O Positive

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A week with O Positive: Thank you & goodbye

And so we come to the end of O Positive’s One Week One Band.  Thank you for reading!  I hope you enjoyed hearing about a beloved, underrated band.  These stories have run in the week leading up to my thirty-fifth birthday, which has been a strange and wonderful thing.

Thank you to Hendrik for giving me the opportunity to write this; to my research assistant and gentleman caller, Forest Turner, for helping me put this together, and to my stenographer and bodyguard, Lissa Davis.  Thanks also to TMax of The Noise, The Sound of Our Town scribe Brett Milano, and WBCN on-air personality Captain Ken Shelton for helping me with background on the Boston music scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  Thanks also to my internet friends Less Lee Moore and Ted Murphy for boosting the signal on One Week One Band.

Most of all, thanks to the members of O Positive – particularly Dave Martin and Dave Herlihy – for helping me pull this week together.  Dave Martin, thanks for getting me in to see O Positive and Hey Dave over the past few months.  Dave Herlihy, thanks for being a willing interview subject both in August of 1990 and in May of this year.  Thanks for being kind to a thirteen-year-old fangirl and treating me like an ally. 

These essays meant a lot to me, and I’d like to dedicate them to my mom, Sandy, and to Alex Lob…a friend of a friend. 

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s programming, be sure to check out Summer of Auster, my summer project.  I will be reading all of Paul Auster’s work in chronological order and writing about it.

Back to you, Hendrik. 

Epilogue: Fall around like sounds we know

Five miles and twenty-one years stand between the Paradise – a home away from home for O Positive in their heyday – and the Midway Café.  This townie bar, nestled in an industrial neighborhood between Dorchester and Jamaica Plain, has the feel of the best rec-room ever.  As we enter the club, a pug sits perched on a stool at the bar.  A Grateful Dead tribute band called, naturally, 420, plays a new version of “Old Macdonald Had a Farm”, with a toddler on drums and vocals.  After procuring some spirits, we settle in to watch the Celtics game and keep an eye out for the members of Hey Dave. 

Gradually, they file in.  Dave Martin sidles up to the bar, arm-in-arm with a striking brunette.  Avuncular bass player Dave Ingham joins us to watch some of the game and to exchange facetious pleasantries with my gentleman caller and me.  In the middle distance, Dave Herlihy ducks through the door, lifting a small child over the threshold.  Kenny Hickey, who manned the drum seat for O Positive in the Home Sweet Head years, mills about by the soundman as 420 winds down their set. 

When I ask Dave Martin about the possibility of an interview, he shrugs his shoulders.  “We’ll see,” he says, before adding “You could always write an observational piece about a bunch of guys who have moved on.”  Point taken. 

My gaze shifts from the TV to the stage as Hey Dave start to set up their gear.  Twenty-one years ago, I listened to these albums and daydreamed about the band, who appeared mysterious, thoughtful, and deep in their shadowy photos.  I thought of the day when I’d leave my scruffy little burg, move to Boston, and become a writer, and how my favorite bands – like, yes, O Positive – would be among my friends.  I also think back a few months, to my fond wish that working on these articles might eventually lead to a reissue of those first two EPs. 

The band has finished setting up, and Dave Martin steps up to the mic.  A major chord rings through the joint, and the walls cradle Martin’s oaken baritone.  “The moon was full, and the sky was painted blue,” he sings, and the three-part harmonies back him up.  The crowd begins to sway.  My eyelids flutter shut, and a grin creases my face from ear to ear.  Right now, standing in this room, all that matters are these songs. 

Track

Falling

Artist

Dave Herlihy

Album

This Is Boston... Not Austin

Dave Herlihy - Falling

After O Positive disbanded, Herlihy returned to his previous vocation as a lawyer.  His practice – which is still going strong today – deals with music industry issues.  One of his first clients was Curve of the Earth Records, a label founded by Boston rock fellow traveler Alvan Long.  His gig also allowed him studio time to work on his solo material.  He had been playing solo gigs since the Cloud Factory days and had a considerable backlog of potential solo work.

