"Recollections (Redux)" is a colorful collision between early Genesis and Zappa: adventurous, jazz-flecked, elemental, chamber music fusing psychedelic and progressive moves into one fascinating whole.
OHO? Aha! That's a name that rings bells. Baltimore's answer to Pink Floyd, an American underground icon, a band that came out of nowhere playing music the chroniclers swore was years ahead of its time. OHO sneaks around the musical conventions that have mummified so many others, unleashing sliders where you'd expect curve balls, fast balls where you'd expect change-ups. Part of its their sense of humor, part of it their unerring humanity. A curious anomaly, the band was totally out of synch with current musical trends when they formed in late 73, a five-piece multi-instrumental, avant garde, acid-progressive band from Baltimore with a do-it-yourself lifestyle and album/label/outlook who were either seven years too late or seventeen years too early. They remain enigmatic, but certainly made some daring music in their time. Like the Residents, these guys seem to be an artistic collective of some sort having released albums, a single, various tapes and literature demonstrating their own demented aesthetic. OHO is one of those curious oddball bands who existed in the pre-dawn of the independent label revolution. Definitely, one of a kind and all in good fun...its got to be.
The story begins around 1970 at a Baltimore club called "Bluesette." Mark O'Connor, Joe O'Sullivan and Jay Graboski played there in a group known as Quinn, setting a pattern for the next quarter century and beyond. "Blues was the thing then," remembers Mark O'Connor," and the bands were doing Taj Mahal, I-IV-V chords all night and jamming. We were playing early Edgar Winter, originals and whatever we liked. So even in an alternative club we were outsiders, and we've been going against the grain ever since." In 1971 Mark, Jay, Jay's brother/drummer Jeff and Trent Zeigen formed Little Hans, a gothic-progressive quartet featuring two keyboardists, guitar and percussion. The band recorded an epic 42 minute rock fantasy based on the Peter Pan story and a trio of songs engineered by Richard Kunc, former Director of Engineering for Frank Zappa's Bizarre-Straight record label. Mark left after a year and a few months later Little Hans disbanded.
In 1973 O'Connor with friends Steve Heck and Joe O'Sullivan began a period of crazed experimentation that would lead to their most infamous incarnation. Retiring to O'Sullivan's basement, they delved into what O'Connor describes as "really chaotic stuff, just making noise, total nihilism. We had no intention of recording, it was just a release from boredom." Taking the three initials of their last names, they called themselves OHO.
Soon the guys were putting music to a stack of free-form poetry they had written, and as things became more seriously non-serious, Jay Graboski and fusion drummer Larry Bright were invited to join. OHO was the combination of several individuals intertwined before and since in various ways. This latest collaboration resulted in a debut album that people are still reacting to.
"Okinawa" is OHOs first album now available as a 4-10" vinyl set so strong it comes in a metal box. Recorded in January 1974, it is astonishingly full of weirdness that falls somewhere in Syd Barrett-era Floydland: some psychedelia, some art noise, some bizarre theatrics; but all-around inventive and well crafted. OHO combined the theater-rock-dialogue format of Genesis with the crazed-rock styles of "Wild Man" Fischer and Capt. Beefheart. Musically more progressive than psychedelic, an hour of "Okinawa" and you'll be carried away, via a weird pastiche of post-Zappa logic and Christopher Milk-like Anglo worship, to the tangerine jungle of marshmallow madness. Germany's Hanf magazine called it "Sgt. Pepper's for the advanced listener." The record was released in July, 1974 to less than enthusiastic response, offending the conservative Baltimore community with its rawness and disregard for convention. "Okinawa" was one of the first albums released independently by an American band in the '70s. The group went through a series of harrowing experiences with individuals who said they could sell the album and ended up giving most of them away, relegating the original edition of this great album to its current staple status on the collector circuit where it usually commands a substantial minimum bid.
In June, 1974 OHO disappeared into Sheffield studios to record the follow-up, "Vitamin OHO", a different teapot of mackerel. "Vitamin" is a colorful collision between Henry Cow and Henry VIII, adventurous, jazz-flecked, elemental, chamber music fusing psychedelic and progressive moves into one fascinating whole. More acceptably prog-complex than its forerunner, this disc still has enough screw-loose guitar, Canterbury-odd lyricism, and genial psychedelic whatsis to make a aurally arresting piece of a sonic puzzle that's slowly coming together. "Vitamin OHO", released in 1991 on Little Wing, has enough mellotron, synths and Frippian guitar work to satisfy the most discerning prog-rock fan and is reminiscent of the days when albums were visits to miniature cerebral universes.
