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Larry Hirshberg: Bio

I've been playing guitar, singing and writing songs since 1978. I started playing bass in public around '99 or so. What follows are some random snapshots and a reasonably linear look at my last twenty-some years of music…
In '81 I met bassist Matthew Ostrow and guitarist Banning Eyre in New Mexico. We formed the Porcupines, a funky, psychedelic jamfest featuring original tunes from all members as well as covers of Bob Marley, Grateful Dead, English Beat and the occasional Steppenwolf or Led Zeppelin tune. The Porcupines moved to Eugene in the middle of '82 and found time to gig a lot, when we weren't busy telemarketing the hell out of the rain-soaked, unsuspecting population of the Emerald City. There were some cheese-line visits in these years, as well.
After a brief stop in the Whitefish band Beaten Path, in '85-86, I returned to my hometown, Boston, and reunited with Eyre, forming the duo, Strunk and White. We did mostly our original tunes, and played a lot of shows in Somerville and Cambridge. One particularly memorable evening was a private backyard party celebrating the numerical wonder of 8/8/88, for which we received the memorable amount of 88 dollars. Also received were 8888 mosquito bites each. Ah, August in New England!
Ostrow had arrived in Boston in '87, and he and I formed the absolutely forgotten blues band, The Dick White Trio. The drummer (Dick What?), received a call from his mother after the Trio's first gig (a New Year's '88 bar show) informing him that due to his poor grades in college, he would have to give up music, which he did. So much for Dick White.
Mention should be made here of my collection of 4-track demos, which began in earnest around '88, when, through the glory of a steady, reasonably pleasant day job, I got my Tascam Porta One. This was huge! I had always been writing, and had done 4 or 5 years worth of multi-track recording, but always on someone else's machine and time. At last, I was able to record as I wrote. Bring on the blank cassettes!
Anyway - Strunk and White continued doing the acoustic guitar duo, maybe even into '90 or '91. Banning Eyre was getting more and more involved in various forms of African music. Matthew Ostrow and I were always trying to put together a funk band, and always lacking a suitable drummer, or when we had a good drummer (Jeff Bishop, later of Floating Men), missing the right singer. We met singer Ralph Lyons somewhere in this period. Matt and I 4-tracked probably 20 tunes, as demos for the funk band. Matt had some great songs.
Eventually, after several false starts with "the funk band," Matt and I joined forces with my Strunk and White partner Banning Eyre, drummer Eric Rosenthal, and singer Ralph Lyons; and The Strunk and White Band was formed. Described as "psychedelic world-beat," we had a unique sound. Perhaps too unique. We were all a little too far down our individual paths to create the unified sound we'd hoped for. In other words, the funk was watered down by the psychedelia, which was watered down by the world-beat, not to mention Rosenthal's stellar jazz chops adding to the lack of focus! So, after much rehearsal, recording, and a year or so of gigs (Middle East, Johnny D's, The Tam, etc.) we gave it up.
Right around this time (oh, early 1992?) I was invited to join The Bagboys as a lead guitarist. I had a lot of fun playing a bluegrass/country-based music for the first time. Played every Saturday at The Plough and Stars, a classic Irish pub right between Harvard and MIT. Guitarist songwriter Paul Burch was also in this band. My most lasting memory from the Bagboys years (a very special haziness seems to obscure many of the hours spent with these delightful gents!) is of a wedding we played on Jan. 1, 1994. Everyone was well lubricated by the time the third set started, and we launched into a typically very fast, jammy version of Old Joe Clark (yes, we jammed the shit out of Old Joe Clark, wanna make something out of it?). All of a sudden, the newlyweds were performing some sort of simulated (!) sex right out there on the dance floor. A fun time was had by all.
In the spring of '94 my time in Boston came to a close. I had recently met and began playing with fiddler Grace McNamee (later, Grace Hirshberg, still later Grace McNamee, and even later, like right now, Grace Decker!), and our move to Missoula together marked the beginning of Th' Spectacles. We were a guitar/fiddle duo, doing about 60 of my originals and a bunch of odd covers (R. Crumb, Mercy Dee, Mudflaps, Tom Waits, Iris Dement, Aimee Mann etc.). We traveled all over Montana and Idaho doing our thing for several years, but it turned out we were not folky enough for the folk folks, and were not quite barroom enough for the barroom folks, although for most of those years we were plenty barroom, except for the music, if you know what I mean. We released a CD, Green Under Blue, in June of 1998, and commenced to peter out of existence. Grace had recently joined Cash For Junkers, popular Missoula honky-tonkers, and th' last Spectacles show was in October of '99. Green Under Blue showcases Grace's unique fiddling, pre C4J. The CD is still, and only, available here at www.larryhirshberg.com. Contact me if you want a copy.
