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                                                                                          Sherwood Gainer  © all rights reserved

John Knows Rock


I would never claim to be an expert, but I used to think I knew something about rock music.

Then I discovered how far John Witkoski’s encyclopedic knowledge goes beyond the fields of information systems, network technology, and defense IT security policy.

I might mention an obscure song that was on the radio – one that I hadn’t heard since college. The conversation would go something like this:

“That ending always reminded me of the signature sound of Billy Boxtop – the lead zither player from Elmer Stumpfield and the Primal Scream Symphony.”

“Oh? I don’t know them”

“Yeah, they were part of that whole ‘New-South London Shout’ movement back in ’78? You remember that right? Bands like Tonsil, and Rockhead, and Rude Zipper? Yeah, that movement didn’t last long – about three weeks, but it was kind of interesting. I saw Boxtop in a tiny club in Baltimore just when he was developing that sound. He was in the states to co-produce a record with Phil Spector’s uncle. It never got released, but I think you can find it on YouTube now… You know, it was Boxtop’s neice, Coughdrop, who started that whole atonal retro-acoustic punk-agriculture movement, remember that, back in, like, 1983 or 4?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell”

“It was big in the midwest, and some of the Baltic states. Coughdrop was in a bunch of bands like The New Plateau Consiousness Octet, and then The Higher Summit Awareness Quintet, and later The Lost Travelers’ Realization Trio.


I saw her at a music festival in Pittsburgh once -- her band was expimenting with kitchen appliances played through a phase shifter and massive spring reverb. A lot of people didn’t like it, but it was a pretty intense sound. They shared the stage with Earthquack”.


“You know Earthquack -- they were at the center of the Art-House Underwater Eskimo Surf-A-Billy genre, remember? Groups like Crazer-X, and AnyKey, and Diablo Sandwich, which later became Wiffleblitz?”

“I don’t recall them”

“They’d shave their eyebrows... and only record on media they’d make themselves with scotch tape and iron filings”

“I never heard of that”

“Yeah, you know, and they’d use ‘prepared’ electric bagpipes, custom made with a butane pump that shot flames like 40 feet? And the big deal when they tried to get on American Bandstand, and Dick Clark pulled a knife on them? And the next day, they went to record a roots-grunge acapella version of ‘Freebird’ and the drummer, Mick Slippery, spontaniously combusted?”

“You’d think I would remember something like that”

“Yeah, I don’t know all the details… but anyway, yeah. Good music…”

I’d walk away, realizing I knew nothing about rock music.

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