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Beachcomber Music Award Winning Best Drummer—The Early Years

By Chris Manson January 22, 2009 Issue

I was fortunate to get my ears on a copy of Bas Clas’ Volume One: The Early Years 1977-86, courtesy of drummer Ted “The Animal” Cobena. “It’s roots rock from south Louisiana,” says Cobena, who joined the band around 1979. The 22-song collection is available at www.basclas.com, where you can also read a compelling history of the band.

“This is a compilation of all the demos and EPs we recorded,” says Cobena. “We also did several singles. ‘Serfin’ USA’ got a lot of airplay.” The CD was mastered by Grammy-winning engineer Tony Daigle. “There are some glitches and wobbles, but these were the best recordings we had. We believe the CD gives a good representation of the history of the band.”

Bas Clas, by the way, is Cajun French for “low class.” “But the band has more class in it’s little finger than most,” says Cobena. “Donnie Picou’s lyrics have inspired a lot of people. They have a lot of political and social intent. We’ve always been happy to play original music for people, because we knew we were giving them a good message.” The band still plays occasionally, usually in and around Lafayette, Louisiana which Cobena calls “the new Austin, Texas.”

The recent gigs almost didn’t happen. The band members fell out of touch, but in 2002 were asked to play a benefit concert in Lafayette. “We said, ‘Guys, we gotta keep going’,” says Cobena. “Donnie lives in Atlanta now and has a corporate job. Steve (Picou) works as an environmentalist in New Orleans. But we’re all still connected musically. If we can get some of Donnie’s new songs to the right people, we could get a record deal today.”

John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive who discovered Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, was impressed with Bas Clas’ sounds and wanted to record the band. “We were going to get a record contract, and Hammond was going to produce us, but he got sick and it fell through the cracks,” says Cobena. “We were that close. Capitol Records courted us for years but kept insisting that we write a ‘hit.’”

Cobena hopes Bas Clas can perform together monthly and perhaps even play some “event” shows along the Emerald Coast. Meanwhile, the drummer continues to thrive, despite the troubled (and troubling) economy. He recently teamed up with Hal Aiken (“Down in Destin”) for a new band project.

“My wife Celeste makes soap, and she hasn’t had a drop in business,” he says. “People always buy luxury items. As far as my gig calendar, it’s really slowed down. The economy, in that respect, has affected me in a negative way. I’m in my studio working on original songs, and I’m busy in there. It might be that it’s just this time of year. We’ll see. Last spring and summer, I was busy.”

Friends of the Beat
Beachcomber cover artist and Walton County Artist of the Year Michael McCarty’s work appears on the new Darryl Rhoades CD, Weapon$ of Ma$$ De$truction. The album is rootsy-country (“Someone Must Have Hurt You”), topical (“The Sins of the Father”), and often funny (“The Music Brought ‘em Together but the Business Tore ‘em Apart”). It’s available from www.cdbaby.com…Reed Waddle’s quest for world domination continues, as tracks from his excellent new album Piece by Piece get steady spins on XM, as well as terrestrial radio stations from Aspen, Colorado to Cleveland… “Experimental/trance/freestyle” band Green Hit have a couple high-profile seasonal gigs coming up. Mark your calendars for “A Green Valentine” Feb. 14 and the “Green Beer with Green Hit” St. Patrick’s Day party March 14, both at Pandora’s in Grayton Beach…Brandon Day informs the Beat that he will be pulling double duty Wednesdays at Scully’s in Cinco Bayou from 5 to 9 p.m. and El Villa starting at 10 p.m. He’s joined by his band Friday and Saturday nights at Scully’s…Stuart Redd, a phenomenal guitarist, graciously shared a video in which he performs a bang-up rendition of Wayne Shorter’s “Footrprints” live at the Seaside Amphitheater. Watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Rd6ZAMqH-1.

The Beat’s Record Roundup

Catching up with some 2008 releases of note…
R.E.M., Murmur (Deluxe Edition) (Universal). The Athens, Georgia band’s masterful debut, as indecipherable as it was 25 years ago. A second disc contains a previously unreleased 1983 concert. Remembrances from producers and artists contribute to a pretty package, but where are the lyrics?

The Roots, Rising Down (Def Jam). Best rap/hip-hop album of 2008.

Kenny Garrett, Sketches of MD. (Mack Avenue). Amazing jazz saxophonist captured in performance with the legendary Pharoah Sanders.

Steve Earle, Copperhead Road (Deluxe Edition) (Geffen). Earle’s great 1988 album, accompanied by a disc full of live recordings.

Cherish, The Truth (ShoNuff/Capitol). Makes Destiny’s Child sound like the Andrews Sisters.

Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part 1: 4th World War (Universal Motown). Smart, topical and musically overwhelming.

Bobby Womack, The Best of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years (Capitol). Worth it for “Across 110th Street” and an amazing interpretation of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.”

Little Steven’s Underground Garage Presents the Coolest Songs in the World, Vol. 7 (Wicked Cool). Another compelling compilation of cool tracks, featuring well-knowns like R.E.M. and John Fogerty and several fine future footnotes to rock history.

TV on the Radio, Dear Science (DGC/Interscope). A year-end poll winner that continues the musical innovations explored on the band’s previous year-end poll winner.

Joe Lovano, Symphonica (Blue Note). Saxophone and orchestra collaboration hasn’t sounded this good since the days of Bird.

Bill Champlin, No Place Left to Fall (Dreammakers). Champlin’s singing is always the highlight of Chicago albums, but his solo albums are much more satisfying. Doubters are directed to the superior remake of Chicago’s chart-topping “Look Away.”

The Shys, You’ll Never Understand This Band the Way That I Do (Aeronaut). One of the better derivative garage punk bands of late.

Taylor Swift, Fearless (Big Machine). A great improvement over her debut. Has anyone ever written and sung so convincingly about the plight of teenage girls?

The Fireman, Electric Arguments (ATO). Too bad Paul McCartney didn’t pull an Axl Rose and call this the new Beatles album. His most interesting music in decades.

Jackie Greene, Giving Up the Ghost (429 Records). Young California singer-songwriter can get a little too clever with the rhymes, but the band is tight and he’s obviously been dipping into the Leonard Cohen along with the expected influences.

Mick Hucknall, Tribute to Bobby (Rhino). “Blue” Bland, that is, a blues great who didn’t go for the slickness the former Simply Red singer embraces here. Still, pretty pleasant as white soul wannabes go.

Neil Diamond, Home Before Dark (Sony). Good songs, I suppose, but Rick Rubin’s minimalist production doesn’t exactly benefit a performer celebrated for his bombast.

Guns ‘n Roses, Chinese Democracy (Interscope). You have to wonder why anyone would care at this point. There’s not one song here I want to listen to again. If you need your hard rock fix, try Disturbed or Scars on Broadway.


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