From Lifeboat, Tackle Box, and beyond, the indie rock auteur spills the beans. (This interview originally appeared in Dr. Hinely’s most excellent Dagger ‘zine.)
BY TIM HINELY
I had met Greg “Skeggie” Kendall as a person before I even knew about his music. Sort of. He was road managing The Chills when I saw them in about 1989/1990 or so. I was backstage doing an interview with The Chills’ Martin Phillipps (for my zine, DAGGER) and Skeggie brought him a big salad (not “the big salad” like on Seinfeld but a big salad nonetheless) and faked this posh British accent when he put it down in front of Martin and stated, “Your dinner sir.” I laughed and Skeggie and I chatted bit that evening. He seemed like a real friendly, jovial type, completely unlike some other road managers types I had met throughout the years.
So I’d already missed the boat on his band Lifeboat though I’d heard of them and was sure I’d heard some Lifeboat songs. Then missed his next band, Tackle Box until my pal Jeremy Grites told me I had to hear them which was in the late 90’s or maybe 2000. I picked up copies of those cds, On and Grand Hotel (both released in 1993, if I have my story straight, and both on the Rockville label. They also released “The Wheat Penny Single” 7” the same year on Rockville. Fun fact: his rhythm section on those records, Brian Dunton and Sean King Devlin went on to work with Mary Timony in Helium) and both are filled with the kind of at times loud/ at times soft rock music that too many people missed but really should have heard. As you’ll read below he’s done plenty of other stuff, musically speaking.
You know I like to dig a little deeper, go for some more obscure folks to interview, and it was on a whim that I’d reached out to Skeggie to see if he might want to answer a few questions. Thankfully he did and by reading below you’ll learn about the long strange trip that Mr. Greg Kendall has been on all these years. Long live Skeggie!
Where were you born? Did you grow up in the Boston area?
I was born in Norwalk, CT. In the three years following, my family moved to as many states: from Norwalk to Santa Barbara, CA.; Santa Barbara to Red Hook, in upstate NY; Red Hook to Huntsville, AL. I mostly grew up in Huntsville, but our family did weird satellite missions to other places for awkward fragments of school years. There was half of third grade in Atlantic Beach on Long Island, and before that, a 1968 Cocoa Beach summer at the Del-Ray Motel that stretched beyond the first day of school because my father worked for the space program at Cape Canaveral. Eight months for eighth grade in Gaithersburg, MD, then washing up in Middletown, RI in 1973. So, to answer your question, no, I did not grow up in the Boston area. I moved there in 1981, when I was 21.
Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
I was lucky to have an older brother who was way into music, so I was exposed to scads of great music from very early on. Simply, AM top forty radio WAS my childhood. I tried, but didn’t buy the first record I wanted to buy. There are many tales of the infamous Columbia Record Club. Our family returned from a vacation in what, 1968?, to find a package at our front door I’d ordered from the back of a magazine. “The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees” is the one I remember. My parents were pissed and had to undo the bad deal and returned that record and the other two that were delivered. I eventually bought that album, and of course loved it. The Monkees are the best band ever.
When did you first pick up an instrument? Was it a guitar?
5 years old. Ukulele. Soon after, the guitar. Cat gut string. My first gig was in kindergarten in Huntsville singing “My Old Kentucky Home” with my brother and sister. There are some uncomfortable lyrics in that tune for three little kids to be singing in 1965 Alabama. (It was only recently that I discovered the origin and intent of the song. Interesting history.)
Was Tackle Box your first band? If not tell us about bands prior to it.
Lots of bands before Tackle Box. That was like 1992-93. It’s hard to list the catalogue without supplying background in order to provide fun context. You gotta understand that back in the day we were in the middle of the suburban punk rock expansion explosion, jumping off of what we were gleaning from the CBGB’s scene of the late 1970s and the Detroit thing of MC5 and the Stooges, and also Blue Oyster Cult’s early stuff, not to mention most importantly Lou Reed. I worked backward from “Rock n Roll Animal” to the Velvet Underground in 1975-76. It was mind-blowing. It’s impossible to encapsulate in a brief answer. I moved into the upstairs of a nightclub in Newport RI in 1978. I lived there for two years. I was like 18 and 19 years old. I saw a load of wild shit, ingested a ton of drugs, and had a lot of fun. Johnny Thunders was a regular. I hung out with Sonny Terry and Brownie Magee, J.B. Hutto, and Max Romeo. I held court with Carl Perkins. I played regularly with Jonathan Richman, Mission of Burma, Human Sexual Response, and The Neighborhoods. What else can I say, except that I’m sure there’s a bunch of cool stuff that I can’t remember, plus can’t believe I don’t have Hep C or some other nasty affliction. Our band, Bob Lawton’s Boots —look it up—we were there from the git-go of punk rock. Just sayin’.
Tell us about seeing bands in Boston the 80’s? With the amount of amazing talent there back then you must have had some magical nights!
Yes. Some great nights were involved. “Magical” is a good adjective. I moved to Boston in 1981. It was an exciting time in local music to be there. “Magical” because one had to invent one’s scene if you didn’t dovetail easily into an existing one. A Boston rock scene was in full play, with the ‘Hoods, Mission Burma, Lyres, Neats, Del Fuegos, etc, etc., but to bust into that world required stamina and songs, particularly if you were in a jangly pop band like mine —Arms Akimbo, which became Lifeboat. We had much more in common with the North Carolina and Georgia music scenes than the grittier Boston sound. We had to work hard to prove ourselves, and we pretty much did. That band broke up in 1987.
