Thursday, March 20, 2008
WALAROO SOUTH, Painted A Million Colors (cassette, 1991)
A couple of months after PLANET ED got together (February 1991), we did the Dayton Band Playoffs at Canal Street Tavern (because it was pretty tough to get a show during the first half of summer at Canal Street if you didn't). It was in either our first or second round that we got soundly trounced in the voting by six of the nicest kids you'd ever want to meet. Those kids were WALAROO SOUTH.
WALAROO SOUTH would go through a few lineup changes over the years, but at the time Painted A Million Colors was being circulated, the band was:
Jonathan Drexler - Vocals, guitar
Lesa O'Daniel - Vocals and auxiliary percussion
Aaron Jones (no relation) - guitar
Danny Stahl - drums
Felicia Letts - backing vocals, flue, keyboard, auxiliary percussion
Hans Drexler - bass
I remember disliking the name and not being too into the music at first. It was pretty derivative college radio stuff. Comparisons to POI DOG PONDERING, DAVE MATTHEWS and especially TEN THOUSAND MANIACS were inevitable. But the music grew on me, and I ended up listening to this tape quite a bit.
And regardless of what I personally thought of the music, I could never deny that they were all great musicians. I don't know for sure, but I got the impression that most of them had graduated to WALAROO SOUTH from high school marching bands, orchestras, glee clubs, and chorale ensembles. That's not a bad progression.
I mean sure, Lesa sounded just like Natalie Merchant, but that just means she had a great vocal range and could belt the melody out pretty strongly. She was cute too (probably why Will and I always sat right up front when they played -- especially when she wore sweaters). Care to guess how many Natalie Merchant wannabes I ran across in those days who were butt ugly and couldn't carry a tune in a bucket? Trust me, you don't want to know. Lesa was the rare exception.
The others all knew what they were doing too. Aaron could alternate quite deftly between clean rhythms and flurried, Eddie Van Halen leads. Danny never missed a beat coming out of a fill (if only I could say the same about that schlub NICK ATKINSON! -- although he seemed to become a lot more precise after OXYMORONS broke up). Felicia's backup vocals were strong, and she filled out the sound quite well among all the instruments she played.
Jonathan and Hans seemed to be the creative backbone of this group. I think everyone contributed to the music, but I think Jonathan and Hans had the most control over the ultimate form of each tune. Jonathan and Lesa wrote the lyrics.
As I said, they were all very nice kids when we first met them (and still are today, I'm sure) -- very young and even "clean cut" you might say. With six members and such precise attention to their playing, they were kind of the antithesis of PLANET ED (which was a trio and probably the loosest lineup I've ever played with). However, we played quite a few shows together between 1991 and 1993, and I think we became friends. Certainly Jonathan, Hans, Will, and I used to hang out. I remember they showed up quite a few times to watch bad, gorey horror films with Will and me (other faces I associate with "The Gore Club," as Will used to call it, belonged to Ed Lacy, Rob Schaeffer (a couple of times), Dave Madisov, Dave's girlfriend Rachel, Brian Hogarth, Christine White (infrequently), and even Nick Kizirnis every now and then).
I don't know what became of Felicia or Lesa after 1993 or so. Danny and Aaron played in other bands I saw in the '90s but I can't name any of them off the top of my head. Jonathan and Hans continued with WALAROO SOUTH until maybe 1996(?). At some point, they dropped the "SOUTH" from the name, and the music changed from lite college folk rock to harder, rougher indie rock. I have two demo cassettes from that version of WALAROO that I'll share later. In the late '90s they moved to Chicago and started the band MY SECRET SERVICE with Aaron and Matt Espy (formerly of CAGE and MINK). Jonathan also plays in MEAN OHIO, also with Matt Espy.
1. Love Canal
2. Little Brother
3. Break the Line
4. Chain Train
6. Spacious One
Download It! (33 MB) (link re-upped on 2-1-2013)
UPDATE 2-8-2013: Jonathan Drexler died yesterday. We all miss him very much.