Nearly four decades ago, a local band with a strange moniker, 15/60/75, released its debut album, Jimmy Bell's Still in Town.
The 1976 album — a live recording of the band opening for Bob Marley & the Wailers at the Cleveland Agora — contained only six songs, but the young, hungry and focused band’s blues-derived grooves and angular horn charts were insistent and the performances were uniformly intense.
The strong debut started the colloquially known Numbers Band’s musical journey that includes a show tonight at the Kent Stage.
Across the decades, the band’s dedicated fans wore out their vinyl copies and in 2000, David Thomas, leader of longtime Cleveland “avant garage” band Pere Ubu and vocal Numbers Band champion, remixed the album to create a high-quality CD release.
Now fans and interested newbies will have another chance to hear the album as Cleveland/Brooklyn-based label Exit Stencil will release a deluxe double LP vinyl version of Jimmy Bell's Still in Town. The new release will feature the album’s original six tracks plus three recently discovered tracks — two also recorded at the Agora and another featuring band leader, singer/guitarist Robert Kidney and his multi-instrumentalist younger brother Jack Kidney performing a duo version of the blues classic Who Do You Love from a 1974 Coffee Break Concert with WMMS (100.7-FM) disc jockey Matt the Cat. It also has liner notes by Rolling Stones senior writer David Fricke and former Beacon Journal columnist David Giffels.
The latest version of the album was made from the original safety master (a copy of the master) and was transferred to digital by Paul Hamman of Suma Recordings and then remixed and remastered.
To celebrate the new re-release, the current iteration of the Numbers Band — the Kidney brothers, saxophonist Terry Hynde, bassist Bill Watson and drummer Clint Alguire — will perform most of the original album along with other tunes past and present for a two-hour concert at the Kent Stage. Special guests include drummer Michael Stacy and bassist Drake Gleason, who were on the original recording along with Cleveland jazz veteran saxophonist Ernie Krivda.
Other guests include Tin Huey/the Waitresses mainstay Chris Butler and the album’s original engineer John Nebe. The show will be dedicated to a couple of original band members who have passed — drummer David Robinson and tenor saxophonist Tim Maglione.
Bob Kidney, who has played thousands of shows over the years, admits to being a bit nervous. While several of the album’s cuts, such as the shifting groove of About the Eye Game, have been played over the years, a few of the songs haven’t been aired out on stage since the 80s.
“I hope it comes off well for everybody’s sake,” Kidney said.
“We learned a bunch of material and got back into relearning it. Terry [Hynde] learned stuff off of the first records and the horn parts were quite a challenge because we hadn’t thought about it in so many years,” he said chuckling.
Kidney also had to teach his current rhythm section several of the songs from scratch necessitating some intense listening to the album he hadn’t heard since the 2000 mix was fresh. During the process of dissecting his own band’s 40-year-old performance, Kidney had a realization.
“I’ve been listening to it like I used to listen to jazz records. The way I listen to Archie Shepp and people like that,” he said. “What is the bass player really doing? If you really want to know what the music is about and how things work you have to really sit down and get inside it.
“It was humbling for me to realize how hard the guys that I was working with back then, how hard they worked and how hard they played and what I asked of them and how they delivered it in spades.”
The Numbers Band won’t be playing the album in its original order or in it’s entirety — Kidney said he didn’t want to “drag these guys into” learning the album's lengthy odd-metered final cut About Leaving Day. The expanded group will perform Thief, a song the band abandoned in the 1980s that is based on a real experience Kidney had in Chicago following a Howling Wolf show where a man tried to rob him and Kidney managed to talk him out of the theft.
The band will also perform Nobody's John, a dark song with a pulsing ominous groove from the band’s second record and rerecorded for its most recent album, The Inward City.
With not much time for rehearsal — “we rehearsed twice a week [for a few weeks]. I don't know how long it’s been since we did that” — Kidney said he feels a bit harried but is certain the band will be ready and hopes the audience is receptive.
“I’m worried about this one. If this was a new CD I wouldn’t be feeling the same way, but I’m trying to get people to come out because of an LP and that just makes it different and maybe I’m wrong,” he said.
Kidney might be wrong about fans’ continued love of vinyl, but if nothing else, diving into the deep end of his own musical past has reminded him how the band of then twenty-somethings wrote and recorded the music they wanted to make with little thought of acquiring fame or fortune or legions of fans.
“I wrote that stuff to be what it is. I wanted to do something that was really special and I paid a price because nobody ever wanted to have anything to do with it, at least in the music business,” he said laughing.
“But it certainly has lasted.”
The Numbers Band will play a second record release show in New York City at the Bowery Electric on Dec. 6 with Kidney’s old friend and former Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone’s current band No Grave Like the Sea.
The re-released album is available for pre-order at http://exitstencil.org. Its official release date is Dec. 3.