Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

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RevMatt
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Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by RevMatt »

Drive By Truckers are certainly not the first band to feature the "Three Guitar Attack". Different bands through the decades have used three guitars. But what if I were to tell you about an underground band from the 1980's who not only featured a three guitar attack but sometimes would expand that to a four or even five guitar attack? That they toured up and down the coast in a van, playing psychedelic/garage/punk freakout music to whatever club, house party or biker bar that would have them. That they released 15 albums in the past thirty years. That they were long haired, bearded hippies playing in an era and scene when that was just about the most uncool thing an indie band could be. That they really didn't give a crap what you thought, they would wave their freak flag high. That on any given night they might just play a 45 minute long version of some long lost sixties garage classic. That they anticipated the entire jam band movement by at least a decade. That this band never compromised, even when the suits at the major label threatened to give them the boot. That Eric Stumpo is probably the greatest guitarist you've never heard of. Who are these psychedelic legends? Boys and girls, turn off your mind, relax and float down stream. And for those of you too square to get it, you better run, you better hide, you better cut yourself another piece of pie. Let me introduce to you Plan 9.

Introduction]
My introduction to Plan 9 came one afternoon in 1984 when I showed up at my guitarist's house to load our gear into the car for a show that evening. When I went into the kitchen there was this bear of a man sitting at the table. He had hair halfway down his back and a full beard, looking totally badass. I thought for a minute that our manager might have borrowed money from a loan shark to pay our studio time and this giant biker was here to collect. My fears were assuged as he introduced himself as Eric Stumpo from Plan 9 and handed me a copy of the album Dealing With The Dead. He told us that he really like our single and while driving through NJ he saw the exit for our town on the Garden State Parkway and decided to look us up. Little did I know that day would mark the beginning of a 25 year plus run where Plan 9 would become one of my all-time favorite bands and stay in heavy rotation on my turntable.

Plan 9 is a psychedelic commune from Rhode Island. During their heyday in the 1980's they toured extensively as an eight or nine piece band with anywhere between 3 and 5 guitars. They are led by guitar guru Eric Stumpo, a man with a Roky Erickson snarl whose encyclopedic knowledge of 60's garage/punk/psychedelia is legendary. With a 15 album discography, Plan 9 has been following their collective muse since 1979, when they first burst onto the east coast's paisley underground.

I would say that there are three characteristics to Plan 9's music. The first is an almost scholarly approach to the Pebbles/Nuggets era of American garage/punk/psychedelic music. Eric Stumpo and Debora DeMarco approach that music with the same reverence American and British artists like Eric Clapton approached the music of the Mississippi Delta. Not only do they know the complete history of bands most of us have never heard of, but they expand upon that music the same way Clapton and Page expanded upon the music of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Son House. The second characteristic of Plan 9 is the layering of anywhere between three and five guitars and the interweaving of Deborah DeMarco's swirling organ lines. The band solos as an ensemble and the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Guitar solos are not intended to draw attention to the virtuousity of the player, but the the overall trancelike groove that brings the listeners mind to the outter limits of psychedelia. The third characteristic is the solid, energetic bottom groove provided by bassist John Florence. John was barely taller than the Fender bass slung across his hips and, legend has it, was still in high school during the early years of the band. But John Florence was definately one of the best bass players of the entire 1980's US indie rock underground. While most fans of Plan 9 give props to Eric's guitar and Debora's organ playing, John Florence is the person who held down the rhythm section as the band went through a number of different drummers.

During the early to mid-1980's there was a thriving psychedelic scene in the northeastern United States. Boston gave us The Prime Movers and The Lyres. New York was home to bands like The Fleshtones, The Fuzztones and The Vipers. The manicured suburbs of New Jersey spawned The Smithereens, The Db's and Mod Fun. Most of the psychedelic bands of the northeast combined the punk ethos with pop sensibilities. The songs were raw, catchy and rarely broke the three minute mark. Stylisticly the bands were clean shaven, had medium length hair and dressed like they were part of the swinging London of Austin Powers' heyday. Plan 9 was different. They were hippies who waved their freak flags proudly. They were one of the few bands in that scene where the males sported super long hair and beards. Live, it wasn't unusual for their extended jams to pass the ten minute mark. This was super radical in the early to mid-eighties and the complete opposite of what most bands were doing to gain "indie cred." Plan 9 was heavy and trancelike. At their best their jams sounded like a cross between "In a Gadda DaVida" and Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold." The band recorded most of their records at Wallingford, Connecticut's legendary Trod Nossel studios, the studio where much of the Connecticut and Rhode Island garage/punk/psychedelic underground of the 1960's cut their records.

1981 - 1984
Plan 9's released their first single, "Can't Stand This Love, Goodbye" in 1981. It was followed by the Frustration ep on Voxx records. The title track from this ep featured the multi-layered guitar soloing and swirling organ that would become characteristic of their sound. The band soon developed a following in the embryonic northeastern psychedelic revival and played The Battle of the Garages at New York's Peppermint Lounge along with The Chesterfield Kings, The Slickee Boys and The Vipers.



