An alternate version of this story
(prepared for Geffen in conjunction with the release of the Datapanik box set).
In Cleveland, in the summer of 1975, all the bands were breaking up. The creative land rush of the years 1972-74 was played out. A generational window was passing over a mini sub-culture naively dedicated to the odd proposition that Rock Music was a serious art form; that no longer a donkey for Teen Angst, Fashion, Youth Rebellion or counter-Culture dogma, Rock Music was leaving its adolescence behind, at the door of Young Manhood, on the threshold of Full Maturity.
David Thomas had a group called Rocket From The Tombs. When it fell apart in the summer of 1975 he decided to record an artifact. This artifact, he hoped, would gain him entry into the Brotherhood of the Unknown that was gathering in used record bins everywhere. He thought Pere Ubu was a good name. Rocket From The Tombs guitarist Peter Laughner wanted in. The group's soundman, Tim Wright, agreed to learn bass and bought a used Dan Electro 6-string. Scott Krauss was the drummer in cool groups and available. He and Peter lived at the Plaza, an urban pioneer outpost, an apartment house, part owned by Allen Ravenstine. Allen experimented with sound and had a reputation for unique activity.
Also living at The Plaza was a steel worker named Tom Herman. He had a Morley Power Fuzz Wah pedal and liked to play guitar all night at a house over on Payne. It seemed like all these people belonged together. From the start the Ubu methodology was almost, just about, nearly, definable:
Pleased and intrigued by the promise of unique experience the Ubus extended the project. David booked a debut concert for New Year's Eve at a college bar downtown called the Viking Saloon. Allen backed out. He was replaced by Dave Taylor, a clerk at a cool record store who owned the same kind of EML synthesizer. This was a remarkable coincidence seeing as how the EML was, even then, a rare analog machine produced for use in schools and manufactured for only a brief period by a Connecticut company before it switched over to providing parts for the far more lucrative military satellite market. Ubu put together a show filled out with Velvets, Stooges and garage rock covers. It went okay. The project was extended again.
Early in 1976 the band recorded "Final Solution" b/w "Cloud 149" (Hearpen HR102) and played shows at Max's Kansas City in New York. A series of concerts on a co-bill with Tin Huey in the basement of Cleveland's mainstream rock club was a better idea. Tin Huey, an Akron group, was at its peak and an impressive musical force. Meanwhile, Peter seemed to be pursuing a course of self-destruction. Tim and David wanted him to leave. Peter, also frustrated, wanted to leave. In June he left. A reshuffling summer happened. Allen wanted back in. He had dibs on the job. Ubu wooed Alan Greenblatt. He declined the invitation to leave a working blues band in order to make no money with Pere Ubu but he did play on an early version of "Modern Dance" called "Untitled."
Tim left at the end of the summer in the wake of a Two - Guitarists - Or - Not - To - Be - Two - Guitarists controversy. Tony Maimone lived at The Plaza and was learning bass. It seemed obvious. He played on the "Street Waves" 45. The reshuffling stopped.
Cleveland spreads out and away from the flats of the Cuyahoga River. Ancient heavy industries, the steel mills, petroleum and chemical works of the Rust Belt, are hunkered down along the crazy snaking river banks just waiting for the good days to return. The good days won't. At the mouth of the river, along Old River Road, is John D. Rockefeller's first warehouse, birthplace of World Empire. This warehouse got to the year 1976 as a dark and forgotten bar called The Pirate's Cove, a haunt for the sailors from off the lake freighters that dump ballast in great stoney heaps just across the street. The owner, Jim Dowd, with nothing to lose, gave Ubu Tuesday nights. A mob of 50 customers on the first night earned Ubu a promotion to Thursdays. Ubu played nearly every week for a year sharing the stage with local and touring groups in the early days of the new wave and as the spring-summer of 1977 came to be special days, a season of unique ideas, John Thompson promoted a remarkable series of concerts called Disastodromes. "We call it "disasto" so nothing can go wrong," Johnny promised.
For such a short time, the intake of a breath, it seemed that the new wave was on the verge of an evolutionary step, and every Thursday night between Ubu sets, to wander outside, drifting between ballast heaps in the painless summer air, to gaze up at the underside of the High Level Bridge, to watch ore boats push themselves up the river, to listen to the sudden sonic fireworks shoot out of the alien Aeronautical Shot Peening Company with its angulated, pastel-painted, space cowboy facade-- Big Mystery Sounds fired into the night air-- to go out and to come back was to breath deeply the sensual mystery air of the Never-To-Be-Repeated. These were intoxicating days spent adrift in the ancient ruins of the American midwest.
In those days the head of A&R at Mercury Records was Cliff Burnstein. He lived in Chicago and searched indie record shops for cool stuff. He found the "Street Waves" 45. Then he found David and told him that while Mercury wasn't the right label for Ubu he still really liked the band and wanted to help. Chrysalis Records phoned David two weeks later saying they liked the band. Cliff said, 'Don't do anything for a week.' A week later he signed Ubu to a specially created label called Blank Records. Pere Ubu finished recording THE MODERN DANCE at Suma with Ken Hamann producing. It was released in February 1978. A brief tour of the US and then England and Europe coincided with the release of DATAPANIK IN THE YEAR ZERO.
