Connections – “Tug of War” b/w “Give Me the Knife” 7″ (1981)

I bought this solely based on the fact that a quick internet search while at the record store indicated that the Connections were from Seattle. And since there isn’t much pre-grunge Seattle rock out there, and this 7″ dates from 1981, it’s something I felt I needed to hear on general principle.

After giving it a spin and hearing the awesomeness of the B side, “Give Me the Knife,” I decided I needed to at least make an effort to learn something, anything, about this band that, according to Discogs at least, only put out this one 7″ to document their time together. The internet itself failed to yield anything significant other than a few blog posts by people like me who’d found and liked it but didn’t have any info on the band, and the jacket wasn’t much help either being that it didn’t even list the names of the members. But I had an ace up my sleeve. A secret spot hidden in plain site on, of all places, Facebook. I speak of course of “The Seattle Syndrome” group (♥), a group dedicated to keeping the memory of Seattle music from the pre-grunge era alive. So I posted a simple “hey, anyone remember the Connections” there.

Members were able to provide the names of a few band members, and within a couple of hours I was in touch with Nolan Anderson’s wife, then a couple of days later Nolan himself. Anderson, who is still making music today as part of the Mad Andersons, was the lead guitarist for the Connections and helped me connect the dots and put together the pieces about this interesting band.

Standing (left to right): Randy Doak (drums), Cathy Croce (vocals, writer), Dan Baker (vocals, rhythm guitar, writer), Nolan Anderson (lead guitar)
Seated: Pat McCullough (bass)

The Connections started as an acoustic duo comprised of Dan Baker and Cathy Croce playing both originals and covers. They were influenced by the likes of the Everly Brothers, Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly, and Elvis. Nolan and Dan met while studying music in college, and Nolan joined the pair as they expanded and continued as an acoustic trio. Later they widened their sound, went electric, and brought aboard a rhythm section of Randy Doak and Pat McCullough.

The band made the rounds in the Pioneer Square (♠) bar circuit during the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time when that wasn’t the safest place to hang out but one that nonetheless encouraged a certain amount of artistic freedom. They played in some classic Seattle bars and clubs like The Central and The Gorilla Room, plus made the occasional foray north of downtown to play Panchos and Astor Park up in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. Anderson has a lot of fond memories both of those musical spaces as well as the generally positive relationships the various Seattle-area bands shared, artists like The Heats, Visible Targets, and Student Nurse, a few of which I’ve previously written about here.

So what about the music? “Tug of War” reminds me a little of early Elvis Costello, a bit of a melancholy pop song. Dan Baker does the lead vocals with Cathy Croce coming in for some harmony and the chorus. Musically the first half of the song is fairly straight forward, though the second half gives all three instrumentalists an opportunity to add some of their own flourishes as the track comes to a cacophonous conclusion. But it’s the B side where the magic really happens. Many of The Seattle Syndrome members remember hearing “Give Me the Knife” on KCMU, and deservedly so, because this track rocks. It’s way more punk than “Tug of War,” driven forward by some very basic and aggressively played chords that give Croce a lot of room to wander around a bit vocally as she steps into the lead role. Anderson gets to drop some nice guitar work into the middle, and the pacing throughout the song is consistent and driving. This thing is begging to be covered by a female-fronted band like The Kills or Dream Wife or The Bombpops.

I confirmed with Nolan that “Tug of War” b/w “Give Me the Knife” is the only formal recording Connections put out – getting studio time was expense in the days before anyone with a laptop has a de-facto recording studio right in their home, and like so many bands from the period all Connections left behind was a single. So I’m glad to have both found this 7″ and to have learned a bit more about the band. You can give ’em a listen for yourself below.

(♥) The group is named after the two great Seattle Syndrome compilation albums that documented the Seattle music scene in 1981-82.

(♠) Pioneer Square is an old part of Seattle, just a bit south of the downtown core and nestled between the high rises to the north and the sports stadiums to the south. It was, and still can be, fairly sketch, though it’s definitely gentrified over the last couple of decades.