When I was 14 or so I was finally allowed to
accompany my older friends who were heading up to Saint Louis for the monthly record convention located in South City at the American Czech Hall.They were setting up a booth for the day to sell
their records. This was back when you could flip a Metallica “Ride the Lighting” picture disk and make a $20.00 profit. At some point in the day we
headed over to Vintage Vinyl. It was on Delmar but at a different location or a
smaller section of the current location. I don’t rightly remember but I do
recall it being much smaller than it is now. We had a video camera with us and
was generally making fools of ourselves while simultaneously annoying the hell
out of everyone in the store who I’m sure could only think, “Who the hell are
these hicks from the sticks?”. I didn’t purchase anything on this first visit
due to the fact that I never had any money back in those days but I do remember
seeing a collage by the register of Sammy Davis Jr. with the caption “I need
When I finally moved to St. Louis, the first
place I went to was Vintage Vinyl and purchased 5 Rolling Stones albums on
vinyl for my newly acquired turntable. “Black and Blue”, “Some Girls”, “Emotional
Rescue”, “Tattoo You” and “Undercover”. I don’t think it cost me more than 20
bucks. When I got home I was so excited to crack open the records and have a
listen but by chance the radio was broadcasting a live show the Stones were putting on that night at the Trans World Dome. The vinyl would have to wait.
I remember the first time I thought St. Louis was “cool”. I was 14 years old and went to a concert at Mississippi Nights. Driving into the city was a great thrill and I decided right then and there I would live in St. Louis at some point. Many concerts at Mississippi Nights followed and then I started traveling up from Jackson to skateboard on the weekends. My friends and I would head over to T-N-T Skates which was located on Hampton at that time and map out all the spots we were going to hit. The owner of T-N-T, Jim (aka Tiger), was amused by us country bumpkins but always treated us nicely and even made an honorary team called The Jackson Connection. Then when the shop moved to Chippewa, right next to The Famous Bar, I worked there for part of a summer while living in the office area. In the back of the shop was a mini half-pipe and life was great. The other part of the summer I basically lived at my Aunt Jeanne's house which was located smack dab in the middle of South City mere blocks from Oak Hill school, which had some of the best banks in the city. I’d spend countless hours skateboarding with Dee Belmar and Baba Le all over the city. My aunt let me come and go as I pleased and at that time my dream was to move to St. Louis and live on Chippewa.
The image above is from either 2003 or 2004. I’m working from a photo of James Weber shooting pinball at CBGBs on what was probably a typical Monday night. Eric Hall would be tending the bar, playing great music on the sound system and few of us early birds would be there sitting at the empty bar drinking the night away. Then, as now and when I was 14 and even before that, St. Louis was always cool and it’s great people are starting to recognize that, move here, invest in it and help re-build it. Hopefully that enthusiasm will last longer than a couple of years cause the city needs a dedicated population that will invest in it for decades to come.
Another record cover here. This time for the band Union Electric who are putting out a 45 soon with a little ditty about Malatesta. UE is fronted by Tim Rakel who I’ve known for a number of years. Tim reminds me of the river, always in motion, always moving forward and consistent. I’ve done a number of covers for him and even painted him performing and always welcome an opportunity to work with him because he’s a great talent as well as honest and straight forward. The Union Electric plays an electrified mixture of punk and folk with a driving beat, fuzzed out guitars and pointed lyrics. To say they’re political would be an understatement, in fact their guitar player is currently the campaign manager for a candidate running in the primary for Mayor of St. Louis. They say what they mean and mean what they say, so to speak and they believe in equality for all with their songs shining a glaring light on injustices past and present. The band has put out a number of singles that cumulated with a full CD release last year which was well received on college and independent radio across the country. This new release signals another round of tunes coming out of the woodwork for public consumption.
