Our November AotM features Seattle cult favorites Red Dress. First off, let me tell you that they are playing out again nowadays. After you have finished streaming this 5 or 6 time you can go see them this month on Saturday, November 28th at the High Dive in Fremont (21+, 513 N. 36th, (206)632-0212) at about 10:15 or so.
So, you ask, what’s the back story?
It goes like this. While Red Dress first emerged in the same period (1980 or so) that saw Seattle singles from the Enemy, the Pudz and the Telepaths, Red Dress didn’t sound like a punk band. Theirs was a more bent vision, most popularly reduced by the local press to Captain Beefheart meets James Brown. That is to say, their roots are in R&B in the same sense (20 years later) as the Fabulous Wailers, but their execution is uniquely their own. Most people would tend to fixate on the singer, Gary Minkler, as people usually do (and Gary is a sight to behold and behear), but I always thought it was the twin guitar thing with John Olufs and Pete Pendras that made them so cool. When I hear the term “twin guitar,” I usually think some 70’s southern boogie band and Red Dress is definitely not that. They interlocked and overlapped with rambling precision, building into something that is wonderfully other, with traditional rhythm and lead guitar roles pretty much ignored. Put that on top of a bitch rhythm section with first Greg Keplinger and then Bill Shaw on drums and Bill Bagley or Walt Singleman on bass and you were cooking with gas, baby! Sometime keyboards or horns or extra singers were added to spice up the stew.
As was my wont in those days (and these days), I didn’t see them play live a ton. I was always about records. And these guys had very cool records. I got the first, Bob was a Robot b/w Pterodactyl Teenagers (the poster you see on this page hangs in my CD room) when it came out in ’81 and found it a very tasty if freaky experience. Their second single Money Dreams (backed with the delightful Mousies), I thought was the coolest record that had been made on the local scene by a mile, both in performance and just the sound of the thing. The Little Ships live LP that came out as they wrapped up that phase was a nice finishing touch.
In 1996, their long time producer/engineer and pal Conrad Uno of Popllama (I have a vague memory of waiting for the inebriated dawn in a post-closing-time Rainbow Tavern with him and Gary) took it upon himself to release their collected recordings, most of which had never seen the light of day. I have had a copy ever since and that is from whence all these fine selections emanate. You can get it from Amazon for a silly price or get a better deal direct from Uno at Popllama Products.
Here’s Uno’s intro to the ’96 release:
A lot of people are going to ask why. Why put out a double disc set of a bunch of old recordings of a bunch of old songs by a band semi-defunct who never made it very big anyway? Well, the answer isn’t very difficult. I wanted to be able to listen to these old recordings of these old songs whenever I damn well pleased. And now I can. And so can you. I’m very happy about that.
Enjoy the genius of Red Dress – Conrad Uno
These songs are written by Gary Minkler and arranged by Red Dress unless it says something different.
1. Pterodactyl Teenagers
(Note: This is a different version than the one on the Glass Mouth Records single)
Uno: Started on 4-track, finished on 8-track. The vocal sessions for this song will forever be remembered as the “Hot Dogs & Acid” sessions. You’ll have to ask Gary about that.
2. The Broken Ballerina (Minkler/Bagley)
Uno: Like many of these early studio recordings, this was started in December 1981 as a 4-track recording and later bounced to 8-track to finish.
Pete: Great overlapping parts and spiral arrangement.
3. The Story of Tucson Shorty
Uno: Produced and mixed by C. Uno and J. Olufs. Recorded in 1989 on 8-track
4. Why am I Crazy
Uno: Recorded on 8-track, starting in January 1989.
Gary: John produced with Uno, had a heavy-hand in the arrangement.
5. One Thing Won’t Change
Uno: Recorded on 8-track, started in 1987.
Gary: Again, John co-produced with Uno and directed the arrangement
6. Money Dream
Uno: Recorded at Triangle Studios, Seattle 1983 by Steve Boyce. Produced by Steve Boyce, Conrad Uno and Red Dress. Previously released as one side of Popllama 7” single PLV45-02 in 1984
Pete: I remember riding the ferry from Bremerton to Seattle and some teenagers had a small radio. Money Dream came on and several in the group sang along with Gary’s roaring vocal.
