Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pavlov's Dog

My friend Tony mentioned the band Pavlov’s Dog in a comment from a previous post. I have to admit the band is one of my guilty pleasures. As much as they’ve been a peripheral part of my life, It's odd I’ve never actually seen them perform.

When my band was beginning to build a following, I overheard someone in the audience say they hadn’t seen this kind of fan loyalty since Pavlov’s Dog. I wish I had seen them but they had already split by then.

I had heard their manager Ron Powell was sent to prison for tax evasion and took the band’s name with him. They were actually called the St. Louis Dogs for a while.

The problem, and what probably made them unique, was David Surkamp’s voice. It was like Geddy Lee’s without the masculinity. It could pierce through steel.

Surkamp is a great song writer though and I love the music to this day.

When the band broke up, he moved to Washington. In the late 70s I saw his new band at a theater in Maplewood. The Sheiks opened for them. All the members of the original band were in the audience. Everyone seemed sentimental and you could tell they were good friends.

Pavlov’s Dog finished their third album when Columbia Records dumped them and they lost their name. The record was called Third and I was lucky enough to find a bootleg copy. I wish it had been officially released. There’s a beautiful song on it called It’s All for You. There has to be someone else singing on it. It’s actually in a human vocal range. It reminds me of John Lennon’s last album. The vocalist seems to have found contentment, a kind of inner peace with the world.

I do have a bit of personal history with the band.

I had mentioned in an earlier post that Surkamp showed up at a party we threw at a West End mansion. It was my friend Annie’s house. The band was playing on the landing between floors on the stairs. Surkamp sat down with his acoustic guitar on the stairs and played his song Julia. The girls swooned and the guys wanted to kill him. Julia had become a minor hit on the radio. They had just signed with ABC records for a $650,000 deal. This is still one of the biggest advances in history.

Their lead guitarist Steve Scorfina brought demo records Columbia gave him to Wuxtry Records. Wuxtry was St. Louis’ first real used record store. I pretty much ran it then and we bought a lot of demos. We talked a lot about the industry.

Their second record At the Sound of the Bell is by far my favorite Pavlov Dog LP. King Crimson’s Bill Bruford played drums. Andy Mackay from Roxy Music and the late great Michael Brecker played saxes. I bonded with Scorfina immediately when I told him I idolized these guys.

He said, “Man you wouldn’t believe it. We rehearsed the album in my mom’s living room!” “Bruford played in my mom’s living room!” Steve broke his arm and didn’t get to play much on the record. He told me he preferred their first record and I always thought that was why.

There was a huge house in Maplewood called the Renkin House. (I’m not sure if that’s how it’s spelled). Tom Nickeson was the band’s acoustic guitarist and Ron Powell threw a huge birthday party for him. My drummer Benet was in another band called Contraband and they played the party. I was very impressed with the grand piano Powell bought Nickeson as a birthday gift.

There was a young woman at the party I was pursuing. I was starting to have some luck too but another young woman, who would end up being one of the unrequited loves of my life, asked me to stop. Like a fool in love I did. Years later I did get together with her and will probably post that story some day.

Doug Rayburn, who played flute and mellotron in the band, would go on to run a successful recording studio in St. Louis. I would occasionally rent some of my studio gear to him.

In 1990 Surkamp and Rayburn got the band’s name back and released a record called Lost in America. They got Michele Isam to play sax on it. Michele was in a duo called Jasmine that had a large cult following in St. Louis. She was also in Fairchild with my buddy Benet. Michele is a real sweetie. Unfortunately the record was terrible, very slick and uninspired.

I love these pics of the band. It's perfect early 70’s pre punk innocence.


Anonymous said...

I remember Surkamp when I was in 9th grade we would sometimes play guitar together. He started in a band called Uranis, they would only let hih sing backup. Who got the record deal, No one else in the band. :) John Gorski

Anonymous said...

"It was like Geddy Lee’s without the masculinity"

Now that's funny


Anonymous said...

i remember being at Electric Palace with you guys and this long-haired guy came in with a small entourage of chicks and guys and you told me that was David Surkamp, i think we tried to bum quarters from him.I got picked up hitchhiking by Steve once on Lindbergh, he was driving a volkswagon witha porsche engine in it, as we took off he did a drumroll on the steering wheel, and i asked him if he was a musician, he told me he used to play with Pavlov's Dog and his name; i always remember that as my brush with St. Louis fame. Geo

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I don't know who you are. But we lost a family friend, Susie Leonard.

We don't know if you refer to her in your blog. You mention Portland Place. That is where she spent a whole lot of years.

But somebody mentioned a brother, Leonard. That was not the name of either of her two brothers.

Maybe you will let us know if the little bit on your blog about Sue is about a young woman, 47, who died in July. We are searching for answers and are very sad.

Anne Borman and family
St. Louis MO