By 1983, the Freelance Vandals, after the departure of keyboardist Jack Finch and guitarist/sax/vocalist Chuck Ciany, had regrouped with the addition of two new members: Tommy Yamasaki (Tenor & Soprano Sax) and Al Speed (Keyboards). The remaining regular members included Billy "The Mountain" Cairns (Drums/Vocals), "Diamond Ray Finch (Lead Guitar/Vocals), Mike Adams (Bass/Vocals) and Johnny Pierre (Lead Vocals/Rhythm Guitar).
Besides the change in membership, the band's music began to change as well. Besides hammering out straight ahead rock & roll tunes, the Freelance Vandals added some jump swing material from the 40's and 50's to their repertoire. This came about due a number of things; I had recently discovered the music of Louis Jordan, Slim Gaillard and Louis Prima and started to talk their music up with the guys in the band. With the addition of Tommy Yamasaki, a brilliant jazz sax player, working up some of that jump swing material would feature Tommy's unique talents. Ironically, a little later on in the 90's there was a big jump swing revival that is still going strong today.
Unfortunately, some of the tracks that were on the original vinyl album version didn't make the final cut for this new version of the album. "Shirley" and "Chariot" both had to be scrapped due to degradation of the mastered tapes. However, in the course of working on this project, I found some great outtakes. that have been included in the new version of the album; "Harlem Nocturne", "Montego Bay" and "Dreaming of the Snake".
The opening track on this new version of Yer Money or Yer Ears is "Harlem Nocturne", a classic jazz tune written by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers back in 1939. In the last year of the Freelance Vandals regular performance schedule, we used to open the 2nd set with this tune. This tune always started the last set of the night off with a taste of Tommy Yamasaki's saxophone magic.
Part of the original vinyl release of the album
was an insert that featured these band member profiles:
After opening the 2nd set with "Harlem Nocturne", we would always jump right into "Beat Generation"; one of our originals written by "Diamond" Ray Finch and myself. The song grew out of my love for the writings of my all-time favorite novelst, Jack Kerouac. At the time, I had written an entire song cycle about Kerouac but "Beat Generation" was the only song that was ever released from that particular project. Billy Cairns, our magical drummer, delivers a standout performance on this track.
On the other side of the vinyl album's profiles insert
were the printed lyrics to every song on the album
Track 3 on the album is one of the band's most popular original tunes, "Roll That Rock". This is a tune I wrote with "Diamond" Ray. It's pretty much a meat & potatoes rock & roll tune. However, the lyrics were inspired by the Greek myth about Sisyphus, the king of Corinth who was punished by having to repeatedly to roll a huge stone up a hill only to have it roll down again as soon as he had brought it to the summit. The punishment of Sisyphus was meant to last for eternity. I've always got inspiration for my songs from a wide variety of literary works. This is one of the stranger examples of that process.
Track 4 is a song I wrote with my ol' college buddy, Chuck Ciany. It's called "Songs From The Suburbs"; a tune about life in suburbia. I wrote the lyrics for the song shortly after moving to Long Island back in 1976. Some early Freelance Vandals history: back in the early 70's, Ray, Chuck and myself were students at the University of Dayton and we eventually ended up forming a band with another friend, Jim McCutcheon. We were a pretty popular act on the campus coffeehouse circuit back then! My favorite lines from the song are: "We get in the car and drive to Jones beach, we get our egg salad at the local deli".
Track 5 is "Montego Bay"; a cover tune that we started playing the last six months that the band was together. The tune, performed by Bobby Bloom, was a Top 19 AM radio hit in 1970 and was written by Jeff Barry and Bobby Bloom. I really like this recording simply because the band sounds like they're having a ball playing this tune. The song is sort of an anomaly as most of our cover tunes rarely featured any Top Ten songs. We usually preferred covering tunes that fell within the straight ahead rock & roll genre.
Jack Finch on the keyboards
Track 6 is (gasp!) a sweet little love ballad called "Carry My Love". Jack and Ray Finch came up with the music and I was the lyricist on this one. I always enjoyed working up new songs with Jack and Ray; those tunes usually were more challenging to me as a lyricist. Some of the other songs the three of us wrote included such popular Freelance Vandals songs as "Shirley", "New York Girl", "Last Call For Alcohol", "Dagger Man", "Lightning Rod" and "Shock Rock".
The lyrics, which were inspired by my (future) wife, Sweet Loretta, were an affirmation of our relationship. We were married several months after the release of the live album back in 1984. Speaking of weddings, "Carry My Love" has had an interesting history; it was played at the wedding of our longtime Freelance Vandals soundman, Rich Keeler, and it was also performed at the wedding of my good friend Jim Treutlein and his wife Mary. Flash forward to 2018: Jim Treutlein performed the song at my daughter's wedding this past October! I've always believed that songs have lives of their own...this tune might be a good example of that.
