Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Spongetones: Powerpop Princes

The Spongetones have quite a following of loyal fans. With four talented musicians, whose talents run the entire musical gamut from songwriting to producing (as well as live show that have to be experienced), it's no surprise. Reviews of their music will be featured here on this blog and readers may leave their comments about the music and shows. Enjoy!

The Spongetones -Oh Yeah!

One of the most underrated power pop bands of the '80s, the Spongetones released several albums of effortlessly catchy guitar pop that captured the feel of '60s British Invasion pop with remarkable accuracy and innocent charm. While they never received much critical or commercial attention, their music has aged much better than most power pop of the era (late-70s early-80s) and among specialists, they're highly revered not only for their studio prowess but also for their spirited live shows. They are one of the few bands to carry on past the "skinny tie" fad into the '90s gracefully — not as strict revivalists but as something unique. The band, comprised of Steve Stockel (vocals, bass), Pat Walters (vocals, guitar), Jamie Hoover (vocals, guitar), and Rob Thorne (drums), began as a covers band in Charlotte, North Carolina in the early '80s.

Read More here: The Spongetones

Oh Yeah! is available fron Oh Yeah!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spongetones--the beginning

First gig
by Steve Stoeckel

I got the call from Pat Walters in 1978. “We’re doing a Beatle thing,” he said, “and your name came up.” It sounded good to me. I had been playing professionally for several years in various bands, none of which were remotely interested in Beatle songs.

Not that I blamed the bands—audiences didn’t seem to care much about the Fabs after 1970 either. The 70’s had few bright spots (Led Zep, for example), and disco was still king. It was almost as if music was pouting after the breakup of the world’s best band, and was deliberately experimenting on finding the bottom of good taste in pop music. The 70’s sucked.

The thought, therefore, of performing the music of my youth with real players was enticing. I showed up for the first practice and found, along with Pat, Rob Thorne on drums and Jake Berger on guitar. I knew Rob from the Catalinas and the New Mix, the latter being a great pop band I’d seen in 1967. I didn’t know Jake at all.

We started by thinking up tunes we wanted to play, and it didn’t take long to come up with a short list—mostly Beatles, Kinks, Stones and, I remember, “Beck’s Boogie,” A tune I’d never played. I think there were a few Hendrix tunes also.

A cool thing was playing these songs as seasoned musicians rather than as struggling teenagers. We found so many wrong chords and lyrics used in our youth. It was also amazing to dissect this music and realize the genius behind its conception. A clever chord substation here, an internal lyric rhyme there—the Beatles were still ahead of the game eight years after their demise. This wasn’t just catchy stuff, it kicked the ass of EVERY SINGLE SONG THAT HAD BEEN ON THE CHARTS SINCE. And if you, dear reader, don’t believe that statement, we aren’t dealing with a difference of opinion, but rather of facts. Enough said on that subject.

A second practice and we were ready to roll. We had chosen The Hitching Post, a now-defunct bar at the corner of Pecan and Monroe Rd., as a venue. The club had a marquee, and we chose (because this was our first and last performance) the most ridiculous name we could think of. I remember standing in the parking lot, laughing at ‘Tonite The Spongetones” on the sign.

The band set up in a corner to the right of the door entrance, no stage, just a carpeted floor as I remember. We has two Sunn speaker columns for a PA (courtesy of Jake). I don’t remember having a soundcheck.

I do remember this, however: unknown to us, there had been a robbery up the street. We were drinking a few beers and chatting with a few early arriving fans when several police came through the door, one holding a shotgun, which got everyone’s attention.

One of them said “No cause for alarm, folks. We just need to check some ID.” Two of them went around the room while shotgun stood near the door. Of course it was the best cause for alarm I’d ever seen, and everyone was looking at everyone else, thinking 1) is it him and 2) am I gonna die here?

After five minutes, they apologized and left. A short time later, with a fair crowd of old friends and curious strangers, we began.

The first thing I remember is how loud we were. I had set my bass amp on its usual volume, and the first song had virtually no bass. So I cranked it up to nearly 10, and dug in. I’m sure the PA sounded like a saxophone.

