One part garage, one part power-pop, one part punk...
By Chuck Miller
For every rock band that ever moved the lead singer's father's Gremlin out of the garage for available practice space; for every rock band who spent the night at the local gymnasium or Masonic temple, hoping that the crowd that night would include screaming fans, eligible groupies and a cigar-chomping record mogul with a lucrative contract in his back pocket; for every rock band who pooled their day job savings for recording time at the local studio, waiting by the mailbox for a shipment of 45's with their name on the label - this is the story of Continental Crawler, a rock band featuring four guys from Lodi, New Jersey who wanted a chance at the big time - and almost got it.
Follow us now back to the summer of 1977, when a heat wave tore through New York City, where a serial killer calling himself "Son of Sam" wandered through the streets of Manhattan, and the New York Yankees turned into the Billy Martin - George Steinbrenner - Reggie Jackson love triangle, a group of friends from Lodi, New Jersey talked about forming a band.
Of course, there was already one band from Lodi, the legendary punk band The Misfits - but in the mid-1970’s, the Misfits' lead singer Glenn Danzig was a member of several groups, such as Whodat and Boojang (a Black Sabbath cover band), Sheba, and Prostitutes of New York, playing original material with drummer Jim Catania and guitarists Stevie Lin and Charles “Chaz” Jones. Catania and Lin joined up with bass player Mike Myers, and became "Continental Crawler."
“I came up with the name of the band,” said Lin. “Crawler was a baby crawler, and Continental stood for style. That was why, in our posters and on our 45 jacket, ‘Continental’ was in script and ‘Crawler’ was in block lettering - we were all babies in the world, and Continental meaning country-wide - from sea to sea. I expected our band to get that big, to get as big as any other nationally known band.”
Stevie Lin – Vocals, Guitar
“Jim said that he and a guitarist (who turned out to be Stevie) wanted to form a 3-piece to play stripped-down original music,” said Myers. “I was a bassist who wrote songs, so I guess that made me a candidate. To be honest, I think that Stevie envisioned this to be a band where he wrote and sang everything, so the first few sessions were a little tenuous when I introduced some of my material. I remember I demo'd a song called "Dead Wrong" for them, and Jim said that he thought the song was a winner, so after that, introducing my songs was easier. But we all agreed that Stevie, being the prolific guy he was, would write most of the material.”
Mike Myers – Vocals, Bass
The trio began nightly rehearsals and songwriting sessions - Lin and Myers wrote the lion's share of the trio's songs, with two out of every three songs in the Continental Crawler catalog coming from Stevie Lin. "Stevie was a prolific songwriter," said Myers, "and on occasion would come to weekly rehearsals with 2 or 3 new songs. Steve had a knack for building hooks into his straight-ahead rock and roll songs. His songs often found him facing competing card players who held better hands, or out on the streets in an old hot rod, in his beat poet lyric style."
"Some of Steve's guitar licks are so good," said Catania, "I don't know where he pulled stuff out of them."
Jim Catania - Drums
The trio eventually acquired old friend Chaz Jones, to fill out their lineup. A foursome would provide a more solid lineup at live shows, and since Jones could also play the guitar and sing, he was a solid acquisition for Continental Crawler. "We sometimes called Chaz 'Space' Jones," said Catania, "cause he was a little spacey. On the liner notes of our single, if you look at the credits, he's listed as 'Space Jones.'"
Chaz Jones – Guitars, Vocals
It was now time to practice. Several hours three nights a week, fine-tuning songs and tweaking notes, adjusting lyrics and fiddling with tempos. "The night Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in the World Series," said Catania, "we were rehearsing and I missed the game. We really liked to play and perform - Steve and I had been playing together even when we were kids. Charlie came in later, he was so good, and Mike, we really enjoyed each other's company. I think we did get a lot of good work done."
And after practice, someone would pull out a deck of cards and a poker game would ensue - or someone would go back and work on their car, and the rest of the band would eventually crawl under the hood or check the oil.
By this time, Catania was pulling double duty - Glenn Danzig asked Catania to join his new band, the Misfits, replacing drummer Manny Martinez. Eventually "Mr. Jim" Catania drummed for the Misfits as well as for Continental Crawler, and it's Catania's drumming that can be heard on the Misfits' legendary Static Age CD (from the 1978 Mercury recording sessions). By the end of 1978, however, Catania left the Misfits and returned to Continental Crawler full-time.
