|Bob Rupe Interview
November 13, 2013
In my opinion, Bob Rupe and Charlie Pickett are the two most successful musicians to come out of the South Florida punk scene of the 80s. And they took two entirely different routes, so there's no comparison (please, no wagering). Bob was a band guy, not a front man (despite having the songwriting and vocal chops in spades), and he realized (after about five years) that he'd have to leave Florida, and stay gone, to have a shot at success.
So he moved to NYC, and hooked up with another ex-Floridian, Walter Salas-Humara, and their band the Silos made some hay. And then he moved to Richmond and worked in a band called Gutterball, and later with Danny and Dusty. And the Gutterball connection led to him becoming the bass player in Cracker when they were at the top of their fame.
In addition to his band work, Bob has engineered and/or produced dozens of albums over the years. He produced the first Psycho Daisies record, the first Chant record, the Silos records he was on, and mastered Charlie's Bar Band Americanus, as well as converting Charlie’s Live at the Button 2-track master to digital. It's the production/engineering side that Bob is sticking to nowadays, and working general contracting-type work. (He built the backdrop that we filmed the interview on)
We braved unseasonably cold weather (20s and 30s at night) to visit Bob in Richmond. And Bob was generous with his time and his memories. He's a great story-teller, maybe he'll retire to Florida someday, but I doubt it.
Bob Rupe Nov 2013
Bob: I was born in Detroit.
Jeff: And how long did you live up there? When did you move to Florida?
Bob: We left when I was ten, and went to Tampa. Actually lived in Tampa and Largo and Clearwater. And then moved to Fort Lauderdale in '68.
Jeff: So you weren't on the west coast for long.
Bob: Oh no, it was like, two years, in that area.
Jeff: Any memories from Detroit? You were pretty young...
Bob: Oh yeah, sure. You can remember stuff when you're ten.
Jeff: I know you love cars and racing.
Bob: Well, you see, my dad was in the auto business in Detroit. In fact, when I was born he was a line worker on the Pontiac assembly line. So yeah, I grew up with cars.
Jeff: Tell me about music when you were growing up. Did you take any lessons? Any favorite songs when you were a kid?
Bob: Oh no, I started playing trumpet in third grade when I lived in Michigan. And my dad was a drummer. And we always had Beatles records, Motown, Ray Charles, in the house.
Jeff: And your parents were supportive of you playing music?
Bob: Yeah, we always had instruments. Even when I lived in Michigan, there was a piano, there was a guitar, there were always instruments in the house, yeah.
Jeff: And Jimmy remembers meeting you at a Savoy Brown concert in 1970.
Bob Rupe, Jim Johnson (crashing a Bobs practice) John Galway, Kevin MacIvor (photo: M. Leslie Wimmer)
Bob: Jimmy Johnson?
Bob: I'm glad he remembers (mucho laughter), 'cause I sure don't. I remember being more aware of Jim in high school, when we started playing together.
Jeff: What kind of music were you playing? Covers?
Bob: Stuff of the day, the Who, Beatles, sure.
Jeff: Any gigs come out of that?
Bob: In high school, yeah. Yeah, we did gigs, lots of gigs. High school gigs. Or somebody's house party, something like that.
Jeff: And when did you first start getting turned on to punk rock?
Bob: You know, I was still in close contact with Jim after high school. And I had gotten into the cover-band scene, in South Florida rock clubs. You know, 5-6 nights a week, 5-6 sets a night, 40 (minutes) on (stage), 20 off...day after day after day.
Bob: And I started getting into, Elvis Costello, and the Police, stuff that I was getting exposed to on the radio. But I was still playing in a cover band that was doing Led Zeppelin and Foreigner, stuff like that. So it was a little weird, but...I was playin' at the Button, on the beach, in Lauderdale, during spring break, in...'78. And there was a lot of kids comin' down from the north, and...In many different ways, I was gettin' turned on by the college kids, especially the ones that were bein' kinda rude, you know, givin' us crap for the kind of music we were playin'...I thought, "You know..."
Jeff: Change was in the air...
Bob: Yeah, and I was kinda done with it, I was just done with the cover (band) thing. And I went with Jim Johnson down to the Premier Club, I think it was. And the Roll'N'Pinz were playing. And there were probably...five people in the whole club. And I was like, "This is IT! (laughs) This is what I'm gonna be doin'." You know?
So I went up after the show, and I just went to Kevin (MacIvor) and I said, "I wanna join your band." And they looked at me like I was some sort of arrogant jerk, which I probably was.
And...yeah, got into their band, and the funny thing is, like a month, maybe two months later, John Galway showed up in south Florida, and he did the EXACT SAME thing that I did, to the Roll'N'Pinz. So I was onstage this time when he came up and said, "Man, I can play better than that guy, lemme join your band." And I think we were the first band he played in, in south Florida.
Jeff: I think you're right. And was the band Jet one of the cover bands you talked about?
Bob: That was...
Jeff: ...That band was the first mention I saw of you, in the old magazines I looked through...
Bob: In fact, I was singing so much in that, I was singing every song, we were a three-piece band and I was singin' all night long, every night, and I developed bronchitis the last week of the gig. So we decided, "Man, how we gonna?... We can't get another singer. Let's audition guys for a week." So we would have guys come down and sing with us, for the night. Just to get us through...we weren't lookin' for a singer, we just needed to get through the gig. And one of the people that came down was Richard Shelter. And Richard was in his... uh...
Jeff: He was big into Roger Daltrey back then.
Bob: Yeah, he was in that...Roger Daltrey meets Gallagher mode. And he had the white pants, the white t-shirt, the red suspenders, and he was just, like....he was going BANANAS. And I remember watchin' him, and thinkin', "Who is this kook?" (laughs) And I didn't see him again, probably for, another year or two, you know?
Jeff: Ok, back to the Roll'N'Pinz. Kevin MacIvor was the guitar player with them, and I'm guessing you got along ok with him, 'cause you played with him again.
Bob: Yeah, Kevin's a great guy.
Jeff: And Joe Harris told me about the Roll'N'Pinz, "That was a total wild band, they were really good 'cause they were wack as hell. I do remember seeing them at the Premier Club one night, and I think it was Halloween, where every member of the band wore a set of glasses with a dick on the nose, for the whole show. "
Bob: Not all of us did, but yes, that did happen. We were just irritating, more than anything. We would play the same song 5-6 times in a row, just to irritate everybody. And Steve Hoffman was our...centerpiece, so that tells you what's going on with that. Yeah. I like him too, he's a good guy.
Jeff: And you had an original in the Pinz' set, something about croquet?
Jeff: Was that one of your first songwriting efforts, or were you writing songs before that?
Bob: No, that was definitely an early attempt at writing songs. But after goin' out and seeing bands like the EAT and stuff, it was like..."Oh man. THESE songs are cool." You know, I just didn't write songs like they did, that just wasn't my thing. But I appreciate what they did, and I knew it was better than I was doin'. So, yeah, I started takin' a backseat a little bit more, and decided I needed to, sort of, watch a little bit more.
Jeff: So did you leave the Roll'N'Pinz to join the Cichlids?
Bob: The Roll'N'Pinz were kinda played out. It's like that sorta thing, you can do it for awhile, and then you.....Speaking for myself, it was just like, "Ok, I'm full. I just need to do something else." And that (Cichlids) came up, so I went ahead and did it. Mainly because I knew Bobby (Tak) before the Cichlids.
Kevin MacIvor, Bobby Tak, Bob Rupe (photo: Jim Johnson)
I met Tak...probably in '77, maybe '76, when we were jamming in warehouses in south Florida, trying to put bands together and stuff. I can't even remember how Tak showed up, but he showed up to play, and he brought a guy with him named Kevin Hoy, who was a keyboard player. And we played that night, and uh...he wasn't really into what we were doin', but I was interested in the fact that he wanted to do Bowie songs, because none of the people I was playin' with were interested in doin' Bowie songs, and I was goin', "That's kinda cool."
So we just started hangin' out, and you know, we're like 20, 21 years old, and one night he said, "Hey man, I know this coupla hot chicks who have a warehouse up in Pompano, off Powerline (road), they play up there, we can go check them out, hang out with them, they're really cool."
