|DMZ - BISHOPS / A TALE OF TWO BANDS
Every band wants to make a record. Some get on vinyl by saving their
pennies and putting it out themselves; others get the pennies thrown at
them. Whatever the case, there are more small label and one shot records
(mostly 45s) on the market today than ever before. Despite threats of
vinyl crisis, those discs just keep on coming. Granted, most of the stuff
isn't exactly hit material, but then again, it's not always intended to
be; it's just a real, playable, same size and shape as the real thing
Now, suppose that you're a solid little R&R unit and you want to make
a record. You're totally cashless and don't know a soul in the biz. All
you want to do is make records and play rock 'n' roll and have fun and
make some money. What can you do? If you're too cashless to make your own,
you've got to go shopping; if no one's making offers, you've got to go
after them. Maybe you'll cut a demo. But just suppose somebody catches
your act and wants to make records of and for you. What do you do? Maybe
it's not such a fantastic offer; maybe you won't be rolling in green. But
kid, they'll put you on record, a real record with your name on the label.
A bona fide collector's item for relatives, the ideal Xmas gift, tangible
proof positive to show Ma and Pa, who kept sayin' all that noise wouldn't
never mount to nothin'. It's a record, God bless it, and it's yours.
Okay, so suppose a label's interested. Let's follow the budding careers of
two R&R bands, who've been around for a couple of years, who were
picked up by real labels, and who now have different things to say about
their companies. One British, one American. One on Chiswick, one on Sire.
One The (Count) Bishops,
the other DMZ.
The Bishops came
together in the summer of 1975 as The Count Bishops, named after a
NYC motorcycle gang. Johnny Guitar had moved to London from
Washington, D.C. (Yep! He's a Yank) and met up with Zenon De Fleur
(say that real slow and imagine the posture of old Zen after a
couple dozen pints) and singer Mike Spenser, both formerly of a
band called Chrome. Zen
and Johnny, guitarists, joined up with Paul Balbi, an
Australian drummer extraordinaire, and bassist, Steve Lewins.
Together they became a hard driving rhythm and blues outfit.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in London town, Ted Carroll sat pondering behind the
counter at his Rock On record shop. An R&B/R&R enthusiast, Ted
decided it was time to get a real rockin' label together and, with partner
Roger Armstrong, formed Chiswick Records. They knew The COUNT Bishops were JUST right for
the label, having followed the growth of the band since their CHROME
days. The first Chiswick release was an EP, one shakin', rockin' four
songer that covered the coolest R&B tunes, "Beautiful
Delilah", "Route 66", "Teenage
Letter". Now these were still the early days of independent
7" releases. It was hard to locate the record in '75, a year before
punk rock had begun to brew its tepid stew. As a small company, Chiswick
didn't really have the cash to promote the record on any level, but the
band gamely toured England and (by the spring of '76) the Continent. In
May, they recorded their first LP "Good Gear" for
Dynamite Records, a Dutch label (also real small), and the now classic 45 "Train
Train" (b/w "Taking It Easy") for the Dynamo
label. The LP was released on Dynamite, but Chiswick bought up the rights
for "Train Train" before it was vinylized in Holland.
From the start, The Bishops
had operated on a one shot level with Chiswick - a wise move in dealing
with such a young company , however well intentioned. Johnny claims
that "Train Train" could have been a hit had it received
proper promotion. Chiswick was having a hard time keeping up with the
demand, and as the record climbed the charts, new pressings were delayed
for several weeks. This prevented much larger sales that could have been
possible had the supply and demand been met on time. But that's all in the
past. The record is still available, and a must in every decent
collection: both sides are solid American R&R. The Bishops, having fired their
singer months earlier, Zen and Johnny were vocalizing on
tour and on the LP, as well as on the "Train Train" 45.
They found a front man in Dave Tice, an Australian who joined up
just in time to record "Stay Free" b/w "Baby
You're Wrong". It should have been a hit, but I can't recall
seeing any extensive promotion in the British weeklies, and when people
don't know about records, how are they going to know to buy them?
An LP, "The Count Bishops", was released in July '77 and
sold about 10,000 copies, not bad, but seeing as the record sold that many
on limited radio play and the band's live following, I imagine it could
have sold several times that amount had it been distributed and properly
promoted in the States. That autumn, Steve Lewins left the band and
was replaced with Pat McMullen, just off tour with Screaming Lord
Sutch. The fall tour ended up at the studio, where enough tracks were laid
down for a third LP (the second for Chiswick). Meanwhile, The Bishops recorded a live gig
at London's Roundhouse, and the resulting tapes were so incredible that it
was decided that a live LP should be released prior to the planned studio
tapes. "Live Bishops" was released in April '78 on both
10" and 12" discs. Again, the album is selling well though
promotions aren't exactly drawing my eyes anywhere.
Although Chiswick hasn't been able to promote The Bishops' records to the
extent that a larger label could, they have at least recorded consistently
excellent material and packaged it beautifully as well. The production of
all The Bishops'
sides has been well matched to their sound. Now let's see the other side
of the record making coin with Boston's DMZ and their escapades before and
during their tenure with a larger label (Sire) and find out some answers
to this vinyl quandary.