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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Live on Planet Earth: Better than Ezra

Summer of 1980

13-year-old singer/guitarist Kevin Griffin's high school rock outfit Aces Up wins a "battle of the bands" kind of affair. First prize: The band gets to record its own 45 ("Seek, Find, Destroy" b/w a cover of Kiss' "Cold Gin").

Spring of 1987

Playing music throughout his formative years, Kevin finds himself at LSU in Baton Rouge without a band. He meets up with Cary Bonnecaze, late of Reality Patio, a band that had achieved a modicum of local status by signing to 688 Records. The trio is rounded out by a bass player so awful they put off the formation of the band for a year.

Spring of 1988

Kevin and Cary are reunited when they go on a double date with twin sisters. 17-year-old Tom Drummond is the first to answer their "Bass Player Wanted" ad. They begin to "mold him into the rock star he is today."

Better Than Ezra

"It's a long story," Kevin says. "And one that always lets people down whenever we finally tell them what it means. Trust me, it's better left unsaid." One guess found on the band's web page: From p.78 of Hemingway's A Movable Feast: "Anything was better than Ezra learning to play the bassoon..." The band plays its first gig at Murphy's, a Baton Rouge club where Kevin was working at the time. He fabricates the band's name and identity to fill an open night on the club's calendar. Subsequently, the band is good enough that his boss doesn't fire him when he is inevitably found out on stage.

Summer of 1988

Armed with a five-song cassette and an almost completely fictitious bio/resume, Better Than Ezra heads up to Boston and proceeds to play every club in town. The band practices in its apartment, working on songs that eventually become its self-made-and-manufactured debut, Surprise.

Fall of 1988

Better Than Ezra returns to Louisiana. Makes money playing bars, parties, frat houses, etc... in any town in driving distance for any offer covering gas money. "There is no substitute for just getting in a van and going, playing night in/night out," says Griffin. "It's the only way to become a tight band."

Spring of 1990

Surprise cassette is "released," i.e. sold on consignment to stores in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee. 6,000 are initially manufactured and quickly sell out. Kevin graduates from LSU. Band hits the road full time.

Fall of 1990

Original rhythm guitar player Joel Rundell passes away. "When that happened, I just wanted to get out of Baton Rouge," Griffin recalls. "You're 20, you're out touring in a band, partying and suddenly you've lost a close friend. "I think we were intelligent enough to see that there was a plateau there, the possibility of stagnation. Bar band purgatory was just around the corner." Kevin moves to Santa Fe and Tom and Cary enroll at LSU as Better Than Ezra go on indefinite hiatus.

Winter of 1990

Kevin moves to Aspen, playing half-original/half-cover acoustic sets for a living. He continues to receive letters from Better Than Ezra's friends and fan club. Finally, in December, he, Cary and Tom are coaxed into reuniting. Better Than Ezra plays its first show as a three-piece at Murphy's that month.

Spring of 1991

The trio plays every so often. The songs that will become the Deluxe album begin to take shape.

Summer of 1991

"The thoughts that go through everyone's heads: Do I keep playing music? Get into the music business? Whatever..." Kevin relocates to Los Angeles. "A really miserable time." On a lark, he sends a 4-track tape of 12 songs to a local mag that surprisingly runs a review that even more surprisingly attracts calls from several records company types.

Spring of 1992

The other two Ezra's are convinced to make the move the LA. Cohabiting once more, they play a disastrous "showcase" ("the world yawned"), play considerably better shows at Cafe Largo in the Fairfax district, and start recording demos at friend Dan Rothchild's home studio. Kevin: "Due to the studio size we had to mic the guitar amps from our '82 Dodge van parked two stories below. I guess the sonic qualities of shag carpeting were such that we got these great guitar tones." The demos will become Deluxe.

Summer of 1993

Deluxe is released on Better Than Ezra's own Swell Records, complete with artwork by the band. Album release party is held at the Varsity in Baton Rouge.

Spring of 1994

The band plays Austin's South By South West music festival/convention. Deluxe has sold in excess of 12,000 CD's independently. Sales and radio numbers steadily increasing. Contracts are being waved.

Fall of 1994

Better Than Ezra plays the CMJ convention in New York City. Deluxe breaks 30,000. By year's end, deejays are going out and buying copies of Deluxe to satisfy requests.

Winter of 1995

Better Than Ezra strikes a deal with Elektra to "lease" Deluxe from the band's Swell Records. "Good" is a hit. Within six months, Deluxe goes from 50,000 to 500,000. "'Good's success had its downside," Griffin says. "People who didn't know our history thought we were just another pop hit band. Nothing could be further from the truth. In one article, we were called an 'MTV confection' and in another we were lumped in with a bunch of bands who'd 'never spent one day on the road in an unheated van.' The 'Good' video wasn't even made until after the song was a radio hit. The same thing happened with 'In The Blood,' which proved itself at radio before MTV ever played it."

Spring 1995 - Winter 1996

Better Than Ezra tours and tours and tours. Develops its own mailing list numbering more that 10,000 ("Ezra-lites"), sends out an exclusive Christmas tape to each fan on said list. Shortly thereafter the band replaces Cary. Kevin: "It was mutually agreed that in order to remain friends, we needed to part ways." Long time friend and New Orleans native, Travis McNabb joins the band. "He's just peachy," quips Tom Drummond.

Spring 1996

Better Than Ezra records its major label debut, friction, baby. "We wanted to record a big overblown, self gratuitous album and I think we did. But we got more... a lot more."

Yes, finally, the Blossoms were officially reunited. The reformed band hit the road in April 2002 with a series of warm-up dates, and in July, they’ll be headlining the national New World Disorder Tour, also featuring the Spin Doctors, 7 Mary 3, and Sponge.

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