Saturday, April 12, 2008

The lost liner notes for Return To Elliston Square!

Anybody who was "there" at the time knows that the Nashville rock music scene – circa 1980s – was an exhilarating, exciting time to be alive. Bands were doing interesting things, making incredible music as they were forming a local scene for the first time.

A.J. Schaefer of local indie Spat! Records agrees, and his label has recently released the ultra-groovy compilation disc Return To Elliston Square, 1979-1989. The CD features 22 songs by a wealth of bands, including rare tracks from folks like Cloverbottom, the Ratz, and, yes, even the Enemy's "Jesus Rides A U.F.O." The compilation is available primarily as a digital download through sites like eMusic and (click on the CD cover at the right to go to Amazon), but physical CDs are also available through local shops and directly from the Spat! Records website (for a mere $8.99 plus shipping!).

At the label's request, the Reverend wrote up some nice liner notes for Return To Elliston Square, outlining each band with a brief history, etc for each. Unfortunately, budget restraints prevented Spat! from using the full notes – they just used the intro section on the CD insert – so I thought that I'd post them here for the world to read. You can see the album's full tracklist on the Spat! Records website, but here are the liner notes that you won't get to read anywhere else!

The Lost Liner Notes for Return To Elliston Square

It’s hard to believe, but at one time there were no local rock bands to speak of in Nashville. That’s right – no Kings Of Leon, no Pink Spiders, no Paramore splashed all over magazine covers nationwide. Back in the mid-70s there was just R. Stevie Moore and his pal Victor Lovera, writing songs and recording music down in the basement.

By the end of the decade, a new creative wind had started blowing across the Music City, inspiring a generation of young musicians. Some say it was the Ramones’ Exit/In show in ‘78, some say it was the release of Stevie Moore’s Phonography, the city’s first entirely homegrown original rock album. Regardless, bands like Cloverbottom, the Smashers, Dave Olney & the X-Rays and the Actuals began to pop up looking for places to play, a situation remedied by Rick Champion at the legendary Phrank ‘n’ Steins. Soon thereafter came the White Animals, Factual, the Ratz and Jason & the Nashville Scorchers, opening the floodgates to a thousand and one bands. Andy Anderson’s Nashville Intelligence Report zine documented the growing scene and Vanderbilt’s WRVU-FM (91 Rock) played the music.

What you have in your hands is a collection of some of the best and brightest of Nashville’s first wave of rock bands, circa the ‘80s, when the local scene was still defining itself. There are a lot of deserving bands that didn’t make this volume, talented folks like Afrikan Dreamland, 69 Tribe, Chapel of Roses, Burning Hearts, Radio One, the Bunnies and too many others to list. The bands that are represented here were not alone in creating a local rock scene that had never existed before in Nashville, but they are among the most interesting. Check ‘em out and hear for yourself where the fertile local rock scene of today began.

– Rev. Keith A. Gordon, curmudgeon and critic

In early-to-late-70s Nashville, the name “Cloverbottom” was a pejorative term, used to ridicule the person on the receiving end. Named for the city’s notorious center for the mentally retarded, Nashville’s first punk band was also one of the city’s first original rock bands. Booked by Rick Champion at the legendary Phrank ‘n’ Steins, the band played a few original tunes sprinkled in-between Buzzcocks and Stranglers covers. Cloverbottom’s core line-up of Rock Strata, Johnny Hollywood and Bryan D’Beane recorded only one lone three-song EP, 1980’s Anarchy In The Music City, but those three songs still kick ass almost 30 years later!

Too far ahead of its time, Nashville’s Actuals…later evolving into Actuel…stood alone as one of the city’s few electronic bands. The duo of vocalist/guitarist Steve Anderson and bassist Gary Rabasca made up the band’s core, pursuing a vision of high-tech music that was unique for the states at that time, and uniquely alien for the Music City audience. Under the Actuel name, the band released a couple of 12” EPs which, along with a 91 Rock benefit show appearance, won them a loyal local following. Dessau’s John Elliott and Factual’s Robb Earls were both members at one time.

Keyboard wizard Robb Earl was one of a handful of visionary local musicians in the early-80s, his band Factual combining keyboards/synth-driven new wave pop with strong rhythms to make what the band called “intelligent dance music.” Primarily a live outfit, Factual nevertheless appeared on both the Never In Nashville and London Side Of Nashville compilations as well as releasing a couple of 45s. Earls would go on to form Warm Dark Pocket and later open Sound Vortex studios, while guitarist Skot Nelson would play with Guilt and Dessau; Factual also included bassist Johnny Hollywood and powerful drummer Bones Brown.

