KING USZNIEWICZ & THE USZNIEWICZTONES
"Perhaps the ultimate 70s underground rock'n'roll band" (High Times)
"It makes the dogs & cats go crazy!"
aka "Ladies & Gentlemen, The Bowling Stones!"
"THE ART OF ERNIE" - Still More Notes From The Producer...
Ernie Uszniewicz (pronounced You-Snev-Vitch) was a musical visionary.
By the time I met him in late 1973, he had been playing his sax and singing in bands for over a dozen years, originally honing his peculiar style to perfection with a local teen combo from Wyandotte, Mich. called Billy "V" & The Monacos.
Once he formed his own band in the late 60s, he ruled it with an enormous ego, a nasty little caffeine-sugar habit and a loyal, but shrewish wife backing up every crazy word he said. Ernie and The U-Tones were an oldies band, to be sure, and this installment of the kIng's story focuses on a typical night's fare off the Orbit Room set list.
Every song in his repertoire was played in the key of E, the only key Ernie knew how to sing and blow his three note sax solos in. He used his sax to direct the band, honking a stary note right in the middle of his vocals to get the band back on course toward the proper chord changes. Ernie always knew what he was trying to play in his own mind (the solo on "The Birds & The Bees," for instance), even if the results coming out of his horn were another matter entirely.
His singing was always passionate and involved, especially when he strained his voice to hit notes that were totally out of his range. Ernie always liked a big finish. He based his entire delivery around embellishing everything he ever heard Elvis do except the singing on key part. If Presley hiccuped, Ernie hiccuped as loud and as often as he could.
If Elvis took a deep sexy breath, the King U. tried to sound like a vacuum cleaner in heat. The actual lyrics to a song didn't really matter much to Ernie. He would sing as much of it as he could remember and make the rest up as he went along. I made the mistake one night of asking Ernie why he didn't sing the "right" lyrics to his songs. The King gave me a dirty look and preceded to inform me that, "Elvis has got his style, I got mine. Everything I do is King Uszniewicz style." I knew then I was in the presence of true genius.
The King always knew what he wanted each U-Tone to sound like. He only hired drummers who had played in polka bands, believing they had the best beat for dancing. The oddball drum rolls you hear on the tunes comes form Ernie instructing the drummer to play flashy stuff everytime he went into one of his Elvis moves. Once he started shakin', the drummer would cue off Ernie's rear end until he stopped, picking up the beat when he started swiveling again. It was also the drummer's job to end the songs by hitting his bass drum real hard.
That was the cue for everybody to stop playing. No matter what you were doin', when that last bass drum thud hit, you had to stop; it was the King's law.
The hiring of Lurch Patterson as lead guitarist was a landmark in the band's history, even though Patterson couldn't play anything except the top two strings of his instrument ("That lead on "Surfin' School" was 'bout all he could play", says bandmate Philly Joe Lower, "he didn't know no chords 'cept E whole and by the time he could make that, the song was usually over with"). It seems that Lurch was working as a pin spotter at the Brentwood Lanes when The King fired his lead guitarist one night for bringing a wah-wah pedal to the gig. Ernie had seen Lurch Occasionally messing with the band's equipment and with less than a hour to show time, he asked Patterson if he could play in E. Lurch said he "thought so" and became the King's right hand man for the next six years. It didn't matter to Ernie if Lurch couldn't play anything besides the solo to "Wicked Ruby," and badly at that. No, Lurch's main function was that of band cheerleader, keeping the onstage energy level up and, most important of all, to introduce the King right before each sax slo. His playing and singing abilities never entered into it. If Sid Vicious had heard Lurch's version of "If I had A Hammer," it probably would have scared him straight.
But Ernie loved every second of it, because the King finally had in Lurch what he really wanted; a barker, just like in the carnival.
The musical glue of The U-Tones were the Lower brothers, Fuzzy Q and Philly Joe, a sibling rivalry set of hillbillies from Ashland, Kentucky who grew up arguing and playing together. Between the two of them, they knew the chord changes to dozens of songs and fragments to a couple hundred others. Fuzzy Q. (so named by Ernie because he was the only U-Tone who had a beard) was the older and more educated of the two, meaning he had graduated from high school and gotten a job. Philly Joe, on the other hand, was an unrepentant redneck who only seemed to care about getting high, working on his van, and getting laid between sets. They were as loyal to the equipment they played through (all of it hillbilly pawn shop junk) as they were to the King himself. Philly strummed his Supro Dual Tone through a beat-up Magnatone amp (which he always referred to a a "Magnet-Tone"), while Fuzzy Q played an ugly, cheap Japanese copy of a Hofner Beatle bass (which he always insisted was "better than a Hefner") through a variety of home-made mush boxes.
Billy Lee Small was always introduced by Ernie as the piano player, even though he played an ironing board-lookin' keyboard gizmo on four legs called an Elka Rhapsody. This electronic pawn shop marvel (which belong to Fuzzy Q who rented it to him) only had three settings for piano, organ, and harpsichord. But Billy would combine them in various ways, each new sound getting cranked up to a fairly distored level through an accordion amp he was renting from Philly Joe. Another polka band refugee with a pronounced style of "schoolmarm" piano playing, being a U-Tone for Billy Lee was serious buisness. He constantly fussed and worried about the band being out of tune or not singing the right words, points that were totally lost on the other U-Tones. By the way, due to a prining error on the "Twistin' & Bowlin'" back cover, the bottom right hand photo should read "Fan & Billy Lee", Rather than Philly Joe; sorry about that , Bill.
It's important to remember that Ernie & The U-Tones played for a strictly dancing crowd in The Orbit Room. Everything from moldie oldies ("At The Hop" was always the last song of the night) to "x-rated" polkas ("She Won't Turn Over For Me" was a big sing-along favorite), "twisting" instrumentals ("The U-Tones Rock," "The Chicken Pecker"), even a stray request from the then-current top 40 like "Kung Fu Fighting" (or "Crocodile Rock," a song that convinced Ernie "that my style of music is comin' back"); it didn't matter, everybody danced. It always amazed me to see the floor packed in blissful, belly rubbing contentment while the band bludgeoned its way to conclude that either the King had a direct line to his audience that I really didn't underrstand, or that people on the make in a bowling alley will dance to anything.
So come with us now to The Orbit Room and bring your dancing shoes along, because it's oldies night with King Uszniewicz & His Uszniewicztones! Somewhere out there, Elvis is either smiling or puking his guts out, I'm sure.
Titel: Doin' The Woo Hoo with...
Stil: Weird Tunes
Preis: 26.- EUR
Do Wah Diddy Diddy
Land Of 1.000 Dances
If I Had A Hammer
She Won't Turn Over For Me
The Chicken Pecker
Lover Letters In The Sand
From Me To You
Kung Fu Fighting
The U-Tone Rock
The Birds & The Bees
Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out)
At The Hop
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