While members of the Richard Hell & the Voidoids and the Contortions, respectively, Robert Quine and Jody Harris got together in Quine’s apartment to record some instrumental music. The result was Escape, first released in 1981, a groundbreaking album of D.I.Y. musicianship and a snapshot of two musicians at the start of their careers. Sorcerer Records has just reissued Escape, with liner notes by Harris. James Marshall spoke with Harris for PKM.
Forty years ago, Robert Quine and Jody Harris released Escape (on Lust/UnLust- Infidelity), a do-it-yourself, tenement-recorded album of guitar instrumentals taped between September ’79 and July 1980 in Quine’s apartment. To celebrate this anniversary, Sorcerer Records has just reissued the album, which provides a snapshot of two innovative musicians at the start of their careers.
Robert Quine was, at the time, a member of Richard Hell & the Voidoids and would go on to play with Lydia Lunch, Lou Reed, Matthew Sweet, Lloyd Cole, Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull, and make another duet album with Fred Maher— Basic (EG, 1984) (just basic tracks, no solos). Jody Harris, having landed in NYC around the same time as Quine, in the early ‘70s, started out playing with The Screws, then joined the original Contortions, a No Wave supergroup if there ever was one: James Chance, Pat Place (Bush Tetras), Adele Bertei (the Bloods, Thomas Dolby, hundreds of others, as well as authoring two books) all emerged from their brief association (the original band lasted about a year from 77-78 and can best be heard on the No New York compilation released by Island in 1978).
Quine committed (what I believe was an assisted) suicide in May 2004. Jody Harris went on to play with Richard Hell, Lizzie Mercier, Syd Straw, the Golden Palominos, and others but is best remembered around these parts for leading the Raybeats (1979-1984) with ex-Contortions Don Christianson (drums), George Scott (bass, he OD’s in 1980 and was replaced by Danny Amis) and multi-instrumentalist Pat Irwin. The Raybeats took the classic Ventures/Shadows 60’s instrumental band format into strange and wonderful new territory. They recorded an EP- Roping Wild Bears (Don’t Fall Off The Mountain, 1981) and two LP’s- Guitar Beat (Passport, 1981) and It’s Only A Movie (Shanachie, 1984) before packing it in, although they have reformed for special events over the years.
The new re-issue of Escape features some great notes by Jody Harris. They are, in fact, some of the best writing about Robert Quine I have read. I talked with the soft-spoken and self deprecating Harris in August….
JM– Let’s start with your background. You’re from Kansas?
Jody Harris: Yes, small town Kansas, near the Oklahoma border. I came here (NYC) right out of high school.1972. I went to school to keep out of the draft. But I got a high draft lottery number. So I went to work at the Strand Bookstore.
JM– When you got here, did you start playing music immediately?
Jody Harris: In a way I did, because that’s when I met Quine.
JM– How did you meet Quine?
Jody Harris: He was at the top of a ladder at the Strand. Filing books. Miles Davis came on the sound system, and I identified what was playing and he perked up. We started talking about music. He invited me to his apartment. He was living near Park Slope, in a big apartment right off the park. We drank whiskey and listened to records. Eventually we started fooling around with the guitars.
JM– I can’t remember Quine ever going to Brooklyn. He refused the entire time I knew him.
Jody Harris: He was traumatized by it. The kids on the street would bounce basketballs off the side of his building just to harass him. It was right around the corner from where I was living. Right by the museum.
JM– Now that’s “South Slope”. It all used to be South Brooklyn. Until the real estate boom, then they started renaming it all— who ever heard of Kensington? Or Cobble Hill? Or Gowanus?
Jody Harris: (laughs) It was pretty hairy back then. What with the basketballs and all.
JM– I can’t imagine Quine there. On St. Marks, he used to make his upstairs neighbor, the Vietnam vet Bob Turner (Turner also replaced David Robinson in the Modern Lovers before they broke up) walk around in slippers so he couldn’t hear him.
Jody Harris: Well, he soon moved into the City. He got his place on St. Marks Place. That was around ’75.
