Iron Bong interview with Drew Wallace
Thanks for your time! I would like to start this interview with asking you what were some of the first influences on you as a young child?
Young child influences: Headhunting tribe called The Gaddang, my dad (Dr. Ben J Wallace) discovered them living among the jungles of southeast Asia in 1965. We lived with them for a couple of years. I spoke Gaddang long before English and Gaddang is still a huge influence on my vocals.
Then when I was 7 years old my dad started his time living in hippie communes. Documenting the agricultural practices of commune life for scholarly journals. I fell in love with hippies and and the lifestyle. From 1970-73 I soaked up every bit of hippie culture. We had a house in Taos, New Mexico made of adobe. We would drive to communes everyday, meeting hippies and partaking in the their culture: art, music, dance, rituals, agriculture.
My first musical influences were The Beatles, The Guess Who and Chuck Berry. My mom turned me on to Goats Head Soup when I was 10 and I fell in love with the Stones.
My Mom (Linda Gammill) played Bob Dylan loud everyday of my life from the time I was born until I went off to college. Some parents play Classical music to their baby, mine played Bob Dylan.
I saw Chuck Berry on the Helen Reddy Show when I was 10 and got very excited. Hopped on my bicycle, rode to the record store and bought The London Berry Sessions. My first concert was Chuck Berry at 12 and then I saw him at least 10 more times before he quick touring. I love his two string guitar solos, super raunchy and cool.
My first large arena concert was Steve Miller “Book of Dreams Tour” 1977, I still love Steve Miller. He had an amazing Laser Light Show….wild psychedelic scene with Moogs and all kinds of trippy space keyboard and guitar sounds. Super psychedelic show!
You were in a band called Bag before forming Iron Bong, right? Would you like to share the whole story about the Bag?
Wow, the story of Bag: I formed a band called The Modern Whigs in 1985, Dave Fitzbag, Mike Whitten, Clay Daniel and myself.
We put out a couple of full length releases, including Rockadelic 1.5, which is a think the second thing on Rockadelic. The Modern Whigs: Dreamshine / Under the Moonglow 45 rpm single. By the time the single came out in 1988 our line up had changed. Mike Whitten left the band and was replace by Holland K Smith. Holland and I became very close and shared vocal and solo duties. Holland K Smith is currently well renowned Texas Blues Artist… http://www.hollandksmith.com/
I am not sure if anyone realizes that the Rockadelic 45, much of “Raped by the Cops” and “Revolution” is Holland and myself jamming.
By 1990 Holland wanted to pursue a solo blues career and Clay went back to Austin, so what to do. Dave Fitzbag, Brad Featherstone, myself and Chris Merlick formed Bag. Our first release was on Rockadelic Records “Midnight Juice” LP in 1991.
Chris Merlick was a tremendous help in creating this legendary album. Mark Migliorie at this time would make near daily visits to see how the recording were coming along. I can remember working very long and hard to please Mark on The Best Day of Your Life. He thought the guitar ultimately made the song. Mark was a big fan of my guitar playing and tried to push me to get the best. It was fun and challenging. I have fond memories of these recordings.
Bag continued recording and touring releasing Crazy Stone Head (Helter Skelter Records), Bag of Fear and Journey to the Center of the Monkey Skull parts 1 & 2.
I was listening to the third part of the trilogy yesterday thinking about how great it sounds and how it needs to be released some day. Bag was tumultuous near the end, Dave Fitzbag had become a severe alcoholic and was just out of it. Could not play, missed practices and became violent at times, as all drunks. Eventually Dave died on Halloween 1999. Dave and me still communicate easily. I have tons of his poems. On very general terms Dave wrote most of the lyrics and I wrote the music. Karl Frederick Anderson of Global Recording Artists is publishing a book of Dave’s poetry. I am illustrating the book, Karl was very good friend with Dave Fitzbag long before I met Dave and we created The Modern Whigs.
Iron Bong: Started up as Bag was fading. We played as Bag at Trees in Dallas without Dave. It was our first show without Dave. It was a fantastic show, Edward Holland and Randy Teal accompanied me as a power trio. We played the entire Journey to the Center of the Monkey Skull for start to finish. Edward Holland,drummer superb on Monkey Skull and much of Raped by the Cops is going to release this show in the near future. For more details contact him…Edward Holland my facebook friend.
