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The Spys

The Spys - Underground  / Machine Shop - 7

Underground / Machine Shop - 7"
(independent) - 1980

Michael Panontin
The whole of the American Midwest, including Detroit, was a bit slow to latch onto punk. By 1979, though, a handful of bars there, like Lili's 21 in Hamtramck, the New Miami in the seedy Cass Corridor neighbourhood and the legendary Bookies up in the equally menacing north side, were showing local and visiting acts at least a few nights each week. And for a couple of teenagers from Windsor just across the river, that was all that was needed to start up a band like the Spys. As singer Frank Carlone remembers it, "Elad (D'Amore) and I were at the New Miami to see Fred 'Sonic' Smith, and somehow Elad had managed to chat with him between sets. So later in the next set, he calls Elad up to the stage to jam with him, and for two guys who grew up listening to the Stooges and the MC5 this was amazing. Anyway, I think it was during 'Sweet Little Sixteen', Sonic gives him the nod, and Elad does this amazing solo, and I knew we had to start a band or something!"

Carlone and D'Amore's musical partnership goes back even farther. "Way back in '73 up to around '75, a bunch of us east-siders would hold these sort of informal battle of the bands in various basements - we called it 'Cockstock' - constantly trying to outdo each other. One time Elad and his brother, Domenic, filled these containers with gasoline," he laughs, "hoping to have these Kiss-style firebombs and, poooof!, we just about burned the house down!"

After witnessing the Dry Heaves score a surprise second-place finish at a real Battle of the Bands, this time in 1979 at Ojibway Park, the pair got serious, coaxing bassist 'Coma' Joe Desrameaux into the fold. Filling things out on drums was Dave O'Gorman ("He had a small business, Paramount Fruit on Ouellette, and he was really good at getting us gigs'), and by the late summer of 1979 the Spys were about ready to rock. What followed over the next twelve months became the stuff of local legend. The band got their first gig at Windsor's Drop-In Tavern, a place known more for heavy dinosaur rock than for punk. ("I think a tomato or egg got thrown at us, so I thought, 'Hey, we're doing something right'.") More shows followed, including a spot in support of Toronto's Battered Wives at the Masonic Temple the following year.

By the time the band went down to Salem Studios in Leamington to record a couple of tracks for a single, they had gelled into a taut act with their own loyal army of fans. Alas, with such crowd pleasers as 'Welcome to the Cruel World' and 'I Wanna Be Like You' packing the dance floors, the lads demurred somewhat on their choice of songs, going with two newer ones instead, 'Underground' and the snappy 'Machine Shop'. And despite the muffled sound ("It wasn't mastered right. It should've been more, like, raucous."), 'Underground' / 'Machine Shop' has managed a following all its own in the punk world, appearing on Smash the State Vol. 2 in 1994, and the 2001 German release The Spy's - Original Punk Rock from Canada 1979-1980 (Incognito). An original copy of the seven-inch even sold on Ebay for an unfathomable $185.

(Collectors note: the record was issued with two completely different picture sleeves, one white and the other yellow, and both have recently been made available again by the Ugly Pop label on their swell 2012 repress.)

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