Hoi’ Polloi interview

October 31, 2013

Hoi’ Polloi interview

HOI’ POLLOI recorded an amazing LP back in
the ’70s, but like many other bands remained forgotten due the lack of
exposure. There was a wonderful reissue done recently and we had opportunity to
talk with guys about their LP, which remained pretty much forgotten. Here is an
interview with engineer John Schuerman and with member of the band – Charlie Bleak.

You were all from Richmond, Indiana and you
formed when you studied at Earlham College. Were you in any bands before
forming Hoi’ Polloi? Did those bands release anything?
Charlie Bleak: To keep the record straight,
none of us were born and raised in Richmond, Indiana. We met there as students
of Earham College. Speaking for myself, I was in a number of bands between age
12 and 18. One was the Cheerful  Earful.
We appeared on the nationally syndicated TV show: The Upbeat Show.  We did a rock version of “Five Foot
How was the scene in the college city? Any
other bands you remember?
Charlie Bleak: I helped form two other bands while at Earlham
College prior to the Hoi Polloi project. One was called Ralph, the other was
called Waste. No recordings of those bands exist. There wasn’t really a
“scene” musically in Richmond that I was aware of.
So, how exactly did the idea to start a
band come to realization in Earlham College?

Charlie Bleak: Hoi Polloi was basically a
studio creation. Dan Mack and Bruce Wallace were living in a farm house with
some other folks and they started to write together as well as writing songs on
their own. We all knew each other, and we appreciated each other’s music. I
don’t recall who said, “Hey, let’s record all this and make an
album”, but one thing lead to another. The only person on the album who
didn’t attend Earlham was the bass guitar player, Jeff D’Angelo (AKA Sid
Stoneman). I called him, and he agreed to participate.
What would you say were your most important
influences? It’s interesting the album has a very unique sound, and as Patrick
Lundborg stated a few years ago, the only influences that we can hear are maybe
late Beatles.
Charlie Bleak: The influences are very
diverse. Who knows what sticks in your mind from the time you first start
listening to music and when you start trying to write your own? For me, what I
CAN tell you is that I got hooked on rock n roll from age 6 or 7, and I loved
the same artists that I found out years later that the Beatles loved growing up
as well. Like Elvis, Fats Domino, Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, The
Everley Brothers et cetera. I was and still am a huge Beatles fan, but I was
also into Traffic, Frank Zappa, Spirit, Lovin’ Spoonful, The Youngbloods, The
Young Rascals and many others.
Tell us about the early songwriting process
and about those early basement jams, out of which the record was born.
Charlie Bleak: What I recall is that by the
time we brought Jeff D’angelo in, the songs were pretty much set. We rehearsed
the songs out at Dan and Bruce’s farm prior to going into record them. We
weren’t jamming all that much; we were just learning the tunes to record them.
As far as songs co-written by Dan Mack and Bruce Wallace, you need to talk to
them. At that time, the songs I wrote were written and complete when I brought
them to the others.
Where was the album recorded and what can
you tell us about the recording and producing it?
Charlie Bleak: We had the GREAT good
fortune to have a friend who was the Guru of all things audio and visual at
Earlham College, Mr. John Schuerman, who is the unsung hero of this whole saga.
He was also responsible for the in house radio station. Once we had the idea to
record, we approached John and he immediately embraced the idea. Basically we
recorded the album in a lecture space usually reserved for music and arts
during Spring break. We had just so many days (7 to 10) to finish. Then the
students would be back and we would be kicked out. I do recall that on one of
the last sessions, it was the the day the students were back, and I kept trying
to hurry things up before someone crashed through the doors and ruined a take.
It was the final overdub with about 8 people on “Who’s Gonna Help
When recording was complete, everyone
pretty much scattered. We did one concert on campus to try and sell some albums
and that was it.I heard recently that an original Hoi’ Polloi album can sell
for 500 to 600 dollars (US) in Europe! But between the end of recording and the
concert we did, John Schuerman and I programmed and mastered the final album. I
am responsible for the side 1 editing of various bits and pieces that get a
