Thursday, November 29, 2012


It was August 2002, and I had just received a phone call from my friend Erik asking if I wanted to go with him to Charleston, West Virginia for the evening.

He went on to tell me that a new club had just opened on Kanawha Boulevard, and he was going to make the 45-minute drive to check it out.

I had nothing better to do so I said “sure" and, along with our buddy Chris, we headed out for the highway.

As it would turn out, our destination was the spot that is now known as The Sound Factory.

When we arrived around 7 o’clock that evening and strolled up to the door none other than John Kerwood was there to greet us.

By this point, I hadn’t seen Kerwood in five years, the last time having been while I was still working at Davidson’s Music on Fourth Avenue in Huntington.

He stopped by one afternoon and hit that place like a tornado – literally bouncing off the walls and talking at the speed of sound.

Then, in a split second, he was gone and I hadn't the slightest idea what became of him over the next half decade.

(As it would turn out, he spent those years drifting around Charleston, no doubt plotting his next endeavor.)

Honestly, the Kerwood that I knew existed in the crazy stories and interesting anecdotes that I heard told about him by those whom knew him best.

Frankly, I didn't know whether to believe what I heard or not given the ridiculous nature of those tales.

The first time that I did meet him, however, occurred in the summer of 1994, when I was 17-years-old.

Gumby’s was looking to host its first show outside of the four walls of 1318 4th Ave., and Kerwood and company had set their sights on downtown Huntington’s Harris Riverfront Park.

There were only two problems with this idea:

1. Huntington’s mayor (Jean Dean) was a notorious opponent of the city’s nightlife.
2. The band was Cannibal Corpse.

the thought of holding it downtown was quickly nixed, but the show would go on (at a Building off of Route 60, in Huntington's Pea Ridge neighborhood).

Around this time a childhood friend of mine was hanging out with Kerwood, and he had asked if she knew anyone that could assist in the show’s promotion.

Because she was acutely aware of my growing enthusiasm for the local scene there was no hesitation on her part to inquire if I would be interested in helping out in exchange for free admission to the show.

I agreed, and went with my brother and a couple of friends to meet Kerwood at Gumby's on a Monday afternoon to pick up some promotional materials.

From there we proceeded to blanket the entire City of Huntington with Cannibal Corpse flyers anywhere we thought people would see them - hell, even a tree in Woodmere Cemetery (one of our usual hangouts) was sporting one after we'd finished.

On the day of the show we drove to the venue and, much to our surprise, were turned away at the door because only one of us would be allowed to enter.

So, we declined the offer and went on our way, understandably pissed.

Fast forward eight years later and Kerwood was greeting me at the door of his new venture in Charleston (called Club 812 at the time ) like a long-lost friend, and any animosity that I may have harbored over my denial into that show quickly evaporated.

It's my belief that he had this characteristic that prevented anyone from disliking him; to the contrary, the guy was infinitely likable.

But, it was evident from the start that he was quite proud of his new establishment, and understandably so.

Kerwood was responsible for nearly every detail and personally did much of the work on the club which, as of my last visit in may 2010, appeared to still be intact, perhaps in tribute to him.

On that night in 2002, Kerwood wasted no time in giving us a tour of the joint, complete with a visit to the third floor, which doubled as his living quarters.

(For those whom may not be aware, Kerwood resided above Gumby's at 1318 1/2 4th Ave. until the electricity was finally turned off in February 1995, following the closing of the club by fire inspectors.)

Following our tour, Kerwood informed his bar staff working that night that "anything these guys want is on me."

We spent that night partying long after the bar had closed, and it wasn't until the sun had come up that we finally walked to the car and began the return trip to Huntington.

None of us could have guessed that would be the last time we'd ever see Kerwood alive.

John Kerwood died five months later on December 29, 2002. He was 39-years-old.

I was living in Georgia at the time when I got a phone call from an old friend in January 2003, relaying the grim news.

The saddest part is that, for the first time since his Gumby's days, Kerwood had built something from the ground up for which he could truly be proud again.

Fortunately, The Sound Factory is still alive and well, and as long as that's the case, John Kerwood will always be (at least in my mind).

In fact, during my aforementioned visit to the place in 2010, I couldn't help but think about those whom had gathered there that night and whether they understood how they came to be there…in that moment?

The vast majority of people were well younger than I, so it's highly unlikely they knew the answer to that question.

That, to me, is the biggest motivating factor as to why you're reading this now.

John Kerwood left an indelible  mark on both Huntington and Charleston, and his is a legacy that deserves to be celebrated and honored.

I'd like to think that Huntington, West Virginia is a much better place for him having called it home.

The 10th anniversary of John Kerwood's passing is approaching, and because I know that my own story undoubtedly pales in comparison to many others, I encourage you to leave yours.

It's the least you can do for a man that enriched all of our lives.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Lexington Connection

Lexington, Kentucky’s influence on what would become the Huntington, West Virginia music scene can hardly be overstated.

The fact is that they had their shit together long before Huntington had a clue.

