The Totally Useless (But 100% Real) History of The Useless Bastards

Bastards-Pinwheel

The truth is, The Useless Bastards began as a joke. But something funny happened along the way. A real band was born. And not just any band. A genuinely great band.

Sure, the live shows were loose, boozy, and raucous, with audiences perpetually in a good-natured battle with the band themselves to see who could heckle the band more. But behind the irreverent exterior was a group of five singer-songwriter-bandleaders who took their fun pretty seriously.

But we’re getting ahead of the story a bit.

The Useless Bastards were the brainchild of Jonathan “Captain Ahab” Dryden. He’d been a successful jazz pianist in New York for years. But in a post-9/11 NYC, gigs were down, stress was up, and Ahab needed an outlet.

The Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - Ahab

A lifelong fan of classic American music, and a bit of a Machiavellian trickster, he got an idea—a band in which every member played an acoustic instrument with a bad reputation.

Thus, the now-immortal Bastards slogan: “Songs you love, on instruments you hate.”

He sought out some of his close musical pals whom he knew had a few aural grotesqueries at their disposal, and the line-up began to coalesce around said unloved instrumentation—accordion, banjo, harmonica, ukelele, trombone, etc. It was a junkyard symphony in the making.

Ahab lived in Park Slope, which at the time was still affordable, and a great many musicians lived there as well. He picked a fave haunt down the road from his house as the venue to debut his project—Cafe Steinhof. Did he know they sold Il Bastardo wine by the glass before he made his choice? No, actually, he didn’t. But needless to say, the band members were thrilled with the discovery.

Who were these band members?

This is the part of the story where things shift from a joke to a jam. While Ahab may have picked them for their collection of loathsome instruments, what he got in his ensemble was in fact a group of professional songwriters and performers, each of whom was already a bandleader in their own right. Before he knew it, Ahab had himself a sort of Brooklyn version of The Band on his hands—think The Basement Tapes, but set in The Slope.

The Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - Sinnerman

On bass, Jim “Sinnerman” Whitney. Did audiences know that this doghouse bass player who was singing a song to his penis on stage at Steinhof, had studied with Dave Holland at the New England Conservatory? Did they know he’d also played with Bill Frisell, Tony Trischka, Anthony Braxton, David Grisman, Ray Anderson, Jamey Haddad, Richard Greene, John Scofield, Ricky Skaggs, and many more?

The Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - Bullpork

Would it have been mind-blowing to the audience to know that in J. Walter “Bullpork” Hawkes—trombonist and ukelelist extraordinaire—they also had a Grammy-winning composer? Or that the profane gent in the front going under the name “Preacher Boy” had a Gold Record on his wall from his work with Eagle-Eye Cherry? When they heard Bryan “Park” Miller singing about “Them Jeans,” did they know they were listening to a two-time Nashville Songwriter’s Award winner?

The Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - PreachThe Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - Park

And what of Jonathan “Captain Ahab” Dryden himself? As audience members gleefully sang along with the chorus of “Pentecostal Girlfriend,” did they know the song had been written by a graduate of the Berklee College of Music—a musician who’d performed with everyone from Lenny White and Regina Carter, to Norah Jones and Marcy Playground?

Ultimately, it wasn’t the pedigree that mattered. It was that the songs the writers brought to the table were seriously crafted. They were still funny, irreverent, and loaded with multiple entendres, but they were substantively sardonic. Best of all, they were never played quite the same way twice, and it was a virtual requirement that band members brought new songs to each new show. And not every song was played for laughs, mind you:

The number of songs in the Bastards’ repertoire made it a challenge when it came time to actually record. There were so many songs to choose from! But, the band had only booked the studio for a day, so they had to be merciless in their selections.

Ok, actually, the album was recorded in Sinnerman’s living room. But it was still done in a day, and what was recorded that day are the 14 songs that make up the first album.

“Sum of our Parts” is actually only one name of five for the band’s legendary debut. The idea was to have a CD release party, with each band member responsible for providing a chunk of the inventory that would be for sale. The CD itself was the same in all instances, but each member gave the collection a different name, designed a different cover, and brought their own custom-designed inventory to the show. Park’s title was “The Problem with Impotence.” Bullpork’s was “Place Drink Here,” and it featured a coffee stain on the cover. Sinnerman’s was perhaps the best of all: “It’s Hard Suckin’, Not Knowin’.”

It’s largely because of this custom-inventory approach, that the album never saw “proper” release. Being a rather useless bunch —but popular!—the group managed to sell out all their copies, leaving nothing for posterity.

Time would pass, Bastards would move away, and while there were the occasional shows at other venues with other guest musicians, the magical core of The Useless Bastards experience was the original 5 members, doing what they did, in the corner of Cafe Steinhof.

As it would turn out, the recordings weren’t lost after all—they were found!—and now, remastered for the digital age, the full selection of 14 songs is available for listeners the world over, under Preacher Boy’s original title “Sum of our Parts.” Preach’s version had a hand-drawn sketch of Captain Ahab on the cover …

ahab3

… but the remastered version is simply rendered in dignified black, white, and red. Because dignity is what The Useless Bastards were always about.

That’s not true at all, actually. The Useless Bastards were about writing great songs, playing our asses off, and having a really fucking great time.

If you want to understand the whole history of The Useless Bastards in one fell swoop, just dive right in and check out “The Useless Bastards’ 116th Nightmare.” It’s on Spotify if you want a quick stream, and the lyrics are below:

“the useless bastard’s 116th nightmare”

ahab in a bikini, makin’ a martini
accordion around his waist
has a dirty room once again, says he wants a lesbian
to come and clean up around the place
drinkin’ lots of makers, makin’ fun of quakers
tryin’ to make the raider’s bail
not so very PC, liquefied and greasy
tryin’ to catch the great white whale

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

yes, it’s very well known
j. walter’s got a big bone
and he’s the cause of so much hunger
that we all had to decide 
if he was goin’ outside
he’d have to cover up with a plunger
he told a very gross joke
about a broken egg yolk
i laughed until i almost puked
i felt so sick in my gut 
but he quickly cheered me up
with a song about a tulip on his uke

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

preach, he is a rare bird
a kind of living swear word
that you can’t say in front of guests
he got a job with good pay
shilling for the AMA
as poster boy for tourette’s
he won the nobel peace prize
sold it for a king-size
bottle of wine and a shuttle-cock
tripped and spilled the wine
when i saw him for the last time
he was lickin’ it off the sidewalk

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

park is in the park
singin’ songs after dark
and smokin’ a bali-shag rolly
havin’ sweet dreams about them jeans
and singin’ on the grand ole’ opery
had a little lovin’
got a bun in the oven
and now ya know he really does need luck
he’s tryin’ to save his pennies
but he ain’t savin’ any
’cause the pay sucks drivin’ a meat truck

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

if anyone’s got a problem
sinnerman’s got one
and it’s very hard to diagnose
every doctor that we know
came and had a good go
but they never ever even got close
it seems his penis
a schizophrenic genius
offended him with something it said
now, i don’t mean to be demeaning
but it brings a new meaning
to hearing voices in your head

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

Have you gotten your copy of “Sum of our Parts” yet? If not, BUY IT today!

Bastards FB Ad source 3


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: