Thursday, July 08, 2010

Circus Town
- it's on the airwaves Sunday night

frank portrait
Frank Secich

I first met Frank Secich in 1979 when he was working with Stiv Bators. Frank was a member of what I call The Latter Day Dead Boys. That band morphed into the group some people call The Stiv Bators Band, and that I refer to as the Disconnected Band, as they were the group that recorded Stiv's solo album of the same name. They also all contributed to the songwriting.

frank stiv tub

It would be Stiv's third (mostly) Ohio super-group. Come to think of it, Stiv only ever was in Super Groups (Frankenstein, now legendary, became the Dead Boys. Stiv then joined Sham 69 when Jimmy Pursey went AWOL, forming The Wanderers, and took a Wanderer with him, together with The Damned's Brian James and The Barracudas Nicky Turner to form Lords of the New Church. In between, there was work with Dee Dee Ramone and with Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks.) But the Stiv Bators / Disconnected Band was the one that laid the groundwork for a lasting pop contribution from one of punk rock's loudest and snottiest voices.

discon band 1
Frank's wearing the shades.

Its almost unfair to talk about Frank Secich's contributions to the musical world solely in connection with his high school friend, Steven John Bator. Back in the early 70s, Frank was a member of the seminal power pop band, Blue Ash. If you were an Ohioan, your power pop thirst was slaked by some excellent local bands, including The Choir (who, when Eric Carmen joined, eventually morphed into The Raspberries) and Blue Ash.

Blue Ash was signed to Mercury Records and recorded the highly regarded cult classic album called No More No Less. Though Mercury dropped them in 1973, Frank and co continued playing and recording together until 1979. When Frank joined the Bators circus, Stiv told me it was a real coup that Frank now had the time to work with him in transforming his Dead Boys success into one that would allow him to make a pop record. While "Disconnected" is the brilliant sum total of their collaboration, in 1979, with an ad-hoc group of players, Stiv and Frank recorded a brilliant and faithful cover of The Choir's hit single, "It's Cold Outside" for Bomp Records, beginning a relationship for the musicians that lasts to this day.

stvcold stiv frank rats

In 2005, The Disconnected Band had a reunion with some other Ohio players to record a tribute to Bomp! Records founder, Greg Shaw, who had passed away the previous October.

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Disconnected Band - connected in 2005, Youngstown, Ohio

At the time, Frank was hinting at the reunion of Blue Ash for some gigs, which did happen - and their album was reissued in a collector's edition. And he was inspired by the sum total of all to write new songs and start playing music live.

Armed with a lifelong fascination with Buddy Holly, Frank started writing, and The Deadbeat Poets were born. Their debut album, Notes From the Underground was a critical fave. They did some gigs, got more rave reviews, and Frank kept writing.

Circus Town was 14 months in the making. Circus Town is a real and a figurative place. Frank drew inspiration from an abandoned amusement park, and like one of his musical heroes, Ray Davies, Frank constructed an imaginary narrative that he and bandmate/co-songwriter Terry Hartman used as a launch pad for the album... like any Kinks record - full of colorful characters, too weird not to be real scenarios and simply magnificent music.

When Frank and I chatted recently about the songs on Circus Town, I had to ask him the obvious: dude, this is a tip of the hat to the Kinks, right? and in many ways, it is. Frank told me that in 1969, the first time Blue Ash ever rehearsed together, the first song they played was, in fact, a Kinks song! And like our mutual fave songwriter, Ray Davies, Frank sings a tale about a local character, Elvin Dabney, Professional Thief, a real life person whose cousin was a school mate of Frank's who would regale him with tall tales of the bona fide professional thief... the kind of guy that other guys want to be, probably for the chicks that dig them.

Another real life personality whose larger than life tale is memorialized in song is Joe Meek. In The Staircase Stomp, the bizarre murder/suicide by the hand of Meek is described in a kind of Ray Davies meets Bob Dylan lyric. Frank told me that he has become friendly with Patrick Pink, who was there at the scene of the crime, its only witness and held Meek's dying landlady in his arms, that fateful day, February 3, 1967 (the anniversary of Buddy Holly's death, and coincidentally, the same day - in 2010 - that the album Circus Town was finished... rising like a phoenix out the ashes of much mutual Buddy Holly appreciation from the living and the dead musicians name-checked here).

I think this story could possibly be better told by another raconteur... this coming Sunday, in fact - July 11, 2010... on the radio... Little Steven's Underground garage will pay tribute to Joe Meek, the legendary producer... the man who brought you the garage rock classic, "Telstar," and you can hear The Deadbeat Poets tune The Staircase Stomp in context with the very strange tale of the life and death of Joe Meek.

frank headphones
Frank in the studio, 1980

I had to ask Frank why so many of my musician friends were fascinated with Joe Meek. Sure, what a bizarre character; you couldn't dream up such a man. Frank confirmed that it was "Telstar" but went on to explain why... that in the world of the music producer, the innovative techniques that Meek used - the overdubbing on now-primitive one and two track machines, the direct input of the bass, use of compression and also of effects like echo and reverb - would foreshadow tricks of the trade we now can't live without.

I love the punk rock DIY attitude. I love the way The Deadbeat Poets took something dark and set it to pretty music in Circus Town and I think you'll like it too.

1 comment:

robbie said...

Great artical,Just love The Deadbeat Poets
Im really thrilled with Circus Town
and Just love "The Staircase Stomp"
It a real pleasure Being a friend of Franks
Thank you Patrick Pink