Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Spy's: An Interview & Shows # 833, 832, 831

The Spy’s formed in 1978 in Windsor, Ontario, but their beginnings also have ties across the border in Detroit when future singer Frank Carlone and some friends went to see Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, which featured Fred “Sonic” Smith who had previously played in the Detroit band The MC5. During one of Smith’s sets, guitarist Dale "Elad" D’Amore played on stage with the Detroit legend. It was after a rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” that Carlone decided to form a band with D’Amore. With Carlone taking lead vocals and D’Amore on guitar, another catalyst for the band came when witnessing future punk cohorts The Dry Heaves get second place in a Battle of the Bands at Ojibway Park in 1979. Carlone and D’Amore added bassist “Coma” Joe Desrameaux and drummer Dave O’Gorman to their collective shortly after this to form the band. This band would become known as The Spy’s.

The Spy’s first and only single “Underground/Machine Shop” was originally released in 1980 and has since become somewhat legendary. Even after the bands split in 1980, it is still sought after. The single recorded in Kingsville, Ontario starts with “Underground”. A musical statement if there ever was one, it packs a mighty punch as the lyrics combine with its classic 70s punk attack and catchy choruses. The B-side “Machine Shop” starts off with a jazz intro as lyrically it delves into the confines of the blue-collar working class world and the fight against it. By the time the single was pressed, the band was no more. Despite only being around for a short, intense period, The Spy’s developed a devout following in those early days as a band. Various members of the band would go on to form other bands after the split in late 1980, D’Amore and bassist Joe Desrameaux merged with members of The Hardtops to form The Nelsons, Carlone would form The Ronald Reagan Story and O’Gorman would join The Dry Heaves. Dale D’Amore’s Guitar Army has been active since the 90s and sometimes feature Spy’s classics in their sets. In the mid 90s The Spy’s reformed for a reunion show at The Loop in Windsor.

In the decades that followed, interest in The Spy’s has only grown. They were featured on the Smash The State Volume 2 compilation album in 1994, along with a collection of other early Canadian punk acts. In 2001, a compilation album entitled Original Punk Rock From Canada 1979-1980 was issued on the Incognito label. The album features demos that the band did of six songs in 1979 that were regular features of their live shows, the 1980 single and some live recordings of new songs from the 90s reunion show. Songs such as “I Wanna Be Like You”, “Welcome To The Cruel World”, “Been Through The Mill” and “Best I Can Get”, simmer with energy and attitude. Hearing these songs you can just imagine what their live shows must have been like.

The linear notes to the Incognito album perhaps described The Spy’s best: “They were raw energy, a match lighting five gallon cans of gasoline. We were jarred by the sexual freedom of Elad’s searing guitar solos, Coma Joe’s bass rattled our tailbones, O’Gormans’s hyperactive drumming propelled our bodies. Intellectually, they were disappointed utopians. Their vision was filtered through their working class ethic and experiences. They hurled thoughts, feelings, emotions at us”. Out of print for decades, Ugly Pop Records reissued The Spy’s “Underground/Machine Shop” single in 2012. While the band only ever released one single during their original run, it is a testament to the band and the songs found on that single that over thirty years from its original release, people are still talking about it.

Continue reading for a Q&A that Revolution Rock did with Dale D’Amore (Spy’s guitarist) and Frank Carlone (Spy’s vocalist). They provide insight into the band’s history, the recording of their 1980 single, the origin of some of their songs and playing live.

RR: How did the band decide on the name The Spy’s?

Dale: How did the band decide on the name The Spy’s? Well as I remember it was Frank Carlone that came up with the name, he had some other`s like The Mercenary's, but there was an argument on the spelling of The Spy's or The Spies.

It was good with the name and the spelling. lol I was just happy to be playing with these guys, Frank and Coma Joe were and still are my close friends even though we don't see each other a lot and Dave O'Gorman was a powerful drummer.

Frank: I’m not really sure. I don’t recall any long debate about the name. I think we wanted something short, plural and easy to say. If I recall correctly, we liked the James Bond/sixties kind of feel to the name. I think it also implied a bit of cool mystery and detachment. I think, for graphics purposes, it was also good ‘cause it was short. And it fit easily onto a button; buttons were all the rage back then. I think we had buttons done up pretty early.

