ralph, mark, dave and eric.


I guess now is an appropriate time to write a bit about what was happening between us and Footstone.  There’s really not much point to this entry other than to try and articulate how important these guys became to us.  Even by mid-1993, our friendship with Footstone and our love of their music were two of the biggest reasons we enjoyed running the label so much.

As a soundtrack for Footstone 1993, here’s “Polaroid,” from the demo cassette Ralph gave me midway through the year.  Again, the fidelity is not tremendous, as this is from a 15-year-old cassette tape.

When we met Mark and Ralph from Footstone in late 1992, they had already been together as a band for much longer than most of the other bands on the compilation. Originally named Stickman, they got their start like a lot of bands, playing covers at parties and things like that, in the upscale town of Livingston, NJ. Unlike a lot of young bands that break up when the members attend college, the Stickman guys stayed local, and thus were able to stay together. It was also helpful that they were good friends.

When they realized that Stickman was not a particularly original name, they settled on Footstone. If I remember the story correctly, Ralph had a job digging graves, or working in a cemetary or something like that. A “footstone” is similar to a headstone, but it marks the foot of the grave. It was a pretty cool name for a band, and also gave them a nice logo opportunity in that they could rip off the Firestone logo.

The record release party for Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth was the first time I ever saw Footstone perform live (I describe their set here), and they surprised me.  Thing is, they really shouldn’t have surprised me – they had been together for a pretty long time at that point, and had quite a bit of practice.  They were loud and tight, and they sounded great all the time.

They were also funny as hell.

Footstone figures heavily into the story of Dromedary Records, mostly because of my friendship with Ralph and Mark.  From that first afternoon when we sat in the living room of our Lodi apartment to the final days of the label, it was rare that we made a decision without first talking with the Footstone guys, and we worked harder trying to promote Footstone to the indie community than we did with any other band.  

By the time Dromedary went on “hiatus,” Footstone had written two of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard.  Their breakup was an even bigger heartbreaker to me than some of the stories you’ll read on this blog throughout February and March, and Ralph’s return to New Jersey and subsequent founding of the band Stuyvesant was one of the highlights of running an indie label for me, even though Dromedary was long gone by the time Stuyvesant formed.

I don’t plan on jumping back and forth between the past and the present too often in this blog.  I’m trying to tell the story chronologically.  But it’s also important for you to know all the stuff I wrote above, because my relationship with Footstone evolved slowly – and so did Dromedary’s involvement with the band – and so these early stories won’t always paint the band in exactly the way I would like.  Hang with the story; these guys were, a lot of the time, the main reason we kept going.  Footstone would eventually evolve from being a bunch of guys I liked who played music to being my favorite band, for a whole lot of really good reasons.  To this day I have Footstone music in heavy rotation on my iPod, and to this day every time Ralph sends me a new bunch of recordings to listen to, I listen to them with a level of anticipation that I reserve for, well, no other band.

Someone familiar with Dromedary (and many of this blog’s readers, at this point, fall into that category) already knows that Footstone became some of our best friends.  But it seems like this blog is receiving some new traffic lately, and I’ve also begun advertising it a bit, and it crossed my mind that a Dromedary newbie might read some of these stories and get the wrong impression.  At the point we’re at in this story – the spring of 1993 – Footstone was only beginning to hint at the band they’d eventually become, and our friendship was just getting started.  Of all the people we knew back then, Ralph, Mark, Dave and Eric are the guys we still consider among our favorite people from those times, and I’m still in fairly close touch with them – particularly Ralph.

Hence the Footstone ass-kiss.

At the time that Ralph gave us this demo tape (which was recorded on the flipside of the Wop Taco tape), we liked the songs, but we did not want to put them out.  With our relationship with Melting Hopefuls beginning to grow, and our own musical tastes moving firmly toward indie rock, we definitely saw the label moving in a more indie pop direction.  I was, at the time, very interested in labels like Alias, Merge, Teen Beat and Simple Machines, mostly because the music was rooted in pop while the ethics of the labels were rooted in punk.  I also saw the successes of labels like Matador (which, in 1993, had released not only the debut Liz Phair record but also records from Superchunk and Bettie Serveert that I thought were even better) and Sub Pop (which appeared to be moving away from “grunge” and settling in a more pop direction with music like the Spinanes and Sebadoh), and considered them to be an indicator that indie pop was a viable enough form of music that it could actually sustain a label.  

Footstone was simply not that kind of band, even in 1993 before they had turned into the band they’d eventually become.  It was the first time that I could really understand why Megaforce Records could have a host of employees that loved the band Eternal Vision, and yet the label wouldn’t sign them.  We could go out and see other bands with Ralph and Mark, and we could go to see Footstone shows at various places, but we just didn’t see Dromedary working with Footstone again.

But if you listen to “Polaroid” above, you can hear the beginnings of a solid groove, you can hear some crunchy guitars, and you can hear Ralph’s voice beginning to soar like no other voice in indie rock or punk.  Within a year of this recording, Footstone turned into what I would call a monster band.  Again, there are a lot of reasons why I think they were so important, a lot of reasons why I think Stuyvesant is still one of the best things in indie rock, and a lot of reasons why the main regret that I have about running Dromedary was that Footstone never took off the way they should have.

~ by Al on February 3, 2009.

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