'Yesterday's Tomorrow: Celebrating the Winston-Salem Sound'

Article Contributed by conqueroo | Published on Saturday, March 20, 2021

In a fun, Nuggets-like trip back to the Summer of Love era, Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Celebrating the Winston-Salem Sound, due out May 7, 2021 on Omnivore Recordings, shines a strobe light on the vibrant ’60s and ’70s Combo Corner rock scene of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Original members of bands such as Arrogance, Little Diesel, Sacred Irony, and Rittenhouse Square —including Mitch Easter (Let’s Active); Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby, and Chris Stamey (the dB’s); singers Don Dixon, Dale Smith, Lynn Blakey, Bob Northcott; and many others — convened on May 12, 2018, at Winston-Salem’s Ramkat club to revisit those fuzzbox years, and this remarkable live recording shines brightly with their camaraderie and precise enthusiasm for those days of yore. In the mind-blowing songs of now-vanished local legends Captain Speed and the Fungi Electric Mothers, the classic set list of the Imperturbable Teutonic Griffin, and amid the amusing scene portrayals of collectors’ favorite Rittenhouse Square, the electric guitars soar, with plenty of feedback and sizzle. With the added oomph of the Occasional Orchestra (live strings, percussion, and brass), music direction by Doug Davis (Vagabond Saints’ Society), and stops along the way for affectionate renditions of then-faves by Bubble Puppy, the Easybeats, the Music Machine, the Electric Prunes, the Beatles, and even Kool and the Gang, there’s a lot to love here.’

The impetus for this extraordinary concert was that Stamey had a book fresh off the press, a song-based memoir called A Spy in the House of Loud. A portion of the book references his time in New York, but the first part remembers, song by key song, the late 1960s and early ’70s creative rock music scene in Winston. A surprising number of the Combo Corner crew went on to play and produce music professionally in the decades that followed — often with one another in different configurations (e.g., dB’s, Let’s Active, or with R.E.M., Steve Earle, Matthew Sweet, Vassar Clements, Hootie & the Blowfish, Big Star's Third Live, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Golden Palominos) and in different locales. They were still in regular contact the day Stamey suggested they try to “play the soundtrack to the book.”

The band that most credit with starting the ball rolling here, back in 1968, was the aforementioned Captain Speed. Sadly, their bandleader, singer/bassist Bud Carlisle (real name Richard Moore), had died in 2010, and the psychedelic pioneers never released any music whatsoever, although their live shows (complete with flying duck) were still the stuff of local legend. In order to perform their essential songs, Easter, Borthwick, Davis, and Corky McMillan (Sacred Irony’s bassist) created an ensemble just for the event, later dubbed the Love Valets — a tongue-in-cheek moniker taken from “N.C.’s Woodstock,” a 1970 music festival in Love Valley, N.C. And likewise, the catch-all for the new big-ensemble groupings was the Royal Opposition, only a consonant away from Easter and Borthwick’s seminal 1968 surf-rock combo, the Loyal Opposition.

Chris explains: “From the ’50s R&B stylings of the “5” Royales’ “Think” through the dense mystery of Captain Speed’s “Reptilian Disaster” all the way to the future-punk of Little Diesel’s “Kissy Boys” and Sneakers’ “Condition Red” and the sophistication of Let’s Active’s “Room with a View,” there’s a ley line running through a scene and a city, one that you’ll find is worth exploring. Maybe every city has a beloved scene in its rearview worthy of celebration? In fact, I hope this is indeed the case. But this one is our story. Or at least a time-tunnel’s glimpse into a part of it. As Captain Speed sang all those years ago, ‘Our high kites do star those nights, where you can see beyond today, tomorrow . . . forever.’”

The concert was captured to multitrack, lovingly mixed by Stamey and Easter, and is now available as Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Celebrating the Winston-Salem Sound. A multi-decade tour-de-force, and an important document in itself, Yesterday’s Tomorrow is more than just a celebration. It’s a history lesson, with the present happily dressed up in the past, looking toward the future.

Track Listing:

1.     Hot Smoke & Sassafras—Rittenhouse Square

2.     Reptilian Disaster—The Love Valets

3.     Room With a View—The Royal Opposition feat. Lynn Blakey and Mitch Easter

4.     Talk Talk—The Imperturbable Teutonic Griffin

5.     Yesterday’s Tomorrow—The Love Valets

6.     Hollywood Swinging—Little Diesel

7.     I See Love—Sacred Irony

8.     Black Death—The Love Valets

9.     S'il Vous Plaît (Live) – Sneakers

10.   Got to Get You Into My Life—The Royal Opposition feat. Don Dixon

11.   Condition Red (Live) – Sneakers

12.   Every Word Means No—The Royal Opposition feat. Mitch Easter

13.   Think feat. Don Dixon—The Royal Opposition

14.   Like Wow—Rittenhouse Square

15.   King Battle of the Bands—Rittenhouse Square

16.   Kissy Boys—Little Diesel

17.   The Train Stops Here—The Royal Opposition feat. Mitch Easter

18.   I Am Your Doctor—Sacred Irony

19.   Ruby (Live) – Sneakers

20.   Maybe I’m Amazed—The Royal Opposition feat. Don Dixon

21.   Good Times—Sacred Irony

22.   Galaxies of Love—The Royal Opposition feat. Bob Northcott

23.   I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)—The Imperturbable Teutonic Griffin