The Vulgar Boatmen

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The Vulgar Boatmen are an American rock band formed in Gainesville, Florida in the early 1980s by a group of students at the University of Florida, including John Eder and Walter Salas-Humara. In its original configuration the group issued several cassette-only releases, including Women and Boatmen First (1982) and All Bands on Deck (1984). As first Eder and then Salas-Humara departed, the group coalesced around Robert Ray, a film studies professor at the university, who became one of the group's two principal songwriters and vocalists, the other being Indiana musician Dale Lawrence, a former student of Ray's who was a veteran of the early punk band the Gizmos.

Though they lived and worked in different states, Ray and Lawrence composed songs by exchanging cassette tapes through the mail. Eventually Lawrence merged his own band, Right to Left, into the Boatmen, who since that time have existed as two distinct performing units. In their revised lineup the Boatmen are known for their straightforward but infectious pop melodies, their stark lyrics -- many of which focus on women and automobile travel -- and for their frequent employment of the viola, an instrument relatively uncommon in rock. At least sixteen musicians have been members of the group at one time or another. In addition to Robert Ray and his wife Helen Kirklin, who plays viola, members of the Florida (recording) branch have included Carey Crane (vocals), Jonathan Kaley-Isley (drums, organ, vocals), and Michael Derry (guitar and drums). Current or former members of the Indiana (touring) Boatmen include Dale Lawrence, Kathy Kolata (viola), Andy Richards (drums), Jake Smith (bass), and Matt Speake (guitar).

Since 1989 the Boatmen have recorded three albums, You and Your Sister (1989), Please Panic (1992), and Opposite Sex (1995), the last of which was released by Warner Bros (East/West) in the UK and Europe, but was never released in the US. In 2003 the band issued a compilation album on CD, Wide Awake. As of 2013 the Indiana branch of the Boatmen remains active under the leadership of Lawrence, though the Florida branch appears to be dormant or defunct.

In 2010, Fred Uhter released a documentary about the group, entitled Drive Somewhere: The Saga of the Vulgar Boatmen.

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