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Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Arrogance "Give Us A Break"1973 US Country Rock

Arrogance  "Give Us A Break"1973 US Country Rock Only 300 copies of this album were pressed


In the swing era, there existed what were called "territory bands," swing outfits that performed successfully in a specific region but never ventured much beyond it to achieve national recognition. By the time the rock era got started, regionalism had faded somewhat in the U.S., but the modern period has still had its share of rockers who became local heroes yet somehow never went nationwide. Arrogance, from the Piedmont area of North Carolina, must be counted one such rock & roll territory band. It's not that they didn't try to achieve stardom beyond their natural stomping grounds. But timing was against them. The group was a tuneful outfit influenced by the Beatles and the Byrds who came along just after the period when they might have made a splash as a "folk-rock" or "garage rock" group and lasted until just before they might have been equally successful as an "alternative" band. Indeed, former member Don Dixon, who took to producing acts like R.E.M. just as Arrogance finally gave up the struggle, was one of the architects of the alternative trend of the '80s. But anyone who saw Arrogance play in North Carolina or Virginia between the late '60s and early ‘80s will tell you that they are one of the great lost bands of rock & roll.

Singer/guitarists Dixon and Robert Kirkland formed Arrogance in the fall of 1969 when they were both freshmen at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, adding keyboard player Marty Stout and drummer Scott Davison. The boastful name, coined by Dixon, referred to their ability to upstage other acts and their early hard rock style. By the time of their self-released debut album, Give Us a Break, in 1973, however, Arrogance had adopted a softer folk-rock style. They also recorded a second album on their own, 1975's Prolepsis. At a time when bands wanting to make it usually moved to New York or Los Angeles and looked for a major-label deal, Arrogance's strategy of building a regional following and issuing its own records was both unusual and forward-looking. It was also, well, arrogant. But eventually, it brought national labels to Chapel Hill, and the band signed to Vanguard Records in late 1975. Unfortunately, Vanguard, a New York independent with a roster of folk performers, was not equipped to launch a new rock band properly, and 1976's Rumors did not attract much attention. (Of course, it didn't help that, early the following year, Fleetwood Mac released a multi-platinum album using the English spelling of the same title, Rumours.) Arrogance parted with Vanguard after that one album and returned to a harder rocking style, adding lead guitarist Rod Abernethy to beef up their sound. Having failed on a national level, however, they had to overcome industry skepticism, and it was not until 1980 that they were signed again, this time to Curb/Warner, which released their fourth album, Suddenly. By then, post-punk power pop was all the rage, and Arrogance was not a priority at the label. The album failed, but Curb/Warner was willing to put out a second record. Arrogance, however, decided to leave and shop around for another deal. Once again, their timing was off. With synth pop coming in, no label was interested in a band that sounded like the jangle pop of the mid-'60s. The independent Moonlight Records put out a live collection, Lively, in 1981, but no one else wanted to know. Fearing that, as two-time losers, they were being held back by their tarnished name, Arrogance sent out a set of demos under the name 5'11" (the average height of the bandmembers), but still no one bit. In October 1983, they finally gave up and split the band. By that time, Dixon had already launched a career in the recording studio by co-producing R.E.M.'s debut album Murmur. Over the years, he would handle the board for such like-minded artists as Richard Barone, Kim Carnes, the Connells, Marshall Crenshaw, Guadalcanal Diary, Hootie & the Blowfish, In Tua Nua, Marti Jones, Tommy Keene, Let's Active, James McMurtry, the Reivers, the Smithereens, Chris Stamey, and Matthew Sweet, among many others, while putting out the occasional solo album, sometimes including songs written in his Arrogance days. (Half a dozen of the 5'11" demos turned up on his solo debut, Most of the Girls Like to Dance But Only Some of the Boys Do in 1985.) Kirkland also went solo, but when he was able to get his album Kick the Future released only in Europe, he began to question whether music should be his career. Eventually, he went into the business of designing and selling kitchen cabinets. Abernethy played in several bands after Arrogance and then continued to work in music as a session musician for commercials. Davison went into real estate and Stout became an accountant. Meanwhile, other bands came up that sounded a lot like Arrogance; many old fans swore when they first heard it on the radio that Fastball's 1998 hit "The Way" was by their long-gone favorite band.

In the spring of 2000, Arrogance reunited for two shows at Dixon's instigation. In May, the band played its folk-rock repertoire at the Carrboro, NC Arts Center, and in June, it played a harder rocking set at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. In August 2002, Gaff Music belatedly released the band's early-'80s demo tape under the title The 5'11" Record. ~ William Ruhlmann...................

