Certain General

Certain General  is an American post-punk band formed in 1980 by Parker Dulany, Phil Gammage, Marcy Saddy, and Russell Berke.  In the liner notes for Introduction to War (2001), their former manager, Stephen Graziano, called them, “. . . the baddest, craziest, most misbehaved but mind bendingly brilliant band that was walking the Earth”.  This coincides with Mojo magazine’s assessment that “the story of Certain General is one of triumph, tragedy, and often dazzling music”.  Drawing on a tradition established by New York rock bands such as the Velvet Underground, Certain General has recorded and performed extensively in the United States and Europe.  Although various personnel and label changes have occurred over the years, Dulany and Gammage, along with Kevin Tooley, continue to record and perform.  (More from Wikipedia)



Naturally Wikipedia has nothing on Phil Gammage either, or I wouldn’t be writing this.  But there is a long article on the post-punk band Certain General that Gammage co-founded in 1980


But in Allmusic?  Nothing on Certain General either – well, almost nothing.  Eleven albums by Certain General are listed on Allmusic, coming out between 1984 and 2010.  A short review by Richie Unterberger of their first full album, November’s Heat is provided; but this is the only album with an Allmusic rating, and there are just 8 user ratings among the 11 albums.  This is from the website which has as its aim to compile “discographic information on every artist who’s made a record since Enrico Caruso gave the industry its first big boost”. 


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Phil Gammage clearly has made a lot of friends in what had already been a dozen years in music.  Martin Blazy, who was a fellow bandmember in the Corvairs, serves as the drummer on Cry of the City; and the female vocalist, Wendy Wild had been an artist in the East Village scene when Certain General was starting up.  Bassist D. Lee is from Band of Outsiders, and David Kaufman had been in the Nails the Ravers


Also, Peter Holsapple, who produced the first Certain General effort Holiday of Love, is a kindred soul with Phil Gammage – he is another Southern musician whose band, the dB’s had greater success in Europe than in the States

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Certain General came together in late 1980 in the East Village art scene.  Before they ever played a club date, the duo of painter and poet Parker Dulany (vocals) and Phil Gammage (guitar) gained some renown by performing at private parties, art openings and after-hours parties.  The rhythm section for the band was bass guitarist Russell Berke (who had played with free-jazz pioneer Carla Bley) and drummer Marcy Saddy (who was in the Toronto band the B-Girls).  At different times, Certain General was the house band at two legendary New York nightclubs, CBGB and Danceteria


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In 1982Certain General signed with the New York independent record label Labor Records and issued their first release, an EP called Holiday of Love.  The mini-album was produced by Peter Holsapple of the dB’s and mixed by Michael Gira of the experimental rock band Swans – “an interesting pairing if there ever was one”, said Nick West in a review for Bucketfull of Brains.  (I don’t know much about Swans, except for their startling 1988 cover of the Joy Division masterpiece, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”).  According to Wikipedia:  “Holiday [of Love] garnered rave reviews, among them a Trouser Press piece that cited the disc as being created ‘for all the teenage devils of the world’.” 


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November’s HeatCertain General’s first full-length album came out in 1984; like much of the Corvairs’ music, it was first released only in France, in 1984 on the L’Invitation au Suicide record label (yes, that means “the invitation to suicide”).  In 1995, the French music magazine Rock & Folk named November’s Heat as one of the best albums released between 1985 and 1995.  The album was finally released in the U.S. in 1999 and has recently been reissued on CD. 


Since Allmusic has nothing else about Certain General, it is not surprising that Richie Unterberger’s review of November’s Heat is lukewarm.  After granting them three stars (basically equivalent to a “gentleman’s C” in the Allmusic rating system, which goes up to five stars), Unterberger has some backhanded compliments for the album:  “It’s very much a record that’s emblematic of the post-punk dark ages descending on the underground in the mid-1980’s.  Funky basslines and mannered vocals (by guitarist Parker Dulany) convey a muted anguish, somber and obtuse lyrics, and not a whole lot of melody.  There’s a somewhat goth mood to the sound, though it’s not as over-the-top as that of the true goth bands of the time; there’s also something of a British feel to the approach (especially in the vocals), although again it’s not quite as dyed-in-the-wool UK as actual bands from that country.  It’s not as creepy or disturbing as it tries to be.” 


