S.O.S. ended and Dog Neutral began when after a string of respondents, our ad for a bass player was finally answered by Barry Kennedy. Barry had been primarily in metal bands and had never really heard the type of thing we were playing- progressive rock with heavy jazz, psychedelic and experimental influences, mostly improvised. For some unknown reason he found this captivating and threw in his lot with us. We found him totally capable from the outset and he was very hungry to explore and experiment- just what we needed. For the next three years, he, Hyam Sosnow, Leon and I made some very challenging and expansive music.
The only thing held over from the old Cold Sky repertoire was Clear Day, which became our traditional opening tune for quite a while. Otherwise we usually jammed, taped it, and had listening sessions afterwards, where we agreed on sections to pull ,to be developed into songs. This was much closer to the sort of thing I had originally envisioned for Paper Bag. There was still a major difference between that old dream and what we'd be doing: there were not going to be vocals, so the idea of including more traditional song structures among the experimentation was once again shelved. It remained (and stills remains) a goal, awaiting the right group of musicians.
Even though improvisation was the key ingredient in both bands, Dog Neutral was of course only partially improvisational- about 75%- and Paper Bag was more like 98%. (Quite frequently the poetry in PB had been written up beforehand- although it was always arranged so that no band member but the author had ever seen it.) And there were other significant differences. Paper Bag had a lot of rules about the improvisation- Dog Neutral had none. For example, in Paper Bag we usually aimed at keeping the pieces short, usually no more than 4 minutes, often much less. And in Dog Neutral, we played until it felt like it was time to end it. Paper Bag used conducting by individual members to organize the pieces; in Dog Neutral it was very organic and we tried to add changes where it felt right, as we went. Subsequently we ran a much bigger risk of boring the audience; but we also had a much higher probability of not cutting things off just when they were getting interesting. We allowed ourselves to create larger structures. Despite the presence of a very audible common guitarist and an improvisational approach, the two acts couldn't really have sounded more different. If you can imagine a mix of live Cream improvisations and '72-'73 era Genesis together, you'd have some idea of what we sounded like. Add in the '73- '74 era King Crimson improvisations and some Mahavishnu and you'd be even closer. And while calling all this to mind, somehow I don't think we sounded like anything but Dog Neutral.
There was a strong sense of absurd humor at work in the band. This is most readily obvious in the song titles, but occassionally you could hear it in the music. All the members were big Loony Tunes fans and when we weren't discussing music we were often discussing cartoons. There are also a lot of nuclear bomb references in the titles- Hyam's influence, as a trivia buff for all things of a nuclear and aviatory nature. But we had an incentive- the ad I ran which Hyam responded to had some typos, as did an ad I placed for a keyboardist in the same issue. Atomic Rooster became Atomic Research and Clive Bunker became Quiet Bunker. We first got one song title out of this (Atomic Research in the Quiet Bunker), and it became a trend for thermonuclear titles and imagery which continues to our present day work with Jugalbandi.
A good example of the band's sense of humor at work is the story behind its name. We were all sitting around in Hyam's living room brainstorming, getting nowhere at all. This went on for what seemed like hours. We all started to go a little mushy in the head. At one point I said "Dog Park", thinking of the little park behind where I worked- people took their dogs there, often leaving gifts for the unsuspecting. Everybody stopped and looked at me for a second, completely puzzled; then went right back to suggesting names. Probably five minutes later, long after I'd forgotten my own suggestion, Leon looked at me and said "Dog Neutral". I said, "What?" I looked around- did anybody else get it? Did I miss something? No, the rhythm section looked just as confused as I did. Hyam echoed my "What?", and Leon started to laugh. "Dog Park, Dog Neutral. Dog Reverse. What the hell were you talking about anyway?" After everyone stopped laughing I explained what my original thought had been. And suddenly everyone was agreeing on Dog Neutral. From that, Hyam came up with our mascot- the dog with the gear-shift pattern on its head. A lot of people were very confused by the name- men would often cross their legs with a shudder, thinking of "Dog Neutered". (I personally think it's better than the runner-up, "Grease Jesus and the Retromingents". [Retromingent: to urinate to the rear rather than to the front. A trait of certain animals, pigs for example. They have a way of leaving it all behind them.] We let "Grease Jesus" go, but it retained its sentimental value. )
Initially both Leon and I were doing announcements live, but I eventually decided to relinquish the duties to him. I did occassionally get up to the mic and make weird half animal, half human noises between songs. But Leon took to it with relish and mustard, and adopted his sinister "Toastmaster" persona. "I 'm Leon, I'll be your Toastmaster for this evening". Be afraid. Be very afraid.
There is an enormous amount of recorded material for Dog Neutral, and a fair amount of live video. Unlike Paper Bag of course, not all of the live material is totally unique- we did play songs so what exists are multiple versions. But when you consider that the songs usually consisted of a few bars of melody at the head, improvisation that could go on and go anywhere, and eventually return to the head (sometimes! No guarantees!), you are talking about some vastly different versions. Some people like that, others don't. There isn't a tremendous difference between live Cream improvisations but they are all certainly different from each other. This is a situation akin to that. (Continuing the comparision, I will say this: you'll find a lot more in the way of surprise chord changes, tempo, meter and textural shifts in a Dog Neutral improvisation than in Cream. But they still basically sounded like Cream and we still basically sounded like Dog Neutral.)
There are probably enough songs, multiple versions not withstanding, to fill 2-3 CDs. When you get into the good multiple versions and live shows- the number is, at this point, beyond my ability to reasonably guess. If we narrowed it down to the best of the best, to versions which are significantly different from each other- then probably an additional 5 to 10 discs. But if you're talking about good versions with the usual differences, in the solos, fills and so on, the floor drops out. Remember- nearly every rehearsal was taped too.
(A compilation of recordings, "Dog Neutral In Gear", is now available, see below for details.)
I left Dog Neutral in 1993 to again try to create a band where I could at least integrate my solo tunes, most of which had vocals. By this time I'd mostly finished "Darkland Express" and so there was a ton of new material to perform- all told, there was another two album's worth, to add to the 4 or so already written and recorded- and it was just sitting there, not being played. I felt it was finally time to put all my energy into changing that.
The band continued without me for a few months. I'd given them my blessing to keep using all of the material, even songs like Clear Day and Jungle Tornado, which were my tunes. I had no argument with any of them personally, thought the music was great and really hoped they would do well in my absence. But eventually they decided not to continue.
I did not have much luck in finding like-minded musicians, and was not in a position to hire a band. There was a lot going on in my personal life as well at that time, which made things all the more difficult. Finally, after months of frustration, I was on the phone with Hyam (we're friends above and beyond band situations), and he was saying how much he'd like for us to play together again. I told him that wouldn't be possible because I needed to find a situation where I could do material with vocals, and I knew how he felt about that. To my surprise, he said he'd go for it. I agreed in a flash, and we were on the road to the next step: Jugalbandi.
- Kennels of Shame
- Atomic Research in the Quiet Bunker
- Suddenly Irritable
- Mach Turtle
- Ivy Mike
- Clear Day
- Mirv Gryphon
- The Dog Ate My Homework
Dog Neutral logo designed by Hyam Sosnow, insidiously doctored from computer clip art. Logo tweaked for maximum 3D effect by GS. Dog Neutral live shot perverted by same.
Go to Jugalbandi (Yeah? Well same to you!)
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