bacon, tacos, and ralph.

Bob Makin was a reviewer for The Aquarian, and one of the first local music writers we spoke to when making Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth.  We had a soft spot for him, because he was always good to us.  We never met him in person; despite inviting him to numerous shows, he never once came out.  

Some of our bands, though, really got frustrated by his reviews.

When we released “Suck My Heart,” Bob was kind enough to review the record in The Aquarian, but spent a lot of time guessing at what the song was about and suggesting other bands that Dromedary should work with.  Not as much time was spent reviewing the actual record.  The review went like this:

This is a reissue of a self-produced record released last year.  Since then, Melting Hopefuls have really grown on me.  Their odd, off-kilter, quirky, well-meaning, punchy pop offers lots to absorb both musically and lyrically.  I like to think “Suck My Heart” concerns bloodsucking rock stars whose core fans no longer can afford to go see them.  Whatever.  The multi-leveled/layered tune certainly is about the evils of money, particularly the negative effect it can have on a relationship.  The flipside is a space odyssey of the heard, augmented by Steve Miller-like effects; fuzzy, crunchy gits; fragile, haunting vocals, and cryptic albeit poignant lyrics.

It’s good to see that Dromedary Records survived their debut release, the excellent grassroots compilation Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth.  Melting Hopefuls were a smart first choice for a followup, not only because this material is great but because it was already pressed.  Now let’s see some investment in more New Jersey talent: The Play Trains, Gluegun, Godspeed, Whirling Dervishes, etc.

Bob was also pretty good at misinterpreting lyrics.  He reviewed a number of our records over the years, and would make statements on what certain songs were about – and be completely off-base.

Most notable, though, was the perception that Bob, in the “Makin’ Waves” column of  The Aquarian, never gave a bad review.  Since the “Makin’ Waves” column was exclusively local bands, and local bands always had some level of competition with each other, they’d constantly criticize Bob’s reviews.  The paper would come out on Thursday, and the conversation would go something like this:

“Can you believe Makin gave so-and-so such a great review this week?”

“I know, they suck!  They can barely play their instruments!”

Invariably, the conversation would become a criticism of Bob’s journalistic style – until, that is, Bob gave the critic a good review. If Bob gave your band a good review, he was suddenly all right.

Now, Footstone was the kind of band that always seemed to fly under the radar in New Jersey.  Even when we first started working with them, they had been playing together in clubs for four or five years, virtually unnoticed.  Meanwhile, they watched as marginal bands like Sweet Lizard Illtet, The Gefkens, and The Red House were fawned over by local music critics, often signed to larger labels, and ultimately fizzled out – while Footstone kept producing great music and playing amazing live sets.

Eventually, that stuff starts to grate on you.

Ralph would often joke that he was going to start writing a music column of his own; he was going to call it “Makin’ Bacon,” and every review he wrote was going to be a bad one.  He’d write the band name and album title, then underneath that he’d just write “Sucks,” or “Piece of shit,” or something like that.

In the spring of 1993, Ralph stopped by our apartment with a new, 3-song demo tape from Footstone.  We sat in our living room, talking for a while and having a few beers, and then he pulled the tape out of his pocket.

We popped it in and gave it a listen.

Of all the bands I’ve ever encountered in my life, Footstone is the only one that legitimately grew each time they went into the studio.  Given that they went into the studio a lot, their growth is easy to document.  Their early demos were straight ahead bar band music, with subtle hints of alt-rock in various places.  This latest session, however, was really the first group of Footstone songs that actually sounded like the band Footstone would eventually become.

At the time, most of their songs were pretty long, with instrumental passages that tended to drag and lyrics that were tough to figure out.  They’d come up with a fantastic hook, but then they’d play it sixteen times in a row until you were ready to rip out your hair, waiting for a chorus or a bridge or something.  We’d listen to the songs and think “Jesus, if they’d just cut two verses out of the song, it would be fantastic.”

This was a little different, though.  The songs were much better crafted, the guitars just a little more crunchy, the tempo just a little more aggressive than their past music. 

Unfortunately the tape I have of this music was pretty weak in quality to begin with, and after fifteen years it’s definitely gotten muddier.  But this song, called “Curtain,” is from that demo session – and probably could be called the first real Footstone song, as it’s the first one to hint at the band they’d become.

“What pisses me off, though, is that we’re going to send this demo in to The Aquarian and Makin’s going to ignore it, or give it the same review he gives every other band,” Ralph complained.

“You’ve got to let it roll off your back,” I said.

“Fuck that,” Ralph said. “I’ve got a better idea.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Flip the tape over,” he told me. Then, he handed me a cassette cover. I looked at it blankly for a second, and then looked up at him.

“Wop Taco?” I asked him, quizzically. The name written on the spine was Wop Taco. There was a crude logo drawn on the tape, a complete ripoff of the Van Halen logo with “WT” in Wop Taco drawn to look like the “VH” in Van Halen. The entire thing was written inside the shape of the Chevrolet logo.  The slogan written on the tape was “We Rock…You Rock…Iroc,” and the title of the tape was “Appetite for Construction.”

Ralph started laughing.

“What is this?” I asked.

The Footstone guys were close friends with a band called American Standard. AmStand were a pretty well-known band from the New York Hardcore scene who had evolved beyond straight hardcore and began playing some pretty heavy, aggressive, punk-tinged guitar rock.  Between the two bands were some of the funniest guys you’d ever want to meet, and they were constantly coming up with hysterical stories and in-jokes.