little screwy and weird. Like Hoi’ Polloi Peeks Out, Instead Boogie, which was
a 4 AM in the morning spontaneous jam (when we were stoned and basically sleep
walking) and would have been considered an out take. And the end of that, when
it speeds up and then breaks down at the end, you can hear Jeff D’Angelo’s
voice saying, “Lost . . . lost” right before the big chord CRASH!
(which I instigated specifically for the purpose of a segue, kind of like the
big chord at the end “A Day in the Life”) which cross fades into a
fade IN of “Satisfaction Guaranteed”. The scraping sound that
persists when the chord dies out is John Schuerman swirling a marracca while he
was manning the control board! The fade in of “Satisfaction
Guaranteed” was in fact the fade OUT of the song when it was originally
recorded. I took the fade out, put it at the front, and then let the song go on
from there.
John Schuerman: The recording was made on
the Earlham College Campus. The Hancock Room in which we recorded the album is
a large classroom in the fine arts building (Runyan Center) used for large
classes in all the fine arts. It is also a rehearsal room for the various
school choirs and other musical groups. We also used the projection room in
Lilly Library to record a few overdubs when the Handcock Room was no longer
available to us. We did the recording over spring break. We did not finish
before classes started so that is why we moved to the Library projection room.
That room no longer exists due to renovations of the area some years ago.
What gear did you guys use and how much
time did you spend in the studio?
John Schuerman: As far as the recording
gear goes we were recording live to two-track on a Revox A-77 1/2-track
recorder which was an incredible machine for the time. We had a tube Ampex 4
channel mixer and solid state electronics from a Crown tape recorder. It had 2
inputs to each channel. I ran the outputs of the Ampex mixer into one of the
inputs of each channel and had the other two inputs available for  two more mic inputs giving us a total of six
microphone inputs. The Ampex inputs had switchable left-right-center inputs (no
pan-pots). The outputs on the Crown electronics were sent into an Advent Dolby
B Noise Reduction Unit, in order to have clean, quiet tracks which was going to
be needed for the overdubs. The overdubs were accomplished by playing back the
first two tracks (decoding them with the Dolby unit}, and then encoding the
next tracks, mixing live mics with the playback. The final Dolby-B two-track
master was taken to Gilfoy Studios in Bloomington, IN for final channel and
level balance and equalization of each song plus the use of an EMT plate-reverb
to add some ambience. The microphones used were Sony ECM-22 condensers, an RCA
77-DX ribbon mic and an Electro-Voice 684 dynamic microphone.
Charlie Bleak: Basically, John Schuerman
stripped out every available piece of equipment extant at Earlham College at
that time and pieced together the rig that recorded what exists today. We got
it done in about 10 days.
What does Hoi’ Polloi stand for?
Charlie Bleak: The term Hoi Polloi is, I
believe, Greek for “the common people”. However in the 1920’s and
1930’s the term somehow got turned around and came to refer to the rich and
famous. Like the “Jet Set” of the 1960’s. I first became aware of the
term from a song by The Lovin’ Spoonful: 
“Jug Band Music”
It’s funny, that the band didn’t play any
gigs before recording the LP. Does this mean it was 100% DIY project?
Charlie Bleak: It was strictly a DIY studio
project. 100 per cent.
You played just one gig after the record
was out, right? Can you tell us about it and maybe explain how the promotion or
should I say distribution looked like. Was it mostly available for the college
Charlie Bleak: We had no distribution or
promotion scheme.
How about the cover artwork?
Charlie Bleak: A woman by the name of
Marsha Osborne designed the Hoi’ Polloi lettering. The little guy scratching
his head below the lettering was drawn by Jeff D’Angelo. He would do these
little drawings and just leave them laying around.
How do you feel about the fact, that after
so many years label called Folk
Evaluation Records reissued your LP and people these days find it more interesting,
that in the past? Are you satisfied with the reissue?
John Schuerman: First of all, I was
thoroughly amazed when, ten years ago, I was contacted by Patrick for
information on the “Hoi’ Polloi” album and its creators. He also
urged me, and with the permission of Dan and Charlie, to issue a CD version of
the album which I produced from the Gilfoy master. Since then I have sold
