A discography of songs from 1979–1982-ish
Shyzgifter. What a funny name, huh? What does it mean? Where did it come from? If you search online for “Shyzgifter,” you get a series of music collection sites for hard-to-find records. Within each you will discover that Shyzgifter is an obscure band from Canton, Ohio under the genre “Heavy Metal/Hard Rock.” Their one and only record was a 7” single from 1982. Not much else is known about this enigmatic group. Yet, perhaps it’s due to the record’s scarcity and the mystery about the band’s name that this one obscure single once commanded a price of $350 online. Today, it’s now selling for about $20.
I’ve done a lot of research into this band, so I can answer a lot of these questions. First you may wonder, why research this obscure group? Well, to be honest, I’ve got a lot of time on my hands. If the epic 2020 coronavirus pandemic and raging fires in California weren’t enough, our social and political erosion leaves us with an ironic abundance of time on my hands, and sufficient nervous energy that is probably best put to creative use.
The other reason is more mundane and, honestly, self-serving: I formed the group in late 1979 when I was 17, and I figured I’d write about this unnerving journey (to my parents) that, ironically, was the most formative experience in my life. (We don’t yet know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.) So, sit back and be prepared for a short trip into the wayback machine to Canton Ohio and an amazingly interesting story behind a band that, in the minds of 17-year olds, was the most awesome metal band ever.
We begin in 1968. I was 5 years old, and most of the world was still in black and white. As was the custom for that era, I had to take piano lessons. I hated it. Well, I didn’t hate the piano (quite the contrary), but rather, the rigid, intolerant curriculum that was forced upon me. As was customary, classical music was the protocol — Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bartok, the whole lot. I liked it better than I let on (Bartok was particularly interesting), but what really got my goat was that my mother and teachers were incredibly judgemental about music, believing that no other music was worthy of study or performance, let alone to be listened to.
During these years, I mostly listened to AM radio, which younger people today would only associate with conservative talk radio, but back then, it was where bubble-gum pop music of the 50s and 60s filled the airwaves. By the early 1970s, FM radio started coming into the scene, along with color TV, where I was quickly enamored by more progressive music at the time. The Who, Yardbirds, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Emerson Lake and Palmer, David Bowie, among others. (And on TV, you could actually see videos of these bands on really late night UHF channels that were edgy enough to broadcast Don Kirshner’s “Rock Concert.”)
The combination of my new musical tastes and my piano teacher’s inflexibility and intolerance fueled my iconoclast tendencies. Even though I had to play other people’s music, what really got my attention was composing my own. I would record many random ideas using my dad’s ancient reel-to-reel tape recorder and single microphone, which he mostly used to dictate business letters for his secretary to transcribe. But I had one advantage over my dad: I knew how to fiddle with technical things, so when the tape recorder would mysteriously stop working (hint: dead batteries), I would take over. (My dad’s greatest technical achievement was moving from the older rotary dial phones to keypad dialing, which he felt was the greatest invention of the 20th century.) I recorded a lot, but I admit I was not yet an emerging Bach or Beethoven, though you could hear some Bartok in there if you dropped enough acid. It was the process and creative boundlessness that I loved.
I continued with piano lessons until I was 15, when I finally put my foot down and insisted I quit. Unfortunately, my foot landed on mud from the recent winter thaw, a common consequence of living in Ohio in the 70s. Having almost no leverage to assert my quest to abandon the piano, other than my cherubic face and sharp wit, my mom was willing to meet me halfway: She agreed to let me quit piano if I took up some other instrument. That, and to stop getting peanut butter on the sheets. I chose guitar, after which I was immediately sent to a three-week summer music camp in Amherst, Maine. (On the way, we stopped in New York City, where my one and only memory was stopping by the offices of Mad Magazine, where I met all my idols, from the publisher William Gaines to Don Martin, Dave Berg and Sergio Aragones, who was kind enough to draw a custom Spy vs. Spy cartoon for me! I didn’t tell him that I personally drew my own Don Martin characters on my bedroom walls at home — with magic marker, no less! The reader should note that I covered them up with concert posters of Led Zeppelin and other 70s bands when I got a bit older.)
