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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Short Cross - Arising (1972 us, splendid psych blues rock)

To begin the story of Short Cross. I must go back to the day in 1965 that my father introduced me to the son of a friend who  was playing in a band in Sandston, Virginia. I was just  beginning to learn how to play guitar and they needed a bass  player so I was recruited to play bass. Since none of us had  even seen a bass guitar up dose, I played bass on my Stella  acoustic guitar, tuned down an octave, with a cheap  microphone stuck in the sound hole. I don’t remember, but I'm  sure it was a wonderful sound. The reason that I mention ail of  this is because this was the day I met Gray McCalley Gray and  I together became the nucleus of Short Cross.  That first primitive incarnation of the band didn't last very long.  I went back to playing baseball and forgot about playing music  until Gray called one Saturday about a year later and asked if I  wanted to practice. To make a long story somewhat shorter, we  went through several personnel changes and name changes.  We were, at various times, The Crusaders, The Resonators,  finally settling on The Hustlers in the spring of 1967.

The  original line-up of this band was Bob Holmes on rhythm guitar,  Kenny Roberts on bass and sax, Ben Luck on piano, Gray  McCalley on drums and myself on lead guitar. This was the  Line-up that actually started to get paying gigs on a semi-regular  basis.  Our first taste of success was winning the local Battle of the  Bands at Skateland in Sandston. There were no judges. The  contest was to be decided by votes cast by the paying  customers. We let It slip out that, if we won, we were throwing  a beer-party afterwards, and to and behold, we won I could not  attend the party, being only twelve years old at the time, but I'm  sure a rousing good time was had by all and the porcelain was  hugged by many who attended. The competition at this contest  was pretty stiff. It included The Outlaws, whose organ player,  Butch Owens, would soon join our band, and a band that we  had never heard of called The Spiders, whose guitar player,  Joe Sheets, will figure prominently in the rest of this story. The  Spiders repertoire consisted of "the first three Rolling Stones  albums", according to Joe and we were pretty worried when we  heard them. They were Rockin'. But, as it turned out, our beer  party was the key to victory.  Ben Luck, our piano player, left the band to join The  Barracudas. We knew this was a great opportunity for Ben, so  there were no hard feelings.

This Barracudas was the band  that cut the album "A Plane View of the Barracudas" for Justice  Records, recently reissued on CD. Ben played and sang on  their follow-up single, "Days of A Quiet Sun", a great  psychedelic record, if you can find it. The Barracudas were our first role models, our heroes. They had matching suits,  matching Vox equipment, a 1958 Cadillac limousine and a  trailer with their name on it. They were "big time" and they lived  right up the street in Highland Springs. We aspired to be as  cool as they were. I had known Butch Owens for years We  had played baseball together as kids. Lately he had been  playing with a band that we all respected called The Outlaws  (mentioned previously), so we recruited him and he joined up.  Butch was an organ player, so the switch from electric piano to  organ was a new sound. We liked it. It was with this new lineup  that we won our region in the statewide Battle of The Bands.  We probably won because a) we had worked in a girl singer  named Gale Scott and b) we closed with a version of  Beethoven's 'Fur Elise* that we had ripped from Vanilla Fudge.  I guess the judge a thought that was extremely hip and gave us  the win We went on to the state finals, where we finished third  behind two very good soul bands. This was May 1966.

The organ filled the sound up so nicely that we decided we  didn't really need a rhythm guitarist so we let Bob Holmes go I  felt bad about this for a very long time Bob was a great guy  and his personality contributed to the early success of the  group. Our bass guitarist, Kenny Roberts, left because our  Friday night gigs conflicted with his high school football games  This was realty OK, because we had our eye on another bass  player. Dudley "Bird" Sharp. Dudley was in a band called The  Syndicate, an excellent band. We asked him to join and after  some soul searching he said yes. All the pieces were now in place almost.  This four piece version of The Hustlers was doing very well.  We were booked every weekend for what, at the time, was very good-money. Then Dudley came to us with the news that he was going to be named and would have to leave the band to work in the family business Enter Steve Hicks. I knew Steve from school. He was a pretty good bass player and was very excited about joining. He had been playing with a band called The Reactors, ft was actually with this lineup of myself, Gray on drums, Butch on organ and Steve on bass that we would make our first recording Enter illegal substances.

