Part II: Vincent, come on down…
By Kyle Melton
By early 1994, the music scene burrowing out from under the post-industrial haze of Dayton was beginning to show some indelible signs of life. In much the same way the Moondog Coronation Ball served as a coming-out-party for rock ‘n’ roll some 40 years earlier, a show on March 18 at Hara Arena headlined by the Breeders and featuring Guided By Voices signified the status to which the Dayton underground music scene had ascended.
During the summer of that year, the Breeders were invited to perform at Lollapalooza. The band took full advantage of the opportunity by bringing Guided By Voices (as well as Brainiac in 1995) along for the ride. Kim Deal and the Breeders also brought some influential cohorts from Lollapalooza back to Dayton on their day off.
“I can remember,” said Denis Mutter, producer of the local video program Alternative Edge, “The year the Breeders and GBV were on Lollapalooza, Kim Deal brought a bunch of famous people from Lollapalooza to Canal Street to see Real Lulu in the Band Playoffs. [Billy] Corgan [from the Smashing Pumpkins] was there, I think some of the Flaming Lips were there too. It really felt like Dayton was on the crest of the wave, like we were going to be the next Seattle – or at least the next Chapel Hill.”
One of the most important factors in projecting to the world the creativity and vibrancy of the music being made in Dayton during this period was the writing of Jim Greer. He was a music journalist for SPIN magazine and had recently relocated to Dayton with his girlfriend, Kim Deal. In one feature of Greer’s “A Year in the Life of Rock ‘n’ Roll” series, he focused the spotlight on Dayton as a cheap place to live and as a small city brimming with talent.
“When Kim Deal first came back to Dayton,” said Mick Montgomery, proprietor of Canal Street Tavern, “You can’t place too small a role in the fact that she brought her boyfriend [Jim Greer] with her. He really understood the whole dynamic of what was happening. He knew a lot about where music came from.”
It was a windfall for the Dayton scene to have such an influential writer living here at the time. Kim Deal introduced Greer to her friends in Guided By Voices and Brainiac, both of whom Greer eventually raved about in SPIN. When GBV released Bee Thousand in the summer of 1994, Greer led the media frenzy, declaring the album a masterpiece, and fomenting GBV as one of the most highly-regarded indie bands of the era.
“[When] the Guided By Voices thing was starting to kick off,” explained Andy Valeri, head of Dayton label Big Beef Records, “It was a heady time. There was a real sort of camaraderie. It was ‘Fuck ya’ll, we’re from Dayton’ and it was a good slogan in a sense. You start having this thing go and then there were these SPIN articles about Dayton, Ohio. It was heady stuff in the sense that pretty soon, ‘Oh, you’re a band from Dayton, Ohio?’ and you’d be getting phone calls.”
One of the corners from which calls started coming into Dayton was indie label Grass Records who signed Brainiac in 1993. The band formed a crucial alliance with the label, and specifically Camille Sciara. Although they left Grass Records behind for Touch-n-Go Records in 1995, Brainiac informed Sciara about their friends in A Ten O’ Clock Scholar and urged her to sign them. Sciara also signed O-Matic, which featured ex-Brainiac guitarist Michelle Bodine.
The camaraderie of Dayton bands during this period served as a catalyst for propelling younger bands into the spotlight and building a strong scene. Under the flag of the long-dormant Rockathon Records, GBV de facto director Robert Pollard issued a pair of albums by fellow Daytonians 84 Nash. GBV’s soundman Dave Doughman capitalized on his connections to propel his band, Swearing at Motorists, into the Dayton scene. Likewise Kim Deal’s work with both Guided By Voices (on Under the Bushes, Under the Stars) and Brainiac (on the Internationale EP), as well as with Real Lulu on their single “Hell,” exemplified the way in which Dayton bands of this era sought to elevate each other.
“You help people out below, it helps prop you up above,” mused Montgomery. “That’s not a bad thing. It only makes sense and it’s a good thing all the way around. I would like to think bands would do that.”
Always a key venue in Dayton, Canal Street Tavern had served as a beacon for original music since its inception in 1981. Dayton bands like Real Lulu (in 1994) and Shrug (in 1995) both won the Dayton Band Play-Offs, going on to become fixtures in the Dayton music scene. By 1994, the annual Dayton Band-Playoffs had grown so large that Mick Montgomery looked outside of his own club for a bigger venue in which to host the event.
“The way that it happened at the Fraze Pavilion,” explained Montgomery, “I was looking for somewhere to do the Band Playoffs and some other shows. It was the first year that they brought in an outside general manager and he was a younger guy. The fact that we had been getting national press, we had been mentioned in Rolling Stone and SPIN and stuff, it was just amazing to him. We did three or four shows one year, and then we said that we’d like to do the finals of the Band Playoffs out there, and he was very welcoming, very accommodating.”
After a failed attempt at having a record store/venue downtown, Ken Gross and his Network Sights and Sounds organization opted to host shows at 1470 in Hills and Dales Shopping Plaza in Kettering. It was not until they relocated yet again to the Palace Club in Beavercreek, however, that Gross and his audiences found a suitable venue for their events.
