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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Column 51: Caulfield, Goodbye; Gerald Lee Jr. a.k.a. Lee Meyerpeter at The Niner tonight

Switching things around this week and running the column today and the feature on Eagle*Seagull tomorrow (that show it tomorrow night with Neva Dinova).

I said last week in this blog that I'd heard that Caulfield Records' label chief, Bernie McGinn, had moved to San Francisco, but that there'd been conflicting reports to the truthfulness of that rumor. Bernie put those questions to rest when he e-mailed me with the real poop, and then agreed to do an interview for the column. This piece merely scratches the surface of what Caulfield Records was all about. Believe me, Caulfield was a big deal in the '90s, much in the same way that Saddle Creek is today. In an era before the widespread use of the Internet, Caulfield was the real deal -- a distributed label (via Lumberjack) that got your music heard all over the country. The quality of their releases was consistently first-rate.

Column 51 -- Goodbye, Caulfield
Nebraska's original indie label calls it quits

Before there was Saddle Creek, there was Caulfield Records.

It was 1988 -- a time when the thought of Nebraska ever being the center of anything other than college football, telemarketing or insurance -- let alone the indie rock music world -- was insane. Record labels belonged in New York or L.A. (or maybe Seattle), certainly not Nebraska.

Then along came a 17-year-old Lincoln entrepreneur who conned his loving mother into cosigning a loan to finance the release of a 7-inch EP by his band, Peer Puppet.

"We actually changed our name after the record was pressed," said the entrepreneur in question, Bernie McGinn. "We crossed out 'Peer Puppet' and stamped it with the new name, 'Sideshow,'" McGinn told me the story from his new home in sunny, soothing San Francisco, California, where he moved seven weeks ago to pursue an offer he couldn't refuse from CNET The move decidedly spelled the end of one of the most influential record labels in our scene's rather young history. Caulfield Records and its roster of bands that included Frontier Trust, Mercy Rule, Christie Front Drive, Giants Chair, Opium Taylor, Mineral, The Sound of Rails, The Lepers and Her Flyaway Manner, were the predecessors to a phenomenon that would emerge a decade later called Saddle Creek Records. McGinn proved that you could run a successful, nationally distributed indie label out of your house and have fun doing it. Making money at it, well, that's another thing altogether...

The label's heyday was in the early '90s. Caulfield grew from a regional label with local acts like Mercy Rule and Frontier Trust, to a national entity with the release of CDs by Denver's Christie Front Drive and Kansas City's Giants Chair, two bands that toured extensively. Things got so busy around the Caulfield offices that there wasn't enough room for McGinn's own band -- Sideshow released their second LP on Flydaddy, a subsidiary of Sub Pop.

Then over the course of '95, Giants Chair, Christie Front Drive and Lincoln band Opium Taylor all broke up, just after Caulfield released those bands' follow-up LPs. "Opium Taylor's last show was their CD release show," McGinn said. "For all intents and purposes, not having bands on the road was the beginning of the end."

But McGinn soldiered on. In 1999, the label released the debut by Traluma, a project fronted by former Gauge guitarist Kevin. J. Frank. It was the first time McGinn had to work with a band's independent publicist. It would prove to be a souring experience.

"I struggled with it for quite a while -- do I want to make this my job or is this a passion or hobby?" McGinn said. "I did try, on a number of levels, to make it a record label by putting out music by (bands) Kolya and m.i.j., and working with people who weren't part of my close circle of friends. Afterward, I decided that this isn't fun and it isn't the reason I started the label."

Add to that the fact that by 2000 McGinn's last band, Luck of Aleia, had folded, and he no longer was performing on stage. "That meant I wasn't meeting new bands," he said. "It just didn't make sense anymore."

Caulfield's last gasps were releases by his brother Brendan's band, Her Flyaway Manner, as well as The Lepers and The Sound of Rails. In May 2003, Caulfield released Fractions and Exaggerations, a compilation of material from '90s noise-rock band Germbox. Catalog number 41 would prove to be the label's final release.

"There was no official tent folding," McGinn said of Caulfield's demise. "It was an organic process of not putting out any records, in the same way that putting out records in the first place wasn't an effort to start a record label."

These days, McGinn and his wife, Tammy Childers, are busy enough just keeping up with their 3-year-old daughter, Stella. He says he's still going to keep material in print that people want (You can find it at, as well as make the catalog available on digital services such as i-Tunes, Rhapsody and Napster.

"It's been an honor working with bands that I have been huge fans of, and being trusted to help get their music out there," McGinn said. "That's been the best part of it."

Tonight, Bad Luck Charm's Lee Meyerpeter is doing an acoustic set as "Gerald Lee Jr." at The 49'r. Lee says his songs are written in the vein of Waylon Jennings, Uncle Tupelo and Iggy Pop. Also playing is Lash La Rue from The Mercurys. Hey, is there a better place to be on a cold, cold night than The Niner? $2, 10 p.m.

--Got comments? Post 'em here.--


posted by Tim at 5:13 AM

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