As Th' Spectacles were winding down, I had an offer from another Missoula songwriter, J Bradley (writer of Voodoo Doll), to play guitar in his band, The Jesse Helmsmen. Sensing a chance to rock, I joined. Collaborated with J for a year and a half, switching to bass when the Helmsmen morphed into Run 8 (a trio with drummer Bill Hoffman) during the summer of '99. Opened for Watsonville Patio twice with this band, and had some intense middle-of-the-night recording experiences as well. My final show with J was in March or April of 2000, which was right around the time Tom Catmull and I were originating The Tom Catmull Band. J has now lived in Seattle for a number of years, but he and I still collaborate from time to time, and he has several discs-ful of material as yet unreleased. I’m all over a lot of that stuff. Watch for it. UPDATE (spring '08) - J has released "The Wild March," including eight of the aforementioned songs. The Tom Catmull Band started as the Tom Catmull Combo, and included Tom on guitar, Mark Dixon on congas, and me on bass. We recorded The Sound of a Car in the last half of 2000 and released it early in 2001. The Sound of a Car included three of my songs - Cycle of Redemption; Quicksilver, Oxygen, Gold; and The Quiet Walker. In the end of 2000 we added Richie Reinholdt on electric guitar and the TCB was born. In the spring of 2001, Dixon left the band, and Bruce Threlkeld was recruited to play drums. Time passed as we refined the poppy, countrified sound that audiences around the region came to know and love. Slippery Hill, The Tom Catmull Band's only CD, was recorded from the end of 2001 through May of 2002, and released in the summer of that year. That disc featured five of my tunes - Home Is Where The Head Is, Every One of Those Men, Unsteady, Wanted in Chicago, and Dandelion Desert. Threlkeld left the band in the summer of 2003, replaced by Travis Yost. Finally, Tom decided that he needed to go in a different musical direction, and disbanded the TCB at the end of 2003.
In the fall of 2001, I recorded a little CD called "Disappearance." It's a simple affair featuring acoustic guitar, bass and vocals. Ten songs, mostly downtempo stuff. There are still a few left as of April, 2004. (April 2006 – They’re gone.) Collectors items, fer sure!
Also in the fall of 2001, I met the formidable blues guitarist Bill McDavid, and formed Sleeman Gulch Blues Band. Originally, we had Scott Price, a unique blues character from Brooklyn on harp, and Brad Lierman on drums. Lierman left Missoula in the spring of 2002, and was replaced by the inimitable Travis Yost. Yost is an entertaining young fellow - you might see him standing behind his drums, licking his drumstick, or alternately, dressed as a giant penis, swinging to the beat. Somewhere in the summer of 2002, Price left the band, and was replaced by Jim Rogers, on keyboards. Jimmy plays as if his ability comes from some higher power, and in fact, it may!
Here's the funny SGBB story - We were invited to play at the Big Railroad Blues Festival in Livingston, MT in July of 2003. Also on the bill was Little Charlie and the Nightcats, so we were feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Lots of buildup as we feverishly rehearsed our "festival set." Driving east to Livingston that day, the weather began to look threatening. We arrived at the Festival. The audience was growing, as were the clouds. We watched the performer before us, and the sky as well. We took the stage. We played half of Johnny Winter's Drinkin' Blues, our opener, and then it rained. The sound man shut us down. We scurried off the stage. We waited a few minutes, then got the word that due to the fact that the festival had fallen behind schedule, we were done. We got paid, and Jimmy and I drove back to Missoula. It was a long day - total music played: 2 point 5 minutes. That's the life. Sleeman Gulch Blues Band disbanded at the very top of 2005.
Meanwhile, Travis played drums on my CD, Headlong, which Run8records was nice enough to release for me in the spring of 2004. You can go to CD Baby to hear and purchase that disc. And you can go over to www.run8records.com to check out all the other cool stuff they have to offer.
