The Dirty 30s: From 'The Crackle' to the Big Apple

Friday, January 13, 2006

Making a record can be tough, requiring many hours by both the band members and the producer as they all strive for studio perfection. For Cape Girardeau-based band The Dirty 30s this process was made even more difficult because their producer, Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, and his studio were hundreds of miles away in New York City.

The Dirty 30s, who play bluesy and folksy rock 'n' roll, were formed in 2003 after singer and guitarist Jay Riley and guitarist Brian Heuring self-recorded an album of original songs, with every instrument played by themselves. They had a hundred copies of the album pressed and gave them away.

It wasn't long before people began taking notice of their songs and soon people began wanting them to play shows. Riley and Heuring added drummer Stu Faris, guitarist Jesse Shivitz and a temporary bass player. Jeb Venable was soon added as the permanent bass player. Shivitz eventually left the group, and Matt Helderman was added on guitar.

Their first show came about after a disc jockey in St. Louis heard their CD, singer Riley said.

"Freddie Friction from KDHX in St. Louis heard our CD and said he'd 'give us a holler' when he needed a band," said Riley. "We played our first show at Frederick's Music Lounge in St. Louis."

Soon The Dirty 30s' music was tickling the ear drums of people even beyond the Midwest. Producer Eric "Roscoe" Ambel heard the band's songs and emailed them offering to be their producer and inviting them to record at his studio in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Ambel, in addition to being a producer and running Cowboy Technical Services in Brooklyn, is the former guitar player for Joan Jett and the Blackhawks, playing on her album "I Love Rock 'N' Roll." As a solo artist and in other bands, Ambel has become known for a "less is more" attitude that is prevalent in his country/rock and roots-punk music.

Of course, recording with a well-known producer and musician like Ambel coupled with having to go to New York City is quite a lot for any band to have to deal with.

"I was a little intimidated at first, you know," guitarist Heuring said of Ambel. "But he's so down-to-earth and he's a really nice guy. And he really liked our band, so that was cool."

To record the album, two trips of about six or seven days were made by the entire band to New York City, one in September 2004, when seven tracks were recorded, and another in April 2005, when the final four tracks were recorded, Heuring said.

Riley went back in November for three days to finish up all the mixing, he said.

Ambel's studio set-up includes a large assortment of vintage guitars and amplifiers -- even an old Mellotron -- but the equipment used to record The Dirty 30s was all state-of-the-art, Heuring said. Included in Ambel's large number of guitars was a Paul Reed Smith once owned by classic-rock icon John Fogerty.

"Sometimes I'd pick what guitar to play, and I'd be like 'Uh, I'll play that one,'" Riley said.

Ambel's wide-ranging musical experience also added a lot to the band's songs.

"He always had good ideas in the studio," Heuring said of Ambel. "He'd be like 'I'm going to throw a tambourine on here,' he'd step in and play a 12-string or whatever." Other musicians often came into the studio to visit with Ambel, and one, a piano player, even ended up playing on one of the Dirty 30s' songs, Heuring said.

The Dirty 30s have many original songs; in addition to the 11-song album they recorded in New York City they also have a nine-song album produced by Brandon Drury at Echo Echo Studios they will be releasing in 2006.

The album took only one day to record and has songs not on the album recorded in New York City, Heuring said. "We just set up our stuff and played, and basically that's what he recorded," he said. "I don't think we really did any overdubs except for the vocals, so it's almost like a live album."

The band's songs are often about subjects familiar to citizens of Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois, from the backwoods "Swampeast" to "The Crackle", which is about the Purple Crackle. Even when the band plays out of the area these jokes are not lost on people, however. There is usually at least one person in the crowd who is familiar with the Purple Crackle, oddly enough, and the mentioning of venison in songs also raises eyebrows, Riley said.

Fans of the Dirty 30s can find them all over the Eastern half of the United States, as they have played more than once in places like New York City, Chicago, Nashville, Louisville and Springfield, Mo. The band is very popular live -- their shows in Cape Girardeau are always full -- but the band rarely practices with all members present, perhaps adding a kind of loose feel to their live playing.

"I guess if we practiced together we might be tighter or something. It doesn't really seem to affect us," Heuring said. "Me and Riley and Jeb get together and play every once in a while and sometimes we'll work out new songs and stuff like that," he added.

For those who are not familiar with The Dirty 30s, singer and guitarist Riley has a message for you: "Come to one of our shows, it's fun, it's loud. We're gonna get drunk and have a lot of fun. And I'll try not to grope too many girls. I apologize to the young girl I groped, and her boyfriend," he added.

For more information on The Dirty 30s, their shows and how to get copies of their new recordings, visit

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