It's been a rough couple of weeks for the St. Louis music community: We've lost two of the city's most talented musicians...
UNSUNG HERO OF ROCK & ROLL: A lot of people write songs. A lot of people play guitar, bass and drums. Jeff Barbush, who took his own life on June 9, was one of the fortunate few who excel in all these areas. And if that wasn't enough to make you sick with envy, he was graced with a truly amazing rock & roll voice, which started out good and got better, deepening from a sweet teenage tenor to a confident baritone. It could go from a brash, sneering, Robert Plant-ish roar to wild "Helter Skelter" keening; it could croon, growl and wail. His was real, honest-to-God singing, not the feeble bleating or obnoxious braying most male vocalists get away with.
Barbush's first real band was the Painkillers, a great power-pop outfit from Webster Groves that performed sporadically in the 1980s and released one must-have cassette. The songs Barbush wrote during this period were better than those of most other groups, local and national, but he rarely played them live. Most of the Painkillers' sets consisted of covers: inventive, entertaining ones, sure -- from Run-DMC to Wire to Led Zeppelin to Big Star -- but still more than a songwriter of Barbush's caliber should have bothered doing.
From 1989-1995, Barbush was in the Deadbeats, another excellent pop band. He didn't write many songs during this period, and, true to form, the ones he did write he generally refused to play live. But if you were lucky enough to know him, he'd give you self-produced, mostly home-recorded cassettes of his wonderful songs. One of them, "You Got That Right," is four minutes or so of perfect, glimmering pop euphoria; probably fewer than 100 people have ever heard it, but it ranks as one of the best pop singles of this decade.
According to Mike Stuvland, who played with Barbush in the Deadbeats and collaborated with him until his death, "Jeff could be difficult sometimes, maybe inconsiderate or forgetful, but he was never mean. He wouldn't tolerate making fun of some guy who was trying to get up there and sing. He had a certain generosity of spirit." Friends and fans may make contributions to the Webster Groves High School Music Department (100 Selma Ave., Webster Groves, MO 63119), in memory of Jeffrey Barbush. (RSS)
BLUE MOURNING: Before Lori Blue, who commited suicide on June 19, joined Johnny Magnet, the band played fantastic old-school punk songs, but they were always a tad elusive and uncentered. Lori locked them into place with seamless drumming. She'd sit there in back and, while Jill Smith and Erin Gulley fiddled about between songs, toss off a few dry comments and watch the others for a while, relaxed but impatient, before finally reeling them in with a cranky but endearing leer and the one-two-three-four click of her drumsticks. Lori never forced the issue, but even though she was, at least at the beginning, just one in a string of Magnet drummers, she seemed to be in charge -- or at least she thought she was, which is the same thing.
And from the first time she gigged with Johnny Magnet, everyone knew that the band had finally found its drummer -- before her, their drummer problems rivaled those of Spinal Tap. But she immediately made her presence known; she had the 'tude, the cynicism and the wrist snap. Before playing with them, Lori was a member of both Alchemy and Soul Kiss. But it was with Johnny Magnet that she made her mark. One could go on and on about her abilities as a drummer, or her wonderfully freaky personality, but it would sound like dumb cliche, something that Lori would spot and dismiss immediately.
It's heartbreaking, the music community's two losses in the past few weeks. A moment continued on page 70Listening Postcontinued from page 68of silence, my ass. Let's make some noise. Thanks, Lori. Thanks, Jeff. (RR)"FREE E" FORALL: Not sure what exactly is being advertised in naming a happening "Free e," but there's only one way to find out. The party is Saturday, July 3, and features some sounds that are rarely heard in the St. Louis techno community. "The electronic scene in the Midwest is a bit on the conservative side," says organizer and T.R.I.P. Sequence brainchild Dan Dysphonix. "We're usually behind by a few years what's happening on the coasts and especially Europe. And there are certain subcultures of techno music that are very rare to be coming here to St. Louis. So we decided to find some DJs from farther away. There are two Dutch DJs coming in, DJ Jokey and Innerchild. Both are on h2oh Records out of New York. They're oriented toward the more aggressive aspects of techno -- the really extreme aspects, almost. Some call it "gabber music," some call it "hardcore techno" -- very fast, very oriented toward extreme, menacing synthesizers."
If you can't tell the difference between gabber, hardcore, garage and whatnot, you're not alone, and you shouldn't worry about it. It's beat-based music, all of it, and it's hard, most of it. Says Dysphonix, "They're all subgenres of electronic music. There are so many. People sometimes want to associate them with new schools, or new categories, but what it really comes down to is it's all electronic music, progressive and futurist music. It's always trying something new, trying to reach audible frequencies that have never been heard before."
