When one wakes up one morning during the mid-late '80s in downtown Columbus, Ohio to discover one is Too Young for the Blues - - - well, what's a girl to do? When you're Joe Kafka, you start strummin', and you don't stop until you've folked the punk implosion. Now a major retrospective of their collective expression is available on compact disc from Harriet Records entitled (appropriately enough), Too Young for the Blues.
Joe Kafka was formed by two sets of high school pals: Dave Butler and M. Shawn Wolfe from Mt. Vernon, Ohio, and Mike Washer and Derrick Chamberlain from Cincinnati, Ohio. The foursome met at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) located waaay downtown, where few feared to tread at the time. M. Shawn Wolfe benefited from his parents' purchase of the local mom & pop record store in Mt. Vernon, Music Mart, where his obsession with music was fed relentlessly via an endless stream of the new and the now. Though studying graphic design he was determined to meld with the music world...somehow. Along with Dave Butler and fellow CCAD student James Towning, they started the Beatkit label, releasing two cassette tapes by Butler & Towning's electronic pop experiment Fact 22, which became a solo project for Towning when Butler jumped ship to form Joe Kafka with the fated foursome.
Joe Kafka started in 1987 as a songwriting laboratory via porta-studio tape swapping. Recalls Wolfe, "We wrote a great deal of songs in a short period of time. 1987 to '89 not even two years." Through the magic of fanzines and mail order Beatkit connected to K and the K News. the networking didn't stop there, they were not they only cassette label in Columbus. "I became aware of Nancy and Greg [The Dave, who played with Beat Happening at their first Columbus show, 1986] by getting their tape from the K News. We thought they were from San Francisco, they were native Ohioans like us. We realized they were across town and we became good friends." They also forged a connect with local experimental country soul combo The Gibson Bros. "I knew Ellen [Hoover, drummer], saw them live a number of times."
In early 1988 Beat Happening were headed across country touring around the release of second album Jamboree and asked Joe Kafka to join the bill in Columbus. Says Shawn, "We were already working on our second tape and hadn't even thought about playing live." Bret Lunsford of Beat Happening remembers the evening fondly: "A dark club with pool tables, Scrawl were there; the fun of putting on shows with people making music and having their own cultural communities going on." As for Joe Kafka, upon hearing their name Bret immediately recalls their song "Blackberry Black" as "an enduring spiritual nugget of music from the ‘80s." (Yes, "Blackberry Black" is included on the Too Young for the Blues Joe Kafka retrospective)
As these things go and friendships change, Joe Kafka slipped apart in 1989. Beatkit continued as a label, morphing more into more of an art project for M. Shawn Wolfe with the motto "Since 1984 until 2000." Derrick moved to Seattle, WA., and after a brief stint in New York's lower east side, M. Shawn Wolfe followed him. Joe Kafka were lost in the shuffle until Tim Alborn of Harriet Records got the idea of a retrospective CD release. Joe Kafka had appeared on a Harriet Records compilation in the late '80s, and when Tim revived Harriet Records recently he wanted to make Joe Kafka's material available once again. "He was our #1 fan," says Wolfe. Lucky for us as the Joe Kafka album Too Young for the Blues captures a slice of Middle America's cassette revolution that may otherwise have been lost to time.
Joe Kafka, Columbus days c.1988 (L to R): Dave Butler, Derrick Chamberlain, Mike Washer, M. Shawn Wolfe