Tin Huey

TrackAlbum / EP
Cuyahoga Creeping BentTin Huey
Robert Takes The Road To LiebernawashBreakfast With The Hueys
I'm A BelieverContents Dislodged
During Shipment
Hump DayContents Dislodged
During Shipment
New York's Finest Dining ExperienceContents Dislodged
During Shipment
English KidsEnglish Kids
Almost Transparentdisinformation
Living With Strangersdisinformation
ArmadilloSneak Peak
Right Now, Betty WhiteBefore Obscurity

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Tin Huey photo

The influential Akron new wave band, Tin Huey

 

 

Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

In his 1978 Village Voice article which launched the idea something called “The Akron Sound” existed, critic Robert Christgau wrote “Tin Huey’s music is also impure … with influences like Robert Wyatt, Ornette Coleman, Henry Cow, and Faust (the group, not the hero) … they’re Akron esoterics”. He later went on to write in the same article, “But where most groups use difficult keys and meters to get closer to Atlantis, or transubstantiation, Tin Huey seemed to be seeking the eternal secret of the whoopee cushion.” And while Christgau has fun listing the influences he most certainly heard, alongside them I also hear Captain Beefheart, Zappa and The Stooges. In fact the Hueys tell a story a little too long for here about meeting Beefheart when they were recording their only major record release in 1979 that makes it pretty clear he and Zappa had some influence on them. Others have also heard the Soft Machine, which isn’t as obvious for me but I can buy. But with all those possible influences running around, I’d still describe Tin Huey as staggering different.

And while every member of the band was extremely talented in their own right, Christgau focused on saxophonist Ralph Carney, the uncle of The Black Keys Pat Carney and future longtime saxophonist for Tom Waits. He also singled out Chris Butler, who would go on to lead the Waitresses (Christmas Wrapping, Square Pegs and I Know What Boys Like).

Their recorded output was spotty; a number of EPs, one full length album in 1979, and a few compilations of outtakes which certainly come off as full length albums as nothing about them says cuts not good enough to make a regular release.

They are the poster child for a band just a bit too off kilter that never planned to be anything but non-commercial to ever find lasting success from a commercial viewpoint. As Christgau said they were using difficult keys and meters to discover the eternal secret of the whoopee cushion, not exactly a recipe for big sales numbers. It also seems their live eccentricities didn’t always translate in the recording studios. Which often happens with a lot of great live acts.

Mark Price, Michael Aylward and Stuart Austin started out as a threesome and called themselves The Rags, who according to the band’s website thought themselves a power trio and were known for such atrocities as 20 minute versions of Paul McCartney’s That Would Be Something. At that time Price (then known as Wesley the Stash) played guitar, Aylward played bass and Austin (who called himself Napoleon Lemens) played drums. Harvey Gold joined the band around the time they renamed themselves Tin Huey. Price left for a short time, and three other musicians cycled through the band before Price rejoined on bass, Aylward switched to guitar and Ralph Carney joined on saxophone, a move which certainly changed the sound of the group. It’s one thing to have a sax player, something else altogether to have a great sax player. Finally, Chris Butler, who had been playing bass for 15-60-75 (The Numbers Band) also joined on guitar. Four of the six members handled the vocals. The fully formed band decided their forte was aggressive art rock, probably one of the early practitioners of that specific genre.

Tin Huey didn’t record a lot of songs, still on any given day a good half of their recordings could make my Toppermost list; these are just the top ten for today and for now it will have to suffice.

Cuyahoga Creeping Bent off their 1977 self-titled debut EP shows a band that already knew what they wanted to be. The tune shifts back and forth between roaring rock and roll and melancholy sax. It was sonic and supposedly reflective at the same time. I say supposedly as the lyrics are delivered in a way that just screams meaningful but if you actually listen to them? Little odd.

Robert Takes The Road To Liebernawash from 1978’s Breakfast With The Hueys is a song that I can listen to the opening to over and over again, the bass and sax just snake around each other. Which makes sense as it was a Price composition. There is another recorded version released later, but I find this more stripped down version the far superior effort. The vocals dance through a sequence of singing, talking and yelling. Great Tune. “My last day as a boy was spent coding rocks in a zoological garden below the water line” is an all time favorite lyric, and I’m not 100% sure he says coding. Tin Huey lyrics are hard to find.

So then, like any hot cool group, a major label came calling. In fact Jerry Wexler came calling. And their one major label release came about. There was a rumour that the master tapes came loose during shipment and arrived somewhat jumbled in the packaging to Warner Brothers, and that Tin Huey received the message Contents Dislodged During Shipment. However, according to Harvey Gold he and his wife always had Stouffers Frozen French Bread Pizzas in the freezer. One night, during the planning of the album, Gold happened to look at the box and read “Contents may become dislodged during shipment”. He thought that pretty much summed up the Hueys, in intent and results. When they received the first acetate pressings of the mastered albums they arrived warped beyond imagination, and so it seemed Fate had backed him up.

Their first single, and only Tin Huey single that ever touched the charts, was I’m A Believer (see clip at the top). Mistakenly referred to for years as a cover of the Monkees’ song, it was clearly a cover of Robert Wyatt’s cover of the Monkees’ song. That’s important as covering the Monkees is one thing, covering Robert Wyatt is in no way an attempt to generate a hit. It’s a very catchy version regardless.

