Truck Stop Troubadour-The Origins of Frankenstein Dog (Part 5)

Look-  anyone who has ever been young and striving to break into the music business has at least one I Coulda Been A Contender story.  Actually, Frankenstein Dog has a couple.  And I have friends that have known me for over a decade that I have not told this story to because frankly it sounds desperate and exaggerated as all stories of this type seem to.  In fact, I would still be keeping this story to myself if I didn't know in my heart that Chris Magistro, Fabrizio DiCamillo, and perhaps even a few of our close New Paltz friends at the time will vouch for what I am about to tell  Here goes:
The apartment on Church St was owned by a guy named James and his wife.  He owned a contracting business named "Home James" and Fabrizio worked for him full time as a carpenter.  One day James told Fabrizio he had some real important music contacts in the city and he would see if he could hook us up.  So at one point we were probably all sitting around getting stoned and Fab was relaying this information and we most likely got excited and said "sick!" and then played for three or four more hours.
But sometime later in the week, James pressed it further.  He said, "Here Billy.  This is the phone number of a real heavy hitter in the village music scene, give her a call.  Her name is Genya Ravan."  
Well if you could picture this, there was no internet at the time so there was no cause to celebrate just yet.  I called her and she talked to me for a half hour bandying terms around like Sony, Warner Brothers, fingers on the pulse etc etc.  Well it was starting to get exciting.  Then she ended by asking if I could send her a demo.  She gave us her East Village address and then--oh by the by, there's an article about little ol' me, she informs us, in Goldmine magazine.  
Believe it or not, Convenient sold Goldmine magazine in 1994, so we scurried up there to get the publication.
I'm thinking we most likely began to palpitate because the article was just this dream discography of a very influential woman who was involved with EVERYONE at one time or another.
Now please try to understand-we weren't typical hayseeds.  We were all in our early twenties, we all really believed in what we were writing and playing and we were all under the impression even prior to this that we were destined for world stardom and greatness.  This just added fuel to an already blazing fire of inspiration and focus.
That fated phone call from the Great Ravan:
"...I really love the sound you guys have and I think we could get you picked up by a new division that Warner Bros. is just now about to get off the ground.  What I need from you guys is a really clear demo of your four best songs.  Do you have anything like that?"
Well of course I responded in the affirmative and I hung up promising that she would have exactly that within three days.
It was like the green flag dropped and we were off and running:  Magistro used everything he learned from his two year tutlage under Garrett Uhlenbrock (Skinny Bones) and miked our practice room with direct mics, PZM's nailed to the walls--for the resources we had, the sound we got was pretty phenomenal.  We also had another key ingredient.  George Matthews on drums.
George also toured with La Vista Hotheads which made this rhythm section the best I ever played with.  Not only were they both rock solid, but they both just played numerous gigs together up and down the eastern seaboard and rehearsed for hours and hours before leaving for that tour. I never knew what it felt like to have players like this behind me.  It kind of felt like you were playing in a hammock because the pocket was so tight.  Even if the front end crumbled in rehearsal, those two would just keep going---crazy precision.
The first song we recorded was called Cold Winter.  This song was the obvious choice for leading off the tape.  You pressed play and immediately you heard George's 1-2-3-4 and clock like stick count followed by my Drop D tuned acoustic and Fabrizio's riff which was perfect and catchy as hell.  Add to this Magistro's fretless P Bass which filled the room with wall shaking bottom end and we were making a very clear point.  We were serious.  It may not have been everyone's favorite music but no one could deny that they were listening to something angsty, pure and sincere.
We Fed-Exed the tape to Genya and waited for the reaction.
The reaction went a little like this: real killer stuff guys.  Can you possibly book a gig out here so I can shop you to the industry people I know?
Once again, another hoop to jump through--but we booked CBGB for sometime that December.
So that's it.  Everything that we did for the next three months was strictly to get ready and be the tightest and best we could be for that night.  And there were challenges along the way.
About two weeks before, George moved from the apartment to the 87 motel and he just completely lost interest, until finally we were faced with needing a drummer.  We had a gig booked at The Sleeping Turtle in New Paltz with--believe it or not--"Three" opening.  Our line up was a very scary guitar/vocal, lead guitar and bass.
Some dude in the audience introduced himself to us as Stevie D.  He approached us by saying "you guys need a drummer".  He was good, too.  I mean, crazy as a loon and neurotic as hell but good.
