Friday, January 10, 2014

Devo The Early Years 1970-1978

I recently took a trip down memory lane when I came across some old concert stubs from the late 1970’s and early 80’s as well as a hand written list of the concerts I’d seen. Ah the memories Ramones, Dictators, Elvis Costello, The B52's, Dead Kennedy's and many more. Among them was the stub below from a Devo concert 111/1/1978 during their first nationwide tour. B'ginnings was a club in Schaumberg a far northwestern suburb of Chicago. Partially owned by one of the members of the band Chicago it was not your average punk mecca. Yet they hosted groups like; The Jam, Ian Dury, The Stranglers, Lou Reed and on a cold wintery night without much of an audience The Police.

When I started doing some research on the show I’d been to I came across a site that listed all the Devo shows and was somewhat surprised to find out they had been playing around Ohio since the early 70’s. Then I did some more poking around and discovered that Jerry Casale one of the founding members of Devo was a student at Kent State. He was also a member of the SDS (Students For A Democratic Society). On May 4 ,1970 he participated in the demonstration where four protesters were gunned down in cold blood by the National Guard. The incident had a profound effect on Casale that turned his life inside out.

 "That solidified brute power winning out over truth. They got away with murder. When you live through that and see the newspapers are a complete and utter lie, you realize that's the real world. I wouldn't have been into a Devo aesthetic if that hadn't happened to me." He then shed any trace of counterculture style he may have associated with peace and love. "I cut my hair, got rid of my flared pants and velour shirts, and went to this pimp store in Cleveland, where I bought straight-legged pants, high, black shoes, and a long leather jacket, like you'd see the Black Panthers wearing."
Devo as a band surfaces three years later mainly as a studio/basement band more interested in recording and films. In their first four years they only do a couple of dozen concerts all in and around Ohio. This includes one concert where they played after a showing of John Water’s classic film Pink Flamingos and a Halloween gig where they opened for Sun Ra.

“Jerry Casale describes the event in his liner notes for DEVO LIVE-The Mongoloid Years: "Full fledged aliens without a clue. DEVO is hired as a practical joke to open for Sun Ra at WHK FM's annual Halloween bash. The used-to-be famous, now infamous, radio personality, Murray The K displays a thinly veiled contempt as he introduces us to the invitation only crowd. Dressed as witches, gangsters, and hunchbacks, and high on nitrous oxide (provided by the station), hash and liquor, they are eagerly awaiting a slick cover band who can deliver precise, immaculate, renditions of Bad Company hits. Instead, they are subjected to DEVO.”
Here’s a couple of early clips one is an early live video and the other features some of their basement recordings.

Jerry Casale was at the same time also belonged to a R&B bar band called 15 60 75 or the numbers band. A group that is still gigging there’s no video of them from this period but there was a live lp that features Jerry on bass. Here’s an audio only clip from that era.

In 1977 Devo made their first foray outside of Ohio playing gigs in New York and on the west coast. In the second half of 1977 they would do more shows than the first four years. And from there the band continued to tour and grow and on October 15 1978 mainstream America got it’s first look at Devo when they appeared on Saturday Night Live. Two weeks after that on Nov. 1 they were at B’inings in Schaumburg which is where this story began. Here's a few more vintage Devo clips.

And last but not least Devo and Neil Young

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