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 Fuller Up The Dead Musician Directory 
 
     Keith Stephenson 
     Cheese Blotto 
      October 3, 1999 
      Age 43   
 
Cardio-Myopathy 
    
    
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OBITUARY 
        
 
 
   From the Saratoga Daily Gazette 
    Keith Stephenson, 43, played bass guitar with band `Blotto' 
    SARATOGA SPRINGS - Authorities ruled Monday that a well-known  
    area musician whose body was found in his truck early Sunday in the 
    Saratoga Spa State Park died of natural causes. 

    The body of Keith Stephenson, 43, bass player for the group "Blotto"  
    in the 1980s, was found lying on the floor of a truck in the Hathorn  
    Spring parking area in the park at 3:20 a.m. Sunday. 

    While with the band, he performed under the name of "Cheese 
    Blotto." Theband played in Saratoga and Albany clubs and toured 
    in this country and in England. 

    Lt. Edward Moore of the city police department said a park night  
    watchman noticed the truck and tried to awaken the man without success. 

    "We have ruled out foul play, he died of natural causes," Moore said on 
    Monday. 

    An autopsy on Stephenson's body was performed at Saratoga Hospital 
    and his death was caused by cardio myopathy [a disease of the heart 
    muscles] brought on by a diseased liver, said Saratoga County Coroner  
    Thomas A. Salvadore. 

    Salvadore said Stephenson's body had slid down onto the floor of 
    the pickup truck and he couldn't be seen through the vehicle's window  
    unless a person got very close to the truck. He was dressed casually 
    in a T-shirt and shorts, the coroner said. 

    Stephenson, of Middleline Road, was born in Ballston Spa, and was a 
    1974 graduate of Ballston Spa High School. He attended Berklee School 
    of Music in Boston. 

    He was the former owner and operator of the former Edible Express in 
    Saratoga Springs. 

    Stephenson earned his pilot's license through Flight International School 
    in Vero Beach, Fla., and owned his own airplane. 

    He was a member of Simpson United Methodist Church, Rock City Falls. 

    Stephenson was a member of the National Rifle Association. 

    Survivors include his parents, Kenneth and Louella Stephenson of Ballston 
    Spa; three sisters, Nancy Stephenson of Mashpee, Mass., Mary Lou 
    Stephenson Dolan of Sandwich, Mass., and Rose Bain of Cossayuna; 
    and his grandmother, Anna Donaldson of Saratoga Springs. 

    The service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Armer Funeral Home, 39 
    E. High St. Calling hours will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home. 

    Burial will be in Factory Village Cemetery. 

    Contributions may be made to the Keith Stephenson Memorial Fund 
    to be used for a deserving Ballston Spa High School graduating 
    music student, care of the Kenneth Stephenson, 1084 Middleline Road, 
    Ballston Spa, NY 12020.

    
                             Stephenson, Keith A. BALLSTON SPA -- Keith A. "Cheese 
                             Blotto" Stephenson, 43, of Middleline Road, Ballston Spa, died 
                             suddenly of a cardio-myopathy Sunday, October 3, in Saratoga Springs. 
                             Born in Ballston Spa, July 31, 1956, he was the son of Kenneth and 
                             Louella Stephenson. He was a 1974 graduate of Ballston Spa High 
                             School. He attended Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. 
                             Keith was an accomplished local musician. He played the electric bass 
                             guitar in the well known local rock band Blotto and was known as 
                             Cheese Blotto. They played in Saratoga and Albany clubs and toured 
                             the United States and England. He was the past owner and operator of 
                             the former Edible Express in Saratoga Springs. He earned his pilots 
                             license through Flight International School in Vero Beach, Florida 
                             and owned his own airplane. He was a member of Simpson United 
                             Methodist Church in Rock City Falls and National Rifle Association. 
                             He enjoyed reading, classic car restoration, fishing, target shooting 
                             and his motorcycle. 
    
                             He was the loving son of Kenneth and Louella Stephenson of Ballston 
                             Spa. He is also survived by three sisters, Nancy Stephenson of 
                             Mashpee, MA, Mary Lou Stephenson Dolan of Sandwich, MA and her 
                             husband Michael Dolan, Rose Bain of Cossayuna and her husband Ken 
                             Bain; grandmother, Anna Donaldson of Saratoga Springs; two nieces, 
                             Jessica Dolan and Kayleigh Bain; nephew, Eric Dolan; several aunts, 
                             uncles and cousins. 
     
                             Funeral services will be held 10 a.m. Thursday at Armer Funeral Home, 
                             Inc, 39 East High Street, Ballston Spa. Calling hours Wednesday 
                             afternoon from 2-4 p.m. at the funeral home. 
     
