Gumball: Major Label Footnote or Overlooked Rockers?

1991 was a very good year. I’d just graduated (and moved away) from the University of Pittsburgh with my MBA, I was obsessive about music from the confines of my mom’s house in York, Pennsylvania (months before I left for Georgia) and I became friends with the guys in Gumball.

York was as jerkwater as cities in central PA came, but there were a few enclaves of people with their heads screwed on straight. One guy, Rick, ran a local record label called Bona Fide. Released some killer releases by The Left, Antiseen and a Pagans side-project band, The High Rollers. Another perfect release he did was by a band from DC called The Velvet Monkeys.

Through Rick, I met semi-gonzo, yet lovable Jay Spiegel (known to everybody as "Rummager" or just "Rummy," "Rum Man" etc. etc.) who was the drummer for the Monkeys, later of BALL and then of Gumball. Rummy was living in Harrisburg at the time and touring like a bastard all around the world. When he’d be home, I remember going to play golf with him, trading tapes and hearing stories from him about doing pre-production work for Teenage Fanclub’s high point, "Bandwagonesque" in Glasgow. Not only was Jay a funny guy to be around, but he was a fantastic drummer. Jay was kind enough to allow me to make copies of countless VM, Ball and Gumball live/demo tapes which, sadly, have mostly disappeared through my various moves. Pity.

Gumball, Atlanta ’93. (l-r) Don, Jay and Malcolm.

Gumball’s first record, "Special Kiss", had been released and was, in many ways, as close to an extension of early Velvet Monkeys as you’d ever get. Don Fleming’s fuzzed out guitar, Eric Vermillion (formerly of The Steel Miners) equally fuzzed out bass and Jay’s sloppy, yet powerful, shuffle on the skins.

I got to see the three-piece line up perform at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster on a Sunday with about 60 other people. Jay opened the show with a 3 minute drum solo as the other two came out on stage. It was super noisy and fucking fantastic.

Shortly thereafter, I moved to Georgia and soon to be a writer for the Flagpole. In the meantime, Gumball took on a fourth member (Malcolm Riviera, also of the Velvet Monkeys) signed to Sony and had a spectacular cover EP called "Wisconsin Hayride" come out and a subsequent full length called "Super Tasty." Other than the god-awful cover art, the records still hold up remarkably well. And hey, at the time, every half decent indie band was signing to the majors and Gumball was no exception.

Early on, I asked the Flagpole editors if I could go and travel with Gumball who were opening for Dinosaur Jr. with then-unknowns Mercury Rev in the first-of-three slot. With little more than a tenuous agreement that they’d pay for some black and white film, I hopped in the car with fellow Flagpole (and future Oakenthrone publisher) John Mincemoyer as we followed the band from Norfolk, down to Chapel Hill and then to Atlanta.

Every Gumball show on that tour started the same way. Don would come on stage and point to somebody in the crowd asking "Is she really going out with him?" and then kicking right into "New Rose" by The Damned. I could never quite ascertain what the crowd thought of Gumball as I spent most of their sets on the side of the stage and, I mean really, who wasn’t completely obsessed with headliners Dinosaur Jr. in 1993?

Jay “The Rummager” Spiegel

Getting to know the band was really a treat. Except for Eric who was roughly my age, the Gumball guys were about ten years older than me and were a bit more wise to the ways of the road and how to have a good time. Although I recall this with fondness, I remember being sort of shocked backstage when I saw a shoebox of weed pulled out and joints rolled with a speed and aplomb that I’d never really seen. Remember, I wasn’t really a weed guy at the time. But with that said, of course I was a bit curious.

The final show in Atlanta was a bit of a clusterfuck. J Mascis went MIA and Don Fleming proceeded to go find him somewhere up on North Avenue. I guess the only reason I remember that is because SO MANY PEOPLE seem to remind me that Dino didn’t go on for something like an hour after Gumball left the stage.

I never saw Gumball perform again after that due in large part to the band’s schedule keeping them in Europe and Japan. The band’s next album wasn’t something I particularly liked. Overproduced, songs seemed not nearly as well written, but the band came back full circle with a live "fanclub" release called "Tokyo Encore" which was more of what I learned to love about Gumball. Sloppy. Covers. Trashy. Hazy. Awesome.

My contact with the band has all but disappeared, but I still really enjoy listening to the first two records (and that covers EP) and feel that the dollar bins have done a great disservice to those releases. Their latter stuff? Well, let’s keep this on the up and up, shall we? Since the early 90’s, keyboard/guitarist Malcolm Riviera has written often for Chunklet, helms "8 Track Heaven" and is holed up at some higher education facility in North Carolina. Don still lives in New York, Eric lives back in Pittsburgh (I think?) and Rummager is back at his mom’s old house in Harrisburg.

In the spirit of exposing fans and new listeners to something they’ve probably not heard before, I’m including Gumball’s two Peel sessions from 1990 and 1991. Funny enough, Ringo Starr’s "Back Off Boogaloo" was a song that was played non-stop one summer at the Olivia Tremor Control house back in ’95. Any time I hear that song, it makes me think of Will and Bill and that hot summer. Additionally, the song "39 Lashes" (from "Jesus Christ Superstar") that Gumball cover in their ’91 session was a song that Pegboy would also cover on their "Fore" EP in the mid-90’s but fail to credit. I wonder why?

Anyway, enjoy and I apologize for the Peel session’s fidelity. I attribute that largely to the fact that I played these tapes repeatedly and just wore the tape down.

Oh well, enjoy!

Gumball, Atlanta ’93. (l-r) Don and Eric.

Gumball – This Town (Peel Session 1990)

Gumball – All The Time (Peel Session 1990)

Gumball – I Want You (Peel Session 1990)

Gumball – Vietnam (Peel Session 1990)

Gumball – 39 Lashes (Peel Session 1991)

Gumball – Back Off Boogaloo (Peel Session 1991)

Gumball – High or Low (Peel Session 1991)

Gumball – Light Shines Through (Peel Session 1991)

Gumball – Marilyn (Peel Session 1991)

Gumball – John Peel talking (Peel Session 1991)