I get the humongously strong feeling that Stuart's Hammer woulda put out a particularly potent set of rockers had they gotten the Big Label treatment, but they didn't and all we have to judge 'em by right now is their sole offering via the CBGB set, the marvelously decadent for its time "Everybody's Depraved". Kinda reminding me of none other'n classic Wayne County, this 'un's got not only the in-tune for the smart set sickoid lyrics ("Everybody's depraved, the whole world over/So take morality and throw it over your shoulder") but a driving mid-seventies punk rock sound that evoked the Velvets, Groovies around the time of FLAMINGO and maybe even some Dictators (!) in a way that represented the heart and soul of mid-Amerigan teenage slob living more'n the top 40 or FM band of the day ever could. It's too bad that Stuart's Hammer didn't get that chance because hey, I sure would have loved to have been combing through the cheap bins of 1978 finding that little gem of an album for a mere $1.99!
Needless to say, the Stuart's Hammer saga needs to be preserved for future generations (and for seventies underground rock obsessives like myself) just like the recordings, sagas and travails of all of our other old time rock faves both noted and otherwise most certainly need to have their tales told. So when I discovered the presence of a Stuart's Hammer (btw the name of the band is a ref. to the E. B. White [of CHARLOTTE'S WEB fame] novel STUART LITTLE!) website more'n a few alarms popped off inside my head to the point where I was contacting just about everyone that group...got in touch with Michael Insetta (bass guitar) who was a tremendous help setting up a few things while group leader and guitarist Jordan Chassan even sent a brief bio. But Tom Cartwright, group guitar and mandolin player, consented to an email interview which follows below. Big heap thanks to not only Cartwright for sharing his memories but Insetta for his help...if it weren't for them you'd probably be reading yet another review of the LIVE AT CBGB's album this week!
|You can find photos like this and others (much better reproductions---didn't wanna swipe alla the good stuff even though I did have permission) on Stuart's Hammer's own website where you can also catch up on what's going on in the Stuart's Hammer sphere these days (and there is much!). Believe-you-me, your time will be well-spent perusing the snaps and clippings that are available for your edification.|
TC-We first formed in early 1975 - Jordan, Mike, Steve and me. Four piece outfit playing all original music written by Jordan. He had some terrific songs for a young guy! Plus, he was the best non-pro guitarist I had ever met at that point. We rehearsed at Jordan's father's house in Montclair, NJ for years - I remember a lot of complaints from the local police. We got a respectable number of gigs at local bars and college parties. However, the all-original nature of our repertoire was not a strong selling point with the clubs that were transitioning to disco in those days. In 1976, we realized we needed to expand the talent, so we hired John Placko, a college friend, as our lead singer. That way Jordan could focus more on his song writing. Soon after, we decided that I would switch from drums to guitar and mandolin, and so we brought in Steve Pellegrino on drums. Steve had spent some time out in Colorado playing in a Genesis-type band, but was back in NJ to help out in his father's Pizzeria. Oh, and John Placko worked with Steve as well. They made some wonderful Italian food for us during the days when we were low on dough, believe me. One gig lead to another, and soon we were doing showcases in NYC. What was the question?
TC-Country influence? Oh, yes indeed. The early 70's were packed with "countryish" acts - major acts, like The Eagles, Poco, The Band, The Grateful Dead, etc . We all sort of cut our chops on that LA Country feeling. I know Jordan was huge admirer of Clarence White and Gram Parsons and all the post-Byrds line-ups. Mike was a great banjo player in addition to bass, and I had dabbled on the mandolin in college doing jug-band stuff ala The Holy Modal Rounders. We approached the early Stuart's Hammer music more like Electric Hot Tuna meets The Kinks than anything else. It just felt comfortable and was totally unique in the Jersey Club Scene of the day. People either loved us or didn't. Which, I guess, is the first indication that you may be on to something solid. The name CBGB embodies the country, blue grass, blues idea. Hilly was a big fan of any type of urban/folk music - as long as it was totally original. Which we were. Hilly seemed to recognize our sincerity and was very supportive of our style. In fact, Hilly's daughter Lisa recently mentioned that the appearance of the electric mandolin was a part of why he invited Stuart's Hammer back after our audition. I remember a couple reviews of Stuart's Hammer in the local underground press that referred to us a "Country Punk". I guess we were.
