Why is it that some bands gel and others just don’t? It’s not just a matter of musicianship. You can put well-trained musicians together, give them some sheet music or charts, and they’ll likely have just about any cover song worked out in a matter of minutes.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Every night in every city there are musicians playing material together for the first time. Training and skill make it possible. When a pickup gig like this comes together, all that really matters is that the listeners are pleased and the musicians get paid.
But musicians playing in an original band are embarking on a different sort of adventure. In the world of original music, there are usually one or two members who are coming up with the material. Often, there are no charts or sheet music to follow. The chord changes and the melody are performed by the author of the work at a rehearsal and the other members listen and often add their parts as things go along.
Working in this fashion requires a lot of generosity from everyone involved. Original bands can have a harder time getting gigs because fewer venues are receptive to relatively unheard tunes. And you can bet they won’t command much of a guarantee at their first gigs.
A bar owner who looks at a band the way he looks at other profit-making amusements like the pool table, dart board or the juke box is likely only interested in how much more beer gets ordered while the band is playing. A lackluster version of “Mustang Sally” might be all that’s needed to get the assembled bikers to order a few more pitchers. Everyone goes home buzzed and happy. A bar or two like this exist somewhere in the metro area of every single city in America.
However, the world of original music is not satisfied with such a simple formula and it kind of strays into the realm of—dare I say—art. It’s new. That newness alone is enough to make some people uncomfortable. Who wants to go out of the house and spend money only to feel uncomfortable?
And yet every so often an original band comes along and their sound is immediately accessible. People start to dance to a story they’ve never heard before. You look at the musicians on stage and it’s obvious that they’re having fun. So is the crowd. So is the club owner. When these factors start to line up things can get exciting.
Bands love to play for a responsive audience and audiences love bands that are having fun playing for them. And when the music is original it makes the whole scene more unique. I enjoy the feeling that there is no place else on Earth where another band is playing the songs I’m hearing—performed by a great, original group.
So it was with Buffalo’s very own Pine Dogs. I was a fan from the moment I first saw them in the late 1980s. In those days I was part of an original surf/garage band called the Jacklords, and we played a number of gigs together. Their musical chops were far ahead of most indie acts. Their songs were catchy and clever. Their attitude was cool and confident. When Gretchen Schulz joined the band on lead vocals, it seemed like only a short matter of time before they would be signed to a major label and their tunes would start blasting out from radios across the country—infecting a growing fan base with ear worms and propelling the band onward to ever-bigger concert venues.
That didn’t happen. The mind-boggling number of factors that have to come together in order for a band to ascend beyond the local/regional level simply did not materialize for the Pine Dogs. The ensuing disappointment eventually led to a breakup. It’s a sadly familiar story.
But once in a while a band like this comes back. Rather than streaking across the night sky like a meteor and disintegrating into stardust, the Pine Dogs are proving to be a comet that’s finally circling back into our orbit. All five band members will be reuniting on the Sportsmen’s Tavern stage on Saturday, April 29, at 3 p.m.
It’s bound to be a show that folks will talk about for years. I was so excited about it that I decided to pepper all the band members — Gretchen Schulz, Jim Whitford, Don Vincent, Tom Fischer, and Jim Celeste – with a few questions, which they graciously answered. Without further ado …
What is a Pine Dog?
Gretchen Schulz: A Pine Dog is just like any dog: your best friend! The “Pine Dogs” is a pack of best friends who wrote, recorded and performed some of the greatest music together for over a decade to a devoted following in and around WNY!
Jim Whitford: I recall having a strategy meeting at the Pink with Don about our new band name. I had recently heard something about a band called the Tone Dogs from L.A. and wanted to steal the name because I thought it sounded so cool. I suggested using Dogs in the name and we drank, er, brainstormed some more. Don came up with Pine and I thought Pine Dogs sounded cool. As I remember, he expounded on the virtue of pine being the most all purpose and user friendly of all the woods. Inexpensive, easy to work with and visually appealing without pretension. I think of Pine Dogs (musically) being generally accessible with a familiar feel that’s carved into something original.
