A show of hands, please. How many among you felt absolutely certain that you would never see a review of this band again? Especially in these pages! Just what I thought. Nearly unanimous. And such a supposition would be fully warranted- given the track records of the specific parties involved; and the inordinate amount of water (twenty years worth) under the proverbial bridge.
For, Sequel disbanded long ago, in 1985 to be exact; while Two Louies remained, steering true her course through the myriad raging storms of vicissitudes which have intermittently beswept our local musical pond over the intervening years. And we only are escaped alone to tell thee.
Thus was not always such. Once upon a time, at the dawn of the ‘80s, the Portland music scene was alive and thriving to the sounds of a multitude of what were to become known as “hair bands,” perhaps you remember the look from your youth: the shaggy, highly teased mane, the sleeveless t-shirts, set off with the de rigueur kerchief, draped loosely at the neck; tight pants (spandex if possible), secured with an array of metal-studded belts, made to look like bandoleros. In some cases, the music seemed secondary to the outlaw rock cowboy look. But, whatever the case, at the top of that particularly popular heap of local hair bands (an image probably best not dwelled upon) was Sequel.
Modeled after any number of successful, slightly metal-ized new wave pop/rock bands of the day- as were being showcased on the nascent MTV music video network (especially acts such as Boston, Journey, Cheap Trick, the Romantics, the Cars, Loverboy, Rick Springfield and Bryan Adams), Sequel were widely pursued by huge flocks of youthful feminine pulchritude- who themselves mostly resembled some variation of Farrah Fawcett Majors- an actress who mysteriously maintained a staunchly ironclad fashion influence among a deep stratum of young Portland females, long, long after her career had swerved into an irrevocable death roll. To this very day, vestiges of the Farrah Fawcett phenomenon can still be observed within a variety of local sub-cultures.
As is most usually the case, because the aforementioned fine-feathered creatures tended to congregate at watering holes at which Sequel was the performing act, large groups of males of the species were also known to frequent these same sites. This much alone would qualify Sequel for a mention in any honor roll of local rock bands. But that is just the beginning of their story.
Propitiously enough, they were not only booked by Andy Gilbert, notorious head of the locally powerful Pacific Talent agency, but Sequel were also managed by Bob (“The Big B.A.”) Ancheta, who also just happened to be a prime-time disc jockey for then demographically desirable KGON radio.
As with a few other more successful bands, Sequel released a locally-produced full length album. While many bands were putting out 45’s in those times (still the coin of the realm, even in the early ‘80s) the expense of a full-length album (often in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars), proved financially prohibitive to the typical band of the day.
Sequel’s eponymously entitled first album, which was produced by the legendary Marlon McLain (of Pleasure fame) and released in 1982 on Double-T David Leikin’s Lucky records label, sold well on a regional level, with several songs receiving regional radio airplay.
Exploiting a dramatic rise in interest in local recordings (with innumerable samples from which to choose), KGON released two “homegrown” compilation albums featuring regional talent. Competition among bands was extremely intense for selection to one of the coveted ten tracks on the album. However, KGON incurred the wrath of many rejected acts, when it became known that Sequel just happened to be the only band selected to appear on both albums.
In an exceedingly rare instance of actual hard-hitting “journalism,” Two Louies, smelling a rat, stepped to the fore, charging Bob Ancheta with a conflict of interest: for acting as Sequel’s manager while simultaneously promoting them through his position at KGON. Receiving several official letters of complaint, the FCC eventually looked into the matter. But nothing ever came of any assertions.
Two Louies was hardly a favored publication in Sequel’s world view in the first place. The relationship between the band and our illustrious publication was always contentious, to say the very least. Much of the problem stemmed from a column wherein TL staff writer Gary Aker, posed that infamously crass, cynically snide and sublimely rhetorical musical question , “Sequel to what?” That question was never satisfactorily addressed nor resolved. It simply caused a lot of trouble.
Sequel broke up in 1985, having only released the one album. Oddly, only bassist Todd Jensen went on to greater success on a national level, joining the band Hardline (which featured Neal Schon, formerly of Journey and Santana before that) on MCA with Salem drummer Deen Castronovo. Later, Todd performed on a Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) album and tour. He also spent six months recording demos with Ozzy Osbourne; eventually leaving that gig to tour for several years behind the likes of David Lee Roth and Alice Cooper.
But, for the most part, the remaining members have maintained low profiles in the nearly twenty years since the band’s breakup- operating well outside any sort of media scrutiny, with the possible exception of guitarist, and band founder, Greg Georgeson, who works with Tommy Tutone (another appropriate reference from the ‘80s).