OK, it was 1969 and all of those nasty things were available to us Being teenagers, we had to try them all and with this experimentation came a dramatic change in our tastes in music as well as our approach to our own music We decided that "The Hustlers" was just not a fitting name for a band playing original music. Instead of doing the obvious thing and going with "Hustler", we came up with  "Short Cross". Even now I cant tell you the origin of the name, but I'm pretty sure illegal substances were involved. Our  influences were wide ranging, but we leaned toward heavy rock. We were listening to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple. ELP, King Crimson, Grand Funk Railroad. The Band, Santana. Free, James Gang, all the biggies of the day, and a new band that had started to play around Richmond from time to time. When they first came to town they were called Child, but they soon changed their name to Steel Mill. Their guitarist  was named Bruce Springsteen. The first time we saw Child perform was at a place called Free University in Richmond. A small, second floor club that was packed shoulder to shoulder. I walked up the steps and craned my neck around the PA stack to see this skinny guy with a Les Paul slung to his knees, nearly waist length hair, naked to the waist, absolutely sweating buckets, singing a song called "I'll Be Your Jesus Christ. I’ll Be Your Savior" with an intensity that I had never felt  before I was floored!! Several years later, after seeing  Springsteen perform, Jon Landau would write, "I've seen the  future of Rock & Roll".

We saw it that night in 1969 We  attended every show that we could get to after that. Steel Mill  became our new role models, our heroes. They had a Hammond organ, Marshall amps and they played really loud. We aspired to rock as hard as they did. About this time I was asked to join The Barracudas who were (sorry guys) on their way down. After much gnashing of teeth and some not-so-gentle persuasion from friends and family, I turned them down. Fortunately for this CD that you are holding, Short Cross continued intact One Sunday in 1970. we forced our way onto the bill of a free concert in Monroe Park In the very heart of Richmond hippiedom, VCU When I say forced*, that's not exactly true. The way these concerts happened was that somebody would bring a PA system and bands would just show up and play for free. It's kind of amazing that it worked at all. but that was indicative of the era, I think. We had never played for this crowd before and we waited all day in hopes of sneaking on at the end. As we were going on stage I heard a member of another band say with a smirk, "Now we're gonna hear some soul music". I was 15 years old and being the cocky little SOB that I was. I realty wanted to blow ail of these older guys away. We opened with our version of "Baby Please Don't Go" and an hour later 3,000 people were on their feet screaming for an encore, which we gladly gave them. We were the talk of the town and local underground radio We had come to the point where we thought that a record was our next step We took some of our home recordings to a local booking agent in hopes of finding a way to make a record One of those 3.000 people in Monroe Park that day had been a fellow named Joe Sheets (I told you he would turn up again ) who was a guitarist and the brother-in-law of a local record producer named Nick Colleran Joe had told Nick about us and it happened that Nick was in that booking agents office that evening and heard our tapes. He told us that he could produce a 45, but we would have to go to Sigma Sound in Philadelphia to do it, because the proper facilities were not yet available in Richmond, Nick had been the leader and guitarist of the top band in Richmond, The Escorts. (These were the Escorts that recorded on TEO Records and recorded the album -Bring Down the House'.)

We were very happy to have his attention and we considered his credentials impeccable. Nick ran us through all of the pre-production and had us rehearse the songs until he thought that we could cut them very quickly. Joe Sheets was scheduled to play slide guitar on one side of the record, but fell ill and couldn't make the trip to Philly. Nick stepped in and played slide on the single version of "On My Own". The B side was "Marching Off to War" They were recorded 8-track at Sigma Sound and both are included on this CD. The 45 was released got some local air play, and disappeared, but we got to hear ourselves on the radio. That was pretty exciting. By the way. the 45 was mastered by a young engineer named George Massenburg. for those of you who are interested in such things Sometime in early 1971, Dudley Sharp let it be known to us that, if asked, he would rejoin the band. Truthfully, we all knew that Dud was a much better bass player than Steve Hicks, so we let Steve go. We were also closer friends with Dud and that was important to us. so Dud was back in. In the course of doing the 45, we teamed that Nick Colleran had plans for building his own sixteen track studio in Richmond. He moved his studio into a building at 2049 W. Broad St. in Richmond and called it Alpha Audio The Short Cross LP was the first LP recorded there in December of 1971, before the studio officially opened Nick knew that Short Cross wanted to do an LP and in the fan of 1971 a guy named Dave Herren approached Nick about possibly producing an LP on a local band Nick introduced us to Dave and preparations began for the "Arising" LP Pre-production included song selection, a lot of rehearsal and I'm not sure, but illegal substances were probably involved We went into the studio on December 26, 1971 to begin cutting tracks. All the basic tracks were done on the 261h and 27th with Joe Sheets as the tracking engineer and Dave Herren and Nick Colleran producing. We did all of the overdubs in one day,  (I had the flu that day) and the record was probably mixed in two or three days. A week's work and it was finished, I must say that the sessions were not a happy experience for us.

We constantly butted heads with the producers about sound, especially during the final mix stage, at one point we walked out. Like I said, we were a cocky bunch. This put a dark cloud over what should have been a great experience. With that said, I must add that we learned a great deal about how we sounded and how to play together we came out of the studio a much tighter band with a good basic knowledge of the technical side of recording. Since I have continued to work in the recording studio as a session musician/vocalist and now an engineer/producer, I guess you could say that these recording sessions are the foundation on which I have built my career. Our album release party was held in March, 1973 at The String Factory, formerly Free University. The very room where, three years earlier, I had first seen Bruce Springsteen with Steel Mill. It was sold out and the feeling that night was incredible!, We felt successful. All these people came to see us play our songs from our record! Incredible!. We continued to play a lot, opening shows for Black Sabbath, Trapeze, Black Oak Arkansas and others. The LP received some airplay in Virginia, but just didn't sell. I tend to think it was a combination of poor distribution and the fact that it didn’t sound like the band sounded live. Plus, we thought that it was un-cool to sell them at our gigs. (Kinda stupid, huh?) The final tally was about 300 copies sold out of a pressing of 1,000. The failure of the record did not deter us from the desire to record. We went back into Alpha Audio in late 1972 to cut two new songs. "Before it Rains" and "Bomb". Included on this CD are the basic tracks with a scratch vocal that was to be replaced at a later date. That date never came. Butch got married and quit the band.

Things were changing. We jammed with a bunch of keyboard players, but nobody "felt" right. Not because they weren't good players, just because the band had grown up together, learned how to play together. We weren't missing a keyboard player, we were missing a friend, a vital piece of the equation, Our individual tastes in music were also changing. We were growing apart. We limped along as a power trio for a while, but we all knew a dead horse when we beat one. By the end of 1973, Short Cross was no more. Gray McCalley went on to play with a big swing band called The Continentals and is still playing music today in his spare time. He got interested in blues harmonica while Short Cross was still together and has become a world class blues harp player He works for the County installing and repairing electronics at schools. He still lives in Sandston. VA. and I see him now and then. I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much Gray McCalley helped me through those years. In the early days, I didn't have much of an ear, so Gray would pick out guitar parts from records and teach them to me. He introduced me to so much great music that I would have otherwise overlooked. His energy and inventiveness were inspiring. His sense of humor was infectious and sustained us through many crazy situations. I sometimes think about where I might be if Gray had not called me that day in 1966 and said, "Hey man, wanna practice?" I'm pretty sure that I would be a washed up ex-minor league baseball player. Thanks Gray.

Dudley "Bird" Sharp still plays Top 40 and Country musk:. He works for a potato chip company. Even though he lives about a mile from me, I had not talked to him in over ten years when I finally contacted him about this CD release We had a nice conversation and vowed to keep in touch. Butch Owens eventually went back to playing music and spent some time in Memphis and Nashville playing for various artists. He's back in Richmond now, doing carpentry Steve Hicks continued to play music for a while after we let him go. In fact, he played with the band that opened for us at our album release party. Sadly. I must report that Steve is no longer with us He died a few years ago from chronic stomach problems. This news hit me pretty hard, I had known Steve since 5th grade. I continued to play for a living. In 1974, after the demise of Short Cross, I joined up with Steve Bassett a R’n’B singer. I played on several of his records, not including his self titled 1984 Columbia Records release, in 1977, Steve Bassett's band went on tour with Robbin Thompson in support of his self titled Atlantic Records release. I stayed with Robbin when the Robbin Thompson Band was formed in 1978. We recorded an album in 1979 called Two B's Please" that sold about 150,000 copies and had a song that topped out on the Billboard charts at #61 called "Bright Eyes". We toured until December 1983. I still record with Robbin and I am currently co-producing his new CO, in 1987, the rhythm section from the Robbin Thompson Band Joined up with singer Billy Ray Hatley to forma band called Big City. We have released two independent label CD's and have a third on the way. Throughout all of this, I have been doing session work on radio, TV and film music.

