The Tell-Tale Hearts


So far, I have included two Under Appreciated Rock Bands with Mike Stax in the line-up:  the Crawdaddys a few years back, and the Loons in my last post.  THE TELL-TALE HEARTS, named after one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous stories, is the third and came along between the Crawdaddys and the Loons
The main reason that there are Under Appreciated Rock Bands in the first place, in the way that I define the term (i.e., they do not have an article in Wikipedia), is the idea of Notability; quoting from the Wikipedia article on this topic:   “In general, notability is an attempt to assess whether the topic has gained sufficiently significant attention by the world at large and over a period of time as evidenced by significant coverage in reliable secondary sources that are independent of the topic.” 
For rock bands, having two albums released on a major record label automatically makes a band “notable”; beyond that though, whether someone is notable is up for interpretation – Wikipedia articles are deleted frequently for that reason alone.  In almost every case, the UARB’s and UARA’s that I write about are also “notable”, whether or not Wikipedia would agree, in that they have numerous fans throughout the country and around the world.  Again, nearly always, there are comparatively recent reissues of the album(s) by the UARB’s; these aren’t forgotten records that no one else knows about. 
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Mike Stax also does not have an article in Wikipedia, though there is a short article on the fanzine Ugly Things that he founded in 1983 (the Tell-Tale Hearts were also formed that year).  To my mind, there can be little doubt of his “notability”.  An article in the San Diego Union Tribune on May 23, 2013 about an upcoming concert over three days celebrating the 30th anniversary of Ugly Things quotes another San Diego musician and rock critic Bart Mendoza (who is in the Shambles):  “To me, Ugly Things is the top music magazine in the world.  It’s even better than (top English music publication) Mojo, because it has more pages and covers more ground with more depth.  Mike’s coverage of music is the template everybody has to match, not only for content but for research.  No one else does such comprehensive articles.” 
Mike Stax’s exhaustively researched article over four issues in Ugly Things on the Misunderstood led to the publication of a book on the band called Like, Misunderstood that was co-written with the band’s lead singer Rick Brown; as quoted in the Union Tribune article, Stax says:  “They came pretty close to making it in London, they got a deal with Fontana Records, had a single out and had media (coverage).  Then, the [U.S. military] draft claimed the lead singer, and they were finished overnight, just as they were on the verge of success.  They would have been the first psychedelic band, with an album out before before [Jimi] Hendrix and Pink Floyd.  They were cheated.  Their music was world-class.” 
More recently, and representing 15 years of research, Mike Stax published another acclaimed book called Swim Through the Darkness: My Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali, about a pop and folk musician named Craig Smith who worked with Andy WilliamsGlen Campbell and the Monkees and later descended into mental illness and became a “psychedelic messiah” called Maitreya Kaliwho released two albums in the early 1970’s
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Another bandmember in the Tell-Tale HeartsRay Brandes is also an author.  His book on the San Diego underground rock scene, Getting Nowhere Fast came out in December 2015.  I had previously borrowed heavily from his history of past UARB the Crawdaddys that I found online a few years ago.  The blurb in Amazon says:  “1976-1986 was a period of time in which urban tribes staked out and ferociously defended their territories; a time when San Diego began to establish for itself an identity as more than just a Navy town with a great zoo.  Getting Nowhere Fast, written by Ray Brandes of the Tell-Tale Hearts, looks at the origins of this period of ‘new’ music in San Diego, and provides an insider’s look at a handful of bands who never quite hit the big time, but who developed cult followings around the world.  The histories of the Zerosthe Penetratorsthe Unknownsthe Crawdaddysthe Tell-Tale Hearts, and several more groups are presented here for the first time in print.”  Remarkably, three of the five bands on this list – the Unknownsthe Crawdaddys, and the Tell-Tale Hearts – are among the UARB’s. 
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Although Mike Stax moved to California from England specifically to join the Crawdaddys, their musical vision could be rather doctrinaire and was often at odds with the strains of music that he was trying to bring into the band’s recordings.  On his 21st birthday, as I related previously, Mike Stax quit the Crawdaddys on the spot after having his birthday present, a valuable garage rock record, thrown at him from across the room by another bandmember who hated garage rock.  While commiserating about the state of the San Diego music scene with several friends who had been in a short-lived though well regarded band called the Mystery Machinethe Tell-Tale Hearts were born in the summer of 1983
The liner notes for the album that I have, High Tide (Big Noses & Pizza Faces) state:  “There was never any intention to start a movement, influence local musical tastes or convert the masses – we were simply five young men who came together at the right time and place.”  The Tell-Tale Hearts had a winning combination of strong musicianship – I particularly love the organ – and a raw sound that proved popular with local audiences.  A tongue-in-cheek sidebar on the liner notes by drummer David Klowden says:  “I don’t know why the band did as well as it did – couldn’t have been the music . . .  Must have been the trousers.  Yes, I think it was the trousers that endeared us to those handfuls of sweaty, alienated teenagers displaced from reality during the feverish height of Reaganism.  There was even a band member (Mike [Stax]) who actually called pants ‘trousers’.” 
