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This is a very good record, though it may perhaps be their worst—but only because, like a novelist's first book, these guys didn't yet know how to fully develop the ideas that they were exploring. Their blues influence is obvious from the titles, with songs like "Black Cat Bone", "Monkey's Paw", and "Long Black Train", but the standout tracks are those that add in that special extra ingredient that makes these guys special, like "My Backyard" and "I'll Treat You Right Someday" (which was only available as a bonus track on the CD and which was also later remade into a very different song on Invisible Jewel, their most recent work). Bryan Harvey has contributed comments on the album as a whole and on each individual song.; you can read his remarks below.

Bryan Harvey—Guitar and Vocals
Johnny Hott—Drums and Percussion

Released 1988
Produced by Randy Burns and House of Freaks

 

Bryan's comments

3:20
3:20
3:27
2:30
2:52
2:52
1:28
3:10
3:20
3:07
2:35
3:30
2:49
4:08
Crack in the Sidewalk
40 Years

Cactusland
Lonesome Graveyard
Black Cat Bone
Bottom of the Ocean
Monkey's Paw
Yellow Dog
Long Black Train
My Backyard
Give Me a Sign
Dark and Light in New Mexico
I'll Treat You Right Someday
(bonus track available on CD only)
You Can Never Go Home

 

Bryan's comments

Our first record, the title came from a little cassette tape of a song written by a friend of ours back in Richmond ... all I remember is this primitive sounding voice singing "Monkey on a Chain Gang"; the album was basically our live show; we actually recorded it once in a crappy little studio and scrapped the whole thing except for "Lonesome Graveyard" and rerecorded it in one night. Around this time we hired our manager, John Silva, (who has since gone on to manage some minor groups like Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Beastie Boys, Beck, The Lemonheads ... I'm glad we could give him a start, though). John and the engineer Randy Burns (who had never heard us before and wasn't keen on the idea of a band with no bass, but was talked into doing the record by Silva) sat in the control room and told us just to run down our material while they got levels. They recorded it and then said "Okay sounds great, I think we're done." That was it except for a few days of overdubs. This was in, I think late summer, early autumn of '87. Recorded in LA in some studio owned by the Captain and Tenille (hey!). We got the weekend rate. I never got to meet Tenille. Good ping pong table.

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Crack in the Sidewalk

Ummm, this song was written entirely by me sometime in late '85 or early '86 after I'd quit my '80's pop band The Dads. I was really getting into the early delta blues stuff, Son House, Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson. I envisioned this song as a Creedence type song. But when Johnny and I finally got together in Feb. of '86, I played this song for him and his first impulse was to play those thunderous rolling drums. I was blown away. At first I thought, "Well, this is not what I had in mind," but then I thought it was pretty damn cool and right off the bat I knew we had a cool thing going. Lyrically, I can't remember what that one was about. I think probably some search into childhood superstitions....

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40 Years

Written by me while I was still in the Dads. This song made me decide to quit. I knew I wanted to get out of the early 80's pop thang and start doing some more interesting stuff. This one is still one of my favorites. Written on the 40th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb (so it must have been written in August of '85). The cowboy with the smoking gun was, of course, Reagan ... I was really getting into this apocalyptic imagery back then, but in 1985, tensions were pretty high between the superpowers. The melody was a vague reference to one of my favorite songs, "Wichita Lineman" by Jimmy Webb. That is the only Freaks song that has me as the only writer. Early on I figured that Johnny's contribution to the overall sound was going to be tremendous, so even if he didn't write music or lyrics (which he quickly started doing anyhow), he deserved songwriters credit. A good move that kept harmony in the band for 9 years.

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Cactusland

Title supplied by Johnny; lyrics are about indy bands trying to make it in L.A., specifically, my buddy Stephen McCarthy's band, the Long Ryders. The music came out of a beer soaked jam. Written sometime in early '86 in the old abandoned schoolhouse where Johnny lived and we practiced.

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Lonesome Graveyard

I don't remember much about this, even though it remained one of our favorite songs to perform right up to the end. In many ways this song is the essence of House of Freaks—bluesy, primitive, scary, dynamic. When we wrote it, I think we started to know where we were going musically. I'm sure this was written early '86. We used to practice 3 or 4 nights a week and try to write a song at each practice. We were really excited about the each other and the band at this time. We thought we were the coolest band on earth ... HA.

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Black Cat Bone

Written in L.A. not long after we moved there. Grew out of a jam. Lyrics are some obscure reference to white and black music in the south. I was really into covering up what I really wanted to say and was too timid or embarrassed to write about anything personal, so I wrote about history. What a topic for a rock and roll song!

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Bottom of the Ocean

Another jam song. The melody is some attempt to sing "Jesus Loves Me" with a thrashy beat. I remember seeing an old woodcut of an image of slaves that had been thrown overboard in stormy seas when slaving vessels were in jeapardy of capsizing. This was apparently fairly common. The slaves, still chained together, were thrown over like cargo. This image horrified me and I wrote a song about it. I was really into this southern history thing. That one was a real gut buster to sing, but when we first got together that's how I liked singing. Johnny and I used to say we wanted to be louder and more powerful than any band out there. And we were just two guys. We loved that. I think we succeeded at the loud part....

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Monkey's Paw

Written in my bathtub in L.A. Still writing about superstions and the sinister side of southern life. The guitar part came from a gospel record. I loved the backing voices on this old gospel record I had and I copped the rhythmic pulse of that record for Monkey's Paw. Johnny at his minimalist best.

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Yellow Dog

I really don't remember much about this one, even though it was one of our favorites in the early days. I think we wrote it in Richmond before we moved to L.A. But it was one of our most raucous songs and Johnny played his cocktail drum (one lone tom tom on legs). He stood up and beat the shit out of that drum. We used to end our shows with it. I think we played this song on The Cutting Edge.

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Long Black Train

[No comments about this song from Bryan.]

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My Backyard

I always liked this song. My pop side. Written by me sometime before I got together with Johnny. About being a southerner. Johnny plays a very unusual drum part. I never told him what to play and he never told me what to play. We always did our own things and instinctively knew what to do and we trusted each other's muscianship implicitly.

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Give Me a Sign

Another nice song. Very John Lennonish. Written by me. I like its simplicity. I write more like this now.

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Dark and Light in New Mexico

Another one by me before I met Johnny. Title came from some folk record I have about music in New Mexico ... I turned it into a song about the developement of the a-bomb. I have a video tape of George Wendt, aka Norm from Cheers, singing this song on a British Karaoke show in about 1988. He was a Freaks fan, we used to see him at shows. The video is great. He's huffing and sweating and trying to hit those notes. This was the pinnacle of my career up to that point. We were baffled that a famous guy would like us.

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I'll Treat You Right Someday

I remember Rhino Records wanted to put release this as a bonus track on our CD. I thought that it was strange that the "Save The LP" label would cheat the purchasers of vinyl out of one song.

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You Can Never Go Home

Written at the school, a good ballad, good live song but hard to sing, I didn't always hit that note in the bridge especially later on in our career. This was the first song I wrote after my dad died. I wrote many songs about his death after that. HoF became therapy for me. It was a weird time. But this song always reminds me of him. He was a big fan of HoF. He loved Johnny's playing. He had good taste in music; turned me on to Gene Krupa, Fats Waller, Elvis, Louis Prima to name a few.

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