Years before Butch Vig and "Duke" Erikson gained prominence as members of Garbage, they were pivotal members of two Madison, Wisconsin based bands: Spooner and Fire Town.|
This page is intended as a salute to Spooner and Fire Town from a long time fan, as well as to provide a brief history of those bands for the edification of interested Garbage aficionados.
In the Fall of 1976, Spooner consisted of Butch Vig playing the best damn drums in Wisconsin; Doug Erikson on keyboards, guitar, lead vocals and the best songwriting west of Elvis Costello; Dave Benton on terrific thumping Fender Jazz bass; and Bill Roberts on hot lead guitar, MXR Distortion Plus and Phase 90. They gigged around Madison and the University of Wisconsin and began to collect the fan base which would marvel at the tin ears of the Music Industry for decades to come... Erikson's songs such as "Tonite Tonite", "Kids On A Rhythm" and "Hey Jim" held their own alongside peers like "Mystery Dance", "American Girl" and "Shake Some Action" to fill local clubs with masses of pogoing midwesterners - before MTV was even invented to show us how it was done!
Spooner Phase TwoReorganizing in early 1978 as a five piece, keyboardist Jeff Walker brought his New Wave organ stylings to the group, allowing Erikson to concentrate on wringing dynamic sounds out of his vintage Jaguar and Mustang guitars. Benton moved to Telecaster and newcomer Joel Tappero was added on bass. And Spooner picked up where it left off...
Recorded in Northern Illinois with advice and assistance from Zion's finest Shoes, the band's first record was released in 1979: Cruel School, a seven inch EP containing four songs written by Doug Erikson. A DIY project all the way, Boat Records was christened to serve their growing local and regional following.
By 1982, after years of teasing nibbles and outright stupid suggestions from Big Record Companies and their A&R Men ("Matching outfits" "More guitar solos"), the band had more than enough first rate material to record an album of their own. So, they did. Every Corner Dance was released on Mountain Railroad Records, which was better known for local Folk releases than New Wave Rockin' Power Pop records, but what the hell...
A non LP single ("Where Are You Gonna Run"/"You're The Lucky One") was followed by a second album, Wildest Dreams, recorded at the 8-track analog "egg cartons on the wall for sound absorption" Smart Studio. Another single, "Mean Old World'/"Walking With An Angel" came out a bit later on...
That Spooner Photo Again
Left to Right: Joel Tappero (bass), Butch Vig (drums), Doug Erikson (lead vocals & guitar), Jeff Walker (keyboards) and Dave Benton (guitar).
Soon, and not for the last time, a side project took on a life of its own.
Fire TownFire Town began as a collaborative songwriting venture between Doug and Phil Davis, a Madison journalist/music writer. Butch was called upon to drum, of course, and the subsequent recordings were just too good to not release. In The Heart Of The Heart Country was recorded at Smart Studio and released on Boat records. After receiving much good press and some airplay, the band was signed to Atlantic records and their album was re-released in basically identical form on that label. After years of dues paying, Erikson and Vig finally got a record out on a Major Label. Ironically, they had to record it themselves and release it independently on their own label before attracting enough attention to achieve that goal.
Photo: Doug, Butch and Phil. Spooner went on 'hiatus' as Fire Town started gigging...
A second album, The Good Life was recorded for Atlantic, and released on vinyl and CD. (ITHOTHC was never released on CD.) After this fine effort failed to sell millions, the band was unceremoniously dropped by the big time Music Industry Geniuses at Atlantic, who were too busy promoting I-don't-even-know-what to support another collection of not-quite-fashionable-enough rock music from these guys...
The Return of Spooner Phase Two
Reconvening at the ever evolving Smart Studio, Spooner recorded what would be their final album, The Fugitive Dance. This was released on Dali/Chameleon CD's, which also released a 2 for 1 CD of the band's first two LP's.
Now You Know the Rest of the Story
For the completist, additional Spooner recordings can be found on some local Various Artist albums. The Beat Of The City - Live and Mad Scene LP's contain Spooner performances you won't find elsewhere. A very cool Erikson original, "Saddest Time Of The Year" appears on the Yuletunes Christmas CD put out by Shoes' Black Vinyl Records.
Live versions of two songs from Fire Town's debut appear on the Beat Of The City - Live II CD. One of them, "Carry The Torch", was used as a b-side for the single of the The Good Life's title track.
Finally, the Not For Geeks Volume II cassette, put together to promote Smart Studio, has a Fire Town or Spooner song on it (I forget which) as well as a rarity by the elusive "Rectal Drip"!
I recommend Dave Benton's Mad City Music Exchange as a source for old Spooner and Fire Town vinyls and CD's in case you can't find what you need on eBay!