This week in the Voice I spoke to the surviving members of the New York proto-punk outfit Jack Ruby—as well as Teenage Jesus and the Jerks/8-Eyed Spy no wave icon Lydia Lunch—and we sifted through the drug and alcohol haze of 1970s and ’80s New York City to find a few killer memories.
In these outtakes, Jack Ruby/James Chance and the Contortions bassist George Scott’s roommate Gary Reese tells the tale of how he vigorously searched for the band’s long-lost demos and rehearsal tapes, which were ultimately groomed for release on ugEXPLODE, run by Brooklyn’s own terrorist musician Weasel Walter. (In early 2012, Jack Ruby will also be issued on wax via Feeding Tube Records.) Also, Reese, Lunch and surviving Jack Ruby members Chris Gray, Randy Cohen and Robbie Hall share memories of the late Scott and Boris Policeband.
Gary Reese: A year after George passed away in 1981, I got together with his brother to go through his record collection. The idea was to decide what to keep and what to sell. Among the possessions was a fake wooden vinyl tape box that held approximately 24 cassettes, the contents being homemade mix tapes, a tape that [had] “Ideas” [written on it] and a rehearsal tape recorded over some band’s promo tape from Columbia. We listened to it a bit. It was noisy and distorted and provided a chuckle. We moved on to sorting records and I made a mental note to revisit that tape sometime later, knowing it was important. Eventually, I lost track of George’s brother. Even with the Internet, I wasn’t able to locate him. That changed when I moved back to Florida in 2001 when somewhere along the line I found him. We talked occasionally about liquidating the rest of George’s record collection but nothing ever came of it.
Robbie Hall: Gary got in touch with me a year ago, called me up, and said “Are you Robbie Hall, the lead singer in Jack Ruby?” So we started a correspondence. Gary sent me some pictures he got from George’s old girlfriend Leslie [Gaulin] and some of the music. But as we were doing this, I became aware there seemed to be some misinformation about the band. No one seemed to be aware that the band had started in 1973, and that Chris [Gray], Randy [Cohen], Boris [Policeband] and I had done demos before George joined the band.
Reese: During all this time, the whereabouts of Jack Ruby members was a mystery. I knew the lead singer was Robby but I had no last name. Chris Gray, or was it Chris Grey? With that name, the Internet was no help in finding him. The drummer was a mystery too. I had Googled the daylights out of all things Jack Ruby. The break came when Weasel Walter sent me the blog of Robin Hall—finally a legal and last name. I used an Internet people search and started calling “Robin Hall”s in Brooklyn. I finally hit pay dirt and left a cryptic message with one of the Robin Halls. I said “If you are the lead singer for the band Jack Ruby, I have a rehearsal tape. Call me.” Then I heard back and filled him in.
Hall: There was some [Jack Ruby] interest on the Internet. Then Weasel Walter emailed me last summer and said, “I want to put out a CD with the four demos and four songs from the ’77 rehearsal tape.” That’s where it started. I had the No Wave book [written by Marc Masters]. Afterwards, I went back and looked at it and [Weasel] had written the forward. But I didn’t know who Weasel was at the time. Later, it turned out Thurston Moore was really interested in Jack Ruby, too.
Randy Cohen: What if music you did 35 years ago actually came out and people could hear it? It just seems odd and unexpected—in a great way—and really delightful. I think everyone involved in it had long since put it in the past that none of us thought it would ever see the light of day. It’s a lesson for the kids: if you wait long enough and you work hard, all your dreams will come true although it will be way too late.
Chris Gray: What Randy and I wanted was Jack Ruby to be like an “art-punk Steely Dan.” Both of us thought Steely Dan was the coolest band because they never toured and nobody seemed to care. They just put out a record every year, sold a gazillion copies, stayed home and counted their money.
Reese: Around 2008, I digitized some of my own tapes. Then I started to think about getting a hold of the Jack Ruby tape. Along the way, Thurston [Moore] published his No Wave book with Byron Coley. I was thrilled to see the mention from Lydia of Jack Ruby, but I was also struck by the fact that no one could really say exactly what they sounded like or had heard them.
By this time I had located George’s brother in the next town. I started a pilgrimage that lasted nearly two years. At least once a month, I drove 14 miles each way to his workplace to grovel for him to find the tape. For nearly two years, I doggedly pursued access to the tape. When he realized the possible importance of the tape, he also admitted he didn’t know where it was. He thought his wife might have tossed it in their divorce proceedings. Eventually I got a hold of it, and together with a friend, we converted it to a WAV format so we could turn that into a CD-R. I had been in touch with Weasel giving him reports on my progress. I finally sent it to Weasel and he cleaned it up.
Hall: The first demo we did was “Hit and Run,” when Boris was in the band. Boris was a viola player and a conceptual artist in his own right. We thought the song Boris had written called “Mayonnaise is Made of Eggs” was lost. Boris had a disagreement with us and left before we did the Epic demo. My memory was that Boris made us wipe out any copy of “Mayonnaise.” But Randy’s mother, who lives in Pennsylvania, had someone go through her garage and found this box of tapes that Randy had left over from the 70’s and it had the original master of that song. Ted Lee, who runs Feeding Tube Records, is trying to resurrect those tapes.
Lydia Lunch: My friendship with George Scott started through Chris Gray; one of them working at Bleecker Bob’s and going to a rehearsal. Robbie Hall was kinda angel-faced at the time, [and] backed up by this almost alien skeletor playing the guitar making these horrendous yet absolutely fantastic sounds and George Scott working [the bass] with the eyes of a serial killer.
Hall: I would see Boris at the Mudd Club and stuff. He would come over to my apartment. There’d be a knock on the door, and there would be Boris. He’d sit down, keep his sunglasses and his black coat on. He would just flip the channels on the TV over and over. Boris was a great, sweet guy.
Gray: I collected all records of all kinds and the way I met George was at Village Oldies [on Bleecker and Sullivan], where I shopped and where he worked. They were open ’til 5 a.m. and I’d bring a couple of six-packs with me. George and I would stand there and drink beer, I’d go through my list, he’d play me stuff and talk about music. At that point, I was still working at a record store in Flatbush and living in Brooklyn. When I left that job and moved back in the city George said, “Why don’t you move into my place?”
George and his girlfriend lived on Second Street, around the corner from CBGB. I then just sorta moved in and crashed there. Later on, I asked George if he played any instruments because this guy had tastes so similar to us and I was thinking of him for Jack Ruby. George said “No, I never played an instrument and know nothing about music.” I told George “I have a bass I bought when Randy and I were in Pennsylvania. If I gave you this bass and taught you how to play it, would you consider being in a band with me?” George said “I guess” and I taught him to play bass from scratch.
Lunch: For Weasel Walter—what a hero, as he’s always been of no wave and the completely underground. That this CD is 30 years and more in the making and that Weasel was able to dig it out of whatever hole it was buried in is amazing.
Jack Ruby is out now on ugEXPLODE Records.