Bo Grumpus were a trippy, sometimes edgy folk-based psychedelic band that came out of Boston in 1967. Their story goes back to the mid-'60s and guitarists Eddie Mottau and Joe Hutchinson, who had been performing as Two Guys from Boston. In the latter guise, they had crossed paths in the mid-'60s with Noel "Paul" Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, who ended up producing their one and only single, which was released on the Scepter label. They had performed as far away as Dayton, OH, which was where drummer N.D. Smart heard them. They later asked him in, to form a trio, and he agreed and brought Jim Colegrove in on bass, the two Ohioans relocating to Boston. The quartet, initially working as the Bait Shop, made their debut at a bistro called the Loft on Charles Street. Mottau and Hutchinson knew Felix Pappalardi, a New York-based musician who had played bass on their duo recordings, and who had lately moved up to producing, most notably the work of the Youngbloods.
They were able to persuade him to come up to Boston to check out their sound, and he liked what he heard. The result was a publishing deal and a recording contract with Atlantic Records. By June of 1967, they had moved to New York and were getting ready to make their first album -- it was around this time that Pappalardi got them to abandon the name the Bait Shop, in favor of a moniker that his wife, artist Gail Collins, suggested: Bo Grumpus. The name came from a drawing she'd made that hung on their living room wall -- in defense of the choice, it was unusual enough so that people (and the press) would look at it twice and remember it. It was also a name that, as Pappalardi once observed, "meant nothing," which meant that it could be defined by the quartet's trippy hard rock sound -- and this, after all, was the second half of the 1960s, in the middle of the Summer of Love, a period in which decisions made by lots of people might elicit an observation of "what was I thinking?" In any case, the band couldn't have asked for a better New York debut than the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village, and from there they moved on to the legendary Cafe Wha?
Recording of the album went more slowly than anticipated, and by the month of December it still wasn't completed, and it was at that point that N.D. Smart jumped ship, joining the D.C.-spawned Kangaroo. He was succeeded by Ronnie Blake, formerly of the Hello People, who got to play on part of the album, as did Herb Lovelle. Finally, in the spring of 1968, the group's one and only album, entitled Before the War (Atco), was released. Then trouble came along, in the form of a new opportunity and legal problems with the group name. Pappalardi was offered the chance to produce a record at the Bell label in New York, and he wanted to shift Bo Grumpus there. But then a dispute arose with their publishing company over the ownership of the group's name -- having invested their time and first album in "Bo Grumpus," they were forced to give it up. And following a suggestion by Eddie Mottau, Bo Grumpus became Jolliver Arkansaw and, using that identity, went into the studio early in 1969 to record.
The resulting album, Home, was released in mid-1969, and quickly fell into obscurity. The group fell apart soon after the album's release, in the summer of 1969, Jim Colegrove joining his former bandmate N.D. Smart in Great Speckled Bird, while Eddie Mottau eventually returned the favor that Paul Stookey had done him a few years before, becoming the latter's producer as well as playing guitar on Stookey's solo albums. Colegrove reportedly has a record label in Texas, while Ronnie Blake seems to have left music. But Joe Hutchinson, who wrote most of the songs on Home, was living in Florida as of 2009, playing regularly at the Gibson Inn in Apalachicola. Ironically, the biggest beneficiary of Bo Grumpus' efforts turned out to be Leslie West, the guitarist who played the solo on "Gray Afternoon" from Home. Pappalardi already knew West, who had been with the Vagrants and had several single sides produced by Pappalardi, but apparently it was this early 1969 session that convinced him that the guitarist was worth working with more closely -- which led to the West solo album Mountain and the formation of the group of the same name, initially as a trio with the ubiquitous N.D. Smart. Bo Grumpus' Before the War was re-released on CD in 2008 by Wounded Bird. ~ Bruce Eder