding to the band's woes, Kaye insisted they release "Melancholy Baby" as the first single, which was the only song not written by the band. Worse yet, it was an old songbook standard that did nothing to help the group's teen appeal. Kaye's reasoning was not entirely unsound, as the band had appeared on a TV show called "The Singers" doing "Melancholy Baby" sometime in August 1969.

The "Melancholy Baby" single never garnered much airplay, but the perilous financial state of GRT (which stood for General Recorded Tape) prevented the label from doing any further promotion to help the band after that initial misfire. Judging from the number of cut-out copies on the second hand market today, it is quite likely that GRT cut their losses after the single's failure and dumped all the remaining LP's in the cutout bin. (After a long struggle, GRT finally declared bankruptcy in 1979.)

Bill and his wife Peggy continued to play in cover bands throughout the '70s but never released anything else as the Sapphire Thinkers. Bill Richmond still writes and records to this day and self-released a CD called Wild and Woolly in 2007.

Bill confirmed that the master tapes for From Within are lost, and that the recent vinyl and CD reissues are not legit.

(Thanks to Bill, Peggy, and Deborah for their help gathering the info here!)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sound of My Own Voice

Where's Tommy (1990)

Led by guitarist Tom Mitchell and vocalist Jamie Trecker, Sound of My Own Voice (SOMOV) formed in 1988 and released three hard-to-find cassettes and a single before breaking up sometime around 1990. The single, "Where's Tommy," occasionally turns up around New York and is a fine example of the sort of Feelies/REM inspired college rock of the day.  However, the band's repertoire was far deeper than that as evidenced from cassettes such as Greatest Hits, March, and Lunch with Duncan.

Jim Gibson, who runs the aptly named Noiseville Records, discovered the band when Trecker sent him a tape and released 1,000 copies of their sole single. The tapes had sold fairly well in Syracause, and Gibson had plans to release a full-length album, but the band broke up and the album never materialized.

According to Trecker, the band broke up for "lots of reasons. The thing is, I think we felt like not many people really got SOMOV, and we were kind of sick of playing to small crowds and slaving away in our rooms and attic on stuff. Syracuse was really into hair metal then, and it was tough to find bills to play on because of that. We didn't do covers, and you know, we were kinda weird. The irony was when we disbanded, all of sudden, people were into us."

SOMOV recently played a sold-out reunion show in Syracuse and are playing another show on October 14th in Chicago. They are also finally releasing that lost lp on Noiseville. Check SOMOV's Facebook page here for much more info...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Bruce Jenner (1993)
Incense and Peppermints (1993)

Ask any music lover from Pensacola, Florida, about early ‘90s bands, and Honda will inevitably come up. Singer and songwriter Rusty Dungan was older than most of the other kids in bands, and many looked up to him as a father figure—a drunken, occasionally brilliant father figure who often brought entire pitchers of beer on stage.

Along with band mates Ryan Nalley, Mike Kirkpatrick, and Jay Thomas, Dungan aimed to create a sound somewhere between Mudhoney and Syd Barrett.  Honda frequenly played shows at local dives like Sluggo's, the Handlebar, and occasionally the Niteowl, the local heavy metal club. During their short career, Honda self-released two cassettes.  The six song Honda came out in 1992, and Throw Like a Girl appeared in 1993.  They also managed a short East Coast tour in Mike’s mother’s station wagon and saved money by sleeping in the pop-up camper.

Dungan’s residences included a garage and a supposedly haunted basement, but friends mostly remember the time when he lived in a tent.  According to friend Ryan Gensemer, who played with Dungan in Inca Kola, “We would walk out on a bluff and yell, and he’d come crawling out of the woods for practice.”

"Bruce Jenner" is a highlight of Throw Like a Girl, which was recorded with Tommy Hamilton at Georgia Street Studios. (It also appears on my CD series Tiny Idols Vol. 3, which just came out in July.) Another highlight of the album is drummer Jay Thomas' insane, over-the-top cover of "Incense and Peppermints."

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Embarrassing Fruits

Long Distance Breakup Summer (2010)

These three kids from Chapel Hill sound like the last fifteen years hasn't even happened. If you have a soft spot for Archers of Loaf, or miss the kind of records Merge used to put out in the '90s, you can't do much better than this. Good lyrics too!

Trekky Records will release their second album, Frontier Justice, on September 21st. I'll go back to posting about old bands now.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Multiple Cat

Savior in a Plaid Coat (1998)

For all intents and purposes, Davenport, Iowa’s Patrick Stolley was the Multiple Cat.  He wrote or co-wrote all the band’s material, played most of the instruments, sang lead vocals, and recorded the songs in his home studio. Orbiting around Stolley was an amorphous cast of talented friends and musicians. 