Steve Boyce (Co-Producer): I’d been doing a lot of work at Triangle Studios and had also become a fan and friends with Red Dress. I think I may have pitched Gary Minkler a few production ideas that came to mind about that song and that’s how we came to record together.
I had a vision of Gary singing the lyrics, day dreaming about his Money Dream. And in his day dream, he’s swingin’ in a tux, with a Martini in one hand and a mic in the other, livin’ large – ala a Rat-Packer. So I asked him to sing the first verse an octave lower than he’d been singing it – going for kind of a Sinatra/swinging kind of a vibe. He resisted at first, but ended up going for it.
And the band graciously played along and let me throw in some wind chimes, whispers of “Money” toward the end and a few other flourishes here and there. It was a different process than they were used to.
Gary: What I remember best about this recording is the vocal session, because it was so strange. I came in to rock. Steve said he had something different in mind for this session. He handed me a tux jacket shirt and tie and told me to put them on. I was puzzled but did so trusting that Steve knew his job. When I asked him for the pants he handed me a pair of black fishnet stockings and a pair of stiletto high heels and said “no pants for this one Gar”(I still don’t know what that was about).
Steve had rigged up a swing in the middle of the studio and had me get on it and swing back and forth relaxed and care-free. He said “Just be cool Daddy-o”. He handed me a martini and a microphone and told me to sing like Buddy Love in the movie “The Nutty Professor”.
He got the performance he wanted, added some chimes, whispers and fancy whatnot production stuff, did a great mix and delivered a brilliant recording.
As I was leaving the session that night I turned to Steve and Said “Wow, Steve, what do you call that process you just put me through?” He looked at me, smiled knowingly and said simply “The Method”.
7. I like to Eat my Mousies Raw (Minkler/Bagley. Arranged by Bagley)
Uno: Previously released as the other side of Popllama 7” single PLV45-02 in 1984. Remixed here for your enjoyment. Started on 4-track December 1981, later bounced to 8-track.
Pete: When I was sending tapes around to book gigs, a woman I sent it to in Port Townsend said she was using the song in her aerobics class.
8. I’ve Got a Tail (And I Love to Wail)
Uno: Started on 4 track in December 1981, finished on 8-track. This is a rough mix made in the mid-80’s. Unfortunately the master tapes have deteriorated over the years making it impossible for us to remix. In other words, we’re lucky to have this rough mix of this classic Red Dress tune.
Pete: Primeval creation song.
Gary: I remember very well receiving the phone call from Uno that launched the ten years of recording sessions that created these tracks. Uno’s interest and faith in the band’s musical value became vital to our existence.
Down the steps, down into the basement/garage that was the first Egg Studio where there was a sense of solidity, no rock-twit-wanna-be-industry vibe, just a safe haven with a 8-track and Uno! Red Dress would have grown sickly and died anywhere else.
I don’t want to reveal the secret behind the Teens/Tail vocal session but I will say that Uno allowed me to sing and sing and sing, saving every take with super engineer trickery. Vocal-wise, what you hear on these two songs is mixing extraordinaire.
9. Bible Pictures (Part One) (Minkler/Bagley)
10. Mad Locomotive*
11. Bad Bunch*
12. Little Ship*
13. Bamboo Bangs
Uno: Recorded on 8-track, started in 1987
14. Bob Was A Robot
Uno: The long out-of-print first single, released on Glass Mouth Records, 1980. Produced by P. Pendras/C. Morley, recorded at Pacific West Studios. Redmond, WA.
15. Budget Tour#
* Uno: Recorded Live at the Rainbow Tavern, Seattle on Tascam 38 8-track, recorded by C. Uno over two nights
Feb 15 & 16, 1985 using PA feeds and one ambient mic. These tracks were originally released on the Popllama LPLittle Ship PL 499, 1985.
# Uno: Recorded live at Skippers Tavern, Seattle on Teac 3340 4-track recorder by C. Uno one night in 1979. “Sometimes You Gotta Get Lucky.”
Hope ya’ll enjoy this one!
Tom Dyer, November 2009