The goal of every up-and-coming Tri-State band, however, was to play CBGB's. The legendary Bowery-based nightclub was packed every night as bands like the Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie and Television rocked the building to its foundations. If the Apollo Theater, an eight-mile drive to Harlem, was the launching grounds for hundreds of R&B superstars in the 1960's and 1970's, CBGB's was the first step for dozens of punk and new wave groups.
“There was a whole clique of clubs in the 1970’s,” said Lin. “There was CBGB's and Max's, and the Showplace, there was the Dirt Club in Jersey, there were a number of places that had original bands, they would get three bands to do a set of 8-10 songs so the club would get some people, that was the thing, you would play with 2 other bands. The out-of-state bands drew the people, and the clubs were bouncing bands from Los Angeles to New York to Chicago. We didn't only do originals, we had a little bit of a commercial repertoire, so we could get into some of the clubs that demanded we play covers. Three-fourths of our songs were originals, we had 3 solid sets of originals and one solid set of commercial tunes.”
“We played at a lot of local bars in New Jersey where they were expecting cover bands and we were playing originals,” said Catania, “and the audience wasn’t expecting that. We were a good solid working band.”
For the men of Continental Crawler, playing CBGB's would be the culmination of all their hard work and practice. "I had been at CBGB's a few times," said Myers, "and of course, anybody who was anybody played there. When we took the stage for the first time, standing on that stage made my knees weak - literally. I was shaking and so pumped. I'm sure we played everything at 50% faster speed than normal!"
"CBGB's was really great," said Jones, "I just wish the dressing room area didn't smell like piss."
“I liked CBGB’s,” said Lin. “It was dark, there was a lot of graffiti all over the back. I remember seeing Blondie and the Ramones way back, and I think I saw Mick Jagger and Keith Richards walking in, but I first thought it was Stones fans who looked like Jagger and Richards - there were a lot of tribute bands at that time, so I couldn't tell if they were from a Stones tribute band or the real guys, but it might have really been Mick and Keith watching bands like us. The first time we played at CBGB’s, we had a little problem with the guitars getting in tune, and we had eight songs in our set. We always played the songs fast, because for some reason, compared to what we play now, everything had a fast tempo.”
Although Continental Crawler never headlined at CBGB's, they were a supporting act for several headliners at the club, and developed a good following. "One time we were supposed to play there," said Myers, "and they made a booking mistake, and there ended up being too many bands. They wanted us to come on after the Dead Boys had finished their headlining set. It was a frightening, violent, hard-core punk crowd that night, so we were afraid that we wouldn't come off well, so we went home. In retrospect, maybe we should have gone on, but we thought the chance for success in that environment, being as much a power-pop band as a punkish-tinged band, were slim."
Continental Crawler’s next step was to produce its own record - either an album or a series of 45’s that would capture the energy and spirit of Continental Crawler in the studio, as well as offering a vinyl resume for any record company looking for the next great band.
With that in mind, Continental Crawler entered Fox Recording Studios in East Rutherford, N.J. in the winter of 1978-79, and with an efficiency honed on years of rehearsals and stage performances, Continental Crawler recorded six songs - three of which were later released on an April 1979 7-inch single under the collective title “Promotional Pollution,” while three other songs - “UFO,” “Mother Grey” and “Goodnight Irene” - were saved for a future release. The band posed on the front cover of the picture sleeve - Chaz Jones, Stevie Lin, Mike Myers and Jim Catania, from left to right - all primed and ready to rock out your phonographs and turntables. Two of the three songs, “Time Flies When I'm Dancin’” and “Waitin' For The Sun To Shine,” featured Stevie Lin on lead vocals; Mike Myers took the microphone for the B-side song, “So Good To Be Here.”
“We went into the studio and did what we had to do,” said Catania. “I remember that the engineer was a good guy and worked well with us. I was in that same studio with a couple of other bands, including a band called Aces and Eights.”
