By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
In the secret, unreleased history of early St. Louis punk rock, the Welders surely deserve a prize for most outgoing and most obscure. Composed of high school friends from Florissant, the band existed between 1975 and 1980. Musically, the Welders combined the glam-rock its members loved with Runaways-style proto-punk.
In the late '70s the Welders went into the studio with local musician/writer Steve Scariano to record four songs for a proposed seven-inch single that never came out, for reasons that remain obscure 30 years later. Enter Matt Harnish and Jason Rerun of BDR Records, who heard the unreleased tracks and immediately asked permission to release them in CD form. The finished release is expected this summer, along with unreleased later tracks that suggest an oddly psychedelic tinge.
Last December the Welders played a one-off reunion show opening for long-time pals (and BDR labelmates) Raymilland. The band sounded absolutely contemporary; the songs were both funny and catchy, and its playing was so sharp you'd never guess that the group hadn't played together in three decades.
To celebrate the Welders' belated return, we asked some of the band members and their friends to share their memories.
Caroline Fujimoto (bass): We all met in school in Florissant. I've known Rusty since the sixth grade, and I met Stephanie and Julie — our other guitar player — in junior high, and I introduced them to my sister Jane who was a couple years ahead of us in school. I met Colleen in high school in a choir class and brought her on board later on.
Stephanie von Drasek (vocals): Caroline, Rusty, Julie and I were all going to Cross Keys Junior High; Jane was ahead of us at McCluer North already. I think Caroline and I sat next to each other in science class.
Jane Fujimoto (drums/keyboards): It had been a dream of mine to play drums in a rock & roll band ever since I was nine years old and completely in love with the Beatles. I had been collecting rock magazines since about 1971. The other Welders used to come over and read them. It was like a rock & roll library.
SVD: As I remember, Caroline suggested that Jane and I exchange notes, I think because of our similar musical taste and sense of humor.
JF: We thought about writing a magazine or becoming a comedy troupe before we decided on forming a rock band.
Steve Scariano (producer): They had this great communal sense of humor and chemistry about them, which was very intelligent and wise beyond their years. A combination of the Marx Brothers, the Beatles in Help! and the Monkees' TV show. They always lit up the room.
JF: We came up with the idea in 1975 and ran around telling everyone we were a band. We didn't actually even own instruments at the time. We played our first show in November of 1976 at a teen club called the Blueberry Jam.
SVD: We had stage props. I had a big white Styrofoam reindeer from a grocery store liquor display that I liked a lot.
CF: There was some silly string, giant red plastic mallet, baby dolls, life-size poster of the Osmonds, kazoo ... we were a pretty visual band in our early days.
Kelly "Rusty" Draper (guitar): There were very few clubs that would allow bands to play original music, for the most part, so we didn't play out very often. We played in exotic locales like Breese, Illinois, where you could hear a pin drop. I believe we taunted the audience with questions like, "Is this an audience or an oil painting?" We also played in Lebanon...Illinois, that is. After the show, the locals were trying to beat up some of our friends who had come to the show. We couldn't help but remark on the irony of one of the guys coming back to visit from New York City — and that was New York in the late '70s — only to be punched in a corn field.
JF: We recorded tracks for a single, but there was some kind of business deal gone bad that we didn't have anything to do with. It was deeply disappointing.
Matt Harnish (BDR Records): We discovered the Welders when Jason and I first started looking for music for a possible compilation CD a couple years ago. Everyone kept telling us we needed to track down the Welders. When we finally heard the unreleased 45, it blew our minds. It was a no-brainer that the world needed to hear it in all its glory.
Sara Oberst (bass/vocals, That's My Daughter): We covered "SOS," or "Stamp Out Sex," from those sessions. We just thought it was hilarious that these rocking gals had a song about being a prude.
JF: The Welders were straight edge before there was straight edge. No drugs, no booze, no boys. We were incorruptible, and that made us super cool.
SS: To say that Billy Love and I "produced" the Welders record is a bit misleading. "Kibitzing big brothers" would probably be a more accurate term. It's not like the studio dudes were actually going to let us touch the board or anything, but they were very nice and accommodating nonetheless. So the extent of our "producing" was telling the studio dudes to "turn up the drums" here or "Can you make the guitar dirtier?" there. The Welders totally rose to the occasion and knocked it out of the park.
JF: "Pervert" was written by Stephanie and Rusty when they were fifteen years old. The lyrics are so amazing: "You've got a Ph.D. in perversion/you're a doctor of depravity/you went through six years of school and graduated with a moral cavity."
RD: Never underestimate a good thesaurus.
CF: Back then we were sexually harassed at school, at work, shopping at a mall, waiting for a bus and eating at Jojo's. It was a rant against all of them.
RD: I was sort of burned out by the time we finished. We had spent all of our teenage years on this.
JF: I moved to California with another St. Louis punk band, the Strikers. I've since played in a dozen bands, and I got to live out my dream of touring the country in a van. I finally gave up playing when I had my son, Ringo, in 2002. I'm going to start playing again after Ringo grows up and leaves home.
CF: Much later on, I tried to play with Jane again, pretty half-heartedly, and I finally hung up my bass for good. Jane went on to play in a bunch of bands and had even played with Courtney Love in San Francisco and played onstage with Beck in Los Angeles when his regular drummer had to leave the performance early.
JF: Out of the seven gals that were in the Welders, I'm the only one with a child. Ringo was at our show in December, and the whole time I was onstage, he was playing a video game and barely glanced up. Kids.