Secret Signals 1


Secret Signals 1

These are some of the earliest recordings that The Muffins were able to archive throughout our 'career'. We didn't have access to a record label when we first started out (we would later put together our own label, Random Radar Records), but we did own some of the early TEAC 4-Track 1/4" reel-to-reel tape recorders that had begun to go on sale at the time, and we took advantage of that fact, recording anything and everything that we could get our Muffiny hands on. It was a time of intense creativity, camaraderie, love, struggle, hunger, and joy. Most of the music on this particular collection comes from our first reel-to-reel 'album' (we would make reel-to-reel copies of these tapes and distribute them around to our friends) titled "Agar Squid", the title coming from some of the ingredients in Billy's fish food. These 3 Secret Signals CDs (2 and 3 will be coming out within the next two years) were eventually mass produced as cassettes. Wayside Music was kind enough to sell the entire run when they appeared in the 80s. This is the first time that they've been available since then. Thanks to all of you out there who actually bought these cassettes, and HUZZAH to those of you who still have your cassette copies! Many thanks to Joe Paradiso for digitizing the original tapes and to Mike Potter at Orion Studios in Baltimore, Maryland for his gorgeous post-production work that brought these tapes back to life. And to Gonzalo Fuentes and his Guerrilla Graphics, for modernizing and enhancing the original cassette artwork. Hope you enjoy the silliness that we were able to capture here.


"Labor Day"

Every year on Labor Day, the local high school marching band would warm up in our driveway in our back yard in preparation for the Labor Day Parade that would wind down East Diamond Avenue right in front of our house. We always enjoyed it. One day we decided it would be fun to set our 4-Track reel-to-reel tape recorder up on the front porch, haul out some instruments, and record the warm up with us adding some Muffin wackiness. At one point you hear us commenting on "the mayor" driving by. It was actually a clown on a tiny motorized bike.



One of our earliest songs. This tune, as well as five others here, was recorded at Mike Bass's Petey Pop studios (Mike was the first person we knew who had purchased one of the new TEAC 4-Track reel-to-reel tape recorders). I should also explain here that Mike Bass and The Muffins were all intertwined at this time in both of our musical projects, with all of us guest-starring on each of our tape 'albums'.  I actually wrote this tune when Michael Zentner and I were transitioning from our old band, Tunc. (That band is a whole other story.) I've always enjoyed this song. Gonzalo Fuentes says that I should re-record it for a Manna/Mirage album. Maybe. Mike Aparetti, our first drummer, on these "Agar Squid" songs. (Where are you, Mike?)


"Like A Machine That Only Works When It's Working Right"

The Muffins were originally a bass / drums / guitar / keyboard quartet. These opening songs are examples of the transition that we were undergoing with the addition of Tom Scott on woodwinds. What we did here was to re-arrange the quartet songs to work with Tom's new woodwind voicings. We were now, at this point, a new quintet. They also represent our first official live set - If you saw us live, these are the songs we played pretty much in the order that they appear in the beginning half of this CD.  


"Big Spoons"

Not originally on "Agar Squid". Barney Jones (R.I.P.) on chromatic harmonica. We all were big fans of Zappa and Beefheart, and so were trying our best Motorhead Sherwood take with this. Mike Bass on Drums. 



The quirky title was influenced by the Canterbury / Soft Machine / Caravan records that we were listening to at the time. A tip of the hat to "Slightly All The Time", in name only. "Apparently" and "Like A Machine" both would fade in and out with other songs from this original set. 


"Early American Ears"

A word play on early American years. This was written after seeing a local band, Grits (a wonderful Zappa-like original band and our friends and contemporaries) play at a club in Washington, DC. They had such beautiful melodies. See the YouTube video.


"Why Pursue It? (You Already Blew It)"'

We were always fascinated with fast and complex times, but never at the expense of the melody. I'm playing xylophone here. Tom on double recorders (played at the same time, ala Roland Kirk). And I believe this is one of the first recordings with Tom's alto clarinet.



Composed by Mike Bass (with some help from Serge Prokofiev). Mike on xylophone. We were all big fans of Firesign Theater and Monty Python. Humor had always been a big part of The Muffins. Billy is the narrator here. ("The insects come out.")


"The Hot Band"

We used to play at a place called The Music Carry-Out in one of the worst parts of Washington, DC. It used to be a Chicken Carry-Out, but when they changed it over to a music venue, they just changed the first word on the sign. The Hot Band was a band of young kids that were just hanging around the club at the time. We saw them eyeing our recording equipment one night after one of our sets and knew that they were dying to sing. And so here they are.



That's John Paige from WGTB (Georgetown University) counting us down for New Years, 1976. WGTB, along with John Paige (as well as Ted White, another DJ at the time), were enormous influences on The Muffins during those early years, John oftentimes broadcasting those first Virgin records and Canterbury / RIO bands well before we could get our hands on them. In point of fact, it was here on John's show where we would hear, for the first time, some of the great bands and records that would forever change us. Sunday nights were must listening for The Muffins.



With Stu Abramowitz on drums. I believe this was recorded at the University of Maryland, our last show with Stu.


"Commander Scott on Mars"

Also with Stu at the University of Maryland. Improvisations were always a major part of The Muffins' live sets. We loved Sun Ra and Art Ensemble of Chicago, and we were tickled when we learned that Henry Cow also improvised in their sets. Billy is on my keyboards here. Our dear friend, Scott Raffel (R.I.P.) is on soprano saxophone. Michael is singing opera. Tom and I are talking to one another through our clarinet pickups as if we're astronauts on Mars. Big fun. 



Stuart, Scott Raffel, Steve Feigenbaum, and Billy (and Miguel?) sitting around our kitchen I was in the band room secretly recording them until Stu noticed me and protested. ("Random Radar, your ass.") Stu also has the best laugh.



I think this was recorded in our back yard. We had built a stage in the back (thanks in large part to Denise, master carpenter and Billy's girlfriend) where we used to put on free concerts. Stuart on drums.


"Uncle Don" 

I believe this track was recorded at "Take One", a studio in Washington, DC that would also broadcast live shows by area bands. How The Muffins ever got on there is beyond me. I also believe that that's Mike Bass playing the studio baby grand piano in the beginning. He later switches over to drums. 


"Crezner Okay" / "Blind Cave Tetra"

Also recorded at "Take One". At the beginning of this, you hear Billy saying "Hi, express checkout". I remember that, earlier in the day, he had talked with an express checkout teller at our local grocery store and told her that he was going to be on the radio that night and that he'd say "Hi" to her. I don't think we ever found out if she ever heard us. Mike Bass on drums.  "Blind Cave Tetra" was, I believe, recorded at home at my recording studio which I called The Animal Nations.


"The Bush"

A recognition of the British meaning of the band's name? Also at the University of Maryland. Stuart on drums. This song, for years, was how we ended our set. (Later, we would end our sets with "Hobart Got Burned".) Michael Zentner on guitar here. Such a fun song to play. A real workout for Billy.