Buy American - 1984: the Year at So​-​So

by Joe Harvard

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produced and engineered by Joe Harvard
all songs c. Joe Harvard or the writers, as noted
cover photo of Joe in Karachi, 1980 by Sanam Bhutto

This album was recorded between late 1983 and March 1985 at the studio Joe Harvard had set up in his miniscule bedroom at 117 Columbia St., Cambridge, and christened So-So Studios. Made possible by weed sales and a self-imposed no-opiates ban after five increasingly strung-out years, So-So grew piece by piece, and never exceeded five microphones and a few pieces of outboard gear, or developed beyond the newly-developed Fostex consumer-level tape width standard of 1/4" for eight tracks. But it was Heaven for Harvard, who had bounced around looking for internships, producing and recording at a half-dozen rooms since 1978. For the next year he would leave mics set up to record in the middle of the night, capture radio static as rhythm tracks, have a love affair with the Casio keyboard's rhythm machine, and have a great time in general learning to self-engineer as well as building songs organically and spontaneously.

The record finds Harvard a year after graduating from the Ivy, selling weed and working as a janitor at Joy of Movement Dance Center. A season of archaeology in the Saudi Arabian Nefud and three trips to Pakistan in 1980 and '81 had instilled a curiosity about the drones and tonalities of Indo-Pakistani and Arabic music, and a sense that their similarities to Appalachian and Hillbilly music made the styles ideal companions. The roots of Joe's garage ethos-meets Americana lyricism-meets British Invasion guitar heroism-meets any kind of drone style, what he came to call "Country Eastern", can be heard here.

'Buy American' is two albums, really. Conceived as a two-sided LP, it is sequenced with Joe Harvard's own songs from the previous year on the Over Here side [i.e. side one], and those of friends John Felice, Matthew MacKenzie, Dave Champagne, Glen MacLeod, Ted Pine, Joe Fagan & Anthony 'Ant'ny' Rauseo on the opposite, Over There side.

Mixed and duplicated onto cassettes, it remained unreleased six months later when Joe found himself very busy building, engineering and promoting as a co-founder of Fort Apache Recording. "Buy American" was forgotten as new projects streamed out of the Fort, but a few copies made their way to friends [including Dave Bone, who would cover "Another Over There" with the Troublemakers in Austin, TX fifteen years later].

The Over Here side sets the template for most of Joe's future recorded work: a set of self-produced, Harvard-penned material built around Joe's guitar work and a solid rhythm section made up of close friends, with other cronies joining in on vocals and instrumental cameos, and Joe singing and covering as many instruments as he can - in this case keyboards, bass and percussion [the exception is Eric Rose's vocal mini-vignette "Cool"]. The Cast of Characters [by appearance] include:

Richie Cunningham Maddalo [drums] Couldn't Get High, Gretchen Encounters
Dave Bone Pedersen [bass] Couldn't Get High, backing vocals Riverboats
Joe Harvard [guitars, DX7, Casio, bass & perc]
Sean Slade [alto sax] Couldn't Get High
John Dunton Downer [tenor sax] Couldn't Get High
Andrew Barnaby [backing vocals] Couldn't Get High
Paul Kolderie [bass] This Soil, Gretchen Encounters
Helena VC Snow [backing vocals] This Soil
Jerome Deupree [drums] Another Over There
Ted Pine [DX7 synthesizer] Gretchen Encounters, Another Over There
Russ Gershon [sax] Gretchen Encounters
Pat Mulkerin [trombone]e Gretchen Encounters
Kelly Knapp [vocals] Riverboats, Like It
Eric Pfeiffer [backing vocal] Like It
Ken Selden [vocals, guitar] Something Wrong with My Car
Dave Champagne [vocals] Marjorie
Adam Kremen [wangy guitar] Mr. Happy's Jig
the Drunken Mob [themselves] Couldn't Get High
Phil Russo [comic relief, guitar]
Eric Rose - all vocals Cool
Joe Harvard – Tokai Strat copy, Telecaster, Roland TR909 Rhythm Composer & Casio beatbox programming, Casio & DX7 keyboards, vocals