“We did the whole record as a DIY thing,” said Myers. “Chaz Jones, who has music flowing out of every pore of his body, was in an experimental jazz/rock spacey kind of band with a guy named Mark Adams. Mark worked at Fox Studios, a nice 16-track studio. He got us cheap rates there as long as we used him as the engineer and recorded out of hours. The sessions went well and quickly, but the mix sessions were not up to par. The songs had no life on the record; there was no reverb added and the mix was too low in volume, so the record had to be played at higher volume just to get the sound across. So that was our DIY mistake.”
The group also put together their resources to produce a high-quality picture sleeve for the EP, to which Stevie Lin turned to his father for help and advice. “My father Hal is a photographer, he photographed us on the single. We wanted everything involving our record to be high quality - and if we couldn’t make the records sound right, we said at least let’s make the record jacket look great. We took this care with our posters - our posters had actual photographs of us, where every other band’s posters were just handwritten names, ours looked professional. We looked like we had a record company backing us, even if we really didn’t have one. We created our own record company, For Real Records, and we even created artwork for the record label. Our record looked good. As opposed to what was happening at the time.”
“Chaz and Stevie did the artwork along with our friend Steve Strang, who designed much of the back cover,” said Myers. “They went to New York City and brought the tape to the mastering house to cut the disc. I believe that is where the master tape with the mixed songs ended up. I've never seen it again.”
With a vinyl product in hand, the band members used the record as an ersatz audition tape to try to get a record deal from a major company. The quartet tried to get past a music industry that was, in the late 1970’s, oversaturated on disco, Top 40 and a middle-of-the-road malaise - an industry that had no idea that The Next Big Thing, a power-pop-rock band from Lodi, New Jersey was waiting at their door. “We definitely were hoping that the 45 would lead to a deal,” said Myers. “Chaz and Stevie went to a bunch of record companies in the city but of course, since we didn't have the proper contacts, they didn't get the meetings with the people who could help us, so that attempt went nowhere.”
The hopes of a major record company discovering Continental Crawler and taking the band to the top was lost - six months later, Jim Catania and Mike Myers left Continental Crawler for other projects. Stevie Lin and Chaz Jones added other musicians and tried to continue the group as a five-piece combo, but a few months later Continental Crawler shut down for good. Stevie and Chaz then formed another band called Film, which recorded some original music but then floundered. The original members went on to solo projects, other business ventures, while still remaining in touch, as all good friends will.
“We felt we tried everything we really could,” said Lin. “We played CBGB's, but we weren't packing the house. We definitely weren't packing clubs - we did all right - when we started breaking up, I got phone calls from bars and clubs who wanted us back, but they couldn't get a band and things like that. I remember me and Charlie moved on to other bands, we kept trying to create something, we tried a three-piece version of Continental Crawler with Jones moving to bass, but we couldn't get a drummer to stay with us. Then I got married, and had kids, and went on from there.”
Now let’s flash forward to 2005. The Misfits’ “Static Age” recording sessions are finally released for the first time, and “Mr. Jim” Catania’s drum work gets its respective credit. Meanwhile, the few copies of Continental Crawler’s 7-inch EP start commanding $50 or more on internet auction sites like eBay and Gemm.com; garage band aficionados, power-pop collectors and Misfits fanatics actively hunt down the vintage vinyl disc like a hidden treasure.
And with that, now comes the brand new compact disc you’re holding in your hands - well, maybe the disc is in your CD player and you’re holding this book of liner notes. “Continental Crawler: An Anthology – Cars, Cards and Questionable Women” features the original six tracks Continental Crawler recorded at Fox Studios, as well as rare live concert recordings, demo tracks, experiments, and even a reunion that owes as much to the Beatles “Free As a Bird” reunion as it does to modern technology, where 25-year-old tracks can be replaced with modern vocals or instruments.
In 1982, Myers and Catania worked on a song called “I Wanna Ruin You,” which featured Myers on guitars, bass, vocals and keyboards - but in 2007, Myers wiped his lead guitar part off the track and replaced it with a new Stevie Lin guitar track, recorded specifically for this anthology CD. “Jim and I went into the studio 2 years after the band broke apart and recorded some demos of my songs,” said Myers. “I added guitars, bass, vocals and keyboards, but when we were preparing this anthology, I decided to erase my guitar lead and have Stevie air-mail his part in, so you have 2007 Stevie overdubbed on to 1982 Mike and Jim.”
