There’s an interesting phenomena that I would like to write a fuller essay on someday, regarding the 80s gap of 60s artists. I’d like to explore, first mathematically then culturally, what I see as a widespread pattern in the discographies of 1960s recording artists, where each artist’s recorded output dropped massively when the 80s arrived.
The Grateful Dead, for example, were averaging an album of new songs every year, in the 13 years from their 1967 debut up till 1980… then suddenly, six years go by before their next album in 1987. That’s an unprecedented gap that would have been unthinkable previously, but it’s an example of a career gap that strikes the discographies of most 60s artists.
Bob Dylan’s average output was even higher than the Dead’s, with more than one Dylan album per year in the whole first ten years of his career, including his first six seismic albums released just within the four year period 1962-1965, but when the 80s hit, his average dipped by a massive percentage, releasing about one album every two years.
Peter Stampfel’s career shows this pattern as well, with the initial 60s-70s output essentially slowing to a full-stop by the 80s, with the 1978 Holy Modal Rounders album Last Round, then the 1980 Holy-Modal-in-all-but-name Stampfel & Weber album, aptly titled Going Nowhere Fast. Then nothing. The record buying public, or whatever oddball cult fringe of the record buying public were rabidly awaiting a new platter of Stampfel recordings, had to cross a long and barren desert of Reagan years before the emergence of the Peter Stampfel & The Bottlecaps album in 1986.
Which is part of why these 1984 Bottlecaps recordings are of such interest to me as a Rounders/Stampfel fan and completist… it’s a glimpse behind the dark curtain of that gap to see a bit of what was going on while the recording lights were off. Of course, since I already own the 1986 official Peter Stampfel & The Bottlecaps album, these 1984 demos are not exactly a revelation, I know the songs, and to my ears there’s not much difference between this demo tape and the finished album, the arrangements and instrumentation and delivery and lyrics are all here. What this does bring to light is that behind the dark curtain of the dreaded 80s gap, Stampfel was brewing up a whole new explosive stew of creativity and joie de vivre, with the help of a highly charming and skilled and devoted new band. In a period that should have been relatively fallow, we hear instead some of the greatest songs and recordings of a now-fifty-five-year career!
How exactly did that happen? I don’t know! While other 60s artists were seemingly struggling to find a reason to create, in a world of punk rock, synthesizers, rap, MTV, horror movie franchises, and stylistic and political conservatism, somehow Stampfel, with his new crew, was having what almost appears to be more fun than ever, with hilarity, pathos, wit, and vigor throughout the whole tape, top to bottom, all killer no filler. From the ridiculously charming mash-up of Impossible Groove (which should suck, but instead rules) to the heartbreaking Everything Must Go, from the impeccable Surfer Angel to the profound Funny the First Time (a song I’ve covered many times), these recordings just explode from the tapes like a newborn force that just can’t wait to gush all over the world.
Meet the new Peter Stampfel, a force that was about to embark on some of the finest recordings of his career. In this Bottlecaps demo tape, the all-time discography highlights yet to come, like The Jig Is Up and Dook of the Beatiks, now obviously first begin to be twinkles in Stampfel’s eye, if still years away from conception. Behind the curtain he was secretly crossing the 80s gap of 60s artists with more vim and momentum than almost any of his 60s peers, in those darkest months of 1984, when culture seemed to have turned its back most resolutely on anything 60s.
To mash up a couple of classic rock quotes: meet the new boss, same as the old boss… and it’s a real boss hoss… REAL BOSS HOSS!
Really, I think you'll enjoy the heck out of this stuff. Whether you're a fan of the first half of Stampfel's career or the second half, this tape is the missing link. And if you're a newcomer, this is as good a place as any to start.
-Jeffrey Lewis, May 2020