And I said, "Ok." So we go up there, and it's Debbie Mascaro, at that time Bartholomay, and her sister, Ana, they had a Heart-kinda thing goin' on, it was just the two of them there, and me and Tak showed up. I think maybe Tak had called 'em, and told 'em we were gonna come up.
Jeff: How did that go?
Bob: I was just lookin' at Tak and sayin', "All they're gonna do is play guitars? (laughs) Let's get outta here." So anyway, we left, and the next time I saw either of them was the Cichlids.
Jeff: Who approached you to join the band?
Bob: Well, they hired me on as their bass player. They never really let me join. That was made pretty clear at the beginning, which I thought was kinda funny, I was like, "Oh, ok..."
Jeff: So it was spelled out for you, you were just a hired gun.
Bob: I was a hired gun, along with the other guy, Derek Craig.
Jeff: Did you enjoy it?
Bob: It was really brief. I mean, I think it was...
Jeff: Two or three gigs, I believe?
Bob: At the most, you know? I boarded a burning airplane, is what happened. And by the time we had done the two or three gigs, it was done. But, of course, out of that, me and Bobby got back with Kevin and we did the Bobs thing.
Jeff: Did you start the Bobs immediately after the Cichlids?
Bob: Yeah, immediately. 'Cause Kevin wasn't really doing anything, and Tak and I were a good rhythm section, and we just wanted to keep working together. And Kevin had a pocketful of songs, so it was turn-key (ready to go).
Jeff: Did you start playing gigs right away?
Bob: We started playing almost immediately. We probably rehearsed a coupla times, and went out and played. Mainly because, like I said, Tak and I had already worked together. I had already worked with Kevin, it wasn't like we were unfamiliar. And back then, it was really kind of incestuous anyway with a lot of bands. A lot of people were playing...the same people were playing in different bands all over the place, so...it wasn't that hard.
Jeff: And you played out of town, I saw you in Tampa, open for the Ramones.
Bob: We did. We played the (Buffalo) Roadhouse once.
Jeff: I was too young to get in to that.
Bob: Yeah, that was an interesting gig. And then we went up for this Cuban...The Cuban Club? I forget what it was called...
Jeff: Yes, The Cuban Club.
Bob: Yeah, and we didn't do that gig, because the guy didn't have any money, to pay us. And he said, "Well, you could stay and play, and see if I have money when it's done."
And I was thinking, "As it is, I'm gonna get home at five in the morning, so I'm not..." Nah, we just came back (to south Florida).
Bob and Kevin backstage with Dee Dee Ramone, Tampa 1981 (photo: Jim Johnson)
Jeff: Any memories of opening for the Ramones?
Bob: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Jeff: You got that song "Joey" out of it....
Bob: Yeah, Joey was in rough shape when we opened for the Ramones. We were in the back of the theater, and of course they had their own dressing room, and they were in there just POUNDING away, man. They had little amplifiers and a little drum kit, and they played the WHOLE show, front-to-back in their dressing room before they went out and played, which was pretty amazing.
And during one of the breaks, Joey came out of the dressing room, and we were just kinda sittin' in the hallway, you know, half listening to 'em. And Joey walks by us, and he's got his hair down in his face and he says, (New Yorker accent) "You know where the bathroom is?"
"Yeah, right over there." And so he was in the bathroom, and I think (he) just got sick all over the place in the bathroom. Hence the "Joey" song...if you listen to the lyrics, that's what it's about.
Jeff: Yeah, he had OCD, he took medication for it later, he wouldn't change his clothes....
Bob: And he was doing dope. Which was very fashionable back then, (but) not very healthy. (laughs)
Jeff: And Leslie Wimmer indicated that the first Bobs record was all done, and that the band was gonna pay for the pressing, and Open Records was gonna handle the distribution and publicity. And that one of the members of the band NOT named Rupe didn't pay his share of the costs, and that's why it didn't come out on Open.
Bobby Tak, Kevin MacIvor, Marky Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone and Bob Rupe, Tampa Theater 1981 (photo: Jim Johnson)
Bob: That may or may not be true. I remember at the time, I think there was some reservation on (Leslie's Open Records partner) Ted Gottfried's part, about doing it (the Bobs record) anyway, so that may have exacerbated the next problem. Who knows? All I know is that we had a bunch of records with Open printed on 'em, you know, and it wasn't gonna happen. It seems odd that something like that couldn't have been resolved somehow. So, I think there was a little bit more to it than that, and I may or may not have been privy to it. I don't really remember. I remember being disappointed about it.
Jeff: Yeah, it's a great record.
Bob: I thought it came out good, doin' it on an 8-track (recorder).
Jeff: How long did it take to record?
Bob: Two days. Two sessions.
Jeff: And the band produced it?
Bob: You know, I remember Tony....
Bob: Tony Mancino, that's correct. He was handling all the engineering, so in terms of, anything to do with sound, it was all Tony, that's Tony's record. And he did a great job. I listened to it not that long ago, maybe a year or so, and I was just stunned at how good it sounded. And he just used a Tascam 38 1/2 inch 8-track (reel-to-reel recorder) and some cheap board of the day, and it came out really good. But musically, yeah, there were definitely three cooks in the kitchen on that one.
Jeff: Absolutely, that's one of the best things about the Bobs. All three guys writing songs...
Bob: And havin' a lot of ideas about how things should sound. And not being that far off base from each other, either. It was pretty good.
Jeff: So was there a specific incident that ended the first Bobs?
Bob: Oh yeah, it was the Cuban Club trip that....killed it. Bobby had gone up separately with some friends of his, and they were pretty unsavory folks, in my opinion. And he just did it without askin' anybody else. So we had this other vehicle in tow now, with these people that I didn't even know. And then when we came back (to south Florida), something happened to their van. We got separated, they broke down, and we (Kevin and Bob in Jim Johnson’s car) were long gone, so Tak got stranded. And the next morning...I was livin' on 11th avenue with Jim Johnson, the house that Charlie (later) ended up movin' into, and Tak got there at eight in the morning and man, he was PISSED. I mean, he was just SO pissed off that we had... gone, but we didn't have cell phones or anything, so how else can we know?
Jeff: If he got stranded on Alligator Alley, that's a LONG way between pay phones.
Bob: I think he was on (highway) 60 or something.
Jeff: Oh, well that's almost as bad. Out in the middle of nowhere.
Bob: Anyways, he was so mad, that he demanded to get his drums out of the house, and he was quitting, and that was it. That's how he quit.
Jeff: And how long before (drummer) Johnny Sticks (Galway) was brought in? Did you do anything in between the two versions of the Bobs?
Bob: Yeah, I went up to New York, and I played with the (Screaming) Sneakers very briefly. And then that blew up, and I came back down to Florida, and Sticks was there, and we decided we would do some more playin', and we ended up recording White Gazebo (album) with Sticks.
Jeff: Was there more than one trip to New York?
Bob: Yeah, I was goin' back and forth between Florida and New York. It almost became a commute. 'Cause I was doin' that, and at the same time, I'd come back into Florida, and I'd do something with the Bobs, and I'd go back up to New York again. I knew I wanted to stay in New York, but I wasn't very well-connected, so it took me five or six tries, to get the door pushed open to where I could actually stay.
Jeff: How was the Bobs different with Sticks?
Bob: It was a totally different. And Jim (Johnson) had brought in Peter Yialinos to work with us. And Peter had the full MCI (recording) console, and two 24-tracks (recorders), and Peter was also connected with New River studio, which had a full Neve console (very desirable to musicians). And this was my first real exposure to the REAL stuff. So, in that respect, I was kinda blown away by the environment. That really cinched it for me, I was like, "Ok, I need to be HERE...more. I need to be doin' this."
