Just a lot of Huey

Pasatiempo - - Terrell’s Tune-up -

It’s strange that one of the most ex­cit­ing, in­no­va­tive, and all-around crazy al­bums re­leased this year was recorded in the late ’70s.

I’m talk­ing about the “new” CD Be­fore Ob­scu­rity: The Bush­flow Tapes by the longde­funct Akron, Ohio, band Tin Huey. Tin Huey rose from the same weird Mid­west­ern creative ether as its home­boys Devo and Pere Ubu from nearby Cleve­land.

Some peo­ple will be drawn to this record — con­sist­ing of pre­vi­ously un­re­leased live record­ings and Huey rar­i­ties— be­cause it fea­tures early work by sax ma­niac Ralph Car­ney, who has blown on some of TomWaits’ finest al­bums along with guest shots with The B-52s, Ubu, Elvis Costello, The Black Keys, and many oth­ers. (Re­cently he’s been tour­ing with They Might Be Giants.) Though best known for sax, Car­ney also plays clar­inet, flute, gui­tar, har­mon­ica, key­boards, Jew’s harp, and who knows what else.

Tip your Wait­ress: But it wasn’t Car­ney who first at­tracted me to Tin Huey. It was Huey singer/gui­tarist/Chris But­ler and Huey’s con­nec­tion with an­other Ohio band — TheWaitresses. But­ler was ba­si­cally the brains be­hind TheWaitresses, a band that rose to a short but well-de­served glory in the great NewWave scare of the early ’ 80s. Fronted by singer Patty Don­ahue, whose hi­lar­i­ously whiny, dis­en­gaged-punk-chick, proto-Val­ley Girl voice epit­o­mized the mu­sic of that era, TheWaitresses ac­tu­ally had a hit with a song called “I Know What Boys Like,” which you can find on just about any Best of New Wave com­pi­la­tion in bar­gain bins across this great land. But­ler wrote or co-wrote vir­tu­ally ev­ery song Don­ahue ever sang with the group.

Some have dis­missed TheWaitresses as a one-hit-won­der or an ’ 80s nov­elty band. But if you ever saw them live (I did, at Perkins’ Palace in Pasadena in May 1982) or lis­tened to their al­bums, you know that their mu­sic was strange and de­cep­tively com­plex. There was a def­i­nite Zappa/Beef­heart in­flu­ence, as was the case with Tin Huey. TheWaitresses had a sax player named MarsWil­liams who was a crazy per­former— though, re­cently re-reread­ing the liner notes of The Best of The Wait­resses CD, I re­al­ized that Car­ney, notWil­liams, played sax on “I Know What Boys Like” and sax and har­mon­ica on my per­sonal fa­voriteWaitresses tune, “No Guilt.”

The first song on Be­fore Ob­scu­rity is an early ver­sion of “Heat Night,” which would ap­pear on TheWaitresses’ first al­bum, Wasn’t To­mor­row Won­der­ful. But even bet­ter forWaitresses’ fans is “The Comb.” It’s a live per­for­mance fea­tur­ing Don­ahue on lead vo­cals. But­ler con­sid­ers this to be the birth of TheWaitresses— it was the first time he and Don­ahue per­formed to­gether in pub­lic. For devo­tees of Don­ahue, who died of lung can­cer in 1996, this alone will make Be­fore Ob­scu­rity manda­tory lis­ten­ing. It’s a sweet re­minder of her cool per­sona.

But wait, there’s more: Even without the Wait­resses con­nec­tion, there’s lots to love about Be­fore Ob­scu­rity. I al­ready men­tioned the debt to Zappa and Beef­heart and com­mon cul­tural roots with Devo and Pere Ubu. There’s some ob­vi­ous proto-punk in­flu­ence, most ap­par­ent in the group’s cover of The Stooges’ “IWanna Be Your Dog” (which must have been recorded on or around April 21, as they be­gin the track singing “Happy Birth­day” to Iggy). You can also hear some Vel­vet Un­der­ground, and there’s prob­a­bly a Tele­vi­sion in­flu­ence, es­pe­cially on the song “Re­turn En­gage­ment.” (I thought I heard a lit­tle Mis­sion of Burma here, but that’s not likely, be­cause that band from Bos­ton didn’t release its first record­ing un­til 1981. Must have been some­thing in the air.)

Even though Huey was ob­scure, I wouldn’t be sur­prised if some mu­si­cal acts that came later were hip to the group. Lis­ten to Mr. Bun­gle, for in­stance, and you might hear echoes of Tin Huey. A few nights ago, when the Huey tune “Remi” came up on ran­dom shuf­fle mode on my iTunes, at first I thought it was Primus — but with an ar­range­ment by TomWaits. (This track is ac­tu­ally cred­ited to “Ralph Car­ney & Friends,” with an ex­pla­na­tion that the friends in­clude “one or more Hueys.”)

“Pink Berets” is a dated po­lit­i­cal spoof about let­ting women into the mil­i­tary (there’s a ref­er­ence to the ERA. Don’t know what that was, kids? Look it up!). The punch line is, “Now I’m a boy in the USO.”

Here’s a dis­claimer for the last four tracks on the al­bum: they are best lis­tened to if you’re a long­time fan, mu­si­col­o­gist, or flirt­ing with un­con­scious­ness. (I won­der how many peo­ple fall into all three cat­e­gories.) Th­ese are lo-fi live record­ings of the band, ap­par­ently without But­ler or Car­ney. Though not truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Tin Huey’s sound, it’s good rock­ing fun.

Check out tin­huey.com. There you’ll find a free MP3 of a cover of Talk­ing Heads’ “Don’t Worry About the Gov­ern­ment.”

Ra­dio riot: I play mu­sic like this ev­ery Sun­day start­ing at 10 p.m. on Ter­rell’s Sound World, freeform weirdo ra­dio on KSFR-FM 101.1. And don’t for­get The Santa Fe Opry, the coun­try mu­sic Nashville does not want you to hear, same time, same sta­tion on Fri­day nights. KSFR streams live at ksfr.org.

24-hour En­chi­ladas: If, dur­ing the course of the week, you re­ally wish you could hear one of my ra­dio shows right now, fret not. Treat your­self to my pod­cast and take a big bite of The Big En­chi­lada, any time of the day or night, and you’ll find more than 15 hours of non­stop mu­sic hand­picked by me. Some of the episodes, like the lat­est, “Hill­billy Heaven,” are per­fect for Santa Fe Opry fans, while oth­ers are best suited for those who pre­fer Ter­rell’s Sound World’s psy­che­delic/garage/surf/rock­a­billy/R & B brew. Down­load any or all of the episodes, sub­scribe, stream it on your com­puter, burn it to discs — all at bi­gen­chi­ladapod­cast.com. It’s free!

My mu­sic blog: You can find my “Ter­rell’s Tune-Up” archives, my ra­dio playlists, and my rants about the mu­sic in­dus­try at stevet­er­rell.blogspot.com.

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