On the eve of July Fourth weekend in Dewey Beach, high tide has come and gone, the streets are buzzing, and the sun begins to set over Rehoboth Bay. It’s still only Thursday night, but the anticipation of what the next 100 hours of weekend wildness will bring is almost palpable. The calm before the storm is waning, and everyone knows it.
On Dickinson Street, where the sand meets the calm bay waters, a group of 40-something musicians unloads their battered gear at the steps of the Rusty Rudder, just as they’ve done most weeks for the past 25 years. Within an hour or so, hundreds of fans, from newly minted drinkers to the seasoned vets, will line up to see Love Seed Mama Jump.
What started as a simple jam session among friends during the early 1990s immediately blossomed into a local phenomenon—a band that has played in the neighborhood of 4,000 shows along the East Coast since that day. Ask any Delawarean that’s been to a bar over the last quarter-century, odds are, they’ve seen Love Seed live.
Front man Rick Arzt still has trouble wrapping his head around the fact that a few friends could get together to jam one summer then, two-and-a-half decades later, still be playing to large crowds.
“I mean, we started with the idea that, if we played some gigs locally, we could maybe get a free sandwich, maybe some free beer, and, ya know, meet girls,” Arzt says. “That was the extent of our thinking back then.”
Arzt, with high school buddies Will Stack (former guitar player) and Pete Wiedmann (bass), began playing random Rehoboth Beach night spots in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After meeting guitarist Brian Gore at a lifeguard party and drummer Paul Voshell at a University of Delaware fraternity party in the spring of 1992, the group formed with Dave James (former percussionist) as the final member.
“Most of us were taking classes at UD, and we knew we were going back to Rehoboth for the summer to play local spots like Arena’s and my mom’s restaurant [the former Sydney’s Blues & Jazz Restaurant],” says Arzt. “While we were practicing one day and thinking about what to call ourselves, Will just blurted out the first four words that came into his mind: Love Seed Mama Jump.”
Gore recalls that he wasn’t too sure about the name at first. “I remember we were hanging at my beach house, where we also wrote ‘Free’ and ‘She Likes the Dead’ that summer, and we were all like, ‘What the hell is that?’ But Rick thought it would be funny to say we were Love Seed Mama Jump for one night,” he says. “We thought we’d come up with a better name at the next practice, but it stuck.”
It stuck because the band exploded that summer, introducing Dewey and Rehoboth Beach to a hodgepodge of creative cover tunes. A punk version of John Denver’s easy listening classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and a Texas two-step take on Radiohead’s “Creep” would be two of Love Seed’s early favorites.
First up was Dewey’s classic The Starboard. After the first show, then-owner Chip Hearn called Rusty Rudder owner Jay Prettyman to tell him there was a band he had to book.
“There was a different mentality at that point, especially in Dewey, where bar owners were really friendly with each other and there wasn’t much competition,” says Voshell. “I think our first day at the Rudder was July 9, 1992. I remember because we made our own crappy posters that we put up all over town, advertising 50-cent shots of Jägermeister and some cheesy logo we came up with.”
Brian Gore is still rockin’ in 2016.
After a successful summer, it was back to school, playing gigs at the now-defunct Down Under, The Deer Park and, eventually, the iconic Stone Balloon. Once Balloon owner-manager Elvin Steinberg got a load of Love Seed’s sound, he was determined to book the band on Thursday nights. Through Steinberg’s club connections in Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore, the boys were about to hit the big time.
“I remember my Budweiser coming in one day and asking if I’d heard about this band that played the Rudder and was packing 500 and 600 kids in a night,” says Steinberg, now owner of ABC Liquors in Bear. “At that time, live music venues weren’t doing so hot, because a lot of people were going to clubs and listening to deejays. The first Wednesday night we had Love Seed here, we went from 50 or 60 people to 300, 400. After that, I booked them once a month on Thursdays, and people would line up for two blocks to see them.”
Any kid who attended UD in the 1990s knows the Love Seed Mama Jump live album “Drunk at the Stone Balloon.” The CD made its way from Gilbert Hall to Ivy Hall, from Sig Nu to Pi Kappa Alpha, from the Christiana Towers to Skid Row. The album was the soundtrack for college kids who were making the jump from house parties to bar hopping, and it put Love Seed on the map.
“I wanna say we sold over 150,000 copies of that album,” says Arzt. “That’s hard to do these days, to get songs out to the masses in a sort of grassroots way and just let it grow organically. The Balloon became our north home while we were in school, and the Rudder was our south home during the summer. It was a great match, and it exposed us to a lot of new fans from all over.”
Steinberg, originator of the Balloon’s famous Mug Night promotion, took over management of the band sometime in 1992, he says, and he set up recording the album.
“As I recall, it actually went very smoothly, despite so many drunk people,” he says. “I think we crammed close to 1,000 people in there that night, and there were some that were left out on Main Street to listen to the show.”
Voshell recalls things a bit differently. “I just remember how much of a complete s*%! show it was,” he says. “The place was mobbed, but it was exciting. I couldn’t believe that what I was playing was gonna be on a CD. Thank God for the people, though, because they turned the energy way up.”
To this day, the energy of that album still resonates from the start. Chants of “Love Seed, Love Seed” give way to Arzt wailing on the harmonica at the beginning of “She Likes the Dead,” then the party rages till the end.