TC-When did we audition? Hard to recall......I suppose Mike or Jordan arranged to set us up for a Monday or Tuesday night with a couple other bands. The only thing I recall is that we brought our own PA system, which was huge and heavy. Lucky we had a truck. That plus our discovery that CBGB was the filthiest room we had ever played - or would ever play. OMG, the facilities in the early days were astoundingly awful! The CBGB movie only touches the surface of that issue. Anyway, the beer was plenty and free. I guess we played a good set that night, cause Hilly booked us for a follow-up. There really wasn't "scene" yet at that point. But soon......
TC-I'm not really sure how Stuart's Hammer wound up on the Live at CBGB album. I do recall that one day, I got a call from Jordan, and he said Hilly wanted to have a live recording session and include us as one of the stronger/regular bands. We didn't understand the scope of the project at the time, so we simply did a lot of rehearsing to prepare. I thought we had a good solid set - maybe 8 songs. Anyway, the recording dates were announced, and the bands were divided up between 3 or 4 days when the mobile recording unit could be on site. We did our best and that was that. Later, we heard that a number of the groups that recorded were pulled because major labels wanted to start outside projects with them. At the end, Hilly and his advisers agreed to allow one Stuart's Hammer song on the final recording. Since we had limited resources, lets say, we didn't really have any chance to take advantage of any post-production or overdubs. "Everybody's Depraved" went down like it was: lean and real. Hilly hooked us up with his lawyer to set up our publishing. Then, the whole project was snapped up by Atlantic, and they did what they wanted.
BTC-Did Stuart's Hammer get any label interest after the CBGB album came out?
TC-No. Nothing. There were a few individuals who showed interest in managing us, but we never got any further. I don't believe we were ever really accepted on the NY scene as it was. We did a lot of shows in and around New York and New Jersey, and a few small tours with some of the CBGB bands that were on the album. Colleges seemed to like our act and we made a little money on that circuit. Believe me, we tried hard to capitalize on the Atlantic Records connection - but the combination of the unstoppable disco surge and the huge British new wave was a lot to contend with. Stuart's Hammer was a great band. We grabbed some good opportunities and I'm sure we missed some, too.
BTC-Speaking of the CBGB LP tours, where did you play
TC-I recall we did a handful of shows with The Laughing Dogs, Mink DeVille, The Shirts and Nicki Buzz and Sun. This was 1976, so there were some outdoors concerts for the Bicentennial that we played. We did a show in Boston, something out on Long Island, and a huge number of colleges. Max's Kansas City, The Other End, The Dirt Club, Kenny's Castaways, Folk City...I don't know....we played a lot of places and made nothing to speak of. That was the New York scene.
BTC-What was the CBGB package tour like? The CBGB book made it out to be a disaster!
BTC-Did Stuart's Hammer do any studio recordings?
TC-Stuart's Hammer never had the opportunity to do any further studio recording after "Everybody's Depraved". We toured, did some live shows on WFMU and gigged constantly for a couple of years, and then broke up. Immediately though, Michael, Jordan and myself reformed as "It's The Hendersons", with the addition of Ed Pastorini on vocals and keyboards (Google him - he's had a vast career). Under this new group we did release a single on Uptown Records (Hoboken) - as I recall it was Baby Happy backed by The Merger. Both good pop songs - and, The Merger had some success in England, I'm told. Michael eventually went off to other projects, and Jordan, Ed and I carried on with a succession of bass players until somewhere in 1981, when Ed started his 10,000 Crusteaceans project, and Jordan formed The Young Hegelians. I became a chimney sweep.
BTC-So, what's up with Tom Cartwright these days?
TC-Me? I'm still active in music....just finished my fourth solo album - self-published. Once I can get the entire catalog mastered, it's on to Bandcamp. Mike Insetta and I play together a lot - sometimes electric and sometimes acoustic. I still can hold my own on the mandolin, and Mike is an avid banjoist. In fact, here's the real news: Stuart's Hammer has reunited recently and we are going down to Nashville in early June for a recording date at Jordan Chassan's studio. SoundBarn is the name at it features all-vintage analog tape facilities. Jordan has produced some excellent recordings for a variety of artists, and has an extensive reputation in the industry as man you can trust when you're extra fussy about first rate recording. Let's see what the old country punks can whip out!
