Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011

Bas Clas is headed back to Lafayette for a pair of gigs and its first ‘real’ recording session in more than two decades. By Walter Pierce

20110803-livingind-0101If you’re from South Louisiana and are of a certain age — say, 40 to 60 — and if you care not for the Top 40 Pablum that has long oozed from the radio like bland porridge, you probably remember Bas Clas. At Grant Street and the old Jefferson Street Café in Lafayette. At Mother’s Mantle in Baton Rouge. The Maple Leaf in New Orleans.

Bas Clas bolted Lafayette in the early ’80s as the promise of major label success — and the Oil Bust — spun its compass northeast to Atlanta.
Formed in 1976 and officially disbanding 15 years later, Bas Clas members have remained friends and, from time to time, band mates. For two days this month, they’ll rekindle the flame that once burned like a cattle iron with a pair of shows in Lafayette.

“I’m proud to note that many bands got their first real stage experience opening for us, including a 14-year-old CC Adcock, the Blue Runners, a whole bunch of bands whose names I barely remember and every band Bill Davis of Dash Rip Rock ever played in,” recalls band member Steve Picou. “We like to think we were pioneers delivering songs and energy that radio was lacking at the time, and that we were generous to other musicians struggling like us to make a go of it.”

The band came painfully close to breaking through to the other side in a pre-digital, pre-Internet age when vinyl records, radio play and touring were virtually the only means of cultivating a following. Legendary producer John Hammond took it under his wing for a time, shopped it around, put a spit-shine on it. That major-label contract never got inked, but even as Bas Clas enjoyed a level of success few in rock achieve, the band remained humble, hopeful and, most important, friends.

Taking its name from a Cajun term for “low class,” Bas Clas began as a gaggle of hard-partying pals scattered around South Louisiana that coalesced into a clever, sharp-edged alternative rock band — before the term “alternative rock” existed — headquartered in a ramshackle house off a gravel road near Judice. Original members and brothers Donnie (rhythm guitar, vocals) and Steve Picou (lead guitar, vocals) of Eunice were joined by Baton Rougers Pat Gremillion (guitar, vocals) and Buddy Bowers (drums, vocals). Originally, Bas Clas was a rock band without a bass player. Within a couple of years Geoff Thistlethwaite (bass) and Ted Cobena (drums) rolled into the lineup as Gremillion and Bowers rolled out, with a few additions and subtractions along the way.

Like many bands built on an armature of friendship, rock-and-roll and beer, Bas Clas had its own quirky customs, including annual parties tied to the anniversaries of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel and Richard’s Nixon’s resignation. We don’t understand this, but we’re sure it made sense at the time.

The current roster — the Picou brothers, Thistlethwaite and Cobena — played their last gig at the 1991 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival before scattering to day jobs, odds-and-ends in the music biz and, now, the occasional reunion gig.

Donnie Picou remains in Atlanta, working in the telecommunications industry. Steve is a sustainable housing agent for the LSU AgCenter in New Orleans. Thistlethwaite lives in Opelousas and works for Mello Joy Coffee and as a freelance sound engineer, frequently manning the board at Blue Moon Saloon. Cobena has a recording studio and works as a sought-after drummer in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. But the quartet has Lafayette in its GPS at this moment.

“We’d like to think it’s a newsworthy item for our dwindling fan base, some of whom might not want to admit to what they did at Bas Clas parties so long ago,” Steve jokes about the pair of shows Bas Clas will play on Aug. 6 and 13 at The Wild Salmon in Lafayette. The shows will bookend a week of recording — their first serious recording session in more than 20 years — at legendary Dockside Studio in Maurice.

“We’re doing the first [gig] to get our juices flowing for the studio and the last one to celebrate the conclusion of the session,” Steve adds. “Of course both gigs will help us raise funds to help us turn these efforts into a product for release in the — we hope — very near future.”

Aug. 6 & 13
The Wild Salmon
813 Foreman Drive
(337) 988-0052

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