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Recording With Benalto - An Essay By Blood Benalto

When Bob Dylan recorded the oft ignored “Planet Waves” album with the Band, he had all the songs written, but did not allow his players to rehearse before the recording, which took over the course of a frantic, yet supposedly relaxed three day session. The Band, one of the tightest, greatest rock groups ever, rose to the challenge, though nothing on the album attains the magnitude of either Dylan or the Band’s respective careers, or previous collaborations.

Benalto also recorded a series of oft ignored albums, knocking out up to ten songs a day, in frantic sprees of creative abandon. These sessions were part Nazi boot camp, part jumbled chaos, and part drunk lechery. Led by the mercurial Toqueface, good-natured in person, would scream and holler disparaging remarks at his lackeys like the garage rock Fuhrer; White Trash, if not gashed open and passed out upstairs, would try to cop a feel from anyone he could; Herb, I’m told, would scribble out sordid tales of lust and failure, and get naked; and Cranemaster and Wild West would swill back gallons of cheap beer, just out of Jason’s sight, and ergo, his wrath. As guitar amps maxed out in the 120 decibel range, animalistic vocals ripped through the PA, and drums rolls shattered ear drums, what would become Benalto’s oeuvre was laid to tape. As with Dylan’s treatment of the Band, Toqueface would explain the songs in five minutes, call out the chords and hope that no one got too lost in the process. And like all good punk rock bands, the songs were recorded live off the floor, often in one take, and likely on the band’s first effort at playing the respective tune.

I only recorded what would become two or three albums with the band. During this time my role changed from sideman to sometimes collaborator, but the technology, methodology and work ethic remained the same. As usual, quantity prevailed over quality - not quality of material however, but quality of recording. Like Paul Westerberg, Benalto wished to “knock ‘em right out,” fidelity be damned. Cheap mics, nearly always damaged in some way, and a half-functional 8 track were the tools of the day. Old mix tapes, cracked and sometimes warped from the sun, were placed inside the rickety machine, and the record button was pressed. And one mustn’t forget the band’s philosophical approach that more than anything defined their catalogue. Like all the great prophets, I will use a parable in my attempt to define the band’s self-defeating attitude in the studio. On the first day of recording for the “Give Her the Dick” album, my last effort with the band incidentally, I brought over a box of goodies from home, including pedals, a slide, my molding harmonica, and most importantly, I thought, a tuner. After all, “garbage in, garbage out” is what wise men say regarding everything from research to audio recording. However when I mentioned the tuner to Toqueface, he turned and stared at me with a quizzical expression on his face. “Why did you bring a tuner? We never use a tuner.” I shrugged, plugged in and rocked out, but his response has since then become forever associated with my views on the band, and their recorded output. I often wonder why they would not try a little harder, take a little more time, throw on a few overdubs and generally respect the recording process just a little bit more. I imagine what could have been a sprawling discography of rock and roll greatness, and I cry… Well, only sometimes. However, this lack of effort and extremely lo-fi aesthetic was almost like Benalto’s secret weapon, a trait that made them unique. In a way, the Benalto recording sessions personified the high-fallutin concepts of realism and serendipity, arguably even musique concrete if you’ve had the (dis)pleasure of hearing the first few albums of pure white noise, however this was more due to chance, poverty, alcoholism and apathy than intent.

Despite these limitations, talent does occasionally break through the mishmash of feedback and thrash. Cranemaster’s drum work is phenomenally tight and his sense of time is as astute as the best metronome; the vocals have always been a personal high point when I listen to Benalto, not for finesse or talent, but for sheer force and passion, from Toqueface’s cherubic wail, through Herb’s cigarettes and steak delivery, to Wild West’s ferocious growl; and like the incomparable Miles Davis, Benalto always seemed to be able to surround themselves with extremely competent sidemen, especially in the later years when fresh new talent was absorbed from Red Deer’s burgeoning punk rock scene. However, it is the songwriting that raises Benalto’s collective work from the guttural repulsion of the first superficial listen, to the starry-eyed bliss of the repeat listen. Against all odds, Toqueface managed to consistently produce material of the highest standard; numerous times I have had his fragments of song stuck in my head, and after I mentally wander through the highest levels of rock royalty, I realize that the songs were not penned by the Lennons and McCartneys, the Black Franci (that’s plural, I think), or the Cobains and Corgans of the world, but by none other than Toqueface Benalto, a master of the hook. And like his aforementioned spiritual brethren, both Dylan and Adolf, he could sure spin a phrase. It is this ingenuity that raises Benalto’s collective oeuvre from what seems sleazy and cheap, to the demure greatness that Central Alberta’s favorite troop of aloof failures has left behind, now for good.

Blood Benalto
June 2004

Blood Benalto & Wild West in love!