Blotto Hits Again

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Wit and grooves don’t go out of style, so Blotto’s humorous rocking music has aged well.

Newly rediscovered Blotto live recordings bring big laughs and pack a punch via streaming services no one could have imagined in the Albany band’s 1980s delicious days as the big noise on the local scene and soon-to-be national MTV faves.

Listening to “Blotto: Live at My Father’s Place 6/26/1980” on Spotify is almost redundantly delightful. The second set in a lively night, it shows Blotto generating full fun power. By then, they always had the audience in their pocket. While the music itself amazes and amuses, so does hearing a happy audience completely given over to it. 

Sarge, Bowtie, Blanche, and Broadway Blotto, 1979

Blotto’s humor tickles the funny bone with such unerring glee that it’s tempting to forget how hard they rocked. And those two elements add up to an irresistible invitation to jump around and enjoy.

This live-Blotto resurgence started two years ago; online, of course, as Kingston intellectual property-show-biz attorney Paul Rapp (F. Lee Harvey Blotto the band’s drummer) recalled.

“I found a bootleg site selling a show ‘Blotto Syracuse 1981′ and I was like ‘what?’” He bought it for $10. “It was a fabulous recording from the Jabberwocky at Syracuse University that was broadcast on WAER, the college radio station,” he said. “It was one of our first shows as a five- piece (after singer Blanche Blotto and keyboardist-singer Chevrolet Blotto left) and we play like we’ve got something to prove.”

Sarge Blotto in NYC, May 1980
Photo by Martin Benjamin

He soon tracked down an August 1980 show recorded at The Country House in Westchester and broadcast on WRNW, “a wonderfully strange set,” Rapp said, but the sound was strong and clear as the Syracuse show.

Blotto already had tapes of the 1980 My Father’s Place show and the 1983 BBC Rock Hour show, using songs from each on their two-CD compilation “Then More Than Ever.” But the costs for producing full-show CDs kept most of those recordings on the shelf.

Then, as Rapp said, “Digital services like Spotify have changed the calculus of releasing music.” He explained, “You can release stuff without a huge outlay of time or money.” Both F. Lee Harvey/Rapp and guitarist-singer Bowtie/retired IT genius Paul Jossman found deep memories in the grooves of these live recordings. “Everybody’s on top of their game,” said Rapp of the My Father’s Place show, “(bassist) Cheese especially.” Jossman said, “This set is an excellent example of Blotto as we just shed our fledgling feathers and left the nest to go full time.” He said, “It’s a great show, high energy and fun. It’s quite nice to listen to Cheese’s bass and Sarge’s vocals.” Cheese, born Keith Stephenson, died in October 1999; Sarge, born Greg Haymes, in April 2019. 

Blotto with Blanche, February 1980
Photo by Martin Benjamin

The My Father’s Place show in June 1980 came at a pivotal time. Blotto had just started touring, in two vans with a crew of three and earning $750 to $3,000 a show. “We were on the radio in New York City two months before,” said Rapp, noting they’d played the City for the first time a month previously, then opening night at the Ritz two weeks before. “We still had day jobs!“ he said. “Never having played on Long Island before, we weren’t sure what to expect, and it was jam packed and crazy, as you can hear.…If it sounds like a lot of the crowd at My Father’s Place had seen us before, it’s because they had – at JB Scott’s in Albany!”

Jossman said, “The beautiful thing about radio airplay is, the audience loves you before you play a note. You can tell by the spirited crowd as we were being introduced.”

Preparing music for streaming costs less than for CDs but involves playing back fragile reel to reel analog audiotapes. Rapp said, “Digitizing tapes involves baking the tapes… in an oven!” He explained, “Once digitized they get mastered, just to make them sound consistent and as listenable as possible.” 

Photo by Marie Triller

Since Blotto played cover songs, as well as their own originals, live, they needed “to pay the songwriters/publishers for the use of their songs,” among Rapp’s professional specialties. Once legal and technical challenges are met, the latter by Bert Blotto, “the tracks are uploaded to an aggregator,” explained Rapp. Blotto uses CD Baby as its link to Spotify. Other aggregators include Distrokid and Tunecore, while Tidal, Deezer, Amazon, and others also provide online music streaming and downloading.

With the “My Father’s House” show streaming now, Blotto will release others in chronological order. “The Country House show is up next. It’s all ready to go and it’ll be released soon,” said Rapp. Then they’ll release a show recorded at Albany’s J.B. Scott’s, on Valentine’s Day – “40 years to the day after the show and 41 years from the release of the EP ‘Hello My Name Is Blotto What’s Yours?’”

Photo by Martin Benjamin

“‘My Father’s House’ was one of the last gigs that Blanche Blotto played with us,” said Jossman. “She (actor, director and teacher Helena Binder) decided to stick with her acting career and couldn’t go on the road full time,” he added. Around the same time, keyboardist Chevrolet Blotto (Dave Maswick) also left, to make solo albums, do IT work at Bard College and play for decades in the Stony Creek Band and a duo with Joel Brown. 

“They’re excited! “ said Rapp of his former bandmates’ reaction to the “My Father’s House” streaming release. “They’ve both got some killer performances on these,and this is the first release of the Blanche Blotto/Sara Ayers (Greg “Sarge” Haymes’ wife, now widow) tune ‘I Love You Calvin Klein’, which was a staple of our shows and appears on a bunch of these recordings.”

Jossman said, “‘’I Love You Calvin Klein’ would have been a good MTV song,” as “I Want to be a Lifeguard” was. 

Jossman mused, “This was 40 years ago and might as well been a century.” He said, Broadway (singer-guitarist and main songwriter Bill Polchinsky) Sarge and I had spent most of the 70’s playing full time and touring with the Star Spangled Washboard Band; so we were well acquainted with what that meant.” He added, “The fact that we decided to do it again is a good indication of the strength and commitment of the band and our belief in what we were doing. It was the right choice and a great ride!”

Rapp said, “I was touched by whoever reviewed one of our last shows, with Blue Oyster Cult on the Albany Riverfront; he said something like ‘Blotto’s schtick has aged amazingly well.’”

Blotto: Live at My Father’s Place 6/26/1980

  • She’s Got a Big Boyfriend
  • Bud
  • Let’s Eat
  • I Love You Calvin Klein
  • Gimme the Girl
  • My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie
  • We Are the Nowtones
  • Jumpstart My Heart
  • I Wanna Be a Lifeguard
  • H.S.H.
  • Secret Agent Man
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