The Pittsburgh Years: 1981-1983

SAS on stage

Stick Against Stone – Live at the Syria Mosque –
Pittsburgh, PA – 1982

  • Founding members (1981-1982):
    • Brook Duer – bass, trumpet, vocals
    • Richard “Dick” Vitale – drums, percussion, vocals
    • Chuck Sullivan – drums, percussion
    • Geraldine Murray – clarinet, tin whistle, vocals
    • John H. Creighton – soprano & C melody saxophones, flute, vocals
    • Jim Laugelli – tenor saxophone, bass, vocals
    • Bob Wenzel – baritone saxophone


  • Spring 1981 – In the heart of the punk/post-punk rock era – two childhood best friends – drummer Richard Vitale and bassist Brook Duer – have grown tired of the 3 and 4 chord bands they’ve been playing in and decide to new kind of band. Initially dubbed “Pancreatic Ballet” – (a Harvard study had erroneously linked coffee to­­­­ pancreatic cancer – and since they drank a lot of coffee, they figured they were in their death throes while on stage.) The musical concept was simple:  start a band where interlocking parts were of greater value than individual performances. No extended solos. No guitars. And in theory, no leader.  This concept of a leaderless collective, for better and worse – would persist for most the band’s life.
  • Summer 1981 – Being a small scene/community, both Brook and Richard knew of the talented singer and sax/flute player John Creighton – who, as the lead singer of the art rock band No Shelter – had cut a 45 single the year prior called “Brooks Robinsons Camp” that had been in rotation on the local alternative community radio station WYEP-FM. Eventually, John and vocalist/clarinetist Geraldine Murray (also from No Shelter) linked up with Richard, Brook, and Chuck Sullivan (Richard’s drum/percussion student) to start Pancreatic.  Initially, everyone agreed on the concepts of the sound and was expected to collectively contribute to the songwriting process. Drums, Bass, Percussion, Horns, Vocals – that’s it.

Fascinated by African music, drummers Vitale and Sullivan would study West African drumming styles and patterns for a time under the Ghanaian ethnomusicologist Dr. Willie O. Anku, founder of the African Music and Dance Ensemble at the University of Pittsburgh. Applying co-operative ethos and interlocking rhythmic principles of West African drumming to contemporary popular music styles was an audacious goal, but one that the group found fertile compositional ground in. Inspired by the energy of punk, while steeped in diverse and eclectic influences (Murray – who also played tin whistle – came from a family of musicians rooted in Irish music and dance. Vitale, son of a jazz drummer and record store owner – had his playing was compared to a “tightly-coiled spring” and Creighton had a gift for words and a charismatic presence on stage, whether delivering his own lyrics, Beat-inspired poetry or playing saxophone or flute). Equal parts No Wave, Post-Punk, Dub and Avant Jazz – they are very far from the welcoming environs of downtown NYC. And while everyone can sing – it is obvious that Creighton has the strongest voice and most powerful stage presence.


  • October 1981 – Now up to 6 members, they adopt the nomme de guerré Stick Against Stone (which is the answer to the question: what was probably the first music ever created?) – playing their first show under the new name at a local club called “It’s A Small World” – 10 songs of which would later appear on the album “The Index of Directions” – (2010 – MediaGroove) – While only recorded as a raw, lo-fi cassette board tape – the collective energy of the show (and John’s performance) is astounding.
    • Spring 1982 – The band expands to seven members (with the addition of veteran multi-reed player Bob Wenzel) and goes to a local PGH studio (Astrik Recording) to make a 6 song EP.   The sessions go well; songs are tight and well recorded. And yet, they are never mastered or released, with the exception of 1 song: the raw, percussive angst-machine called “Body Motion” – as part of a regional vinyl compilation album “TMI 015.” For whatever reason, the master tapes are eventually lost to posterity – but one cassette of all six rough mixes surfaces in 2008. It too is included on the 2010 digital release of “The Index of Directions.”
  • Summer 1982 – the band gets tighter and writes many additional songs, captured in another live cassette recording from a bar near the Pitt campus called “Danny’s Pub” The line up at this time is bass, drums, percussion, and 4 horn players.  Five of the members contribute vocals.  In 2012 – the album “Live at Danny’s Pub” (MediaGroove) is released for the first time. A high-velocity set-list of 22 songs – raw, yet fiery – with a myriad of influences visible: the free-funk avant jazz of Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, the percussive playfulness of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the ethereal dub reggae of Augustus Pablo and Linton Kwesi Johnson, and the agitated funk of Talking Heads.  Tight, melodic unison horn chart lines improbably emerge from chaotic scronk fests. Crisp drums and percussion surge, churn and sparkle with almost motorik energy. More disciplined than James Chance and the Contortions, more melodic & direct than distant UK peers like Pigbag and Rip, Rig and Panic (from a horns & percussion perspective) – Stick Against Stone has developed a singular sound (strong enough to get them a gig at the Three Rivers Arts Festival) – yet some of the founding members (most notably Richard – who has by now become the de facto leader of the group) wanted the music to sound more like The Clash, Peter Gabriel and/or King Crimson. At the peak of their local popularity, they improbably secure a gig opening for the UK reggae band Steel Pulse at the Stanley Theater.


Fall 1982 – 

Version 2.0

  • John H. Creighton — vocals, soprano  and C-melody saxophones, flute
  • Geraldine Murray — guitar, tin whistle, vocals
  • Lyn Thomas (Freeman) — guitar, vocals
  • Anne Gallagher — keyboard
  • David Soule — bass
  • Charles “Chuck” Sullivan — drums & percussion
  • Richard “Dick” Vitale — drums & percussion


Never a stranger to tension or personality conflicts, the band goes through a wrenching breakup – with the 2 horn players (Wenzel and Laugelli) and bass player Duer leaving, yet with Creighton staying on.  As the band had obtained a reputation for adventurous songs and performances, some of its fans in the area were other musicians who checked out their shows. After the departures, a few of these fans leapt at the chance to play with Vitale, Sullivan, Murray and Creighton – including guitarist Lyn Thomas (Freeman), keyboardist Anne Gallagher and bassist David Soule. Realizing they can’t perform the older, horn-rich material in the same way – they set to recruiting new members and writing new songs. In come the guitars and keyboards, but still from a perspective of playing simple repetitive patterns – not solos. Afrobeat, jazz and funk all blend with reggae, dub and rap to create powerful mélange. Songs are written quickly at their house on King Avenue – with the two drummer/percussionists developing groups of interlocking rhythms that are named after letters of the alphabet. From Song A to Song J – these new structures would serve to create the foundation of ten new songs – with 3 songs from the previous lineup surviving. These cassette recordings (the last they’ll ever do with John Creighton) from that fall & winter of ’82/’83 – reveal a new sound emerging that builds on the Stick Against Stone foundation and vibe, yet take it to powerfully resonant new places – with chronic migraine-headache sufferer Creighton channeling poetry he’d written in earlier years for some of his most powerful performances). As low-fi as these King Avenue recordings are, (they’ll eventually released at some point) they point the way toward what was to come.  Four of the songs from this era – including their opus “Get It All Out” – appear on the Stick Against Stone Orchestra album of the same name.

After one final show in Pittsburgh, the band decides to pack up and move East.