                             In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Keith 
                             Stephenson Memorial Fund to be used for a deserving Ballston Spa High 
                             School graduating music student c/o Kenneth Stephenson, 1084 
                             Middleline Road, Ballston Spa, NY 12020. 
                             ARMER FUNERAL HOME, INC. 
                             39 East High Street 
                             Ballston Spa, NY 12020 
                             (518) 885-6181 
                               
                             (Originally printed in THE ALBANY TIMES UNION)
 
 
        
 Precious moments  

                       by Sarge Blotto  
 
 
 

Vivid memories pop up after Cheese Blotto's death 

It's funny what memories pop into your head after you lose someone who is close to you. When I heard on Sunday that my pal and bandmate Cheese Blotto had died, all sorts of images flashed through my brain.  

I remember the first night I met Cheese back in the '70s when a band that I was in, the Star Spangled Washboard Band, was looking for a new bassist. We went down to Shea's Little Bavaria in Albany to check him out where he was playing with Chuck Wilson's country band, Dallas. There was no question that he was the right man for the job. 

I remember how Blotto never would have become a band if it hadn't been for Cheese. In the late '70s, he was bartending at 17 Maple Avenue in Saratoga Springs (now known as the Metro), but he could get out of his bartending chores if he could gather together some musicians to play with in the back room. So he kept calling us up, and gradually we just became a band. 

I remember the night in the dressing room of a Brooklyn rock club when, sometime between the soundcheck and the show, Cheese first decided to shave his head. It became his trademark look, and now I have a difficult time picturing him with hair. 

I remember sitting in countless hotel rooms watching Clint Eastwood movies with him. Eventually, he could recite most of the dialogue from "Dirty Harry.'' 

I remember that every time we played "The Nowtones,'' Cheese and I would both look at each other and jump up into the air at the same time in the middle of the song. Every time. But I don't remember why. 

I remember listening to George Jones tapes over and over in the van as we rolled down the highway from one show to another, and how even a "real man'' like Cheese would well up with tears when George sang, "He Stopped Loving Her Today.'' 

I remember that cocked eyebrow and maniacal gleam in his eyes whenever he thundered through "Metal Head.'' 

I remember that every time we were headed out on the road, we'd meet at the van, and I'd say, "Cheese, do you have your luggage?'' He'd say, "Yup,'' and toss in the brown paper grocery bag that contained his clothes for the week. 

I remember that after Blotto had run its course, and each of the band members took straight jobs (like this one), Cheese was the only one who stayed in the music biz, playing bass with local rockabilly favorites Johnny Rabb and the Jailhouse Rockers. 

But most vividly, I remember a night about 15 or 16 years ago when Blotto was playing in Detroit. It was my birthday, and after the gig we had a little champagne celebration in the backstage dressing room. The rest of the guys in the band packed it in after that, but I wanted to go out somewhere for a nightcap, and Cheese said he'd be glad to tag along. 

We found a nightclub about a block from the hotel, but they wouldn't let us in because I didn't have any ID with me. I laughed and decided to call it a night, but Cheese said, "No, let's do this right. It's your birthday.'' 

So we went back to the band van, dug through my shoulder bag for my wallet and ran back to the club, laughing all the way.  This time they let us in, and we took stools at the bar with about a dozen other patrons, while a Nowtones-like lounge band in matching outfits ran through the hits of the day on a tiny stage behind the bar. 

Before I knew it, Cheese had sent drinks up to the band along with a message. He bought a round of drinks for the bar, and then suddenly, the band stopped playing "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show'' and broke into "Happy Birthday.'' It was the sweetest, most touching birthday present that I received that year. 

And that's how I'll remember Cheese -- a bald-headed, big-hearted friend to the end. 

Funeral services for Cheese (aka Keith Stephenson) will be held this morning in his hometown of Ballston Spa. 

And one of Cheese's very favorite bands, NRBQ, will be playing tonight at the Big House in Albany. A coincidence? Somehow I don't think so. 

In Blotto, Cheese didn't get many opportunities to sing. (Who would with a bunch of spotlight hogs like the rest of us in the band?) But whenever he did get a chance to step up to the microphone, his favorite selection to sing was invariably NRBQ's jaunty "Ain't No Free.'' 

NRBQ and Blotto shared many a stage over the years, but while Blotto faded away in the late '80s, NRBQ has never slowed down. 

Whenever NRBQ is in town, it's pretty much a guaranteed good time. Even when the band is having an off-night, they're more exciting than most arena-rock stars. And when they're having a good night, all you can do is jump on the dance floor and marvel at the wildly eclectic grab bag of pop, rock, jazz and whatever that the crazed quartet churns out. 

