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Watershed - Three Chords And A Cloud Of Dust - Live

Updated: Apr 15

Recorded at the Newport Music Hall, filled with photos of the venerable campus venue, and with a title alluding to Woody Hayes’ offense, Watershed’s first live EP may be the most Columbus of Columbus records. Although the release ended up being a hard lesson for Watershed about the machinations of major label contracts, Three Chords And A Cloud Of Dust remains a remarkable document of the band in its comfort zone and playing to its strengths.

Epic – EK 64221


Front cover of Three Chords And A Cloud Of Dust

According to Colin Gawel (guitar, vocals), the band considered naming the album Coach Hayes. “It’s a Columbus, Ohio thing. We’re all huge Buckeye fans,” Gawel is quoted in Steve Greenberg’s book I Remember Woody. “We still wear our Woody Hayes Block O hats on stage a lot of times.” Columbus cultural references appear throughout the CD’s design - from Th’ Flyin’ Saucers’ name on the gig flier, to ekoostik hookah on the Newport marquee, to the full page of thanks that includes virtually every Columbus venue, promoter, radio station, music store, and sports star right down to Coach Woody Hayes himself. "Being from Columbus, I guess we'd have to call the Ohio State Buckeyes an influence," Joe Oestreich (bass/vocals) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time.

Handbill for Watershed at Newport Music Hall January 14, 1994

Watershed’s break came when one of their promo packs eventually ended up in the tape deck of Jim Steinman’s (Meat Loaf) driver. Steinman dug it (“sounds like The Gin Blossoms but with balls”) and wanted to manage the band. After ultimately signing a management contract with Steinman’s manager, David Sonenberg (Spin Doctors, Fugees), Watershed got a deal with Epic Records. The band had a gig booked in December 1993 at Downtime in New York City. Epic Records president Richard Griffiths took a Concorde in from London and signed the band.

Watershed’s A&R rep at Epic, Frankie LaRocka, had partnered with Sonenberg on the Spin Doctors multi-platinum debut a few years earlier. The successful game plan with Spin Doctors was to release a live EP to promote while work was done on the studio album. On January 14, 1994, within a month of signing with Epic, Watershed recorded Three Chords at the Newport. And it is a live record. “We were left with a faithful rendition of how we played and sang that night: imperfectly live,” Oestreich notes in his excellent memoir Hitless Wonder. “We didn’t know enough yet to be worried that nobody at Epic had insisted we fake the live album.”

Newport marquee for Three Chords show.

Epic released Three Chords in the Spring of 1994. It gave Watershed something to promote as they continued relentless touring. The band’s management eased pressure on the group by advising that Epic wasn’t worried about sales of the EP. "We were a little nervous about that," Gawel told the Dispatch. "They promised they wouldn't care if Three Chords didn't sell well. Then, when it didn't, we could feel them pull back from us a little." Reviews were mostly positive:

Cloud of Dust is almost perfectly balanced between hard-driving, unadorned rock 'n' roll and admirably catchy power-pop. - Columbus Dispatch 5/26/94

Inside of Three Chords CD insert.

The live six-song EP is full of simple pleasures. The trio bashes out their, yes, three-chord tunes in stirring rock 'n' roll style with hooks that stick to your ribs like Aunt Sophie's meatloaf. - Chicago Tribune 8/19/94

One of the hippest record names ever. - San Antonio Express-News 5/16/95

Back of Three Chords CD insert.

Unless you’re really missing college frat life, stay away. - Chicago Reader 8/18/94

As I said, mostly positive. Truth be told, the Chicago Reader pretty much summed up where my head was at the time. I was fully ensconced in the South Berg jam-band scene in ‘94. But my respect for Watershed has grown a lot over time. My brother was always a fan, although he never pushed them much, and his buddy Todd Baker is their biggest fan. But I didn’t see them live until after their Epic years. Their style of “meat-and-potatoes” rock is way more up my alley now. Listening to this EP, a few things strike me - production-wise, it holds up well. It sounds great. Ted Jensen of Sterling Sound handled the mastering. The band is tight and the crowd response is incredible. The songs are catchy and they rock. Herb Schupp is an underrated drummer.

Watershed’s record contract included a clause that Epic couldn’t drop the band until eighteen months after their first release. In their minds, they were still working on their first release, the forthcoming Twister. Management and label staff had all downplayed the importance of Three Chords. Of course, from Epic’s point of view, the EP was the first release and that eighteen-month clock was already ticking. Watershed didn’t realize it at the time, but Epic was using Three Chords as a contractual hedge. By the time the full-length Twister was released in January ‘95, they’d have about six weeks to convince Epic to keep them.

Three Chords eventually spawned a sequel in 2007. The Spin Doctors ended up adding tracks to their first live EP and releasing it as a full album. I wonder if additional professional recordings from the 1994 Watershed show/tour exist...

Back of Three Chords tray card.

Companies, etc.
  • Copyright © – Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

  • Phonographic Copyright ℗ – Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

  • Manufactured By – Epic

  • Recorded At – Newport Music Hall

  • Mixed At – Acme Recording Studios

  • Mastered At – Sterling Sound

Three Chords CD

Ticket for Watershed at the Newport January 14, 1994

1994 press photo for Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust

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