Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Little Look Back At D.C. Legends The Now

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I was worst kind of record store snob in 1989 or so. Buying mainly CDs on the 4AD and Creation labels from the import bins at D.C.'s Tower and Olsson's, I'd only listen to other stuff at work at the University of Maryland Record Co-Op, or in the car. I was even buying a lot of classical CDs for goodness' sake!!!

It's not an exaggeration to say that Rich Carlson, my coworker at the Record Co-Op, significantly broadened my musical horizons in one moment. Rich was a great guy to work with and he certainly made that last year of the Record Co-Op's existence more enjoyable. Rich was the keyboard player in D.C. band The Now. Of course, I had heard of The Now but I was a decided snob about local bands, especially in the era we're talking about, when D.C. was known mainly for Dischord stuff and a few years before those College Park kids put the area on the map for bands that would end up on the Slumberland Records label.

So one Saturday, Rich and I are holding down the fort, staring out at an empty store and shooting the shit, when I start to explain my avoidance of the harDCore scene in D.C. and Rich finds a copy of the first Fugazi 12 inch in the bins -- this was before the Co-Op liquidated all the vinyl and those aforementioned College Park, pre-Slumberland Records kids bought up all the good, cool records at markdown prices -- and he put on "Waiting Room". I knew the tune somehow -- from going to the 9:30 Club and hearing a DJ like Lamont Prince spin it? -- and recognized those hooks and riffs.

I hung my head in shame. "Alright. You win. That is awesome."

Rich added, "I think there's a copy of 7 Songs on tape over there on the shelf."

(I think this was before Dischord ever released a CD.)

I raced to the rack. My weekend -- and many more -- was soundtracked by that tape blaring out of my boombox in the car (I didn't have an in-dash stereo).

As for Rich? I paid a lot more attention to what he said about music the next year we worked together.

Here's another Now connection. That dude on the left, Fluffy Hays Centner, I would see at the (old) 9:30 Club all the time. I was getting into a lot of shows thanks to working for a record store and having label connections and I even briefly reached a point when I can remember Fluff not even checking the guestlist when I showed up in line once or twice. Fluffy would visit the Co-Op to see Rich and then I learned that he was doing sound for The Now.

Gene Hawkins, the other guy in that pic, died far too young. I'm not going to opine on that 'cause I'm not a person qualified to do that. But he's missed by loads of fans. I can tell you that. Anyway, in 1988, I walked off the job at the College Park Record and Tape Exchange. I go back to the store a week or so later and see this stylish and cool dude sitting at the counter. That dude was Gene. I think he's the lucky/unlucky fellow who got my job there. This would have been in late summer 1988 or so, right before I went to the Record Co-Op and probably before I ever heard of The Now.

Fluff, in an awesome hat and shirt combo, doing sound for The Now. And The Now in live action at The Bayou...


And later in that era I learned that Bruce Levin, former Record Co-Op employee and the one customer whose love of pretentious stuff like Dead Can Dance and David Sylvian was equal to my own, had inexplicably been in the "ska" band The Now.

Gene is rocking white socks with that ensemble. When I do that people think I'm an idiot but he looks like the perfect ska/mod frontman here...

I recently asked Rich some questions about the rise of The Now and here are his thoughts.

Before The Now, I was just a bum working at Penguin Feather. I had moved to D.C. for work after high school in Michigan in 1985 [and the band started] in 1987....The band arose from all of us hanging out at Posuers and Back Alley...and in our druken haze, [we] said "Let's start a Band!"...We didn't start out as a ska band...it evolved that way. It started out as more of a Mod-Alternative thing in the vein of The Jam, of mid-career Damned -- think Strawberries era -- or The Clash. The ska label only came later, and even then only about 1/3 of the set was ska. Thus, the ska scene never really embraced us...We liked to think we created our own scene...he [Gene Hawkins] left 'cause some in the band didn't like the fact that he joined Lucy Brown, and was devoting time to both...basically Darby said pick one, and he chose the one he thought could get signed first...After Gene left, we brought on Michael [Bland] and Tony [Rogers] (our drummer Juan left when Gene did, and Tony took his place)...After The Now broke up, I finished my B.S. in Anthropology at the University of Maryland and moved to Michigan in '94 to get my PhD in Anthropology at Michigan State. That why I'm now called 'Dr. Dick,' and that will be my stage-name in my future punkabilly band.

And, while many remember The Now for all their opening gigs on the East Coast -- though, as Rich was proud of telling me at the time, The Ocean Blue opened for them! -- many folks might have forgotten about Skatley Crue. Featuring some Now dudes, plus 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz on drums, and D.C. legend Kenny Inouye from Marginal Man, Skatley Crue had a fair measure of success in the D.C. area and they opened up for The Fleshtones, Dread Zeppelin, Black Market Baby, and The Skatalites, as well as a version of The English Beat with Ranking Roger.

An enormous thanks to Rich Carlson for sharing his memories of The Now. And I stole all these pics from The Now Facebook page so I urge you to visit that:
www.facebook.com/TheNowDC

Here's a live cut with some really nice vocals from Gene...

Post-Gene Hawkins single produced by Earl Hudson of Bad Brains...

And for reference: the legend that was Skatley Crue...ripping Priest a new one...

A look at some of the more memorable gigs that The Now were a part of...

I can remember Rich talking about this one. What a line-up!

A gig with Dot Dash's Danny Ingram when he was in Strange Boutique...

I'm pretty sure that I was at this gig. The dude from The Skunks used to come into the University of Maryland Record Co-Op to talk to Rich a lot. At the time of this show, I was probably unaware of much of the legacy of Government Issue. Weatherhead was a project of G.I.'s John Stabb and he'd later branch out again in the excellent Emma Peel...

I didn't go to this one but I remember hearing about it. I can attest that Ziggy Marley was surprisingly popular for a spell. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I remember selling more Ziggy tapes than Pixies CDs in 1989 but I don't want to burst any bubbles...