I don’t remember a lot of songs, but these stand out:

“She’s a Woman.” I was singing, couldn’t believe I could hit those notes. Tommy Smith, a member of my first kid band, shouted out “Go Paul!” after the song was over.

“Wild Thing.” Gary Gear, a friend of Jake’s, sat in on this one, playing guitar and singing.

Past these memories, I can’t recall anything, other than the feeling that it had been immense fun, and a bit of sadness that it wouldn’t be repeated.

-Steve Stoeckel

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Great Government Shutdown Outlaw Adventure

By Steve Stoeckel
When I hear the words “government shutdown,” I get a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. And here is why.

The Spongetones were playing in Morehead City NC at an outdoor festival in 1990, and it occurred to Jamie and me that we were a mere ferry ride from an Outer Banks camping and fishing trip. So, after the gig we offloaded the equipment and took my 4WD Isuzu Trooper on what was to be the best beach adventure ever.

We spent the night at the cheap hotel near the ferry landing and boarded the next morning, arriving at Cape Hatteras by noon. The Cape Point campground was empty, and the entrance was chained; the federal government, we found out, had shut down over a failure to pass a budget. As we pondered what kind of fishing bait a filleted congressman would make, Jamie and I set out to find lodgings. We were too late.

Every private campground and motel was full. “Looks like you boys goan have to head back home,” the guy at the gas station said. We drove north up highway 12 awhile. I spotted a jeep ramp and told Jamie we were not leaving, motel or no motel. I drove down the beach a few miles and parked right near the shoreline.

We got the fishing gear out and spent the afternoon with some success. After a fine dinner cooked over the gas stove, we watched the stars come out and finally put the air mattresses out right next to the high tide line. As I went to sleep listening to the ocean closer that I ever had before, I began to think this had worked out just perfectly.

It was around 3 AM that I woke with a flashlight in my face. I could make out a ranger hat beyond the light, and the Trained Voice of Authority spoke.

‘No sleeping on the beach, guys,” it said. I blinked and tried to focus.

“We’re fishing,” I said, looking in the dark to where I thought our poles were still in their holders.

“Nope. Looks like sleeping,” the voice said. “Carries a fine.” I allowed that there were no places to stay on the island. The voice told us to move and that he’d better not find us there again, and drove south down the beach.

So, the US government had shut down and sent everyone home, and here was one last Barney-effing Fife working WITHOUT PAY to keep his beach safe from the communist, terrorist horde that was sure to invade. I watched his taillights bobble down the beach and, after a fusillade of cursing I turned to Jamie and said “We. Are. Not. Leaving.”

I spotted a tall dune in the dark between the beach and the main dune line, just big enough to hide my truck and a tent. I threw the fishing poles in the back and turned the truck around. We saw the ranger’s tail lights blink, and Jamie yelled “He’s coming back, he’s coming back,” and grabbed both air mattresses and dragged them across the sand, running crouched like a Marine taking a beachhead. We stayed behind the dune until he passed, and pitched the tent behind the dune.

And there we stayed for four glorious days, swimming and fishing all day, eating and drinking at night. We took our beach chairs to the top of our dune one memorable night, and after polishing off an entire bottle of brandy and a six pack of beer, played guitars and sang every song we knew at the top of our lungs, all punctuated with intervals of lunatic laughter and soft spills from the low chairs onto the cool sand. We were harmless crazy, and I’ve not been that way since that night.

We also stank—something we didn’t find out until we got home. After discovering that soap doesn’t lather in the ocean, we gave up on any pretense of bathing or shaving. We were living the Golding life, and since we couldn’t smell each other, we were just fine, thank you. I remember vividly my wife’s reaction upon seeing me—the shudder that comes when inhaling ammonia or swamp gas.

But we drove home happy and exhausted, convinced that we’d had the best, outlawest beach trip in history, which is yet to be disproved.