Next stop was music camp in Maine, where I began to truly learn and appreciate core music theory from a diversity of styles and instruments. That, and there were girls there too. Lots of them. Some of whom even liked me back. This definitely helped the creative juices, as it were. Plus, the camp was supportive of students authoring original compositions, so I was in a good place. As such, I vastly expanded my musical interests from rock-n-roll to include jazz, progressive rock, heavy metal and newer, fusion styles. (Note that each of those genres was very different in the 70s than they are today. And, as time passed, all those styles evolved to become more dynamic and diverse within their own rights.)
After returning home, I got my first electric guitar, which I bought myself using money I earned from delivering newspapers and mowing neighbors’ lawns. I started jamming with other high school musicians, who were all too eager to play. (I later realized this is because I had a car, but that’s besides the point.) Two years later, at the age of 17, I started my first “regular” band, which is to say that we would meet regularly, talk a lot about music and how we were going to be rock stars, and drink a lot of beer. Occasionally, we would make a shitload of noise in the basement. Bill and Ted would have been proud.
The core group consisted of Terry Libby (drummer), Jeff Teis (guitar and vocals), Eric Graber (bass), and of course, me on lead guitar. Singers would come in and out, but they didn’t last long because we had no microphones or PA system, and they couldn’t even scream, let alone sing, over the guitars and drums. Never never really knew if any of them were any good.
We covered the pop songs of the day, but we focused mostly on originals. I recorded all our jam sessions using a boombox cassette deck; it sounded terrible, but as some friends would say, “At least it’s in stereo!” We’d drive around in my souped up Mustang, blaring the noise from the top-quality sound system in the high school parking lot, all but convinced we were impressing girls. I may have been right — one of my girlfriends was so wonderful, she really made an impact on me. It was ironic that she was deaf, but I diligently learned how to sign using my hands, though not while I was playing guitar. Anyway, she really loved that she could “feel” the music.
I still have these cassette tapes today, and have tried to digitally record them, but the quality is really bad. (The physical tape, not just the music.)
By 1980, I started college at Kent State University, where the band expanded to include a new girlfriend Adrienne Legeza (a talented, classically trained keyboard player), and my roommate Shane McDonald, who played bass. Both were significantly better musicians than I would ever be. The photo on the right is the only picture we ever took of ourselves, and sadly, it wasn’t the whole band. I’m in the middle, Terry is on the left and Shane on the right.
We named the band Shyzgifter, which requires some explanation. It starts with my best friend Scott McGregor, who was also one the best drummers I’d ever known personally, and would later join our band towards the very end. Scott was always in “real” bands, in that they would get real gigs playing at real venues with real audiences who paid real money. Let’s just say it was “real.”
Anyway, one of the guys that was always in Scott’s bands was a guitarist named Dale Dively, an exceptional guitar player, matched only by his great sense of humor. He made up all sorts of words, and would sprinkle them throughout general dialog with people, sort of like the way someone would infuse a yiddish word in a phrase. For example, consider the sentence, “That guy had a lot of chutzpah to tell us to move the car!” You can see how the Yiddish word “chutzpah” somehow makes an otherwise dull sentence into something fun, but also more meaningful. You don’t need to know what the word chutzpah means, but you can figure it out by how it’s used. As it happens, chutzpah means “balls,” as in a guy that’s brusque and offensive. So try it yourself. Say this: “That guy had a lot of balls to tell us to move the car.” Sure, you know what that means, but now use the word chutzpah instead, and you see how it gets better. It’s also funnier in a way. It’s disarming. That’s what yiddish can do — make the common phrase a funny phrase.
