THE ROYAL NONESUCH – AN INTERVIEW WITH JON MCKINNEY

Jon at Tramps, NYC 1986

Way back in 2004 I bought a Royal Nonesuch single from a seller located in USA. In the old days I used to send $$$ in an envelope and post the letter with the money inside, to pay for the record.

Imagine my surprise when i discovered that the eBay seller was none-other-than Royal Nonesuch member Jon McKinney!! I was buying “Something Strange” directly from him. I couldn’t believe it. The Royal Nonesuch had become one of my favourite garage punk revival groups of the eighties, even though they hardly left any recorded material behind.

It didn’t matter though. The music I had heard on the “See If I Care” single and the odd number on a garage compilation was proof enough that The Royal Nonesuch were a group to be reckoned with. They had the sound and the style that I so admired.

Three years later, and at the end of 2007 I decided to write about both singles on my music blog. I hadn’t been going very long but was getting more familiar with scanning items and uploading them to my blogger website. It took me around six months to figure out what I was doing, I had to teach myself – there was no YouTube back then and instructions were few and far between in google searches.

demo cassette of ‘Something Strange’. This song was aired on a couple of local Springfield radio stations. This was sent out before the 45 vinyl release.

Anyway, I decided to email Jon via my eBay account in the hope that he would remember who I was and if he cared to answer some of my fan-boy questions about his old band.

I needn’t have worried. Jon remembered straight away, I was the only person from England to buy a Royal Nonesuch record from him. He was also kind and generous with his time. He sent me loads of ephemera and photos by mail. Even a demo cassette that I couldn’t play because I had no cassette player. Oh well, never mind. I’ll buy one another day. (I did and uploaded the demo to YouTube)

Jon also provided me with a wealth of interesting information about his time with the band and their appearance at Tramps in NYC in 1986 and the none release of their proposed third single. I’ll post all the really great stuff here, including both of my single reviews from 2007.

“Something Strange”

THE ROYAL NONESUCH – ’Something Strange’ / ’You Need Love’ (Unlimited Productions UP-45-2) 1987

The Royal Nonesuch are without doubt one of my favourite neo garage bands. I’m pleased in a way that they only released two 45s because over those four single sides their greatness remains intact. They did not record any mediocrity.

As soon as the needle hits the vinyl you know you’re in for a treat with ’Something Strange’. The backwards tape intro is cool and unlike anything the mid 80s garage bands were doing. After the slow intro, the song blasts off into 60s style punk attitude with fuzz and a massive guitar break lasting about 5 seconds (and that prog rock lovers is all you need!!).

According to guitarist Jon McKinney this song was recorded in August 1985 at Ralph Plank’s studio in Springfield, MO. Four versions of ’Something Strange’ were recorded and they plumped for the third take as the single. One of the takes featured a farfisa organ and it would be interesting to hear this version if the tape still exists.

The flip ’You Need Love’ is a cover of the classic Danny and the Counts no hit wonder. It\’s a classy version and note perfect with throbbing fuzz and garage guitar leads. This version was recorded by The Royal Nonesuch on the 2nd September 1986 at Max Evan’s Rainbow Studio in Kansas City, MO. According to Jon, it was recorded in one take with no over dubs.

This record is one of the best 80s garage punk 45s to own but these days it’s a rare item and you may have trouble tracking it down. The Royal Nonesuch RULE!

Press release:

Since the start of August ’85, The Royal Nonesuch have been building a strong following in the midwest as well as stirring interest abroad. Their original song, titled “Something Strange” has been receiving college radio support in the U.S. as well as in France.

The members of the band are also responsible for the internationally read “King Bee Quarterly”, a Springfield, Missouri based fanzine. The band has received write-ups in New York’s “99th Floor” and in the French magazine “Fuzbeat”.

The Royal Nonesuch is a relatively new band on the midwest music scene, but it has been in the making for years. It’s members have been in several midwest bands ie, The Limit, The Sparrow, The Pugs, and The Dog People.

The Royal Nonesuch play rock and roll, but since that term has become so generic, “raving R&B” would better describe them. The band plays originals and songs by the greats, such as Howlin’ Wolf as well as the Yardbirds and obscure, danceable ’60s garage music.

The Royal Nonesuch do not consider themselves to be a psychedelic or garage band, but they recognise the influence of such ’60s bands.

