Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Story of The Ophelias


San Francisco based combo The Ophelias were one of the most perfectly beautiful bands it was ever my good fortune to stumble upon and stumble upon them I did at English Weather, the late Steve Burgess’ record shop in Crouch End back in the late eighties. Burgess was a miserable old sod at the best of times but like me he was always searching out new music to enchant and delight all us already seasoned music listeners. It was there that I first discovered Camper Van Beethoven and soon after that The Big O by The Ophelias, an album I fell madly in love with on the very first play. They were wild and romantic, one moment exquisitely melodic, then blazingly bold the next and like nothing I’d ever heard before. Musically the band were dripping with finesse from every pore, psychedelic, progressive and literate pop rolled into one succulent spliff of listening joy and they played it like they loved being The Ophelias and who could blame them? The rhythm section of Terry von Blankers and Edward Benton were superbly deft and precise, dancing through the inventive arrangements with both grace and unmistakable weight. Splattered over the top was the intelligently maniacal tour de force axe wielding magnificence of craftsman supreme, David Immergluck in a display of such unfettered multilayered brilliance that it surely should have overshadowed all else contained within the album.  And yet even that stood back for the true reason for us all being here, the passionate genius of Leslie Medford. A brilliant, innovative and wholly unique songwriter who seemingly obeyed no rules but his own whims and yet served up sublime often complex tunes that were somehow always an easy delight to hear. Engagingly strange lyrics that were both pre-Raphaelite in their crafted detail but totally vital in their touching resonance and sly humour, wrapped lovingly in bewitching melodic magic, enough to make your toes curl with pleasure at every twist and turn.  And then the cream on top of this mighty, sonically engaging creatively unbound cake was The Voice. Medford was gifted with a vocal of such luscious purity and emotion, that you could only sit back in awe and pleasure at the velvet honey bliss of it all. Most singers with such a sweetly rich and notable voice would be content to swaddle themselves in it like a comfort blanket eshuing all else but then Medford being Medford such a limitation, no matter how lovely it is, was not something he would take as a source of contentment. The Ophelias were driven by adventure and Medford, being a big fan of Peter Hammill, understood the voice should adapt to the various musical settings presented by that adventure. Like Hammill, he can be quietly gentle and then a moment later extreme with unshackled screaming desire.  But unlike Hammill whose voice sounds just harsh and brutal at points, (not that I ever had a problem with that I should point out) Medford cannot escape the natural loveliness of his glorious voice even at his harshest moments. I loved his warm, whatever it takes singing for all its coy playfulness, mocking loftiness and whimsically effortless “let’s rock” attitude.


Back in the pre-internet days it was hard to find out anything about an American indie band only released on import other than the scant information on the cover. All you could really do was search the local record shops in the hope of eventually turning up something else. And within a few months I found a previous album, Oriental Head which was another gem and an earlier, rather wonderful three track 12 inch with a different line up, sans Immergluck, which I assumed was the debut release. It wasn’t until I was working at Minus Zero a few years later that a copy of the actual self titled debut album fell into my hands and the collection was complete. There had been nothing since The Big O and Immergluck was in Monks of Doom and then the Counting Crows so it seemed The Ophelias were sadly no more. The debut album is understandably slightly eclipsed by the later two recorded by the definitive line-up but still, if it had turned out to be The Ophelias only release, Medford is such a unmistakable talent that this lovely album would still be seen as something special.  I continued to search the credits on likely looking unknown new albums in the hope that one would turn out to be Medford’s latest musical venture but alas there was nothing to be found. And then one day Mr. Immergluck, in town with the Counting Crows, turned up at Minus Zero and confirmed my fears that after The Ophelias Medford had retired from music completely and moved far out into the sticks. So that was that then.
If any band could be called the legendary lost band it should be The Ophelias. Their albums were quite impossible to find and as time moved on they never got reissued or rediscovered. They remained unknown to all but the few. Ophelia herself had drowned in a river while The Ophelias had drowned in undeserved obscurity.
Not so in San Francisco it seemed where in certain intelligent musical circles they were still viewed as the most important band on the scene at that time.  Game Theory’s Scott Miller was a huge fan, as was Michael Quercio from the Three O’Clock, going together to every Ophelias show they could and standing open mouthed in the audience at what they were witnessing.  Roger Manning and Andy Sturmer, then in the rather lame Beatnik Beach, would attend many shows their minds racing with the musical possibilities the Ophelias laid out before them and from that enlightenment the seeds of Jellyfish were born. (After Jason Falkner walked away from Jellyfish, Immergluck was their primary choice to replace him… he turned them down.)


I always wanted to do The Story of The Ophelias but even with the internet in full flow information on the band was skeletal at best. I often searched for Medford in the backwaters of Goggle but he proved to be tantalisingly elusive, the Scarlet Pimpernel of rock.  And then just like that he appeared in my inbox a few months ago, having noticed some comment I had made about the band on some forum many years before. He wanted to tell me about Bare Bodkin the wonderful audio visual event he had been working on all year to celebrate the legacy of the band and now available on YouTube. He had finally reached the age where he was ready to dig out the big box of live, demo and rehearsal tapes from the back of the closet where it had sat undisturbed for all those years and begin the long task of archiving it all.  Since that time Leslie and I have been painstakingly working together to bring you the definitive history of the band, taking our time and patiently waiting until all the pieces we could gather together arrived.  Besides Leslie both Ed Benton and David Immergluck soon climbed on board  and their contributions to our story have been both wonderful and generous in the extreme.  It’s been a lot of fun and very much a dream come true for me. And now at last we are ready to present the outcome of our efforts. Off we go then.


Bare Bodkin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEG_w1Foqh8

Leslie: “I approached Bare Bodkin as if it would be the last will and testament of The Ophelias, as if it alone might be our legacy. In the mid-Nineties I had played with the concept of a “best foot forward” kind of compilation from our studio output. At that point I put together a prototype version of Bare Bodkin on CDR for my own listening. The initial version was nineteen tracks, but almost immediately I reduced it to fifteen as a more digestible length. I toyed with the song sequence a few times but the selections have remained the same. Whenever I listened to that compilation, perhaps once a year, it satisfied, so the concept was c lear to me. But the idea that there would be a YouTube and that YouTube would become the crux of the matter as regards a band’s legacy, as opposed to vinyl records and compact discs, has been a big surprise. I never watched a YouTube video until 2015. I had no idea about any of this. It’s a whole new universe and I’m just so amazed and delighted to see things like The Nice at Croyden 1968! It really is a new paradigm with a resultant renaissance. And for now it’s how the grand old stuff will live on, at least for most people in this new 100% digital age.

The fact that Bare Bodkin has come to YouTube with remastered sound and a rather complex visual presentation has been an amazing journey, one of countless hours spent on my own in preparation. I did the remastering, I scanned and cleaned photographs for months, I plotted filmic sequences. But, after all that, without Carl Salbacka as a project partner the YouTube Channel wouldn’t have happened. Carl has been the indispensable man with his expertise in all things computer. All Ophelias fans, old or new, have Carl to thank for the way Bare Bodkin looks, (and that it can be viewed at all!) and I am lucky indeed that Carl continues to partner with me to create additional videos. More on Mr Salbacka later.

I’m absolutely badgering the others for more photographs of them and the lads are cleaning out their closets to find more fodder. You ask “why didn’t you do this before?” Well, I wanted to have something special in hand to surprise when I reemerged from the mists. Bare Bodkin is my gift to them most of all. We are using any usable photograph in my archive, most of which are from photographer “contact sheets” with small thumbnail sized images requiring enlargement and cleaning. Drummers always get short-changed by photographers who don’t generally climb onto the stage for the optimum angles required to get good drummer shots, and that’s a shame. But you would think David Immergluck (to use just one example) would have inspired a helluva lot of camera clicking. Unfortunately, being viewed as the focal point of The Ophelias meant I appear in seemingly nine out of ten still photographs, instead of their being any sort of appropriate distribution. Carl and I worked with this handicap on Bare Bodkin and to a large extent the landscape has not changed. It’s a very finite number – photos of Ophes – but we’re exploiting what there is. Not only do the visuals give the songs an additional dimension, but I also believe Bare Bodkin may be our best “record”. The remastering has the band sounding robust, the song selection and the sequencing create a successful theatrical whole. It is certainly more indicative of The Ophelias modus operendi than the few shambolic live clips of the band that exist, though these too have their place in our story. Anyway, I hope well-wishers will subscribe to our channel and watch the new offerings as they come out. We appreciate very much those who previously posted our songs on YouTube over the years, but now there's a huge upgrade available: Bare Bodkin and the other content on The Ophelias Official YouTube Channel.”

Update. The Ophelias' Bandcamp page is now up and running

https://theopheliasofficial.bandcamp.com/


Medford on his pre-Ophe years…

Leslie: “I was born in Appomattox, Virginia, the town made famous by General Lee’s surrender which ended the War for Southern Independence, styled by the winners as the “American Civil War”. In my home there was the European Classical repertoire, the Methodist Hymnal, Appalachian folk music, some real Country, and a little bit of pop like Broadway and movie musicals and the Tijuana Brass. My affection for the Kinks and the great Prog-rockers was tolerated to a degree because of their Britishness, artiness and musicality. More subversive things needed to be kept well-hidden or confrontation ensued, because music and morality were taken very seriously.


I was at least as athletic and outdoorsy as I was musical or studious. My upbringing was rural but my parents made sure museums and high culture were part of my life. Virginia has so much history that everywhere you turn the past is being honoured. Also, the world of Nature - both wild and tamed (farmed) - was my constant companion. I spent much of my day time out of doors. My mother was a farmer’s daughter, my father a Marine, and I was decidedly not mollycoddled! It was hard work in the gardens, hard work at the desk before any free time was allowed…and though I was an avid reader from an early age I loved being out of doors, playing sports with my friends or camping in the woods. I passed my Eagle Scout Board at age thirteen and received the award at fourteen, which is in the minimum time possible due to time-in-grade requirements. I was always on some school or club team in the various sports. My father was a lacrosse All-America at university, and my mother was a piano teacher and choral director. So perhaps athletics and music were in my genes. Disappointingly for my folks, religious belief is not transferred generationally in the same way.

Leslie Medford (second seated player from the right) absorbs Horse strategy for trans-generational shape throwing.

Seemingly infinite were the church and classical music performances I attended or participated in during my youth, but I also began going to rock concerts in February of 1974. Emerson Lake and Palmer was my first concert. I was thirteen, near the stage and blown away!  I never saw ELP again but did catch, in the mid-Seventies and multiple times, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Gentle Giant, PFM, Jethro Tull, Curved Air, Gong, Caravan, the Strawbs, Peter Gabriel, Brand X. I saw the Kinks, Roxy Music, Rory Gallagher, Steeleye Span; the Stones in 1976. I never did see Van der Graaf Generator, though I did see Hammill both solo, duo, and trio and once hung out with him backstage for ninety minutes. Ah, those were the days when gods walked the earth…these guys were dynamite! Post 1976 I saw Television four times, and Richard Lloyd once, Talking Heads a bunch. The first American tours of Tom Verlaine, Pretenders, Ultravox, U2, Gang of Four, the Cure, Killing Joke, Psychedelic Furs, OMD, Public Image and Bauhaus!


          Medford: I stood next to my friend John Malde as he took this photo of Jon Anderson

 I was a good student and was admitted to the universities to which I applied: Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Washington and Lee, and Lewis and Clark. Stanford offered a year abroad program at Oxford which attracted me and I chose to go there. My anglophilia was massive at that time due to my love of British rock, folk music and literature, though world history and Russian literature were also a focal point during my university years and into the present. My first year at Stanford I played Ariel in The Tempest to excellent reviews.  Prospero was played by one of my Shakespeare professors and though I didn’t follow the acting path as some believed I should I played major roles in two other classical drama productions while at university. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree.


The only real ambition I ever felt was for a career in rock music.  But I never talked about it, least of all to my parents. I had piano lessons from an early age, then trumpet lessons but by thirteen or so I was fancying myself as a singer and lyricist. In high school I had a friend who was a well-above-average guitarist and I thought we might make a song-writing team but though I fed him lyrics he never wrote any music for them. Eventually I realized I needed to take the bull by the horns and learn to play the guitar myself because I was filled with musical ideas I needed to get out. It takes several years to teach yourself guitar well enough to perform but songs can take shape almost immediately once you learn a few chords and this was the case with me. I started setting my lyrics from the get-go. "Stay With Me" is my first song, written within days of my getting an acoustic guitar. This song later appeared on Oriental Head.  But to improve on the instrument quickly enough I just started learning by ear dozens of songs from records.

                           The Voyage of the Dark-Eyed Sailor- CDR front cover

 In February 1982 I self-released a cassette album of bedroom recordings from the previous two years, all originals,now called The Voyage of the Dark-Eyed Sailor but simply referred to as "Prototype" when first released. Very callow, very rough but good ideas and well received by my friends and acquaintances at least.  In point of fact it is still requested by old friends who got one of the original cassettes that I send them a replacement CDR version…this in 2017! Ha! "Stay With Me", "She", "Living Under", "New Society", "In America The Other Day" were all on that in early form.

                                             .
 Later in 1982 I began performing solo in public and between August 1982 and March 1984, that's twenty months, I played over 150 paid solo shows at restaurants, coffee houses, bars and universities, many of them three 40 minute sets. My repertoire was eclectic to say the least. I started out playing familiar things: Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Cat Stevens, "Pinball Wizard" and the like. I had to get hired after all! As I was accepted on that circuit I began stretching out more, interjecting more and more originals, and punkish things.  I did some Bauhaus, Pistols, Clash. My 12-string versions of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and Iggy's "The Passenger" were particularly well-received I remember. As my fingerpicking became more confident I included songs by Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Greg Lake, Peter Hammill, Roy Harper, Kevin Coyne, and Syd Barrett. It was my convincing versions of Syd stuff that brought me to the attention of Gavin Blair of True West, (who released their cover of Barrett's "Lucifer Sam" in 1982) and then Barrett-aficionado Brian Ritchie of Violent Femmes, a band who took the college circuit by storm in 1983.


 I had been offered the support slot of the Violent Femmes show at the University of California-Davis where I had played once or twice before at the Student Union and gone down well. The Violent Femmes date was on my birthday, 30 October 1983. I played seven songs, three by Barrett, "Octopus", "Long Gone", "Here I Go" and four of my own in Barrett style, "The Night Of Halloween", "Even As the Days Change" and "Circle" in particular being very Barrett indeed. Brian Ritchie whom I hadn't met at that point, came right up to the foot of the stage and was leading the cheers. Not only did the Violent Femmes sing Happy Birthday to me later as part of their set but Brian insisted I play the same seven songs at the University of California -Berkeley and San Francisco State University the next two nights. He just hired me on the spot and made it happen. Ha! I had a lot of over the moon times during those twenty months but those three shows were a highlight for certain. At that point I knew I was ready for the next step, which was, of course, forming a band."

The forming of The Ophelias and the Sam Babbitt period

                                                   Sam Babbitt and Leslie Medford


Medford had been living in the hills above Oakland and had a job as a filing clerk for an Oakland Law Firm, Boornazian, Jensen and Garthe. In early 1984 he wound down his solo performing and that summer recorded a set of home demos of songs he wanted a band to perform. The result was the BrowBeat cassette, featuring among its twelve songs the earliest versions of "Mister Rabbit", "Southeast Asian American Blues", "Palindrome", and "Pretty Green Ice-box Eyes".

Leslie: “I settled on the name The Ophelias during a viewing of Laurence Olivier's Hamlet of 1948 at the UC Theatre on Berkeley's University Avenue. I giggled, thinking it was just right. Since I figured San Francisco was the headquarters of the local music scene I placed my seeking-guitarist adverts in the local papers on that side of the bay. Respondents were given the BrowBeat cassette.”

In performance The Ophelias were always a four-piece. Besides Leslie Medford, bassist Terry von Blankers was the only member of the band from the beginning to the end. He played bass during every public appearance the group made. However the distinction of being the first band member to join goes to Samuel Babbitt the original lead guitarist.

Leslie: “I chose him after a series of advertisements and auditions during the fall of 1984. I thought we had real rapport both musically and personally. We became great friends. Sam and I hung out pretty constantly for a year and a half at his place on Oak Street across from Golden Gate Park and after Terry joined at his flat further down Haight Street. Sam always rode a motorcycle and had a black leather jacket on which he painted The Ophelias in kind of a Jackson Pollock style. That was right at the beginning and tres cool. He was such a charismatic hipster – a real one-off character – he gave the band immediate gravitas. I was proud that he wanted to partner up with me."


Sam and I engaged the G-Spot rehearsal space on Frederick Street in the Haight District of San Francisco and began rehearsing as a duo, but of course with the intention of finding a bassist and drummer. I'm sure they never played together - which would have made for an early four-piece - but two interesting characters who each played separately with Sam and I were my friend bassist M.T. Ferrari and Sam's drummer friend Melanie Clarin. Ferrari was clear he wasn't an Ophe-to-be, he was on a different track in life, but he was a great chap, and he inadvertently achieved immortality via his appearance on "Lightning Tide" on The Ophelias Channel, (ha!) an extemporaneous G-Spot recording from a November 1984 rehearsal. Melanie Clarin also played with Sam and I, oh perhaps four or five times in late '84.

