“Only Everything“- The Casuals played this quite a bit for a few years, and I always loved it, clearly right in Aaron’s romantic yet rockin’ wheelhouse. He was fairly prolific, usually had a couple new songs ready to roll when summer rolled around; I’m not sure what the circumstances of this one were, obviously a studio thing, which means it was probably recorded by Chris Blood at Trout Towers. From our recent singles and rarities collection, “Bottomless Pit“.
“Your Sounds Your Self“- this might be my favorite, though it’s a crowded field; certainly this one was a noisy, end of show crowd-pleaser, and I know it was also a favorite of Clarke Martty’s, who played drums on the original recording, which was again w. Chris at Trout Towers. Never got tired of this one, despite how often we played it for how long, but it was a blaster, and always a highlight, and I’ve been compelled to play with whatever line-up I’m playing with since he passed. From the album, “Your Sounds“, but also on our best of collection, “World Championship Songs“; there’s also a nice live Steve “Woo Woo” Wood-era version on “Yearbook ’04“.
Don’t know how many folks really appreciated Aaron’s lyrics, but this is one of my favorites, though some of it is sadly prophetic now; especially love these two verses:
Took to drinking just to have a little fun
That’s all the fun there never is
All the plans we made on Saturday night
On Monday morning won’t exist
I remember it a long time ago
I took your picture in the rain
I remembered you were laughing at the time
But I see now that you were crying
“Ghost In My Amp“- a jaunty little number that we frequently used early in the set to break folks in, w. a Stones-reminiscent guitar riff from the Brat himself and some bitchin’ drumming from Ms. Bates. This one’s from our latest (and probably best sounding) live album, “Doggy Bag Deluxe“, recorded Labor Day, 2006.
“Love Affair“- We originally put this out on “Nature Calls“, but I always loved this live board mix version from August 22, 1999; beautiful, heartbreaking little song, w some particularly nice color work on guitar from Johnny. (None of these are properly mastered- I definitely chose speed over polish, just wanted to get something out to everybody asap, woulda faded in and out if I had time…)
“Last Year’s Problems“- Also from “Your Sounds” , the Casuals second album. Again, just kind of straight-forward and very sweet, makes you smile right away… really nicely constructed little thing, and also I think a bit of an early Beach Boys homage, without ever sounding specifically like them… lots of good guitar touches from both Johnny and Aaron throughout.
“Crawlin’ Out Of the Rain“- Did we really never do a proper studio version of this? Seems unthinkable, but I think it’s true. Occasionally there were songs that struck us as not really needing to be done in a studio, because we felt like there really much to add to the live version, and that may have been the case with this one, always a workhorse live. Actually, I think we may have started on a studio version of this, maybe even back when Clarke was with us, but it must not have been coming out to Aaron’s satisfaction- would be hard to top this one, anyway. From “Yearbook ’04“.
“Grunions“- Aaron didn’t write this one (I did), but I know it was a favorite of his. and he played such terrific guitar on it (it really might’ve been impossible without him); plus, it’s kind of a funeral song anyway, godammit, so what the hell? Originally issued on our last studio effort, “Nature Calls“.
“I Wanna Play Loud“- I probably should’ve ended with this Spampinato classic (also from “Your Sounds“, as well as our best-of collection, “World Championship Songs“), as we used to at so many shows, another one we all just loved blasting away on, but I didn’t- ha! But whenever I hear it, I think about when we recorded it, at the Warehouse in Philadelphia with our pal Bill “Bear” Scheniman at the helm (another guy who went MIA not that long ago, much to our chagrin, right around this time last summer; need I say that I hate this particular trend?) Anyway, we were looking for something explosive to end the song with, and Aaron came up with the idea of throwing his guitar, turned up to 10, against the wall, which he proceeded to do. And not just some back up, beater guitar, but his first his first string tele he used all the time. And not just a gentle drop- he actually flung it across the room.
You gotta love him!
“Spiders“- I think this one’s just brilliant, an episodic melange of sounds and ideas that embraces both beautiful and scary, in some ways reminiscent of the work Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks did on “Smile”. Standing for Van Dyke as lyricist was octogenarian Ernest Noyes Brookings, one of the early leading lights from David Greenberger’s stable of elderly stars at the Duplex Planet, a magazine we all loved. We wrote many songs to Ernie’s lyrics over the years, all released on various Duplex Planet compilation albums alongside a fascinating assortment of fellow contributors like Yo La Tengo, XTC, the Figgs, Morphine, Brave Combo, Robyn Hitchcock, and many others; “Spiders” appeared on “Outstandingly Ignited- Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings Vol. 4“, as well as on the Incredible Casuals’ “The Future Will Be Better Tomorrow“. It’s certainly not a regular old song, and it also displays Aaron’s considerable mastery of various production techniques, and that he had a great ear and knew his way around in the studio.
“You Bring Me To My Knees“- This is just a little sweetheart of a tune that Aaron used to play on ukulele, which took some balls in the middle of a raucous set at the Beachcomber. I always had a hard time getting the Casuals to play ballads, because for the last ten years or so of our careers (with occasional exceptions), we mostly just played at the Wellfleet Beachcomber, where high energy was almost always the order of the day, and the prevailing wisdom was that pretty ballads (like “Summer Nights”, “Miracle”, “There’s A Reason”, “Paper Roses”) would only slow things down- the band called these bathroom songs, because the dance floor would usually thin out, and we mostly tried to stay away from them. But this one’s a beauty, so simple and heartfelt; somehow, it snuck into our repertoire in the last few years, and it’s probably the last song Aaron wrote for the Casuals, from a live digital only release called “Rip Your Mother“.
Aaron was a terrific singer, songwriter, and guitarist, and he changed the Casuals in a big way. It’s always a shame to lose someone that talented, and I’ll always regret that I didn’t try harder to get him out of his shell the last few years, and didn’t sense how much trouble he was in. But damn, we sure had some fun together and did a lot of work I’m very proud of, even going back to his high school band with Tom Carns and Dana Squire, the Hitchhikers, who were also terrific (hopefully those tracks will get released one of these days), or his later work with Overnight Sensation and the Spampinato Brothers Band.
We’ll miss you, bub- wish things could’ve gone better, but awful glad for all the times they went so good we could hardly believe it!
C.T., July 11, 2023