Reesa and The Rooters in Baltimore

by Reesa (Rooter) Marchetti, a more than occasional but less than regular Marble Bar performer

The Rooters’ Trip to Baltimore, 1980

Prologue: This Berkeley, California-hippie and street musician returned home to South Jersey in 1970 as a passenger in pianist-songwriter Evan Hadley's van. Years of jams and recording sessions with brother Larry, Evan and other Philly-area cohorts followed.

In 1978, my younger brother, Larry Laskey, and I would often jam on acoustic guitars to create moody songs with lyrics inspired by the news. After friends Bob Jay and Donny Buckley joined on electric guitar and bass, I booked us in a South Jersey tavern as Reesa and the Rooters, a blues-pop, semi-acoustic group. ["Silver Screen" live on WXPN radio.]

Reesa and the Rooters publicity shot on Philly rooftop

We added a drummer and continued to gig around Philadelphia and Jersey. I hand-lettered and cut and pasted graphics on all our literature, as well as putting up hundreds of posters and sending out mailing list postcards.

Philly fashion photographer Malcolm Berman saw me putting up posters wearing my space helmet, and then arranged for the band to pose on this rooftop facing the Ben Franklin Bridge.

After Larry switched to electric guitar and I started playing a Farfisa organ, the local media dubbed me “the queen of the new wave scene.” Cherie Rumbol, a cohort who played in South Jersey club bands, came in to replace the original bass player and to add another voice to the mix.

The band and its music fit perfectly into the blossoming new wave scene in 1979. Except for some suburban clubs where people just didn’t get it, our skinny tied and spiked hair audiences and came ready to pogo or slam dance.

Reesa and the Rooters live at the Marble Bar

Gradually, the Rooters’ touring area expanded north to New York City, Connecticut, Providence, R.I., and the notorious Rat in Boston; west to Allentown and The Metron in Harrisburg; and south to Delaware, Bethesda, D.C., and the Marble Bar in Baltimore. [My Grip] live from Dundalk Community College video]

In response to the tape and press clippings I sent her, LesLee Anderson booked our first Marble Bar show on May 31, 1980. We jammed all the band equipment into my old Chevy wagon and drove the two hours down I-95. When we arrived at 306 W. Franklin St., Roger, LesLee’s husband and co-owner of the Marble, led us down a short flight of stairs to the basement of the Congress Hotel.

My brother and I toked regularly then. So when people began filling the hall and blowing quantities of cigarette and marijuana smoke, I felt like I had stepped into a comfortable shoe.

I still have a Rooters calendar listing eight Marble Bar appearances in 1980, several of them two-night, weekend bookings. (After a while, LesLee, as did most club owners, switched to booking bands for one-nighters only.) LesLee worked hard to match the Rooters with local acts that would improve our draw. Her choices usually succeeded: At most shows, we were greeted by fervent crowds storming the dance floor as soon as we played the first notes of our “wild, dirty, and fun” music. [November 1980 reviews of the Rooters' live at the Marble and at Omni's in Philly]

Reesa and The Rooters 45: Ultraman in Surf Villa b/w TMILarry’s lyrics, starting with “The Misogynist,” often centered on a fictional man who’s rude to the women who love him. In October 1980, a new version of the mythological jerk appeared on the Rooters’ first and only record release, “Ultraman in Surf Villa,” backed by the punk-rock anthem “TMI.” I was always a natural on stage, but it was my natural knack for promoting that helped push the single into a college radio hit.

Before we recorded "Ultraman," Bob Jay left the band. We never replaced him; instead we gigged as a four-piece unit.

Ross Haupt (Adolf Kowalski)At every show, I would see at least one guy in the crowd who resembled the punk-cartoon Ultraman drawn on the record sleeve by our friend, Debbie. In Baltimore, a young man who identified himself as Adolf Kowalski fit the bill. He attended all our Marble shows, and at one, his group, Thee Katatonix, also performed. Noted in my journal: in March 1981, Adolf took three singles to distribute to Record & Tape Collector in Dundalk, Md., his home town.

I met Edith Massey at the Marble on Oct. 25, 1980, and wrote in my record-sales journal that I sold “Edith the Egg Lady” a copy of our single wholesale ($1.25) for her store in Baltimore. Chick of Chick’s Legendary Records also bought some that night. At another show, he acquired a few of the more popular, red-vinyl versions.

