FRENCH TV

BAND OF DESTINY

After Chris abandoned Tony & me, we must have spent 6 months trying to replace him, going thru 5-6 different drummers who all bailed just when things got interesting. Somehow, I eventually managed to talk old mate Bob Douglas into rejoining again, promising we were only interested in recording these new numbers, NOT playing live [of course, I had my fingers crossed behind my back]. Bob was enjoyable to work with; a true professional who gave you all his effort & concentration and stuck to the job at hand.

This might explain why I decided to bring John Robinson back into the fold to play keys-we needed someone who was the complete opposite! John came with a number of plus and minuses. On the plus side: Talent, a quick learner, a distinctive playing & compositional style, dedication, knew his music theory, an endless supply of jokes-he'd even acquired a couple non-Casio keyboards! But on the minus side? A tendency to always have a "better" idea [resulting in his wanting to dictate parts to us, a practice that all of us even to this day are uncomfortable with], a lack of focus, a love of truly horrid keyboard patches, and his jokes generally involved "bodily functions" that got old quickly. But Bob & I knew that going in, and were able to adjust accordingly. As for Tony [cue "ominous" background music]....


The tunes were coming together amazingly well. Rehearsals were rigorous and the compositions were thoroughly scrutinized. It was a new sensation to finally allow other FTV members to contribute songs to a project, but I enjoyed and trusted the other's skills to deliver a good tune to the band. We eventually played a benefit for a local arts group and debuted the 4 songs mentioned earlier, with the help of Greg Acker & Dean Zigoris who joined on two of them. We soon afterwards began recording this material, along with a Van Der Graaf Generator tune John & I would fool around with during rehearsals called "Pioneers over C". Bob had a splendid baritone that was ideally suited to singing this. Once the tracks were recorded, it was time to consider playing live [Bob didn't seem TOO opposed to this idea initially].

It was during these practices that the tension between Tony & John was getting to be a bit unsettling, so I thought it might be a good idea to bring Dean back into the band. At least that was ONE reason. He also happened to be between bands, could also double on keys & guitar syth [I thought this could offset John's "unorthodox" sounds], was loaded with creativity, and was a good friend besides. After some hemming & hawwing, he finally joined up to everyone's delight. I REEEEALLY liked this new lineup; Tony & Dean sounded terrific together and were coming up with some ambitious new arrangements, but sadly it didn't last long. Tony had really hit his boiling point with John [to John's credit, he never reached the point where he let any anger affect his opinions of Tony's playing or composing], and there were two instances where I had to step between them for fear they were going to start slugging each other! I knew this couldn't continue, and with the advice of Dean & Bob, reluctantly asked Tony to leave the group, a decision I still feel guilty about to this day.

After rearranging the material to fit Dean's style of playing and dropping some songs in favor of others, we began playing live again. Having been around so long with French TV, I was gradually making a lot of connections out of town and began booking a few road gigs. This would have been around 1996-1997. We did shows in Chicago [where our last gig culminated with John attacking the rest of us with Silly String-the owners were less than pleased], Pittsburgh, Indianapolis [the latter 2 were minus Dean, who was in Europe at the time], Baltimore, Athens,[GA], and a memorable Halloween in Buffalo to about 14 people.The money usually stunk, but we had some wonderful times and met some great bands/players, particularly Athen's VOLARE, whom we played with on 4 different occasions.

In Louisville, July of 1996 we [Steve Roberts, Joee Conroy, and myself] put together a significant show we dubbed the Eclectic Electric Event: a festival featuring the aforementioned VOLARE [our 1st introduction]; Columbus' QUARKSPACE; Indianapolis' THE MATHEMATICIANS; Virginia's BOUD DEUN, and local pals UT GRET. It was a SPECTACULAR show-at least the 27 people who saw it thought so. It still galls me that it drew so poorly. Our local public radio station could have helped, but they chose to promote the Tiny Tim concert they were sponsoring instead. However, like Jerry Garcia [whose simultaneous concert with the Dead killed the attendance at a Chicago gig we played], this made him a victim of the Curse of French TV and "Mr. Tiptoe-Thru-the Tulips" died shortly afterwards.