Chances are very good that you've heard me playing on some stupid commercial. Several of the people from Alpha Audio, including my old friends Joe Sheets and Robbin Thompson, formed a new company in 1990 called In Your Ear Music and Recording. I joined their staff in 1996 as assistant engineer/musician/vocalist/producer/tape  librarian/etc /etc I love it A few years ago I started getting calls from all over the country inquiring about copies of the Short Cross LP Being a record collector myself, I asked around and discovered that, not only were clean copies of the LP changing hands at S200-K but that it had been bootlegged (very badly) in Europe! i was very flattered to be on a bootleg, as silly as that might seem, it meant that suddenly, for some reason, there was a demand for this album that I hadn't listened to in at least 10 years. Weil, I politely told all of those inquiring that at toast five hundred copies had been destroyed and the other 200 were unaccounted for, but probably no longer existed. Thus were planted the seeds of this CD release. Roger Maglio of Gear Fab contacted me. we struck up a deal and the ball was rolling. I cant properly express my thanks to all the record collectors who created this interest and to you who have plunked down your hard earned money for this CD. I hope you enjoy It! I would like to express my sincere thanks to Roger Maglio at Gear Fab for making it happen. Finally, to Gray and Dud and Butch I want to say that re-mixing these old songs and helping to assemble this package has been a labor of love. With this CD, I found all those memories still alive. We spent a lifetime together in a few short years.  Jeez! We were just children....and we were the best of friends.
by Velpo Robertson

1. Nothin' But A Woman - 5:25
2. Wastin' Time (Gray McCalley, Velpo Robertson) - 3:46
3. Suicide Blues - 7:01
4. Just Don't Care - 4:27
5. On My Own - 4:56
6. Till We Reach The Sun - 4:55
7. Ellen - 5:50
8. Hobo Love Song - 4:46
9. On My Own (Stereo mix of A-side of 45*) - 2:50
10.Marching Off to War (Stereo mix of B-side of 45') - 2:57
11.That's Her Train (Unreleased stereo mix) - 2:54
12.Bomb (Unfinished demo  mono) - 4:04
13.Before It Rains (Unfinished demo mono) - 3:28
All compositions by Velpo Robertson except where stated
Tracks 1-8 Recordings made at Alpha Audio Studios, Richmond, VA. 
Dec. 24, 25,1971. Originally Released March 1972 
Tracks 9-11 Recorded at Sigma Sound, Philadelphia, PA. on August 
Tracks 12-13 Recorded at Alpha Audio Studios, Richmond, VA. in June 1972.

Short Cross
*Dudley "Bird" Sharp - Electric Bass Guitar, Harmony Vocals
*Velpo Robertson - Lead, Rhythm, Bottte-Neck, Acoustic, Lead Guitar , Harmony Vocals
*Butch Owens- Organ, Piano, Moog, Vocals
*Gray McCalley - Drums, Percussion, Lead Vocal on "Wastin' Time"
*Butch Owens - Hammond Organ (Track 13)
*Steve Hicks - Bass (Tracks 9-11)
*Nick Colleran - Slide Guitar on "On My Own
Guest Musicians
*Tommy Mitchell - Trumpet
*Skeeter Glenn - Trumpet
*Tommy Anderson - Trombone
*Tommy Clarke - Tenor Sax
*Howard Awad- Trumpet
*Buzz Montsinger- Tenor Sax
*Peter Zaret - 1st Violin
*Coraiie Zaret - 2nd Violin
*Yong Sam Kim - Viola
*Gisela Depkat - Cello

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