The two records I played on from the mid 90s by The Falling Wallendas are finally available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. Allow me to tell a (long) short story about this wonderful, unique, and ultimately luckless band that made two great records which went against the grain during the time when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were kings.
Scott Bennett, the ridiculously talented multi-instrumentalist, singer and writer was doing tons of recording sessions with me in the early 90s. He had worked with Allen Keller (another amazing talent) years before. Long story short, I was recruited to be the drummer in their joint writing venture and then Arch Alcantara came on board as guitarist. We were soon a real band and started playing a bunch of shows as we worked on our first (self titled) record that was to be put out by the new upstart indie label, IMI records. We worked with Doug McBride at Gravity studios in Chicago and when the record came out, the Chicago Tribune gave it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars calling the debut “nothing short of breath taking” and “great music”. Another description of the music from someone else was “like a Twinkie with a formaldehyde center.” Hey, off to a great start! More shows at places like The Double Door, Metro, The Empty Bottle and then Milwaukee venues like Brett’s, The Globe and Shank Hall continued but nothing seemed to be moving us forward.
Arch Alcantara then left the band and Ted Kezio joined us on guitar bringing another flavor. We went up to Butch Vig’s Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin to cut the 2nd record, “Belittle.” While the first release had more melodic pop moments (slivers of XTC and Jellyfish) this new one really took on a life of its own. Allen Keller’s brilliant dark and twisted (but so smart and clever) lyrics mixed with Ted’s playing so well—and Ted came with a large knowledge of jazz so that added a sinister flavor to this “alternative rock” music. Scott blossomed into one of my favorite bass players of all time, and my playing had a better focus.
Drumming side note: I have nostalgia for the first record but it’s one of those things that I wish I could “do over” with what I know now. Too many “fusion” origins to some of the ideas and it’s full of youthful exuberance I suppose. I do quite like it in retrospect, and it does put a smile on my face. But there was a maturity on the second record that still pleases me. And a note to any musicians in bands: It’s a great idea to get the hell out of your home town and make a record as a band in another city. Nothing bonds you like this. You’re there for every note. There’s no going home for a few hours, running errands—you’re there fully in body and spirit. Making “Belittle” in Madison with these guys was the only single time in my life that I had the feeling of, “Oh…this is gonna be big.”
Well, more shows were played, good reviews received and it seemed like we were treading water playing music that didn’t seem to be particularly in vogue at the time. We were ahead of our time (or behind) perhaps. We could really play our instruments. And it seemed we were on the bill with many bands who simply…couldn’t. Our business model was also a little out of whack. We once had a gig in Minneapolis and the weather went from bad to worse. We decided to fly there at the last minute, stay at a nice hotel and eat well. We spent $1900 to make 400 bucks. That type of thing can only last so long!
1995 came and went and in early ’96 I was offered the Styx tour for the summer, an offer I couldn’t refuse. It also meant leaving a band I loved and believed in, but I also sensed the writing was on the wall. They carried on and made a great EP with Bobby MacIntyre on drums. And that was that. Ultimately I have such amazing memories, had so many laughs, ups and lots of downs with these guys…but the pleasure and privilege was really all mine. I’m tremendously proud of the work we did on these two records. They hold up after all this time. None of us are going to make any money from these recordings finally being available, but that’s not the point now. The point is they are indeed finally available in the digital age and I hope those that are interested discover it and enjoy it. We made some great music, and like some great music—you need to hear it a few times for it to sink in. I hope you’ll agree. I also hope there’s a digital booklet available for those that like to read the lyrics because those that do are in for a real treat. And one more thing… we also played the hell out of this stuff live. What a band it was! In some alternate universe, The Falling Walledas are a huge, huge band.
In 2000 a large Falling Wallendas poster was predominately displayed on the record store counter in the John Cusak/Jack Black movie “High Fidelity”, which was a nice thing to happen to the band posthumously. In 2007 we played a reunion show at the Cat Club in Los Angeles. We hadn’t played a show in well over 10 years. After the last song, Scott Bennett ended the night by saying into the microphone, “Thank you. We were…The Falling Wallendas.”