Sunday, August 12, 2007

THE UNDERDOGS, Essential U-Dogs Poop (unofficial, cassette, 1988)

More of the damn finest pop punk to come out of Dayton... ever. Best comparisons include THE RAMONES, THE REPLACEMENTS, THE DAMNED. If you liked the SOURBELLY and OXYMORONS stuff (or even if you didn't), you'll love the U-DOGS.

I don't know how Gregg Spence and Ian Uppstrom got together and decided to form a band, but shortly thereafter they placed an ad and started auditioning drummers. After going through a seemingly endless run of Neil Peart and John Bonham clones, they ran across Ben. Gregg hated him. Although Ben chose a better role model (Keith Moon) than the others, his playing was way too loud and uneven, and he rode the cymbals like a madman. To top it off, Ben interrupted the first practice at one point and said he'd like the band to sound like a mix of The Who and U-2. Gregg was ready to leave, but Ian took him aside, explaining "This is the LAST drummer in Dayton! It's this guy, or nobody!" So they practiced more, and eventually, everything clicked (though after the first U-DOGS show, some nameless listener snidely told Gregg, "You guys'd be great if somebody took your drummer's cymbals away.").

Over the next year, the U-DOGS played various places around Dayton, including the old Building Lounge, Canal Street Tavern, and once at a mental hospital (I think Ben's mom got them that gig). But after a year or so, Gregg's chronic ill-health made the demands of a band difficult to meet, and the U-DOGS broke up.

A couple of years later, Gregg briefly fronted a similar combo called MEAN MELISSA. In the '90s, he played guitar or drums in a string of bands including THE KILLJOYS, CAGE, SOURBELLY, THE MULCHMEN and REAL LULU. Throughout this time, he also played several solo gigs (I'll be sharing a few of his solo recordings in a future episode of this blog). Toward the end of the decade, Gregg's health deteriorated markedly. He died in January 2000.

Ben Schelker went from the U-DOGS to form THE OXYMORONS and later CANDYASS (from both of which I'll be sharing). He died in 1997.

I lost track of Ian Uppstrom a long time ago. If he's still alive, he's the last surviving member of this band.

The archive for download isn't an official release (to my knowledge, the U-DOGS never had an official release). It's a compilation of studio recordings, 4-track demos, and live stuff dubbed by Ben for Grog shortly after THE OXYMORONS got together in 1989. Somebody somewhere probably has better sounding recordings (Nick Kizirnis, I'm looking in your direction...), but this is what I have. The songs are in the same order as they were on that tape. For some inexplicable reason, the track listing in Ben's handwriting on the cover bears little relationship to the tracks as they appear on the cassette. Thus I don't know the titles of all these songs (if you do, let me know).

Even without an official release, "Righteous Tune" became a local hit a year or so after the U-DOGS broke up and received much airplay on my show and others on college radio station WWSU. Gregg told me the song was actually inspired by THE OBVIOUS, another Dayton band at the time that was getting some attention "on the college charts." Although there's a certain amount of spite in the lyrics toward THE OBVIOUS' upper middle class origins in Centerville ("call it a feeling, something in your soul, but it's a little green card that takes you where you wanna go/your mom and dad always wanted the best for you..."), there's also some grudging admiration. The "Righteous Tune" that the song is about is, after all, the title track of "Home," the first release by THE OBVIOUS. According to Gregg, he wrote this song after hearing "Home" on the radio while driving to a U-DOGS gig.

"Volare Ride to Hell" is about Gregg's shitty car.

"She" is the first song Ben ever wrote. Greg told me that Ben had bugged him for songwriting advice throughout the U-DOGS' existence, but this was the closest he ever came to writing anything that wasn't absolute shit. Fortunately, by the time he started OXYMORONS, Ben's songwriting had improved somewhat.

I can't say much else about the individual tracks, except that the live stuff was recorded at The Building Lounge, the 4-track demos were recorded in Ben's parents' basement, and the studio tracks were recorded at Cro-Magnon -- all in 1988.

As I mentioned above, Gregg and Ben (and maybe Ian) would go on to other bands, and in their own way, those bands were better than the U-DOGS. But there's something in these recordings that none of their other efforts ever reproduced. Gregg's heartfelt songwriting, so influenced by Elvis Costello and Paul Westerberg, gets an incredible dose of exuberance from Ian and Ben's frantic, driving rhythm section. It's a somewhat rare mix of talent, creativity, and energy.


Gregg Spence - guitar, voice
Ian Uppstrom - bass, backing voice
Ben Shelcker - drums, backing voice

Track list:

1. unknown
2. Righteous Tune
3. unknown
4. Nineteen
5. Soft Spot (4-track)
6. Prayers
7. Volare Ride to Hell (4-track)
8. Volare Ride to Hell
9. Count One Out
10. unknown
11. She
12. 3 Bucks 'til Pay Day
13. C.I.D.
14. Climbing the Walls
15. Signal 30
16. Neat, Neat, Neat
17. unknown instrumental
18. unknown instrumental

Download It! (48 MB) (link re-upped on 2-1-2013)

take care




G said...

Quick note:

Ian Uppstrom was later in the early 90's band Insufficient Funds.


jones said...

Yes, he was, and at some point I'll be posting their tape as well on this here blog.

By the way, I forgot to mention that this U-DOGS tape comes to us courtesy of the Grog Collection.

take care


Phiala said...

Interesting to know.