Don Vincent: According to Wikipedia, a dog is “… is a tool or part of a tool, such as a pawl, that prevents or imparts movement through physical engagement. It may hold another object in place by blocking it, clamping it, or otherwise obstructing its movement …”, in this case, made of pine, obviously. BTW: What’s a Steam Donkey?
Tom Fischer: A musician who helped create the sound of great Buffalo band that for reasons beyond comprehension is still not in the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.
Jim Celeste: A Pine Dog is what you get when you mix late night hours with a Pink Flamingo and Bourbon. A relatively new species of canine wood that thrives best in its natural environment of smoky unkempt drinking establishments and the like, and that serves really good steak sandwiches.
Has being in a band changed much since the late 1980s?
Gretchen Schulz: Here’s what I’ve noticed: Bands don’t practice and write together regularly like we did. We were twice a week and everything ẁas worked on together from lyrics to harmonies and arrangements. I feel like since then, a lot of musicians “gig” with a band or bands as opposed to really “being” in one.
That has its advantages because it allows you the freedom to explore your talents with other artists, atmospheres and audiences. Invaluable and rewarding for sure! It also created a better music community as a whole, becoming more supportive and more open minded to something different, both by musicians AND audiences.
The genres and scenes were very separate and “cliquey” back in the day. You were either in an original band, or a blues band, or a top 40 band or a jazz band, etc., and there wasn’t a sense of camaraderie between them. I definitely felt the scorn from peers and fans when I made the choice to stretch my voice and break away from what I called the “Neitzsche’s mentality” or in other words—to sell out?! (No offense to my beloved home away from home to whom I owe everything). Deep down I knew it was good for me and for the music scene at large to do that. My steady gigs at Sportsman’s was key to helping that happen.
BUT THE FEELING of closeness, fun and love that the Pine Dogs had is something I always cherished and have never experienced since.
(Oh, yeah, and kids today with their 9 p.m.—1 a.m. gigs. Ha! We didn’t even start before 11:30 p.m. and played till 4 a.m. Lightweights!)
Jim Whitford: I haven’t followed pop radio since the 1970s. I think maybe there is such an overload of everything now that it might be much harder to sound original or, more importantly, to connect people emotionally? One noteworthy thing is that there is a much higher percentage of great female musicians in our awareness. How many records did Fanny sell compared to male counterparts?
Don Vincent: Band members’ activity and interactions are much the same as in the ’80s, albeit perhaps a tad slower and down a half-step in some cases. The early starting times are a big change and much appreciated! We do seem to be attracting a more mature crowd these days.
Tom Fischer: Everyone and everything has changed since the formation in 1988. The change is slow and gradual and you barely notice it while you’re in the thick of it. But as years pass and you spend time with other musicians, and grow with your friends and family, you see the changes more profoundly. Certain musical aspects have evolved for better, and other other ancillary aspects have stagnated.
Jim Celeste: Yes and no. Yes, because of so many technical advances are available to help you perform, record and put your music out. No, because it still comes down to a group of people getting together to collaborate and create. No, bar gig pay hasn’t changed much!
You’ve all continued to play music outside of the band. Can you share some of those projects with our readers?
Gretchen Schulz: Great success with The Morvels, including live DVD from Sportsman’s. Inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. Released a solo CD “Everything Counts.” Recorded in Buffalo and Los Angeles with famed artists like Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt), Gary Mallaber (Steve Miller, Bruce Springsteen), Tom Walsh (Spyro Gyra, Joe Cocker), Johnny G (Slash), and brothers Bob and Dave Schulz.
Contributed recordings to several local compilation CDs. Scottylicious. C.O. Jones. Allen Degenerates. Duo with son, Colin. Solo gigs. And my favorite lately: showing up to friends’ gigs and sitting in for one or two!
For last few years I’ve focused on practicing, writing and consistently learning songs in my “lair” and sometimes sharing them on FB. It’s nice to present a song so intimately in that way. No fuss, no muss. No makeup. No EQ. I like it.