"When people ask me who Arrogance was," says Godfrey Cheshire, "I always say, in a phrase: 'They were The Beatles of North Carolina.' They were the ones who broke through in terms of being the first to do really strong original rock in North Carolina. At the time they came along, if you played in a rock band in this area you played cover material. Period."
Cheshire ought to know. Readers who are familiar with Cheshire's movie criticism for The Independent and The Spectator might not be aware of his longtime arts editing and music criticism for The Spectator. Cheshire was there for the band's entire career--from its beginnings in 1969 as a proto-metal group founded by UNC-Chapel Hill freshmen Don Dixon and Robert Kirkland, through its acoustic guitars and bongos period of the early '70s, to its final incarnation as an English-pop-inspired quintet in the early '80s.

Over the years he's been to shows, written about the band, talked them up locally, nationally and internationally, and even funded their first LP. When the group disbanded in 1983, Cheshire wrote in a farewell missive: "I am more than ever awed and exhilarated by the scope of their achievement." In 2000, as he prepares to join a host of Arrogance faithful at two upcoming 30-year-reunion performances--an all-acoustic show at Carrboro's ArtsCenter on Saturday, May 20, and an electric set on Saturday, June 10, at the N.C. Museum of Art--his enthusiasm still hasn't wavered.

"They were really ahead of their time in doing strong original rock, and getting very quickly to the point at which they did only original rock," he says. Where other bands would throw in three original songs in an entire set, Arrogance always played their own music. As Cheshire puts it, "With Arrogance, the whole thing was creating their own sound, their own songs and everything. They pioneered in a lot of ways."

The group that assembles at Rod Abernethy's Slackmates recording studio on a warm night this spring doesn't, on the surface, seem like a particularly pioneering lot. Amid the studio's ultra-groovy decor, five 40- and 50-somethings drink beer, check their instruments and spend a whole lot of time just shooting the breeze. One aside turns into a 20-minute, power-sermon by Dixon on the household cleaning benefits of a Swifter, with the other guys acting as an enthusiastic hallelujah chorus.

When you can get an answer out of them, it's usually a joke, and usually told by the group's resident class clown, drummer Scott Davison. Guitarist Abernethy, whose addition to the band in the late '70s sparked its re-emergence as an electric group, is the courteous host. Guitarist and singer Robert Kirkland, whom Cheshire and others compare to John Lennon because of his often-scathing lyrics, is the band's cynical wit. The pop-song-writing Paul McCartney of the group, bass player and vocalist Don Dixon, is the businessman, attending to every last detail, and even whipping out copies of the band's four studio LPs to break up disputes as to how certain songs go.

"The main strength was the singing and the songwriting and the sort of synergy of all that," says Cheshire. "The keystone was Don and Robert's voices together. And there again it sort of reminds you of The Beatles. It was definitely a John and Paul kind of thing--a kind of magic between the two of those guys that eventually embraced whatever musicians happened to be in the band at the time."

Finally, pianist Marty Stout, everyone agrees, is the quiet one, content to do his thing and play his songs, oblivious to whatever musical discussions are swirling around him. Out of this, the final Arrogance lineup (the group went through six incarnations), Stout is the only one who has not continued in a musical career. But, in a testament to his talent, on this, the third night of practice following a nearly 20-year hiatus, he's the only one who doesn't need to go over his parts.

"If that Beatles analogy holds true, Marty's the George Harrison of the group," says Joe Vanderford, another longtime fan and scribe of Arrogance who's handling public relations for the two upcoming shows.

All that Beatles talk is pretty funny to the group members themselves.

"My daughter asked if we were bigger than The Beatles," Abernethy says. Stout retorts: "My son asked if I was in The Beatles."

The members of Arrogance always took their music and their mission of originality seriously. They'll readily tell you they were a damn good band. But such talk from other folks seems to embarrass them.

"That's very flattering," Kirkland responds when told that both Cheshire and Vanderford independently came up with the same Beatles analogy. "But it's sort of weird, I guess."

"I think there are certainly stylistic and rhetorical points of view that you can make where we were analogous," says Dixon reluctantly. "But I think it's kind of ridiculous to compare anybody to The Beatles. When you're sitting here thinking about yourself ...

"There was a lot of tension there, as well as harmony, which is certainly analogous to the situation that Paul and John had," Dixon says of his relationship with Kirkland. "A lot of bands don't end up having two relatively equal songwriters like The Beatles had, and I think that's a lot of what these guys come away with."

The Beatles were the last band to which anyone would have compared Arrogance in the early days. Back in 1969, when a group of UNC-Chapel Hill freshmen got together to jam in Aycock Dorm, they sounded more like Black Sabbath than anything else. According to Kirkland, the group even knew all of the first side of Sabbath's debut album.

"They were the loudest band I've ever heard," says Cheshire. "Including the loudest punk band or loudest heavy metal band. It was quite amazing. It really was the sound and the fury."

