JPT Scare Band interview

August 15, 2011

JPT Scare Band interview

Banded together during the tumultuous years of the early 70’s, JPT Scare Band fused a sound equally heavy in hard rocking blues as it was tripped out in psychedelia, creating a sound so imposing that it perfectly reflected the emotions of the era. Formed by guitarist / vocalist Terry Swope, drummer Jeff Littrell, and bassist Paul Grigsby, JPT Scare Band began recording songs in their Kansas City basement, and soon compiled a vault full of reel to reel tape that would make up much of the band’s catalog.

Where and when did you grow up?

Terry: My early years were a lot like the movie “American Graffiti”. By high school it was more like “Easy Rider”. Early musical influences included Glenn Miller and Count Basie because that’s the kind of stuff my dad liked. The arrival of the Beatles a few years later changed everything.

Paul: Music was big in my family and I heard all sorts of stuff from Billy Holiday to Liberace. I like the melodic but structural bass lines that guys like McCartney, Jack Cassidy, Zep, Jack Bruce and Felix Papalardi were playing.

I grew up in Kansas City. It was a melting pot with lots of diversity and activity. By the age of seven I was smoking cigs while I rode my bike no hands. We were playing with switch blades and revolvers in the third grade. Life was bizarre but at the time I had no idea just how weird or wild it was. I would buy a carton of cigarettes at the store when I was 7 and would turn on the older kids to smokes. (No clerk ever suspected a kid would buy a carton for themselves and since I bought them for my mom, they must have figured she was smoking more). The 8th graders let me hang out with them, hell, they were in the eighth grade and couldn’t buy smokes if their life depended on it. I was a good guy to have around. You learned to look out for yourself very early on. My life was grade school gonzo.

By 14 I was playing in working bands doing stuff like “Love Light”, “Louie Louie”, “Hang on Sloopy” and found it to be a fine use of energy. At 16 I was still playing lead and rhythm guitar but also doing bass tracks. We had access to a nice Ampex four track studio and spent a fair amount of time writing and recording our songs.

By 17 I’d made my decision and began playing bass exclusively in bands. Bands like Yes, Spooky Tooth, Vanilla Fudge, the Blues Breakers, Yardbirds, Stones and Beatles were all playing a big part in my musical preferences. They were like sign posts pointing the way.

What was the scene there?

Paul: By the time I knew there was a scene I was 16, playing at a battle of the bands. There were lots of these deals and we were usually the youngest band but it was sure educational. By 18 the scene was tons of working bands playing the clubs. I jumped in and started doing road band gigs. My chops were getting there. After playing the gigs we’d go back to the motel room and jam or practice for another two or three hours. It was all we did, play, play and play.

Were you in any bands before forming JPT Scare Band?

Terry: My first band practiced in an apartment complex wash-house. Actually since I was forbidden by my parents to be in the wash-house I stood outside and my mates passed a microphone out the window to me. From there it was garages, dining rooms and musty basements with various friends and hangers-on.

Paul: I was in a few bands but most were cover bands. I did lots of playing on my own and jamming. There were lots and lots of people my age in KC, who were really good musicians so there was always somebody to play music with.

It was very raw and pretty much free-form.

What can you tell me about some of the early sessions you had back then?

Terry: It was very raw and pretty much free-form. We had time and energy and no one to tell us what to do.

Paul: Our early sessions were not exactly studio sessions. We would setup wherever we could and Greg Gassman would run a snake as far away from us as he could with as many mics as he could find, and then try to hear the mix using headphones, mixing us live to a two track reel to reel. He usually had lots of cable and a good board because he worked for our friend and guru, Rocky Rude, who owned a music store and lots of PA gear that he used to sound for everything from a small room to a 10,000 seat auditorium. We were fortunate to know Greg and Rocky because they were the best of the best. Greg could dial in a live mix better than most engineers who need weeks to get the same sound. He is the reason we have records like Sleeping Sickness and Past is Prologue.

We did do some work in a country studio called Big-K and working as studio players on country projects they sold helped get us our recording, engineering and producing chops up to speed. We had an eight track unit at Big-K and that was big fun in those days. We recorded some Scare Band music up there as well, stuff like “It’s a Jungle” and “Burn in Hell” were recorded there.

And there was Cavern and Chapman’s a couple other studios we used to put some tracks down. Chapman’s was the scene of our 1993 reunion after 16 years of little or no contact. The Chapman session was so inspirational that in 2001, we decided that Terry and Jeff would fly out to my place in Hygiene, Colorado and I would buy a Yamaha AW4416, multitrack recorder and figure out how to use it for the three day session. We did no rehearsal for this gig either and just learned and recorded as we jammed it out. We still have songs we need to use for some other CD project, couldn’t fit them all on one CD. We did a couple 12 hour days and then a short day for our last day since the boys had to catch planes and get back to where they came from, Florida and Kansas.