Still, around 1995, Georgeson along with former members, drummer Grant Roholt and guitarist David Wall began performing as Sequel again, with the occasional reunion gig. A year ago they re-released that first Sequel album and performed a reunion show at the Roseland Grill, meeting with favorable public response, if not a great deal of critical acclaim. This year’s release has seen far less exposure than its predecessor: since it was never released in the first place.
So the story goes, the band had seven of the ten songs found here already in the can, recorded at Desitrek studios throughout the course of 1983, when a label convinced the boys to shelve the project, to concentrate instead upon some other fishing expedition that never panned out. The band eventually broke up before they could ever release this (ahem) sequel to their successful first album. Fleshed out with three songs recorded live at the dear departed Euphoria in early ’83 which were used at the tine as demos for shopping the band to various labels, this album fully captures a band in a time and a place which seem far removed from today’s far more violent and menacing world.
And, taken on those terms, this album is a fun walk down memory lane. The songs are catchy as hell, almost all edgy new wavey, hard driving eighth-note songs, with infectious pop hooks and fairly vacant lyrics. But what stands out about Sequel are extremely tight ensemble playing, strong three-part vocal harmonies and Georgeson’s sterling lead guitar work, which was always the obvious strength of the band.
The title track comes on strong, with a sneering Loverboy swagger to the vocals. Georgeson throws out a series of discreetly flashy guitar riffs which in some ways call to mind Blue Oyster Cult’s Buck Dharma. “I’m Losin’” could be the work of Survivor (“Eye Of The Tiger”) or a similarly positioned ‘80s outfit, with urgent vocals and a sense of drama which belie the rather mundane lyrical subject matter.
One of the strongest cuts of the ten is “Over You Now.” Roholt’s throbbing toms provide the jungle intensity for a song that could pass as the logical follow up to Toto’s “Hold The Line,” with perhaps a hint of Mickey Thomas-era Jefferson Starship (think of their hit of that time, “Jane”) thrown in. Georgeson’s guitar solo is fiercely redolent of the work of Steve Lukather, chuckling and chortling like a squirrel in a walnut tree.
It’s Not Me” has a fine fugal sort of chord progression in the verses and a catchy chorus to recommend It, a tad reminiscent of early Cheap Trick maybe, as well as any number of similar bands of that time period. A keyboard makes an unlikely appearance in the bridge of “Pull The Trigger,” although its presence does little to alter the musical mood of adolescent hedonism.
“The Jealous Type” heads in a little bit different stylistic direction- more toward the Romantics’ “Talking In Your Sleep,” Greg Kihn’s “Jeopardy” or Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra,” with a sneaky guitar riff which seductively slinks through the verses- with decent results, although the track is a bit of a stretch for a Sequel song. Still, Georgeson’s Eddie Van Halen imbued solo is worth checking out.
More in Sequel’s wheelhouse is “Untouchable,” a song with numerous Loverboy allusions. All that’s missing is Mike Reno with bandana head band (thankfully, none of the members of Sequel ever adopted a bandana headband). The Cars influence (which was never particularly huge in Sequel land) can be heard on the first of the three live recordings (which are nearly indistinguishable from their studio counterparts) “You Like You.” A crisp four-chord progression on guitars mirrors the Cars’ arrangement of “It’s All I Can Do” from their “Candy-O” period, while the vocals here seem far more evocative of Cars vocalist Benjamin Orr than anything else in the Sequel oeuvre. All this is put aside however, with a classic Cheap Trick-like chorus and bridge. Still, the song is an obvious stylistic departure for Sequel.
Journey come to mind as part of the inspiration for that “Kind Of Girl, ” as does, oddly enough, Tom Petty. Uncharacteristically chunky guitar chords played against a chiming guitar figure create a somewhat jarringly juxtaposed musical milieu- for a Sequel song. The band seems somewhat out it’s element here, as with the previous track. It would seem that Sequel were recorded in the midst of attempting to make some additions or modifications to their overall sound- trying out new styles and textures to which they had been recently exposed, with the intent of incorporating some of those elements into their own material. Even the more traditional components of the final cut, “She’s Loaded” indicate a least a partial desire on the part of the band to broaden their musical scope- at least to a certain extent.
Why most of the studio recordings found here, recorded subsequent to the final three live tracks (which were recorded at Euphoria March of ‘83), lack that same spirit of experimentation is a bit of a mystery. It is almost as if the band had second thoughts and retreated to more familiar musical turf. Which is something of a shame.
Sequel were never going to change the world. That much is clear from what we find here. For here is one of those rare bands for whom the parts were greater than the sum. Georgeson and Jensen stand out as fine singers and musicians. The songs are well-crafted, as far as they go (which is not far at all) and well-executed, for what they are.
