C.E.I. (Courier Empire International) was one of Maryland’s greatest indie record labels. It began in Fremont, Ohio under the name Courier and was run by US Army Officer Bob Brown. In 1966 Brown was re-assigned to duty at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds weapons testing facility in Harford County. When he was discharged from service the label returned to Ohio in ’68. Though its time in DelMarVa was short, C.E.I.’s Harford County stint was a peak for the label’s history. A comprehensive look at the C.E.I. discography can be found at the Buckeye Beat site. What follows is the first in a series of articles paying tribute to the best mid-Atlantic releases ever to bear the C.E.I. stamp of quality:
“Please Don’t Go”* b/w “You’re Gonna Be Mine Now” by The Second*Hand*Bitter*Sweet (1968): When the term “Eastern Shore” pops up most Marylanders instantly think of Ocean City and its vicinity. But in the case of this band, the description applies to a different MD coast line, that of the Delaware River. In Cecil County, near the mouth of the mighty Delaware, lies a speck of a town called Bainbridge. It was here that the oddly-named sextet The Second*Hand*Bitter*Sweet unleashed the poetic/12 string-driven “Please Don’t Go,” a mournful lament as chilling as an icy DelMarVa winter. If The Rolling Stones’ “Tell Me” could be re-written and performed by a teenage Byrds drowning in self-pity they might come up with something as desperate as this harrowing ballad.
Other than its passionate delivery, the bouncy flip shares little in common with “Please Don’t Go.” “You’re Gonna Be Mine Now” has a title that seems like an obsessive threat, but in reality the music has a bouncy bubblegum swagger. It’s primal and energetic, but too poppy to become the world’s next “Great Lost Punk” artifact. Few DelMarVa records embody the extremes of teen rock better than this single. You can learn more about The Second*Hand*Bitter*Sweet at the Garage Hangover site which features an interview with former member Tom Deaton and a closer look at the band’s reign as teenbeat royalty in Cecil County.
“The Night Is So Dark” b/w “T” by Sites N’ Sounds (1968): Slovenly Records is a label from southern PA famed for its support of the contemporary garage punk scene. Back in 2017 Slovenly made its first major archival effort when the label joined forces with the Black Gladiator imprint to produce and co-release the first reissue of the eerie 1968 single by the Maryland line area’s Sites N’ Sounds. The record’s reissue comes with new cover art featuring rare vintage photos of the band in action. Among these are priceless shots of a gig that occurred at an old farm house out in the group’s home base, the rural town of Delta, PA in York County, only minutes from Maryland’s Rocks State Park.
Dark histrionics on the A-side form one of the moody garage sub-genre’s most esoteric works. “The Night Is So Dark” would work just as well in a cut-rate sci-fi adventure score as it would blasting over the p.a. system at a high school dance. Airy organ melodies soar above a stark foundation of choppy snare fills and menacing riffs. The choral vocals are aching yet confident. While “Please Don’t Go” may have been C.E.I.’s ultimate tearjerker, “The Night Is So Dark” is a testament to romantic perseverance, a primal mutation of narrative themes found in The Bee Gees’ “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” or The Stone Poneys’ “Different Drum.”
On the flip the rough instrumental “T” pulls no punches. This terse track boasts an ominous combo of booming sustain and noisy leads a 'la a treblier take on The Elopers’ “Music To Smoke Bananas By.” It’s an instrumental punk rock blast and nearly just as dramatic as its wailing top side.
As of the late-2000s Sites N’ Sounds were still playing regular gigs throughout the Maryland line region. Additionally, surviving members maintain the band’s website. More than just nostalgic fluff, it’s a colorful firsthand account of DelMarVa's 60’s DIY legacy.