The scene in Lexington that would flourish in the early-1990’s, and have a profound effect on Huntington began in the mid-1980’s, and could likely be traced to the release of Vale Of Tears’ album ‘Songs From The Bible Belt’ in 1986.

(Vale Of Tears' 'Songs From The Bible Belt', Cryin' Time Records, 1986)

The album proved to other Kentuckians that it was, in fact, possible to record and release music on your own terms, but it was a student at the University of Kentucky and an idealist with an ambitious idea that both embodied the Do-It-Yourself ethic that influenced a number of hopeful novices whom would form the nucleus of Huntington’s own scene.

David Angstrom was a student at U.K. when he made his first foray into the Lexington music scene as a member of the short-lived bands The Mange and JB & The Five Blind Boys, but it wasn’t until his third attempt at this concept that he hit pay dirt.

Skinny Bones was a three-piece featuring Angstrom on guitar and vocals, Jon McGee on drums, and David Barrick on bass. (Barrick would soon exit the band, however, to focus on his fledgling recording operation, and Mark Hendricks was added as his replacement.)

(Jon McGee, Mark Hendricks and David Angstrom)

It was also around this time that the band re-christened themselves Black Cat Bone, and began gigging locally and building a reputation as a formidable live attraction.

Meanwhile, David Butler was hatching a plan of his own, and an audacious one at that.

His idea was to create a venue in Lexington that would afford local musicians the opportunity to perform their original material in a live setting, and it came to fruition in the fall of 1988 when The Wrocklage opened its doors to the public.

(Martin Shearer, Bill Bruening and David Butler)

Butler’s own recently formed band, Stranglmartin, would also be among the city’s first acts to tour nationally, as well as overseas, after embarking on a trek to support their self-titled 1990 debut album.

Nine Pound Hammer, with one album already under their belt (1988’s ‘The Mud, the Blood, and the Beers’), also began making headway nationally and would prove to be one of Lexington’s longest-running outfits. (Guitarist Blaine Cartwright later surfaced in the cow-punk band Nashville Pussy.)

Black Cat Bone, on the other hand, was prepping its first record (with Barrick in the producer’s chair) that would initially be released on Angstrom’s newly-formed, independent imprint, Coda Records, a record label that would go on to release the debut albums of such Lexington bands as 10 Foot Pole and Candy Says, as well as the ‘Bigger Than You’ compilation.

(10 Foot Pole's 'Fuel To Keep Us Cool', Coda Records, 1993)

(‘Truth’ would be re-released in 1992 after Black Cat Bone inked a deal with Chameleon Records, the parent company of Dali Records, then home to a little-known band by the name of Kyuss.)

This fertile 1991-92 period also produced Groovezilla’s ‘Search for Neverland,’ The Blueberries’ ‘Dinner’ and Nine Pound Hammer’s sophomore effort, ‘Smokin’ Taters!’

All the while, Butler continued to pull double-duty, overseeing the success of The Wrocklage (which was now booking bands on an almost nightly basis) and putting the finishing touches on Stranglmartin’s second, and best, album, 1993’s ‘Wiregrass,’ which would be released on his own Wrocklage Wreckords.

Stranglmartin’s third, and final, album, ‘For the Sake of Argument,’ was released in 1995, and the band called it quits not long thereafter.

Following Black Cat Bone’s major-label record deal, the band flew to New York and filmed a music video for ‘Truth’s lead track, “The Epic Continues,” and though it received some airplay, the band would not breakthrough nationally, but instead disband following the recording of their second album, the Chris Goss-produced ‘Real.’ (The album would go unreleased for more than 10 years, only seeing the light of day, via an independent label, in the mid-2000’s.)

Angstrom then assembled Control Freak with Abusement Park members Elwood Francis (guitar) and Will Pieratt (bass), and recent Lexington transplant Chuck Nicholas (drums), formerly of Huntington’s Guru Lovechild.

Control Freak had a relatively brief existence, but eventually led to the formation of Supafuzz, Angstrom’s most enduring vehicle, and a band that would also have its own brush with nationwide recognition, beginning with the release of its debut album, ‘Pretty Blank Page,’ in 1997.

David Barrick’s modest recording operation would morph into Barrick Recording, and he would continue to produce a number of Lexington bands over the next 20 years, and also became the go-to producer for the vast majority of Huntington bands that released albums in the early-to-mid-1990’s.

Sadly, The Wrocklage would cease operation in the fall of 1996, and all but bring a close to this era in Lexington’s music history.

Fortunately, the bands from this period spent a great deal of time making the two-hour drive to Huntington and performed frequently at Gumby’s, ensuring that their legacy and influence would be far more reaching than they could have possibly imagined.

Here's a baker’s dozen of the finest Lexington had to offer during the years 1989-1998:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Dark Ages

The story of how 1318 4th Ave. came to be is as complicated a one as any told, and one would think that an initiation into a secret society would be a requirement to tell it.

Put simply, it’s ancient fucking history, and most people would rather not talk about it, or at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten over my years and efforts to tell the tale.

