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August 10th, 2011 By Brian Baker | Music | Posted In: Live Music, Local Music, Music Video, Music News

Catching Up With WEBN Album Project Alumni

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Younger local musicians and the music fans who love them might find it hard to fathom, but once upon a time, Cincinnati’s corporate Rock radio juggernaut WEBN was one of local music’s biggest allies, a wild, wooly and eclectic FM outlet as open-ended and freeform as any internet radio station or podcast. In the ’70s and ’80s, before inflexible, homogenized playlists made it impossible for even major label Cincy bands like The Afghan Whigs to get spins, the annual WEBN Album Project compilations gave major exposure to local and regional artists. Saturday at the Madison Theater, the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show flashes back to that era. In this week’s CityBeat, Brian Baker caught up with one of Cincinnati’s most popular bands ever (and an early Album Project participant), The Raisins, whose seminal lineup is reuniting for Saturday’s event, joining several other AP alumni. Brian also caught up with some of the other participating musicians to discuss the Album Project’s legacy. Below are their thoughts, as well as some vintage video clips from the era.

For those of us whose vinyl copies of the compilations have suffered from the ravages of time, WEBN has set up an amazing page on its website. Not only can visitors listen to every song from (so far) the first seven Album Projects, they can download each edition in its entirety for free. Click here for the musical time-capsule.

ROCKDUSTER placed tracks on APs #4 and #5 (and backed singer/songwriter Fred Steffan on #6) and was one of the biggest bands in the region, even boasting a national profile. Frontman Ric Biszantz studied at UC’s College Conservatory of Music, sang opera with the CSO and then turned Rockduster into one of the major Hard Rock forces in the city. The band won the only equipment-as-prize contest ever conducted through the Album Project in 1980; Biszantz says he still has the equipment they were awarded. He’s written and recorded over 350 songs since the band’s break-up, played well over 1000 benefit shows and now teaches guitar, bass and voice.

What did the Album Project mean to you at the time?

Rick Biszantz: “It was the most important thing in my life. It was the opportunity to let national people listen to you and it made us the No. 1 band in Cincinnati.”

What do you plan to do for the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show?

RB: “We’ll be doing three quarters originals, and maybe a couple of covers. The 1980 WCET show (Rock Around the Block, another WEBN show of local music support )? We’re going to do over half that show. We’re going to blow the roof off the place.”

What would you like to see come from the Album Project Reunion Show?

RB: “There are so many Rockduster fans; there are Dusters, the women are Dustettes and the kids are Dustees. I just want people to keep the faith and hold on to what they got. And if, after the recession, a record company can click on me and I can show them 120 of my originals, I think I’ll turn them around.”

CAREFREE DAY (originally a vehicle for singer/songwriter Barb Kushner, who will not perform in this show), the Michael Denton Group and Sorry Charlie were all essentially the same band in different evolutionary stages. Carefree Day was on four of the first five APs, the Michael Denton Group appeared on AP#7 and Sorry Charlie, which continues to play sporadically, was featured on AP#10.

What did the Album Project mean to you at the time?

Michael Denton: “At some point, you hope to get some recognition. It’s ego-driven. A pat on the back. Then the WEBN Album Projects came along, and it meant a lot to everybody.”

Mike Duffey: “It was an opportunity to get airplay, and recognition for the band. It was great early on because they put the songs in regular rotation, ‘Cynthiana’ got to enjoy a good bit past that Album Project’s rotation.

To be considered with everyone who submitted and to get airplay for one of your songs, it was just a lot of fun.”

What do you plan to do for the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show?

Duffey: “We’re going to do ‘Cynthiana,’ which was the first song on the first Album Project, and ‘One More Highway,’ which was on #7, and one newer original and a few covers of classic songs that are representative of music we’ve played throughout our careers.”

Denton: “We’re going to do two or three of the tunes off the Projects and supplement it with some songs we always felt good about over the years. The band evolved and many of the same players were in all three bands, so the basic format of the band has always been the same, with a few players coming and going. We thought about calling it the Carefree Denton Charlie Sorry Band. Maybe we’ll just call it the Doobie Brothers.”

What would you like to see come from the Album Project Reunion Show?

Denton: “I’d like to see a good turnout, and I think there will be. I don’t know what the results could be. We’re all getting up in years and it’s just a pleasure that someone invites you out to play. ‘Somebody wants us to play? Christ, that’s wonderful!’ I play all the time, it’s a little different for me, but I know everybody’s excited about it. It’ll be a fun time.”

DAN BARR’s “Bus Full of Nuns” on AP #8 remains one of the best known songs of the series. The video of the song (below) featured local news icons Al Schottlekotte and Tom Atkins. Barr also placed “Psychoanalytical Rock” on AP #11, the final album of the series.

What did the Album Project mean to you at the time?

