Here comes the freakout ...
PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN
The origins of PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN reach back to the early 1990s when both Alfie and Sean were guitarists in the Southern California punk band, D.I. Playing together, the pair hit if off immediately, both musically and personality-wise. They both loved punk but also felt confined by its strict parameters. Sean taught Alfie jazz chords. Alfie played Sean some of his piano-based compositions. The two realized they could collaborate and write songs more musically adventurous than the D.I. mold. But other life pursuits derailed the emerging partnership. Alfie had been trying to balance touring with D.I. while attending college, but he realized it wasn’t working. He made the decision to focus on his university studies and in 1994 he left Los Angeles for graduate school at Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR. He quit playing in bands for the next two decades, although he did continue his musical explorations as a prodigious listener.
Sean stayed the course. He has played in bands consistently since grade school. Sean begins his story: “I grew up in Newport Beach. I originally started playing guitar when I was about 8 years old. My first job was as a parking lot attendant at the Balboa Market, where I would make sure tourists didn’t get away with parking their cars for free and heading down to the beach. My brother gave me a guitar to occupy my time while I would sit out there. Dick Dale used to shop at that market and every Saturday he would show me something new and he essentially taught me how to play my first chords.”
Unsurprisingly, Sean developed a love for surf music and already had a band together in sixth grade. His mother acted as the band’s designated driver, transporting the youths to gigs and waiting outside so she could escort the boys out of the club. The following year, Sean discovered punk rock and formed the Critens, a punk rock cover band that still plays live to this day. By 1987, Sean was playing bass and touring with Mind Over Four, a group signed to Caroline Records which began life as a psychedelic punk band before evolving into a more traditional heavy metal group. The following year found him in D.I., a long-running Southern California punk band with whom he stayed from 1988-1992. Sean played guitar on three D.I. albums — Team Goon, Tragedy Again, and Live at the Dive — all on Triple X Records. In 1995, he regrouped with his former D.I. bassist John “Bosco” Calabro in a new band called Crash Kills Four. CK4 featured John Knight on drums, who, due to the close-knit nature of the Orange County punk scene, had previously played with Alfie in their middle school band, Almost 21. After Sean’s stint in CK4, he began composing music for television. He also found time to return to touring duties with D.I. from 2000-2001.
Long after Sean’s departure, Crash Kills Four would be the band that brought Alfie out of retirement. After earning his PhD in 1999 at Oregon State University, followed by two more years of post-doctorate work at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, Alfie accepted an assistant professorship in mathematics at Cal-State Fullerton and returned to Southern California in 2001. In 2010, he rose to the level of full Professor in the department. Thus, was born “The Professor” in PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN.
In 2012, his old D.I. bandmate John “Bosco” Calabro found Alfie on Facebook and invited him to pick up his guitar again and record some tracks for a Crash Kills Four album with John Knight. For the sake of posterity, the longtime punk brethren wanted to put on tape the previously unrecorded repertoire of Almost 21 (all songs co-written by Alfie), and various tunes written by different lineups of Crash Kills Four in the 1990s. Live shows followed.
In 2014, stoked to see his old friend back on the scene, Sean asked Alfie to guest on bass for a one-off gig by the Critens. During the course of rehearsals, Alfie confided that he was again feeling boxed in by the strict punk rulebook of Crash Kills Four. Sean suggested that they should FINALLY start doing some original music together, either within the Critens or as a completely new combo. Alfie explains, “Sean and I have always been prolific songwriters, and we write in whatever style fits our mood at that time. We would need a lot of freedom and control in order to not be creatively stifled, and we vowed never to stifle each other. So, we decided to form a two-man band, PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, where we would play all the instruments, write all the songs, and answer to nobody but ourselves. We started demoing a lot of tunes in Garage Band on my laptop. The model is very much Lennon-McCartney: One of us brings up a song or song idea we’ve written, then we collaborate on it to completion in my studio. For the most part, we alternate lead vocal duties on our albums.” He concludes, “We both grew up listening to proper albums, a format that has a beginning, middle and end. We strive to recreate that experience. Sean and I use old school techniques to layer effects and odd sounds into the mix. For maximum impact it’s best to listen on headphones with the volume cranked LOUD.”