Also on the bill is Miles Maeda of San Diego, who will be spinning ethereal, deep house and a load of this city's best: Dysphonix, Boomer, Don Tinsley of 84 Glyde, Ken Dussold of Deep Grooves, Jon Gotti, the Dervish, Steve-O, Pepe, Double X and Matt "the Black Sheep" Brendle.
And if all of the above descriptions and styles are absolutely meaningless to you and you haven't the foggiest, "Free e" is a good place to acclimate yourself, says Dysphonix. "We've tried to come up with a formula that will appease all. We have almost every genre represented, from happy hardcore to house to hardcore breakbeat. It's all represented, so people will get a really good glimpse of what the state of electronic-music culture is today."
The gig is legal, and it's in North County. For more info, call 994-1284, or you can always check it at Deep Grooves on Delmar (the store with all the info on upcoming parties): 726-0300. (RR)
QUICKIES: Are the Ded Bugs the most underrated rock band in St. Louis? Maybe, on the basis of the sugar-sweet bouncy punk they churn out on their debut full length, Sugar-Coated Snot Pops. No, they don't break any rules, mining the territory that the Ramones discovered 25 years ago. But hell, any band using hand-claps to such celebratory success deserves much more attention than they're getting. Their music is dumb and raucous, the way true rock & roll should be, and we thank them for it. They're celebrating Snot Pops' release at the Creepy Crawl on Friday, July 2. Also on the bill are the Geargrinders, the Gentleman Callers (formerly El Gordo's Revenge) and the Traveling Perverts.... Wonderful news for those of us worried about the future booking policies of the Side Door: Former Cicero's booking assistant Lisa Turallo is taking over. What a relief.... DJ Needles was burning the ones and twos at the recent Rahzel/Bits 'n Pieces show at Karma. The set's highlight was a monster old-school electro-romp that had the Gateway City Breakers burning the dance floor. Next time you get a chance to catch Needles, by all means go. You can also hear him every Saturday night on 100.3 FM, The Beat. He spins whatever the hell he wants from 7-8 p.m. (RR)
TONE BURST: "I heard somebody say about us, 'You can't dance to them. They don't have a singer,'" says John Holt, keyboard player for the Civil Tones. The band has just finished a torrid set of soul, R&B and rock instrumentals, receiving a warm response from a crowd gathered at Union Station to hear the headliner, blues act Preston Shannon. "Our one desire is to have people be more open to music without vocals," explains bassist Dave Hilditch.
When the Civil Tones started playing some 6 and 12 years ago, guitarist Robin Allen shared vocal responsibility with original keyboardist Chris Bess and then-drummer Doug Morgan. After a year or so, though, the band had worked up so many strong instrumentals that they ditched the vocals entirely. Their first album, Rotisserie Twist, came out in 1996 on Pravda Records. Several tracks from that record wound up as background music on TV, most notably on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street. Then, in 1997, Bess left to join Southern Culture on the Skids; Morgan became a full-time restaurateur. "We never gave a thought to quitting," says Hilditch.
"In fact," says Allen, "Chris recommended John Holt, and I knew John Kosla from previous bands."
"We both thought we were going to an audition," says Holt. "At the end, they said, OK, here are four more songs to learn by next time." The revamped Civil Tones carried on from where the original group left off, mixing and matching a variety of mostly '60s-derived styles. As evidenced on their second album for Pravda, Soul Bucket, all four members of the band are adept at writing catchy, riff-based instrumentals. The focus is on Allen's reverb-drenched, sparkling guitar lines and Holt's swirling Hammond and Farfisa organ parts. But don't count out Hilditch and Kosla; this is one tight, swinging rhythm section that loves to shift gears at the drop of a beat.
"The music we play, instrumental soul and rock, can take us down a lot of different avenues," Allen explains. "We all listen to lots of different types of music, and we like to bring that to the band."
"Right now, we're thinking about adding some more Burt Bacharach and Henry Mancini stuff," said Hilditch. "We love to find weird arrangements of old classic tunes." If you haven't heard the Civil Tones yet, you can sample all the songs from both their albums (and see whether you recognize them from TV) at their Web site (www.civiltones.com). Forget about the absence of a singer. See whether you can't dance to this band. (SP)
Contributors: Randall Roberts, Steve Pick, Rene Spencer Saller.