We realized that we were not Bag, Dave was gone and it seemed wrong spiritually to use the name. On the first record Big Hits, Iron Bong is like a greatest musicians of Rockadelic…Mark Ridlen of Lithium X-mas sings some, Mike Pemberton of Burnin Rain and Erich Anderson also “Burnin” Rain” jammed live with us. We had an emphasis on instrumentals, the only vocals for the first 5 songs we recorded were “Iron Bong”. “Iron Bong” would be all the lyrics we would ever need. Well, eventually I had more to say and by Holy Smoke we were having serious fun. Then most recently The Witchwoods: This is the tale of how I got from Texas to San Francisco. Written and recorded prior to actually moving to San Francisco and experiencing the story. Iron Bong is a smaller but tighter unit now. Martin McCall and Mike Geldon form an outstanding rhythm section. They make it easy and a joy to do guitar, keys and vocals.
You were also a good friend of Rich Haupt and Mark Migliorie from Rockadelic Records, that released Bag LP…
I met Mark at The 500 Cafe in 1987 following a performance by The Modern Whigs. Mark called me on the phone that night and asked me to come over. It was about 10pm. I he said it was very important and I was the only one that could help him.
When I go there Mark had a 45 caliber hand gun on the table, another in a strap on gun holster and a rifle perched in his window. He was on the phone…he handed me the phone saying “listen to what they are saying about me”…I heard only a dial tone. He had been talking to an imaginary person or persons.
He chopped up a tremendous amount of Heroin mixed with cocaine on a mirror. He offered me some…I declined. This made Mark very upset. He pointed the 45 handgun at my head and said “Dammit Wallace I am tired of you pussying out! You are going to do the fucking line I made you.
So my only experience with heroin was at gun point by Mark Migliorie. He did quite a bit as he kept doing it and I was terrified at that point to not do what he said.
We started to run low…when Dave Robinson came to his door. It would appear Dave set Mark up with more dope. (you may not want to mention Dave Robinson has his dealer, although he was).
After doing more dope Mark at gun point led Dave Robinson and Me down to an underground room full of collectible records. The whole Rockadelic catalog and many more.
Mark was waiving the gun around talking about how someone in his close group had been disloyal! Mark then walked over to the door to the underground room and locked it. Dave and I looked at each other and both new what was about to happen. Mark began talking of betrayal and retribution, he pointed gun at the wall, then at some records…waived it passed Dave and my head. The tension was building and this was heading somewhere. I looked at Dave again and he was skaking and staring back in desperation. More pointed the gun at eye level ready to shoot Dave, me and him in a quick move but I panicked. Mark’s planned got foiled when I tapped Mark on his balding forehead.
He said “What the fuck”! I said Mark “I need to tap on your forehead, I can’t help it, it is like a compulsion”. Mark lowered the gun and said “why the fuck do you keep touching my head”. I said “I have an obsessive compulsion to tap 4 times on your head, I just have to do it”. Mark looked at me like I was crazy…
This gave Dave Robinson time to unlock the door and he ran out. He ran right behind him and on out the front door. I left Mark’s house at 3am, I got a call at 10am from Mike Pemberton of The Burnin’ Rain, he told me they found Mark’s body in his truck around the corner from his his house. Suicide!
I was not surprised. I was expecting the call. I knew he was gone and was very dangerous. And before he hurt someone else he would kill himself. Mark is my very strong willed Angel now. Rich and I will tell you that we love Mark, and he meant so much to both of our lives. His insane junkie period was short lived, I prefer thinking about our many years of psychedelics and music.
When was Iron Bong formed?
How did you guys came together and why did you choose the name Iron Bong?
The earliest Iron Bong was all the greatest musicians on Lost Records. That was the first album “Big Hits”.
The name came from a bong I owned. It was jet black and made of aluminum. One day as we were passing it around a friend said “Is that bong made of iron?”. We all started laughing and I said “it’s an Iron Bong”…we laughed some more…and that was it.
Your first album is from 1996 called Big Hits. How do you remember those times, when you started recording your LP?
It was super fun. Rent was cheap and we were a tight group of friends. Dave Fitzbag my long time song writing partner was too drunk to play with us for the most part…but we covered his song “Took To Much”. I have always included at least one Fitzbag song on all of my records. Of course Dave died shortly after that on Halloween 1999. Every Halloween Fitzbag comes by for a visit. He lives in The Witchwoods and is much happier in another dimension.