Jim Whitford: After the Pine Dogs I spent some time trying the solo singer/songwriter thing but always preferred being in a band. I was lucky to be able to play with the Steam Donkeys for a couple years. I was just starting to learn pedal steel and it was a great opportunity to play that instrument with a band that played original music that I loved. I became quite committed to being a sideman around that time. Mainly steel guitar and bass.
I spent a lot of years playing blues with my old friend Mark Winsick, and that made folks in the blues community aware of me and led to a lot of work. Things opened up more when I started playing upright bass. I was surprised at how many roots and bluegrass players needed upright players. Spent a lot of years playing bluegrass with Doug Yeomans and ended up playing bass with the legendary Stone Country Band (definitely not a blues band) around the same time.
Did a lot of shows with the Tarbox Ramblers out of Boston, Mass. (Definitely a blues band that never played a shuffle. Greasy as hell.) Played for a long time with Dave Ruch and Phil Banaszak in the Canal Street String Band. Lots of obscure pre-bluegrass NYS folk tunes and more.
I suppose I can just sum all that up by saying I’m happy to play American roots music of all kinds with people that are sincere about it?
Don Vincent: While living in Cattaraugus County late last century, I got involved with a long-running musical collective called Ashford Junction. The Saturday night jams with Mike Schulz (RIP) and company were epic. Later, my musical career was interrupted for about a dozen years whilst I played the traveling I.T. Consultant—rushing through airports, advising clients on the latest and greatest, writing “code,” blah, blah, blah … Then, one year into the pandemic, I wrote and recorded “I Don’t Know (The Covid Song)” on my home office laptop “studio,” with remote musical contributions from lots of folks you know. Proof that a person with a laptop and time on their hands can be a danger to themselves and others.
Tom Fischer: After my time with the Pine Dogs, I formed a band with Adam Gearing, Jim Celeste, Dave Meinzer and Cathy Carfagna (someone whose absence from the Buffalo Music HOF is beyond ridiculous) called the Outlyers in 1998. Over the next 19 years the band released two wonderful CDs of original music and saw the addition of the mighty John Brady, and the late, great Kevin McCue. After the departure of McCue in 2015, the Outlyers started to have member changes to the point where it became unrecognizable musically. Since the demise of the Outlyers, Jim Celeste and I have formed The Junkman’s Choir with Carl Krahling and Bill Blanford and have been gigging out frequently. Also during the 2010s, Jim Celeste and I occasionally played with Dan Delano, Donna Kerr, Bill Tuyn and Mike Buckley in Scarred for Life.
Jim Celeste: After the Pine Dogs I played in a few different bands before forming the Outlyers with Tom. Members included Adam Gearing, Kevin McCue, Cathy Carfagna, John Brady and Dave Meinzer. That band lasted for about 19 years.
After the Outlyers, Tom and I played in Scarred for Life with Dan Delano, Donna Kerr, Mike Buckley and Bill Tuyn.
Tom and I currently play now in a band called The Junk Man’s Choir with Carl Krahling and Bill Blanford.
I’ve played shows with Jim Whitford as “A Little Mixed Up” that included Dave Ruch on guitar.
I’ve played with Jim, Dave and Joe Bellanti as “Whitford, Ruch, Bellanti and Celeste.”
I’ve been playing with pianist Theresa Quinn at various venues and the MusicalFare Cabaret.
I just finished a month-long run playing drums in the musical “Tell Me On A Sunday” performed at MusicalFare and have been asked to perform in “12th Night” coming in July.
Describe for us the recordings the band left behind. How did they come about? Where and with whom were they made?
