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Second Set: Band member's death adds gravity to DVD

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 29, 2012 - On Monday afternoon, a DVD hit my mailbox at Webster University. It was dropped off by a former student, Dylan Udell, who took part in the production of this live, concert DVD, which features his father, David Udell. Entitled “33 , Earwacks/Wax Theatricks Live at the Gaslight Theater,” it highlights a single band with two names, five excellent musicians and a really interesting story.

The songs on “33 ” came together from 1974-82, as the band’s young membership (Danny “Fojammi” Stefacek, Tracy Wynkoop, Udell and brothers Dominic and Benet Schaeffer) decided to mix-and-match every single style they came across.

The music they created is tough to describe, though Dominic Schaeffer and Udell do a pretty good job in the interview below. And there wasn’t too much of a recorded history left for those of us just too young to have appreciated things at the time; the group’s pair of 45s, for example, are well-in-demand around town and I was happy to snap one up for $14 at Euclid Records.

This DVD, then, allows both the group’s contemporaries and newbies a chance to catch up. On the disc, their live show of June 25, 2011, is captured, along with clips from a previous night’s rehearsal gig; the new takes are set alongside archival footage, photos and current-day interviews, adding context to the package.

 

Music writer and KDHX morning show mainstay Steve Pick is one of those interviewed. He says, “The DVD is set up basically as: live song, screen goes to black, snippet of interview from a member of the band or an old friend. I'm not sure whether all of the interview bits are of much interest to anybody coming to this disc with no memories of the band in its original time, but there are some nice touches of color.”

The music, says Pick, is plenty to carry the DVD, as “I can't say enough about how good the performance is. Earwacks -- I never use the Wax Theatricks name, as I thought at the time it was a silly thing to change it -- have a wealth of really terrific songs that now have a chance to see the light of day. At the very least, those who loved them then, and those of us who were too young and full of ourselves to appreciate them … now have a full-fledged document of this beautiful material. These songs are not simple, either - they consist of very intricate arrangements placed in pretty complex structures. It's amazing they could pull it together with very few flaws.”

Legendary local musician Bob Reuter is another interview subject. Though hours away from seeing the video when we exchanged notes on Monday, he mentions that presence of Stefacek was a highlight. It also adds gravity. Stefacek died earlier this year after a bout with cancer.

Reuter says that Wax Theatricks was the world to band members and a  large group of folks from the West End and Laclede Town: "They always inspired me, their love of the music was almost thrilling and tended to win me over even though it wasn’t exactly my thing. They lived that band!”

After reading the thoughts of Udell and Dominic Schaeffer below, you really should take a moment to read Udell’s affecting tribute to Fojammi on his music-heavy blog, "My St. Louis."

Talk about Fojammi's role. I imagine it's quite bittersweet to have this release come out. Your emotions on that, to the degree you feel comfortable, would be welcomed.

Udell: Danny wanted to do the show. A couple of years ago we all went to a place in the Rockies that Tracy knew about. There were hot springs and a lot of snow. Tracy called us the “manly men group.” We were going to have a reunion every year in a different exotic local. Danny lived in a rehabbed convent and I rent the chapel for my studio. Danny walked into to my studio one morning to talk about the trip. We agreed that we couldn’t possibly afford it, but Danny insisted we go because we weren’t all going to be around one of these days. The whole band went including Vince Hely who used to be one of our roadies. We hadn’t all been together in years and I think the idea of a reunion began to germinate there.

Schaeffer: Dan did most of the interviews, he was also crucial in setting up production of the DVD, and handed it off to David toward the end. My feelings about it are as well put as i could get them on the EWWT facebook page: "His contributions to Earwacks / Wax Theatricks are immeasurable, beyond music, his strength, friendship, pioneering spirit, knowledge (and hunger for more of it), always shone as a beacon to those of us with the great fortune of having known, worked with, played with and loved him." He's still very much here with us.

Talk a bit about the rehearsal process prior to this show. How many times did you get together? Who, if anyone, headed up the pre-production/-rehearsal process? Did you use things like Dropbox to trade info and ideas and mp3s?

Schaeffer: The four of us who were in town rehearsed in David’s studio at Dan’s place. We all helped write the set lists and Tracy flew in a couple times to join us. We tried to do the “Skype with Tracy thing” but the latency issues were too overwhelming. Fortunately we had enough recorded material that we could woodshed with individually. I worked with Chris Sauer in doing the stage production, multi-media and audio recording aspect of it. Tony Patti had the cameras and did the video recording.

