Apr 042014

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Rock history is full of bands who created something truly special, with inherent value, that for whatever reason never got their due in the music marketplace. The dB’s (that stands for decibels, don’t you know) could be a case study in how to make great music and influence other musicians, but miss out on commercial success. Passed over by labels hunting for the next Knack, the band, led by guitarists Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple, signed with British label Albion Records at the very beginning of the ’80s, which meant that both their stellar debut and its follow up weren’t officially released in America for years.  The band only signed with an American label, Bearsville, after founder Stamey left to forge a solo career. When they submitted a video  to MTV for their suicide-themed song “Amplifier,” they were rejected.

Despite their commercial challenges, the dB’s legacy as a musicians’ band is unimpeachable. Their connections to other players is frankly staggering. For instance, both Stamey and dB’s drummer Will Rigby played in the Sneakers in the early ’70s with Mitch Easter, who built an indie rock legend by producing R.E.M.’s first two albums. When Stamey moved to New York City in 1977, he quickly got hired to play bass for Big Star’s Alex Chilton. He also recorded a single that was written by and recorded with Television’s Richard Lloyd. Emily Hubley, the sister of Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley, animated the dB’s video for “Big Brown Eyes.”  Scott Litt, known for adding pop sheen to select songs on Nirvana’s In Utero, scored his first sole production credit on the dB’s Repercussion. And that’s just the beginning of all their careers. Holsapple toured with R.E.M., while Stamey and bassist Gene Holder went on to produce bands including Luna, Whiskeytown, and Alejandro Escovedo. The list goes on.

The dB’s have long been friends of the cover song. In their early days, they even took live appreciation for their inspiration to extreme lengths, attempting one time to perform with every member of the band simultaneously playing a different Television song. Here’s just a few of the songs that these seminal indie power poppers covered over the years, all of which were culled from this fine blog.

The dB’s – See No Evil (Television cover)

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Speaking of Television, the dB’s covered the band on numerous occasions. Like many of their covers, the dB’s take on the Marquee Moon opener “See No Evil” is competent and enthusiastic. Clearly a favorite, the band covered this song on multiple occasions in this mid-80s. This version is taken from a 1986 show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ.

The dB’s – Everybody’s Happy Nowadays (Buzzcocks cover)

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Also from Maxwell’s in 1986, the dB’s show their debt to the poppier, more romantic side of British punk with their rendition of the Buzzcocks classic “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays.” In many ways, the song sounds like a blueprint for the average dB’s song with its heavy, slightly sad subject matter married to a propulsive, peppy beat. It’s comforting to hear a band acknowledge its roots so clearly.

The dB’s – Get Down Tonight (KC & The Sunshine Band cover)

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Sung by drummer Will Rigby, this encore performance at CGBG in 1982 proves that indie rockers like disco too, even if they can’t play it as well as a disco band can. It’s fun, but it’s nothing special, which might be the reason it didn’t become the live staple that other covers would become for the band.

The dB’s – Sex Drive (The Embarrassment cover)

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The dB’s didn’t just cover the legends that came before them. At a 1984 show in San Francisco, the band covered this less-than-well-known band from Kansas. Unlike most dB’s covers, where the audience is likely to recognize the song within the first few seconds, Peter Holsapple made sure everyone in the audience knew who wrote what they were playing, saying, “this is a song by a band from Kansas called the Embarrassment.” Hopefully the shout-out led at least a few audience members to seek out the Kansas band’s records.

The dB’s – 96 Tears (? and the Mysterians cover)

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There isn’t much to say about this cover of “96 Tears.” It’s rather straightforward. If you’ve got an organ on stage with you, why wouldn’t you cover it? From a 1981 show at the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill, NC, it cuts out abruptly.

The dB’s – Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley cover)

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The dB’s regularly covered this Elvis Presley classic in concert, but you can blame the Fine Young Cannibals for never hearing a dB’s studio version. According to drummer Will Rigby, the dB’s had started recording “Suspicious Minds,” but never finished it because the “She Drives Me Crazy” hitmakers beat them to their punch, ruining it for the band. “That was a bummer,” said Rigby. This version is from a 1984 show in Madison, WI.

The dB’s – Hey Baby (Alex Chilton cover)

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One of the most interesting covers from the dB’s, as it’s arguably a cover of a song in progress. The band covered “Hey Baby” early in its career, while Chris Stamey was still in the band. It’s okay if you don’t recognize the the title as an Alex Chilton tune. It’s actually a cover of an early version of Chilton’s song “Like Flies on Sherbert,” but with inchoate lyrics. According to Stamey, he played the song regularly when he supported Chilton on bass, and the song is partially about Lux Interior of The Cramps. This recording is from CBGB in 1982.

The dB’s can be found at iTunes, Amazon, and the dB’s Online.

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  2 Responses to “In the Spotlight: The dB’s”

Comments (2)
  1. Thank you for rounding out my dBs knowledge. I think I was at those Maxwells shows…

  2. Thanks for a tip of the hat for my dB’s Repercussion blog.

    Stop by every Friday for a fresh post with music!

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