. . .
Sometimes the things that change your life happen with a big neon sign, like a job offer or an unexpected death, and you always remember exactly when they happened. But oftentimes those things happen and you’re not exactly sure, because they take time to show results. But this is how I remember it.
So while Ron “Doc” Morse walking up to me outside of the Olympic Tavern — in the Tower District, in Fresno, for those of you who weren’t part of that scene — at some point during the awful, no-good summer of 1988 and suggesting we play in a band together absolutely counts as a life-changing event, I just didn’t know it at the time. How could I? I was still mourning the demise of Blackbird Stories, the band where I learned to play the drums for reals after years of flirting with it — I wanted to do it as a teenager, but I thought I was already too old to learn an instrument, a position that I smartly abandoned at 24 — who broke up for one of the dumb reasons bands broke up. And Doc’s band, the Sleestacks, had also recently broken up, as well.
Heh. Blackbird Stories. I mean, Blackbird Stories was really as much of an attitude as we were a band. People called us “social terrors” because we were . . . assholes. Stupid shit you did in your mid-20s, emboldened by your crew. Jesus.
And we always looked like a better band that we sounded: tall curly-haired lead singer Sean, pouting, motorcycle-riding Rickenbacker-playing guitarist Ron (RIP), and above-it-all bassist Shawn up front, with me pounding the shit out of my Premier drums. Said drums I’d recently acquired from Ron from the Miss Alans for the amazing price of $300 after the kit that Wade had left in Shawn’s garage, the kit that I learned to play drums on for reals, proved to be . . . well, someone else’s abandoned kit.
Anyways, instead of instantly forming a band and writing originals, Doc & I did two iterations of a one-off band called Candyass Pansies, which also included Sleestacks bassist Mike, and did mostly covers with Sean from Blackbird Stories and Dina & Vye from Walkabout singing. It was fun playing with new people, and I loved the name “Candyass Pansies” so much that I used it in the 2000s as the name of my award-winning fantasy baseball team. Anyways, the initial thought was Me, Doc, Mike & Sean, but they weren’t really into it, so instead, we went another route, recruiting Shawn from Blackbird Stories and my brother Joseph.
Joseph and I had never been in a band together, because he learned to play piano as a kid and guitar as a teenager and had been in various bands ever since. The only time we’d ever played music together was when I’d pound out accompaniment to his vast repertoire of Dylan songs on the back of a broken acoustic guitar as teenagers. He wasn’t even in Fresno when I attempted to sing for a band for a few months after I graduated in 1980.
That said, he was part of the one-off backing band (along with Kirk, and Blake & Ross from Amethyst) where I kinda played bad drums when the Cat Burglars came to KFSR in 1986, and he started showing up to Blackbird Stories rehearsals, and even played keyboards with us onstage a couple of times, and I liked the idea of a two-guitar band. Plus, he had songs. Really good songs, informed by what he was going through as his marriage fell apart. And so, in early 1989 Evil Twin was born, practicing in my living room at Wishon & McKinley, one of the amps being used was an amp of Cindy’s that Nate had left there, for reasons . . . I guess.
I hated Evil Twin. It was the least amount of fun I’ve ever had in a band. I hated the name Evil Twin, and it was a grim time for everybody involved, characterized by tons of drugs and tons of fights and not a lot of good music. It might be apocryphal, but I think that Joseph & Shawn left in the middle of a set to do drugs during one of our two live shows. Neither of which went well.
Anyways, one night, Sean didn’t turn up for practice and because his bass was there, Joseph picked it up, and we started jamming as a power trio. Legend has it that we jammed on Neil Young’s “Tonight’s The Night” and everything clicked. And just like that, Shawn was out, and in April 1989, Sedan Delivery was born. This is the moment where everything changed for me.
While there were still issues with drugs and alcohol and money and love we also had one hell of a work ethic. In the 13 months we were together, Sedan Delivery MK I (which this incarnation was named in retrospect, as a parody/homage to the different phases of Deep Purple) learned 74 songs — sometimes at the same we were playing them in front of people! — of which 45 were original compositions, and covers ranging from Sonny Curtis to Van Halen. And, of course, a bunch of Neil Young songs, as our goal was to hit the sweet spot between Neil Young and The Replacements. Which in 1989, was still something kinda rare.
