The Baseball Project - Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon, Peter Buck, Mike Mills with The Minus 5 (featuring Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck) w/ special guest - Dressy Bessy
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The Baseball Project — 3rd
Scott McCaughey (Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Percussion, SF Giants)
Steve Wynn (Vocals, Guitars, New York Yankees)
Linda Pitmon (Drums, Percussion, Vocals, Minnesota Twins)
Peter Buck (12- and 6-string Guitars, Fender VI Bass, Banjo, Washington Senators)
Mike Mills (Bass, Vocals, Atlanta Braves)
“That’s the true harbinger of spring,” legendary baseball impresario Bill Veeck once opined, “not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on the ball.” This year there’s another welcome sign that spring is on the way, that baseball is about to resume its rightful place on the national stage, and that all will once again be right with the world: the new album from The Baseball Project, 3rd, hits the streets a week before the opening day of the 2014 season.
Formed in 2007 by Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5, R.E.M.) and Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, Gutterball), The Baseball Project began as a way for a couple of fans to pay musical tribute to our national pastime — and maybe score some free baseball tickets in the process. But The Baseball Project has since blossomed into a full-fledged, much-loved band in its own right, one which currently includes drummer Linda Pitmon (Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, Zuzu’s Petals) and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Mike Mills on its official roster, and one whose following and creativity has steadily grown with each release and tour. Along with 17 ace new songs about baseball, 3rd also showcases the band’s musical muscle in ways that 2008’s Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails and 2011’s Volume 2: High and Inside only hinted at.
“I think this album most represents us as a rock band,” says Wynn. “Both how well we play together, and how long we’ve been playing together in The Baseball Project and in other configurations over the past 30 years. You can really feel it on this record — baseball or no baseball, it’s just a good rock record.”
3rd is a damn fine rock record, one which approaches the grand old game from a variety of intriguing angles. True legends of the game (“The Babe,” “They Don’t Know Henry,” “A Boy Named Cy”) share the lineup alongside humorous and heartfelt salutes to lesser-known players like “Pascual on the Perimeter,” which recalls the time Atlanta Braves pitcher Pascual Perez got lost on the way to a game at his own team’s ballpark, and “Larry Yount,” which salutes the older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount, who hurt himself throwing a warm-up pitch during his first and only MLB appearance.
Those with less than savory legacies are present on 3rd, as well. World Series hero and convicted felon Lenny Dykstra gets nailed in “From Nails to Thumbtacks,” while “13” skewers disgraced slugger Alex Rodriguez, and “They Played Baseball” rattles off a whole rogues gallery of major league stars with all-too-human foibles. 3rd contains songs written from the perspective of the stat geek (“Stats,” where the lyrics consist entirely of legendary baseball numbers), the collector (“The Baseball Card Song”) and the diehard Dale Murphy fan (“To the Veterans Committee”). There’s even a song about that infamous 1974 game where Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis tried to bean the entire Cincinnati Reds lineup (“The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads”).
“We don’t have any rules about what constitutes a baseball song,” McCaughey explains. “It can be anything from a character study of an obscure guy from the 1920s, to something that just happened, to something completely ridiculous like ‘Extra Inning of Love,’ which takes the baseball-as-love metaphor and tries to stretch it as far as it will go. They can be fictional songs or non-fictional songs. The great thing with baseball is, we’ll never run out of things to write about!”
3rd ends with a rousing version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” the Tin Pan Alley classic that The Baseball Project has performed during numerous seventh-inning stretches at major and minor league ballparks across the country. While McCaughey’s not sure what actual present-day players think of the band, The Baseball Project has found a deeply receptive audience amongst baseball writers, broadcasters and team executives.
“A lot of the assistant GMs or PR people for baseball teams are of the age where they could have been fans of The Dream Syndicate or the Fellows or R.E.M.,” explains McCaughey. “Over the years, they’ve gotten up to having a cool job, and they hook us up. It’s panned out pretty well,” he says, citing behind-the-scenes tours at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Boston’s Fenway Park among his favorite Baseball Project-related experiences.
“We have a lot of fun in this band,” adds Wynn. “All five of us have had plenty of thrills in music over the years, and experienced things we couldn’t have imagined when we were twenty years old, but this band is a whole different thing. When I was making music in the basement as a kid, I had thoughts of maybe someday playing the Whisky A Go Go, or getting played on the radio — but I never imagined getting to throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field!”