The Royal Nonesuch draw from many sources lost in the web of time, but the band members do not consider themselves a nostalgia act. They are influenced by musical tradition in the same way the Rolling Stones of the ’60s borrowed from the R&B of the ’50s.

Since their music draws on traditional greats of rock and roll and rhythm and blues, The Royal Nonesuch draw diverse crowds. The band’s following ranges from schoolers to baby boomers.

This Spring The Royal Nonesuch will be doing a lot of recording and touring, the band will release a single on Cape Crusader Records as well as releasing a disc in France. Having already played in St. Louis – Columbia – Tulsa and of course Springfield, the band will soon be playing in Kansas City, Chicago and other cities in the midwest.

“Why Should I Care”

THE ROYAL NONESUCH – ’Why Should I Care’ / ’Two Can Play That Game’ (Get Hip GH-121) 1990

I’ve finally decided it was time to give their second brilliant record some publicity and a chance for you to hear my favourite neo folk punker. ’Why Should I Care?’ makes my mind hurt because it’s so good.

I’m a sucker for jangle and a memorable tune and guess what? – Yes, ’Why Should I Care?’ is just perfect.

When I first heard it I thought of The Monkees, then the more I kept playing it I’ve thought that it sounds like one of those cool Texan folk janglers by The Briks or The Chessmen. But now I just think it’s The Royal Nonesuch. Whatever, all I know is that Jon McKinney wrote a gem.

I dig the lines:

’Your love’s a road that took me nowhere,
Your love’s a mirror on the wall,
When I need you, you leave me lonely,
You make me sad and that’s not all.’

the Royal Nonesuch

The other side ’Two Can Play That Game’ is more of a garage punk tune with incessant maracas, harmonica and a cool guitar break. I don’t think that many Royal Nonesuch 45s are around any more. If you see any for sale my advice is to BUY!

Bez Petefish (lead guitar)
John Marshall (drums, vocals)
Walt Ressmeyer (bass)
’Mad’ Jon McKinney (guitar)

Jon’s Recollections:

I have sent you some photos of Walt & Me at “Tramps” in New York City circa 1987. It was a fun gig! Joey Ramone was drunk at the bar and Jello Biafra from The Dead Kennedys was telling us that we were jerks for not answering the fan letter he sent to us (I thought his letter was a prank from a friend of mine). 

When I got back to Springfield I got a packet of local obscure records and posters together for Jello to make it up to him. I guess we all lived “happily” ever after except for Joey (too bad he seemed like a pretty decent guy!!!)

Tramps, NYC
Tramps, NYC
Tramps, NYC

As for Tramps we were one of either two or three bands on the bill. We got the spot we asked for it, I believe it was the middle of 3 acts. The Nonesuch never really concerned ourselves about headlining or warming up. When we would play gigs with other bands we would do our best to make sure everyone got a chance to be seen and heard.

As a group we prided ourselves on helping new bands get gigs and a foot hold to start touring and promoting. Even though we were often “the drawing act” we would often give the warm up act a 50-50 split of the door and food, gas, a place to stay, etc. to help them cover touring costs. The Nonesuch never had to worry about having bands

Above or below us do better on the ladder of success (whatever way you gauge it) we welcomed everyone moving forward! We always believed that a strong healthy music scene was good for everyone.

I still believe to this day that a music scene is a spontaneous community happening that requires a catalyst from inspiration. Another primary ingredient is open minded people creating art / music and people to appreciate the scene. The bands and the public are all interdependent and if things are right the energy from artist to artist and patron to artist is what feeds amazing collaborations within the musical community.

If you take away (or add) certain elements the creative flow can whither and die. Yet one or two creative minds can work independently and spark a new approach that can set the world on fire (in a good or bad way i.e. Lennon and Lenin). The only real competition any artist has is with themselves.

The third Nonesuch single was (and still is!!!) an amazing source of frustration for me! As a band we paid for the recording ourselves form gig money and money I earned working odd jobs. I paid Coop to design a really cool cover. I took a summer printing class at the college and printed the cover myself. A friend of ours (who was working for a television station as a cameraman) who used to be in the band shot a professional video for us.

I pitched the video to MTV in person while in N.Y.C. and got the big “fuck off” without them even previewing it. Airplay then as now was hard to get. Payola in one form or another still seems to grease the wheels of big and little media (we didn‘t have any cocaine, hookers & $$$ for them!!!) so we got limited airplay or press in the states.

