The members of the dB's had grown up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Early and mid 70's Winston-Salem bands such as Rittenhouse Square, the Sneakers and other groupings, held the core members of the dB's as well as Mitch Easter (Let's Active) and Don Dixon (Arrogance). 1977 brought Chris Stamey to Manhattan as a student at NYU. From there he quickly became part of the NYC music scene as a member of Alex Chilton's band. Chris then talked Will Rigby and Gene Holder into leaving Winston-Salem to join him in NYC, and so was the start of the dB's. Shortly after, Peter Holsapple, who had played with Chris in Rittenhouse Square and was by then known for his Chapel Hill band The H-Bombs, wound up in NYC and into the dB's. With Chris and Peter handling the songwriting, the band line-up was now set.
The dB's spent the next three years playing some of the most famous New York clubs of the era. Max's Kansas City, CBGB's, Irving Plaza, the Mudd Club and others became the band's stomping ground. By 1980 they had signed a contract with UK record label Albion. Their first LP, Stands for deciBels was released in 1981, followed later in the year by their second LP, Repercussion. The critics loved them!
With the release of their second LP, the dB's toured the US in support of this import only collection of songs. The announcement of the dB's arrival in hometown clubs like The Pier, brought the excitement of conquering heroes to the fans in Raleigh.
I was having a particularly busy afternoon on Monday, October 19, 1981. I was directing and shooting a music video for a Robert Kirkland (Arrogance) produced band called Luky Owens & Revolver at Cafe DejaVu. The club, along with a number of other clubs and odd stores were located underground in the Cameron Village Subway, near NC State. The dB's were scheduled to play across the hall at The Pier nightclub and they were loading in. Prompted by Robert, Peter Holsapple dropped by to watch the shoot and was quickly brought over and introduced to me. At that point, knowing the dB's were playing that night, I asked Peter if it was okay if I shot their performance since I had the video gear for the rest of the night. Peter said okay, but I had to confirm with Chris. I introduced myself to Chris just before the dB's performance and he said okay but I could only shoot the first set, which dutifully I shot.
As I entered The Pier, the dB's had already started playing. The place was packed and so I took a position behind the crowd, thinking that I would just get some cover shots and not destroy the show with my big bulky camera. As the performance progressed, the excitement heightened and so I pushed my way up front and shot from the edge of stage right.
Once my 20-minutes of tape was shot, I packed up my gear and watched the rest of the show like everyone else. These guys were great! Their music had a Beatles influence (hey, they did a Beatles cover!) but the influence they leaned on was the more experimental side. It was a wonderful mix of Pop and Psychedelia and 60's Avant-guard, a sound well beyond the Power Pop that was being touted at the time. If you listen closely to the performance outtake footage, you can hear people in the audience actually say "wow" at the end of a couple of the songs.
The dB's as an influence in the Comboland scene was huge. Members of Arrogance, The Fabulous Knobs and the X-Teens were there that night. The dB's were a North Carolina band who became a New York City band who were signed to a London record label. Very cool, and quite enviable.
I edited the live footage I shot and eeked out a music video of UPS & DOWNS for the fun of it. I sent it to the dB's manager and received no response. I called a few times and sent a second tape. Still nothing. No thank-you, but then again, no restraining order either. Oh well, the band was on a roll and I sent them a tape of what was really an expensive broadcast quality home movie. I shrugged it off and figured the video was tossed on a pile of other fan mail.
Less than a year after the dB's show at The Pier, Chris decided it was time for him to leave the band. The dB's continued on without him. 1984 released the LP, Like This on the US label Bearsville / Warner Bros and a tour with R.E.M. Sadly, the Warner Bros. distribution deal ended with Bearsville and so did support for the dB's album. The R.E.M. connection brought the dB's to the I.R.S. / MCA label and the 1987 LP, The Sound Of Music. As the album was released, Gene left the group. At this point, between being road weary and lack of sales and label support, the dB's as a band called it quits in 1988.
Through the years, the dB's have become the darlings of the music critics both nationally and internationally. They were a major influence in the 80's New Wave scene as well as the up and coming Comboland groups and the later Jangle-Pop era. And Chris and Peter's song writing abilities are still noted in Rock journals. Today, Chris is known as a first rate producer and Peter's influence on R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish has made him a member of both touring bands. The 90's solo efforts of Chris, Peter, Will and Gene brought critical and fan support, but the call for a serious regrouping of that original magical line-up has gone unheard - until recently.
