October 19, 2020

The Bodies.... ........Punk Invasion... ....Lost Tape (Lancaster 1982) .........................& New Tape (2020)

Gumby: Yo! I was talking to this guy* a couple weeks ago and the Bodies came up and I mentioned something about a gig and he said “holy shit! You were in the band? I think I have a tape” and a few minutes later brought out a tape that I gave to Johnny and he converted it. The results are....

Live at Tom Paine's Back Room 1982
Punk Invasion
Anarchy in the USA
I Kill Children
It Must Have Been Years
Mad Mad Judy
Nuclear War
Louie Louie
Pay to Cum
Rikers Island

The Bodies were Lancaster PAs first punk band and helped spawn the original music scene that, a few years later became my escape from suburbia. In 1981/82 I was in middle school doing “the worm” to Rock Lobster at dances. I got a bass to play with the Sinister Lampshades and hearing about this band The Bodies was an early inspiration even though I never got to a show. In 1982 they played two nights with Scream from Washington DC. I badgered and wrangled a few old men into a group chat to see what they could remember. It went late into the night, and picked back up the following morning. These are just the highlights....
Tommy Bang (a.k.a. Tommy Leanza, drums)
Johnny Scrotum (a.k.a. John Bear, bass) [vocals on It Must Have Been Years]
The Englishman (a.k.a. Dave Albert, guitar)
Gumby (a.k.a. Mark Gamber, vocals) [bass on It Must Have Been Years] 

Gumby: LOL...I feel bad. He’s been asking asking me all this shit about the Bodies and I don’t remember. It was almost 40 years ago (!) and now we’re all in the same thread and HEY! WHAT THE FUCK?! ...that tape brought back a lot of hazy and really funny memories. Tommy seems to remember that a lot better than I do. That’s why I kind of bow to him. I was pretty wasted all the time and not him.
Drummers...you know...

Tommy: So yeah.. The Scream shows were a big learning experience for us... It was a 2-night stand... Friday and Saturday night at Tom Paine's Back Room @ 317 N. Christian St. (aka BK's Back Room..aka Club 317) and would eventually become the "old" Chameleon Club. 

Friday night Scream opened up for the Bodies. By the end of the 1st tune, after picking my jaw up off the floor, I realized we had made a big mistake having them open for us. All hell broke loose on stage and soon the stunned audience somehow snapped out of it and started slam dancing which only egged the band on even more. Then the shit hit the fan.. the music was so fast it made my head spin, but like an idiot I joined the cluster f**k on the tiny little dance floor anyway and got punched or elbowed in the face, (not sure which) kicked in the ass, and flung into the brick wall all in one tune which was pretty short if I'm remembering correctly. 

At one point Pete Stahl was in the "mosh pit" (a term that didn't even exist at that point) and decided that he felt bad for the few people who were still sitting at tables and decided to 'share' the chaos with them by jumping up on the tables and kicking their beer bottles into their laps, or the floor or wherever. Tables and chairs strewn everywhere..beer and beer bottles all over the floor ..people skankin' everywhere.. it was pure pandemonium! 

Gumby: Yup That’s what I remember too. You and me mesmerized. All I remember is you and me standing together watching their drummer and saying “holy shit”--Wasn’t he like 15 or 16? I remember some PA legal bullshit if he was even allowed in a bar.

...and Skeeter jumping off the stage and flattening a table.

Tommy: Scream sucked all the oxygen out of the room and left the stage and everyone in the room exhausted ...Including the Bodies..that had to go on after a break and try keep the crowd interested after seeing, what was at the time, THE MOST intense set of punk rock I had seen in my life. 

The Bodies set was as good as it could be at the time. I remember we played everything faster in a futile attempt at matching Scream's energy, but I also remember our fans being really supportive, sticking with us and having a great time. 

Gumby: The song would start and where the fuck am I and suddenly words would come out of my mouth. Funny thing is it’s still like that but I’m used to it.

Tommy: It was almost like running a program.. it was total panic until we'd start the song then it was like it took on a life of it's own. It still feels like that to me except the tunes aren't as intense. When I listen to that bodies tape it I'm a little freaked out I was playing that fast!

I really wish I could find a recording of us covering the Dickies..

Gumby: Jesus...that’s like talking about Stroh’s beer.

Tommy: OMG
GOD I hated that shit!
..hold on.. I need more vodka..

Gumby:  LOL - Think Tom Quinn has had enough yet?
Yeah, me neither.

Tommy: He went to bed .. don't worry about him. .............


Johnny: Holy fuck, I woke up to this? Blah, blah, blah, blah...
The tape is a mix of both shows as best as I can tell. We averaged about two minutes of bullshit between songs, most of it not entertaining, that's why I chose to omit it. Mainly one annoying girl yelling dumb shit.

Gumby: LOL Yes Total chaos and then we’d play something. That was us! 
And “Here’s some DEVO”
“FUCK YOU!” Yup, that’s our fans! 
Johnny said there’s a LOT of that between songs, like we were really good on making 30 minutes of music last an hour.

And no, Johnny can’t remember the correct order... It doesn’t matter, really. It was pretty much complete chaos and we played what we played. Half the time people yelled a song and that’s what we played.

Johnny taught me how to play the bass lines [for "It Must Have Been Years"] so he could sing it because he thought the lyrics would be too far out for me. WTF? Dude, I’m the definition of “far out." Nonetheless, I did learn it. Goddamn bass players. No offense. [none taken -ed]

Tommy: The band members in Scream, as intense and even scary as they were on stage, we all really nice guys...approachable and supportive. I spoke with Franz Stahl after our set and he told me we sounded good but we should be focused on playing original music. We had a couple originals that night but we definitely picked up the writing after that show. 

I also spoke with the drummer Kent Stax trying to pick his brain about playing that fast. I had just never seen anything like it before. I asked him what he liked to listen to and he said Black Sabbath... That made absolutely no sense to me because the dude played about 10 times faster than any Black Sabbath tune I ever heard. 

At any rate, after getting our doors blown Friday night, we switched spots on Saturday and opened for them instead. It was a great weekend!

It was like a dream for me back then.. It was like information over load so it was mildly traumatizing ...I tend to remember trauma.

Gumby: Lancaster was so bad back then. There was nothing to do and nowhere to go. You either made your own fun or rotted away like everyone else.

Tommy: Which is EXACTLY the reason why people still love the Bodies.. that was at the heart of what made that happen


Johnny: We went into the studio a few months back and recorded new versions of Rikers and Nuclear plus a bunch of covers and new material. Rick Bard is now playing guitar for us and my son Jake is on drums.

2020 Recordings

Gumby: John’s been knocking out some good stuff! These were demos to send out to clubs and whatnot. Did them just in time for everything to close. There are outdoor places with live music but loud amps and obscenities aren’t exactly outdoor friendly.

*Thanks to "this guy," Woody Chandler, for salvaging the tape and for all the band members for their warm and fuzzy memories!

Studio photo by Olin Mills: Tommy: omg... olin mills... it was supposed to be a promo shot ..we had no idea how inappropriate it was at the time but 'Bill and Carl' generously donated the photo session and prints trying to help us get it off the ground.. Those 2 were central to the whole experience of that band. My memory is pretty foggy from that time but I vaguely remember meeting MDC at a party at their house as well members of Scream and the Chesterfield Kings.. Lotta shit went down a that house on Fairview Ave! Gumby: Inappropriate? Well, we were jackasses waiting in a hallway with a bunch of little kids, as I vaguely recall.

Live photos by Laura Cotton (color) and Joe Wood (b&w)

Get more of the story, pics, and tracks here: The Punk Starts Here ... The Bodies... (Lancaster 1981-82), and the band family tree they sired is all over this blog if you dig a little.

January 15, 2018

Steel Town Garage Resurrection........ ...The Creatures (Bethlehem, PA 1986)

The Creatures of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania circa AD 1984 were a revival of the vibrant Eastern PA rock'n'roll scene of the 1960s. The band was the creation of Garage Father Mark Smith, with the line-up of John Terlesky (JT), Dave Ferrara, Kenny Bussiere, and Mike Smitreski. By 1987 Terlesky, Bussiere, and Ferrara would break off to form The Original Sins.