Both "Cool" and the JH / Bill Horhaus' co-written number "There's Something Wrong with My Car" stand out among the Joe Harvard compositions on the Over Here side: "Cool" is 100% Eric Rose, who builds a Gregorian Beach Boys chant out of layered vocals, while "There's Something Wrong with My Car" is the follow-up to [not to mention the only other known track by] Bill Horhaus' Contempt LP 'Live at the Kemper Open'. Horhaus is in fact the the nom de guerre of Ken Selden, the director of the independent film 'Vacant Lot', which Harvard had commuted to Cambridge to work on until Stacy Roberts offered to let him stay in the empty room at 117 Columbia Street, resulting in his move there -- and paving the way for the establishment of the studio [the film was eventually judged first among over 350 submissions at the American Film Institute, earning Selden a scholarship out to Hollywood, where he remains a member of the film industry]. Joe has often cited his relocation to Columbia Street as the start of his musical adulthood; given the key role Selden's film played in motivating that move, it seem fitting that he plays one of the two guitar parts on Buy American not performed by Joe himself, and what would seem to be the only entire guitar track on a Joe Harvard studio session between 1982 and 2006 that Joe does not actually play himself. [Adam Kremen contributes wang-bar Strat on "Mr. Happy's Jig", the middle section of the "Another Over There - MHJ - Serious" medley, while Greg "Skeggie" Kendall would solo through the end fade of Mr. Happy's "I Fell Hard" two years later].

Over There, AKA Side Two consists of recordings of close friends performing their own tunes with their bands. After acquiring the means to self-record Joe had begun capturing his own material immediately, and once he felt capable he began inviting friends to share the resource. This included newer "80's" friends from the scene centered around the recently-defunct Sex Execs, and older "70's" friends from the Record Garage / Cambridge Music Complex scene, Cantones and the Rat. It was similar to what Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie had been doing at Contempt in Dorchester, and a dress rehearsal for Fort Apache later on.

Gretchen Dyer, who receives special thanks in the original credits, not only lent "unwavering support" but directly inspired the true-story, suspense-film theme "Gretchen Encounters the Bicycle Thief" and "Gift From Overseas". After leaving Boston Gretchen returned to Dallas, Texas, where she and director sister Julie made the critically acclaimed film 'Late Bloomers'. Joe says: "Gretch was beyond brave, and I was privileged to watch as she demonstrated that courage, over and over. She amazed her doctors once by raising the money for a heart-lung transplant on her own, she amazed them by surviving 20 years beyond medical predictions without getting one, and she continued to do so by fulfilling her dreams to do a film with her sister, be married and have a family -- all with the same beautiful heart she had begun life with. Because she was amazing. She was an old soul, and an inspiration to a lot of people ... to anyone who was blessed to know her, and much more than that to me."

1984 was a transitional time for a lot of old school Boston musicians including John Felice, Matthew MacKenzie and Dave Champagne. John was determined at that time not to use the Real Kids name any longer, and to move on to new projects with a fresh outlook and a name to match. The name he chose -- the Primevals -- seems very appropriate given the fact that his work in this period came very close to the emotionally charged material of his first band -- the Modern Lovers. The version of "Nothin' Pretty" John did at So-So was the first one he recorded, soon after writing the song, and he delivers the song with much of the emotional force that led to it's creation intact.

Matthew MacKenzie had followed his Reddy Teddy work with live and recorded contributions to Willie "Loco" Alexander's Confessions and John Felice's Taxi Boys, as well as some stellar playing on Richard Lloyd's 'Alchemy' LP. Now he was looking for a more modern sound as well. There are several versions of "Must Be Love" and "Barbi Doll" available -- for eg. on the Reddy Teddy compilation -- but notably absent from any collection thus far are these JH-produced tracks from So-So, as well as the same numbers [and two others] re-done at Fort Apache South in 1986, again with Joe engineering. The Buy American versions are more straight-forward representations of a working rock band, recorded in 8-track with Joe's '66 Epiphone Riviera XII string adding a 60's chime over the always-solid guitar tones Matt achieved.

