Segarini: The Untold Story of The Duck Brothers

It was a warm spring night in Northern California. A cool breeze blowing in off the Pacific Ocean wafted its way across the small seaside town of Eureka, through the lofty redwoods, and over the hills surrounding Ridoni’s ranch and eased across the porch of Wackering Heights. Though most of the occupants were otherwise engaged, William “Kootch” Trochim and I were hunched over the kitchen table working on our latest project. As the Pacific breeze stirred the wind chimes just outside the kitchen’s bay window, we put the finishing touches on our current obsession. No, it wasn’t a new song, album cover, or tour schedule. It was the blueprints and sketches of the USS Duckburg, The world’s first (and only) Helium fueled rock band Airship….

Both Kootch and I had been obsessed with airships, specifically the Hindenburg, since we were kids. Growing up separately and in completely different environments and with experiences and influences unrelated to one another, our relationship had always been that of brothers because of our similar tastes in music, and when we discovered a mutual interest in all things Hindenburg, the friendship deepened further. On top of that was the fact that we were HUGE fans of Disney’s Uncle Scrooge comic books published by Dell. They were wonderfully written adventure stories and illustrated by the incredible Carl Barks, known to all as the ‘Duckman’.

What made the comics so cool (besides the Beagle Boys, Scrooge’s Worry Room, the money vault, and his nephew Donald, were Donald’s nephews; Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Because of our love of these characters, and because we invented our Airship in the spirit of the wacky inventor (think Professor Frink from the Simpsons) Gyro Gearloose, (another denizen of the Scrooge McDuck comics), we christened the airship ‘The Duckburg’ in honour of the town where Scrooge, Donald, and all the rest of them lived. Also, the copious amounts of really good weed we smoked back then may have had something to do with it.

=0=

The Wackers had parted ways with the producer of our first two albums, Gary Usher, at the end of the Hot Wacks sessions in Montreal. Literally at the end of the last mix down session. We argued with Usher about the ride-out of the song suite Time Will Carry On, and he got so fed up with us, he quit, called a cab, went to the airport and we never saw him again. Meanwhile, we finished the mix with our engineer and hurried to catch our flights and trains…we had cut it that close.

A few months later, the Wacks are sitting around in Eureka smoking pot, popping the occasional ‘Lude and drinking 99 cent bottles of Granny Green Springs Apple Wine and starting to get a little antsy. We played around the area, ate a lot of barbecued Pacific salmon, and continued to plot world domination between bouts of twiddling our thumbs, scarfing down Keg burgers, and drinking ourselves blind at the Purple Haze, the Squeeze Inn, and other local watering holes.

I finally got bored…

…and with boredom comes stupid ideas.

“I want to do something outside the Wackers, but not too outside” I announced one night, sitting on one of the couches in the humungous Heights living room.

“Huh?” came the resounding response from Kootch and Rand.

“Yeah…you know, something eclectic, simple, not as work-intensive and textured as Hot Wacks”, I answered, remembering the 32 track recording and endless layering of vocals and instruments, unusual in the era of 16 track recording machines and power trios It took forever to complete Hot Wacks, “Something a little more personal…a little more ‘real’.”

“Oh. Okay” We were definitely enjoying the wine/Lude/weed mellow.

“I’ll call Jac…”, then, remembering I was halfway through a bottle of Granny Green Springs Apple Wine and had taken a ‘Lude, and, although you could sit and have a normal conversation, standing up and walking to the phone would have taken 10 minutes, a couple of giggle-fits, and a few falls (‘Ludes REALLY fucked up your motor skills), added “…tomorrow”.

True to my word, I called Jac (Holzman, the President of Elektra) the next day.

“It’s Bob”

“Yes” Jac says from L.A, “I know. Glad you called”.

“You are?” I say, realizing I’m still sort of wacked from the night before. “Why?”

“I was wondering if you’d like to go down to the City (San Francisco) and try recording some stuff with a new producer I think you’ll really like. He’s very keen on the band.”

“Well, that might be exactly what the doctor ordered.” Thinkthinkthinkthinkthink, “I have a side project Rand and I would like to do before we do the next Wackers album. This might be a good time to see if we can work with a new guy.”

“Solo stuff?” Jac asks rather reasonably.

“Yeah.” I lie, “Some ideas that you might like.” …then, as an afterthought, “Who is he?”

“His name is Mark Abramson. Know who he is?”

Did I know who he is? Yes. I knew him as Judy Collins’s producer, but he was so much more than that. I’ll let Wikipedia tell you who he was.

From Wikipedia: Mark Abramson (with Judy Collins) was an American record producer and artist. He produced recordings of Judy CollinsThe Paul Butterfield Blues BandBob GibsonLovePhil OchsTom RushJosh White and many other artists. He produced and directed “Shoot The Actor” and early music videos of The Doors and Love. His photography, paintings and sculpture has been exhibited in numerous galleries. In his later years he was Program Director for Family of Woodstock in Woodstock, NY. While filming his movie and unavailable as a record producer, Judy Collins took a sabbatical, waiting for her favorite producer to return. He died in May 2007.

