Thursday, September 26, 2013

Transporting Equipment

Eddie & the Otters never had the benefit of a road crew or an equipment truck.  During our first incarnation, Paul "Derf" Buriak (R.I.P.) held the title of honorary roadie because he had a van, but I don't recall him ever actually moving equipment.  If he did, it certainly wasn't mine.  (It should be noted that Derf had the foresight to secure a "Devo" vanity license plate).

We each moved our own equipment in our own cars, which had certain drawbacks.  First of all, none of us had particularly large cars - I had a '74 Mercury Capri, Jim B. and Eddie each had Honda Civics, and Jim S. had a VW Rabbit.  Doug didn't drive at the time, so he usually rode with Jim S.  The Capri wasn't at all suited for hauling drums, but I managed to squeeze everything in, usually with the trunk tied down.  Eddie tied the p.a. columns to the roof of his Honda, which seemed rather precarious.  When playing in the North Hills (the Evergreen Hotel and Mike's Valley Vue) we tended to caravan, with everyone keeping an eye on those p.a. columns.

We were lucky that the Hell Band and Ezy Elmer were so gracious in letting us use their back line and p.a. every time we played with them - that made all the difference.  When we opened for the Hell Band at Fat City, I was able to leave the club, drive home, and start recording their live broadcast on WYEP-FM before they started playing.

On occasion the other guys would help me carry my stuff in because it required so many trips.  This became problematic when I started using heavy duty hardware (Ludwig "Hercules" line) - the two duffle bags full of stands were so heavy that I'm sure I was MF'd unmercifully when out of hearing range.  Thanks guys!

Parking was always a concern when playing at The Decade - usually I got there early enough to grab a meter across from the side door, but occasionally I ended up blocks away.  On one occasion I got a ticket for parking in the Loading Zone while unloading my drums.  I beat it in traffic court after getting a rather inky look from the judge.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Evergreen Hotel

After we became established at Phase III we started playing at the Evergreen Hotel in the North Hills.  I'm not sure if it was through Ed, Doug, or both, but we were invited to open for Ezy Elmer as a sort of audition.  We were fortunate to have a great relationship with the Elmers, something I'll write more about later, and they were always gracious about letting us use their equipment and trying to get us into new venues.

We played there for the first time on November 11, 1978 and actually went over well with Ezy Elmer's crowd (at least, after they got over their initial shock).  We played a tight hour and a quarter set - since we'd played four sets at Phase III the night before we were pretty warmed up - and the response was so good that the management booked us for two Friday nights in January.

The Winter of 1978-9 was pretty brutal, with the temperature often dropping to -10 or -15 degrees.  Despite the cold and snow, we drew well at the Evergreen, although our crowd was more rowdy than most.  During the first show on January 5, some tables and chairs were knocked over, and the management was sufficiently irritated to make us announce at the next show (on the 26th) to cool it.  Some new material was introduced on the 5th, including Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" and Buddy Holly's "Rave On" with Doug singing lead.  On the 26th, we were joined for several tunes by Billy Price, who was regarded as one of the best singers and most popular draws on the local club circuit.  We played well enough backing him on "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Hound Dog", but because our arrangement of "Shout" was different than the record, we kind of made a mess of it.  Later on Billy returned to join Ed for a duet on "Gloria".

Ezy Elmer called on us to help them out of a jam on February 17.  They were scheduled to open for Roy Buchanan at St. Vincent College in Latrobe and asked if we could play an opening set or two to hold the audience until they could get there.  We were glad to oblige and ended up playing two fairly long sets.  The crowd, which had been pretty tolerant to this point, started getting impatient, and we played the second set to calls for Ezy Elmer. They finally arrived and we let them use our drums, amps, and p.a. to save time.

