BEFORE OBSCURITY: THE BUSHFLOW TAPES – Tin Huey (Smog Veil)
Back in the ‘70s, there used to be a band like this in every college town in America: sophisto musos who liked to take the piss, inspahrd by Zappa, Beefheart, the Bonzos, Dada, and who knows what-all. In Denton, Texas, f’rinstance, Brave Combo started out that way before they became an NPR-friendly national act that could play four-hour straight polka gigs as well as their usual comedy schtick. In Austin, where I briefly lived at the ass-end of the decade, there was a band (whose name, of course, escapes me) that once entertained the crowd at Liberty Lunch with a version of the Knack’s sole hit, the lyrics changed to what I thought they were in the first place: “My Sc-rotem.”
Ohio’s a weird place, the home of a game called “cornhole” that’s played with bean bags, so it’s no wonder that Tin Huey – an art band with a sensahumour, contemporaries and familiars of Pere Ubu and Devo -- came from Akron, also home to the more conventionally punk Bizarros and Rubber City Rebels. (It’s worth noting that when Huey bassist Mark Price – who, back in the day, played a Fender bass cut down like the ones Devo used -- died in 2008, Thomas wrote, “Tin Huey, in the early 70s, was far out ahead of the rest of us and was the standard by which we all measured ourselves.”)
Because frontman Chris Butler’s heart wasn’t as dark as Thomas’ or as devolved as Jerry Casale’s, after his band’s 15 minutes of near-fame -- signed to Warner Bros., released one album that deserved better than it got -- were up, he formed the Waitresses around sometime sit-in vocalist Patty Donahue and recorded the timeless new wave novelties “I Know What Boys Like” and “Christmas Wrapping.” (Not to say that Butler didn’t have the same kind of formative experiences as his fellow Ohioans; liner note writer Robert Christgau remembers Butler telling him that he still had records he’d borrowed from one of the murdered Kent State students.)
Before Obscurity includes Donahue’s very first performance with Tin Huey, as well as a song that appeared on the first Waitresses album (which my sweetie pulled out after hearing a few notes of “Heat Night”), along with live performances from Akron and Kent (including a cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” which must have been ubiquitous in mid-‘70s Ohio) and tracks cut under the nominal leadership of 22-year-old Huey saxman Ralph Carney, who went on to a lengthy career as a Tom Waits sideman.
Tin Huey’s level of musical sophistication (weird time signatures, occasional dissonance, classical-tinged keyboard passages and quasi-operatic excess with tongue planted firmly in cheek) and penchant for non sequitur weirdness fairly scream Lather-era Zappa; their music could almost pass for prog, except for the smart-alecky voxxx and lyrics like “Billy get off the toilet, be a singer like your father” (from “Armadillo”), not to mention references to Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes. They could rock out, too, but not in the buzzsaw-guitar-and-four-on-the-floor-drumming manner to which you may be accustomed. I like this an awful lot, but then I’m a ‘70s-vintage Zappaphile who prefers college art guys that know how to wear the lampshade to the other kind. - Ken Shimamoto
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