Abramson was married in 1967 to Janis Young in a small country church near Philadelphia. Together they had two sons, Ethan and Jerrod. His wife was a stage, movie and television actress, appearing in The Boston Strangler with Tony Curtis- as the only potential victim to survive, and in Loving, with George Segal, as his “adulterer partner”. She was a regular on the long-running Soap Opera, Another World. They separated in the late 70s, and Ms. Young went on to teach in the drama department at Bennington College for about two decades. She is still appearing onstage in Shakesperian theatre- an early venue for her.

Two more wonderful people you will never meet.

=0=

A week later, Kootch, Rand and I find ourselves back in Wally Heider’s San Francisco studios, where we had recorded Wackering Heights. I have 2 new songs written and we are psyched to be doing some recording. The first day we were there setting up and getting levels, our engineer comes into the studio and tells me Jac is on the phone.

“Bob?”

“Yup.”

“Are you guys ready to go?”

“Yup.”

“Have some new material?”

“Yup.”

“Weather nice?”

“Yup.”

“Mark can’t make it.”

“Huh?”

“He’s tied up in New York finishing up a project. Can you work without him for a few days?”

“Yup.”

“Good. I’ll call you when I hear from him. Okay?”

Yup.”

Shit.

=0=

We record 2 complete songs and the verse and chorus of a work in progress. We laid down vocals, guitar, bass, and piano, and on one song, an accordion.

They sound like demos.

I’m also thinking I should have thought this through a little more.

We really need Ernie, our drummer. Our meter is all over the place without him, or at least, that’s how it feels to me. We’re pushing day 5 and still no word from Jac. We continue to write and goof around on Elektra’s dime in the studio. I grow restless…again. Then…the phone call.

“Mark’s going to be tied up a while longer.”

“Oh.” I’m wondering if I should call Usher and throw myself on the floor and beg forgiveness. Nah…ain’t my style. I gather my wits and speak into the phone. “Where is Mark?” I ask.

“He’s still in New York, but also spending time at home with his wife in Vermont.”

“Vermont?”

“Yes, Vermont.”

An idea takes form in a heartbeat.”

“Jac? Can we continue this in Montreal? It’s closer to New York and really close to Vermont” Not to mention we’re desperate to get back there. We’ve already been talking about moving there.

“When can you leave?”

I was already on the train….but just before we left the studio, the engineer asked me what to write on the tape boxes he would be shipping to Montreal. I looked at Kootch. We looked at Rand. We all turned to the engineer and said, “The Duck Brothers”

=0=

Walking into Andre Perry’s studio in Montreal was like coming home. We were greeted warmly with croissants, Courvoisier, and a studio fridge full of Brador, a beer so tasty and strong it could kick a bottle of whiskey’s ass.

We had written more material and were chomping at the bit to start recording. Mark joined us in Montreal, and we were completely impressed with him. We played him the 2 and a bit songs we had recorded in San Francisco, and he was immediately drawn to one of them. It was the first thing we focused on. Abramson surprised us by not wanting to do much to it. It was an odd little track. The song was comprised of us beating on shipping cases, playing an assortment of percussion intruments, an acoustic and electric guitar, some saxophones played by a Bay Area friend of Ernie’s named Jack “Mr. Wacker Bilk” Schaeffer, and a clarinet solo at the end, also contributed by Jack. It would eventually become the highest charting record of my career. We were all very pleased with the results. Then Mark said the weirdest thing to us.

Where Gary Usher had plied our lush harmonies and acoustic sensibilities, Mark, coming from a folk background encouraged us to spread our live, rock and roll wings. More music was written, and we started to really have fun.

There was a drum kit in the studio with one rack tom and one floor tom, a ride cymbal, kick drum, and that’s all. There was a 3 inch hole in the snare drum head, and no hi hat. Not only that, there was no drummer. Even if this were a Wackers album, Ernie, and our lead guitarist, Mike Stull, had remained on the West Coast. Elektra wouldn’t fly them into Montreal, and after all, these were Duck Brothers sessions, not a Wackers album…yet.

We started to record the new material. Mark was choosing the rockier stuff to record, so I found a stool and a phone book, taped a sheet of typing paper to the phone book and plopped it down on the stool. I rummaged around and found a pair of brushes, the kind drummers use for softer songs, and put some duct tape over the hole in the snare head. I became the Duck Brothers’ drummer.

We switched off on the other instruments too. Rand and I both played the bass on different songs, Kootch played some wicked guitar, the three of us handled the singing chores, and whoever came up with a piano part got the job. We were having a ball.

Even though my drums remained on several tracks, I was uncomfortable knowing Ernie was sooo much needed on these sessions, but he was in California. We were graced with one of Canada’s legendary drummers, who volunteered his expertise, and with him came an amazing lead guitarist (who also played bass on one track) who played regularly with some of Quebec’s premiere artists, and British legend, Alvin Lee. Could we have suddenly become a real band?