I’ll admit it, I don’t know Robert very well. Before I really knew who he was I would hear about him from people like Steve Scariano and Joe Thebeau but I don’t recall ever really being conscious of him until I saw him play guitar at Off Broadway with Finn’s Motel. At first I didn’t even realize it was him, I was just floored by the guitar playing. I was hearing colors, seeing textures and was surrounded by a tone that could hold weight on the moon. My mind was literally blown. Later I found out that was Robert Griffin. This was maybe 6 or 7 years ago? Since then I have gotten to know Robert a little better but not really that much. I had already known he was the guitar player for a band called Prisonshake that was originally from Cleveland, OH. I knew about this band thanks to Steve Scariano who plays bass with them. Their double album “Dirty Moons” is really phenomenal. I had also figured out that he ran Scat Records which is probably best known for putting out Guided By Voices landmark album “Bee Thousand”. Then, while hanging out at the Royale for a while on Sunday nights, I put it together that he was the same guy making all the great drinks at the bar. Watching him make a mixed cocktail is just like watching him play guitar. His attention to detail and focus is tremendous. Everything is served in its due time. But that’s about as far as I’ve gotten with him. I’m much too shy to ever mention anything or ask him questions about music or playing guitar. But from that first time of seeing him play live at Off Broadway I snapped his photo and tucked it away for future reference.
So, fast forward to Nov 2012. I received and invitation to participate in a group show at Hoffman LaChance in March 2013. The concept of the show was to find a second hand/thrift store painting and add something to it of your own. On Dec 30 I went to Goodwill on Forest Park Parkway and found a large landscape oil painting. At the time I had no clue what I was going to do with it and was a little nervous about buying it cause it was so large but went ahead and got it anyway. That night I went to the Royale and had a wonderful time sitting and talking with Steve Smith and Joyce Gorrell. We discussed many things including, the value of musical theatre, the importance of taking vacations, what it means for an artist to do commercial work and at some point in the evening I showed Steve and Joyce the photo I had taken of Robert so many years ago. I told them when the time was right I was going to paint his picture and they both agreed that would be a good idea. The next day, while nursing a hangover, thinking about the previous night’s conversation and looking at the large oil painting I had purchased, I realized Robert’s image would fit perfectly in it and I immediately starting working on putting him in the painting. The result is the image above.
At some point
in 2012 a meeting was held at the Heavy Anchor with the principles of the local
record label Tower Groove Records. This meeting was to inform everyone of the
plan to release a 7 inch vinyl single for each month in the year 2013. Each
record would feature 2 bands, a single song on each side. We were told the
bands involved and the months the records would be released. The reason I had
been invited to the meeting was to see if I’d be interested in painting covers
for 3 of the releases. Since there are 2 bands for each release, that really
meant 6 covers would be needed for each side of the 3 records. And that’s what
I’ve been doing since September. The paintings needed to be completed by Jan 1 so
they could be photographed and sent off to the printers in time for the release
date. Just made it in time by the skin of my teeth.
In all, there
are 4 artists who are contributing artwork for the covers. Jeff Robtoy, Adam Watkins, Mark Stephens and myself. My pieces will be featured on The Skekses/CaveofswordS, Tone Rodent/Kisser and Ransom Note/Nee records which are
released in April, May and June. You can purchase the singles individually or
you can get a subscription and receive all the singles put out for the entire
year for only $60.00, that is 5 bucks a record. Sixty dollars may sound like a
lot but you’re getting a limited edition of releases that were specifically
recorded for this series as well as the original artwork that was done by all
the artists. In short, it’s a great deal.
While in the
midst of painting all these pictures, I was offered a solo show at the recently
opened SOHA Gallery on Macklind owned by the wonderful Julie Malone. I thought
this would be a great opportunity to organize a show of all the record/CD covers
I’ve done over the years along with a few newer pieces. The artwork mentioned
above will be included along with paintings done for bands like Bunnygrunt, The Dirty 30s, The Union Electric, The May Day Orchestra, Eric Hall, SHed SHot, and possibly some others I’m forgetting at the moment. The paintings will
be on display along with the records/CDs they were used for and a “listening
station” will be available for people to hear a song or two from each
excited about this show but also have a lot of work to do to prepare for it.
