While best known for his brief stint as a guitarist with Yo La Tengo, Dave Schramm has quietly developed a potent reputation among his fellow musicians as one of the most gifted and versatile musicians to emerge from the Hoboken/Manhattan indie rock axis, blending a folkie's delicate sense of space and aural punctuation with a rocker's passion and desire for creative adventure.
Born and raised on Long Island, Dave Schramm began playing music when he was eight years old, and by the time he was in his teens, he'd picked up the guitar after early attempts to master the clarinet, the trombone, and the piano. In high school, he wrote a symphonic piece that was performed by a local orchestra, but he was also wearing out treasured albums by Captain Beefheart, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan. Schramm began playing guitar with a variety of local groups after high school, but it wasn't until the early '80s that he landed in a group of any renown when he played with a latter-day edition of the Human Switchboard. (Schramm joined the group too late to play on their sole studio album, but he did appear on After Words, a 1987 solo effort from the group's leader, Rob Pfeifer.) After Human Switchboard broke up, Schramm did a brief stint with Jon Klages (formerly of the Individuals) before joining Yo La Tengo. Schramm played lead guitar on their debut album, 1986's Ride the Tiger, as well as writing and singing two songs, "The Way Some People Die" and "Five Years."
Not long after completing Ride the Tiger, Schramm decided he wanted to front his own group and amicably left Yo La Tengo (he did briefly return to the band to help them record their 1990 album Fakebook). Schramm joined forces with former Human Switchboard drummer Ron Metz, guitarist Todd Novak, bassist Mike Lewis (ex-DMZ and Yo La Tengo), organist Terry Karydes, and Pete Linzell on sax, forming a band he called Walking Wounded. However, the group soon discovered the name was already being used by a band in Los Angeles, and with a show coming up, they needed a new moniker. Someone suggested the Schramms as a joke and the band decided to use the name just once. However, it stuck after that gig, and in 1989, the band began recording their first album. Before the recordings were completed, Novak, Lewis, and Linzell all left the group; Schramm opted to make do without a sax or a second guitarist and Al Greller (who'd previously played with Beat Rodeo and Peter Stampfel) stepped in to play bass, and sessions featuring both lineups made up the group's debut, Walk to Delphi. The album was well-reviewed, but heard by few, as Rough Trade, the label distributing the release, went out of business within a few weeks of its release in 1990.
Despite this tumultuous start, Schramm remained committed to the Schramms and cut a second album, Rock, Paper, Scissors, Dynamite, in 1992, which was initially released only in Germany where the band had begun to develop a considerable following that soon outstripped their audience at home. By the time they released Little Apocalypse in 1994, Karydes had left the music business and George Usher took over on keyboards; the album was released by ESD in America, who also re-released Walk to Delphi and gave Rock, Paper, Scissors, Dynamite its belated American debut. After Dizzy Spell was completed in 1998, Usher opted to leave the group and Andrew Harris Burton took over on keys; the group also decided to add a second guitarist, Jon Graboff, both of whom appeared with the group on their 2000 release, 100 Questions.
During his down-time from the Schramms, Schramm has found time for a low-key solo career, releasing a pair of solo albums, 1994's Folk und die Folgen (released only in Germany), and the primarily acoustic Hammer and Nails in 1999. Schramm has also found a ready market for his talents as a sideman and session guitarist (a process Schramm once described as "always fun and games"). He led the band and helped craft arrangements on three fine albums for singer/songwriter Kate Jacobs: The Calm Come After, What About Regret, and Hydrangea. Schramm has also added his stellar guitar work to albums by a wide variety of artists, among them the Replacements, Freedy Johnston, Soul Asylum, Richard Buckner, and Chris Stamey. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi