Rumble – the early years (1985-1988)
Thirty years after their first live performance, a pulsating subculture demands on Rumble On The Beach. Many bands have been reunited within the huge wave of 1980s nostalgia through the past few years. But this is not really the case with ROTB! Everybody calls it a “reunion“ but as a matter of fact the band never split up. They only stopped being in action and the reason why is to be found in the own personal privacy of the band members. It was clear to everyone that Rumble will be reactivated sooner or later.
In the beginning of the year 2015, Michael ‘Ohlly’ Ohlhoff (guitarist and vocalist) and me (Marc Mittelacher – drums, vocal) met on a private party with live music. We played a few old songs as special guests even that we never rehearsed since the old days. It worked anyway. We had so much fun along with the party guests that we decided not to lose any more time. Bassist Andreas ‘Andy’ Merck re-joined us very excited. The result: “Rumble is back on the Beach“ in its original line-up.
Along with the “reunion“ comes this new CD album compilation covering the early years of the band Rumble On The Beach.
Rumble On The Beach was founded in Bremen, West-Germany, in mid-May 1985 after Andy, Ohlly and me left the Rockabilly band Randy Rebels for new directions. I already had been playing together with Andy since late 1983 in the first line-up of the Randy Rebels, when Ohlly joined the band as a rhythm guitar player in mid-July 1984. Ohlly brought a lot of innovation into the band which fitted to the new ideas of Andy and me, and it soon became clear that an evolution just started which finally had to result in the creation of a new band. It was also the brand of the time to create something new out of Rockabilly music. The influence of those Neo-Rockabilly and early Psychobilly bands was there for anyone of us. Torsten Gluschke, leader of the Randy Rebels (today singer, guitarist with the Wild Black Jets), continued with a different line-up. Meanwhile, we tried to work out our new sound ideas with still a nameless
band. This was not done over night at ease as we came together from different musical directions via the traditional Rockabilly sound of the Randy Rebels. We had to find our “crossroads“ within our “city map“ of creativity and we all nearly exploded from too much excitement and too many actions at a time. We truly had to learn that it takes time.
A fourth man joined the band: Guitarist Udo Kuhlmann.
Now, the “chaos“ was perfect.
Udo’s main influence was Neo-Rockabilly and Gene Vincent. He played with the Crash Caps from Oldenburg before. Since he looked a little bit like Germany’s famous tennis ace Boris Becker, he was used to be called ‘Boris’ very often. Andy Merck’s musical influences were spliced from two directions, Rockabilly music and New Wave. From Depeche Mode to Restless, so to say. Ohlly came from the tough “street corner“ of Punk Rock. He used to play with quite a lot of Bremen-Punk-formations, Rückkopplung and New Hearts, to name a few. And myself as an old Elvis-Fan, I was already born with the traditional Boogie Woogie flu which soon became a chronic true Rockabilly-Blues-Jazz-“Illness“. From today’s point of view we could say that our crossing paths at that time was not far from sounds like the Stray Cats and Link Wray with much room for creativity. We just did what we wanted to do. Within some six months we created our own Rumble-sound mix out of all those musical styles and influences, based on traditional Rock’n’Roll.
We only needed a name for the “chaos“. Most of the bands in the huge genre of Rock’n’Roll music during the mid-1980s used names with the word “Cats“ in it or named themselves something like “Harry & The Midnight Rockers“ for example. It’s been clear to us that we wanted something a little bit different. A band’s name is a logo and we wanted the name to transport the band’s idea. We had both, “Country AND Western“, I mean fun AND strength, our music was tough and fast – and the name should label that.
I remember us sitting on Ohlly’s rooftop one sunny day drinking coffee when we found the name Rumble On The Beach. Rumble as a strong word for the toughness of the music and our musical lives, and Beach for the fun in it. That also happened in relation to the Brighton riots in the sixties we’ve all seen in the movie “Quadrophenia“. We realized much later that Rumble On The Beach is as well a phrase in the refrain of the Stray Cats-song “Rumble In Brighton“. We listened a lot to that song but we weren’t conscious about that. Much later we faced a funny situation though, when Brian Setzer realized it too during the first show on the Stray Cats-Rumble On The Beach tour in 1990! He was obviously amused when he looked at us staying behind the stage while he was singing this refrain extra loud together with drummer Slim Jim Phantom. Brian and Jim both were grinning.