JM– Your first New York band was The Screws?
Jody Harris: Yes, that was with David Hofstra, Donny Christensen and Danny Amis. Girl singer. I moved into the city on 1976, to the East Village. I went to a 4th of July party at Donny’s girlfriend’s loft.
JM– That was Warren St.?
Jody Harris: 81 Warren.
JM– I arrived the next year, right next door at the Home For Teenage Dirt where Lydia Lunch, Bradley Field and Miriam Linna were living. I think I took my first shower in New York at that loft (81 Warren).
Jody Harris: That place (Home For Teenage Dirt) was like a cave. A subterranean bunker.
JM– Yeah, it was a basement and a subbasement. Like 6,000 square feet of raw space, it had been a print shop. $300 a month I think was the rent. And Mars (the band) lived upstairs. They all got crazy money, Social Security gold checks. I got that until I turned 21. But nobody else lived on the block. But a lot of bands rehearsed there, in Donny’s place and at 83 Warren. The Contortions, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, the Cramps, Erasers, Mars, Lester Bangs.
Someone is still living there, I walk past it when I get my hair cut near there.
Jody Harris: There was nothing down there then. At night it was empty.
JM– The only place open after 6 p.m. was the Adephi, a bad Greek diner. Now it’s all built up and those two buildings are the last thing left from when we were down there. How did you end up in the Contortions?
Jody Harris: Well, somehow, and I think because of everyone working at the Strand, and Nancy Arlen from Mars who was James’ girlfriend at the time. I was actually in and rehearsed with Mars for about six months. I met James (Chance) who was rehearsing in the same studio as Mars. He wasn’t paying for the studio. There was an incident where we impounded his organ. That was, I guess, the first original version of the Contortions. It was Pat (Place), Adele Bertei and James (now Jamie) Nares on guitar. I never actually heard or saw them. Ikue Mori was also in that version on drums. I don’t really know how it devolved from the confrontation but I was advised by Susan Springfield (The Erasers, later a Federal judge) at a party at her loft to get together with James.
JM– The original Contortions lineup was one of those great bands that you knew couldn’t last very long. Half the band really couldn’t play at all and the other half could play really well.
Jody Harris: And the ones who couldn’t play were the stars. I mean, Pat (Place) was really the star. I remember a gig at Max’s where I had to tune everyone’s guitars. I didn’t really need to bother. I tuned Pat’s guitar to an open chord. But the minute we started playing, everyone was stunned, the whole band was looking at me. (laughs).
JM– Yeah, Pat Place is one of the great iconic guitar originals of that era- like Johnny Thunders or Johnny Ramone, she could only do one thing, but it was totally original and no one else could do it. And she looked cool. The invention of the tuner I think is one of the reasons things got so bad. Back then you’d have one person who was good enough to tune up, but they’d eventually quit and find other musicians who could tune their instruments. Now any jerk can buy a tuner for $20 and think they’re Charley Patton.
Jody Harris: Ha, Yeah. He told me he was recording with Lloyd Cole, and he played something he thought was really great and he looked up and he said the producer and Lloyd Cole were looking at him like cows about to be slaughtered. They totally didn’t understand what he played.
JM– I felt sorry for Lloyd Cole. Quine was getting paid really well, but he refused to learn to play the songs, he’d just solo. So they had to pay another guitar player to play lead, on that little tour he did with Lloyd Cole, he’d just stand there and hold his guitar until it was time to solo.
Jody Harris: Quine was definitely into playing to make money. Does anyone make a living now playing guitar in the studio?
JM– Most of the jobs have dried up, it’s all machines now. Unless Bob Dylan hires you. I remember Quine waiting around for days cuz the Dylan people called and told him to be ready to audition, but they never called back. Dylan auditioned guitar players live onstage that week at the Hammerstein Ballroom, I remember Andy York was up there playing along with three other guys. But Quine never got a call back. He was pretty bummed.
Jody Harris: Modern recording is just torture. It all went wrong with the invention of multi-tracking. God, I hate it. I know why people dig it, because you can be more intricate and all, and I’ve had to deal with it.
