The Vulgar Boatmen are an American rock band formed in Gainesville, Florida in the early 1980s by a group of students at the University of Florida, including John Eder and Walter Salas-Humara. In its original configuration the group issued several cassette-only releases, including Women and Boatmen First (1982) and All Bands on Deck (1984). As first Eder and then Salas-Humara departed, the group coalesced around Robert Ray, a film studies professor at the university, who became one of the group's two principal songwriters and vocalists, the other being Indiana musician Dale Lawrence, a former student of Ray's who was a veteran of the early punk band the Gizmos. The band was named as a play on the term The Volga Boatmen. Though they lived and worked in different states, Ray and Lawrence composed songs by exchanging cassette tapes through the mail. Eventually Lawrence merged his own band, Right to Left, into the Boatmen, who since that time have existed as two distinct performing units. In their revised lineup the Boatmen are known for their straightforward but infectious pop melodies, their stark lyrics -- many of which focus on women and automobile travel -- and for their frequent employment of the viola, an instrument relatively uncommon in rock. At least sixteen musicians have been members of the group at one time or another. In addition to Robert Ray and his wife Helen Kirklin, who plays viola, members of the Florida (recording) branch have included Carey Crane (vocals), Jonathan Kaley-Isley (drums, organ, vocals), and Michael Derry (guitar and drums). Current or former members of the Indiana (touring) Boatmen include Dale Lawrence, Kathy Kolata (viola), Andy Richards (drums), Jake Smith (bass), and Matt Speake (guitar). Since 1989 the Boatmen have recorded three albums, You and Your Sister (1989), Please Panic (1992), and Opposite Sex (1995), the last of which was released by Warner Bros (East/West) in the UK and Europe, but was never released in the US. In 2003 the band issued a compilation album on CD, Wide Awake. As of 2013 the Indiana branch of the Boatmen remains active under the leadership of Lawrence, though the Florida branch appears to be dormant or defunct. In 2010, Fred Uhter released a documentary about the group, entitled Drive Somewhere: The Saga of the Vulgar Boatmen.
A Cuban-American whose parents fled Castro’s Havana with him still in the womb, Walter Salas-Humara was raised bilingual just across the Florida Straits in Fort Lauderdale. College at University of Florida in Gainesville and a residency with the Vulgar Boatmen left him with a lifelong habit of Mudcrutch/Tom Petty-style crunchy guitar riffs. Chasing the punk prairie fire to New York just in time to sift through the ashes, he formed The Silos in 1985 with guitarist Bob Rupe and violinist Mary Rowell, plugging the main cable of American rock idiom into the jerry-rigged soundboard of Velvets-era feral experimentalism. The unlikely result, as evidenced by About Her Steps (1986), the seminal Cuba (1987) and their RCA debut The Silos (i.e., The One with the Bird on the Cover, 1990) was a loose-limbed conceptual country-rock that in turn influenced (if not outright inspired) the alt-country No Depression movement just around the corner. The band was voted Best New American Band in Rolling Stone Magazine's Critics' Poll of 1987 and appeared on Late Night with David Letterman in 1990. With this apocalyptic agrarianism safely encoded in his band's name, Salas-Humara moved on once that lineup had run its course -- taking with him not the country revisionism that by now could have sustained him in an endless holding pattern, but rather the Lower East Side’s fervid avant-gardism, that high-test mixture of aggression and dissonance the neighborhood wears like a jailhouse tattoo. He forged connections in Austin, another lost outpost tailor-made for his particular set of influences, where he formed the poor man’s supergroup the Setters with songwriters Michael Hall of the Wild Seeds and Alejandro Escovedo of the True Believers. Moving to Los Angeles, he recorded and toured with Tom Freund, Manny Verzosa, Jon Dee Graham, Gary Sunshine and Darren Hess. Those middle records – Hasta la Victoria! (1992), Susan Across the Ocean (1994), Heater (and its remixed mutant twin Cooler) (1998) validated the early acclaim and expanded Salas-Humara’s reputation as one of the finest songwriters working in the American vernacular. In 1998, Salas-Humara moved back to New York and formed Silos 3.0, with Konrad Meissner on drums and Drew Glackin on bass and guitar. Throughout the new millennium, the Silos have continued to release an admirable body of work. Laser Beam Next Door (2001) and Come on Like the Fast Lane (2007) are fierce power trio albums that burst with the crackling intensity of proto-punk legends the Velvet Underground and Television. When the Telephone Rings (2004) and Florizona (2011) are intricately crafted productions, densely layered with glittering detail. With the passing of Drew Glackin in 2008, and the addition of Rod Hohl (bass and guitars), Bruce Martin (keyboards) and Jason Victor (guitar), the band has entered a new phase. Walter Salas-Humara and Silos present and past have marshaled the best of America -- our wide tradition, focused innovation and unfettered optimism. Embrace them as a national treasure. 2014 brought the release of a new Walter Salas-Humara solo album, Curve and Shake. Rolling Stone editor Anthony DeCurtis describes the album - “That sense of being untethered from certainties, of floating, permeates Curve and Shake. The feeling is gentle, not quite scary, but with an element of unease. Letting go of expectations combines aspects of sadness, freedom and even wonder. Like so many great singers, Walter communicates as much by what he doesn’t say as by what he does. His raspy tone provides a rich counterpoint to the genial surrealism, the offhand magical realism, of so many of his lyrics. His words are presented as if they’re describing straightforward events, but they speak a rich, associative poetry that evokes emotions more so than facts. His guitar playing is similarly adaptable – raw and stinging one moment, dreamy and droning the next. 2016 has brought the release of 2 new albums. Work: Part One, an acoustic rendering of Walter's best songs written in the 80s, is the first in a series of acoustic albums defining Walter as a singer/songwriter. It is produced by guitarist extraordinaire Richard Brotherton and includes familiar Silos Mary Rowell on violin and Amy Allison on supporting voice. Explodes and Disappears is an album of new songs, the follow up to Curve and Shake. Walter sings witty songs about modern life, rocks a sweet Spanish melody on guitar, swings a sexy jazz number, and then reaches deep for a soulful expression of values in a troubled world. He tops it all with a funky number chronicling 3 American misfits searching for peace of mind and headed for disaster on the shores of Mexico -- all skillfully blended into a seamless flow. Walter Salas-Humara has shared the stage with the following greats: Wilco, Lucinda Williams, Matthew Sweet, American Music Club, Chris Whitley, Hootie and The Blowfish, Violent Femmes, The Jayhawks, Yo La Tengo, Certain General, The Reivers, The True Believers, The Wild Seeds, Victoria Williams, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Mark Ribot, Ryan Adams, Jon Dee Graham, Alejandro Escovedo, Let's Active, Young Fresh Fellows, Miracle Legion, Living Color, Souled American, The Minus 5, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, Jon Langford, The Waco Brothers, Chuck Prophet, Jerry Joseph, Caitlin Cary, Anders Parker, Tom Freund, Centro-Matic, Spottiswoode and his Enemies, Lynyrd Skynyrd, …to name a few.
Led by the husband-and-wife team of singer/guitarist Jake Smith and drummer Freda Love (both formerly of Antenna), the Bloomington, Indiana-based alternative pop band the Mysteries of Life also comprised keyboardist Dale Lawrence, bassist Kenny Childers and drummer LonPaul Ellrich. After debuting with the single "Kira," the group signed to RCA to issue their 1996 LP Keep a Secret; following a pair of indie label EPs, Focus on the Background and Anonymous Tip, the Mysteries of Life resurfaced with the full-length Come Clean in 1998.