Pugsley Munion

Even for a magazine known for its off-beat eclecticism, this one might be considered just a little beyond the pale. The Massachusetts rock trio Pugsley Munion released one album, 'Just Like You' (J&S Records SLP0001, 1971) and a solitary 45 containing two cuts off the LP ('Just Like You'/'Slumberland Blues'), and then for all intents and purposes disappeared straight back into the cavernous black abyss from whence they came. Nothing unusual in that; thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of bands have done exactly the same thing down the years. And there Pugsley Munion could normally have been expected to lie undiscovered for a decade or so, when a new breed of record collectors, dealers with comfortably fat wallets, started to push up the price exponentially of virtually anything over ten years old which existed in very small quantities, conveniently overlooking the fact that the reason the records hadn't sold in the first place was usually because they were crap.

Pugsley Munion's album however wasn't crap. In fact, several songs contain some really quite tasty guitar work. Furthermore, despite everything you may have read about it to date, the LP isn't even particularly rare (and neither does it date from 1969 either). Erik Lindgren of Arf Arf Records in Massachusetts tracked down a stash of original copies crated up in the basement of a record shop in Pugsley Munion's hometown of Fitchburg a couple of years ago which he "brokered to a rare-record dealer who will probably leak them slowly into the collector's market for many years to come", and although he puts the current value at $35, which is a considerable drop from the $80 to $140 quoted in Borderline's Comprehensive Guide to American Garage, Psychedelic and Hippie Rock in 1993, I've seen sealed copies regularly occurring on lists at $25 and even less just recently, leading me to wonder if Erik's isn't the only stash out there.

  My own copy is certainly not in anything approaching mint condition. In fact, I'd personally rate it somewhere below "trashed", having played the record innumerable times down the years and used the sleeve as a temporary work surface for all manner of nefarious activities. The thing is, I happen to like this album; I even have a soft spot for the admittedly abominable mustard-and-ochre cover, with its group photograph featuring the unfortunately bespectacled and even more unfortunately named guitarist, 'Ducky' Belliveau. Even more quaint is the way the group named the LP after what is possibly the weakest, but obviously the most ambitious song, 'Just Like You', a stoned semi-acoustic wander down the vocally dodgy petal-strewn pathways of their minds. The acclaimed 'Slumberland Blues' is a fairly straight blues in the Savoy Brown mould I can never understand why pundits always pick up on that one as one of the highlights of this LP. The real winners are the lengthy opening cut 'What's Right For Me' which features some seriously hunched keyboard work from John Schuller (who wrote, or co-wrote, all of the songs on the LP as well as playing bass and singing throughout) and a marvellous, curling guitar break from Belliveau which flies off at all kinds of unexpected tangents; the six minutes of intense keyboard, drum and guitar interplay entitled 'No Time Tomorrow' which successfully evokes the sound of the early Mad River Blues Band (despite having a guitar break which is at times indistinguishable from that in 'What's Right For Me'), and the compelling, if vocally faltering, closing number 'I Don't Know Who To Blame' in which drummer Ed just "Ed" on the sleeve, no other information is volunteered drives the final nails into the coffin as if he knows it's the band's ultimate swansong.

 

  In short, I like this album, and since that's always been a good enough reason to write about something in the Terrascope when given half the chance, when I was approached by Sally Cragin of the New England fiction and poetry magazine 'Button' with the story of Pugsley Munion, I not unnaturally jumped at the chance. Here's what Sally found out:

 

"Last winter, on a visit to the Log Cavern tavern, a tough little roadhouse in Fitchburg (a working-class city in the north-central section of Massachusetts that saw better days in the 19th Century), I glanced down at the wooden bar-top, richly decoupaged with souvenirs. One black and white photograph jumped out: a studio shot of three weary-looking youths with hip-hugger flares and bristly muttonchops. "Pugsley Munion", went the photo caption, "J&S Recording Artists". The guitarist gripped a Gibson SG, and the bassist held a mid-1960s Fender jazz bass. Clothes and coiffures anchored these guys to a particular time as unquestionably as candle-lit interiors identify late Northern Renaissance paintings. Yearning and earnestness shines from their faces, expressions one seldom sees in young band photos of the 1990s. Was this just youthful awkwardness, or had they just been 'discovered'? Who were they?

