Death of Samantha
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|Death of Samantha|
|Origin||Cleveland, Ohio, United States|
|Years active||1984-1990, 1992, 2011|
|Associated acts||Cobra Verde, Guided by Voices, Gem, New Salem Witch Hunters, KNG NXN, Rainy Day Saints, Speaker\Cranker|
|Past members||Marky Ray
Death of Samantha is an underground rock band from Cleveland, Ohio. Founded in 1983, the quartet made its infamous debut at a Ground Round family restaurant in Parma Heights, Ohio a show that became part of rock legend and set the tenor for the band's live stage show. Death of Samantha played its final show on December 15, 1990. The band reformed on December 23, 2012, with its original four-piece line-up: John Petkovic (vocals/guitar), Doug Gillard (guitar/vocals), David James (bass/vocals) and Steven Eierdam, aka Steve-O (drums).
Death of Samantha is associated with the ascending indie-rock movement of the mid-1980s. The band was signed by Gerard Cosloy to Homestead Records, home at the time to acts such as Sonic Youth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Dinosaur Jr. The band performed with contemporaries such as Sonic Youth, along with Nirvana, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Replacements, Smashing Pumpkins, the Gun Club, Leaving Trains and Redd Kross. Death of Samantha released three albums and an EP on the New York-based Homestead imprint, from 1986 to 1990. Prior to its signing, Death of Samantha released two critically acclaimed 45s on its own label, St. Valentine Records, in 1985. The band will release If Memory Serves Us Well in 2014, according to deathofsamantha.com. The double album is a live, in-the-studio recording of songs spanning the group's career. It features liner notes by Mark Lanegan, Thurston Moore and Robert Pollard.
Upon formation, Death of Samantha quickly came to embody a DIY aesthetic rather than a specific sound. The group's eclecticism was more pronounced than most in the indie-rock scene due to its motley crew of members, each with seemingly irreconcilable musical and artistic influences.
The result was summed up in Stairway to Hell: The Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe, which selected two DOS albums in its Top 500. Entry No. 126 -- for the LP Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants reads: "In the 'let's be regular' indie milieu they inhabit, these flaming Lake Erie fashion plates are some kinda godsend. They look like glitter's answer to the 'A-Team', and though on one hand they're neither art-rockers, shock-rockers, roots-rockers, or joke-rockers (or maybe I just don t get the jokes), on the other hand they're all of the above."
Formation and early history: 1983-1985
Death of Samantha performed its first show on August 24, 1983 at a Ground Round restaurant in Parma Heights, Ohio. Originally, the band was a three piece, with Petkovic on guitar, James on bass and Steve-o on drums. All three were living in Parma, a working-class suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. James and Steve-o were co-founders of a hardcore-punk fanzine titled Negative Print. James, 15, and Petkovic, 17, at the time, met at Valley Forge Senior High School, in Parma Heights. The trio took its name from a Yoko Ono song the night before its debut at the family style restaurant. ("Death of Samantha: Notes from the Underground," The Plain Dealer Magazine, February 22, 1987, Christopher Evans, Page 6)
The band scored its inauspicious debut because Petkovic worked as a janitor at the restaurant. "We did that show on chicken-wing night, and it was really noisy and awful. People were throwing wings at one another, and other people walked out because they thought it was horrible," said Petkovic, in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He ended up getting fired. "We weren't really a band." The show became part of punk-rock legend, as rumor spread via punk fanzines about this rebellious band that caused a mini riot at a family restaurant. ("Wild debut in a family restaurant made '80s band DOS legendary," The Plain Dealer, page 12, John Benson, Dec. 23, 2011)
DOS played its first club show at The Lakefront, in downtown Cleveland, on January 14th, 1984. It played its first show as a quartet with Doug Gillard on lead guitar on May 20, 1984 at the Pop Shop, an underground music club located in the basement of the famed Cleveland Agora. Gillard and Petkovic met, by chance, at an area amusement park. (Option, "That's Entertainment," May/June 1990, page 71)
The line-up proceeded to release two 45s on St. Valentine Records, a cooperative label formed to document Cleveland's non-hardcore underground. (CLE, "Death of Samantha: The Dream of Ripped Trousers," By Byron Coley, No. 4.0, 1996)
The band's first 45, Amphetamine b/w Simple as That, released on Valentine's Day, 1985 quickly sold out of its 1000-copy pressing thanks to critical acclaim in a number of magazines. The band's follow-up 45 -- Coca Cola and Licorice, or as the 45 was also called, Porn in the U.S.A., cemented the band's status as an rising darling in the underground scene. The 45 immediately sold out and Petkovic sold his guitar to print up a second pressing, and for months he borrowed guitars to play, record and tour. ("Death of Samantha: Notes from the Underground," The Plain Dealer Magazine, February 22, 1987, Christopher Evans, Page 8)
Coca Cola and Licorice -- which features an ominous bass groove, brash guitars and noisy clarinets, not to mention liner notes by writer and early DOS supporter Byron Coley -- received rave reviews around the country.