                                                                         Melanie Clarin

I was quite ready to offer her the chair but Sam told me, and Melanie confirmed, that she believed we needed a "more accomplished" drummer. I don't know about that. Melanie had a great big thumpy sound, established beats that made things like "There's A Bell", "Palindrome" and "The Big (Myopian)" really groove, and she could sing harmonies and choruses while she played. She had a lovely personality and looked great! What was not to like!? But she nipped the talk of her joining in the bud. She loved to play, was good company, and left me feeling that perhaps I hadn't passed her audition. I cannot recall if the Donner Party was in nascent form at that time, but she ended up with them and the Cat Heads both, and in Harm Farm and others a bit later. Much later, in 1989, when my face appeared on the cover of the San Francisco Bay Guardian the Donner Party used it as a poster for one of their gigs, apparently poking fun at my brief liason with Melanie, at least that's how I took it. Though neither M.T. Ferrari nor Melanie became Ophelias they certainly helped Sam and I move our project forward, and I thank them for it!

It was Babbitt who suggested a tryout for von Blankers who was attending the San Francisco Art Institute at the time. No other bass player was auditioned as Medford took Babbitt’s recommendation and a personal liking to the gangly Dutchman. Reuben Chandler was also a friend of Babbitt, and in December was selected drummer from the four who were auditioned, thus, the original line-up was complete. The band then started rehearsals, nine hours a week, at G-Spot Rehearsal Studio on Frederick Street in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

In March 1985 the nascent group's three-song rehearsal cassette received the only "Perfect 10" ever awarded by the judges of San Francisco Music Calendar's Demo Derby. Encouraged by this feedback and the good performances The Ophelias were now executing in rehearsal, they determined it was time to seek live engagements. Toward that end the foursome decided they should present to clubs a demo tape made at a professional recording studio.

                 Babbitt, von Blankers, Medford, Chandler - the first line-up

Again, it was Babbitt who suggested Tom Mallon Studios, a comparatively inexpensive 8-track studio in San Francisco. In two four-hour sessions on consecutive days in May 1985 with Tom Mallon engineering, the band recorded two Medford originals: "Clash Of The Titans" and "Southeast Asian American Blues", and a version of a Public Domain Southern folksong called "Mister Rabbit". The songs were recorded live as a band the first day, with Medford adding trumpet and Mallon creating the final mixes on the second day. Though originally envisioned as simply a demo to present to local clubs with an eye on getting gigs, all three tracks later appeared on the first LP when it was released twenty months later.

Unfortunately Chandler was experiencing personal problems and shortly after the Mallon sessions returned to Florida, leaving The Ophelias without a drummer. They halted rehearsals, for five months as it turned out, thinking he would return and no approaches to local venues were made during that time. However, Babbitt played the Mallon demo for Mark Zanandrea, a San Francisco musician who was preparing a compilation album meant to showcase unsigned local bands.

The inclusion of "Mister Rabbit" on SF Unscene, which was released that September, proved a significant catalyst for The Ophelias in several ways. It brought with it the first major exposure for the group, not just locally but nationally as "Mister Rabbit" was quickly embraced by university and underground radio stations around the country. The zenith of the buzz surrounding the track came in May 1986 when Spin Magazine reviewed SF Unscene and specifically "Mister Rabbit" with a double exposure photograph captioned: "Leslie Medford of The Ophelias makes like a nun." The enthusiasm, which greeted “Mister Rabbit” set the band in motion once again. Auditions for Chandler’s replacement yielded Geoffrey Armour, original drummer of MX-80 Sound, which had produced two excellent albums out of Bloomington, Indiana and then relocated to San Francisco in the early 80s. Rehearsals resumed in December, this time at Capp Street Rehearsal Studios in San Francisco.

                                                                          At the V.I.S. Club

The Ophelias debut gig took place on 9th February 1986 at the V.I.S. Club, San Francisco. That they headlined their first-ever gig at this trendy venue with a capacity of around two hundred is perhaps remarkable in itself. Well-attended by musicians and music journalists from the San Francisco underground scene, the buzz from "Mister Rabbitt" was having tangible effect.

Their precipitous local rise continued when a few gigs later they supported Green On Red on 18th April at the most prestigious nightclub of the era, the I-Beam on Haight Street, and they played there again just four nights later, in support of Gene Loves Jezebel. A day later, reviewing these early performances with "Locals Outshine Stars" as the headline, Joni Hollar of the Daily Californian wrote:
"I've seen The Ophelias three times now, twice in the last few days, and they are just amazing. They were not only more interesting than Green On Red, they blew Gene Loves Jezebel away when they opened for them Monday night at the I-Beam. Their style is impossible to pinpoint, because they do so many things so well. The Ophelias are fortunate in several respects: the musicians do new things with the music yet retain a certain warped traditionalism, they are accomplished enough to play around with a multitude of styles, and they have a particularly strong singer/songwriter. These forces will, I think, combine fortuitously to make The Ophelias well-known beyond the local scene. Lately, the only bands I notice are the ones who don't fit into any specific genre, whose music is so original that hearing them is like hearing a completely new way of playing. The Ophelias have only performed publicly seven times, but they are already so good that I believe someday they will be the inspiration for other bands."



Leslie: “Many times in the early gig days of 1986 Terry, Sam and I, at two in the morning, went up and down Haight Street with a 12 foot ladder staple-gunning our white-background 11”x17” posters high up on the wooden telephone poles. You could see them up there for literally years because they were higher up than the once-a-month pole-cleaning crews could reach. It was only the weather that would eventually break the paper down.” 


That Samuel Babbitt chose to leave The Ophelias in June 1986 seems strange indeed. The band was enjoying a true moment of triumph with empowering live reviews, the May piece in Spin, local buzz, and interest nationally from the alternative network due to "Mister Rabbit". In 2004, long-time San Francisco music journalist Denise Sullivan wrote sleeve notes for an ex-Cat Heads release, which opens with these lines: "It was summer 1986, and the issue of the day was whether Sam Babbitt was going to play guitar for the CatHeads full time or stay with The Ophelias. Oh, it was a big deal all right: It felt like everyone in town was talking about it and if they weren't, well, they needed to rearrange their priorities."


In the event, Babbitt chose to leave The Ophelias for a band with friends of long-standing, where he would be a songwriter and sometime lead singer as well as guitarist. The fact that the Cat Heads musical style had virtually no overlap with the heterogeneous experimentalism employed by Medford no doubt speaks to some discomfiture Babbitt had with his role in The Ophelias.

Leslie: “I had no idea Sam was thinking of leaving. I was really surprised and saddened by his announcement. I thought his guitar style, his whole ethos, was just a great fit for the songs and the band.  Terry may have known he was thinking of leaving but Geoffrey and I certainly didn't.  Of course I knew about the Cat Heads. I liked Melanie Clarin (the Cat Heads drummer) a lot personally. She and I had had a brief fling, and by that point I had seen them play several times. When they started playing gigs I was a bit annoyed because I figured there could easily be a rehearsal or gig conflict, but Sam told us "Oh, of course, The Ophelias are my priority."


I was a complete newcomer to the scene and I remained an outsider as regards Sam’s old group of friends… and to the San Francisco scene in general The Ophelias were always an oddity and an outlier.  I suppose to some we were a bit high-brow and unhip, maybe except for Sam.  I was a stranger, a Virginian, a country boy, an Appalachian apparation (Ha-ha!) decidedly not a Frisco, street-savvy, familiar scenester.  I lived in the Oakland hills, so I wasn't in the Haight partying every night.  I think Sam was just very comfortable with his group of old friends. Also, Sam sometimes complained to me that he wasn't a lead guitarist, that he wasn't some flash soloist. I wanted him to take solos, we needed him to embellish our songs in that way and he did. Terry, Geoffrey and I thought his solos were subtle and appropriate and often brilliant. But he may have chaffed at that role more than I knew. He probably wanted to write, not just do my songs, and he may have thought The Ophelias were never going to be that kind of outlet for him. He never brought forward any songs to us but he did write songs for the Cat Heads. Maybe he thought I wasn't receptive to that but I could have been. As a band leader with lots of songs and ideas I have realized that at times I could be viewed as dictatorial or unapproachable. That may have been part of it with Sam, I don't know. I know that Sam's departure had a real impact on our trajectory."

Now down to a trio they played another show at the I-Beam on the 18th August supporting Chris Isaak. Filling in on lead guitar was the ultra-capable Jim Juhn who, it was hoped, might join on a permanent basis. This proved impossible as Juhn was to spend the rest of the year in England working on a record, Low Flying Aircraft with ex-King Crimson violinist David Cross.

Leslie: “ Another guitarist I approached at this time was Chuck Prophet of Green On Red who themselves were taking time off after a run of albums and tours. Chuck said "no" in a nice way.”

On the Keith Dion period.

                                            Dion, Medford, von Blankers, Armour

Keith Dion, an American who grew up in New Zealand, was an early Ophelias fan who had attended several of the band's first shows and he approached Medford to talk about Strange Weekend, a small record company of which he was part owner. He proposed the financing of an album and a meeting was quickly arranged with his partner Arthur West, Dion and Medford.

Leslie: “I suggested that the three songs from the Tom Mallon session could be used as a starting point. I also opined that though The Ophelias were currently without a lead guitar player, I could play all guitar parts on the five additional songs required to complete an album of suitable length, and that Sam’s replacement could be found during the period of time we were engaged in recording.”

                                                  Medford and David Bryson

A contract was signed and David Bryson's Dancing Dog Studios in Emeryville was engaged for sessions in September. "Palindrome", "Nocturnal Blonde" and "In America The Other Day" were completed by the three piece of Medford, von Blankers and Armour. The threesome had also nearly completed "New Society" but it was agreed it should feature a powerful electric guitar solo at its conclusion. The label guys occasionally dropped in to watch proceedings and during one of these visits Dion suggested he, being a guitarist who had played in several New Zealand bands, might have a go at adding the solo to "New Society". West and Dion were paying the bill and there was an empty track which could be erased as necessary, so Dion was invited to have a go. The resultant solo was approved of, and he was invited to join The Ophelias shortly thereafter, becoming, in October, the group's new lead guitarist.

Dion plays on two songs on The Ophelias: the solo at the conclusion of "New Society" and throughout "The Big (Myopian) Buck Boy Spins." Though he plays on only two tracks, less than the three on which Babbitt and Chandler appear, his photograph appears on the inside of the gatefold sleeve, the perk of being the current member.


The band resumed playing live on 16th October and the self-titled debut album “The Ophelias” was released in March 1987 to much local positive acclaim. Dave Marrs was typical of the praise lavished on the album when he wrote, "The Ophelias have delivered a tour de force with their debut. I think it'll be hard to top. Perhaps the best independent album to come out of San Francisco in recent years, this album is brilliant." The influential College Music Journal (New York) reproduced the album jacket on its cover and ran an ardent review which ended, "What finally emerges is a mesh of the ephemeral mystery of Bolan and Donovan, with a weird, confident modernism that makes them a leading contender."
The Ophelias entered the KUSF (San Francisco) Top 20 at number 4 the first week of April 1987, attained the top spot the following week, and in KUSF's complete year chart The Ophelias had received more plays than every American band except REM and the Replacements. On the other coast the album held down the number 1 spot at WVUM in Florida for five weeks running and in the heartland it did the same at WMMR Minneapolis.
Strange Weekend Records manufactured 4000 vinyl copies of The Ophelias. Never released on compact disc or cassette, The Ophelias is the most difficult of their albums to obtain. Despite this, "Mister Rabbit" may be their best known song. Micheal Stipe called "Mister Rabbit" the best track of the year and the album remains highly esteemed by fans.

                                 Dion, Medford, Martina - Haight Street Fair


June 1987 was a particularly eventful month for the band. Chosen to headline on the main stage at the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair as it celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Love, they were heard by thousands of people in attendance as well as those listening to a live radio broadcast on KUSF. "These characters stole the show at the Haight Street Fair," wrote Puncture Magazine. "A real San Francisco psychedelic band. No plastic paisley shite here." "Not enough room in this column to do the band full justice" wrote the Daily Californian.

                            Ophes, Aretha, Run DMC - a Tower Records display

Also that month they were recording again at David Bryson's Dancing Dog Studios, preparing for the projected September release of an EP.  The band recorded "The Night Of Halloween", "Wicked Annabella", a Kinks song from their 1968 Village Green Preservation Society album and "Overture To Anaconda", a trumpet-driven instrumental. Though this was a self-funded project as far as recording costs, Rough Trade Records agreed to handle manufacture and distribution.
 In reaction to The Night Of Halloween EP, Tower Records PULSE! Magazine touted "Wicked Annabella" as "the best cover ever made of a Kinks song", and the Hard Report (New Jersey) said, "Their sweeping debut album is still planted firmly in the minds of alternative programmers but it looks like they are at it again. The daring arrangements, biting acoustics and dazzling creativity continue as San Francisco's Ophelias carve a spectacular niche in the underground community."

But all was not well in The Ophelias camp as Armour decided to leave the group and announced the 26th June at Firehouse 7 would be his last show with the band.

                                                             Geoffrey Armour

Leslie: “Geoffrey had diabetes mellitus and found the physical requirements of drumming increasingly onerous. He also made clear that his discontent with Keith’s guitar playing was an equally paramount factor in his decision, stating that in his opinion one of The Ophelias' primary charms had been Sam’s playing and personality.
Terry was also vocal in similar regards. We lost some of our fan base during the Dion "interregnum", and clubs re-evaluated our worth downward and rightfully so, I have to admit. Keith's limitations as a guitarist could be made invisible on studio recordings but not in live performance. The truth is we never really got our mojo back live until David Immerglück joined, which was, what, fifteen months after Sam left. David was a godsend."

Whatever unease Medford and von Blankers felt about Dion's performance and Armour's departure, there was enough positive progress happening surrounding the first album, a second compilation, The View From Here with "Palindrome", released July 1987, the EP, and a longer term Rough Trade deal currently in discussion.
Edward Benton, an acquaintance of Medford’s, was invited to take over the drum chair. He was an experienced live player, having served in Bad Habit, a long-standing, sometime-gigging, always rehearsing San Francisco hard rock band. This new line-up (Medford, von Blankers, Dion, Benton) performed only seven times. At one of these shows Eden Unger, a friend of Medford's and the bassist in Arista Records signee Legal Reigns, introduced David Immerglück to Medford with the words "This is the guitarist you should have in your band, and he wants to join." Medford made note of the recommendation.

 

Edward: “My drumming started as a pure stroke of luck. My stepmom and her sister decided to take the three daughters they had between them to tryouts at a drum and baton corps in our little town of Orangevale California. They took me along to see if I would like to try out for the drumline. To everyone's astonishment, as soon as they put drum sticks in my hands I could play. Who knew? That really got the ball rolling for me. I was thirteen years old and just about to start junior high school. When school started I immediately joined the concert band and the stage band where I first got to play on a drum set. I was real anxious to see what playing drums in a band setting was like and junior high afforded me that opportunity. I loved it!!! So much so that two years later when high school started I joined the concert band, the marching band, the stage band and orchestra. I was in heaven; music all day every day. My first two bands outside of school happened during those years. Actually, my first band was made up of guys from Stage Band. We played a local junior high dance. That was my first paying gig for drumming. The other band I had during my high school days was only cool as far as our name: Well In Black. I don't know what it meant, but it was the only thing cool about that band.

My high school daze were so full of music, drugs and girls that my scholastic efforts were non-existent. That's how I missed out on a music scholarship and ended up in the U.S. Navy. I went in to learn a trade and spent a good two years in various electronic schools they offered. After the first eighteen  months of schooling, I was dispatched to a ship to serve in the Pacific Fleet. That is where I had my third band. Myself on drums, a kid on a Fender Rhodes 88 key electric piano, a Robert Plant wannabe on vocals, and this little black kid from Alabama on a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar. I only mention "this little black kid" as such, because he freaked out all the other black guys on the ship. They were all into the soul and funk music of the day and here comes one of their own wielding an electric guitar with a vengeance. His entry into the band allowed me my first taste of playing what the big boys played. Our musical ambitions knew no limit as we tried our hand at material from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Robin Trower, etc... Our renditions of those pieces was close enough that our ship mates loved whenever we got to play for them. That was my first real taste of rock drumming, and the impetus for my moving to San Francisco, post Navy. That was in February 1982. The Navy wanted me to stick around to teach crypto school but I just couldn't ignore the itch to go play rock-n-roll.