The New River thing was, Jim Johnson footed the bill for that, he was executive producer. The other places we recorded were Sync (studio, which was Frank Falestra’s place), Peter's (Artisan studio), and New River...Yeah, 'cause most of White Gazebo was done down at Sync, or a lot of it was. (Note--Bob and myself both forgot that one song from White Gazebo was recorded at Live Bait studio in Ft Lauderdale)
Jeff: And even going back to when you were with Tak, there's a good amount of unreleased Bobs stuff, good songs too. "Money" is a great song, and "Change" was later covered by the Chant, that's one of my favorite Bob Rupe songs...
Bob: Yeah. There were some good songs. And there was a lot of stuff that never got recorded. The thing that a lot of young people don't understand, is how difficult it was back then to record your stuff. I mean, it's a breeze now. Christ man, if I had Pro Tools in 1979...
Jeff: You'd have done a double album...
Bob: There'd be so much out there, it'd be ridiculous, but yeah, it was hard to get things recorded back then.
Jeff: And there was a live cassette released of the original Bobs, any memories of that?
Bob: Yeah, the show was good. I think the recording surfaced, and the decision was made to put it out. So there was no advance planning on that. And I think that was one of the main hurdles for us, was that there was no....real planning about things. The way we went, like the first record, just...that whole fiasco. And the second record and the first record are kind of (released) almost simultaneous. And then the cassette, and the band may or may not exist, and it was just.....just a debacle.
Jeff: Do you remember the Bobs played a couple gigs with Charlie Pickett, as the Flies?
Bob: I do remember that, because we were doin', I think we did some Creedence (Clearwater Revival) songs, and stuff like that. That's like that thing I did with (Johnny) Salton, Reptile House, which lasted five minutes. He was really into the Screaming Trees at the time, and we did one show down at Flynn’s (Miami Beach club), and we were called Reptile House. Shelter comes up to me right before we go on, and says, "Man, Johnny’s telling me the name of your band is Whispering Trees. Is it Whispering Trees or is it Reptile House?"
I said, "It's Reptile House."
Salton wanted to call it something else, so he's like, "Oh no, we're...."
Jeff: We're Whispering Trees.
Bob: So we get on the stage, and Shelter goes, "Ok everybody, here's Reptile House."
And Salton runs up and goes, "No no, Whispering Trees!" (laughs) It was really hilarious.
Jeff: And Charlie actually recorded a song with the Bobs, that never got released.
Bob: Yeah, I do remember being at the studio in Pompano.
Jeff: I think MacIvor wrote the song.
Bob: Possibly. You see, at this point, I was just like.....I was ALWAYS on planes, or driving, or doing something, I don't even remember.
Jeff: How about producing the Chant? Fond memories of that?
Bob: Yeah, that was fun to do. I liked their band, and I thought it was a good record. And everybody ventured into territory that they weren't really familiar with, which is always fun. It's not always fruitful, but it was fun.
Jeff: How much studying of engineering and production stuff had you done before that? What was your idea of producing back then? Different producers have different ideas about how to do it, Mike Watt said his producer (Ethan James) used to say, "Well, whaddya got, Watt?"
Bob: You know, I still produce recordings for people, and there's a lot of younger guys I work with, I just did a record with a guy from Austin (Texas), and I've done a couple of recordings with a couple of local guys. My philosophy about that has changed SO much..... but saying that I produced the Chant record is like.....that's not even really true. I was operating the soundboard, and I was throwin' out ideas. I was operating the soundboard and the compressors because I was the only one who knew HOW.
Now, after working with some great producers over the years, I sorta understand...I can be more Yoda when the young guys come in....it becomes a balancing act between intruding and not intruding, allowing them to do what they wanna do, and at the same time, makin' sure that they're not nudgin' off course too much. And I wasn't doin' any of that stuff back then. It's like the Psycho Daisies record....it was like herding cats, with those guys, It's just impossible. The fact that we got anything recorded at all is a miracle.
Jeff: And both those two records stand the test of time, so somebody knew what they were doin'.
Bob: Well, you know what? They (the bands) knew what they were doin'.
Jeff: L7 studio was a good studio, so that's a given.
Bob: Yeah, but those guys were the talent, and I think with Charlie Pickett's band... Charlie recognized that early on. I mean, he knew he had to surround himself with these kinda guys in order to get the kinda sound he wanted. So he was like, the schoolmaster, in a way, with those guys. And when we did the Psycho Daisies record, I just took Charlie's place. "Ok boys, not too much of that stuff, you got tracking in five minutes."
Jeff: That makes perfect sense.
Bob: And it was just like, "Ok, they're feelin' good, roll tape..."
Jeff: What about that song you wrote with Johnny, "Memories"?
Bob: Well, (laughs) actually, Johnny came up with that, he had the music.
Jeff: Which was pretty similar to a Flamin' Groovies song.
Bob: And I have a story to tell you that's connected to that. And he (Salton) said, "Yeah, this needs lyrics."
And I said, "Ok." So I came up with lyrics, and we played it a few times. And at the same time I was doin' the Silos thing, and so I said, "Well, I'm gonna do this song with the Silos." And it ended up shapin' up really well and we recorded it, and it was on "Cuba."
And it wasn't until after that, that somebody told me, "Hey, you know, that's a Flamin' Groovies song."
And I went back and listened to it and I just went, (claps hands) "Oh my god, I can't believe it IS a Flamin' Groovies song."
So, fast-forward to '95, '94, I'm doin' the Johnny Walker show, in London, the radio show. And we're (Cracker) playin' live on the air. And he says, "Man, every band that comes in does a cover, you guys should do a cover."
Cracker with Cyril Jordan
And everybody says, "David (Lowery, Cracker front man) doesn't play covers. What cover do we do?"
And I said, "Man, I know 'Shake Some Action'." 'Cause I heard it a 1000 times with Charlie. I said, "Let's do 'Shake Some Action.'" And so we did it. And they ended up picking up the recording, and using it on the "Clueless" soundtrack. So now "Shake Some Action" is in this movie.
Two years later I'm in San Francisco, and this girl I knew out there, she's friends with Cyril Jordan, and I tell her this story, and Cyril comes down to the show at.......Slim's, a club owned by Boz Scaggs, and Cyril shows up, and says, "Linda tells me that it was your idea to put 'Shake Some Action' in that movie."
And I said, "Well, it wasn't my idea to put it in the movie, it was my idea to do it on that show, and it ended up in the movie."
And he says, "Man, I wanna thank you, that (publishing) money put a roof on my house."
So I just went, "PAID!" (laughs)
Bob: Paid back.
Jeff: Do you remember when you met Charlie the first time?
Bob: Oh yeah, it was at the Premier Club. I think the Roll'N'Pinz were playin', and Charlie was on the bill, he was headlining. And I walk into the dressing room. which was the kitchen, and I remember seeing Charlie in there with (manager Robert) Mascaro, and Charlie had this bomber jacket on, with the collar and everything, and he had his guitar on, and I looked at him and I said, "Who is this old guy?" (laughs) What is this old guy doing here? And then he went out and played, and I was like, "Ok, he's doing rock'n'roll, you know? It's cool." It took me a couple times to see Charlie to get over the fact that he was over 30, (for the record, Charlie was not 30 years old in 1980, and is in fact only three years older than Bob) and trying to rock in our scene.
Jeff: So you saw all the different bands that he played with.
Bob: I saw, I think, every incarnation of Charlie and the Eggs.
Jeff: And Charlie eventually ended up opening for the Silos at Churchill’s.
Bob: I think you're right about that. That's the last time I saw Robert Mascaro, I think, was at that show.
Jeff: And Charlie had nothing but good things to say about you, he told me about seeing you when Cracker played a festival down in Lauderdale.
Bob: Yeah, out of all the people in the old scene, he was really the only guy to show up, and come say hello. That's Charlie. If you know Charlie, it doesn't surprise you.
Jeff: What do you think about his recordings? You got to hear most of 'em when you were mastering Bar Band Americanus.
Bob: I wish he had recorded more stuff.
Jeff: In some ways, although he was a front man, and you were more of a band guy, but in some ways you and Charlie are the most successful people to come out of that scene not named Depp.
Bob: Well I played a lot. I don't know how successful I was, but I played a lot.
Jeff: Well, the Cichlids never made it out of Florida, the EAT played five gigs out of Florida....