Brother JT testifies:
...the first Creatures recording session had Scott Wilt on bass--I recall this because he, Dave Ferrara and I recorded what would be the Sins' first single Just 14 at the end of the session. Then we did another with Kenny, possibly re-doing some songs, Hemlock, 1000 Shadows etc. I had written a whole bunch of songs that were just shameless pastiches of more obvious 60's covers--Cy-o-nide is basically Too Much To Dream mixed with Friday On My Mind--so we could get the effect of those songs without actually having to do them. 
The funny thing is, as recently as 2011 I would still do some shows with the Creatures, and, derivative or not, they still kinda worked live. A good song is like a good old coat--it gets ratty and musty but it still gets the job done when you need it to. 
That recording session may have sown the seeds of schism, but Mark and Mike added new members to be resurrected as The Creatures of the Golden Dawn, and two great sects of Bethlehem garage rock emerged.  Amen!

I believe the "Demo 86" cassette contains the first recordings of the band.

The Creatures - Demo 86
Crazy Date
Thinking Out Loud
It's Not Love
A Thousand Shadows
Three O'Clock in the Morning
Hemlock Row
You're Gonna Get Yours
My Name Is Nothing
Don't Touch Me Now

Demo '86 was followed by another cassette called "The Creatures" and a single with the first lineup. The following tracks may or may not be from those releases:

You're Wrong
Last Laugh
Naked City
Walk Through Hell
I Tried My Best
Last Time Around (The Del-Vetts) live at Tops in Philadelphia

Thanks to Rustle Noonetwisting for rescuing the "Demo 86" tape, and to JT for the words.

For more Creatures of the Golden Dawn, check out the LP Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground on Dionysus Records.

In memory the dearly departed Mark Smith and Mike Smitreski...
            ....and Peter Ryan who first played this tape for me at Temple U in 1987.

December 30, 2017

Caterpillar... .......... ...(Philadelphia/Wilmington 1994-2011)... File under "Post-College-American-Goofers"

It's not easy to pin down a synopsis of Caterpillar, who one reviewer labeled "post-college-American-goofers" (Robinson, 1994). They were:

Mike Lenert - guitar, vocals
Dennis Davis - guitar, backing vocals
Brenda DeFeo - bass
John McInerney - drums

I never saw Caterpillar play because my own post-college travels took me to the West Coast for eleven years, so I missed the 90s Philly music scene pretty much entirely. I found my way to them around 2010 via singer Mike Lenert's brilliant and long-running solo project Lettuce Prey. The first thing I noticed were Mike's multisyllabic rhymes and complex lyrics, and figured he was an English major. I was wrong -- it was archeology, and his degree served him well lyrically, but maybe less so on the practical side of playing shows.
...those were some good old days. Good because Caterpillar played well and often. That
is, when there weren't equipment failures. Lenert is notorious for having crappy little amps that never work consistently. 
McInerney: Mike had this Twin Reverb he'd practice with, but then he'd show up at the gig with some piece of garbage. Remember that one amp you had that was literally 2 inches think and all plastic? It was like a Close 'n' Play record player!
Lenert: It was light and I could carry it across town.
DeFeo: We'd be mumbling to each other, "Oh Christ, did you see what he brought this time?" (MacDowell, 1996)
Caterpillar matches lyrics with clever music, and good ol' tongue-in-cheek humor winding all over different styles, so the description is actually pretty accurate. They released three full length CDs in the 90's, and two during a brief reunion in 2010-11. Here's my best of the goofers!

A Thousand Million Micronauts (Compulsive 1994 CD)
Lady Putney
My Buddy Ballantine

Maedorium Chlorium Chloe (Compulsiv 1996 CD)

Peace, Love and Popularity (Tappersize 1999 CD)
Nimble Tongs Walt
Serious Thrill
Olde Salt

Caterpillar (self-released 2010 CD)

Johnstown (self-released 2011 LP)
Johnstown / The Flood

Check out Caterpillar's Bandcamp for more music.
Thanks to Mike for sending me the primary sources!

Works Cited

McDowell, J. (1996, June). Musical Metamorphosis: Local band Caterpillar flies the pop/rock chrysalis. Philadelphia Weekly. Vol. XXV No. 24.

Robinson, J. (1994, July). Caterpillar: A Thousand Million Micronauts. New Musical Express. p. 39.

October 9, 2017

High School Folk Fest: Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, and Hedy West... ....Philadelphia 1964-1967

Poster courtesy of Carl Apter (225)
"Good Evening everybody...with y'all, glad to be with you. Hope I can entertain you nicely... hope I can."

When I found out that Mississippi John Hurt played a concert in 1966 in the auditorium of the school I teach at, I knew there had to be a story.... Others played too: Doc Watson, Hedy West, The Country Gentlemen, The Capitols, and a number of other local and student bands.

