Cosmic Rock

Sloppy Joe and the Random Rhythm Section was formed in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1987 by Mark Evangelist (guitar), Bert Wray (vocals), Holly Orr (lead guitar), Mike Calhoun (bass), Scott Murr (drums), Kahlil Fadel (percussion), Tricia Tuttle (early drummer), Drew Detweiler (lightshow), and Sarah Jones (original percussionist). Taking inspiration from the sixties icons like Grateful Dead, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Beatles the Sloppy Joe clan was one of the biggest in the Queen City for their shining moment.  Shuffling through the music during youthful carefree days of good times but genuinely brewing with potential, the band made their way to the studio for one rare and stand out vinyl album entitled “Neo Tribal’.

  Frontman/harmonica blues hobo Bert Wray brings to mind the one guy everybody knows somehow who stood out by his eccentric personality which was then applied to the idea of being a rock singer. Guitarists Holly Orr’s impressive skills were way beyond her years at the time, equally joined by very talented singer/guitarist (future popular reggae musician) Mark Evangelist creating a guitar jam band duo of bright potential.

Looking back on the sessions Wray recalls “The Neotribal LP was recorded at Audio Incorporated Studio in the hip Dilworth area of 1988. Frank Rogers was the engineer. Mitch Cooper helped the band with production and mixing ideas and is listed as co-producer on the LP. The album was released on Third Lock Records with an album cover designed by the sister of our percussion player Kahlil, Jennifer Fadel.”

   Fresh from their club gigs and a little in awe of the recording process Bert says “We had never been in a proper studio before, so we were blown away by the professional setting. It was a huge two-tiered room with a drum area that was baffled with sound protection to fight bleed through, a piano, and areas for guitar players to spread out. Since we recorded live to tape to get that old school 60s vibe, everyone was so far away from each other to fight the bleed through, which ended up being all over every track anyway. To me that bleed through is the key reason that the album sounds so cool. It has that old school, baked into the pie kind of sound. Since we practiced all the time, we nailed most of the songs in one or two takes. Even the epic song Ride with the dueling lead guitars was a live take. Holly and Mark rage on that one.“

   In addition to Bert’s vocals, Holly Orr sang excellent bluesy vox with Mark Evangelist on a track on side two. “As far as vocals, I was the lead on all songs except the first song on side 2. Oceans of Sand is lead vocals by Mark and background vocals by Holly. Mark also sings background vocals on all the other songs. The studio had an old school glass vocal booth with glass windows and a huge condenser mic. I sang the all the lead vocals live with the band and Mark did the same for Oceans of Sand. Mark and I went into the booth at the same time and crowded around the mic for the background vocals.”


   When it came to the intensive mixing process Wray remembers “We had never been in a mixing room, and the studio had a huge board, maybe 32 or 64 or 72 track, I am not sure. Since we recorded live, the guitar effects were all played during the takes. Fender twin amps for both guitars. Holly played through a Ibanez Tubescreamer, Big Muff, and Crybaby wah. Mark played straight into the amp. Everything was saturated in Fender spring reverb. Mike the bassman played an old school Amped refrigerator cab and head. No effects. Scott's drum had a double kick pedal which was a little out of the genre, but he insisted and it ads to the crazy polyrhythms when combined with Kahlil's congas, timbales, and bongos. The percussionist Kahlil overdubbed the piano on Ride. We added crazy old school slapback on the vocals, creating it at the mixing board. A bit of panning guitars was done. Then to get the sound effects on a few songs, we went through these vinyl albums of sound effects that Frank Rogers had for using in commercials. We dubbed those in where we wanted them. That was about it. Pretty simple. 2 days of recording, 2 days of mixing. Done.”