On March 2 we played at the Evergreen for the last time.  We drew really well and got a standing ovation for our debut of "Like A Rolling Stone", and were offered a month of weekly shows (maybe on Thursdays?)  However, due to Jim B. having an early class at Pitt the morning, we turned the booking down and weren't asked back.  We were disappointed, but we were already doing even better playing at The Decade, so it wasn't a great loss.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

1978 Gigs

September 16       REA House, Chatham College, Pittsburgh, PA
September 30       Anderson Dining Hall, Chatham College, Pittsburgh, PA

October 24           Phase III, Swissvale, PA (opening for the Human Switchboard)

November 3         Phase III, Swissvale, PA (opening for Diamond Reo)
November 4         Ellis School cafeteria, Pittsburgh, PA
November 10       Phase III, Swissvale, PA
November 11       Evergreen Hotel, Pittsburgh, PA (opening for Ezy Elmer)

December 2         REA House, Chatham College, Pittsburgh, PA
December 5         Phase III, Swissvale, PA (opening for X)
December 8         Phase III, Swissvale, PA (the Puke opened)
December 9         Phase III, Swissvale, PA

Monday, September 23, 2013

Phase III

Phase III was the first bar we played, and it was where we really started to get our act together.  We played there a total of nine times - as opening act, headliner, and by ourselves.  For roughly a year, from mid-1978 to mid-1979, it was a happening place, and we were fortunate to be part of it.

Phase III Grand Opening, June 2, 1978

The Phase (as we fondly referred to it) was, to the best of my knowledge, just a neighborhood bar on Woodstock Avenue in Swissvale when Diamond Reo bassist Norm Nardini started booking bands there.  The Diamonds played there a lot while they were getting their "Ruff Cuts" album together, and Norm had the foresight to start booking cutting edge regional and national acts in addition to local bands like Pyewacket, Resistance, and Schizmo.  The first really noteworthy show was probably Diamond Reo opening for the Dead Boys on September 29, 1978.  Soon afterwards the Screamers (from L.A.) and Richard Hell (from NYC) each played two nights.  The first Richard Hell show (October 13) was the first time I went there, and it was a great show.  As it turns out, the Otters would play there for the first time just 11 days later.

According to Jim Spitznagel, Norm booked the Otters based on knowing Jim from the record store and hearing good things about our Chatham gigs.  He hired us to open for the Human Switchboard (from Cleveland) on October 24, and I had always thought that we also had help from Mark Pfeiffer (R.I.P.), the younger brother of the Switchboards leader Bob.  I don't remember too much about our set other than we probably played for an hour or less, opening with "Little Girl" by the Syndicate of Sound, a new song in our repertoire that would serve us well for years.  We also added a mercifully short drum solo to "Gloria".  "Hang On Sloopy" was played as an encore, the first time we got called to do one.  The sound system for this show was provided by Resistance, the first time we met them.  Evidently we did well enough because Norm hired us to return on November 3 to open for Diamond Reo at the release party for their new album.

Jim Bird and I had become fans of Diamond Reo, so we were pretty thrilled to open for them.  Once again we had the benefit of a great p.a. system, and we had the beginnings of a solid fan base that would come to every gig.  For this show we added "So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star" as our opening number for the first set, and we repeated it as an encore after the second set.

The following Friday we were back again, this time playing the whole night by ourselves, most likely four sets.  We still had to repeat songs to fill up the time, and we even pulled out "Surfin' Bird" for this show.

In December we played at the Phase three times in five days.  On the 5th we opened for X, who were road-weary and somewhat miffed at having to use our paltry p.a. (they actually worried about whether the Screamers had a better p.a. when they played there in October).  I didn't stay to see them because I had a final exam the next day - in retrospect my time would have probably been better spent seeing X!

Our first gig as a headliner came on the 8th when we agreed to let the Puke open for us.  They were sort of a punk band caricature, playing minimalist songs with titles like "When I Get Bored I Play One Chord" and "You Piss Me Off".  Drummer Bill Bored played just a bass drum while Pat D. Hearse and Barney Scum (R.I.P.) played dissonant guitars.  They were already well known at Phase III, from throwing pennies at Diamond Reo to dancing with the Christmas tree at the X show.  As a result, they were already in the club's doghouse, and when they ripped up a Bible during their set this night, they crossed the line and were banned from Phase III forever.  That act cleared the room, although most of the people came back later to see us play, and it's become somewhat legendary.  Eventually we took the stage and played four short sets to a reasonably full room.

The next night we were there by ourselves, almost literally.  The Puke were off the bill, of course, but because of heavy snow and bad roads there was hardly any audience, either.