Did you do any touring when the LP’s were out?
Not much as Iron Bong. We played around Texas. The Modern Whigs toured with The Flaming Lips in 1988. Bag toured with Ed Hall, Crust, ST-37 and other Texas Psych artists.
What happened next? I’m asking you this, because you didn’t record anything until the The Witchwoods was out in 2009, if I’m correct?
I got very very ill. Many misdiagnosis, many stays in the hospital as kept creeping closer to death. Finally in 2006 the found two malignant thyroid carcinomas. In other words I had thyroid cancer and had two malignant tumors poking out of my neck. I was in bad shape and slipping away more and more every day. They removed my entire thyroid and it took years to gain my strength back. In 2009 I started feeling strong for the first time. My joy created The Witchwoods. I was so happy to be strong enough to go to the store or out to eat. To drink a soda pop was such a pleasure.
Since life seems incredibly precious and short I took off and moved to San Francisco. I recorded The Witchwoods in Texas with musicians from the little neighborhood where I grew up in Richardson. I now live in The Witchwoods in Northern California. I had no idea what was going to happen. I just took off driving just like Classified explains. I envisioned a magic place called the Witchwoods, I had no idea within a year I would be living in a amazing Redwood Forest. I saw a Mountain Lion and Cub in a tree in my yard last week. Janis and Big Brother recorded some of their best stuff in a town near me called Lagunitas. The Gate explains how Fitzbag is a changeling and takes the form a various spirit guide animals. I have had several animals lead me through the forest to treasure or a realization. Dave usually comes in the form of a Fox…but I believe the Mountain Lion was also Dave sending me a message. I have followed my little foxes deep into the forest. They disappear and reappear. They run circles around me and chase things I toss. They are like pets…it is the most magical relationship I have ever had with a wild animal. I would be so disappointed if they didn’t greet me when I go into the forest. I never act afraid because I am not. I would never carry any weapon because I am not on their diet. These animals are so intelligent and have such much knowledge to share. “The best is yet to be” JL
The Witchwoods is a great release on Lost Record Worldwide and I would love if you could share with me some of the strongest memories from producing and recording this LP?
Thank you Klemen! I am glad you enjoy it.
It was fun to make. We were very focused and had little time to spare.
I see the house where it was recorded in my mind. A very old spooky house in Dallas. They house was scheduled to be demolished and I got cheap rent. We smoked a lot of weed and did psychedelics when available all throughout the recording sessions. I also made a ton of Bag – Journey to the Center of the Monkey Skull covers. I spray painted freaky covers because the original cover stickers from 1998 had bad glue and were falling apart. So we made hand painted jackets. The house had a huge psychedelic record collection to dip into any time we needed inspiration. We hung Christmas lights and tied dyed sheets around the studio. Worked on it non-stop for a couple of months.
What gear did you use?
Recorded on Sonar 7
Via a Tube I/O
I used a 1964 Gibson Epiphone and 1999 Les Paul.
My effects are the same distortion box and delay unit I have had since the mid-80’s.
I also played a Roland JX-305 Keyboard.
Geldon used a different bass at every session. He has a bass collection and used at least 8 different basses during the sessions.
Martin McCall used a vintage Stringerland drum kit.
What can you tell me about your really nice cover artwork…
Thank you! The cover is a copy of one of my paintings. The original painting is very large 22×36…what you see on the jacket is just a portion of the painting. It is the portion where the traveler is running across the “Manimator”. There are many hand painted covers out there signed by Benny or Benny Lawlace. FYI…I am Benny Lawlace.
What are some of your future plans? New album? Will you go on a tour?
I hope to form a San Francisco based Iron Bong so we can perform the psych opera I wrote. Mark Ridlen of Lithium X-Mas has the 20 songs I finished in Texas. He is producing them into an opera with various vocalist characters. It is very exciting.
I have also just started the San Francisco Poster Company. We are issuing long lost posters from the San Francisco Oracle. We are also making reissues of various other posters made in SF during the Summer of Love era. Beautiful wonderful works…my partner is Karl Frederick Anderson of Global Recording Artists. Karl was very very good friends with my fox spirit guide, Dave Fitzbag too. We both believe in Joseph Campbell’s mantra “follow your bliss”. For me right now it is psychedelic poster art…tomorrow never knows…
Interview by Klemen Breznikar/2012
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