The Bastards of Martin

If you like Captain Beefheart, here's some noise
Aug 20, 2021

A mysterious man named Bortuga texted this album over to me yesterday. Was this recorded in the new recording space they got? Before the pandemic, we shared one right near the Port Authority, but the antics of Delirious Jack Lerner forced us out.

Legend has it that this whole album was performed in one take, off the noggin, with no plan. I believe it. Beefheart would be proud. It's profoundly weird, and hilarious. Almost cracked a rib listening to this.

The back story behind this is still a mystery to me, but they want Bobo to be part of it. Bobo is what happens when I put on a blonde wig, get drunk, yell into a harmonic mic like Jonathan Richman, chug orange juice, juggle, and lie face down on the floor of a venue for 10 minutes, all to the tune of the worst music I can write. I did it live last February, ranging in reactions from "I don't get it," to, "That was a religious experience." It caused our bassist to vomit within 30 seconds after finishing the set, and was weirdly timed right before a worldwide pandemic. Might happen again on October 28th.

The Bastards of Martin

Recorded in a frenzied hour long session in a storage unit, "Inspect The Load" is an instant classic and the culmination of almost two decades of song crafting. Founding members and principle songwriters, Ralph Steadburn, Pete Pipe, John Clock and Edgar "The Dog" Jackson joined forces in 1991 in the town of New Glasgow. In a strange, yet ultimately serendipitous turn of events, Pipe and Jackson met in the county drunk tank after they both attended a Gregory California "concerto". "We were both absolutely hammered," Jackson recalled in a recent interview with the Pictou Advocate "but I somehow remember everything that happened that night. Pete and I had some crazy chemistry right off the bat. We both loved California's trumpet and had been on the Wilderness Jazz scene for a while. Eventually, we started trading song ideas and... well, the rest is history." The next morning, the two men caught a cab from the county jail to Pipe's uncle's basement recording studio. Jackson picked up an old guitar and strummed the opening chords of a song that would grow to become "Jazz No. 1". They quit their jobs that same day. "It started out as an homage to Gregory California." Pipe recounts. "So yeah, structurally, it had California written all over it. My uncle Bruce was also a huge California fan and I think he was upstairs at the time making pancakes or something and he heard The Dog showing me that riff...you know the one I'm talking about. I guess that's when he decided it was time to give Ralph a call." Ralph Steadburn, at the time, was an-ex janitor of the New Glasgow public school system with an expensive whiskey habit and an obsession with Wilderness Jazz. Despite being a good 3 decades older than Pipe and Jackson, Steadburn had recently become a local celebrity after his bass playing turned heads as Gregory California's opening act at the '89 JangleFest. Despite California's protests, he decided to sit out JangleFest in '90 and became a recluse. "I begged Ralph to come out in '90." California told me over the phone, "He just wasn't having it. Told me that he had done what he had set out to do and now he was just going to drink himself to death in his shack. I thought that was the last I'd hear of him." But then Steadburn got the call from Bruce Pipe. "I was so drunk." Ralph said. "And the phone rang. I had been sitting in the dark listening to Gregory California and drinking whiskey for 6 weeks and had gone basically f***ing insane. The sound of the phone ringing was the first sound I had heard since than that wasn't a California lick or a smashing bottle. I didn't want to pick it up... but something compelled me to... call it divine intervention I guess." When Steadburn held the receiver up to his ear, what he heard was "Jazz No. 1". "That was it for me. I put on my pants, grabbed my bass and drove over to Bruce's studio right that minute. It was the best damn song I had ever heard and I knew exactly what it needed to take it to the f*ing moon." That same day, the small-time-bank-robber turned poet, John Clock was doing what he usually did: drinking. "I was cruising 'round downtown with a bottle of whiskey, drunk off my ass and looking for some cocaine. That's when I got hit by that bus." Clock tells me. In a strange twist of fate, Clock was struck by Gregory California's tourbus. "We hit a bump and everyone on the bus went 'whoa! That don't feel right!'" California remembers. "My manager runs out to see what we hit and by god, it's John Clock. I mean I didn't know his name yet, but I sure as hell would! Anyway, he's lying in the road, mangled. I'm thinking 'this is bad'." But this wasn't any normal day in New Glasgow-- in fact, it seemed like God was smiling on the little town. "The paramedics get there and as they're putting poor John on the stretcher he lets out a scream. I look at my manager and I think we were both thinking the same thing: 'this guy is the best damn singer on the continent." But California wasn't the only person who heard this "angelic" shriek. "Me, Ralph--who we had just met-- and the Dog were neck deep in the steamiest session I had ever been a part of," Pipe says. "Ralph is doing things I didn't even know were possible. No wonder Gregory California wanted him at JangleFest. My uncle Bruce is standing in the corner losing his god damn mind at what he's hearing. But then this sound cuts through the jam." "We had to see what it was... we just did." Jackson tells me. The three men burst out of the basement to see John Clock screaming as he is carried away on a stretcher. "It was the most beautiful st I have ever f***ing heard." Steadburn nearly stammers as I talk with him on the phone. "We needed him in the band. Right there and f*ing then. St, I didn't even notice it was god damn Gregory California standing on the other side of the street." But he wasn't standing there long. Gregory California was arrested that evening for the hit and run of John Clock. "Did I feel bad? Of course I did. But I saw what was happening... this was God's work. I saw good old Ralph Steadburn standing across the street, just absolutely transfixed." California says. "I thought to myself 'this is what was supposed to happen here'. And in my mind, that gave me the right to get back on the bus with a clear conscience and go play my gig at Bubu Lake." While serving his 15 day sentence, Gregory California had a complete nervous breakdown and attacked a correctional officer, bludgeoning him into a coma. California was charged for his crime and sentenced to an additional 25 years in prison. Meanwhile, Pipe, Jackson, Steadburn and Clock got down to committing their tracks to tape. "The wilderness jazz scene was reeling. California was in prison. Some even blamed poor John, which got him angry." Jackson recalls. "I mean, the guy was completely mangled and in a lot of pain. He didn't need the grief. But somehow, he was able to direct that anguish into art... I don't know how." Clock began writing melodies for the songs the others had been working out for the last day from his hospital bed. "Make the Baby Go", "We Do It Again!" and "Ever Since I Was A Baby" were dictated to his nurse, who scribbled in awe as Clock feverishly recited his mysterious poetry. "The songs were about the twisted sickness of our society." Clock explains to me now via a zoom call. "We truly do bear a load. Go ahead, inspect it. You'll see." The album was written in a week. The Bastard's of Martin (a tongue in cheek reference to Martin Luther) were born. All members agreed it was a monumental work of art. But it was missing one thing. "We needed to California on it. That was non-negotiable." Pipe tells me. "Even Johnny knew it." And so the plan was hatched: bust Gregory California out of prison for long enough to record his parts. "It seemed simple enough. I mean, we're talking about Gregory F***ing California!" Steadburn says. "I knew some guys from my janitor days who worked at the joint and they told me they could get him out for a night. Sure the warden would know about it, but he'd look the other way. Again, we're talking about Gregory F***ing California! New Glasgow needed this." And that's how it happened!


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