STRYCHNINE “JACK THE RIPPER / CRAZY WOMEN” 7″ (CLEVELAND, OH- MUSIC ADVENTURES, 1978)
(l to r): Duce Helton- bass / Crazy Joe Uherc- rhythm guitar and Afro /
Weasle Strychnine (with shades on)- vocals / Bruno Helton- lead guitar /
Spike McCormack- drums
The single was recorded at After Dark Studios in Cleveland. In analyzing
the “Special Thanks” on a picture I’ve seen of the back of the sleeve the
name Jeff Kinzbach caught my eye- he was a longtime DJ on big commercial
Cleveland station WMMS and used to host the “Buzzard Morning Zoo” there in
the 80’s. Cle punks and WMMS had a contentious relationship that began in
the mid-to-late 70’s- Rocket From The Tombs played on-air there one time and
the station looked to be somewhat open minded but then a few years later
longtime “drive time DJ” Kid Leo infamously stated “new wave has gone to the
grave” and that was that.
“Jack The Ripper” is a PERFECT mixture of hard rock and punk that rides the fence perfectly between the two genres and brings in the best of both camps. It’s got that punk attitude but rock chops and is some real tough guy shit. Strychnine could really play their instruments like a more traditional rock band full of “musicians”. The mean-ass guitar sound is the real highlight of the song for me and always has me reaching to crank up the volume button as loud as my middle-aged ears will allow. Lead guitarist Bruno Helton’s playing grabs me by the shirt collars from its first note and doesn’t let go until the very end of the song. This would fit the definition for thug punk, eh. That high-pitched guitar solo around the 1:40 mark is so good and is led up to in a nice, tense manner. But of course guitar cannot alone make a song- the deep, tough-guy vocals of Weasle Strychnine (great name!) are growled out; Spike McCormack pounds the drums; the bass player and rhythm guitarist chug along; and, lastly, some well-placed hand clapping complements the total package very well. And all of this happens in 2 minutes and 35 seconds, just squeaking under the “no songs over 2:36 rule” that Peter came up with over 5 years ago. The band looks like a bunch of tough bikers on the front of the sleeve which completes the whole attitude behind the song. On a sidenote, there was no shortage of bikers in 1970’s Cleveland as I can attest to from growing up there.
I have been digging Jack The Ripper for the past 10 years and always wanted to hear the flipside. This summer I was able to, thanks to trusty blog commenter J.E- thanks again! Of course I had the usual flipside fear that I have carried around over the years- will it suck? Was the A-side a one-off fluke? Will I be let down and bummed out? Plus for me, a song title like “Crazy Women” made me suspicious ‘cuz that smells of it potentially being a dud.
But Crazy Women is not a dud per se. It’s more mellow and is not an over-the-top affair like Jack The Ripper (could anything they did top that?!) but is passable as a B-side. Bruno’s guitar playing has that tough-guy vibe for the most part as do Weasle’s vocals. Right out of gate, it’s pretty catchy when he initially states “I like ’em sleazy, greezy, sloppy (and something else I can’t decipher); blue jeans, leathers- mean and rough” and the driving bass playing and guitar jabs help set the vibe in this part. But when the chorus starts, instead of riding the fence between hard rock and punk, they definitely lean over too much on the rock side for me- a tambourine (!?!?!?) rears its ugly head out of nowhere (hey, there is no tambourine credit on the front of the sleeve to warn us! It is buried in the “Special Thanks” section on the back sleeve and is credited to Producer Kirk Yano! They even call his playing “tremendous”- ?!?!?). For my ears, tambourines are for the most part the equivalent of fingernails across the chalkboard. The vocals on Crazy Women get a little too cock rock-y for me in some parts and the guitar noodling gets drawn out and meanders along a bit too much in some parts.
But I am trying to keep things in context- Strychnine were NOT a punk band. They weren’e part of the late 70’s Cle punk scene, and I highly doubt they ever played a show at the Drome record store with the Pagans or someone like that. But they sure did leave us with a legendary song that people are still digging 30+ years later.
