Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Rat Race...The Active Dog and Ross Carpenter Story plus Interview... Show # 307

The UK Punk scene in the late 70s had an impact all over the world, not just in the UK. One of these other places was in Vancouver, BC in Canada. Like the in Britain, music was boring and nothing was exciting, until Punk came along adding excitement and energy to music. The Vancouver scene produced many bands such as DOA, Pointed Sticks, The Modernettes, and several short lived bands. One of those short lived bands was a band called Active Dog. The Vancouver band had its initial beginnings in a four piece psychedelic Rock band called Steel Breeze. The band lasted from 1975 to 1976 and consisted of Terry Bowes and Jerome Wong on guitar, Ross Carpenter on bass and Robert Bruce on drums. After playing for about a year Wong left the group and Steel Breeze continued as a three piece, renaming themselves Active Dog. The band would gain further members through Carpenters association with Art Bergmann (he was recording his band Schmorgs at the time - Bergmann was in the Young Canadians later on). The band added members Buck Cherry (John Armstrong) on guitar/vocals, Dash Ham (Gord Nichol) on keyboards, and Bill Shirt (William Scherk) on vocals. Active Dog began playing with their new line up after a night of drinking and jamming. Acquiring an unused storage space and converting it into a rehearsal/studio space (Majestic Studios) Active Dog began practicing three to four times a week. In October of 1978, the band played their first gig as a six piece.

Around November of 1978, Active Dog were coming up with songs such as “Rat Race”, “Good Filthy Fun”, and “Fucking Idiots and Garlic Sausage, Digital Watches”, all of which were written by bassist Ross Carpenter. There were also other songs such as “Nothing Holding You”, “Teen Chow” and “The Beach” written by Bill Shirt. Active Dog played numerous live shows and associated with many other Vancouver Punk bands such as DOA, Pointed Sticks, Private School, and Subhumans. In February/March of 1979 they were scheduled to go into Sabre Sound studio to make some recordings. A few days before they were to record Gord Nichol and Robert Bruce announced that they were leaving Active Dog to join The Pointed Sticks. Drummer Robert Bruce agreed to drum on the recordings which resulted in the single Rat Race/Good Filthy Fun, which reflected a Punk and Power Pop nature. With a single done, there was no band to promote it. Despite being available in some shops and being well received, Carpenter decided to pull the single after a couple of weeks. Some of the recordings ("Nothing Holding You" and "Fun While it Lasts") can now be found on the Vancouver Complication Compilation.

While Active Dog seemed to be over following their single in 1979, other band members continued on to other music projects. Buck Cherry started a new group that would be called The Modernettes. Along with John Doe and John McAdams (from a band called Rabid), Ross Carpenter joined on bass. Carpenter left the group in June 1979 to focus more on family related issues, Mary Jo (from Wasted Lives) joined the Modernettes on bass. In 1980, Ross Carpenter and Terry Bowes formed a short lived band called Antheads. The band played faster than any band at the time and around 1981, growing tired of their musical direction called it quits. The band Perky Pat would emerge, with Carpenter on drum duties while Tony Balony played guitar, Gus Vassos covered vocals, Sam Salmon on keyboards, and Jon Moore was on bass.

Another band was also formed in 1981, featuring former Active Dog band members. The Melody Pimps consisted of Randall Carpenter on guitar/vocals, Tony "Balony" Walker on guitar/vocals, Nick Jones (from The Pointed Sticks) on guitar/vocals, Tom Upex on keyboards, Mark Branscome on bass, and Ross Carpenter on drums. The Melody Pimps are still currently in talks of recording an album and play live occasionally. Ross Carpenter runs a new studio called Twilight Sleep Studio.

While the band Active Dog was very short lived, they are an example of band that ended just as quickly as they began. From the ashes of Active Dog other bands stemmed and were created adding more depth to the Punk scene in Vancouver at the time. The recordings they have made are now part of the music history of not only Vancouver, but the country of Canada as well.


I was fortunate to get an exclusive interview with Ross Carpenter, the bass player in Active Dog. This interview was done between myself (Dave Konstantino the host of Revolution Rock) and Ross W. Carpenter enjoy!

RR: You were involved with the formation of the band Active Dog how did the band form and what were some of your musical influences?

RWC: hmmm.. yeah, we started as 'Steel Breeze'. It was me: Bass, Robert: drums and Terry: Guitar ... playing and drinking beer on weekends and just improvising with strange chords and we didn't have a singer because we didn't have a PA system. We did our own songs because it was basically what we were capable of playing.

Terry was a really good guitar player but I was just learning to play bass so we played a sort of Psychedelic Blues with long demented extended guitar ramblings, we had fun. Our influences were British band stuff like Syd Barrett and early Floyd, The Move, Kinks, The Fish's song 'section 43' made a big impression on me, and all the crazy San Francisco bands. One of my oldest friends is Warren Cann the drummer for 'Ultavox. We went to high school as pals, and had a psychedelic liquid light show together in 1967. I was drumming in my high school band at the time, and we were both poor and 'drum less' so on lunch hours, I used to sneak Warren into the practise area under the auditorium and let him bang on my school rental set of drums.

I was in my first band with a childhood friend Basil Watson when we were both 12 years old, we were called 'Twilight Surfers'. Heh, we had skateboards.

When Active Dog started we were into the new Brit stuff that was hitting Vancouver at that time Pistols, Clash, and the Ramones, big time. I still drum practice daily to 'Rocket to Russia' on my headphones.

RR: What was the Vancouver scene like at the time of the bands formation?

RWC: Hair bands and disco crap, and faux-American style bands singing about highways and cocaine. Quite dismal, actually...we were into Bonzo Dog band and Mayall, Paul Butterfield band, Jim Kweskin Jug Band, then Robert started bringing over this crazy new stuff from England, and we were energized.