Hump Day from the same album is a Chris Butler tune that has a frantic tone about it while somehow maintaining a pretty tight sound. It’s a song about Work Work, Work Work, because as Butler says “idle hands are the Devil’s playground”.

New York’s Finest Dining Experience starts off with an almost classic rock riff that makes you think you are going to be hearing, well, what you are not. The Gold/Aylward composition shifts tone a few times, to the point you feel like you are listening to a mash-up, albeit a seamless one, of a couple of different turns. Carney’s sax, as always, is great.

But as the band themselves have more or less said, the album and its aftermath is what happens when a non commercial garage band makes a non commercial album for a label that doesn’t want to get behind it.

So the band negotiated a release in late summer of 1979. Supposedly it took all of two phone calls totaling ten minutes. I really don’t know what Wexler and Warner Brothers expected when they signed them.

They kicked around for a short time with several of them in Woodstock after a series of interesting turns. They recorded some songs at a house rented from the Band’s drummer Levon Helm. Which is just cool. The Woodstock period saw the recording of a lot of great tunes during that time. They were certainly growing even more as musicians. Gold switched to playing a lot of bass and the last of keyboards signaled a bit of a change in their sound.

They released a couple of songs in 1980, today (and perhaps it’ll change tomorrow) English Kids wins out over Sister Rose. Can’t really say why, which is why it may change tomorrow.

And while they all went their more or less separate ways for a bit more than 15 years, it didn’t seem much time would go by before some configuration of the group would get together here or there, and they eventually released some albums put together from tapes laying about. Although there seems to have been a fair amount of care in making them ready for release.

According to Tin Huey’s website “At some point in the 90’s Huey engineer John Mondl and Michael Aylward took it upon themselves to collect (or re-collect in some cases from Huey archivist Marty Crabtree) bake, preserve, and transfer tons of tapes. Trying different studios, mixing and re-mixing, then having Harvey and Chris weigh in at the end, they were responsible for the existence of disinformation.”

disinformation would include the songs Almost Transparent and Living With Strangers. Almost Transparent is an Aylward/Gold track that in many ways foreshadows the most popular new wave singles of the 1980s, and Carney’s sax was as amazing as ever. Gold’s Living With Strangers is an oddly pleasant piano piece for the group while managing to have sort of pissed off vocals at the same time.

Then in 2002 Butler got some good press in both Rolling Stone and NPR for his new album. Carney released a solo album. Contents Dislodged During Shipment was re-released on CD. And the local culture newspaper in Northeast Ohio listed Tin Huey as one of the five bands they’d pay big money to see live.

Bob Ethington joined the band as all of a sudden they had a lot of gigs, not all of them could show up, but to steal their own line they still managed to accomplish a lot for a bunch of old guys spread out over 3000 miles. And they did play a whole lot of gigs in 2003 and 2004, at least various configurations of Hueys under a number of different names.

While the band never became a commercial success, not that they ever thought it would, they’ve had successful careers in their own right. Carney and Butler I’ve already mentioned. Price ran Bushflow Studios in Akron while Stuart Austin spent some time working for Todd Rundgren at his studios in Woodstock. Gold owned Gold Teleproductions in New York and has an extensive list of credits as a technical supervisor, producer, director and executive producer on a variety of TV shows. Aylward kept performing and also became a guitar maker.

Price unfortunately lost his battle to cancer in 2008 and the band rightly felt that any performances calling themselves Tin Huey after that was out of the question, So other than two or three benefit shows the name has been retired, although various members continue to play together in other projects.

In 2004 and 2009 they released another EP and a couple of albums pulled from recordings from 1974 to 1979. They were aptly named part of the obscurity series, although they shouldn’t be. Bringing the band full circle, Christgau wrote the liner notes for the 2009 release.

Armadillo and Right Now, Betty White came from these releases. Armadillo continues that “thing” the Tin Hueys did where it sort of sounds like two different songs mashing up, regardless or because of that I love the song.

And finally Right Now, Betty White starts out with some great playing by Carney and for me captures the classic sound of the Tin Hueys as well as any song. Of course going a bit over seven minutes they are able to get in all the sounds of Tin Huey, and they are countless. If you are going to listen to one song, listen to it (check the spotify playlist… Ed.).

Butler and Gold still play together in Half-Cleveland, who are pretty popular in Northeast Ohio these days and have opened for the Pretenders. But as a whole Tin Huey hasn’t really gotten the credit they deserved. But that puts them in good company with a lot of bands.

 

Ralph Carney (1956–2017)

 

Tin Huey facebook

Tin Huey discography

The Akron Sound Museum

“It’s Everything, and Then It’s Gone” (2003)
– documentary on the Akron, Ohio scene from the 1970s

Tin Huey – Cuyahoga Creeping Bent – on YouTube

Tin Huey – New York’s Finest Dining Experience – on YouTube

Tin Huey biography (iTunes)

This is Calvin’s 29th Toppermost. His third book “Modern Images of Akron” was recently released by Arcadia Publishing. In it Calvin spends a good deal of pages covering the history of music in Akron with images and commentary on the Black Keys, Devo and Pretenders among others. He has also recently signed on to be the Archivist and Contributing Author for the proposed Akron Sound Museum, which will celebrate the history of Akron Music from the early 1960s to present. In the meantime he is working on his 4th book before starting a fifth on the history of Akron Music.

TopperPost #515

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