Over the next couple of years the band gained momentum both in terms of their following and their own creativity. They recorded two of their most important works. The first was their two-sided single, a 7:47 minute version of The Third Bardo's psychedelic classic "Five Years Ahead of My Time". While Eric Stumpo is far too humble to ever claim that his band recorded the definitive version of the song, hundreds of college radio deejays who worked the graveyard shift during that era would beg to differ. The second is their Midnight Records release, Dealing With The Dead. This album proved that Plan 9 was far more than a band that recorded great covers. Eric Stumpo, Debora D and company proved that they were also songwriters to be reckoned with. Dealing With The Dead was loaded with some of the best songs written during the eighties psychedelic revival. Loud, fast, funky, fuzz soaked psychedelic grooves you could dance to. Below are some songs from this seminal album.









During this period Plan 9 hosted The Love Party, a weekend long jam held in a Rhode Island VFW where every band in the east coast psychedelic scene was invited to party for as long as the mushroom supply held out. Wendy Wild was the mc and The Living Legend, Boston and Worcester's Captain P.J. entertained the crowd with his puppets. Captain PJ was a fixture in the northeastern scene in the 1980's, showing up at every important show in the region and spinning records on his radio show. He was also the mascot of The Bay State Bombardiers, a minor league basketball team who let him perform his human bowling ball act between quarters. The Love Party was the northeastern psychedelic scenes's Woodstock. The only misfortune is that, to my knowledge, no films or recordings of this event exist.

Below is a recent video clip of Captain PJ filmed on the streets of Worcester.



Plan 9 finished their "indie" phase with two more releases. France's New Rose label released a number of studio tracks not included on any album, including "Five Years Ahead of My Time." They fulfilled their contractual obligations with Midnight Records by releasing a live album called I Just Killed A Man, I Don't Want to See Any Meat

The Enigma Years

The eighties was an unusual time in American music. Cities throughout the country had small music scenes with incredible bands who recorded on small, local labels. What often happened was that some bands in a scene would get noticed by the music press and record labels. One band from the area would gain national attention and labels would then go on to sign several bands based in that town. Athens, GA in the early eighties produced not only REM but other groups like Lets Active and Guadacanal Diary who released records. In 1985 there was a good deal of attention from the music press on the entire northeastern psychedelic scene. A&R people began to scout clubs like The Dive in NYC. There were all sorts of rumours of indie labels being bought up by a major or at least getting a distribution deal. Bands began to scramble to get an album released by an independent label with some visibility, hoping that their label would be bought up by one of the majors.

In 1984 a man named Jim Martone joined a large independent label in California called Enigma began to expand their catalogue. In 1985 two bands from the northeastern psychedelic scene were signed to the label; The Smithereens and Plan 9. Later that year, Enigma inked a distribution deal with Capitol/EMI, an arrangement which ultimately led to the major label owning the indie label outright. Plan 9 was one of the first bands signed to the Enigma imprint, Pink Dust. Pink Dust hosted many other bands during its heyday including the early days of The Flaming Lips. The deal meant that Plan 9's records would be available in just about any record store with a decent sized inventory.

The first LP Plan 9 released with Enigma was called Keep Your Cool and Learn The Rules. Rumours were that the band had recorded close to 30 songs at Trod Nossel. The album itself is very diverse musically, including some hard rock, garage/punk/psychedelia, blues, and even an instrumental solo called "King Nine Will Not Return" that hints at the prog rock stylings of King Crimson. Brownsville Station founder, Cub Koda, plays guitar on one track. The lost psychedelic nugget is the title track, a cover of a song by an obscure band called Terry and the Chain Reaction. A video was filmed for "Keep Your Cool" that features Eric Stumpo lurking in the shadows as he dispenses advice on how to stay cool in any number of tough situations.





The next release came in 1986, a five song ep called Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere. The album cover was an airbrushed photo of a 1950's era vocal group called Bobby Carle & The Blendaires who recorded for Decca Records. Debora's uncle was Bobby Carle. The album also included a brand new version of guitarist John DeVault's song, "Green Animals" and a six and a half minute long song called "Opium Night" where the band shifts to a jazz groove during the jam.



In 1987 Plan 9 recorded away from Trod Nossel for the first time in their career, cutting a direct to digital album at The Fire Station in San Marcos, Texas. Sea Hunt is a two-phase album. Phase 1, which constitutes the first side, features six Eric Stumpo garage burners. The album opens with "Hat Comes First" a song based on variations of the "Roadhouse Blues" riff. Throughout the first side the guitars are crisper than ever and clear as Eric snarls his lyrics. Phase Two is a side long jazz suite, a complete departure for Plan 9. The jazz direction hinted at in the previous record's "Opium Night" comes out in full force.

