Music : Still sounding out
In 1969 Charlie Esposito was hanging out with a couple of friends in a Long Island basement recording strange noises, weird joke songs and generally just experimenting with sound: singing in slow motion and then changing the tape speed to make it sound normal; singing whole songs backwards, then flipping the tape to hear how they sounded played forward. It was all part of their mission to stretch the boundaries of music.
Timothy Maxwell, Charlie Esposito, and Duane Giesemann went on to form the catchy, smart, and at times startling band, TCD (the initials of each member's first name).
TCD was only well-known in New York music circles, and during the 70s, on the Island. But for those who saw them perform, they are remembered for their musicianship, stage antics, and unpredictability. Mr. Esposito's account of the band's musical journey leaves one eagerly anticipating TCD's upcoming performance at Che's Lounge.
He describes the circumstances that initiated the band's formation 30 years ago, explaining it involved an acoustic song Mr. Maxwell wrote that included a part for two tubas. Since there were no tubas to be had, the part was played by Mr. Maxwell on clarinet. "Coincidentally, I was at home writing this instrumental piano thing, and I wanted to add a clarinet part - I played clarinet in high school," Mr. Esposito says. "I was sitting there playing piano with one hand and the clarinet with the other hand and they knock on the door. Duane's holding a clarinet and I answer the door with my clarinet. So I'm like -'What the hell?' - and they say 'Hey! We got this song for two tubas but we'll do it with two clarinets.' We learned the song and played it for hours at this hamburger place to anyone who came by."
The three went on to play in New York City artists' lofts, coffee shops, private parties, clubs, and yes, even train stations: impromptu performance-art guerrillas playing gigs everywhere.
Their songs and sound could be compared to the more playful Beatles songs or experimental Beach Boys. Their instrumentation includes acoustic guitar and drums, but makes good use of strange keyboards, ukulele, clarinet, which often form tight barbershop harmonies. Their unique sound is combined with witty delivery, to make listeners realize the joke being played on their preconceived notions.
Photo courtesy of Charlie Esposito
"We'd play our songs but we'd also do this kind of theater stuff and performance-art stuff too. We'd act out scenes from '2001 Space Odyssey,' or all of a sudden all three of us would go into this skipping record thing," Mr. Esposito says.
"It was 1969, and a lot of people were doing a lot of drugs when they were watching us. So we'd freak people out sometimes. We did the skipping record thing for 10 minutes and this guy just got up and ran."
In 1975, the three band members moved from New York to Martha's Vineyard, and recorded an album's worth of songs with Mr. Esposito's two-track recording machine.
TCD has recorded hours and hours of songs but has never released an album. Through the years, the band has turned down opportunities that would have provided them with more success, but they felt would have sacrificed their control as artists, even turning down a deal with Columbia Records.
The group developed an avid following on the Island during the 70s. They performed at the Tabernacle, played regularly at the Seaview, Katharine Cornell Theatre, and Artworkers Guild.
Again, Mr. Esposito recounts the tale: "At the Artworkers Guild, we decided we were going to do the whole piece ourselves. Timmy was the ticket seller, so he would ask you if you wanted the regular seats, the expensive seats, or the cheapo seats. Then it was announced during the show that you had gotten the cheapo seats, and you were ridiculed for the entire show. Duane and I were the ushers. Once the show started, we changed our outfits and became TCD."
After 10 years, in 1979, TCD went their separate ways. Mr. Esposito focused on his work in his recording studio, playing occasionally with bands like The Strangemen and later Kahoots. Recently they have come together again, reuniting at the June 7 wedding that united Mr. Esposito and Rebecca Wilson.
Their upcoming performance at Che's Lounge is sure to be filled with the barbershop harmony, clarinet riffs, ukulele strumming, and "Hard Days Night" highjinks that they are so fondly remembered for.
TCD will perform at Che's Lounge on Main St. in Vineyard Haven, Saturday, July 12 at 7:30 pm. Supporting acts include Mike Mason and Adam Howl.
Colin Ruel is a singer/songwriter who writes regularly on music for The Times.