Bob: But you see, and I'll tell ya, since you brought that up, that's one of the main reasons I left Florida. It had nothin' to do with the surf and the sun and the sand and the people, I mean, it was great. But it was too far away from everything. And back in the '80s too, no (music) industry in south Florida, there was no music industry, anywhere. And it was impossible to get radio on board with what you were doin'. I mean, after the first coupla trips to New York, I'd be listening to (NYC) radio stations like WFMU and WSOU, and they'd be playin'......45s of bands that I don't know. And then hey! Whaddya know? Right down the street, there's a venue for these bands to come and play. That's why the scene is healthy. Because there's contact between all the different elements that make it work.....
Jeff: Makes sense. Now let's talk about the Screaming Sneakers. Lisa told me a bit about the band's trip to London, but Charlie was the one who told me you were with them when they went.
Bob: I did. An ill-fated trip, yeah.
Jeff: According to Lisa, the record company in London wanted her to change her style and ditch the band, how much of that were you privy to?
Bob: I know all about it. And I'll tell you exactly what happened, 'cause I remember talking directly to the A&R guy, Tracy Bennett.
Jeff: First of all, what label was it?
Bob: It was the London label. The mother company was Decca. And this record was gonna be out on the London label. Now, you have to understand, at the time, what they were interested in doing, because of the music that they were associated with. I'm talkin' about the A&R department at Decca. You had Bananarama, Fun Boy Three, you know, all the frizzy, happy Brit bands, that were basically doing Motown stuff. And here we come in with this sort of,
Jeff: Punk rock.
Bob: U2 meets Motorhead or something. So we did, probably a week of pre-production at a place called Nomis (studio). And it was this big building, with all these rooms for bands to rehearse in. So we had this producer appointed to us, who's name I can't remember, Dennis something, his claim to fame was he assistant-engineered on an AC-DC record. So I think they were trying to see if this guy could prove his worth, on staff...
Jeff: Using Screaming Sneakers as their guinea pig.
Bob: ...And mold this band into the next...whatever. And to give you an idea of what was happening in the building, we had Adam Ant rehearsing down the hall, Culture Club was rehearsing down the hall, and this is before their first single came out. And this band was completely preassembled. And I remember goin' by their rehearsal room, and lookin' in, and seeing them, and just thinkin', "I don't know WHAT this is." Boy George, all that stuff, I have no idea what this is, there's some really ugly chick down there singin', and I don't know what this stuff is. So that's what was going on in the building, and Motorhead, down the hall, were rehearsing in there.
Jeff: Did you get to meet Motorhead?
Bob: You're darn right I did! I had a Rickenbacker bass at the time, and we had the door open, and Lemmy was walkin' by, and I'll tell ya, it was 11 o'clock in the morning, and he had a half-gone bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand. And he was walkin' by the front door, and he looks in, and he looks at me and he goes, "Hey! I play a Rick too! Come play my Rick!"
And I said, (Obediently) "Ok." (mucho ha-ha) I put mine down.
And the producer guy's saying, "We're working here!"
And I go, "I'll be back!" (laughs) I just went down the hall.
Jeff: Yeah, it's fuckin' Lemmy!
Bob: And they (Motorhead) had a room, I swear it was HALF the size of this one (ed. note--maybe 25' by 15', I’m guessing), with a low ceiling. And Lemmy had three full Marshall bass stacks.
Bob: Three heads, six cabs (cabinets), 4 15's (15-inch speakers) in each cab, right? Philthy Animal (Taylor, Motorhead drummer) had his drums set up and miked, every drum was miked, and going through a little Yamaha...Remember those old Yamaha speaker boxes, with the silver horns, with the 15s? He had four of those, and the guitar player had three Marshall stacks.
Jeff: (Incredulous) In a room half the size of this?
Bob: It was INSANE. And I hit his bass, and I just went, "Oh my god!" I couldn't believe it. It was up to, like, 12.
And they said, "Well, we're gonna rehearse some songs."
And we're like, "Cool! Can we hang out?"
And they're like, "Yeah, yeah." So they crank up, and I mean, it was just INSANELY loud.
And they're playin' for a little bit, and I realize, there's no vocal mike. So they play a couple things, and I say, "Hey man, where's the vocal mike?"
And he says, "Oh, we never rehearse vocals, I just make 'em up in the studio."
Bob: Yeah, it was really cool. (laughs)
Jeff: Ok, back to the Sneakers in London.
Bob: Oh yeah, so we tried to make this record… we had an idea about what we wanted to do, but Tracy the A&R guy, had some other idea about what he wanted to do. And I think it was more like, Belle Stars, Bananarama thing that he wanted to do. And of course, he's not tellin' us, he's tellin' the producer, who's job it is to make it happen, right? So what we ended up with was just crap, it was useless. So later, I was down with Tracy in the pub, next to the studio, after the tracking sessions, and we were just kinda talkin' about it, and I was asking, "What's gonna happen with this? What is this?"
And he says, "Well, I think what we're gonna do, is we're gonna re-record all the music tracks, with studio musicians. And then you guys just learn the parts, and play it live."
Jeff: Yeah, that's gonna happen.
Bob: This is how it went down to me. Now I'm flyin' outta there the next day. And I'm sittin' there with my beer, and I'm just goin', "Ok, alright."
And he says, "And we're gonna work up a look for the band. Like Gary (Sunshine, guitarist) is gonna be in a three-piece suit. And we see you in a one-piece flight suit- kinda thing."
And I'm sittin' there thinking, "Man, the minute that plane lands in New York, I'm quitting. The minute I'm home, I'm out." And that's what I did, I stepped off the plane, and I said, "I quit." That was it. Done.
Jeff: Wow, that's unbelievable.
Bob: But the good thing about it is, before I got in too deep with something that I really cared about, I was given a very valuable lesson in how the business works. So I took that to heart, and I said, "Ok, this is what CAN happen. Just gotta keep your eyes open."
Jeff: Did you play guitar when you were young?
Bob: No, just bass. I didn't pick up a guitar until the Silos.
Jeff: But there is, like one song of you playing on the radio with Charlie.
Bob: Where I played guitar?
Bob: That's possible. But I was no guitar player. I was no guitar player when we started the Silos. I was a bass player.
Jeff: And you kinda learned guitar as you went along?
Bob: Well, there's a funny story. When I ran into Walt (Walter Salas-Humara, his partner in the Silos) in Brooklyn...this is after everything in Florida, and I just said, "That's it, I'm outta here." And I moved to New York (City). And I ran into Walter, and he was about as surprised to see me as I was to see him.
Jeff: And you knew him down in Florida?
Bob: Yeah, he played congas on the White Gazebo record.
Jeff: Oh yeah, that's right.
Bob: Yeah, but I knew Walter from high school.
Jeff: Oh, you went to high school with him too?
Bob: Yeah, we jammed in his garage plenty of times, when he was just playing drums. So I mean, I knew Walter as well as anybody else. And he said, "Let's start a band." He says, "But we should be the stars, we should be the guitar players." And he didn't play guitar either, he was...really sophomoric, you know? He goes, "Well, since you already play bass, I think you should be the lead guitar player."
I was like, "Great!" (shrugs shoulders and laughs)
Jeff: And you're like, "And what exactly are you basing this decision on?"
Bob: So we put out the "About Her Steps" record, then we starting getting calls for gigs, and we had no band. So we started auditioning people, and one funny thing is, we had this guy, some Nashville dude, come down and auditioned for bass. And we're playin' some songs with the guy, and he's really good. So after we were playin', Walt and I are lookin' at each other, "Yeah man, you're great, you're in!"
And the guy says, "I don't think I wanna join your band." (laughs)
We just kinda went, "Oh yeah...we suck." (laughs)
Jeff: But you eventually got better on guitar, Walter got better on guitar, what was the first few line-ups of the band like?
Bob recording the Silos LP in Gainesville, October 1989 (photo: Jim Johnson)
Bob: The first line-up was, uh.......if this ever gets back to them, they'll probably hire a hitman, to shoot me, but I don't remember their names. We ended up nick-naming everybody, so the drummer's name was Ziti. And we called the bass player Pudge, because he was a little heavy. But those were the guys that first played with us.