So far I've located the phenomenal Hurt and Watson sets, and an odd short interview with Doc, tracked down thanks to an over the air tape of Gene Shay's WXPN folk show where he thanks David Kleiner (Central Class 225) for the recordings.

Mississippi John Hurt - 1966 - Central Auditorium

Set 1
Nearer My God To Thee
Baby What's Wrong With You
Coffee Blues
It Ain't Nobody's Business
Candy Man
Monday Morning Blues

Set 2
Salty Dog
I'm Satisfied
Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor
Spanish Fandango
My Creole Belle
You Are My Sunshine

Doc Watson - 1965 - Central Auditorium

Honey Baby Blues
The Little Stream of Whiskey
We Shall All Be Reunited
The Fisher's Horn Pipe / The FFV
Windy and Warm
The Wild Goose Chase
Blackberry Blossom
Hand Me Down My Walking Cane
Life Gets Tedious, Don't It
Deep River Blues
Otto Wood The Bandit
Hiram Hubbard
I Like The Old Time Worship Of The Lord
Ramblin' Hobo
Streamline Cannonball
Oh By Jingo
Tom Dooley
Fiddle Tune Medley - The Fiddler's Dram/Whistling Rufus/Ragtime Annie
Doc demos songs from his earlier band career / Brown's Ferry Blues
Blue Smoke

Interview by Barry Berg

Gene Shay (former WXPN Folk Show host) identified Barry Berg as the recording engineer for both the Hurt and Watson concerts. Berg was a Temple student who had a folk show called Broadsides on WRTI and was one of Shay's "Folklore Flunkies" when he did his show on WHAT. "While Broadsides was technically a folk show, it was sometimes a thinly-veiled attempt to play rock music on the college station where the administration had banned rock and roll." -Broadcast Pioneers

Meanwhile, both Central (all boys at the time) and the nearby Philadelphia High School for Girls had their own Folk Song Societies. "Clubs were the only way to interact with girls from Girls’ High. So I belonged to Drama Club, Folk Music Club, Political Affairs club."  -Jake "George" Fratkin (Class 225), Central Folk Song Society member
CHS Jug Band

The Central and Girl's High Folk Song Societies organized a remarkable series of folk festivals, listed below along with The Centralizer student newspaper articles from the Central High School Archives.

April 11, 1964 - Girls HS Auditorium
Hedy West
Tossi and Lee Aaron (Lee was co-director of the Phila Folk Music Workshop)
Benjamin Aranoff
Quandary Quintet - with Michael Bacon (224) and sister Hilda Bacon
(Recording not yet found)

   ...This concert will be the ""biggest thing in S[tudent] A[ssociation] history," as it will cost approximately six hundred dollars. This is the first SA function with professional performers and the first time an SA function of this type has been held on a Saturday night. The Folk Festival will cost SA members $1.00 and non-members $1.50, a quarter going to the student associations of these schools to promote sales.
   The performers will include Hedy West, nationally known artist from New York City, author of best selling song "Five Hundred Miles"; Tossi Aaron, accompanied on the mandolin by her husband, Lee, the co-director of the Philadelphia Folk Music Workshop; Benjamin Aranoff, one of the best banjo players in the country and runner up in the Philadelphia Folk Festival Banjo Contest; the Quandary Quintet, upcoming jug band that will soon appear at "The Second Fret."

-The Centralizer (student newspaper), March 1964

June 2, 1964 - Central Auditorium
Stupidity Singers (CHS students)
Ukranian Folksingers (GHS students)
(The recording by WRCV has not yet been found. Phil Covelli (222) was president of the club and produced and directed the show.)

   On June 2, the combined Folk Clubs of Central and Girls High presented a folk concert in the Central auditorium. The concert was taped by WRCV AM radio and rebroadcasted at 10:00 P.M. on June 6.
   Two new folksinging groups made their debut on the Central stage. One was a group of Ukranian folk singers.... The other, a threat to the 'Chad Mitchell Trio' and 'Peter, Paul, and Mary', was the 'Stupidity Singers.'
   The concert was attended by more than 400 students from both schools.