After a year or so of these shows, we decided it was time to record a live album, as we REALLY wanted to drop most of the early FTV songs and concentrate on newer material. My friend Michael Medley had a nice home studio with 2 ADAT players, and a standing invitation from The Kentucky School for the Blind to use their recital hall whenever he desired. So we organized a concert there, and Michael recorded our entire set , along with 2-3 improvs [something we'd gotten pretty good at with this lineup]. Looking back, I know now we should have done multiple takes of at least some of the material, as some of what made it to the cd had been performed better in the past.

The dismal attendance at this [a FREE show, and we drew the usual 12 people!] marked our decision to stop playing Louisville and concentrate on the road gigs. The live cd, entitled "French TV: Live-YOO-HOO!!!"[this title was taken from a Laurel & Hardy short where they were trying to break into someone's house at night; "Yoo-Hoo!" being a necessary signal. Somehow, this became a significant part of our vocabulary when signaling each other that a change was coming up during a tune. Also, it was a plea to prog fans: "PLEASE NOTICE US!"]

After our 2nd appearance in Baltimore, drummer Bob Douglas threw in the towel, as he hadn't really planned to play out as much as we were and was considering a move to Nashville. However, we had begun recording tracks for the next FTV cd "The Violence of Amateurs" by then, so he stayed long enough to record "The Kokonino Stomp", "Tiger Tea", "Mail Order Quarks", [which was scrapped and re-recorded later thru no fault of Bob's] and John's tune "The Tingler"[also originally recorded with Tony. It was dropped again since no one could bear the thought of having John re-explaining the time signatures and the theories behind them]. Not long after leaving the band, Bob moved to Nashville and currently is a partner in a local PA company, traveling extensively providing concert sound for various acts.

So Dean, John, & I began putting all our energy into FTV6, but a juicy bone came our way: The 1997 ProgDay festival in Raleigh, NC. This was too good to turn down, so after being rejected by a few local drummers, we decided to ask Volare drummer Brian Donohoe to join us for this, since his band was also on the bill. We thought we might as well ask their keyboardist Patrick Strawser to supplement our lineup also, and he enthusiastically agreed. It was then decided that John would spend a few days in Athens working with them a month in advance, then we would spend the day before the show rehearsing as a group. Of course, the second part of this plan failed miserably, as on the way to the show, my catalytic converter blew out and we lost a day getting there. To make matters worse, we got separated during the drive [Dean & me in my van, and John & Clay Gauce (host of Lexington's prog radio show"The Trip") in Clay's car], and the morning of our show, John missed all of our set except the last 3 songs. Somehow, we got thru our set with only minor mishaps, but weren't exactly the show-stoppers I'd envisioned.










(These next two shots are the ProgDay post-game, with French TV and Italy's Finnistere struggling through "Supper's Ready")







A few months after the festival, I booked a short 3 date tour which would culminate with Brian [who agreed to do the tour] recording 3 more songs with us: Dean's "The Secret Life of Walter Riddle"; Volare's "The Odessa Steps Sequence"[we'd learned it for Progday], and a Zamla Mammaz Manna cover "Joosan Lost/The Fate". 2 dates fell thru, and I had to drop the 3rd due to personal reasons, but we DID manage to do the recording. I'm still amazed at how easily Brian fit in and learned the material to the point where HE was correcting US!

As time went by, the band became pretty fragmented: Dean was out of the country for extended periods, John was joining & quitting other bands, and we still hadn't resolved our drummer problems. We worked on FTV6 whenever time allowed, and I had also somehow tracked down my old friend Chris Vincent [one gets the impression nobody EVER quits French TV; they just take extended sabbaticals] and did a lot of one-on-one jamming which we both got a lot of enjoyment out of and provided the seeds for a few future tunes. Somehow we were all in the same place long enough to say yes to a local gig opening for the Belgian band PRESENT-quite a feather in our caps! Chris was then introduced to the pleasures of rehearsing with John, and wasn't adapting very well to John's antics. I was also finding it harder and harder to work with John as well-his micro-managing of everyone's parts and my dread of each rehearsal developing into a wrestling match [I remember spending a miserable 45 minutes arguing with John over why it would be a bad idea to superimpose the theme to "Green Acres" over one of the sections on "The Kokonino Stomp"] tended to suck the life out of our composing process. Somehow we grinded our way thru rehearsals and put on one of our best shows, despite Roger Trigaux dismissing us as "that American clown band". A few weeks later, John turned in his notice and quit, as he got a new job that required a lot of traveling.



