“It came about,” Stuart remembers, “as Kate Gallion (of C.A.G.E.) asked me to do some musical thing.”
Half made up of roughshod artpunkers from the Punk band BPA and half from elegant, fashion-forward New Wave band Junta, something about it worked, leading to The Wolverton Brothers’ subsequent legacy of seven studio albums, several tours and countless live performances in this area.
Early on, The Wolverton Brothers accepted Roots elements into their music, but to say they belong to the canon of Country-inspired Alternative music is incorrect. If anything, the band’s work is characterized by a state of conflict with American Roots music.
The Wolverton Brothers are eclectics, more comfortable with abrogating the contract implied by genre than in adhering to it, resolutely going their own direction and making some great music along the way.
After working under an alias, the group settled on “The Wolverton Brothers” after some eccentric siblings Stuart and McCubbin had known in high school.
“Worst mistake we ever made,” Schwallie offers.
The band’s self-titled debut LP for Okra Records in 1988 tended to typecast the group. Its front cover image of a group of hunters was found along the roadside in Franklin, Ohio, by Al Combs, who, according to Stuart, “was very important to the Junta side of the formulation.” As Witt recalls, the band’s early brand of conflicted, reinvented Roots music helped The Wolverton Brothers break through.
“It was not until we opened for Leon Russell and Edgar Winter — and virtually started a riot — at Bogart’s that we took off,” he says.
“We’d had the plug pulled on us. Me and Jay went back to get paid, and (club owner) Al Porkolab writes out the check, looks up and says ‘You guys got guts.’ ”
From there, the Wolvertons sustained a long and impressive track record as one of the Cincinnati club scene’s strongest draws in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Their second Okra release, Sucking Hind Tit, was distributed by major indie Rough Trade, which went out of business on the very day of its release.
“At the time,” Schwallie remembers, “playing out locally was extremely satisfactory. From ’88 to ’95, it was amazing. I’d go home from shows and be on cloud nine for a week or two.”
Out-of-town appearances were more problematic.
“We had a couple of wonderful shows in Boston” Schwallie says. “We had really good shows in New York and Chicago. But there were places where we were passed as a Country band when we were no longer a Country band (and) we were passed as a SubPop band because we had that single coming out then.”
That Wolvertons single — “My Assassin” backed with “Max Gomez Love,” part of the original Sub Pop’s Singles Club — was from 1993, during the label’s nadir as a true indie. McCubbin remembers, “I talked to Jonathan Poneman on the phone and he said, ‘You guys are kind of cerebral.’ ”
Subsequently, the band released two albums through Kurt Kellison’s Chicago-based Atavistic label, the exceptionally rare Liar Man (1994) and Glad (1995).
“Back in ’95, a lot of local bands were getting signed,” Stuart says. “We felt like Glad was the best record we could ever make (and) it got us absolutely nowhere. I think the Glad flop really spoiled our appetite for the music biz.”
This led to what the Wolvertons refer to as their “missing years,” an impasse when they seldom recorded, played few shows and experimented with other concepts, including the short-lived C.O.P.S. (Collection of Police Soundtracks).
Ultrasuede’s John Curley and Chris Koltay encouraged The Wolverton Brothers to resume recording after a nine-year hiatus, resulting in Hospital Records’ A Better Place in 2006, which, as Schwallie observes, “is a hellaciously long CD, about 60 minutes, and a couple of years in the making.”
A Better Place is a maximal testament to a revitalized Wolvertons, incorporating instrumental, electronically-fueled jams into the usual mix. It helped set the stage for The Wolverton Brothers’ subsequent releases on Ionik: Old, Ugly and Loud from 2008 and the band’s recent effort, Crooked.
Handing me a stack of Wolverton Brothers CDs, Schwallie says, “That’s actually a body of work you’re looking at. All of those CDs did come out and all have been reviewed.”
Witt adds, “Recording is almost like, to me, like playing live in a certain way. That’s the level of satisfaction you get.”
As to where they might be headed as they enter their 26th year, Schwallie is upbeat.
“The Wolverton Brothers is a sonically all over the place, pretty 'out there' kind of music,” he says. “We do get airplay, and it’s because we have been around 25 years that we can get it — (someone’s) older brother had the first record or somebody recognizes the name. We’ve had periods where it was on the up and periods where nobody came, just like any other local band. Over the years, we’re kind of getting rediscovered.”
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