The music scene in Hoboken has undergone tremendous shifts since people first began taking notice of the bands that came out of Maxwell’s – and perhaps no one has noticed that more than Glenn Morrow, who was there at the beginning.
Morrow, the guitarist and songwriter for the band the Individuals, not only befriended many of the bands that played out during the rising rock indie scene in Hoboken during the’80s; his band was the first to play the front room at Maxwell’s when infamous owner Steve Fallon began booking music.
Now, almost three decades later, long after the musicians involved in that early scene had moved onto other projects, Morrow and fellow members of The Individuals and the Wizards will play again at Maxwell’s on July 22.
The show is partially in honor of Maxwell’s 30-year anniversary, and was put together by the current co-owner of Maxwell’s, Todd Abramson.
“We had started playing [at Maxwell’s] early that summer when it started,” said Morrow, who was referring to his first band. Called simply the “a” band, it was formed with future members of the Bongos. “It’s interesting; so much time has gone by. Something happened back then at Maxwell’s. There was a certain group of people that Steve [Fallon] let in the door and we sort of found each other. Other people hear about it. People who have the same interests.”
The Hoboken sound
That “something” was a new music scene and a sound that came to be known as “the Hoboken sound.” Many of the musicians that Morrow met in the early eighties -the Bongos, the Cucumbers, the Feelies, the dBs – were part of the same peer group that all learned from each other, toured, and went on to sign record contracts.
“It was a very interesting, creative fun period and I did feel that there was almost this odd, indigenous sort of music that came out of it because we were all borrowing from each other,” said Morrow. “We had some shared interests and then we sort of traded licks and ideas, and came up with a bunch of stuff that was really pretty interesting.”
Long-time Hoboken resident Morrow first moved to town in 1977. He initially moved to an apartment at 1118 Hudson St., which also eventually became home for frontman Richard Barone, bassist Rob Norris, and drummer Frank Giannini, all members of the “a” band and future Bongos.
Morrow said that Hoboken in the ’70s was run-down, and he only thought to come here at first because of its close proximity to Manhattan.
According to Morrow, the “a” band was only together about a year.
“We spent a lot of time trying to find another guitar player – Rob, Frank and I did,” he said. “When we got Richard [Barone], we were like, wow, this guy gets it. We immediately knew that we found the right person.
We were maybe together one year. We played in Dover, at NYU, and then a bunch at Maxwell’s. And then we basically broke up right around that time.”
Yet, after that first show at Maxwell’s, a momentum was created and other musicians caught that wave. Morrow said that many musicians began migrating here including Chris Butler (The Waitresses), and Dave Schramm, who Morrow says was “one of the great guitar players in that whole scene” and played with everybody back then including Yo La Tengo.
“You had all these people who ended up moving here I guess because they felt the love,” he said.
After the “a” band split up, Morrow formed the Individuals which included lead guitarist Jon Klages, and the siblings Janet Wygal (bassist), and Doug Wygal (drummer).
Although the Bongos stayed together longer than the Individuals, who were only together four years, Morrow doesn’t regret his decision to form his own band.
“I really don’t think I would have fit into the Bongos – particularly where they went,” said Morrow about his former bandmates. “Richard [Barone] really had his own agenda and he thinks a certain way, but I learned a lot from him. He brought a lot to the material we were doing. We had a great time living in that apartment and arguing about the merits of John Lennon vs. Paul McCartney, turning each other on to music.”
Morrow said that every band has its own shelf life.
“There really is an arc to every band,” he said. “You create this body of work, maybe it is a little derivative in the beginning, but then you create your own sound. Then hopefully you get out onto the road and do the whole tour thing. Then if you don’t get picked up by a major label then you make an album yourself. At a certain point, if you are making enough money it becomes a job or you do something else to make money.”
He added, “The odds are really stacked against you to last longer than a few years. If you look at the bands that have lasted, Yo La Tengo for instance, at the heart of it there is a couple. Or Sonic Youth. A band usually has two people who somehow hold on to some kind of working relationship. For The Individuals, it was about four years.”
Re-releasing the music
The Individuals released two albums while they were together, the EP Aquamarine and full-length record Fields. At the reunion show, fans can relive those very special songs in the new CD that has all the songs from both records, plus bonus tracks.
Morrow says that the band was very much a collaborative effort, with all members of the band putting their spin on songs.
“I think some of our best stuff was when we were all throwing our mix into the songs,” he said. “‘Walk by Your House’ – that was a collaborative effort. It sort of all came in a flash. I get e-mails about that song all the time.” He says that he is also proud of the song “Our World.”
“That song structurally is one of the better songs that I wrote. It was about Hoboken and romance in the modern world,” he said.
