Ten Foot Pole

It’s been a few years now. Four full length albums. A lot of tours across the US, Canada and Western Europe, with trips to Japan, Australia and New Zealand, too. Our once new van has some scars: a dent from a deer near Winnipeg, a scrape from a roof in New Jersey. There’s an overflowing box of letters in my living room dated 1995 with question marks showing they may not have been answered. I’ve got lots of guitars in my room—don’t know if their scratches and scrapes have depleted their street value, but I couldn\‘t sell them anyhow. I’m going to the rehearsal studio to sing one of Kevin’s new songs on a demo recording, but first I’ll try to give a brief history of TFP as I remember it.

Ten Foot Pole was born in 1993 when Steve, Scott, Tony, Pete and I decided we no longer wanted to be known as Scared Straight. Heading out on our first trip to Europe, we thought it was time to make a new beginning—to ditch the sleazy shadow of Mystic Records, the list of bass players and drummers too long to fit on this page, and the misconception that we don’t like beer. A fair portion of the tour was spent sitting in dimly lit squats in Germany crossing out “Scared Straight” and writing “Ten Foot Pole” on our new self-made album “Swill.” Even after we stopped laughing at the phallic jokes, I still liked the implication of the TFP cliché: “I wouldn’t touch that with a Ten Foot Pole.” Well, we ARE the ten foot pole—we touch things that scare or disgust normal people.

We knew Fat Mike from a Scared Straight US tour with NOFX, and we asked him for help putting out Swill. Mike agreed to distribute the album, but he didn’t want to print Fat Wreckchords on the label, perhaps because it was a novice project, with some experimental musical selections such as Pete\‘s Underwear. Whoever said “You don’t regret the things you did, only the things you didn’t do” never took risks like recording Pete’s Underwear.

A few months later, Scott and I were working out song ideas when he stepped out to answer the phone. He returned with a weird grin on his face. “That was Brett from Bad Religion. He said he wants to release Swill on Epitaph. ” My jaw dropped. At the time, Epitaph was THE punk rock label with most of my favorite bands: NOFX, Bad Religion, Pennywise, the Offspring. We were a little ashamed to release Swill on that level, so we asked if we could make a new record. Ten months later—Scott pitched for the Chicago White Sox, so all of our main activities had to happen in the 3 months between seasons—we recorded Rev.

After Rev was released we went on an amazing US tour with NOFX and Face to Face. Punk rock was exploding, with Green Day and The Offspring dominating the radio. We turned down an opening slot in the Offspring’s European tour because it conflicted with Scott’s baseball training schedule. After more waiting and delay of plans, we decided that being without a singer for 10 months a year was too difficult. After a few potential singers flaked on their auditions, I convinced the guys to let me sing. I figured it would be better for me to learn how to sing than to get a singer who might flake, quit, or leave town most of the year to play sports. Besides, singing felt natural since I wrote most of the lyrics.

Unleashed was our first album with producer Ryan Greene, who also did a great job on Insider. Some people prefer the clarity of the mid range production on Rev, but I think Ryan’s mixes sound like our live show: big, beefy and driving. We toured a lot after Unleashed, playing over a hundred shows in US, Europe, and Canada. Pete decided he wanted a job with reliable pay, so he left the band to become a sound engineer. Just in time for a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Japan, Glen Vegas joined TFP. Thankfully I had already learned the trick of using a windscreen on my microphone to protect my teeth—because on that tour it seemed like the stage WAS the mosh pit.

Insider was fun because I felt more comfortable singing. Tony kicked ass as usual, Steve’s rocking guitar parts were evolving nicely, and Glen added a new melodic voice. Our friend Steve Kravac, a producer probably best known for his work with MXPX, said that Insider sounds like it was “played with urgency.” I agree. After Insider was released we toured with urgency, playing over a hundred shows in 5 months, in US, Canada and Europe. In hindsight, we pushed a bit too hard, as both Tony and Glen decided to call it quits. Glen joined the computer explosion by becoming a flash animation expert. Tony decided to do part time punk rock, joining Scott’s band Pulley in between baseball seasons, as well as playing drums in a few commercial bands.

Undaunted, Steve and I found bass player Leigh Lawson from Garden Grove and drummer Kris Kwiatkowski, who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia to play for TFP. We recorded a wicked cover of Tesla’s “Love Song” for Punk Goes Metal on Fearless Records. Then we joined Millencolin on a raging Punk O Rama tour through the US and parts of Canada. The tour was fantastic, every show was packed. Kris said he had the time of his life, then quit the band to become a stockbroker (though he still rocks out in his spare time).

Then the real tragedy struck. Leigh Lawson suddenly passed away from an enlarged heart. We found out later that in 1990 he had been diagnosed with 10 years to live. He hid his condition from everyone, presumably to protect his family. He didn’t even go back to the doctors, where he could have learned about new treatments that could have saved his life.

Steve and I took time off to mourn and reconsider our priorities. It didn’t take us long to figure out that the band was still our focus. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do. So we recruited a friend and ex-Scared Straight bassist, John Chapman. Besides John’s bass experience and uncanny knack for catchy melodies, he brings heartiness to the band that has earned him the nickname “Partybear.” In a “life is stranger than fiction” coincidence, another drummer from Philly emerged. Kevin Ruggeri beat out the competition for the drum spot not only with his drumming pyrotechnics, but also with his songwriting skills. He writes dissonant guitar parts coupled with thought provoking personal lyrics, showing a perspective on life consistent with someone who left his secure, paying, teaching career to move across the country to join his favorite punk rock band.

This is today’s lineup. I hope it will stay this way for years to come, as we have written a lot of new songs that I’m proud to show the world. Along the way our three-album deal with Epitaph expired, so we are free agents looking for an enthusiastic label. I hope one picks us up soon, as we are itching to get a new album out and jump into our van for another cross-country adventure.