And then we went to another bass player, Rick Wagner, whose girlfriend played in that band the Washington Squares. He played with us up into the sessions for recording "Cuba", and then he quit, so I ended up playin' all the bass on "Cuba", and the guitar. And actually, Walter played a lot of the drums on "Cuba", Johnny (Sticks) played some but, it's mostly Walter, I think.
Jeff: And Walter's a good drummer, and he had very specific ideas about what he wanted on the drums on these songs.
Bob: He is a good drummer. He's a good musician.
Jeff: And Jimmy said he helped fund the recording of "Cuba".
Bob: Oh, did he? It's possible. I don't remember that. That would be between him and Walter.
Jeff: You weren't involved with that?
Bob: No, I just played guitars, and turned knobs, and spewed ideas.
Jeff: So the equipment you used in the Silos, I believe there’s a Florida connection in there. A Gibson SG guitar and an Ampeg Reverberocket amp…
Bob: It was stolen directly from Charlie Pickett. Yeah, great sound.
Jeff: Yeah, you got great tone with that.
Bob: It is what it is, man, it’s a great combination. You know, one day I was sittin’ in Jim’s house, after I had moved out, and Charlie had moved in. And Charlie worked down at the rock pit during the week, and he had grabbed his stuff, and he had that little pick-up truck, and he’d go down to Sync, and rehearse with those guys (the Eggs), and he’d drive back up to Ft Lauderdale.
So we were sittin’ in the house one night, and Charlie walks in, still in his rock pit garb, comin’ back from band rehearsal. And it was just classic Charlie, he had his guitar, NO case, on the strap, on his right shoulder, not over his neck, just carryin’ it on his right shoulder, and the Rocket in the other hand, and he’s carryin’ ‘em into the house, with the guitar still plugged in (to the amp). (laughs heartily)
Jeff: So all he did was unplug the amp from the wall?
Bob: He just walks in, "Hey man!" I was thinking, "This dude’s like…He’s the real deal." (laughing) Rock’n’roll, man.
Jeff: And the Silos toured around, and John Ross came in on bass...
Bob: And that was the most extensive-touring version of the Silos.
John Galway, John Ross, Bob and Walter, Storyville in New Orleans (photo: Jim Johnson)
Bob: Yeah. One stretch we did 78 shows in 90 days, and we actually drove around the country TWICE. East coast, west coast, across Canada, east coast, west coast, back across Canada.
Jeff: What was it like playin' with those guys? Jimmy Johnson said the Sticks/ Ross rhythm section was more "garage band", and the Maby/Doherty rhythm section was more professional.
Bob: Yeah, they were more punk rock. The thing about the Silos at the time is, the songs really didn't benefit too much from a punk rock approach. And we did plenty of shows where A&R people came down, and they'd just say, "Oh yeah! I really liked your recording, ooh! What's happening here?" And then, that'd be it. It'd be nothin'.
So, our manager at the time, Mark Zoltak said, "Look, if we're gonna get to the next rung on this thing, we need to up our game a little bit, we need to have some sort of a plan." Which is good, you know?
Bob: So when he mentioned (bassist) Graham Maby, we thought, "Wow! He can get Graham Maby? (laughs) That'd be awesome." And Brian (Doherty), of course, great drummer. So as we started to rehearse with those guys, we realized, "Ok, this is...." It's not that it was more pro, it was just more thoughtful. And then the songs were able to go to the places they needed to go, because now we had more tools in our bag, we had players that were able to feel the dynamic that was happening, and kinda move with it, instead of just bashin' their head against the wall. And it made a big difference.
Jeff: When did you start to feel like, "Wow, this could really turn into something good."
Bob: You know, I don't know if I ever felt like that. I felt confident in our ability to perform. I felt like we were well-rehearsed and well-played enough to do it in our sleep. 'Cause we toured so much. If we walk out on a stage, I felt good about that guy, that guy, that guy, and that guy. I know they're all gonna do 100 percent, I know nobody's gonna come out drunk, and can't play. They've got as much riding on it as I do.
In THAT sense it was professional, because you didn't have to deal with all the "rock dude" baggage. Somebody gettin' pissed off 'cause.....whatever, somebody smoked his pot or, somethin' stupid, whatever it could be. By that time, I was DONE with all that stuff. I was thinking more seriously about it. Walt and I, we wanted to be like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. That's how we saw ourselves, as a rock band. Like the whole alt-country, Americana thing that somehow we get credited, to some extent, for being on the point...
Bob recording the Silos LP in Gainesville, October 1989 (photo: Jim Johnson)
Jeff: As does Charlie.
Bob: I don't even know what that is. We didn't know what that was. We thought we were playin' rock music. I sat in Rob Patterson's office, he's a music writer and he lives in Austin, but at the time he was working with us, and we were sittin' in his office one day, and he was saying, "Yeah man, that first record, a lot of that stuff is like Gram Parsons."
And both Walt and I went, "Who?" (laughs)
Jeff: So you'd heard Gram Parsons about as much as you'd heard the Flamin' Groovies.
Bob: I'd never heard of Gram Parsons. Of course, after that, I went out and got the record (GP) with him and Emmylou (Harris), which turned me on to Emmylou.
Jeff: Was there anybody helping with booking or promo before Mark Zoltak came along?
Bob backstage at Liberty Lunch, Austin, TX, 1990
Bob: No, Mark was doin' a lot of the legwork. We tried to get hooked up with Frank Riley, and we just.....we just weren't hot enough, at the time. I dunno...it was the Silos. So it's kinda like, we're not the next big thing, obviously, and when you're running the booking agency, and you're taking 10 or 12 percent, it's about....cake. So I mean, "If there's no share for me, you're on your own."
Jeff: That's right. You're gonna hafta find somebody else.
Bob: That's the business, man.
Jeff: Brian Doherty had nothing but good things to say about Mark Zoltak, he said, "He truly understood the essence of the band." And you talked about the plan Mark devised, and once the band got Richard Ford on bass, and Brian on drums, that the band improved playing live. And that the band played dozens of industry showcases in Los Angeles and the northeast, and the plan worked.
Bob: It did. At one point, we had both RCA and Geffen (records) interested. But the A&R guy for Geffen, and I'm not gonna mention his name, he was extremely gay. Which is fine, I don't care if you're gay, but we're sitting in his office one day, and he's telling us that we can't make a record outside the city, that they were gonna be coming in and 'checking in', and making sure that we were doin' it right. 'Cause we wanted to do the remote thing (recording, the Silos major-label debut was recorded in an old theater in Gainesville), we sorta had that planned ahead of time, 'cause we didn't want the record (company) people around, we wanted to be away from them while we made the record.
(photo: Jim Johnson)
Jeff: Based on your prior experiences, it was probably not a bad idea.
Bob: I thought it was a great idea, I still think it's a great idea, but there's a couple things that went wrong with it. One, we chose not to go with Geffen, in a way, because when we were leavin' the office one day the guy said, "Oh, if I could have just five minutes with you and Walter, oh."
It was kinda like, "Ok." I mean, the minute we walked out the door, Walt looked at me and says, "Can you imagine havin' to do business with that guy every day?"
And I just said, "No." So anyway it turned out that we...ended up with RCA for a variety of reasons. And they had just taken on Bob Buziak (president of the label).
Jeff: And he was a fan of the band.
Bob: He was a fan, and he was president of the company, so we presented the idea of doing it remote (recording the album away from the record industry). He agreed, BUT the catch was, he insisted on a producer. Coincidentally, I had actually been on the phone with Jimmy Iovine (renowned producer) prior to this, who'd done the Tom Petty records, and I was thinking, "Man, this is the guy we gotta get."
And Buziak's flat out, "No, you gotta use Pete Moore, because he did the Cowboy Junkies record, and it's gold, and it's the feather in the cap at RCA ‘indie’ right now. So you gotta take him." The bad thing about that is that Peter was not a producer. He's an engineer. And we needed a musical guy to help us make a REAL record, and he couldn't do that.
