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Posted August 3, 2022 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Underappreciated 1990 California Speedbag Album Gets Second Life on Vinyl

California Speedbag
California Speedbag

Though California Speedbag guitarist and singer-songwriter Gary Lupico passed away in 2004, family, friends and fans have tried for several years to get the alt-country band’s lost album Little Guns, which originally was only available on cassette, reissued and (hopefully) rediscovered by a new generation of fans.

Finally, a remastered version of the underappreciated album is coming out on vinyl.

Little Guns was originally released in 1990 and the Cleveland band (musicians Jeff Benik, Brian Cox, Gary Lupico, Dan Morris, Russell Sherman, Jr.) had largely moved on to other projects by the time Clint Holley popped the cassette in his tape deck. Still, these working-class songs of love, longing, loneliness and liquor won them an ardent new fan. That’s exactly what Holley, a vinyl mastering engineer and owner of Well Made Music and The Earnest Tube, hopes will happen when people listen the 2022 ten-song vinyl reissue.

Holley spearheaded this effort. “I really respect Gary Lupico’s writing,” says Holley in a press release. “These songs still resonate today and they deserve the opportunity to find an audience.” 

The recording quality also holds up. Digging through some boxes, bass player Russell Sherman unearthed the original multi-track tapes—along with two previously unreleased songs (“It Hurts So Bad” and “Truth Ain’t Never Had a Heart”).

“We weren’t great recordkeepers and we didn’t keep mementos, so it was a surprise to find I had the Mars Recording originals,” says Sherman, noting that a cassette format was all the band could afford at the time. Holley and Sherman took the tapes to to Studio G Grammy nominated producer and former Pere Ubu bass player Tony Maimone to be remixed. No stranger to the Cleveland music scene, the former Pere Ubu bass player was a longtime friend of band.

“Tony knew us well and was as close to all of this as anyone, so it was a no-brainer to ask him to help,” explains Sherman. “The music sounds great and it’s a joy to have these songs out there like this.” 

Cindy Barber, who has written about, booked and promoted live music in Northeast Ohio for decades, loved California Speedbag’s blue-collar sound from day one and has always believed its potential to connect more broadly.

“These guys had been in punk bands like Kneecappers, Dr. Bloodmoney and St. Jayne, and their shows often were wild, kickass parties where you danced to exhaustion and drank to excess,” she recalls. “But Gary was also a great guitar player and a diehard fan of classic country who was at times introspective, generous and genuinely hysterical, and you can hear all of that in these songs. I mean, ‘Let’s Get Drunk and Talk About It’ basically was the story of his life; sessions of debate about life’s consequences were something he loved.” 

Holley believes that complexity, tinged with humor and despair, keeps the songs relevant.

“California Speedbag is one of the most under-appreciated Cleveland bands,” says Holley. “When it comes to looking back at Northeast Ohio music history, there’s a lot of focus on punk rock, but these guys were rebels who were ahead of the curve on transferring those sensibilities to country music.”

That individuality is part of why Holley is excited the reissue was selected for Gotta Groove Recording’s OH!Wax series and a limited number of the records will come out as artistic custom pressings from Wax Mage Recordings. 

Sherman acknowledges that California Speedbag was definitely something different for Cleveland in early 1990s.

“Country music shaped us from the start, but we didn’t realize how different from country music we were,” he recalls. “We pretty much played any club, gallery bar or event that would have us in the early days.” 

Although Speedbag disbanded briefly in mid-1990s, they reunited to record and to play (with drummer Rich Ellis) before Lupico’s death in 2004. Sherman continues to be part of the band today along with GS Harper (vox/guitar), Rich Ellis (drums), Dan Morris (pedal steel) and Brian Cox (guitar). In fact, California Speedbag’s next performance is the Little Guns Record Release Party on Friday, Aug. 5, at Beachland Ballroom (15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland, OH 44110).

“All of us are so proud we can keep playing these songs,” says Sherman, acknowledging Lupico—a friend he knew since grade school — remains the driving force behind the music, saying, “It’s a pleasure to continue his legacy.” 

So what would Lupico think about all the Cleveland connections and collaboration it took to get Little Guns remixed, remastered and reissued on vinyl more than 30 years since its cassette debut? “

He wasn’t overly ambitious and he wouldn’t have any expectations,” says Barber. “But he would love that someone related his music. 

“Gary would say, ‘These motherfuckers, what are they doing?’” jokes Sherman. “He was always driven to get his songs out there and after he heard how good it sounded, I am sure he would have been super supportive.” 

Pressed at Cleveland-based Gotta Groove, Little Guns on translucent blue vinyl will be available for purchase beginning Friday, August 5 at generalprosperityco.com/shop and in-person at a Beachland Ballroom Little Guns Release Party. Limited Wax Mage editions will also be available on that day. Collectors interested in the hand poured, custom-made designs are advised to signup for a purchase at theearnesttube.com/contact/


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.