Wednesday, July 6, 2011

These Boys’ Speed Endures


I’ve recently been revisiting the recordings of a little-known, but brilliant, local bar band that I discovered by chance about 30 years ago. I never saw them live, but I sure listened to their two LPs a lot back in the day. Listening to their limited catalog now for the first time in quite a while, I’m reminded of why I liked them so much.

Hailing from the Lancaster, Pa.-area, The Speedboys perched precociously on that big musical hinge between the music of the 1950s and the early 1980s. Traditionalists at heart, the ’boys added a sardonic attitude and modern edge to the vintage R & B, soul and boogie that dominated the ’70s. With solid musicianship and song craft, they appealed to those of us who relished the better sounds of those days gone by, but also yearned for continued evolution as we crossed the threshold of the ’80s. Yes, they treaded similar terrain as Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe and Graham Parker, with occasional touches of Dylan and the early Stones, but they also added a dash of Big Star and a pinch of Albert King. Garnish all that with early ’80s sensibilities and, well, you get the picture.

On top of all that, everyone in the band was named Bobby something – you know, just like The Ramones were all brothers! The singer was, of course, Robert Bobby. His sparring partners were Bobby Kinsley on guitar and vocals; Bobby Lowry on keyboards, vibes, harmonica and vocals; Bobby Blue Blake on slide and lead guitar; Bobby Lawson on bass; and Bobby Schmidt on drums.


Despite the gimmick though, these guys had the chops. Even today, I’m impressed with how the simple but precise guitar lines weave in, out and around the boogie-woogie piano riffs (often the driving force of the tunes), bolstered by taut-shuffling drums, soulful harmonica and robust vocal harmonies. Bobby’s (Robert, that is) lead vocals have an endearing bluesy falsetto hiccup that also manages to conjure the celtic soul warbling of early Van the Man.

That’s What I Like  (see a better version on YouTube)
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What’s most impressive and lingers with me about this band, though, is how equally adept musically (from songwriting and arranging to playing) they were at doing tongue-in-cheek vintage rockers on the one hand and super-sensitive heartfelt ballads of emotional pain and desperation on the other. Not a dichotomy that many bands manage with such aplomb.

There’s the pseudo reggae of “I Want You,” with the punchline conclusion to the title (“... to be like me!”) enumerated in a number of humorous ways; the utterly un-PC (and morally degenerate, but totally rockin’) “Girls, Girls, Girls”; and the upbeat, boppin’ blues rock of “Talkin’ About My Baby.” Then you have the plaintive pop love song, “Secret of the Heart,” and the aching melancholy of “Little Bit Nasty, Little Bit Nice.” Somewhere in between these two extremes lie the ahead-of-its-time – though somewhat dated now given a few lyrical references – ode to steroids, “Anna”; and the post-Three-Mile-Island love song, “Hearts Like Atoms Split.”

Secret of the Heart  (see better version on YouTube)
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The opening track of The Speedboys’ first LP represents the more subtle, romantic side of the band.


Not that all that isn’t enough, but – for me – there’s a bit more to the story. How did I, a teen at the time in New Jersey, ever come across this obscure Central Pa. band with just two albums on the microscopic “I Like Mike” record label?

Well, the bass player’s father was one of my math teachers in high school. Somehow, through him, I obtained a poorly recorded cassette tape of their first LP (which even then was out of print). A while later I managed to get a vinyl copy of their second album (by writing directly to the record label, I seem to recall). Fortunately, both albums are now again available on CDBaby. They’re both recommended, but the first one is stellar.

Much of Robert Bobby’s subsequent solo material (yes, he has retained the stage name), some of it very good and a worthy successor in it’s own right, is available there, too. His newer stuff plays the folk singer-songwriter card more pronouncedly and is more Dylanish/Steve Earlesque in style compared to his former band’s R & B leanings. 

Girls, Girls, Girls   (see better version on YouTube)
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As un-PC as this is by today’s standards, this tongue-in-cheek re-write of “Louie, Louie” is at once raunchy and innocent – as rock used to be. Some tasty guitar licks, too.

Miss My Baby’s Cakes  (see better version on YouTube)
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“I said, ‘Woh!’ ...” Another standout Speedboys’ track, this time featuring lead guitarist Peter Kinsley taking the lead vocal role.


More:
•  Check out The Speedboys’ two fine LPS, 1981’s  That’s What I Like and 1983’s Look What Love’s Done to Me Now at CDBaby.com.

•  Check out Robert Bobby’s website and his catalog on CDBaby.



4 comments:

  1. Ah. Lancaster, PA. To make waves there a band has to be good. I'm not sure what it is but there have been generations of fabulous bands there (many of whom stayed well under the national radar).

    I spent a lot of time up there in the late 90's and early 00's catching bands that were just stunning. Never heard of The Speedboys (though they were considerably earlier). Live was the local band that made it big in the early 90's. Then there's also The Innocence Mission and others I didn't really follow. I can immediately think of 5 bands from the period I was up there that were completely different from each other, totally amazing, and never really went further than PA.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, JC. I've never been to Lancaster, but it sounds like it has (or at least had for a while) a pretty cool eclectic scene. Sometimes in these "off the beaten path places," if there's any artistic spirit in the air at all, that's the kind of local scene that emerges out of compulsion or by necessity.

    I had forgotten that Live were from that area, too. I remember the Innocence Mission, but never knew where they were from. (Great band name, the latter, btw).

    Cheers!

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  3. Bill,
    I really enjoyed reading your impressions of The Speedboys' music. Too bad you never got to see us live, as we had a special enjoyment of what we were doing that showed thru live. We reunited for a special Millenium New Years Eve show at The Chameleon in Lancaster 1999. I have a pretty good recording of the show & would be glad to send you a copy if you get in touch with me - via my website www.robertbobby.com
    Musically yours-Robert Bobby

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  4. Thanks for commenting, Robert. I will, indeed, follow up with you. You're writing is also good impetus to me to give a spin to your "F*U*B*A*R," "S-N-A-F-U," "Today" and "Positively Chilly" CDs.

    I hope life is treating you well and you're still making music.

    Cheers! - Bill

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