In 1989 Plan 9 released their final album with a major label, Ham & Sam Jammin'. The album was somewhat more conventional than their previous releases. Eric Stumpo was the lone guitarist and most of the vocals were provided by a twenty-something singer named Paul Everett. Below is a song from that album called "Mambo Night".



Plan 9 Since 1990

Many fans of Plan 9 assumed that the band broke up after parting company with Capitol Records in 1990. Plan 9, however, has continued to record and perform for the past 20 years. They have recorded psychelic albums, an album of soundtrack songs from Roger Corman movies, a countryish album and several psychedelic trance records, all on their own label. Deborah and Eric still live in Rhode Island and the band performs a few times each year.

As a longtime fan of the band, I always feel a tinge of sadness when I think about the 1990's jam band explosion. Plan 9 had been doing that sort of music since they released "Frustration" in 1981. Their signature jam, "Five Years Ahead of My Time" also serves as the band's epitaph. They were playing set long versions of that song while everyone else in the eighties underground was going for loud and fast and short. Five years ahead of their time? Try ten years. If there was any justice, Plan 9 would have gained widespread recognition when everyone else finally caught up with what they were doing. Still, every time I hear a jam band I like to think they learned a thing or two from Plan 9

Plan 9 Today



http://www.myspace.com/plan9ri

http://www.plan9ri.com
Last edited by RevMatt on Mon May 24, 2010 11:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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cortez the killer
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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by cortez the killer »

Wow Rev! Can't say I've ever heard of these guys. You score major, major points for obscurity and thoroughness. This is quite a write-up. Very well done. Also, good to see you figured out those YouTube tags.
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scotto
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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by scotto »

Great writeup, Rev.
I saw Plan 9 around '86 or '87 and they were a riot. Never picked up any of their albums, but I'll have to be on the look-out.
Good job.

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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by Gator McKlusky »

I give your Plan 9 thesis an A +
Nice job RevMatt.
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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by beantownbubba »

I guess i'm gonna have to listen to all those clips, aren't i?

Impressive job, Rev!
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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by johndevault »

RevMatt, thanks for the great bio about Plan 9. I didn't see any obvious inaccuracies and some of the people, places, stuff I'd forgotten about. I just want to add a few comments. John Florence was 15 when we started the band so for the first three years he was still in high school. In the first year of the band we had a female singer named Holly. We also did a lot of punk rock covers like "New Rose" by The Damned, "Sonic Reducer"(Dead Boys), etc. When she left the punk covers were dropped primarily, I think, because the sixties stuff was more in alignment with Eric's vocal style. Thanks again for the thorough bio and I'm going to pass this along to Deb and Eric...

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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by scotto »

johndevault wrote:RevMatt, thanks for the great bio about Plan 9. I didn't see any obvious inaccuracies and some of the people, places, stuff I'd forgotten about. I just want to add a few comments. John Florence was 15 when we started the band so for the first three years he was still in high school. In the first year of the band we had a female singer named Holly. We also did a lot of punk rock covers like "New Rose" by The Damned, "Sonic Reducer"(Dead Boys), etc. When she left the punk covers were dropped primarily, I think, because the sixties stuff was more in alignment with Eric's vocal style. Thanks again for the thorough bio and I'm going to pass this along to Deb and Eric...

Welcome to the board!

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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by RevMatt »

Great to have you on the board, John.
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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by joelle »

dear rev,
i am a slacker.
i have very real reading issues.
today is saturday and i have never heard of plan 9
but i promise to read this by tomorrow night.
anyone who puts that much effort and time into writing anything about music,
must be extremely passionate about wanting to share it. i dig that .
on my honor, i will read it tonight ( or if i get a little too drunk, tomorrow morning at the latest)
thank you for all the time you put into it.
it had better damn well be worth it! :o ;)
me

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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by tinnitus photography »

great write-up. i remember this band from the early 90s, and maybe at one point had a copy of _Dealing w/ the Dead_, but it's been forever since i thought of them. will definitely dig a bit deeper.
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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by RevMatt »

I'd like to thank all of you for reading my article. It was a lot of fun to prepare. Brought back lots of memories. Plan 9 is one of my all-time favorite bands. I've been into psychedelia since I was nine years old and bought Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour and Revolver. Now it is time for the next artist of the week.
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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by cortez the killer »

RevMatt wrote:Now it is time for the next artist of the week.

Coming tomorrow.
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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by Penny Lane »

Finally got to this RevMatt....wow! Never heard of them. Thanks! 5 guitar attack....geez.
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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by albertron »

Thanks for the great review Matt! You should send this to Ralph's Diner. Maybe they'll book us for a night other than New Year's Day...

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Re: Artist of the Week (5/25/2010): Plan 9

Post by RevMatt »

albertron wrote:Thanks for the great review Matt! You should send this to Ralph's Diner. Maybe they'll book us for a night other than New Year's Day...

Thanks albertron. Give my regards to Deb and Eric.
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