There must be thousands of them out there. Just in my own circle of friends there are a handful of guys (yes, all guys) who play in bands that only meet periodically, but have been doing so for decades. Many started with friends while in school, but keep meeting, writing songs, practicing and recording. Whether you call them garage bands or indie rock bands these guys are the true amateurs (from the Latin verb amo: to love), but their music is anything but amateurish. Some use professional sidemen when they record. All write their own songs, no cover bands here.
The first band I am going to feature is the oldest. Middlefish Pond will celebrate its fortieth anniversary next year. And I was there at the founding. During the beginning of my senior year at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa I met two very cool freshmen long-hairs named Tom Winter and David Kameras. Tom and I shared an apartment briefly the next summer, but the less said about that the better. David and I worked together on an underground newspaper called the Catalyst, which got us briefly busted in downtown Cedar Rapids for hawking papers without a license. David took a picture of the undercover officer who was questioning me on the street, and we put it on the cover of our next issue. But, as usual, I digress.
Soon Tom and David formed a band and were playing gigs at “the Pub,” which was the student snack bar in Coe’s Gage Memorial Union, and, despite the promising name, didn’t serve alcohol.
But it was a popular venue for plays (I was in Spoon River Anthology there) and music, and Tom and David soon became sort of a house band for the Pub. They named their band Middlefish Pond, after a beautiful setting in the Amana Colonies we used to go to and hang out at, not to put too fine a point on it.
Their two-man mostly acoustic band was lots of fun to listen to. They played lively up-tempo tunes with irreverent often goofy lyrics, reminiscent of Steve Goodman, John Prine, and Frank Zappa. Both guys wrote songs and sang and they often had intricate harmonies. David played viola and drums, Tom played guitars and harmonica. He once tried to teach me to play guitar, and I can still play House of the Rising Sun and Cocaine, but unfortunately, there was little call for either in my 30 years as a pastor.
So the year went by and in 1971 I graduated and went off to Boston to seminary, and the boys kept playing at Coe and other venues in Cedar Rapids and Eastern Iowa, and they eventually graduated, got jobs, got married, and went their separate ways- but the band played on. I haven’t seen David since 1971, but recently reconnected on Facebook and was astonished to find out that MFP was still alive. Tom came on his motorcycle to visit me at the parsonage in my first pastorate in West Newfield, Maine about 1975, but there was a Church Ladies Bazaar going on, and I think it freaked him out, so he left abruptly. I couldn’t be happier that these two terrific guys are still making music, and that it is now easily available due to the wonder of the Internet.
Here is how they describe themselves on the album notes of their most recent album, Last Chance to Breathe: “Middlefish Pond is a two-person vocal group spawned in the fertile terrain of eastern Iowa in 1970, now a commuter relationship between Random Fill Studio (Chicago area) and Amanapond Music (ASCAP) (Washington area). The band, which plays original songs sharing a satiric blues-rock-folk-often political-Zen sensibility, is comprised of songwriters David Kameras on vocals, viola and drums, and Tom Winter on vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, harmonica and bazouki. The team has also drawn, as circumstances require, on kazoo, variable speed electric drill and ambient sound (including locusts on the current release). Speaking of which…. Last Chance To Breathe showcases the group’s more recent efforts, touching on themes of love, loss, class, race, courage and obsession, filtered through a comic-mystical lens. This is music that reminds one of Chicago blues, Delta blues, Steve Goodman, Shel Silverstein, Siegel-Schwall, David Lindley, Warren Zevon, LeRoy Marinell and Frank Zappa, all in a good way, of course. Shock your family, astonish your friends, or just settle back with a good pair of headphones and groove to Last Chance To Breathe pursue new and exciting, yet still irreverent, directions.”
So check these guys out. I think you’ll enjoy Middlefish Pond. To buy Last Chance to Breathe go to:
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/middlefishpond or http://www.digstation.com/ArtistAlbums.aspx?artistname=MiddlefishPond or
To see their site with blog and pictures go to:
(photos: above, then at Coe; below, now. Left to right in both, David Kameras, Tom Winter)