My cousin JS was living in San Francisco at the time and I used to spend my summers there with his family during my high school years. I knew from those summers that I already liked that town. My cousin was also a drummer back then and playing in a metal band at the time. He agreed to let me room with him until I could find my own place, so I moved forward with my plan. I had a 4 piece Slingerland drum kit that came with me. Let me pause to say that was a great sounding drum set, but intended for jazz drumming, not the power style of rock drumming that lay ahead. It sufficed for the first couple of bands I played in after my move to The City By The Bay. Musicians in San Francisco are as plentiful as grains of sand on the beach. Within two months of moving there I was in a band. I don't remember our band name, just that we were led by a guitar player with a shock of flaming red hair that matched his Gibson ES-355 hollow body electric. The guy was a huge Clapton fan(like every other guitar player on the planet), which led to us covering Cream, and Derek and the Dominos material, plus stuff by the Stones and Faces. I really love the Rod Stewart stuff from that period. What I did not love was being in a band that played nothing cover tunes. That band lasted about 3 months and then I found myself in another band. That band was called Fractions and we did all original music. We had a talented writer at the keyboards, who unfortunately had a hidden aspect to his life. Before long he started missing rehearsals; more and more as time went by. Then we come to find out he had AIDS. He succumbed quickly to the disease, poor fellow, and the band was done.


About that time I decided to upgrade my drum kit. I was a big fan of Neil Peart at the time, and so, went for the monster drum set. I bought this big beautiful Tama Tamstar Royal Pewter drum kit that when combined with my RotoToms gave me an eleven piece monster kit. What I found out in short order was this kit would not fit on most drum risers, so I would leave out a couple of pieces and sally forth. The acquisition of this kit gave me the tools for what lay ahead.

A drummer friend of mine called me over to his house to jam. He said he had a guitar player for me to meet, a chap by the name of Sal Carozzo. We hit it off immediately, musically speaking. I loved his tone and style and he liked that I could play along with anything he did. My varied musical background served me well over the years and really worked well with Sal. Philosophically we had our differences; a guy from suburban California and a guy from New York City, but musically it fit. This meeting that day turned out to be fateful, as it forged a musical bond that lasted 12 years. Together, we formed a band called Bad Habit. Unfortunately, this was a band that lived down to its name. Tragedy and woe followed us around like a shadow. Musically, it was a grand adventure playing in Bad Habit. Over the twelve years it was always me and Sal at the core of the group, but with a revolving cast of characters filling out the rest of the roster - 4 different bass players, 3 different singers and a keyboard player. The lineup kept changing over the years where we might be performing on any occasion as a trio, a quartet, or even a quintet. The music was a nice mix of mostly originals, with a few covers thrown in for good measure. I liked that we always put our own spin on the cover tunes. Imagine a punk'd out version of the Monkees tune I'm a Believer, for instance. We had our own takes on Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, The Who and many others, but it was the original songs that really got my juices flowing. Sal and I found it real easy to write songs together. He was in a small minority of musicians I encountered over the years that could actually jam. He had a musical catalogue within, as well as the musical instincts to spontaneously create music. At times, this band was really good; one of three bands, out of eighteen that I was in, that attained that status. Sal was always good at creating a scene around the band; lots of groupies, hangers-on, drug dealers, helpers and predators, and lots of other musicians. We used to organize these six hour jam sessions. This was always heaven for me as I would be the only drummer in attendance with about 30 other musicians to play with. It was on one of these occasions that I met Leslie Medford. The Ophelias were but a drop in the bucket, timewise, in my life; not even two years, but so much happened in that drop.

I think I actually first met Leslie at the set of flats he shared with Sal, the guitar player I was working with in Bad Habit. Sal lived in the upper flat and Leslie in the bottom flat of a pace in Oakland. The meeting was so brief that I didn't really get a reading on him. He looked pleasant and interesting enough, but I didn't really get to talk with him. It wasn't long after, maybe a couple weeks later, that we had one of those six hour jam sessions and Leslie shows up for it. I'm looking at him thinking he must be some sort of musician or he wouldn't be here. He didn't stay long, but long enough to get me and Sal to try one of his songs. It was one off the first Ophelias album called In America The Other Day. It struck me as industrial rock with a kind of mechanical feel to it at first, but after a couple of runs at it, I really started liking it. Then he was gone.


It wasn't too long after this that the Haight Street Fair came up. This is an annual arts and music festival in the notorious Haight/Ashbury district of San Francisco. They close off the street to traffic, array three stages spread out down the length of the street and let the party commence. I've got my one year old son in the kiddie carrier on my back and we are working our way through the crowd towards the main stage. As we get there, I see that it's The Ophelias setting up on the stage. I'm looking at them and saying to myself "Hey, I know that guy." He sees me and motions for me to come up to the front of the stage. He leans over and tells me that their drummer is leaving the band and would I like to audition for his spot. Being game to try anything musically I say sure, why not. We arrange a meeting where he hands me a tape of their stuff to learn before the audition a week later. To tell the truth, I thought them a little strange at first. I was more of a hard rocker as compared to the alternative slant they had on things. Though I thought them strange, I did my best to assimilate the material and showed up for my audition. Honestly, I didn't think I had a prayer at making the band, as we seemed to come from two different musical worlds. So, full of trepidation I dragged my drums up the stairs to the loft they had set aside for the audition. I had heard enough of their previous drummer, Geoffrey Armour, to know that we were nothing alike musically, so again, why am I here? Yet, the opportunity beckoned. I set up my drums and stumbled through the arrangements. I only had the tape for a week to learn the material, but still leaned into it 'cuz that's what rock drummers do, right? Apparently, it was enough. The boys in the band got excited and I got hired.

                                                                 
Ten days later I was playing my first gig with them. I still didn't know the material and had to fake my way through a lot of the set. Still, it was exciting to be playing in a new band, in a venue I had not played in before. I was now in a band that had an album and an EP getting radio airplay. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that was a huge determining factor in where you got to play. Being in The Ophelias, I was playing venues that my other bands could not get into. Radio airplay was the difference. We continued to practice and gig, so I was learning the songs as we went along, but I was also learning something else. I could sense a discord in the band that I was not immediately aware of, particularly coming from Terry. I started picking up the signs then, such as being on stage, finishing a song and instead of a clean finish to the song there'd be some squealing feedback coming from the guitar. Then I would see the disgruntled look spread across von Blankers face and hear him say "Thanks Keith." and then turn away in disgust. I think this was something that had probably been brewing for a while. It wasn't much longer before Keith was out of the band. On a personal level, I liked the guy. Keith was nice enough and fun to be around, but I think he wanted to be Jimi Hendrix and as such, was in the wrong band.”


.In September 1987 von Blankers announced he would leave the band unless Dion was replaced. Complaints to Medford from Armour and von Blankers, and Medford’s own concern about Keith’s lack of improvement generally and his inability to curb guitar feedback and pedal effect squeals at the end of numbers on stage became too insistent to ignore. The POW Magazine sponsored No More Censorship Benefit Show at the Kennel Klub on the 16th September proved to be the last straw. Dennis Gonzales of POW in his wonderfully lavish CD package commemorating this show – Dion’s last – writes “The Ophelias played what I feel was the best set of the evening.” That may be, but the video of the set, now online, sadly illustrates Dion’s struggles and von Blanker’s peaking exasperation. A day or so after the benefit show Medford met with Dion and informed him he was no longer the guitarist in The Ophelias.

Keith Dion was in the Ophelias from October 1986 until 16 September 1987. He plays on five Ophelias studio tracks: the two from The Ophelias and the three tracks on The Night Of Halloween EP. He performed live as a member of the group 25 times. Furthermore, Dion and Arthur West and their Strange Weekend Record Company helped put The Ophelias before the public by releasing the band's debut album on their label.

Edward: “Now The Ophelias were a three member band, not to be confused with a power trio, and were looking for another guitar player. We actually played one gig as a three piece, an acoustic in-store show at the Rough Trade San Francisco location. Then the auditions began.”

On David Immerglück’s joining and Oriental Head

They auditioned several guitarists that October, but Medford contracted pneumonia and was bedridden for three weeks. The personnel reshuffle was also delaying the Rough Trade Records deal as the company had an obvious interest in the band's line-up and stability. No one in The Ophelias had seen or heard David Immerglück play though he had been involved in various musical projects in Berkeley for several years.



David: “It’s all a bit hazy, but I’m pretty sure where I first met Leslie was at The Berkeley Square (a club we used to all frequent and play in the 80’s, Berkeley CA ‘natch). Gotta be early ’86, The Ophelias were on a bill opening for my pals Camper Van Beethoven (if I’m not mistaken, a visibly tripping Flaming Lips jumped onto the bottom of the bill and barely made it through a set comprised solely of demolishing Led Zeppelin I). I’d heard “Mr. Rabbit” on KALX or KUSF (the two local and excellent college radio stations) and liked it, but seeing them live up close blew me right away! Leslie’s stage presence, and the whole bands’, just resonated with me, reminding me immediately of the audaciousness of so many (particularly British) Glam/Psych/Prog bands I’d grown up with.  An aesthetic that was sorely lacking in the Bay Area music scene of the time, so I was seriously thrilled to find a new band to call my own! I distinctly remember being down front as they played a nascent version of “There’s A Bell” and staring up at Terry von Blankers as he hit the final harmony thinking this was the closest I was ever gonna get to seeing Ziggy era Bowie. I believe I went to the show with my friend Eden Unger (bass player for all girl metal band Rude Girl and later Legal Reins) who already knew Leslie. I think she also brought producer Sandy Pearlman to see the band and we all wound up in a corner of the club after they played. Eden introduced me to Leslie and we had a quick conversation about The Incredible String Band and Joe Boyd thinking he’d found the new Sandy Denny in Natalie Merchant (we were both sceptical). I tagged Leslie as a Record Collector Supremo, and The Ophelias as a band to watch…I caught them whenever I could after that. Some time passed and I’d already made the first Monks Of Doom album when an ad popped up in the local music rag announcing The Ophelias were looking for a new guitar player. I KNEW I just HAD to get that spot, that I was tailor made for that band and vice versa.  So I maniacally reached out through any channel I could think of and to my relief (cuz I knew they were looking at other guitarists as well) we finally wound up in a rehearsal room together. I guess it went really well because I got a call from Leslie about a week later to meet for coffee next to the Tower Records in Berkeley where he had worked.  And there, with his good friend Jeff Clark (singer of Shiva Burlesque) in attendance, Leslie ceremonially offered me the coveted spot over double cappuccinos. Needless to say I was beyond chuffed.”


Leslie: "Eden had given me David's number just a few months before, so I invited him to audition and he was personable and extremely enthusiastic, just as Eden had said. I must say that when we started playing together that very first time, just extemporaneously, which is how we always started rehearsal, you know,  just an off the cuff, often dreamy jam with made-up words while getting the sound together,  David was just locked in. I'm talking about weird, atmospheric effects, and in total sympathy with the rest of us and oh so musical...always musical. And he was willing to take the lead and soar with it. When we stopped playing we all just looked at each other and laughed. We all knew. It was one of those rare moments when we all just knew this was it."

Edward: “I don't know where Leslie found these guys that came to audition for the vacated guitar player spot, but over the ensuing two weeks we heard some good ones. Leslie was asking me and Terry who we liked from the auditions, but luckily for us, he was just asking. I had David at the number two spot on my list but clearly that would have been a mistake to pass on him. It wasn't long after he joined the band that he had changed my mind about who he was and what he could bring to the party. I found out in short order that he, like me, had a wonderfully diverse musical background. He could quickly and easily adapt to any musical situation and add something wonderful to the mix. This was exactly what was needed to play in this band, as Leslie was wont to challenge us all with various musical stylings. David was exactly the right guy. Another thing he and I found out quickly was that we could play off each other. He exhibited a trait that I love in my fellow bandmates - he had his ears on. This band as a whole was really good at that, which is why The Ophelias became my favorite band to play in. When we would play together the eye contact was good and everyone was listening to each other. This is huge! It is also not the norm, which is kinda' baffling to me. Too often, in other bands, I would be playing with people who appeared lost in their own little worlds. These guys were not like that. As a result, when we were on stage we were a tighter ensemble and were having more fun because we were playing together, instead of just inhabiting the same stage. The bonus is that when the band is having more fun together, the audience does too. I believe the onstage interaction is huge.”

                                       Benton, Immergluck, Medford, von Blankers

David:“I hit it off with Terry and Ed immediately. They’d been unsuccessfully looking for a suitable guitarist for awhile and seemed truly relieved and glad I was there and I was beyond excited to be “an Ophelia”, so it was exciting times and good feelings all around! They’d been off the scene and underground, retooling, for a couple of months. The Ophelias shared a giant rehearsal space in SF with The Looters (SF’s version of The Clash) who ran the place, Sister Double Happiness and a few other notables that escape memory (Xtal, The Bedlam Rovers maybe?). I do remember the place very well though: in The Mission district, big proper stage and PA, a huge open concrete floor, and a basketball hoop. The Looters would throw benefit concerts in the place from time to time, so it was like rehearsing in a proper Nightclub. I liked that. I got down there the first day and we jumped right in to it. I was already familiar with their first album and I think Leslie had given me a tape of songs in progress (some great ones that still haven’t been recorded! “Throat Of A Goat”, “Scion Of Toadies”, “Father Of The Flock” etc). I’m sure we rolled through the first album material and I definitely remember just playing a long jam off the cuff, Leslie improvising lyrics on the spot (this might’ve been the FIRST thing we did!?). Leslie always recorded everything on cassette with his boombox, I believe. It produced a really cool atmospheric compressed sound of the band, as those cheap boombox microphones tended to do), and much later (years later!), he presented a tape of this first jam (and many other audio verité recordings) to me with the title “Fast Lightning Tide” – KILLER!! Magic was definitely afoot!”

Considered the classic line-up, this one was also the longest lasting, the one that played the most shows by far, the one that toured, and the one that recorded twenty-six studio tracks, far and away the most of any configuration of The Ophelias. Formally signed to Rough Trade Records in December 1987 their new label provided them a $6000 budget to record their second LP. Rough Trade had been contacted by Dave Roback of Opal and Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion, each expressing interest in producing the album but budgetary constraints dictated a self-production. “Oriental Head” was released six months later in May 1988.

Leslie: “I'm unsure how it was determined to record Oriental Head at Emeryville Recording Company with Randy Rood engineering. Probably it was the cheapest 16-track studio around, and we had a tiny budget to work with. As in most things you get what you pay for. I know there was a sibilance problem on the vocals which we struggled over on our dime, and it was just not the most professional situation. A rhythm section which kicks ass live has entirely different challenges in a small recording studio, and neither Randy, Edward or Terry were experienced enough to deliver a solid bass-and-drums sound without a lot of our time allotment being devoted to it. Still, I have great memories of the sessions. You just roll with the punches and do your best. And in the end we did achieve a robust bass and drum sound on most of the tracks.

It was always exciting creating records. David was a huge advantage to us. He was a recording engineer himself, almost certainly more adept and experienced than Randy. I remember he took charge of the tape loop effect during "Midsummernight's Scene" and really made that happen properly. We were all euphoric about his playing, his enthusiasm, and his humour and good attitude. We rented orchestral bells for "Love Is Teasing" and "There's A Bell" and we all took turns clobbering them to much mutual delight. Randy Rood played the excellent violin at the end of "Apron Strings" and Edward got teary when I sang "Don't you cry for me."  David engineered "This Is My Advice To You" in one evening session at Polymorph Studio, Berkeley on 8-track, which was a small studio where he had done many projects previously. That saved us some money and the track turned out really well. "Stay With Me" is a bit of a clunker in my opinion and should have been re-done from the bottom up.  And "There's A Bell" is awfully over the top…but I like Oriental Head …it's got really good stuff, and some fabulous playing from David.”

