From all indications, The Wusses are nine area musicians with an abiding love for the wimpiest, wussiest wing of 1970s AM radio. Bizarrely, the Wusses insist they play nothing but originals; they’ve just been the victims of extremely bad management and record company chicanery.
I went along with this seeming ruse to get a closer look at this polyester-clad collective fantasy. Speaking via CB radio at their behest, we discussed the little known phenomenon of Amish bass players, inconsistencies in the lyrics of “Lonesome Loser” and the fragile nexus of “soft” and “rock.” You can catch the band Saturday at Motorco with the Beauty Operators, and tickets are available here.
INDY: People knock the ’70s, but it was a cool time, wouldn’t you all say?
HERCULES EUROPE (JEFF HERRICK): It still is.
JOSIAH YODER (JAMES HEPLER): Y’all may or may not know but Cannonball Run was based on my daily commute.
Burt’s fallen on hard times.
LEON ALABASTER (DAVE BJORKBACK): I wouldn’t call Loni Anderson hard times.
ARTURO FRATELLI (CHRIS ROSSI): Appunto.
What brought you together? Music? Destiny? A bit of both?
LA: Well, our keyboard player, Bobby Turnblue, invented music, so I guess you could say that’s how it all started.
JY: Leon Alabaster brought us together.
AF: I meet Leon in pizzeria where I am working. I keep guitar behind counter, when little customers I play songs of mine.
HE: I guess you could call all that destiny.
JY: I was living in a tree on the other side of the fence from my family farm. Leon’s car broke down and I pushed him into town. We came back later and got his car.
Did you discover that you were both into the Little River Band at that point? Or was it later?
JY: Oh, we were never in LRB. We just gave them our songs ’cause Australia is so impoverished.
LA: We wrote a bunch of hit songs for them.
CJ BUNKS (DAVE CANTWELL): I think this was before LRB bought all our songs.
LA: We’re still trying to collect our royalties.
AF: Many groups play our songs. It is hard. Our lawyer is not so good.
In all seriousness, how deep is your love for soft rock?
JY: It gets deeper every time we write a new song.
AF: The music, it is a fig.
AF: Fig is a fruit… it is fruit of woman. It is very good fruit.
LA: Arturo is from Italy, and his English isn’t too good. He does all of his talking with his guitar—like that Frampton guy.
CJB: We’ve bought Arturo a correspondence course in English. It’s kind of working.
JY: The odd thing about The Wusses and our impact is that when we originally wrote these songs, the people who love them now actually hated them: “They played that at my prom and it was so lame.” But now they love them because they are hearing the songs as originally intended.
It’s true, there’s been a resurgence of love for an era that’s been much maligned over the years.
LA: True genius is never appreciated in its time. Just look at Billy Beer.
JY: I don’t know if it’s the same mindset that makes someone say they hate The Beatles—just wanting to be different, or liking something others hate, or hating something others like.
AF: Well, there is new generation now. Many babies born since us begin.
I think it’s a similar impulse to tear down our old idols and reconsider old hates. Andrew Gold, for instance.
CJB: (Thank you for being a friend.)
His 1978 hit “Never Let Her Slip Away” was the first hit song without a bass line until Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Takes guts to have no bass. Even “Muskrat Love” had a bass.
LA: Josiah Yoder played bass on those tracks, but they removed him so they wouldn’t have to pay royalties.
CJB: I think Yoder was on Rumspringa when we wrote that one.
JY: My memory fails me sometimes.
AF: Our lawyer is not so good
Would you guys cover Gold’s “Lonely Boy”?
LA: We wrote it, but we never play it live. It’s a little too sad for our concerts. We like to create an atmosphere of love.
JY: I like to touch softness.
CJB: That song is too melancholy to impregnate anyone. Generally, we don’t write ballads. It’s a fine line of soft and rock.
AF: Must have both soft and rock.
I see three guys listed as lead guitarist. Is that good? How did that come about?
AF: We used to play lead all at same time. It was too heavy, however, for soft rock.
The ’70s was the heyday of bands that sounded like law firms: Seals and Crofts, Brewer & Shipley. Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds. Did you ever think of calling yourselves Alabaster, Bunks, Turnblue, Fratelli, Yoder, West, Manor & Europe? It seems like a natural.
JY: That’s what “THE WUSSES” stands for—it’s an anagram. T stands for Leon Alabaster, H for C.J. Bunks, etc.
LA: People often missed that.
AF: I am the “S.”
CJB: Our first record was a triple LP, but even then the names wouldn’t fit on the sleeve. And everyone wanted to be listed first.
How do you maintain your set list?
JY: With a pen
CJB: On a Wang.
AF: Josiah tells me next song to play.
If you could get one of the bands that have covered your songs into a studio for a Rick Rubin-style, get-back-to-your-roots album, who would it be?
LA: Christine McVie
AF: The ragazzi of America are very nice.
CJB: Macramé chick. My favorite kind.
AF: And it is good, they are whole country.
Leon, you write great lyrics. “You Are the Woman,” for example, is a song that’s come to be associated with Firefall.
LA: Thanks. They’re all true.
The “start”/”heart” rhyme, for example, is so unexpected.
LA: We like to throw some left turns in there. The a cappella “whoa” is the true genius of that tune.
JY: I have issues with his lyrics sometimes. How lonesome is this loser he writes about, if he’s always playing against the Queen of Hearts?
LA: I think you mean tissues because they make you cry.
JY: They do that, too.
So these songs reward deep contemplation?
JY: Very much so. We like for the jasmine in our minds to be blowing as much and as frequently as possible.
It really comes back to that bright elusive butterfly of love.
AF: Yes, love is all the things.
JS: In my dreams, I am chasing my dream, so when I chase that dream it’s like holding a mirror up to a mirror.
I don’t really put Steely Dan in with soft rock, though some do. Do you think yacht rock and soft rock converge?
AF: I feel we are more sympathetic.
LA: Steely Dan is a whole different trip. You can’t take those dudes seriously.
Because they took themselves so seriously?
LA: They quit playing live—hard to get the groupies without gigs. I don’t understand their priorities.
LA: Well played.
Who was the best bassist in soft rock?
LA: Besides Josiah Yoder?
Of course, pardon me.
LA: Maybe that guy who played for Leo Sayer.
AF: There is Claudio Galieti.
JY: All of them are great, as I’ve learned. Lot of studio musicians in those days.
LA: Boz Scaggs’ bassist is pretty hot. [Note: It was the same guy on Leo Sayer’s Endless Flight and Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees, David Hungate.]
Ah, good call.
LA: Oops, sorry that was for a different chat room.
What should people expect from this upcoming performance, gentlemen? Are there surprises in store?
AF: Well, there is waiver to sign…
JY: It’s a paternity thing.
AF: Exclusions of liabilities, standard waivers.
JY: Fratelli is tired of having lawsuits translated for him.
LA: Nice thing about the ’70s is that there are no DNA tests, so you can’t prove we are the father.
AF: And Josiah has no DNA. He is Amish.
JY: Incidentally, there is a whole contingent of bass players with Amish backgrounds. I’m the only one to keep his name.
Why do you suppose?
JY: Jaco Pastorius was born Jacob Hershberger.
He was Amish?
JY: Yes. John Entwistle was born John Stoltzfuss. Stoltzfuss means “conceited foot,” and if that doesn’t describe John Entwistle, I don’t know what does. And Sara Lee, who recorded Cosmic Thing with the B-52’s, was born Sarah Schwartz. She converted.
So your point is…
JY: I just wanted it out there.