Posts Tagged With: Ross Grady

Steve Grothmann counts down

GrothmannLast year, when UT Press unveiled its online “Losering” catalog listing with an excerpt including the book’s preface, the very first person I heard from was original Whiskeytown bassist Steve Grothmann. He sent me the link, and a congratulatory note mentioning that he was among those who witnessed the events described in the preface:

btw, I was the bartender that night at the Berkeley when the Dix patient took over the bar. He threw a bunch of bottles at the cops, and I cleaned up broken glass ’til the sun came up. Jennifer nudged me that this guy seemed dangerous, her radar was on, and then it escalated. 

That had me smacking my forehead, because I didn’t remember Steve being there that night and this would have been a great little extra detail to have in there (my reply began, “NOW you tell me this???!!!”). But so it goes; if I ever have the opportunity to revise “Losering” for a future printing, that is definitely going in, along with all the other pithy details that have come to light since the book was published.

Steve has traveled a long and varied road since leaving Whiskeytown in 1996, right before the band signed its major-label deal with Outpost Records. If memory serves, the first time I saw him onstage after that was in 6 String Drag’s horn section. That was around the time Steve also emerged with a new funk-slanted band called the Tonebenders — check out this 1998 No Depression feature I wrote on them. But Steve’s most notable post-Whiskeytown venture would be Countdown Quartet, which he started up with Tonebenders hornman Dave Wright in 1999.

Wide-ranging, free-swinging and lots of fun, Countdown Quartet has always sort of been the Triangle’s answer to Booker T & the MGs — only with vocals. Squirrel Nut Zippers co-founder Jimbo Mathus was a part-time member for a long stretch, and he added plenty of blue-note funk. I remember them being one of the hardest-working bands in town. For about five years, it seemed like I never attended a local show, party or wedding where the Countdown guys weren’t playing in some capacity or configuration.

Although Steve declined to be formally interviewed for “Losering,” he was immensely helpful in providing historical background. We had some e-mail back and forth about Whiskeytown’s earliest recordings, in which he filled in a few details about how the band cut its fantastic cover of “Blank Generation” for the 1995 Richard Hell tribute album Who The Hell  (see Chapter 4). For all you tech-nerd studio types interested in things like this:

I recorded it on my 4 track cassette machine, in the living room of the house Jennifer and I were renting then, near North Hills in Raleigh. As I remember we set up sort of like being on a stage, drums and amps in a line facing forward, with two mics in the room, one toward each side facing us– like we were playing to an audience of two mics. The vocals were overdubbed, I believe. It was LOUD, really LOUD, and simply done, and really fun.

I mixed the 4 tracks a little and Ross Grady came over and we just played the stereo mix into his portable DAT machine and that was that.

I remember that a bunch of  Voidoids songs had already been claimed by other bands involved in this project, and I was really glad that “Blank Generation” was still available. I transcribed the lyrics for Ryan as best I could- they’re hard to get, (this was before any lyric was on the internet) – and then he came back with completely different chords than the original. Basically, the same verses put to new music, which is the same thing we did with Nervous Breakdown– and it turned out much better than if we had more strictly “covered” the song.

Also, here is how Steve remembered Whiskeytown coming together at Sadlack’s back in 1994:

CDQSadlacksStompWhiskeytown version 1 started around Sadlack’s and the house where Ray Duffey and Phil W[andscher] and Dave Wright lived on Park Ave. Skillet owned Sads at the time, and a bunch of NCSU English masters students hung there — Caitlin and me included. Phil worked there and then Caitlin and Ryan too eventually.

6 String Drag, Whiskeytown, and How Town (Dave Wright’s band) rehearsed at the house on Park, and the Tonebenders must have started there too. At that time Ray Duffey played drums with all of those except Whiskeytown, and I was in the Tonebenders later too, and the Countdown Quartet eventually came out of that.  Dave W and I were the part time horn section for 6 String Drag. Lots of creative people hanging out.

A version of Countdown Quartet still exists today, gigging on an occasional basis (including last October’s YR15 shows; check this). But they’ve not been heard from on-record since 2002, when they put out an album with a title paying tribute to the place where it all started: Sadlack’s Stomp. Steve has another band going nowadays, too — Clear Spots, a noisy garage-type band he classifies as “hard to describe,” long on feedback with some Neil Young overtones. I look forward to seeing them sometime soon.

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Artifacts from long ago: The “Suck” contract

RossGradyRoss Grady’s name comes up a couple of times throughout “Losering,” which is fitting. He’s been an important presence in Triangle music for more than two decades, as a writer, deejay, obsessive chronicler, devoted fan, gadfly and all-around bon vivant. Ross was friends with various members of Whiskeytown as the group was forming in 1994 and he’d known of Ryan before that, when Ryan would call up trying to talk himself onto the WKNC local-music radio show Ross did. Ross discussed that when I interviewed him for the book in 2011:

I remember I was living on Cutler in Boylan Heights in about 1993, circa Patty Duke Syndrome. My phone was ringing, I answered and it was this Ryan Adams guy who wanted to tell me things about what he was doing. There was this adorable assumption that I’d give a shit, even though I’m pretty sure I had no idea at the time who he was. You know, jerks call all the time telling you crap you don’t want to hear about their awesome band. But at some level, Ryan was qualitatively different. It was funny as opposed to disturbing, which calls like that usually are. What was sort of endearing about Ryan was he had absolutely zero self-consciousness at all about it. He just had this assumption that you needed to know what he was doing, but not in an obnoxious way like 50 other people you could name. I can’t put my finger on why. I almost feel like it was because I’d never heard of anything he was talking about. Usually when people call they’ve already mailed their stupid tape, I’ve seen their stickers in every bathroom around town and they have a reputation as being irritatingly self-promotional. Ryan was the same, but somehow I’d never heard of him.

Ross wrote the earliest story on Whiskeytown that I could find — January 1995 in The Independent, an alternative country-themed piece about Whiskeytown (then “Whiskey Town”) and Pine State in which 20-year-old Ryan declared, “I don’t have time to be unclear — I’m going to die someday.” A bit more than three years after that, Ross had an entertaining interaction with Ryan at a show in the spring of 1998. It was a well-oiled conversation that concluded with Ryan drawing up a “contract” promising the following:

I hearby give Ross Fucking Grady the rights to anything I did that sucked.

You can read more about this in Chapter 10. The document in question is archived for posterity online here  — or you can check it out below. In October 2001, not long after the big Guitatown dustup, Ross posted a picture of this to the online newsgroup alt.music.chapel-hill under the heading “The ‘Suck’ Trial.” That triggered several days of lively commentary, including Ross’ own observation that he “should start seeing checks from Gold any fucking day now.”

SuckContract

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