Track 7 is "Hot Barbecue"; a tune I wrote a couple of months before we recorded the live album. It's a jump blues type of song that was always fun to play. On this recording, Billy drives the band forward with his sharp drum work that raised the band's energy level to a breaking point. In my post-Freelance Vandals music career, I still sing this song on a regular basis when I do shows with the Biscuit Kings. Hey! Songs do indeed have a life of their own!
Also, one of my favorite parts of "Hot Barbecue" is Al Speed's saloon ricky-tick piano solo during the bridge!
"Diamond" Ray doing the Barnyard Boogie
Track 8 is "Barnyard Boogie", a cover of one of my favorite Louis Jordan tunes. I was always on the lookout for songs that our lead guitarist, "Diamond" Ray Finch could sing and this one seemed perfect for his vocal style. Ray's jocular vocal delivery on "Barnyard Boogie" really captured the mood of the tune. Another element that makes this tune work is the interplay between Ray's lead guitar riffs and the horn parts being played. At times, it sounds like a Big Band from the 40's.
Another thing I love about this recording of "Barnyard Boogie" is that my main man, Billy "the Mountain" Cairns, plays a drum solo that reminds me of Gene Krupa's work!
Here's a shot of Billy & I minutes after coming off stage
at the end of the last set of the live album recording
Track number 9 is a song inspired by the late great Jim Morrison, the infamoius lead singer of The Doors. This song was originally part of a song cycle I had come up with that was to be titled "Heroes & Villains"; the idea was feature musical profiles of folks like Jim Morrison, Jack Kerouac, Babe Ruth, Toulouse Lautrec and other historical figures. Ray ended up helping me finish the music for the tune and the band started playing it in the final months of the band's existence.
Once again, the Freelance Vandals rhythm section, Billy Cairns on drums and Mike Adams on bass, really drove the band to new heights on "Dreaming of the Snake".
Also, kudos to Al Speed for his tasty Ray Manzarek-like keyboard solo!
Track 10 is the immortal Freelance Vandals song, "Shock Rock". The song was originally recorded by an early version of the Freelance Vandals called Mama's Boys back in 1975 at a small studio in Brooklyn. As I recall, the groove that Jack and Ray came up with for the tune was somewhat inspired by "Your Mama Don't Dance", a FM radio staple by Loggins & Messina. Somewhere during the process of crafting the song, my lyrics ended up being about a futuristic world where a new dance craze was called the Shock Rock and ii involved folks sticking their fingers in electric sockets. "Shock me! Rock me!"
Track 11 is a song called "Box Lunch"; it's a tune that celebrates lunchtime in a high school cafeteria. Other interpretations of the song's meaning have been put forth over the years. The jury is still out on that one. (wink wink....nudge nudge...say no more!) Ray & I wrote this one back in 1977 and it became a staple of the band's live show all the way up to the recording of the live album.
The final track on the live album is Mr. Quasimodo, a song about the Hunchback of Notre Dame that was part of my afore-mentioned "Heroes & Villains" project. Ray & I banged this one out one crazy afternoon at the old Vandals House on the bay in Freeport, NY. The song was one of those tunes that seem to write themselves. It took about 15 minutes...biff! bang! boom! song done! This version is played really fast (Billy must have been listening to the Ramones just before we went on to do the set!)
The Helpless Bovines
Here's an interesting footnote on Mr. Quasimodo: In 1989, I had formed a band with Billy Cairns, Mike Adams and a fella named Tommy Martin. At some point during our early rehearsals we all decided to create a rock opera called "Mr. Quasimodo" which was based on the Freelance Vandals song with the same title. We came up with around 15 songs that had a narrative quality to them. It was an interesting project and we performed the entire rock opera only twice and then broke up. After the last performance of the rock opera, I happened to overhear a member of the audience say, "What's next? Brigadoon?!"
The version of "Mr. Quasimodo" that closes out the album pretty much recreates how we would end our shows around this time. After leaving the stage, we would hear the crowd begin the vandal chant. To all of the rabid Freelance Vandals fans out there: thanks so much for your support over the years!
Much like the situation with "Hot Barbecue", I still play "Mr. Quasimodo" whenever I'm doing a show with The Biscuit Kings. It always brings back a host of memories of my days with the Freelance Vandals. Especially those memories that are from the heady times when we recorded a live album called Yer Money or Yer Ears.
Shortly after the release of the vinyl live album, we received a nice review in none other than Creem Magazine; which just happened to be my favorite rock & roll magazine! Huzzah!