thirty copies of the CD. And now, we have the LP re-release from Folk Evaluation
Records. In comparison I think this pressing is better than the original. I
knew that good music was being made back in 1972 but I guess I did not realize
how good it was, at the time, and had no idea that it would have such interest
40 years later.
Charlie Bleak: I am thrilled by the renewed
interest. I am very grateful for the hard work and dedication that Jason and
Jordan at Folk Evaluation have brought to the re-issue process. Their attention
to detail and quality control are second to none!
I know this will be a bit hard task, but
can you comment each song.
Who’s Gonna Help Me? 
Wrote about a lost love. Definitely influenced by Paul McCartney… like Martha My Dear.
Old Bootstrap 
By Dan and Bruce.
Seven Deviations 
Me stumbling on guitar with Jeff D’Angelo on harpsichord at about 3 AM
one day.
Last Laugh
By Dan and Bruce.
Hoi’ Polloi Peeks Out 
Again, a function of a very LONG night, smoking jazz cigarettes and a
HUGE contribution by John Schuerman who did all kinds of crazy things with his
recording rig     the manufacturers would
NEVER approve of.
Instead Boogie
Based on a riff by Denny Murry (AKA Ace Correcto)
Satisfaction Guaranteed 
By Dan and Bruce.
It’s a Nice Day
Written about the same lost love (see Who’s Gonna Help Me?). My lost
love actually plays cello on that song.
Devil Song 
By Dan and Bruce.
Sid Stoneman Gets Scale 
Written and arranged by Jeff D’Angelo (Sid Stoneman). One of my favorite
15 Miles to Mexico 
masterful piece of writing by my friend Dan Mack! Tells a story which is like a
3 minute movie directed by     John Ford
starring John Wayne. I wish I’d written that.
How about other members, Patrick Lundborg
mentioned in his article a few other college LP’s including “Attention
Span”, “Sequoiah Stream”, “Shaggy Joe/Crucible 1” and
“Crucible 2”, which includes some Hoi’ Polloi members. Can you tell
us about related bands and maybe a bit more in details about Crucible 2?
John Schuerman: The Crucible was the
student produced literary magazine. The editors at the time decided that they
wanted do more than publish student literary works. So they planned a concert
featuring students performing original music. They asked me, as the Director of
Earlham College Audio-Visual Services, to record the concert and have records
pressed for distribution to the student body. I had, as a student, recorded two
folk music albums by the Earlham group the Clear Creek Singers, so they knew I
had the equipment and the “expertise.” So I recorded the “Shaggy
Joe/Crucible 1” and “Crucible 2” albums.
The albums “Attention Span” and
“Sequoiah Stream” were completely done by students including the
recording. The producer had access to a studio in Cincinnat, Ohio and took the
performers down there to record using multi-track recorders and all the
“bells and whistles” of a recording studio.
Again, in 1980, I was contacted by the
Crucible editor, Wendy Seligmann, my future spouse, to record the last album
the magazine sponsored. That album was entitled “Tape’s Rolling” and
was recorded live to two-track in the Hancock Room.
Charlie Bleak: I don’t remember. It was a
long time ago.
Is there anything else, that came out of
your college and we didn’t mention?
Charlie Bleak: None that I can think of.
What are you currently up to and what are
some future plans for you?
Charlie Bleak: Still writing and recording.
Hope to have a website set up soon for people to sample and download my songs.
I have hours of unreleased material. It will be charliebleak.com. Not up yet.
John Schuerman: For the past 23 years I
worked in public access television in Richmond, IN which included the recording
and airing of music performances of music groups appearing in the area.I
retired two months ago and move to Asheville, NC where my wife is the Director
of Career Development at Warren Wilson College. I have started and on-line
service called Moments In Time (www.momentsintime.us). I create
“electronic memories” from client supplied photographs, videos and
John Schuerman
I would like to thank to Jordan Burgis at
Folk Evaluation, who got me in contact with you and who reissued your LP. Also
thanks to Patrick Lundborg at Lysergia.com (interview from 2003 can be found at here), who interviewed you for the very
first time and thanks to all the members for taking their time and effort.
Would you like to share anything else with us?

Charlie Bleak: Thank you for your interest!
Hope that I have given you something to work with.

Charlie, Sassy and Dan

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2013
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