A few months ago Shooter Jennings stopped in St. Louis for a show at the Old Rock House. I was there to snap some photos for a future painting. Not familiar with Shooter’s music, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised with his tunes and the crack band he had playing with him. Everyone there had a great time and he's genuinely a nice guy with a good following of fans.
When I started the painting I was listening to some of his songs but then slowly started to move on to some other country tunes by the likes of Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and yes, Shooter’s famous father Waylon Jennings. It’s been a long time since I’ve really sat down and listened to some country music. It’s not that I don’t like it, I really love it but usually my preference is for Rock and Roll. After going through a few Johnny Cash albums, I started in on Waylon and I was surprised at how many tunes I knew. That got me thinking about other country musicians like George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Jerry Reed, etc. In our modern age we can simply type in a musician or band on the computer and queue up some tunes, so I did. I was astonished, I knew so many songs by these musicians but I haven’t listened to them in years. I started thinking about it and realized that when I was young, 6, 7 and 8 years old, this was about the only music I ever heard. Growing up in Southeast Missouri in the late 70s/early 80s gives you little options as to what type of music everyone is going to be listening to. And thankfully for me it was these artists and their tunes.
Especially when I was hanging out with my grandmother. She always had the radio on or the TV tuned to country music videos and she loved all these musicians. She also came of age in the 50s and loved the Rock and Roll of that time, Elvis, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, etc. When you think about it, there’s not much difference between the rockers of the 50s and the country stars a few decades later. Hell, Waylon Jennings was in Buddy Holly’s last band. So, for me, they all go together very well and their music was always played in my grandmother’s house. This is how I know all these tunes, it wasn’t by choice but I’m sure glad it happened that way. It’s some of the greatest music ever created.
In the early 00s Willie Nelson played two shows at Mississippi Nights. The two shows sold out quickly but not before I was able to snag 3 tickets for my grandmother, her friend and myself. The day of the show we stood in the long line waiting to get in. I had been use to standing in the Mississippi Nights’ line before but this time I was with my grandmother and I could tell her and her friend were a little uncomfortable but they never complained once and you could tell how excited they were. I was a bit nervous cause I knew how hard it could be to get a good seat in MN and I wanted them to be able to enjoy the show while sitting down and still see everything. The doors finally opened and as soon as we got in the doors, I told them to hang on to my shirt and follow close by. I made a beeline for the seating area just left of the stage. I was able to grab 3 seats in the second row of chairs they had set up. The view was perfect. We could see everything and when Willie came out and started up with “Whiskey River” the entire place erupted with cheers. It was my most favorite concert at Mississippi Nights and it means even more to me since my grandmother was there also.
So, here I am, the child of real country music fans painting the child of a real country music star.
The beat goes on, as they say.Above is the cover for the Skekses 45 split
with CaveofswordS which will be released in April of 2013.You may recall me talking about the Tower Groove Records Singles Subscriptions a few weeks ago.The subscription takes 12 bands and matches
them up with 12 more bands to release a 45 single every month for the year of
2013.This promises to be an exciting
snapshot of active St. Louis bands and you have many chances to sign up to receive
the whole series for a mere $60.00 (that’s 5 bucks a record).
Your next chance is Dec 9 at Euclid Records.Tower Groove bands will be performing live in
store and they’ll have a representative there to take your orders. If you can’t
make it to the in store, then all you have to do is click this link for a super easy
and secure online ordering process, really super easy if you have a PayPal
In addition to the local music that’s available, each record
will feature original artwork from either myself, Jeff Robtoy and Adam Watkins,
both of Tone Rodent and the great Mark Stephens from the band Accelerando.The series is sure to sell out so shop early
and shop often.