How did Tackle Box come about?
The Brothers Kendall were a thing after Lifeboat’s varied successes and failures. My brother Bobby and I wrote a bunch of songs and played a bunch of gigs in 1988-89, maybe 90? I don’t know. We made a record for Bar None with Peter Holsapple from the dBs that never came out, mostly because the record sucked, (through no fault of Peter’s). But, tell you what, I loved that band. We made some music I’m quite proud of. The core of that band became Tackle Box. Shawn Devlin is an amazing drummer I’ve been playing with since the Newport days; Mike Leahy is a genius guitarist (he’s played with Juliana Hatfield, Buffalo Tom, and Pell Mell, among others); and bassist Brian Dunton, (with Devlin, the original Helium rhythm section) are great to work with.
When I (briefly) met you back then you were a tour manager for The Chills. Had you been making your living doing that? If so what other bands did you tour manage?
Wow! Where/when did we meet? That was a goofy gig. If anyone ever asks you, “Hey, should I consider a cross-country tour that requires road managing, driving the van, being the sole roadie and — get this—opening solo act?,” you’re answer should be, “No, definitely don’t do that.”
I also went out as a roadie for the bands Big Dipper, The Feelies, and for the longest stretch, Throwing Muses. I love all of them, very much. So many tales to tell.
How did the deal with Rockville Records come about? Who ran that label (I only knew about Homestead back then).
Jeff Pachman signed us. It just happened I guess because he heard our songs and liked us. I honestly don’t know any other reason.
When/ why did Tackle Box end? Did you have any bands after that?
We all got busy with other stuff, and honestly I was becoming ambivalent about what had started to feel like asking people if they liked me through music. After all those years, I guess hit sort of a mental roadblock. I had a new family, with back-to-back sons, and that had an impact I’m sure on my commitment to touring and other time-consuming aspects of being in a band. But I found a new musical outlet when I fell into scoring film. Doug Macmillan from the band the Connells introduced me to director John Schultz, who enlisted me to write songs for his film Bandwagon, and then asked me to score it. The film screened and was bought at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, which eventually led me to score Schultz’s 1998 Drive Me Crazy for 20th Century Fox. It was a fun, exciting and satisfying time, despite the steep learning curve.
Who are some of your favorite current bands or musicians?
My son’s projects are what I’d like to talk about.
DJ Lucas https://soundcloud.com/djlucasma
Weird Dane https://soundcloud.com/weirddane
They’ve got a whole lot stuff going on. Their collective, called Dark World, is knee-deep in music making, video projects and fashion design.
Care to tell us your top 10 desert island discs?
It’s hard to get it down to ten, but let’s go with…
Velvet Underground (self-titled third album)
Velvet Underground “Loaded”
New York Dolls “New York Dolls”
New York Dolls “Too Much Too Soon”
Jean Jacques Perry “The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sound Of Jean Jacques Perry”
Yo La Tengo “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One”
Joni Mitchell “Blue”
Chet Baker “ Let’s Get Lost”
David Bowie “Hunky Dory”
Brian Eno “Music For Airports”
(Plus any and all releases from Gram Parsons)
Tell us about the reunion gig that Tackle Box recently played. Will there be more?
That was super-fun. I hope for more. I love those guys, and I think we rock real nice together. We fell into playing together as if we hadn’t taken over twenty years off.
What is it that you do now? Something in the film industry?
From 2002-2012, my wife Connie White and I booked documentary films into cinemas as Balcony Releasing. We distributed over twenty films in that period. Currently, I’m working with my wife’s company Balcony Booking. She’s the film buyer for eighteen independent art houses and three film festivals.
Check out our new site here: https://www.balconyfilm.com/
Any closing comment? Final thoughts? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?
It’s been a long and interesting trip, including my recent graduation from college in May 2016. With all that music stuff going on, I completely forgot to go to college, so I entered in 2012, and graduated four years later from UMass Amherst with a self-designed BA in Historical New England Documentary Studies.
Also, I’m about to embark on a new musical adventure— or I should say, a potential adventure. I’m going to Raleigh, NC to hang with my buddy Doug MacMillan from the Connells. If it works out, we’re thinking about planning a two-hander that explores the odd lives we’ve led in the music business, including stories and songs in a fun and reflective show. We’ll see. I hope it happens. I love those Connells songs.
BONUS QUESTION: Did you ever hear from Mark Lindsay about the song “Mark Lindsay’s Ponytail?”
I have a signed copy from Mark Lindsay of the Tackle Box “Wheat Penny” single that has “Ponytail” on the B-side. He says he liked it. I’m proud to say that one of my songs, “Eeenie Meenie Miney Moe,” originally recorded with Tuffskins, (a fun post-Tackle Box mini-project) was rehearsed by the fantastic Los Straitjackets with vocals by Mark Lindsay for consideration on an album. Alas, a release was not to be. But still, that feels really good, and the song was eventually recorded and released as a single by Rochester, NY garage-rockers Ian and the Aztecs. So, all’s well, that ends well.