-The Centralizer, June 1964

May 1, 1965 - Central Auditorium
Doc Watson
Uncalled IV Jug Band

   Doc Watson and the Uncalled IV Jug Band appeared at the Second Annual Central High Folk Festival in the SA's most successful event.
   510 people attended from many schools, resulting in a $100 profit. All profits from the refreshment stand have been donated to the Mississippi Book Collection [a SNCC and SCLC program to increase literacy and voter participation among Black voters in the Jim Crow South].
   When Doc Watson appeared, no one failed to respond to him. Not only was his guitar and banjo playing extraordinary, but his warmth and personality compelled appreciation from all at the concert. Playing a variety of folk music from blues to country banjo, Watson always told a little story before each song. Watson played his instruments with such tremendous dexterity that even the anti-folk music audience appreciated him. He could flat pick a song, playing only one string at a time, and reproduce an effect created by fingerpicking, or playing three strings simultaneously.
   The high point of the concert was the union of Doc Watson and Roger Sprung, who played the banjo in the Jug Band. Sprung, in his own right one of the best progressive banjo players in the country, presented his stunning syncopated version of "Greensleeves", backed by Watson on the guitar.
   To Doc Watson, folksinging is a way of life. Watson picked up the banjo when he was six and the guitar at fourteen. He played traditional music all his life, but didn't start recording until he was forty, in 1960, when folk music revived in popularity. Doc, a most mild mannered person, is angered at only one subject - Bob Dylan. "I like his songs; they're basically good. I just don't like the way he sounds."
   Appearing with Doc Watson at the festival was the Uncalled IV Jug Band, a group of four of the most gross musicians ever to play. However, despite their appearances, which supplemented their wild music, the Jug Band created the most excitement at the concert.

-The Centralizer, May 1965
(photo not from the CHS concert) 

May 21, 1966 - Central Auditorium
Mississippi John Hurt
Jerry Ricks
John Pilla
Dan Starobin

   Central High's Third Annual Folk Festival, featuring Mississippi John Hurt, was held Saturday evening, May 21, at 8:30 P.M. in the CHS Auditorium.
   Mississippi John Hurt, 75 year-old singer and guitarist, isolated from blues singers for many years, has developed a style all his own. His repertoire includes traditional, traditional-religious, and original compositions. Although Mr. Hurt first recorded in 1928, his 1963 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival marked the end of his long absence from performing.
   Others in the program included Jerry Ricks and John Pilla, guitarists. Of special interest was Dan Starobin, also a guitarist, who was graduated from Central in the 224th Class.
-The Centralizer, May 1966

April 29, 1967 - Girls' High Auditorium
The Country Gentlemen (from DC)
Igra Dance Group (directed by Bill Vanaver)
Dan Starobin

   This year's Folk Concert is a joint venture with Girls' High. The S.A. is sponsoring Central's share of the performance in cooperation with the Folk Song Society, headed by Steve Landau and Mark Schultz (both 226).
   Topping the program are the Country Gentlemen, a group specializing in its own style, a blend of country, jazz, and folk music. The Gentlemen, from Washington, D.C. have appeared at Carnegie Hall... and have recorded on the Mercury and Folkways labels. Unlike many other groups of their type, they gear their program, filled with humor, to urban audiences.
   Also at the concert will be the Igra dance group, under the direction of Bill Vanaver. The dancers, new on the scene, perform folk dances including those of the Balkans, Poland, and the Ukraine.
   Dan Starobin (224), folk singer, humorist, and Central graduate, will be on hand as he was at last year's concert.
   Ticket's can be obtained in the lunchroom opposite the change booth. Tickets are $1.50 with a twenty-five sent S.A. card reduction.

-The Centralizer, April 1967

Other Concerts at Central - Dates unknown
Jim Kweskin Jug Band
Geoff and Maria Muldaur

The Capitols

Much thanks to my Central colleague Elliott Drago for starting this ball rolling by telling me about the John Hurt concert; the alumni members of the Central Folk Song Society for sharing their memories and information and for making these concerts happen: Carl Apter (225), Jake "George" Fratkin (225), Elliott Fratkin (225), David Starobin; Rudy Cvetkovic (239) and David Kahn (220) of the Associated Alumni of Central High School for putting me in touch with members and granting access to the Central Archives and back issues of The Centralizer; Barry Berg, for making the recordings, the late Ed Sciaky for digitizing them, and David Kleiner (225) for sharing the recordings with me, and us all.

Find more at the Mississippi John Hurt Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted primarily to preserving the musical legacy and history of Mississippi John Hurt, while providing musical and educational opportunities to disadvantaged youth.

