Celebrating with Marah - Twenty Years Later By Jack Coll
CELEBRATING WITH MARAH
TWENTY YEARS LATER
By Jack Coll
So my son Brian told me a week ago that he had scored two tickets to see Marah, (playing on May 4, 2018) a band that includes a couple of Conshohocken brothers Serge and Dave Bielanko. The brothers cut their teeth in the music business at Ninth Avenue and Forrest Street, and later on Forrest Street before moving to South Philadelphia.
I remember seeing them perform for the first time at the legendary J C Dobbs Club down around Third and South Street in Philadelphia. There might have been 25, maybe thirty people in the audience, but they were crazy for the band and their music, I knew then that the brothers were on to something. I remember writing an article in the Conshohocken Recorder newspaper talking about this rock-and-roll banjo, harmonica driven foot-tapping music. Dave Bielanko’s fingers were simply gliding up and down the frets of the guitar while Serge pounded out a rhythm on his guitar. Danny Metz was on bass guitar at that time and Ronnie Vance pounded the skins.
Several of the songs they performed that evening would later show-up on their first album called “Let’s Cut The Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight.” It was sometime in the summer 1997,that I was invited to visit their studio located above Franks Garage in South Philadelphia to listen to an early cut of the un-finished album. Somehow, in-between Frank chiseling off old mufflers and banging out the dents in fenders down below, the band managed to cut this masterpiece of an album.
Songs on that first album included “Fever,” “Firecracker,” “Rain Delay,’ and “Boat.” But the song I fell in love with is called “Formula Cola, Dollar Draft.” The lyrics are fascinating, and the music reads like a good novel. The song starts off slow, draws you in, and the next thing you know the song is taking off and you’re invited along on this wonderful musical journey.
The great thing about last Friday night’s show was that Marah was going to perform the entire first album, “Let’s Cut The Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight” celebrating 20 years since its release. I was very excited about the show so we jumped in the car and headed to the Boot and Saddle Bar located on South Broad Street. The band didn’t disappoint with nine musicians on stage including Mike Slo-Mo Brenner on the slide guitar and Matt Cappy leading the three piece horn section playing to the sold-out crowd.
After a few opening songs the band jumped into “Fever,” from the opening line of the song, “These arms that open out” the crowd knew they were in for a special night. The fourth song on the album is “Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft.” A sample of the lyrics go like this:
There was a time when I didn’t talk
I’d look away or I’d shrug it off
Tune it out or turn it off
Or say something short and soft
Out of school, I took a J O B
Making buttons in a factory
Thinking what has life got in for me
And I didn’t wanna know
In a city full of double deals
My boss would yawn
And roll back on his heels
As if anyone could cop a feel
Of lady luck
I was made with my brother Bill
Drinking Moskie Moons
On top of Laurel Hill
Funny now I’d cheek a poison pill
To sober up
(Now the music is building up)
And no two bit claim that I’m alright
Is gonna turn it around and make it right
So I’m reaching in my pocket for a light
(Just then the sold out crowd jumps in)
And I’m standing on the corner
On a Saturday night
The song continues to build with each verse, (13 verses in all). The final two verses are essentially fade-out verses but the crowd comes roaring back on verse 12:
On the fifth day of the fifth month
At five o’clock in the dawn
I rolled myself in a T O P
And jumped out on Highway One
With a 400 engine hot as a cremation coffin
And a tailgate banging like an airplane wing
I was rolling down the highway, doing it my way
Whistling someday and singing this song
“Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft” is by far one of the most popular Marah tunes. The band rolled through the entire album before adding several other tunes to finish off the night. For those in attendance it was clearly a night to remember. But for me, the night took me back twenty years to where and when it all started for the band. I clearly remember sitting above Frank’s Garage listing to the un-finished version of the entire album, I really thought it was a master-piece. I remember spending several nights at a number of popular Philadelphia clubs back in the late 1990’s, watching the band improve their stage presence.