My 1981 calendar is lost, but from the journal and from mailing list postcards, I see the Rooters played the Marble four times that year. Our May 23 show also featured TruFax & The Insaniacs from D.C.

Realizing that most people either couldn’t hear or didn’t care about our lyrics, Larry wrote “The Wolf (in Pop Song Clothing).” This became a crowd favorite at the Marble, as I encouraged the audience to howl along.

My performances were a reflection of my hippie past that included running offstage into the crowd, as well as tumbling around while singing and playing organ or guitar, or checking my makeup in a compact mirror.

(L-R, Larry, space helmet on Farfisa, and Reesa onstage at the Marble Bar)

Michael Yokel’s Baltimore City Paper review of one of our Marble shows called the Rooters’ music “recidivistic,” and said I rolled around on stage “like John and Yoko during their Live, Peace in Toronto, 1969, days.” I took that as a compliment.

Play live "Nervous Breakdown" video taped at Dundalk Community College:

Cherie exuded a quieter, more demure sexiness as she sang lead on such songs as “Ultraman in Surf Villa” and “Pierre.” The latter was Larry's vision of Marie Curie, whose husband discovered radium.

In the heat of their rowdy dancing, audience members would often hand me toys, hats, narrow ties, or various souvenirs that I would take on stage. We always traded records and buttons with other bands, especially the ones we worked with. I still have many of them tucked away in a drawer.

Following one Saturday gig with Root Boy Slim at Columbia Station in D.C., the Rooters made a rare Sunday appearance at a Marble Battle of the Bands. I think at that show I wore a bridal gown and enlisted Adolf to roll around on the floor with me during the Eddie Cochran-penned “Nervous Breakdown.”

Cherie slept on the way to gigs, between sets, and on the way home. She was so tired from working a day job that we often had to wake her when it was time to go on stage. So she doesn’t remember much about the Marble Bar except that Roger and LesLee were there, and that the Katatonix friend/bass player, Bruce, came to see her at every Marble gig. [Faces from Dundalk Community College performance]

Although neither Cherie nor I saw it, some of the male members of our band recalled having quick sex with groupies in a back hallway.

The Marble dressing room offered several well-worn couches to rest on, and plenty of wall space for marking your band’s name. It was usually crowded with fans and musicians. (L-R, Larry, Dwight Allen, Reesa, and Cherie prepare to go onstage in a dressing room with much less character than the Marble's.)

When Cherie and I coordinated our miniskirted outfits for each set, I thought nothing of tearing off my top and changing in front of the dressing-room clan. But Cherie demanded privacy, and would ask the non-Rooters to leave.

Roger Anderson would stop by in his congenial way to see if we needed anything, and to talk about musical issues such as which guitar Larry would be playing, or what odd props I might use onstage that night. On at least one occasion, Roger and LesLee's band, The Alcoholics, opened the show for us.

We were also approached by people who had serious proposals for the band to consider. Joe Clem, a student, asked us to record a music video at Dundalk Community College. When the Rooters played the Marble in August 1981, we stayed overnight to do a live taping at his school.

Rod Misey, a Towson University radio DJ, wanted a copy of "TMI" for the WCVT playlist.

Live "TMI" video from Dundalk Community College:

And Rita (whose last name is lost in the haze of my memory) asked Suburban Wives Club to perform two gigs at Oddfellows Hall in Towson. But most of the would-be promoters only offered us dreams.

Dressing roomDuring its three-year life span, the Rooters had many drummers, including Joe Putiri (the first), Eddie K (Kamarauskus), Mark Stinger (seen in the above video and in photo on left), Bob Z, Tommy Meyers, and Dwight Allen (the last).

LesLee was tickled by the frequent changes, and would watch each time we returned to the Marble

After nearly three years with the Rooters, and frequent artistic differences between me and my brother, I started writing songs on my own. “Guru Eye,” based on an article about Mao Tse-tung’s wife, was the first original tune we performed that had been written sans Larry.

I believe the Rooters played at least one Marble show in 1982. I remember a winter night when an ice storm hit and all the cars on I-95 started skidding. We thought for sure the Marble would be closed, but as we slowly continued south, we saw the roads into Baltimore were clear. The Bar opened on that freezing night.

That summer, Cherie and I met and jammed with drummer Ann Frances at an outdoor concert in West Philly's Clark Park. We clicked immediately, and decided to put together Suburban Wives Club as a Rooter side project. But almost as quickly, the Rooters broke up.