                                                                Plotting with David

David: “The Rough Trade record deal was already in place before I joined up so I was immediately thrust into a flurry of activity with Leslie and the guys from day one. We sort of based all operation out of a make shift headquarters set up in Leslie’s bedsit in the Oakland hills, the walls lined with shelf upon shelf of records and books, the air thick with weed and last night's pheromones, where I would go nearly every day to plot, scheme, practice new tunes as a duo, organize press releases, design gig posters etc. Every Ophelias gig, no matter how shitty, was accompanied with an excellent poster, usually with a piece of medieval art or Crowley-esque imagery, later to be plastered all over town by some team of us before said gig. The consistent high quality imagery most definitely helped create and maintain an overarching mystique around the band, which hadn’t escaped me well before I joined and was beyond anything our local competition was doing. But I digress…


I was already far along into running and maintaining, with some like minded freaks, an 8 track recording studio (Polymorph Studios, in Berkeley, to be exact) and I brought Leslie in there very soon after joining up. The first day, we did “This Is My Advice To You” from basic track to mixdown, just the two of us (this version was used on “Oriental Head”) and it became immediately apparent that we had a special symbiosis,  a shared vocabulary of psychedelia, folk, glam, experimental etc, all coloured with a constant humorous outlook. It was sort of “Oh, this is DEFINITELY gonna work out. Let’s get to making an LP asap!”…I believed he called me later that same night after listening to it about a thousand times to tell me how chuffed he was. I was as well. I don’t know how we found it but pretty soon after that we were in a weird warehouse 16 track studio in Emeryville that we’d gotten a deal on, just getting down to it. For me it was like being in heaven. It was as though I’d been gifted all this great Medford material to try out any and every idea I’d harboured since becoming a studio rat a couple years earlier. I remember getting into composing the backwards piano bit on “There’s A Bell” in my head and being amazed when it actually worked! Another successful experiment was on ”Love Is Teasing.”  I recorded Leslie’s picked acoustic guitar performance in stereo, twice, and then used the left side of one performance and the right side of the other performance. It had the audio effect of Japanese snowflakes falling on cherry blossom trees. Just perfect! I was so fucking excited! We had a bit of a budget, a whopping $6000 (facetiousness, anyone?) so we brought in rented Tubular Bells (for “There’s A Bell”, ‘natch! Also maybe “Love Is Teasing”?), and I was able to indulge some of my other fantasias, my trusty ARP 2600 on “I Will Die In Your Pocket”, a handful of borrowed guitars augmenting my sole ’60 Fender Strat. I actually used Leslie’s ’65 Gibson SG a lot on the record, as well as live. I bought it off him later, when I actually had a bit of money and still have and cherish it today. I use it all the time with Counting Crows and many a recording session. Magic axe!”

Edward: “The band's lineup is set. The contract with Rough Trade Records has been signed. An album awaits the making. So we're rehearsing and gigging as we may, all with the notion of getting into a recording studio and making something great. Well, my bandmates are probably thinking that. Meanwhile, my head is spinning. I'm still getting used this band, this music, our new bandmate, and now have the spectre of a recording session at hand. I was the least experienced at the recording thing, having only done a demo record session with another band and nothing else. To make matters worse, I didn't yet have all my parts written as the date loomed large. Over time, I found out that this is how it usually works. Most musicians don't have all their music written when they hit the studios. In fact, some bands with large bankrolls will write the album in the recording studio; terribly expensive this. Of course, we had not that budget. In fact, Rough Trade Records ponied up a whopping 6,000 dollars to do Oriental Head; a laughable amount to most folks. I think most bands would have a hard time making one song in a recording studio, let alone an entire album on that budget. Frankly, I just couldn't see it and thought it a really bad joke put forward by the label. Leslie and Dave had a different notion. These guys had experience and connections unbeknownst to me, so I just hung on for the ride. We get booked into a 16 track analog recording studio in Emeryville, California, saving us money right away. I don't know what kind of hourly rate we got from this place, but shockingly I was told we had designated a small sum for renting instruments. Happily for me these rentals by and large turned out to be percussion instruments. If you look at the song credits on Oriental Head you will find everybody in the band eventually got to add something percussive to the songs. We even had two octaves of orchestral tubular bells show up, which Terry went crazy on during There's A Bell. I got to rent a pair of tympani, which I dropped onto Love Is Teasing. My favourite addition was something we didn't rent but I found laying in the corner of the main sound room. It was a brake drum from somebody's car that produced a lovely tone when struck with my drumsticks. You can hear that on Plaster Of Paris. One of the main ways we saved money on the recording sessions was to record all of the rhythm tracks together in unison. We all piled into the main room, set up as a band, and with Leslie providing a scratch vocal track, to let us know where we are during the songs, we laid it down. Our limited budget meant limited runs at each song, and I believe we got all of the rhythm tracks done in about three days. For clarification, the "scratch" vocal tracks were later dropped in favour of what Leslie did by himself in a sound booth.


What strikes me most from when listening to this album, as compared to The Big O, our last album, is the unified feel end to end on the record. Oriental Head feels to me like a concept album, while The Big O feels to me more like a collection of individual songs. I can only attribute this to us recording the rhythm tracks together, in unison, as a band. On The Big O we recorded everything individually, with none of us playing together. This happened because Leslie did not like the few moments of wandering tempo on Oriental Head.  And yes, that's my fault as the drummer and therefore timekeeper in the band. So, on the next album, with a slightly bigger budget from Rough Trade, everything was done to click track. Yes, everything is tighter and cleaner but the unified feel is gone. Of course, this is just my perception and may not apply to the other fellows. My favourite part of the Oriental Head sessions didn't involve the band. On a couple of days at the Emeryville Recording Studios I had my two year old son with me, and watching him walk around wide eyed, marvelling at everything going on there was a real treat. On one occasion I was passing by one of the smaller sound rooms, which David had been using for some of his overdubs. I look through  the doorway and see my son standing alone in the middle of the room. He has David's mandolin in his hands and he's strumming it and singing into the mic set up in the room for David. Priceless! Of course, only a father would feel that way”.

         Immergluck, von Blankers, Medford, Ed and Matt Benton

David: “We’d been at it for a couple weeks and were already over budget and slightly fried. One late night I was trying to get the guitar solo on “Stay With Me” and it just wasn’t happening. Leslie was in the control room with short temper, yelling out unhelpful suggestions and I just blew a fuse and went outside for air (these things happen sometimes). Leslie came out and suggested we knock it on the head for the night and go for our regular beers. Over pints he calmly told me the solo should be “just pure LOVE! The orgasm has already happened! Just pure LOVE!” I laughed and thought, “This guy’s inscrutable!”  Anyways, the next morning back at the studio, I got in early, purposely before everyone else.  I decided to set up all my effects in a line, I had this killer A/DA Flanger that always did crazy stuff in a pinch, amongst other forgotten pedals, probably an Echoplex, and just see what happens. Randy Rood was engineering and I told him to roll “Stay With Me” while I adjusted the pedals. The song played and I just sort of stepped on each pedal making sure it worked, then I was gonna do an “actual take”. The song ended and I was like “Ok, let’s do one”, but unbeknownst to me, Leslie had arrived while I was testing the pedals and over the talkback was beside himself. “EXACTLY! THAT’S IT! YOU GOT IT!” So that’s actually the take on the album, me testing my pedals. HA HA HA! Total Troggs moment!”

Edward: “Another funny little side note from the recording sessions came about from mine and David's growing affection for each other's playing. After the rhythm tracks for Oriental Head were recorded, the overdubs started taking place. David's turn came up to start laying down his guitar solos and embellishments on various tracks. As I was becoming a fan of his guitar work, I asked him if I could sit in the room he was recording in and silently listen. Without hesitation, he told me "no" and I let it drop without discussion, knowing that he needed to go in with a good vibe intact. When we were recording the next album, The Big O, the exact same thing happened in reverse, with David asking me if he could be in the room as I was recording my drum tracks. I said "no' to him, probably for the same reason, as I felt the need to concentrate without distraction. With David in the room, I would have been playing to him, rather than focusing on the music. Still, I think it's cool that we could be fans of each other while playing in the same band.
   

I had another majorly cool moment shortly after the release of Oriental Head. I was at work with the radio on when I hear the DJ announce "Here's a new song by local artists, The Ophelias" and Stay With Me starts playing over the air. I don't know how long I stood there stunned, like a piece of petrified wood but I think I was probably in shock for a moment. Then I started running around telling everyone about it, dragging co-workers over to the radio. That was a first and a big moment for me. Toooooo cooooool!!!”

David: “When the record came out shortly thereafter, on an excellent and storied label, no less, I was just on top of the world. Honestly, it’s still one of my favourite albums I’ve ever made! (John Hiatt’s “Crossing Muddy Waters”, Counting Crows “Somewhere Under Wonderland”, Monks Of Doom’s “The Brontë Pin”, Tyson Meade’s “Robbing The Nuclear Family” also make the grade, if you’re asking!)

 I really believed (and still may) we’d made the BEST album to come out of the SF Bay Area since “Surrealistic Pillow”, Santana’s “Abraxas”, Quicksilver’s “Happy Trails”, Skip Spence’s “Oar” (which Leslie had recently turned me on to, amongst many other albums) or Garcia’s first solo album. I mean, the “popular” music out of the Bay Area at the time was Huey Lewis And The News, Journey, Eddie Money, Night Ranger and crap like The Eric Martin Band – mega popular but super cheesy and decidedly unmagical in my eyes back then. As a precocious music fanatic, with a big dose of civic pride, I was fairly embarrassed by the current state of affairs! I can’t really speak for my bandmates about this but I had an extreme sense of Bay Area music history and was sort of railing against the accepted Pop scene and hoping to make a major mark for the Bay Area music world! In my mind it was inevitable that we’d be celebrated in the streets for bringing quality, respect, and mystical beauty/danger back to a sleeping SF music scene! Listen, the mid to late 80’s SF underground music scene we came up in was undoubtedly fertile and varied, with a lot of excellent bands, but no one was really making bold statements, great albums to contend with the status quo. I thought we had!

Of course, the scales fell from my young eyes relatively quickly after Oriental Head’s release. We did get a lot of good national and local press off the album but our fortunes just didn’t seem to change. We had a strong local underground following and got played on the local college radio stations a lot, which always thrilled to no end.  One fuzzy morning I woke to my clock radio playing “Whirling Dervish”. I made my way to the shower and my bathroom radio was playing a Sordid Humor song I’d just recorded, and when I got out to dry, the same station was playing Monks Of Doom’s “Vaporize Your Crystals”…you coulda shot me right then!  But unfortunately we suffered from non-existent management (a true death knell) and a label who, much to our surprise, didn’t seem to understand us. We we’re reviled as much as loved in the local scene. The pomposity scared some folks (wankers!), and the live shows could be over intoxicated and shambolic (heh heh). We thought we should go to England and with the Rough Trade connection it seemed a no brainer. Never happened. There was Rough Trade talk of a tour opening for Love And Rockets (an excellent pairing!). Never happened. So many great ideas seemed to go up in smoke (I later learned this is par for the course in the music biz!)…still, we soldiered on like good lads. My belief in the quality of what we were doing was enough to keep me going (still how I roll to this day)”.



Edward:"About this time, the band was really hitting its stride musically, playing all over the San Francisco bay area. Some of these shows are memorable for different reasons, such as the show at the I-Beam, where Leslie takes the stage in nude spandex and I get to watch he and David engage in faux sex on stage. They will, of course, deny this but I was there. Or the frat house party at Cal Berkeley. We were set up downstairs in the main room, while most people were stumbling upstairs to where the electric coolaide was overflowing the place. My favourite place to play was The Kennel Club in San Francisco. I always felt we sounded best there. I attribute this to the on-stage sound. The sound system there was good and the people running it were very good. They took their time during sound check to get it right. The result was how effortlessly the band members could hear each other on stage; I mean every note. It was a good size room with a nice view from the stage for watching all the rock-n-roll maniacs down front. The University of California - Berkley show at Sproul Plaza was a good one too. It was an outdoor venue on a lovely spring day and about a thousand kids in attendance. But the crazy Stanford University the show was a day when we set up in their radio studio and did a live show over the radio. Half way through show we take a break, step outside for some fresh air and lo and behold a joint is produced! It got lit, we got lit and Leslie then tells us that we are going to go back inside and do a jam in four different colours. Huh, what? We're stoned, and we're live on the radio. As it happened Stanford's football team (wearing Cardinal and White) was playing Notre Dame's football team (wearing Navy and Gold) the next day. Those were the "four colours" So, we get back inside and Leslie gets on the mic and tells the listeners "this is called "Beat Notre Dame". Amazingly enough it worked. With David and I leading the way, we played musical moods that jibed with the colours Leslie called out."


Edward: "So, thanks to the two visionaries in the band, Leslie and Dave, our paltry recording budget was turned into something beautiful. These guys picked the right studio, where we could get the best bang for the buck.  Randy Rood, the engineer at Emeryville Recording, was so easy to work with. He let me put effects on my drum tracks on a couple of songs during the mix down phase. Then he really stepped up to the bar by throwing down a fiddle part, which he played himself, on the jam at the end of Apron Strings. How many engineers can do that for you? His easy going manner and expertise helped make the magic in the recording studio. Other magic was taking place outside the studio. Leslie had started a contest for the album cover art. He offered the concept and many artists returned their renditions of it, including my cousin John who did one on his computer. Luckily, that one was not chosen and the version done by Ariadne Fellows was. Isn't it beautiful? The back cover art necessitated us running all over San Francisco with a photographer in tow. He got some great shots which are arrayed around the border of the backside of the album jacket. With the photos and even more tremendous artwork from Leslie, I kinda' like the back of the album jacket more than the front.
Leslie continued his artistry with the liner notes included with the record. These are things you just don't see anymore with music going digital. Interestingly enough, you also see in the liner notes a "Thanks" offered by L.M. to those who helped him replace equipment that was stolen from him. This is in reference to the one bit of catastrophe that I recall hitting the band. Terry had an upper flat on Haight Street in San Francisco, where we'd all meet on occasion. On this particular day, Leslie had left his gear, guitars and other items, in the back of Terry's truck. This truck had a lockable shell on it, so perhaps Leslie thought it secure. The thieves thought otherwise. They smashed the cheesy plastic window in the back and took it all. Hopefully, they are burning in hell at this moment. I have no compassion for such villains. Leslie, being who he is, rallied tremendous support in replacing his equipment; and we sallied forth.
Now it's back to rehearsing and gigging whilst we wait. If you have kids, then you know what it's like; the anticipation, awaiting the arrival of your new creation. Of course, it's not the same, but having experienced both, I can tell you there is a similar expectation. When the day came and Leslie walked up to me and handed me copies of both the vinyl and cassette versions of Oriental Head I think I practically swooned. There were no such things as CDs yet, so he didn’t hand me one of those as well. A minor fascinating point is that The Ophelias straddled that point in musical history before and after the advent of CDs. The Big O came out in all three formats: vinyl, cassette, and CD. The cherry on that sundae is The Big O coming out on vinyl in the round jacket. If that doesn't define cool, I don't know what does. Dig this; I just went on-line to Amazon's website and saw the vinyl version of The Big O selling for $99.99. Who knew? See how the thrills continue...Ha!!!”

David: “I don’t think there were any recorded songs left off “Oriental Head”, but we were back in Polymorph recording shortly after the album came out. There was just so much material. Pretty quickly we put together “Panurge”, “Strange New Glasses” and “Lawrence Of Euphoria” at my 8 track studio, which all later wound up on “The Big O”, as well as the strange “Thanks For This Shade” (another Medford/Immerglück duo piece), which only came out recently on “Bare Bodkin” the killer compilation Leslie put together. We also, around this time, went over to legendary Mobius Studios (Dead Kennedys, Henry Kaiser etc) in SF (a major upgrade for us, and a place where Monks Of Doom later wound up doing a lot of work) to maybe cut a deal to record the next album proper. The owner Oliver DiCicco gave us a spec deal to record one song to see if we could get along. “Pretty Green Ice Box Eyes” was the successful result (which again we wound up later using on “The Big O”), but Oliver and Leslie didn’t quite jell together, so the deal fell through. I vaguely remember Oliver (whom later worked very fruitfully with Monks Of Doom) complaining that he was hoping to make us sound like Suzanne Vega (?!) with more “commercial” tunes, and us balking, Leslie yelling into his face “Pretty Green Ice Box Eyes is a WORLD CLASS SONG!!!” Who could argue? But still, bad vibes all around…(these things happen sometimes, ha ha) I guess I’m trying to paint a picture of us always scheming, always recording, often gigging, usually drinking…often banging our heads against the wall.”


Rock journalist Ann Powers wrote in Calendar Magazine (San Francisco): "No other San Francisco band reaches the heights of supreme imagination, ego and crunchiness required for true rock stardom as well as the Ophelias.”

Hard Report said, "This is one of the most original and fascinating groups the American independent scene has to offer. Every part of this music machine is working overtime and bandmaster Leslie Medford jumps in and out of this world with a shy, unsettled voice and moody abstract lyrics. From the blasting cacophony of horns to a quiet stab of silence, adventurous listening is a guarantee on an album that stretches your imagination while tempting the rest with one catchy chorus after another."

J.R. Tiger wrote in S.G.N. Magazine "I expect that one either loves the Ophelias or hates them because they are so completely unique in this day and age. Romanticists to the end, they shall endure as musical literature in an era practically devoid of such a thing. This band makes the listener think, and takes the listener into a secret world where other "new music" dares not go. The result is what has made me a diehard Ophelias fanatic for the past couple years."

Rough Trade were not obligated to provide tour support, and live performances, including tours, were handled by a succession of semi-professional managers engaged by the band for a percentage of gate receipts, or by The Ophelias themselves. The band managed to organize three West Coast tours (Southern California to British Columbia) and one national tour of university towns. These four tours were completely self-funded and consequently done on a shoestring budget, without roadies or soundmen, "just four guys in a van". After a scheduled East Coast summer 1988 tour opening for Pere Ubu and Crime & the City Solution fell through, Rough Trade arranged an eighteen date solo tour of New England for Medford during July 1988 to help promote the Oriental Head album. Included in the tour were four performances in New York City sponsored by the New Music Seminar, including one at CBGB and two at the convention itself held in the Marriott Meridian Hotel.


