Bo Grumpus

bog_whaFrom: Boston, Massachusetts

BO GRUMPUS was formed in Boston in 1967 and are not to be confused with the group using the name in the 1990s—2000s. N.D. Smart and Jim Colegrove traveled from Ohio to team up with guitarists, Eddie Mottau and Joe Hutchinson. Eddie and Joe had performed as a duo in the mid-sixties called Two Guys From Boston. They had done some recording with Noel “Paul” Stookey as their producer but had only one single released on the Scepter label. N.D. had met the Two Guys when they performed in Dayton, Ohio at the local folk club, The Lemon Tree. N.D. then both recorded and performed with them. When they asked him to join them to make a band he was prompt to say yes. N.D. asked Jim Colegrove to join them on bass.

The group first performed at The Loft on Charles Street in Boston using the name The Bait Shop. It wasn’t long before Eddie and Joe called their friend Felix Pappalardi in New York to come to Boston to hear the group play. Felix had played bass with The Two Guys on their recordings. At the time, Felix had already produced The Youngbloods records for RCA and was in the midst of recording Cream for their upcoming Disraeli Gears LP. Felix came to Boston and heard the group. He and his partner, Bud Prager, liked the band and set about to secure a recording/publishing deal for them. The Bait Shop moved to New York City in June, 1967 and prepared to record.

The first of many changes occurred when Felix asked the band to change their name. His suggestion was a name that his wife, Gail Collins, came up with. Gail was an artist and had a drawing that hung on their living room wall she called Bo Grumpus. It was a strange-looking creature with other equally strange-looking creatures crawling out of a hole in its stomach. Felix thought the name was so unusual that it would be defined by the style of music that the group recorded. Felix was quoted as saying, “It’s a good name that means nothing.” The band made its New York debut at the Gaslight Café on MacDougal Street.

In the autumn of 1967 they began working at The Café Wha?. The group still hadn’t completed an LP. By the end of the year N.D. decided to leave the group to join John Hall’s band, Kangaroo. The former Hello People drummer, Ronnie Blake, replaced N.D. Music at The Wha? worked in two shifts. The bands on the night shift when Bo Grumpus started were Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys and the Peepl. Cat Mother went on to have a big hit with Good Old Rock and Roll on Polydor. Two of the guys in the Peepl, Joey DeJesus and Peter Alongi, went on to record with a group called Banchee on Atlantic and Polydor. Comedian David Frye appeared there that summer. Other bands that worked there during this time were the Raves, the Cherry People, the Roman Numerals, Kangaroo, the Hello People, the Turnkeys, Meat (with Rob Stoner), The Castilles (with Bruce Springsteen), Watertower West (with Alan Merrill) and Jessie’s First Carnival (with Jeff Gutcheon).

In the spring of 1968, Before The War was issued on the Atco label. A couple of tracks were engineered by Chris Houston, former member of The Undertakers. Felix said that the roots to his rock group, Mountain, can be traced to this recording. When Bell Records approached Felix with an offer for him to produce a record, he wanted Bo Grumpus to be the band. The problem was, The Richmond Organization (the group’s publishing company) owned the rights to the name Bo Grumpus being used for a musical group. That meant another name change.

At the suggestion of Eddie Mottau, the group changed its name to Jolliver Arkansaw. They went into the studio early in 1969 to record. On one of the tracks, Gray Afternoon, they were joined by guitarist Leslie West. The solo that Leslie played on this track convinced Felix to start a band with him. That band became known as Mountain. Jolliver Arkansaw’s LP, titled Home, was issued on Bell in 1969. Gray Afternoon has been reissued on a Sound Stories compilation CD (see below). It still gets played on cable music channels.

By August, 1969, Jolliver Arkansaw had come to its end and the group’s members went their separate ways. Jim Colegrove joined Ian & Sylvia’s band Great Speckled Bird and reunited with N.D. Smart. Eddie Mottau became Noel Stookey’s producer, recorded and performed with John Lennon then started his own solo career. Joe Hutchinson headed back to Pennsylvania to start a new life. In the 1970s he would reunite with Colegrove in a band called Jook.

It is a strange twist of fate that in this day and age some characterize the original Bo Grumpus as “the psychedelic band from Boston” or “anti-war band” when in fact they were a ragtime group in their formative years performing tunes such as Sister Kate, Gimme A Pigfoot, The Preacher and The Bear, Big Fat Woman, Charlie Green (Trombone Charlie) and many others in that style. They were steered in another direction as is evidenced on Before The War. Additionally, the name Jolliver Arkansaw is often spelled “Arkansas” on many Web sites. This seems to indicate that the writer was not familiar with the spelling of the name or else figured the group hadn’t enough sense to spell it correctly. Of course, the name Jolliver Arkansaw did not refer to the state and, in fact, had no meaning.

The Real Story of Before The War

Bo Grumpus Before The War was released on CD by Wounded Bird Records in July 2008 ( wherever they might be.
Here’s what Bruce Eder has to say about the record:

This album has a lot going for it that one would hope for from a band working out of New York — a sharp, rootsy approach to folk-rock, honed at the Greenwich Village clubs they were playing, coupled with flashes of elegance in the production accorded by Felix Pappalardi. The result is a somewhat flowery yet economical brand of melodic, folk-based psychedelia, that manages to be electric, spacy, and trippy, all at once. The production here gave the group a somewhat more florid sound than their actual performances, but it also dressed up the songs beautifully — had it been heard by more people, Before the War might have been regarded as an East Coast rival to the Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers. As it is, the album apparently never sold, but the CD still deserves a listen. — Bruce Eder, All Music Guide.


Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1968 album Before The War
Before The War

  • A Knowing Your Touch
  • Breath O’ Love
  • Brooklyn
  • Sparrow Tune
  • Travelin’ In The Dark
  • Yesterday’s Street