Jim Whitford: It (The “Jane … Stop This Crazy Thing!” cassette) was recorded on Beta hi-fi. The kind of tape you’d watch video on before VHS cornered the market. We were able to multi track through a mixer and it might have been somewhat limited but it sounds great! It’s my favorite P Dog recording. It’s raw and feels great. It went directly to cassette tape. A couple years later Gurf Morlix expressed an interest in producing a CD for us. He produced and Mike Brydalski engineered. We did it at Mark Studio. A real studio! A couple years after that we won an Artvoice award where the prize was a certain number of time at Select Sound Studios in Buffalo and some hours at Metal Works Studio in Toronto. The award was generous, but not enough hours to make an entire record so we went back to the Beta in the rehearsal space and did most of the tracking on that and used the real studio time to track the more demanding stuff and mix everything. It was a ton of work but it meant not spending thousands on professionals. We basically stuck it to the man! And we’d do it again!
Don Vincent: You will probably get the most accurate info on this topic from Tom, but here are my recollections. “Jane … Stop This Crazy Thing!” 1989, 9 songs, cassette only, recorded in Tom Fischer’s basement on a 4 track, includes PD songs from our earliest days as a quartet. “Give It Back / Do You Really Mean It”, 1991 (?), cassingle, recorded at BCMK Studio on Delaware Ave, with Gurf Morlix on the pedal steel, and Mike Brydalski producing. “Going Away Party,” 1992, 10-song CD, recorded at MARK Studios, Gurf & Mike producing. “Mighty Engines Of Love,” 1995, 12-song CD, produced by Bob Hobler … I retired from the band during the early stages of the recordings, so you’ll need to rely on info from others for the where and by whom details. Regrettably, there is another set of recordings that have not seen the light of day. In 1994, we performed a set at the LaSalle Park Friendship Festival Weekend, headlined that day by Crash Test Dummies. Our set was early in the afternoon, the weather was blisteringly hot, and we had had a late night gig the night before. Need I say more? David Kane and Them Jazzbeards were coming off stage as we were going on, dressed in their usual black, and the looks on their dripping faces told me all that we needed to know about the stage temperature. We sweated through our set, and as we were loading out, one of the stage crew told us that the “Dummies” had brought a mobile recording studio with them, and that our set was recorded, and if we wanted it we could have the tapes at cost. So of course we acquired the tapes. Once we located a local studio (Jimmy Yeomans’) who had the right equipment to listen to the tapes (24 tracks on 3 VCR tapes I think) we were able to hear what was captured. To me, several of those songs were among the best sounding recordings that we ever produced, and the live performances were top notch. Not knowing that the recording was occurring I’m sure had something to do with it. A couple of those tunes were re-recorded for “Mighty Engines,” but two – “Rock & Roll Star” and “Where Are You Now?” — were not. Some of our best work as a band.
Tom Fischer: 1. “Jane, Stop This Crazy Thing!” (1989) Cassette — Nine songs recorded on a 4 track in my basement in Cheektowaga by ourselves. The purpose was twofold. We needed to hear ourselves and know if we had something and it became part of the press kit that helped us get gigs.
2. Give It Back/Do You Really Mean It? (1990) Cassingle — this was our first proper studio recording with Gretchen Schulz’s husband Mike Brydalski producing at BCMK. Mike picked the songs and called all the studio shots. It was the first time we played with Gurf Morlix, who guested on pedal steel on “Do You Really Mean It? ” It made us all believe we really had something musically and ultimately became a stepping stone to the next first full CD.
3. “Going Away Party” (1992) — 12-song CD produced by Gurf Morlix and engineered by Mike Brydalski at Mark Studios in Clarence. By this point the band was playing almost every weekend, had three sets of solid music, including about 20 original songs. Gurf selected to 12 songs and we set about self-funding the CD with friends and family. It achieved a lot of college radio airplay, and got us gigs opening for the likes of Lucinda Williams, Jeff Healy and the 10,000 Maniacs at Shea’s.
4. “Mighty Engines of Love” (1995) — by this point, the band is starting to go their separate ways. Don is on a few songs, but parted ways during the recording. This was a self-produced CD with Bob Hobler at the controls. We used the winnings from an Artvoice music competition to kickstart the project at Select Sound and the winnings of another competition to mix it at Metal Works in Toronto. A year after its release, it was clear financially the band could not survive on original music alone. The need to play money making gigs superseded to ability to keep the whatever magic we had together and things slowly fell apart from there.