Some of the guys from Footstone and some of the guys from American Standard decided to get together and form a phony band, and give it the most ethnically offensive name they could think of. They wrote a handful of songs with lyrics that all poked fun of New Jersey’s Italian-American stereotypes. Ralph was the singer. I believe Mark was the bass player. I think Matt and J. from American Standard were the guitar player and drummer.

They recorded a handful of songs with titles like “Muscles Marinara,” “Bocce Ball,” and “Chains and Chesthair,” titled their demo Appetite for Construction and planned to send the demo to Bob Makin in hopes of running their own little disinformation campaign, to see how much buzz they could generate for a band that didn’t exist.

I had to say, it was a pretty funny idea. And the music was pretty solid. Not a bad band. Every song had a lyrical reference to some Italian-American tradition or stereotype.

I don’t know if Bob Makin ever wound up reviewing the tape, but I do know that they entered themselves into a Battle of the Bands at one of the local clubs.

At the Battle, I believe Footstone played as well.

Before Wop Taco took the stage, the guys snuck backstage and put on ski masks, so nobody could tell who they were. They came out onstage and played their songs. At one point during their set, they bought out bowls of cooked spaghetti and threw the spaghetti onto the crowd. At another point during their set, a pizza deliveryman showed up with a delivery for the band.

When the Battle was over, Wop Taco had won. If I remember the story correctly, Footstone wasn’t even considered. Nobody realized that it was a joke band, or that two members of Footstone were also in Wop Taco.

Jim Testa from Jersey Beat was at the show, and he took the bait. For a month or two after the Battle, he ran classified ads in The Aquarian that basically said “WOP TACO – WHERE ARE YOU? PLEASE GET IN TOUCH WITH JERSEY BEAT FOR AN INTERVIEW.”

The Wop Taco/Footstone/AmStand guys never responded. They simply let the band disappear. But it was one of the great laughs of the early ’90s for us. At various times over the years, Bill from American Standard (who has a label of his own, much more successful than Dromedary ever was) and I both talked about releasing the Wop Taco music – but nobody ever did.

So here’s some Wop Taco music. Because I have the tape. And anyone who was in, or close to, the “band” can feel free to flesh out the story in the Comments section. The pieces I remember are funny; the story in its entirety is even better.

This is, as far as I know, the only time these songs have ever been played beyond the handful of people who were aware of the joke. The fidelity of the songs is weak – it’s a 15-year-old cassette copy that was a poor copy to begin with.

The first song is “Gravy,” which has the best Dinosaur Jr. guitar riff that J. Mascis didn’t write, with the hysterical lyric “You don’t have to hold me down/to make me eat spaghetti/You don’t have to hold me down/to make me swallow gravy.”

The second song is “Bocce Ball,” which has Ralph yelling out some Italian phrases he got from his dad, with the song building to a crescendo with an oi-styled scream of “PLAY” as Ralph yells “You’ve got to learn/how to play/bocce ball!.”

This is brilliant shit.

~ by Al on February 1, 2009.

10 Responses to “bacon, tacos, and ralph.”

  1. Woptaco had Guy from Footstone playing lead guitar, not Matt from American Standard. But, Matt did join the band for the creation of one song, “John Gotti and the Manicotti Mosh” which was never recorded, after Guy left both Footstone and WopTaco.
    That battle of the bands show was at some club in Plainfield, NJ. Footstone was not on the bill. But we did piss off a really dedicated metal band who thought they deserved to win.
    We were also handed brooms to sweep up the pasta we tossed.

    The song “Curtain” just blew my mind. Haven’t heard that in 15 years.

  2. It’s awesome having Ralph reading along and checking facts.

    Thank you, sir. Another song from that session is coming up in the next week.

  3. I want to jam with Ralph. Just as long as he doesn’t throw spaghetti at me.

  4. […] Bacon, Tacos, and Ralph.  The absolutely hysterical story of Wop Taco, which has gotten twice as many views as any other […]

  5. […] Bacon, Tacos, and Ralph.  The story of how Footstone and American Standard formed the parody band Wop […]

  6. […] bacon, tacos, and ralph – the guys from Footstone and American Standard form a joke band called Wop Taco – […]

  7. […] Wop Taco may have recorded once more (I can’t remember, and keep forgetting to ask), and then its respective members went back to their “real” bands, Footstone and American Standard.  Over the years, there has been talk of releasing the Appetite for Construction sessions on CD, or even doing a Wop Taco reunion show, but it’s just never materialized. […]

  8. Guy, here. I was a little disappointed Appetite for Construction was never released. Seems like it had the potential to be a cult classic, but what do i know?
    So great that this history is out there! Thanks, Al.
    Someone just posted a picture of a folded slice of pizza, so i HAD to call it a wop taco. They didn’t get the joke. I found this article doing a quick google of wop taco to see what comes up. Wop is not a very common slur, but google still knows it!

    • Hey Guy! Sorry I’m just seeing this comment now. Hope you’re well!

      Back then, I wanted to put that record out SO BAD. I thought it was hysterical. But I just figured the AmStand guys were too big for Dromedary, and so I never really pushed for it.

      • Those songs are great. They need to find their way to the public. -Rico

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