BTW, I know all of these exact numbers of songs and dates because like Bill Wyman and Mike Watt, I kept a journal where I wrote all that stuff down I’m pretty sure it was Watt who inspired me, though. (And yeah, I’m still doing it, but with Google Docs.)
We also played 25 gigs in that period, at The Blue, the Olympic Tavern and occasionally the Bucket on the Fresno State campus. After a couple of early gigs supporting the Miss Alans, the majority of our shows were either with the garage-y Town Cryers and the folk-rock Similar Animals, and we would trade off headlining with each band, especially at the Olympic Tavern, where we eventually got to headline Friday nights, during which the back half of the second set would get pretty crazy at around 1:30AM. I remember playing one show with like a 102-degree fever because I was still indestructible back then, and I couldn’t let anybody down.
“God’s Gift to Wishon & McKinley!” is what Craig from the Town Cryers yelled after he joined us for a particularly raucous encore of the the Thirteenth Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” though I doubt my neighbors at Wishon & McKinley thought the same thing, given that we would regularly rehearse until 10:30PM, though the cops didn’t show up very often.
It all came to an end in May, 1990, when Doc decided he wanted to go on tour with the Town Cryers, effectively ending the first incarnation of the band. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know there was going to be a second incarnation of the band, especially because Joseph soon joined Similar Animals as their bassist. But there was, because, about a month into the tour, Doc called me from the road and basically said (cue G.O.B. Bluth voice) “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
In the meantime, the drummer for Similar Animals quit, and for a very short moment, it was thought that I might take his place — as I’d become fast friends with Don Ramirez, their guitarist and frenemies with Colleen, their singer — but as much as I liked what they did and as much as I liked the way Colleen (RIP) wrapped her voice around their songs, it just wasn’t my idiom. So instead, we did another last one-off, the Noisy Cats, me & Joseph, plus Colleen & Don. This was notable because it was the first time I ever sang lead on a song from behind the drum kit, on a cover of R.E.M.’s “Superman.”
It was also notable because it lead to Sedan Delivery MK II in October 1990: which featured Don & Doc on guitars, Joseph on bass and me on drums. Because I’d moved from Wishon & McKinley to a house with Nikki, we practiced at (I think) Hippie Daves, which I remember being more like a warehouse space relatively near the Oly Tavern, which we were headlining before the year was over. That’s how strong we were. However, Joseph’s issues were stronger, and by mid-March 1991, Sedan Delivery MK II was essentially over, despite having learned 41 songs and played eight amazing gigs in that time. Which sucked, because we were playing exactly the kind of music I wanted to play, and every single rehearsal was an absolute joy.
There was, of course, one last try: Joseph, Don and I tried again in September 1991 with Sedan Delivery MK III, though even at the time it was clear that the whole Sedan Delivery project was doomed. At one point in December 1991, we had a photographer take a whole bunch of pictures of the three of us hanging around my in and around my apartment, so we could have some promo pictures. However, nearly all of the negatives came out blurry. All of them but one, which absolutely caught us at that exact moment, and is still one of my all-time favorite pictures in any context.
And that was that. Except for the part where it wasn’t, of course. Don & I formed the Bridesmaids with Victor, but that really didn’t work out, and eventually I moved away from Fresno in 1994. Doc & Don continued to play in more bands and projects that anybody can count and Joseph wrestled his stuff to the ground, stomped on it, and moved on. When I moved away from Fresno, I’d left my drums at my mom’s, but the honest truth was that I didn’t want to play with anybody else, so eventually I let her sell them. Sigh. Big sigh.
And with the exception of Joseph & I joining Don and Doc for an encore when they were doing their Ragged Glory project at Christmas, 2002 — at which point, I hadn’t touched the drums for 8 years — that was it on the Sedan Delivery front. At one point in 2011, I think we discussed it in the wake of the first Miss Alans reunion, but that fizzled out, as I had no drums and very little time. It still felt like unfinished business, though: we’d written a bunch of great songs, and all we had were some dodgy 4-track recordings done in my living rooms and some live tapes recorded by a Radio Shack stereo mic plugged into the 4-track. All of which I treasured and all of which represented unfinished business.
