How Joe and I Started Working Together

by Ray Ashley

People often ask how Joe and I started playing music together. Since its been about ten years, I figure it is time to tell the story.

This was 1987, and I was just beginning to accept the demise of my first serious band, Armadillo. We had called it quits with just a few gigs to our credit and one great album in the can that the world would never hear. I temporarily left the Albany area, and that mess, behind, to spend some time back home in Jersey to see if I could get something going down here. I was mainly playing bass at the time, and was also busy writing the material that would be my first solo album.

When I first met Joe he was co-hosting the radio show The Technicolor Yawn which aired on WCPR back in the 80's. Hoboken's WCPR was one of those pirate radio stations that had something of a shady reputation with the FCC, and the neo-dada Yawn was one of it's flagship creations. Joe's co-host Patrick Marks was an old high school buddy of mine, and together they terrorized the airwaves above late 80's renaissance Hoboken. By night, Joe was drumming on odd jobs and studio dates, mostly jazz stuff. How he managed to pull all this off without owning his own drum kit is still a mystery to me.

But back to my story. Pat Marks knew, through his avante contacts, the late great dada-guitar icon Lord Byron Von Erect. Pat introduced us to Byron at a late stage in his career, long after the glory days of Be Bien Juan and Get Into Drugs. His whole band had quit on him, but he needed to get out and play again in a last ditch attempt at a comeback. Enter Joe and I. We were both in awe of his presence, even at this stage in his carreer, and were eager to work with him.

To be honest, learning to play the basic rhythm tracks originally played by Kermit and Tommy Prior want't too hard. With these songs, the real element was what Byron did with them on stage. Like Jeckyl and Hyde, Byron was tranformed under the spotlights from the quiet, brooding kid from Westfield into the master showman that he was. If there is one figure who taught me the meaning to the word "showtime", it was Byron. I remember how he reacted once to an audience heckler in a Jamesburg club. "Don't be mean to Byron!" he rapped in the improvised mid section to Heavy Metal Dog Food "last one who was mean to Byron - he is dead - at the bottom of a swamp - with an icepick in his head!".

The great thing about this gig was the freedom Byron gave to Joe and I. Like a Zappa or a Miles, he was a band leader who nurtured many great talents. I think that Byron went beyond those two titans, however, in that he was as willing to let his sidemen take crazy chances on stage as he was willing to take them himself. As one music critic wrote, "Unlike the punk posers who waste our time with the same three chord attempts at 'edginess', Lord Byron is a true master of chaos: he sets it into motion and then makes no attempt to control it, he simply reviles in it".

The most memorable gig that we did on that tour was New Year's Eve 1987. It was one of those all night shows where we played all the material from Be Bien Juan, Heavy Metal Dog Food, and Get Into Drugs. I also recall him letting me sing one or two Armadillo songs and us swapping off vocals on a long psychadelically twisted rendition of the theme from the 60's Batman TV show. Joe wasn't singing in this band, probably because his classically trained voice didn't mesh well with Byron's vision of global anarchy. For that matter, Joe didn't even have a proper drum kit (of course, Kermit never did either),relying on electronic drums and odd percussive items.

That New Years gig was also our last. After that, I went off to the service, and Joe waded his way into the computer business. But we did make a pact that as soon as I got back from the war, that we'd get a band together. That would not be until 1992. After my return, we got one last power trio together called PDQ. After that folded, I took up the Stick, we started Torq, and the rest is, well, you know. But through it all, I will always remember those early days touring the lower Raritan Valley with Byron Von Erect.

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