Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Musical Journey of
William Cameron, Esq.

Preface: Along with the Top 10 Discoveries of 2008 and the Top 10 Most Ridicvlous Black Metal Song Titles, this was one of the episodes in the pipeline for the original Astral Headspace podcast idea (back in April), which eventually begat the blog (in September).

I lived in Indiana for three years, from 1991-94. Never rooted for the Colts, but did follow the Pacers. They played the Knicks in the Eastern Finals that last year, and I was really pulling for a Rockets-Pacers Championship series (that was the "OJ Chase" Finals). I saw Ed Hall in Muncie, doing local flyers for their show to no avail. Sonic Youth way over in Cincinnati. The Jesus Lizard in my hometown of Bloomington (with Steve Albini running sound). I once opened my apartment window to hear local hero John Cougar playing the IU football stadium two blocks away. Also travelled around to see the Grateful Dead in Indianapolis, Louisville, Detroit, and Chicago (Soldier Field with Sting opening).

Culture Shock '93
[Click here for World's Shortest Music Video
and "Eye of the Tiger" audio]

My favorite local band was Brown Betty. Easily. Despite their being a pop/punk act, and that not being my bag, they won me over early and I caught their shows often (mainly at the late, great Second Story). Sure, I'd go see Johnny Socko, especially on Dime Pitcher Wednesdays at The Bluebird (actually mini-pitchers of Leinenkugel). But that was just silly high-jinks. Brown Betty had a force-of-nature drunken-abandon headrush that was visceral. And instead of college funny-hat funk covers of Charlie Daniels, they were thrashing out "Mongoloid" and "Raspberry Beret" and many other worthwhile cover versions. They also did the themesong for local public-access tv sensation Christy Paxson. And many other quality originals.

Side A of Bumpa Rumpa Rama (1992) recreated

In 1992, the trio of Bill Cameron (v/g), Jim Robinson (b) and Tom Shover (d), self-released what was the only document of their existence - as far as I knew. The cassette EP, Bumpa Rumpa Rama. The price tag on my copy says I bought it for $4.50 from C.D. Exchange. I think that was the place on 5th, downstairs from BW-3, across from Nick's English Hut (Est. 1927). I still listen to it at times! But currently I can't digitize the tape. Like an infant, when I'd left Bloomington, I assumed that everyone there ceased to exist. But somehow I found out that they'd released a full album after I'd unceremoniously blown town. And that somehow is what this story's really about.

Side B of Bumpa Rumpa Rama (1992) recreated

Sometime early last year, I guess I had popped in the cassette audiotape and decided to see what was out there about a bygone favorite, via the tried and true method of "surfing the web." Turned out that Brown Betty had actually released a full album in 1995, Thriller. I learned this because there's a whole site about Indiana bands past and present: Musical Family Tree, The Indiana Music Archive and Online Community. With an MP3 Archive and community board and search tools everything. Not only did Brown Betty's page offer all of Thriller (which provided the versions used for the BRR YouTube re-enactments), but five full concert recordings and some rarities. Wha?! Once I get Bumpa Rumpa Rama ripped, I plan to donate MP3's to the archive. O yeah, and here's a video of a Thriller outtake being recorded: "Live It Down."

Mysterious Pony
But Brown Betty did eventually cease to exist. I know this because the Musical Family Tree did its job and suggested related bands. Including Emperor Penguin ("7 albums/62 songs"), comprised of DJ Lazlo Minimart and keyboardist Melvoin Stanke.
c1997-current. From - If robots could party, this would be on the DJ's turntable. If Beck scored '70s industrial training films... well, you get the idea. With their trusty Korg synths and fuzzed-out guitars, Chicagoans Carl Saff and Bill Cameron make music that's electro-funky and ultimately irresistible.

"Mysterious Pony" from Chic-A-Go-Go tv show
Title track on Mysterious Pony (2000)

So, apparently Cameron had traded in his guitar for synthesizers and moved to Chicago to play in a goofy synthfunk combo. They're awesome! Albums like Extreme Gaming and Shatter The Illusion of Integrity, Yeah (both 1999), songs like "Chill or Be Chilled" and "Stay for the Freak." (I realized why I put 2001's Damn EP in 2005's Top 10 list - I'd combined it in iTunes with the 2005 Demos from MFT.)

"Disco Party in the Castle of Love (Tonight)" [live]
from the Damn! EP (2001)

So I was all like, "Whaaa???" This is a treasure trove of the good stuff. I highly recommend checking them out on on Lala, or listen before downloading at Musical Family Tree (click song title to play), or even buying them from iTunes. Okay, final notes... They performed with/as the Emperor Penguin Live Expedition Squadron, and YouTube has a few examples. I'll just link you with a cover of Gary Wright's cheese-classic "Dreamweaver." Moving on!

Entire catalogue from Flying Werewolf

Then something weird happened - as usual. Cameron moved again, to San Francisco, and formed another musical duo, the mysterious Flying Werewolf. Almost everything that can be said about them lives on right there in that YouTube clip - or as their MFT page calls it "1 album/3 songs." For me personally, this is the pinnacle of the story. And I'm convinced that "Dracula's Hair" is the complete inspiration for A Taste for Love. (Then again, I think the complete inspiration for "Lost" is Sid & Marty Krofft's "Land of the Lost.") Also, I fervently await a major motion picture based on "Awesome Mind Powers," preferably the second version.

"Long Circuitous Path" from Grand Rapids (2005)

Flying Werewolf burned brightly, but briefly. And obscurely. And out of its phoenix-ashtray was born Winechuggers, which was another musical left-turn for Bill Cameron (although he remained in San Franciso). And now it's back to guitars, although there's more jangling and pop hooks, indie-rock style. MFT has "9 albums/69 songs," but not too much from Grand Rapids (2005). You can check it out on Lala and buy it at Amazon, or download it from Amazon or from iTunes. Good little record, matured you might say. Or I might say... But it's certainly a long way from Brown Betty, as were Emperor Penguin and Flying Werewolf. And I am really glad I stumbled around the internet about a year ago, and thanks to the Musical Family Tree for filling in the gaps.

By the way, they have a lot of other bands there, many worth a listen. They also have a Musical Family Tree compilation out, Delicious Berries (2006). You can preview on Lala, buy it on CD or from iTunes.

The Alameda Saloon
Epilogue: I literally just found this while checking for any new images of Bumpa Rumpa Rama [7/13/1995, link]:
Brown Betty are performing Saturday night at the Alameda Saloon.

They are a three piece band that were formed in Bloomington, Indiana in the Summer of 1992. After a few months of shows with bands such as Afghan Wigs, Come and local artists Antenna they recorded a six song demo tape titled "Bumpa Rumpa Rama". In order to broaden their horizons the band sent copies of the tape to Chicago press and clubs.

The response was incredible. Writers said of the tape:
"The musicianship of this 3-piece, along with the songwriting, borders on the spectacular" - Tailspins Magazine

"The band is manic and raw, incorporating the right elements of humor, hard-assedness, and creativity. A true exception to the rule...they rock indeed.
It's pumped-up power-pop with a sonic punch, youthful sass and more hooks than a Bassmasters tournament" - Alternative Press

"This band bashes with a ragged grace that must be seen and heard to be believed" - Illinois Entertainer

The band has signed with Los Angeles Producer Matt Wallace (Faith No More, John Hiatt, Paul Westerberg, School Of Fish). Wallace started his label, Fish Of Death Records, largely on the success of his ability to spot hot talent and bring out their best in the studio.

Come out and see us!

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