RR: What do you remember from the recording sessions from this single? Where was it recorded and how many songs were recorded?

Dale: It was recorded at Salem Studio in Kingsville, there were not a lot of places to record and he had this great old farmhouse that was real cool. We did a demo there earlier in 1979 that is found on the Incognito album [a compilation album featuring this single, demos and live tracks called Original Punk Rock From Canada 1979-1980], but the single session was just the two songs. Now what I do remember is... we had no idea what we were doing!

We had never recorded much, but we acted like we were pros lol. So during the mixdown the engineer Terry Goulding I believe was his name... he gets up, says I am leaving and walks out, never said much just left and never returned and Dirk the owner finished the mix. So Frank would say thanks to Terry “I am leaving” Goulding for the mixdown.

Frank: It was at Salem Studios in either Harrow or Kingsville. I’m not sure if the engineer was too keen on our sound and way of doing things. We had been there once before to doing quick recordings of 6 songs, I think.

We went in knowing that we wanted to lay down “Underground” and “Machine Shop”. And I think we went in, did our thing and then waited for the record to come out. I can’t recall whether we did a lot of takes or not. I don’t think we did.

RR: How did you come up with the song “Underground”? Was it written before you were in the band or was it written after the fact?

Dale: “Underground” was written during the peak of The Spy's and I was a little angry. I mean I was 19 and we played lots of shows in Windsor and Detroit (I loved the Red Carpet Lounge in Detroit) anyway... we had a manager Yvonne Guadette and don't get me wrong he was great.... did a lot for us, but he started managing the Dry Heaves as well and was setting up some production company and stuff. So we had him tugging us one way and some of us thinking another way, and people asking us to start a new band and all this shit going on and they would have these meetings and drink wine and talk about what to do to make money off the bands and shit. So the last verse in “Underground” is really a statement to all of that. I mean I was young maybe the money would have been good. lol.

Frank: That was all Elad, sorry, Dale D’Amore. Lyrics and music (although I added the mumbling part just before the guitar solo). The song was kind of a statement for us. I think as soon as Dale showed it to us we all liked it right way. It kind of has an ebb and flow of intensity, like from 9 to 11 (maybe an 8 in the middle)!

RR: What about the song “Machine Shop”? Did you plan on having a jazz intro or was that something that happened at the last minute?

Frank: That was all Coma Joe, sorry Joe Des Rameaux. The jazz part was always a big part of the tune. We loved doing it live. Joe had eclectic tastes and could really write and sing a melody (and he always had great hair. I told him he should be a hair model, but I digress). I guess even a punk band needs to chill out for 30-45 seconds per show so the jazz intro was perfect for that. My contribution? The finger snaps (If I recall correctly) and the “go go’s”.

Dale: “Machine Shop” was written by the great Coma Joe. The intro was part of the original song and was actually longer but it was shortened to make the record. I have a recording I think with The Nelsons, the band Joe and I played in after The Spy's and Joe does the extended jazz intro.

RR: When the Underground single came out in 1980 do you know how many copies were pressed? Was it released independently or through some type of label?

Frank: I think either 500 or 1,000 copies of the single were pressed. I think it was done in one pressing. There were two covers printed. That was due to a lack of communication as the band broke up. I think we decided we were breaking up either before recording the single or just after. Pretty sure we were already broken up when the vinyl was shipped to us. Then the divisions that led to the break up kind of got reflected in the inability to agree on a cover.

Dale: There were 1000 copies of the record made, we each got 250. I remember handing them out to people, I once brought a box of the records no covers just the vinyl and a plain white sleeve and I handed them out to the audience. I wish I had them now! I also have one untouched it has been under plastic cover since 1980. There were no more pressings after that other than the Ugly Pop ones. It sucked because right when we got the records, we had already broken up, there was no work, interest rates were at 20 percent! Shit you could not sell a record at that time and I never thought that the record would become as popular as it did. And 007 was the label name Frank came up with, but it was pressed at a plant in Toronto owned by CBS so that's why it says CBS on the record. Doing it yourself was a hell of a lot harder back then, but after everything that has happened, I am glad that we did do the record and people still care about the music.