It took another 2 months until we climbed up a stage for our first show in July, 1985, at Bremen’s “Kulturzentrum Schlachthof“. The show was part of a festival named “School’s Out Party“ to the start of the summer vacation season. The show we played was still something like a mess but we made some live recordings through the soundboard which we later used for demos. Even that nearly 80% of the songs were cover versions, one can already hear on those recordings what later should become the typical Rumble-sound.
Within this first show we presented a special cover version of the song “Purple Rain“ by Prince & The Revolution. The whole audience, mostly true rockers, was quite shocked in the first moments until the refrain started. I remember a similar situation in a guitar-scene of the 1980s movie hit “Back To The Future“.
This completely different version of “Purple Rain“ should soon receive a lot of attention. Even in the year 2007, a German record label called Be Be’s Records reissued the Rumble-version of the song on a “Rockabilly-meets-Pop“ limited Vinyl and CD compilation.
Our version of “Purple Rain“ came up within minutes. The story begins with us being at one of our rehearsals in Ohlly’s cellar which was in fact a surviving bunker from WWII, inside of an old fire station building in the most famous part of Bremen, called “Das Viertel“ (The Quarter). “Das Viertel“ is still a melting pot for artists and musicians with millions of bars and restaurants close to the river Weser. It might have some tiny similarities to London’s Soho or Paris’ Quartier Latin but anyhow it has a long history starting in the roaring twenties until it was denied by the Nazis. It came up again with the first Allied Jazz clubs after the war, circa 1946. We were busy with that specific rehearsal in 1985 which seemed not to be a productive one. Our common rehearsal feeling was not really present and we were bored somehow. It was one of “those” rehearsals. Andy started playing some up-to-date Pop songs on his Fender bass guitar. I almost freaked out when Andy “arrived“ at Prince’s “Purple Rain“ and therefore I started playing the refrain on the snare drum with a fast Rockabilly beat. In that same moment we all looked at each other very amazed: This was it!
We went on with rehearsals for some more months after our first chaotic live performance, working on the band’s sound, image and identity.
More gigs followed by the end of November 1985 in Erlangen and Bad Hersfeld.
Now it was time to ask for a tour-agency and a record company. As it happens often in the music business, we were at the right spot in the right time taking a chance. Ohlly used to work for ‘Change Music’, an alternative independent musicians initiative, and he was also a chairman of “Kulturzentrum Schlachthof”. It was there when he met Claus Fabian, the boss of the Weser-Label and head of the band Die Mimmi’s (see also Bear Family’s NDW CD-series Vol.1, BCD17371 & Vol.3, BCD17373).
Weser-Label is a small record company in Bremen which was already successful on the independent music market in the first half of the eighties. The founder Claus Fabian, nick-named “Fabsi“, was born in the city of Duesseldorf and he was Fun-Punk in person. He started the label with Punk rockin’ bands but soon had some artists from other musical directions under contract. By 1985 there was the Panhandle Alks (Rockabilly) and Rocko Schamoni (German Schlager-Cabaret and Comedy Act). Fabsi was experienced in the music business. He founded the Duesseldorf Punk band ZK, together with Andreas “Campino“ Frege (Die Toten Hosen) and Ralf “Isi“ Isbert (Panhandle Alks). The spirit of optimism in Germany by the mid-1980s took part in Weser-Label’s success, and Fabsi was there on time with his releases meeting the political-cultural nerve of the decade.
It was somehow exciting in 1985. Rockabilly and Rock’n’Roll music had a tremendous renaissance with Shakin’ Stevens, Matchbox, The Jets and Stray Cats in the European charts. The Psychobilly came up and everything seemed possible musically while not much was obviously possible on the political stages. The wall between the two German states was still there and active. Michail Gorbatschow just became chief of the KPdSU. Ronald Reagan was U.S. President and Helmut Kohl the German chancellor. The GDR expanded their operational territory at sea and the biggest exchange of secret agents in cold war history took place at the Glienick bridge. We had to enter the GDR on transit many times when we played in West-Berlin and the control checks at the checkpoints were always tough. East-German border officers watched us with bloody serious eyes and threatening looks. They must have thought we’re gangsters! Sometimes they checked us out for a few hours with tracking dogs below our vehicles, not to smuggle any person out of the GDR.