Jeff: Brian Doherty said, "There were no opinions given during rehearsals about the songs or the performances, and the songs suffered because of it."
Bob: Yep, he's absolutely right.
Jeff: Were things starting to get more tense in the band at that point?
Walter Salas-Humara, Brian Doherty, Mark Zoltak and Bob Rupe, 1990 (photo: Jim Johnson)
And I think, in hindsight, we were hopin' maybe he'd quit, (laughs) but he didn't, he stayed on. And I think he struggled with the whole idea of, "Look, if you're not gonna produce it, and we have to produce it, then we're takin' credit. I want this." 'Cause it's not somethin' that happens a lot. When am I gonna have a production credit on another RCA release? Never.
So that was basically it, and yeah, the thing suffered because of it. Peter Yialinos engineered it and I brought him up from South Florida. I wanted him to do it, because I had a great experience with him working with the Bobs, he's great to work with, and he's a producer. You know, in hindsight, we should've let him produce it. He did Jaco's records (Pastorious, Florida jazz bassist), fer chrissake, no reason he couldn't do ours.
Jeff: Brian Doherty talked in his blog about, "There was somewhat of a power-grab by Walter, saying the RCA contract was all his." and Doherty hoped that you "Would hold fast to your co-leader status, checking Walter's power grab. To my dismay, however, Bob assumed the role of second-in-command." Do you agree with that?
Bob: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, what am I gonna do? Am I gonna start a civil war in the middle of the band's pinnacle of achievement?
Jeff: End of band.
Bob: Just put a gun to your head, what's the point of doin' that? At the time all this was goin' down, I was just thinking, "Look, let's just get the record done, let's get it out there, let's get on the road, and let's see what happens. Let's just move it." And yeah, the record wasn't as good as "Cuba", in a lot of ways.
Jeff: It's still pretty good.
Bob: Yeah, but if you can't compete with your own releases, if you're not always moving in a forward direction, then it's kinda like, I'm not the only one that's gonna notice that. People that listened to "Cuba" are gonna go, "Ooh, what happened?" So anyway, we did go ahead and do that. But in the meantime we lost (bassist) Graham (Maby), and we ended up gettin' J.D. Foster to play. And he went with us to Europe, to push the record in Europe.
Jeff: And Bob Buziak left RCA, was it before the record came out?
Bob: It was after the record came out.
Jeff: And what was the relationship with RCA like after that?
Bob: Well, it's not as bad as it could have been. I mean, if you lose your A&R person that's bad. The president of the company changing might not be so bad. Our A&R guy was Bob Feiden, who had been in the industry for decades, and was very successful. He was a very thoughtful and very intelligent and well-educated music guy. And he always stayed behind us. The problem is, when Buziak lost his position, it was because of money. It was the bean-counters coming in to RCA-New York and goin', "Hey, this isn’t working."
You look at the RCA roster at the time, and you had Love And Rockets, Hoodoo Gurus, The Silos, The Cowboy Junkies, Lita Ford, Circus Of Power. It was like, "What is this?" It was just all over the map. And if you're gonna do that, I think you should have labels, like we talked about earlier with Decca being the mother company. They had London, and Parlophone. Like you have these sub-labels that deal with the other stuff, but that wasn't happening. And when he (Buziak) was out, it's like the whole idea kinda went out with him, and then they started cleanin' house, and bands that weren't sellin' records got chopped. Our record had been out......10 weeks, 12 weeks? Something like that.
Jeff: How were sales?
Bob: How do you know?
Jeff: That's true, you don't know in 10 weeks, that's only 2 1/2 months.
Bob: So anyway, they dropped us, and not only that, they dropped us when we were on tour in Europe. So I was on the phone in Amsterdam, talkin' to the manager, and he says, "Yeah, we got dropped."
And I was just like, "Now what?"
Jeff: Had you been thinkin' about leaving the band before that?
Bob: Not at all. I didn't quit the band. I didn't quit the Silos. I know that's been the story over the years.
Jeff: I read in one website that Walter quit the band, then later purchased the rights to use the name "The Silos" from you.
1990 Tour (photo: Jim Johnson)
Bob: That's right, he did. And at the time, see....RCA owed us a second record. So, contractually they were obligated to either give us a second record or give us the budget to make a second record that we could release ourselves. One of the little slimy worms in the contract is, that if you don't recoup (i.e., sell enough records to pay for the recording sessions, producer, manufacturing of the record, etc. etc.) your recording budget from the first record, you don't get the budget for the second record. So we didn't get the budget for the second record, all they would do was give us 10 grand, basically kiss-off money.
So anyway, all this was goin' down and Walter didn't want to go back to square one again, and I think he had, after the recording sessions, yeah, he kinda saw himself as the center of attention, and he was the star, and that's all there is to it. And he called me up and he said, "Yeah, I think I'm gonna break out on my own."
And I said, "That's cool. Do what you gotta do, man. The Silos is dead."
And then he called me back, maybe the next day, and said, "I wanna use the Silos name."
So I’m thinking, "You quit the band, and now you wanna use the name? Aren't you firing me, really, (laughs) essentially, isn't that what's going on?" So I said, "Well, I'll tell you what. You give me the kiss-off money, and you can have the name." That was my deal. I want all the money, you keep the name. Boy, that made him really mad. Really, really made him angry.
Jeff: But he ended up doin' it.
Bob: He ended up doin' it, yeah. But I think it really caused some bad blood, you know? And the reason he wanted the name was because he had, and not just him, but everybody had, invested a LOT of time and a lot of effort into this thing. He wasn't the only one, I was there EVERY MINUTE he was there, know what I mean? He needed the cred.
Jeff: Yeah, I just met you today, and no offense to Walter, I've met Walter, he's a nice guy and everything. But the Silos without Bob Rupe is of NO interest to me.
Bob: Me either. (laughs)
Jeff: But you know what I mean, as a music fan.
Bob: It's not the Silos.
Jeff: Yeah, it's not. It was a partnership.
Graham, Brian, Walter and Bob 1990 tour "somewhere out west" (photo: Jim Johnson)
Bob: And he was worried that he wouldn't be taken seriously, or get another record deal, if he didn't have "The Silos". But really, the opposite is true, 'cause he was damaged goods. The Silos got dropped from a major (label). How many bands are dropped from majors, and all of a sudden get signed again, and are huge? NONE. Name one. I can't name one. So I was just like, "Man, do what you gotta do." And I've said this before, not recently, but time has bore me out on this with the Silos, it was never the same after that. I mean sure, Walter made a living out of it, to a certain extent, but I don't think it's what he envisioned happening at the time.
Jeff: And your quote that you posted a coupla years ago, that you "Abandoned the limelight after the Silos, 'cause I just didn't have the killer instinct to fight for it. Playing music with my friends was always the most important thing to me."
Bob: Yeah, still is.
Jeff: That pretty much says it all.
Bob: You know, I never did care about the "star" element of it, I've always been kind of uncomfortable with it. Like sittin' in front of cameras, and stuff like that, I used to be just petrified. See now, I just don't care, but back then, I thought.... "Ah man.... should I really? Do you really want me on there? Are you sure it's a good idea?" I never liked to do interviews.
Jeff: Yeah, you've done very few interviews.
Bob: Yeah, I'm just....not that interested in it.
Jeff: Ok, let's talk about Gutterball. Had you met Steve Wynn before that?
Bob: Uh, no. Steve had known Stephen McCarthy, Bryan Harvey and Johnny Hott from when they lived in L.A. And I think they had just briefly met each other. And then, I think it was in '92 or so, Steve moved to New York, and found himself on the east coast. I think he got a hold of Bryan, and they just started talkin' about songwriting, and songs of...Dylan, and whatever. And Steve came down to visit him one day, and stayed at his house, and they sat up one night and wrote like, eight or nine songs, just hangin' out.
So at the time, I had been playin' with the House Of Freaks after they made the "Cakewalk" record, I played on a coupla tracks on the record, and then they asked if I would go out on tour with 'em. They'd never toured before with four people, it was always the two of 'em. So Steve McCarthy and I went out with House Of Freaks.