JM– It’s not going to go back to people playing music together. I guess that’s why no one really cares about music anymore; it all sounds the same.
Jody Harris: No, it’s not coming back. I started freaking out because when I finally got here (New York), I wanted to play jazz, but I couldn’t play with anyone because I didn’t know any songs.
JM– Then punk happened and you got to play with everyone.
Jody Harris: Yeah, a lot of people. There’s too much music now.
JM– Too much but the wrong kind, none of it means anything, it’s “content”, more consumer crap, a lifestyle enhancement choice, music to match your tattoo and your baseball cap. It’s “I listen to this music, I buy this type of sneaker, I drive this kind of car, watch this type of tv show”, all niche marketing bullshit. Having everything at your fingertips is like having nothing.
Jody Harris: Yeah, the first two records I ever bought- The Sound Of Music soundtrack and Rick Nelson’s second album.
JM– You started out with albums? I started with 45’s…I still prefer 45’s and 78’s.
Jody Harris: Yeah, and my brother had Beatles…what I liked about the Beatles was it didn’t sound like anything else at the time.
JM– Yeah, they had their own Sound, capital S for sure. I hate what they did to the early Beatles records- creating stereo by splitting the two track mono masters. Sounds like shit. Speaking of, Quine loved stereo. He turned me onto the stereo version of the first Jack Scott LP with the felt letters on the cover, you can turn the balance all the way right and play with his rhythm section. Anyway, there’s a lot of stereo panning, and back masking, I guess that’s from the Beatles in a way, on Escape. The Voidoids kept the guitars hard panned in each channel.
Jody Harris: No one will ever do that now. When I was still playing with (unintelligible), we were trying to do “Rainy Night In Georgia” so I actually listened to it for the first time since it came out. It’s weird, everyone thinks it’s Cornell Dupree on there, but there’s another guitar…
JM– We’re talking about the Brook Benton version? Or Tony Joe White? I think that’s Tony Joe on the original playing the guitar. I always assumed the Brook Benton was done in Muscle Shoals. I figured Jimmy Johnson on guitar, or Eddie Hinton.
Jody Harris: Maybe, I’m getting so bad with names at this point. It definitely was Cornell Dupree. The Tony Joe White version is utterly different from what I’m talking about. (pulls up the backing track on his phone). Hear the other guitar? That’s Cornell Dupree and the other part is Jimmy O’Rourke. He was in some band, wasn’t he?
JM– I think maybe Cold Grits. They were one of those Jerry Wexler put together rhythm sections out of Mobile, Alabama, I believe. White guys. Jerry Wexler liked white guys in the studio because he could yell at them and not get his ass kicked.
Jody Harris: He (Jimmy O’Rourke) started in John Fred & his Playboys.
JM– Ha! I’ve seen them. I’ve met John Fred. Before “Judy In Disguise” hit, he was more of a blues guy He made some amazing records like “Shirley” and his version of John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen”. Amazing. They were a huge Southern frat-house attraction. Like Doug Clark & his Hot Nuts and Jojo & the Thirteen Screaming Niggers. Hank Ballard told me the original Midnighters all quit when they became Muslims and refused to play the Southern frat parties which was their bread and butter in the early ‘60s.
Anyway, we should wrap this up, how would you describe Escape, cuz I know I”m gonna have a hard time describing it when I write this thing up. It’s a very unique record.
Jody Harris: It’s a homemade DIY guitar album, mostly, the best parts being Robert Quine at the beginning of his recording career. He programmed the drums, played bass, mixed. It’s just us playing what we liked with no rules- stuff is speeded up, slowed down, run backwards, whatever we could think of. It’s not really a jam record although there’s a bit of jamming in there, it grew out of jams, into something else. No producers to tell us what to do. I’m still proud of it.
JM– We’ll just say it’s a guitar record for people that want “somethng else”….I’ve always loved that record, it’s nice to have a spanking new copy, my old one crackles like bacon frying….