Tuesday, July 22, 2008

BILL BASSET BAND - "Juvenile and Boring" 1992-1994

“Drakesville Reunion” was an all day event of bluegrass bands, vendors and loads of Amish people gathered together in Drakesville, IA once a year. In the summer of 1992, Mike and I went with his father and watched probably a dozen or more bluegrass groups play, each sounding more or less the same, blending in with the next and not very interesting for someone like me who grew up listening to heavy metal. Each group consisted of clean-cut, well dressed middle aged people playing on what looked like brand new equipment. This isn’t what I expected bluegrass musicians to look like, so I couldn’t help but to feel a little cheated. Just as I had totally lost interest in what was happening on the stage, this old, grizzled guy with a huge gray beard took the stage wearing bib-overalls and a railroad conductor’s hat, dragging a beat-up upright bass with duct tape on it to fix cracks it sustained from years of abuse. From the strings of his bass were small stuffed animals hanging, swinging back and forth as he played. This was Bill Bassett, an exciting moment in an otherwise boring day.
BILL BASSETT BAND formed that evening after returning home. Mike and I were inspired to start our own band, in hopes of being able to play next year’s “Drakesville Reunion”. Needless to say, this wasn’t something we pursued, but it was enough to get us started.
Starting out in Mike’s music room on the ground level of his house we recorded a few songs, then after waking up his mother, we moved it down to the far corner of his basement. For the most part Mike played guitar and sang. I played percussion on tin cans, pieces of metal, electric fan and whatever else I could find, sang and played guitar on a few songs. We recorded the songs immediately after coming up with a guitar part, the vocals mostly improvised, everything done in one or two takes. We stayed up all night playing and recording songs.
The tape we used for the recording was really shitty, like the worst quality tape you could imagine. Regardless, we thought the songs were pretty funny, so we decided to dub copies of it and give them out to unsuspecting people. “The Gospel According to Bill” was released, each with a unique hand drawn cover at first, later with a photocopied cover. Around 30 copies of this tape were given away, a good portion of which probably ended up in the trash.
We were smarter the next time we recorded and used a new tape instead of one that had been recorded over a dozen times. The “Bill Bassett’s Railroad Hat” and “Bill Bassett’s Cute Little Fuzzy Stuffed Animals Hanging From His String Bass Band” EPs were recorded, but went unreleased. A second release finally came about in the form of the “I Wanna Play at the Drakesville Bluegrass Festival” tape, featuring re-recorded versions of some of the fan favorites and new songs, Mike’s brother Mark joining in on banjo on a few songs. Around 40 copies of this second tape were made.
This “Juvenile and Boring” CDR was compiled by Mike and released on his Mighty Feeble Lo-Fi label. Mike did a good job of selecting the more listenable songs, eliminating the garbage that nobody really needs to hear today. Below is a review of the second tape from Spank Zine (I think it was Spank?) Mike included in the CDR layout.
“Super lo-fi the way it’s meant to be done: a bunch of kids, some boom boxes and a complete disregard for self-censorship. This is total kitchen sink music, including two songs about plankton, two about cigarettes, samples of a Korean acupuncturist, tin can drums, a woodpecker, an electric fan, and shoddy editing. Ahhh, there’s nothing like the mellow sound of a three dollar built-in condenser microphone. It’s obvious that members Andy, Mike and Mark have the time of their lives recording themselves goofing around. Songs like “At Bobby’s House” and “Jumping Rope” are both silly and poignant in a way that reminds me of some of John Prine’s older stuff. Others like “Uncle Bob” and “Jimmy Brown” are utterly inane and devoid of substance, yet pull this listener through because of their sheer ridiculousness. Listening to this album, I feel like I’m hearing a time capsule of these guys as they sail through uncharted musical territory. Their unabashed experimentation and their omnipresent sense of humor paint a vivid picture of these weird individuals as they put together songs about subjects that no one else would want to, using instruments that nobody else would want to use, making music that anyone else might simply dismiss as juvenile and boring. There is simple charm found in this collection of 29 songs that is quite uncommon in today’s self-conscious indie rock world. Kudos!"

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