A long line of squares crowded the East 24th street sidewalk , waiting to enter the vaunted Cleveland Agora. I walked up and cut left towards the door. Yeah, I'm talking about the other door. The lonely heavy metal rusted out one that took ya down and into the Pop Shop.
At the bottom of the stairs I gave Roger a couple of bucks, a quick hello, and I was in. I had timed the microdot well. I remember wondering if the electricity I felt pumping, felt pulsating - was it me? was is it the room? Looking around I saw the usual faces. Faces of a growing scene, a scene now close to a hundred strong. They were the faces of those that were becoming friends and many would stay that way for years.
The loud cackle slowly subdued as the Easter Monkeys made their way onto the cramped stage and started to make some noise. Linda adjusted her stool, while getting in a couple of kicks. Chris, hunched a bit, raised and lowered his mic stand while making some random inaudible check comments. Charlie fidgeted with a cigarette. And Jimmy? Well, Jimmy faced his amp, an amp as tall as he was. He twisted some knobs, paused, twisted them some more , stopped, and then came a hush, for the shortest of moments, as he turned to the audience, smiled, and then, well then, believe me Jimmy Jones did let it
loose. Jimmy Jones did open the bottle. In an instant, I realized that the band and the now throbbing crowd had also timed that microdot well. What transpired over the next sixty minutes, no words can explain. Nothing would ever be better. Years later, a friend would say to me, "ya know, we saw the best band in the world that night". I chuckled, but the more I thought about it the more I knew he was right. For no matter whatever else was happening on a stage that night, anywhere on this planet, we were the ones witnessing the miracle, the burning bush. We were the ones being abducted. But, ya know, it will
forever be a myth, just another fish tale, just one more urban legend. But I do swear it's true. I had honestly gotten to see, hear and hold lightning. I could try to tell the tale, try to explain it, but only a handful, nearly a hundred strong at that point, will ever really know.
The Easter Monkeys formed in 1980 with Jim Jones on guitar, Chris Yarmock vocals and sax, Charlie Ditteaux as the bassist , and the Hudson brother's little sister, Linda, behind the skins. Prior to this, three of them had already took part in some legendary stuff. Jonesy was the most well known of the bunch, from his Mirrors days as well as being the main man at the downtown Record Rendezvous location. Mr. Chris had fronted the tragically unheralded band The Kneecappers while Charlie had played in The Impalers (who landed the cut Hit & Run on the infamous Cleveland Confidential EP). Linda was the new kid but she had the pedigree and Charlie knew she would be the right fit after Linda had once
auditioned to drum for the aforementioned Impalers while that band was in its final days of falling apart.
"We were bored and it was something to do" Chris explains. "It was a way of life for us still in the city. Cleveland had been rotting away for years. It had become abandoned, fruitless. We got our kicks by making music. We drank and drugged together. We lived in cheap houses. It was a fun way to waste time. There was no expectations other than that, just to have some laughs. We ate too much acid. We made noise in the Cat City basement. We called it psychedelic jazz. Oh, and I gotta mention Ghoulardi.
We'd been raised on Ghoulardi and he flowed in our blood. You can never ignore the effect Ghoulardi had here." Their song Cheap Heroin was included on Mike Hudson's 1982 Cleveland Confidential LP released on Terminal Records. As the few hundred copies that had been pressed slowly began to make their way outside of Cleveland, the Easter Monkeys cut was the one that caught the attention of many. A full albums worth of material they had recorded also began to make its way around in underground circles on cassette tapes, dubs of dubs, and the Monkeys legend grew further. But back home they soon
In 1984 it came to an end. There was no official break up. There was no drama, no bad blood, no hard feelings. The band had just run its course. Those cassette tapes were the only remaining evidence until the songs were released on vinyl, the Splendor Of Sorrow LP, in 1990 on Hit & Run Records. The word I hear most from those that saw the band live or from those describing the first time they heard the Monkeys' music is mesmerized. I spent a night once, with nearly a hundred others, mesmerized. No other word explains it so well.
Vocal (lead), Sax
When the Easter Monkeys formed in 1980, drummer Linda Hudson was only 17. So her recollections of the early days are a bit murky.
"It's a mystery to me," she replies when asked how singer Chris Yarmock, bassist Charlie Ditteaux and guitarist Jim Jones came together to create the group. "The rest of the members were in their 30s. They were friends of my brothers [Pagans Mike and Brian Hudson]. I got into the whole scene through my brothers and friends of their friends. I was asked to play drums through Charlie."
She does, however, remember the band's first gig at the Sports Page, a long-closed sports bar in the Flats.
"It was a weird place to play," she recalls. "There was Chief Wahoo on the back wall. It went pretty well actually. The kids were there and were slam dancing and formed a mosh pit while the sports patrons were watching the TV. It was a mixed crowd, but it was well received. There were some other bands we played with that drew a lot of the people."
Singer Chris Yarmock says the Easter Monkeys, like their punk predecessors, were as much a way of life as a form of musical expression.
"It was just something to do, and it beat boredom," he says. "We were in this decaying city and had to do something. I thought it was a pretty good waste of time myself. Everybody drank together and lived together, and it was a hell of a lot of fun."
For its debut, Splendor of Sorrow, which has just been reissued on the Chicago-based Smog Veil label, the band went to local recording studio Soundstage 25 and adopted what Hudson says was a "professional attitude." You can tell from the tracks that the group was more musically talented than its irreverent attitude would have you believe. The album opens with the noisy "Take Another Pill," an acerbic number about conformity that's every bit as brash as anything by the Sex Pistols or the Damned. The stuttering, constipated vocals on "Monkey See Monkey Do" and the Cramps-like "My Baby Digs Graves" show the band's wide range. "Heaven 357," a moody tune about suicide, is downright epic. And Yarmock's lyrics often provide astute social commentary.