Jim Celeste: Everyone in the band wanted to write and play original material. The process was creative, inclusive, collaborative. Each of us were free to bring whatever we had to offer to the band. What we got was what I think are a collection of very good songs that represented who Pine Dogs were at the time. If you asked us what we were at the time, we couldn’t really say. If we did say, we made it up.
All releases were on Das Kapital Records/Moose Blast Music
- 19?? – “Jane, Stop This Crazy Thing!” – on cassette.
- 1991 – Pine Dogs – self-titled cassette, recorded at BCMK. Two songs – “Give It Back,” “Do You Really Mean It?” Engineer/Producer – Mike Brydalski
- 1991 -1992 – “Going Away Party” – produced by Gurf Morlix. Mixed by Gurf/Mike Brydalski – 12 original songs that charted on college radio stations throughout the world.
- 1995 – “Mighty Engines of Love” – Metalworks Studios/The Recording Complex. I think we self-produced this one with Bob Hobler. Twelve original songs.
What can fans expect at the reunion show?
Gretchen Schulz: Performing our two CDs, starting with “Going Away Party” and then “Mighty Engines of Love” (mostly in their entirety), sprinkled with old favorites from our live shows and maybe even a new original. Some surprise guest appearances throughout. Merch, including original PD t-shirts, a new PD t-shirt design, random memorabilia including one-offs like a coffee mug, cassette tape, Pine Dog biscuit and more. You can also expect to go home with a sore face from smiling and a full heart from the massive amounts of love that will be coming off and onto the stage.
Jim Whitford: We plan on delivering as much material as we can in a 3-hour show and doing it with more energy than we’ve ever put into a show.
Don Vincent: Fans can expect to hear a couple sets of Pine Dogs tunes along with a few of our favorite covers. The plan right now is to play the “Going Away Party” CD in its entirety during the first set. We have added a new wrinkle or two to here and there to keep things interesting, and that we hope our fans will appreciate. In my opinion, we have a bright future as a Pine Dogs tribute act.
Tom Fischer: Since it’s close to the 30th anniversary of the “Going Away Party” release, we are playing the album in its entirety of the album at the start of the show. From there we will play as much original music and a few classic covers as we can fit into two 75-minute sets with a 30 minute break in a three hour time slot. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
Jim Celeste: Reenactments of the same jackassery we always did but a little slower and in different keys. It’s been a quite a while since we played together, and we are all looking forward to playing together again.
Right now, when I look back on it, we were all on a twister. If you want the naked truth, it was like a ton of bricks. I can remember everybody looking so down and torn, again! As a band we tried so hard but were always just on the outside of that lucky break. Things got murky and we went our separate ways.
However, recently I was very inspired by Tom, who reminded me of the times that I have missed. Hand it down to him because he had the idea that we should give it back right now before it gets to the point where the party has gone away for good. I said that it’s not too late to stop and start over and let’s give it a shot. With some good luck and money, we might be able to convince Whitford, Vincent and Schulz to inspire us again.
I said, let’s give Whitford a call and ask him what he thinks. So, we did. Tom put the phone on speaker, and you could hear JW in a low whiskey voice say, “what you want?” We deliver the pitch, and he says don’t bother me with that old bad penny junk, man. Ugh, did we feel on the outside. But we were relentless and mighty, not letting him get off the hook that easily. So here we are with a show on the 29th of April, 3 p.m. at the Sportsman’s Tavern. It’s anyone’s guess what happens after that.
I offered to let band members respond to anything they wish I’d asked them. I had two takers …
Don Vincent: Why are you doing a reunion show?
A: Because we love playing these songs with this band, and we are all still here to do it, and we truly appreciate having the opportunity to perform for our fans, friends and family once again. I don’t think any one of us ever thought this would ever happen, but here we are. Hallelujah!
Tom Fischer: How is it that the Pine Dogs are not in the Buffalo Music HOF?
A: Damned if I know.
Both good questions indeed! If you’re a fan of Buffalo original music, I’ll see you at this show. Don’t wait to get your tickets.