Dave Champagne had significant success with Pink Cadillac, and had developed a headline draw while moving the band from a pop to a rockabilly, and thence to a more garage-oriented sound, which brought him and Joe together. Joe would, in fact, play in the group briefly when these recordings were finished, replacing Jonathan Paley for a few rehearsals and a show. At that point Dave and Mark Sandman found one another -- and Joe was out of a guitarists job. The more orthodox four-piece of early rehearsals gave way to the eventual line-up of Treat Her Right: Mark Sandman on low guitar, Dave on gtr. & slide, Billy Conway on cocktail drum and Jim Fitting on harp. On these two So-So recordings you can practically hear the old 1984 Pink Cadillac morphing into the Swampop of 1985's Treat Her Right

Glen McLeod was part of the Record Garage family, as well as a roadie for the Real Kids [some time after Joe held the post]. Known as "Little Glenny" or "Roach" at the RG, he spent some time in the transitional Slow Children, about to become the Boys Say Go you hear on this record. After that Glen became a solid guitar player and writer, as well as a bit of a local heart throb. Health problems led to drug problems and after losing his foot he became depressed and took his own life in the early 2000's. Young Guns were his band.

Joe Fagan and Boys Say Go are led on this number by Anthony Rauseo, usually found behind the drum kit. For this number live he would stand behind a pair of electronic drums, playing the "tom" rolls and singing lead. Harvard's best friend from home --Jeffries Point, East Boston -- and the drummer in their mutual first band in early 1975, Anthony had followed Joe into the punk era Slow Children, joining just as Harvard was about to depart, and then stayed on to help cement a growing reputation as a live outfit. Still later Rauseo and Joe Fagan rebuilt Slow children into a dance-oriented outfit using electronica and renamed Boys Say Go after a Depeche Mode song. He died in 1989, having opened for Divine and Wayne County.


released January 4, 1985


All of these tunes were recorded as demosbetween January '84 and March '85 at So-So-Sound Studios, formerly my bedroom and the upstairs living room of 117 Columbia Street. I used a Fostex A-8 1/4" 8-track, a Fostex 350 board, and mastered on a Fostex A-2. "Marjorie" was done at Adam Kremen's Blues Dog on the same equipment, and "Couldn't Get High" was recorded in March '81 at the Barca Lounge, Chelsea-by-the-Creek.

In November of 1983 So-So was just another pregnant idea. Thanks to the support and patronage of all our friends and a shitload of American consumer dollars -- Lo! This tape. I did most of the producing and engineering, but the music was made by about a hundred people altogether.Muchas Gracias to my roommates Russ, Eric and stacy, who silently suffered the disappearance of the living room, the Primevals in the kitchen, two billion empty beer bottles (none of them mine) and even an Archbishop Enema Fetish session (sorry guys, we ran out of room on the tape!).

Most special thanks to Gretchen, who suggested this tape in the first place, did the liner notes, and lent continual, unwavering support. Buy American is dedicated to Edie, World's Greatest Cat. She single-pawedly made 1984 a lovelier year for her friends, and we'll all miss her.

Thanks for buying American, and don't forget to go see these bands and buy their 'real' records. Yours truly, Joe Harvard



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Joe Harvard Asbury Park, New Jersey

"VU & Nico" author, producer-artist-musician
LP creds: Dinosaur, Jr, Pernice Brothers, Throwing Muses etc; spiritual midwife to tons more as co-founder/owner of Fort Apache '85-'93.
An East Bostonian based [One Banned Man, Dub Proof, Doctor Danger, Cockwalkers] in NJ & MOTH NYC Storyslam Champ '01; loves cats. Asbury Music Awards: Top Americana '09/Top Multi-Instrumentalist & Top Avant-Garde '10.
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Track Name: This Soil
Make a mountain from these skulls.
Make an ocean from our blood.
The blood of lovers.

This soil is not dust, it is a vessel full of blood --
the blood of lovers, flowing from above.

So make a mountain from these skulls. Make an ocean from our blood.
The blood of lovers.
Open the veil and close the door, You Are, and I
Empty the house!
Track Name: Joe Harvard and Kelly Knapp - Riverboats
c. 2011 Little Big Horn Publishing, BMI

By the light of the Riverboats
Beneath the sweet magnolia and the weeping heads of the willows
I could see Brenda Lee but she couldn’t see me
Neither one of us would ever be free.
By the light of the Riverboats

Three A.M. in the morning picking tobacco and puttin’ up cotton in the swelter
Make my way in the night when the time seems right
I hope that the stars lead me home, true, to the Savannah

Lay me down. Give me water.
I got a fearful burnin’, a grapeshot bite and then the hunger
But I think I see Heaven coming over the rise
There’s a songbird singin’ and the soothing hands of my Momma