Guitarist/producer Don Fleming and drummer Jay Spiegel formed the pop culture tribute band Velvet Monkeys in Washington, D.C., in the early '80s.
Both were veterans of Jad Fair's long-running noise pop outfit Half Japanese, with whom they would continue to record throughout the 1980s (Fleming was also in the Stroke Band in the late '70s with Bruce Joyner of the Unknowns). Other members of their garage rock combo included Malcolm Riviera on guitar and keyboards, Elaine Barnes on keyboards and vocals, Charles Steck on bass, and numerous others (the lineup was fluid, to say the least). The group's first recorded appearance was on the 1981 compilation Connected (Limp Records). That same year, they released their first full-length, cassette-only Everything Is Right on their own Monkey Business label. It was followed by the similar-sounding garage-o-rama Future in 1983. In 1986, they split a cassette release, the avant-pop Big Big Sun, with old pals Half Japanese. The group then took a break, with Fleming and Spiegel moving to New York to join fellow musician/producer Kramer's pop-deconstruction unit B.A.L.L. During the sojourn, they issued a compilation of early material with Rotting Corpse Au-Go-Go (1989). Upon B.A.L.L.'s reportedly acrimonious demise, they re-formed Velvet Monkeys with guest musicians Thurston Moore, J Mascis, and Pussy Galore's Julia Cafritz for 1990's concept album -- and swan song -- Rake, a take-off on the exploitation soundtracks of the 1970s (like Curtis Mayfield's Superfly). Fleming and Spiegel returned the favor by subsequently playing on and/or producing recordings by Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and Free Kitten. Velvet Monkeys also appeared on a number of compilations during the 1980s, including The Other, Sub Pop 9, Train to Disaster, Let's Sea, and Deadly Spawn. In addition, they released a single on Sub Pop (with the Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" on the flip) and a double-single of early '80s demos (Better Living) on Moore's Ecstatic Peace label. In 1990, Fleming, Spiegel, and Riviera morphed, as it were, into a new group: Gumball. Two years later, Rake's "They Call It Rock" was included on the soundtrack to Alison Anders' Gas Food Lodging (along with tracks by J Mascis and others). Six years later, House Party, which was recorded for -- but never released by -- SST in 1985 with Workdogs' Rob Kennedy and Scott Jarvis (two other Half Japanese vets), was released by God Bless. The highlight was a ten-minute version of the Stooges' minimalist dirge "Little Doll." Although they had been gone from the scene for five years by that point, Velvet Monkeys hadn't been completely forgotten, even if Fleming and Spiegel have since become better-known for the other bands with which they've been associated. ~ Kathleen C. Fennessy, Rovi