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Members include Bob Griffin (born December 4, 1959, in Waukesha, WI; joined band c. 1985), bass; Nick Kitsos (joined band c. 1996), drums; Sam Llanas (born February 8, 1961, in Waukesha, WI), vocals, guitar; Kurt Neumann (born October 9, 1961, in Waukesha, WI), guitar, vocals, mandolin. Former members include Rafael "Danny" Gayol, drums (from c. 1991 to 1993); Guy Hoffman (born May 20, 1954, left band c. 1988), drums. Addresses: Record company--Reprise Records, 3300 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91506-4694. Website--www.RepriseRec.com/BoDeans.
In the cutthroat, commercial world of rock and roll, the BoDeans themselves have admitted that they're something of an anomaly: a band that managed to secure a major label record deal despite spending the first ten years of its career without a hit single. The vocal harmony and guitar-driven rock band--made up of core singer-songwriter-guitarists Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann, along with bass player Bob Griffin and a revolving line-up of drummers, beginning with Guy Hoffman--formed in Waukesha, WI, in 1983. Despite being touted as the "next big thing" when they released their debut album in 1986, the BoDeans would spend a decade in relative obscurity, winning fans mostly through word-of-mouth about the band's rousing live shows, until a popular youth-oriented television show would introduce the BoDeans to a mass audience and gain new legions of listeners.
The band can trace its beginnings to the friendship, as well as the musical kinship, forged in a high school study hall in Waukesha between Llanas and Neumann. "It was immediate," Neumann once said of the pair's musical bond. "The first time we ever played together, we fit together so naturally. I just knew at that first gig that we were going to be working together for a very long time." After graduating from high school, Neumann made ends meet by stuffing envelopes for a mass-mailing company. During this time, he taught himself how to play guitar by listening to Chuck Berry records at home. After a short stint in college, Llanas returned to Waukesha and also took odd jobs as the pair attempted to get their music out to the public. In a 1986 interview in Time magazine, Llanas recalled playing for drinks one night a week in the window of a hometown bar. "There was a bar in one room and a connecting room with a couple of pool tables," Llanas told reporter Jay Cocks. "Sometimes there'd be a couple of guys shooting a game, but usually we played to nobody."
The band members got their first big break when Slash Records offered them a contract in 1985. Taking their name from the Jethro Bodine character of "The Beverly Hillbillies," the BoDeans won over reviewers with their stripped-down, T-Bone Burnett-produced 1986 debut, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams (an allusion to the Rolling Stones' song "Shattered"). Hailed by critics like People magazine's David Hiltbrand for their "distinctive harmonies and comingling of electric and acoustic guitars," the album earned the Midwestern band a roots-rock tag it has yet to completely shake.
For the BoDean's first album, the band members followed in the footsteps of the Ramones when each adopted stage names with BoDean as a surname. Neumann went a step further by altering his moniker to "Beau BoDean."
Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams paved the way for the band to land the opening slot on six weeks of U2's Joshua Tree tour in 1987, a "best new band" nod in Rolling Stone in 1987, and coveted MTV air play. However, this release failed to establish the BoDeans as a commercial powerhouse, a theme that would be repeated throughout most of the band's career.
For the follow-up, 1987's Outside Looking In, the BoDeans teamed with producer and former Talking Heads keyboardist and guitarist Jerry Harrison. The collaboration turned the band's sound into something more slick and packaged, which ultimately left Llanas, Neumann, and company dissatisfied. Consequently, they took a different approach on 1989's Home. Recruiting producer Jim Scott, who had met Llanas and Neumann while they worked on former Band member Robbie Robertson's 1987 solo record, the band (which by then consisted of Llanas, Neumann, bassist Griffin, keyboardist Michael Ramos, and John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff) recorded takes live in their Milwaukee warehouse rehearsal space. The track "Beautiful Rain," Llanas's emotional recounting of the Midwestern drought of 1988, got particularly favorable notice. Reviewing the album for People, Elizabeth Wurtzel called Home a "return to basics" for the band, and "a joy to listen to despite its flaws."
"We were determined to capture the real BoDeans on the new record," Llanas told Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune in 1989. "The essence of our sound is playing together, playing live. We knew the first two records didn't have that." A number of rock writers agreed, including suburban Detroit's Eccentric writer Larry O'Connor, who observed that the "sparse location served the band well. Some of the tracks contain the rawness the group has had difficulty capturing on previous albums."
All the same, Home failed to make the BoDeans household names, and the band enlisted a more commercial producer, David Z. Rivkin ("David Z"), for 1991's Black and White. Better known for his work with Fine Young Cannibals, Jody Watley, and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, David Z brought more adult pop sheen to the band's sound. Bringing in drummer Danny Gayol of California, Black and White was recorded at Prince's Paisley Park studios in Minneapolis on a sound stage, with the band recording material together live as it had during sessions for Home.
