The Burlington music community was dealt yet another blow last week when we learned of the passing of Bob “Beano” Parker. Parker, 54, was the guitarist for a slew of local punk bands, including X-tractions, Nation of Hate, Roman Shades, Cut and, most recently, Gas and Oil. But it was his role as a founder of pioneering local punks the Wards in the late 1970s that will likely be Beano’s lasting legacy.
For the young’uns — or the non-punk-rock inclined — the Wards are generally acknowledged as Vermont’s first punk band. Sure, punk would have eventually found its way to the Green Mountains had not the Wards picked up guitars and started churning out three-chord anthems such as “Weapons Factory” — their signature song and a tune whose anti-war-machine lyrics are sadly as relevant today as they were when first put to tape in 1984. But by most accounts, the Wards were the first to do so here. Because of that, and because they were pretty good, the band earned a sort of mythical status in Burlington. When they deigned to crawl out of the garage and play a show, even some 30-plus years after they started, it was news. And Beano was a big reason why.
Paul Allison was a longtime friend of Parker’s and engineered the Wards seminal 1983 record, The World Ain’t Pretty and Neither Are We. In a recent phone call he described the first time he saw Parker onstage, playing with the X-Tractions at the now defunct Burlington nightclub Hunt’s in 1978.
“At the time, Hunt’s was mainly for folk singers,” says Allison. “So Beano comes out with a gorilla mask and an axe and a folk guitar. People were looking at each other like, ‘What the fuck is this?’
“Then he starts chopping up the folk guitar into splinters,” he continues. “Half the crowd just got up and left.”
That’s pretty punk rock, right? But Parker and the Wards were not merely shock artists. As “Weapons Factory” and countless others of the 200 original songs Parker wrote prove, the Wards were a slyly political band. And, according to Allison, they backed it up. Like when the Wards ran for mayor of Burlington. As in, the whole friggin’ band.
“A lot of people don’t know they ran for mayor against Bernie Sanders in 1982,” Allison says. He adds that the band ran ads announcing its candidacy in the Vanguard Press newspaper — an alt-weekly that was an evolutionary precursor to Seven Days.
“Those ads were fucking hilarious, man,” Allison recalls.
Since the Vanguard now pretty much exists only on microfilm, likely somewhere in the bowels of the Fletcher Free or Bailey/Howe libraries, I contacted Sanders’ office for comment on that score. According to the distinguished senator’s spokesperson, Michael Briggs, no one in Sanders’ camp recalls the Wards’ Reagan-era bid to rule Burlington, adding that there was not a mayoral election that year — Sanders ran for election the previous year and entered office in 1982.
According to Wards vocalist Tom Curley, speaking by phone from Florida, the band’s mayoral run was a joke that “happened sometime in the 1980s,” though he’s unsure of the exact date. He says the band did run regular ads in the Vanguard about their mock candidacy. His favorite slogan: “Missiles on the Waterfront.”
“We thought it would be a good money maker for the city,” says Curley.
He recalls that his first show with Parker, long before the Wards came together, was at a now-defunct bar in Burlington called the Windsor Lounge.
“There was a guy playing piano and we asked him if we could get up and play a few songs,” says Curley. He says Beano grabbed a guitar while he “made up a few lyrics on the spot,” and they hit the stage.
“We got booed out of the room after about five minutes,” says Curley. “And that’s how it all started.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write another song without Beano,” Curley continues. “He was the best. He was Burlington.”
Though he wasn’t exactly a household name, Beano Parker was a pioneer. The Wards paved the way for countless punk bands who would follow, from the Fags to Doll Fight! to Spit Jack to the current kings of local punk, Rough Francis. (Full disclosure: RF’s Bobby Hackney Jr. works for Seven Days.)
Would punk have made its way to Vermont without the Wards? Of course. It just so happens that it did because of a guy in a gorilla mask with an axe who got booed out of his first gig. Thanks, Beano.
Just as a head’s up, some of Beano Parker’s musician pals will be getting together to pay tribute at the Monkey House this Thursday, January 23. The final details are still being ironed out, but you can expect to see Kiki’s Lost Nation and Swillbillies, two bands with Wards DNA. And, while it’s not confirmed, I’m told there’s a chance the remaining Wards might get together for a rendition of “Weapons Factory.”
Moving on, after a four-year hiatus, the Great Green Mountain Bob Dylan Wannabe Contest is returning this Friday, January 24. If you don’t recall what that is, it’s, um, exactly what it sounds like. Twenty-five contestants will gather at Montpelier High School Auditorium and do their best Dylan impressions, as judged by a panel of local “celebrities.” Personally, I’m of the opinion that every songwriter of the last 40 years is essentially a Dylan wannabe, but that’s beside the point.
All proceeds for the show benefit Vermontivate!, the “community sustainability game of epic proportions.” (If you want to know more about that, see the April 17, 2013, Seven Days story online.)
In comedy news, last fall’s Vermont’s Funniest Comedian contest at Club Metronome was a show for the ages, featuring many of the area’s brightest comedic talent. The highlight was Phil Davidson officially entering the “funniest person in Vermont” conversation by winning the whole thing.
Seriously, he was incredible.
One of the prizes for winning was headlining a future showcase along with the contest’s other winning comics — a list that includes Justin Rowe, Adam Benay, Kyle Gagnon and Carmen Lagala. Catch that show at Hotel Vermont in Burlington this Saturday, January 25.
Last but not least, a breach of my journalistic integrity!
This Friday, January 24, Champlain Valley Union High School — my alma mater — will host a show called “Local Legends: An Evening of Acoustic Music” to benefit Responsible Growth Hinesburg, an organization whose tagline is “Don’t Williston Hinesburg!” (OK, I made up that part.)
Anyway, among said legends are composer Michael Chorney with indie-folk songwriter Maryse Smith, folk guru Pete Sutherland and headliners Jamie Masefield and Doug Perkins, who will be joined by Phish’s Jon Fishman. Oh, and my brother, Tyler Bolles.
Normally, I would decline to write about something my brother is involved with. But look at that lineup. Pretty impressive, right? And it’s not their fault one of the key players happens to share my DNA. And it’s for a noble cause, so it deserves some ink despite my conflict of interest. Don’t go to see my brother play. Go because you can help save Hinesburg from the clutches of Hannaford. Or to see Fishman. Whatever.
A peek at what was on my iPod, turntable, eight-track player, etc., this week.
Mogwai, Rare Tapes
Maximo Park, Too Much Information
Luray, The Wilder
Mode Moderne, Occult Delight
Mainland, Shiner EP