In the fifteen years since the band broke up, however, only one Herlihy solo track has seen release.  The spare, aching “Falling” was included on the 1996 compilation This is Boston…Not Austin.  That album came out at a time when CDs were $12-15 a pop, so I didn’t have the money to gamble on a dozen songs just because I knew one was good.  It hadn’t occurred to me to check the stacks at the library for this one until I started working on this week’s entries.

Lyrically and vocally, “Falling” demonstrates a different direction.  Instead of writing from a personal perspective, Herlihy inhabits the character of a seedy fall guy who’s about to take a final spill.  The minor-key melody, the whispered vocal, and the piano-heavy production give the song a chilling, cinematic feel.  It also showed off a less rock-oriented side for the frontman, and put his Tom Waits influence center stage.  

On the basis of this song, I’m curious about the solo record that might have been.  However, post-band life has been kind to the former frontman.  He’s worked behind the scenes not only as a music-industry attorney but also as a professor in the music department at Northeastern University and the faculty advisor to the school’s record label, Green Line Records.  Most importantly, not being a rock star has afforded Herlihy a very rewarding life.  Starting a business, raising a family, and working as a teacher might not have the cachet that fronting a popular rock band has, but those endeavors are even more important. On his appearances as a public figure, he comes off as an avuncular elder statesman — like Carl Kasell with a spiky hairdo and a hollow-bodied six-string Rickenbacker.  

Track

Getting Late

Artist

Dave Martin

Album

Natural Selection

Dave Martin - Getting Late

Dave Martin has had the most prolific solo career in the decade and a half since O Positive disbanded.  He initially came to the band as a soundman, but after Only Breathing came out he joined the band onstage as a man of many instruments.  (The band also backed him in an Elvis act that he performed in January for a few years in the mid-1980s.)  Martin’s music shares his previous band’s penchant for personal narrative, lush melodies, and ingratiating arrangements.  However, his three solo albums have a more intimate, folksy approach.

On his 2012 release Natural Selection, Dave Martin depicted the experience of love lost and regained in middle age.  His disarmingly straightforward point of view, lived-in details, and spare production gives these songs with a stinging, poignant quality.  The music might not be similar to O Positive, but fans of troubadour singer/songwriters like Ray Lamontaigne and Ryan Montbleau will find much to like on this album.  Here’s the lead track, “Across the Way”. 

Where are they now?

After O Positive broke up, two of its members more or less retired from making music.  Alan Pettiti, whose distinctive guitar parts gilded the band’s songs, played a few solo gigs in the months after their last gig.  In recent years, he’s focused more on his work as a carpenter, but has come out of retirement for O Positive’s reunion gigs. 

Alex Lob, who played the drums on their first three albums, left O Positive in early 1991.  He ran a hobby shop, won awards for his remote-controlled flying planes, and worked with MIT students on autonomous radio flying with radio-controlled flyers.  Sadly, Alex passed away in October of 2009 after a diabetes-related illness.

While the other Daves have dabbled in solo careers, Dave Ingham has mostly worked behind the scenes.  As the founder of Shuz Studios, he’s produced or engineered several local albums, among them an album by the Andover-based jangle-pop band the Townies and Problem, an album by the post-O Positive trio Toyboat.   

While the other Daves have dabbled in solo careers, Dave Ingham has mostly worked behind the scenes.  As the founder of Shuz Studios, he’s produced or engineered several local albums, among them an album by the Andover-based jangle-pop band the Townies and Problem, an album by the post-O Positive trio Toyboat.   

For years I put this band at the forefront of my life. But there are many great things you can do — having twins among them — besides being in O Positive.

Dave Ingham on the band’s breakup.  Boston Phoenix, 27 January 1995.