Ted Felix Smashing Ted Felix Jamming

Interview with Ted

By: Jack Anus

I had an opportunity to talk with Ted and get a number of the confusing aspects of the Ted Chain story straight. Here's how it went....

How did you get interested in music?

It all started for me when I saw my mother smashing my sister's acoustic guitar. I was about 3 at the time, and I thought to myself, "this is cool." There was a lot of music in my family. One of my other sisters played piano, and my brother played sax. At one point my mother smashed my brother's sax, although not very successfully, and I think that about sealed my fate. We moved from Alexandria, VA to Gaithersburg, MD in August of '72, and brought the family piano along. I spent long hours at age 4 composing piano sonatas which my parents never understood. After asking me if I wanted to take piano lessons, they sold the piano. Admittedly I had said "No" to the piano lessons, but that was because I had no idea what they were. This was probably a good thing, because seeing my mother smash a piano would've really caused my career to take off.

What direction did your musical training take at this point?

My Aunt got me a Radio Shack electronic organ kit at some point, and I modified it substantially. It was monophonic, however, and of little use.

I used to play the pianos at school, and hang out with a neighbor of mine, Brian Hershey, who had a nice upright. He was taking some Suzuki Samurai piano lessons or something, and he taught me everything he learned. He couldn't read a lick of music, so I had to teach myself that. We rolled tape at one point and composed and recorded a four-handed double piano concerto. My parents still weren't impressed and they got me a cheapo GTR chord organ for Christmas of 1977. It sounded like a dying car horn. It took me several years to discover the fan hole in the bottom could be used to change volume while playing. I wrote several works for organ, some of which were later used by the Riverside Band. At school, the music teachers were impressed with my increasing skills as I scrawled complete manuscripts on the blackboard. Unfortunately, the custodial engineers weren't impressed, and these brilliant compositions were usually gone the next day. The music teachers at school were too busy to help me out, so I continued to rely on self- study at this point.

What events led up to the formation of the earlier groups?

Several performance events led to the earlier groups. The piano concerto Brian and I composed had a profound impact on my musical direction. Several performances of previously unrecorded songs at school were important in this era. When I was 13, I remember an impromptu lunchtime recital where I played a song of mine entitled, "Drunk All Day." The lunch mothers quickly ran to the piano and shut me down before I had a chance to finish the performance. The students became irritated and a riot ensued in which several serving trays full of food were overturned. This was Catholic school, so the kids were pretty rowdy. Most of them (myself included) had been expelled from public school.

The most important musical collaboration was definitely the Riverside Band. Riverside was comprised solely of neighborhood kids. We practiced twice in 1978, and never actually performed anywhere. I was responsible for organizing the practices. I remember there was a limit to our session length because Ted Bruns, who played recorder for us, had to be home before the street lights came on. My ability to get this group together twice was pretty impressive, but my ability to get anything useful out of the sessions was very disappointing. The first session took place at Tom Towles' house, and I remember Brian Hershey sitting out since there was only one piano. Scott Hershey, our guitarist, never actually came to any of the practices, I don't think. Anyway, it got so bad that Tom finally started playing some rock style tune on the piano, and everyone sorta stared at him in awe. I learned a lot during this session. The second and final Riverside session was a little better, although not much. At this point, I had a few songs written out, and ready for the group to play. Of course, no one could sightread, and I didn't give them the music in advance. This yielded results similar to the previous session. At one point, Brian Quinn's mom, who was a piano teacher, came up to the piano, looked at the music, and started playing something that sounded awful. Then she turned to me and said, "That's what you wrote." I guess I should have used pre-printed staff paper instead of drawing the staves in crayon on green bar computer paper.

What followed Riverside?

Riverside Connection was about the only serious thing until the Ted Team. Gary Carter had a song called Bar-B-Q he had been working on. We decided to be authentic with the production and took the equipment down to the Riverside. In true Connection form, I pounded on a log with a stick while Gary sang. It was way ahead of its time. When we released it, it didn't sell very well. It was only after the Ted Team made the charts that attention was drawn to Bar-B-Q. Then it took off and exceeded all Ted Chain sales records up to that point.

