Heritage Hump Day: Windigo - "The Ballad of Reichen Overgraaben"

Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday (give or take) from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.

In 1998, those carefree days before you could Google anything and have your verification, you just had to take singer Matt Strangwayes' word for it. That when he grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, every day his school bus would drive passed Rosy Carnemolla, the "world's heaviest woman" in the Guinness Book of Records. Or that his band Windigo, one of Arizona’s heaviest bands, based a lot of mythology on their first and only long player on guy named Reichen Overgraaben, a disgraced Olympic speed skater who emigrated to the United States after spilling in the nationals.

A quick look at Al Gore's invention will tell you that rotund Rosy was 850 pounds of real flesh. Reichen? Ah, not so real. But you can Google them both and it'll pull up the New Times profile I wrote about the group entitled "Windigo's Strange Ways," along with a misspelling of Matt's surname that survives in cyberspace.

Seventeen years later, Strangwayes doesn't miss a beat when asked about the "The Ballad of Reichen Overgraaben," the song he remembers as the quintessential Windigo song and which we're offering as our Heritage Hump song for the sampling this week. It first appeared on the band’s self-titled album, released on NMG Pavement Records.

"It's a tribute to the man who once had the speed skating world in the palm of his hand, but put it down to grab a beer," he says. "Not the first or the last song Windigo wrote about a dude trying desperately trying to hang on to his wherewithal in the midst of absurdity.”

Before ever partying with Reichen, Windigo had its own original story. From the 1998 text:

Angry at the world and especially Poughkeepsie, Strangewayes (sic) moved here in 1994 to attend Arizona State University and brood some more. With negligible prior musical experience, he found himself forming a New York-style, hard-core-turned-metal band within a month. His accomplice in that first incarnation of Windigo and every lineup since is guitarist Jason "Eat 'em Up" Wilhite, so named because of a teenage episode where he unwittingly ate a hash brownie that was so good he proceeded to eat all the Halloween candy his mom bought for the neighborhood children.

Windigo Psychosis went through several personnel switches until finally stabilizing with the addition of bassist Dave "Davezilla" Curwin and drummer "Junior" Newlin. Before that happened, the band laid down two short CDs, the aforementioned Who Do You Trust and the three-song Strangewayes Prison.

Although selected as Best Metal Band in 1995 by New Times, Windigo has morphed into a band that its producer and former Guns N' Roses ax man Gilby Clarke describes as "very heavy but with a groovy '60s influence to it. Those guys were great. I like the way they want to experiment with sounds which a lot of bands won't do."

As for its recording m.o., Clarke confirms the band did indeed do a lot of weed. "They seemed pretty content," Clarke laughs. "Because that's the way they play their music, and that's how they write and listen to their music. That's important. I don't smoke pot at all. What was cool was I was creating these sounds with them, and I made sure that they were stoned when they listened back to them, and I could see them smiling, and I'd say, 'All right, we got it.'”

Just to be sure I got it, I've decided to take up Strangewayes' invitation to hear the CD for the first time wacked out on mushrooms. An informal listening party for the band's new album is taking place at his home, and while everyone's waiting for Wilhite to show up before firing up the CD, we sit around the pool getting progressively toastier around the edges. There's an alarmingly fuzzy tree in the yard that even Strangewayes claims not to have noticed before in all its fuzzy splendor. I alternate between being transfixed to that and watching the pool pump dance around.

“Making the full length with Gilby Clarke in Hollywood was a kick-ass experience on a lot of levels,” recalls Strangwayes, “and we rode that album's wave for another year or two, but eventually, like Reichen himself, we lost our way and ran out of energy. I would say a very ‘Reichen’ moment for the band would be me hiding under the side stage at Cricket Pavilion after warming up for Mötley Crüe, thinking "this is all very silly, isn't it?" 

Strangwayes went on to front the equally heavy and sometimes silly rock band Greenhaven. As for Overgraaben? Strangwayes says, “Long-time fans will be happy to know that today Reichen is healthy and well and living in Goodridge, MN where he teaches haberdashery and is working on a screenplay about the Hemmestveit brothers."

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