Jeff Littrell of JPT Scare Band

Why was it so difficult to release an album back then?

Terry: Putting out a record cost too much back then. We were lucky to have enough to eat some nights!

Paul: Like I said, we recorded at a few studios, in the stone basement of the Electric House on Manheim and in the front room of the Stone House in Parkville, the one that was built over an  ancient Native American burial mound, overlooking the Missouri river. We play so loud that mic bleed is a way of life. Hell, it’s rock and roll, how freakin clean does it have to be anyway?

Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks? “King Rat” is my favorite! 

Terry: One of the gathering places for the hippies of Kansas City was Volker Park. Bands would set up on the week-ends and the love children would come out to party. One of the groups to play there was called “King Rat”. They played a song that used that opening riff. I have no idea what the song was called or anything else about their band. But because we loved that crunchy riff JPT used to jam on it. That’s where the song “King Rat” comes from. I think it captures everything I like about the Scare Band.

Paul: “King Rat”, hmmm… that is a jam that is a result of kidding around about a similar riff from a song by a band called King Rat that played back then. I don’t know if it sounds anything like their tune to tell you the truth but that is how we launched into. It is one of those things that seems to have a life of its own. We only played it once, that one take, no rehearsal, no re-do, just a one time through and toss it in the box with the other tapes. We were somewhat lubricated for this excursion as I recall and a few cute girls were in attendance cheering us on. We were in the front room of the Parkville Stone House and were playing quite loud. I had two 15” JBLs in a cabinet Rocky built, a great big folded horn reflex cabinet with a Sunn Concert Bass head running into it at full till, it benched at 190 watts RMS. We were loud. Terry had some similar fearsome amp rig and it was complete mayhem. “King Rat” just rolls and tumbles and we would beat on it for a while and then rest, build up some strength again and go nuts a while longer. Greg did a nice job of using the cross head tape echo on the Sony tape deck to get the trippy sound for the mix too. That really adds to the effect of that riff. I recall having so much fun feeling the bass vibrate my body violently while I played. It was the total body and head high I guess, best of both worlds perhaps?

Paul Grigsby of JPT Scare Band

What about gigs?

Paul: My touring with other bands was stuff like backing up Sam the Sham and the Coasters. I did lots of one nighters but only a dozen or so shows on big stages. I tended to be the hermit of the band, didn’t get out there too much and instead talked my friends into coming over to jam and record it. I thought that was way more fun anyway.

Terry Swope of JPT Scare Band

In 1994 you released Acid Acetate Excursion on Monster Records.

Terry: In the late 1970’s Jeff and I were playing in a rock band called Prisoner. In an effort to be more successful our group began bribing a booking agent out of Detroit, MI to get us some higher profile gigs. Well one of the gigs he got us was opening for REO Speedwagon on New Year’s Eve in Indianapolis, IN for 18,000 crazy fans. During our performance we threw out copies of our vinyl LP to people in the crowd. Somehow one of those records ended up in Texas and came into the possession of the owners of Monster Records.

Paul: Jeff has the scoop on this development.

Rape of Titan’s Sirens is second album released by Monster Records which features additional material recorded in the basement at the Electric House and in the dining room of the Stone House between 1974 and 1976. Do you think it would receive the same (positive) response if it was released in its time?

Terry: It’s impossible to say. Part of the appeal of those releases is their lo-fi retro sound. Back in the ’70’s groups wanted to sound polished and cutting edge. Perhaps our music would have garnered some critical praise and JPT might have developed a cult following.

JPT Scare Band live 1974
JPT Scare Band live 1974

Paul: No. The 70’s were a tough time for a band like us to make it. We had no management, only our crazy friends believed in us and even they would raise an eyebrow when we would play 20 minute extended jams. Nobody did that back then. It was all worked out stuff that sounded thought out and we just enjoyed ebb and flow more than an exercise in total structure.

Past Is Prologue was released on your own label.

Terry: The album features music from several decades so in a way it’s like a time capsule. I like this effort because it takes the listener through many different epochs and gives them some idea of our musical journey.

Paul Grigsby of JPT Scare Band

Paul: Thanks, I did the cover for Past is Prologue. The first song we recorded in 2001 at my house in “Hygiene”. The second and third we recorded at Chapman’s in 1993 and the rest was all done many years before. Jeff did some re-animation on those older tracks with some cool tools he likes to use and then I worked all the tracks over and did equalization and leveling and stuff like that to get them to play well with each other on the album.