"We thought, well, maybe we're doing something completely wrong," Llanas told Joe Brown of the Washington Post in 1991. "We thought maybe David could help us interpret our music; maybe people just didn't get it."
With its mix of love songs and social commentary, including "Black, White and Blood Red," the band scored a modest success with Black and White, but did not ascend to the heights they had hoped for. Hence, the band decided to halt its pursuit of the elusive hit. The 1993 album Go Slow Down, which teamed the BoDeans once more with producer Burnett and drummer Aronoff, was the result of that retrenching.
As Llanas said, "After Black and White, we thought, well, we didn't really make any progress that way either, so let's go back and ask ourselves, what do we really want to be doing here? And that's how Go Slow Down came about. We just wanted to make some music that we felt good about. So we got back to what we do best, which is pretty much keeping it simple and straightforward and concentrating on a good song."
Go Slow Down promised to repeat the commercial performance of its predecessors. But then the popular Fox network television series Party of Five elected to use the single "Closer to Free" as its theme song. Two-and-a-half years after the album's release, the BoDeans had a hit single on their hands as "Closer" raced up the charts and boosted sales of Go Slow Down and Joe Dirt Car, a live double-album of old and more recent material that the band issued in 1995.
Resisting the pressure to duplicate the surprise success of "Closer to Free," the BoDeans focused on making a new album they could take pride in. "We knew that we sort of had a foot in the door at radio with 'Closer to Free.' So we just wanted to make a good record," Llanas told Mark Brown of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service in 1996. "We didn't want to make 'Closer to Free II.' But we wanted to make a very strong record, very to the point."
Adding new drummer Nick Kitsos and accordion player Danny Federici (of E Street Band fame), the BoDeans recorded 1996's Blend over a two-year period, heading for the studio between shows. The band also hired legendary producer Bob Clearmountain to mix two tracks: the album-opener, "The Understanding," and "Hurt by Love," a haunting song Neumann wrote for his parents, who divorced after 35 years of marriage. Praised by Herald writer Craig Colgan for its "subtle arrangements," "rumbling, dynamic guitar-jangle," and "compelling singing," Blend seemed a fitting follow-up. And with "Closer" and the national emergence of the album adult alternative (AAA) radio format, the BoDeans had finally found a place for themselves on the airwaves.
While "Closer to Free" may have given the band the radio play it sought for so long, band members acknowledged that they have learned from past experience not to consciously strive for hit singles or records. As Neumann said in a 1996 interview in Entertainment Today, "When you make a record, you release it with no expectations. You have to just go in the studio and make the best record you can."
Though Llanas was collecting songs in 1996 for a solo album he planned to release one day, he insisted that the band had no intention of breaking up. "This partnership [with Neumann] has always been based on a strong friendship," Llanas told Brown. "Trust, respect, and a lot of tolerance. We have our ups and downs, but I truly believe we get off on each other's work."
by K. Michelle Moran
Formed 1983, in Waukesha, WI; released debut album Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams on Slash/Reprise label in 1986; single "Closer to Free" from 1993 album Go Slow Down was picked up as theme for Fox network television series Party of Five c. 1996.
- Selective Works
- Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, Slash/Reprise, 1986.
- Outside Looking In, Slash/Reprise, 1987.
- Home, Slash/Reprise, 1989.
- Black and White, Slash/Reprise, 1991.
- Go Slow Down, Slash/Reprise, 1993.
- Joe Dirt Car, Slash/Reprise, 1995.
- Blend, Slash/Reprise, 1996.
August 16, 2005: The BoDeans' album, Homebrewed: Live from the Pabst, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, August 18, 2005.
- Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Stockton Press, 1995.
- Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, editors, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside/Rolling Stone Press, 1995.
- Periodicals Athens Daily News/Athens Banner-Herald, March 9, 1997.
- Billboard, March 2, 1996.
- Chicago Tribune, July 4, 1989.
- Eccentric, October 10, 1989.
- Entertainment Today (Los Angeles), November 22, 1996.
- Entertainment Weekly, August 11, 1995; March 15, 1996; March 29, 1996; May 10, 1996; November 8, 1996.
- Gavin, February 2, 1996; November 8, 1996.
- Herald, March 14, 1996.
- Hits, December 9, 1996.
- Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, November 1996.
- People, June 16, 1986; September 18, 1989.
- Time, June 9, 1986.
- Washington Post, May 17, 1991.
- Additional information was provided by Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 18, 1996, and Slash/Reprise publicity materials, 1997.
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