Through Steinberg’s connections, Love Seed started playing Brownie’s Pub in the Philly suburbs, then bars like the famous Fred’s Tavern in Stone Harbor, N.J. Before long, the sextet was playing from Boston to Charlotte, N.C.
“I remember playing Fred’s in mid-August and thinking, ‘Wow, the word is out. We really have something here, if all these people have either traveled from Delaware or Philly to see us, or just know about us from word of mouth,’” says Voshell. “When we returned to Philly to play shows that fall, everyone from the shore came out to see us on a regular basis. We were big.”
Soon after, the band hooked up with Mike Monsell, a UD grad who had joined the marketing department at ABC-affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia. Monsell, a fan, wanted to shoot a Channel 6 promotional video featuring the band’s hit “Free.” Millions of viewers who had never heard of Love Seed suddenly knew their sound.
“That was a really big break for us because they put that commercial on during Monday Night Football and other big fall TV shows that year,” says Arzt. “There were clips of us singing and standing over the sign in Love Park, and I think because we were kind of a grind-it-out, working-class kind of band, Philly really appreciated us. We didn’t have any fancy light show. We just went berserk when we got on stage.”
Brian Gore does his thing in 1996.
Anyone who ever attended a Love Seed Mama Jump show, especially between 1995 and 2005, knows that Arzt likes to climb things—poles, rafters, anything—then dive into the crowd. While that’s slowed a bit, the band still likes to put on a rockin’ show every single Thursday at the Rudder—500 and counting. The beer, the shots of Jäger, pulling bachelorette parties up on stage to dance—it’s all part of the attraction.
Dewey Beach entrepreneur Alex Pires recalls first seeing Love Seed play during the summer of 1992 at the Rudder. Soon after, he started booking them at his Bottle & Cork. He kept the Thursday Love Seed tradition going when he bought the Ruddertowne complex in 1999.
“Their energy is the most appealing thing about the band, but people forget they’re great musicians,” Pires says. “Rick is an incredible front man, Paul is a world class drummer, and all the guys are really tight. I might book more cover bands than anyone in the East, between all my bars, so I’ve seen hundreds come and go, but they’re the best.”
From the seat of his drum kit, Voshell has seen it all. “It’s been a hell of a ride, but we’ve done some ridiculously dumb stuff to get us through some of those gigs. We know we’re not all 20 anymore, but sometimes we still act like it.”
Terry Plowman, publisher of Delaware Beach Life magazine, has been friends with the band since he first started booking them at his bar, the former Front Page in Rehoboth. Many bands promise high energy, Plowman says, but Love Seed delivers it more authentically than anyone.
“The fact they’ve been together as long as they have is an anomaly—it’s not the norm,” he says. “I remember even in the early days, they brought an enthusiasm that was contagious. They were an immediate hit because they were so lively and engaging, and that hasn’t changed in 25 years.”
Percussionist Tim Kelly occasionally played with the band in the 1990s, then became a full-time member (along with part-time guitarists Mike Curry and Kevin Lipski). As a member of longtime rock band Montana Wildaxe, Kelly has spent plenty of time on Delaware stages, but there’s something different about a Love Seed show, he says.
“While at UD, the guys would bring me up on stage for a big drum jam, and the energy in those days was really high and wild,” says Kelly. “Our Montana shows were rockin’, but the kids at Love Seed shows were borderline lunatics. They didn’t have to draw [that energy] out of the crowd like bands today. It was just natural, almost organic.”
Thanks to today’s digital downloads, the death of the CD is almost complete, and a new generation of music fans floods the bars. In these times, can Love Seed Mama Jump make it another 25 years? Heck, do they even want to? After all, every band has its ups and downs, its creative differences, and sometimes life just gets in the way.
“I don’t know if there’s enough Jäger for another 25 years, but if people are still coming out to see us, we’ll continue to play,” says Arzt. “It started out as something fun and enjoyable, and was never about the money. I’ve always said that bars pay us to drive and set up, and that we play the music for free. If we can keep playing, I think we will.”
Voshell, who now makes his home in Swarthmore, Pa., where he has two kids and teaches music part-time, still loves playing, though it’s impossible for him to get to every gig. Stack and James left for other ambitions (career and family), so that could happen to the other guys as well.
“I don’t know, man. It’s been such a ride, such a good time, I would certainly try,” Voshell says. “This is what I’ve done my whole life since college, basically being self-employed. Music is my life, and I still enjoy it. It’s taken effort to stay together, for sure. I think driving separate cars to gigs had a lot to do with keeping our sanity,” he says, laughing.
The band knows that Pires has their backs at The Rudder. He would probably have Love Seed play if all the members showed up in wheelchairs.
“They’re the sweetest guys and an absolute institution in Delaware,” says Pires. “They’re well taken care of here because they’ve earned it. You ask me if they can play another 25 years and I’d say, ‘Why not?’ I don’t think you’ll see anything like them come along again, maybe ever.”
For now, the crowds are still a comin’.
Among them is a 10-member bachelorette party that is kicking off July Fourth in style at Dewey Beach. “I friggin’ love you guys,” the bride-to-be screams on the Rudder deck as Arzt and company sing John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good.”
The Love Seed crew will see her and a few hundred inebriated fans throughout the weekend, and the feelings, as ever, will be mutual.
“We love you, too!” Arzt yells back.