It’s the Tone! The Diplomats of Solid Sound @ Martini’s in Iowa City

Yesterday was Sherry’s and my Six-Year Anniversary, so I planned a dinner at Joseph’s Steakhouse in Iowa City after some shopping. I was looking at some other things on-line and happened to notice that The Diplomats of Solid Sound were playing at Martini’s, which is in the Ped Mall as well. I also noticed that there was a 7″ that I was missing from my collection: “Grease Monkey” b/w “Loaf and Jug.” It is a Spanish import on a label called VampiSoul. So I shot Doug from DOSS a quick e-mail asking if I’d be able to get one from him. He promptly replied and said he’d have some there. Bonus!

Some History: The Diplomats of Solid Sound is the latest project for longtime Iowa City musician Doug Roberson. Doug has been in a number of bands in Iowa City over the years. The first time I ever saw him in a band was in the Dangtrippers. This was in the late ’80’s. The Dangtrippers were signed to DogGone Records which was started by the then-manager of REM Jefferson Holt. Unfortunately, the label collapsed soon afterwords. Doug was in another band called Head Candy. Head Candy won a battle of the bands which gave them a record deal with Link Records, which was distributed by Hollywood/Elektra/Warner. This band had Jim Viner from Dubuque, IA, who is the current drummer for the Diplomats as well as Mike Sangster who came from the band The Hollowmen who had a couple of records out in the late 80’s. This band sounded a lot to me like some of the shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine due to its use of layered guitars and unique tunings. The resulting album Starcaster (released 1991) is an album I still consider to be one of the better efforts of this period. I still pull it out to give it a listen. Doug told me once that I might be the only person still listening to it. At the time there was a lot of speculation that Iowa City was going to blow up like another Athens or Seattle. Head Candy even had a video shown on MTV’s 120 Minutes (I think it was “Part of the Earth”). Jim and Doug resurrected the South/East Records label and started working on a compilation of Eastern Iowa bands as a vehicle to showcase the regions talent. I was in a band called Gust at this time and submitted a tape for consideration. I think that we were on the short list to be included for a while, but ultimately didn’t make it. The criticism we got back was that we needed a drummer. Some of the other artists that made it to The Third Times a Charm would go on to some notariety– Tripmaster Monkey from the Quad Cities got a major label signing and released a couple of albums. The scene never really achieved the recognition that I had hoped it would. Head Candy put out a couple of other songs on some compilations including one for an Alex Chilton tribute that I’d like to find some day. Mike Sangster left Iowa City for Minneapolis. Doug formed another band called The Bent Scepters that was a period-type band like the Diplomats. The Scepters were more in the vein of ’60’s Nuggets/garage type rock like the Kingsmen. A fun band, I saw them play the Silver Dollar in Dubuque on Holloween one year. The Diplomats were started in 1998 as a side project to the Scepters. The Scepters broke up in 1999 after member Patrick White move to France, and the Diplomats are Doug’s primary music gig today. White moved back to the US in 2001 and the Bent Scepters have played some reunion shows since. I have seen Dangtrippers reunion shows advertised in recent years, too.

I’ve got to hand it to my wife, she’s really patient when it comes to my music obsession! The show was supposed to start at 9:30, and we finished dinner around 7:30. So, we decided to hit Martini’s early. The upshot to that was that we got in before the cover charge took effect. The downside was that the place was packed with “Mother and Daughter Weekend” people wearing the same teeshirts– some sorority deal, I guess. Once the band came in and set up, most of them cleared out, thankfully. The band got a late start, but kicked things off with what looked to be some kind of jam that they were working out the chord changes on stage. They moved into some of their normal stuff like “Holdin’ The Money” and another song that seemed to be called “Do the Bacon.” Typical decent B-3 fueled R&B instrumentals like the Meters or Booker T & The MG’s. At one point Jim Viner got up from behind the drum kit to announce that one of their songs “Who’s Got the Grady?” from their 2003 release Let’s Cool One was used on the MTV show “There and Back” during a scene and that everyone in the band made $37 for it. They then played that song. Most of the crowd except me and another guy were ignoring the band. It surprises me that Iowa City can have a band the caliber of DOSS, and it surprises me even more that people don’t realize it! I really like this style of jazz/R&B. I grew up with Booker T & the MG’s– “Green Onions” is one of the best instrumentals ever next to “Walk, Don’t Run” or “Classical Gas.” I became interested in this type of music when I picked up the “Lost Grooves” series on Blue Note records which is based on the late 60’s Funky B-3 sound that a few of their artists had.

I’ve seen the Diplomats a half a dozen times or so over the years. This was the first time I’ve seen the lineup with Dave Basinger their new Sax player. Dave is the brother of Nate the keyboardist. By the time the set was over the bar was starting to fill up, and we needed to get home to the dogs who’d been in their kennel all day. I walked up and introduced myself to Doug with “Nice Tone!.” He remembered who I was from the other times we’d talked in the past. He replied with “That’s what is important!” We chit-chatted for a bit about Joseph’s and his guitar for a minute and he went out to get the 7″ for me. $5! Whatta deal! I left wishing I could stay a bit longer, but I’ll have to catch them later. They will be opening for Wilco at their Des Moines show– maybe I’ll see them there.

Update: The Bent Scepters will be playing Gabe’s Oasis on March 17, 2006.

Download Holdin’ The Money from Destination… Get Down!

One thought on “It’s the Tone! The Diplomats of Solid Sound @ Martini’s in Iowa City

  1. Pingback: IT’S STAR TIME! - The Diplomats of Solid Sound Featuring the Diplomettes at 3rd Street Live 1-26-08 at Time to play b-sides

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