I just felt like saying “thank you”. And a few other things. Enjoy this unofficial episode of the LeBrain Train.
FEEL – “I Become You” (1994 independent VHS tape)
Not all great bands make it, and Feel was a great band. Formerly Russian Blue, Feel were active on the Toronto rock scene in the early 90s. When things went grunge, they adapted their melodic rock to the times. The result was dark, not-quite-mainstream hard rock that could appeal to both sides of the aisle. Their album This (get it? Feel This?) had a number of memorable tracks. They also released a home video for lead song “I Become You”.
The video arrived personally autographed by all four band members; a nice touch. In addition to being a top quality song, “I Become You” is also a slick looking, well-edited music video. It utilises tricks like slow and fast motion, still photos, and plenty of camera movement. The result is a briskly paced video with a band always in motion. The guitar solo segment is particularly good. Feel were television ready, if only the chips had fallen differently. Frontman Joe Donner had the chops and certainly appeared ready to be the next rock sensation.
Make sure you watch the video to the end, as I added some bonus content! In 1993 Feel released a sampler cassette called A Taste Of…. I included the “Introduction” track at the end of the video, as it has a sampling of the album and even an unreleased riff that didn’t make it. Check it out and let me know what you think of Feel!
These paragraphs were chopped from Record Store Tales Part 6: The Record Store, Year 1. I dunno why.
GETTING MORE TALE #715: The Lost Chapters – “The First Year”
Ever seen High Fidelity with John Cusack? When Cusack says, “I hired these guys to come in three days a week, and they started coming in every day. There’s nothing I can do to stop it.” That was us. That me and T-Rev. The boss man hired on Trev in the fall, two months after I started. We worked opposite nights and opposite weekends. We were like ships passing in the night. We never would have gotten to be such tight friends if we didn’t keep coming into the store every freaking day!
See, as used CD store, we got in new inventory every day. We were getting in cool shit. I was just beginning to transfer my music collection over from cassette to CD, so I just started to upgrade and buy up old back catalogue. I snagged You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll by Twisted Sister that year, which was a big deal to me because it was deleted at the time. I got some Dio CDs that I never had before. I began collecting Rush in earnest. We had rarities too. I got a split King’s X / Faith No More live bootleg called Kings of the Absurb which is pretty damn good. I really got quite a few CD singles at that time too. A few previously unknown Faith No More singles dropped into my lap. It was crucial to come in frequently. If you didn’t, you might miss something you were looking for. Or something you didn’t know you were looking for.
After two months of shadowing the owner, I was working solo and loving it. I got to pick my own music every night, within reason. There were obscure rules. Judas Priest was out, but Soundgarden was OK. Anything that was a new charting release was considered OK for store play. We were allowed to open anything to play it, as long as we didn’t abuse that. For the first while we were even allowed to bring music from home.
That ended when I brought in a bunch of recent purchases to listen to one morning. They included an indi band from Toronto, called Feel, formerly known as Russian Blue. The sound was vital, and the early 90s buzz was that Toronto was going to be the next Seattle. I was all over these bands, like Slash Puppet, Russian Blue, Attitude (later Jesus Chris), Gypsy Jayne, and the rest.
[An aside: I caught a little flak when I took in a used copy of Slash Puppet. “This is an indi band,” the boss complained. “It’ll sell,” I defended myself. “Trust me I know this band.” I knew half a dozen customers by name that I could recommend it to. I sold it to the first of those guys to come in, this insurance guy named Tony who loved 80s rock. He bought it after one listen.]
The day I had my personal Feel This CD in the store player, a customer noticed it. He thought it was cool, wanted it, and asked how much. I had to tell him it was my own personal copy, and no I couldn’t order it in because it was an indi band. He would have to write to the band to get a copy, and I wrote down the information inside the CD for him.
The boss thought this was kind of a silly situation, and rightfully so. Why play music we weren’t selling and were not able to sell? This was a store. So that ended. No more bringing music from home. I guess I’m the guy who ruined it for generations of Record Store employees to come.
FEEL – This (1994 Feel)
Russian Blue followed their critically acclaimed demo tapes with a full length CD, but perhaps it was the long wait that killed their chances. Between 1991 and 1994, the entire musical landscape had turned itself upside down. A name change was in order to suit the new climate, and after using the name Deadmoon for a little while, they settled on Feel. Simple: one word, one syllable, and trendy. Would they be able to maintain a level of quality over a full-length CD?
