The 1980s...Out of Obscurity, Into Oblivion.


The 1980s were a trying time. The business of 15 60 75 struggled to survive. Robert was labeled by the fashionable fans of New Wave and the followers of Punk as "the old guy on the street who plays the blues". He was now 33 years old. His health began to fail, and the stark reality of death appeared and stared him in the face. Yet, during the first five years, two albums were released, and established musicians took notice of the band. Anton Fier of the Golden Palominos invited Robert to tour North America with him. David Thomas of Pere Ubu engineered the recording of a 45. The band was working hard, but the events of their lives were working harder.


Downtown Kent, which consisted of Main Street, Water Street and Franklin, was alive with music of every flavor. But the best place in town for Numbers Band fans was J.B.'s Nightclub. J.B.'s sat next to the grainery and the railroad. On hot summer nights, the workers stood outside and talked or smoked. Trains backed in cars full of grain and then abandoned them. Trucks blocked Water Street as they maneuvered for loading. The street level building was lit from inside, and you could see the belts whirling up from machines into the ceilings and then down into the dusty wooden floors. Loose grain scattered along the sidewalks was naturally ground into powder by people and traffic. Outside the club, a row of Harley Davidsons shined in the dark.

Photo of J.B.'s by Steve Etherton. Also used for cover of 15 60 75 "Twenty" CD.


The crowds of 900 enjoyed in the early '70's would never be seen again. J.B.'s was a smaller club than the The Kove. The fans changed with the styles of the moment. And although MTV was created to increase people's awareness of new music, it also introduced a new argument against paying to see live music in clubs. Music videos emphasized the visual style of the performers, and the line between "music" and "musical entertainment" quickly vanished. The way musicians looked on stage was more important than what (or how well) they played. In 1980, producing a video of your band was expensive, and getting it on MTV was next to impossible. And everyone knew if you didn't have a video, man, you were nobody.
Robert was not happy with the slow response from his Gibson 175 and started looking around for another instrument. In 1982, friend Fred Salem of the Outlaws gave Robert his first solid-body guitar. It was a black Gibson Victory MV. The Victory was not a popular Gibson, but it was the answer for the next step in his style. He added a total of four foot pedals on stage. The birth of his style of playing came from the slow and unconsious merging of two very big influences, Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix.

Below: Michael Stacey, Jack and Robert Kidney, and the blonde Gibson 175.

1982 also brought the release of 15 60 75 2, the band's second album in over ten years. It was praised by several local and national radio stations and publications. The group on this record included Terry Hynde on alto sax, Bart Johnson on bass, Michael Stacey on rhythm guitar & vocals, Jack Kidney on tenor sax, harp & vocals, David Robinson on drums, and Robert Kidney on lead guitar & vocals. Despite the great reviews, airplay was limited. Club dates were steady, but they competed against the showy New Wave acts with big hair and glitter. People who loved music liked the band, people who bought it, didn't. Michael Stacey and Bart Johnson became restless and irritated because the band was not "going anywhere". Former member Chris Butler was on TV with The Waitresses performing "I Know What Boys Want". Again, changes were on the horizon. Fred Trabuzzo replaced Bart on bass in 1983. A few years later, Steve Calabria replaced Fred. Steve is recorded on Among The Wandering, released in 1987. The album received great reviews, but again, did not give the band the recognition it needed to be a "hit".

Right: Fred Trabuzzo replaced Bart Johnson on bass in 1983. Photo by Jeff Kaslow.

The Golden Palominos, created by drummer and producer Anton Fier, is a revolving door of musicians and talent. Anton uses a different group of people on nearly every release. Originally, Anton was the drummer for the Cleveland-based band Pere Ubu. Other Pere Ubu members, such as David Thomas and Tony Maimone (Tony also played bass in They Might Be Giants) enjoyed the music of The Numbers and came to see them perform when they could. Anton was fond of a song written by Robert called Animal Speaks and asked Bob if he could record it. Jack Bruce (former bass player, singer/songwriter for Creem) sang it for Anton on a 45 released by Celluloid Records. Johnny Rotten (aka John Lydon of the Sex Pistols) recorded it with Anton on "The Golden Palominos a history". Robert Kidney recorded five other songs with the Palominos (go to The Dark Horse), and Anton took Bob along on his 1987 North American Blast of Silence Tour.
Also on this tour was singer and song writer Peter Blegvad. Peter still tours and records, and was also involved in the 1998 David Thomas production Disastodrome!. David Thomas produced a 45 of The Numbers performing their own "Here In The Life" and "It's In Imagination". The latter also appears on Pere Ubu's boxed set Data Panic In The Year Zero released in 1996.
For more about Pere Ubu visit them on the web...Datapanik Web Site. The Ubu-Related Rarities section talks about Terminal Drive and the Numbers.
Michael Stacey left the band in February 1989. Jack would soon carry the band as lead vocalist through some rough months. Robert had problems with his health since he was a child, but it wasn't until 1975 that he was correctly diagnosed. The doctors found malformed kidneys (a birth defect) which would become 80% dysfunctional over time. His prognosis was to wait it out until the kidneys got bad enough to qualify for a transplant. By now, the years of late nights, drinking (finishing a liter of gin every three days), and other abuses had taken their toll. The tainted blood caused memory loss, deranged thoughts, and the frustrating inability to make decisions. His daughter was born into a failing marriage. Touring solo with The Palominos was the most difficult time of his life. His brother and other band members were inactive while he was gone, paid by the tour. His personal life, health, and relationship with the band were all crumbling at the same time. The doctors prepared him for dialysis and transplant. Jack was prepared to be used as a donor.
On Thursday, April 12th, 1990, Robert was paged by the Akron City Hospital. A kidney was available and transplant surgery was scheduled for the next morning, Friday the 13th, which was also Good Friday, of Easter weekend. The transplant was a success. Robert recalls, "It would be nice to say I was glad to be alive. But, honestly, I was scared. I woke up to debt, divorce and unable to work. It was an incredible struggle." After eight weeks of recovery, a second surgery was performed to remove the old kidneys. Continue with The 90s...



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