Also featured on this CD is “Goodnight Mr. Jim,” a stripped-down version of the Continental Crawler ode to poker, “Goodnight Irene,” featuring only Catania’s powerful and rock-steady drums. “I hear the drum track that I played on ‘Goodnight Irene,’ said Catania. “I did that song when I was twenty-something years old, and it sounds like a twenty-something year old drummer. Mike took the song, I guess he had a good mix on it, and he took everything off but the drums. It sounds great.”
There’s even talk of one more performance of Continental Crawler, one more time on the stage for Chaz Jones, Mike Myers, Stevie Lin and Jim “Mr. Jim” Catania, the four friends from Lodi, N.J., to rock the club for the fans once again. Maybe time really does fly when the fans are dancing with the band.
- Chuck Miller
Author, Warman’s American Records
It was a long time ago, but these are the things I think about when I remember our music….. it was agile, hard, it had good grooves and dynamics, and it was textured……
I’ve remained a fan of this band long after it ceased to exist. These were the best musicians I ever played with. Stevie Lin, all gut instinct, street-wise and determined……. Jim Catania, master of rhythm, driving us, dictating the groove…… Chaz Jones, the syncopation king, trills and 13th chords……
I’ve listened to these songs dozens of times in the last year during remixing, remastering, rebalancing and sequencing, and I still find myself playing the break from On My Palm over and over in my head, the synth riff from Maybe You Care, etc etc etc
From a historical perspective that was not available way back when, before the Misfits and Danzig achieved the utmost in cult popularity, Continental Crawler had some amazing bona fides from a pre-Misfits point of view….. Stevie and Chaz were Glenn Danzig’s first writing partners, with him adding lyrics to the original music those 2 guys wrote….. and, as mentioned, Stevie, Chaz and Jim were all “pre-Misfits” with Jim eventually moving into the drummer’s chair for the Misfits.
Just recently, we got the ultra-cool news that Jim had stumbled upon a forgotten box which held 2 cassettes that contained soundboard recordings that documented some live performances of ours. Some of these songs made it to this compilation, and we’ll see what happens to the rest now that we live in a downloadable world. Maybe people will soon be able to download new personalities, personal histories or attitudes along with their favorite tunes…
In the winter of 1978-79 we did the formal sessions at Fox Studios in Rutherford, NJ that yielded the first 6 songs found on this CD. The 2-inch 16-track tape stayed in storage for almost 30 years and then went through a restoral process, and all of the 6 songs were remixed and remastered in early 2007. I acted as the producer for these recent sessions. The songs were given the loving care that they deserved; no one in Continental Crawler was pleased with the rather flat mix that was done at the time of the original record release (45 rpm).
Unfortunately, the only copies of all of the remaining songs in this collection were preserved on cassette tapes for almost 3 decades. As a result, the audio quality of these songs might occasionally leave something to be desired, but every viable technique to restore the quality of the music was attempted for this CD. The use of these selections allowed us to offer a boatload of original Continental Crawler songs in this Anthology.
The songs are upbeat and are the performance of a very tight, road-tested band. Listen to how well Stevie and Charlie’s guitars interlock. Stevie plays most of the lead parts, and his zingy guitarisms (as described by a music critic at the time of the record’s release) were unlike other guitar players of that era. Charlie added a whole different flair because he was a true second guitarist, not just a rhythm player. He adds the little trills to Mother Grey, for instance. And of course, providing the backbeat was Jim Catania, drummer extraordinaire. A close listen will show that his busy, frantic, precise drumming contained a wide array of patterns, parts and fills. To further highlight this fact, we’ve included a drums-only mix of Goodnight Irene (here called “Goodnight Mr. Jim”). His technique can be truly appreciated, and remember that there was no click track, no metronome, no studio tricks – just his feel, his rhythm.
All of us have reconnected and are on good terms. Jim and Stevie live in Florida while Chaz and I remain in New Jersey. Stevie, Chaz and I all have home studios and write and record original material. In fact, Chaz released a CD a few years back under the moniker Chaz from ESAD on ESAD records.
This was a good, unappreciated band that never got that break that might have led to different outcomes. But the songs remain…. here to be enjoyed for the first time in almost 30 years……. rock on….
Hope you enjoy it!!