An unexpected third member arrived as a Christmas gift in 2015. Alfie and Sean were playing a holiday-themed gig with the Critens, introducing the Damned’s “Smash It Up” as an encore, when founding Damned drummer Rat Scabies was coaxed on stage to join them. Rat happened to be in town and some friends had brought him to the show. Alfie, Sean and Rat were exhilarated by the performance. To such a degree that they all convened at Alfie’s home studio, Hollydale, to take a shot at recording a song together. Pleased with the results, Rat offered to drum on all the tracks for PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN’s first pair of digitally-released indie albums, Elixir I: Good Evening, Sir! (July 2016) and Elixir II: Election (November 2016). Sessions were recorded via file sharing. Alfie and Sean in Orange County, Rat in London. Elixir 1: Good Evening, Sir! marked only the second time Alfie and Sean had ever played together on the same record (the first being D.I.’s Live at the Dive, a concert recorded in 1991 but released in 1993).
Alfie’s musical dexterity should come as no surprise when taking his Southern California punk lineage into consideration. He is the younger brother of Rikk Agnew (Social Distortion, Adolescents, Christian Death, D.I., 45 Grave) and Frank Agnew (Social Distortion, Adolescents, Legal Weapon, T.S.O.L., 45 Grave). Alfie absorbed his brothers’ passion for music by osmosis, having been immersed in the sounds of the British Invasion, bubblegum and Prog rock, before a cultural shift brought the sounds of CBGB and British punk into their family’s home in Fullerton, CA. Alfie was soon learning guitar from his brothers, and by the time he hit puberty he was being snuck into concerts at the Starwood in Los Angeles and other punk meccas. At age 14, already a veteran performer from his time in Almost 21, Alfie joined his brother Rikk in D.I. and contributed to sessions and played live shows with the band from 1983 to 1987. Towards the end of his time in D.I., Alfie replaced his brother Frank in Adolescents, recording and touring during the group’s Brats in Battalions period.
Which brings us back to the present. The only member of PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN we haven’t yet covered is bassist Paul Gray. Paul was brought into the fold when Sean found him on Facebook. Although he hadn’t communicated with Rat since a run of Damned reunion shows in the early ‘90s, Paul was open to the idea of listening to a few demos Alfie and Sean had written for a third LP. Paul liked what he heard and agreed to take part in the project. He appeared on eight of the nine tracks on the resulting Disintegrate Me.
Rat and Paul played together on two classic Damned albums, 1980’s The Black Album and 1982’s Strawberries. Prior to the Damned, Paul was the bassist for Eddie & The Hot Rods, a poppy, high-energy rock outfit now widely recognized as a crucial link between Britain’s pub rock scene and the punk explosion. They are best remembered for “Do Anything You Wanna Do,” a #9 UK hit in 1977. Paul also served a stint as bassist for the long-running English rock band UFO (1986-1987). These days, in addition to playing with P&TM, Gray is back as bassist in the Damned and he also releases music with that group’s guitarist, Ray “Captain Sensible” Burns, under the moniker Sensible Gray Cells.
PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN’s studio lineup of Alfie, Sean, Rat & Paul made their live debut at London’s 100 Club on August 10, 2018. A resulting album, Live at the 100 Club, was released by the band in summer 2019.
Elixir 1: Good Evening, Sir! (Fullertone Records, 2016)
Elixir 2: Election (Fullertone Records, 2016)
Disintegrate Me (Fullertone Records, 2018)
Live at the 100 Club (Fullertone Records, 2019)
Randy Haecker / PRIME MOVER MEDIA
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