One of the greatest joys any music fan can experience is when they stumble upon a group they’re unfamiliar with who challenge the assumptions of genres. Stick Against Stone is one of these bands. Founded in Pittsburgh in 1981, they witnessed and took part in a shifting musical landscape in response to the grim reality of the Reagan/Thatcher era. The earliest version of Stick Against Stone was still trying to find themselves when they began developing their sound in a dirt floor basement in a row house.
After briefly moving to NYC, the band restructured their lineup and headed to Eugene, Oregon. At this point, the band practiced constantly and became a powerful unit, exploring punk, reggae, funk, Afrobeat and other global influences. Their brand of jagged yet danceable, politically and socially conscious music was unusual at the time. In the summer of 1985, the five-piece Stick Against Stone played a show at Eugene’s outdoor Saturday Market. In 2013, Will Kreth, former soundman/manager of the group and director/producer of the Get It All Out documentary about the band, discovered a lost bootleg of the Market set. Recorded on a VHS-HIFI camcorder, the quality of the audio was found to be in great condition, which led Kreth to release The Oregon Bootleg Tapes on his MediaGroove label.
Like any live recording of a band at the top of their game, The Oregon Bootleg Tapes reveal how dynamic Stick Against Stone was in the mid 80s. The group was in the third of many lineups and arguably in the form of their lives. The music was outside of the norm, but it was delivered with passion and purpose. With the driving force of Richard Vitale on drums and David Soule on bass, each track digs into a heavy groove with the support of Daniel Ramirez on electric guitar, Robert “Xeres” Shepard on sax and flute, and Sari Morninghawk belting out vocals and percussion.
The hard funk sits deep in tracks like “Instant,” “Rhetoric” and “Cramphead.” The slightly off-kilter, infectious compositions are out of this world. “Leonard (for Leonard Peltier)” is one of the most memorable tracks on the album. The lyrics speak of the atrocities imposed by the U.S. on indigenous people, in particular the framing of Leonard Peltier for the Pine Ridge Shootout. This is the sort of track that shows Stick Against Stone had a conscience and while their music was great for dancing, there was often a strong message evident in the lyrics. “Who Are They?” points fingers at the people who try to rule the world and “Cosmic Spy from Turkistan” charges like a bull and pounds out an uncanny no wave groove.
One can only imagine what would have happened to Stick Against Stone if they released a full-length LP in the mid 80s. The Oregon Bootleg Tapes showcase a band that was at the forefront of a new kind of musical exploration, not locked down by the confines of punk or funk. Stick Against Stone mix it all together and give the people something to think about while they dance uncontrollably.