Still, we were hard to silence! I sent the video to “Much Music” in Canada, an internationally televised video show in Canada & the USA, and they picked it up and put it on heavy rotation!!! Imaging flipping through late night TV in your home town and seeing your band on a national feed, it was great!

All that remained was to finalize a deal on the 45. We had made an agreement to press the vinyl with a friend of ours in K.C., MO who had discovered the Apparitions song “She’s So Satisfyin”. No problem right?!!? All Mark “The Wildman” has to do is to spend between $500 to $1000 bucks on vinyl and the 45 is out (we could repress as needed).

The Nonesuch didn’t even ask to recoup funds paid out to develop the record! All we wanted was a standard royalty after Mark got his seed money back. We both work on developing distribution and promotion channels for the 45. No tour support or front money from Mark. Simple deal eh?

Well, Mark does a Shel Talmy and suddenly wants an exclusive recording contract for 2 years on the band and will not budge! I kid you not!!! It would have meant that he would have to be bought out on any and all future releases by any label we wanted to work with. If we released the record on our own I was warned that it could mean a potential lawsuit. So we shelved the 45 and the best chance we had to launch our career to the next level we had to go to!

I am sure Mark never meant to harm us, but he inadvertently set us back a year. Don’t get me wrong about Mark, I think he was just trying to watch out for his own interests. I haven’t talked to him in 20 years, but I would still wish him well, he was then and in my mind is still our friend. The inability to work through the issue was the real problem, but I don‘t take it personal.

The timing was devastating for the band. We were fighting for the recognition and support that would allow us the time & money to write songs, record a real album, tour more extensively and promote our vision. Instead of moving forward it was another set back. The psychological impact on the band was one of more disillusionment. It was one more factor (of many) that helped to lead to our ultimate demise.

Mad Jon and Howlin’ Allen

The “Cave Comes Alive” tracks are out of phase copies of cassette demos. I feel they are a pale reflection of what were actually very nice almost HiFi sounding tracks. The original masters are probably lost forever, so I guess I should be glad they came out at all even if it is in a weak demo format.

The real tragedy of the Nonesuch is that almost everything we released is little better than a demo. From the start we were after punchy loud raw recordings. We never had a chance to record with my engineer / producer friend Mark Neill. I believe he could have done the best possible work with us if he was given the chance. Mark has an amazing musical vision while integrating the most incredible tone and dynamics that anyone can pull out of any recording artist!

Colin if you still want a copy of The Tell Tale Hearts “Take A Look Inside”/ “I’m Ready” I have more of them (maybe some autographed by the band). Just send me your address and I’ll mail it and some other stuff to you for free.

“Take a Look Inside” was a song I wrote about interpersonal problems we had in The Nonesuch directly related to the east coast tour. It was written while I was in The Nonesuch, but only recorded as a demo with slightly different lyrics by The Nonesuch. When I joined The Tell Tale Hearts Bill & me reworked the lyrics.

The “Circus Mind” 45 and “Take A Look Inside” are both on my label NEVERMORE. Carl Rusk played as a sideman in the band when we recorded “Circus Mind”. Carl’s lead work is really nice. The arrangement was done by Mike Stax & Bill Calhoun (I think it was one of their better ideas).

There would have been a great album in the new Tell Tale Heart line up had Bill not relapsed. The originals were amazing, but almost everything got buried (story of my life!). Our label motto for NEVERMORE was “never before and never again!” Rather appropriate looking back on it.

As for Chris Hillman that’s a whole other can of worms that keeps dogging me…

Sorry for the long letter, but you triggered a lot of old memories off. There is a novel in the history and story of The Royal Nonesuch, maybe one day I will write it! All these years and I have never lost an ounce of passion for my music.

the Checker Aerobus touring van

supporting The Chesterfield Kings:

Baker’s Union Hall with the Chesterfield Kings.

I was promoting a concert with The Kings and us in Springfield, MO circa ’86 or ’87. They were only in town for less than 2 days. That gig is a looong story! The police were after me for months after that one (through no fault of The Kings or my actions or anyone else at the gig). It was a fun gig all the same and I liked The Kings, they seemed like decent people. I have only talked with them a few times since then, but I wish them well.

Ironically, The Chesterfield Kings were on a late night national talk show the other night. I saw them by accident (I was just in the right place at the right time!). They didn’t talk they just played one song. They still sound pretty good!  I wish them well! 

Take care of yourself Colin!

Your pal,

Mad Jon  

Sundry items:

Cornocopia Boy & Teardrop Guitar

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