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The Mystery Machine was formed in 1982 by veterans of several other like-minded bands like the Hedgehogsthe Crawdaddys, and Manual Scan.  Bandmembers included Ray Brandes (vocals), Carl Rusk (acoustic and electric guitar), Mark Zadarnowski (bass guitar), Bill Calhoun (keyboards, saxophone), and David Klowden (drums).  The band stayed together only about one month, but that was long enough to create one of my long-time favorites called “She’s Not Mine” that was included on three different Bomp! Records/Voxx Records compilation albums:  Battle of the Garages, Part 2The Roots of Power Pop, and Destination: Bomp!
Mike Stax joined with Ray BrandesBill Calhoun and David Klowden of the Mystery Machine in creating the Tell-Tale Hearts, along with Eric Bacher who had been in a band called Freddie and the Soup Bowls.  Their first gig was in September 1983 at a yard party; Gravedigger V made their debut at the same event, though they were known as the Shamen at that time.  The Tell-Tale Hearts seemed to hit San Diego at just the right time and quickly became a fixture in several local clubs, serving as the house band for Studio 517 for a time. 
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The Tell-Tale Hearts caught the attention of Greg Shaw, and he arranged studio time for them at Bomp! Records/Voxx Records, resulting in their first album, The Tell-Tale Hearts (1984).  The liner notes continue:  “We battled tooth and nail against technology to try to capture the raw bite of our live show.  Recorded mostly with minimal overdubs, the results were generally satisfactory, until Greg decided to do a remix while we were away on tour.  The result was an album where the music was robbed of all its muscle and vitality – something we’ve never let Greg forget since.” 
Due to their dissatisfaction with the way the album sounded, the Tell-Tale Hearts recorded 6 songs in early 1985 at a San Diego studio for an EP sarcastically called The “Now” Sound of the Tell-Tale Hearts that also came out on Voxx Records
The liner notes for High Tide (Big Noses & Pizza Faces) relate the time in 1985 that the Tell-Tale Hearts opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers (right after their first album, The Red Hot Chili Peppers came out) and the Cramps, one of their idols.  “When the Cramps finally took the stage around midnight, we were absolutely blown away.  The level of talent and professionalism was beyond belief – higher than we could have ever aspired to – yet they managed to lose none of their raw, powerful edges. . . .  We were further treated to a backstage meeting with the group later that night, who said that we ‘looked and sounded just like the Shadows of Knight’.  They truly must have understood how much that meant to us.  A nicer, more down-to-earth group of people would be hard to find.”  
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In April 1986Eric Bacher left the Tell-Tale Hearts and was replaced by another ex-CrawdaddyPeter Miesner.  After 3½ years, the band was having difficulty keeping it going:  “Musically, the band had stuck in a rut for some time.  The new songs that were being written did not sound like ‘Tell-Tale Hearts songs’, and we each had difficulty adjusting to and accommodating the changes that were taking place as our individual tastes expanded. . . .  And Mike [Stax] put it best to a San Diego Union reporter:  ‘We had painted ourselves into a corner musically.’” 
Still, the band reported about their final recording session in their original incarnation in December 1986, culminating in the single “Promise” b/w “Too Many Lovers” on an Australian label, Kavern 7 Records:  “Incredibly, considering the conflict within the group, ‘Promise’ turned out to be one of the [Tell-Tale] Hearts’ finest moments, highlighted by Peter [Miesner]’s amazing guitar leads and controlled feedback, and Bill [Calhoun]’s wailing harp.”  The band called it quits on Valentine’s Day 1987
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The retrospective album that I own by the Tell-Tale HeartsHigh Tide (Big Noses & Pizza Faces) came out in 1994 on Voxx Records, collecting 6 songs from The Tell-Tale Hearts (after being remixed to recapture their original sound); 5 from The “Now” Sound of the Tell-Tale Hearts; the 1986 single mentioned above, Promise” b/w “Too Many Lovers”; 5 demos dating from early 1984; and 3 live performances.  Nine of the songs are previously unreleased.  Among the demos is a particularly welcome version of Crackin’ Up”; “Crackin’ Up” by the Wig is listed on the cover of both the Pebbles, Volume 1 LP and the Pebbles, Volume 1 CD but is not actually included on the album.