David:“Live, The Ophelias were always an audacious proposition, before I got there and continuing on with my membership. Leslie had an outrageous pan sexual wardrobe and was a shape thrower par excellence. I remember seeing them with my girlfriend early on at The Gilman Street Project in Berkeley and she was completely obsessed with trying to look up the kilt Leslie was wearing onstage to see if he was “au natural” underneath, ha ha.  Taking a cue from Brian Jones, lady friend’s closets we’re constantly being plundered. Womens’ wear sections of local department stores were regularly raided for all manner of kit. One of the first shows I did with The Ophelias was a full band in-store at the small Rough Trade SF offices on 6th St celebrating the release of “Oriental Head”. Leslie had some flowered blouse and see through black tights with his considerable manhood visible in unambiguous detail. Absolutely no need to look up any kilt on this occasion! As for myself, I’m sure I had eyeliner, a long black Chinese robe purloined from my girlfriend, as well as some of her jewelery. Terry, skeletal and glamorous, always looked the proper rock star and Ed came straight out of the local spandex Metal scene. “Where did you find HIM?!” asked Steve Connell, our weary rep at Rough Trade, in a slightly worried stage whisper. We played a short, loud and rollicking set to the staff and a bunch of radio folk, then later that night played a full set at The Kennel Club (another local SF rock club, regularly hit by us. Still standing, it’s now been rechristened The Independent) with a couple other local Rough Trade bands. I believe we did lay to waste all comers that night. I remember a frightful “Plaster Of Paris” with the whole room shaking! A powerful “coming out” of the new lineup, with big hopes for the future!

The Anchor Steam:Terry intones"Plaster Of Paris" from a rumbling I-Beam Stage

I always thought we stuck out with our look, a little effort goes a long way! not to mention the material. Also, perhaps due to Leslie’s predilection for Aleister Crowley, some of the occult references in the lyrics, or the medieval imagery the band cultivated in its promotions, we seemed to attract, along with the regular underground rock punters, a slew of people from the quasi Wiccan community in SF. There were always these mysterious hilarious characters hanging about at our gigs, dudes decked out in pagan garb claiming to be “Wizards of the highest order”, witchy women occasional trying to engage with some of us in white magick sex games…just another added feature of the band mystique!


Musically, The Ophelias’ live endeavour was always difficult at best. We had a ton of gear, acoustic and electric, and no soundman, so we were always at the mercy of the local tech at whatever club we happened to be playing. More than once I watched Leslie who believed he should be treated like a Bowie, or at least a Peter Murphy,  no one would ever have called him “humble” back then ha ha, berate an unimpressed house soundman when the appropriate respect wasn’t being given and consequently we’d get shit sound that night
My favourite reminiscence of this oft repeated scenario was at an afternoon soundcheck at the I Beam in the Haight, we were on the bill that night with local heroes American Music Club. Yelling over the mic in a loud authoritarian screed, Leslie demanded the hapless soundman “put the lead vocal LOUD and in front of EVERYTHING else – LIKE THE DONOVAN SINGLES!!!” Now, I’m pretty sure said house tech didn’t even know who Donovan was, let alone care a rat’s ass for the pompous Ophelias! Another night of treacherous stage sound ensued. This went into the “lexicon”…Leslie and I still refer to ‘like the DONOVAN SINGLES!!!” ha ha ha…

Medford sits in with Monks Of Doom, The Music Works, SF 1987 The song was Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean"

Getting the band well rehearsed was also a challenge. Leslie was often stoned and impatient and didn’t want to grind out detailed trouble spots on any given song. I used to jokingly say he had to be peaking on some drug, not for A rehearsal, but for EVERY SONG REHEARSED! Don’t get me wrong, I’m no teetotaller but I was used to taking the time to work on things 'til they sounded good, especially if there was a problem in a dynamic or transition. I mean, if anything, Monks Of Doom were OVER-rehearsing around the same time, but we Orphes would play through a tune once, good or bad, and the next thing I knew we were playing a game of Horse around the basketball hoop.  This was a regular occurrence at the rehearsal space, Leslie was a basketball fanatic, as was Ed, and the aforementioned basketball hoop was a constant distraction, ha ha."

Edward: “The rehearsal space we were in at the time was a great cavernous room with a stage at one end, storage lockers along one wall and a basketball hoop nailed to the opposite wall. The games of Horse that we played were less than legendary, with me winning most of them. Being the drummer, I think I had a slight edge when it came to physical games like that. The worst thing was for me to lose one of these games as my bandmates were sure to rub it in, especially that Medford fellow. On a tape that Leslie gave me of a show we did at the club Nightbreak, he recorded his voice at the end of the tape, telling me "I hope you enjoyed the show. Cheers. Oh, this is the champ speaking". See, that way any time I listen to that concert for the rest of my life, I can be reminded of his victory. This man knows how to gloat. My most cherished memory from that rehearsal space does not involve basketball but does involve that Leslie Medford guy. By this time I had been in the band long enough to realize Medford's musical mastery, seeing him play anything you put in his hands. Still, I was not prepared for the day at rehearsal when he asked if it was okay for him to climb behind my drum set for a minute of two. I say sure, expecting the usual mindless doodling about that most people display when I let them try my drums. Instead, he starts carving out beat after beat whilst I stand there in wide-eyed amazement. I should have known better, right? There's really nothing he can't do musically and that really certified that fact for me that day. What a creep! I mean that in the best way possible, of course."

Leslie:"Ah yes, the basketball hoop at the Komotion rehearsal space. That was hilarious. You could call us a jocular bunch! The Horse games provide an apt example of how well we all got along. What I always loved about playing with Terry, David and Edward was how good David and Terry's attitude always was, because they happily participated despite not being very good at basketball. They always got eliminated from the game first, leaving Edward and I to settle the matter, but neither ever had any bad vibe about it. On the contrary, they relished the opportunity for abusing our drummer that these Horse games provided! Edward was and is fanatical about basketball and he was an enthusiastic and decent player, always taking the game with seriousness but humor, openly resigned that I was going to win, his acknowledgement of this inevitability being his main point of conversation during the games. Terry and Dave would wander back onto the stage, drink beer, noodle around with their gear, all the while peppering Ed with loud taunts of "He's just toying with you, Edward." and "Cat and mouse! Cat and mouse!" which often morphed into “Musician and Drummer! Musician and Drummer!!” They knew on which side their bread was buttered! Great, great times! We were falling down with laughter! Ha-ha-ha!! During a three-hour rehearsal block it was great having some ballgame as a diversion. Hmmm…you know, maybe David was really expert at Horse but would lose on purpose in hopes of  getting us back to rehearsing."

Thee Basketball Portal Portrait- To handicap Edward for his drummerly physical advantage, he was required to play in a stiff painted coat somewhat similar to a straight-jacket, whereas the other Oafs competed comparatively unencumbered. This may or may not have been responsible for Edward's long winless streak!

David: "Shortly after Oriental Head was released, Leslie went on a solo tour of east coast radio stations for a couple of weeks. I took this opportunity to rehearse with the guys as a trio to iron out my long list of “problem spots” and we got a lot of work done in three short rehearsals. We capitalized on that week’s work for a long time. For example, we had a killer cover of Bowie’s “She Shook Me Cold” in our repertoire, but we could never get the guitar/drum break right that leads into the long middle jam. Ed and I ground it out about five times in rapid succession, got it and never had a problem with it again. That kind of repetitive work just wouldn’t have happened with Leslie there, for whatever reason, but I guess you just figure out ways to get shit done. I’m not sure Leslie ever knew this even took place, heh heh…"


Leslie: “As far as “my creative process” I would be remiss if I didn’t admit my drug use and its fundamental place in the summoning of the music I have made. I find it annoying and disingenuous to the point of fraudulence when drug use is swept under the carpet in biographies and documentaries about bands who obviously were using psychedelic drugs as a tool to finding their muse. I was brought up on sophisticated music and literature and the beauty of Nature, so there’s the cornerstone. But I was also repressed, preached at, frustrated, reigned in and bullied by the strict puritan morality of my parents. I had to tow the line to avoid onerous consequences.  But I wasn’t hoodwinked by them…I saw through the fence to the other side. Life! Joy! Freedom! Adventure! When I left home I wanted to express the things I felt. Alcohol, but mainly marijuana and psilocybin, helped me overcome my baked-in repression. I know it isn’t the only way, or the best way, but I was wound so tight I needed something to help uncoil the spring. I could sit and sing with my guitar and music would just come out. Early on in my guitar-playing adventure I got myself a dictaphone and began taping myself, singing on-the-spot words or gibberish if need be, playing whatever my hands wanted to play. Listening back to the recording I would separate seed from chaff, learn a section I thought had potential, manipulate, write other words around select evocative phrases that had come subconsciously. In other words my general technique was drugs to break down the barriers, tape recorder to collect potentialities, listen, manipulate, learn, and hopefully perfect. Polish that stone into something worthwhile if I’m lucky.  Truth be told, during my music years I was almost constantly high when I was making music. I was able to function that way and get psychedelic at a moment’s notice. It is an alternate reality I know. Maybe you’ve been there. Good music…good art is adventurous and one of the best places to find adventure is within.

                                                                    Elena Powell

Another key element in the whole thing was my girlfriends and the love and education they gave me. Again, how can The Ophelias story be told without mentioning and saluting those who were the real Ophelias to my deeply flawed Hamlet. The "we" and the "she" of those relationships have inspired most of my songs. From the advent of my songwriting to the end of it, Melissa Almon, Barby Brumm, Virginia Wilcox, Martina Livingston, Cindy Nelson, Elena Powell, inspired my creativity and showed me the rose and the thorns of life. I loved you then and I love you now."

                                                  Cynthia Giuliani

David: "We unfortunately never toured extensively, though early on in my tenure I begged Camper Van Beethoven’s manager Jackson Haring to book us a West Coast tour and lo and behold, we suddenly had shows in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, my first time up the coast with a proper band, very exciting!! Especially crossing over into Canada. You really had the feeling you were “getting somewhere” when you had to pull out your passport and cross into a different country. I remember that tour being incredibly fun. We were getting played on the radio a bit and people came to check us out. The local rags wrote about us…”

                                                       The Ophelias Conquer Seattle

Edward: “Touring was a blast, although painful at times because I slept in the van a  number of nights. It was full of gear, which was why I slept in the van. We had experienced Leslie losing all of his gear to thieves, so I was not about to let that happen to us during the tour. If ever we arrived at a destination too late to load our stuff into the venue, then I just stayed with the van. It wasn't like that everywhere we played. When we got up to Canada we were treated like royalty. In Vancouver, we were given two suites in a 4 star hotel. They were right next to two suites that another band from San Francisco had. They were on the bill with us that night. So, after the show, we went back to the hotel, opened the doors which joined the four suites and let the party commence. Acoustic guitars, and beers all around; people singing drunkenly at the tops of their voices - a good time was had by all.  (Of course, Medford  had his crumpet and wasn't there.) In Victoria B.C., after the gig, we were chauffeured to a house, where we were left un-chaperoned for the night. We each had our own bed, and the kitchen was stocked full of food. So, the Canadians provided nice accommodations and both venues payed us better than we were being payed in the States. Ya' gotta' love the Canucks!! Other on-tour after show events would have to include breaking in to the Hollywood Bowl after hours. We did two shows in Las Angeles, one at the Club Lingerie and one at Madam Wong's West. Both of these we did with a band that Leslie knows called Shiva Burlesque; nice and crazy rock-n-rollers like ourselves. One of these guys knew how to access the stage at the Hollywood Bowl after hours. So, after the first show, there we were in the middle of the night, prancing about on this humongous stage, in front of thousands of empty seats, in the dark, pretending to be the Beatles. Somehow, we did not get arrested. The next night we did the second show and afterwards ended up at Shiva's rehearsal studio. This was a large loft full of music gear, in an industrial section of town, where no one would complain about the volume. I can't even tell you how many people we had in that loft that night. Leslie took off with some piece of fluff right after the show, but the rest of us went to the loft and oh, what a noise we made. People were playing on whatever was at hand, and just jumping in to the jam whenever we could. It was a big beautiful mess that went on 'til sunrise. I love that stuff. I'm not sure if there were any naked animals involved or not. That was one of the few times in my life that I've ever been drunk. I learned about tequila that night. NEVER AGAIN!!!”

                                                          Happy Freuds in Vancouver

David: “A vivid memory of that tour: We’d pulled in to Portland the night before our show at the famous Satyricon, and decided to go down in the morning and check out the venue. There it was! Our name on the Marquee at our first “out of state” show.  Gotta get pictures! Ed whips out his camera and starts happily snapping away. All of a sudden my Spidey sense tingles and I notice this super shady looking character in a long trench coat with long greasy hair eyeing Ed’s camera from a block and a half away and heading towards us in a sort of Night of The Living Dead shuffle. I corral my oblivious compatriots towards our van and suggest we high tail it outta there to find some breakfast. Ok, fast forward five hours and we’re back at Satyricon, mid soundcheck, when the same shady dude comes strolling into the club carrying drums. Yep, he’s the drummer in the band playing after us, local legends Napalm Beach, and a super nice guy t’boot.  Anyway, we play our set and I throw our guitars in the communal dressing room behind the stage so we can fraternize with the locals without worrying about our gear. Napalm Beach starts rocking and I’m transfixed. Like some weird hybrid of Mountain, Sabbath and The Dolls and the drummer’s roaring nonstop like a modern day Ginger Baker.  Then, right out of a Billy Holiday bio pic, another shady dude makes his way behind the band into the dressing room, eyeing the drummer meaningfully and now the drummer’s sweating profusely and visibly distracted. He ends the song quickly and dives back into the dressing room while the cymbals are still ringing, show over. I go back to retrieve my guitars only to find the drummer shooting heroin right over one of my guitar cases, I mean, seconds later!? Good ol’ Spidey sense.  Coming from Transcendental Bay Area, it was the first time I’d seen anything like that, but I soon ascertained that, while the Bay Area partied for alleged enlightenment, the North West seemed to party for complete obliteration…(a little late 80’s North West tour atmospherics for ya.)

On another front, Leslie’s friend Jeff Clark had an excellent band, Shiva Burlesque (from whence sprang forth Grant Lee-Phillips), down in LA whom we regarded as a sister band. We went down to LA on more than one occasion to do gigs with them; but for the most part we couldn’t seem to bust out of the Bay Area treadmill. Berkeley? Yes. San Jose? Yes. San Francisco? Absolutely! Oakland? Uh huh. Sacramento? Occasionally…Outside of California? Just didn’t materialize on a regular basis.

Still, some outstanding gigs happened. One of my faves was opening at The I Beam for a much-ballyhooed “reunion” of Arthur Lee And Love. It was actually just Arthur, a guy from The Knack, and two Rastafarians…but it was killer, and packed to the gills. A monstrous “She Shook Me Cold”, with yours truly straddling a prostrate-but-still-twitching Medford at the front of the stage during the instrumental break, did not disappoint! Love played for 25 minutes, but it was a good 25 minutes.

There’s a Berkeley Square gig Leslie’s put up on our YouTube page in its entirety, and it’s definitely us firing on all cylinders. Dominating in our home court.
                                                                              
 Leslie and I sometimes played acoustic duo gigs at places like The Paradise Lounge, where we peppered in Barrett and Gong covers amongst Ophelias material. Those were always fantastic. I remember a couple guys from The Sneetches, contemporaries of ours in SF, whom I adore to this day, sitting in the audience at one of those, looking at us with a combination of amusement and fear like we were from some other planet. We could pour it on when we wanted to!

One of my most disappointing memories was when we got the coveted spot opening for Siouxsie And The Banshees, touring “Peepshow” at an arena up in Sacramento. A great pairing.  This was huge for us and we were so stoked.  Alas we got up there to find that we weren’t allowed a proper soundcheck, and to make matters worse, we had to play in front of the curtain in a straight line, the drums to one far end and me to the other, probably no monitors. Absolute suck and the Banshees crew weren’t nice to us at all. We limped home. Of course any band worth their weight in salt has lived some version of this scenario.