Jamm Vapour and Rumdum Daddy followed.

Terry: Jamm Vapour may be my favorite CD of ours. We came together at Paul’s place and for three days just beat the hell out of everything. By that I mean we beat up our instruments, our bodies and our egos. And Dr. Bomar really worked hard to get that intensity across in the final mix. “Rumdum Daddy” is maybe our most political effort to date. I can barely put into words how much I loathe the killing machine the USA has become. Some of the tunes reflect that mood.

JPT Scare Band house

Paul: Jamm Vapour was a fun project. I got to record it, mix it and produce it with Dr. Bomar. Terry and Karen did the artwork and inside and out. It took me a while to mix. I mixed this album to sound like we were playing a huge venue. It was pretty fun but it took a while to zero in on the sound.

Rumdum Daddy is a project we recorded all the base tracks in the studio using ProTools. And then I took it home to add tracks, vocals, do minor fixes and mix it up and master it with the help of Dr. Bomar. We sat on this one for a while. I think almost three years went by and Terry asked me if I had any interest in him doing some guitar work on those tracks. It thought about it for two seconds and said YES. We started working it pretty hard at that point and Terry did lots of cool twelve string work and buff lead tracks on stuff like Rat Poison for the Soul. It started taking shape. Jeff came to town and we worked on a tune from that session that would later go onto the Acid Blues album. That song is It’s Not My Fault. We weren’t sure if it would make it on Rumdum but still wanted to work on it. Jeff and Terry did vocals here and we fixed a few things, copied it and he took it to a studio in Memphis to put piano, B3 Hammond and some backup vocals. It turned out pretty cool.

You have a new record out on Ripple Music called Acid Blues Is the White Man’s Burden.

Paul: Jeff or Terry may recall our initial connection with Todd and John. It escapes me. We would love to get you a copy of the vinyl and cd. I worked over the tracks once we decided on which ones to use. We had new stuff, not so new and really old stuff. There is a blues jam, I had never heard and can’t remember ever doing it but it sounds like me playing on it.  After leveling the tunes and mastering them I just bulked em up on some file sharing site long enough for our buddies at Ripple Music to pick them up. They took care of the heavy lifting after that. They did a killer job on it too! I love the way that thing looks and plays. We love our Ripple Music brothers, they seem to share a common insanity with us.

Paul Grigsby of JPT Scare Band

The album comes in high-quality digipak with a great informative booklet, but you can also get a double vinyl version that features an extra two bonus tracks. Lately you also played a live show after 37 years. 

Terry: Our first truly live performance in over 37 years was a rousing affair. The energy was there and JPT was able to ride it all night long. I forgot a few lyrics and screwed up a couple of chord changes but no one seemed to care. Overall I think the three of us were very happy with the show.

Paul: It was very surreal for me. I was standing there as we began the first song, looking across the stage at Terry and Jeff trying to decide if it was real or if I was dreaming. After a couple tunes I began to get into the moment and began enjoying the loud stuff we were cranking out. It was so nice to relax and let the jams happen. We rehearsed for a few hours before playing the show but the stuff we did at the show only resembled what we played in practice. I like that about JPT Scare Band, we don’t play a song the same way twice. I don’t think we could even if we had to. We seem to just have fun playing off each other, rhythmically and melodically. This seems to be one of those aspects of the band that make it so special. We have some sort of ability to sense where things are going in a way that allows us to stay on track with each other. I had a great time! Rocky Rude is who I would consider our fourth band member at this gig. He did an incredible mix that was very nicely articulated, very clear, every instrument, every drum, every vocal was IN the mix and I tell you, it was a very loud mix. Rocky and I do agree on pushing the room to its limit and that he did.

How about future plans?

Terry: We’ve got at least 4 or 5 new songs already written so our next project is quickly taking shape. There’s always the possibility of a live album/DVD taken from our recent concert. And I’m also working on a solo project titled “NOTV”.

Paul: Write more songs, do more albums, make a DVD/CD from our concert, play more concerts, do more jamming.

I would like to thank you so much for doing this interview! Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

Terry: Best wishes to you Klemen. We thank you for this opportunity to make new friends.

Paul: Klemen, I just want to say thank you for including us in your very cool zine. Maybe we’re on a different clock than most but we keep plugging along in our own way, at our own speed, doing what we love to do, play music together. It felt good in 1973 when we first discovered our connection and it feels just as good if not better now in 2011. Best of luck to you in your pursuits and stay in touch. Thanks.

– Klemen Breznikar

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