Udell: We end up sending Tracy recordings to practice to. Benet is always in a thousand bands, but we knew if we brought him in at the end he’d catch up quickly. Most of the rehearsals began without Danny because he was going through intense chemotherapy and it took a long time for him to get the energy together to come down to my studio. Luckily he lived there.

Address the show itself. How the evening felt. What the crowd was like? How many new/old faces were spotted? And knowing that that's a small stage, how did the space feel to you?

Udell: The theater was way too small. We barely advertised and it was SRO. We did two nights. The first was for family and friends to iron out the show and the second for the show itself. Dom and Benet’s sister Monica really helped develop the final show as far as I’m concerned. We were so busy worried we wouldn’t remember the music we didn’t really pay attention to the show itself. She suggested we tell stories about the history of the material, etc. It changed my whole attitude.

Schaeffer: Many old friends made the trip back. That was wonderful. It was like old home week. Per the stage size: having new, and hence smaller, equipment made for a very comfortable stage. We didn't have the big-ass sound system and light show (damn it, I miss the fog machine!); aside from Dan's keyboard rig Benet had the most gear, he actually brought out every drum in his arsenal. Not only did he bring 'em all out- he hit 'em all in every song! A total turnaround from the kits he plays on currently. With "One More Round" he only needs a kick, snare and hi-hat.

Can you touch on your sound and how you fit in/didn't fit into the St. Louis scene of 1974-1982?

Schaeffer: We were the furthest thing from "hot and hip" imaginable and we didn't mind a bit. Coming off the harder edged "prog rock" roller coaster we were on, we blended Crimson, early Tull, Mahavishnu Orchestra with Iggy Pop, Funkadelic and Supertramp, even. Toward the end, we morphed into some New Wave kinda, and somehow we were revered kindly by the burgeoning punk scene; if not for the music then for our integrity and DIY attitude. Maybe we were just a novelty act to them but many very much liked us.

Udell: Bob Reuter’s band The Dinosaurs released the first locally produced record that we were aware of. It really blew our minds. We ran with the idea after that. The local scene was a mixed bag. We were also into the art scene and half the Punk crowd thought we were totally pretentious. The rest were totally supportive. Although the scene had a blanket Punk/New Wave image, no two bands sounded the same; and I think we all really dug each other. Not to mention we were all rebelling against the corporate music establishment.

Can you bring me up-to-speed on how Earwacks/Wax Thetricks morphed into, say, Dharma Bums, Go. Dog, Go!, Funkabilly and other groups?

Schaeffer: After Wax Theatricks disbanded I had to work on some personal matters. After a few years Dan, Tracy and Mark Gray (former sound tech for WT) were in a group called The 39 Steps and Tracy called and asked if I wanted to jam. This became Go, Dog. Go!  Benet was in The Dharma Bums at the time. We did a show with the Bums at the Soulard Preservation Hall and I think that's when Benet wanted in. GDG did a number of shows with The Urge and Sinister Dane and A Perfect Fit. A few years after GDG disbanded, Benet was booking some shows at Venice Cafe and Pahl Cuba wanted the last Tuesdays of the month to be "an event.” Benet called Tracy, Mark, Dan and me together with Angelo Ranzini and Joe Longi of A Perfect Fit to do a loose-music gig. It popped and Funkabilly was born.

Udell: They stayed together and I went a different direction with Delay Tactics and other recording projects. They loved playing live and I was more into the studio. I did sit in Pahl Cuba’s van for a week recording the Funkabilly live record. Ended up mixing half of it, too, so I guess we were still working together.

Each group has its own energy and vibe, of course. For you, what was the emotional feel and payoff of playing with this lineup? What made it special? And how did the June show feel, in relation to past performances?

Udell: The band was great and I’ve always loved the music. No matter what any of us does separately, nothing sounds like this combination of musicians. My chops were off but I felt totally inspired. Danny and I wanted to put together the film to promote a tour of Germany. There’s a big prog rock revival happening there. I think it kept him going.

What you want this DVD to accomplish?

Udell: I’m hoping it’s a document of a unique band that should have gotten more exposure. I consider it our legacy. I’m thankful that Danny made it through. I know it was very important to him.

Schaeffer: As much recording as that band did, there were quite a few numbers that never saw the studio. For me, it was a chance to get a good recording of those (hopefully) and give the music a chance to be realized.

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