Bob and Bryan Harvey, House of Freaks, 1992 (photo: Oz Geier)
Jeff: And how was that?
Bob: It was another interesting tour, Gold Mountain (artist management) had booked a tour with School Of Fish. Do you remember them? Their audience is 13-year-old girls. So we’re opening for a band that has an audience of 13-year-old girls and we’re all in our mid-30s. Old enough to be their fathers and they’re looking at us, like, "Gross."
Jeff: Like Hendrix opening for the Monkees.
Bob: Yeah, sort of. That was a debacle. And then they ended up getting dropped off of their label. They were signed to Giant. And the biggest act on Giant at the time was Color Me Badd. So that’s where the focus was on the label. It was pretty rough.
Jeff: They probably had no idea what to do with House of Freaks.
Bob: So anyway, they got dropped and that’s when Steve was down for a visit and we (House of Freaks) were already playing. We had played together as a band – you know the four of us – and we just added Steve and we went over to Bruce Olson’s place one day just to hang out and we just spent the whole day recording stuff with no intention of doing anything except to record and have fun.
Jeff: Was that after you came here (Richmond)?
Bob: Oh yeah. I moved here in ‘90 and this was probably in ’92.
Jeff: What convinced you to move here?
Bob: My first wife. I was on the road all the time and she was from here and she hated New York and I was never home, so I said, "Where do you want to live?" "I want to live in Virginia." And I said "OK", so we came to Richmond. That’s why I’m here.
Jeff: Did you love it right away?
Bob: I liked the fact that there were trees and people driving around in cars. And It’s cheap to live here.
Jeff: A lot cheaper than New York City.
Bob: A lot cheaper. And it was cool. It’s a cool place, cool people. That’s why I stayed, because I met all these musicians here and they’re all really cool people. It’s cool to be here.
Jeff: Ok. Back to Gutterball. We were talking about the session. Did that take a long time to record or did that happen really quick?
Bob: No, that went pretty quick.
Jeff: Some people called it an indie supergroup which is like a contradiction in terms.
Bob: Yeah, it’s an oxymoron.
Jeff: Did you like the material? And you liked playing on it?
Bob: It was great, man. I enjoyed playing with those guys. It was really fun because it was really loose and Steve brought a really reckless element to it. The way he plays and sings he’s just like, jumping around. He goes for it. It’s really fun. And it was cool because ten years earlier I’m jumping around in my house listening to Down There (The Dream Syndicate’s first EP) and it’s like cool, man. I’m playing with The Dream Syndicate guy.
I remember when Steve was doing vocals on stuff. When we recorded everything, we did pilots and we wanted to re-do the vocals. I’m sitting at the console and Brian Harvey’s sitting right next to me and we were listening and and Bryan says, "Wow, man, there’s Steve Wynn coming out of the speakers, man. We’re playing on it. This is really cool."
I said, "Yeah, this is great."
So Steve finishes the take and this just gives you an idea of both Brian and Steve. Steve says, "Ok, how was that?"
And Brian looks at me and he smiles and he says, "It sucked, do it again!"
And Steve goes, "Oh, ok."
Brian says, "No, man, we were just kiddin’, it was great."
And Steve says, "Oh, ok." (lots of laughter). That’s how the whole thing was.
Jeff: And you got to play with him some more after that on the Suitcase Sessions record, which is a really great record.
Bob: Yeah, Steve and I are very good friends. He’s a great guy. When we went and did Gutterball, we went out and did some shows as Gutterball and Steve Wynn. So it was like, hey, we added a guy and we took away a guy. Oh, it’s House of Freaks and Steve Wynn and Gutterball all on the same bill. And we actually did that. Hey, you get to see three bands. It’s all the same guys but It’s three bands. I always played bass through the whole thing and it was great because I just got to play a set of Dream Syndicate songs. I’m playing "Tell Me When It’s Over" and I’m just looking around, like "Yeah, this is kinda cool."
We played The Knitting Factory and there was some dude, some rock and roller walking around in some huge furry, waist coat, big furry thing. And it was Chris Robinson (Black Crowes). And he was a huge Dream Syndicate fan. And he asked us at that show If we'd go out and open for the Black Crowes. And we're just like, "Yeah, I guess." They'd just put out their first record, and it was interesting. So we went out for two weeks opening for the Black Crowes, I mean nobody knew who we were, we're just up there...playin' these weird songs.
Jeff: And were you well-received by the Black Crowes fans?
Bob: You know, they were all really stressed at that time, those guys were goin' through some shit. With their management, their label… they had lawyers, they were goin' to court, they had all kindsa stuff goin' on. And the funny thing about it was, they were...and I had never really been around this at this level, they were ROCK STARS, man. You know what I mean? The party was always goin'. You'd show up at some venue, and they're all on ATVs jettin' around backstage. "Where'd these ATVs (come from)?"
"Ah, we ordered them!" Every day you go in the back, there’s weed and alcohol and people everywhere, I mean, it was nuts. It was like ‘70s-style rock star stuff.
Jeff: Brought forward into the ‘90s.
Bob: It was really fun. But after two weeks, they asked us to finish the whole tour. And the pay scale for opening bands for stuff like that was $250 (per show) for the (entire) band. And it’s structured like that because usually labels will put bands out on opening spots, and give ‘em tour support ($ advanced to the band by the label, and paid back out of $ hopefully generated by record sales), the $250 is almost like, whatever, gas money. And the whole point is that you’re being exposed to this…crowd of 3 to 5000 people, that normally wouldn’t have any idea who you were.
But you see, the thing for us, is none of it worked. We didn’t have a label supporting us, and nobody out there cared. They didn’t know who we were, and that was all they’d ever see of us, ever, or hear of us. So none of it was working for us. So one of the managers, at the time, it was Gold Mountain management, John Silva, who was managing House Of Freaks, Steve Wynn, all these people, said "Look you guys, we’ll give you $200/week to stay out."
I said "Nah, can’t, can’t do it."
Jeff: That’s not enough money to make a living.
Bob: But see, Steve and Bryan wanted to do it because when the record came out, and it (the recording) was never intended to be released, they both still had publishing with Warner Bros., and because it was released they got publishing advances, based on the fact that the record came out. So they were swimmin’ in cash, they’re like, "Yeah, we’ll stay out here and tour."
I was just like, "Nah, I can’t do it."
Jeff: And as long as we’re talking about Steve Wynn, we can talk about Danny and Dusty. I’m guessing Steve brought you in on that.
Steve Wynn and Bob Rupe, Richmond 2008 (photo: Jim Johnson)Bob: Yeah, you know, that was really a result of several things. One, Dan Stuart (Green On Red) had expressed an interest in getting back to writing and recording again. They were talkin’ about it. And I guess Steve was sayin’, "Well, we should use these guys in Virginia, because I really like workin’ with ‘em, and I’m sure they’d be into doin’ it."
And this is shortly after Bryan Harvey and his family were murdered, so there was a lot of…..it was part of the healing process I think, to do this. Yeah, and then we got J.D. (Foster, producer) involved, or they got J.D. involved, which was cool, ‘cause I hadn’t worked with J.D. since the Silos. So yeah, it was cool.
Steve Wynn, Bob, Dan Stuart, Danny and Dusty European Tour 2007
Bob: That was great. Yeah, it was really great. We did two tours, really.
Jeff: From what I read, some of the gigs were well-attended, some weren’t.
Bob: Let me tell you somethin’, man, it’s like that with every band when you go to Europe. It’s just, some places you do well, and some places you don’t. I don’t know why. As long as things are good in Italy and Greece, though, I’m all about it. (laughs) You can have Germany and all that stuff, I wanna stay in the south.
Jeff: OK, let’s talk about Cracker. I read that you were there at the start of the band, and then came back later, is that true?
Joan Osborne Guest Vocalist with Cracker, LA 1998
Bob: Yeah, it is. David Lowery had moved to Richmond, Virginia for the same reason I did. And we were just both here, and I guess we just kinda knew of each other from CMJ (College Music Journal magazine) in the ‘80s, just kinda seeing each other in there all the time. And I saw him at a place in town one night, and he said he had been workin’ with this guy Johnny (Hickman) on some new songs, and they wanted to put this thing together, and asked me if I would be interested in doin’ it. And I said, "Yeah. Get me a copy of whatever it is you’re doin’, I’d love to hear it." And that was that, (I) didn’t hear anything after that.
