MUSIC | A damned shame: Great bands gone away

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There’s times you wonder just what is going on and why being enormously gifted is no guarantee of getting anywhere in the music business. Specifically, why did dyed-in-the-wool rock monsters Blacktop Badge and Casual Confusion fall by the wayside?

A few winters ago, Blacktop Badge released a killer CD (Blacktop Badge) chock full of original songs in the classic, shit-kickin’ rock ’n’ roll vein, influenced by the likes of Led Zeppelin and Small Faces, grounded in Chicago blues. (I heard Zep and the Faces live, once upon a time, and, frankly, Blacktop Badge were tighter.) For my only in-person exposure to the band, I had to leave my nice, warm Minneapolis crib, get on the bus, and trudge through a nasty snowstorm to St. Paul’s Station 4. Wound up not regretting a single minute (or, thank God, catching pneumonia).

They had all it takes—in theory, anyway—to become one of the greats: a frontman (Aaron McMenamy) with heartthrob good looks who can sing his butt off; guitarists who burn (Cory Jesok, Adam Whisner); and a locked-down pocket (Dave Schermerhorn on bass and Aaron Biggar on drums). Plus, everybody had winning stage presence. In the studio and onstage, Blackboard Badge were a born-and-bred phenomenon. Regrettably, though, they didn’t even last a full year. No word as to why the band fell apart or what any of the guys would be do next. Damned shame.

Casual Confusion, spawned around the same time, had surefire written all over them. They released Casual Confusion, picking up, believe it or not, where historic power trios the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Robin Trower left off. It takes a lot to be mentioned in the same breath with Hendrix and Trower—respectively, rock’s greatest guitarist and his most innovatively adept follower. It takes great big hairy guts to even venture into that musical territory. Frontman Colin Hodges (guitar, vocals) with sidemen Mike “Haddy” Hayostek (bass) and Zach Dennison (drums) did, and walked away artistic winners. On the album and in clubs, Casual Confusion were so good it’s still scary…but they never quite caught on. This despite the fact that everywhere they played, including opening for The New Congress at Bunker’s and headlining the Varsity Theater on a bill with Kymara and Bluestone Moon, packed houses were absolutely blown away. Last he gave word, Hodges planned to leave for Los Angeles. Nothing to report on Hayostek or on Dennison. Damned shame.

I’d’ve bet the rent Blacktop Badge and Casual Confusion were can’t-miss shoo-ins for eventual stardom. Go figger. Ultimately, one at least can be thankful the Blacktop Badge and Casual Confusion CDs remain, evidence these kick-ass bands ever existed. Of course, you need to dig through the racks at one of those warehouse-like retail stores that specialize in used discs and extensive inventories to find them. It’s well worth the trouble to honor these hellacious rockers and treat your ears to the music they made.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.