RR: In 2012/2013, Ugly Pop reissued The Spy’s single. How did this come about and how involved were you in the reissue?

Dale: Ugly Pop, yeah the guy (Simon Harvey) contacted me by e-mail, he told me that he wanted to re-issue The Spy’s 45. I asked Frank and Joe what they thought, they were all for it, so we gave him permission. I did not have any input into it at all as far as I remember. It was pretty cool thing to happen after so many years.

Frank: I knew nothing about it. I actually think I heard about it from my friend, Mike Panontin, who runs the terrific Canuckistan Music website and knows quite a bit about record collecting and vintage Canadian music (you can also follow him on Facebook: Michael Panontin). I still haven’t seen a royalty payment (LOL). Mike also teases me by telling me the going prices for the original Dry Heaves 45 are higher than the original Spy’s 45.

RR: In 2001 Incognito Records, a German label put out a compilation Spy’s album called Original Punk Rock From Canada 1979-1980 that featured the single, some demos and live recordings. What led to the release of the compilation and what do you remember about some of the live reunion material that is found on this album?

Frank: That I do recall. I think Dale told me about it before it came out. He was the contact with Incognito I thought it was pretty cool that someone in Germany had even heard about us. I guess to show you there’s a lot of niches and sub-niches out there. I was impressed by the quality of the cover and the pressing. I think it was pressed on some pretty heavy-duty vinyl way before the vinyl resurgence. I hope Incognito at least broke even.

I remember the live show stuff very well. We probably hadn’t done anything together for about 10-12 years. It was recorded at The Loop. We had a great PA System and I think the recording was done through the board. We were hyped to do that show. It was in the fall of 1995, so 15 years after we broke up. I think all the guys were hyped to play. I remember that I was hoarse for about 3 days after that.

Dale: The Incognito album was very cool, I got a phone call from someone who was involved with a compilation album of Canadian punk called Smash the State, now I never even knew that this came out and we were on it, lol. I think his name was Dirk. Well he asked about any recordings that we may have, and we had the studio songs and then the live stuff from our reunion at the Loop in 1995 or 96. So he talked about making the album, we came to an agreement and it came out. As far as the reunion recording, it was luck that I said to the sound guy Kirt Scammell at Band Aid Systems to hook up a d.a.t. recorder. They were the thing at the time and he did and it came out pretty good. It was just live off the stage, real cool lots of energy. I think it rocks.

RR: You recorded six demos in 1979 that are also found on this album (“Welcome To The Cruel World”, “I Wanna Be Like You”, “Been Through The Mill”, ”Watching You”, Ludwell Woodwork” and “Best I Can Get”) what do you remember about writing/recording these songs?

Dale: The demo we did at Salem Studio, same place we did the single at. Those songs I thought were fucking great, it really captured the band.

So I wrote “Cruel World”, yeah so I just came back from New York and found out I was out of a job and out came the song.

The song “I Wanna Be Like You” Frank and I wrote. I had the chorus "I wanna I wanna I wanna I wanna be like you” and Frank came up with the rest, and we wrote “The Best I Can Get” together too, I think that song has some of Frank's best lyrics.

“Been Through The Mill” and “Ludwell Woodwork” were Joe’s songs. “Ludwell” is such a cool song about a guy he knew from hanging around the Pool hall on Pillette road. I don’t know if it’s him or someone he made up. lol. “Been Through The Mill” is classic Coma Joe, great tune. And “Watching You” is a Frank classic, a power pop love song. I really liked that one, great melody. I don’t think Frank cares for it too much.

Frank: That was our first time in a recording studio. I think that the guys that were trying to manage us (see “Underground”) set it up and paid for it. It was at Salem Studios in Harrow/Kingsville. It was pretty quick and dirty. A Sunday afternoon. I was a bit nervous because I was actually able to hear my vocals clearly, which was kind of a distraction and a bit unsettling.