Listen: Riverside Connection, Bar-B-Q

What about the start of your recording background?

In 1976 I got my first cassette deck, and Gary Carter destroyed it. I then played around with a really cheap reel-to-reel deck that had no bias. Following that came the minisette in 1977. The reel-to-reel period is one of the few periods in Ted Chain pre-history that isn't well documented. It lasted for about one year, and it was actually one of my most fruitful recording periods. I used to have a large box of tapes filled with some of the most disgusting noises ever known to man. It took many years to amass a collection of cassettes that size. One of the recordings that I managed to transfer to cassette was a program called Ted Show '77. It was a variety show with neighborhood kids being interviewed, and performing quaint acts. I remember one of the guests cooked a pizza that was later dropped on the recorder. I spent several days cleaning the tomato sauce from the record/play head. The old tapes had many parodies of Nehi soda pop commercials, and I even created a soap opera called Orthopedic Hospital. One of the best commercial parodies was of the Whistling Mr. Machine battery powered robot toy thing. The real commercial had "The Casons Go Rolling Along" in the background, and this probably led to the Leaping Lobster's interpretation. My version highlighted the manufacturing defects that made the toy so popular. I had a very comprehensive collection of audience laughter from the Merv Griffin show. The famous "Cootie" sound originated with this tape deck. The pause switch simply cut power to the motor. There were no brakes, so the thing would slow down on its own, causing a really cool pitch shifting effect. When turned on and off rapidly, it made the cootie sound. Entire tapes were dedicated solely to this effect.

You are considered an innovator when it comes to recording equipment. What are some of the strangest things you've used, and some strange things that have happened?

The most important part of the Buttocks sound was the Cheap Tape Deck (CTD) used as a compressor/limiter. The fast attack and long decay really made a unique sound. The Jammers later copied the technique and you can hear a very harsh ducking in many of their later works. Near the end of the Buttocks, I was using a CTD on each instrument, and a Boom Box donated by [Scott] Bath Key for compressing the entire mix. This explains the very high noise levels in later Buttocks recordings when compared to "Butt Festival '83". One of the greatest risks when using CTDs was that the instrument being compressed might accidentally get unplugged from the CTD input. Most of the time, the CTD's "built-in condenser" mike would then come to life and cause horrendous feedback. This happened during the "Butt Festival '83" and was captured on the album.

Another favorite trick we used was to plug two guitars into one distortion box. This tended to overload the circuitry in the box which would have to be replaced after each performance. Guitar Madness in "Butt Festival '84" is an example of when we used this. I liked to send [J.J.] Jammer's guitar through the distortion box and clean through the board to get a two-guitar sound for the price of one.

Butt Bass
The Butt Bass with beer can pickup and
built-in condenser mic.

What about custom instruments?

[J.J.] Jammer originally donated an acoustic guitar, dubbed the "Butt Bass", to Ted Team Studios that was heavily modified throughout the first months of the Buttocks. In its original form, J.J. [Jammer] had cut the body in half, depthwise, so that it was no more than one-and-a-half inches thick. This presented a bit of a structural problem that was later remedied with a 1x2. He had also filed new notches in the bridge and the nut to allow 4 or 6 string configurations. This was a pretty impressive technical achievement. I added a condenser mike and achieved tremendous feedback when feeding this through a distortion pedal to Bath Key's Boom Box set up as an amplifier. Later I custom-built a pickup from a beer can for this guitar. I spent several weeks carefully hand-winding the coils to get the perfect tone. The coils combined with some rare earth magnets pulled from high-end speakers provided a massive amount of gain. This was probably the only acoustic-electric bass with both an acoustic and a magnetic pickup that has ever existed. I loaned the guitar to a friend in High School whose mother threw it in the trash.

Let's talk about some of the mysterious incidents surrounding the Buttocks. What really happened to "Little" Dick Beater?