Dean and I continued to plug away at finishing FTV6, and had begun jamming with Chris a lot. We had a new approach to composing, as many of the jams developed nicely enough to where they seemed to only require a bit of fine-tuning to become uh, viable compositions. We had 2 potential new members join us briefly [though not concurrently] during this period-Beau Weatherby on keys, and Cathy Moeller on violin. They made excellent contributions to the new songs, but found it hard to commit to our 2-3 times a week rehearsals.

In June of 1999, we went on our 1st honest-to-goodness tour. As a result of joining the digital revolution, I was making tons of new connections thru the Internet, and had leads on 2 week's worth of tour dates out West. Due mostly to a lack of the proper lead time, most of the dates fell thru, but we still managed to play Denver, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and St. Louis, and managed to do a LOT of sightseeing: the Grand Canyon, Mt. Zion National Park, The Utah Salt Flats, The Rocky Mountains, one of the last baseball games at Candlestick Park, and, uh, Las Vegas. For the tour, we acquired an excellent keyboardist/woodwinds player from San Diego named Warren Dale, whose band TRAP was to open a few dates on the tour. I returned the favor by playing bass for them for the San Diego date-the CARTOON medley [their drummer being Gary Parra] being a real highlight for me! Warren continues to be an important part of French TV [as well as a good friend] to this day and has recorded keys & woodwinds for our next cd.

In December of 1999, French TV 6, "The Violence of Amateurs" was released, and had become our most acclaimed release to date [see elsewhere on this website for extensive bragging].

The following 2 years have been odd and hard to explain, as much of it has been spent wondering exactly whether FTV is currently a "band" or not. Definitions are pretty much impossible when the guitarist moves out of town and then disappears completely a year or so later; the new keyboardist lives on the other side of the country, you're also involved in an on-again/off again musical relationship with a prior keyboardist; and the drummer spends a lot of time honing his "complaining" chops. But then, he had a lot to complain about at the time.


Not long after the tour, Chris pulled another one of his disappearing acts for about 3-4 months. In the meantime, Dean had decided to take a temporary project with IBM, which meant moving to New York. For the better part of 2000, Dean was uncertain whether he would be signing up for another IBM project once the contract ran out. Chris [once he returned] and I decided to hold off seeking a replacement til Dean made up his mind. In the meantime, I had 3 projects to occupy my time: 1)Finishing FTV7, to which Dean at least SEEMED committed. Fortunately, Warren Dale had signed on at this point and was pretty enthusiastic about what we had so far [we had recorded backing tracks with Dean for about 1/2 the cd, with another tune written and ready to record]. 2)I had finally found the necessary equipment to transfer the original multi-track masters of our 1st lp to today's modern recording format, thanks to Mark Miceli, the mastermind behind legendary Louisville progressive band EASTER ISLAND. A cd re-issue was now within my grasp! Option #3 was a new group I tried forming that featured 3 terrific singers/writers I'd known over the years, including old pal Walter Riddle. Sadly, it was one of those things that doesn't quite make it from concept to execution, so it dissolved eventually despite 6-7 good songs taking form. These projects pretty much covered our activities thru the end of 2001. We DID manage to play a couple of gigs in 2000-an Orion show in Baltimore, and the QUARKSTOCK festival in Columbus, Ohio.



The last I heard from Dean was in April, 2001, a few months after FTV1 was finally re-issued on cd. By summer, it was apparent he had no interest in finishing FTV7, and I really have no idea why at this point. TRAP to the rescue once again: Chris Smith stepped in to finish the rest of the songs, supplying guitars, violin/viola, banjo, and probably a few instruments I haven't seen yet.

Summer also saw the arrival of a new live version of French TV. Chris Vincent and I talked John Robinson into another re-enlistment and consequently played two wonderfully received shows in Louisville, and one somewhat tolerated [by the puzzled audience] show opening for the Flower Kings in Cincinnati. The date happened to be 9/12/2001.





A week after the Cincinnati gig, Chris turned in his walking papers: apparently the Flower Kings fans' lack of enthusiasm was too much.

Fall of 2001 was spent mixing the final tracks for FTV7 as well as designing the graphics for its booklet and tray card. And re-designing. And re-designing. And re-designing....


As for the present? New drummer Jeff Gard is working out nicely in rehearsals for material for FTV8; FTV7 "The Case Against Art" came out January 2002 and is selling like hotcakes, and we've been inundated with a barrage of gig offers lately-some of which might even be serious! Stay tuned for further developments!

-Mike Sary, March 2002