We didn't play at Phase III again until the following March.  In the meantime, I went there regularly, seeing Destroy All Monsters with Ryjel on the 16th, Stiv Bators (from the Dead Boys) and Diamond Reo on New Year's Eve, and Resistance in February.   Destroy All Monsters, which included ex-MC5 bassist Michael Davis (R.I.P.) and ex-Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton (R.I.P. - there are getting to be lot of those!), was due for a return engagement on March 10, and we were booked to open for them.  What a great week of music that would have been - we opened for the Ramones at The Decade on the 6th and 7th, and some of went to see John Cale at Phase III on the 8th.  Alas, it wasn't to be - Destroy All Monsters cancelled and were replaced by the local band Young Lust.  We decided to play first, assuming our fans wouldn't want to sit through their set, and it was a good strategy.  While I remember nothing at all about our set, I sure remember Young Lust's, because they played until 2:30 in the morning for two people.  Eddie was stuck because they were using our p.a., and I volunteered to stay with him.  We were getting pretty disgusted, and finally the Phase staff made them stop playing.  Because there were so few people that night and we were playing for the door, no one made much money.  Young Lust harp player Lucy Van Sickle was so angry that she put a fist through the wall of the ladies' room.

On April 7th we played the whole night by ourselves, and since I don't have a tape of that show I have no memories of anything special about it.  By this time we were getting pretty established at The Decade and the Phase III gigs were more like filler.  By this time, Norm Nardini had moved on and booking was handled by John Kram, who worked with both Resistance and Young Lust in a promotional role.

Our last appearance at Phase III came on April 27 when we opened for Resistance.  Once again, I don't remember much about the show except that we got to use their stage lighting.  The problem was that they didn't put the colored gels in, so we were bathed in glaring white light for our entire set.  Once again, I think most of our fans left after our set.

Shortly afterwards the booking changed again - now it was Reid Paley, who focused on bringing in more cutting edge local bands like the Cardboards, the Shakes, the Shut-ins, the Cuts, and Hans Brinker & the Dykes.  Since we were not in the least bit popular with the crowd those bands attracted, we weren't hired.  On June 13 a benefit concert was organized for the two local new music fanzines, "New Magazine" and "P.T.A".  All of the bands mentioned about were scheduled to play, along with the Reallys (Hank Lawhead's band), Resistance, and Eddie & the Otters.  We agreed to play because we were friends with Mark Pfeiffer and Wayne Honath of "P.T.A.", but when an opportunity came for us to play The Decade that night, we opted out.

The Phase continued to have a lot of memorable shows, including Pere Ubu, the Lurkers, and Destroy All Monsters again.  However, later in the summer the owner decided to switch from live bands to live strippers, in part due to complaints about noise from the neighborhood.  Shortly afterwards the club was torched and stood empty for several years before being torn down.

Destroy All Monsters upstairs at Phase III, 1978
(l-r Michael Davis, Rob King, Ron Asheton)

Frank Zuri and Norm Nardini of Diamond Reo at Phase III, New Year's Eve 1978

(Larry Rippel has a bunch of great B&W photos from Phase III on his MySpace page - worth searching for)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Otters At Chatham College

Chatham College certainly played a key role in the early days of Eddie & the Otters.  Our first rehearsals and first gig were at the REA House dormitory, and our second gig was in the Anderson Dining Hall two weeks later.  We returned to REA House in early December, played at their folk festival in late April, and played in the Dining Hall again at a Leap Year party.

We started expanding our repertoire after the Toga Party, adding a lot of British Invasion covers (heavy on the Beatles and Stones, but also the Animals and Kinks) and a few more 50's standards (more Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and even "Rock Around The Clock").  The Dining Hall gig on September 30 had a nice turnout, mostly students from Chatham, Pitt, and CMU, along with various friend and relatives.  We were still getting to know each other at this point, as evidenced by Eddie's band introduction.  At the end of each set we'd go into a vamp based on "Rock Around The Clock" and Eddie would do his "We're going to take a break, etc.." rap.  During the third set he introduced us, and when he came to Jim Bird, he forgot his name and called out (mostly off-mic) "What the %$#@'s his name??"  We were encouraged by the great response and continued to rehearse and learn new material.

