The Legend of Shady Crady
Before and during the early days of Mercury Rev


Before there was Mercury Rev, there was Shady Crady, a group of friends from Buffalo, New York. The band started up around 1986/1987 and originally consisted of Dave Baker (vocals), Jonathan Donahue (guitar), Sue Thorpe (flute), Sean Mackowiak (bass), and Mike Huber (drums). Baker also insisted on playing the Casio SK-1 (a cheesy sampler) on a few songs. Shady Crady's sound was similar to what Mercury Rev later developed into in the early 90s, but with more of a rock influence, especially Sonic Youth, who the band opened for at one show in Buffalo.

Circa 1987/1988, the band played several shows in Buffalo and various places on the East Coast, mostly at alternative shows and art spaces. Near the end of the band's run, Baker was kicked out due to personality conflicts, mainly with Mike Huber. Jonathan and Sean ended up splitting vocal duties. One of Sean's songs, "Ice Flow," would later be recorded (with Jonathan on vocals) by Mercury Rev and released on their first album under the title "Sweet Oddysee of a Cancer Cell T' Th' Center of Yer Heart". Some other Shady Crady song titles were "Narnia Top Speed", "Clamor", and "Full Bloom".

The band recorded 8 or 9 songs at the state college in Fredonia, NY on the school's 16-track studio. Mike Huber put up the money for the recording, and his boyhood friend Dave Fridmann engineered and helped produce the songs. Hahn Rowe, of the band Hugo Largo, also engineered the recording and mix-downs.

They shopped the demo tape around, and received some interest from Jungle Records, a label based in the UK. Nothing came of it, however, and the band went their separate ways. Jonathan had been working with the Flaming Lips as a roadie and later as a member for about 18 months, eventually introducing the Lips to Dave Fridmann and getting them studio time in Fredonia. Meanwhile, Sue worked as a reporter for the College Music Journal, Grasshopper worked in the A/V department of a law firm, and Mike went to grad school in Minneapolis.

Then circa 1989, most of the band reformed in NYC. Mike Huber chose to stay in Minneapolis, and was replaced on drums by Jimy Chambers, an active musician from the Buffalo scene. With Huber gone, David Baker found himself back in the fold. Sean switched to guitar, and Dave Fridmann joined the band (now calling themselves Mercury Rev) and took over on bass. The rechristened band's initial work was creating soundtracks for nature shows they taped off TV. These newly-scored videos got around and landed the band work doing soundtracks for independent films, including Howard Nelson's Lite-Brite and two films by Marco Fogg, Sugardaddy Sea and Big Bird Watcher. Before long, the group recorded a demo onto a reel of 35mm magnetic film. Jungle Records had continued to maintain contact and eventually signed to band to their new imprint, Mint Films. David Baker was contacted by Rough Trade about a record deal for the band, who they in turn also signed with.

Around this time, Sean started going by "Grasshopper", a childhood nickname. Jonathan, while going under the alias of "Dingus" with the Flaming Lips, chose to use his real name with Mercury Rev. David Baker would often refer to himself as "Shady," presumably an homage to the early band, and in fact he would use the moniker as the name of his solo project years later.

The band eventually finished up enough songs for an album, Yerself Is Steam, and additionally a couple singles, Car Wash Hair and If You Want Me To Stay. Unfortunately, financial trouble at the labels resulted in the releases going out of print soon after they were put out. Before long, the band was picked up by Columbia/Sony (in the US) and Beggar's Banquet (in the UK), who reissued Yerself and went on to release the band's next two LPs.


Mike Huber is rumored to still have the Shady Crady master demo tapes recorded at Fredonia in 1988. In early 2003, two tracks were released to the internet courtesy of David Anderson, a musician/friend/fan who was at Buffalo University at the same time as some of the band members. The tracks, "Clamor" and "Full Bloom", featured Sean on vocals/bass, Jonathan on guitar, Suzanne on flute, and Mike Huber on drums. The sound quality of the mp3s was poor, but Rev fans were nonetheless happy to get a peek back in time to the embryonic days of the band. Years later, one of the tracks finally gained official release when "Clamor" was included on the rarities disc of The Essential Mercury Rev : Stillness Breathes 1991-2006.

Also, a live tape of the band was known to exist, recorded by David Anderson at a Buffalo art space called Squeaky Wheel in a small storefront on Potomac Avenue in front of about a dozen people. The recording was high quality (recorded on a two-track reel-to-reel) and featured, among other songs, the proto-Rev track "Ice Flow". Unfortunately, the tape was lost over the years in one of Anderson's many moves, and no other copy is known to exist. (On a personal note, if anyone has this tape or the demo tape, please let me know.. I'd love to get a copy. Same with the early independent films Mercury Rev did the music for.)


VARIOUS NOTES (sewing up the scene)

The People's Front was an early/mid 80s punk band with Micky Mercurio on vocals, Kyle Gaszynski on guitar, Sean Mackowiak on drums, various people on bass (including Eyk Syckle, Joe Largeman, Joe Mercurio, and near the end, Dave Fridmann). They played various shows in Fredonia and Buffalo, eventually putting out a cassette, Speeches of Articulate Poison, in 1985. Maximum Rock n Roll said, "The recording is pretty rough, but that won't stop you from enjoying this. Intelligent lyrics are propelled by tough and loud thrash. Noisy but controlled, with plenty of energy and determination. Good start. (TY)".
In 1986, The People's Front were included on a compilation 7" which was put out by Mike Huber/Non-Licensed Fun. They disbanded soon thereafter, when Kyle was in a car accident. (In 1991, when Mercury Rev played their first show at BJ's in Fredonia, Jonathan dedicated "Frittering" to The People's Front.)

Sean Mackowiak was the original bass player for a band called SugarFix. They included Steve Rinaldo (guitar), Mike Huber (drums), Greg Sterlace (vocals, now host of The Greg Sterlace Public Access Show), and later David Anderson (bass).

Later, during the time of Shady Crady, both Sean Mackowiak and Mike Huber were also in another Buffalo band called Sunny in Chernobyl, an industrial band that was heavy on percussion. Both Sean and Mike played drums for the band, and there were two other drummers who played percussion on various bits of metal. The sound was rounded out by a guitarist and bass player. Mike formed Sunny In Chernobyl as a performance group for the "Skin"-themed show at Hallwalls in 1987 or so. The original concept was a bunch of drummers (the "skin") and Steve Rinaldo on guitar and David Anderson on bass. The lineup changed with just about every show, but some regular performers were Roger Bordeau, Seth Tamrowski (who's since gone on to a career in the movie industry), Kristen Pfaff (who later went on to form her own band, Janitor Joe, and then became a bass player for Hole), Gwen Howard (an architect), Ron Fechter, Paul Dickinson, and others.

Sean and Huber also briefly had a band called Pokalon. Mike was the singer, and Sean was on bass. This was the band that immediately preceded Shady Crady for the two. Their final show was July 22, 1986, at the Polish Cadets Hall in Buffalo, opening for Sonic Youth. Huber recalls: "The most memorable part of the show was that a polka dance was happening upstairs simultaneously so the two audiences entered together. The elderly couples, the woman always in a fancy polka dress were directed upstairs, the kids, mostly wearing black were sent downstairs. It was Pokalon's last show. We weren't too happy with our performance, but a year later Thurston asked why Pokalon wasn't opening for Sonic Youth."

Mike Huber went on to play drums in John's Black Dirt in the 90s, a band that for a time also included Kristin Pfaff.

To add to the tie-ins, Steve Rinaldo, Sean Mackowiak, and Jonathan Donahue all shared an apartment in the early days.

In 1988, former People's Front singer, Micky Mercurio, joined his brother Joe's band, The Magic Skyboat, on bass. Nancy Farina was on drums, and Joe played guitar. He and Micky sang. The Magic Skyboat played Fredonia and then Buffalo venues when they relocated there in 1989. They recorded a group of songs with Dave Fridmann at SUNY Fredonia around the same time as Shady Crady.

In 1993, Micky Mercurio recorded some solo songs with Dave Fridmann at his house. Micky played all the parts (except one bass line) and Jeff Mercel played drums. Jeff would go on to replace Jimy Chambers as Mercury Rev's drummer in 1998.

In 1994, Micky Mercurio moved to San Francisco for about a year, where he did some recordings with Jack Shaw. Micky played guitar and sang, while Jack played bass, Brendan Schonwetter played guitar, Josh Wheeler played drums, and Diana Mangano sang back-ups. Jack Shaw would later become the tour manager / sound engineer for Mercury Rev.

Another band from the mid 90s with strong Mercury Rev connections was St. Johnny. They released three albums, and were at various times aided by Dave Fridmann, Grasshopper, David Baker, Julie Baker (David's sister), and Micky Mercurio. Frontman Bill Whitten later formed Grand Mal, a band that, over the years, received contributions in the studio from Dave Fridmann, Suzanne Thorpe, Grasshopper, and Jeff Mercel.

In the second half of the 90s, Micky Mercurio did more recordings at home with Dave. He played a gig at BJ's Fredonia in 1996 with Brian Dudley on guitar, Dave Fridmann on bass, Jeff Mercel on drums, and Mary Fridmann singing backups. He recorded again in 1997 with Dave Fridmann at the newly built Tarbox Road Studios. Brian Dudley would later go on to guitar tech for Mercury Rev. Mary Fridmann (wife of Dave) also did some recording with Mercury Rev.

In June 2003, a new band called Captain Bringdown and The Buzzkillers was formed with Micky on guitar and singing, Dave Fridmann taking up drums (just learning how to play), Mary Fridmann taking up bass (also learning how to play), and Bill Racine on guitar. They played a handful of shows at BJs and even did a bit of recording at Tarbox, but disbanded in February 2004, with Bill moving away. That gave way to the formation of a new band called Carbon Copy Cats, with Micky again on guitar and vocals, Dave again on drums, and somebody else on bass.


written/plagiarized by Gavin Bachner
{links/credits} (David Anderson) (Micky Mercurio) (Mary Fridmann) (Dave Fridmann) (AllMusic)