“Jack The Ripper” has been a favorite of mine since first hearing it 10 years ago when it was a standout track on the comp that was full of standouts, 2001’s No One Left To Blame LP. I could go on and on about how great that comp was but that could be a whole separate posting. I even remember how the whole comp was “premiered” on Antenna Internet Radio’s wonderful Gift Wrapped Crap show in late August 2001 before it was actually released on vinyl. That was a treat!
I’d love to have a vinyl copy of the record of course. I wonder if I passed it over before I was hip to it during one of many Cleveland record shopping trips during the 90’s and early 2000’s. The band logo on the front of the sleeve is cool and that might have grabbed my attention but I think it would have passed it over for the cheesy, fake blood-and-guts scene. Finding a copy in a dollar bin woulda saved me some coin ‘cuz once it appeared on No One Left To Blame it became very sought after and sleeved copies have gone for over $500 on eBay. Oh well, can’t win em all. At least I have some mp3’s of it and the music is what matters, right?
Strychnine has been a total mystery band to me for these past 10 years UNTIL I started putting this post together. I randomly typed the band name and song name into Google and, voila, a YouTube user named TheSamhelton (I am guessing he is aka “Duce” Helton, the bass player) posted a video this past January for Jack The Ripper that is CHOCK full of old band photos, flyers, etc. that all helps unlock the mystery of the band. If an old member is reading this posting, please leave some comments!
The main thing that we find out from the YouTube video is that the band was around between 1976 and 1979. The single came out in 1978, and it looks like they played out a lot that year including several shows at a place with a VERY 70’s name, Laid Back Records, in Massillon, Ohio (which is about 50 miles South of Cleveland and not too far from the Akron/Canton area which was the original home of the Rubber City Rebels, Hammer Damage, Clone Records, etc.). One of the Laid Back store shows on July 22nd of ’78 was with the Baloney Heads who were KINDA punk and released that goofy 7″ that was produced by David Thomas of Pere Ubu. The last week of October 1978 was a busy week for Strychnine- they played Cleveland shows at the famous Pirate’s Cove in the Flats area of the city; the WHK Auditorium (the Pagans and Styrene Money band played there later that year); and some place called Lido’s in Lakewood, Ohio (which by the way is a pretty cool “urban suburban” area right outside of the Cleveland city limits). One flyer for another show at Laid Back boldly proclaims: “No other power in the world is as hard as the sound of- STRYCHNINE!”
The band pictures on the YouTube video show that the band did not always dress like bikers as they did on the cover of the 7″. They sometimes wore matching band shirts with the band name emblazoned across them with, er, iron-on letters. VERY 70’s- I can’t remember the number of T-shirts I had with iron-on letters at the time. But don’t get me wrong- the band members still look like a bunch of tough guys even with the matching shirts on. One photo (maybe an early photo of the band circa ’76?) shows singer Weasle with some MASSIVE white bell bottoms. Such were the times, eh. He wore tight, non-belled leather pants in some other shots so I guess this kind of balances things out. One picture which stood out also was of the band dressed less rough and more “cleaned up” at a live show during which rhythm guitarist Crazy Joe Uherc is playing the keyboards- what was this all about?! Perhaps it was late in the band’s existence or something.
What the YouTube video also reveals is that at least three of the former band members are still rockin’ out in 2011- there is a shot of lead guitarist Duce Helton playing drums; Spike McCormack hittin the skins; and, best of all, singer Weasle Strychnine still rockin’ the leather pants 30+ years later.
Here is a song list for a Pirate’s Cove show they did (the same one from late October of ’78 perhaps?). Note that “Jack The Ripper” is not on the song list that night- what was up with that?!
Come Play With Me
Don’t Need Love
What Can I Say
Wizard of Odd
Thief In The Night
Love That’s Real