These psychotic eruptions from the hinterlands of Towson either put Baltimore on the map or removed it entirely. In 1974, during the "Vitamin OHO" sessions, the group met with Paul Rieger who recorded OHO in various basements for a university radio program. In '75 Rieger introduced the band to producer Thomas Apple who had ironically made a small fortune by investing in the wrong company at the right time. Under the Apple auspices the band recorded the tracks that comprise the final installment of the OHO album trilogy, "Dream of the Ridiculous Band." Though these sessions '75-'76 were uncharacteristically distinguished by the band's often forced acquiescence to the taste and whim of an outside producer, O'Connor credits Apple with revitalizing the band financially, attracting prospective recording contracts with A&M and Capitol records respectively both of which OHO charmed their way out of. There were more live performances with the quintet playing city fairs, outdoor rock festivals, the occaisional college concert and anywhere anyone would allow them to perform. "OHO was incredibly interesting," recalls Paul Rieger, "just way ahead of their time. They played The Steel Workers' Hall and it was a disaster because no one knew what was going on...There'd be someone onstage dressed like a pig carrying an axe or even crucified. Later, they started getting more serious, working hard on the music and getting standing ovations which was unheard of. Back then very few local bands were using synthesizers and mellotrons." OHO's garage-progressive iconoclasm ran four years ahead of the new wave. They were called everything from proto-punk "space toads" to the strangest American band since The Residents.
"Vitamin OHO" and "Dream of the Ridiculous Band" reveal OHO as a highly competent progressive band with hints of Crimson, Genesis and Grobschnitt: a very un-American sound. Like contemporaries Happy The Man, they were inventive, with accents on complex structures, unusual time signatures, dynamics and the exceptional interplay among the two guitarists Joe O'Sullivan & J.P. Graboski, keyboard whiz Mark O'Connor, bassist Steven Heck ,aka Nuna, and drummer "Gentleman" Jeff Graboski (aka Spink). "Ecce OHO", a collection of heretofore unavailable alternates and out-takes, features this line up. These selections from '74-'75 incorporate 6 studio tracks, 3 live-in-concert tracks and one four track, Paul Rieger recording.
By early '77, entropy had OHO in tow. Wanting funds and enthusiastically bankrupt, the group was unable to sustain the previously successful fusion of five creative and volatile personalities. David Reeve replaced Jeff Graboski in providing the band with its beat (Jeff died in September, 1987). A fourth aborted album, "OHO House", was intended to move toward a more basic style of music with straightforward arrangements. A handful of songs (including "Trick Or Treat?" featured on this downloadable compilation) were begun before things fell apart, with "Nazi Hund" and cassette recordings of pre-practice jams being the most remarkable. Mark O'Connor muses, "We never had a lot of high artistic notions about the whole thing. When people didn't like the music it wasn't 'we are artists,' it was just 'piss off.' We only cared about having a good time." By then the good times had been had...for the time being.
Jay and Mark continued to play through the new wave in Dark Side, Trixy & The Testones and Food For Worms but each of these bands is subject enough for a story of its own. The 1984 version of OHO recorded "Rocktronics", a 7 song EP produced by Jack Heyrman and WIYY DJ Ty Ford for the former's Clean Cuts records. The line-up consisted of Mark O'Connor, Jay Graboski and David Reeve from the original band, with frontman Gyro and bassist Mike Kearney from the Balkan-Bop band, Food For Worms. Roctronics' OHO was a snappy electronic group which blended new wave sensibilities before a deftly textured musical backdrop. Discouraged with the direction in which the band was being taken, O'Connor resigned. Graboski and Reeve left with the name six months later. They retired to Hit & Run studio in Rockville, MD, where over the next four years they wrote and recorded their next LP. The OHO moniker became synonymous with the word persistence.
In 1990, the eponymously entitled "OHO", released on Sky Records based in Norcross, GA, Recorded at 'Hit and Run Studio',imaginatively explored the affect of post-acoustic guitars...warily, with acid-folk edginess and trademark lyrical unpredictability. Combining Grace Hearn's stellar, unwavering vocals, bassist/engineer Steve Carr's crystalline production, Jay Graboski's assiduous songwriting and David Reeve's muscular rhythms, "OHO" encompasses elements of rock and progressive pop within impressively intricate arrangements and was listed as an "editors' choice" for 1990 in CD Review (06/91 Vol. VII Number 10). Three selections feature Jay's employment of the unorthodox, new-standard, C Pentatonic guitar tuning (C-G-D-A-E-G, from the lowest to the highest string) introduced to him by Robert Fripp in November 1985 at Guitar Craft VII near Charles Town, WV. Graboski, who has been experimenting with this tuning in his playing and songwriting ever since, remembers Fripp as having "very little respect for" the old standard tuning, calling it "an arbitrary botch."
