It Was 25 Years Ago Today: The True Story of Bona Fide's Train to Disaster!
It was 25 years ago that I started on The Train to Disaster and I never looked back. Taking the plunge to start a label having no business experience, and even less money, but with a true desire to capture a little part of a crazy scene, the Train to Disaster came about with a lot of help from my friends. My inspiration to start Bona Fide had come by the way of these groovy little 7 Psychedelic Unknowns comps put out by Harrisburg’s Billy Synth. Being a bit ethnocentric, I decided wouldn’t it be cool if I could comp some of the best PA 60s garage, and our debut release The Return of the Young Pennsylvanians was one of the first regional 60s garage comps of the 80s and shed some light on bands like the Shaynes, Loose Enz, and the Centurys, who are now established giants of the genre.
Those garage bands and their raveup sounds were beginning to influence a new generation of bands, and together with Greg Shaw’s new Voxx label and Chip Lamey’s Sounds Interesting, we each assembled some of the very first comps of modern psych garage. While Greg’s Battle of the Garages and Chip’s The Rebel Kind had wild bands from all over, The Train to Disaster was a bit more regional, relying mainly on my friends from the Central PA /MD/DC area with a couple exceptions (one from Tucson and one from Austria ). Our overall sound was a bit more unorthodox too, eschewing a straightforward 60s rip in favor of a twisted brain damaged sound that was as much Chrome as it was the Chocolate Watchband.
The tag line for our promo was “It’s not just a state of mind, but a way of life ” and I guess it was true for us all, as the music was fuzzed drenched, bitingly uncommercial, and maybe just a bit odd. From the first song, The Lone Ketamine Millipede’s ode to giant frogs who could reach into the sky and “pull a bird down” thru Billy Synth’s tale of a hypnotic mask, the Slickee Boys tale of nuclear destruction, and Ben Wah’s psychedelic beatbox squeal to the Mad Violets snakingly slinky plea to “accelerate your mind,” this was an attttempt to cross genres, demolish stereotypes and as Wendy Wild put it, accelerate your mind. Throw in some of George Brigman’s unbridled lust, a tuneful hate-filled spew by the Left, a crazy reworking (with horns ) of “White Rabbit” by Austria’s Ronnie Urini (of Dirtshit and Vogue fame ), some interstellar overdrive by the Velvet Monkeys and a few other tunes that defy description, and you got a steaming helping of juicy rock and roll pie.
Realizing the local scene needed documentation and still being in a process of discovery, the help of my friends Billy Stump aka Billy Synth and Kim Kane of the Slickee Boys was essential in seeing this project come to life. Billy gave me an exclusive on one of his best cuts, the psychotronic “The Mask” inspired by the hallucinogenic 1961 movie, and he introduced me to his bassist Roger Deller aka The Lone Ketamine Millipede who would go on to engineer The Train to Disaster as well. Though the Mad Violets were essentially a NYC band, they, too, had a Harrisburg connection in Dino Sorbello who was a friend of Billy and the Turnups as well. “Acceleration” is pure gold with Wendy Wild’s chimes mirroring her crystalline vocals, creating an otherworldly aura. Mr. Kane provided me with a great Slickees tune and also sent a cassette which had some local talent deserving recognition–the Velvet Monkeys, the Beatnik Flies, and the Embryonic Magnetos (who later became the Left).
Back in 1983 few of these bands were known even in their hometown, and many were making their recording debut, but the music possessed an urgency, spirit and a sense of adventure–an attitude if you will. Hell, the Velvet Monkeys even wound up on Columbia /Sony for a short while in their Gumball incarnation, and the Train began George Brigman’s Bona Fide association which continues to this day. His Rags in Skull CD from 2007 shows him still in peak form with several cuts matching the blistering fire of “My Cherie.” The Left went on to record 2 blasts of screaming rock for Bona Fide that are documented in all their glory on Jesus Loves the Left and the world was better for it. Some of these bands have ventured back to the oblivion they came from, but they will always be on The Train to Disaster!
Set the Wayback Machine for 1983 and you have a snapshot in time. I tried to catch the flavor of an emerging scene by loading up a record with my favorite bands. The sounds within all testify to the power of rock and roll ignited by a creative spark. It was the anyobdy can do it attitude that usually started in the basement and this time grew into something quite extraordinary. Fame and fortune seemed to elude most of us, but we certainly had a helluva party! On a lark, the first pressing of the LP included a flexi by The Page Blues Band--6:30 or so of “Black Cat Bones”, a true basement recording from kindred spirits from Exclesior Springs, MO in 1969. Like many of the 60s garage bands, these acts disdained the conventional and most of the ersatz trappings of the so-called scene in favor of making a bit of noise. The uncompromising music within speaks for itself and has stood the test of time. There’s not a thing quite like a ride on The Train To Disaster!