Practical Stylists
Nashville’s power-pop kings are still fondly-remembered by early-80s Nashville fans as an entertaining live band with talent, guts and a unique guitar-driven melodic pop sound. When guitarist David Russell left, vocalist/bassist Scott Sullivant and drummer Jim Hodgkins recruited singer/songwriter/guitarist Bill Lloyd, fresh-off-the-bus-from-Bowling Green, to take his place, adding yet another dimension to the band’s already impressively deep sound. Although the Stylists’ recorded legacy is sparse…only a couple of now-collectible 45s…the band’s manager, Allen Sullivant, has managed to keep the flame alive with a seemingly endless vault of live tracks and video clips.

The Movement
One of the Music City’s most criminally-overlooked power-pop outfits, the Movement rocked local clubs like nobody’s business. Frontman Ritchie Owens was a veteran of bands like the Resistors, and original bassist Greg Herston earned his bones with Basic Static; along with guitarist Bob Ocker and drummer Bongo (Lerry Reynolds later replaced Herston), the Movement crafted a lively pop-rock sound that was British to the bone but fell right in line with turn-of-the-decade major label bands like the Shoes or Pezband, who all mostly took their cues from the Raspberries and Cheap Trick, anyways. The Movement, tho’, were really something special.

The White Animals
Depending on who you ask, the White Animals were either the second or third most popular live band in town during the early-to-mid-80s. Although nobody could touch Afrikan Dreamland onstage, the White Animals held their own with an original mix of garage-rock and ‘60s-styled psychedelic-pop with dub overtones. Over the course of half-dozen albums, released on the band’s indie Dread Beat Records label, the White Animals refined their sound and matured into a great rock band both on the stage and on vinyl. Why they never got a major label deal is one of the great mysteries of the decade….

The Young Nashvillians
The Young Nashvillians were, hands down, the most entertaining local band of the ‘80s! While other bands made great music, the Young Nashvillians were never about anything other than F-U-N. Formed in 1982 as a summer project, a four-track basement tape of songs made its way to Kevin Gray of the White Animals, who subsequently released the tape on Dread Beat as Metropolitan Summer in 1983. The band followed with The Young Nashvillians Are Here the next year before the members headed for school and careers. For a couple of glorious summers, tho’, the Young Nashvillians ruled the WRVU airwaves! (

The Ratz
Although they presented as old school punks, from this late day, the Ratz sound like a new wave power-pop band to these ears. Regardless, one 7-incher was all that Nashville would get from the ultra-cool foursome, one of the first of a swelling wave of Nashville rock bands, and one of the restless best. Fronted by “Les Rat” (Les Shields) and “Joey Offbeat” (a/k/a Joey Blanton) with bassist “Randy Rodent” and big-beat skinman “Bone,” the Ratz lit up local clubs for an all-too-brief time. Next stop: Blanton to the Enemy, Shields to Raging Fire by way of Go Jimmy Dub.

The Enemy
Written by the Reverend back in 1985 (in Nashville Intelligence Report): “Formed in October 1984 by guitarists Joey Offbeat and Lee Carr, the Enemy chose to ignore the emerging undercurrent of a country punk/C&W revival by performing a daring mixture of hardcore, powerpop and metal-edged, drop-forged instrumentation. Trendy, unfair pigeonhole labels such as thrash or ‘three-chord rock’ fall before the Enemy’s twin scythes of energy and humour.” Hell, sounds good to me. Best known for the novel “Jesus Rides A UFO,” written by Nashville’s homeless poet laureate Gregory Mauberret, in truth, the Enemy was much better than most remember.

Shadow 15
When people talk about ‘80s-era Nashville rock, the name Shadow 15 inevitably crops up. Adored by just about everybody on the scene, the band’s meager recorded output, combined with the consistent quality of their music, has made them all the more legendary. It helps that the band’s adrenalin-fueled sound was complimented by a strong vocalist in Scott Feinstein, incredible guitarist Shannon Ligon, underrated bassist Barry Nelson and explosive drummer Chris Feinstein. They called their sound “garage rock,” but in reality Shadow 15 distilled the best of punk fervor and “shoegazer” rock with Sky Saxon’s reckless spirit, creating something entirely new and exciting.

Raging Fire
Originally known ‘round town as “Ring Of Fire,” changing their name when it conflicted with another band, as Raging Fire these roots-rockers blazed a trail across the SE circuit like Sherman duck-walking through Atlanta. Fronted by the fiery Melora Zaner and driven by Michael Godsey’s wildneck guitar, which channeled Link Wray’s six-string mojo every night, Raging Fire quickly earned a national rep for their excitable live show. They coulda been big, they woulda been big, they shoulda been big – Raging Fire walked the walk with a sound that mixed Buddy Holly pop with X’s punk fervor and Hank’s lonesome heart.