Almost. There is very little dead weight on Feel This.
“I Become You” is brutalizing, menacing, grooving detuned grunge. The presence of the bass is felt on this heavy recording. What Feel had that was different from other bands was the Axl-like screech of frontman Jo E. Donner. Indeed, when Donner multi-tracks his high voice with his lower register, the overall feeling is very Axl. Donner bellows forcefully, blowing out the speakers but not without help. Guitarist Richard Gauci and drummer Mike Willerding were capable of playing challenging rock. The drum patterns are busy and and Gauci is able to both shred like a hero, and also create the kind of noise that you needed to do in the 90’s. The band were between bassists. Robo was no longer in the band, so there are a couple session players on the CD.
Several smouldering tracks in a row occupy the first half of the album. “What You Made of Me”, “Wild Eye” and the lengthy “Brotherhood” all boast heavy guitar and vocal hooks. Wimps need not apply; Feel go for the throat even with a slower tempo. The songs sound well thought out, with attention given to every shriek and guitar noise manipulation. The bass grooves are absolutely key to all of this. Rumbling and shaking like a good Soundgarden line, they deliver the bass chills that fans of such sounds love. But was it all too similar to the chilly winds that had blown in from Seattle? Feel had been growing heavier and groovier on the demo tapes already, so I believe this to be a natural evolution that happened independently from the Seattle scene. Witness other Canadian bands such as I Mother Earth, who also evolved on their own into something that fit into that 90’s box.
The centerpiece of the album has to be “I Am Your Mind”. Long with a droning, irresistible chorus and cool lyrics — what’s not to like? This tune takes only one listen to bore its way deep into your medial temporal lobe. Building dramatically, every guitar hook will sink in hard, only for Donner to hit everything home with his powerful larynx. Everything is perfect — a song of this quality could easily have been on Badmotorfinger or Superunknown. Hyperbole? I don’t think so.
The second half of the CD has fewer highlights. After being slammed in the face with so much heaviness, Feel were wise to put on an acoustic number next. “Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong” is good, and shows off the band’s Zeppelin influences especially in the vocals. It’s just that Feel unplugged doesn’t have the kick that Feel does fully electrified. On the other hand, another listener might say it’s the best track. The first skipper is “Under My Wing”, too slow and boring. Not enough Sabbathy slow, just stuck in the wrong gear. Back to the groove is the killer “Drip Sweet Blood”. Making use of trendy 90’s vocal distortion, Donner blows the speakers especially around the 3:15 mark with another hair-raising bellow — just awesome. “Stand on Walls” sounds something like a Skid Row outtake. It’s nothing outstanding, but it’s only 3:38. Closing the disc is “All”, which was formerly known as “Black” on the second Russian Blue demo. The psychedelic intro from the demo was axed, tightening up the song and amplifying its power. Alternating from soft to loud, “All” kind of does have it all, at least for 1994.
Feel could have got themselves off to a great career with This as a debut album. Unfortunately I think by 1994 it was already too late.
RUSSIAN BLUE – Russian Blue demo #1 (1990), demo #2 (1991)
Russian Blue were a Toronto hard rock act fronted by the talented Jo E. Donner who, in a perfect world, would have been signed to a major label deal had not the roof caved in when grunge arrived. They first rose to national awareness as part of the legendary Raw M.E.A.T Vol 1 compilation of Canadian indi rockers. Upon hearing that first song, “Once a Madman”, I was immediately hooked on this band! Donner had the pipes (often compared to a young Robert Plant) and the looks (also Plant), and the band clearly had the writing chops to crank out at least one world class rock song. Its slow build was unusual in hard rock at the time, as was the lack of an actual chorus. I had to hear more, so I wrote the band and ordered a tape.
The first self-titled tape came in a professionally printed three colour J-card, with printed stickers on a white cassette. Pretty pro for the time. The J-card itself is a three panel fold out, with a black and white photo of the band and lyrics too. Four songs, same both sides. Let’s give’r.
The familiar tamborine and guitar licks of “Once a Madman” open the first tape. M.E.A.T editor Drew Masters always advised bands submitting demo tapes to keep it short (three to five songs), professional looking, and top-loaded with the best songs. Someone listening to a tape was likely to hit eject after the first half of the first song if they weren’t feeling it. Russian Blue must have been paying attention because they hit all three marks. (Masters’ other major beef with bands was not listing the song titles, the name of the band, or any contact info on a demo tape!) The second strongest song “Likkin’ Dog” (ugh, come on, spelling) is suitably next in line. Digging into a heavy groove and solid riff, I’m reminded of early Skid Row or Guns N’ Roses. Donner truly had the voice of a rock star. The other members (guitarist Richard Gauci, drummer Mike Willerding and bassist “Robo”) are also up to the task. Gauci in particular boasts an impressive arsenal of tricks and licks for a guy you’ve never heard of before.
