To say Boyd Farrell's got a reputation is an understatement. He's a troublemaker, loudmouth, prankster, and sometime drunken-brawler—and I don't think he'd deny any of it. This is, after all, the guy who went to Yesterday and Today Records to beat up a music critic over a negative review2. Oh, and did I mention he's a singer too?
Boyd was singing in the Snitch—who weren't great, as he'll happily tell you—but they were his first real band, and he wasn't gonna take a badmouthing from some self-important little toad of a critic sitting down. He set out, along with bassist Paul Cleary, to get some payback.
Their quarry, like a lot of early scenesters, worked at a record store. He worked at the record store: Yesterday and Today. But when Boyd and Paul showed up, no amount of quiet intimidation or bluster could draw him away from the counter. He wouldn't even look them in the eye3. Denied attention, boredom set in and they went back home to watch some TV, leaving the critic to carry on ringing up customers and running his record store.
Yeah, Boyd's first run in with Skip Groff was when he went to kick his ass.
When the Snitch disintegrated, Boyd decided his next band was gonna be different. They needed more original material, better original material, better musicians, and most importantly dedicated musicians. He knew just who he wanted, too: Keith Campbell on guitar, Paul Cleary on bass, and Tommy Carr on drums. The fact that they were in other bands didn't even phase him.
He set up a rehearsal space—well, he didn't set it up exactly, since it was being used by his bassist's real band—and invited the guys to jam. They didn't even need to bring their own gear! The first practice went well, so they did it again. And again. And again. What was going on in Trenchmouth's rehearsal space wasn't exactly secret, but I doubt anyone outside the band, Jay Rabinowitz, or John Bailey knew about it. Trenchmouth, of course, had no idea that their space (and bassist) had become a time-share.
Boyd knew that the project would stick: Paul was a friend of Boyd's—and bassist in the Snitch—so there wasn't any doubt which way he'd go. D.Ceats and the Penetrators were in a terminal decline, leaving Keith and Tommy guilt-free about their nameless side project.
The name Black Market Baby was suggested by Keith after seeing a trashy tv movie of the same name4. Name or no, Keith, Paul, and Tommy weren't thinking about BMB seriously. It was only when they climbed on stage after a Tru Fax gig in March and ran through half a dozen songs that they realized Black Market Baby was something real. It may have been sloppy and ragged, but it was a hell of a lot of fun and the crowd loved 'em.
Trenchmouth, D.Ceats, and the Penetrators were all gone by April. Black Market Baby were on their way up. They had an instant fan base: the Georgetown punks, already in love with the raw hardcore sounds coming out of LA, couldn't help but fall for a fundamentalist5 rock band with the same edge and intensity as Black Flag. Their new fans packed every shows, and the Bad Brains, Teen Idles, SOA, Minor Threat, and just about every other DC band worth mentioning played with Black Market Baby at least once.
'Course, it wasn't all smooth sailing. They lost their manager, and about a thousand bucks with him.6 Paul Cleary was kicked out in March, shortly after they finished recording their first 45. Mike Dolfi replaced him, and got his picture on the record, which hit the streets in May. The record was well received, but Dolfi was not. A lot of the Georgetown punks were angry about the lineup shift, and while there was plenty of support for BMB, there was also a lotta angry muttering too.
Add to the mix some tension over straight edge, top it off with Boyd and Keith having a little rough spot, and you've got a recipe for a breakup—which is just what they did. A new lineup appeared quickly, with Scott Logan (ex-Penetrators) replacing Keith on guitar.
The changes were affecting the band's chemistry, and despite a strong lineup on paper, things never really gelled. It wasn't surprising when they split again. Keith brought the band back together, but, soap opera that it was, Tommy and Dolfi left promptly. Adrian Ossea took over on drums, and found a replacement bassist by asking random people if they played bass. One of them said yes, and after a single rehearsal7, Mike Donegan joined the band.
After a few more practices they started playing out again, but Adrian, who'd been cleaning himself up, fell off the wagon and Tommy was called back in. It really didn't matter who played drums to the fans, but with the lineup changes and their record label going bankrupt (taking their next record with them), they decided it was time to move on.
The band convened at Inner Ear, where they'd recorded their first 45, on August 1, 1986 to lay down their final album—on spec, since they couldn't find anyone willing to put it out. Ian MacKaye, always a fan of the band, manned the mixing desk. Three days of recording, two days of mixing, and it was over.
Until Howard Wuelfing stepped in, that is. He'd lived in DC during punk's birth and heyday, publishing two music papers, fronting two bands, and running his own record label. He'd moved to New York in the mid-eighties and started working for JEM, one of the largest independent distributors in the country. JEM were getting into the record business and Howard's boss, perhaps foolishly, asked him to name two bands JEM should offer deals to. He picked the Angry Samoans and Black Market Baby.
The Samoans, buoyed by their popularity were able to sign a favorable contract. Black Market Baby—whose existence was hanging solely on the hope that the JEM deal would work out—couldn't negotiate a deal that would preserve their independence. They split, playing a farewell show in January of 1988.
Black Market Baby (with Dolfi on bass), clawed its way out of the grave and took the stage to open for Agent Orange in March of '93. The band weren't "making a comeback," they were just playing for the hell of it. Without the pressure of "being in a band," it turned out to be the longest lasting, most stable incarnation of Black Market Baby. Despite some noteworthy shows (including the 9:30 Club's last blast) and recording an entire LP of material, they couldn't keep it up and split for the last time in '97.
There are occasional rumblings from the Black Market Baby camp, but they have not been back since.
1 Poetic license included. Or, to quote Boyd, "Thank god we can edit history."
2 DESCENES, 1979:
"Snitch is a four man, three piece group who combine the harshness of the British and Punk bands' sound with the stage appearance of...our own Razz!
"As a matter of fact, the onstage presence of their lead singer is copied directly from Michael Reidy's performance antics. I guess this explains why members of Snitch are often found down in front whenever Razz plays.
"Musically, Snitch seem fairly adept, but their material is all covers so any sense of originality disappears quickly."
3 "The fact of the matter is I've always had a hard time looking Boyd straight in the face because of his weird eyeball, it just freaks me out. Course, HR used to freak me out and there wasn't anything wrong with his eyeballs except they were in his head," says the critic now.
4 Quoth Boyd, "I always hated that fucking name!"
5 Fundamentalist n: one who adheres to fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism n: a point of view characterized by a return to the fundamental principles of rock: catchy three minute songs, a rejection of sophistication for sophistication's sake, and making the music fun.
6 Not quite theft since John Bailey poured something to order of $10,000 into Black Market Baby, but still not a good thing for the band by any stretch. He paid for equipment, booze, hundreds of t-shirts (a lot of which were stolen or given away), and four days of recording at a high end studio—where an Aphex Aural Exciter lost its life in a kamikaze attack on Boyd, adding another couple hundred bucks to the tab. And god only knows how many hours JB spent promoting the band. As for the thousand bucks or so he took with him when he left, Boyd says, "I think he got fed up with us treating him like a servant and figured he had the right to the money having bankrolled us from the beginning. I didn't consider it stolen. We eventually worked it out and were on good terms with him last time I saw him...JB was always considered a band member."
7 They played Downward Christian Soldiers and Keith (a little inebriated) said, "Man, he knows that better than I do!"
Adrian responded, "See, I told you, I told you he was good!"
"It was always a fucking soap opera with us," says Boyd now.
© Dementlieu or respective authors 2005