There are some great covers on the Tell-Tale Hearts CD that run the gamut of the whole Sixties scene, among them “Just in Case You’re Wondering” (originally by the Ugly Ducklings), “Me Needing You” (the Pretty Things – the band who inspired the name of Mike Stax’s magazine, Ugly Things), “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” (the Shadows of Knight), “Satisfy You” (the Seeds), the great lead-off track, “My World Is Upside Down” (the Shames), and “Cry” (the Malibus).  The band’s original songs are steeped in the same Sixties brew; my favorites include “(You’re a) Dirty Liar”, “Crawling Back to Me”, “It’s Just a Matter of Time”, “One Girl”, and Promise.  As usual though with the UARB’s, all of their music sounds great to me.
When playing L.A. clubs, the bands there often looked down on San Diego bands like the Tell-Tale Hearts; the album name comes from a dismissive comment in 1984 by Gwynne Kahn of the Pandoras:  “The Tell-Tale Hearts?  Oh, they’re just a bunch of ugly boys with big noses and pizza faces!” 
Stephen Cook with Allmusic gives the album 4½ stars and writes:  “Taking Brit blues invaders like Themthe Animals, and the Yardbirds as a template, not to mention plenty of ’60s garage inspiration, San Diego’s Tell-Tale Hearts forged a fairly original beat homage between 1983-1986.  A bit too gritty and blues-based to really fit in with L.A.’s contemporary Byrds and pop-psychedelia revival (the Rain Paradethe Three O’ClockPlasticland), the Hearts only cut one album, an EP, and a smattering of singles and live tracks. . . .  Compiled by bassist Mike Stax and featuring the snider-than-Van Morrison vocals of Ray Brandes, the 21-track collection includes studio highlights like ‘(You’re a) Dirty Liar and ‘Me Needing You, as well as some super lo-fi demo covers and a live rendition of the Seeds’ ‘Satisfy You.” 
Another retrospective album called The Tell-Tale Hearts, having 16 tracks came out in 1995 on Tapir Records (based in Belize). 
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After the Tell-Tale Hearts broke up, their former bandmembers and those from another popular local band, Manual Scan joined forces in creating the Shambles, a power pop band that formed in 1990 and is still active.  Kevin Donaker-Ring and Bart Mendoza, both of Manual Scan, started playing with first Ray Brandes and later David Klowden of the Tell-Tale Hearts, plus Mark Z, formerly of the Crawdaddys.  Another ex-Heart, keyboard wiz Bill Calhoun was added at a later date.  The Shambles have had a revolving membership over the years; from what I can tell, none of the bandmembers from the Tell-Tale Hearts are currently with the Shambles
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In 1989the Tell-Tale Hearts reformed with another line-up for a one-off single “Circus Mind” b/w “Flying” on Nevermore Records (in a limited release of 800 copies), with personnel Bill Calhoun (lead vocals, harp), Mike Stax (bass), Ron Swart (organ), Jon McKinney (rhythm guitar), Carl Rusk (lead guitar on Circus Mind), Paul Carsola (drums on Circus Mind), and Craig Packham (drums on Flying).  A tribute by Phil May of the Pretty Things that I found online says of Circus Mind:  “The Tell-Tale Hearts’ recording of ‘Circus Mind’ picks up on echoes of early electric Dylan (as in Bob), which I’ve always thought ran through our version. . . .  They’ve turned what was just a vignette in the Pretties’ version into a whole song that drives the distance.” 
The Tell-Tale Hearts also toured in 1994 to promote High Tide (Big Noses & Pizza Faces).  Further reunions took place in 2004 and 2007.  An article written by Bart Mendoza of the Shambles for for the 2007 reunion says of the band:  “Mixing Vox keyboard-driven rhythm and blues with fuzzed-out rock, the group’s live shows were incendiary, championing an authentic ’60s sound and taking their cues from such legendary acts as the Pretty Things and [the Dutch band] the Outsiders.  While the group has been overlooked locally in recent years, their impact worldwide, particularly in Europe and Japan, continues undiminished.  The band is cited regularly as an influence on today’s rockers.  Numerous acts have covered the Tell-Tale Hearts’ music, including Spain’s Agentes SecretosAustralia’s Shutdown ’66England’s Diaboliks, and Japan’s Young Pennsylvanians.” 
In the mid-1990’sMike Stax and Eric Bacher of the Tell-Tale Hearts formed the core of and did most of the early songwriting for the Loons, who was the UARB last time. 
(September 2017)
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Items:    The Tell-Tale Hearts 
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Anyway, here is what and who I talked about last year:
September 20171980’s garage rock band THE TELL-TALE HEARTS; Story of the Month on Repo Man; also, bootleg records, Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be (the Rolling Stones), Kum Back (the Beatles), Great White Wonder (Bob Dylan), John Birch Society Blues (Bob Dylan), The Basement Tapes (Bob Dylan), Let it Be (the Beatles), the Stooges, Iggy Pop.  
(Year 8 Review)
Last edited: April 3, 2021