NRBQ is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. Their music already has popped up on three recent episodes of "The Simpsons,'' and they'll be back on the show again in cartoon form next month. They spent some of their summer recording the soundtrack music for an upcoming Sandra Bullock movie. And they just released their first new studio album in, well, let's just say too long. The album -- simply titled "NRBQ,'' just like their 1969 debut -- features 15 fresh new tunes from the band. 

And it seems only fitting that Cheese Blotto's swansong recording would have an NRBQ connection. As a side-project band calling themselves the Neanderthals, Cheese teamed up with Johnny Rabb and guitarslinger Eddie Angel (another Star Spangled Washboard Band alum) to play marvelous raw, primitive rock 'n' roll like "Toe Rag Twitch,'' "The Neanderthal Twist'' and "Rockin' in the Jungle.'' 

This summer, the Neanderthals released their latest album, "The Modern Stone-Age Family,'' on Sundazed Records. Playing drums on the album was NRBQ drummer Tommy Ardolino and handling the production chores (as well as adding his trademark madcap piano pounding) was none other than NRBQ keyboard maniac Terry Adams. 

What a way to go, Cheese. 
 

 
 
 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
ONCE UPON A LIFEGUARD:
THE MUSIC OF BLOTTO 
By Chuck Miller 

(Original version published in The Source, Vol. VII, Iss. 42, Oct 28-Nov. 4, 1997)  

Footnotes by Broadway Blotto  

For all the bands that were formed and performed and re-formed and deformed throughout the Capital District, very few ever made any sort of splash into the national pop music scene. There were the exceptions: Betty George's version of "Sentimental Journey" is considered the definitive interpretation; Jay Traynor was the original namesake in "Jay and the Americans" 
(recording the Top 10 hit "She Cried"). The Knickerbockers ("Lies") practiced through Albany before making it big.  

On the other end of the spectrum were the bands that shoulda- coulda- woulda- but didn't. There are still memories of the local scene - 288 Lark and JB Scott's and Puttin' On The Ritz and the Falcon's Nest - and groups like the Stomplistics, Mambo-X, Chefs of the Future, the Verge, the Penny Knight Band, French Letter, the Units, Fear of Strangers, you can continue the list if you want.  

Between those extremes came a band that almost made it big. Their songs were played on the radio, at a time when radio stations wouldn't play local bands. Their music skewered musical genres from heavy metal to surf tunes to "teen death rock" anthems. And everything - from their song titles to their album covers to their personal appearances - were done with the tongue firmly jammed in the cheek.  

Welcome to the wonderful world of Blotto.  

Blotto actually began as the Star Spangled Washboard Band, a bluegrass combo with plenty of country corn. With their live show, "Radar Beans," and tracks like "I Get a Charge Out of You" and the medley "The Battle of New Orleans / Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor," the Washboard Band received enough acclaim to appear twice on the televised Mike Douglas Show. Then the group folded.  

Four alumni from the Washboard Band continued their musical careers by performing monthly at the Saratoga club "17 Maple Avenue". They later added a bass player, a drummer and a female vocalist, and renamed their band Blotto, after the dog in the 1930's novel "Nightlife of the Gods."  

To create an instant mystique about the band - and as an homage to the Ramones - the band members took the name "Blotto" as their surnames, making them sextuplets of different mothers. So during the late 1970's, that group performing at JB Scott's or the Ritz or the Chateau or 288 Lark was actually vocalist Sarge Blotto, bassist Cheese Blotto, guitarist Broadway Blotto, guitar-vocalist Bowtie Blotto, and drummer Lee Harvey Blotto. Female lead singer Blanche Blotto joined the band for a while, then quit, being replaced by Chevrolet Blotto.  They spent two years honing their chops on Albany's live music circuit, then 
raised enough money to produce their own four-song album.  

In 1980, Blotto released their first EP, with the greeting-card title "Hello! My Name Is Blotto! What's Yours?" Included on that mix was a remake of the Supremes classic "Stop In The Name Of Love," a jab at lounge lizard groups in the Broadway-Blanche duet "We Are The Nowtones," and a cautionary tale of choosing the wrong manager in "Bud ... Is After Us." And if you took the time to read the liner notes - a single-spaced typewritten biography on the front of the EP - you found out more about this new band. The notes told of their humble beginnings at the "Blotto Grotto" (the 17 Maple Ave. club), their love for 60's and 70's party tunes, how New York Rocker magazine once selected their poster as "Poster of the Month" (issue 22, Sep. 1977), their "pajama parties" (patrons were encouraged to wear their Dr. Denton's), the "Miss Blotto" pageant, and the Halloween Hop concert (which later became the annual "Blottoween" show).  

