Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Rick Rubin, The Early Years
(that's Rick on the left with bandmate Mike Espindle on the right, performing at Maxwells around 1985)
Sometimes I spend months and months chasing after interviews (where the hell are you, Dyan Diamond?) and sometimes they just fall into my lap. Today's piece fell into my lap.
The story starts with a compilation called God's Favorite Dog that came out on Touch and Go records back in 1986. I buy it because I like the Butthole Surfers and Big Black...I'm just graduating high school at the time. Another band appearing on the compilation is a group called Hose, but I'm not a real rock obsessive at this point, so I don't bother to find out who they are.
Years go by, and I've turned into the world's biggest Dustdevils fan (for those of you who keep track of such things, note that The New Yorker's music critic was once a member). After searching for ages, I finally track down a copy of their Matador debut Geek Drip. Which isn't actually all that hot, but features an amazing cover of a song called "Mobo" (though the Dustdevils call it "Mobo Girls"). I go looking for info, and there's not much on the internet. Ok, there's almost nothing on the internet. I finally learn that it's by those same Hose guys, and I start looking for it...
...and finally find it. It's a great Flipper-sounding track, and I'm fascinated by the fact that it features Rick Rubin and appears on a 7" that's Def Jam release #1. You know, Def Jam? Beastie Boys, etc. How can this have been such a hard thing to find out about? It's also totally bizarrely put together. It comes in a paper bag with stickers on it:
and instead of labels, someone has gouged little drawings into the center of the vinyl.
I've posted the track Mobo in the past. Recently, the guy who sang it found this web site. I asked if he'd be interested in writing a bit about Hose, and he was nice enough to oblige. And here's what he had to say:
I was a sophomore at NYU, living in the Weinstein dorm. My roommate Warren Bell brought by a freshman named Rick Rubin he had met who also lived in the dorm, and my first clear memory of Rick is asking him to hit his favorite power chord on this great vintage Gibson Les Paul Jr. he had (Kwaaannng). He had already made a name for himself as a "child prodigy" on Long Island (he had a band called The Pricks in high school that actually made some noise, had a gig shooting pro wrestling matches for magazines before wrestling went mainstream and had some level of involvement with the Plasmatics or something). He was smart, driven, talented and appropriately horny and silly enough to be a 'bro, although he didn't drink or do drugs. He (guitar) and Warren (bass, although he never picked one up before) concepted a band along with this guy Joel Horne (drums, and who was also an NYU student but was floor-crashing because couldn't afford dorm space or something like that). They wanted to do stripped-down "slow-hardcore" versions of pop-soul songs and some originals Warren and Rick wrote and they needed a singer. They opted for the name Hose (I think inspired by a "I wanna be a fireman when I grow up" vibe) over the other leading concept PIBB (Power in Black Brotherhood, based on our favorite beverage option at the dorm cafeteria soda fountain). I auditioned with Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thang" and blew it (I still can't sing that fucker). So the lead vocalist spot went to a Canadian NYU student named Rick Rosen. First gig was at Mudd Club with Warren playing in a seated position and an Electrolux vacuum mic'ed offstage. They cut the EP with Ed Bahlman from 99 Records help (although Rick did all the producing, really). Songs I recall on that were covers of "Superfreak," the damnable "Sexy Thang" and originals "Dope Fiend" and "Only the Astronaut Knows the Truth." The four of them went to S.F. that summer with plans to play with Flipper (it never happened--as much as Hose were Flipper fans/supporters, and to my mind very different from/maybe not as good as Flipper and, remember, we were all "kids," I think Bruce maybe saw Hose as a threat). Back in NY, there were more gigs and eventually Rick Rubin thought Rick Rosen was throwing out the wrong vibe. I was invited to join them on stage at CBGB for a few numbers and it turned into a punk-rock sing-off for the vocalist spot. To the wails of "Bring back the fat guy," Rick Rosen departed the band amicably and I entered. My first official gig in Hose was at Folk City with the Meat Puppets in 1982 or 83 (or maybe it was the Big Boys--not too sure on that one).