Young Grey Ruins
Local writer and musician Allen Green (Suburban Baroque), in the pages of Andy Anderson’s Nashville Intelligence Report, described the music of Young Grey Ruins as “Psychedelic Furs gone garage or Ziggy Stardust gone punk…take your pick.” Allen wasn’t far from the mark, as this long-lost band’s sound was fresh, original and unlikely, mixing three-chord overdrive with new wavish pop and blasts of sax in a shot for underground cred. YGR was short-lived, tho’, playing local dives (even opening for the Gun Club), and is mostly remembered for sending guitarist Shannon Ligon and bassist Barry Nelson to our beloved Shadow 15.

Government Cheese
Not strictly a local band per se, Bowling Green’s Government Cheese nevertheless orbited the Nashville club circuit like a red-hot comet. The band’s intelligent pop-punk sound was created by a tight-knit chemistry, talented musicians and the band’s charismatic frontman and primary songwriter, Tommy Womack. A couple of 12” EPs, a vinyl album and a single CD – combined with constant touring and memorable live shows – sealed Government Cheese’s legacy as one of the region’s most popular and creative outfits. Womack’s memoir of the era, The Cheese Chronicles, remains the best book about a touring rock band that’s been written. Ever.

Walk The West
Walking a Morricone soundtrack across a lonesome, tumbleweed-scattered punk rock landscape, Walk The West – vocalist/guitarist/teen heartthrob Paul Kirby, the Goleman Brothers (Will on geetar, John on bass, respectively) and drummer Richard Ice – recorded a lone, lost album for Capitol/EMI before evolving into the Cactus Brothers. With a darker, earthier sound than Jason & the Scorchers, Walk The West rocked their roots hard, with just enough twang to show that they came from Nashville. Definitely one of the great unheralded alt-country bands, Walk The West was a good ten years ahead of its time.

The odd man out among an ever-evolving late-80s local rock scene dominated by hard rock/metal, Clockhammer made fans and won critical acclaim everywhere but at home. Go figure. Could have been because the band’s sound – an inspired mix of metal, melody and prog-rock elements – didn’t fit anywhere in the Nashville rock landscape. The trio of Byron Bailey, Matt Swanson and Ken Coomer had mad musical chops and were crazy creative, and continue to be mentioned in whispered tones alongside other misunderstood geniuses like King’s X. Swanson still gigs around town, Bailey disappeared, and Coomer, well…he joined a band called Wilco.

The Shakers
Oscar Rice and Robert Logue were members of Royal Court of China, but when that band drifted towards becoming a nerf-metal caricature, the two split for the greener creative pastures of their side project, the Shakers. In Rebecca Stout they found a kindred soul and a unique voice that complimented the duo’s original folk-rock leanings. Truth is, professionally and musically, the Shakers were playing on an entirely different field than most other local bands, and they would have fit just as easily with ‘60s-era British bands like the Strawbs or the Incredible String Band as they did in late-80s Nashville.

Jet Black Factory
If I would have had to pick one late-80s Nashville band to play under the “Big Top,” I would have chosen Jet Black Factory without hesitation. JBF had a sound and vibe that stood apart from most of the region’s bands and, in Dave Willie, they had a charismatic frontman and gifted songwriter. JBF kicked serious ass, and could have easily mopped the floor with any of the Seattle bands that came a couple of years later…yes, Nirvana included. They didn’t make it big, of course, but their dark-hued guitar-drone and intelligent lyrics made for some excellent music to remember.

There may have been local bands that rocked harder than Forever Ungratical Corinaric Technikilation (F.U.C.T.), but none did it with the zeal and unflagging spirit of Nashville’s hardcore heroes. In their day, F.U.C.T. would pull ‘em in from all over the south, and all ages. It helped that the band was mostly as young as its audience – and as rowdy – and singer Clay Brocker’s fierce onstage presence and natural charisma, along with the blistering metallic onslaught of the band’s songs, earned them a significant following that remembers F.U.C.T. fondly, even today. Uncompromising and influential, the band still plays live occasionally.

A veteran of music scenes in both Nashville and Chicago by the early-80s, John Elliott had a particular vision and the foresight to predict, early in the game, the rise of industrial dance music. Beneath the crashing metallic rhythms and hard-chromed Sturm und Drang of the Dessau sound, a mechanical heart was steered by a strong creative hand. Often working with underground ghetto superstars like producer Martin Hannett and Ministry’s Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker, Elliott and bandmates like Skot (and Barry) Nelson, Mike Orr and Norm Ray…er, Rau forged a sound that was heard on dancefloors around the globe.