And that is why Linda, Jamie’s wife, said when we were leaving for Nashville last Friday on the day of a possible government shutdown, ‘You boys need to go camping.”
-Steve Stoeckel

Copyright 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Propeller Flights by The Spongetones

Propeller Flights

This song started out with a demo from Pat. We call these "lalala" demos because there are usually no lyrics, saving possibly a hook line or simply a place-holder line. His was at a much slower tempo than what is on the record but it got me thinking, which is all that really needs to happen.

I have been a devotee of songwriter and poet Bob Lind for years and one thing I really like about what he and other great folk/pop writers do is they make up and/or just tell a story. I brought up the tempo and used acoustic guitar instead of the piano Pat started with to make it folksy and more rhythmic. I decided the story would be about a man of means who had his own small plane who would fall in love/lust with various women in other towns and take flights to romance them—a stud-of-the-sky... I tried to make it compelling by going into the difficulties of doing this long-distance loving. Its romance novel stuff. Fun, and different for me.

The band played it all very simply and organically. Not much at all in the way of overdubs and studio trickery—just basic and simple like good loving should be.

This is a fun tune to play live and goes over well.
Propeller Flights is available on Scrambled Eggs and is available from cdbaby: Scrambled Eggs

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spongetones Interview

Tune in at 8PM on Wednesday February 16, 2011, to hear Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel of The Spongetones on John Darlington's radio show. For those who can't listen live, the show will also be available as a podcast soon after.
John Darlington

If you missed the interview with Jamie and Steve you can listen to the archived interview here: Spongetones interview

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jamie Hoover's guitars, Part II

Part II of Jamie's gear. More photos coming soon!!
Photo to the left: Young Jamie...a guitar god in the making!
This is actually my first electric guitar and I wish I still had it. I never wanted anything so bad in my life. I got it for Christmas in 1968--and this is the picture to prove it. It was purchased by my dad at Lowes, I was told.
    I played this guitar in all my "wonder year" bands, painted it psychedelic dayglow, beat it, learned to play on it, wish I still had it. Sold it for $30 to friend David Lowe--who ended up breaking the neck accidentally and throwing it away. I have the catalog from Teisco still that my dad gave me to pick one of three available. I chose this one but the one in the catalog was blue like the one I still have now. I also have a 4 pickup version of this guitar now--in sunburst. I never named this guitar...until now...."Mr T".

Gibson Les Paul Jr (cherry red)

My first good guitar. I bought this from a friend named Joe, out of his garage for, $80. It is still in really good shape, and all original except I added a tuneable bridge. It has been refretted once. It sounds great—wonderful for playing Cream. You can hear it plaing a lick just before the hook in "Anna.” I have also been known to use it for slide. "Junior"

Peptobismal Pink 12 string (pink) This guitar was assembled from parts by Pat and me. The body is a Fender Mustang that I cut the horns off of...the neck-an Epiphone acoustic 12 string...all scraps from Pat's guitar repair area at Reliable Music in Charlotte. The pickups were Rickenbacker and/or Fakenbacker. The bridge-Kapa. It has a lot of pick guard--which I think looks really cool. I spray painted it Peptobismal Pink and bang--I had a 12 string! It's been on many records-Lana Nana, for one. Crisis's "She's Just A Girl" to name another. It has a wonderful wide neck-I love this teardrop shaped guitar! "Pinky"

Fender 1966 Precision Bass (sunburst)

I found this bass in the 70's with my good friend Buddie Bost, in Kannapolis, NC, where we were both looking for our stolen instruments. They were stolen as we slept at Jerry's Lounge. We found Buddie's Jazz Bass somewhere else—but we never found my mint-shape red single pickup Melody Maker. We did find "Freddy,” however. I used it entirely on Where-Ever-Land, and other tunes as well. It was my only bass for years. I still have it and love it dearly. I played it on all my Smithereens dates. I have a Fender Bassman Ten that I use on everything. Wonderful combination!

Hofner 70's Beatle bass (sunburst)

We came across this bass in Nashville, TN, while playing, I believe at The Exit Inn. An old friend, Fred Artibee, came up with it as asked me if I wanted it. $100. Later it was mine.