“Dwaine Wheeler [from 1470] found the Palace Club,” Gross explains. “He invited us out there and gave us Friday night. That was the first time we ever went into a club.”
“At the time,” said Paul McDermott, resident soundman for Network. “The kids were more appreciative of the fact that they had a venue to see shows at. The older kids didn’t want to lose their space to see shows, so if there was someone younger that was trying to drink, they would tell them it wasn’t cool.”
Procuring such underground icons as Shellac and Sebadoh was no small coup, and these shows served notice that Dayton was indeed a formidable underground scene. By 1995, however, Gross and Co. relocated yet again, operating out of the short-lived Chameleon Club in the back of 1470. Despite the perpetual setbacks, Gross and McDermott continued to look for a stable situation for their operations.
Although performance venues were limited during this time, the support of local record labels continued to provide bands with an outlet for their music. Big Beef Records, led by Andy Valeri, released Dayton Band Playoffs champions Real Lulu’s We Love Nick in 1996, as well as a trio of albums by local favorites, the Mulchmen.
Vic Blankenship (of Trader Vic’s) continued to release local records on his Simple Solutions Records imprint as well. During this period, Simple Solutions put out releases by Cage, Real Lulu, as well as a pair of live releases by Guided By Voices, the latter of which, Benefit for the Winos, documented a fabled show at Gilly’s in 1995, which was blasted in the Dayton Daily News by Dave Larsen.
“Bob was convinced that he did that bad,” explained Blankenship. “After we got about six or eight songs in, he was like, ‘What in the world are they talking about?’ We put it out and we put [Dave Larsen’s] review on the cover and just let people decide for themselves.”
Although the local print media was less than kind to local music at times, the public access video program Alternative Edge championed the local scene and aired cutting edge underground videos. Hosted by Denis Mutter, the program offered an essential media outlet for bands of that time.
“From the get go,” explained Mutter, “I felt it was important to feature as much local music as possible. We mentioned every week, ‘Hey, if your band has a video – send it to us!’ and we got a good, albeit sporadic response. Over the years, we had self produced clips from Brainiac, GBV, the Breeders, Oo-Oo-Wa, O-Matic, the Tasties and others.”
After having thrown countless shows at the Sub Galley on Brown Street, Network bought the building and, in 1996, opened the Aardvark Ballroom. A 500-capacity all-ages venue, the Aardvark seemed to fully realize the potential that the Dayton underground scene possessed during this period. Prominent locals like the Breeders and Brainiac, as well as national touring acts like Gwar, all made appearances at the Aardvark. Although it appeared as if the underground scene that had begun in the warehouses of Dayton had flourished into a vibrant music scene, the opening of the venue had just missed its timing.
“The [other] bars [in Dayton] realized that they were going to allow that kind of music in their club,” said Gross. “At the same time we got caught in crossfire. It was just a day late and a dollar short.”
The closing of the Aardvark Ballroom in 1997 stood among a number of windows of opportunity that were slowly closing for the burgeoning Dayton music scene. Kim Deal morphed from the Breeders into the Amps, and then seemingly vanished altogether. After Edgefest in 1996, Robert Pollard disbanded the “classic” GBV lineup and revamped with Cobra Verde from Cleveland as his backing band. Trader Vic’s Music Emporium, which had served as a meeting place and hub of local music for years, closed in the spring of 1997. However, no one was prepared for the tragedy that struck May 23, 1997, sending shockwaves through the Dayton music scene.
Brainiac had ascended into national prominence on the merits of their idiosyncratic sound and their incendiary live shows. The band had been hand picked by Beck to open a string of European tour dates in early 1997 and by spring were in pre-production for an album slated for release on Interscope Records. On the morning of May 23, 1997, Brainiac guitarist/vocalist Tim Taylor was killed in an automobile accident on North Main Street. He was 28 years old.
“It was a big deal,” says Don Thrasher, a music writer for the Dayton Voice [the former name of the DCP] during this period. “It had a huge impact on the people I was around. It took Dave (Doughman) almost eight months to a year to really be able to do anything constructive. It was the same with Jeremy Fredricks [of Cigarhead and Lazy] and Dorsie [Fyffe, of Johnny Smoke] … [Dorsie] left town like right after pretty much and hasn’t been back since. It was just tragic. You see the guy one day and then next day he’s gone.”
“I think if that hadn’t happened,” said Blankenship, “and [Brainiac] had gone ahead and signed their deal [with Interscope], they would have been big. Of course [Tim] would have helped everyone around him. We were all in the whole mission for as many people to make it as possible while the momentum was going and the focus was on Dayton.”
Following Taylor’s passing, the remaining members of Brainiac splintered. Those who were close to Taylor either withdrew from activity or left town altogether. The effects of this tragedy affected nearly everyone in the Dayton music scene and effectively paralyzed Dayton music for years to come …
Thanks to Vic Blankenship, Matt Bowman, Ken Gross, Denis Mutter, Darryl Robbins, Robert Shroyer, Andy Valeri, Chris Wright and for all archival materials.
Part III of “Shocker in Gloomtown” will appear in the Nov. 15 edition of the DCP
Reach DCP Music Editor Kyle Melton at MusicEditor@DaytonCityPaper.com and read his blog at thebuddhaden.net.