Kirkland, his roommate, guitarist Mike Greer, and a friend from East Carolina University, drummer Jimmy Glasgow, were all from Winston-Salem (Kirkland, whose father worked for an electrical company testing submarines and missiles, spent much of his teen years living in the South Pacific). Dixon, who also played in the UNC Jazz Lab Band, was from South Carolina. Together, this group recorded an original single, "Black Death" at Charlotte's famed Reflection Studios, which at the time was nearly unprecedented.

"When the New Wave and punk thing started to happen in North Carolina, circa '78," says Cheshire, "a lot of younger musicians sort of looked to Arrogance as the ones who had blazed the trail in terms of the 'do it yourself' ethic, in terms of playing original material rather than covers, in terms of bucking a lot of conventional music industry wisdom, in terms of pioneering, putting out your own records." Arrogance had already done the things that became more standard in the North Carolina scene, beginning in the late '70s. "They were just out ahead of everyone else," Cheshire adds. "They really set a very high standard."

Producer and musician Mitch Easter, who at the time was a ninth-grader back in Winston-Salem, remembers being blown away that folks he knew were now in a real band.

"Mike Greer came by my house with a tape he'd made," says Easter. "It was totally awesome, and then I saw them play later, and they really were impressive as hell because they were like a real serious band that had records out instead of the usual teenage idiots that I was around.

"There was always that double standard of, local band, and then real band, especially back then. And they transcended that because they were as good as anybody you could go see. They were just really good."

As unusual as it was, Dixon says that concentrating on original songs, while every other working local band was honing its list of covers, was a conscious decision.

"Oh, totally. I mean, that's how we came up with our name. I think we mentioned that in our first year ... when we were all freshmen, we learned two big batches of material: the first Black Sabbath record and the new Beatles record, which was Abbey Road. But we were also doing a bunch of originals even then, and within a year, it was 80 percent originals."

Arrogance never played down to their audience. "We didn't pander to them, and we didn't just try to make them happy," says Dixon. "We wanted them to have fun, but we wanted them to be there with us, not just be the background for a good night. That pays off in people's minds, though not everyone got it," he adds. "A lot of people thought we sucked, I'm sure, but that's part of the game."

But club owners, whose bread and butter at the time were cover acts, also sometimes didn't get it. Dixon points out that even the Mothers of Invention were having trouble getting shows.

"The stubborn, arrogant attitude that we paraded around helped define that name," says Dixon. "We felt like it was up to us to educate people and show these club owners that people would ultimately want to be more loyal to, and want to see, bands doing stuff that they couldn't do anywhere else."

"Playing the club circuit in North Carolina, and a lot of places, meant playing cover tunes," says Kirkland. "So we went ahead and played it and played our own stuff, and got thrown out of a lot of places. Not asked back and all that stuff. But we didn't care, you know. We just got to play."

"I guess all of our heroes were doing [original music]," says Kirkland, "so why not us?"

But just as the band was gaining a following, Greer and Glasgow departed. Adding Stout on piano and Ogie Shaw on bongos and conga, Arrogance forsook metal and, going with the Crosby, Stills and Nash flow of the early '70s, plunged into the acoustic-only era of their career. Soon afterward, they released their first full-length, Give Us a Break (1973); followed by Prolepsis, featuring Steve Herbert on a traditional drum set (1975); and Rumors, with Davison replacing Herbert. But while many of the songs on these records bear some of the instrumental hallmarks of the time, they sound remarkably vital, even 30 years later.

"The Band is probably my favorite comparison," says Vanderford. "The thing that's really spectacular about The Band is that their music is absolutely timeless. And I think some of what Arrogance did had that timeless quality. It didn't necessarily belong to any particular era. Also, The Band didn't have typical instrumentation for that era. They would use tubas and pipe organs, fiddles and odd-sounding bases and things. Arrogance, in its early acoustic lineup, had sort of a novel instrumental sound.

"They could knock you down, not with volume but with sheer intelligence and taste and, really, a sense of history," he says.

Toward the late '70s, though, with acoustic rock losing favor in the face of punk, disco and New Wave, the band once again shifted focus. In 1979, 10 years after forming as a heavy electric blues band in a Carolina dorm, they added their final member, guitarist Rod Abernethy, and embraced electric English pop.

"We needed something to help spice us up a bit," says Davison.

But, as with their other incarnations, critics frequently didn't quite know what to make of them. Abernethy recounts how, while thumbing through a rock encyclopedia once, he came across a review of Suddenly, the group's final studio LP and the first to feature his playing.

"They called it, 'Solid mainstream rock in silly New Wave drag,'" he says, laughing.

"And the quote you take from that is: solid," quips Davison.

"That record was about as New Wave as Ann-Margaret's cat," Dixon retorts.

By that point, living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle (touring, dealing with unscrupulous industry types, never quite getting the elusive big break) was beginning to wear thin. Even though the group had a whole album's worth of material recorded, they couldn't find another record deal. And in 1983, just as a new generation of Southern artists, most notably R.E.M., was widening the trail Arrogance blazed, the group decided to call it quits.

