Thursday, April 21, 2011

Love Tractor - This Ain't No Outerspace Ship

As you can probably tell from my posts, I was (and am) a big fan of the old Athens sound, beginning with the B-52's and R.E.M., and branching out to less-well-known but still vital bands from that era like Pylon, Oh-OK and Buzz of Delight. Love Tractor was an Athens band that appeared very late on my radar, probably because what they were initially into was a bit removed from the other local bands of that time.

The band was formed in April 1980 by two local guitarists, Mike Richmond and Mark Cline, more as a way to alleviate the boredom of living in the one-horse town Athens was back then, rather than creating/joining a new musical movement. The two began gigging around Athens as a duo, accompanied at first by a drum machine. But along the way, they began adding members on bass and keyboards, and shed the drum machine for a succession of flesh-and-blood drummers (including, briefly, a pre-R.E.M. Bill Berry) before settling on Kit Schwartz behind the kit.

The major difference that set Love Tractor apart from the other bands vying for stage time at the 40 Watt Club and Tyrone's back then was in their sound - Love Tractor was a TOTALLY instrumental folk-rock band; no vocals whatsoever in their performances.

Now, I'll be honest, with very few exceptions, instrumental bands bore the shit out of me. Instrumental rock is no picnic in itself, but of all the genres, instrumental jazz ensembles have got to be the worst and most ennui-inducing for me. For example, I've recently been frequenting a local Cuban restaurant here in a sketchy part of town that features great food, dirt-cheap beer and some of the best, most eclectic live music performances in the city every weekend. In the couple of months I've been a regular at this place, I've been treated to superb groups offering up rock, big band, world music [quick shout-out on this one: the excellent band I saw there under this genre, Copal, came all the way from Brooklyn to our little burg, and featured a stunning redhead fronting the band on violin(!) and a weirdly hypnotic classical/Middle Eastern/gypsy/hip-hop sound - if that sounds like something you'd be into, run, do not walk, and pick up their latest, Into The Shadow Garden], what have you.

However, the worst band I saw there was a couple of weeks ago, when I went to the restaurant for a bite to eat and a couple of drinks. I got there fairly early in the evening, and while I ate I watched the band set up - just a quartet of nondescript young guys, sporting the apparently de rigueur look of torn jeans and scraggly post-secondary school goatees. I was looking forward to some decent music, but these guys completely disappointed me. Their entire set consisted of fifteen-twenty minute-long meandering "jazz explorations", with each player seemingly just doing his own thing. There was no visible connection/acknowledgement between the players, and as such, their music did nothing to draw the audience in. After a very short while, their music moved from boring to annoying, and I fled the venue much earlier that usual.

So, I can sort of imagine what Love Tractor was facing during their early years of playing in Athens. Cline has admitted in interviews that his was never "the most marketable band". With its shows, the band never really built up the sort of buzz and mythology that surrounds the early efforts of the B-52s (i.e., the legendary Valentine's Day party) or R.E.M. (practicing in the abandoned church). It seems that they were more admired than loved in town.

It took a while for them to find a recording contract, but Love Tractor was finally signed to DB Records in 1982. They released their first album, an all instrumental self-titled effort, later that year. Love Tractor received decent reviews, but sold poorly. For their second DB Records album, 1984's Till The Cows Come Home, the band began experimenting with actual words, adding a couple of songs with lead vocals by Richmond.

The relative success of this record, coupled with DB Records' increasingly shaky financial posture, led to the band's move to the larger Big Time Records (America) label in 1986. Their first release on their new label was 1987's This Ain't No Outerspace Ship. This album was Love Tractor's first full-scale foray into vocal rock, and in my opinion they pull it off with great success. Their sound on this record can be described as sort of a funkier R.E.M., with Richmond's twangy voice well suited to songs such as "Beatle Boots" and "Outside With Ma".

As fortune would have it, I moved to Athens shortly after this album came out, and the record was being championed by WUOG, the local independent college station. They played "Outside With Ma" to death, so much so that I fell in love with it. If I recall correctly, I bought this album on vinyl at either the Wuxtry, the famous local record shop, or at the local college co-op/music store located just down the street. It wasn't until years later that I replaced my vinyl copy with a CD version.

Love Tractor released one more album on Big Time, 1989's Themes From Venus, before breaking up later that year. The band members went on to join several other bands, but they all remained friends, and every year or so they would all get together in Athens to reconnect and write songs together. Seven years after breaking up, they reformed, and after touring around the country for several years, released a reunion record, The Sky At Night, on Razor & Tie in 2001.  They broke up again shortly afterwards.

So, here's what in my opinion is Love Tractor's best album, This Ain't No Outerspace Ship from 1987 (distributed by RCA). Be sure to check out their covers of Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" and The Gap Band's "Party Train"! Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

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  1. Thank you very much. I heard the Feelies cover one of their tunes and wanted to check them out. Can't wait to listen!

  2. Thank you very much.

    Everything is OK and the album is great

    Best Regards
    Efstathiou Stathis

  3. My old college radio station was throwing away all of their vinyl LPs back in 1999 (who knows why?), and I was very fortunate to grab most of the Love Tractor records along with a bunch of other great 80's stuff.

    Thanks very much again P.P.!

  4. Thanks for the Love Tractor!
    Just discovered your blog. Can't wait to delve into it. Pylon, The Fall, Robyn Hitchcock, New Zealand pop! It's got to be great!

  5. Thank you! Great album, and great band.

  6. Thanks for the download. Cool site

  7. Love Tractor is awesome! Thank you so much for the download and the quick response :)

  8. Only just read about this band - and mad to get hands on some material.

    1. Use the "Send Email" link above, so I know where to email you the links. Thanks!

  9. I just discovered this band and its great! Excellent blog blog and keep put out these good records! Thanks!

  10. Thanks so much for the link.
    Worked perfect!