Jimmy Johnson, writing in Forced Exposure, said: "This sports an amount of guitar bashing agro and whirling intensity to keep me speechless through five straight plays (what I just did). Incredible, my fave 45 of this issue." (Forced Exposure, Jimmy Johnson, Reviews, Winter issue, 1985)
Homestead Records era: 1986-1990
The 45s landed the band a record contract with Homestead Records; Coca Cola and Licorice would be the opening track for the band's debut, Strungout on Jargon. Released in February 1986, the nine-song album features an album cover taken in front of the former Leader Drug store in Parma, Ohio. It features the quartet and an unidentified fifth person who was walking into the store. Strungout on Jargon became an unlikely breakthrough for Homestead Records -- in part because it didn't fit in anywhere in particular in the indie scenes. Hailed in the Village Voice, Forced Exposure, Sounds, NME and Creem Magazine, the band also found itself in teen rock magazines such as Star Hits.
"Hailing from closest to America's heartland and sounding it, this Cleveland combo grafts oddball concerns onto conventional structures and makes it work! From the heartfelt and hungover Grapeland to the jazzy anti-establishment Coca Cola and Licorice, you get the feelin' DOS might be the ones to build that bridge from the underground to the street." (Star Hits, Buried Treasures, September 1986)
Creem wrote: "This foursome is merely the most substantial contraction of the trumpeted CLE-vival scene that birthed Pere Ubu and the mighty Pagans. Like that pair, DOS leap outta some aural vacuum with nary a root exposed, but with plenty of bare wires to trip up the unsuspecting. Need a single touchstone? The truly surreal "Coca Cola and Licorice" could successfully play hide 'n' seek on Trout Mask Replica, but the Cap'n isn't the object of any idle worship. Singer John Petkovic testifies in an addled shout that combines the better halves of Tom Waits and Ian Curtis without the caricatured styling of either." (Creem, Rock a Rama, October 1986)
UK music weekly Sounds described Strungout on Jargon as "totally off the wall, squaling and squawking, throwing discords into the play and generally chewing up the well worn forms of rock. Death of Samantha are torridly enchanting, with classic, real life sketches." (Sounds, Death of Samantha, April 12, 1986)
In 1987, Death of Samantha released a follow-up EP, "Laughing in the Face of a Dead Man." The cover features a naked mannequin watching television in an empty lot with the Cleveland skyline in the background, with a baby mask staring into the camera. Like the cover photo, "Laughing..." has a pastiche quality when it comes to the music, with sound effects and pieces of songs assembled and peppered throughout the EP.