Re: the songs:

“Welcome to the Cruel World” was fully written by Elad (sorry, Dale D’Amore). Although I humbly admit that I added the “Na na na na nah nah na na’s” to the choruses (thank you). It was crowd pleaser and we loved doing it with energy. Still sounds good today. It’s in the Guitar Army repertoire.

“Been Through The Mill” was written fully by Coma Joe (Joe Des Rameaux). I think it was loosely based on Joe’s time working somewhere up north for a while, but who knows. I just liked the whole idea of “Been Through the Mill”:

And I

I don’t plug my ears

And now I can’t even hear
Don’t have to listen to you.

Elad wrote the music to “Best I Can Get”. He had the title and asked me to the do the lyrics. I did the best I could. We got a bit fancy with the backing vocals. I like the last part of the second verse (h/t to the New York Dolls):

I got a love bomb, it’s atomic and its ready
I stole the plans from the school library

It ain’t the best... 
But it’s the best I can get.

Then Elad tears into a couple of torrid guitar solos. That is also a fun song to do live.

“I Wanna Be Like You”. Some say it was our signature song. Simple and catchy. Again, Elad wrote the music. He had the title and he wanted it to be in the chorus, and he allowed me to fill in the rest lyrically. I don’t know if he wanted it to sort of be about unattainable girls. But I went there and he didn’t seem to mind.

“Ludwell Woodwork”. A Coma Joe masterpiece. Is it autobiographical? Who knows? I just know it rocks. I can’t remember if Joe wrote the little spoken word intro or if I did. Otherwise the rest of the song was all him. It’s unfortunate that Joe hasn’t been performing cause that song needs to be heard more often, BUT, BUT only Joe Des Rameaux can sing it.

“Watching You”. I wrote that one. Kind of a weird love song. Probably a bit wimpy for us back in the day, but for some reason Dale seemed to like doing it.

RR: Do the master tapes still exist for these demos/the single and has there ever been any consideration to putting this stuff out again maybe in a remastered form?

Frank: I am pretty sure the tapes from Salem Studios are long gone. It’s funny, we didn’t really hang on to stuff like that back in the day. They may have gone with the “managers” who paid for the studio time, or we were just nonchalant about hanging on to them. Would love to have them and see if we could fatten up the sound a bit.

Dale: I am glad you asked that! This year is 40 years for the record, my son and I are working on putting some kind of a re-master out with some unheard stuff that we found. I have the half-inch tape but you can’t mix it. I will master it, give it some volume and then some stuff from a practice we had recorded around the reunion show.

RR: What was the strangest thing you remember happening at a Spy’s show?

Dale: Spy’s shows were so much fun!! I mean we would go up do an hour and a half set real fast music and be done. I remember a show at The Masonic Temple on Ouellette and Joe and I being pissed about some shit our manager did and we were jumping in the air doing Peter Townsend jumps, we were pissed. I don’t know if that was the show where Howard Stern was booed off the stage, he was a DJ at a Detroit rock station at the time and got booed and shit thrown at him. I think he mentioned it in his book. I never read it, but someone did mention it to me, lol. One time the promoter said we are not getting paid and we chased the promoter down the block and got our money, that was funny.

Frank: I can’t recall strange things happening during the shows. Usually I was in my own little world for 30-45 minutes or so, letting the sound get to me. I do recall Joe breaking a bass guitar string one time, downstairs at Hadleys. That was a fun show. We had been off for a while so it was our first show back. It was a small room and it got pretty intense.

I do recall getting into some minor hassles crossing the border to play in Detroit. And I recall getting a few weird looks from sound tech people because I had my own mic. It was an Electro-Voice and it had it’s own battery. I just thought that made it so cool. I’m sure the sound techs were wondering WTF I was doing.

RR: When was the last time the original Spy’s line up played together? Was it the 95 reunion show at The Loop?

Dale: Yes , it was the reunion show at The Loop. Frank and I have played many shows together since that, Coma Joe and I played in Grumpy together for a bit. I don’t believe there is any hope of us ever having the four of us together again.

Frank: I’m pretty sure that the 95 reunion was the last of the 4 original Spy’s. Even though on the complete live recording I have Elad says “See ya in another 15 years” after we did our last song that night, which happened to be “Better Off Dead”.