40 years of VE day (victory in Europe, the end of World War II) and the liberation from Nazi terror was celebrated in ’85 while the engine of a Pershing II rocket exploded on an Army base near Heilbronn. We faced a lot of terror and war actions in the Middle East already back then. There were bombing attacks on the airports of Vienna and Rome the same time and a little earlier at Frankfurt am Main airport with its target to hit the airline counters of the Israeli El-Al. The French secret service sank the Greenpeace ship “Rainbow Warrior“, while Robert Ballard found the “Titanic“ in the deep of the Atlantic ocean. The antifreeze scandal (Austrian wine scandal) happened but in the meantime it seemed that generally the ecological sensibility was raising. There was the AIDS disease and the death of movie legend Rock Hudson who sadly passed away from this infection. Computers and internet were still secret weapons and cellphones not available for the masses. We had to work with copy machines and telephone booths. This was the social-political background when we pushed that Rumble On The Beach project in the direction success.
By the end of the year we got a record deal in our pocket. Part of the contract was the enclosed tour-agency of the Weser-Label working out our first tours.
Everything was quick now and well planned. We stormed the recording studio “Sound Service Bremen“ by early February 1986 and recorded five songs in different versions within three days. “Purple Rain“ was one of the songs which would be issued as the A-side of a 7“ EP (Extended Play in vinyl single format at 45rpm speed), together with the self-penned songs “You Told Me“ and “Amsterdam“. We worked concentrated on it and learned how many takes a band can record from one single song! A few guest musicians joined us in the studio. There was Efa Schuette for female backing vocals on “Purple Rain“. She was lead singer of the band Rescue Party and worked for our major radio station, Radio Bremen. And on top of it all she was part of Ohlly’s appartment-sharing community, along with Lothar from Bremen’s city mag “Bremer“.
Another self-written tune was recorded with another great guest musician: “Juanita“, a Latino-Country song which would be released much later on the album “Rumble Rat“ had been already recorded during the early February sessions. The guest was Bremen’s Jazz legend Uli Beckerhoff. He supported the recording with a fantastic Latino Jazz/Mariachi styled trumpet solo. It was that exciting that we thought we couldn’t believe our ears. “Juanita“ soon became something like our “secret” hit.
1986 started powerful for us but alongside some negative powers were leading into major disasters. In January, the space shuttle “Challenger“ exploded and 7 astronauts died. In April, the immense catastrophe at the atomic pile of Tschernobyl started. We’d been heading towards an Armageddon when its radiation reached Europe. A lot of groceries became unhealthy from emission, mushrooms in its first place. It was very common for concert promoters to provide us with pizza as cheap fast food. Those pizzas were cheap enough that one could pose them on a wall. And they always got those little mushrooms on it. We had to have changed our contracts regarding backstage catering!
We released the EP entitled “Silly Billy“ in mid-March 1986. The first pressing was a limited edition of 500 copies in blue vinyl inside a printed see-through cover. Today a much sought-after collector’s item. And we went on tour by the end of the month. Almost four weeks of touring across the country (only the western part of Germany since the cold war was still in full bloom) as the first part of the ’86 tours. It ended with a 3-day engagement at the “Clip“ in Bremen, April 17-19, with a live radio broadcast by Radio Bremen. Udo Kuhlmann had left the band due to tour stress and we continued as a trio. Being on tour is not a summer vacation. It can be stressful in certain moments. Every hand must be at its place and on time, building up a stage, getting things fixed, the merchandise stand, the instruments, a disciplined sound-check, arrangements and agreements, always with the quick-running time in the neck. We all had to learn dealing with physical and psychological strength and with those “stage fright“ situations.