Ok, not many people know this, but his death was actually faked. Beater wanted to leave the Ted Chain scene without a trace, so he could forget about it all, and not be bothered by fans, or enemies, or anyone else. We decided it would be in the best interests of the Chain as well.

How about the battle of the bands with Displaced Aggression?

For this battle, I submitted two tapes. One was a Buttocks compilation, the other a band called "The The". Now, this was not the "The The", this was a different group. The tape was given to me by John Paluck who had a habit of naming groups after other groups. "The The" managed to get into the battle, but the Buttocks did not. The judges later indicated that the recording quality kept the Buttocks out. In preparation for the performance at the battle, I got Bad Display drummer Dick Shaver to let us borrow his van and his drum kit. The drum kit arrived first at the gym where the battle was to take place. Nobody else showed up. We emptied the drums and I drove back to get everybody else. When I got to the drummer [at that time Doug Sanford] for Displaced Aggression's house, none of the band was there, but his sister offered to help me load the equipment into the van. This was no real problem since there wasn't a lot of stuff. I drove back and met up with the rest of the band just as the second band started playing. We set up frantically. The original line-up was supposed to be Paluck on vocals, Phil on guitar, me on bass, and Doug on drums. However, I was having trouble playing Paluck's rather violent bass lines, so he took over on bass. This meant Phil had to sing and play lead guitar while I played rhythm. But we only had my guitar. So, I asked around and managed to borrow a guitar from one of the other bands.

They had switched the schedule around so that we could play last since we were pretty late at this time. When it was our turn, the crowd wandered over to our stage, and I set off a large flashbulb, and kicked on a 5000 watt photo flood mounted in a typical living room lamp with a shade. Talk about light to read by. Another 5000 watt flood was mounted on the lead guitarist's amp, approximately 3 feet away from his face. This caused severe burns by the end of our 30 minute set. Shige, our valedictorian, came up to announce us. He had no idea who we were, so he made up an introduction. He told the audience we had just completed our 3rd album, were about to begin a world tour, and our name was... Chaos! During the first song, I noticed that the PA wasn't working. I frantically grabbed the wires and tried to get Phil's microphone to work, but with no success. We played a number of songs, all of which were very fast, hardcore punk, and finished our thirty minute set in about ten minutes. I particularly liked our cover of Tequila which had been done by several of the bands that night. We did it at the usual tempo, so it wasn't anywhere near as challenging to play as Paluck's hardcore compositions. This gave me an opportunity to take advantage of the really long guitar cable that I had and mingle with the crowd.

After this we were extremely worn out and turned the stage over to Pete Carr and the All Bass Band. Bad Display expressed some interest in coming up, but we didn't have the keyboards and other equipment needed to pull it off. The All Bass Band rocked the house with a version of "We Got The Beat" that had everybody dancing. They sounded great, and the microphone was working fine at this point. [Scott] Bath Key unfortunately was absent.

Sounds like you took over the battle at this point.

The organizers of the battle were rather furious. That tape that I mentioned earlier of a group called "The The" was a very clean 4-track recording of some classic rock tunes. Displaced Aggression of Gaithersburg is a hardcore punk band. We had been chosen because the tape was good, and they had picked us as the early favorites prior to the event. When we showed up playing loud obnoxious hardcore, and then had the balls to give the stage up to another group of our choosing, the folks in charge were not amused. Needless to say, we didn't win anything.

I've heard comments about your early producing efforts with Displaced Aggression. What characterized the production style?

They thought I was pretty extravagant since I would take a gallon of milk outside and scream at the top of my lungs while drinking it. Phil's mom ran out at one point to see if everything was ok. We had a few problems during those sessions since it was my first time at the controls of a 4-track. Almost all of the tracks were mixed into one long before they should have been. The resulting tape sounds far worse than the music actually is. Only a few songs in the "Tasty Tofu" set where John grabbed the drum mikes to sing came out OK. The rest of the songs were ruined. It was really disappointing, but I learned quite a bit.


Also check out Alasdair's interview with Ted.

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