Pat added a whalebone bridge and that's it. Great sounding bass and has been mostly my bass on ‘Tones records when I've played bass. Light and lovely! "Paulie"

Teisco Del Ray NB4 bass (sunburst)

I absolutely LOVE this bass! It is my newest addition to the bass flock. I bought it from Chip Coleman (Coleman Music) for $200 because it has no logo and the headstock was split so that the Smurf curl was gone. It still played fine. Pat restored the headstock back to Smurf-like appearance and added a bridge that was adjustable. Now it plays great and in tune! It has the fattest tone ever. I used it on my bass stuff on Scrambled Eggs and English Afterthoughts. So cool, this bass!"Tommy"

Ibanez EB3 copy bass (brown)

This bass came in Reliable in trade, cost me $250, making it the most expensive bass I ever bought. It is worth the least. I play it almost exclusively on "I Am the Walrus,” although it is great for Cream; really most anything.

Rouge Single Pickup Electric Sitar (weird red textured finish)

I had this shipped to my studio in Charlotte for $205. Total! I bought it to use on a Michael Slawter track (Outside Guiding Lights) I was producing. I have used it a lot. Cruel and Unusual Punishment, to name one ‘Tones track. Very cool guitar. Lipstick pickup and Pat added a Stratoblaster-like preamp to kick up the pickup a bit to match my others. When I need one...I got one....

Epiphone Mandobird (sunburst)

Linda gave this to me for Christmas after I played one with Hootie and the Blowfish. It is so cute—a replica of my Firebird! I used it on King Ampersand. It's a great studio trick instrument.
"Mini Me"

Epiphone Acoustic Mandolin (sunburst)

Linda (God love her) also gave me this for Christmas. I added a pickup but hardly ever use that. It has been on many records. I used it on Return the Boy. I played it with Marti Jones for years on Follow You All Over the World.
"Nelson Mandolian"

Martin Ukulele (natural mahogany)

Steve is 100% responsible for all of us being addicted to the uke. They are such wonderful little things and there is nothing you can't do with one. Steve has brought so many interesting things to cover with the uke—“She's Leaving Home,” to name one. It spread to me—within days of getting my uke for Christmas (again—thanks Linda) I wrote "Easy With You,” which I think is a quite unique tune. We use them all over English Afterthoughts too. Steve's is called "Spanky"—a really cool, old Martin. Mine- "Napoleon"

McSpadden Mountain Dulcimer (natural)

Again—thanks to Linda and Santa. Pat was the first to use a dulcimer in the solo of "Better Luck Next Time, a totally magical sound. Since then, I have used dulcimer loads of times to beef up acoustic guitars. It seems to make them more ethereal. It is basically a mountain sitar in effect. Easy to play, beautiful to hear.  "Dulcy"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jamie Hoover's guitars, Part 1

Jamie Hoover (Spongetones, Jump Rabbits, Jamie & Steve, among other music projects) tells us a bit about his guitars. More photos will be added in the near future so be sure to check back!

If you have a guitar question for Jamie, feel free to post it in the comments section and he will get to questions as time allows. We hope you enjoy!

Hofner Super Beatle-6 string. (Sunburst) I had this when I was asked to be in the band.  Traded a gold top 70's Les Paul Deluxe for it—and never looked back. I got it in Waynesville, MO. I dearly love this cool guitar. Built-in fuzz and treble boost. Great wang bar too! I used this-entirely, to my memory-on Beat Music. I had a modified-by-Steve Vox Royal Guardsman amp and a Sunn 4x12's cabinet. The amp was in effect changed to a Fender Showman. Pretty much the same Boss pedal arrangement I have now, as I recall. "Hoffie"

Fender Acoustic (sunburst)

This guitar used to be a plain finish and Pat sunbursted it and added the volume, and volume and tone knobs to make it look like a Gibson J160-like JL's. "John"
(PatWalters is playing his Gibson J45!)

