October 16, 2011

Billy Synth............ Mama Don't Allow No Technopop Playin' Around Here..... (Harrisburg 1970s, 80s and beyond)

Billy Synth calls for a new Tapewrecks category: "Beat of His/Her Own Drum."  Critics might turn their nose up at technical skills or unorthodox style, but the band plays on, either oblivious or not giving a shit, with a small number of devoted friends and fans who appreciate what they do.  The rest of us only catch on much later.

Billy has his own original style embracing the synthesizer as an implement of mayhem in Harrisburg a few years before the great proliferation of PA punk began around 1980 and most other synthesizer bands were playing crappy MTV pop. Mama don't allow no technopop playin' around here. Nooo way.

Billy has established his garage punk cred as the creator of the Psychedelic Unknowns series of 60s garage compilations, and the mysterious force behind Frog and Rabbit Records and the Pennsylvania Rock Archives, so his own bizarre sounds come from the deepest recesses of mid-state vinyl junkiedom.

I hadn't heard from Billy Synth for years until a few months ago, while sifting through the Frog and Rabbit catalog, I was jolted once more by that unmistakable voice. Some vocalists sing from the throat and others from the chest.  But Billy seems to sing from the large intestine.  I knew this had to be the same fellow.  Sure enough.  He was 16 when Billy and the Starjets recorded You Changed in the early 70s.

Then he changed. What came over Billy?
...when I bought my Arp Odyssey synthesizer. We first had a group called Blue Ice... we began as an early '70s "classic" rock band, because we were hippies and that's what we grew up with....
Blue Ice (1977)
Power Play
...Then, when "new wave" came along, I liked it and left Blue Ice to form a more punk-like band, the Janitors....  I hooked up with Bernie, the original "punk rock janitor" (yes, he was in another punk group AND a janitor!)....  That didn't last long, really, even though we did release a few EPs... After a year or so, I got back together with Blue Ice (with new drummer Joe Gear). They had already "gone punk" themselves and changed their name to the Turn Ups, so it was all-cool again. When we recorded our first LP, it was like Stevinyl-guitar, Billy-synth, etc., and that's how I got the name....
Billy might have started one of central PA's first punk rock bands around 1978 with The Janitors. They released a couple of EPs around 1978 but I haven't been able to find any of the tracks. [Update: Billy sent me the Rock & Roll Casualty EP. Check out the Billy Synth & the Janitors post here.]
...There were actually quite a few "new wave/punk"-type bands around here then.  We played shows with groups such as the Sharks, the Late Teens, Reesa & the Rooters (Philly) and the Slickee Boys (DC).  There were a few nice venues to play, such as the Metron, Rumpelstiltskins, the Landing...  Also, an annual pig roast! ...I can't remember how we first connected, but Bernie & I from the Janitors went down to see Half Japanese with our instruments, and when we got there, we just started playing.  I mean, it was 1, 2, 3, 4, and we all started playing ANYTHING.  No rehearsal, no NOTHING! That's how it came out.  Sooo strange!
The Janitors and Half Japanese Hartzdale Drive Destruction

I first heard The TurnUps on Bona Fide Records Train To Disaster comp, and then I found Billy Synth & the Turnups Disorderly Conduct (1983) at a record swap in York County.

Billy's later bands included the Traces of Thyme (early 90s)
Oh Jane
and the Windowpaynes
Sweet Pea/Hooray for Hazel
And finally, Billy Starboy and The Tyme Machine's homage to the beat of different drum entirely - a cover of Lancaster's Joey Welz doozy: Rockin' In America

More from Billy Synth & Many Friends!

And even more: Alien X 117 Good stuff!  Stay tuned for more wreckage!

The Turnups on The Deadly Spawn Compilation


  1. Hi Tomsun,
    the article & whole page is GREAT! Thanks SO much! Also, hear me on reverbnation as my alter-ego: ALIEN X117. It's a trip! There's stuff you hadn't heard before (LOTS!). You might have to update your article!!
    Billy (Alien X117).

  2. Yeah, thanks! I've been looking for that Billy Synth and the Turnups records for years. Used to play the hell out of it as a college DJ in the early '80s. "I dig everything about you bitch, but most of all I DIG YOUR MIND! I DIG YOUR MIND!" That, is a lyric.

    Frank Morris