In 1991 OHO signed with Little Wing Of Refugees based in Kastl, Germany. The label was founded in 1988 as "an answer to all the counterfeit rubbish that overflows the market," to the purpose of giving a wider audience the chance to hear great records that might be unaffordable for most as originals and unheard up to now because of their rarity. Little Wing records and compact discs were produced very carefully. Cover art and graphics were conceived in an early seventies tradition and necessary efforts are taken to guarantee the highest fidelity while remaining true to the intended sound of the master source. The label dedicated itself to the release of important but lost music of the seventies. Through the relentless persistence of label rep Ann Neumayer and the generous enthusiasm of its label owners, Rene & Gerlinda Dzaack, Refugees revealed the scope of their vision for 70s OHO music by releasing "Vitamin OHO" in 1991 and reissuing "Okinawa" in 1995 (also on vinyl and for the first time along with the previously unreleased balance from the original 1974 session masters); and "ECCE OHO" on CD in 1998, several thousand copies of which were included as part of a collaborative band/magazine/label promotional campaign in issue #28, the Summer/Fall 1998 edition of the quarterly music journal, Progression magazine. "Dream Of The Ridiculous Band", still marinating in its own juices, awaits its initial release (until then, 5 selections from this unreleased album are available at CD Baby, contained in the "Recollections Redux" OHO compilation). From July 1995 through mid-1997, Mark O'Connor, Steven Heck, Joseph O'Sullivan, Jay Graboski and David Reeve reunited for occasional performances after an eighteen year pause for the worthy cause. The 2002 OHO Music (OM052) edition of "Recollections" was also included as a CD bonus in Progression magazine #41, in the Fall 2002 issue.
In March 2008 OHO released their retrospective 2 disc CD/DVD "Bricolage" (available at CD Baby), an ambitious housecleaning consisting largely of previously unreleased sonic and video material (culled from their 1983-2008 "Mach III" phase), dominated by stunning female vocalization with tough lyrical musings, abundant hook-laden melodies, and intriguing arrangements of their jubilant, jangly folk/prog/rock.
21st Century OHO continues to play locally off and on as a trio consisting of keyboardist/vocalist, Ray Jozwiak, drummer/percussionist/vocalist, David Reeve, and guitarist/vocalist, Jay Graboski. In 2009 the band began work recording their proposed 50+ minute suite of new material, "AHORA!" And as "imagination stretches to match the long reach of time," look for it sometime after 2016. More at www.OhoMusic.com.
Notes on the tunes:
(Tracks 3-15 from 1974-1976)
1) "Arclight" (Graboski)-(2010) an example of the music born of Guitar Craft experiences (1985-2005). We trust this will suffice as a satisfying example of the way OHO music has been affected by our involvement with and within GC. Robt. Fripp called it “A good piece of work.” Jay's parts (in 3, 4, 5, and in 7) were performed on a Martin Backpacker guitar.
Guitars: Matt and Jay Graboski
Drums/percussion: David Reeve
Fretless Bass: Bennett Davis
Violin: Sue Tice
Keyboards: Bill Pratt
2) “The Plague” (Graboski/O’Connor)-1974 vintage music tracks (from "ECCE OHO!") overdubbed in 2008 with the lead vocals and the acoustic guitarism of El Sledge, (Matt Graboski). “The Plague” (inspired by Albert Camus’ novel about the WWII invasion of North Africa) is Matt’s favorite OHO song. Check out the 2011 Bratt TV video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ9NUB90IDI or at www.rockadromerecords.com/tag/oho/ where videographer Bill Pratt married super 8mm film of a rare 1975 live OHO performance, (the only known existing OHO film) to more recent footage.
Guitars/lead vocal: Matt Graboski
Guitars: Joe O'Sullivan and Jay Graboski
Keys: Mark O'Connor
Drums: Jeffrey J. Graboski
Bass: Steve Heck
3) “Seldom Bought ”(GOHOG), “Lois Jane” (Graboski) and “Hogshead” (O’Connor & O’Sullivan) are presented here as “The Three” in segue, mimicking the way we played them in concert. All are found on "Vitamin OHO." Dreams served as hors d’oeuvres on oppositional platters prelude the dancing before the slaying begins. “Lois Jane”-ankle-socked babootchka fond of lime phosphate. Spat upon too often to maintain a sanitary institution, she was eventually evicted. “Hogshead”-the main dish served complete with ambulance (exorcist extra). Du hast schwein gehabt (“you’re lucky,” or literally: “you have had pig”)!
Guitars/vocals: Jay Graboski
Drums: Jeff Graboski
1st guitar: Joe O'Sullivan
Bass: Steve Heck
Keyboards/vocals: Mark O'Connor
4) “Tinker’s Damn” (Graboski)-We saw Genesis at the Eastwind in Baltimore, spring 1974, during their “Selling England” tour. One Guitar Craft aphorism reads: “If we wish to know, breathe the air around someone who knows.” Steve Hackett was sitting outside afterwards, sipping a Heineken. We tried to get close that we might breathe in the air around him. Inspired, I went home and composed this song. Yeah, it’s saturated with a lot of cool mellotron sounds. Please find it a fitting tribute to one of the best groups ever. It is the last track on "Vitamin OHO" (more on Guitar Craft at www.guitarcraft.com). (Personnel same as #3.)
5) “Parade/Charade” (Graboski/O’Connor)-Intended to open "Dream of the Ridiculous Band," the team travels through 12 different keys on the intro. Featured are some unusual time signatures and our trademark lyrically obtuse pontification. Epic in proportion, engineer and co-producer John Ariosa ran the entire mix through a prototypical delay device, the Marshall Time Modulator, the inventor of which (Mr. Marshall) used to hang at Sheffield Studio in Timonium, MD, where we recorded. (P...