Rickenbacker 330 (red)
Got this as it came in to Reliable Music where all the rest of the band worked in the 80's-Pat snagged it for me. Lovely guitar. Used it mostly on Torn Apart and for tons of gigs back then—there are many pictures of us together. It has that great Who/The Jam tone! Pat wired it to cut out the Rick capacitors with a push-pull pot in treble position. Much better sounding. Originally had other more rare pickups with upward facing screws in them. Replaced with chrome bars—added a third un-wired one for years-recently took it back off. Great power chord recording guitar—been on many many records I've produced. "Roderick"

Teisco Del Ray-2 pickup (blue)
Friend and music store owner Don Tillman rescued this guitar from a trash can, literally. He sold it to me for $10! The best ten I ever spent! It is just like my first electric I ever got—except it was blue, not sunburst—and it has the more expensive pickups. This is the guitar heard in the intro on My Girl Maryanne! I love this old thing! "Old Blue"

Rickenbacker Liverpool (black)
My wife Linda actually gave me this guitar—brand new—on Christmas! It was my main axe for years—all through The ‘Tones and Don Dixon/Marti Jones and Graham Parker tours. It was on the "Tonight Show" with GP and I actually broke a string during the taping. It had 3 rick pickups with the big screw tops. Changed them out for 3 chrome bars. The middle position is not connected. It has a rick vibrato—added by me. Great guitar but frets are too small now for my fingers that have somehow grown over the years. I still record with it some—great sound.

Rickenbacker 325 Capri 1958-very rare (blonde/natural)
This guitar was sold to us at a gig in Greenville, NC at The Attic—in pieces. Pat reconstructed it—I fell in love with it and bought it from the band. It has been wired in many ways, many different pickups, and is currently reconstructed to be exactly like it was depicted in certain John Lennon pictures. It is very rare—one of a handful ever made and now still left in the world. It plays better than any other 325s or 320s I've ever played. It is rumored that it could have even been cut from the same tree as Lennon's, although impossible to verify this possibility. I cherish it. I had a 70's one and sold it—although I did play it a great deal and it has been/used on ‘Tones records—I can't say which tracks. The 58 has been used too, but I can't name those tracks either. It sounds just like "I Feel Fine" intro. I will part with it at death. "Little Ricky"

Gretsch Tennessean (reddish)
This guitar originally belonged to Pat—and he put a lot of love into it before it went to me. He put all his great Mojo on it. It became my mainstay too for a number of years and is still always carried to gigs and played—usually sometime every night. I use flat-wound strings on it. Pat altered the pickups—they are actually small humbuckers with the Gretsch covers on—to make it look stock. Its hollow body is filled with foam to help with squeal/feedback. Regular feedback is still perfect. I also love this axe. "George"

Gibson Firebird (reissue-sunburst)
This is by far my favorite electric guitar ever—it has been m main axe since I bought it new from Music City in Asheville, NC and shipped to my studio. It is completely stock, with the exception of a very cool looking wang bar (idiot stick) that Pat added for me. It had been on most everything since Too Clever By Half; also the entire Don Dixon and the Jump Rabbits CD. I needed a wider neck after I had carpel tunnel surgery and this fine instrument was the answer.

When I got it I was recording Jet Set Baby for Leisure McCorkle. They shipped me a white one, which I didn't want—so Leisure took that one. The next day they sent mine. We pronounced it "Thcott"—Scott-with a lisp. We all thought it was funny—but the name that has stuck for years is "Gumby."

Gibson J45 Acoustic (sunburst)

In 1994 I decided that I had been a good boy and deserved this brand new guitar so Linda and I took a daytrip to Asheville, NC, and bought this wonderful thing from Bee Three Vintage Guitars—an official Gibson out-of-his-house dealership. At some point—on the Blue Ridge Parkway—I had to just pull over and play it for a white. Its case says "Montana" on it—so I named him simply "Monty.” Monty has been all over the country with me. The older he gets, the better he sounds. He is a 1994 Anniversary Model. I couldn't be without this fine instrument.