Chris Butler (musician)
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Chris Butler (born May 22, 1949) is an American musician, writer and artist who led the experimental new wave 1980s band The Waitresses (PolyGram). Butler grew up in the U.S. state of Ohio and majored in sociology at Kent State University. He was among a crowd of students fired on by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970.
Active in the Kent, OH music and art scene that also spawned The James Gang, DEVO and Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Butler appeared in several films by KSU's film professor Richard Myers, and played guitar in the blues band City Lights with Jack Kidney. He followed Jack into his brother Robert Kidney's 15-60-75 (a/k/a The Numbers Band), playing bass with them from 1975-78. Butler was fired from the band for blowing off a rehearsal to attend a photo session for his fictional Waitresses band project, which were to be part of Stiff Record's "Akron: Shine On, America" compilation, that also included tracks by Tin Huey, Jane Ayre & The Belvederes, Rachel Sweet, The Rubber City Rebels, The Bizarros and Chi-Pig.
Butler joined Tin Huey a month after being canned, the band eventually signing with Warner Bros. in 1979, after Butler wrote a letter to The Village Voice's rock critic Robert Christgau inviting him to come to Ohio and report on the flourishing Akron/Kent music scene. Tin Huey released "Contents Discharged During Shipment" for the label, and although it never found an audience, the band members continue to play together in various configurations (Half Cleveland, Ralph's Carnage, Harvey In The Hall, etc.) to this day. New releases include "Disinformation" (Future Fossil/P.O.S.), "Before Obscurity: The Bushflow Tapes" (Smog Veil) and "Half Cleveland: Live at the Wi-Fi Cafe":
Butler is best known for conceptualizing and leading The Waitresses, and writing all of the band's songs, including "I Know What Boys Like", "No Guilt", "Christmas Wrapping" and the theme song for the TV sitcom Square Pegs. He holds the 1997 Guinness Book of World Records for the longest pop song recording in history, a 69-minute song entitled The Devil Glitch. The project has now been expanded online as "The Major Glitch", which is accepting additions to the song in the hopes that eventually it will play for days. for information, composition tools or to hear the current version (clocking in at 3:13:32) go to http://www.majorglitch.net.
In 1983, Butler went to Denmark and produced the second album by the punk/art band Sort Sol. The band members were fans of Lydia Lunch, an acquaintance of Butler's, and was able to arrange for her to come to Copenhagen and record two tracks with the band: "Boy - Girl" and "As She Weeps".
From 1984-86, while living in Centerport, Long Island, Butler was writer and co-editor of "Music, Computers and Software" magazine, as well as a freelance writer for various tech and lifestyle publications. "Long Island is 'Ohio with seafood'. I stayed until the asshole ex-Marine across the street chased me away for playing the drums in my basement."
Starting to get work as a producer, Butler blew up two cars on the Long Island Expressway commuting daily to Water Music Studios in Hoboken, NJ, during the recording of Scruffy The Cat's "Tiny Days" album (1987), and Joan Osborne's "Relish" EP.
In 1987, Butler sold his musical gear, including "Bebe Blue", the Vox Teardrop electric guitar he used to record "Christmas Wrapping," to a Manhattan music store. Over twenty years later the store owners told him that the guitar's latest owner, a woman in Belgium, wanted to sell it to someone who could appreciate its significance. Butler hopped on a plane and repurchased it, though he could not convince himself that the guitar was in fact the one he owned before.
After playing drums with Rich Grula on bass showcasing songwriter Freedy Johnston for Bar None Records, Butler produced Johnston's 1989 album The Trouble Tree and played guitar on some of the album's tracks.
In the early '90's Butler continued to write and produce, but also returned to playing drums, joining fellow Ohio expats Johnny Teagle, Ted Lawrence and Baker Rorick to form purplE k'niF (the name being a Ghoulardi catch-phrase known to anyone who came of age in NEO in the '60's), a "Maximum Surf 'n' Twang" instrumental band. The band has continued to play around the country, and is well into its third decade.
In 1995, he was hired by former Tin Huey keyboardist Harvey Gold, now a TV producer in New York City, as drummer and bandleader for "Two Drink Minimum", a stand-up showcase program for Comedy Central, the stage band also featured Ralph Carney from Tin Huey playing reeds. Butler also started a four-year gig as drummer for Television guitarist extraordinaire Richard Lloyd.
In 1997, Butler started Future Fossil Records, and released his first full-length album "I Feel A Bit Normal Today". In 2001, he released Kilopop!'s "Un Petit Gôuter", a fictional European band's "Best Of". "I've always been a songwriter, and over the years I've been asked to write Waitress-y type tunes for other singers...but none of them were ever used. I had quite a pile of these, plus some fun co-writes lying around gathering dust...so I invented a fake European band that supposedly had had 'hits' with these tunes. I wanted to be a success in Europe, and since this didn't happen in reality, I decided to make it so in fantasy."
Always a science and technology geek, with an in interest in antique recording methods, next came 2002's "The Museum of Me: Volume 1", a collection of new songs recorded on Edison cylinders, wire recorders and obsolete tape formats. "Every machine also required finding 'The Guy' (or 'The Girl') who could keep it running. Thru them, I got a fantastic education in manufacturing methods, and what passed for acceptable sound in past decades." Volume 2, recorded with a completely different set of obsolete recorders, is scheduled for release in 2016.
In 2005, he bought the childhood home of Jeffrey Dahmer in Ohio. Dahmer had committed his first murder there before the family moved to Wisconsin. The house, built in 1952, had been featured in the Beacon Journal for its modern style, open layout and floor-to-ceiling windows that provided views of the wooded hillside. Butler said he was drawn to the house by its ‘50s style and big, wooded lot. It was perfect for his collections of Mid Century Modern furniture and British Invasion music equipment. It was also an ideal place for him and his Tin Huey bandmates to play without disturbing the neighbors. Butler couldn’t understand why the house had been on the market for six months and at an attractive price. His real estate agent then called to disclose the home’s infamous history. “I didn’t stop shaking for another 24 hours,” he said, "but the house was and is perfect, and with a great vibe, too."
After the release of a Waitresses box set in October, 2013 (Omnivore Records), Butler released a revised version of "Easy Life", a cantata/song-cycle about his life in Kent, Ohio, before the murders of four students by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970. Critically received as a masterpiece, "Easy Life" is being developed for the stage, with a debut hopefully scheduled for the 45th anniversary of the murders in 2015. "I was even in an experimental play that entire May 4th weekend at Kent. I have always been interested in the theater, and I have been urged to write a 'musical', although I'm haunted by some director insisting on a kick line of National Guardsmen."
Butler lives in Jersey City, NJ and Ohio, with a studio loft in Hoboken. Current projects include gigging with Half Cleveland, co-writing a CD of obscure holiday songs with Ralph Carney, and adding chapters to "Album", an ongoing audio/biography project based around significant rock 'n' roll songs. He is also an enthusiastic participant in the TMI memoir-writing workshop of Rosendale, NY, and has appeared onstage in several of their spoken word performances.
Bands that involved Chris Butler
- Future Fossil Music
- NPR: My Guitar, My Past: A Man's Search for His Vox
- The Waitresses - Chris Butler
- "Don Ralph interview on working with Chris Butler and Ralph Carney in Life in a Blender". Archive.org. Outsight Radio Hours. Retrieved 22 July 2012.