Big In Iowa Biography

(Bio written by Stanton Swihart)

If you didn’t know, I was in a band in a past life. Read all about it!

In the late 20th-century world of 15-minute fame and instant gratification, almost anyone with a modicum of talent, ambition, or savvy could be big on MTV or in Hollywood. But to be Big in Iowa was something altogether special. In particular it specifies that you were among the elite roots rock bands in a land teeming with good ones, a quartet for which critical comparisons to such rock icons as the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Van Morrison, and John Fogerty (all to whom Big in Iowa paid sonic homage) became the rule rather than the exception and for which such allusions, loaded as they seem, were largely apropos.

The Big in Iowa phenomenon was initially foretold in the late ’50s by a hot young rock & roll guitarist named Dick Burns, leader of the Do’s and Don’ts, a combo that had recorded a number of strong 45 records, earning it a growing reputation and sizable regional following. After watching the band tear through a performance during an opening slot for him, so impressed was Jerry Lee Lewis by Burns’ skills on the six-string that he immediately offered him a spot in his touring group. The young guitarist, however, turned “Killer” down out-of-hand, providing the sensible rationale that the Do’s and Don’ts were “big in Iowa.” A couple generations later, singer/songwriter and acoustic guitarist Bob Burns made good on his uncle’s optimistic comment, turning out some of the finest, most soulful American country-rock of the ’90s and into the new century as one member in Cincinnati’s Big in Iowa.

The band had its inauspicious beginnings in mid-1995, at a pub in Hamilton, OH. Burns and bass player Ken Glidewell each matriculated at a weekly open jam night, the former with the band (Universoul) he had formed while at Miami (Ohio) University, the latter with popular local alternative cover band Crawdaddy. The two musicians instantly struck up a friendship, and as soon as their respective combos faltered, they began holding songwriting sessions every Wednesday, which soon led them to put together the first lineup of Big in Iowa, featuring lead player Rick House from local band the Used Toys and filled out by keyboardist Dusty Bryant and drummer Jamie O’Keefe. By the end of the year the band was collecting local gigs and working on its first, eponymous album. Though strictly a bar band outing by the standards set on the band’s later albums, Big in Iowa, self-released in 1996, was quite promising and received considerable local coverage, even landing on a handful of year-end lists and attracting some major-label attention. On the back of the record and a growing reputation as a live band, Big in Iowa was awarded their first Cammy (Cincinnati’s version of Grammy Awards) as Roots Rock Band of the Year in 1997, a trophy they would own over the next several years. By the beginning of 1998, Bryant had left the band and O’Keefe was replaced by Jeff Wilson, thereby formulating the core quartet, which proceeded to prepare its second album for release. Twisted was a substantial improvement on the preceding effort. The core sound of the band was enhanced by the fine fingering of Mike “Moose” McGuire with his Hammond B-3 Organ and Leslie Rotory Speaker. In addition to standing as Big in Iowa’s first mature work, it also began its long-term association with Germany’s Blue Rose Records. In addition to its Group Cammy, Twisted also helped to earn individual honors for Burns (Best Vocalist) and House (Best Instrumentalist), as well as new fans such as Mojo Nixon and an appearance at the 1999 South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, TX. The band contributed a version of “Cinnamon Girl” to the Neil Young tribute album This Note’s for You, and then set about working on its third studio album, Bangin’ ‘n’ Knockin’, which appeared in Europe at the tail-end of 1999. As outstanding a progression from Twisted as that album was from Big in Iowa, Bangin’ provided the band with its most extensive praise yet, including notices in Bucket Full of Brains, No Depression, and Amplifier magazines; as well as its first opportunity to tour Europe (Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, United Kingdom, Switzerland) at the beginning of 2000, and jaunts through the Midwest and New England. Such was the band’s reputation that it also began landing opening slots for such lauded peers as Dave Alvin, Dan Baird, the BoDeans, the Bottle Rockets, Cheap Trick, Alejandro Escovedo, Bob Mould, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others.

After the limited appearance of the live 4 Guys in a Trabi which delightfully documented a show from its first German tour the quartet began making treks to Brooklyn to begin working on its fourth studio album with Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, one of the catalysts of the ’80s roots revival as leader of the fabled Del Lords, in the producer’s seat. Released in Europe in mid-2001, Green Pop was a quantum leap ahead of anything Big in Iowa had previously recorded, an artistic apex that single-handedly vaulted the band into the upper level of roots rock bands. In Europe, the CD’s first pressing sold out in just two weeks, and on a second tour of the continent, the band routinely played to capacity crowds, including a headlining performance before up to 5,000 people at the Wolfstock Festival.