During that time, Morrow said that Fallon was incredibly accommodating and allowed bands to practice in the back storage area – what would eventually become the legendary back room after Fallon built a stage.
“All of sudden there were all these people in Hoboken,” said Morrow about the ’80s, “when I would first mention it, people would eye me suspiciously and then one day something shifted. The switchboard moved from Cleveland to Hoboken. It was a community.”
He added, “Everything that was going on at Maxwell’s was great. REM came up from Georgia. They jammed with the Bongos one night. It was just a real sense of community. You were seeing things from your peer group and it was just really exciting.”
Producing the music
In 1986, Morrow was with the band called Rage to Live, who were signed with the Bar/None Records label, which was owned by Tom Prendergast.
“I had a band called Rage to Live and [Prendergast] put out our record, which was after the Individuals broke up and I realized, I’ve been out on the road and I thought maybe that isn’t how I want to spend my life. Obviously, I’m still really interested in music so I suggested to Tom that I become his partner in the business and I found the band They Might Be Giants.”
Morrow said that the music scene that began in Hoboken in the early ’80s eventually moved to other towns like Brooklyn.
“One of the first bands we signed at Bar/None was They Might Be Giants and at the time they were playing in Williamsburg,” said Morrow. “It was kind of like how Hoboken was when we first got here; it was kind of run-down and quiet. You know as Hoboken got more expensive and gentrified – you know it happened sort of gradually – and then you realized that none of your friends were living here anymore. They had taken it somewhere else.”
In addition to They Might Be Giants, Bar/None Records has produced hundreds of records for well-known bands including the popular Freedy Johnson, Yo La Tengo, Kate Jacobs, 10,000 Maniacs, The Health & Happiness Show, and others.
“Somehow the idea of promoting and managing seemed like that was the next thing that was going to interest me,” said Morrow about Bar/None Records. “And here it is, 22 years later. But it’s been great. As part of the label, we have to stay on top of trends and the hot new bands coming out. I can see this continuum from the time we started hanging out at CBGB and Maxwell’s and seeing how it evolved. It’s fun. I feel very grateful.”
Many of the musicians that Morrow once played with or knew in those early days at Maxwell’s, he eventually crossed paths with again.
“Through most of the ’80s there were people coming and going that were all sort of connected somehow,” he said, “either as roommates or working together or in bands, lovers or multiple variations of that. I remember once we did a grid – of work line, love line, roommate line. I think I have that somewhere.”
Morrow said that he was eventually able to regain the rights to the Individuals’ music, and he thought that the time was right to make a CD, particularly as the industry keeps changing with digital files and downloads.
“Gene Holder, who was our producer and also in the dBs, opened a mastering place right across the hall [from Bar/None], so it is kind of coming full circle,” he said. “We were really the first band he ever produced. It was kind of interesting that he would move across the hall and get to master a recording all these years later.”
Another musician who has stood the test of time for Morrow is Gene D. Plumber:
“The first night I came out to Hoboken to hear a band I saw Gene D. Plumber, who is still around. I think he won the game really, because he is still around and is still evolving as a musician. He never left the area, but he still has a following. He has consistently been able to do shows for years. I think that is substantial.”
Morrow says that while it’s been years since he played with the Individuals, he still keeps in touch with many of his friends from the early days.
“I was just up jamming with Rob [Norris] and we were all just sitting around playing songs,” he said. “The Feelies – it was really incredible seeing them. They really raised the bar as far as a reunion show. They had all these new songs, new tempos, it seemed like there were some new guitar parts and new covers. Really good.”
He said that he hopes that fans and the musicians who were a part of that era will enjoy the show and remember that particular time and place when the music scene in Hoboken first began.
“Well, I think it will be a great show. In some cases, there can be such a great sense of camaraderie like a high school or family reunion. I’m hoping that will be the case,” he said.
The music scene in the early ’80s was a special time, and Hoboken won’t ever be quite that way again.
“The day Don Brody died [in 1997] there was a real sense of – if there was an end to the first era in Hoboken, it was when Don died – because Maxwell’s at the time was in the throes of the brewpub era and it just felt like it was over,” said Morrow. “I really remember feeling that way at the time, and yet oddly, Maxwell’s reinvented itself.”
He added, “The restaurant got stronger and that gave it a sort of ability to survive. So yeah, I feel like Maxwell’s really revitalized itself when Todd came and I’m just so grateful to have it. I can still take that walk down the street and I’m there. There is always something good going on. You know, not every city or town has a Maxwell’s in it.”
The reunion show for the Individuals and the Wizards is on Tuesday, July 22 at Maxwell’s. The CD will be available the night of the show and is also available through the website: www.bar-none.com. For more information, call (201) 798-0406.
Comments on this story can be sent to Diana Schwaeble at firstname.lastname@example.org.