Recorded around 1998, “Savior in a Plaid Coat” appeared on The Golden Apple Hits, released by the Plow City label in 2001.  Many of the songs are quieter and more introspective than Stolley's earlier work, especially the slow-building "Savior." According to Stolley, "A lot of folks don't get that one.  'Too light' and 'drum machiney' are comments I've heard.  It's very meaningful to me, though, because it's about when my mom put me into state custody (I was a bad little Robert Smith look-alike) and I had to go to court and all this drama.  I ran away from the state shelter and crossed the river to Illinois, and my girlfriend Nancy picked me up and got me out of town."

The Multiple Cat got their start when Zero Hour, a well-funded but ultimately mismanaged indie, released the Multiple Cat’s debut in 1996.  Stolley was mowing his lawn when he got the call from Zero Hour with a generous offer.  The label folded soon after the album’s release, forcing Stolley to make the switch to a series of other labels. By the time The Golden Apple Hits came out, the band was no longer active.

After an acrimonious split with his wife, Stolley entered a dormant phase.   “I lost touch with music for a while, and was bitter in general,” Stolley told me. “When my life came back together, I felt like the Multiple Cat was more a part of the past.”  Stolley abandoned the old name for good and started recording with a slightly revamped sound as the Marlboro Chorus.  Since 2001, Stolley has released three albums on Future Appletree under this moniker.

In 2005, Future Appletree also issued a highly recommended collection of the Multiple Cat's best tracks. Get it here.

Monday, July 05, 2010

He's on Drugs Again (1995)

The college town of Bloomington, Indiana, was a breeding ground for countless indie bands in the '90s. (See Jeb Banner's amazing Musical Family Tree site for proof).  Unlike other cities in the Midwest, punk never established a dominant foothold there and many of the area's bands leaned more towards the pop and rock end of the spectrum.  Sardina is no exception, and their sole album Presents is one of the best and most memorable albums from the decade.

On Tiny Idols, Vol. 3, (out today!) I included their great track "I'll Be Around," written by Michelle Marchesseault. However, while putting the compilation together, I emailed back and forth with LonPaul Ellrich, who wrote Sardina’s cult favorite “He’s On Drugs Again.”  He lobbied hard for me to use that song, which is admittedly awesome, but I felt that female songwriters were under-represented on my compilation and wanted to highlight Marchesseault’s song.  Sadly, LonPaul passed away in 2008, leaving a huge hole in the Bloomington music community. He will be missed. Besides Sardina, he played in Marmoset and the United States Three, among many others.

Sardina was formed in 1993 by Marchesseault, Marty Green, Lon Paul Ellrich, and P.J. Christie. All four members wrote and sang, but Marty Green was considered by the others to be the primary force in the band.   In 1995, just before their debut CD appeared, Green quit.  The remaining members auditioned three more guitarists, but none quite lived up to the band’s or the label’s expectations, and the group folded for good in 1996.

Despite Sardina’s brief lifespan (and the fact that they moved to Chicago after forming), Sardina is still remembered by many Indiana residents as one of Bloomington’s best.  In addition to Presents, Sardina also released three singles, one on Favorite Street, one on Egg Records and the other on HitIt.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sam Elwitt
Way Up High (1997)

Sam Elwitt may be Nutley, New Jersey's most prolific musician. His long list of projects includes a lounge band (Nutley Brass), a punk band (Sea Monkeys), an AC/DC cover band (The Dirt Cheap) and an old timey country outfit (the Small Potatoes), to just name a few.  However, my favorite project of his are the psych-pop home recordings that he initally released as the Hazeltones and later under his own name. Elwitt’s brother Jonathan wrote much of the lyrics and Elwitt played all the instrumentation and sang.

Elwitt started recording solo material at home in the early '90s,  releasing the best of these under the Hazeltones moniker on a 7" EP called "Scratch the Surface." Released by a tiny German label, the EP featured four terrific slices of '60s influenced indie pop but the 7" only garnered a few reviews and disappeared quickly. Ian Schlein, one of my favorite vendors at the WFMU record fair turned me on to it, and I recently used the closing track "Delirious" on Tiny Idols, Vol. 3 which comes out in July.

Elwitt dropped the Hazeltones name and continued recording throughout the '90s, hoping to release a full-length CD under his own name. He even created the artwork (seen above) but lost momentum and the project remains unreleased today.

For more info and plenty of Elwitt's music, check out his site here.