The Trash Company Earle Hotel Tapes 1979 - 1993 LP
by THE TRASH COMPANY
Joint release with Richmond's STEADY SOUNDS.. Extremely limited second pressing! Silk screened black covers, the works! We'll only have these for a short time. LISTEN
Here's the full bio:
"The Earle Hotel was located in downtown Richmond, Virginia, at the corner of West Main and North Adams. It was a massive yet fairly nondescript 1920's era building that took up over half the block, but by the end of the 70's, years of mismanagement and neglect had turned it into a shell of its former self. Even The Earle's distinguished neighbor, The Jefferson, was not immune to downtown's decline. The once grand 19th century hotel had turned shabby and was months away from permanently closing. Its days of hosting US Presidents, movie stars and Elvis Presley were ancient history. In its shadow, the low-rent, low-profile Earle struggled to hang on.
If The Earle had any reputation left it was as a place to be avoided, a flophouse, where the down and out and desperate could find a room for the night, cheap, no questions asked. It was also home to nearly a hundred month to month residents ranging from drunks and prostitutes to street preachers, abandoned senior citizens, struggling artists and scores of working poor. One occupant, Max Monroe, was a writer and musician who had been staying at The Earle since he was a teenager in the early 70's. Back then it wasn't such a bad place. There were hotel maids, even a restaurant downstairs, Fodool's, with room service, but things had gotten out of hand fairly quickly. Despite the rapidly deteriorating conditions, Max would continue to rent Room 111 for the foreseeable future.
About a mile and a half from The Earle at 2049 West Broad Street was Alpha Audio. In the Spring of 1979 Max Monroe entered the state of the art studio to cut a record with his band The Trash Company. The session lasted about six hours and yielded three finished tracks. Only one of these recordings would see the light of day. "Come To Me Softly" served as both sides of a 45, the lone release on Monroe's label Kinky Blu, and the only thing the band would ever put out.
The Trash Company was formed back in February of 1975 in the lobby of
the Earle Hotel. Three brothers, the Cheathams, had come to recruit
Max for a new band they were trying to assemble. Watusi, Bee and Pop
were familiar with Max from the Jackson Ward neighborhood they all
grew up in. The brothers had already been in some bands together. As
The Naturals, they once played the legendary Sahara Club on the city's
Northside. That group eventually mutated into something called Rich
Gypsy & The Wax Dollar Bills. It didn't take much to convince Max to
join the Cheathams in their latest brainchild. "They had a band. I
wanted to be in a band." Simple as that. Max was in.
The new group could have passed for Funkadelic's kid brothers as they took it to the stage the following week for a Valentine's Day talent show at their old stomping ground, Maggie L. Walker High School. The six piece line up included Max (vocals and guitar), Watusi (Linwood Cheatham- guitar), Bee (Victor Cheatham- drums), Pop (Gregory Cheatham- percussion), Fisto (Tyrone Claude- keyboards), and Wounded Knee (guitar). Rounding out this ragtag crew was the band's friend Wolf, a dread-locked karate black belt, whose nomadic lifestyle included sleeping on park benches and under city bridges. It seemed only fitting that for The Trash Company's introduction Wolf would empty a garbage can full of paper into the audience. As the band's first few notes rang out in the stunned auditorium, the school principal ordered the curtains dropped and it was over.
This inauspicious debut would set the tone for the handful of years that followed. The Trash Company gigged sporadically, mostly Jackson Ward bars, rarely or barely getting paid, seldom venturing outside of their downtown neighborhood. Max, who had become the leader by default, grew increasingly frustrated with the band's inactivity and the prevailing lackadaisical attitude. He had been writing a lot of new material that seemed to be going to waste. His decision to book studio time and make a record was essentially a last ditch effort to get something going.
For the session that produced "Come To Me Softly" Max sang, played the
guitars and bass, while Bee played drums. Watusi and Pop contributed
the eerie "chimes", which were actually the sound of a toy xylophone
being run through a ring modulator by Alpha Audio engineer Carlos
Chafin. The backing vocals were supplied by Bee's wife Florence
Cheatham and Robinette Gravely, niece of U.S. Navy pioneer Admiral
Samuel L. Gravely.
The 8-track reels were left at Alpha, and a couple months later Max received 500 newly pressed copies of the single from Cincinnati's QCA. The eye-catching 45 with its swirling blue label, was sent out to a number of record companies as well as an array of influential producers and artists. Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire sent back a nice hand-written note of encouragement. Frank Sinatra even replied with a signed letter of thanks. Country star Jerry Reed was not so kind. He took the time to mail the 45 back to Max... shattered into pieces.
