As I stand in the parking lot facing the double glass doors of Leon’s Garden World it doesn’t take much effort to flash back twenty eight years to the day when the previous heavy wooden barn style doors were just being constructed. The corner where the big white (now pastel yellow with green shudders) building stood was known then for being the Iron Hill Auction. From 1979-1981, those new doors would open and close 24hrs a day as countless musicians and roadies loaded and unloaded guitars, drums, amplifiers, speaker cabinets, cables, mics, stands, stage lights, and racks of sound equipment. Just inside those doors had been the equipment storage room for The Sin City Band, Roscoe, The Voltags, The Reflektors, and others, all under one roof. White Clay Productions had become the creative catalyst that would hold these bands together and give them a home. -Hangnail Phillips

Roscoe – Alligator Shoe MP3
The Master Beat – Bad Times MP3
Sin City Band – Sinking Ship Tattoo MP3
The Voltags – Shock Treatment MP3

The Saga of White Clay Productions, Inc.
By E. Michael Fisher
Once upon a time, in the early 1970′s, two young lads, Nick Norris and Mike Fisher lived in a magic land called Newark, Delaware. This was not the Newark of today, overgrown with university sprawl like kudzu swallowing a field full of abandoned cars, but a slow-paced, laid-back place where bohemians, hedonists, hippies, yippies, artists, and musicians of all stripes could commune with their fellows. The town back then had a whiff of the atmosphere of an artist enclave – sort of a New Hope without all the touristy shops – and it seemed like everyone was either a member of, or a hanger-on to a wide ranging plethora of bands.
I (Mike Fisher) had been majoring in counter-culture studies at the University of Delaware and eventually the divergence between my chosen field of study and the actual curriculum led to my de-matriculation. Nick became similarly derailed from the scholastic track, but we both continued our immersion in the same social setting, a mix of school chums and townies, and came to be acquainted through the intersections between our respective circles of friends (probably beginning circa 1973 with a major day long outdoor party at a farm on the outskirts of Newark – a part commune, part flop house known as Frog-town).

Having similar interests, we hit it off and began hanging out and collaborating on various shenanigans that bear no relevance to this tale, but gave us a feel for working together.

Nick was the invisible hand behind what I consider to be the most seminal of the Newark bands, Snake Grinder and the Shredded Field Mice [Covered in a previous Legend of Newark Rock]. As the devoted nominal manager, he played the role of a motivator in their accomplishments and the abject slave to the needs of the group. And even as Snake Grinder shredded itself, Nick took the lessons learned and his natural gift of gab and insinuated himself into the entourage of the Philly phenom, Johnnie’s Dance Band.
As Nick was accruing bona fides in rock band management and expanding his contacts with the Philly radio stations, I was playing folkie music at The Eternal Turtle, Goldie’s Door Knob, The Phoenix Center, The Glass Mug, the Red Lantern, and other obscure venues.

Throughout this time, Nick and I continued our collaborative work in the field of hedonistic amusement, and I used our association to wrangle the opening act slot for the 1978 Snakegrinder reunion, at the Deer Park.
After the show, as Snakegrinder dispersed onto their separate paths once again, Nick and I decided to pool our talents and start a music production/ management/ record company. We visited the office of entertainment lawyer Alexander Murphy in West Chester, and left after incorporating two entities: White Clay Productions – a BMI affiliated publishing company that would serve as corporate veil for our various management, equipment rental, and live and recorded sound production activities. And Straight Face Records, which was also an ASCAP affiliated publishing company.

Nick then enticed Sin City, the Voltags, the Reflektors [with Phil Schmidt & Jay Julian], and, of course, my band Roscoe into management agreements and began doing bookings for assorted other local bands as well, including Kim Millner Band, Jack of Diamonds, Ken Kweeder and the Secret Kids, and Tater and the Heartbeats, among others.

Once the ball started rolling we were looking around for things to get into and we had a “Little Rascals” moment – you know, the one where Spanky turns to Alfalfa and says, “Let’s put on a show.”

