A rollicking wake was thrown last week in a Takoma Park back alley for the late, and in some small circles lamented, Gumball. At the vigil, the occasionally local band’s legacy and the basis for its shtick—the biggest agglomeration of 8-track tapes this side of the 1970s—was divvied up among surviving members and some hangers-on.
For the uninitiated: Early in its existence, Gumball—the key components of which were Velvet Monkeys exes Don Fleming, Malcolm Riviera, and Jay “Rummee” Spiegel—decided to stress its affinity for retro formats. Members at one time pushed Columbia to produce promotional 8-tracks of its debut, but accepted the label’s offer of a vinyl release instead.
Even with that setback, wax took a backseat to 8-tracks for good in the Gumball oeuvre in July 1993, when the bandmates happened upon a mother lode of such tapes near the practice space they kept in Lancaster, Pa. After a limited bargaining session with the tapes’ owner—a local junk dealer—the band procured more than 25,000 titles for $400.
“We never really thought about whether it was a smart thing to do or not,” recalls then–tour manager John Hansen of the big acquisition. “We were given the chance to become the world’s largest collectors of 8-tracks for an amount of money that we thought was next to nothing and, well, we couldn’t pass that up.”
When on tour, the band made a point of frequenting thrift shops and flea markets in hopes of increasing the size of its stockpile. But when Columbia dropped Gumball from its stable and members took up residences in different parts of the East Coast, the tapes went from humorous identity-builder to something of a nuisance. After assorted moves, the 8-tracks ended up in the garage of Hansen’s house in Takoma Park. About a month ago, Hansen let his buddies know that he no longer wanted the entire stock on his premises.
With only minor negotiations, an informal and amicable settlement was hammered out that called for Riviera, who now lives in Taylorsville, N.C., and Spiegel to come to Takoma Park for a more or less dignified divvying up of the wares. (Fleming, who lives in N.Y.C., declined to participate.)
“This isn’t going to be one of those ‘I’m-only-taking-the-tapes-I-want’ sessions,” laughed Hansen, just before the parceling process began. “If it was, there would be a lot more people here, it would take all day, and by the time we were done everybody would be in a really bad mood.”
Instead, the agreement called for Riviera and Spiegel to take as many trash bags full of 8-tracks as the trailer-equipped vehicles they brought to the function would hold, and Hansen would hold onto the balance. During the loading session—which was performed while deservedly obscure 8-tracks from various former members of Uriah Heep blared in the background—participants only rarely singled out titles from the cargo they were moving.
“We don’t want to get emotional,” explained Hansen with a sigh.
Before heading back to Taylorsville in his dad’s comically overstocked Cadillac Seville (the Gucci model), Riviera held out hope that the Gumball legacy would come together again in the very near future. His unlikely dream also includes the establishment of an 8-track museum. And Taylorsville, he added, would be the perfect place for such a shrine for at least two reasons: “I was born there…plus, there are still people in that town who don’t know that 8-tracks aren’t made any more.”—Dave McKenna