 I always felt that our fortunes would change if we could just go play on the East Coast, let alone overseas, where I thought people would‘ve been more attuned and receptive to what we were doing; but oh bollocks, it wasn’t in the cards. Money, adulation and respect were in short supply, and it could be quite dispiriting…”


Edward: “One thing which was the fulfilment of a personal fantasy of mine. I had always wondered what it would be like to play in the big arena. Of course, David has been there over and over with the Counting Crows. My one time was when the Ophelias got to open for Siouxsie and the Banshees. It was a "one off'" that left a huge impression with me, starting with the sound check. Of course at that point the arena is empty, so you get the sound through the P.A. reverberating through the empty cavernous hall. We're sound checking the drums and I'm hearing them coming through this gigantic P.A. system in this big empty area and - hammer of the gods, Mick. That's what it sounded like to me - HAMMER OF THE GODS!!!  I didn't want to finish the sound check. But, of course, all good things must end and we're back  in our dressing room waiting to go on. As it happens, the dressing room we were assigned to was actually a racketball court. They had a bunch of tables set up on one side, with food and drinks on them, and a number of rolling office chairs for us to sit on. So, naturally, being a rock band, we had rolling chair races up and down the racketball court. Then it was time to go on. That was a moment unto itself, leaving the dressing room, going through a couple of hallways and into the darkened arena. We are confronted by a large long black ramp, leading up to a large black curtain that cordoned off the stage from the backstage area. We proceed up the ramp and through the curtain. That's when the buzz hits you; the murmur of the crowd anticipating the start. You don't see them, just the hundreds of small flames from people sparking up. From the stage you could only see about three rows deep out on the floor in front of the stage. But, you could feel them all. It was so exciting. Then we were announced and playing; a total out of body experience. Then the lump in your throat comes when you finish the first song, and there's that eternity from the finish of the song until you hear the audience applaud. Because, you don't know. Are they going to like us? That silence in between is deafening and goes on forever. It's only seconds, but seems a lifetime. Then the thousands applaud and you're suddenly in the zone and ready for more.”

The Big O

The next album was scheduled by Rough Trade for a Spring 1989 release, so by the end of Autumn 1988 the band began busying themselves toward that end.  The contract stipulated a recording budget of $10,000.

Leslie: “The original hope was to record The Big O at Mobius 24-Track Studio in San Francisco with Oliver diCicco engineering. Mobius was easily the best studio I have ever set foot in, let alone recorded in, and Oliver the highest flight engineer. The sonic tones on the one track we completed at Mobius are the richest of any Ophelias recording.

This is how it happened: DiCicco had approached me after a show in San Francisco and invited me to come by and discuss doing our next album with him. He had all our previous records, really liked us and apparently had been observing and contemplating us for a while. I had no idea what Oliver or Mobius was about until David and I went by…the place was amazing. Immaculate. Light wood paneling that curved everywhere for proper acoustics. It was obvious Oliver was intelligent and a real professional. After we talked he went to Rough Trade and struck a deal for one eight hour session, offering Rough Trade a discounted fee. He'd see how he liked working with us and vice versa. I believe he chose "Pretty Green Ice Box Eyes" as a song he liked and one which would show off his studio and engineering capabilities and I think the results speak for themselves. He took the finished song to Rough Trade and said "These are the type of results you can expect from me" and he proposed a deal for an album. But Rough Trade couldn't or wouldn't meet his price and negotiations went nowhere. I don't know what he was asking but Rough Trade just wouldn't go there. They bought "Pretty Green Ice-Box Eyes" but told us we had to find a less-expensive studio for the rest of the album.

There is one other thing I would mention as part of this episode: It seems to me quite possible that Oliver diCicco may have become a mentor to me, one that could perhaps have had positive impact on our career. I'm sure I needed a steadying influence, someone with clout and experience who saw the big picture.  My sense is that he was someone I would have listened to, respected and understood the wisdom of an opinion he expressed even when it diverged from my own. I never had a Tony Visconti or a Tony Stratton-Smith, and The Ophelias no doubt could have benefited enormously from such a guide. I was always just winging it, steering instinctively, and in retrospect I know I directed us into some traps, traps we might have avoided with the help of the right fifth person.”

So the band went back to David Bryson's 16-track Dancing Dog Studios in Emeryville where they had done half of the first album and The Night of Halloween EP. The place had been upgraded since they were there in 1986 and 1987 and Bryson was always easy to work with and increasingly accomplished. Furthermore he was sometimes running their live sound at club dates in San Francisco, so he had a good handle on The Ophelias.


Leslie: “Dancing Dog was in an industrial warehouse and many of the surrounding units were unoccupied. We conducted several photo sessions in the building while we were recording there. The album cover and the music do all seem of a piece to me. Again, I felt that the drum and bass tracking took up too much of our budget but I was at least partly to blame for this because I brought in several new songs we hadn't played live. This meant Edward and Terry were still learning them as the sessions began. I thought we might get fresh and fired-up exuberance but in reality this was not playing to their strengths. And of course, the more time spent on the rhythm section the less time remained for all other tracking. In the end we did not complete all the songs we started for The Big O, and we ended up using Polymorph 8-track for “Panurge” to extend our budget. We did not complete some excellent originals, whereas we completed a few covers, which perhaps had less gravitas being less complex and somewhat “easier”. This may have made the album less theatrically whole than it might have been. However, The Big O includes “Holy Glow”, “Glory Hog”, “Pretty Green Ice-Box Eyes”, and “Strange New Glasses”, all of which I count among our best work.”


David: “I have so many mixed feelings about The Big O. We got a good deal from pal David Bryson, (my current bandmate in Counting Crows!) at his 16 track Dancing Dog Studios, again, in industrial Emeryville. As previously mentioned, we had a big chunk of it already done at my studio, and I love those tunes.  But in the final thrust to finish, so many excellent tunes weren’t even attempted, others were left on the cutting room floor, only to be replaced by some, in my opinion, sub par material that Leslie, who I regard as a genius songwriter, didn’t even pen, but insisted we do. Very unsatisfying for me, and yet it does, in fact, house my single favourite Ophelias recording - “Glory Hog” (dig those fucking amazing lyrics!!), but even that was only on the CD and not on the vinyl. I’m remembering Leslie, and all of us, to be fair, was by this time super frustrated at a lack of recognition and god knows, we were all broke. I can’t crawl into Leslie’s mind about this but I reckon he thought that the “classic” Ophelias aesthetic was proving to “not pay off”, and he had to make what he thought was a pop record. So he became insistent and insufferable about what was going on the album. Tensions flared. I mean, I coulda done without “Leah Hirsig” and “She”, and would love to have had “Sleepy Hamlet” which was in the can and “The Golden Calf Played Rock ‘n’ Roll” which was recorded but not used. An excellent Hammill-esque piece “The Hanged Man”, remained only partially recorded. So I can’t help but feel the album was only a shadow of what it could have been, despite some really excellent material on there, “Holy Glow” another standout in my book. The album came out with minimal push from a now disinterested and failing label, and definitely didn’t get us where we needed to go…c’mon, we’ve heard this tale a thousand times! We immediately started talking about another album, but Rough Trade flagged shortly after that, and we found ourselves without a record contract, and shrinking prospects.   Still, we soldiered on, playing our gigs and holding court at our adopted headquarters in SF - Zeitgeist, a biker bar a couple blocks from our rehearsal space, where we were treated well and copious pints were consumed as the band fell into even greater Dostoevskian nihilism.Heh-heh.”

                                            Martina, Medford and Sabrina

 Edward: “On the subject of recording The Big O, I don't have a lot to say. It was a fairly sterile undertaking for me. The approach was different on this album, with everything being done to a click track and everyone recording their parts separately. I know this is a fairly common method of recording. Engineers and producers love  it, as you get a really clean recording that way. I think you lose something, though, when the band isn't playing together as a band. There are some good points to recording this way. When recording in unison, if you make a mistake, you live with it. When recording alone, you can go over a passage in a song as many times as necessary to get it right. It was pretty weird though, going in everyday not knowing what had been previously recorded by whichever bandmates had been in earlier to do their parts. I was given five hours a night for two weeks to record all my parts. I would go into the room by myself, where the drums were set up and mic'd. I sit down at the kit and put the headphones on. I get the click track through one ear piece and what bits and been recorded by my bandmates during their sessions. It's pretty strange having skeletal versions of songs played for you to fit your parts too. I'm sure a lot of folks like doing it this way, but for me, I miss the inspiration of playing with my bandmates.”


Released in March 1988, vinyl copies of The Big O were packaged in a die-cut, round album jacket, the last occurrence of this before the music industry stopped manufacturing vinyl albums in 1990. Additionally, and independently of Rough Trade, in May they created a short  (1 minute, 39 seconds), comical, black and white video of the 1968 Skip Spence song "Lawrence Of Euphoria" - a kind of tag-on track which had closed the album. The video received multiple airplays on MTV in 1989 and The Big O was reviewed positively on MTV's Alternative Programme.

The Hard Report (New Jersey) once again trumpeted The Ophelias virtues and proclaimed The Big O pick-of-the-month for March 1989. Dawn Hood wrote, "Out of the sky comes a third rollicking effort by San Francisco's retro-rompers. This is sheer psychedelic entertainment, enhanced by witty song styles and erratic vocals that follow in the shadow of Zappa. The Big O is in your face from the opening note, and keeps on truckin' as dubious arrangements find themselves changing shape like a lava lamp. The Big O is not only the best bloomin' disc The Ophelias have conjured up to date, but it tugs you in new directions by reworking music of the past."

Nils Berstein of OPTION Music Alternatives magazine (Los Angeles) wrote, "This immensely original and entertaining San Francisco quartet are based in solid rock'n'roll – beefy acoustic and electric guitars and heavy beats – but where they go from there is anyone's guess. Their oddly powerful and incredibly diverse music incorporates trumpets, harmonica, and pedal steelin a sound that can alternate from raunchy to sweet in seconds. The only musical comparison that pops up with any consistency is T-Rex; after that compare them to the Zombies, Queen, XTC and everyone in between. Let's just say The Ophelias have no influences. The impressively literate lyrics are enticingly psychedelic, though in a mystical/magical sense rather than acid and flower power. The Ophelias conjure up intense imagery and sing with infectious confidence and celebration."

David Fricke of Rolling Stone wrote, "In the Sixties, psychedelia wasn't just a sound; it was a state of mind. The biggest drag about Eighties psychedelia is that for every dozen bands that talk about blowing minds (reciting the proper influences, trotting out the hip covers), there are really only one or two that can blow anything other than hot air. The Ophelias, from (where else?) San Francisco, belong to that delightfully manic minority. Their fourth release, The Big O is a potent tab of futurist acid pop, with a jagged ensemble intensity that sounds like vintage English freakbeat,early Pink Floyd, a pithier Van der Graaf Generator, laced with postpunk menace. Leslie Medford's occasional trumpet adds a spooky Renaissance gentility."

Musician Scott McCaughey (REM, Robyn Hitchcock, Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5) wrote this review published in The Rocket, (Seattle) May 1989. "The Ophelias have some vague 1960's love-roots, but they are so weird that any related attempt of reference doesn't even apply. The new album is The Big O. Leslie Medford's songs are structurally and lyrically all over the place, consistently fascinating and his singing is like no one else ever. The band is instrumentally superb, with Medford's rhythm and David Immergluck's lead guitaring always impressively original and trailblazing and the odd assortment of other noisemakers at Medford's command make for some wild juxtapositions of mood and colour. Each song is like three or four. You wonder, are these people just really smart or plain out of their heads? Dang cool, whatever it is!"

Edward: “Somewhere along the line somebody got wind of the fact that Rolling Stone Magazine had  made mention of The Ophelias. I wouldn't have guessed that they knew who we were. One of my two brothers came up with the issue. It had the actor Michael Keaton on the cover, as he had just played the role of Batman in a movie that was out at the time. It was a pleasant surprise, especially since they only had nice things to say about us, although I wonder at the take that we were a "psychedelic" rock band. But, you know, Mick, I've lost track of the number of different labels put on The Ophelias music. The Rolling Stones had it right: I know, it's only rock n roll, but I like it. Rock music. Period.

The promo shot for Lawrence of Euphoria, the band's "subversive" MTV video.


Then there was the video. The day of the shoot was probably the drunkest day of my life, again. There were only five times in  my life when I got drunk; two of them with this band. Go figure. Actually, Mick, it was kinda' unavoidable. The video we made involved drinking lots of beer. On behalf of authenticity, we did not substitute water for beer. This allowed for great geysers of foam shooting up in air as mugs came together. Plus, it allowed for the girls to be a little less inhibited during the shoot. All three of the women were in their marvelous frilly underwear. That was a lot of fun, the only drawback being that it wasn't one our songs, but a cover tune. Still, seeing your band on MTV is a blast!”

On Benton’s Departure and Lucchesi’s Arrival

Despite rave reviews and well attended concerts, finances remained a constant problem for the band.

Leslie:” It was unfortunate that none of us could ever stop working day jobs, and taking time off to record or tour always meant making complex arrangements with employers. It often meant quitting a job and seeking a new place a month later or whatever. I worked as a courier, filing papers for attorneys using my own car, so I could take time off as necessary and jump back in. But Edward was a welder/electrician and he had special classification to work on Navy ships because he had served in the Navy. It was a real job with a good hourly wage, tough work but with union or Navy benefits. And the Navy hired people to work on a docked vessel with a strict timetable. He would work on one ship for a couple of months and then wait a few weeks until another ship came in for maintenance. He also had a son who was very small, three and four at that time. He had always managed to record and tour with us but in May of 1989 he felt he could not get out of working on one particular ship to which he had been assigned.”

Edward: “The day came when I had to say good bye to the band. That's when I had to take custody of my son from my ex wife. My choice was clear, but I delayed telling the band for two weeks. I agonized over the matter, praying for a way out, knowing there was none. Finally, I bit the bullet and made the call to Leslie. As it turned out, I only had my son temporarily at that time, three months only. But, the band had moved on. I did do another album with a different band I had played with off and on over the years. That was a hard rock outfit called Changeling. We managed one self produced album called The Crashing Wave, which didn't do much. That was fun band for me to play in, as it was hard rock and I really got to thunder at will.
                         

John Bonham wrote the book on rock drumming; end of story. All educated people agree on this. That's just a corny cliché to amuse myself, but there is plenty of recorded evidence to back my claim. All drummers who came after John Bonham drew from his musical rhythmic inventiveness, whether they knew it or not. Those who came immediately after, say 10-15 years later, drew directly from J.B. Those who came to their drums even later than that drew their influences from the first batch. At any rate it's all traceable back to the man himself. Listen to what came before Zep and the drumming is fairly bland in comparison. That guy created so many rhythms, feels, techniques and just a musical approach that taught all of us drummers how. From him I learned how a single beat, properly placed and accentuated can have immense power. Most of us can't do that. It's a feel thing that he had and the rest of us covet. John Bonham is clearly my all time favorite drummer, but.... in the post Zep years another British drummer has taken hold of my ears. His name is Simon Phillips.

                                                        
Simon is probably the best all around drummer I've ever heard. The man is proficient in both jazz and rock drumming, as well as other stuff he's done. His discography is a who's who list covering both genres of music. I first saw this guy back in October of 1980 on Jeff Beck's There and Back tour. Simon was 23 years old at the time. This last December I saw him here in Vegas drumming as part of the Hiromi Trio. He was here again two months ago playing with Toto. The guy's my age and still kickin' ass. Simon not only can play in any musical style, but add to it musically, has the best technique going including true four limb independence (maybe a quarter of one percent of all drummers on planet Earth have that), as well as the best drum sound going.

Edward reunites with David backstage before the Counting Crows' show in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, July 2018. Photo by Matt Benton

After all this, I took permanent custody of my son and moved to Las Vegas. I looked around initially at the rock and roll landscape here and found nothing. Not being able to shake the music, and to a larger degree, the performance bug, I looked for other opportunities. I ended up in a church choir at  the church my dad was attending. Three of the members of that choir were in the local opera company here. They encouraged me to join, and being just that crazy, I did. It was not something I had ever thought to do, but what a blast. Large stages in beautiful venues, and large crowds, while we are all in ornate costuming singing mostly Italian, with large orchestras down front. It was so cool. I did that for ten years here, until I had a money dispute with the company manager. My son got to do it with me, which made it doubly cool. We were also doing musical theatre with another company here. Basically, I raised my kid on stage from nine years old on up. We also did stuff with the SAG conservatory here, and a dance company for a couple of years.
Then my son grew up and went off to college. At that point I quit all of the theatre stuff. Now, I am just singing with a local gospel group. My son has since moved back to this area and is singing by my side once more. All is well.”

                       Lucchesi, Immergluck, Medford, von Blankers - the last line-up

Leslie: “We had a West Coast tour set up, which, believe me, took a lot of doing. At this point we were rehearsing at Jackson Street Studios in Oakland. The fellow who ran the place was our age and a drummer, Alain Lucchesi. He probably overheard Terry and I discussing our problem because there was this plush little bar area where musicians would hang out, you know, before and after their rehearsal slots. I met Duane Allman there…but, alas, not Cher. I digress. So Alain says, "Hey, I'll drum for you guys." We had never heard him play but knew he had his own little studio there where he kept his drum kit set up and it was a large kit, not quite Carl Palmer but in that vicinity. We knew he was a fan of Rush, not one of my favourites but they had an excellent drummer. The tour was only a week away when Edward said he couldn't do it. Alain claimed he had a mental technique whereby he could learn drum parts quickly and accurately, and this did prove to be the case. His mother was a percussionist in the San Francisco Symphony, so he had been around all this stuff his entire life. We gave him the set list, some cassettes and The Big O CD and a few days later we played with him for the first time, and a few days after that we headed out with him as our drummer. It was exhilarating to play with someone of his skill and heaviness, he was a big, strong chappie. But it was gut-wrenching to leave Edward behind. I loved that guy. Sweet, committed, good humoured, funny. Edward remains very dear to me.”