Anyway, that’s what Dale was good at — he’d use words that you don’t understand (because they don’t exist), but you still knew what he meant. (This predated the idea of Sniglets.) I always laughed so hard when Dale talked about anything, mostly because he’d throw made up words into the mix as if they were real words and you were supposed to know what they meant. Even funnier was the fact that you never really knew if he knew he was being funny. He looked so serious when he would use one of his made-up words that you really didn’t know if he was a real idiot or a genius. (I would later learn there’s a fine line between the two anyway.) Best of all, that you could laugh at him was part of the fun — and he enjoyed it too.
Shyzgifter was one of Dale’s favorite words, and the fact that I knew it was funny, but no one else did, was part of the fun for me. That’s why I named the band Shyzgifter. In fact, I still giggle when I type it. Sadly, Dale died at a young age, though I’m not sure he ever knew a band was named from one of his made-up words.
[ Sept 14, 2020 Update: After my initial posting of this story, Bill Timpson sent me the following proposal for a definition of the word Shyzgifter. ]
- As opposed to person who “doesn’t give a shit” about anything, a shyzgifter not only gives a shit, but cares so much they would go the extra step to actually gift a shit.
“Mother Teresa wasn’t very tall, but she was a shyzgifter of epic proportions.”
- The act of genuinely caring about something.
“Am I the only one who shyzgifts about the success of this band!”
Shyz: Old English, having the nouns scite (dung) and scitte (diarrhoea); may be further traced to Proto-Germanic shyz- **Shyza is of Hebrew origin and means “Gift of God, Happiness”, hence the plurality of the meaning of Shyz, simultaneously connotating both negative and positive aspects.
Gifter: mid-13c. Scandinavian, source such as Old Norse gift, gipt (gift; good luck); from Proto-Germanic geftiz (also of Old Saxon gift, Old Frisian jefte, Middle Dutch ghifte)
Now that you’ve got a sense of my background and personality, you’ll now appreciate that the songs in this discography are a bit like the word Shyzgifter: They may sound like serious attempts at music because they’re close enough to think we were serious, but they’re not quite good enough to take all that seriously. As I suspect was probably the case with Dale and his made-up words, deep in my own mind, I always knew these were teenage larks that I never took super seriously. I had my tongue firmly in cheek. I love humor and laughing more than anything else. (As Dave Berg would say, “People are funnier than anybody!”) I believe that everything — including, but especially those things you take most seriously — should always be viewed in perspective and comedically. Life is bigger than you and the things you do. Like George Carlin said, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, laugh at other people.”
Wait, that doesn’t have anything to do with this, never mind. Forget I said that. But you see where this is going. Yes, I’m proud of my music and these works, but at the same time, I knew I was just a teenager and was going to one day go on to do other things, including one day writing about my desire to to do other things, which leads to this article. Uh oh. I may have gotten myself into an infinite loop. That’s ok, I have fun going down rabbit holes. Others don’t necessarily see my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. Probably a good thing; it’d just gross them out anyway.
One more thing to know before you listen to any of these songs: I never really cared that much about song lyrics. In fact, I’ve always been a great fan of instrumentals, which you’ll be able to tell, given the number of songs that have no lyrics. It’s not that I didn’t like vocality. The human voice is like another audio instrument, having its own unique tonality and expression. It’s just that I never concerned myself with the actual words to a song. On this, I had been inspired by Robert Plant’s response when he was asked what the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven were about. He said something to the effect that the words themselves didn’t really mean anything — they were more chosen for their aesthetic quality, intonations, and the way the timing of the syllables fit into the musical framework. That’s sort of like Shyzgifter! It sounds like it could mean something, but until you see it in the context of something else, it means nothing. I really identified with that (long before he said it), which explains why I didn’t care to author any lyrics.