The pastiche approach influenced Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices - who displayed the record in a photo shoot for a story that appeared in Spin. (Spin, July 2008, "Robert Pollard," P. 42)
Pollard writes: "I got into their sense of humor, the snippets, samples, titles and album covers. The fact that they had put out all their albums on Homestead. The way they dressed. Their employment of television and movie culture. The whole package. Plus, they flat out could write songs and play." (Liner notes to Death of Samantha album, "If Memory Serves Us Well")
By 1987, David James left the band and was replaced by Dave Swanson (who played in fellow St. Valentine and then Homestead recording act the Reactions). This line-up recorded and released two full-length albums: Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants (1988) and Come All Ye Faithless (1990). Both marked a leap in recording and production quality. "The late '80s were Death of Samantha's apex. They were popular in Cleveland and around the states, they pulled off some of their most glorious on-stage antics and they released a pair of "mature" albums," wrote Byron Coley. (CLE, "Death of Samantha: The Dream of Ripped Trousers," By Byron Coley, No. 4.0, 1996)
"Where the Women..." - described by Pollard as "an arena leap forward -- concludes with the doom anthem, "Blood Creek." The song closed most of the band's sets and would often descend into noise and free-form chaos. Spin magazine wrote about "Blood Creek": "epic Berlin-Wall-of-cans groovebuild encompasses the most grungemungous furnace of Asheton/Laughner powerwah-carnage in centuries, almost." (Spin, "Death of Samantha," March 1989, page 72)
"Come All Ye Faithless" follow-up on the expanded instrumentation of "Where the Women..." Rolling Stone remarked that "DOS cooks with a wiry, more refined guitar clamor and Dylanesque lyric attack." (Rolling Stone, "On the Edge," April 19, 1990)
Pulse magazine remarked on how the album's "contrarily literate songwriting conjures a near Brechtian vision of 20th America. The result is working-class art-rock for disaffected aesthetes. Not surprisingly, the album sticks out like a sore thumb in the current U.S. indie scene." (Pulse!, "Death of Samantha," May 1990, Page 32)
The band welcomed that position, wrote Option magazine. "Death of Samantha is a collective mass of cultural iconography, symbolism as art, caught somewhere between the myths that make legends out of alternative rock bans, all the while bending the rules of the independent rock game. Psycho-revisionists in an underground music scene, Death of Samantha are myth benders, music blenders, mind fuckers and snazzy rock and roll hooligans who aren't so full of themselves to actually want to put on a show." (Option, "That's Entertainment," May/June 1990, page 72)
The band broke in the Fall of 1990. It was asked to reform in 1992, to act as backing band for Wayne Newton, for a rock record. The record never materialized.
The band did an early reunion show in Cleveland at The Empire, March 14, 1992.
On September 8, 2012, the band played another show in Cleveland at Case Western Reserve University.
On July 6, 2013, the band headlined the inaugural '4th & 4th Fest' in Columbus, Ohio 
Death of Samantha's bizarre debut at the Ground Round became part of the band's legend. It also came to be seen as a larger part of a live show that was called, at times, 'wild' and 'surreal.' Wrote Byron Coley: "There were precious few combos birthed in the '80s to whom THE SHOW was the thing. Paramount amongst this anti-hip elite was Cleveland's own Death of Samantha. With Gillard in place as a visual foil and constantly riffing guitar PRESENCE, Petkovic was freed to spurt around the stage like a big pock of metallic jiz in a low-gravity environment. His mouth jammed full of red licorice, his cheap suit soiled by un-named liquids, Petkovic power-oozed like a Vegas lounge singer on Benzedrine, while the band flared around him. Dave James was a nonpresence visually, but his bass had enough bite to get the boys dancing. Doug Gillard tottered on sky-high platform heels, spuzzing out thick chords of raunch and craning his head around as though someone had told him that the Sensational Alex Harvey had just walked into the room. Steve Eierdam (aka Steve-O) pounded the tubs like a big game hunter, and appeared to be something like an unholy cross between Ubu's Crocus Behemoth and the Meatmen's Tesco Vee - gushing philosophy, jokes, magic tricks and an untaggable brand of bad-vibe weirdness, looking all the while like one of his bandmates' tubby uncles in dire need of electroshock treatment. They were popular in Cleveland and around the states, they pulled off some of their most glorious on-stage antics." (CLE, "Death of Samantha: The Dream of Ripped Trousers," By Byron Coley, No. 4.0, 1996)