David: “Probably in a belt-tightening move, we shifted rehearsal spaces to a large multi unit warehouse in Oakland called Jackson Street Studios. This was run by an excellent, large and affable rocker dude named Alain Lucchesi, who’s mother had apparently been a famous percussion educator. Alain also played drums. The band was hanging by a thread at this point, both financially and spiritually but somehow a run of shows up the West Coast to promote The Big O presented itself seemingly out of thin air, taking us back up to Seattle, and maybe even Vancouver again. Ed had to choose between us and a job that actually paid, he had a kid and bowed out at the 11th hour.  It looked like the tour was gonna fall apart but Al, who was a bemused fan, and a “can do” cat, stepped in and saved the day, offering his drum services and jumping in the van with us up the coast after I believe only one rehearsal. He killed it.  A very fearless and muscular drummer, he gave us a much-needed kick in the ass, and the collective band spirit rose again.

 Al was “in” full time at that point and pretty soon we were recording again, without a label or contract, this time at Al’s ADAT studio. The new tunes rocked harder but maintained The Ophelias “mystique”. I was definitely stoked again. I believe we recorded four new tunes: “Anywhere You Look” (found now on “Bare Bodkin”), a great post-punker “Capitol”, my favorite “Blood On The Moon” and one other whose title escapes me…we started playing some of these live immediately. Unfortunately the master tapes of these recordings were destroyed in a fire at Alain's family home and all that remain are the rough mixes on cassette in Leslie’s possession…damn tragic!”


Lucchesi would remain in The Ophelias until the end, which was only a few months away. They were home again by the end of May, and at the start of June played a show for the staff and friends of Rough Trade Records in San Francisco. Later that month the band completed their last studio recordings, though this time not in a professional studio but in the rehearsal space at Jackson Street Studios. Lucchesi owned a DAT cassette recorder, which was employed for the exercise. Four songs they had recently added to their live set – "Everywhere You Look", "Pretty Girl", "Capitol", and "Blood On The Moon"  – were recorded. These tracks were never released, but along with four other unfinished extras from The Big O sessions – "Thanks For This Shade", "Sleepy Hamlet", "The Golden Calf Played Rock 'n' Roll", and "The Hanged Man" – they were already contemplating the track listing of the next Rough Trade album.

On the 1st July The Ophelias played at the Berkeley Square on University Avenue, and on the 25th at the Kennel Klub on Divisadero in San Francisco. The Ophelias last ever performance was the 5th August 1989 at Nightbreak, the trendy Haight Street club less than a mile from where it began at the G-Spot Rehearsal Studio on Frederick in October 1984.


The Ophelias had no idea it was their last performance. It was later in August that Medford was informed that Rough Trade would not be picking up its option for a third album. This was a surprise, but the final straw was Immerglück's announcement that he would be touring as an auxiliary member of Camper Van Beethoven who had just had a breakout hit single, their cover of the 1968 Status Quo hit "Pictures Of Matchstick Men".  He was to join them on their US and European tours which were to stretch from the Autumn of 1989 into 1990. In fact, Immerglück was with them in April 1990 when Camper Van Beethoven broke up after a show in Örebro, Sweden.

David: “I was burning at both ends, working crazy hours in the studio, I was working out of both Polymorph and Dancing Dog by now, constantly playing gigs with several bands, picking up shifts at my local record store but still broke. Suddenly I got a call from David Lowery and an offer I couldn’t refuse to join up with Camper Van Beethoven, tour nationally and eventually internationally and actually get paid as well. I can’t remember but maybe I had to cancel some upcoming Ophelias gigs because of this and Leslie must’ve seen the writing on the wall. I was truly sad about the disolution of The Ophelias but something definitely had to give…”

More than the Rough Trade situation, which could have been surmounted by pursuing a contract with another label, Immerglück's choice to commit to Camper Van Beethoven meant that The Ophelias would likely become a side project for Immerglück were the other three to wait for his return. Immerglück had already been playing in Monks Of Doom as a side project, but his primary focus had clearly been The Ophelias. However, Monks Of Doom was not only the side project of one member of The Ophelias, it was the side project of three members of Camper Van Beethoven. Immerglück has stated he did not want to break up (or leave) The Ophelias. However, Medford decided that without Immerglück as a constant and fully commited partner it was time to move on. He met with von Blankers in early September and drew down the curtain on The Ophelias.


Immerglück is the band's best-known alumnus having continued in Monks Of Doom and gone on to membership in Counting Crows, John Hiatt, Camper van Beethoven, Cracker, and others, as well as doing much session work, studio production and music engineering with a variety of notables.

David: “I am SO proud of my time with The Ophelias and happily consider myself a life long card carrying member, cherishing my time in that band now more than ever.  I was truly lucky to find myself in a situation of such high calibre so early on in my in my bizarre trajectory. I‘ve been blessed with a shockingly long and fruitful career, and even more so, I’ve had the insanely good fortune to work with top shelf people the entire time. Adam Duritz (34 years and counting), David Lowery, my mates in Monks Of Doom, John Hiatt…may the list continue to grow. But let’s not forget or underestimate Leslie Medford! The quality of his songwriting and vision speaks for itself. He’s just a flat out genius and the stuff we did together really holds up and tickles me no end! Yes, The Ophelias as a band had some trying times but I only look back with extreme fondness and pride. I’m so happy to have reconnected with Leslie. We fell horribly out of touch for a long time and we’re working hard to rectify the band’s and Leslie’s criminally overlooked profile in the current bizarre era we find ourselves in.”

Musical Comparisons Drawn by the Press and Medford’s Musical Influence

                                                   
Two bands cited by reviewers many times – but that Medford claims were not influences are Frank Zappa and the Incredible String Band. Multiple reviewers heard similarities between Medford's voice and that of Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band, as well as noting a general similarity to the Scottish group in the Ophelias songs which employed Renaissance stylings such as "Nocturnal Blonde" and "Pretty Green Ice-Box Eyes."

Leslie: "It was the Irish DJ Billy Jam who finally convinced me to seek out the Incredible String Band records. I mean, I was a huge Bert Jansch fan and had all his solo records, all the Pentangle records. I had a large British Isles Folk collection, June Tabor, Martin Carthy, Steeleye and Fairport, on and on…Jean Redpath for chrissakes! Love 'em all. But somehow I hadn't got the Incredibles in my collection
So I bought the records and now I hear what Billy and many others were hearing, because there are similarities, and I like the comparison. But the similarities are coincidental because I had never listened to them. Now the Frank Zappa comparisons are less welcome. I recognize Zappa is a top flight musician, and I had heard a few of his records as a kid, like Overnight Sensations. But I didn't care for it, particularly his sense of humor which makes up so much of his whole schtick. I just wasn't amused, I was repelled. There may be commonalities: I use a deep voice sometimes, and certain Ophelias songs are weird and wild and tongue in cheek and subversive. I deny the influence, never owned any Zappa records, but as a comparison it was mentioned multiple times so what can I say? I just don't know his work that well, I guess, so I should probably shut up and study the 60s Mothers Of Invention records and see what those are all about. But from what I know I just don't feel a similarity of motive at all. All the other groups that were name-checked with regularity I know and love, so they are among my influences and I feel most of them are legitimate comparisons as to how The Ophelias sound in one song or another. Or that a phrase or moment in a song could remind a listener of one of these bands. Syd Barrett, the Kinks, Beatles, Who, Donovan, Bowie, Bolan of course, Zeppelin, Queen, Soft Boys and Hitchcock…that's the usual list, right? Who am I missing? Oh Peter Hammill, my great favourite, but not someone I would expect many people to hear in The Ophelias, though quite a few did. Am I not correct in thinking that quite a bit of Ophelias music doesn't sound like any of these?"

Afterwards.


After the breakup of The Ophelias Medford formed two bands concurrently: the hard rock band HighHorse with Alain Lucchesi from the last Ophelias line up and James Juhn, (who had sat in with The Ophelias at the I-Beam show after Babbitt’s departure) and The Heaven Insects, a folk-rock duo with his then girlfriend Elena Powell on violin and viola. Both bands recorded demos but were short-lived, both ceasing operations in 1991. Among the live engagements The Heaven Insects played in 1990 were support slots preceding The Replacements, Happy Mondays, Pixies, and Love And Rockets, all at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium. When Powell and Medford split late in the year Powell was replaced by violinist Steven Lanza. This duo recorded several demos as well but never played live. Medford also fronted the well-received Doors tribute act The Perceivers in 1991. Formerly known as Doors Hotel  and touring out of their home base of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Medford was a last-second replacement for the band's regular Morrison who had broken a leg and could not participate in a Canadian and West Coast tour concurrent with the 20th anniversary of Morrison's death in July 1971. Medford suggested they rechristen themselves The Perceivers after Huxley's "Doors of Perception." The Ophelias YouTube Channel features video of The Perceivers, HighHorse, The Heaven Insects, and other recordings from Medford's past.  Medford retired from music in 1992.


 In 1992 Terry von Blankers reunited with his old Ophelias bandmate Sam Babbitt in Sideways along with Camper Van Beethoven's Jonathan Segel, songwriter Bob Fagan and ExCatheads drummer John Stuart. They recorded some demos and a radio session for KZSU before calling it a day.


Leslie: “I have written many, to my mind anyway, excellent songs which never saw the light of day, and only currently exist as bedroom demos or perhaps on a live performance cassette.  A longer career and they might have been released in proper form. Of course, who knows what else I might have written but I'd venture to say I've got 50-60 completed songs worthy of the Immerglück treatment!

I moved from Oakland to Arcata in Humboldt County in 1993 which is six-seven hours north of San Francisco by automobile. I'm not a city person, so this was a good move since I wanted to raise my new-born daughter, in a rural environment and I couldn't afford or get L.C.’s mom to immigrate back to the land of my birth. I boxed up my music memorabilia, live performance cassettes, photographs, et cetera and stored them away. Music remained paramount to my day-to-day but I didn't really follow the new pop music. I kept listening to the Classical, Prog, Folk and Rock music I always had, the things which had always excited me about music in the first place. Through the Nineties and beyond, occasionally new rock music broke through to me like Black Crowes, Pothead, Anekdoten, PJ Harvey, White Stripes, Fu Manchu, Low Flying Owls. I continued to follow the music of my favorite contemporaries such as Frank Black, Mark Lanegan, Nick Cave, Grant Lee Buffalo-Phillips, The Church, Michael Gira-Jarboe-Angels Of Light, as well as new music by the great old hands like Peter Hammill, Roy Harper, Bert Jansch, David Bowie and Robert Plant.

But I hardly ever went to see these, or any other artists in concert. I have lived in a series of remote places. As I look at this group of artists I just listed, I only ever saw Hammill, Jansch, Frank Black, Lanegan, once each after 1993. I saw The Church twice. (I had had personal encounters with each of these artists pre-'93, though that is not at all why I attended.) I saw Low Flying Owls more than a dozen times because they were a truly great live psychedelic band who were local to me at the time. Regardless, I continue to listen and love my ever-expanding collection of records and CDs to this day.

So I packed away my Ophelias memorabilia and I rarely listened to my old music. I also didn't stay in touch with any of the people of that era. I thought often and fondly of them but it has been a fault of mine that I have generally drifted away from past friends simply through laziness and physical distance. And I also have never been a tech-embracer. I was last to get a cd player, a computer, a cell phone, to see YouTube, join Facebook... The change in the culture, the fact that one couldn't operate without these things, was what brought each of these into my life, not any desire to be part of the zeitgeist. I never was, and I'm not now. I still don’t use mp3 files or earbuds or stream or any of that. Twitter? Give me a break!

However, in early 2016 I decided I should break out those old cassettes of bedroom recordings, band rehearsals and live performances and have a listen. There were around 250 cassettes I hadn't listened to for 25 years. My old cassette deck had given up the ghost so I bought a refurbished TEAC cassette player and got down to business, cataloguing as I went. One thing led to another...the cassettes led to the photographs, the photos to the posters, the posters to the magazines, the magazines to the address book with all my friends and contacts written there. I spent days and days listening and culling the music, converting the good stuff to compact disc and culling it down some more.

In late 2016 I approached a longhaired fellow in my local library, a librarian Carl Salbacka who had helped me on the computers there a few times. Though I had only had a few very brief encounters with him he seemed an interesting and tech-savvy character, so that day I asked him if he had any experience posting YouTube videos. I explained I had been in a band in the 80's and wanted to get help in this regard, blah, blah, blah. He said he knew how to do it, and didn't say "no", but the blank look on his face told me he wasn't immediately taken by the idea of being involved with this old pony-tailed geezer wearing a cowboy hat. Ha! Regardless, I told him I'd bring him a CD of the music and if he wasn't enthusiastic so be it. The following week - I only go there on Thursdays because of my schedule – I gave him two CDRs of Ophelias music, with lyrics and a couple of press clippings, trying to make a good impression. The next Thursday I went in expecting "Uh, no, I haven't listened to them yet." Instead he came right up to me, smiling, and said how we sounded like a very stoned Fairport Convention meets Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd via Zeppelin, and several other fairly apt if equally overly complimentary comparisons to bands I never thought he would be familiar with but were certainly bands I like. "More people should hear this stuff. Yes, I'm game for helping you on this." he said.

                             The Ophelias' Latter-Day Saint, Carl Salbacka.

So as it happens we have been meeting most Mondays for four-five hours a go, putting these YouTube videos together. And, it is my total good luck that he is a wizard at this type of audio-visual editing. I could never have imagined my good fortune in partnering up with Carl Salbacka. He’s a musician himself as well as being knowledgable in a lot of areas including rock music, film and obviously video editing. And here we are a year and a half later – Bare Bodkin was released on Shakespeare Day, 23 April 2017 – and we continue to make these things. David Immerglück, Edward Benton, Alain Lucchesi in particular have been very keen indeed about Bare Bodkin and the other releases. That alone has made it all worth it!
With Bare Bodkin as my "neo-icebreaker" I  joined Facebook to track down old friends and, with or without Facebook, I have made inroads on contacting not only The Ophelias inner circle but friends from my boyhood, university years, and post-Oaf period as well. 2017 has been a special year as a result.

                                                    Leslie and Edward reunited 2018

The fact that The Ophelias didn't get the exposure and recognition the band deserved either then or after the fact has rankled me for years - probably not a surprise - but I just put those feelings aside and didn't dwell on the short shrift. It certainly gives me satisfaction to be bringing The Ophelias back into the light again, and anything that can be done to burnish our legacy in any way is tremendously appreciated!”
Final thoughts...

Leslie: “I have so many fun memories that make me smile and laugh about the other members of the band and how much silliness we got up to together. I think we each had a good sense of humor and we were good at tickling one another, keeping things light with absurdist humor, double entendres and over-the-top impersonations and whatnot. I have great memories about the shenanigans we got up to in the studio or in rehearsal. And of course we had great times on the road. Though The Ophelias had our share of personnel changes, each new combination brought something fresh to the party. We were definitely never a collection of sulkers.
 I would say looking back, that Rough Trade supported The Ophelias in the normal way a struggling independent record company supports a signee. We benefited from the association in that we could not, on our own, afford to record or manufacture product or promote the product effectively throughout the country. But it was a disappointment to me that Rough Trade did not release the albums in the UK and European markets where many, including myself, thought the band would be particularly well received, and where Rough Trade was organizationally strongest.”


Unbeknownst to The Ophelias at the time was the fact that the label was well overextended financially during the period of their contract, and in consequence was unable to provide competitive budgetary support compared with more financially sound independent labels.  Rough Trade's eventual bankruptcy in 1991 illustrates how their financial crisis negatively affected their ability to provide the full financial support The Ophelias expected and probably deserved. Indeed, Rough Trade dropped all their American signees in 1989, including The Ophelias, as they prepared themselves for receivership.

Since Rough Trade did not exercise their right to a third album for which they were contractually obligated to advance $15,000, and instead terminated the contract in September 1989, all rights to The Ophelias music and master tapes reverted to Medford by November 1991. During those two years Rough Trade shipped all masters in their control to the UK, declared bankruptcy, and misplaced The Ophelias masters, which have never been located or returned to Medford.


It is both convenient and accurate to divide The Ophelias career into three periods corresponding to the band's three guitarists. The uniqueness of each period is most apparent when listening to the live performances of each, wherein the guitarist is comparatively naked. Immerglück is obviously and by far the most complete guitarist, a soloist and colourist of superb talent. Babbitt also has great soul, his playing often surprising in its depth of feeling. He is a messier, less virtuosic guitarist than Immergluck, but the earthy, lo-fi, no bullshit essence of his work in The Ophelias prove him to be a legitimate heir to the Keith Richards thing, and not just another poser within that almost always pathetic discipleship.  Dion isn't in the same class with either of these – in fact he is not as adept a guitarist as Medford – but that is not to say he was unable to sometimes rise to the occasion.