And then the first record came out, and I thought, "Oh, ok, well, I guess they did it." (laughs)
Jeff: I guess he decided to go in another direction.
Bob: Yeah. So it was like, a year and a half went by, and they had just finished "Kerosene Hat", and in fact, I’m not even sure it had gotten to radio yet, like they had just started the tour after the record came out. And David called me up one day, and said, "Are you still interested in joinin’ the band?"
I said, "Well, yeah."
He said, "Ok. I need you to be in Los Angeles a week from Monday. "
I said, "Ok."
It was kinda like, "We need you now." So yep, did that.
Jeff: You wrote some songs with them too.
Bob: I did. But it’s their thing, you know, for me to get involved was…I guess, in a way, it’s inevitable, ‘cause you work with people for a couple years, and all of a sudden it’s like, you start meshin’ a little bit.
But yeah, it’s interesting, the first show I played with them, was at a place in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Silos opened.
Jeff: Really??? How’d that go?
Bob: It was interesting.
Jeff: I’m guessing there wasn’t any tearful reunion backstage.
Bob: There wasn’t, no. But it was interesting because the day before, Jackson Haring (Cracker manager) had called me and said, "Hey man, uh, I don’t know if you know this, but the opening band at this first show is the Silos."
And I said, "Really?"
And he goes, "I’ll knock ‘em off the bill if you want me to."
And I said, "No, I definitely want them on the bill. (Mucho ha-ha) I’d like to have them on the bill."
Jeff: Yeah! So how did that go? Did you watch their set?
Bob: I did watch their set. They needed a guitar player.
Jeff: And how much touring did you do with Cracker?
Bob: Oh tons, tons of touring.
Jeff: More than the Silos?
Bob: Oh yeah, constant. The first year and a half, it was just nonstop. And the funny thing is, "Low" (Cracker song) had just gotten to radio, and while I was in the band it started to take off as a single. And it was interesting because…watching the transformation of life in the music world without a gold record, as opposed to having a gold record. It was when a hit happens, and the record goes gold, all of a sudden, it’s limos, and everybody’s got a hotel room in a nice hotel, and there’s airplanes, and…I dunno, it was kinda cool.
So that started happening and then we did an entire summer tour with the Spin Doctors and…..Gin Blossoms. And that was really, really fun. But we were playing first, in a summer shed tour, so it was always light when we were playing. And we had a lot of fans, ‘cause it was when "Low" was happenin’ at radio. But our fans didn’t wanna pay $40 for the tickets up at the front because those were Spin Doctors (fans) seats. So we’re playin’ all these, and this happened all summer long, we’re playin’ these huge sheds, like 10,000 seat sheds, and the first 15 rows are basically empty. And then the seating just starts to pepper, and then you have all the lawn seats. So while we’re playin’ it’s like a morgue, except out on the lawn, where people are freaking out, like 50 yards away. The whole lawn is going bananas…it was really weird.
Jeff: So I talked to David Lowery back when he was in Camper Van Beethoven. He’s a character.
Bob: Yeah, he’s a character.
Jeff: Cracker was on Virgin records, how did the label treat the band?
Bob: Fine, while I was with the band. I left the band before they got dropped from Virgin. After the "Gentleman’s Blues" album, I split. Because I was feelin’ like, David had developed other interests, like film and whatever…And then he started talkin’ about this Camper thing, and doin’ Camper/Cracker shows, and that’s when I went, "Ok, I don’t wanna do that. I don’t wanna be in Camper and Cracker"
Jeff: Did you like Camper Van Beethoven? I was a fan of their early stuff.
Bob: Yeah, I mean…they were peers. They were one of those bands we just always were around.
Jeff: I think they’re still doin’ the Camper/Cracker together thing.
Bob: Well, when I did the "Get Off This" film shoot in July, I think he mighta been a little bit nervous. ‘Cause I was doin’ this same kinda thing. We played, then they sat me down and did this same kind of…(interview) And before I came into the room to do it, David said, "You know, we’re not gonna be in there listenin’, (I’m) not tellin’ you what to say or anything like that. " And I said, "I got nothin’ to lose, man." (laughs) I think it made him a little nervous.
Jeff: And I read somewhere that you and Hickman and the guy from Sparklehorse (Mark Linkous) had a paint crew together, and that it was a "very slack" paint crew.
Bob: It was, yeah. We would sit around all day, and try to think up painting-themed country songs. Like "Who’s hand were you holding while I was scraping that molding?" I mean that would go on all day, that’s kinda how we entertained ourselves. But that’s when I first met Johnny Hickman. I’d known Mark Linkhous before that.
Jeff: And one of the latest things you’ve worked on is your wife’s album ("Light So Bright" by Fairlane). How’d that go? Did you record that all at your home studio?
Bob: Yeah. And you know, I love my wife to bits, but if you ever wanna test the strength of your relationship, work on a record together.
Jeff: It’s like that, huh?
Bob: Oh yeah. ‘Cause you take it to bed, and it’s like…if you can get through that, you can get through anything. In fact, we’re doin’ it again, so…
Jeff: Cool! And are you getting any more outside business at your home studio? Are you looking to make that fly?
Bob: You know, I’m talking to a guy now about trying to construct a first-class facility around this area. ‘Cause there isn’t one.
Bob: I’ve done a lot of work at a place called Montrose.
Jeff: But in your opinion, there’s not a place around here…
Bob: No, not like a quality place like you would find in Nashville. There’s nothin’ like that here.
Jeff: Didn’t David Lowery have a studio here?
Bob: Not any more. Nope. Everything here is, semi-pro, you know? My idea is to get Alicia Keys to record here, or I want…Jack White to come and record here. I want people to come here, and have the facility to do what they wanna do, one that enables them to do what they wanna do.
Jeff: That’s gonna take money.
Bob: Well, that’s what I’m talking about.
Jeff: I hope it happens. It’d be a good job for you.
Bob: Yeah, better late then never, I guess.
Jeff: How about favorite songs that you’ve written?
Bob: Nah, I’m not like that. There’s moments recording songs, that are memorable to me, but not the songs themselves.
Jeff: Are you still writing songs?
Bob: Uh, yeah, but I’m tryin’ my hand at something a little bit different these days. I don’t wanna be in a band, I’m 57 years old, what am I gonna do? Be a rock star? So I’ve taken to doing other things that I think would be…fun. And I’m workin’ on demo stuff to give to other artists, have something like that goin’ on. And I’m just lookin’ for different ways to stay involved, and not have to…get on a tour bus or anything like that. I’m just done with that.
Jeff: Is the engineering and producing work equally rewarding to playing in some ways?
Bob: I enjoy it more, I think. At this point I enjoy it more. I enjoy the process. I’ve been doin’ this for so long now that I can get into a recording environment with people who have good songs, or are good performers or good singers, and I just know what to do. I know how to make it sound good, I know how to make them feel good about what they’re doin’. I know how to get a good performance out of people, I know when to say "Stop" and when to say "Go." I just know now.
Jeff: And that comes from experience.
Bob: Well, yeah. And being able to use that is what makes it fun for me. ‘Cause at the end of the day you got something that’s tangible and good. And for the artist, they say, "Wow! I didn’t know we could do that."
And it’s like, "Yeah, you can."
Bob Rupe, Nov. 2013
Jeff: That’s the payoff right there.
Bob: That’s the payoff, man. I don’t need the applause anymore, that’s the deal with that.
Jeff: Ok, it’s been 30 years since you wrote the song, and you really have been here, and been there, and been most everywhere. Are people really the same most everywhere you go? (Taken from the lyrics to the Bobs song "Fingerprints")
Bob: Yeah. There’s good people, and there’s jerks. And you just gotta stay away from the jerks. (laughs)
Jeff: Thank you Bob.
Bob: Thank you.
©2013 Jeff Schwier