Tony Coulter here, bringing you a special follow-up post. Last year -- on tax day, no less -- I posted a few tracks on BotB by the mysterious cassette underground outfit known as The Larry Mondello Band (these can be heard here). At the time I had little to say about the group, because, frankly, I knew nothing -- despite owning and treasuring five of their cassettes. In the interim I managed to track down one of the group's two founders and mainstays, Steve Defoe, and with his generous help I now bring you the definitive Larry Mondello Band post. I've decided to simply let him tell the story, which you'll find in his words after the jump, along with tracks from each of their releases, photos, and artwork.
The Larry Mondello Band Story begins....
Back around 1977, two young friends named Steve -- Steve Dromgoole and myself, Steve Defoe -- liked music so much a friend suggested we form a band. Inspired by years of prog rock infusion and the emerging music of the time (Klaus Schulze, Can, Gong, Magma, Fred Frith, Chrome's Alien Soundtracks, Tin Huey's "Puppet Wipes") we drew from our roots in the Connecticut suburbs and called ourselves "The Larry Mondello Band." Larry Mondello, of course, was Beaver's troublemaking sidekick on Leave It to Beaver. There were no actual Larrys involved at this point, but the name alone holds a certain fascination -- much more could be said about the magical powers of Larry.
Steve Dromgoole, 1977:
We two lacked instruments but had creative energy, a cheap tape recorder called The Warbler, and a set of pots and pans. We knew we were on to something when the neighborhood dogs gathered outside the open window and barked at us idiots, "shut up!"
Steve & Steve, 1979:
Encouraged by this success, we released the first Larry Mondello Band cassette, Foreign Matter Exists/ Six Is Ten, in 1979 and distributed a few pitiful copies to friends. The recordings drew from the initial pots and pans sessions, augmented with additional tracks and toy instruments such as steel drums and cheap blower organs.
Foreign Matter Exists/ Six Is Ten (Mondello Music, 1979) cassette
Dromgoole got serious and bought an EML synthesizer and a 4-track Teac reel-to-reel recorder. I had a Rexina guitar, a piece of shit Japanese Telecaster knockoff that wouldn't stay tuned. Dromgoole bought a Music Man tube amp. In 1980 a second cassette, Mayfield Mornings, was released. Archie Patterson at Eurock heard a copy and said some nice things; he also gave us the acronym "LMB."
Mayfield Mornings (Mondello Music, 1980) cassette
Quiver (excerpt) [bonus track from CD-R reissue]
The Larry Mondello Band's bass drum:
The creative peak of the early years came with our third cassette, 1981's Fun with Static. It had professionally printed covers and inserts, a bonus 8x12" poster, a cloth backdrop for live appearances, and a merchandising display in the form of a man's shoe. These items are worthy of a MOMA exhibit today.
In-store display for Fun with Static:
The good people from Alien Rock at radio station WRTC in Hartford, CT were kind enough to let us play a few events at Trinity College, which is a beautiful place. Since Jerry Mathers was The Beaver, it seemed appropriate for us to play at Mather Hall. Excerpts from these concerts were released on the 1981 cassette Live at Mather Hall.
Live at Trinity College, 1981:
But then life intervened for us active twenty-somethings and the duo went dormant. Eventually growing bored with daily life, we rekindled the band in 1986, adding a real drummer named Larry Ruhl. Larry was uncomfortable being called Larry in this context, but he was a great drummer, powerful and dynamic with a great sense of rhythm, which we needed badly. A Roland synth and a new bass guitar also entered the mix at this time. The first new release was Cassingle, a cassette single that came out in 1988.
Cassingle (Mondello Music, 1988) cassette
This was followed in 1989 by a full-length tape called Tuba Lesson, after the famous Beaver episode featuring Lumpy Rutherford. Extreme lo-fi recording equipment was used, but the tape was professionally mastered and manufactured. This release was not one of our favorites, but it did have some bright moments. It was used to develop a "live act" that played some memorable gigs at The Populous Pudding, an artspace in a converted meat locker in Willamantic, CT, and other spaces in New England.
Tuba Lesson (Mondello Music, 1989) cassette
Next, Larry the drummer's life intervened and he decided to drop out of the band. We went back to our roots as a guitar/synth duo, and this time we drew inspiration from an early episode of Lost in Space to create a new work called The Giant, released in 1990. This features the memorable recurring phrase "he loves me."
Queen Street, 1990:
Sometime after the Giant project a friend from the earliest days, Rich Elko, began sitting in on drums and soon became our regular timekeeper. He brought a great mantric quality to the drumming that went well with our new Casio SK-1 samplers and addled minds. Weekly practice sessions were revived. The cassette that came out of all this was 1993's Mondello Mantras.
Mondello Mantras artwork:
Over time the sessions became a blur, but more concerning were the alcohol-induced personality changes taking place within Dromgoole. He no longer wished to be known as "Steve" (the soft-spoken vegetarian hippy), but rather wanted to be called "Scooch" -- a shifty, gun-toting barfly and mailman. It was funny from a distance. But before Scooch slipped away completely, he resurrected the old cassette recorder and LMB created its last cassette release, 1994's The Warbler. The tape recorder produced a jittery pitch effect by wiggling the drive belt while recording. Proper technique for using the recorder is shown in the pictures below:
The Warbler, insert:
Scooch died in March 2000. Things were really getting out of hand in his personal life in the months leading up to his death. His influence on me still lingers and I feel deep regret that he is gone.
Steve "Scooch" Dromgoole, 1994:
Greatest Hits (Mondello Music, 2007) CD-R
In fact, I've managed to digitize the entire Mondello Archive, including videos, live gigs, and endless practice sessions, such as "The Dumbtop Sessions" and "Hours of Torture." The physical Mondello Archives are stored neatly in boxes filled with tapes, toy instruments, and a painted shoe.
Some LMB cassettes:
Ward Head on a Stick:
Always planned but not yet realized is a project called "Drunken Fall Leaves Larry Brain Damaged," a series that will compile the best of the practice sessions and post them on the still-developing mondellomusic Web site. Below are some sample tracks; others -- like "Hey Ho Hag" and "Freedom to Fart" -- will have to wait a lttle longer.
"Drunken Fall Leaves Larry Brain Damaged" (abandoned cover):
LONG LIVE LARRY!!!
Special added bonus LMB video:
"Church and State" (1981)
Wally and Beaver Heads: