Monday, January 01, 2007

The Hellcows: Or Portland Kisses and Makes Up for Producing Nu Shooz

As a rule of thumb, I will buy and enjoy any record by bands that remind me even slightly of Captain Beefheart. Edgar Broughton Band, Hampton Grease Band, Bloodloss, Sapat, etc. are all great. Portland, Oregon, band The Hellcows are also on the list. Like The U-Men (who they shared record labels with), The Hellcows’ singer does a pretty good Beefheart imitation. I’d also say they were less rooted in garage rock or The Birthday Party than the U-Men and more prone to art/noise spazziness. It’s not surprising that The Hellcows were also closely aligned with the great, long running Portland by way of the Los Angeles Free Music Society band, Smegma: Mike Lastra recorded them at Smegma Studios, and the two bands shared bills and released a split single.

The band comprised Brian Koelling (vocals, trombone, percussion), Gerry Ostrem (sax, guitar, harmonica), Eric Stotik (guitar, tape, percussion), Carl Annala (bass, guitar, percussion), and Mike King (drums, percussion), and their 1987 debut EP, G-Spot Crush, was so good that it was released twice by two different labels: Smegma’s Pigface Records (#12) and Black Label Records (based out of Fallout Records). Black Label then released the Toothless (BLR-005) full-length in 1988 and the Carrot Show EP in 1990. Fallout Records were selling copies of Toothless until they closed in 2003. Maybe the inside photo of two band member sporting White Zombie shirts scared off potential record buyers. I’m pretty sure Toothless also came out on tape, much like The U-Men’s Step on a Bug record. The band also released the Idiodyssey split single with Smegma in 1989 on Portland’s Rockport Records (#002, 950 pressed) and the Paver EP in 1991 on T/K records (TK917003). By the time of the Paver EP, Sean Croghan of Crackerbash/ Junior High was playing in the band. The band also appeared on a couple compilation records. They contributed the song "Shortnin' Bread" to SST's 1988 Melting Plot compilation, which also included songs by Sonic Youth, Das Damen, and Painted Willies, and they included the song "The Five" to Tulpa's 1990 Fog 3 EP (TP #11), which also included songs by Wayne Roger's amazing band, Crystalized Movements, way outside free jazzers Paul Flahery and Randall Colbourne, and the Larry Mondello Band.

Pre- and post-Hellcow history is a bit hard to find, but all of the band members were involved in many other bands or the Portland art/book scene. We sorely regret not mentioning Carl Annala’s brief involvement in Earth in our otherwise brilliant post and that the bands played some shows together. Carl and Eric also reunited in a band called Plastic Horn Devil (a nod to Captain Beefheart’s song “Telephone”), who put some cool records.

Since we are still feeling the Holiday spirit, we thought we would include the Hell Cows/Smegma split single as an extra gift to you. In a perfect world, there would be tens of thousands of blogs devoted solely to Wolf Eyes’ godparents, Smegma, but our society is just not there yet. We also relish at the opportunity to tell our great, great grandkids about the time we saw Smegma, Ghost, and Six Organs of Admittance at Chop Suey or Smegma and Caroliner at the Re-Bar. I’m sure they will be impressed.

*THIS JUST IN* You can buy the Fog 3 Comp here.

G-Spot Crush EP



Hellcows - "Black Pearl" (parts 1 and 2)
Smegma - "Tent"

--MC Tom


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, this is so cool to see. I can fill in some blanks as to before and after efforts of band members. Mike King “retired” from music performance but is a kingpin in the rock n’ roll graphics world (Crash Design) but prior to the Hell Cows he has a rich history. Some of which can be viewed on Mike Lastra’s new film on the Portland punk scene Northwest Passage (you gotta see it, smegma, neo boys, poison idea etc.). AS I can recall Mike was in a bunch of bands like the Stand, Jungle Nausea, Spike and Smegma. There was sort of a pre-hell cows called Corps Flowers that I was in with Mike and Eric. Eric Stotic was in Spike (Society’s Problem Is Killing Everything) as well. He and I also had a band called Porkycarcas before the Hell Cows. A few years after the Hell Cows Eric and I were in a band called Plastic Horn Devil, glad you grabbed the reference (clever bastard). Eric is a successful artist (painter). Brian Koelling, with the fine set of pipes, was in the Carrion Commandos out of Eugene and has not resurfaced after he left the band. Jerry Ostrem, the only other one of us to appear in the Lastra film, was in FDM (Faulty Denial Mechanism) prior to HC and after was in many bands from Hitting Birth to PHD, Ape Grave and The Worried Guys. After the last incarnation of the Hell Cows, I moved to Seattle and did my short stint with Earth. I learned and performed what is basically Earth II but with the drum machine on! What a difference but I can see why he did it. Then I moved back to Portland and formed Ape Grave out of the ashes of the Hell Cows – Gerry Osterm, Sean Croghan and myself – we recruited David Parks (Hitting Birth) to play drum kit. That was a powerful group, I so sorry I left it (and left the barn door open!). Swamp Dick, Eggnapper, Hail are just a few of the good names of many projects I have flailed around with for years. My current associations are with the Consortium for Creative Thought Through Music and Kiss the Goat. Sean Croghan was the force behind Crackerbash and Jr. High and is the curator of the Consortium for Creative Thought Through Music as well as a member of Moustache.

Aside from a few of Sean’s bands or my bands, most of the groups mentioned here are anti-rock bands, taking clues from shit like no wave from New York and so called industrial music. Grunge for this crowd was mostly a flirtation. I enjoyed it quite a bit mind you, dancing drunk to Green River befo’ you know whut…I know them Mudhoneys and all that so I could give you an argue about that Bloodloss blog, but no.

Do a piece on Thrillhammer and those band member threads. I always felt as though they were rivals or some twisted shit like that but they were way more grunge than us. Maybe it should be forgotten.

Thanks again,

Carl Annala, 2007

tom said...

Hi Carl,

thanks for the info!

i gotta find that Lastra movie now

Eric said...

You can find post-Hellcows Brian and Eric soundings here. I'll try and freshen up the song postings from time to time. There was even a movie shot at one point that featured Jerry staring out a window for 12 hours.

Serpentone said...

This is a cool blog and I searched for a while to find a Portland band.

I guess it kinda galls me a bit to see quote/unquote "grunge" so closely tied to Seattle. Nirvana wasn't from Seattle... Melvins were from what... Montesano? Babes in Toyland from Minneapolis but Kat was from Oregon and played guitar in Portland's Venarays. I dunno if Portland bands like The Obituaries and Napalm Beach were too "popular" (or too Portland?) to be covered in a blog like this, but it would be cool to see.... hey, if you cover "lesser known grunge-era" bands... I think that could include just about all late 80s/early 90s heavy punk Portland bands, right?

Moving right along, I also question the "dating" of grunge as a time-limited phenomenon. Like, a band is "grunge" if it came from such and such a time. WTF is "grunge" anyway? (Do you have a blog about that?)

Finally, I wanted to share a link with you, of a site I made for a photographer friend of mine, David "The Ack" Ackerman, which features some photos of THE HELL COWS playing at the Portland Mayor's ball as well as a few other bands from 80s and 90s, including Nirvana, Mudhoney, 7 Year Bitch, Babes, Napalm Beach, Dead Moon, and is getting added to as I have time to scan stuff in...lots of pix taken at Saytricon...

ok now enough from me. - Erika

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Anonymous said...

Brian and Carl are in an excellent and nearly invisible band called The Snails, with Cyndi Chan on bass and a wonderful percussionist whose name escapes me now.
I think you can find them on MySpace.
They are very Dada and well worth checking out.

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