Dan Barr: “It was the biggest thing that ever happened to me and my brother and the guys who were in the band. I had listened to the Album Project for years. After college, I thought, ‘I’ve written a bunch of songs, I should try to get on the Album Project.’ Then I wrote ‘Bus Full of Nuns,’ and I thought, ‘Now, this is different from all the crap I’ve written.’ ”

What do you plan to do for the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show?

DB: “We’re doing ‘Bus Full of Nuns’ — they wouldn’t let us out — so that should be a blast, and we’re doing another Album Project song called ‘Just Chili,’ and that was used in the fireworks, and the third song is a version of ‘Bus Full of Nuns’ — it’s the words to ‘Bus Full of Nuns’ to the music of the Beastie Boys’ ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party!).’ And we’ll have the ever famous Bus Full of Nuns Dancers, in case anyone forgot the dance moves from the video.”

What would you like to see come from the Album Project Reunion Show?

DB: “I’d love for them to get the Album Project going again. I think it would be well received. I remember coming home from work and it was that surreal feeling of a DJ I’ve listened to for years go, ‘That was Dan Barr …’ It was unbelievable. I think it would be fun to do an Album Project Greatest Hits. And they should do a concert every five years until we’re all dead. They’d better hurry. Maybe every two years.”

PETER MAYER's “Made in America” was a highlight of AP#6 and his “Risque Renee” appeared on AP#7 under the group name Secret Agenda. Mayer has continued to play around Cincinnati in a variety of configurations (Drumbones, Big Pictures, as a drummer for hire and in an acoustic duo with Greg Renzenbrink) and does freelance design work.. Mayer recently released the great retrospective comp, Collection.

What did the Album Project mean to you at the time?

Peter Mayer: “I thought I was going to make it. I was on my way. I was in TV Guide and The Enquirer, and people we knew had parties to see the premier (of the Video Project companion show on Channel 19). It was pretty cool. Obviously the results didn’t turn out like I wanted, and that’s why I’m in therapy now. For some insane reason, I’m still trying to do it.”

What do you plan to do for the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show?

PM: “We’re going to open with ‘Made in America,’ and it’ll be a trip to hear that synth line, then ‘Risque Renee,’ and then ‘Where My House Used to Stand,’ and maybe ‘Suspicious.' And it’s all original members of those recordings of the first two songs.”

What would you like to see come from the Album Project Reunion show?

PM: “Recognition, and I wouldn’t mind selling a couple more CDs.”

JOHNNY SCHOTT was on the first Album Project and became a local fixture, running and playing open mics for years. Schott’s company, Johnny Schott Talent and Events, has produced more free events in town than any other local agency.

What did the Album Project mean to you at the time?

Johnny Schott: It was a privilege and an honor to get stuff out there. I had turned down major labels that had been bidding because I didn’t want to live that life, but it gave me a chance to put out a really nice piece that we had recorded at Electric Ladyland. It was just a demo we did one night, but it was a great studio, so it was pretty nicely done, all things considered.”

What do you plan to do for the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show?

JS: “I honestly don’t know what I’m doing … I may just do some MC duties.”

What would you like to see come from the Album Project Reunion show?

JS: “I think it’s a matter of people getting together and having a good time. Most of us in our 50s and 60s aren’t going to turn around and be full time performers; some guys are, and God bless. But the point is to get together, compare lives, feel good about the successes and share some angst about the failures. It’s like a high school reunion, in a sense.”

HAYMARKET RIOT (featuring Album Project Reunion Show organizer Steve Helwig) never actually appeared on an Album Project, but were of the era. The band secured a contract with London Records and released a handful of singles before breaking up in 1980. Haymarket Riot has reunited sporadically over the past 30 years, including the Ludlow Garage reunion show and annual appearances at Helwig’s popular Summer of Love shows starting in 2007.

What did the Album Project mean to you at the time?

Steve Helwig: “We didn’t feel the impact of it, but the Album Project was a starting point for a lot of these guys. And WEBN would play those cuts, which was airplay on the top-rated radio station at that time. And it just goes down as a piece of Cincinnati pop culture.”

What do you plan to do for the WEBN Album Project Reunion show?

SH: “We’re going to do about 30 minutes to open, and then we’re going to open it up to the real stars of the show. It’s a continuation of the Summer of Love shows we’ve been doing. We’ll do mostly covers, plus a couple of original songs we recorded as singles. Typical British Invasion stuff — some Beatles, some Zombies, that kind of thing. At the end, if there’s time and the crowd’s into it, we’ll do another set, and that’ll be all Beatles.”

What would you like to see come from the Album Project Reunion Show?

SH: “For the evening anyway, we just want to have a big party and reunite everybody. It’s like a big class reunion. It’s going to be real rewarding for us. We just hope to come away with a great time for everybody.”

 
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