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Swimming Pool Q's

Atlanta's Swimming Pool Q's were one of the first Southern new wave bands to gain nationwide recognition in the early '80s after the breakthrough of the B-52's made folks aware that there was more to Southern rock than what Q's leader Jeff Calder called "the Boogie Establishment." However, while most of their Georgia brethren were famous for serving up light, off-kilter pop, Swimming Pool Q's music had a darker and more challenging undercurrent, balancing twisted guitar patterns against lyrics that played on Southern Gothic archetypes in a manner that was often witty, and sometimes ominous.

Born and raised in Lakeland, FL, as a teenager Jeff Calder developed a fondness for both the eccentricities of Southern literature (he would study writing at the University of Florida with acclaimed novelist Harry Crews) and the sonic fragmentation of Captain Beefheart. When he discovered the music of warped Georgia visionaries Hampton Grease Band, Calder found a group of kindred spirits, and in 1973, after the band broke up, he struck up a friendship with HGB guitarist Glenn Phillips. Through Phillips, Calder met Bob Esley, a gifted Atlanta guitar player with a passion for Jimi Hendrix and a taste for left-of-center rock.

Eager to form a band and believing Atlanta was a more conducive venue for his ideas than anywhere else in the South, Calder moved to the Peach state, picked up a guitar, and began writing songs with Esley. In 1978, Calder and Esley had formed Swimming Pool Q's (the name came for mishearing someone talking about a redneck "swinging pool cues" is a fight), fusing the energy of the nascent new wave scene with the musical adventure of Beefheart and Hampton Grease Band. With Esley playing lead guitar and Calder handling rhythm and taking most of the lead vocals, the Q's were rounded out by percussionist Robert Schmid, bassist Billy Jones, and Anne Richmond Boston, who sang lead on several numbers, played occasional keyboards, and brought samples from her impressive toy collection to shows.

In 1979, the band self-released their first single, "Rat Bait" b/w "The A-Bomb Woke Me Up," which generated enthusiastic press and sold well enough to gain the band spots opening for the likes of Devo and the Police. The band hit the road on their own, touring well before a Southern new wave club circuit had been established, and they developed enough of a following that Danny Beard signed them to his trail-blazing DB Records label. In 1981, the band released their first album, The Deep End; by this time, Pete Jarkunas had taken over on bass from the departing Billy Jones. More touring and positive press followed, with the album eventually moving close to 20,000 copies, and before long the band signed to A&M Records.

In 1984, the group released their first major label album, simply entitled The Swimming Pool Q's; by this time the rhythm section had shifted again, with the addition of new bassist J.E. Garnett and drummer Billy Burton, and the band's sound had become a bit more streamlined, with Anne Richmond Boston handling a greater number of lead vocals and adding more keyboard textures to the songs. A third album, Blue Tomorrow, followed in 1986, but despite college radio airplay and continued touring (including a high-profile slot opening for Lou Reed on his New Sensations tour), the band seemed to have hit a commercial plateau, and they were dropped by A&M. Undaunted, the band soldiered on, releasing an EP for DB in 1987, The Firing Squad for God, and an album for Capitol in 1989, World War Two Point Five; Anne Richmond Boston appeared on neither of the band's post-A&M albums, opting for a low-key solo career and a day job in publishing and design, though she did create the cover for World War Two Point Five. By 1992, Swimming Pool Q's had tired of life on the road, and the band took an extended break. However, Calder and Esley never broke up the Q's, and they continued to perform live on occasion, while Calder pursued a career as a writer and performed with old friend Glenn Phillips in his band the Supreme Court. In 1998, a new lineup of the band began working together. A remastered edition of The Deep End appeared in 2001, boasting 12 bonus tracks and a lengthy historical essay by Calder. The band played a number of shows throughout the South in support of the reissue, with Anne Richmond Boston returning to the band's lineup, and in 2003, a new album which Calder and Esley had been working on since 1993, the elaborate and ambitious The Royal Academy of Reality, was released. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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