“Miss Precocious” enters with the same drum drum hook as “Dirty Weapons” by Killer Dwarfs which came out earlier that year. Coincidence or inspiration aside, it’s a demo so it’s not a big deal. “Miss Precocious” is an OK sleaze rocker that David Coverdale would have been comfortable taking a spin with. This could have been on Slip of the Tongue as one of David’s randy odes to young ladies. The generic “Had Enough” is the weakest of the four tracks, and is last on the tape for that reason.
A brief history of M.E.A.T Magazine
Russian Blue added me to their mailing list and sent updates as to their current goings-on. A second demo tape with four all-new songs was put up for sale and I ordered mine forthwith. I was disappointed that the second demo didn’t come as professionally packaged as the first, but I suspect that the band spent all their money on that first tape and the spot on Raw M.E.A.T Vol 1. The second tape came in a hand-made J-card with a photocopied band photo on the front and a sticker with the song titles inside. Unfortunately the second song is misspelled “Balck” (“Black”) and this carried over to the sticker on the cassette shell as well. The tape, a TDK D50 (50 minutes was a specialized length) was of good quality and has the same songs on both sides. The tape also came with a little Russian Blue paper logo. At least they tried.
The second demo showed the creeping influence of darker alternative tendencies. “Mama’s Love” was different from anything on the first demo, taking a swampy minimalist approach to the verses. When Donner rips out some rock shrieks, things kick up on a notch or two on the chorus. The song is almost equal to “Once a Madman” in terms of quality, but traversing a different more menacing direction. Keeping the stronger tunes up front, “Balck”…err, I mean “Black” is second in quality. It opens with a psychedelic lullaby-like opening, before creeping into another swampy groove. The vibe is nastier, including the first “F-bomb” of the album: “Nothing lasts forever, except the words to this fuckin’ song.” It’s a good track and though it didn’t really last forever, it did get re-worked into “All”, a song on Russian Blue’s only full length CD, after they changed their name to Feel. The album was called This (1994).
“Child of the Ocean” has a drony, spare riff and a cool exotic sounding guitar solo by Richard Gauci. It continues Russian Blue’s journey into less mainstream sounds, as this is a dreamy rocker. The final song, which is the F-bomb laden “Bleed”, is the most old school. This one is basically a Guns N’ Roses B-side wannabe, but who gives an F-bomb? Russian Blue had ability to pull of a ballsy song like “Bleed”, false ending and all, without sounding like douchebags. Good on them.
A few years back, I posted a chapter of Record Store Tales (Part 146) about my cassette collection called Cassettes Part II – The Indi Years. I showed off these old Russian Blue tapes, and less than a month later, a fellow enthusiast found the post and contacted me. He was really excited about this second demo, because he had never seen it nor even heard of it before. He didn’t know that Russian Blue had anything out between the first demo tape, and Raw M.E.A.T Vol 3 (1992), to which they contributed “Mama’s Love”. It’s always a pleasure to be able to bring content like this to the internet, finally shedding light on the dark crevasses of rock and roll that were previously obscure. The reader told me, “I was really into these guys back in high school. I pretty much bought a cowbell because of ‘Once A Madman'”. How awesome is that?
Given that you have to allow for certain deficiencies in demos, especially from the cassette era, I am giving Russian Blue a grade based on the reasonable expectations from the period. That considered, the Russian Blue demos come in at:
4/5 stars each.
Aaron at the KMA and I have coordinated posts today about cassette singles! If you can’t get enough, click here for his! Geoff at the 1001 has also thrown his hat into the ring, and you can see his cassettes here!
RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale #356: Cassingles
Cassingle (noun): “cassette single”, a musical single release, usually consisting of two songs, on the cassette format.
A couple years ago, my parents found in their basement something I had lost and presumed would never see again: an old shoebox full of my old cassette singles! This was especially valuable to me, because a couple of those cassettes have exclusive tracks on them that have never been released on any other format. Helix’s “Good to the Last Drop” is one such single. Van Halen’s “Right Now” is another.