Sequel never made the transition to the big time, because they sounded much too derivative, without a clearly defined sound of their own. They were, however, the perfect club band for the day. They were good looking young men, who sang about the sort of innocuous interpersonal relationships to which they were constantly exposed in that rarefied atmosphere in which they played. And a large portion of the public ate it up, for several years.
However, that was twenty years ago. All those fans are now, at least, in their forties. This music is even less pertinent now than it was two decades ago. It has aged about as well as have the people who used to listen to it. It is musical wallpaper. It is nice wallpaper. It is well designed wallpaper, surely not ornate, but intentions were good. Why, however, after twenty years, anyone would want to drag out a collection of wallpaper is beyond me. Perhaps it has some historical value. But what that value may be is difficult to ascertain and most definitely left to the ears of the beholder. And so the question still lingers, after all these years… Sequel to what?
Damn Glad To Meat’cha
The core of the Cowtrippers, vocalist Billy McPhee, guitarist Drew Norman and bassist Will Youngman have been together for the better part of the past decade, first as members of Porcelain God, a very interesting metal/punk band; and for the past five years they have been the Cowtrippers, which, for a while, was sort of a metal/funk band too. They have evolved toward a sort of devolved Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart meet 21st century beat poet (ala Tom Waits) with free-form jazz undertones; a sort of motif that is dense, unwieldy and strangely engaging in its own very peculiar way.
The addition of saxman Benny Morrison has no doubt helped to hasten this move toward avant rock be-bopism, which at times leads the lads to sound as if their songs are being played on a vinyl record whose hole was cut off-center: a woozy, boozy off-kilter swoon; a lurching, leering derelict pervert of a sound that has its appeal, there is no denying, despite a decided propensity on the band‘s part toward noise for noise’s sake. From the sounds of it, the eight or nine individuals in attendance at the venues where these live recordings were captured, found the music to be challengingly entertaining- if their response is any indication of anything. Well, it’s all enough to give new meaning to the term mad cow disease.
These are mad cows of a completely different color.
The album begins with a brief announcement of the band’s name. Then, as if jump starting an old pick-up truck, the quintet spring into action, with “The Mime Before Me.” Morrison’s abstract sax expositions meld with Norman’s distorted guitar, as Youngman maneuvers through intricate basslines, deftly matched with Tony Esperanza‘s drums. Meanwhile McPhee expostulates, seemingly extemporaneously (though that is clearly an act) a vague tale. As the piece winds down, it segues into the heavy metal/ soul strut title number- which is buoyed by Esperanza’s smart backbeat
From here, the ‘Trippers move into the vaguely hip hoppish territory of “66 Pills,” where McPhee’s writhing, guttural vocal tightens around visceral words: “I have my escape it tickles me inside/Knocks me to the ground, knocks me down to size/Size is bigger than life and I feel these colors change/I run and I still run but I’m tied down by these chains.” Sounds like the Rush Limbaugh story to me.
“Real Swell Guy” profiles a stereotypical swinger type fellow: “his shoes are white and plastic, he’s a real swell guy/chest hairs and a large medallion, he’s a real swell guy,” over a fairly straight-ahead (for this band anyway), high speed arrangement. “Rubberman” is a prime example of that misplaced center-hole analogy. McPhee’s insane vocal antics, which seemingly channel Tiny Tim and Spike Jones, at times. Introduced by Mcphee as “Another love song. By the way, every song tonight has been a love song, so you guys can relate, “Analingus” pretty much lives up to its name, ripping a new one over a Esperanza’s stuttering martial beat.
Moving in a dizzy waltz time, Young man provides a mechanistically melodic bassline to “The Zone,” which may be a furthering of the opinions voiced in the previous number. It is not easy to tell. “Ass” nicely reproduces a certain mindset indigenous to this region, which McPhee captures, first with a classic “hick” accent and then by braying mercilessly like a mule (or an ’ass” perhaps. Whatever the case the point is made and well taken. McPhee again seems to be evoking lost cartoon characters on portions of “Penny Wine,” cackling hideously . Still, there are moments when this band sounds like Steely Dan here to, so what are you gonna do?
One would assume that “Pioneer 11” is possibly a tribute to the deep space probing satellite, launched in 1975, with which all contact was lost in 1995. On the surface, that appears to be the case, although one can never be sure with this band. “Every Dog Should Always Have A few Fleas“ starts out as probably the most accessible song of the set, although even this one is tinged with Beefheartian weirdness in the middle, where McPhee again goes bi-polar. The band’s take on Orgone Box’s “Psoriasis Woman” manages to put Rick Corcoran’s original number through a shredder, although the original guitar lick remains mostly intact.
The Cow Trippers have developed into an idiosyncratic performance art band with few counterparts in the known real world. Most certainly this is the sort of stuff that will not appeal to everyone. But, for the more adventuresome among you, this album might bear some offbeat merit.