 

"Paul Salvatore of Fitchburg's Music Box provided some phone numbers. One for Schuller and the other for Ed (Ed. Kelly, as it transpired). And both were local.

 

"John Schuller roared with laughter when told the phone call was about Pugsley Munion. 'Boy, that's going back', he said. He and boyhood friend Ed Kelly started playing in high school and quickly grafted Ducky Belliveau into the mix. They called the band Masque. 'We were into weirder kinds of things,' explained Schuller. 'More English, heavier R&B type things. When I put the band together, it was an experiment. At the time, in the late 60s, you got points for how different you could be rather than how much you sounded like someone else. Times have changed now.'

 

"The lads were students at Fitchburg High School, played locally at high school dances, where they acquired a following, and held down after-school jobs at Fitchburg Music. Although the music they played, heavy on the guitars and energised vocals, is termed 'garage' the band practised in the Schuller's living room on Cross Street in Fitchburg. 'We had a full band set-up in a 9 by 12 foot room', recollected Schuller. 'We were zealous rehearsers, Ed and myself just lived to play'.

 

"Then came graduation for Schuller and Kelly. And, a miracle, a chance connection with New York producer Zell Saunders (whose daughter wrote a peculiar R&B number, 'Sally Go Round The Roses'). In 1970, Masque loaded up a truck and headed down to the city. 'We were in a massive eight-track studio', said Schuller ironically. 'Wow! In 1970, that was a real big studio. I was nineteen, and on another planet.' But, trouble ensued. The band had no manager to negotiate with J&S, who had budgeted a miserable two days for the entire recording session. 'The songs were pretty well rushed,' recalled guitarist Ducky Belliveau. 'Mistakes were left in. We'd just go on to the next thing.' At one point, the band ran out of songs. Slumberland Blues was tacked on, and when that became the single's B-side, the band was riled. 'That didn't represent who we were', recalled Schuller. 'We were very disgruntled we were supposed to go back in and fix things.'

 

"Things went from muddled and hurried to worse. The name Masque had been previously copyrighted, and they had to come up with a new name on the spot. 'Pugsley Munion' was a private joke amongst the band, inspired by a Pugsley Street sign in the city and a Lunenburg patrolman named Munion. [Translation: a local police officer by the name of Munion. Helpful Ed.] Two hours were set aside for mixing nine songs; the cover was a photo-collage instead of their friend Johnny Girouard's pen and ink drawing; and when the original liner notes were lost, J&S did a hasty reconstruction: hence 'Drums - Ed.'. The coup de grace came when Schuller called home from New York. His draft notice had just arrived.

 

"'That put a quick end to it', Schuller recalled. He joined the navy, avoided going overseas, and when he returned he re-joined the band which had carried on without him. 'We had a real good following and were doing club work. But it kind of burned itself out', mused Schuller. Although Schuller and Kelly continued to jam together, Ducky Belliveau was showing more interest in country music.

 

"These days, Schuller still jams occasionally with Kelly in his home studio, but makes ends meet as a realtor and used-car salesman. For many years he played keyboards for club headliners Calamity Jane and Circus; he also played on Orion The Hunter's debut in 1985 (Epic). Ed Kelly drums for Monkfish, who tour the county and beyond, and also installs sun-roofs. Ducky Belliveau added pedal-steel guitar to his repertoire, is a full-time musician and has recorded with Beaver Brown, Terence Trent D'Arby and Bill Carson."

 

Credits: Written and directed by Phil McMullen, with special thanks to Sally Cragin, the 'Worcester Phoenix', and to Erik Lindgren of Arf Arf Records.

 

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