“There was always something special, from the very first time we played together.” Chris Barron says of the Spin Doctors’ longstanding musical chemistry. “Even if we don’t see each other or play together for a while. It’s like riding a bicycle. A bicycle that makes loud, very beautiful music.”
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Spin Doctors’ landmark debut album Pocket Full of Kryptonite, the band’s four original members-frontman Barron, guitarist Eric Schenkman, bassist Mark White and drummer Aaron Comess-can still appreciate the uncanny, enduring musical rapport that’s allowed them to maintain the upbeat energy and restless creativity that first endeared them to their fiercely devoted fan base.
“When you get the four of us in one room, things just start to happen,” Schenkman asserts. “It instantly feels like the old days. The identity of the group asserts itself. That’s a great feeling, and it reminds us that the four of us belong together.”
In 1991, Pocket Full of Kryptonite became both a musical and cultural phenomenon. In the years since, the album has remained a crucial touchstone, both for the band and for its fans. One of the 100 best-selling albums of the 1990s, it’s sold more than five million copies in the U.S. and an additional five million overseas. Two decades after its creation, the album remains a compelling distillation of the Spin Doctors’ diverse musical interests, and a prime example of a group of musicians seizing a historic moment to make timeless music.
The Spin Doctors are celebrating the anniversary with Sony Legacy’s digital release of a special expanded edition of Pocket Full of Kryptonite, combining the original album with a treasure trove of previously unreleased demos, studio outtakes and live tracks. The band is also honoring Pocket Full of Kryptonite with an extended run of shows-their first full tour since the ’90s-in which they’ll perform the entire album, something they’ve never done before.
Pocket Full of Kryptonite elevated the Spin Doctors from a grass-roots local phenomenon to a world-class recording act. Such enduring signature tunes as “Two Princes,” “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” “What Time Is It?” and “Forty or Fifty” embody the band’s trademark mix of hit songwriting, a funky sensibility and wildly adventurous instrumental acrobatics.
The Spin Doctors honed their performing and songwriting skills during the same vibrant downtown Manhattan music scene that nurtured such homegrown acts as Blues Traveler, Joan Osborne and Chris Whitley. “It was such an amazing scene at the time,” Comess recalls. “There was so much great music happening downtown in New York. It was a real family environment, amongst the bands and the fans. And Kryptonite and everything that followed came directly from us developing a following by playing live.”
“What I loved about being in the Spin Doctors is that we played shows constantly,” White adds. “I had been in a lot bands that rehearsed more than they gigged. I hated that. But the Spin Doctors was a whole other level, from confidence and attitude to musicianship. These cats really knew their instruments and had enough confidence to improvise and take chances.”
Their incendiary live performances won the Spin Doctors a large and passionate following that routinely packed local clubs, winning the band a deal with Epic Records. In January 1991, Epic released the live EP Up for Grabs… Live (recorded at the now-legendary Tribeca club Wetlands), which set the stage for the August release of Pocket Full of Kryptonite.
The Spin Doctors recorded Pocket Full of Kryptonite at New York’s Power Station, RPM and ACME studios with co-producers Peter Denenberg, Frank Aversa and Frankie LaRocka (the A&R man who signed the group to Epic). “I think we were really able to capture the essence of the band,” Comess says of the album. “We’d been playing clubs for three years before we made Kryptonite, and we’d probably played every one of those songs 500 times on stage. By the time we made the record, we were able to just go in there and do it. But some of the coolest moments on the record were developed right in the studio, like the whole drum/guitar intro to ‘Refrigerator Car.'”
Pocket Full of Kryptonite had been out for nearly a year when the infectious “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” began receiving substantial play on MTV and radio. That exposure, combined with the quartet’s tireless roadwork, launched the Spin Doctors to mainstream success, and before long the album was a massive hit around the world, with “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and its follow-up single “Two Princes” peaking on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #17 and #7, respectively, and the band receiving a Grammy nomination.
In the summer of 1992, the Spin Doctors were part of the first H.O.R.D.E. festival tour, alongside such contemporaries as Blues Traveler, Phish and Widespread Panic. The band was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, performed on Saturday Night Live, made appearances at Woodstock ’94 and England’s Glastonbury festival, and opened for the Rolling Stones on a series of North American stadium shows.
1992 saw the release of Homebelly Groove… Live, an expanded version of the Up for Grabs EP, followed in 1994 by the Spin Doctors’ second studio effort Turn It Upside Down, which produced the hit “You Let Your Heart Go Too Fast.” A road-weary Schenkman bowed out soon after, but the band persevered, releasing You’ve Got to Believe in Something in 1996, before moving to Uptown/Universal for 1999’s Here Comes the Bride. But the group was forced to disband after Barron suffered a rare form of vocal-cord paralysis that left him temporarily unable to sing.
Barron fully recovered his voice, and the Spin Doctors’ classic lineup regrouped on September 7, 2001 to perform a warmly received show at Wetlands, in honor of the club’s closing. That onstage reunion led the reenergized foursome to return to live performance, and to record a new studio album, Nice Talking to Me, released by Ruff Nation/Universal in 2005.
The current 20th-anniversary tour affords Spin Doctors fans the opportunity to reexperience the body of material that first brought them together. “Going out and playing this record feels amazing, ” Comess says. “Records that stand the test of time are the ones that come from an honest place, and this one certainly does just that. It still feels great playing these songs.”
“It’s been so much fun,” Barron adds, “because we haven’t played some of these songs in a long time. They’re sounding so great and so fresh and strange and new, but at the same time, it feels like we never stopped playing them. We’re really enjoying each other’s company, having a lot of laughs, and remembering how lucky we are to be in a band that plays so well together. A lot of great musicians go their whole careers without ever experiencing that, so I’m thankful that I get to do this.”
“These are the tunes that we started with and the tunes that took us round the world, so to come back and revisit them has been really great,” Schenkman states, adding, “It’s a thrill when you’re riding the horse for the first time, when it’s not broken in and you don’t know how it’s going to go. But it’s even more enjoyable getting back on the horse when you know what you’re dealing with, and knowing that you’re in control.”