So when it came to having lyrics, I let my drummer (Terry) write them, a decision that I would later look back on with raised eyebrows. His lyrics were mostly about one of: 1) Rock-n-roll, 2) The love of Rock-n-Roll, 2) Being in a rock band, 3) Being a great rock band. Oh, and he’d also write about war. Not sure why about the war thing. I think he was trying to be profound — his observations of the dark side of humanity. Or, maybe he just liked other bands who happened to sing about war. I don’t know. Anyway, it wasn’t until years later when I actually listened to the words to these songs that I realized I should have been more thoughtful about letting Terry write lyrics.
The band ended when I eventually left Ohio and moved to Santa Cruz, California in 1983 to continue in college. I was a junior and had discovered computer programming, so my focus drifted away from playing in a band. I didn’t drift from music, just being in a band. In fact, I recorded an unnamed song in 1985 that I simply called, “Solo Project,” which I did in my apartment (see below). So, without further ado, put on your headphones, boost the volume to Maximum (with a capital M), and be prepared to enter the mind of someone afflicted with Shyzgifter. Whatever that means.
The songs listed below were recorded between 1979 and 1982 (between ages 17–19) in professional recording studios, and they are listed in chronological order. You can click on each one for a link to the original audio recording. I had taken a class in studio recording at The Recording Connection in Cleveland, famous (in the industry) for leading-edge technology that they could put into a bus, making them the go-to source for recording live concerts. While I only recorded songs in their studio once (due to high expense), it prepared me for working in most any recording studio, of which there were a few in Canton Ohio.
- Head Rush — 1981
Head Rush was one of the first guitar-oriented songs I wrote, and I think the first version was in 1978. I recorded it many times with different people, and it had different lyrics and titles. (It was originally called “Cruel world.”) I modeled the intro drum pattern after the song Pack It Up and Go by the band UFO. Though I had made many variations of this song over the years, some of which were rather humorous (including a “lounge band” version, where we strummed it on acoustic guitars in major-7 chords, and crooned like Sinatra might have done in Vegas), most were raw and heavier. Yet, for this recording, I felt it should simplify the song to sound more like a “single,” and be a lot crisper in spirit.
I also decided to include Adrienne’s keyboard playing, which, much as I loved Adrienne, may not have been the best thing for this song. It drew out the song too long and the keyboards felt out of place. Despite my being thrilled with how the song came out at the time, I later regretted not doing the other variations I had originally written.
Note: There’s a repeating guitar riff at 2:08 into the song that is identical to a song by the band, Rage Against the Machine, called Guerilla Radio from their 1999 Album The Battle of Los Angeles. When I first heard Guerilla Radio, I told my friends about it, and they all said I should sue them for copyright infringement. Ha. Yeah, right. They were toddlers when I wrote that song in 1978, a whole 21 years earlier; and I was in Ohio, almost 3000 miles away. Now, I suppose it’s possible that I was dating someone that later turned out to be the mom of one of these fine boys, who then would sing it to them as they caressed them to sleep, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Like Head Rush, “Dream Rocker” was very different when I originally wrote it in 1979; it was much slower and more brooding, intended to be like a heavy metal (or “heady”) mix of Pink Floyd, Robin Trower and Black Sabbath. Earlier recordings of Dream Rocker would drone on for 15 minutes or longer, with more fluid and experimental treatment (hence, pink-floydish style). There would be periods of rhythmic expressions in the drums and bass, too. The lyrics were also quite dark, given that the original name of the song was “Rock Army,” where Terry’s lyrics talked about us (our band) destroying the world with our guitars. A later iteration upped the volume with new lyrics talking about nuclear war between rockers and the disco-lovers of the 70s.
When we decided to go into the studio to record the new version, I felt like the song needed to be more “mature” in structure, pacing and lyrics. Jeff rewrote the lyrics to replace the “war” component to that of being a dreamer one day being a rock star. (What do you want — we were kids.)
We would eventually record this song three years later (“Dream Rocker Reprise”) at the Recording Connection in Cleveland (see “I’m Running Away” below) with a different drummer. I’m really hazy on why we bothered to do that.