After 5 days off the road we continued to tour on April 26 in the small town of Kappeln at the Baltic Sea up until the end of July with a TV performance of “Purple Rain“ in June. “Purple Rain“ received constant airplay via play-lists of radio stations. We received many more interview dates for magazines, newspapers and radio stations wherever we performed. Touring was successful that we got more and more tour dates on top. By the end of the year we had played 63 shows in West-Germany and Switzerland. We kept on saying, “That is Rock’n’Roll! You have to get through it!“
The next recording dates were booked for September 1986. We had some new songs on the list to fulfill an LP album release. We recorded 11 tracks in 6 days. One of the recorded songs with the title “Johnny Cry And Die“ was soon released on a various artists EP compilation, limited with white vinyl, and entitled “We Are The Champions“ which fitted to the upcoming package-tour by the same headline.
The turn of the years 1986/1987 gave us the start of the package-tour, arranged by the Weser-Label, called “We Are The Champions-Tour II“. Germany in 14 days, Rock’n’Roll in 14 major cities and venues. The tour package was Bad Ladies & Wild Lovers, Rocko Schamoni, die Panhandle Alks, die Goldenen Zitronen, and Rumble On The Beach. Every night at the end of the show, a big finale happened with all bands being together on stage! The tour was a great success on both, the audiences and the media. Although we had some trouble on a show with neo-fascist skinheads where Ohlly broke his hand but didn’t stop playing his guitar!
1987 started with us being still on tour and in February, the long awaited LP release took place. Our first album “Rumble Rat“, issued on the Weser-Label, was now available. It contains an extended album version of “Purple Rain“, with a guitar solo played by Rolf Kirschbaum as a special guest on this track.
The album soon exploded on the Indie scene and climbed up the independent music album charts to no.7. We received airplay via an independent radio station in England, installed on a ship and owned by Nervous Records’ boss Rockin’ Roy Williams. 1987 saw a lot of album promotion from our end. We played many shows and our calendar was almost empty with interview dates, radio and TV.
One of the highlights in ’87 was our 5-days trip to Berlin. They had the IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung) in the west sector of Berlin which is Germany’s biggest international trade exhibition for all media and a must for bands and labels. I remember that we met Chaka Khan‘s female Go-Go dancers in-between the exhibition’s marquees crossing our paths shortly after our arrival. They were yelling, “Cool, cool cats in a cool, cool town!“ when waving their arms. A great happening though. We made a lot of such experiences and met a lot of famous people there while appearing on some TV and radio shows. I also remember writing autographs like hell for autograph-chasers. We always loved writing autographs, it’s the closest way to get in touch with fans. It made us proud being recognized when walking on streets. That happened often, especially after Germany’s number one teenage magazine “Bravo” released an article with photos about Rumble On The Beach as one of Germany’s leading independent bands.
1987 was a good year for us even that we had again the problem with those fanatic neo-nazi bunch of crap at a gig in Mannheim. We had a tough security there rescuing the whole thing. We Rumbles discussed the problem and took our consequences. As we already became house-band of the North-German “Free Eagles MC”, they started to protect us and the audience from rude Nazi skinheads with the help of their different chapters and other chummy biker clubs. This great friendship lasts until today!
After many more live shows in ’87 we played on New Year’s Eve in our home town Bremen, getting ready for ’88.
1988 was year 3 after Rumble On The Beach‘s formation. Our first effort was studio work. The whole month of
January was booked at Joerg Siemer’s Sound Service to record some new tracks for a so-called mini-LP release. Mini-LP albums were immense popular at that time. They came in the size of a regular LP with only 5 to 8 tracks and were available for less money than the regulars. We recorded 6 new songs, 3 self-penned tracks and 3 covers with “Time Warp“ from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show“, Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca Plane Pour Moi“ and as a ‘must’ the 1958 instrumental “Rumble“ by Link Wray & The Raymen. Bonus track was “Johnny Cry And Die“ from a 1986 session, which had been previously issued only on the limited “We Are The Champions“ EP. We were about to release a classic-sized mini-LP with 7 Songs. Andreas Proff, who played all kinds of saxophones plus piano, joined us sometime in ’87 and can be heard on these mini-LP recordings. Andreas Proff and me are old class-mates knowing each other since 1976. He soon became a guest-musician-regular which is quite similar to being a fourth Rumble. Musically, Andreas came from Bremen’s Jazz circuit which gave us a strong basis to work with. But the work was hard as Jazz is to be played at ease while Rock music is rough-tough. Andreas had to acclimate with the tough Rumble-beast“. I knew from the start that Andreas is the best saxophonist and finally his sound was as classy as Grady Gaines (Little Richard’s leading sax player) in his best years. Andreas would be with us going through many Rumble adventures.
