Health and Happiness Show
"To crawl across a highway/seems like a small price to pay/for the woman of gold"
The Health & Happiness Show were late for the gig and charging down the highway on the road to Nashville on July 28, l994. They were out supporting their debut album Tonic and they were on a roll: Rolling Stone magazine had just done a big spread on the band and the Rolling Stones were blasting on the boom box, taped to the dashboard, life was good... then some 86-year-old guy decided to pull a U-turn on the super highway right into the van's lane. James Mastro, the driving force behind the Health and Happiness Show was also driving behind the wheel. "I swerved to avoid him and two other cars, the van rolled over twice in the middle of the highway. Miraculously, no one was seriously hurt, even the equipment was okay with the exception of a knob that broke off my Fender Princeton amp." Their newly purchased van, however, was totaled.
With the tour canceled they were on the way home in a rental van when drummer Vinny DeNunzio saw a sign advertising a trailer park with the slogan Instant Living . After their spin with Madame Death, and feeling somewhat born again, the saying stuck in their heads. They came home, chilled and thought about not playing for a while. But inactivity bred restlessness which led the band back to the studio. The end results are a leaner and louder H&H Show with the guitar work of James Mastro, Erik Della Penna and Richard Lloyd front and center. Gene Holder, normally a producer, for the likes of the dB's , Freedy Johnston and Yo La Tengo, offered his services as engineer. In two weeks time, Instant Living was ready to mix.
With Holder along, bass player Tony Shanahan and James Mastro headed down to old pal Mitch Easter's Brickhenge studio in North Carolina to mix the bulk of the album. After the intense fury of the recording sessions, the slowed down Southern pace was a welcome change. Aside from supplying barbeque, hush puppies, and a large music video archive (lots of Bowie and Patti Smith), Mitch also contributed the mix for "You Is Fine."
Birth, death and the stuff in-between is what Instant Living is all about. "On Your Way" is based on an old Apache birth song and was written by James right before the birth of his daughter. "Watch the Weather" was inspired by centenarian sisters Sadie and Bessie Delaney's observations of the past century. There's also the ecstatic opening track "To Be Free," which James describes as "the thoughts that roll through your head as you're rolling your van at 65 miles per hour."
So now you have it: Instant Living, every moment revealing something new. To be continued...
WHO DID WHAT:
JAMES MASTRO - lead vocals, guitars, organ, piano
TONY SHANAHAN - bass, vocals, piano, organ, chamberlain, 6-p string bass
VINNY DeNUNZIO - drums, percussion, vocals
ERIK DELLA PENNA - lap steel guitar, mandolin, guitar, vocals
RICHARD LLOYD - lead guitar on "Tossed Like a Stone" and "You is Fine"
TODD REYNOLDS - violin
Produced by James Mastro and Tony Shanahan
All tracks engineered and mixed by Gene Holder except:
"Tossed Like a Stone" and "Watch the Weather" by John Siket; "You is Fine" mixed by Mitch Easter
HEALTH & HAPPINESS SHOW on tour is:
James Mastro, Richard Lloyd, Vinny Denunzio, and Dave de Castro on bass.
The bio as told by James Mastro:
Health & Happiness started with me and Vinny sitting around his kitchen singing Hank Williams' songs and drinking beer. We'd both been in bands that over the course of years had record deals, were close to getting record deals, or one showcase away from getting a record deal. Needless to say, our view of the music biz was a bit sour. These "kitchen-table hootenannies" kind of reintroduced me to what playing music was supposed to be about.
Started getting together with other friends around their kitchen tables, and realized if I pushed all the tables together, had the makings of a band-a band that wanted to play just to play-not to get a record deal. We booked a show (2 years ago), had a good time, and booked another.
Tony Shanahan joined the band when his best friend, Graham Maby, recommended he fill his spot while away touring.
Tony in turn suggested to his friend Kerry Tolhurst (multi-instrumentalist) to sit in with Health & Happiness at a show at Paddy Reilly's. Kerryn, never hearing the songs before, played them better than the rest of the band. I asked him if he'd like to play with us again. He did - and does.
Todd Reynolds was friends with original H & H fiddler, Sean Grissom, and had joined the H & H show onstage a few times. When it became known Todd had a car, I asked him to join.
There were no auditions, ads in papers...everyone just kind of gravitated toward each other- for the music, and the idea of playing for the fuck of it.
There's nothing like endless sucking up to the music biz corporate mothership to take the joy out of playing music. Endless showcasing, the dangled carrot of "liked the tape when are you playing out?" "It's good I'd like to hear more" or just simply "interesting".
Jim Mastro found himself in this situation in the late 80's. He was close so close..he had a developement deal..a publishing contract...a Best Unsigned band award from Musician and East Coast Rocker Battle of the Bands but he didn't have that deal. What he did have was hundreds of showcases at CBGB's ...in disgust he broke up the band (Strange Cave) and focused on production. When he would reenter the arena in the 90's it was strictly for fun.
James Mastro - 17-19 years old, Bongos - 2 records for RCA, Strange Cave - RCA demo deal, produced lots of local bands, Health & Happiness Show.
Tony S - Johu Cale, Hearts & Minds, Slaves of New Brunswick
Vinny D - original Feelies drummer, Richard Hell
Kerryn - Australian band The Dingoes, wrote hits for Pat Benatar & Little River Band
Todd - plays violin with Steve Reisch
The Ghost of Love- About the Hopi Indians, how their land is being taken from them to generate electric power for Los Angeles Woman of Gold- To me, the line "stories, like blankets, for warmth," sums up songs on this record. Some stories true, some possibly true, some hoping to come true. The Man Who Married the MoonTitle taken from an old Indian story (the song has nothing to do with that fable.) About wanting what is always just out of reach.
Health & Happiness got its name from the old Hank Williams' radio show, that was sponsored by Hadacol, a magic elixir that was 1/2 alcohol, and quite popular in the dry counties down South. Our early get togethers, beer and music, was our elixir, our Tonic. That's what these songs are to me - tonic. We've played with everyone from Kirsty MacColl to Marty Balin, Bare Naked Ladies, and somehow fit in with all those audiences.