And so, fast-forward to 2018, 30 years after Doc and I decided to play music together, and it was now my turn to suggest it again. You see, for Christmas 2017, I’d convinced Rox to get me one of those electronic drum kits, and I had spent several months getting some semblance of my chops back. So I proposed a reunion, with the eventual goal being to record some of our songs. I was still living 250 miles away, but everything in my life was stable enough to sacrifice a Saturday or two each month to drive up to Fresno and play. Hell, I didn’t even own a drum kit: the first few times we got together, I used the one that Doc had bought for his kid, not buying one of my own until March, 2019.
And so, on August 25, 2018, the four-piece version of Sedan Delivery (Sedan Delivery MK IV!) played together for the first time since March of 1991. And the first song we played? “Untitled.”
The first thing I should probably let you know is that “Untitled” was called “Untitled Blues” for most of its life, even though it wasn’t really a blues, and in fact we removed the “Blues” so that it could be the title track of our album, entitled Untitled.. Why it never got a title, I’m not really sure.
It starts off unassuming, just Doc’s guitar over some rustling cymbals, full band kicking in just before the first verse starts, Joseph singing about a collapsing relationship.
Didn’t I tell you?
You should have listened as you spoke
Cos you knew more than you know
But you never told me
Not even half as much as I
Found out from your best friend
This is sung over a two-guitar tangle — Don and Doc perfectly locked in — and a drum part that’s trying to be supportive and propulsive at the same time, dancing into a double-backbeat and dancing away from it, and which leads into the chorus with a roll.
So try and understand
I couldn’t wait around forever
Sometimes it’s really now or never
You have to decide
First off, the chorus of “Untitled” is a perfect example of what I think of Joseph’s long melody lines: the hook is there, the prettiness is there, but it’s stretched over a longer period of time than you might expect. Also: Doc, Don and I are helping out with “ahhhhhhs” in the background, which we stole from Victor’s vocal-drenched cover. And there’s a thing I’ve always loved after “wait around forever” where Doc does a lick, and I kinda bounce off of it with my drums.
And finally “sometimes it’s really now or never / you have to decide” is a beautifully brutal sentiment, which we add to by going into a double-time and a build at the end, leading directly into the second verse.
Wasn’t I there?
Wasn’t there to listen when
No one else would know?
And didn’t I tell you?
Didn’t I tell you I’d be gone?
You’d see me no more
And then after the second chorus comes Doc’s guitar solo, underneath which, we invoke The Handclap Rule (!). That solo, though. I think its one of the greatest guitar solos I’ve ever heard — I thought so from the moment he came up with it in back in 1989 — ripping and twirling and rolling and tumbling out of the body of the song. It’s beautiful and evocative, and it kicks “Untitled” into a higher gear, as we roar into the last two choruses, the first one normal, the second one driving as hard as we can, all of the guitars chugging and leading into one last long build as Joseph sings “you have to deciiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!” one last time before we all crash against each other after which it slowly drifts to an ending.
What can you say about a song you’ve listened to a zillion times and played another zillion times? Just this: playing drums on “Untitled” is one of my very favorite things in the universe ever.
Oh, and one more thing for those of you who have read all 2000 words of this thing: this is all gravy. It’s all second breakfast. I never in a million years thought we’d reunite. That we did, and played a few gigs, was a bonus. That we got to record and release an album, also a bonus. That we somehow managed to stay together and record home demos during the pandemic, yet another bonus. And now, we’re recording a second album, which so far sounds even better than the first. So that’s just ridiculously great. All of it has come out of nowhere and even though it’s now three years since we’ve reunited — longer than all three early incarnations combined — I’m still utterly chuffed to be doing it.
“Untitled” Official Music Video
“Untitled Blues” live at The Olympic Tavern 04-10-1990
“Untitled” live at Tower District Records 08-31-2019
“Untitled” live at Veni Vidi Vici June 12, 2021
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