The Judas Cow

The Judas Cow began life in the early 2000s as a live trio hitting some of the more prominent rock clubs around Columbus. Their style, a distinctly Midwestern, mid-tempo blend that falls somewhere between Americana and Tom Petty, seems to lend itself just as much to quiet listening sessions around the house, however, and many of us eagerly await some official recorded output.

Led by singer-guitarist-songwriter Kevin Spain, formerly of beloved local group Silo The Huskie, they would at long last release an EP in 2006, Last Summer. Prior to this, the band had circulated some demos by hand, passing Sharpie labeled discs out around town, and it’s impressive to hear how polished these songs became in the finished product. Of course, playing out constantly does help with that process. But bass player Ryan Haye had only just picked up the instrument shortly before joining the group, and you would never guess that in listening to this EP.

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Watershed

When I once remarked that I liked local band Watershed, a friend of mine agreed that they were good but that all the songs tended to sound the same after a while, and that they weren’t very original to start with. But I don’t know. Though seeing them play live twice and admittedly walking out in the middle of their set the first of those occasions, I have to kind of disagree with his assessment. And I know that they never were considered cool enough among Columbus’s taste making elite, so my support for them is surely a real eye roller. But I still think they were better than many of their massively hyped contemporaries, and I wasn’t alone in believing this. After all, Sony signed them to their Epic label at a time this was considered a very big deal indeed, releasing both a live EP and full studio album by the band.

Three Chords And A Cloud Of Dust, the live one, is a fascinating document just for its liner notes alone. Though owning this CD for a while now, I always forget that it was actually recorded in Columbus, at the Newport Music Hall, on January 14, 1994. The marquee depicted inside the disc has Watershed’s name in lights playing the Newport this particular Friday, with another local staple, Ekoostik Hookah, booked for the following Wednesday. Thank yous take up an entire page of the packaging and amount to a virtual C-bus who’s who of people and places, from music venues such as Bernie’s to the Used Kids record store to popular DJ Andyman at independent radio station CD101, musicians such as Willie Phoenix, hometown heavyweight champion Buster Douglas, and everyone else they loved down to the “sandwich artists” at a treasured Subway franchise. Naturally, the roll call would not be complete without a “fuck you” to Michigan basketball players Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard; meanwhile, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, on an opposite page this EP is dedicated to Terry Paul, who died the morning that show was recorded, without whom “the Newport will not be the same.”

This being 1994, there is no mention of a website. Similarly documenting these times in telling detail would be the subdued, black and white packaging, the presence of Spin Doctors producer Frankie LaRocka as co-helmsman (he had also kickstarted that band’s major label career with a 6 song live EP), and of course the songs themselves. Written by frontman/guitarist Colin Gawel and bassist slash forklift driver (according to the liner notes) Joe Oestreich, brought to life on stage with the assistance of drummer Herb Schupp, true, these aren’t the most groundbreaking songs then in existence, maybe, but certainly are catchy and played with a ton of enthusiasm. They call to mind a mix somewhere between the Smithereens and that loping, distinctly Midwestern take on punk rock – slower, less obviously snotty, but just as angst riddled. Gawel’s voice is perfectly pleasant and serviceable, although I find myself enjoying the moments he passes the torch briefly to Oestreich on a couple of tracks. The best selection of the set is one such number, How Do You Feel, which somehow adds an almost No Depression-esque Americana twinge to the proceedings, has a great opening riff and catchy chorus. An audience singalong in the closing moments doesn’t hurt, either.

They probably could have stood a little more variation in tempo on this selection, but you know it translated even better live than it sounds on here, and anyway, after a handful of listens most of these numbers are going to be stuck in that hummable place in your head exactly as they are. So consider this a job well done. I don’t really get nostalgic much for bygone eras, although listening to this does fill me with equal parts sadness and fascination, that a major media corporation was willing to spend money on these guys, and had faith that they just might be the next worldwide phenomenon.

Love Letter To Columbus

The first job I ever held was at a McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Mansfield, Ohio. At the time, whether it is still there or not, there was one of those familiar green highway signs directly in front of this establishment, announcing the mileage from here to two nearby cities:

Cleveland 73

Columbus 73

Which is itself an interesting piece of visual stimuli. But if I were to ask any random stranger from any other state (and possibly any random stranger from Ohio, as well), which of these two cities he/she is most familiar with – as in, not necessarily visited, but has heard the most about – he/she would without fail cite Cleveland. Yet Columbus is in fact the largest and most populous city in the state, it has been for decades. Columbus is the 15th largest city in the entire United States. Upon graduation from high school, if I had to handicap the skewed percentages, I would say that 20 of my classmates (at the bare minimum) moved to C-bus for every one that ended up in Cleveland, mostly because we considered the state capital a slam dunk far more interesting place to be. Serious folks with access to statistics debate whether Columbus is larger than Boston, Massachusetts, because it is just this close.

And yet no one has ever heard of Columbus, Ohio. The purpose of this blog shall be to investigate why. Also to shed a light on why I find this city so immensely compelling, nearly a decade after I last lived there, having been born nowhere near here. To this day I cannot wrap my mind around the intricate social experience that living in Columbus represented. Having grown up in such a countrified extreme that our postal address at one time read RR8 – as in, rural route eight, more useful a designation to the poor soul delivering our mail than either town name or zip code could have been – it would be easy for me to fall back on the tired shtick that I am a small town guy, always will be. Yet moving to C-bus at the age of 21 forever changed this; I will forevermore be a big city person, and nothing else will ever compare.

And I mean this quite literally, that nothing else can compare. The cultural experience, and the way your mind gets working in such complicated mechanisms, these are experiences you will never have living in the middle of nowhere. Anyone clinging to that dreary dogma about small town life has simply not experienced day-to-day existence in a major city. And possibly not even the right major city – for six years now, I have lived withing driving distance of and worked five days a week in Charlotte, North Carolina. Yet try though I might, it has proven virtually impossible for me to become seriously interested in the meta-story of Charlotte. I just can’t bring myself to really care about and dissect this place in quite the same way. More outsiders have probably heard of Charlotte than they have of Columbus, it even has the edge in major professional sports by a 2-1 margin, but I am here to tell you that these two cities are worlds apart. And the cultural hub of Cackalacki, or whatever you choose to call it, if I may spoil the trailer here, it suffers bigtime by comparison.

Let us begin this primer course, then (at least for as long as it is able to exist online, without being taken down for copyright infringement) by considering the following piece:

Dumb Century Cropped

Can you read this? If not I will find a way to upload in a better format. But basically my objective with this blog is to a) dig deeply into each of these stories, and many more, b) dissect how Columbus has managed to remained the country’s best kept secret thus far, c) divulge the inside tales I have, the personal histories as related by those I know, that will hopefully help to connect some of this material. I want the reader to eventually be able to, say, understand fully what is going on in this city from one end to the other in, like, the month of April 1979, or January 1994, or December 2006, in a way that would prove impossible via any other source.

So dig in, and enjoy! This is sure to be one wild yet informative ride.