I started writing songs like "meat eating Betty'" and "Garlic Watches" and I made the mistake of leaving my song book at the practice space after writing a tune called "Let's go to fucking Hawaii" and ....well let's just say someone thought it was worth stealing. Art (Bergmann of Young Canadians) and I have come to an 'understanding' recently about the song, but not many people realize that I wrote 'Hawaii', but I did. It was going to be an Active Dog song.

RR: Active Dog has recorded several songs and has been featured on the Vancouver Complication compilation. Do you have any memorable recording moments in the bands history?

RWC: I'm just sorry we didn't get to record more songs, but we showed up right at the very beginning of the punk scene. We weren’t punks or anything really, we just played very loud, solid, funny songs and with the additions of Bill Shirt as front-man, Buck on guitar, Gord on Keys, we had a huge stage presence. With two guitar players trading lead, keyboards swirling, super loud twin 15" SVT bass cabs, and driving drums, we really shook the places we played..

Recording the [Vancouver] 'complication album stuff' was done at 'Sabre Studio' in Chris Cutress' basement bedroom, full of super hero models and flannel cowboy pyjamas. We got everything in first takes and it only took about four hours to do vocal overdubs, and mix the two songs. [They recorded] Bill's songs 'Nothing holding you' and 'Fun while it lasts' both fine songs, but they don't really give a good example of what we sounded like. I decided to record two of my songs, the 'Rat Race'/ 'Good Filthy fun' single was closer sounding to what we were musically about. We recorded the single at Sabre Sound too. It was cheap and I liked the 'Tea in Toyland' atmosphere of the place, so I booked the studio time, but when we were ready to record Gord announced that he'd decided to join the Pointed Sticks and so, we had no keyboards. I asked Buck to play Gords keyboard part on his guitar that was my 'Mooch Flammand' moment of producing [ Mooch Flammand was a pseudonym for Ross Carpenter as a producer]. I still like the single, it's a lot more what we sounded like....

RR: When did Active Dog stop playing as a band?

RWC: I think the last time we played, all of us together.. hmmm it might have been at the 'Helen Pitt' art gallery in Vancouver, but I really can't remember a last gig because we never mentioned we were breaking up. Gord was just gone one day, and he took one of my best friends, Robert, our drummer, with him. So, we just started forming other bands and not getting drunk together.

[I actually had a really big problem with Robert leaving. After all, he had been an original member of the band back when we were still Steel Breeze. I had even taught him how to drum, so he could hang around and make music with Terry and me, I was crazy pissed off, and didn't speak to him for a couple of decades].

Ironically, Robert didn't last long in the Pointed Sticks, they ground him up and spit him out like a bad idea. He went on to play with the 'Scissors' for a while, then he had a few bad personal nightmares and became a recluse. I've recently reunited with Bill Shirt and the others, as friends, and we have good memories of the crazy times we played.

RR: What are some of the other groups that you and some of the other band members have been involved with following Active Dog?

RWC: here's a bit of who / what / went to where

Buck Cherry: Modernettes,Los Popularos, Braineaters, Melody Pimps, Arrogant Derelicts, etc

Bill 'Shirt' Scherke: Los Popularos

Gord 'Dash' Nicholls : Pointed Sticks, Mud Bay Blues band

Terry 'Mister' Bowes: Antheads

Robert 'Boots' Bruce: Pointed Sticks, the Devices, Scissors

Ross Carpenter: Antheads, Perky Pat, Melody pimps, 'Detlef Sping and his Small Doomed Planet'

RR: What have you currently been up to and are you still playing in any bands?

RWC: I'm retired from the rat race of my work as an optical repair technician for Bausch and Lomb, now I paint and I record my 'Detlef Sping' stuff in my basement studio 'Twilight Sleep Studio'. I'm still drumming with the Melody Pimps and practice 2 hours a day on drums, 10:00am to noon. The Pimps currently plan on recording a CD of party faves and demented heavy metal, but with my brother and fellow Pimp, Randall T Carpenter, also in the Mud Bay Blues Band, we have to wait until they finish up with their projects.

RR: Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

RWC: Hmmm, no, not really, but thanks Dave, for your interest in us, and for giving me this opportunity to talk a bit about the old band. I do wish that Active Dog had more to show for our sweaty efforts, but nobody had video cameras in those days and we were too busy playing to really do much recording. Just after Active Dog split up the scene had all sorts of chronicalists and well wishers, but alas we were toast.

Oh well, we were there......thanks Dave...Ross

This Week's Play List:

1. The Saints - Save Me
2. Pierced Arrows - The Doorway
3. Hater - Convicted
4. Radio Birdman - Murder City Nights
5. Queens of the Stone Age - Medication
6. Gun Club - Fire Spirit
7. Pointed Sticks - How Could You?
8. The Modernettes - I Can Only Give You Everything
9. Antheads - Get A Gun....
10. Antheads - Moist and Easy
11. Perky Pat - Pussycat
12. Perky Pat - The Bells
13. Active Dog - Rat Race
14. Active Dog - Nothing Holding You
15. Psycotic Pineapple - Say That You Will
16. Modern Mothers - Crossing The Line
17. The D4 - Feel It Like It
18. The Professionals - Kick Down the Doors
19. The Cramps - Uranium Rock
20. The Boys - First Time
21. The Adverts - Gary Gilmore's Eyes
22. The Germs - Lexicon Devil
23. Lowlands Studio Band - Trash One
24. High Mother - My Creation
25. Magazine - Give Me Everything
26. Ramones - I'm Against It

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for July 6th. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

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