Deadwyres, Briefly


In the winter of 1973, a droll, gnomish seventeen-year-old stopped his car at a freeway ramp near Detroit's Wayne State University to pick up a hitch-hiker, me. He didn't know me, I didn't know him. I was simply a man out in the cold.  The good-hearted kid who stopped to give me a lift was teenage Joel Bacow, who years later was to produce DeadwyreS and also some artists of which you've actually heard.  (Incidentally, among the Dutch a "gnome" is a financial heavy-hitter.)

My young 1973 rescuer was driving an old Volkswagen bug. The car's interior reeked of leaking exhaust, but we kept its windows up due to the elements.  We talked about music, and Joel whipped out a harmonica and riffed as he weaved through rush-hour traffic--to show me that he really could play.  It further came out that he owned the tiniest music store in Creation, The Hole in the Wall--once a hat-check counter at the Belcrest Hotel.

17-year-old Joel had a guitar shop across the street from the university's Music Department--where I took my classes. I wasn't much of a music student, but I dreamt of writing popular songs.  Joel had some musical aspirations too, and a winning way with people. He was so funny and forthcoming that by the end of my hitched '73 ride, he had offered me a job at his Hole in the Wall, where I played guitar and worked on songs in free moments. 

Predictably, the exhaust from his leaking VW muffler weakened his immune system.  He got sick with an illness that kept him down a long time.  He trusted me to run his world's-smallest-guitar-shop, and by the time he recovered, it had pretty much disappeared altogether.  I believe that Joel blames me for the closing of his Hole in the Wall, and I understand any animosity he still may  harbor. He had a good thing going which I ran badly. 

He once showed me a tiny plastic box meant to contain guitar picks,and told me this was all that remained of his guitar shop.  It was then that I began intuitively to feel that my relationship with him could easily evolve into a drawn-out species of revenge, characterized by a sardonic ambiguity understood by only a handful of people, and appreciated by even fewer.

The demise of The Hole marked an increase in our musical collaboration. We formed "The Wrestlers," playing at bars like the Old Miami and Bookies, where patrons expressed their opinions by throwing glasses and empty beer bottles.  Objects whizzing by our heads discouraged that venture somewhat, so we concentrated on studio work, working with artists who never got signed. However, I did get to meet such industry legends as Nat Tarnapol, Gary Katz, and a blind blues singer who never did figure out who had picked him up from a street corner, taken him into a studio, and recorded him.  
When Joel got his break and signed the group Seven Below Zero with Westbound Records, our relationship as coproducers came an abrupt end. Still, we continued to play together with the same results. It wasn't until eye-candy Colleen Collins sweetened up our live gigs with good looks, and brought to our original recordings a different quality.  We renamed ourselves the Leisure Crowd.  

On the strength of his Seven Below Zero acquisition, Joel got us signed with Detroit producer Don Davis, who would occasionally stick his head into the studio, shake his head in utter confusion, and quickly withdraw.  Nonetheless, we were beginning to sound like something--what, I'm not sure--but something.  When the contract with Don Davis expired, I could not relinquish vanity and settle into a job like any normal person, but continued writing, and writing, and writing--most of it crap.

I continued to write material for the Leisure Crowd, but now had to keep the melodic range within a 4 - 6 note range, for as striking as she was, Colleen never wanted to be the lead singer.  She was an exceptional multi-instrumentalist, yet made to sing every song.  In 1990 or thereabouts, Joel launched she and I on our final venture, still nominally the Leisure Crowd.  It was a name I grew to detest, and with absolutely no authority, renamed it--the Dwyers, then the Dead Dwyers (as prospects dimmed) and finally, DeadwyreS, with a capital letter at the end just like the zookS. 

By this time, Joel's involvement in the project was limited to the occasional critical listen, but mainly playing late-night pranks on me, like sneaking in and triggering the alarms to watch my reaction, or turning off power to the studio to hear me groping around in the dark.

Still, he had set me up in a small work-bench area of the original 54 Sound, equipped with a Tascam 8-track, Louis Resto's old Emulator, a sampler, DX synth and drum-box. My writing was improving, and I engineered Colleen Collin's demo vocals in the work-bench studio, with no isolation booth. The room, just about the same dimensions as the Hole in the Wall, was too claustrophobic to shut the door, and located about 36 inches away from the building's only bathroom, and adjcent to the busy back door.  Nobody used the front door. 

You can still hear in her tracks various knocks and squeaking hinges, snatches of conversations, and bleed galore from the original scratch tracks, because she sang using the work-bench speakers as her monitor.  These demo vocals were used on most of the final product--tuned-up electronically twenty years after the fact, and arranged so as to mask a lot of the noise.  Careful listeners may detect an art of artlessness similar to many quirky acts featuring girl singers on the market today. Maybe Joel was ahead of his time.

The songs on ReverbNation were written and recorded as early as 1983 ("Luv Drums") and as recently as 1997 ("As You Say"). In 2005, multi-track tapes were transferred to digital format, original music stripped away, and Colleen's vocals set to different music.  Joel had grown sufficiently influential to call in other musicians--Louis Resto and John Quigley foremost among them--to remix the songs with textures geared to film, advertising, and special projects. I was banned from sessions in Fall of  2005.  As far as I know, the remixed tracks were never used.  I suspect they never will be, but you can hear some of them here!.

That's the history behind DeadwyreS as viewed retrospectively by an embittered old crank.  But you can judge for yourself, for songs streaming and downloadable are offered here for free.

The occurrence on a freeway ramp happened some forty-four years ago. Over the intervening years, I became the group's cur, still getting my commupence and trying to catch a ride, although I no longer have any idea where I am bound, other than down, down, down the dark ladder, as Joni Mitchell wrote.  

Forty years after the humanity Joel Bacow showed by picking me up at that freeway ramp in Detroit, winter is setting in again. Like an uncle of mine who was called but unchosen, I will probably drop dead along some road, to the surprise of nobody.  But I am still writing songs, and they are getting better.

Joel Bacow has become Joel Martin, an understated legend in the music publishing industry. I hope he enjoys his great family life and good income.  On those rare occasions we meet, he's still the same charismatic fellow.  No doubt he still plays the blues harp. The man can blow.  But these days he publishes American musical giants, which this history will refrain from naming--but he's a leader in millennial music publishing.

Colleen Collins didn't make it as big as her talent deserves, but she did produce the finest offspring imaginable--all of them top-ten hits.  She never really warmed to pop music, always preferring demanding piano pieces like Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude," Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", and the rags of WC Handy. She changed her name too, for a few decades, but she's Colleen Collins again. I'm sure she still plays very well.

In April of 2014, all three DeadwyreS--Colleen, Joel, and me--were brought together in the same room for the first time in ten years, at a much-beloved son's wedding. Being around them both felt better than I thought it would.