These two songs are a departure in so many ways. First, it features a different singer, who happened to be a truck driver we met in a bar on a freezing winter night in February in Massillon Ohio. He had a really strong voice, so we brought him into the studio, and sure enough, he was able to do nice covers of Rush, so we liked him.
As it happened, there was also another guitar player involved in this song, whom I vaguely remember and can visualize, but I have no other memory of who he was or where he came from. He was probably a friend of either Eric or Terry. In the end, we all decided to collaborate on writing two songs, and these two are the result of that. There was lots to love about these songs at the time. One incorporated a ⅞ time signature, coupled with interesting chord progressions and volleying guitar leads between me and this other guy. It felt good when we played it live, but I later realized these songs were largely a mess. We never saw either the singer or the guitar player after the recording. Not sure why. Maybe we ran out of beer.
- Fall River Inferno — 1981
“Fall River” marked a turning point for both me and the band. By then, we had enlisted a lead singer John Lewis (Louie), who had a strong presence (for live shows) and was personally great for the larger group dynamic. He was quite diverse in his styles and was adept at tackling a broad vocal range, especially at the higher pitches, which was very popular in the 70s and 80s.
The drums were performed by someone new — a friend named Mike Briney that I’d known through the musical grapevine. We’d always gotten along and jammed well together, but he was always in another band, so we never really joined forces till Terry was somehow unable to play drums for a period of time (no recollection as to why). Mike’s then-current band had just broken up, so Mike joined us for a while, including playing some live gigs. He recorded two songs in the studio with us, one of which was Fall River. I’m not sure what the other song was, as I don’t seem to have that recording anymore. I suspect we did another remake of one of the other songs already recorded.
I have a vague memory that a really good friend of Mike’s that also played drums was with us in the studio. It may be that he was the drummer for Fall River. I know Mike also played during these sessions, but I don’t recall which of the two laid down these particular drum tracks.
Because Terry was our main lyricist and was temporarily MIA, we needed to find words for this new song. So the story goes like this: One day, while waiting for the rest of the band to show up for practice, the singer was reading the local newspaper while I was playing this song nearby. He had found an article about a church in Fall River, Mass., that had been destroyed by a fire. As he was reading the article while I was playing the song, we looked at each other in surprise that the timing of his reading matched the tempo of the song. Could it be that the article could serve as the lyrics for the song? Well, simply because we laughed about it so hard, it therefore had to be. So we just lifted the article “as is,” and those became the lyrics. Even the title, “Fall River Inferno,” was the headline of the article. (By the time we recorded it, words had been changed a bit to fit better.)
Musically, I started this song with a keyboard introduction to evoke the theme of the “church,” which marked the first time I played keyboards in recordings. Jeff and I play the guitar parts, but this was also the first time Jeff played bass, which would later become one of his ever-broadening talents.
These short snippets are just Adrienne playing songs she was considering writing. They never evolved into songs that the band would play, but I have the recordings, so here they are.
These songs require some background. I’d mentioned before that my best friend during high school was Scott McGregor, and was also a drummer. We hung out all the time, and would also jam occasionally. During one such session I talked him into record some songs in the studio with us, which he did. But I got way ahead of myself. First, with all the great talent in the band, I figured we should compose songs that really showed off the collective talent of each member. My problem was that I wasn’t that technically talented, nor was I musically mature enough to craft sophisticated pieces suitable for this group. The net result was a mess of “too much.” In an attempt to pull them back, tone them down, or whatever else, it just ended up being a blur. Stupidly, we recorded them anyway. It didn’t help that the recording studio didn’t have a great engineer. (I wasn’t really allowed to control the boards the way I had in other studios, so the sound production was pretty bad.) To be fair to the band, the songs sounded much better live than in the studio.
To make matters worse, I was convinced that we should make an actual, physical record from these songs. Needless to say, the record failed miserably, we never got gigs, and Scott eventually went to another band. Still, it was so awesome to go into a real record store and see it on the racks with all the others.