The dB's reunion gave me the push (and courage) to start digging through my archive, starting with a post of a RTC Sampler (compilation of the RTC artists a/k/a Mondo Combo Montage) as the first volley of YouTube videos. A few days later I received an email:
Saw the Return to Comboland sampler on YouTube today. Wow. That's
some amazing stuff you got there.
The dB's show from The Pier, from whence "Ups and Downs" comes, has
always been a mystery to the band, as all we ever had of it was that
song on a U-Matic 3/4" tape, I think, that may have even only been in
black and white. Yours seems to be in color, so I wonder if you have
any more of the show - I seem to recall it all having been taped.
Please let me know if you do.
January 22, 2007
At this point the excitement and frustration of my archive reveals itself. In trying to keep up with technology, I had the original two-inch videotape and 3/4" U-Matic tapes transferred to one-inch videotape in 1985. The hours and hours of tapes were stacked high on desks as I spent days transferring raw footage to the superior format. With only three tapes left, I took a break for dinner, and returned to find my last three tapes gone. Someone had taken them. Either as a joke, or dumped them thinking they were trash, or decided they needed the recycled stock. Either way, the tapes were never found. Thankfully, two of the three tapes were back-ups. The last tape was the original dB's performance video. As much as Peter would like to have seen the original footage, I couldn't show it to him.
I emailed Peter my story and also told him that the only other song that was worth editing was TNK (a nickname the dB's gave to The Beatles TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS). Peter's response was surprise in that the tape was lost and that he had forgotten that TNK was on their set list.
Since I was in communications Peter, I once again took advantage of the situation and asked permission to shoot the dB's performance in Carrboro. He told me to check in with Chris (funny how things just don't change!). So here I was with Tony Madejczyk, twenty-six years later, at the foot of the stage shooting the dB's - this time in High Definition. And who did I run into at the show? Some of the same crew from the 1981 show, Robert Kirkland (Arrogance), Debra DeMilo and Jack Cornell (The Fabulous Knobs) and Kitty Moses (X-Teens).
Ten days after the dB's performance, I received an email from Tony:
Searching thru my scatter-brain archives had me thinking about the VHS
tapes I've squirreled away. I looked around late last night and found
a VHS dub you made off your 3/4" of the dB's show. It even has your
handwriting on the outside. I'm shipping it today.
February 12, 2007
So miracles do happen! (It just goes to show that you should NEVER throw anything away - even a 26-year old VHS tape!) As I analyzed the way the tape was laid out, the tape had to be a VHS copy of the second 3/4" U-Matic videotape I sent to the dB's manager in 1981. So there still may be a great copy of this show in the former dB's manager's basement. Until that's found (if ever) I had the VHS transferred and color corrected and Chris Stamey was kind enough to clean up the soundtrack for incorporation into the video.
Why the trouble for some old performance video? It seems that after years of playing clubs all over the world, this is the only Live performance footage of the dB's original line-up. Which makes these fragmented pieces of video quite historic.
The dB's 1981 LIVE at The Pier SET LIST (as shot on videotape)
(I THOUGHT) YOU WANTED TO KNOW[Incomplete] The first dB's single as Chris Stamey and the dB's, which was really Chris and Richard Lloyd. A unique opportunity to hear the classic line-up of the dB's actually playing the song. Written by Richard Lloyd.
BAD REPUTATION[Incomplete] From the Stands for deciBels album. Written by Peter.
DYNAMITE[Fragment] Another from the Stands for deciBels album. The only song written by all four dB's.
SOUL KISS[Incomplete] Originally the B-side of the single BLACK AND WHITE. Written by Chris.
JUDY[Complete] Originally a single only release. Written by Peter.
PH FACTOR[Incomplete] Originally the B-side of the single NEVERLAND. Instrumental.
TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS[Complete] Never released by the dB's. A cover of the Lennon / McCartney song from The Beatles' Revolver album.
UPS & DOWNS[Complete] From the album Repercussion.
There was a lot more to this show, including a hellashish encore with Arrogance, but this is all that I was able to videotape. For further background on how this footage came about, please review the description to the Luky Owens & Revolver video LIKE A REVOLVER.