Saturday, June 7, 2008

Brownie Mary


Formed in 1993, Brownie Mary was one of Pittsburgh's hot acts during the 1990s. The lineup was vocalist Kelsey Barber (now Friday), guitarist Rich Jacques, bass player Tim Gaber, and drummer Dave Ryan.

(EDIT - a reader wrote to add "Brownie Mary's original bassist and drummer were Mike Marks and Steve "Kaz" Kaczynski. They were a large part of the first self-released "That's Me" album, writing a handful of the songs. The cover was actually a picture of Kaczynski's second son Aaron. The handprint on the CD and the poem inside was also Aaron's. After a falling out, they left to form a hard rock/grunge/punk band called "Push")

The name Brownie Mary comes from a hospital volunteer named Mary Rathbun, who was arrested several times for handing out marijuana brownies to patients suffering from cancer and AIDS.

"We've never met Mary Rathbun (known as Brownie Mary to the media.) We just saw her on TV, and we though it was a cool name," Gaber told the Penn State Collegian.

They were regulars at local clubs like Graffiti, Nick's Fat City and The Rosebud in the '90s and hit the college circuit hard. The band had a loyal following in Pittsburgh, and their fan base soon stretched from Columbus to New York to Sarasota.

Brownie Mary won top honors at the 1994 Graffiti Rock Challenge. The Graffiti victory, taken in competition against 100 of the freshest East Coast groups, earned the band Graffiti's tag as the "Next Big Thing."

They opened for Melissa Etheridge, Hootie and the Blowfish, The Dave Matthews Band, The Smithereens, The Crash Test Dummies, and Rusted Root. Brownie Mary also performed at 1995's Saxophone Club DNC fund-raiser before an audience that included then President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea.

They even played on MTV, popping up on the occasional reality show. Churning out catchy pop tunes, Brownie Mary looked like a breakout group.

In 1994, Brownie Mary's debut came in the form of a self-released, 11-track CD called "That's Me." Although courted by several major labels, the group released the follow-up independently, too.

The result was an EP called "Who's Your Daddy," a title which, according to Barber, is based on an inside band joke. Most of the tracks are upbeat pop, with a couple of folky cuts. The driving force is Barber's vocals, circling around a heavy groove.

Brownie Mary later released "Naked" in 1998 on Atlantic's Blackbird/Sire label, with Ron Bissel (bass) and Mark Rajakovic (drums) stepping in as new members. The album was produced by Kevin Moloney who worked with Sinead O'Connor and U2.

They got plenty of national airplay with "Naked," and toured like madmen in its support, playing 250 dates in the twelve months following its release with artists including the Dave Mathew's Band, Fuel, and Greenday.

The band was being compared to other alt pop groups like The Cranberries, The Pretenders, and No Doubt.

Barber took a year off after the hectic band schedule and followed her muse to LA. She took some of the songs she wrote there, penned some new ones with the band, and they became the basis of Brownie Mary's 2002 independent release, "Collide."

So what happened? According to its My Space page, the music "...sort of faded out once families and adulthood set in. D@mn adulthood!" Brownie Mary officially split in 2002, and the members went their own ways.

The day Kelsey Friday released her solo album, "Falling Forward," in 2004, she found out she was pregnant with her first child, and now she's the proud mom of a pair of bouncing baby vocalists. Motherhood put her music on hold, but didn't end it.

The family track eventually led to her crossover CD (it's a kids album, but made for their parent's ears) "Kelsey Friday & The Rest of the Week," produced by Rick Witkowski. It was released in March of this year.

Rich Jacques sometimes jams with local artists and shows up on area stages even though he's based in LA. He just teamed up with Bill Deasy for "Thomas Jefferson's Aeroplane."

Tim Gaber hooked up with the Buzz Poets, and was last spotted performing in the Strip, fronting for the band Leisure Guys.

Brownie Mary - "I'll Be Around" performed in 1995 at Rosebud


Anonymous said...

Brownie mary's original bassist and drummer were Mike Marks and Steve "kaz" kaczynski. They were a large part of the "that's me" album, writing a handful of the songs. The cover was actually a picture of kaczynski's second son Aaron. The handprint on the cd and the poem inside was also Aaron's.

After a falling out of marks and kaczynski, they left to form a hard rock/grunge/punk band called Push. Marks on lead vocals/ guitar and Kaczynski on drums.

For some reason brownie mary doesn't really give any credit to the both of them.

Ron Ieraci said...

Anon - I added your comment to the post. I could verify Marks but couldn't find anything out about Kaz. Do you have any updates on the pair?

Anonymous said...

Only evidence I could find online at the moment is this:

But if you look in the sleeve of "that's me" you'll see the name of the drummer is "steve kaz".

Anonymous said...

Also, that's Steve on the drums in the video you posted with this blog.

Ron Ieraci said...

Anon - Didn't doubt you; its just that Kaz seems to have been pretty well ignored as part of Brownie's band history. I couldn't find much out about Kaz or Mike had after Push; if you know where they ended up, give me a yell.

stevekaz said...

Hey buddy, it's so cool to find this little snapshot of a really important time in my life and a band i used to be in! And Anon does have his (or her) facts straight about myself, Mike, and my son Aaron. If you are ever interested, i'd love to share more. Currently i'm playing guitar in a band i created very much in the Push mold.(as described by anononymous)Which actually includes Cover boy/Thats Me poem author (age 4 at he time) Aaron Kaz on lead vocals. Yea together! We also have Steve Jr. on drums! The web site is not yet up, but we are Jericho Theory, and we have been gigging around. We'll be at Bloomfields Italian Festival on Sept. 24th for an 8 pm set. Don't expect the Brownie Mary sound, though we've been known to play 'Take Yer Time' which is the actual name of the song from the video you posted. Although i'm somewhat of a metalhead -still!- i did love Brownie Mary, and miss everyone from the time we spent together. i have never regretted being in that band. It was WOW, just blew up! and everyone wanted on board. again thanks - stevekaz