  Also noteworthy their groovy rock and roll the sound brings to mind eighties alternative rock like early club era REM or Simple Minds. Closer to Arthur Brown and Jefferson Airplane than angry punk rock, they had the sixities influence the group carried touched a bit by current vibes. It made sense the band shared the stage with the Flaming Lips at the Ptreydactyl Club in 1988.  The band also presented their shows along the lines of their influences making the extra effort with a backdrop light show/projection screen. All of this light-show was courtesy of roadie/stagelight wizard Drew Detweiler who delivered collages of film, light, smoke machines , and other visual trickery to push the show over their performances top. “Imagine mixing the liquid light-show from the Fillmore West with the avant grade films from Andy Warhol's Velvet Underground happenings, and then compressing them through a rave disco explosion” describes Wray.


  SJ&TRR were pretty well known in the city with club gigs, taking on small gigs in the region and one very huge show at the giant celebration Springfest 1989. Remembering Springfest Bert commented “We won a Creative Loafing contest to play the main stage at Springfest during the peak of the weekend. Springfest was a big deal back then. We played in front of thousands of people. It was so many people that I remember feeling a little out of breath right before we started. I think the Blind Dates played right before us. There was a cool trailer for the backstage where we hangout before the show. We thought we were rockstars because of that trailer” Wray laughs. “It rained lightly for the first few songs, but the crowd stayed and I just went crazy taking the mic off the stand and doing psychedelic rain dances until it stopped. The whole first 15 rows were literally young people we all knew from school, CPCC, shows, bands, etc. Then the crowd went down the street as far as I could see. Funny, I couldn't find my harmonica right before the show and the drummer from the band The Trees was in the crowd and threw me one he happened to have in his pocket, and it was the right key! It was a magical set.”


 Afterward Wray got into a car accident but emerged unharmed by the grace of the rock gods;  “The music was so loud that I was a little deafened from standing out in front of the stacks, and this caused me to get in a car wreck after the show. A fire truck plowed into my car with sirens blazing and I didn't hear it! The car spun around in 2 circles. It was crazy, but I was OK and the car wasn't hurt too bad.” He continues “The Springfest show had the effect of giving us a club audience. Previous to the Springfest show, we played for our friends and opened for national bands at Milestone and 4808, Park Elevator (1313), Pterodactyl. After Springfest, we sold out the 4808 show. We outgrew the Milestone. Packed the Pterodactyl. Our final show was in May 1990 at the 1313 and it sold out. We announced it as the final show and everyone who ever liked our band seemed to come out.”


Unfortunately the group disbanded that year and members moved on to other projects. “The band broke up because Holly and Kahlil quit to move to Philly and go to college. It was crushing to Mark and me. We should have continued the band but we thought it wouldn't be the same without Holly who was a major creative and musical force in the group.” 


“After the band we all eventually started important bands. Mark and I started Selah in Boone in 1993. Holly, Kahlil, and Scott started Tanglefoot in Greensboro in 1994. Tanglefoot was very similar to Sloppy Joe, a 60s-70s style psych rock band that could rock hard and had wild percussion. Mike, the Sloppy Joe bass player, moved off the grid and refurbished a rural farmhouse with solar and hydro power rather than joining another band. I have kept up with everyone since then. I even played in a band with Scott, the Sloppy Joe drummer, and Ryan the bass player for Tanglefoot (we were called The Blaring TVs). Holly had a band called Holly's Crush in NY. Scott plays in a cover band in town these days. Mark plays in Selah Dubb. And I played in Bert Wray Blues for the last 3 years.”

  Listening to the record in 2019 I feel “Neo Tribal” is a great piece of the purity and fun times of that era of mid eighties hippie jam rock. Fans of jam and psych garage rock bands that would come way later would love this group’s vibe and style. California surf/blues rock leads, Bert’s laid back vocals, varied tasteful percussion throughout this was one of the bands from the Charlotte area that made many fans. Noisy echo effects again bring to mind Dick Dale meets the Jack White glorification that would appear decades later.


  SJ&TRR were onto something very cool way outside of the time they were making it. Hippie garage rock that I really believe if it was released today would be embraced by the festival going desert rock fans in the States and especially Europe. Hunt down a copy if you are a fan of jam rock, obscure authentic garage rock and a lost gem in indie southern music.  Somewhere in the halls of time, Sloppy Joe and the Random Rhythm Section live on and the proof echoes off this rare vinyl, a gift to their fans.