FRENCH TV

BAND OF DESTINY

PART TWO


In 1986, when it became apparent that Steve Roberts was no longer planning to be involved in music, much less French TV, I decided to round up Fenner & Artie from the 1st lineup and make another record. I assumed they would be contributing tunes, but both were reluctant to let their tunes undergo my mutilization process, so I spent a frantic summer writing before they would leave town. This resulted in French TV 2, "After a Lengthy Silence". I'd gotten to know a few local big-name musicians thru our engineer Howie Gano: namely guitarist Tom Browning and keyboardist Bob Ramsey. Howie helped entice them into helping to finish off the tracks after Fenn & Artie's involvement ended. Tom & Bob were professional studio players with lots of chops and imagination, and quick enough to where I didn't need to peek at the clock very often during the sessions. Man, if I'd only had the dough to put them on salary, we'd probably have twice as many cds out at this point...Tom in particular cut all his solos in 1 or 2 takes, all in one day. And it still amazes me that Bob recorded his tracks without hearing the tunes prior to the sessions.

The following summer [just before the release of FTV2], with both available again [this time I had plenty of notice and had tunes prepared!], we began working on French TV 3, "Virtue in Futility". All went well; I had access to an even wider assortment of musicians willing to contribute keys, woodwinds, additional guitars, and violin to the music I was recording; and I felt a bit more assured in my composing & working with other players.


To make things interesting, Fenner had decided to skip the fall semester of classes at Western Kentucky University [as I recall, he had an art teacher he was avoiding], and an old bandmate of his, Paul Nevitt [who briefly appeared on the 2nd lp] was interested in joining. So we had a good foundation of players to start a live band at last! Old friend Clancy Dixon was recruited to play sax & clarinet [he had also done so for FTV2]; a friend of Paul's, Malcolm Gore, joined on guitar, and Ondraus Cissell was added on percussion.

After a couple of month's rehearsals, we began playing out steadily, generally twice a month. We quickly gained a reputation for playing weird music and being a bunch of goof-offs on stage-a tradition that continues to this day, to our probable detriment.

Not long into our live career came the defections: Fenner left to return to school, Clancy got married and moved to Alabama, and Malcolm was "nudged" into quitting [due mostly to a fondness for drinking heavily before gigs]. The new crew were Ted Richardson [who unfortunately left for greener pastures 3-4 months later, to be replaced on drums by Ondraus], guitarist Mike Buren, and winds player Bruce Krohmer[who also played on FTV 2 & 3]. This lineup was good for 6 months or so, until Bruce abandoned us during a gig when a local policeman came into the club and spent 1/2 hour threatening to lock us up and shut down the club for our "volume infractions". He [Bruce, not the cop] was quickly replaced by Louisville Orchestra part-timer Gretchen Wilcox on violin, she of the sparkling cardboard tiara.

Throughout all these lineup changes, work continued on French TV 3. Paul Nevitt & session ace Bob Ramsey provided keyboards, Richard Brooner added some trumpet, Reid Yahn played some sax and a new instrument called the Yamaha WX7 Wind Synthesiser [we spent an excruciating session for "CLANGHONKTWEET" road-testing it for a couple of hours], and future FTV guitar hero Dean Zigoris [who replaced Gretchen once she joined the orchestra full-time] handled guitar on "Real Executives Jump from the 50th Floor!". We had recorded a version of "Real Execs..." with Artie at another studio previously, but scrapped it due to the crappy recording quality. The project was finished in 1990, but sat unreleased due to Steve Robert's money woes [he had promised to release it himself on the ZNR label], until I gave up and released it myself in 1994-but we're getting too far ahead.....

Out of all these lineups, the Sary/Nevitt/Cissell/Buren/Wilcox remained the most stable [perhaps 18 months?], popular, and, as I recall, did the most gigging, including a prominent show at the University of Louisville's RED BARN, which was later televised locally. The final straw though, was a weekend gig at an outdoor bar, the 1st of which was rained out, and the 2nd, which attracted about 6 people [in which Dean made his debut]. I'd lost a significant amount of money on PA rental, and Paul, Mike Buren, and Ondraus decided it was time to call it a day.

Dean and I stayed together, and enlisted Bob Douglas-a drummer/singer who was a roommate of a friend named Michael Medley[more on him later]. We played as a trio for a few months and only did 1 or 2 gigs, performing quite a few odd choices of covers: Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers", Zeppelin's "The Rain Song" and "Four Sticks"; the Police's "Synchronicity #2"; and an interesting version of Yes's "And You And I", where Dean played BOTH guitar and keyboards! Later, Bob left to join a local prog/pop band called The Difference, so Dean and I were in search of a new drummer yet again.