Shane wrote the lyrics for both songs. He describes them this way: “Edit It Out is a stab at apathy and To End to Begin is a right of passage/nonsense song.”
The silver lining to all this is that, somehow, somewhere, very few records that we actually printed survived into the 2010s. One day, while I was at home minding my own business, someone emailed me and asked if I was the same Dan Heller that’s on the Shyzgifter record. I said I was, so he asked if I had any more copies of it. I saw that I had about 20, so he offered to buy them for $20 each! I was shocked, so I said yes, though I ended up keeping two for myself. I should have looked into it though — why would someone offer that much money for such a shitty record? After I got my money, I told a friend about it, and he did the obvious: He Google’d “Shyzgifter.” Lo and behold, there was an underground market for rare heavy metal bands, and apparently, our record had commanded up to $350 per disc at the time! The price has since dropped to $20. I think people actually bothered to listen to the record. Or they came down from whatever they were taking.
- I’m Running Away — 1982
By 1982, Adrienne left college and got a job at The Recording Connection, so we started to record there.
“Running Away” is the only song where I wrote the lyrics. By then, I was done with Ohio, and dreamed of moving away, but not sure where. This song pines for something new. By coincidence, the following year — March 1983 — I moved to Santa Cruz California to finish college, which also ended my music career (thank God).
I intended Running Away to be two songs — a long instrumental introduction, followed by a “pop” style song. Jeff did lyrics and I believe Mike Briney played drums.
- Remember the Times — 1983
This was the last studio recording I ever did (not that I knew it at the time). It’s actually two songs in one. To date, this is my favorite work, and probably represents some maturity in my creativity and my technique at the boards in the recording studio. It was the only song Adrienne said she liked — it actually made her cry when she first heard it. (She didn’t play on it.)
The first part of the song was supposed to have lyrics, but the singer was sick so he didn’t make it into the studio the day we recorded it. After a few weeks, I started to like it more as an instrumental, so I just left it that way. I played all the guitars and keyboards; Jeff played the bass.
The second part of the song is a guitar riff that Jeff made up years ago that we finally managed to record. He’s playing the main rhythm guitar and the bass; I play the lead guitar and keyboards. Terry plays drums on both songs.
Though I didn’t really play in bands anymore, I was still a fan of the guitar, and had many friends that played. Their skills had vastly surpassed mine, so while I enjoyed a jam session now and then, I had no desire to get back into music. That said, I still wrote songs, and one day, while visiting the local music store, I noticed a brand new TEAC 4-track cassette recording board, specially designed and priced for home use. So I got it. I was able to overdub and mix multiple instruments, something that was never available in a small, affordable home component. It was of limited use though, because, to get multiple instruments, you have to record two of them on two tracks, and then mix them down to the other two tracks to open up two more tracks to record more instruments. After recording those, you have to mix those two along with the other two tracks onto a third cassette deck to combine them all. And then to add more tracks, you start with that 2nd tape in the 4-track TEAC system and go to step 1. The real problem with this was mixing down over and over again requires so much tape-to-tape transfers, that the tape noise built up too much. You heard more hiss than actual music. So, I recorded two guitars, then drums, then keyboards, and then stopped. It sounded too muddy after that. I only recorded this one song before I sold the machine.
The song is basically two parts — some shredding lead guitar, followed by a slower, more keyboard intensive middle, where it returns to the shredding guitar at the end. The 2nd Half Only recording feels like a better song in the end.
The drums were not an actual drum kit. I bought a Yamaha programmable drum machine that was the first to have actual live samplings of drum components. They sounded great, but had no sustain, so a cymbal crash lasted about a second, and then stopped. (And there was no way to connect this to a computer for programming.) I was able to “program” the drum patterns into different groups, but I had to manually add them together during the recording session. It was a major task to author a song and record it in this fashion.