Connie Burg and I met Sumner Crane and Nancy Arlen in late 1975, and quickly decided to start a band. Sumner had been playing piano since he was a kid and I trumpet, guitar and more recently bass, but we were for the most part self taught. Connie decided to pick up a guitar and we started jamming in Nancy’s loft on Broadway and Duane St. where Sumner lived downstairs. For the first few months it was just piano, bass and acoustic guitar, with some paper bag percussion from Nancy. Our biggest rock influence at the time was Velvet Underground so we started jamming on some of their songs till we found our own. Tape one begins with Sumner alone playing over a Sweet Jane riff with his own blues styled fills, then goes onto Pale Blue Eyes, the first song Connie would sing. Our first original song with Sumner’s lyrics was Cry, also the only song to make the transition from our acoustic to electric lineup. The set ends with a blues jam with Sumner improvising a story about a leather jacket. Here we’re joined by Jody Harris on guitar, who had been playing with us in the loft for a couple months until Sumner, for practical reasons – given that no clubs had pianos – decided to switch to guitar, at which time Jody gracefully bowed out. Jody: “Yeah, dim memory, being in Sumner's loft for the first time -- maybe hadn't met him yet. It would have been with Nancy. He was in a back room, hunched over the piano like a spider, playing great rolling two-handed blues and muttering away in the most sinister voice I ever heard. It was like something creeping up on you. So I thought, ok, Toto, this is the real thing”.
So we went electric, and Nancy bought a drum set, after we made a ridiculous attempt to find a drummer via a classified ad in the village voice. This must have been around September 76, and we practiced a few more months building a set before asking for a Monday audition slot at CBGB’s in January ’77. For this we needed a name so we started off calling ourselves China, for reasons nobody seems to remember. Hilly Krystal seemed to appreciate our quirky approach and put us on monthly rotation, which we pretty much stayed on till August ’78. However, as we’d cranked up the rehearsal volume considerably, Nancy’s neighbors forced us to find another space. We moved to Donny Christensen’s place on Warren Street, just a few blocks away, where the Cramps and others were already installed. There we met Lydia Lunch and James Chance, who were squatting next door, and soon started playing together there as well, in Teenage Jesus. This period is well represented by a complete rehearsal set on Tape 1 Side B, although the tape was marked Mars, so it must have been just after we changed our name.
Summer ’77 was another turning point, as our sound matured we started to experiment more with song forms, dissonance and disassociation, the first example probably being 11000 Volts, several versions of which are on Tape 2, Side A, from towards the end of that year. We were still playing some of our earlier songs in mutated versions, but moving further and further away from our homespun NY “pop” to some darker unexplored place, guided as always by Sumner.
The next side is taken from a cassette I carried away from the recording session for No New York, with alternate takes and rough Eno mixes of the same four songs on the album. Don’t remember much of this session but it does away with the notion that we were a one take recording band, though all takes were recorded live with no overdubs.
Sometime in Spring ’78 we moved again, to a duplex on Delancey Street where Lydia was living and rehearsing, and our sound continued to evolve, or devolve, with detuned guitars and bass, warped rhythms and more of Sumner’s unique words and madness. Tape 3 begins with the period right after No New York, with some of the same songs, and others, like Cairo, which were never recorded in studio. Around this time we played at Irving Plaza, in August ’78, which will soon be documented on LP, but in rehearsals we were looser, more internalized and often drew the songs out longer. The first side unfortunately is cut off in the middle of a song that I have no recollection of.
Side B is from our last month or so of existence, probably just before we played our last gig at Max’s Kansas City in December, as well as our last recording session for the Mars EP, soon after. By then we’d made our final migration, to an office in the American Thread Building, back in Tribeca again still some time before gentrification. The building was empty at night and inhabited by ghosts that we channeled in our final electric gasps.
Please excuse all abrupt endings, lo-fi sound and dropouts, it’s what was left on the tapes once I dug them out of various boxes after years of hibernation. Keep in mind almost all were recorded on pre walkman desktop mono cassette recorders,which nevertheless had a warm condensed sound which faithfully transmits the atmosphere of those turbulent long gone but thankfully not forgotten times in late ‘70s Manhattan.