|The Birdcage gig had probably been the low point of our career to date and we were determined never to do any more shows just for the money (unless we really, really needed to). One of Tracks’ highpoint shows was when The Jam came through Boston in mid-October. In case you don’t know, they were a power trio from England fronted by Paul Weller. Very mod and power pop, they were real big in the U.K. getting massive write-ups in Melody Maker and New Musical Express and being toted as if they were the second coming of the Beatles. Even with all the hype, their Polygram/Polydor debut release hadn’t made any significant impact on mainstream U.S. radio. But now college stations here were beginning to play “In the City” a very catchy rocker that had more than a tinge of early Clash-like punk. Sound-wise, the Jam were kind of a mix of that band and the Who. A buzz was starting that they were the “next big thing”. They were just coming off a Scandinavian tour and only played three venues in the States. A few shows each at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in Los Angeles, CBGBs in New York, and in between a few nights at the Rat in Boston. Then it was back to England., not to return to America for another year. But, Boston’s new wave underground was well aware of the Jam and they showed up en masse at the Rat. The band was impressive. Wearing very mod black suits and ties, jumping all over the stage with Pete Townshend whirlwind movements and displaying loads of angst under the bright stage lights. The Rat was barely big enough to contain their act. There were all sorts of industry suits scattered about that Rat owner Jim Harold was trying to keep happy. He had the band using his upstairs office as a dressing room. Something he only did for the biggest stars. I wasn’t a big fan (a little too pop and showtime punk for my tastes), but their stage show was entertaining and I got a bit caught up in the excitement. It turned into one of those nights when Rat soundman (and much more) Granny had to help me get plugged in to my Fender and sort of lead me to the proper location on the stage. But once Lorry counted off her “1-2-3-4!” I was on automatic pilot and I think we did a pretty good show. At least from my perspective it was pretty good. I know I certainly enjoyed it.|
|The Jam - In 1977 this power pop, mod trio was making a big bang back in the U.K. and were poised to do the same in the U.S.|
|Tracks..the Wild Ones|
|The Jam - Backstage at CBGBs the week after their shows at the Rat in Boston. They also played at the Whisky A-Go-Go in Los Angeles - the only three U.S. venues they did in 1977.
Photo - Lisa J. Kristal
|Jim Harold, of course, had to give us our penance for allowing us such a primo gig so he kept us on to play on the Sunday night after the big weekend. We had gotten very little sleep, were hung over, and the Rat was dead, dead, dead. There were all of maybe ten people there and I think they were relatives of the audition band we were playing with. So we got as buzzed as our bodies would allow and started off a very sloppy set. I started to think it was all pretty comical and was kind of getting off on being so crappy. That is until I saw Jim Harold at a table just off of stage right. He was sitting with one of the Polygram/Polydor suits from the Jam’s entourage and they were watching us intently. In between songs, they would huddle together, obviously discussing the finer points of our outstanding musicianship. Lorry caught wind of what was going on and we made a valiant effort to salvage the set. But, it was too late. If anything, our efforts made things worse and we stumbled through a few more out of tune, out of tempo songs before putting it out of its misery with a very loud and very off-key power chord. I don’t think we had ever done a worse set.
|Chapter 10. TRACKS – Jamming with Jimmy
By the autumn of 1977 things were going along pretty well for Tracks. We had gotten a test pressing back from GRT in Nashville. It sounded real good so we gave the go ahead for pressing “Brakes On You”. John Shriver by now was really into the groove of the band. Tracks was always a rhythm driven group and his addition on bass kept everything fresh and inspired Lorry and me to write a new batch of material. I thought it was some of the strongest we had come up with.
|TRACKS with the Fall 1977 line-up of (l-r)
Jeff Rey, Wild Johnny Lewis, John Shriver and Lorry Doll
Photo - Fred Taylor
|Embarrassed and pissed at myself for having such a half-assed attitude towards our music, I packed up my equipment, noting that Jim and the suit were still engaged in serious conversation. When Lorry and I came back out of the dressing room Jim, now alone at the table, called us over. He was acting very friendly, asked Lorry to give him a call the next day, ordered us drinks and left. Well. To begin with Jim never sat down and watched any of our shows before and never, ever bought us a drink. Intriguing.
So on Monday Lorry called the Rat, didn’t talk to Jim but was told that we were to meet him in his office that evening. We never found out what that Polygram guy told him, but it must have been interesting because that night Jim introduced Lorry and me to the two guys who were running Rat Records for him and said he wanted us to be on his label. We really didn’t know what to think. We knew “Live at the Rat” (the compilation album we were banned from when we got kicked out of the Rat on our first gig) but this was the first we were hearing about any individual projects. I guess our lack of amazement kind of showed ‘cause Jim started telling us he thought we were real unique having a chick singer and a genuine punk sound and that whether we signed with him or not, he thought we deserved the best Rat gigs.
|Jim wanted to start us off on a mini-tour along with the Nervous Eaters (who Lorry and I thought were great) and some other Boston bands. We would be doing CBGBs and a bunch of other clubs in East Coast cities where new wave was breaking and then kick off a short Canadian tour at the El Macombo in Toronto. Well, we were flattered and this was all getting pretty interesting but then Jim and his record guys started asking about who wrote the songs and who had the publishing rights and we knew this was getting down to some serious business. Well after a few more discussions during the week, a contract was made up and we took it home to look over. I had never seen a recording contract before and it struck me as being very one sided to the benefit of the record company. There was a hippie/biker lawyer, Peter, who had a loft upstairs at Blue Door and he confirmed that all this legalese really meant what I thought it did. Rat Records would basically own Tracks and our songs. In reality, not unusual then or now.
Make no mistake about it, Lorry Doll was the leader of Tracks. At the time, I was writing and arranging the majority of our material and I was the one who initially pushed (a very reluctant) Lorry into fronting our band. But she ultimately decided which songs she was gonna perform, how they would be done, where we would play and she set up all the gigs. It was no big sacrifice on my part, Lorry and I were of one mind on the music and our direction. As lead singer, Lorry was the one who would take the full brunt of anything going wrong so it was only fair she had full control of the situation on stage. But, for stuff like this, stuff that could impact our future – stuff you could really screw up – she left to me. I consulted the other guys in the band, but my mind was already made up.
We would have a single out in a few weeks. Lorry and I had written it, produced it, designed the package and put it all together ourselves. We didn’t know from D.I.Y. back then. All we knew is that it was totally our piece. No one could take credit or criticism for it but us, nor could we blame anyone but ourselves for its failure. Maybe this sounds extremely naïve, but we had more or less given up our art for music and at that point in time I wasn’t about to give up control over it to anyone. It didn’t matter whether it was Rat Records, Polygram/Polydor or even Columbia, the answer was going to be the same. Thanks, but no thanks.
EPILOUGE: To his credit, Jim Harold continued to give us good gigs at his club. Wanting to have our own identity we never did any of the “Rat Showcases” at CBGBs or elsewhere, but we were more than ready to do the Canadian tour. It fell apart at the last minute when either the Canadian or U.S. government required a bond for the cash value of the bands’ equipment. Neither the Rat nor the bands were willing to put up that kind of bread. In retrospect, and artistic control issues aside, it probably would have made good business sense to have gone with Rat Records. Although “Brakes On You” managed to get quite a bit of airplay and decent sales (much of it well after we left Boston), having had only one single out as Tracks, we didn’t get anywhere near the exposure we could have had. Jim turned out to be a real straight shooter and I think his handling of the Nervous Eaters probably had a lot to do with them eventually getting a contract with Elektra. But, it wasn't the last record contract we would turn down and I never did lose any sleep over my decisions.