12 Songs, 51 Minutes


About The Ghost Rockets

When Buddy Woodward and underground pop luminary Gary Pig Gold were introduced to each other in Greenwich Village in 1990 by Gold's Dave Rave Conspiracy bandmate (and former Washington Square) Lauren Agnelli, the seeds of one of the finest, albeit decidedly out of mainstream earshot, country-pop bands of the '90s were planted. Taking their cues not only from bluegrass, old-school Grand Ole Opry, and Laurel Canyon cowboys such as the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers but also from the dulcet harmonies of the Everly Brothers, power pop, and the Monkees' infectious bubblegum pop/rock, the Ghost Rockets arrived at a glorious amalgam that was equal parts throwback and throw forward.

The well-traveled Woodward, a former child rodeo competitor in California, had previously toured across America throughout the '80s with Chris Von Sneidern's Lost Patrol and such stellar British mod revival combos as the Jet Set and Squire, and was, in fact, fresh from a stint in London playing with Smalltown Parade. Gary Pig Gold, ubiquitous on the underground pop scene since 1975 as both a musician, producer, and the editor of Canada's very first punk fanzine, The Pig Paper, had just relocated to Hoboken, NJ from a stint in New York City, where he was a member of Dave Rave Conspiracy with fellow native-Canadian Dave Des Roches. After their initial meeting, the two began trading four-track tapes of their burgeoning songs, many of them with a decidedly country bent. They began collaborating on others, then mixing all the results at the Grip Weeds' House of Vibes studio in Highland Park, NJ. When Mick Hargreaves, at the time playing bass in the Grip Weeds, heard the recordings and expressed an interest in playing shows with them, the duo decided they should put together an actual band.

Like Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters, the duo officially christened their emerging band the Ghost Rockets in 1992 after the UFOs frequently spotted over Europe during World War II that bewildered Allied pilots. Woodward and Gold immediately brought into the fold pedal steel expert and dobroist Bob Hoffnar, whose playing had graced albums by the Band, Lloyd Cole, and Haskil Adams, among others. At this point, the revolving door began spinning off its hinges. David Ribyat and Breetles mastermind Chris Breetveld joined up on guitar and bass, respectively, and the group lassoed Rick Reil away from his Grip Weeds duties long enough to play some drums. Breetveld eventually dropped out because the lengthy commute didn't sit well with him and was replaced by session man Scott Yoder. Reil also returned to the Grip Weeds, with Chris "Tapps Casket" Mehos, of legendary Jersey roots rockers Who's Your Daddy, filling in the drummer's chair. When Yoder was late for an important early band showcase (because he had nine other gigs that night!), Gold and Woodward asked old friend Hargreaves to join up. Another old friend of Gold's, ex-Teenage Head drummer Jack Pedler, eventually contributed his services when they were needed, and finally drummer Pete Green entered the lineup on a more or less permanent basis. That's not even to mention such honorary Guest Rockets during the band's on-again/off-again reign as Elena Skye and Boo Reiners (Demolition String Band), neo-country traditionalist Laura Cantrell (after she gave the band their radio debut on her WFMU-FM radio show), Richard D. Smith (author of the acclaimed Bill Monroe biography, Can't You Hear Me Calling), "Fiddlin'" Dave Rimilis and Adam Krass on violins, and even Mark Wyatt of Columbus, OH, stalwarts One Riot One Ranger whenever the two bands played on the same bill at the St. Louis' Twangfest. They dubbed their sound "blue-grunge" and "maximum rhythm 'n' bluegrass," descriptions as good as any others for the remarkable hybrid.

The band initially set out to record a debut full-length tentatively entitled Maximum Rhythm 'N' Bluegrass, and there were many sessions at Woodward's home studio, Spatula Ranch, as well as at Gold's, affectionately dubbed the Pottystudio, resulting in dozens of songs and demos. The album was placed on the backburner, however, due to the inordinate amount of requests they received from across the world (the United States, Canada, Europe, and as far away as New Zealand) to contribute individual songs to sampler and compilation albums, most of which they honored. It engendered a small Ghost Rockets cult, particularly in Europe, where their banjo-heavy version of the Beach Boys' "In My Room" flooded radio playlists. From their abundance of sessions, they also released a trio of eponymous demo mini-cassettes from 1994 to 1996, and the first side of the cassette A Pig Pop Sampler was also dedicated to the band's music (the flip featured compatriot Shane Faubert). They also began arousing fans throughout Hoboken with their occasional live shows, and acclaim began pouring in, particularly from fellow musicians. When they encountered old copies of their demo tapes and unauthorized Ghost Rockets recordings being bootlegged and traded, many of them over the Internet, they put out their own 1998 bootleg CD, sensibly titled Bootlegs, a compilation encompassing songs -- some of them just scratch tracks, some of them fully completed recordings -- from throughout their eight years together. Later in the year France's Pop the Balloon Records also released a proper EP, Spatula Ranch Sessions, Vol. 1, that concentrated on some of their more pop-savvy selections. Although each member keeps busy with various non-band related projects and combos, you can never be sure when the Ghost Rockets are going to pop up in one of Hoboken's legendary clubs or play a festival. And that first proper album is still, hopefully, in the offing. ~ Stanton Swihart