So for two weeks we practiced with Stevie D and got tighter and tighter until that fateful day.  We got on the stage at CBGB and played the tightest and most inspired 40 minute set I can ever remember performing in front of an audience.  The whole time we were up there I kept thinking that whatever industry people she brought didn't matter.  Nobody could possibly say we lacked polish or lacked anything really.
At the end of the set Genya came up to the stage and said, "Real super guys.  What an incredible drummer.  I am going to discuss this with my people and see where we're at."
Chris, Fabrizio and I rented a car the next day and drove to Charlotte to Chris's dads house for a very well deserved vacation.
When we got back to New York, we attempted to reach out to Genya.  No answer.  No answering machine.
The next week, the same thing.  And again the week after that.  It seemed pretty mysterious to us but we attributed it at the time to something happening to her or some shit.
Now we, personally, began to concentrate on other things.  Cat Ballou wrote us the best review ever in the Woodstock Times after seeing us play at Tinker Street.  We were exceptionally lucky because Dave Matthews was at Bearsville recording "Crash" and Carter Beauford  and LeRoi Moore were at the bar.  They loved us and gave us their home addresses and phone numbers..
Ok, so there we are just going along and driving down the road with WDST  playing in the background and the deejay began to talk about this particular artist from the East Village who enjoyed some major success in the seventies but hadn't really put anything out in almost twenty years that anyone cared about.  So the deejay goes on to say that she's got this new album with this real fresh sounding single and he played it.
One scene that will forever stay in my mind was that we had to pull over to the shoulder so Chris Magistro could get out and vomit on the side of the road.  The single began with the count and the stick count and the drop D tuning and Fabrizio's exact riff hook and very expensive production that went far out of it's way to replicate much less expensive production.
We didn't even have to ask each other.  It was our song.  The chorus wasn't there, the lyrics were completely different but there was no way it could be explained as a coincidence.  There were just too many exacting similarities to deny what just happened.
We were pretty good friends with Jamie who owned Not Fade Away on Main Street and we showed him.  He mentioned that his dad was a pretty high end music attorney in Manhattan and he was good enough to get him to agree to listen to my evidence and advise me. So I took the Trailways to Grand Central and a taxi to this beautiful glass and concrete structure somewhere in a very expensive part of the city.
I was so completely out of place in that office, I am almost positive that no one working there initially believed that I was in the right place.  My appearance spoke of a young adult who could in no way afford even a consultation with anyone there.  But they buzzed Mr Mayer and he told them to let me in.
He listened to our tape.  He listened to this artist's new single.  And then again.
He looked up and called one of his interns into the office.  The intern listened and smiled.  They both agreed.  It was no coincidence.  Mr Mayer whispered something to the intern and the the intern left the room.
While we waited, the attorney engaged me in conversation about the band and what I was up to and just friendly stuff.  The intern came back in, handed a piece of paper to the attorney and left.
Mr. Mayer summed it up like this:
Ok there's no question that somehow this material more than inspired this other material but the problem is that this record is not really selling that great and the amount of money it would take to litigate this would never be worth it.  Let me give you some free advice.  You seem talented.  You're young.  You're most likely going to write a lot more and perhaps better stuff in the future.  Let this go and consider it a learning experience.
Well I was back on the Trailways heading north with some really mixed emotions.  A hot music attorney said I was talented and predicted a bright future for me.  He agreed that we were ripped off.  All this is good stuff.  But there was also the feeling of being tricked and that got to all of us.
But Frankenstein Dog continued on.

3 comments

  • Butch

    Butch Never-Never Land

    Wish I knew you then, Billy, we had Terri Baker as The Band's attorney, She is a pitbull for musicians. Still handles Los Lobos, Willie Nike & Richard Thompson You'd a had your day in Court for true, dawg. Sorry to hear that shit.

    Wish I knew you then, Billy, we had Terri Baker as The Band's attorney,
    She is a pitbull for musicians.
    Still handles Los Lobos, Willie Nike & Richard Thompson

    You'd a had your day in Court for true, dawg.
    Sorry to hear that shit.

  • Billy Manas

    Billy Manas Always Always Land

    Thank you Butch. You're the man!

    Thank you Butch. You're the man!

  • James Betley

    James Betley Binghamton NY

    I remember that show at The Sleeping Turtle, Jay Bone introduced me to Alan, as I think he swapped labor for the sound system. Memories. I miss Home James. He fed many a man.

    I remember that show at The Sleeping Turtle, Jay Bone introduced me to Alan, as I think he swapped labor for the sound system.
    Memories. I miss Home James. He fed many a man.

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