What can be told is the building had long been a downtown Huntington hallmark, and passed through a number of owners and existed under various incarnations from at least the 1950’s to present day.

By the late-1980’s, however, the building lay dormant when two partners of a club in West Virginia’s capital city of Charleston decided to make something of it.

(1318 4th Ave., Huntington, West virginia, May 1995)

Jon Steele and John Kerwood operated the The Levee and The Empty Glass, both staples of Charleston’s nightlife throughout the late-1980’s, early-1990’s, and their vision of an alternative to the banal club scene in downtown Huntington, which would be located merely blocks from Marshall University’s campus, eventually led to the creation of Gumby’s. (In fact, The Empty Glass continues to operate to this very day, albeit under different management.)

By 1990, Huntington had tried its hand at this idea before – just two years earlier The Rock N Roll Café appeared poised to provide that alternative, and also hosted live music (bands such as Soul Asylum and L.A. Guns appeared at the club in 1988 alone).

(Burke Allen, a DJ for Huntington's WKEE 100.5, also operated his own eponymous all-ages club for a short period in the late-1980s, and held "Battle of the Band" competitions that would feature the future members of many of the region's most notable bands.)

The plug was pulled on The Rock N Roll Café just prior to Marshall’s Homecoming Week 1989, effectively canceling previously-booked live acts like Skinny Puppy and Otis Day & The Knights (of National Lampoon’s Animal House fame), both of whom were set to appear, and Burke Allen's closed not long thereafter.

So, in a fleeting moment both clubs were gone, and so was the hope of a small, but growing conglomerate of college students and recent high school graduates who longed for a place to call their own.

(Unfortunately for them, however, their members numbered in the few at the time.)

Much to everyone’s surprise, however, was that soon thereafter a shift began to occur, and while it wasn’t one of seismic proportions, it was evident a sea change was forming.

Davidson’s Music, an independent record store in downtown Huntington, underwent a change in ownership in October 1990, and, as a result, a change in personality.

The store began to cater to college students and took advantage of the then-relatively obscure college rock demographic that would, in a few short years, emerge from the underground and into mainstream consciousness.

Simultaneously, Marshall’s student-operated radio station, WMUL 88.1, a Huntington institution since 1961, also began a shift toward the same demographic championed by Davidson’s, due in no small part to the eventual contributions of two of its own student DJ’s.

Seemingly over night, these two factions would all but converge (as DJ's became record store employees) and play a vital role in the duration of each other’s existence.

It was during this gathering storm that Steele and Kerwood decided that the vacant building at 1318 4th Ave. would provide the ideal spot to realize their vision of an alternative Huntington club.

Although unbeknownst to them at the time, their vision would eventually rival that of West virginia’s other notable alternative club - Morgantown, West Virginia’s Underground Railroad (later known as the Nyabinghi Dance Hall), itself located only a few short blocks from the West Virginia University campus.

(Underground Railroad newspaper ad, The Daily Athenaeum, April 1986)

But, what would perhaps become the biggest inspiration for what 1318 4th Ave. became was The Wrocklage, a Lexington, Kentucky, rock club that opened in October 1988, and featured acts such as Soundgarden, The Flaming Lips and Screaming Trees well before the Gumby's contingent began booking live music.

The Wrocklage was conceived by David Butler, vocalist/guitarist of Lexington’s Stranglmartin, and not only did the club book up-and-coming national acts, but it also provided a venue for bands from the fruitful local scene to ply their trade.

(The Wrocklage's show calendar, October 1991)

Bands calling themselves Skinny Bones (soon to be known as Black Cat Bone), Groovezilla and 10 Foot Pole, just to name a few, all began cutting their teeth and honing their chops at the Wrocklage, and this formula of booking nationally-recognized acts coupled with homegrown talent proved to be a successful one.

The idea would not be lost on those whom would be instrumental in the development of Huntington’s own music scene, and it helped to legitimize 1318 4th Ave. as a viable option for both touring bands and local musicians to perform their music in a live setting.

A Simple Vision

Once upon a time, in a sleepy Appalachian town called Huntington, West Virginia, a music venue located at 1318 4th Avenue was ground zero for a cultural revolution the likes of which the city had ever seen.

For the ten years that spanned 1989 - 1998, the building located at that address played host to hundreds of national and local bands, and provided an outlet to countless disaffected youth that weren't content to spend their college years engaging in traditional activities such as pledging fraternities and going to football games.

In this city on the Ohio River's edge existed a growing number of alienated twenty-something artists and musicians who would collectively fashion a reputable music scene that championed substance over style, and would influence countless generations to come.

Although 1318 4th Avenue would be known by two different names during this period - first, as Gumby's and, later, Drop Shop - the shared vision of its benefactors ensured that nothing was lost in transition, and that original vision of creating a legitimate music venue in this unassuming town remained firmly intact.

This blog is intended to pay tribute to those risk-takers and artists that not only helped shape Huntington into what it is today, but was also instrumental in making me the man that I have become.