YouTube Discoveries: Mendelbaum’s ‘Since I Met Her’

Odd things can come to mind when you’re up at three in the morning.

Like snippets of long forgotten songs, so long ago forgotten that you have no memory of anything other than the snippet.

Friday night/Saturday morning it was “Since I met her, my whole life/Since I met her, my whole life has changed.”

No idea where it came from. No idea the title, no idea the artist. No idea when.

Thank God for YouTube. Then again, I lucked out: Of course I looked for “Since I Met Her,” which turned out to be the title of a song by Mendelbaum, a Madison band in the late ’60s that I remember as The Mendelbaum Blues Band, that I saw back when I was in high school or just out of it in 1970. I was able to find some info on them on a couple sites including Longshot’s Blog, which relates how they moved to San Francisco and cut an unreleased demo album for Warner Bros., as Mendelbaum, in 1970.

The demo surfaced on a two-disc set that came out in 2003, the second disc being some live stuff from San Francisco in 1969. “How in the world this band didn’t take off back in 1969 is beyond me,” said Longshot.

Me, too. “Since I Met Her” is everything I didn’t remember other than the chorus: Kind of a neo-psychedelic garage rock Chicago, heavier on keys than horns and with Midwest arena rock harmonies—and that killer chorus. I’m sure there’s some music theory term for why the repetition of “my whole life” and addition of “has changed” is so powerful. It carries a certain woeful finality in that the poor guy’s life has changed, and for the worse–that he can never return to who he was before he met her.

My high school pal Joseph Waters—Joe, back then—would know, now that he’s a music professor at San Diego State College, not to mention leader of modern music group Swarmius. As coincidence would have it, he happened to be in New York when I had my “Since I Met Her” epiphany, here to see one of his Swarmius band members perform at Carnegie Hall.

Joe kind of remembered them as well, kind of in context of his high school band Spindlebean.

“I remember a conversation that the band had at one point where we realized that we had perhaps unconsciously modeled the name after Mendlebaum, who were the bigger-than-life local gods of the rock scene and who loomed high above us as wild young kids getting started,” Joe recalled. “That conversation happened maybe a year or two after Spindlebean came into being. And the name Spindlebean put the whole thing into sort of a comic twist, which would’ve been appropriate for our view of the world–taking the wind out of the idea of fame. There was a theme song of course, about Spindlebean–who occupied a high place in our concocted mythology. We imagined Spindlebean to be an ancient female with withered limbs, like vines of a bean stock, and married to the supreme god of our ’60s-fueled universe, Harvey Jellobrain. We used to amuse ourselves on cold winter school nights by going to the public library downtown and looking in phone books from around the world to see if there actually was somebody named Harvey Jellobrain! The closest we got was a Harvey Jellineck who lived in Belgium. That was quite a find!”

There was also a Harvey Kellogg, unknown, perhaps, to Joe. We went to Madison Memorial. Harvey went to Madison West. I met him in a heavy dope haze and heard his name wrong, Henry Rollick, if I remember correctly, now. Poor guy was stuck with Harvey Kellogg for the rest of his life (which I don’t think was long) thanks to my drug habit. He didn’t deserve it, but it did fit him.

But I digress. For the record, Mendelbaum was Chris Michie, guitar, lead vocals; Keith Knudsen, drums, vocals; Tom LaVarda, bass, vocals; George Cash, sax, vocals; and J.D. Sharp, organ. According to Longshot, Michie died two months before the CDs came out in 2003, and Knudsen died two years later.

But it was Tom LaVarda whose name stood out. Sounded awfully familiar. I realized why over at another blog, Wisconsinology, in a post about Butch Vig.

My old friend Butch, you may know, was Nirvana’s producer, other production clients including Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth and Green Day. I knew him as drummer for Spooner, a great late ’70s Madison new wavey pop band that broke up after I left town for New York in the early ’80s. I was thanked on their first album.

Butch later started Garbage with Spooner’s Doug (later Duke) Erikson, but in between he was in a band called Fire Town, which recorded a couple albums for Atlantic. Their bass player was…Tom LaVarda. But LaVarda, I learned from Wisconsinology, had been in a mid-’70s Madison rock band that I remember, but don’t remember seeing, Buzz Gunderson. But I do remember a band he was in after, a great country band called Out of the West with Beverly Jean. I definitely would have known him then, for we covered the band heavily at The Madcity Music Sheet, a local music paper that I edited before splitting for New York.

Anyway, “Since I Met Her,” while on YouTube, can’t be embedded. So here’s the link.

As it turns out, I never heard the recording, because while it was recorded in 1970, it didn’t really exist until 2003. In other words, I remember that snippet of a chorus solely on hearing it live.

It was that good—and still is.