THE UNDERGROUND YEARS
Prior to signing their breakthrough big-time contract with Chicago’s legendary Dodeka Records, the BBB released a series of nine recordings on the quirky Half-Asteroid label based in Manistee, Michigan. Comprising seven albums, an extended-play 8-track single, and a very rare elevator-music loop, these recordings are all out of print and nearly to impossible to locate, commanding premium prices when the rare willing seller can be found:
TITLE (Year) – Notes
- Lots in Space (1972) – EP single
- Lust in Space (1975) – 60-minute Mew-Zak workplace-enhancement [instrumental, except for the single “Gently, Johnny”]
- Lunch in Space (1979)
- Lime Jello Luau (1982)
- Big Brother Is Watching (1984) – distributed as a flexi-disk with Booker & Fine’s annual tax guide for clients
- Who Was That Masked Band? (1986) – in another Half-Asteroid marketing innovation, neither the band’s name nor their likeness appears anywhere on the disc or packaging. The most-bootlegged BBB title, particularly popular in Iowa and Singapore.
- Brain Weasels (1988) – the band’s best-selling Half-Asteroid title, despite (or perhaps because of) its repellant cover art
- Let’s Swim Upstream and Die (1990) – an underground nihilist classic and a minor hit in East Germany, this theme album contains two twenty-seven minute cuts titled “The Fish Ladder” and “The Quiet Pools”
- Don’t Try This At Home (1991) – a live “basement bootleg,” showing the band at its improvisational best and featuring uncredited performances by an assortment of friends and law enforcement officials
Typical 1994 Stage Setup
(left to right)
–Fender Precision bass, Peavey TKO 115
–Gibson Les Paul, Guild F212 acoustic 12-string guitar (“Magic Ben”), DOD effects, Gorilla GG-20
–afuche, dumbek, Meinl congas, DrumKat 3.0, Kawai XD-5 drum synth, metallophone galactica, cymbals, Gorilla GB-30
Mary Ellen Wessels
–Seagull acoustic guitar, dumbek, recorders
–Roland D-20 synthesizer, Carvin 6/12 double-neck electric guitar, Yamaki acoustic guitar, Schroetter viola, Fender Twin Reverb.
–Gorilla 250-watt p.a., Peavey 110HC 12″ speakers.
- Official BBB Restaurant: MCL Cafeteria
- Average Number of Strings On Stage: 50
- Height of Band: 30 feet
- Age of Band: 206 Earth-standard years
- Most Likely Time For Band To Feel Its Age: Immediately after the concert, facing the load-out.
- Significant Number: The Brain Weasels Tour lasted 42 months.
GWEN “(nickname here)” ZAK
sings harmony and anchors the band’s sound with her black bass. By her own admission, before coming onboard with the BBB, Gwen was swimming in circles musically. Her early schooling came in New Orleans’ famous Bluefish Club and Live Bait Market, playing with the likes of Jellyfish Morton and Blind Crab Nebula. But away from her mentors, Gwen floundered artisically, hooking up with acts as diverse as county fair favorite Hot Tuna Melt, the ill-fated Atlanta sole ensemble Packed in Light Oil, and the cajun flip-flop band Blackened Redfish.
Her longest and most notable tenure was with the punk trio The Bottom Feeders, contributing wicked licks to their debut album “Turbot Charged” (Flying Fish) and 1988 follow-up “Carp Hearts” (GM–now deleted). But she was lured away from the stage by an N.E.A. grant and a lifelong dream–to compose a 17-movement song cycle for horn and mouth organ. “Tiny Boats, Open Seas, Empty Nets: A Song Cycle for the New England Fishing Industry” (popularly known as the Seamen and Cod pieces) debuted to mixed reviews at the 1990 Driftwood Festival. Gwen joined the BBB during the “Pearls Before Swine” sessions, and has vowed to stay with them “till the seas are dried all up.” Her column “Rock Bass” is a popular feature in Bass Master magazine; her hobbies are fly fishing and stalking the elusive one-eyed pocket trout.
BARRY “Gort” CHILDS-HELTON
provides the band with ecologically-correct lead guitar (85% recycled 1960s riffs), certifiably burly male vocals, and neo-obscurantist lyrical hysteresis. Rowing Stoned decribed his songwriting as “post industrial hieroglyphics by an English major off his medicine– we think we hate his attitude.” His seminal crypto-rock venture American Cheese stuck to the FM grill with their debut LP “Free Cheese” (“We liked what we could understand, but the attitude probably sucks”– Variety). The Young and Pissed Off Tour met with disaster after the Mars Hole, N.J. gig, when the equipment van swerved to avoid Bigfoot paparazzi and tumbled into a crater.
“Gort” resurfaced in a sardonic country-rock alliance with Barnacle Gonzo and the Chianti Brothers to produce the rare classic, “Honky-Tonk Glop from Beyond the Ozone,” a plaintive protest against public incomprehension of sensitive artists. Vengeful over a one-word review (“Huh?”), he joined forces with Pain and Damage Level on fretted airhammer, opening for Crash’n’Bore on their Punished by Hormones Tour. (Asked to describe the performance, a surviving audience member replied, “What?”).