The end of 1979 was approaching so we rented the State Theater in order to throw an “End of the Decade Party” (late comers to Newark have no idea what a fine theater was torn down to make way for the cubical monstrosity that now houses Shaggy’s – but I digress). We presented a gala featuring Sin City, Roscoe, the Voltags, and Bad Sneakers, complete with smoke machines, grass skirted hula-dancers juggling flaming brands, Rafique and the Stepping Unique (insanely good tap dancers from Philly), hosts in hamster costumes (it seemed funny at the time), dancing flamingoes (motivated by puppeteers), and an extemporaneous and under-endowed streaker with a bag over his head.

The place was packed, the entertainment was fabulous, and a wonderful time was had by all (we made a recording that night with the help of Fred Kern, and I still use segments of the thunderously rousing applause when I need to beef up a live recording).

Thus inaugurated, Nick and I set about the business of being music biz entrepreneurs (or ultra-manures as we used to say…).

We rented a building on the corner of Elkton and Ott’s Chapel Roads [Now Leon's Garden World] and set up our office and equipment storage facility, as well as an eight track recording studio, a practice room, and a musicians’ lounge, which was also the living room for Sin City’s uber-roadie, Dan Mason, who lived in the attic.

Among the bands that rented equipment or practice space from us (besides the ones we managed…who pretty much had the run of the place) included the Commotions, the Christian Snipers, Aqua Funk, Hammer, the Watson Brothers, and Jack of Diamonds.

Rick DiFonzo, of the “A’s”, produced an EP of the Philly band, The Cameras in our studio, and Lance Quinn used to fly his plane into the airfield on Elkton Rd. (where the Gore Corp campus is now) to meet up with the Watson Brothers during a period when he was producing them. Other recording clients included The Hornets (from Philly), Chet Bolins (a project of Chris Darway and Nan Mancini of Johnnie’s Dance Band), Ragnarok, Joe Wrench, Ocham’s Razor, The Favorites…to name a few.

Late at night, when no paying customers were clogging up the studio or practice room, jam sessions, featuring a variety of area musicians, were a regular occurrence. And the musicians’ lounge outside the control room cultivated a great deal of interaction between the members of various bands as they relaxed after dropping off equipment when finished a long night’s performance (I used to buy most of my beer with the deposits from the bottles they left laying about).
Through the whirlwind of our working together, Nick and I had our fingers in a lot of pies, and here’s a quick peek at a few of them:

Through Nick’s networking with radio station personages, we worked a number of events sponsored or promoted by WMMR and WIOQ, in various capacities (renting equipment, doing sound, supplying bands), at a number of venues, such as the Brandywine Club, the London Victory Club, Emerald City, Bullwinkle’s, the Warwick Hotel Ballroom (DeBella de ball)…with musicians as varied as Leslie West, Ken Kweeder, and Dr. John.

Disco was dead, and one casualty was the disco ballroom in the basement of the Adelphia Hotel on Chestnut Street. Once again, Nick’s Philly contacts did us proud as we wheedled our way in to supply sound for Killing Joke, Flock of Seagulls, the Stray Cats, D.O.A., the Sick Fux, the Slits, and the Stray Cats (among others). We also supplied sound and stage equipment on a regular basis to the Deer Park and the Stone Balloon.

We were involved in several other shows at the State Theater…the Voltags opened for John Cale; we supplied sound for a George Thorogood and the Destroyers live recording show; and we were the impresarios of a punk rock extravaganza.

White Clay Productions did stage management and live sound production for the concerts at the U of D’s Mitchell hall for a couple of years, for such artists as Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Dave Bromberg, Doc Watson, John Hartford, and Harry Chapin. Two bits of trivia from the Mitchell Hall concerts: 1) We hooked John Hartford up with one of the stranger pieces of band equipment I’ve ever seen – a sheet of 1″ thick birch plywood with a transducer attached so he could accompany himself with the sound of his own clogging. 2) The Harry Chapin concert was the last gig he played…he died the next day in an auto accident.

Straight Face Records released records for Sin City, Chip Roberts and the One Four Hundreds, the Kim Millner Band, Roscoe, the Voltags, and Chet Bolins.