The mini-LP was issued in 1988 with the title “Rumble” on Vielklang Records. Vielklang was an established record company in Berlin with such stars as Nina Hagen under contract. We drove all the way to Berlin to meet the company staff and for having an extensive photo shooting with star photographer Ingrid Maye. Some of the pictures had been used for the mini-LP cover jacket. Alongside the mini-album vinyl release, Vielklang also issued our first CD simply entitled “Rumble” as well. The CD contains the mini-LP plus the first Weser-Label album “Rumble Rat”.
A new record company and following tours were not the only “constructions” for us.
We had some contacts overseas, especially to Canada, and we received an invitation to play at the “International Festival of Independent Music“ in Toronto on September 29, 1988. Before we went to Canada we had to play some more gigs in Germany and Austria. Highlight was a big Bremen city-event along with Suzi Quatro in front of a huge audience of 10.000 people. After that we felt fit for a Canadian adventure. Not all acts of that Toronto festival were really “independent“ but it was a great line-up with Chris Spedding, Bo Diddley and many more. All the bands came from Canada or the U.S. We were the only band coming from a third country, and one could say, “Ain’t we made it more -international-?”
The adventures in Canada started with our first gig on that indie-festival at Toronto’s “Horseshoe”. After our furious first show we had a little party in the hotel rooms together with some people from Toronto and New York’s Ska band The Toasters. We got robbed that night when we were all partying. We thought of a bad joke but it was true. Some leather jackets, a pair of jeans, all the money, passports and visa was stolen. But that’s not all. The following day we received the news that the contract with a booking agency for a tour of 12 gigs was shrunken to only 2 gigs. The tour was gone, truly a bad start in the new world, but we didn’t give up.
We went on to get as many new contacts as possible and worked out everything with a strong division of business. The local press, radio and television was very helpful. The tenor in Toronto’s newspapers was that they felt very ashamed of how the city’s guests are mistreated. We soon got well-known all over the Toronto area as a result from such articles, via a good reputation from our first live shows, and through millions of contacts. We were running all over town meeting people, to contact somebody, the police, promoters, agencies, club owners, musicians, newspapers and magazines. We knew we were on the right track when we sat in the office of Prince’s Canadian promoter who was listening delightfully to our version of “Purple Rain”! We also got in contact with one of Toronto’s leading street gangs using many back doors and cellars just like in old black-and-white movies. The gang finally found our hotel thief and put him under pressure until we got back our stolen stuff. Only the money was gone. Later on, we got an invitation by “Much Music” in Toronto’s CHUM building for a live interview. “Much Music” was Canada’s music radio show no.1 aired from coast to coast. All of a sudden we were a well-known German band across country that got stranded in Canada. With some helpful hands we received more concert dates. Starting at Toronto’s “Siboney Club” together with The Razorbacks (Canadian Rockabilly), followed by a 3-days engagement at Frank’s “Crocks’n’Rolls” in Thunder Bay, another 2 shows in Toronto with Jr. Gone Wild, a trip to Buffalo, New York for a show at “Nietzsche’s” with Bob’s Your Uncle, two more shows in Toronto, and once again another gig in Buffalo, NY. “They did a hell of a show”, or “Rumble’s fast fury” were the newspaper’s headlines. Before we left Canada in late October with a clean conscience and a sack of unforgettable impressions, we prepared for a big finale, a live show at “Lee’s Palace” together with Toronto’s leading bands followed by a great jam session. That was the happy-ending-party of our first Canadian Rock’n’Roll adventure.
Back in Germany we had enough time to deal with the jet lag until we continued playing shows up to the year’s end. The first two gigs were at “Randzone“, Delmenhorst, and “Schleuse“, Bremerhaven. I remember these two shows very well because the audiences of both really celebrated our return from Canada making a huge party out of these events.
1988 was successful with ups and downs for each of us, for Rumble On The Beach!
This CD is an anthology of the early years, and the Rumble On The Beach-Story will be continued in a separate future release.
Marc Mittelacher in September 2015