The Minus 5 – a brief compendium: Scott McCaughey. Charioteer, optometrist, master brewer, or corpse? The blatherers rage on. What HAS been established is that “McCoy” is long addicted to rock’n‘roll and its various sidekicks, at great expense to family and friends. To wit: Young Fresh Fellows (1983 to present) — songwriter, singer, instrumentalist; The Minus 5 (1993 to present) — songwriter, singer, instrumentalist; R.E.M. (1994 to present) — instrumentalist; Tuatara (1996 to present) — instrumentalist, songwriter
With these groups, Scott has made many records (best seller: 5 million; worst seller: 450), and played many shows (highest attendance: 125,000; lowest: 8). “McOi” is always available and enthusiastic when it comes to these activities. In fact, there have been many other bands that have “benefited” from Scott’s talents (first documented stage appearance: 1972, with Vannevar Bush & His Differential Analyzers). A complete discography may never exist, but for more information see Guy With A Pencil – McCaughey’s Odyssey In Song (Dalkey Archive, Normal IL, 2002).
Thee Minus 5 itself started when McCaughey realized he had a dumptruck-load of songs that the Young Fresh Fellows would either never get around to, or would wisely choose not to. His friends and fellow Seattle-ites Peter Buck, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer were quick to volunteer to help Scott capture his “Let The Bad Times Roll” vision, and these early sessions produced The Hello EP and Old Liquidator. Many other luminants have since joined the ranks of the Minus 5 (see list below). It’s a bit like a cancer, really.
the minus 5 vs. wilco – historical background Uncle Tupelo opened for the incredibly popular Young Fresh Fellows once at the Off Broadway in St. Louis, 1988. There was an undeniable musical kinship between the bands (since denied) despite the fact that Jeff was 14 and Scott was 40. Years later other things happened. Peter Buck produced Uncle Tupelo’s beautiful March 16-20, 1992 album. Every so often Scott and Jeff Tweedy would find themselves at their wife’s house in Chicago, playing each other records and new stuff their bands had recorded. On a night off on R.E.M.‘s 1995 world tour, Jeff learned a bunch of the songs off of Old Liquidator, and played a set with Scott and Peter at the fabled and much-missed Lounge Ax. Somewhere along the line Tweedy and McCaughey started talking about the desire to record together, and they kept talking about it, though nobody listened.
After a Golden Smog show in Seattle, Jeff, Scott and Barrett Martin recorded a new Minus 5 song “Childhood Lament” (which resides carelessly on the unreleased Let The War Against Music Begin Vol. 2 album). Wilco toured with R.E.M. in 1999. McCaughey regularly contributed moogerfooger banjo to “Misunderstood.” Backstage in Munich came the Tweedy/McCaughey/Buck anthem: “Lyrical Stance (I’ve Got A).” Later, in Toronto, Scott and Jeff penned “The Family Gardener” and recorded a rough version of the song with Brian Paulson in a Raleigh, NC Holiday Inn. In January 2000, a two-week celebration of Lounge Ax (finally being evicted from its longtime home) brought Scott to Chicago to perform a set of new material, with no rehearsal, and featuring Wilco as the Minus 5. This set has been widely bootlegged. Ha!
great moments in the minus 5 Yes, there have been many, but this hardly seems the time or the place to go into them.
great moments in scott mccaughey (in order) 1. SM weds singer/anthropologist Christy McWilson April 27, 1980. That night they go to see Roy Loney & The Phantom Movers at the Inn Of The Beginning in Cotati, CA. 1. October 1994 finds SM performing with R.E.M. on Saturday Night Live and consorting with Bill Murray and Chevy Chase. In a fashion. Chase has a flask of whiskey in suit pocket; McOi makes note of this. Later gives Chase unsolicited, in depth, and quite favorable review of Cops And Robbersons. 3. Young Fresh Fellows first concert, opening for Sun Ra at the Rainbow Tavern in Seattle WA, Dec. 1983. SM buys mysterious vinyl album (which features Pharoah Sanders) from Mr. Ra himself in dressing room. 3. School lunch “sermon”; jail time. 4. March 2001 – M5 performance of “You Don’t Mean It” on Conan O’Brien. 1. SM plays the vibraphone, with R.E.M., backing Neil Young on “Ambulance Blues,” two nights running at the Bridge Concerts, Oct. 1999. 1. Scott & Christy’s children invent a real robot, Kyle. 1. T. Rex / Poco / Doobie Brothers bill at Winterland, 1972. 2. YFF in-store at Tower Records Shibuya Tokyo Japan. Members of Japanese band the Circus Posters attend, perform private concert of YFF songs for SM. 2. 1998: SM writes magnum opus “There Is No Music”, records both YFF and M5 versions, shitcans them both. 2. Young Fresh Fellows conquer Spain, like Cortez. Spanish insist on yearly conquerings from 1992 to present. Occasional complying results. Callemacha = red wine + Coca Cola. 3. SM and Mike Mills play keyboards on “Mindtrain” with Yoko Ono at the Crocodile in Seattle, 1998. Yoko totally digs SM’s scene. And vice versa. 11. March 2001 – M5 performance of “You Don’t Mean It” on Conan O’Brien.