Don’t think it will ever happen again. But, ya never know...

RR: What do you think it is about the songs on the Underground/Machine Shop single that causes people to keep returning to it, even though it was released over 30 years ago?

Dale: Well I often wonder and I am truly thankful that it still is being played thanks CJAM!! I mean who thought that I would be doing an interview about the Spy's some 40 years later? But yeah, I think that the era was not documented too well. No video footage, very little photos and there was some great music and bands, Dry Heaves, The Hardtops, Sonic Boom, and so on. I do have a video of the Spy's Reunion at the Loop in 1995 or 1996. I have to dig that up.

Frank: Firstly, they are pretty good tunes that people can relate to. Plus it was the only vinyl we put out so it kind of represents a flashback to that short-lived era that we played in, late 1979-80. I think back then bands like us and the Dry Heaves, and others brought back some energy and physicality to the music scene. We made people want to dance, pogo, whatever, get their bodies into the music, let loose. I guess people have fond memories of that.

Here is an additional question where Frank Carlone talks about his time with his post-Spy’s band The Ronald Regan Story:

RR: You formed The Ronald Reagan Story not too long after The Spy’s. What are the origins of the band name, how long was this band around for and what do you remember of your time with this band?

Frank: Good question. I think I came up with the band name just after Ronald Reagan was elected for the first time. I remember paying a lot of attention to that US election. I was politically attentive, but not active. And I was listening to a lot of Dead Kennedys. Plus the name had a certain quasi-academic, mysterious nature to it. It wasn’t just another band name. Actually before the RRS started I was in a short-lived band that practiced 2-3 times. We were called “The Vichy Government”.

Anyway, RRS had some fun gigs. Our bass player wore a mask, mainly because he was also in The Nelsons, and couldn’t be seen playing with us (just kidding). He had a great old time goalie mask, a la Jason [of Friday The 13th], so we called him Doctor Death. (I guess I can reveal the secret now: it was Dominic D’Amore.) I think he liked my simple tunes because he could do whatever bass runs and fill he wanted to: I was not going to complain, and they really added some texture to my sparse 3 chord tunes. We opened a lot for The Nelsons.

Later Mike Fortier came in on bass, of course he had to wear a mask. One time at the Embassy Hotel in London, we unmasked him, but he had a second mask on underneath (brilliant, I know).

Brian Chick was THE Drummer. Brian Chick was the glue that kept Ronald Reagan Story together. Admittedly, it was only for a year and a half. He also contributed a couple of really good tunes. On one of them he came out to play bass and Doctor Death went on the drums (“Childhood Romance”). Brian was dubbed “Caspar Weinberger”. He was Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, I think, or something like that. Anyway the name sounded pretty cool at the time.

We were known for our banter. There is a great recording from the University Pub (Sac’s Pub back in the day) with some great heckling. Classic stuff. I may have that reel-to-reel tape somewhere in my basement.

I think two or three people thought we had some hits like “You’re Love Has Turned My Heart Into a Hand Grenade”, “Revolutionary Girl”, “Sac’s Pub” (which I stole from R. J. Hollub and The Vichy Government), “Colorado Drifter” and “Ronnie. I Voted for You”, to name a few.

*An earlier version of this article appeared in The Windsor Independent.

Show 833 (Originally Aired On June 13th, 2020)(The Spy's, James O-L, Ron Leary, X-Ray Spex, Otis Redding, The Gories):