Shortly after returning to the United States, House decided to leave the band due to family obligations. The band replaced House with two different guitar players over a one year period (Scott Redding & Jason Ericson) and attempted to write material for a new record. The band slowly dissolved and disbanded in 2002 as a result of Burns taking a full time job with the Government. The final Big In Iowa gig with its original members was at the Hamiltonian Hotel in Hamilton, Ohio on October of 2002.

Glidewell reassembled a new version of the band as the only original member in 2003 and kept the Big In Iowa moniker. Their sound leaned more towards Outlaw Country rather than the rootsy rock feel of the original Big In Iowa. The new version of Big In Iowa released a CD titled “Geezil Pete” in 2005 and toured around the Cincinnati area until 2008 when Glidewell tragically passed away in a motorcycle accident.

Burns moved to Washington DC in 2008 and House and Wilson continued to play regularly in Cincinnati area bands. In 2011 while visiting family for Christmas, Burns joined House and Wilson on stage for the first time since 2002 for a Big In Iowa reunion.

After living in DC for nearly five years, Burns returned to Ohio in 2012 and has been reuniting two to three times a year with House and Wilson. While the band normally performs as a three piece acoustic outfit, they also play as a full band with House’s brother John playing bass and Bob Kennedy  playing the keyboards. The band intends to keep their reunions special by playing very infrequently. The holiday reunion in 2011 has since become an annual event and the band’s only guaranteed  gig each year.

Burns is currently transferring interviews, practice sessions, and live performances from cassette to digital format with the intent to release them in the near future. If that doesn’t float your boat, the boys have also discussed recording new material. Many fans are hoping that comes to fruition.

 

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Joe’s Phonographic Coorespondence with Ben via a 78 rpm Record – 1949

I acquired this 78 rpm record a couple of years ago at an estate sale. I was always curious as to what was on it, but I didn't have a turntable that would play 78s. Until now!

I acquired this 78 rpm record a couple of years ago at an estate sale. I was always curious as to what was on it, but I didn’t have a turntable that would play 78s. Until now! It’s a two-sided 78 rpm record recorded on a Presto acetate used in the Presto direct-to-acetate disk recorders.

I normally enjoy discovering rare musical recordings, but I especially love it when I come across a personal voice recording such as this one. It’s great to be able to peek into somebody’s past and get a small glimpse of their history.

After a bit of internet sleuthing based on information Joe gave on the recording, I was able to determine that he worked at the Mills Recording company, which is now at a different address and still in business today!

Mills

Mills Recording Co.. has been in business since 1939, and the original location mentioned on the record (161 N. Michigan Blvd.) served singers such as Andy Williams and Bing Crosby.

Joe made this recording for Ben after having a great night with him. I’ll let you listen to the record for the rest of the story. I know homosexuality has been around since the dawn of man, but it’s not common to come across a little nugget like this one from the 1940s.

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The “Big” studio Joe mentions at 301 E. Erie St with the Hammond and Pipe Organs was the location of The United Broadcasting Company, which became the United Film and Recording Studios in 1953.

Stay tuned for my next post. It’s an unrelated Christmas voice recording that was sent to Mr. Winter several years after this record was recorded.

Looking At Somebody Else’s Past Can Be “Reel” Fun: Viewing Old 8mm / Super 8 Home Movies

10678810_10152701384192792_190573864378975308_nI bought a like new Bell & Howell 8mm / Super 8 projector for $5.00 at a yard sale. I had no need for it, but at $5.00, I couldn’t resist. The woman I bought it from was in her 80s, and she got a good laugh when I asked her if it would play DVDs. I think she thought I was serious.

Initially, I thought I might try to make some money and sell it. Then I thought it might make for good eye candy on a shelf in my office. Then I had a brilliant idea. Why don’t I find some film and use it as a projector??? So that’s what I did. I went to eBay and made two purchases.

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My first purchase was a small reel of 8mm film. The seller had not previewed the film and there was no label, so it was a complete mystery. My second purchase was two seven-inch reels of Super 8 film that only had the years marked on the canisters. 1970-1971 & 1971-1972. So both purchases were a complete mystery, which I found very intriguing. I guess you never know what you could end up with. Hairy 1970s porn, satanic rituals, or maybe even footage of what happened to Jimmy Hoffa…

You have to wonder how reels end up separated from the people who filmed them. I suppose it’s either due to estate sales, or that people lack projectors and just end up disposing of this outdated format. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame these little bits of time are locked away for nobody to see.

