The Psychedelic Pop of Mike Condello Remembered With Two New Releases

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Last week marked the 16th anniversary of the tragic death of Mike Condello, who took his life on August 17th, 1995, in his Santa Monica apartment.

Best known as the musical director of The Wallace and Ladmo Show, Condello's musical career was marred by spotty promotion and record company politics. His 1968 release, Phase One was full of poppy, slightly psychedelic tunes, and failed to make a commercial impact when released by Scepter Records. His 1984 release, No Bathing in Pond, issued by Takoma Records, home of folk-artists like John Fahey, Robbie Basho, and Leo Kottke, also failed to attract a commercial audience.

But according to John Dixon, Arizona music historian and host of KWSS' Mostly Vinyl With Johnny D, the end of this year should see some official releases of Condello music.

Though Phase One is not available officially, Dixon says bootleg CD copies are readily available on CD.

"That's the thing," Dixon says. "If you sit on something long enough, someone in Spain or somewhere will just put it out on CD, and there's really nothing you can do about it."

While Dixon would prefer the record receive "the Rhino treatment," with extensive liner notes, improved sound quality, and nice packaging, he doesn't believe the demand exists for the record in deluxe format.

"These days, pressing hard copies of CDs, you're lucky to even make your money back," he says.

But that isn't stopping him from following up his Mike Condello Presents: Wallace & Ladmo's Greatest Hits compilation with a new collection of Condello sides, reaching back to material recorded before Phase One, two outtakes from the Phase One sessions, songs recorded for an unreleased comedy album that eventually found a home with Wallace and Ladmo ("Soggy Cereal," "Ho Ho, Ha Ha, Hee Hee, Ha Ha," and more), songs from Condello's group Last Friday's Fire, and an outtake from the Takoma release.

Dixon also says that this year could see the release of the mythical Elton Duck record, a power-pop combo Condello played with in the '70s, which featured future-Bangles bassist Michael Steel. The group recorded an album for Arista Records in the '80s, which never saw the light of day. Drummer Andy Robinson writes on his website:

"By 1980, I was drumming for a new wave-pop band called Elton Duck. After playing the challenging music of Horsefeathers, I found this return to bashing out singable and energetic pop tunes pretty refreshing. The band included bassist Michael Steel, who later rose to stardom as one of the Bangles. We played in every imaginable LA dive, and plastered our hard-to-ignore name on posters all over town. Elton Duck opened for the Knack, the Motels and Phil Seymour, and toured with the Tubes. Clive Davis himself signed us to Arista Records. But when Arista ended up leaving our debut album on the shelf, the Duck disbanded, and I redefined my musical focus, determined to step out from behind the drums and sing my own songs."

Dixon says that Robinson is at work releasing the album, and that he has helped some, though he is not officially involved with the release.

For Dixon, the effort to release Condello music is a labor of love. "Hopefully, by the end of the year, there might be a couple of CDs that will satisfy the fans."

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