TRIBUTE TO GEORGE SCOTT
I chanced in to a record store at 23rd St. and 3rd Avenue in New York City the morning after a boozy night of rock music to see if they’d hire me; I was new in Manhattan, fresh from North Carolina and Memphis, and I needed a job. Besides playing original music, I’d also sold records since I was a young teenager and hoped I could do the same in the new setting of NYC 1978. First thing I did was irk the boss by being persistent about getting a job there while he was with a customer. He relented, and I began my tenure at the Musical Maze.
George Scott was already working there, and he already knew who I was and who my band was. He and I became immediate friends. George played bass in the Contortions who were about to start tearing up the New York music scene with crafty noisy jazz/clatter. My band, The dB’s, was more melodically classical. Neither of us could figure out how the other played what they did, but both of us had deep abiding respect for that ability and truly did love the music it was a part of. We agreed that “Silver Machine” by Hawkwind was a perfect record, as was “Some Girls” by Racey but for different reasons. And we certainly tried to get our customers to feel the same sort of passion for the new and intriguing releases that were coming through the Maze.
George did the import ordering at the store, which meant he was constantly monitoring the New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Sounds magazines from England. We also trolled the other stores in New York, especially Bleecker Bob’s and the Colony. It was important to try to stay on top of the hundreds of DIY and import records coming out by bands from Cleveland to Australia. Our store was in direct proximity to the School of Visual Arts and its student body of well-heeled and in-the-know hipsters. We also had periodic celebrity drop-ins from the Gramercy Park Hotel a few blocks away.
George had his own special customers. They would load him up with voluminous lists of the newest 45’s and import albums to make ripples through the punk press. George would pore over catalogs from Jem and Bomp Distributors, and he’d call one-stops in the tri-state area, trying to get all these special jewels—halfway because, I think now, he didn’t want to get behind too far, since singles went out of print fairly soon after their releases.
One regular of his was known as “the Hat”, a young guy from the Bronx, who would come down and shake down George’s mind about “break” records, sides that had an identifiable and extractable drum break section. He was undoubtedly a deejay constructing early break-beat mixes, looping the breaks and providing the beat for early rap tracks. George had him buying stuff that was incredibly varied and off the expected r ‘n’ b path.
George would hide stashes of discs in “Single City”, the 45 department in the back of the store. He knew, in his heart, that he should have a box of “Little Johnny Jewel” by Television always on hand. He had to have a box of “Stickball” (by P. Vert), an ‘adult novelty’ record. He had lots of copies of “Moody’s Mood for Love” by King Pleasure since it was the ending theme to Frankie Crocker’s WBLS show. He bought a box of the Kinks’ “Superman” single before they changed the title. Years later, I’d find his comments on the green cardstock single sleeves we used for inventory and chuckle. He could find obscure Ace Cannon and Fausto Papetti albums for the older Caribbean men who would shop at the Maze. He could clear a closing store of stragglers with a loud blast of “Paralyzed” by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. And as we shut the place down for the night, we’d howl along to the Roches’ “Hammond Song”.
George also found me an apartment in his building at 21 East 2nd Street. It was right around the corner from CBGB and behind the Amato Opera Company, whose singers would warm up on summer weekends in the parking lot between us. He was a floor up from me, and it was easy to stagger downstairs after a night of laughing and listening.
I didn’t see a lot of Contortions/James White and the Blacks shows, but I think I saw almost every 8 Eyed Spy and Raybeats show that George did in New York; I also saw him play at CB’s with John Cale on the Sabotage tour. I interviewed 8 Eyed Spy for the East Village Other weekly newspaper, and as apoplectic as I was about getting verbally scalded by vocalist Lydia Lunch, George was there to smooth the edges. There never was a band quite like 8 Eyed Spy, in my book. They spanned genres by way of their instrumentation, especially Pat Irwin’s sax and organ and of course George’s rollicking bass lines; and having Lydia and her ambitious vocals roaring atop the din was nothing short of breathtaking. There are very few bands that I’ve seen that have kept me completely mesmerized from beginning to end. A Tramps show comes to mind, with the band on a small low stage, penetrating the audience sonically. I was very proud of my friend’s combo and I’m thrilled that Pat, Jim and Lydia are still making brilliant music to this day, hoping that their experience with that band was half as infectious as it was to me.
And then there were The Raybeats, also featuring George and Pat, amazing updated instrumental music. George loved the Shadows, so they played a spot-on “Rise and Fall of Flingel Bunt” in the midst of their own twisted originals. Later, after George had died and Danny Amis had joined them, we toured England together. Another band that nobody at the time sounded remotely like.
George was the first person in my life that I actively knew who died. The circumstances and the location made it all too devastating. I ‘inherited’ a pair of his enormous black Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars that I kept for years, and a shirt that got destroyed eventually in Hurricane Katrina. There is not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, just in some little way, like seeing a reference to “Stickball” somewhere or one of his musical cohorts’ exploits. He taught me about keeping my mind open to all sorts of good music. He was a great guy to get to know at a potentially difficult time in a new city. I never really knew much about where he was from or who his family was, but everyone in New York was really living for the sanctity of the moment at hand so it didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was jumping up and down, around and around a beat-up old couch, screaming along to the 45 of “Raised Eyebrows” by the Feelies at full volume, late on a Thursday night. Hello, hello, hello.