Love Tractor on the Party Farm

L.A. Weekly, June 8 1984 

A

rmistead Wellford is in love. And he won't eat his mushrooms.
     "You don't like mushrooms?" she asks. She's very pretty.
     "Well, no." And then, "I'll eat some of them. I feel guilty about not eating them."
     Armistead looks at his mushrooms. He looks at her.
     "How many customers do you get--"
     "That don't eat their mushrooms?"
     "--that have crushes on you? 'Cause--"
     "How many customers?" Blushing, she's even prettier. "I don't know."
     "'Cause--"
     "They never tell me about those things."
     "'Cause these guys here told me that they're in love with you. And I am too. But my love ... is ... real."
     And though he's delivered this with all the drawling Southern charm he's heir to, she must have a boyfriend somewhere -- some big bruiser named Tank or something -- because that's more or less the end of it. And when she's gone, Woody Ness, who's been sitting with him -- along with Mark and Mike and Andrew -- at the last table in the farthest corner of the coffee shop called Duke's, leans seriously toward Armistead Wellford to ask:
     "'How many customers have crushes on you?' That's the best you can come up with?"

A

rmistead Wellford is in Love ... Tractor. Love Tractor -- a four-year-old band from
Athens,GA, just about an hour down the road from Atlanta; Athens, where the corn grows, and the peaches and apples and soybeans, and where chickens are farmed, and cows; Athens, where, says Mark Cline, also in Love Tractor, "you can count the number of bars on the fingers of your right hand -- or left hand, whichever you choose," and where Soul Train Lounge becomes Sold Tren Lound and "Troublemakers Will Be Bard"; Athens, founded 1801, a college town since its inception; Athens, whence sprang the B-52's, and R.E.M., and Pylon, and Oh-OK, and the Method Actors, and the Swimming Pool Q's, and before them all the Fans, and where the living's cheap, the parties plentiful and the summers are hot, and sometimes very hot.
     "There was a big heat wave that summer," rhythm guitarist Mark recalls, "the summertime Mike and I started playing together." Mike is Mike Richmond, who plays the lead guitar and sings plaintive country drone. "There were two consecutive heat waves -- two summers. And it was the first one. And it was real hot. Not very many people were in town that summer, just a handful of people. I was there for summer school, and we'd just get together and play at night and play at our friends' parties, must like all the other bands did. And in fact, all the other bands were your friends that would come to the parties."
      And then there was Armistead, who plays the bass and the clarinet, and who lived across the hall from Mark and was, like him, an art student ("If I wasn't doing this, I'd probably be in grad school," says Mark, to which Armistead adds, "In grad school, or trying to get a job in New York. Working for a frame shop. 'Yeah, and I'm painting on the side, too'") and who with old-friend drummer Andrew Carter (replacing Kit Schwartz, gone to Sweden) once played "the hottest cover of Cream's 'I'm So Glad' in all Virginia." They came together after the fashion of Athens bands, to pass the time and entertain themselves, and have since released two LPs on the local DB Records (Love Tractor and Around the Bend), with an EP on the way and a bucolic video ("Swing Your Partner") that made it as far as MTV. They were on their second swing through L.A., with manager Woody, when I found them trying to pick up girls in the coffee shop of the Tropicana Motel, and despite the considerable product (all of it critically ballyhooed) under their collective belt, they were still a pretty much unknown commodity hereabouts.
      And still are.

L

iving here in the center of the universe, wrapped up in our own little scenes, it's 
 easy to forget there's more to music than what comes out of L.A. and New York and London (even San Francisco's become terra incognita), but the fact is that much of what's best and healthiest in music comes out of such backwater (some would say "jerkwater") burgs as Athens, where the specters of filthy lucre and a career in egoism hover not quite so near, where the pressure's off, where personal idiosyncrasy is allowed to flourish, far from and free of the dictates of counterculture high fashion. At the very least, it's a different sort of sound that comes from the hinterlands, and why aren't you paying closer attention? Doesn't diversity mean anything to you anymore? Where were you the night Love Tractor played the Lingerie, the night they played the Music Machine?
      Call it folk-surf, country impressionism or, as they like, "psychedelic porch-funk," the Tractor's airy, spidery, sinuous, soaring (in a manner sometimes reminiscent of Jersey's suburban Feelies -- another not-quite-the-big-city-band), two-thirds-or-so instrumental, guitar-based reel pop is quite unlike anything coming out of Hollywood. There is to their stuff a kind of "Howdy, feller, well met" amiability you don't find so much around here, an easygoing no-shoes pastorality -- the aural equivalent of rafting a slow-rolling river or hitching a ride in the back of beaten-down pick-up with a large dog and crate of chickens for company -- that befits the land that saw it born, gave it a home, shapes it and informs it, a place where the bands comprise "roommates and neighbors," a place whose influence is assessed by Mark Cline thusly: "Something bout the summer, the summertime dancing parties, something about the heat." A place unlike this place, it's the farm, the party farm, where "How many customers have crushes on you?" might be a great line, might just work.


wordy words


love tractor "review"
 

copyright Mr. Robert Lloyd 1984 and 2006