The new record showed quite a bit of growth since The Trash Company's wild beginnings, but it did little to change the group's fortunes. "Come To Me Softly" possessed an offbeat beauty, but only a few heard it, and most who did weren't sure what to make of it. The song was difficult to classify, hard to promote and sell, and the band itself didn't really fit into any scene. They seemed snake bitten, or at least unable to get out of their own way. More often than not Max found himself at odds with his bandmates, and as the decade of the 80's rolled in, the only thing left to do was part ways. He quit the band, never to join another.
Max continued to write songs on his own, capturing them on his Bell & Howell cassette recorder. The music was taking on the harder edge he had originally envisioned for The Trash Company. Watusi would drop by The Earle every now and then, sometimes bringing his guitar, which now had a couple of strings removed in tribute to one of his favorite bands, The B-52's. He and Max would hang out, reminisce and occasionally collaborate on new tracks. The two had been like brothers, practically inseparable. They had their differences, they fought, but years of shared experiences, good and bad, forged a connection between them that seemed unbreakable.
Ever since Max knew him, Watusi had a thyroid condition which produced a goiter on his neck. He would cover it with scarves or buttoned up shirt collars, but a decade plus of not taking care of himself led to Watusi's situation worsening to the point that it could no longer be ignored. Max recalls walking into the emergency room of MCV Hospital with Watusi and seeing the horrified expressions on the nurses' faces. The size of the goiter was the type of extreme case you'd see documented in a medical publication. The nurses made him sit in a wheelchair and immediately whisked him away to see a doctor. Watusi, as usual, was very nonchalant about the whole thing, amused by all the fuss, cracking jokes as he was pushed down the corridor.
Watusi received treatment, and his condition seemed to be under
control, but gradually Max saw a change. He attributes most of it to
the toll disease had taken on his friend physically and emotionally.
His mood and psyche were altered by illness. After years of health
struggles, Linwood "Watusi" Cheatham left this world at the age of
47, September 3, 1996. Max remembers his charismatic "brother", as
looking like a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Bootsy Collins back in
the day, with a larger than life personality. "The guy was magic...I
saw him perform hypnotism on people just by walking into a room."
Through the first half of the 1980's, Max Monroe spent most of his time holed up in Room 111 creating new material through the chaos and squalor of his surroundings. He'd encountered some characters during his stay at The Earle. There was the guy who claimed to once be part of Elvis's Memphis Mafia, the two retired circus clowns, one of whom had appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in the 30's, the reputed rich eccentric, Dick Griffith, who happened to be President of The Richmond Rose Society and Secretary of the local chapter of the Archeological Society of Virginia. He'd lived at the Earle since moving to Richmond in the late 50's. By far the longest resident, Dick inexplicably was still there. "Look around.", Max philosophizes, "There is something you are to learn, someone you are to meet or a gift could be hiding in the clutter of dismay." He quickly adds, "Of course, sometimes this idea is pure bullshit and you need to get the hell out of there." He finally made his exit in 1985, but the darkness and grit of The Earle remained present in the music he was creating.
In May of 1986 the remaining residents of The Earle were handed eviction notices. Just a few weeks earlier, The Jefferson had reopened under new ownership. As The Jefferson Sheraton, it had undergone three years and 30 million dollars worth of renovations and was on its way to becoming a five star hotel. Its latest acquisition, The Earle, sat boarded-up, a haven to homeless squatters who routinely broke in and set it ablaze. Public outcry led to the bombed-out, blighted property finally being demolished in the Winter of 1989. Today the ground where The Earle Hotel once stood is a parking lot for The Jefferson.
Max Monroe has spent the last three decades making music. This collection focuses on a specific period from his prolific and widely varied output, a time when Monroe was diligently mailing demo cassettes to record labels in the hopes of making it as a songwriter. One such tape, sent to Capitol Records in the early 90's, garnered this curt response from then President of the R&B Division, Joy Bailey: "Some music was never meant to be heard." In hind sight, the odds were more than stacked against Max and his songs, but there is something undeniable about these recordings, starkly honest, deeply personal, yet demanding attention. The story behind these tapes is one of conviction and persistence in the face of rejection and indifference. It is time for this music to be heard.