We gigged in and around NY, Warren left the band due to a serious girlfriend thing (always the stupidest band-leaving excuse). Another NYU buddy named Steve Williams subbed at bass (Steve was great and really good guy, but had his own band projects and really wanted to just be a guitarist). Joel ran out of cash and went home to Maine for awhile, so we were drummerless. About this time, the dorm was having a goofy "air-guitar" contest and Rick and I spotted this girl Autumn Goft and her roommate air-wailing a power version of "Walk This Way." Autumn just seemed like this very cute Queens metal chick we would never have the balls to talk to, and we asked her if she really played drums and she fucking did and she was just great! (She and Rick became involved eventually). Her bluesy, slightly off-count Bonham-like sensibilities really brought something new to the party. Like a lot of bands from that time we found ourselves moving from a structured, almost novelty in retrospect, no-wave thing into more blues/soul (and yes, in some form, folk) inspired deal with something like a melodic focus--just trace Husker Du for what I'm talking about. Speaking of Minnesota's finest, we did a Midwest tour at some point (with another dorm rat, Tony Scheitinger, on bass because Steve Williams was in a petulant mood) and played with them at Aldo's in Milwaukee (I remember a lot of drinking with Grant Hart--another great one. Bob was good to, supportive in his own spacey way).
We recorded the Mobo/Girls/Zoo single somewhere in Long Island City on my 21st birthday (it's amazing to remember how truly young we were). Mobo was a cover of an obscure French disco song, Girls was a 20-second thrasher based on some shit I once said when I was really wasted, and Zoo was our nod to the folk-kiddie song "We're All Going to the Zoo Tomorrow." Rick produced and got the idea to etch the master plate instead of printing labels and shipping the single in a brown paper bag with a sticker (it was total DIY aesthetic, but the etching, specialty vendor for the bags--standard bags won't fit a single--and so on actually ended up costing as much as the conventional route would have).
We hit the West Coast in support of the single and stayed with Flipper's manager Debbie Dub and played in S.F. and Berkeley (but, once again, not with Flipper, but I did drink and do drugs with some of them). I liked Will best, just a sweet, saddish guy who picked up stray people, but very cool. Steve DePace was a real burly drinking-type man, Falconi was cool in a Zen master kind of way and pretty 'nam-fried, Bruce was kind of a tool to us. In the Bay Area we picked up a Flipper friend named Sweet (or Sway) on bass; I remember playing with Shark Attack (whose lead singer went on to stab his girlfriend, but I thought he was a hot shit) and I think Suicidal Tendencies. We went down to L.A. and played 3 gigs in one night (one at Cathay was one of those "with the Minutemen if they show up" thing: they didn't, we also played some shithole in Hollywood with Red Kross, and somewhere else I can't recall). And we played a hardcore-athon at Perkins Palace in Pasadena (with the Circle Jerks and a cast of thousands).
Back in NY we continued to play a little. We did the Touch and Go compilation (with Terry Tolkin?--but totally Rubin-produced on our tracks). We covered (and pretty interestingly, too) Zeppelin's "How Many More Times" (what balls) and swiped some notes from a long-forgotten Blue Cheer song and added lyrics I wrote called "Down by the River." Rick started with Def Jam, and I got to be around a little for all that, and saw it was taking all his time and it was going to really be something special. Our last gig was with what I consider the golden line-up: Rick, Steve, Autumn and Myself--at Irving Plaza in 1986 with the Butthole Surfers (without knowing it both bands worked up cover versions of "Sweatleaf") I drank a pint of tequila on-stage and remember collecting the door for the night--by far the largest we'd ever received: $600.
Here's the single:
And here's my favorite Flipper song, on the off chance you don't know that band:
(Gonna twist your arm a little bit. Ever is an incredible song from an incredible album that everyone should probably hear at least once. Ultra sloppy yet strangely tuneful guitar mess with a far-better-than-average sense of humor.)
And there you have it. If anyone can find the French single that started this whole thing, I'd be eternally grateful. And big thanks to Mike Espindle for taking the time to write!