1. James O-L - All That I Need
2. Ron Leary - Roadside Motel
3. Brigid Dawson & The Mothers Network - When My Day of the Crone Comes
4. New Town Animals - Three Steps Backward
5. The Exploding Hearts - I'm A Pretender
6. The Marked Men - She Won't Know
7. Jay Reatard My Shadow
8. X-Ray Spex - Warrior In Woolworths
9. Buzzcocks - Breakdown
10. The Spy's - Underground
11. The Spy's - Welcome To The Cruel World
12. The Spy's - Don't Touch That Dial (Live)
13. The Spy's - I Wanna Be Like You (Live)
14. The Ronald Reagan Story - Just Another Warning
15. Elad's Guitar Army - Rattlesnake Tongue
16. The Burying Ground - Behind These Eyes
17. Coal - No Angel
18. Huevos Rancheros - Ride, Cowboy
19. The Sadies - Postcards
20. Dusty Mush - Space Cat
21. The Future Primitives - Open Up Your Door
22. Girl Over Planet - Tetromino Swing
23. The Flamethrowers - Intensity
24. Bo Diddley - Bo's Guitar
25. Otis Redding - These Arms of Mine (Live at the Whiskey A Go-Go - April 9th, 1966)
26. PJ Harvey - Naked Cousin
27. Liz Phair - Soap Star Joe
28. Emily Rockarts - Right Now
29. Vancougar - Obvious
30. Juliana Hatfield - Going Blonde
31. The Gories - Boogie Chillun
32. The Gories - You'll Be Mine

Download/stream this episode here.

Show 832 (Originally Aired On June 6th, 2020)(James Brown, Funkadelic, The Paragons, Art Blakey, Daniel Romano):

1. James Brown - Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud) (Live in Dallas 1968)
2. Sly and The Family Stone - Luv n Haight
3. Funkadelic - You and Your Folks
4. Death - Where Do We Go From Here???
5. Martha & The Vandellas - Dancing In The Street (Alternate and Extended Version)
6. The Paragons - The Tide Is High
7. Prince Buster - A Change Is Gonna Come
8. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - The Freedom Rider
9. Mirabelle - Teenage Dreams
10. Penny Diving - Divine
11. Dead Ghosts - Tell Me How
12. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Cars In Space
13. No Age - Turned To String
14. Daniel Romano - If You Do Or If You Don't
15. Daniel Romano - The Farther Side of Love
16. Daniel Romano's Outfit - If Words Can't Express It
17. Daniel Romano - Super Pollen
18. Daniel Romano - Heat Wave
19. Daniel Romano - Spider Bite
20. Haden McNulty - The Cops
21. Yves Tumor - Identity Trade
22. Dean Blunt - 100
23. AMC Gremlin - Nachos For One
24. TV On The Radio - The Wrong Way
25. Dean Marino - Dark Horse
26. R.E.M. - Gardening At Night
27. David Kilgour & The Heavy 8's - Shifting Sands
28. Rough Francis - Urgent Care
29. King Khan - Children Of The World

Download/stream this episode here.

Show 831 (Originally Aired On May 30th, 2020)(Sweet Dave, The Kinks, RUDI, Damaged Bug, Dead Ghosts):

1. Sweet Dave - Beautiful Dreams
2. Jeff Rosenstock - Monday At The Beach
3. The Vibrators - Into The Future
4. Adrian Teacher and The Subs - Modern Art
5. Baby Eagle and The Proud Mothers - Strange Bodies
6. The Modern Lovers - Hospital
7. RUDI - Big Time
8. The Saints - Run Down
9. The Kinks - Nothing To Say
10. The Kinks - Shangri-La
11. The Kinks - Too Much On My Mind
12. The Kinks - Nothing In The World Can Stop Me Worrying About That Girl
13. Vivian Cook - Where In The World
14. Faith Healer - Might As Well
15. Steven Lambke - At The Start of the Song
16. Built To Spill - Bloody Rainbow
17. Shadow Show - Charades
18. Asphalt Eaters - Ford 49
19. X Ray Cat Trio - Demiurge
20. Swearin' - Dogpile
21. Matt Mays - Dog City (A Doogie Boogie)
22. Waxahatchee - War
23. Destroyer - Kinda Dark
24. Jon Mckiel - Deeper Shade
25. Private School - Science Fiction
26. Antheads - Think Fast
27. Plasticheads - One Way Ticket
28. The Moby Dicks - Talk Money (Demo)
29. Lame Brain - Moria
30. Ditches - The Great Escape
31. Revo - Space Junk (Live)
32. Damaged Bug - Sold America
33. Dead Ghosts - Swiping Hubcaps
34. Dead Ghosts - Drugstore Supplies

Download/stream this episode here.