The Jars Story

The JarsThe Jars came out of Berkeley in 1978. We were record store clerks and some of us were college radio disc jockeys. In 1978 it seemed everyone we knew was forming a band or already gigging.

I met Marc in 1975 at KALX on the Berkeley campus. He lived on Alcatraz street in a house that later loomed large in my wife Morgan's epic, but that was after it changed hands and became home to witches.

Marc and I made provocative recordings in the living room there. Marc played a kit synthesizer he built himself and an array of appliances, kitchen and otherwise. I played guitar and television set. Later I went back to Stockton, but I returned to Berkeley after being hired by Russ Ketter & Doug Kroll of Rather Ripped Records. Part of the reason I got hired was that I knew The Residents. Trouble was, I didn't know I knew them.

Marc knew Gary Hobish from working together. Gary needed a roommate so I moved into his apartment. A short time later Marc and I rented a house in Albany.

Jar WarsMarc was hired by Rather Ripped Records in 1977 and there we met Irene Dogmatic of the SF band SSI. We agreed to do a performance art piece as the Beauty Killers. As part of the art of the performance we decided to write all the songs the day before the show. We played unplugged instruments while Irene sang her lyrics into a barely audible PA. After the show we met weekly to rehearse. Aside from the two Jars parties we never again performed.

The Beauty Killers morphed into The Jars soon after Irene named the band for our habit of drinking from said vessels. Marc announced that Jar is a verb and the name was kept. I should mention that between the Beauty Killers performance and the formation of the Jars, Irene left and Gary Hobish joined the fold.

JD Buhl worked at Rasputin's Records with Marc, but that was before Marc got hired by Rather Ripped. He wrote well crafted lyrics and had a lot of rock n roll energy. JD and I used to make comedic tapes in the bedroom of the house he lived in. Two of the songs, One Hit Wonder and Tear Jerk, made it to the Jars set list, as did Mr. Lacy Furs, a song I wrote for the Beauty Killers.

Marc was in contact with his friend Gary Mollica in Cleveland. The JarsGary was a big booster of Pere Ubu and the Cleveland scene. He was coaxed out west and made his debut at a house trashing party we were asked to play. It was a day after his arrival and as he didn't know the songs it was a spectacular debut, right down to the baby doll hanging from his keyboard. At the end of the party, and as the telephone melted in the fireplace, we decided to become a band.

After hiring Marc Monosonic to manage us we played a coming out party for ourselves at the Jars house in Albany. One year later we were recording a demo at Fantasy Studio in Berkeley. Production was paid for by Fantasy Records and there was talk of a record contract which turned out to be a right of first refusal. The recordings were produced by Ritchie Corsello at Fantasy Studio B. More talk concerned releasing a single on Country Joe MacDonald's Rag Baby Records label. Another year went by, after which we were given permission to release the recordings ourselves. By then we had already made a single record for Berkeley's Subterranean Records label which featured yours truly singing, so it was decided to record a new vocal for Time Of The Assassins before issuing it on Ron Blakeman's Universal Records label.The B-side was a new recording done at San Francisco's Hyde Street Studio and produced by Dan Alexander. It was an instrumental titled Jar Wars that Marc and I pieced together from unused riffs. Ironically, it was to be the single most successful Jars release, hogging the number one spot on the Bay Area alternative dance charts for six weeks, and it was also used to intro the nationally syndicated Gavin Report.

The Jars LogoMarc suggested we issue an ep of instrumentals recorded live so Gary Hobish, who was by that time employed as an engineer at Fantasy Studio, cleaned up parts of an Old Waldorf show recorded February 1981 and a Berkeley Square performance recorded in June. Marc Time found distribution through a magazine that agreed to issue it as a free flexi-disc though they folded before it went to press.

By the middle of 1981 it was obvious that the band needed a lead guitarist. I'd struggled with the idea since the previous summer. Michael Montalto, who is now the guitarist for Red Meat, had depped for me after I injured my left hand. We performed as a five piece at the Berkeley Square in July 1980, with yours truly kind of holding the guitar while Michael played. After I healed we asked him to join the band.

One reason for our early success was that The Jars carried no dead weight. Gary Hobish, our bass and guitar player, was and is a professional sound engineer, and he was foremost in defining The Jars sound. Marc Gunther, our drummer, was a natural networker. Through his efforts people knew what The Jars were up to. Gary Nervo, our keyboardist, was one of two trained musicians in the band (the other being Gary Hobish). It was Gary Nervo's all hearing ear that made sure no pesky minor seconds crept into our arrangements. I was the lead singer most of the time, and after JD left the band I wrote the lion's share of the lyrics, but Marc and Gary Hobish came up with some good lines. The Turn Out The Light tag was Gary's and the music to most of the songs was mostly written by The Jars as a whole.

One example of this team songwriting style is Time Of The Assassins.JD wrote the lyric. I put it to a minor progression in D. Assassins ChartGary Hobish liked the progression and altered it for the solo and choruses. Marc gave it a reggae/ska feel for the entire first third before launching into the fast section of the song. Gary Nervo wrote the counterpoint and added the chord extensions. Gary Hobish did the vocal arrangement, and we wrote the parts we played.

No matter what the credits on the singles say, most of our successful songs were crafted this way, starting with Do Ya Blame Me and culminating in Boys Night Out, The Jars great failed masterpiece.

Boys Night Out was one of the most difficult lyric I've ever written. It took about three months to get right and all the while the progression kept changing. What we were trying to do was create a post-punk California Girls. By and large I think we succeeded, so it was a heartbreak when the song failed to gain corporate release of any kind. It is far and away the best track The Jars ever produced and the credit for that goes to Gary Hobish.

Boys Night Out has a dark side as well. After spending six months in the studio crafting an ep, which included Turn Out The Light, a cover of Silver Apples' You And I, and our versions of both sides of the Dave Allen and the Arrows single recording of the soundtrack to Mike Curb's Teenage Rebellion, we embarked upon a quest to become the next big thing. We were much encouraged by all involved. Ritchie Corsello passed the demo around his circle of producer friends. I've heard that Rick Springfield heard it and rejected it. Berserkeley Records did consider releasing Boys Night Out and Turn Out The Light as a single in Australia, though nothing came of it. The ep was eventually placed with Bart Valerio's Mutiny Shadow International label, home to The Mutants and SVT. Dark forces fell once again: MSI Records went bust after just a handful of releases.

Jars EpitaphThe epitaph to the left appeared in the December 1982 issue of Trouser Press Magazine. It amazes me how one little paragraph got so much wrong. I was writing country and western songs, but we were not about to ink a contract with Fantasy Records, and if living on Rose Street in Berkeley is hiding call me guilty. What is not said is that I got very sick in the fall of 1982.

By the summer of 1983 I was well enough to think about resuming a musical career. By that time I was employed by the Postal Service and pulling down government benefits. Marc and Gary Nervo were gigging as the Art Faggots, and Gary Hobish was a producer on staff at Fantasy Records. By all appearances The Jars were done, though I tried to resurrect them in 1984 when offered a national tour. It wasn't to be.

The Jars live at The Fab Mab, June 1981

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