So that’s why I decided that for now on when I come across 8mm/Super 8 film reels, I’m going to free them from their tin sarcophagi and post them on YouTube for all to see.

The first small reel I bought turned out to be some home movies from an older group of friends in Canada. Nothing crazy here except the part where they walk out of bar. Could they have had a few beverages? ***GASP*** At one point in the film, a sign for Gaspé, Quebec is seen with another sign in the background for Hotel Vibert’s. There is also some footage of Percé Rock. The film ends with a sign from the city of Brampton, Ontario.

The two seven-inch reels come from what appears to be a tight knit family. The thing that strikes me the most in these two reels is how happy this family is. And it doesn’t seem like an act for the camera… It seems genuine. The reels contain footage of some equestrian training, family gatherings, cigarettes, cocktail parties, dinners, goofing around, fishes caught at Pompano Beach, Florida, a slumber party, and much more. There is a scene where a couple starts making out at a party for about three seconds, but that’s about as salty as this film gets.

The children in these two films are now in their 40s and 50s and my hope is that they’ll somehow stumble across this video. It seems like something somebody in their family would really treasure.

While there is nothing overly exciting that occurs in these films, I think they’re a fascinating peek back into time. The clothing, the jewelry, the furniture, the cars, the smoking, the lack of smartphones, computers, video games, and flat screen TVs…

Clean Your Grooves, Man (An Inexpensive Way to Clean Your Records)

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Let me give you a little disclaimer before I get started. I’m not an expert on cleaning records. I’m just a guy that likes to dig through crates and find interesting records I can enjoy.

Many of the records I find in crates are filthy and need a good bath prior to going for a spin. Not only does this make the records sound better, it prevents further damage. When you play a dirty record, the needle grinds the dirt deeper into the grooves damaging them.

So what’s the best way to clean them? Well… If you’ve ever searched the web for the proper way to clean vinyl records, you know how frustrating it can be when one self proclaimed expert swears by something that another expert says will reduce a record to a pile of goo.

I’ve read about expensive cleaning solutions, record cleaning machines, wood glue, Pledge, Windex, Goo Gone, lighter fluid, and more!

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The one method I kept coming across that seemed quick, simple, inexpensive, and effective is the method I finally decided to try.

Mix the following in a spray bottle:

  • 5 parts distilled water
  • 1 part 91% isopropyl alcohol
  • 1 dime-sized squirt of Dawn liquid detergent in a spray bottle.

Spray the solution carefully on your record (avoiding the paper label) and then run a stiff bristled paintbrush across the record clockwise. Then do it again counterclockwise. When done, dry with a lint free microfiber cloth. Repeat if necessary.

Capture

I found this Beach Boys 45 on the bottom of the shelf at the thrift store with no protective cover. The B-side even had chewing gum stuck to the label! I’ve heard of bubblegum pop, but this is ridiculous! Anyhow, the point is that the record has seen its better days and I thought it would be a good example. Hear for yourself.

Before Cleaning

After Cleaning

Before Cleaning

After Cleaning

Keep in mind that some records are beyond rescue. In this example, I was able to dramatically improve the listening quality of the record, but in other cases the damage is just too great.

Perpetual Morning Earworm

Elvis CostelloI think everybody has fallen victim to an earworm at least once. You know… you hear a song (often one you don’t like) and you keep on hearing it all day long after the song has played. Well, I have an earworm, but it’s a tad different.

First thing every morning when my mind is still fairly clear, I hear the chorus of a song in my head. It’s as if I have my brain set on default to play the chorus when my body goes into sleep mode. It’s not just something I noticed recently. It’s been going on for years, but I can’t recall when it started. I became aware of it in the mid 90s. As far as earworms go, I hit the lottery because I actually like the song.

It’s the chorus of Elvis Costello’s “Temptation”

You’re just itching to break her secret laws
As you go from claws to clause
Give me temptation

It’s no secret that Elvis (Declan Patrick MacManus) based this song on Booker T. and the MG’s “Time is Tight”, so technically I have two great songs stuck in my head every morning.

So, is this unique only to me? Not just to have an earworm, but to have the same song stuck in my head every morning for years? Am I alone here?

I guess I  got off pretty lucky as far as earworms go. Could you imagine having this nugget stuck in your head for years?

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Oktoberfest Jesus

My latest creation: Oktoberfest Jesus! Ein Prosit!

This is the new statue in Ohio that replaced “Touchdown Jesus.” TDJ was destroyed in a lightening fire. Being serious for a moment, I think this Jesus statue looks much better than the last.

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Up Shit Creek

Even with a paddle, being up shit creek is kind of a drag.

Via someecards