Hitless Wonder

Oestreich, Joe. Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll. Guilford, Connecticut; Lyons Press, 2012.

Hitless Wonder begins with the author’s band (Columbus’s Watershed) playing for an almost non-existent audience in a bar in Detroit—the first stop on a ten-show tour. The local opening act has pulled out and there is no one to see the headliner. There are people in the bar, but none willing to pay for concert’s five dollar admission. The band waits at the bar while the club manager tries to talk them out of playing. The reader has already figured out that Oestreich is going to document the tour and it would not be far fetched to think we are in for a tragic-comedy. A band that once almost made it—over a decade before—is on one last failed tromp around old stomping grounds that are no longer looking for the next Watershed record.

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King of the Queen City

Fox, John Hartley. King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records.  Urbana, Illinois; University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Somewhat overlooked along the great early independent labels – Sun, Chess, Dot, etc. – King Records from Cincinnati  has a long list of recognizable artists from the 1940s and 1950s in its catalog of “roots of rock” artists.  King was one of the few labels that released both “hillbilly” (county and bluegrass) and “race records” (blues, R&B, and gospel).  In the 1940s, Nashville and Memphis had not evolved into hubs of the music industry that they became, and there were mid-size labels in many cities, such as Cincinnati.  King Records success spread well beyond the Queen City.

Fox’s King of the Queen City attempts to capture the story of King Records from the its inception through the late 1960’s roughly following the time founder Syd Nathan ran the label.  One advantage Cincinnati had in developing such a prominent label, especially in its early years where it focused more on country music, was the presence of the 50,000 watts WLW radio station, open from coast to coast.  Continue reading

Guided by Voices

Greer, James. Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-one Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll.  New York; Black Cat, 2005.

“They are just making music I would make, if I could make music”

– Steven Sodenbergh, from “In Lieu of an Actual Introduction”

 

One of the best bands to come out of Ohio (Dayton) over the last 20 years, Guided by Voices emerged on the national scene in 1993 — during the height of alternative rock — with the albums Propeller and Vampire on Titus.  Eventually GBV became an international cult classic, signing to Matador Records and gaining notoriety for their long drunken live shows.

GBV was a different sort of band.  Recording with 4 and 8 track technology, they were lo-fi before lo-fi was something. And perhaps more significantly, they were old: band leader Robert Pollard taught elementary school for 14 years before being “discovered” at age 36.  GBV has made news in the last year, regrouping with the classic lineup for a small tour in 2010 and recording new material for an album due out early 2012.  What better time to look at James Greer’s band bio, written shortly after the band’s “last” show on New Year’s Eve 2004.

Reading the beginning of Hunting Accidents (as it is referred within the text) is maddening: James Greer is not your typical rock biographer.  In fact he’s more like a cult member (“[…] free will is a thing granted both by God and by Bob, and like God, Bob will only smite you if you abuse the privilege” (36)).  To the uninitiated, the megalomania that goes into the description of GBV frontman Robert Pollard is over the top.  Before we even get to the band, there are lists of Pollard’s drinking buddies and endless stories of childhood athletics, even testimony from Pollard’s son about growing up with the man as your father and pee-wee football coach.    Continue reading