An old friend of mine Harry Kalas made a guest appearance on the song “Rain Delay.” His booming voice starts off the song with, “GOOD EVENING EVERYBODY,” everyone in Philadelphia knew Harry’s voice. The intro to the song came about when I was sitting above Frank’s Garage listening to the album and Serge said wouldn’t that be cool if we could get Harry Kalas to do an introduction to the song “Rain Delay,” and I said I know Harry Kalas, Serge’s jaw dropped about two feet. So I set it up with Harry and he told me to just write it down what the band wanted him to say and we were gonna meet him in one of the meeting rooms that sat under Veterans Stadium. If I’m not mistaken we arranged the meeting on August 23, or 24, 1997. I remember the Dodgers were in town and the Phillies played them twice at home that summer, once in April and once in August. So we march past security and into this designated meeting room just behind the tunnel that led out to the playing field.
So the band goes into the meeting room, I think Paul Smith might have been with us, I don’t remember, but I went upstairs to the Press Box to get Harry. Harry tells me he’ll be down in five minutes so I headed back to the meeting room. When I walked into the room Serge was on the telephone that was located on the desk yelling into the phone “I don’t give a damn, trade him, we need some pitching,” and slams the phone down, it was one of the funniest things I’d seen in a while.
While we’re waiting for Harry the Los Angeles Dodgers entire team comes into the room. The meeting room was one of those rooms that were big enough where it had a sliding curtain to close the room in half. It seems the Dodgers were holding a team meeting before the start of the game. I remember seeing Dodger manager Bill Russell, Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Eddie Murray walking in along with Ramon Matinez, a pitcher, Brett Butler their centerfielder, and Eric Karros, whom I think played first base. The Dodgers had a good team in 1997 winning 88 games, they beat the Phillies in all four games played at the Vet that year.
When they closed the curtain the band members fell silent as to say Holy S#!T, moments later Harry came into the room, he was very gracious with the band, he stuck around for some photos and off he went to announce the game. Myself and the band headed out to the field where we stopped to take some pictures in the dugout and on the field.
Talking about baseball if you look at the CD and open the liner-notes booklet to the center page you’ll notice a number of pictures of Max Patkin, “The Clown Prince of Baseball,” you might remember seeing this legendary clown perform as himself in the movie “Bull Durham.” Well Max and I had been friends for years traveling to baseball games in a few different cities, Max had a lifetime pass to all major league parks. He performed a routine in minor league ball parks all over the country for 50 years and always had some great stories to tell, but one thing for sure, he knew every major league player by name and they knew him from their time spent in the minors.
One day the members of the band and I traveled to Downingtown to sit and chat with Max for a while, he was living with his daughter by then, but for many years lived in King of Prussia just outside Valley Forge Park. We sat with Max where he told some stories, signed some of his books and posed for pictures with members of the band while wearing a Marah shirt. And that my friend is how Max Patkin, “The Clown Prince of Baseball” showed up on the Marah Album “Let’s Cut The Crap.” Max was a good friend and a very funny man.
I also remember spending the day with the band, Dave, Serge, Ronnie and Danny, all good guys, taking publicity photos of the band looking for a photograph for the first album cover “Let’s Cut The Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight.” We spent time on Broad Street and a number of other city locations. We stopped in Conshohocken and traveled up route 29 into Collegeville to take a number of shots on a friends farm. The day was exhausting. As we traveled back on Route 29, I remember after having shot a dozen rolls of film I had two black and white shots on the end of my last roll of film. We passed this old garage and at the end of the lot was this old broken down car just sitting there. I slammed on the brakes, turned around and asked the guys to hop out of the van for two last pictures. Now you have to understand that these guys had been jumping in and out of the van all day, sometimes carrying their guitars and drums in and out of the van for these pictures.
The band members got out of the van seeming none-too happy, I said gather around the car and pumped off the final two frames. Dave and the rest of the guys loved the shot, and that folks is how the cover of “Let’s Cut The Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight” album cover came about. Serge and Danny sitting on the front bumper with Dave and Ronne leaning against the front fender of the car. The back cover of the album was a picture taken on that day in 1997 when I visited their studio to listen to the album for the very first time.
Flashing back to that 1997 session I remember hearing the song “Fever,” and the song started with this loud screeching. Thinking it might be a mistake on the record I said “what the hell is that screeching noise?” to which Dave replied, “We hung a microphone out the second story window (over Frank’s Garage) when the ice cream truck was riding by, it’s the ice cream truck music.”
That’s part of what makes me love this album!
Time to Rock-On Marah!
Thanks for the memories