Jake "George" Fratkin from the 225 Yearbook



Carl Apter (225), President of the Folksong Society sent in the program from the show:

August 10, 2017

A Tapewrecked Lancaster Playlist

The upcoming "Jack Lord's Hair Revue" show brought on some questions from youngsters about the original music scene in Lancaster in the olden days, so I ran it through the Tapewrecks filter and out came this playlist....

[Click on play buttons for songs, and band names for stories.]

The Crystalaires
1960's The local Lancaster scene was stopped short in 1959 when four members of the Crystalaires were killed in a car crash coming home from a gig in Reading. Their only single was released by Stan Selfon of Stan’s Record Bar as a benefit for their families. By 1966 there were several original garage bands with a few recorded singles played on WLAN and other AM stations. They played shows at the Moose Hall and the Hullabaloo Club (owned by Ed Ruoff. His son, Rich Ruoff would later open the original Chameleon Club in the 1980s). The Centurys were from Lebanon and were included along with the Shaynes on Bona Fide Records 1983 Return of the Young Pennsylvanians compilation. 


1980s - Shows were mostly DIY affairs put on by high school kids in fire halls, American Legions, and the Moose Lodge, basements, and barns as well as Tom Paine’s Back Room/Chameleon, the only club that featured original music. WIXQ and WFMU played a lot of local bands and State of Confusion became the hangout for punks and a wide array of misfits. Stan’s Record Bar was joined by Web of Sound, BBC Records in downtown Lancaster, and a little flea market stand in the basement of Park City Mall called the Record Connection. The Bona Fide Records label put out a steady stream of 60s and 80s punk, garage, and oddball releases from across the river in York.
The Blame - Little Girls in Hollywood (1979)
The Bodies - Anarchy in the USA (1981)
Helsinki 5 - Computer Failure (1982)
Last Knight - Silent Scream (1984)
The Sinister Lampshades - Twisted Feelings (1984)
The Red Roosters - Mr. Moto/Psycho Macho (1984)
The Real Gone - Bells Are Ringing (1985)
The Combat Hamsters - Khadafy’s No Worse Than Reagan (1985)
Briggs Beall - Soldier of Fortune (1984)
Nobody’s Fools - Emergency (1985)
Kirk & the Jerks - Hang On To the Dream (1986)
Substitute - Chains (1986)
Penal Code - Wax Museum (1886)
Jack Lord’s Hair I - War of the Monster Trucks (1987)
Jack Lord’s Hair II - Brain (1988)
Jet Silver & the Dolls of Venus - Venutian Rock (1988)
The OOgies - Love It To Death (1992)

Other Bands from the region influenced the 1980’s original music scene in Lancaster, mostly along the I-83 north-south axis between Three Mile Island/Demi Club and Maryland/DC, with York’s Bona Fide Records as the common hub. A 1984 Circle of Shit show was canceled by the YWCA because of their name on the flyer and an angry editorial in the newspaper. Hasil Adkins played an astounding show at Moose Lodge in Lancaster in 1986.
The Left - 5 am (Hagerstown, MD)
The Velvet Monkeys - Any Day Now (DC)
The Stump Wizards - I Don’t Want You Anymore (Camp Hill)
Billy Synth & the Turnups - The Mask (Harrisburg)
The Impossible Years - Attraction Gear - (Philadelphia)
Circle of Shit - The Punks Are Out Tonight (Philadelphia)
The Skeptics - Idle Time (Frederick, MD)
The Dusters - Everytime (Hagerstown)
Joey Welz - Psychedelic Happening (Baltimore/Lititz)
James “Rebel” O’Leary - Rebel Star (York)
Hasil Adkins - Hunky Wunky Wicky Wacky Woo (West Virginia) 

2017 Bands still at it....
Trio Agave

Mud Pie Sun
The Dying Elk Herd

Thanks to Kevin Stairiker from Fly After 5 for the questions that inspired this post!

January 25, 2017

El Corrido de Pensilvania............. ...........story of two bad hombres....

Today my 12-year-old daughter and I took a short walk (.03 km) to the corner store to pick up ginger ale and saltines because mami was feeling a little under the weather.

Today el Presidente Estadounidense signed executive orders to build a wall between the US and Mexico and to attack Philadelphia for being a “sanctuary city,” for merely defending the 4th Amendment rights that apply to all US residents. And I’m thinking about Sam.