SWC performed some of the Rooters songs, although in a more minimalist fashion. I set aside the Farfisa and concentrated on guitar to record “Guru Eye” as our quick-and-dirty single, b/w “Casual Cat at a Laundromat.”

LesLee booked The Wives at the Marble Bar on Saturday, Nov. 13, 1982. We also played once when I was very pregnant on Nov. 25, 1983. (The news photos were taken at a show two weeks prior — I gave birth on Dec. 20.) My notes on SWC are not as precise as for the Rooters, so I’m not sure of the other Marble dates.

When my station wagon died, I acquired a big old Chevy van that The Wives, our roadie, Country Bob, and all the equipment fit easily into for the trip to Baltimore.

Bob would hang our pink stage backdrop (actually a queen-sized sheet) with stenciled letters and dancing-iron logo painted on by Cherie and me. We performed new tunes such as “Dedicated to Fun,” my edition of the mythological jerk’s story combined with imaginings about Adolf.

Marble Bar-goers embraced The Wives' specialty — songs with lighter lyrics than the Rooters tunes ("Chocolate Freakout," "Chocolate Kisses," "Diaper Road": you get the picture). Since we were a trio, I couldn't go out into the crowd as much but I still did crazy stage routines, even getting Cherie involved in musical calisthenics during "Fat Thighs." Cherie displayed her songwriting talent for the first time with the heavy-metal ballad "Danger Zone."

By 1984, SWC was an underground hit receiving global media attention, including a national TV feature on “Evening Magazine.” Shortly after the program aired, I called LesLee to inquire about a booking when she gave me the shocking news that Roger had died. At first, she told me, she thought he was joking when he collapsed on the floor while cleaning up after a show.

It was hard to imagine LesLee in the Marble Bar without him. The two of them were a musical couple, and working there was unlike any of the other clubs we played because they were on our side.

Yockel reviewed SWC's “Heavy Iron” cassette album in a February 1985 City Paper, but the trio was on its way toward dissolving by then.

(SWC card listing November 1983 Marble Bar appearance. Note: I got the date wrong; the 24th was a Thursday. My mother, Edith Laskey, drew the picture.)

I often said to the audience that they were the real Rooters — and Marble Bar audiences were the best.
Vix Bidet Party, recorded at Soundspace in Jersey.

Their enthusiasm, acceptance, and wild dancing from the first moment we played there made me want to stay.

That feeling, combined with another news story, inspired me to write "Runaway Housewives."

The lyrics had Cherie asking, “Will they be in Baltimore?”

In response to my recent search for Marble Bar memorabilia, Tom Roller, one of our most faithful fans, sent me some old Rooter and SWC mailing list cards that we gave to audiences in the '80s.

With my silly attitude, I had left one month's card mostly blank and offered awards to people who drew on them. Jim Weaver of Mechanicsburg, Pa., won a red vinyl record autographed by all four Rooters, and we used his prize-winning punk pig cartoon on the next month's card.

Second prize, an Ultraman T-shirt, went to Adolf Kowalski. (I swear, it wasn't a fix — I hardly knew him at the time.)

"Boy, did I drink a lot back then," Tom reminisced in a recent letter describing his experiences at the Marble. "You wrote something on my arm with magic marker and we danced to a couple of songs by TruFax & the Insaniacs. (Read Tom's 1980 poem "Jumpin at the Marble Bar"  below.)

"The inspiration for the 'lazy, lilting skirt' came from another woman I danced with who wore a long, white skirt, white socks, and sneakers," he continued. "My memory of the place was that it was grubby, dingy, run-down, and perfect for punk-new wave — especially to hear the Rooters."

Tom recalled that at another Marble show, "Reesa lightly kneed a drunk to the edge of the stage and tipped him off." I probably never missed a beat, either.

I've spoken with Cherie and Larry, and e-mailed LesLee to piece together the memories.

Now I‘m an editor and Web designer, and when I play music, it’s just for fun with my friends. Or a very occasional gig. My stash bag holds Depends instead of pot.

But the Marble Bar remains one of my fondest memories of those new wave days.

Jumpin at the Marble Bar

by Tom Roller
For Marilyn, Don and of course Reesa

In a time when,
In a world where
The only logical choice
Is suicide

I find it harder
And harder
To cling to illogic.

What is it about a long
Lilting skirt
Lifts me with such dizzy
To something like sanity?

I want to die
On the dance floor,
Jumping so far and high
From my mind

My heart forgets its pumping.