PART II: Learning How Not To…
Something odd was happening in the northwest suburbs.
As the decade turned, I was still exploring rock-based heavy improvisation with Brad and Scot in No Apology. Unbeknownst to us, just down the block, Thymme Jones was involved in his own non-commercial sound adventures along with fellow conspirators Jim Drummond, Mike Greenlees and Kevin Njaastad in what was to quickly become the first collective to be called Cheer-Accident.
Fifteen miles east, Jef Bek was orchestrating his own semi-improvisatory happenings in a loose conglomeration known as the Da Plain Ensemble which featured multi-instrumentalist Brian Imig among others. At the same time he was also piecing together a prog-rock fusion band with guitarist Mark Steurtz. All he needed was a bassist.
When I answered his ad on a very cold night in January of 1982, I had no inkling of how much this one audition would change my life.
“Obviously”, as the trio was called, played proggy cover tunes with a healthy dose of
improvisation between. Soon others stopped by to participate, including Jef’s friend
Ross Feller who played sax and reeds. Not long after, Ross brought along a trumpet
and synth player he had met at NIU.
His name was Thymme Jones. As promising
as this should have been, Obviously lacked an overall direction and soon fell by the wayside. I returned to an uncertain future back home as Jef brought Ross and
Thymme into the Ensemble – who along with Brian and bassist Terry Killips were somewhat capriciously re-christened Dot Dot Dot during a rehearsal in Lombard.
On 23 July, 1982 Dot Dot Dot played their first and only gig as a quintet at Chicago Filmmakers. The music that night was heavy on improvisation and debuted a number of Dot standards including “Pie Invalid“, “Barbarous Day” and the rhythmically infectious “Jetta“. Something clicked. And even though Brian and Terry departed soon after, the remaining trio decided to carry on, and asked if I would be interested in filling in. The first quartet was now complete.
Combining our varied influences from the worlds of rock, jazz and the avant garde, we performed throughout Chicagoland in the early 80′s making multiple appearances at the prestigious New Music Chicago Spring Festivals, Chicago Filmmakers and the American Conservatory Of Music. While improvisation remained a strong element of the live show, many new structured pieces were also added including “Crumbs“, “Altruistic Ball Front” and the hooky Terry Riley-ish “Black Zoo“. We had also added one of Thymme’s Cheer-Accident compositions, the deceptively simple “Fluffy The Ostrich And Lily The Emu“, which could be – and often was – played ad infinitum. Oddly enough, this soon became a live favorite and was a conceptual predecessor to C-A’s “Filet Of Nod“.
Along the way, we also teamed up with Schaumburg-based sound designer and
noise-impresario Dan Burke and preformed our first and only fully dedicated gig as Illusion Of Safety at the Cubby Bear. (30 years, as many releases, and multiple personnel
changes later, Dan and IOS are still a major force in the Chicago and international
underground industrial noise scene and will be opening the Dot Dot Dot reunion show
in July of 2012.)
Dot Dot Dot continued to perform throughout 1983 and after some initial studio
recordings – some with IOS and poet Chris Stanley – the band entered its next phase
as Ross left to pursue an academic career. Ross was replaced by Scot Ashley and the second quartet was born.
When Ross left, we were already slated to record Thymme’s “And Then You Realize You haven’t Left Yet“, and my own “War War Morgan“.
Scot quickly transposed the sax parts to guitar and we headed off to Evanston to an oddly partitioned mansion to record our first single with engineer John Adair. (Both singles featured unusual artwork created by Vertigo Polka – who would reappear decades later to design Cheer-Accident’s “No Ifs, Ands or Dogs”.)
More shows followed. During one particularly memorable string of shows at Crosscurrents, we had the unique opportunity to work alongside a Second City workshop being led by the legendary Del Close. Del, who had an endless supply of harrowing personal recollections that would leave Hunter S. Thompson aghast, described Dot Dot Dot as a “sonic lobotomy”. You can’t buy praise like that! (It was also at one of these shows that I met a talented young vocalist named Jane Bouzek, who would join me later in Asa Nisi.)
For the next single, Scot took center stage with a reworking of his own “Just” (which
we had played previously in No Apology), along with Jef’s brooding atmospheric, yet
funky “Not To Say” – a rare Dot Dot Dot piece to feature lead vocals. At the time, Scot
had also been playing in a techno-pop band named Poet, which was fronted by Steve
Mullen and headquartered out of the infamous Plank Road Studio in Naperville.
Infamous if you ever attended a “gathering” there – extra points if you can remember it.
Poet’s bassist and in-house producer/engineer was the perpetually caffeinated Steve
Jacula – a man who eschewed sleep and always kept a freezer-chilled bottle of vodka at the ready. On the sidelines, a quiet, stocky, blonde-haired man named Phil handled the band’s live sound – but more on him later. Scot recommended Steve for the job – so in late 1984 we entered Solid Sound Studio for the first time (and the last time as Dot Dot Dot) with Steve at the board. The results were nothing short of spectacular and remained a personal triumph for Steve until his dying day. A few years later, he would be our first choice for the first Cheer album – but it was not to be.
Again, a great deal of new material was forthcoming, including the fusiony “Diet Of Worms” (which also had its origins in No Apology), Jef’s odd little keyboard based
piece, “not 3” and the cacophonous “Grown Men“. But the band dynamic was
becoming strained as compositional and personal regimens began to clash. We
briefly added a violinist, Janine Newfield, with only lukewarm results. In the end, we
played our last show at Joz (the ‘upstairs’ at Metro) to a packed house. We had made
it. And we were done. Shortly after, Scot departed for the British Isles to ultimately
record with Sting producer Pete Smith for an as of yet unreleased album project that featured members of Reflex as well as King Crimson’s Mel Collins.
Yet, the band wasn’t entirely dead. In a final burst of creativity, the three of us,
along with guitarist Jeff Libersher (yet another acquaintance from NIU) got together in late 1986 to give it one more shot. But the new material was very different from what we had been playing – now generally comprised of big dissonant guitar riffs, distorted bass and even opposing dual drum parts from both Thymme and Jef. Any trace of jazz was now a distant memory. And as Jef’s participation became increasingly sporadic, Thymme, Jeff and I forged ahead. We were definitely on to something – and it wasn’t Dot Dot Dot…
Dot Dot Dot was:
Jef BEK – drums, percussion, vocals, keyboards & acoustic guitar (1982-86)
ross FELLER – saxes & woodwinds, vocals (1982-83)
brian IMIG – guitar, keyboards & percussion (1982)
thymme JONES – keyboards, trumpet, drums & percussion (1982-86)
terry KILLIPS – bass (1982)
chris BLOCK – bass, acoustic guitar, vocals & pedals (1982-86)
scot ASHLEY – guitars (1984-85)
janine NEWFIELD – violin (1985)
jeff LIBERSHER – guitar (1986)
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