down with wilco – first person account abbreviated, by scott mccaughey “I am driving by airports practicing retrieval of you.” With this message from Jeff “Parfumery” Tweedy, I knew that I was finally headed to Chicago to start working on a long-discussed collaboration with Jeff and his bandmates in Wilco. And it was a heartfelt and nobel convergence as Jeff, John, Glenn, Leroy and I submarined ourselves into SOMA Studio Chicago with grande pianos, Mike Jorgensen, and free-cone resonance on Monday, Sept. 10, 2001. The next day was not good though. With heavy hands and troubled minds, sounds so still and confused were cordoned off that week onto whirring reels. It seemed like all we could do. On Saturday all manner of cookery was lasered from studio to Abbey Pub tabernacle and we foisted eight of the nine songs we had managed to magnetize in the preceding blur of days. The new Wilco then displayed its mighty bench press for the first time. The crowd was tattered, thirsty, ready to be barked at for some precious hours of musical release and friendship guzzling.
Two months later Ashleigh Banfield produced five or seven more tracks at SOMA. She really did. Rebecca Gates planted a tree in the sidewalk. “The Days Of Wine And Booze” was the last song. Jeff was slumbering in a bad virus and wouldn’t let me leave without rolling the song up in the piano carpet.
Back in Seattle, at a pile of logs in the Bastard District, regularge M5ers jumped to interject. Indeed they could, handily, in the shapes of Peter Buck, Minister of Tar, and Kenneth Stringfellow, Cautionary Extract. It was hardly a surplus that Charlie Francis, Christy McWilson and Sean O’Hagan would llama themselves in, reprising reprievious stints. People feel sorry for me and will take an hour to cudgel me when asked.
On a stealthy and miserable Mission to London, I smuggled in an analog hard drive. Charlie made sure the mixes were crenellated. By keeping Howlin’ Wolf a prisoner in the car, driving by Abbey Road tabernacle every day, and making the birds sing on cue, the whisky turned to stone so it would be there always, like a Harry Nilsson demo.
One year later, you hold the frothy ale in your tankard. Or is that simply a diagram of a cow, with #30 designating brisket?
recommended reading (complete the following novels to enjoy “down with wilco” to its fullest) The Third Policeman — Flann O’Brien; Gargantua and Pantagruel — Francois Rabelais (trans. Raffel); Ulysses — James Joyce; Wittgenstein’s Mistress — David Markson; Cruddy — Lynda Barry
recommended listening (these should be listened to at all times, including before, during, and after “down with wilco”): Bill Fay — Bill Fay / Time of the Last Persecution; Howlin’ Wolf — Memphis Days; Nick Lowe — “Basing Street”
recommended eating a soda cracker and a peanut
Dressy Bessy was formed in 1997 in Denver, Colorado, during a chance meeting between singer Tammy Ealom, bass player Rob Greene and original drummer, Darren Albert. Soon after, The Apples in stereo guitarist John Hill joined the band. 1999 saw the release of the Dressy Bessy’s critically acclaimed debut Pink Hearts Yellow Moons, immortalized in director Jamie Babbit’s indie classic film “But I’m A Cheerleader.”
2003's Dressy Bessy caught the ear of John Peel resulting in a Dressy Bessy performance at the BBC for Peel's legendary Peel Sessions. In 2005, Ken Tucker reported for NPR on Dressy Bessy’s Electrified album in a head-to-head review with Coldplay’s X&Y. Tucker proclaimed Dressy Bessy a "much more effective pleasure machine...”