***Can't wait to hear that 'un, which I suspect and hope will be every bit as good a straight-out rocker as if it were recorded a good thirty-eight years back!
Anyway, here's a bit via group bassist Michael Insetta (whose cousin Paul Insetta was a songwriter, studio guitarist and manager of Jerry Vale!) telling about the time Stuart's Hammer were mulling over letting a certain someone who would become famous in another artistic realm join the act (as well as some other informative tidbits):
I went to Montclair State College when Bruce Willis was there. He knew me as Banjo Mike as I was playing the 5 string banjo back then, that's how I met Jordan and that's when we decided to form a band doing only original work. Anyway Bruce who we all called " L tone" ( for Elton John because he was always wearing these big sunglasses like Elton John; he also always wear bib overalls), anyway he knew Jordan and I and wanted to audition a singer for our band. This was after we had played awhile I think though it was before we did LIVE AT CBGBs but we were playing in the city. Anyway we had him come up on stage one night to sing and play harp on a couple of songs don't remember what songs they were. Needless to say we didn't take him up on it and the rest as they say is history.
Also have a story about the night at CBGBs we showed up to hang out, it was a Tuesday or Wednesday. Anyway we pull up and there's a big white limo in front. We walk in forgetting who was playing and we see this big black dude walking down the aisle towards the door, bald head and gold earring lolled like a black Mr Clean, no disrespect intended. Anyway a few feet behind him comes this little guy with long black curly hair and a Fu Manchu mustache. Guess who.....Frank Zappa checking out the placeHow about the night when I met Alex Chilton after I told Hilly that the first song I had ever learned to play on the guitar was "The Letter" which of course Alex sang lead on when he was sixteen. Couldn't believe I was meeting the guy. This occurred after the album came out. Or the fact that I found out that Lisa Kristal and I both grew up in North Bergen and went to the same schools and had a lot of common friends. I was one or two years ahead of her and had no idea. It was only after we started chatting ( she was a real big fan like her dad of us as well as the Laughing Dogs, she took a lot if pictures of us back then) that we found this out and we became really good friends
Or the fact we were pretty good friends with Fred Smith from Television and Terry Ork rest his soul was a fan of ours and wanted to produce and record "Everybody's Depraved" but we were already committed to Hilly and the album.
1. Mike (bass) was sharing an apartment with a bunch of guys. It became a hangout because it was over a bar. I was friends with Tom (Rhythm) who sometime hung out there so I sometimes hung out there too. Steve, who became the drummer, & I worked together in his father's pizzeria. So, Steve & I went over there after work, ~ midnight, and hung out. That's how Steve got into the band. Then later, I somehow got sucked into the band too.
2. Once outside CBGBs I was having a cigarette and just hangin' when this guy comes up to me to bum a butt. He decides to go inside and asks me to watch his bike (chopper). Just before he goes in he turns and shows me this gun stuffed in his belt and says to come get him if anyone fucks with his bike. Needless to say this Jersey kid was scared shitless.
3. One performance at CBGBs I screamed before an instrumental and slide off stage on my knees. As I got up, there was Willy DeVille laughing his ass off and he said to me "man that was great". That might not sound like a big deal but the weird thing was he said it in a normal voice. Why so weird, every other time I heard him talking to people (his fans) he had this high whinny voice.
4. We were booked with some of the other CBGBs regulars at My Father's Place in Long Island. Before our show, the entire place was packed because there was this free concert being put on by the local radio station. After the concert ended they made the entire place empty out and if they wanted to see our show they had to pay to get in. So instead of having, I don't know, maybe 500 people, we had like around 50. Imagine the beer they could have sold.
5. We were booked with some of the other CBGBs regulars at Hot Dog Beach in Long Island. The other bands had management so they had hotels. We had no management so we were allowed to sleep in a barn with the roadies. Ain't fame grand.