Image of George Usher
George Usher

Not The Tremblin' Kind

05/20/2009 09:21 AM

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, I managed a NYC record store on the upper east side…My days off were Sunday and Monday…Sunday, I usually did a variety of things with my live-in girlfriend…So, being home alone, Monday was my songwriting day…And I used those days to write as many songs as possible…

I’d get out of bed early and drink two cups of coffee…After my girlfriend left for work, the day would officially begin…Out came the bottle of cognac and whatever pills I had to help me operate in a devil may care, hell bent for leather, no time to waste fashion…

I had to compose as many songs as possible, sometimes 3-4, sometimes 7-8, before my girlfriend returned home…or I passed out…or both…I’d sit at the piano or on the couch with an acoustic guitar and just start playing and singing…I’d finish whatever piece I’d started, put it on tape…and start another…drink more cognac, maybe a couple of beers for lunch…finish another, put it on tape…drink more cognac, swallow more pills and start another…all day…

Often, the songs were just drawn “out of the air” and completed in such a quick manner that it resembled “automatic writing”…And over the next few days, until the following Monday, I’d go back and revisit those pieces when I had the time…Sometimes, they were pure junk…Other times, they had the basis for something special…And still other times, I was able to combine parts of 2-3 mediocre songs to complete a really good one…

The third song I wrote, out of six, on April 21, 1980 was “Not The Tremblin’ Kind”…It came after a weird, piano ballad called “Geoffrey’s Promise”, an instrumental piece I named “The Diet Rag” for some reason and before a Creedence-type rocker, “Rockin’ Under The Stars”…It was probably written around noon…when the combination of booze, pills and songwriting focus would often bring me the most clarity of purpose and inspiration…

The lyrics and music I put on tape at that time are the same ones I’ve always used…The only change I ever made to the arrangement was adding a solo and repeating the bridge and third verse…

It demonstrated a number of influences that I’ve had my whole life…It was based around a simple, jangly riff in the key of A…You could hear the Searchers, the Beatles, the Beau Brummels, the Byrds…I had just re-discovered early Merle Haggard, too…So, in a way, I was trying to write a song like “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive”…The title echoed an old Dino, Desi and Billy track, “Not The Lovin’ Kind”, which also had its share of jangle…
But the soaring melody in the bridge was Roy Orbison-inspired…He had recently recorded a lackluster comeback lp for Elektra Records…I loved his early 60’s Monument recordings, so I channeled that kind of effect for the bridge…

Anyway, I stuck it on tape and wrote 3 more songs that day, drinking and pill-popping, completely forgetting about it…It was a few days later I re-discovered it…I immediately recognized it as a good song to bring into my powerpop band at the time, the Decoys…

The Decoys covered a lot of ground musically, and I guess calling them “powerpop” is a little restricting…At the time, we were playing a lot of material that would have been considered “new wave” because of the classic, melodic song structures…But, the Decoys also rocked a lot harder than most “new wave” bands, so we never really fit in anywhere…

I played the song for the band, they liked it and it immediately went into our set…In those days, we played a lot of the NYC clubs…CBGB’s…A place on East 86th St. called “The Eighties”…Local colleges…“R.T. Firefly”, a little club in the Village…lots of other places that came and went…

A year later, we chose it to be our first (and only) independent 45…We cut a serviceable version, backed it with a song called “Good Doctor” (that I revisited on Ludlow) and released it on our own Trounce Records label…It got a decent review in NY Rocker…We sold a few at shows, including one to a visiting Canadian rocker, Dave Rave, who remains a close friend all these years later…

Garry Velletri, a musician buddy of our drummer, Frank Damico, worked for an Indie distributor and managed to get some exported to Sweden…It actually sold a few copies and is slated to be on a small label, powerpop compilation there, soon…

I resurrected “Not The Tremblin’ Kind” in the late 80’s with House Of Usher…But we never recorded it…My friends in Beat Rodeo heard us play it, though, and subsequently added it to their “covers” repertoire in the early 90’s…I’d played and recorded with Beat Rodeo in 1985-87 when they were signed to IRS Records…By the early 90’s they were holding court at the Ludlow Café (and later, Manitoba’s) on Monday nights, playing eclectic covers and bringing assorted friends and guests up to perform…There were years of legendary Monday night performances, as anyone who ever attended will testify…

Local WFMU deejay and country singer Laura Cantrell heard Beat Rodeo perform the song a few times and, thinking it was an “obscure cover song” (which it was!), asked where she could get the original recording…By then, I’d cut my “definitive” version of it for the Miracle School cd…Laura and I knew each other…She’d had me as a guest on her radio show numerous times and I’d helped her get a booking or two…But she hadn’t known I’d written “Not The Tremblin’ Kind” until Beat Rodeo told her…

She cut a version of it and it became the title track of her first cd…The whole cd was terrific…It received wonderful reviews and certainly got the song “out” to more people than ever before, particularly in England…where legendary DJ John Peel championed Laura and the cd…

I still perform “Not The Tremblin’ Kind” at my shows and when I see folks singing along, I assume it’s because they’re acquainted with Laura’s version…Although, once in a while, old Decoys fans show up and it’s probably a different listening experience for them, almost thirty years later…