So, with a record and no band, I decided to front my own band. Travis was in, having played on Headlong, and having demonstrated a) a distinct empathy toward my songs, and b) a complicated youthful exuberance laid over an entertainer’s soul. We called ourselves The Trillionaires, and began rehearsing and looking for a bass player. After many months of playing, and a bunch of gigs as an electric guitar and drums duo, Tyson Roth, Travis’ boyhood buddy from Helena, finally graduated MSU and left Bozeman for Missoula and The Trillionaires. Tyson’s bass and face have enabled The Trillionaires to reach out to the youth, and my songs have never sounded more rockin’. The Trillionaires released our first CD, Honeycomb Conjecture, in the fall of 2005. After a few years of rockin' the area between Spokane and Great Falls, and the the last-gasp addition of Ricky Drake on guitar and vocals, The Trillionaires disbanded in January of 2007. We all thought it was great, but audiences were never sure what to make of it - old guy front man, too punky for the dance clubs, too songwriter oriented for the drinking rockers, too loud for the song people. Classic Larry concoction, typical response. Go to The Trillionaires myspace page for a taste. I think you will like it!
And, meanwhile, I’d been continuing my recording fun. Always had a bit of an experimental bent, and over the course of 2003 and 2004 I had recorded a number of, well, for lack of a better term, “art” pieces. At some point I realized that I had a few good ones, and I began to put together some more cuts with the idea of releasing a project of collage, sounds, and text. This turned into “packing for nowhere, ” and was released in a limited run of 100 signed and numbered copies in the summer of 2005. There are some left for sale. Listen to the sample track here at the website, then get in touch if you want one. This is actually my favorite thing I’ve done. UPDATE (spring 2008) - Still love pfn, but the Certain Molecules disc is now my favorite thing.

So, with The Trillionaires on the way out, and me stepping up the solo acoustic gigs, recorded "Ice at Home," a nice all acoustic disc featuring a few older, never before recorded songs (Steam Locomotive, Perfect Girl, Ways to Say Goodbye) and a bunch of new stuff, including Mexicali Army. Mexicali Army is a song inspired by a report I heard on NPR one evening: Some guy was talking about the health of the Salton Sea, in California, and mentioned offhandedly about growing up there and collecting deformed plastic army men that floated by the thousands in the shallows. Apparently there was a factory in Mexicali, just south of the border that was dumping the unsellable pieces into the river, sending them up to the Salton Sea. A perfect song idea, I thought. I love that song. "Ice At Home" was released in the spring of 2007, and is still for sale at gigs and at CDbaby. It's a, um, durable recording. It has one song that contains the word FUCK, too, oh, and the word SHIT is in the same song. After they put the disc up for sale in the swanky gift shop of Paws Up Resort, where I was doing a regular weekly solo gig in the summer of 2007, someone heard that song while they were shopping and pointed it out to the staff. So then they had to program their disc player to skip that track. I love that kind of thing. Shop away, gang!

Meanwhile, let's step back a bit to the summer of 2005. Some months after the dissolution of The Sleeman Gulch Blues Band, a couple of friends (Travis Yost and John Sporman) decided to give up their rhythm section roles in the Mike Bader Blues Band, and called me, suggesting I might enjoy the bass gig. I joined Mike, and have been holding down his low end, so to speak, since then. Mike has provided a LOT of gigs. For that I'm thankful. And through that gig, I met Brandon Zimmer, BZ, an awesome drummer and super guy. BZ is a character of a whole 'nuther kind. I've had some great times playing and travelling with young BZ. And from those times grew Certain Molecules, an improvising project that led to an interesting, self-titled recording. We recorded sporadically through 2007, and the disc was done by December '07, but is only now, in the spring of '08, coming out. There are guests on there, and a whole lot of out-there music. It's a mind-expansion thing. Oh, and did I mention that my wife Debbie and I had a baby girl at the end of November, 2007? Thanks for sticking with me here - I'll be back from time to time with updates. LH

WHOA! It's now November 2012 and I'm back with more of the bio! Holy cow, having a kid really cuts into one's bio-updating time. Among other things. Anyway...The Mike Bader thing ended for me sometime around the fall of 2008. After that it's been solo acoustic performances, lots of them, and raising up my daughter. I've continued writing and recording, and have put out two more song-based records, Box Elder, released at the start of 2009, and The Rise and Fall of Maple Bar Mountain, which came out in 2011.
Also, Certain Molecules hit the studio again and came out after a year with an incredibly dense, exploratory record called intratomic. BZ and I are so happy with this record, that as of this writing, we are planning to expand the project, start rehearsing and see about bringing Certain Molecules to the stage from time to time. It's a big step for us, but we think it'll be fun and interesting. In summation: Had a kid, wrote, recorded, played lots of singer/songwriter solo gigs. Got older.