After a general amnesty was granted, “Gort” was free to form a hyphenated-ethnoid-space-rock duo with Sally Childs-Helton (“Her attitude is even worse than mine!”). Rewiring an Indianapolis studio for antigrav with the help of space aliens caused a stir (and coverup), resulting in the duo’s joining the Black Book Band with the Expletive (Classified) Tour. Between gigs, “Gort” relaxes–injecting semicolons into hapless technical prose, giving fake basketball autographs in shopping malls, and volunteering as a giraffe-groomer at nearby zoos.
SALLY “Dr. Attitude” CHILDS-HELTON
is the band’s percussionist and drummer. She began her musical career in high school fronting the power trio Sally and the Hell-Tones, which later achieved some brief national recognition as the opening act for Commander Co-Dependent and the Lost Planet Airheads.
After doing penance for 5 years as a music major, she went on the road with the all-female heavy metal/thrash band Roller Maidens from Outer Space. The band opened for GWAR on their Mutter’s Spiral Tour, but abruptly broke what they saw as a rather unreasonable contract when the manager demanded they continue with the Cosmic Drain Tour. The band dispersed, and Sally went into hiding as a graduate student at Indiana University until the whole ugly incident blew over and the manager was safely in cold sleep between galaxies.
Accepting the coveted Peter Schickele Chair of Music at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, Dr. Childs-Helton founded the internationally known Center for the Prevention and Correction of Rhythmic Dysfunctionality. After losing funding from the NEA and the NSF for promoting rhythmic activity in unmarried yough, Sally returned to her Southern roots as the music director for Heritage U.S.A. and the PTL network, but suddenly lost her job when her early work with the Hell-Tones surfaced.
Simultaneously hiding out and doing penance with the sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Consternation, she emerged to join the Black Book Band during their Live and Unrehearsed Tour. When not playing music, Sally’s hobbies are gardening, corrupting the youth of America, searching for the unified field theory, and demolition derby racing.
MARY ELLEN “Nuclear” WESSELS
is the band’s lead female vocalist and also plays guitar, recorders, and hand percussion. Mew began her singing career fronting the all-girl techno-pop group, the Valkyries. The band met with very little success in the U.S., but played to sold-out houses during the European Blonds Am Bitchin’ Tour when the musicians began wearing horned helmets and brass breastplates on stage. Her career recently peaked when she starred in the opening (and only) performance of the rock opera “Albatross: with the Moose Jaw (Alaska) Lite Opera and U-Lock Storage Company.
Unexpectedly out of work, Mew joined the Black Book Band during the Sour Grapes Tour. Mew also performs with Tartan Roadkill, a Celto-Irish punk rock band, and she will soon be releasing her first solo album, “Mew’S Spews.” Her major ambition in life is to arrange and star in what she sees as a badly needed addition to the operatic repetoire entitled “Wagner for Attention Deficient Audiences: The Thirty-Minute Ring Cycle.”
In her copious spare time, Mew is a professional student finishing a B.A. in English Lite; she hopes to graduate before the turn of the century. Her senior honors thesis is entitled “The Lack of Bovine Imagery in the Poetry of Martin Farquhar Tupper.” Mew’s hobbies include tole painting, latex cross-stitch, and collecting feminist deconstructionist translations of Tom Clancy’s works.
MIKE “K-Mac” KUBE-MCDOWELL
doubles on rhythm guitar and keyboards on the road, and adds viola when the band invades the studio. K-Mac was a founding member of the science-fiction art-rock ensemble Fluorescent Lite Orchestra, and penned all the lyrics for their critically acclaimed Ace Records albums “Imp Rise,” “Altar Night Tease,” “The Languid Puddles,” and “X-Isle.” In 1975, he quit FLO without warning, saying only “I’m burned out”–which left both his fellow band members and fans in the dark.
K-Mac spent the next 12 years as a cubist monk in an Indiana monogastery, during which time he amassed a world-class collection of sphagnum moss. On emerging from his retreat, K-Mac stunned a new generation of listeners with his solo effort “Vectors” (Bantam Records) before signing on with the BBB for the Mid-Life Crisis Tour, during which he earned a nomination for the groupies’ coveted Hugger Award.
Away from the stage, K-Mac is an amateur beaver hunter and trapper. He continues to deny tabloid reports that he is the author of a series of pseudonymous pulp novels (EMPRISE, THE QUIET POOLS, EXILE) parodying the FLO catalog. His pet charities are the MSU Marching Violas and the Committee For A Constitutional Right To Free Association. His pet peeves are unrequited lust and imitation pasturized process cheese food.
Note: The BBB’s official bios were written during an overnight drive from Oconomowoc WI to Bad Axe MI in the band’s official tour vehicle, a converted 1977 UPS delivery van with a suspect exhaust system.