Thursday, February 11, 2016

Forgotten Bands Of the 80s-The Toll

Here's something that was different in 1988, a narrative rock band from Columbus Ohio, famous for The Godz and later Big Back Forty, and there was nobody quite like The Toll.  The comparisons have been U2 but The Toll owed more to The Cult and Jim Morrison and The Doors.  And Brad Circone was part Ian Asbury and part Jim Morrison.  But dig a big deeper and Circone is more influenced by the likes of Sigmund Freud, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to name a few. 

The Toll was marketed as alternative rock and their debut album The Price Of Progression was a 9 song debut, but at 56 minutes it was one of the longest single albums ever put out.   There are three epic narrative songs on Progression, the 10 and half minute Johnathon Toledo, which next to Mike Jackson's Thriller, the longest video ever made.  It's interesting to hear Circone do a narrative about visiting a Indian souvenir shop and telling the story of how the white men took over what used to be where Indians were free to roam and putting them in reservations.  It's one of those you have to hear to believe it.  Even more stunning was the 10 and a half minute Anna -41-Box about a abused woman plotting revenge on her abusive and evil husband.  The third 11 minute song, Living In The Valley Of Pain might be an anti religion song.   The late Mick Ronson (David Bowie) appears on the final track Stand In Winter which other music sites suggested would have made a classic track for The Toll had Geffen Records promoted them right.    The Price Of Progession, had shorter songs,  Smoke Another Cigarette and Tamara Told Me got some airplay on the old 99 plus radio station and Jazz Clone Clown is where they do sound like The Cult.  While the U2 comparison is overreaching, The Toll does have a credible rock and roll sound.  But being on a major label, while enabling them to make an epic album like The Price Of Progession and getting Steve Thompson and Mike Barbiero to produce and give it that rock and roll sound, Geffen was clueless on how to promote them.  In 1988, Geffen was more interested in Guns And Roses and Aerosmith and if The Toll was going to remain on Geffen, they had to focus more on shorter rock songs and cut out the spoken narratives since Jonathon Toledo failed to connect with the MTV generation.

The followup Sticks And Stones and Broken Bones, was issued three years later. The Toll did put together a new album but Geffen rejected it.  That album had 12 songs and while Circone did shorter narratives on songs like Happy or Hear Your Brother Calling, the only song longer than 7 minutes was the last song Sweet Misery.   While the record wasn't bad, the music was a bit all over the place and the jury is still out if Matt Wallace was the producer suited for The Toll.  There's elements of Midnight Oil, especially on the backing vocals.  It might suffer from too many songs and perhaps the major label indifference shows the band a bit frustrated.  For a second album, it pales next to the inspired sounds of The Price Of Progression but Sticks And Stones And Broken Bones holds it's own and is worth seeking out if you're into good 90s Midwestern rock and roll.

But by 1991, Geffen had a major breakout band in Nirvana, Guns And Roses had Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 and The Toll was another tax writeoff and soon after Geffen bid them bye bye.  The Toll broke up in 1992, but has reunited a couple times, in 1993 when Ronald Koal died, they did three songs and in 2011 got back together for another one off after the death of Andy Davis, radio station programmer.

 Life after rock and roll The Toll have made into the working world. Rick Selk is an attorney, Brett Mayo is energy management director at Ohio State University, Greg Bartram is a photographer and Brad Circone is an highly successful consultant and owner of Circone and Associates.

And while the guys have gone to more successful ventures, those who witness The Toll playing live have mentioned that they have always put on a great show in their time together.  In the archives of 80s rock and roll The Price Of Progression remains their classic moment in the spotlight.  And still is a must listen for those who like a bit of story telling in those 10 minute songs that The Toll was good at.

The albums:
The Price Of Progession (Geffen 1988) B+
Sticks And Stones And Broken Bones (Geffen 1991) B


TAD said...

Crabby; This has nothing to do with anything you're writing about here, but two things:
I'm sure by now you must have heard Elle King's "X's and O's," which is the best pop single I've heard in ages. It's punchy and the subject matter's outrageous and the lyrics are funny -- a bit like (yes, I'll say it) Adele's "Rumor Has It," but about sex.
And I'm sure you must have noticed that I half-assed-reviewed the Tedeschi Trucks Band's new album LET ME GET BY last week. (It took me forever to say how average I thought it was.) I know you don't like Susan Tedeschi's voice much, but I thought I'd get some kudos from you for at least reviewing something CURRENT -- only the second time THAT's happened in the last five years.
This is not a criticism. Keep crankin' 'em out, and I'll have more posted soon....

Greg Bartram said...

Hello, RS,

I've just come across this, actually because I was googling Ronald Koal, as he died 24 years ago today.

Anyway, My name's Greg, and I was the bass player for The Toll. I very much appreciate the kind words, but I'd like to share one thing as a bit of a correction.

Any of our songs could end up as narratives on any given night. Jonathan Toledo, Anna-41-Box and Living In The Valley Of Pain all grew to be narrative songs from playing them live. Between the first and second records, we primarily stayed off the road, and the songs that made the record hadn't yet been played live enough to see what songs would end up going in that direction.

Even with that said, we noticed when we were touring to support the first record that the fans turning up to see us all expected those three to be narratives, and I remember some even trying to sing along with them, and seeing about a minute or so pass before they realized that the narrative sections were different than what they'd heard. Based on that, we had made a decision not to put any real narratives on the second record so that, when different songs grew live, it would be more obvious how improvised they really were.

Obviously, that isn't really the way it worked out for us, but I wouldn't trade that time period of my life for anything. We made great friends all over the US, and we were able to play legendary clubs like CBGB and London's 100 Club.

R S Crabb said...

Hi Greg!

Nice to hear from you and thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting. I love hearing from former band members when I do these Forgotten Band Series (which has been a while)

I recall KFMH playing The Price Of Progression when it came out in 1988 and the DJ mentioned it was a very long album, in today's world, it would have been a 2 LP set, but Geffen managed to load all the songs on one record. I certainly thought The Price Of Progression was a breath of fresh air among the albums that came out that year. It still holds up today.