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Spies Who Surf catch another wave
November 26, 1999
By Kevin M. Williams
All too often, band reunions fall into the "who asked ya to?" category. But no matter how fleeting it might ultimately prove to be, the return of Spies Who Surf is, for those who know Chicago rock history, an event.
The seeds began to germinate during a musical summit of sorts that occurred recently at Betty's Blue Star Lounge. Guitarist Tommy Klein, founder of Spies Who Surf, was sitting in for a gig with instrumental surf rockers and archrivals of the Spies back in the day, the Greaseballs.
"I was kind of overwhelmed by the whole thing," said Klein, a recovering heroin addict. "A lot of the people who came that night because I was playing were old Spy fans. But I think that some of the reaction from people who knew me in the old days was also like `God, I can't believe this guy is alive.' "
As a Chicago fixture for almost a decade, the Spies were one of those bands who almost everyone had heard of, and were surprised they weren't more famous. With their instrumental rock that called upon elements from surf, jazz and film themes, Spies gigs were regular and consistently packed to the gills. And yet, when the band imploded in 1997 nobody was surprised.
"Chicago is a small town in a big city and it's got a grapevine," said Spies bassist Marty Busca. "In that grapevine, we basically used to be called Spies Who Shoot. Nobody would touch us. We shot ourselves in the foot. It was sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll and it was a blast. But the bottom dropped out."
"What brought me out was hitting bottom," said Klein, who is now a guitar instructor at Guitar Works in Evanston. "I was homeless, walking the streets, riding the L all night, not having an apartment on the coldest day of the year. But [drugs] was the scene back then, and the world was our oyster."
Busca and Klein's problems finally succeeded, when coupled with other pressures, to tear the Spies apart.
Chicago promoter Shawn Maloney, who saw the reaction engendered by Klein and the Spies tunes that night at Betty's, began nagging Klein about a reunion. Klein talked to Busca and the other members, drummer David Sycott and second guitarist Marshall Dawson about a get-together.
It's a one-off at this point, but who knows about the future?
We do know that in the present, a listen to the only Spies CD, "Calling All Martians," is a frustrating experience for those with a sense of musical justice. Their blend of surf music and spaghetti Western or spy film soundtracks is irresistible not only for its style, but the fact that the Spies can flat out play.
An added benefit of the Spies is a sense of style, an undeniable coolness that hearkens to the Rat Pack, cited by both Klein and Busca as an influence.
Now the Spies are back, at least for a night.