Its recent historyKeeping It Tight in the Old Dominion tells the history of rock music in Virginia from the 1950's and the rockabilly of Gene Vincent to the punk energy of Cloak/Dagger and Conditions in the 21st century and everything in between. The book's approach is done with interviews with over sixty musicians from the '50's to the current time. This story needs to be told because no one has ever tried anything like it before. It has been this author's dream to tell this story because of an easy camaraderie with the musicians.
book excerpt by Pete Crigler
I talked to Michael Bishop of GWAR for forty-five minutes while I was still in college and he answered every question I could've had about GWAR or Kepone and to think that someone would want to talk to a college kid about stuff he'd done over a decade ago just shows the power of music and what people have managed to do in their lives since then.
When the 1990's rolled around, metal was still the big thing but a huge change was in the air. In Virginia, that change had already started to happen and would soon explode as one of the centers of mid-'90s college rock.
One of the first bands to make a scene in the '90's was Wingtip Sloat. Coming out of Falls Church, the band came together in the late '80's, playing small gigs wherever they could. By the end of the decade, they had started tightening their sound and recorded the results and released their first tape in 1990, As Though I Was Waiting for That. Guitarist Patrick Foster told me about that time in 2007: "We did not belong to any scene. We were simply a band that practiced several times a week in the basement of our bass player's parents house. We listened intently to our favorite bands and tried to do our own version of them."
Releasing several more cassettes and EP's, the band began to experiment with different sounds on 1994's Chewyfoot. While this new change was not met with high critical praise, the band carried on regardless of what happened around them. After 1998's If Only for the Hatchery, they entered into a state of permanent hiatus. As Patrick said, "We get together and play sporadically, work on music via digital transfers. Mostly we are happy to jam on occasion. Our families occupy most of our time now." Releasing a rarities set in 2007, Add This to Rhetoric, the band's dormancy continues but their legacy is still present in every indie rock band that comes out of Virginia.
The next to come out was the indie pop of Tsunami, out of Arlington. Led by the dynamic duo of Kristin Thomson and Jenny Toomey, the band formed in late 1990 and immediately started making an impression. When Thomson and Toomey formed Simple Machines Records not long afterward, they began quickly progressing forward with the release of their first tape and EP in 1991. The formation of the record company was brought about by previous experience as Jenny talked about in an interview, "I was in other bands, besides Tsunami, and we had stuff that we'd recorded, and no one else was going to put it out, so we started the record label". Kristin Thomson told me in 2008 about how people were quickly interested in what the band was doing and they were soon able to leap onto a trend of other female-fronted bands and were able to establish themselves.
When they released their first full-length, Deep End in 1993, the band began touring nationally and were able to capitalize by joining the second stage of Lollapalooza that year. They also began attracting some major label attention but ignored it all and kept themselves and the label strictly DIY. With this new success, the band was able to constantly tour and continued making records, including 1994's The Heart's Tremolo and the following year's compilation, World Tour and Other Destinations.
With the release of the compilation, the band began undergoing some lineup changes and tried to adjust themselves. But as Kristin told me, their new members also had side careers going on, drummer Luther Gray was a session musician and bassist Amy Domingues was a teacher. However in 1998, after the release of the previous year's A Brilliant Mistake, Kristin and Jenny decided to bring the band to an end. At the same time, they also decided to close down Simple Machines. The girls threw a farewell party for the label and after a short tour, they gracefully bowed out as well. As Kristin told me, she had gotten married in 1995 and every member was scattered throughout the East Coast so getting everyone together to tour and record became more difficult.
After the demise of the band and the label, Kristin and Jenny continued working together, forming the Future of Music Coalition. Jenny now works at the Ford Foundation and has released a few solo albums, including 2001's Antidote and the band is in a state of permanent hiatus but has played two reunion shows at the LadyFest in 2001 and again in 2003. The band's impact and determination definitely has shown its effects on numerous other bands to come.