After a cluster of gigs in November, we learned a bunch of new songs and set up an informal public rehearsal at REA House on December 2.  I don't remember it being advertised except by word of mouth, and I have no idea how many people were even there.  New songs at this gig included "Last Train To Clarksville", "Heart Full Of Soul", and "You Can't Do That".  There were also impromptu performances of "Surfin' Bird" with Jim B. on vocals, Flo & Eddie's "Nikki Hoy" with Gary Noftz joining Eddie on vocals, and Shut-ins singer Johnny Angola doing "God Save The Queen" and "Get Up Stand Up".  (As a side note, I never pretended to be able to play reggae with any degree of authenticity, and this particular rendition became so tedious to me that I let Eddie take over on drums).  I seem to remember two girls who claimed they were percussion majors at Duquesne University playing an assortment of woodblocks during the drum solo (I'll have to give the tape a listen to confirm this).

We were invited to play at the annual Chatham Folk Festival (did it have a different name) on April 29 the following year.  I remember it being a fairly cool, overcast day, not an ideal day to be playing outdoors (check the photos on our Facebook site - we're all wearing jackets).  We were probably the only electric band performing there, and as soon as we plugged in and started to tune up, the leader of some ethnic dance troupe dashed across the field to complain about the volume (Jim B. may remember his exact words since he was the loudest and endured most of his wrath!)  The whole day was stressful - this was at the end of our busiest week ever - Monday at the Decade with the Marc Tanner Band, Tuesday at the Other End for a Beer Blast, Friday at Phase III with Resistance, Saturday back at The Other End, and this Sunday afternoon gig.  I suppose we went over OK - the most memorable event was Eddie running through the audience throwing Otter Pops (popsicles) as we started our last song ("So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star").  Fortunately we had a month off to regroup afterwards.

We returned to Chatham on February 29, 1980 for a Leap Year party in the Dining Hall.  I remember almost nothing about this gig except that Wayne Honath sat in with us on "Louie Louie" and "Gloria", playing rhythm guitar.

(In late '81 I played in the Dining Hall one last time with Rock Slide & the Corvettes, a one-off 50's group comprised of most of the Flashcats, along with Dave Rusnak from the Hell Band and Mark Gaudio from the Ratriderz.  Also, Mon Gumbo played live on WYEP-FM in 1992 when their studio was located on the Chatham campus.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Toga Party 35th Anniversary - Eddie & the Otters Facebook Page and Blogspot Launched

It's been 35 years since Eddie & the Otters first performed at Chatham College's REA House in Pittsburgh, PA.  Jim Sptiznagel and I have started a Facebook page, and after years of procrastination I've decided to start this blog.  Hopefully we'll get some video up on YouTube soon, too.

The occasion was a Toga Party held to celebrate the recent release of the movie "Animal House".  Jim Spitznagel (bass) and Doug Gebhard (guitar) masterminded the project while working at Jim's Records (Pittsburgh's coolest record store).  The name Otis & the Otters was chosen, in honor of the movie characters Otter and Otis Day.

Eddie and Doug had played together in the band Uncle Sky along with bassist Steve Fisher, and they were both invited to join, along with Doug's roommate Craig Match on piano.  Jim Bird (guitar) and I (drums) were getting ready to put out our first record under the name The Psychotic Petunias, and after I brought an acetate of the 45 to the store for Jim and Doug to hear, they invited us to join.

We rehearsed several times at REA House in early September, focusing on songs from the movie ("Let's Dance", "Shout", "Money", "Twisting The Night Away", and of course, "Louie Louie" - "Hey Paula" didn't make the cut).  We added some 50's rock and roll standards and "Gloria" to fill out our repertoire.  Along the way Craig chose not to play but did join us at the gig on backing vocals, and it was decided that Jim S. and Steve would share bass duties, with Jim playing the "Animal House" material.

The party ended up being even more successful than we'd hoped - we played three sets, playing all of the "Animal House" material twice, the police showed up during "Gloria" due to complaints about the noise, and there were no fatalities.  As a result, we decided to keep the band together.  We changed our name to Eddie & the Otters for obvious reasons, and another gig at Chatham College was booked for September 30, this time in the cafeteria.