Fortunately, I didn't have to search for long, because I then met a young drummer named Jeff Mullen at a local grocery store where we worked together. Jeff let it slip he liked Genesis, Yes, UK, and a few other prog bands, and this immediately led to a rehearsal/jam along with Dean. We all seemed to hit it off, and Jeff mentioned he knew a keyboardist from U of L named John Robinson, and before we knew it, French TV was back in business. In the meantime, Dean & I had heard legends of a local guy named Walter Riddle who sang great, and played both violin and
acoustic guitar. We finally ran into him at a party, and invited him to join this latest incarnation along with John.

As opposed to previous lineups where everyone's musical tastes & preferences were so disjoined we had no choice but to play my originals by default, THIS lineup's tastes were much more harmonious, which resulted in a 50/50 mix of cover tunes and originals [having a good singer like Walter was a factor as well]. We learned tunes such as UK's "Alaska/Time to Kill", Mahavishnu's "Birds of Fire", Genesis' "Squonk" & "Carpet Crawlers", Jethro Tull's "Hunting Girl" & "Aqualung"[also performed by the older lineup], Shadowfax's "New Electric India", Yes's "Starship Trooper", and King Crimson's "Red", "One More Red Nightmare", & "Larks Tongues in Aspic pt 2". Unfortunately, this ensemble didn't last much more than a year. Walter had a habit of becoming invisible and impossible to track down, and John had a lucrative offer he couldn't refuse from a local 50's band [ which was just as well- the sounds emanating from his twin Casios made everything sound like Elvis Costello!].

We carried on as a power trio for awhile, maybe 6 months or so, and actually found this pretty liberating; I think it was a period when Dean's fingers were beginning to catch up with his ideas, and our improvs were starting to get interesting. Eventually things sort of petered out, and Dean joined a local Afro-pop ensemble whose music & gigs were probably a lot more fun and lucrative. French TV once again slumbered while I put the finishing touches to French TV 3-"Virtue in Futility" [our 1st CD release-digital at last!], around 1990.

This brings us to what I consider French TV Mark 4 . A friend had suggested a guitarist who might be worth a try. I had seen Tony Hall [whom I'd known for a good 10 years, oddly enough] in a couple of other bands I didn't think too highly of, so his playing hadn't really registered to me at the time. I invited Tony over to my place for an informal jam, and about 1/2 hour into it, we were already writing music together. I realized it was time to "wake up the Beast", and began making phone calls. First on the list was drummer Jeff Mullen from the last lineup, who immediately said yes. I had also heard thru the grapevine that the guy who played keys on FTV2 , Bill Fowler, was back in town from Seattle, so I managed to rope him into the new band, sore shoulder and all.

This was an exciting time, as everyone felt they had a lot to prove, and we threw ourselves into putting together a solid repertoire of material. Once again, there was originally a 50/50 mix of covers & originals. The covers this time consisted of ELP's "Karn-Evil 9" & "Knife-Edge", King Crimson's "Starless" & "Red", Yes's "Heart of the Sunrise" & "South Side of the Sky", Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" [1st 10 minutes], Rush's "Subdivisions", and Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond 1-5". We did a handful of gigs, including a local TV show, and things seemed
promising, but...

Due to the [at last!] release of French TV 3 in 1994, I felt it was time to start writing some originals again, as did the others. We also realized we were degenerating into a cover band exclusively-towards the end, we were only performing 4 French TV songs! However, there didn't seem to be much consensus on direction or the approach to writing. There were also problems with Jeff- despite being able to credibly play the trickiest of covers, it was difficult to write anything really...uh, difficult; we would eventually have to gear it down into something less ambitious. Bill was problematic as well. He could be creative, but it could be quite a struggle to pull it out of him, as he had a tendency to merely double everyone's parts. Eventually everyone's availability became a problem. As I recall, Bill had begun interning in Lexington, Kentucky [a 2 hour drive away]. Despite these problems, we managed to record a tune that later ended up on FTV4, "No Raven Tonight".

After some time off, Tony and I decided we wanted to continue with the band, but only as a vehicle for the new compositions the two of us were working on. I decided to call a drummer I had played with briefly years ago [in an all-improv trio with Clancy Dixon] named Greg McNary, and we had a few rehearsals, but Greg was hard to schedule and seemed to have a memory block where he could play a new piece brilliantly, and the next rehearsal act as though he'd never heard the piece before. At one rehearsal, he suggested bringing a drummer friend along named Chris Vincent. I said sure, but didn't realize he meant TO PLAY! Somehow, the two of them crowded into my basement, and we proceeded to jam. The music was overwhelming, and some of it was almost listenable. However, the logistics of continuing this seemed too difficult, so we settled on using Chris only for these new songs. All was going well. We had about 4 songs in good working order: "The Souls of the Damned Live in Failed Works"; "Black Day, White Light", a good chunk of "Perseids"; and a few sections of "Um Tut Sut". But during all this, Chris mysteriously stopped returning phone calls and more or less disappeared. Years later, he told me that he thought Tony & I argued too much-but I don't remember it being any more unusual than my previous musical relationships!