"I was raised Catholic, so I had damage there," he says. "We have songs about everything: religion, suicide, death, the usual stuff. We were all huge Ghoulardi fans. He was an influence on a lot of people. You don't realize how many people bonded because of him. We were mentioned in a Ghoulardi book, and that was the pinnacle of my career. What could be better? I could die in peace now."
Splendor of Sorrow has never been released on CD before. Yarmock says the reissue has been in the works for some time and that Jones was trying to get it out before he died last year. Smog Veil owner Frank Mauceri kept at it.
"I have to admire Frank for his persistence," says Yarmock, adding that the CD features bonus cuts and extensive liner notes with archival photos. "It finally came together, and I'm really happy about the way it turned out."
Neither Yamock nor Hudson recall why the band dissolved in 1984, but each stressed there was never a divisive dispute or blow-up.
"I don't remember why we quit playing; I can't even tell you a good story," says Yarmock, now a Tremont-based artist. "Maybe Jim would have had another take on it. We went on to other things. Everyone went from one thing to the next."
Hudson, a computer analyst living outside of Nashville, agrees.
"I don't know why we broke up, but I can tell you this — the whole band was for fun," she says. "I don't know why it stopped or why we didn't pursue it, but I think it's because we felt if we really tried to work on it, it wouldn't be fun. We went to practice and whatever came out, came out. We didn't work on riffs or structure. We just did it for the fun."
I never got to hear the Easter Monkeys play, but I knew Linda Hudson, the drummer of the group some years later in Cookeville, Tennessee, where she was working in radio and local theater. She told me how the Monkeys got their name.
Forgive me for not remembering the finer points of the story, but one day they were all sitting around trying to come up with a name for the band. One of them laid eyes on a stuffed toy monkey that someone's girlfriend had bought them for Easter. "How about 'The Easter Monkeys'... and the name stuck."
I had already known Jim Jones from the record store where he managed and met Chris Yarmock through him. When I found out they had a new group and ready to play out I was excited and even more enthused that I could help out in some way w/ their inaugural debut.
Downtown Cleveland trips for me usually included various record stores, Moser's and a trip to the copy shop where they had the only color copier in town (One that could produce Iron on Transfers!).
Jones thought it would be great for the Easter Monkeys to wear some shirts emblazoned with an image of the Shroud of Turin since it was Holy Saturday and handed me a National Geographic magazine page to take to the copy shop to get some transfers done.
I made enough for their band and a couple for myself and a friend so we could proudly wear them to the gig. Well it was Holy Saturday and I was only 16 and as soon as my parents saw me going out w/ a shirt on w/ not only the Shroud and an Easter Monkeys logo but also my own addition of "Join the Shroud Crowd" painted in Holy Blood Red, I was immediately grounded, Exorcised and prayed over! Never did get to see the show! Blasphemy! Sacrilege!
But saw plenty of other shows afterwards. One of those shows being at Tucky's, an old downtown rehabbed Disco Palace that a weird old man took over and booked bands to play there.
The place was complete with a lit dance floor ballroom upstairs and a downstairs bar complete w/ swings as barstools. Put together Punks, Alcohol and swings for barstools you got a lot of trouble or maybe just bruised ribs, knees and shins.
The downstairs bar also had some old stripper stage not deep enough to accommodate a band. The drummer would have to set up there or over to the side and then everyone else would sort of stand side by side, chorus-line style to play.
Everyone always seemed to be at odds w/ old man Tucky. Lack of promised money, canceling shows, reneging on promises, etc. But it seemed like the biggest clashes were between him and The Easter Monkeys.
At the end of one of their shows (come to think of it it might have been the end of Tucky's itself) the Monkeys left the stage w/ their instruments leaned against their amps making the loudest feedback noise I've ever heard. Just that image of Old man Tucky covering his ears and screaming at the Easter Monkeys is forever burned in my memory.
Keith Richards once said: "The greatest Rock-N-Roll band in the world is a different band every night."
Over a period of two years the Easter Monkeys claimed that title at least a couple dozen times. I saw every show the Monkeys did from '81-'83. Every time, I used to think to myself: "they can't possibly be as good as the were last time." Then they would slowly fade into "Take Another Pill" and you were in their trance.
One thing that always stood out to me was how loud they were. Not loud in a shrill way, but so loud you couldn't talk to anyone (including the bartender). In fact it was hard to concentrate on anything other than the band.
Linda and Charlie's low frequency throbbing dirge rattled the walls and your soul loose. Jim's swirling sonic thrashes at his Strat, pulled you in and then pushed you back out. In the middle of it all, the horror of Chris' sax screamed in between his satirical/social outbursts about the city and world we lived in.
"Nailed To The Cross" freed me from my Catholic upbringing, with a smirk on my face. "Camera Fo" reminded me of a time when late night TV really stood for something. "Heaven 357" made me realize that someday it all just might end.
I watched as they blew the Gun Club and X back to LA! I watched as Mr. Chris fell from the stage (sax in hand) onto an empty dance floor! I watched as Jim Jones redefined how the electric guitar could be played! I watched in total delight!
Then one day it was all over! With only a slab of wax and a few home made tapes to remind of that sonic explosion on the Rock-N-Roll timeline that was called the Easter Monkeys.
The first time a saw the Easter Monkeys was at the Polish Library Home in Tremont (Which I believe was their second show) with The Clocks and Dr. Bloodmoney.
Chris' pants fell down while he was singing and then later he fell asleep on stage leaning against one of the amps. They had to wake him up to play guitar on "My Baby Digs Graves."
I was very impressed. I never missed a Monkeys show for the next three years.