Only for a day.

=0=

The sessions were a whirlwind of guests and drop-bys. The wildest stretch was having members of Monty Python hanging out with us for the better part of 2 weeks. John Cleese, Eric Idle, Neil Innis (Python, The Rutles) and others provided a constant stream of laughs, distractions, and company. Python gifted us with all access passes to their two days of live shows at Place des Arts, their first North American appearances long before they were household names in the United States.

One day, Doug Pringle from the local FM outlet CHOM FM contacted us and asked if we would do a live broadcast from the studio. As it turned out, we had already accepted an outdoor gig in a park that was just up the street from where Kootch, Rand, and I would be living in less than a year. We would do the broadcast early on the same day. It would serve as an advertisement for the gig, and we could blow off some steam. The studio is fun, but playing live was where the music lives.

Having had Mark Abramson give us the opportunity to rock a little harder and encourage us to embrace more of our live sound, we were starting to get really serious about this project. Mark sat us down one afternoon and told us that we should really consider this as the next Wackers album. It was time for several decisions.

We had been talking about leaving California and settling in Montreal. We loved the city and the people and they loved us. Montreal was home. The only member of the band that was reticent about moving was Michael, and brilliant talent that he was, we would have probably made the move without him anyway. There was only one more thing that needed to be done.

“Will Elektra fly Ernie out here to play on a track or two?”

When the answer came back, “Yes”, it was settled. The Duck Brothers were no more…and thanks to Michel Pagliaro explaining that the word in local slang meant ‘money’, the newly minted Wackers album had a name.

Shredder.

About The Duck Brothers

What started out as side project for Rand Bishop, Kootch Trochim, and I led to the Wackers finding their rock and roll legs and recording two albums that came the closest to capturing our live shows, Shredder, and the long lost Wack N Roll album. I love both sides of the coin that was the Wackers, but this stuff is the stuff that reminds us of all the great shows, from the high schools to Carnegie Hall, this is who we were.

When the smoke cleared, The Duck Brothers were the band we almost were. Again, the music and musicians of Montreal figured heavily in our music.

From Frankie Hart’s contribution to the harmony vocals, J.P Lauzon’s incredible guitar playing, and Jerry Mercer’s energetic and powerful drumming (even on that little makeshift kit), Shredder would have not been the album it turned out to be. The Duck Brothers, until now, have remained mostly unheard, unless you were in the studio or Girouard Park or parked in front of a radio tuned to CHOM FM that day, June 25th, 1972, in Montreal.

If you weren’t able to hear it, you are now able to you.

Taken from a 40 year old cassette given to me at The Wackers Reunion last summer (by a fan who I hope contacts me so I can share his name with you) this is the CHOM broadcast, mistakes, warts, and all. It is crude and raw, and the songs so new we barely knew them. Hosted by Doug Pringle, and overseen by Mark Abramson and Andre Perry, you can hear how excited we were playing this stuff live in a studio environment.

Bob: Guitar

Rand: Guitar and Bass

Kootch: Guitar and Bass

J.P Lauzon: Guitar

Jerry Mercer: Drums

This is not public on YouTube. The only way to hear it is through this link The Duck Brothers Live June 25th 1972 Montreal

As far as a track by track breakdown of Shredder? That’s a story for another day.

=0=

Segarini’s column appears every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, andnominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late GreatMovies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

 

6 Responses to “Segarini: The Untold Story of The Duck Brothers”

  1. Great stuff! Is there anyone Gerry Mercer hasn’t played with? Saw him twice a 66-seater here last yearish, and he still kicks.
    =Ae=

  2. Martin Melhuish Says:

    Just sent the link to Doug and Andre & Yael. No doubt they’ll get a kick out of hearing this as I did.
    Marty

  3. Andrew Forsyth Says:

    This piece including Doug’s intro is a wonderful example of the connection CHOM made between the artists and the audience in the day…magic!

  4. Melanie Pickrell Says:

    thanks Bob good one, So I sorta remember The Moonstruck Mystery Ball, wasn’t Tahuti Bonzai involved with that? I would love to hear that one also..

  5. Hello: Does anyone konw what happenned to JP Lauzon? I knoe his family has been tryin gto locate him for years. If you know anything please write to hi sant at passerellepsi@videotron.ca

    • mario lauzon Says:

      salut Denise….c est ton cousin Mario (le fils de Babe) j’ai rencontré un célebre arrangeur musical de Montréal il y a 3 ans….il a été estomaqué quand j’ai dit que Jean Pierre Lauzon faisait partie de la famille…..il le connaissait tres bien …parti un jour d’un studio d’enregistrement avec sa moto et sa guitare…et n’a plus jamais été revu…maudite drogue m’a t il dit….jamais plus de nouvelles….j’espere que vous autres allez bien….Mario Lauzon…..roselin222@distributel.net

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