Coming out of JMU was Everything, a pop-rock-ska band. Forming in 1989, the band had released two indie records, 1991's Play and 1992's Solid before signing to Capricorn Records and releasing Labrador in 1993. The record failed due to label problems so they continued touring and building their reputation. In 1996, they released a self-titled live record after managing to get off Capricorn, which also failed to connect and the band began to feel that time was running out.
The band's fortunes were about to change dramatically however. In 1997, they signed with Blackbird, a small subsidiary of Sire Records and re-entered the studio to work on their next record. When Super Natural was released in 1998, it initially didn't do anything to raise their profile. A radio DJ picked out the song "Hooch" and started spinning it. Before long, listener response began to grow and spread across the country. By the end of the year, the band had a massive hit on their hands and the record had sold over 300,000 copies.
Saxophonist Steve Van Dam said about that time, "I remember riding in or van through Charlotte and first hearing 'Hooch' on the radio, that was a sweet moment for us. Sharing big stages with DMB or Coolio... good times, amazing energy when you're playing for that many people... fame, if u call it that was pretty surreal, and brief, thankfully." But just as soon as success had hit, the band ran into a snag. Problems with their label began to multiply and soon showed the band the downside to success. Steve told me in 2009, "After Sire was taken over by London, and our new bosses didn't want to spend $ on the follow-up single, we were on the ropes, and then the AOL/Time Warner merger ended Blackbird, and thus our major label deal." Stepping back after their dance with the majors and success, they came back to an indie and released People are Moving in 2001. The band was happy to be back in that position and continued on their homegrown path, releasing several new albums throughout the decade including 2006's In the Juju Underworld. They continue touring and enjoy what they do but the members have new careers on the side, including Van Dam who now does music for film/television. The band's time in the spotlight may have been brief but they are remembered by fans all over the country.
Next to come was Egypt out of Fairfax, but originally got their start in D.C. The band was heavy rock-funk, which was quite different from everything else that was coming out at that time. Formed in the late '80's by Andy Waldeck and Joe Lawlor, the band began playing constantly around Fairfax, Arlington and D.C. Playing around as a five-piece and gaining opening slots for major R&B acts, the band suffered through a series of lineup changes, which only made them stronger. After losing their frontman in 1990, the band decided that Andy should become the frontman, so he did. Continuing to tour, they made a lot of new converts but were still thinking they could find a true frontman, that way Andy wouldn't have to do so much. Through a strange series of events, they ended up finding Jeff Broadnax.
Broadnax, who came from Norfolk, first gained notoriety by joining 24-7 Spyz to replace their departed frontman P. Fluid in 1990 after he abruptly announced his departure on stage at the Boathouse in Norfolk. Broadnax told me in 2008 about joining up with the Spyz, "I hooked up with Jimi (Hazel, guitarist and leader) and moved to New York and rehearsed for 2 months." The band had already signed a deal with Atlantic subsidiary EastWest and were soon recording their first material as a new band. After releasing the This is...24-7 Spyz! EP and subsequently, Strength in Numbers, they found themselves almost being sabotaged by the label who were focusing all their attention on En Vogue and Pantera. Jeff told me about that time, "It was great to get signed but the label had no idea how to label the band" and soon after some aborted touring, the band called it quits and Jeff moved on, which is how he found Egypt. He'd been a fan and told me he "basically called Andy and asked to join Egypt". After some quick discussion, Jeff was in and the band began making preparations to record their first record.
Another quick lineup change later, the band signed to the small Trumpeter Records, out of Norfolk and in 1993, released Soul Hammer. The record was a showcase for them but it failed and after some more drummer changes, they began to feel burned out. After some more touring, the band decided around 1995, not long after the release of their second record, Drowning in the Promised Land that it was time to call it quits. Andy and drummer Kevin Murphy soon hooked up with Chris and Tony from Red Henry and formed Earth to Andy. Joe Lawlor has worked with many artists over the years, including Dave Matthews Band. Jeff Broadnax has gone on to a successful solo career overseas, playing in Paris, busking all over and getting his name out. While Egypt was not as successful as other bands, their fanbase made sure that their name and their music got out there, which it definitely has.
See Part II of the Virginia Rock article
And also see our article on Fighting Gravity
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