Baltimore's All Mighty Senators formed late in 1988. Bassist Brett Sharbaugh, guitarist David Davis and drummer and lead singer Landis McCord had been playing in a band called The Little Fishies when they met up with wild card Mitch Valiant and decided to start up a new thing. Their first gig was a party. Up until that night they didn't have a name. Landis recalls, "We still didn't decide on our names, and so we put our names in a hat and they were all dumb. Mitchell had a friend that wanted to introduce us [that night]. We gave him a name that we thought of, with a unanimous vote on it. Mitch threw it away and just made up his
Mitch Valiant has been the group's resident Syd Barrett, a man with a seemingly never ending series of strange ideas. He recreated his role in the band each time they played: he's breathed fire, played toy keyboards, even taken up guitar ("That's scary, that's really scary," one newer band member chuckles.)
Mitch stories still circulate. Not many realize he was responsible for another local band, the False Face Society. Landis recalls, "He got all these people from Boston to move down here to get this band together, and they were great. And then at the last minute he decided, 'Well, you guys practice some more. I'm going to go out on the road.'" And so he rejoined the Senators for their tour, only to quit again in Minneapolis. Though he's left the Senators four times now, the group likes to think that he still hasn't permanently quit. "He goes on sabbaticals," Landis says. He's now in New York working on a new band.
The band learned their chops playing for the MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) crowd, playing at uptown bars, people's houses and at the Institute itself. Though they have since progressed to venues like Hammerjacks, it was during those early gigs they learned to demolish the line between the crowd and the band. "It's much more fun when you can get involved with the audience," Landis explains. "I remember house parties where there's no stage and people really are right there, so there was no 'We're the band and you're the audience.' It's like, 'After we're through, then you're the band and we're the audience.'"
Brett admits audience participation is key to a great Senators' show, "We just feed off their energy."To provoke reactions, the band employs masks, costumes, lights and whatever other props come to mind. Landis explains, "A lot of times we have these puppets filled with shredded paper and people would throw them around and after you throw them around a couple of times they would break open. It hypes up the audience a bit more."
To add to the audience's informattion overload, two people, Mark Strazza and Kyle Ranson, work on lighting and set designing.
Musically, the band has grown quite a bit over the years, swirling snatches of psychedelia, jazz, ska, reggae, heavy metal into their songs. To get different perspectives, they frequently have other local musicians sit in.
Original guitarist Dave Davis left after the first E.P. He was replaced by Ben Watson. Ben has progressed from the slightly shaky playing I heard the first time I saw him to his current crop of absolutely killer licks, ranging from heavy metal to Chicago blues.
The toughest trick yet, though, is the adding of a horn section, which they completed last month. Saxophone and percussion man Calvin Tullos explains, "The whole emphasis of the music shifts somewhat."They added Dave Finnell's trumpet and Jeff Ciavarini's trombone. The additional compleities with a horn section are manifold, but so are the pleasures. Calvin explains, "Keeping the improvisational level like it always has been, but trying to tighten it up is a paradox. It's hard to keep those two things each at a high level."
Jeff feels the results will work though "I think it's really unique you can have a band that has a hard sound and then you put on top a totally blazing horn section," He says. Judging from the show I saw at the Dulaney Inn on May 16, they've hit it.
The band's recorded work totals one track off Merkin Records' Merkin Seedy Sampler, entitled "Wink," and an E.P. on Merkin Records, entitled Spit Fire Why.There's also a live bootleg tape floating around.
Currently the band is about 65 percent finished a CD, tentatively entitled Best of All Mighty Senators, to be released independently.
People are either taken aback by All Mighty Senators performances or they fall into them naturally. You don't know where they come from or what they think the 12-foot puppets actually mean. There's no message though, just enjoyment of music and chaos. They groove to the unknown and you dance to their groove.