The charismatic advent of The Ophelias was due to the authenticity and talent of its entire original line-up. Then, during the Dion year, the band's live sound suffered without the essential coloration specialist to match wits with Medford's unique artistic designs. When Immerglück joined, it allowed The Ophelias to not merely recapture the original charm and spark, his expertise helped realize Medford's vision as never before.


Despite a musical style at odds with other San Francisco Bay Area bands and with the general worldwide musical trends of the mid and late 1980s, The Ophelias did achieve a degree of popularity in their home metropolis.  They played well over one hundred performances in nightclubs or live on local college radio stations and were the subject of several in-depth cover stories in local magazines. But the band was never accepted as a viable draw by Bill Graham's organization, which controlled the major arena and theatre shows in Northern California. Two non-Bill Graham shows – headlining the Haight Street Fair in June of 1987, and in support of Siouxsie & The Banshees at the ARCO Arena, Sacramento in 1988 – were the only occasions The Ophelias played before multiple thousands. They met with their most enthusiastic response and sold the most records outside of California and whether or not better national touring opportunities and exposure to British and European audiences would have catapulted the band into on going viability and financial security will never be known.


The multiform nature of their music made it difficult to pigeon-hole or categorize The Ophelias during their tenure.  In the mid and late Eighties came the hardening of musical categories and territories and an end to the experimentalism which so characterized the music of the 1960s and 1970s to which The Ophelias obviously subscribed. Conservatism and contraction were rampant in the music industry in the late 1980s as video took the baton from vinyl, and the uncertainties of the digital metamorphosis loomed. In this environment they were perceived as increasingly quirky and bizarre compared to the mainstream and even the trends of the Alternative scene. Whereas The Ophelias were embraced for their artful unusualness by underground audiences and university radio – the Alternative market – the major record labels chose not to sign The Ophelias for the same reasons.


The Ophelias are remembered as one of the best and most eccentric bands of the 1980s by those lucky enough to have encountered their music.


Leslie Medford's guide to Bare Bodkin.

The 15 tracks on Bare Bodkin are all studio recordings. All the LPs and the EP are represented by a total of 10 tracks, the other 5 songs being released here for the first time.

1…"Anywhere You Look" [Medford]  First appearance: Bare Bodkin – 23 April 2017
This is from the Alain Luchessi Sessions, our last stand as regards studio work. June 1989. Leading into this 2-day mini-sesh was our last tour and first with Alain, during which we introduced a half-dozen new songs, "Anywhere You Look" being one of them. On the tour I improvised words the first night after the band learned it in the soundcheck...but it was such a powerful riff it took off right away...I mean David was soaring above me and EYE was eight miles high! I like the words (which I completed the next day using the cassette from the improv performance as starting point), I like the woodsy mood music, and I think the introduction of the whole/hole dare I say circular thing makes it an excellent opener. That main shot of the band is from our last Rough Trade In-Store performance.

So in several ways we are starting at the end, but that is in the middle of the circle, and this song, along with the next three, all "new", all rather short…I guess I use these four opening "new" songs to make a kind of personal statement about my feelings as to the prime aesthetic thrust of The Ophelias, musically, lyrically, visually...an extended prologue and set-up for the perhaps more-familiar numbers 5-14, all previously released...but now with visuals. "Shallows", song 15, is also "new" and was fashioned as Epilogue. Importantly, whether a seasoned Ophelias-listener or first-timer, I believe in Bare Bodkin you have that aforementioned best foot forward compilation from us, as well as one which is career-spanning. And there you have it.

But there's more…

2..."The Golden Calf Played Rock And Roll" [Medford]  First appearance: Bare Bodkin – 23 April 2017
My spin on Jack Orion. I've thought about providing a key to this collection of photos of some of my musical heroes. Should I? Nah, I'm sure you recognize them all! Truly, every one is dynamite…and golden! (Hmmm…sounds like Aleister. Ha!) This was recorded during the Big O sessions, January 1989, and is technically a cassette rough mix since it was considered unfinished. (A reinforcing guitar line under the chorus was planned. So was a follow-up album(!) and we knew we had some great ones almost finished.) But "as is" it has pleased me over the years and in my view "it is accomplished."


3…"Sleepy Hamlet" [Phillips/Clark/Medford]  First appearance: Bare Bodkin – 23 April 2017
This was a present to The Ophelias from my great friends Jeffrey Clark and Grant-Lee Phillips. We three became acquainted during my solo period, 1982-84. Jeffrey and Grant were both in Torn Boys, an incredibly engaging band with a drum machine…said drum machine allowing them to play small venues like coffee houses just as I was doing. Torn Boys are certainly among my very favourite bands of the period. In 1984 Jeffrey and Grant moved to LA, eventually forming Shiva Burlesque, who put out two albums in the late 80s on which I play some trumpet as a guest. As David says above, we considered them part of our family, a similarly Art-driven outfit, likewise sailing against prevailing winds. Sometime in 1985 Jeffrey gave me a cassette with a home-demo version of "Sleepy Hamlet" which he and Grant said they wrote with me in mind. There likely was some cross-pollination but I was told Grant wrote the music and Jeffrey the lyric. The Ophelias recorded our version during The Big O sessions of January 1989, quite faithful to the demo, but with a bit of added instrumental material. After The Big O sessions had wrapped I went back into Dancing Dog for a few hours with David Bryson our engineer, so that we could get a perhaps final mix of this. Here it is…The Ophelias, rapt around a rich and apt song, and in top form.

                                                                       The Oaks 

4…"Thanks For This Shade" [Medford]  First appearance: Bare Bodkin – 23 April 2017
This is a Medford-Immerglück-Polymorph creation on 8-track from early 1988, a day of fun with David, just by ourselves in Polymorph, with this marvellous thing as the result. Not only did David get a good vocal sound for the a cappella opening, but great tones throughout the cacophony as well, which features me on psilocybin, piano and percussion, and David on laughter and electric guitar of some persuasion. Of course, with this lyric, the song provides a great link to the subconscious world for the trajectory of Bare Bodkin. I really do love plants, particularly trees. My first baseball team wore green and were named The Oaks…of course!

Leslie: "My Pignose is far right...unfortunately stolen after this gig, along with my acoustic 12 string, electric Rickenbacher, trumpet, recorders and harmonicas. Lost five or six of 'em, all my cords, picks, straps, trumpet and guitar stands in suitcase. The one guitar they didn't get was my SG which I had taken with me."

5…"Holy Glow" [Medford]  First appearance: The Big O – 1 March 1989
This is one of the songs I began to teach the band about a week before we entered Dancing Dog Studios in Emeryville for our third extended run with David Bryson as engineer. Therefore, like many songs at the time of recording, we had not played "Holy Glow" live on stage. I had a collection of songs from my past which were always simmering there, then one would suddenly thrust itself forward bubbling, "You need to do me!" I wrote this in the first blush of owning an electric guitar in 1981, yes, on my blood red 1963 SG, which I played through the biggest PigNose amplifier made, with one ten-inch speaker. The combination was mega-crunchy and I would play in my room at, well, fairly-decent volume. The road I lived on wasn't well-travelled…a residential byway…and activity during the day was negligible, and that's when I would play my electric. One day I was leaving the house and a teenage boy approached me on his bicycle and asked me if it was me who was playing "that Zeppelin song" on guitar. "I really like it. Yer great!" said he. He meant this.

6…"Strange New Glasses" [Medford]  First appearance: The Big O – 1 March 1989
Another one from my back-cata-cauldron of tunes, this one from 1983 or 84. Part of this is really Kinks-ish, I think…my rhythm guitar, the general feel. Dynamic performances from everyone on this. Like David’s solo, mein gott! I apply this next statement to every song on Bare Bodkin: Please, allow me to say that I do think my lyrics are a cut above, and here is an example of which I'm proud.

                                                                      Virginia Wilcox

7…"This Is My Advice To You" [Medford]  First appearance: Oriental Head – 20 May 1988
Also produced in one day with David Immergluck at 8-track Polymorph. David is a fantastically good-humoured and easy-going fellow, and the number of skills and aptitudes he brings to any party is astonishing. Here he is Master Engineer. With its foggy melancholy and backwards piano this result reminds me of Robyn Hitchcock’s folksy side. The video features several photographs I took of my girl Virginia Wilcox, someone truly lovely who passed to the beyond many years ago now. Still missed. Alas!

8…"Overture To Anaconda" [Medford]  First appearance: The Night Of Halloween – 9 September 1987
This rollicks and should be a standard by now. I don't know what's wrong! "Put the vocals out front like the Donovan singles, please," I suggested most diffidently and in honeyed tones!
. The Stanford Band should be playing this for sure! Fun fact: the party noise heard during the main break in the song is from a solo gig I played on New Years Eve, 1982. My girlfriend Barbara Brumm had charge of my little dictaphone recorder, which that night archived a very nice version of "Even As The Days Change" and one of "Synonym", both written that past summer. There's a well-done C'est la Vie by Greg Lake that gets wild applause, mostly from Barbara I fear. After 10:30 the crowd was getting super festive and loud, so I played "I'd Love To Change The World" by Ten Years After, Bryan Ferry's "Sign of the Times", Iggy's "The Passenger", "That's Entertainment" by the Jam, Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and the Sex Pistols' "Submission".  Things got all shook up! Barbara was at a table with Richard Boubelik and Archibald Meredith III, more good friends of mine. They played Liar's Dice. It was Richard's call. "Three sixes!", quoth he. And from this Crowleyist credentials are fashioned!

9…"Glory Hog" [Medford]  First appearance: The Big O – 1 March 1989
Much tender loving care went into this recording, surely one of our finest moments. I wrote "Glory Hog" in 1983 and performed it live solo on acoustic several times…there is a way of doing it with it still totally rocking! But this is The Big O of The Big O, six minutes of the dream realized.

                                     Dave Davies, Sovay and Leslie Medford 2018

10…"Wicked Annabella" [Ray Davies]  First appearance: The Night Of Halloween – 9 September 1987
Everyone knows my cup runneth over with love for the music of Ray and Dave Davies. The Kinks were my first band. To me the Top 60s-rockTier is Dylan-Beatles-Kinks. Three equals. No one else rates so highly. Though Ray wrote this one, Dave (my fave Kink) sings it on the original, and "Wicked Annabella" went perfectly with the Halloween theme behind the EP. I've performed many, many Kinks covers over the years, "Strangers" and "Shangri la" among the great solo acoustic pieces I've had extended relations with. Moreover, both "I Need You" from 1964 and "The Hard Way" from 1976's Schoolboys In Disgrace were showstoppers for my dance band at university when I was a teen. Keith Dion delivers here, the keening siren scream of his solo just right on this occasion, and it's a combo of the first and second takes, if memory serves. (This is the only video where I decided to use multiple photographs of a line-up different from that which featured in the recording. Geoffrey plays the drums on the track, Edward is featured in the video. Of course, Edward rocked it cum laude live many's-the-time.)

11…"Pretty Green Icebox Eyes" [Medford]  First appearance: The Big O – 1 March 1989
Written in 1983, home-demo'd on 4-track in 1984 and included on that year's BrowBeat cassette, here was a song destined to figure in The Ophelias' story in some key way - see comments above. There is a nice four-track recording of this with Elena Powell singing the “female” part, which I intend to put up on the youtube channel eventually. In late 1989 a DJ at KALX Radio (I’m sorry his name escapes me now) invited me to their studio to make a recording of it…me playing a 12-string and us both singing some clever words he had penned for a KALX fundraising effort…words which maintained the back and forth conversation of my version and quite a few of the rhymes. It was cute…and it was played all the time for a month!

12…"Apron Strings" [Medford]  First appearance: Oriental Head – 20 May 1988
Written June 1987, here’s one that immediately entered the live performance repertoire beginning with the Dion-Benton line-up. But it found its wings only via Immergluck who understood what it needed and had the skill to make it happen, and this became a live fixture down the gigs to the very end. Often played as our last song of an evening, we would leave the stage after a barn-burning  extended ending. Obviously, the song has personal meaning – and I use the video to flesh out that aspect of it to the max with photographs from Virginia and West Virginia, of my mother and her family.

13…"Mister Rabbit" [Traditional, arr.:Medford]  First appearance: SF Unscene (compilation) – 15 September 1985
The track that put us on the map - and made us get our act together and replace absent drummer Reuben Chandler - here illustrated by photographs from our first ever show, augmented by others from the Sam Babbitt period. Friends in support, and we thank you!  Also appearing throughout the video are photographs from the first ever Ophelias photoshoot, the only one ever with Reuben, shot in and around the garage of photographer (and old friend) John Malde's San Francisco house. Mark Zanadrea told me he tortured over which version of "Mister Rabbit" to use on the compilation, my solo 1984 4-track bedroom demo (the BrowBeat cassette version) or the Tom Mallon 8-track Ophelias version. Unbeknownst to me Sam had given Mark both versions. I had no part in the decision he made. The demo's pretty rockin' and I think I'm completely happy with his choice!

                                                             Prospero and Ariel

14…"Nocturnal Blonde" [Medford]  First appearance: The Ophelias. – 25 March 1987
At university my Shakespeare classes were taught by professors who either had published critical work on the plays, or, in the case of the professor who played Prospero to my Ariel, was a professional Shakespearean stage actor on the side. Much daily reading and study was required, and I had at least three other concurrent classes with equal work loads. I learned my first year that reading along to a Shakespeare play while listening to a great recording of it, was the best way to have the language come alive and be easier to "decipher", as it were. The library had some booths with turntables and headphones for just such study. Somewhere along the line I acquired for my own ongoing edification the 4-LP Hamlet from 1964, directed by John Gielgud with Richard Burton as Hamlet and Julia Marsh as Ophelia. In March of 1985 following some whim, I determined to randomly drop the stereo needle onto Marsh singing her "snatches of old tunes" during her breakdown scenes, combining whatever she happened to be singing at that moment with a rehearsal recording of The Ophelias first line-up playing my 1983 composition  "Nocturnal Blonde".  So onto two tracks of my 4-track I put a band rehearsal performance, and on the other two tracks (for stereo, you know) I randomly dropped the needle at the moments I wasn’t singing and picked it up when I was. Everyone was gobsmacked by the result. With little, if any, editing, the random needle drops had miraculously added an entirely new dimension, adding gravitas and new meaning. Bit of Bill can do that for ya! So the addition of the lines from Hamlet made for "Shake-down Dub" being added to the title. (The band recording was made on Saint Patrick's Day, 17 March 1985 after a day of drinking Guinness and Irish Coffees with my Rose of Tralee, Lily-Lisa Kinnemon.) A year later when it was time to make the proper recording of the song at Dancing Dog I recreated the “needle drops“ exactly. It was fabulous that my then-girlfriend Martina Livingston was game to attempt it on stage. Obviously, the wind-blown performance at the Haight Street Fair took some guts. Martina performed it indoors atleast twice, including at The Ophelias first record-release party. Appreciated!

15…"Shallows" [Medford]  First appearance: Bare Bodkin – 23 April 2017
This “epilogue” for Bare Bodkin is a combination of the main Night Of Halloween riff at half-speed, and the instrumental “magickal mystery tour” section from She from The Big O. Over this, a photo gallery unwinds of all The Ophelias line-ups in chronological order. The credits which follow are set to a tape loop of the sublime processional section from Gian-Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” one of my very favourite works of art, period. At least once, dear reader, I hope that you will watch Bare Bodkin from start to finish. And I superhope you enjoy it!

                              Discography
https://theopheliasofficial.bandcamp.com/

The Ophelias   The Ophelias.  Strange Weekend Records ‎– SWR 0004 1987


Palindrome
Clash Of The Titans           
In America The Other Day
New Society         
Mr. Rabbit           
Southeast-Asian-American Blues   
The Big (Myopian) Buck Boy Spins                
Nocturnal Blonde






The Ophelias   ‎The Night Of Halloween. Rough Trade ‎– ROUGH US 28 1987


The Night Of Halloween   
Overture To Anaconda     
Wicked Annabella


The Ophelias   Oriental Head.  Rough Trade                 ROUGH US 44 1988


Midsummernight's Scene  
There's A Bell      
Turn Into A Berry               
Plaster Of Paris    
Whirling Dervish
Love Is Teasing  
I Will Die In Your Pocket  
Stay With Me      
Apron Strings       
This Is My Advice To You











The Ophelias ‎  The Big O. Rough Trade ‎ROUGHUS055 1989


Buspass To Budapest        
Strange New Glasses          
Leah Hirsig          
Pretty Green Ice-Box Eyes               
I Dig Your Mind
Holy Glow            
Panurge                
She        
Living Under        
When Winter Comes          
Glory Hog            
Lawrence Of Euphoria









The Ophelias  Bare Bodkin YouTube 2017




The Most Rarified Slab of Ophes : FAD Magazine Holiday Issue Flexi-disc.













POW Magazine CD. It has the studio version of Wicked Annabella as well as the complete set from the show.






Other things