"That's when we followed the edict of, Dizzy Gillespie said, 'dis band should disband,'" says Davison.

"We all got married, and the impetus to play was over because we couldn't pick up girls," jokes Abernethy.

"Well, we could, but we'd be talking to lawyers a lot if we did," Davison adds.

So why didn't The Beatles of North Carolina become bigger than Jesus?

Cheshire thinks it has to do with the old realtor's motto: location, location, location. "Being in North Carolina, from the '80s on, was an advantage because bands had time to develop, cheap living expenses, a club scene and A&R people down here scouting the clubs. At the time Arrogance came along, there was none of that. If you weren't in New York or Los Angeles, then you obviously weren't 'serious.'"

Still, none of the band members would characterize their experience with the industry as completely negative.

"We had good and bad experiences," says Kirkland, "even if we didn't become wealthy and move to Hollywood."

"There's thousands of bands that never get near a recording studio," says Abernethy philosophically. "We had a great time."

There are people to whom Arrogance is still one of the most important bands ever, even if they didn't conquer the world. The UPS delivery man who recently walked up to Davison as he sat in a lawyer's office and said simply, "Arrogance rules." The gaggle of middle-aged women who, drunk and listening to Rumors while on a gals' weekend in Florida called up Kirkland as he sat at home one night chopping wood. Joe Vanderford, who admits that "there was a time when, if I went a week without seeing Arrogance, I didn't feel well." And the fans, now scattered round the country, who have already begun making airline reservations so they can come back for the two upcoming shows. When they get there, if their old copies of Prolepsis or Suddenly have become warped or colored on by their kids, they can purchase brand new CD copies, because the band is re-releasing their old LPs.

"Everybody that gets out there and plays original songs at the Cat's Cradle and puts out their own records is following in Arrogance's footsteps in North Carolina," says Cheshire. Now, 30 years later, Arrogance is following itself....By Karen A. Mann .........................

Beyond the campus boundary of the University of North Carolina lay countless acres of wilderness, populated by dogwoods, deer, and stoners. In the fall of 1969, LSD was arriving in Tarheel Country in droppers and on blotter, and the UNC student body was keeping tabs. Woodstock was a memory, and the ongoing conflict in Vietnam was shattering the innocence of tuned-in teenagers, shaping the prevailing tone of youth rock. Winston-Salem freshmen Robert Kirkland and Mike Greer shared a room inside Aycock Residence Hall, where they met Lancaster, South Carolina, native Don Dixon. Infatuated with loud music, they held frequent dorm-basement jam sessions. Enlisting East Carolina University commuter Jimmy Glasgow for drums, the quartet memorized their imported copy of Black Sabbath’s debut LP. Arrogance named itself after brash attitudes and lofty aspirations. “We never thought that we would be anything less than huge,” Dixon recalled.

With hair nearing shoulders by Christmas break, Arrogance reconvened in the new year at Greensboro’s Crescent City Studios. With Greer on organ and lead guitar, Kirkland on rhythm guitar, Dixon on bass and vocals, and Glasgow on drums, Arrogance tracked “Black Death,” “An Estimation,” and “Race With The Devil” by British rockers Gun. The Nashville Record Pressing minimum of 500 copies was ordered, and “An Estimation” b/w “Black Death” got the Crescent- City Records label, usually reserved for folk and gospel clients. The 45s were sold directly to Arrogance fans, and at central North Carolina record stores. Despite the band’s ambitions, not a single copy was mailed to a big-time record company. “We knew if people liked us that labels would find us,” Dixon said. Such arrogance was unfounded, however.

With the band working regularly, Greer and Glasgow dropped out of school, leaving Dixon and Kirkland to carry the Arrogance name as a bass/guitar duo. They put on acoustic sets, attracting a pianist and a percussionist as their de facto sound took on softer attributes. By the time their self-released Give Us A Break LP arrived, with its sepia-tinted Shetland pony cover, Arrogance had resigned itself to a more humble tone......................

Robert Kirkland — guitar, vocals
Marty Stout — keyboards
Don Dixon — bass, vocals
Ogie Shaw – bongos, percussion
Mike Greer — guitar (11, 12)
Jim Glasgow — drums (11, 12)

01. Not Unusual – 2:44
02. Searchin’ — 5:01
03. To See Her Smile — 5:38
04. Our Love Will Last — 2:57
05. Ma And Pa — 3:10
06. Why Do You Love Me — 3:40
07. A Foreshadowing — 4:51
08. I Can See It In Your Eyes — 2:25
09. Pirates, Princes And Kings — 3:30
10. Congratulations — 3:56

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“A Revolutionary New Triumph in Tape” 1958

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