Me as 80s New York lead guitarist

A Christmas present from my brother: a CD of studio visits by a band I was in.

In the first half of my twenty-five years of living in New York City, I played lead guitar in two serious bands and bass and miscellaneous in several fooling-around-with-friends bands. By “serious,” I mean gigs consisting of one or two forty-minute bam-bam-bam sets with over ninety per cent originals, and any covers better be obscure and cool enough that everyone who recognizes them says “ooh, nice” (e.g. “Glory” from Television’s second album). You play for minimal money in clubs with good sound and lights with the prime goal of showing that you sound and look professional and have the right material to be signed to a record label, and you can usually assume that there are label people around.

The first band, the ExHusbands, began with the goal of being the most successful band at Columbia University and occasionally playing downtown clubs, and that was not too difficult. Becoming a big-time downtown band was much more difficult, although it took a big jump when we were discovered and managed by Danny Fields, who had worked with our idols (the Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5, the Doors, the Ramones) and whose roots in cool New York scenes went back to Andy Warhol’s Factory. We quit school and worked hard at it, and played Max’s Kansas City (the first time, shortly before my twentieth birthday, so I was happy to say I did it as a teenager), Hurrah’s, the Ritz, Danceteria, many now-defunct clubs, and mostly, CBGBs. We were considered a CB’s band. Although we never got a label deal, we went through a period of being treated like the Next Big Thing by people who seemed to know, and that was thrilling at that age. This was all around 1979 - 82, so you could call what we were doing New Wave, although outside of the Velvet Underground and Television (and especially for our singer, Iggy), we were mostly into sixties British Invasion bands. The first time I saw another CB’s band that has hit the big time since then, the Strokes, their poppy Velvet Underground approach and their choice of shirts reminded me of the ExHusbands.

Four or so years later my second cousin Kris Woolsey started The Hunting Accident. We don’t remember the details of how we came up with the name, but a bottle of J├Ągermeister was involved. Today, I’d say we were shooting for post-Big Star rockin’ pop, as were the dBs, Matthew Sweet, and the Replacements, who in particular seemed to define a time and place and sound and attitude for me and a lot of my friends. (I can complain about Wikipedia with the best of them, but I just looked at their entry for power pop, and it’s remarkably well done.) Kris has since gone on to do some work with Fountains of Wayne, which fits in well with my attempt to summarize the band’s sound.

Why I’m writing all this: last Christmas, my brother made me a CD of the Hunting Accident’s two studio sessions, which makes up about an album’s worth of material. I made a web page of MP3s of it for the other guys in the band. As it says, I only wrote one of the songs, but it was one of the band’s more popular ones, and friends who were more serious about songwriting than I was liked it a lot, so I was pretty proud of it. We played the Bottom Line, Maxwell’s, Tramps, more now-defunct clubs, and CBGB a lot. One memory is standing on the stage at CB’s with the Del Lords at midnight counting down to the new year of 1988, followed by an only somewhat rehearsed version of Auld Lange Syne. (I also remember how my future wife, who I had met about two months earlier, had folded over the “PPY” on a “HAPPY NEW YEAR” paper tiara so that it said “HA NEW YEAR.”) The Hunting Accident also fell apart before getting a deal.

Wandering around downtown New York the summer before last, I stopped into CB’s, and BG Berlin was still working the door. He looked up and said “Bob DuCharme!” (He was always very good with names, and I had hung out there a lot when I first moved downtown from the Columbia area.) I told him that my parents still tell the story of waiting through DNA’s set to see the ExHusbands play there one Saturday night; DNA was probably Arto Lindsay’s most dissonant effort, as a leading light of the “No Wave” scene, and with a post-Pere Ubu Tim Wright on bass and Ikue Mori on drums, it was really great, but a bit much for my parents. In those days, the four sets of the night were at midnight, 1, 2, and 3, with the headliners at 2, and we were playing at 3. (Each time my parents tell the story, our set gets later.) As I told BG this story in the summer of 2004 I realized that I was the same age that my mother had been when my parents came to see us that night twenty-six years ago. My parents were remarkably supportive of the overall venture, though, considering that dropping out of an Ivy League school to be in a full-time rock and roll band is traditionally unpopular with parents. I’m sure that my father’s New York acting career, which was cut short by the draft, played a role in their understanding.

Now that I’m too old for that sort of thing, I’ve been working on playing jazz on an upright bass for about two and a half years. I’ve got all kinds of ideas for making music on computers, but I spend too much time on computers, so struggling with a big tactile vibrating box to play music that is gradually revealing itself to me better and will never go out of style seems like a healthier way to spend unpaid time than more typing and staring at glowing screens.

Of course, if the right equipment, bass player and drummer were all at an XML-related event in the future, Eve Maler and I would be happy to front a Zeppelin cover band. We’ve discussed it, and did finish a geeky rock and roll free-for-all at the 2004 Oxford XML Summer School with “Rock and Roll” from Zep 4 once with Kal Ahmed on bass. If Tim Bray has a cello and pickup handy, perhaps we could take on “Kashmir.”


By deltabob on May 24, 2006 11:38 AM

I love Matthew Sweet and the Replacements. I graduated high school in 1992 - in Appalachia - so those weren’t exactly popular sounds at that time and place.

It’s great to hear the names again though - I’ll have to go digging through my old cassette tape collection (provided my attic hasn’t completely ruined them).

By Rick Jelliffe on May 24, 2006 11:55 AM

I wonder if we should make a podcast of music by XML Geeks? Len Bullard has sent me a CD he made, and of course Charles Goldfarb used to play piano professionally (in army bands, or for army audiences, IIRC). Dale Waldt plays guitar and I think Elliot Kimber used to organize some kind of musical events. A few other XML people have sent me comments on my Synthesizer articles at oreilly digital media.

By Bob DuCharme on May 24, 2006 12:24 PM


Tony Coates has had some ideas about some distributed cooperative music creation among XML geeks, which would work better for you synth guys than us string pluckers. (Of course, Tony qualifies as both, if the strings are a bit short.)

Wouldn’t it be funny, though, if we spent more time discussing whether to allow CDATA sections in the podcast feed than in actually making music?

By Scott Hudson on May 24, 2006 12:55 PM

Don’t forget about the brass guys! I’m a F Horn player, though not professionally…


By Danny on May 24, 2006 4:15 PM

Marvellous history Bob.

After a *long* break the wife and I just recently flipped the other way, from synths (initially analog) to guitar and bass - tactile is good. I’m now very much a tender-fingered newbie, but if you have any suggestions for not-over-tricky Zep songz to cover (ideally in Turtle notation), I’d be most grateful.

By Tim Bray on May 25, 2006 11:23 PM

Kashmir? Hell, I wanna play Whole Lotta Love.

By Bob DuCharme on May 26, 2006 7:30 AM

And I believe Page did break out the bow for that one.