Word Uprising
They only lasted about a year, but had they stuck around, Word Uprising had the talent and songs to go somewhere beyond Elliston Square. Another band o’ veterans, including Faith Like Guillotine drummer Mark Beasley and Jet Black Factory’s David Jones (on guitar), with MTSU students Fred Greene (vox) and Bill McLaurine (bass), Word Uprising quickly built a local buzz with a buzzing mix of screaming NWOBHM fretwork and blasting cap drumbeats that would leave your head ringing (in a good way). They wanted to fuse ‘70s-style hard rock with ‘80s alt-pop and, for a while, they did just that.

Alien In The Land Of Our Birth
Long before Today Is The Day, there was Alien In The Land Of Our Birth, an experimental rock band that fused avant-noise with hardcore punk, taking Pere Ubu’s sonic madness to its illogical extremes and blasting Nashville audiences out of their shoes. Guitarist Steve Austin came late to the party, which started with drummer Brad Elrod, guitarist Billy Loffler III and bassist Leo Granados, perhaps Nashville’s first Hispanic rocker. The band garnered significant radio airplay on 91 Rock and won a Nashville Music Award before splintering off into, most notably, acclaimed noisemakers Today Is The Today with Austin and Elrod.

The Grinning Plowman
For a few short years, the Grinning Plowman – Nashville’s favorite cult band – dominated the scene with a sound that was as avant-unusual as anything the city’s dark corners ever produced. Plodding, like a stoner-rock band, with tribal rhythms and razor-sharp fretwork…kinda like the Doors-meet-Candlemass with a dash of Killing Joke. Guitarist Keith Barton tore off some meaty riffs while Janet Ake and Derek Greene kept the heart beating and vocalist Michael Ake bravely sojourned across the band’s sludge-rock horizon. Another “coulda, woulda, shoulda” Nashville band, the Grinning Plowman’s Carlyle label stuff stands among the best the era has to offer.

(Correction: John Elliott of Dessau got in touch to let me know that he was the drummer on Cloverbottom's Anarchy In The Music City EP. Sorry 'bout that, folks...)

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Blogger David said...

Grabbed it offa emusic, thanks for the headsup!

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Wishcraft or Tomorrow's World?

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you certainly got the Plowman very wrong, didn't you?

Gawd. They just let any body presume to be a music critic, don't they?

And from what I've read of your appraisals of other bands, in here, I for one wish you'd have kept your unimportant opinions to yourself.

Does that make sense?

3:11 PM  
Blogger Rev. Keith A. Gordon said...

Well, anonymous, if you're such a smarty-pants, why don't you come out from behind the veil of anonymity and share your great wisdom with us?

As for my "unimportant opinions," they might be, but this is my playground chuckie, thus my sod off...does that make sense?

Guess you won't be buying my book when it's done, will ya?

6:19 PM  
Anonymous S. Stanley said...

I remember going to see Raging Fire at Main Street in Murfreesboro, and just standing there gobsmacked at how incredible they sounded.

(And I also remember spending most of that evening annoyed at the ignorant yahoos around me whining about how 'weird' they sounded. Philistines.) Raging Fire was sadly wasted on Middle Tennessee.

But thanks to this album (and the largesse of, I've been able to hook my high school age daughter on their music. Makes a mother proud. :)

11:47 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

I enjoyed reading your article on the local Nashville bands of the 80's. I was really hoping to see mentioned the great band "The Nerve". It was always a good time seeing them at clubs like the Sutler and Cockeyed Camel. They truly were all accomplished artists.Do you have any info on whar has become of the former members? Man, I miss those days....

1:45 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I was hoping to see some mention of the great local band "The Nerve" in your article. I really enjoyed seeing them at places like The Cockeyed Camel and The Sutler.Man, I miss those days.....

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the days at the Cantrell's seeing Clockwork Orange and partying down!

4:21 PM  
Anonymous K. Randall said...

just read this post, then bought the cd online. can't wait!

i remember seeing rumble circus, clockhammer, jet black factory, the bigger venues by the time i hit town. but i certainly had some iconic times at elliston square.

4:43 AM  
Blogger richkidd said...

I'm impressed. I'm Rich Kidd. I had a very minor part in the music scene back then. I'd enjoy talking with anyone from those times. Great Job.
I look forward to the book.
Anyone who wants to can find me on facebook. Rich Kidd Tucson Arizona.
It may be under Richard Kidd as well.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was there in the 80's when my good friend Mike Make was plugging and trying to find his way. I was the first drummer to join him and would like to hear from him. Todd 615-642-9390

3:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Ake of The Grinning Plowman

3:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what of Buzzkill?

10:56 PM  

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