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pre White Cross band

"So a lady walks into a record store …and she’s carrying a box of reel-to-reel tapes. The box is unmarked, but inside it is a piece of Richmond punk rock history. Written on one of the tape boxes are the words ‘Mod Subs/Live in Studio Two’ and the guys at Steady Sounds immediately recognize that they’re on to something. I take their call, questions are asked and answered, and the story begins to unfold...

The Mod Subs were one of Richmond’s original punk bands. They formed in the spring of 1980 and stuck it out for a little over a year. Mike Rodriguez played lead guitar; Jeff Keezel, bass; Hal Imburg, drums; and Dave Lewis, aka ‘Bowie’, was the singer.

This long-lost master reel was originally recorded and mixed after-hours in the basement studio at Union Theological Seminary where Keezel worked a day job as an AV tech. The tracks are a mix of originals, early punk covers, and a couple of repurposed American classics. It’s presented as it was originally released, a mixture of live-in-the- studio songs recorded two, three, four at a time without a break, and inter-cut with a few samples from movie soundtracks. The last three songs were recorded live at a local club and capture some of the joy and chaos of a Mod Subs show. That’s me announcing the band, by the way. I thought I was being clever at the time.

It was always Mikey’s band. He had already run the short-lived Vacants through their paces, when he put together the Modern Suburbans. Once the lineup settled down to the four guys on this record, the name was shortened to Mod Subs, and the rest, as they say, is history. After the Subs, Mikey became the driving force behind Red Cross, White Cross, then later, Mudd Helmut. A few of the songs on this record stayed with him throughout the life of his later bands. One of them, the venerable ‘Pink Flamingo’, became a Richmond shout-along classic that’s still trotted out to this day. Here’s the story behind the song...

Bowie and I had scouted out a yard in North Side Richmond early one evening. It was chock-full of yard ornaments and we wanted one. We returned late that night. Bowie was the wheel man, and I was the thief. He pulled up onto a side street about a block from the house. Bowie killed the lights as I got out of the car. It looked easy enough, just hop over a small hedge and a chain link fence, grab the bird and go. I grab the bird and as I’m clearing the fence, the flood lights come on, and I break into a run. I sprint down the street laughing, with a pink flamingo under my arm while the owner chases after me. I yell at Bowie, “Go, go, go!” He gets the car moving and I climb in. We got away with it and we laughed hysterically all the way home. The next night Bowie wrote the song. Funny how one silly incident like that can develop a life of it’s own.

Mikey could be a taskmaster, but someone’s got to be in charge I guess. He was always berating Hal to play below his ability. “Nothing fancy!” he’d shout. “No fills! Just ‘boop-bap-boop-bap-boop-bap-boop-bap’!” Keezel was his own man, and stood up to Mikey more than anyone else in the band. The tension was palpable at times. Especially when they were playing live, there was always a sense that one of them might go off on the other. Bowie was always being talked into more and more outrageous behavior, like appearing onstage in his underwear, a diaper, a miniskirt. He could have said no, but that wasn’t his way. Then came the “The Ipecac Incident” at Hard Times...

Ipecac is a syrup that was used at the time to induce vomiting in cases of poisoning. Bowie got talked into drinking a bottle of the stuff before the show. If things went as planned, at the climax of their set Bowie would spin around on stage and become a ‘hurling dervish’. Anything to please the crowd. Trouble is it didn’t work. Try as he might, Bowie couldn’t bring himself to puke. He tried putting his fingers down his throat, made some pretty horrific gagging noises into the mic, but no vomit. At least not on stage. After the show, Bowie was sitting on the curb outside when the Ipecac finally kicked in. He was out there for a while, head between his knees, sadly puking into the gutter.
The Subs played pretty regularly around town with a few forays to DC and Virginia Beach. Typical of the time, they were banned from a couple of local venues. Some tables got knocked over, a few bottles got broken, a couple of fights broke out. Nothing outrageous really, until the ‘Fish Kill’ at a club called Newgate Prison...

Some grandstanding local punk group had trumped up a fake rivalry with the Subs. Their moneyman booked a special Halloween show, and hyped it as a battle of the bands. The Subs agreed to play. Why not? They were getting paid. Then Bowie got an idea. He and I went to a local seafood store to acquire some fish guts, ostensibly for a ‘VCU art school project’. You could get away with almost anything back then if you said you were working on an ‘art project’. We stole a couple of pumpkins from Safeway and carved out special deep-bottom jack o’ lanterns and filled them with as much of the rotting guts as they would hold. The Subs played first. When the other band was well into their set, we carried the gut-laden pumpkins through the crowd and placed them at the corners of the stage. Of course their singer would feel compelled to kick the pumpkins into the crowd. We barely had time to get to the back before their fans were covered with fish guts. As you can imagine, the club’s owner wasn‘t happy.

As the original title suggests, this record is just as “Primitive by Today’s Standards” as it was at the time. It’s as much a document of a place and a time as it is anything."

-Doug Dobey

Limited to 300 copies. Each record comes in a beautifully done screen printed and die cut sleeve, along with an insert featuring extensive liner notes and rare photographs of the band.