The shoebox also contained my prized cassette copy of the Sonic Temple Collection by The Cult. Buy cassette one (“Fire Woman”) and you can send away for the box. Buy cassette two (“Edie”) and you get three Cult cards. Buy cassette three (“Sweet Soul Sister”), and you can send away for a Sonic Temple pin. (Which I still have, just not handy for a picture.)
There are some tapes that I know I’m missing. They include three by Warrant: “Cherry Pie”, “I Saw Red”, and the horrid “We Will Rock You”, which I probably sold at garage sales when I temporarily disowned Warrant in the 1990’s! I could also swear that I owned Extreme’s “More Than Words”, but I don’t know what happened to that one. I’m not worried about it since the B-side remix track is being reissued on the deluxe edition of the Pornograffitti album. Maybe I gave it to Crazy Thunder Bay Girl!
Check out what remains of my cassingle collection below.
Above: A brief history of M.E.A.T Magazine…
RECORD STORE TALES Part 146: Cassettes Part II – The Indi Years
Back in the days of the record store and M.E.A.T Magazine, I was into every indi band I could get my hands on. M.E.A.T released a series of discs, four volumes total, called Raw M.E.A.T, showcasing the best in up and coming unsigned Canadian bands. In addition, their magazine featured numerous ads from dozens of bands hawking their demo tapes. Harem Scarem, who later went on to get signed by WEA and had great success in Japan, was one. Unfortunately I never got their demo tape. Just missed it.
One band that I was heavily into was called Russian Blue, from Toronto. They were edgy hard rock. 1/4 Guns N’ Roses, 1/4 Zeppelin, 1/4 Coverdale, and 1/4 their own style. Digging their two demo tapes up (both dated 1991) I was surprised how good this band was. Not only were they good musicians with a truly great singer in Jo E. Donner, but some of the songs were exceptional. They later changed their name to Deadmoon and finally Feel, before finally releasing their own alterna-rock CD called This. (Feel This, get it?) I was seriously into this CD during my first year at the store, as it combined the hard rock vocals that I loved from the past with a current grungier sound. I gave it significant store play, since it was a current hip sound.
Two of their songs that made it onto the Raw M.E.A.T discs were standouts: “Once A Madman” and “Mama’s Love”. But ripping these tapes to disc, I re-discovered two more. The unfortunately titled “Likkin’ Dog” was a great hard rock groover. By the second tape, they were incorporating more experimental alternative sounds (ahead of their game back in 1991) and a track like “Bleed” showcases an angry riffy side.
Donner later formed a band called Ledgend with ex-Slik Toxik drummer Neal Busby, but I don’t know what happened to them after that.
Attitude were a glam rock band from Toronto who scored some video play with their song “Break The Walls Down”. Their cassette looked pro all the way, printed on heavy card stock and even featuring a separate lyric sheet. Their weakness was in the lead vocals department. By 1994 they had abandoned the hard rock stylings and gone for a thrash alternative hybrid and changed their named to Jesus Christ. Probably not a smart move. The CD (released on the major label A&M) looked terribly low budget with awful indi cover art. I recall trying to sell this in our store for 99 cents. (I unfortunately paid $20 for it brand new when it was first released in 1994! Little did I know that we would later see dozens of copies thanks liquidators. They were impossible to sell, even though it boasted a throat-wrenching cover of “Ace of Spades”.)
Lastly, Gypsy Jayne were a very talented group from Oakville Ontario. They released a song under the generic name Wildside on a Raw M.E.A.T CD first. Then they changed their name and put out a cassette. This cassette got a lot of car play back in the record store days, and when we had a tape deck in the store I even gave it some store play. Gypsy Jayne were very much in the mold of Illusions-era Guns N’ Roses. Not terribly original, but their ace in the hole was their classically trained guitarist Johannes Linstead. His talent speaks for itself today, as a nominee for a Juno award and winner of several other prestigious awards. He has several flamenco albums out today, but to me I’ll always remember him as the shredder in Gypsy Jayne, playing alongside the Axl Rose clone Andy Law. (The Gypsy Jayne cassette, Alive and Wandering, has an early flamenco piece called “Romanza”!)
The songwriting on this cassette is really excellent for what it is. Every song is different, but memorable, catchy, and with a distinct direction. If they had come out a year or two earlier, they could have been as big as L.A. Guns, Cinderella, or any of those bands.
Unfortunately, this cassette was well loved and well worn, and is barely listenable today. Hey Johannes…any chance of a reissue?