Hangnail- ”I met Mike Fisher and Nick Norris through my longtime friendship with singer/ songwriter/ David Bennett. One of White Clay’s first projects was the recording of David’s “Electric Jungle”/”Son Of Sam” single on their Straight Faced Records label. A band was quickly formed in support of David’s talents with me[Hangnail Phillips], Rick Reid on bass, and James Keesey on drums. I believe it was Nick Norris who named the band. There was a picture of David in front of a “Danger High Voltage” sign. David’s head was blocking the letter e in Voltage. After a good laugh, the name The Voltags (pronounced Voltogs) stuck. White Clay provided us with brand new cutting edge equipment. David’s vintage Kustom organ was replaced with Arp’s mighty new Quadra synthesizer which became key to our sound. When the studio opened we practically lived there with long rehearsal sessions nearly everyday. Our years under the White Clay umbrella are the fondest of memories for all of us. Fate had somehow pulled us all together for an incredible venture.”

Scott Birney- “The Sin City Band had actually finished recording our LP but we signed with White Clay and Straight-Faced Records before it came out. They managed to score us reviews in Cashbox, The Aquarian (out of New York or north Jersey) and a review in the Philadelphia Inquirer of our show at The Bijou Cafe. I always regretted we didn’t press up some of the sessions we did in the upstairs studio; Mike is a great producer with that musician’s perspective.”
“I could go on, of course…Some of my favorite gigs were the ones that White Clay booked for us. We opened for Sir Douglas Quintet and NRBQ at the Psyche-deli in Bethesda, and did a few more dates with NRBQ. Also they booked me a solo slot opening for John Hartford at Mitchell Hall, and Mike will remember we almost got thrown out of Goodchild’s teaching Mr. Hartford the fine art of playing the spoons. It was a busy, happening scene around that building, and the cross pollinating of bands and ideas was exciting and, to use a word from that time, heady.”

Mike Fisher’s Saga Continues-
In 1981, when AM stalwart WAMS began sponsoring a weekly “Ball On the Mall” on Market Street in Wilmington, we provided stage management, live sound, and did the mix for the live radio feed.

Though far from an all-inclusive listing, the above gives one a feel for the kind of stuff we were up to…if I try to cram any more in I’ll bore both the reader and myself, so I’ll move on to the denouement of this story.

As with any system, entropy always sets in. Nick and my interests began to diverge – one might say that we “grew apart” – so we divided up the biz, with Nick taking Straight Face Records and me taking White Clay Productions. Nick continued working with various Philly artists, and I moved the studio from the Newark location to the old Yorklyn Theater in Yorklyn, Delaware and kept myself busy with my group at the time, Master Beat, and engineering pre-production work for a couple of George Thorogood and the Destroyers releases – their Maverick album and a Christmas single.

After George moved to California, I kept the doors open for a couple more years continuing to record locals such as Irving Cowboy, Vic Sadot, Woody Purcell, and Crystal Creek and doing the odd radio commercial or training film soundtrack, but I eventually lost my lease and had to shut down the operation.
I continue to do live, on-location recordings, as well as restoring old analogue tapes, and White Clay Productions, Inc. lives on as a publishing company. I’ve also taken up the pen and am co-author of two books published by Whiskey Creek Press: Aliens, the Other White Meat, and The Hyghcock Chronicles. If you go to www.thresherpub.com you can check out what I’ve been up to.

Nick is the east coast manager for Centerstaging Musical Productions Corporation – they rent band equipment and rehearsal studios. If you’ve watched any show on television that involves bands performing on air, has anything to do with MTV, and was taped east of the Mississippi, Nick was there keeping things moving and making it happen. This includes the Video Music Awards, the Grammies, and the Country Music Awards, as well as Concert for Memorial Day and A Capital 4th – live concerts from our nation’s Capital, aired on PBS. Nick is also on the lookout for a Manx kitten…if you have one to spare, contact me at my website, mentioned in the previous paragraph, and I’ll get the word to him.

By necessity, this is a very skeletal telling of the tale, but the important thing is that the story has a happy ending…for the two starry-eyed young lads, who originally set out upon their journey from the magic land of Newark, are now a pair of geezers still happily doing their thing.

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