Ubu went home. Ubu rehearsed. Ubu learned five new songs-- which seemed about right-- went into the studio, made up five new songs-- which seemed about right-- and DUB HOUSING was done. The title had been inspired by the echo-like terraced housing of the streets of Baltimore. In November, Ubu returned to tour in the UK, supported by The Human League and the Soft Boys, and in Europe, supported by Nico and 60's Texas psychedelic legends, The Red Crayola. A London audience bought tickets for the "Magical Mystery Ubu Tour," boarded buses to an unknown destination and found themselves in Chislehurst Caves watching Ubu play on an improvised stage in a hole in the cavern's chalk walls.
1979 started out well with a concert at the conceptual birthplace of the avant-garage -- the 1st International Garage Exhibition-- but the end game was at hand. The working title for NEW PICNIC TIME had been GOODBYE. Nothing was easy. Nothing fit into place. Nobody spoke the same language. Tom was frustrated by Ubu's course and left after a late summer tour with John Otway as opener that had ended in a vast beachside hall in San Diego playing for an audience of five. It felt bad. Weeks passed with the band in limbo. David and Allen met at the concert of a celebrated new wave group. "We were much better, " David said. "Mayo Thompson!" Allen said. A month later Ubu was rehearsing with the guitarist from The Red Crayola.
THE ART OF WALKING, recorded early in 1980, was hailed as a masterpiece by some (including Chris Cutler writing in the "New Musical Express") and dismissed by others as a disintegrating mess. (It is, nonetheless, still the best selling album in America of all the historical catalog.) Ironically, the tours during this period, including one with The Gang of Four, were pop-oriented and happy. A feature of the set was "reality dub," in which on-stage disaster was convincingly simulated each night to an extended Motown version of "Not Happy." The "two faces of Ubu," Art and Pop, had been resynthesized but Scott Krauss, frustrated and frustrating, left in 1981. He was replaced by Anton Fier for the second time.
Trouble was coming. Again. It being the usual story: musical differences turned into ugly personal squabbles and plagued the SONG OF THE BAILING MAN sessions. A miserable winter's tour of the US finished the group off. Ubu had run its course. No attempt was made to revitalize the project. No one phoned. No one spoke. No one wanted to know. Months passed. Sometime in 1982 Ubu stopped. Solo projex happened. Scott and Tony had a band called Home & Garden with Jim Jones, a Cleveland underground legend, and Michele Temple. David recorded six albums with different lineups including two with Richard Thompson and in 1986 his band consisted of Tony, Allen, euro-progressive drummer Chris Cutler and Jim Jones.
Slowly, good vibes about the Ubu Experience were returning. David Thomas & The Wooden Birds came to Cleveland and Scott sat in as the second drummer. Things began to happen. The decision to reform Pere Ubu came at a Wooden Birds band meeting in the large Dutch lobby of a small Dutch hotel in the smaller Dutch town of Ijmuiden. 'You guys sound just like Pere Ubu,' had been the universal reaction to the European tour. This provoked discussion, Should we be Ubu again? More to the point, Is THIS Ubu? But, also, what if we screw it up? The "Duck Principle" eventually carried the day; to wit, If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. Allen pointed out, "It is OUR band."
At this critical stage Dave Bates happened. He was head of A&R at Phonogram Records in London and an Ubu fan. He signed the band to his beloved Fontana Records for which Ubu Redux immediately recorded a set of bookends albums: THE TENEMENT YEAR in 1987 and CLOUDLAND in 1988. Both featured the two drummers lineup inherited from the Wooden Birds and whereas the first was set on a rooftop island in the clattering surf of the tenement evening, the second was a tightly orchestrated lunge across the landscape, a road movie starting in Cloudland, Georgia, and ending broken jalopy-like on a California beach. Between the two sessions Allen Ravenstine said that he wanted to stop making music.
David saw the bass player in Beefheart's last Magic Band playing synth with Snakefinger. Eric Drew Feldman got a call, listened to some Ubu lps and stepped into Allen's place. This Ubu, still with two drummers, recorded demos that appeared as UK b-sides but the scheduling of his many projects became impossible and Chris had to leave early in 1990. The studio sessions for WORLDS IN COLLISION were not a happy experience for reasons not alot to do with making music and its US release turned into a nightmare when relations with the head of Mercury Records blew apart. The "Kindness of Strangers" effort followed and included a US tour opening for The Pixies that was financed by the British label & fan donations.
Pere Ubu began the STORY OF MY LIFE project in April 1992 as a four piece. (Eric Feldman, recording with Frank Black, was unable to answer the Ubu call.) A year later, as rehearsals were beginning for the Imago Travelling Roadshow Tour, Tony left. He wanted to play with They Might Be Giants. He was replaced by Michele Temple from Scott's Home & Garden band. Garo Yellin, playing winged eel fingerboard, had already stepped into Eric's place from out of one of David's solo projex. After a summer tour with They Might Be Giants, Imago and Pere Ubu agreed to leave each other alone.
The Pere Ubu Time Line
August 1995, Source: Story of Ubu stack v394.2
An updated version of the timeline can now be found at Ubu Projex.