"Most punk bands get their start playing some beer-soaked dive in front of people in black leather. We got our playing next to a popcorn machine, on chicken wing night, in front of a bunch of people in acid-washed jeans," says Petkovic in Eric Davidson's book, "We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001." According to "We Never Learn: "The initial scam at the ground round was the first of many subversive pranks Death of Samantha regularly doled out like chicken wings at a suburban family restaurant. An Elvis funeral on stage, clarinet solos, feather boas -- none of it was party to anything increasingly serious alternative musicians were supposed to be doing in the late-80s." ("We Never Learn," by Eric Davidson, Backbeat Books, 2010, page 7)
The "funeral show" featured Steve-o popping out of a coffin to the overture from "Jesus Christ Superstar" in a Cleveland club called the Phantasy. He had been paraded around the club, with pallbearers, as part of a funeral procession. Upon his jumping out and onto the stage, fans grabbed feather-filled pillows in the coffins and engaged in a pillow fight, filling the club with feathers, and earning the band a temporary ban. ("Death of Samantha: Notes from the Underground," The Plain Dealer Magazine, February 22, 1987, Christopher Evans, Page 31)
Death of Samantha often incorporated non-music performers, including a late-night horror host, The Ghoul, and an organ grinder and monkey duo, Pete and Pop. (Option, "That's Entertainment," May/June 1990, page 73)
Messy shows were also common on tour, according to Jersey City, N.J. magazine "Away from the Pulsebeat." ("Away from the Pulsebeat," "Reviews," Winter 1986)
The band's outfits matched the props - an assortment of whatever junk they could drag on stage. "We Never Learn" described Doug Gillard as looking like "a Kandinsky doodle of Johnny Thunders (fishnet armbands, glitter platforms), a Weimar-era prostitute (black stockings, lace) and a suburban punk (guitar slash shards and greeeezy hair)." James provided the stability, Petkovic the energy, according to Thurston Moore, writing in the liner notes to "If Memory Serves us Well": "When Sonic Youth first played Cleveland way back in the mid 80s it was at some biker bar that John Petkovic booked and he had his band Death of Samantha open up. I gotta say I was unprepared for the mania this kid brought to the stage." (Liner notes to Death of Samantha album, "If Memory Serves Us Well")
Steve-O travelled to shows with large wardrobes, often packed in garbage bags, as Petkovic recounts in "We Never Learn": "We flew out there and, as usual, our drummer steve-o packied his 'costumes' (like a multicolored coat made out of shag rug) not in suitcases. but in large garbage bags. You could do that back then. When we were in baggage claim at LAX airport, his stuff eventually rolled out, strewn all over the carousel. We ended up getting to our first show late, at a called Nightmovies in Orange County. Not only did the promoter hate it and not want to pay me, but he hit me over the head with a gun, then pointed it at me and told me to get the fuck out." ("We Never Learn," by Eric Davidson, Backbeat Books, 2010, page 12)
While the band warped style attracted a cult following, it also had its detractors - as indicated by letters to The Plain Dealer, in response to a tour diary the Cleveland daily ran by John Petkovic documenting a 1989 west coast tour. (The Plain Dealer, "Death Takes a Holiday," July 9, 1989)
One read: "Who cares about the daily diary of these weird musical misfits?" Another: "I was very offended and embarrassed for the city of Cleveland, knowing that its only newspaper had nothing better to feature in its July 9 magazine than the exploits of an obnoxious group of "musicians." Their only goal in life seems to be to not eat at Burger King, and to be sarcastic to everyone. Have you ever listened to them? They can hardly play instruments. Be real. Is this the kind of intelligent journalism that Cleveland wants to be known for?" (The Plain Dealer, "Letters," July 16, 1989)
- Studio albums
- Strungout on Jargon (1986, Homestead)
- Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants (1988, Homestead)
- Come All Ye Faithless (1989, Homestead)
- Laughing in the Face of a Dead Man (1986, Homestead)
- Amphetamine/Simple as That (1985, St. Valentine)
- Porn in the USA (1986, St. Valentine)
- Rosenberg Summer (1989, Homestead)