But it was the first song on Side A - "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard" - that got the most attention. The song was a beach party fantasy - a shoe salesman who dreams of a sunshine job, where the only employment requirements are staring at the bathing beauties and wiping zinc oxide on his nose. At a time when local bands couldn't get their music on the radio, local stations began playing the song - first WQBK, then Top 40 stations like WFLY and 3WD.  

According to Broadway, "Blotto got airplay because we hired Joel Webber(at the suggestion of WNEW FM), Radio Promo Man Extraordinaire. He was 6' 7" and a riot."  

"From there things went into high gear and stayed that way for three years," said Lee Harvey Blotto in an interview with the Albany Times-Union. "We all quit our jobs and began playing all over."  

"All over" meant outside the Capital District. They played in Long Island, where they were greeted as superstars by SUNY-Albany students who lived in Nassau and Suffolk counties. They played in Massacusetts and Ohio and Ontario and anyplace else, promoting their hit song.  

Blotto even had something most other bands didn't at the time - a music video, thanks to the efforts of two SUNY students who filmed the band for a senior project. "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard" was among the videos aired on MTV's first broadcast day, and remained in heavy rotation for months.  

The group followed up the success of their debut EP with another EP, "Across and Down." Complete with an actual crossword puzzle on the front cover, Blotto continued the formula of novelty hits and party songs. Two more radio hits emerged from this EP - "She's Got A Big Boyfriend," a cautionary tale about dating somebody else's girl; and "My Baby's The Star Of A Driver's Ed Movie," a winking-eye entry into the "teen death" musical genre.  

By 1982, Blotto was riding high. They were the opening act for Blue Öyster Cult's North American tour, and noted producer Bob Clearmountain turned the dials for their next single, the drive-in makeout tune "When The Second Feature Starts." Stories and articles about the band appeared in national magazines like Rolling Stone, Trouser Press and Penthouse.  

The next year, Blotto released their first full-length album, "Combo Akimbo." The nine songs on this album spoofed spy movies ("Goodbye, Mr. Bond"), gold-diggers ("It's Only Money"), family members that interfere on dates ("It's Not You"), and groupies ("Occupational Hazard"), among other tracks. Blue Öyster Cult lead guitarist Buck Dharma produced and played guitar on "Metal Head," a heavy metal spoof with three false endings and goofy lyrics:  

Strange senations coming over me  

Something I can't explain  

Suddenly there's an endless void  

Where I used to keep my brain  

I've gotta see a doctor  

But I'm too wasted to phone one  

Wanna customize my van  

And I don't even own one  

Thanks to the success of "Metal Head" and the accompanying video (which featured Sarge Blotto chomping the head off an E.T. doll), "Combo Akimbo" hit #1 on college radio stations throughout the Northeast. A compilation of the best of three previous Blotto albums was released in Canada under the name "Hello, My Name Is Blotto, What's Yours?" It sold 
respectably, and a single from that album, "I Quit" b/w "It's Not You," received airplay on some Canadian stations. Blotto also found a home on the Dr. Demento radio show, where songs like "Metal Head," "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard" and "My Baby's The Star of a Driver's Ed Movie" often appeared on Dr. Demento's "Funny Five Countdown."  

But no matter how hard they tried, they couldn't sign on with a major label. Attempts to sign with Atlantic Records fell through.  Another record company, Boardwalk Records, almost signed the band - but folded before the contracts could be drawn up.  Even "Combo Akimbo," their first full-length album, was still on their homemade Blotto Records, and the only distributor they could find to get their records in national stores was Peter Pan Records, an outfit better known for children's discs and "jazzercize" albums. Even their new manager, former television actor Burt Ward, couldn't get them past the independent label glass ceiling.  

In 1984, the party was over. Blotto called it quits, and the members pursued their own separate careers. Lee Harvey Blotto became an environmental attorney. Sarge Blotto became a Times Union columnist. Blanche Blotto became a teacher, Bowtie Blotto worked with computers, and the rest of the band drifted to the four winds.  

Still, Blotto never really went away. "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard" is still shown on MTV, where it makes appearances during novelty video countdown specials. In fact, a compilation tape of "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard," "Metal Head" and "I Quit" was distributed as a Sony "Video 45."  

There were reunions - in 1987, as the opening act for World Party at the Palace Theater, Blotto stole the show. They headlined a triumphant 1992 concert at Proctor's Theatre, and later hosted annual October "BLOTTOWEEN" shows at RPI. Fifteen years after their release of their first EP and hit track, Blotto was honored by Mayor Jerry Jennings, who proclaimed August 15, 1994 as "Blotto Day" in the City of Albany. In 1995, Blotto was among the first inductees in the Capital Area Musicians Association Hall of Fame.  
 

 
 
  
 
 

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