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More generous praise can be found in the Wikipedia article.  Reviewing a 1984 Certain General show at New York’s Pyramid club, the UK-based New Musical Express called the band “New York’s answer to [Echo and] the Bunnymen with a few [Jim] Morrison tendencies thrown in” [but with] “plenty of individuality and a lead singer full of passionate presence — agonized lyrics torn from twitching limbs.”  The review concluded by observing that Certain General was “almost psychedelic in their unfettered spirit.”  Bomp! Records – whose affiliated label Alive Records reissued November’s Heat in America in 1999 – has called them “NYC’s 80’s cult favorite”, while Rock & Folk identified Certain General as “the bridge between Television and Radiohead.” 


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Phil Gammage left Certain General in 1985 and evidently returned to the Corvairs for a time; he then began pursuing a solo career. 


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In 1999, the original line-up of Certain General, including Phil Gammage reunited for an album called These Are the Days that was recorded in the CBGB club’s basement studio for Hilly Kristal’s CBGB Records.  The French label Fantastica Records officially released the album, and the band mounted a tour of France accompanied by the Fleshtones, a band that came along with the early punk and new wave bands but was basically a garage rock band. 


These Are the Days by Certain General was produced by Genya Ravan, the former lead singer of perhaps the very first all-female rock band Goldie and the Gingerbreads.  She was also in the band Ten Wheel Drive and has released several solo albums; I have Urban Desire (1978) myself.  Among her other production credits are the Dead Boys’ first studio album, Young, Loud and Snotty (1977).  That’s two important punk rock albums that I know of which were produced by women, the other being the 1979 album by the Germs(GI), which was produced by Joan Jett (a veteran of another all-female band the Runaways). 


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Stephen Graziano, the manager and booking agent for Certain General, put together a label called SourMash Records in order to issue music by Phil Gammage and his associated bands in the US.  As described by Graziano:  “Stressing cooperation, sharing, and interdependence, both Certain General and Band of Outsiders, in partnership, financed, and organized, totally in-house, the first SourMash Records release, Far Away In America.”  Band of Outsiders was a band that was reorganized from a late 1970’s power pop band called The Limit.  Another band released on SourMash Records was Phil Gammage’s earlier band the Corvairs, which was in New York by this point. 


In 1995Phil Gammage founded PreFab International Recordings as a way to present his music on the Internet; their site can be found at:  www.scarletdukes.com/prefab/index.shtml .  Many records by Phil Gammagethe CorvairsCertain Generalthe Scarlet DukesVoodoo Martini, and others can be found there.  


Here follows a reprint of the Trouser Press Record Guide (4th Edition) listing for the SourMash family of bands.  Though slightly garbled, it presents a fairly accurate overview of our thing in the 1980’s.

Steve G.  



Holiday of Love EP (Labor1982 

November’s Heat (Fr. L’Invitation au Suicide1984 

     Reissued w/ bonus tracks (Fr. New Rose1990; (Alive) 1999; (Fr. Fantastica2002 

These are the Days (Fr. New Rose) 1986 

     Reissued w/ bonus tracks (Fr. Fantastica 1999

Cabin Fever (Fr. Barclay1988 

Jacklighter (Fr. Barclay) 1990 

Signals from the Source (CBGB1999 

Closer to the Sun (Fr. Fantastica) 2000 

Live at the Public Theater (Fantastica US2001 

An Introduction to War (SourMash USA2002 

Invisible New York (Easy Action UK2008 



Far Away in America (SourMash1984 

Far Away in America / The Live Side EP (Fr. L’Invitation au Suicide) 1985 


(March 2015)


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Items:    Certain General 


Last edited: March 22, 2021