Those who kept an ear on the Inland Northwest music scene in the early ’90s are no doubt familiar with the band Black Happy.
What began in Coeur d’Alene as a heavy metal band called Sacrament quickly evolved into a funk-rock group – Jim Bruce (drums), Jay Carkhuff (trombone), Daryl Elmore (saxophone), Mike Hasseries (trombone), Mark Hemenway (bass), Paul Hemenway (vocals/guitar), Greg Hjort (guitar/vocals) and Scott Jessick (drums) – called Black Happy after the horn section the band added before a gig as a joke was well-received.
The band released a 7-inch single, then signed to Pacific Inland Records and, in 1991, released its debut album, “Friendly Dog Salad.”
Now, 22 years after the release of the band’s last album, a crowd-funding campaign has been launched to re-release the early Black Happy releases, “Friendly Dog Salad” and “Peghead,” to vinyl.
Looking back on the band’s time recording “Friendly Dog Salad” at the now-defunct Sinkhole Studios in Hayden Lake, Bruce remembers the band had a lot of time to work on the album because the producer was juggling multiple projects at the time.
In 1993, now signed with Macola, Black Happy released “Peghead.”
For its sophomore release, the band went to Seattle’s Ironwood Studios, now home to Avast Recording Co., to record “Peghead” with producer Neil Kernon (Queensrÿche, Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates).
“A lot of the same signature processes were still there, but we had learned a lot and Neil brought us a different flavor that we hadn’t had before,” Bruce said.
The band toured the Pacific Northwest and beyond, even performing at the College Music Journal Seminar and South by Southwest.
But just one year after releasing “Peghead,” the band broke up.
“I think you get at a certain point in your career where you say ‘OK, what are we going to do next?’ ” Bruce said. “With eight different people, you have a lot of different things.”
Black Happy’s final album, “The Last Polka,” was posthumously released in 1995.
Bruce, the Hemenways and Hjort formed a band called Shoveljerk soon after the band’s demise, but for the most part, Black Happy stayed quiet for the next 15 years.
In 2010, a Facebook page called “Black Happy Needs to Reunite” caught the band’s attention, and they booked a few shows.
“We really didn’t know what was going to happen in terms of if people are going to care, if people are going to show up…,” Bruce said. “I remember going through my mind ‘Did we do the right thing? Are we going to screw up so horribly? Are we going to make a laughing stock of ourselves?’ ”
The answers to Bruce’s questions were yes, no and no, as three of the band’s five reunion shows in Spokane and Seattle sold out.
The band talked about the possibility of getting back together after the reunion shows, but reality – i.e. jobs, families and different schedules – soon set in.
So just as quickly as they returned, Black Happy again stepped away from the spotlight.
Twenty three years after the band broke up and seven years after that string of reunion shows, Black Happy is back again, reissuing its celebrated debut and sophomore albums on vinyl through Seattle’s Latent Print Records.
“Friendly Dog Salad” will be a single LP and, due to its length, the 14-song “Peghead” will be a two LP gatefold release. The reissues are scheduled to be available in August.
Years after their release, Bruce, who performs around town with Fusbol and Cruxie, still hears from fans of those albums, sometimes even while at his job as an IT manager at Frontier Behavioral Health.
“I’ll be at a meeting with somebody, and the conversation comes up and it turns out that they’re Black Happy fans,” he said. “It’s cool that a lot of people are still around here and still appreciate it and still like us. It’s surprising because that was a long time ago that we did our music. It resonates to this day, which is always cool to see that your music is still relevant.”
Realizing this relevancy, Latent Print’s Pete Greenberg contacted the band about reissuing “Friendly Dog Salad” and “Peghead” on vinyl.
To help with this endeavor, the band is running an Indiegogo campaign. Perks for donating money include a vintage poster from the “Peghead” release show at the Crocodile in Seattle in 1993, a “Peghead” mini flying disc, “Friendly Dog Salad” on cassette, “Peghead” on CD and a signed box of Chicken in a Biscuit crackers, a nod to a song on “Peghead.”
In a video on the campaign page, the band confirms that there will be reunion shows to support the vinyl releases, though dates and locations have yet to be announced.
Bruce likes that the campaign creates a direct relationship between the band and the fans and was flattered to learn that in the first two days after the campaign’s launch, the band was already a third of the way to its $15,000 goal, with two months left in the campaign.
“(My daughter) turns me on to a bunch of different music and I listen to that and I just think it’s interesting to me with all the good stuff out there that there’s still a place for us in the palate of people’s tastes,” he said.
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