Howlin' Maggie's Honeysuckle Strange turned 25 yesterday. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that it’s been 25 years. I remember the hoopla around the 20th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s release and thinking how long ago that seemed - before I was born, at that point. Now 25 years seems like a blip. I was already out of college. And now I’m trying to create a little hoopla for a deserving album I love.
Columbia - CK 67421
Unfortunately, I was pretty oblivious at the time Honeysuckle Strange came out, like a lot of folks were. I wasn’t living under a rock. I was playing on High Street a lot at the time. But I was a pretty insular person in a pretty insular scene - and not as open-minded as I'd become. I remember hearing Howlin’ Maggie had been signed and thinking (not for the last time when a Columbus band got signed), “who?” In fairness, they’d only been together just under a year before being signed - not too shabby.
There’s a suspiciousness around artistic success in Columbus, for whatever reason. That midwestern humility thing. Like after a gig, when someone comes up and says, “Wow, that was great! Where are you guys from?” “Oh, here in town,” and their excitement dissolves. “They’re from Columbus AND I’ve never heard of them - I must be drunker than I thought.” I mean, Dave Grohl puts Happy Chichester’s name on the front cover of a magazine with a rave inside comparing him to Gerry Rafferty and explaining he asked Happy to join the Foo Fighters, and the best our local press can come up with is “Apparently there’s a magazine called “Classic Rock.” I mean, maybe he never browsed the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble, but I can't pretend to be that hip.
I don’t know if it’s still this way, but it seems like there was always a pretty competitive and cliquey thing going on in the Columbus music scene. As if there was a finite amount of success to go around and one band’s success was sapping other bands of their potential success. I mean, you can go right down the line with bands that have signed or developed a large fan base and see the critical backlash. Even bands with cred above reproach have a consensus that their independent stuff is better. Maybe it’s true, but I’ve always felt this is why the great Columbus music scene has never developed a “sound.” If you think of cities that have developed a sound, whether it’s San Francisco in the ’60s, Athens in the ’80s, or Seattle in the ’90s, there was a camaraderie, mutual respect, and musical incestuousness largely absent here. Maybe it's better not to have a sound. But I digress.
The first time I saw the Howlin' Maggie Alcohol video was in a hotel room in Nuremberg Germany in 2000ish (see "late to the party" above). We checked in, flipped on the tube, and turned to the only thing we could understand, MTV Europe. There was a slice of our hometown while we were thousands of miles from home. I'd later get lost trying to get back to the hotel after spending the evening drinking German beer and watching hockey at the Nuremberg Arena. Still love that song.
Honeysuckle Strange is eclectic - probably too eclectic for mass popularity. You’ve got catchy rockers like Alcohol and I’m A Slut, but you also have thrashing irony in Promise To Be Happy - replete with horns! Acoustic introspection and killer melody with cello and oboe on You Are. The brooding paranoia of Motel Room. This was the first full showcase of Happy’s songwriting and musical vision, and it’s impressive. I happen to agree with Dave Grohl that Happy is one helluva underrated songwriter.
But it’s not just the Happy show. The rhythm section of Jim Rico and Jerome Dillon handles every stylistic shift expertly, while somehow maintaining a consistent feel throughout. The drums sound fantastic on this record - check out the beat and fills on Alcohol. Dillon would go on to play with Nine Inch Nails and got a shout-out from Trent Reznor when they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. And this album is a showcase of guitarist Andy Harrison’s playing and monster tone. It's a veritable guitar fest. Whether it's the sick riffing on Alcohol or psychedelic sheets of sound on Miss Universe, Harrison is excellent throughout. He juxtaposes crushing riffs with harmonics on Rubbing The Industry Raw and then rips a stellar lead. Listen to this album and it will make you miss electric guitar if you don’t already.
It’s hard to know why Honeysuckle Strange didn’t catch on. Easy To Be Stupid was released on the Beautiful Girls soundtrack (a movie Happy briefly appears in) and, at least locally, radio seemed to focus more on that song. Happy would go on to buy out the second album under contract and self-release it. And he coulda been in the Foos, but he’s probably happier now and still making great music for us fans in the know to enjoy in intimate venues. Anyone got a vinyl copy of Honeysuckle Strange they wanna sell me?
1 Miss Universe
Trumpet, Guitar – Randy Sanders
Congas – Roberto Arnau
3 Rubbing The Industry Raw
4 Promise To Be Happy
Trumpet – Randy Sanders
6 You Are
Cello – Keith Nicholas
Oboe, Choir – Heather Russell
8 How The West Was Won
Backing Vocals – Marc Becker
Vocals [Diva] – Greg Dulli
9 Motel Room
11 Long Live Doug (Standing)
Phonographic Copyright (p) – Sony Music Entertainment Inc.
Copyright (c) – Sony Music Entertainment Inc.
Manufactured By – Columbia Records
Published By – La La Ltd.
Art Direction – Sara Rotman
Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals – Jim Rico
Booking – Frank Riley
Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals – Jerome Dillon
Guitar, Backing Vocals – Andy Harrison
Legal – Bill Berrol
Management – Doug Goldstein
Mastered By – Bob Ludwig
Mixed By – Matt Wallace, Niko Bolas (tracks: 5)
Photography By – F. Scott Schafer
Producer – Harold Chichester, Marc Becker (tracks: 3, 4, 6 to 9, 11), Matt Wallace (tracks: 1)
Vocals [Singing], Guitar, Keyboards – Harold Chichester
Written-By – H. Chichester (tracks: 1-7, 9, 10)