Sam used to work at the corner store to help support his family back in Puebla. He stocked the shelves with everything from sink strainers to Chef Boyardee. He made our hoagies. He salted the sidewalk on icy mornings.

When the girls were little, and like today we walked the half-block to the store, it was because we ran out of milk, OJ, batteries, paint rollers, copy paper, or some other random necessity. But we also got to see Sam, who always stooped down for my then 3-year-old to go running into his arms and chatted with her in Spanish.

One day we sat the girls down to tell them that Sam had to go away. He needed to return to Puebla to care for his own daughter who had gotten sick. He was gone for months and on his way back north he got picked up by the border patrol in the Texas desert. He made it through on the second attempt, but by the time he got back to Pennsylvania (4,937 km), he had lost his job at the corner store, and we lost touch with a good hombre.


Corrido de Pensilvania was recorded in 1929, at a time when access to recording equipment was scarce and expensive. But the story was worth telling. By five years into the Depression the government expelled nearly a half-million Mexicans from the US.

Corrido de Pensilvania – Pedro Rocha y Lupe Martínez

The 28th day of April
at 6 o’clock in the morning
We left under contract
for the state of Pennsylvania

My little china doll said to me,
“I’m going to that company
to wash your clothes
and take care of you”

The contractor said to me,
“Don’t take your family
so as not to pass up any jobs
in the state of West Virginia.”

“So that you know I love you
when you leave me in Ft. Worth,
when you’re already working
write me from where you are”

When you get there
write me, don’t be ungrateful,
In reply, I’ll send you
my picture as a remembrance.”

Good-bye state of Texas
with all your fields.
I’m going to Pennsylvania
to keep from picking cotton.

Good-bye Fort Worth and Dallas,
towns of much importance,
Now I’m going to Pennsylvania
to avoid becoming a vagrant.

On arriving in Milwaukee
we changed locomotives,
Then sped out of the city
at eighty miles an hour.

When we got there
and got off the train,
the Italian women asked us,
“Where are you Mexicans from?”

The Mexicans responded,
those who already spoke English,
“We come on contract
from the town of Ft. Worth.”

These verses were composed
when I was on the road,
They are poems of a Mexican
by the name of Concestino.

Now with this I take my leave
with my hat in my hand,
And my faithful companions
are three hundred Mexicans.

Recording and translated lyrics from Mexican-American Border Music, Volume 1, Pioneer Recording Artists 1928-1958 (Arhoolie/Folklyric, 1994)

En solidaridad con Sam y Concestino.

August 11, 2016


The two volumes of Rockaphilly released in the UK on Rollercoaster Records in 1978 and 1980 collect recordings from 1954-1965 on Philadelphia's Arcade Records and show a pretty rich music scene in and around Philly at the time, even referring to the city as "the East Coast's own Little Nashvillle." Well... maybe, but besides the great music, there are some historically interesting artifacts including the original version of Rock Around the Clock, later covered by Bill Haley. Many of the artists revolved in the Haley orbit and various permutations of the Comets show up under different names (but no Joey Welz here). And Al Rex's topical Hydrogen Bomb: "It's a big loud noise and you're real gone.... bomb bomb, the hydrogen bomb...."

All the tracks featured on Rockaphilly are taken from the archives of Arcade Records, a small Philadelphia label launched in the early 50s by the late Jack Howard to cater for a local demand for hillbilly, novelty, and later rock 'n' roll material.
Howard was an ardent country music fan who ran a printing shop in Philadelphia during the late 1940s. A well-intentioned but slightly deluded man, Howard sought a business involvement with the artists whose music he loved and in 1948, in partnership with a more opportunistic businessman named James Myers, he launched Cowboy Records, for which Bill Haley made his first solo recordings. The venture proved unsuccessful however and after a two year lapse during which Howard acted as a part-time manager to the nascent Haley, Howard launched a new label, Arcade, named after the Arcade Music Center, a record shop which Howard ran in Philly's Kensington area.
Taking his artists from local hoedowns, hillbilly radio stations and nightclubs, local sales while modest in scale, were sufficient to encourage a series of intermittent releases which stretched well into the sixties. ...
Jack fancied himself as a star-maker but in truth, apart from Bill Haley, most of the artists he launched--all solid, dependable stalwarts, did not provide Jack with the reflected glory he so earnestly craved. However we must be grateful that he did make the effort to record the wealth of local talent which existed in Pennsylvania during the late 40s and early 50s.