Joee Conroy switched from visual art to music when he first heard the Jefferson Airplane in school. “I knew music was powerful. They had banned “White Rabbit” and “Magic Carpet Ride” in my Catholic school. I wanted to be banned too.” While majoring in philosophy at the University of Louisville, he begins his lifelong work as an environmental activist, first with the NO NUKES group Paddlewheel Alliance. He was invited to play in Chris Lee’s Bu Meringue Pi. Louisville’s rock scene at the time consisted of art rock groups like Easter Island and Middle Earth on one side and on the other, punk groups like the Babylon Dance Band and the Endtables. They tried to cut it both ways by having a punk operetta, "Glorp". “When punk was new I thought it was going to be fun! I went to rehearse with the Endtables not realizing that anarchy was confined to three or four chords at most and improvisation was forbidden! Not to mention there was a strict dress code! I was already pioneering the grunge look.” He forms Sonic Decay and Crusader Rabbit, (both with Steve Roberts on drums who leaves to eventually form French TV with Mike Sary, another Chris Lee alumni).
Out of nowhere, a call from Gorgio Gomelsky would change his life. Gorgio invites him to the Manifestival where along with seeing Gong with Chris Cutler on drums, the Muffins and Glenn Branca, he witnesses Fred Frith play guitars on the table. In an instant, the orchestral possibilities of the guitar are laid bare, prompting Conroy to explore hetrodox playing techniques. Things really open up when he realizes that sometimes the most effective way to get a good sitar sound from a guitar is to forgo the guitar and use a sitar, and he begins a love affair with string instruments. Conroy convinces Gorgio to plan the next Woodstock in Kentucky where Frank Zappa, John Lennon, Magma and the Grateful Dead would join the NIMBY’s and unite the old and new left. Circus Magazine does an article about the event but a year later, the softer rock of James Taylor, CSN and Jackson Browne do the NO NUKES film and the more radical version dies on the drawing board. However, Bu Meringue Pi plays with Material, Gong and Yoscho Seffer in Kentucky where they perform the “Chainsaw Guitar Massacre” with Kramer on trombone. Conroy thought he would make rock history by being the first to chainsaw a guitar in half during his big solo. Bill Laswell informs him just before the set that a group called the Plasmatics had just recorded a single doing that very thing. Immortality denied again. Conroy moves to San Francisco and begins forming his own subversive groups, Yo Mama and the Libyan Hit Squad, Tattoo for Dogs, Truck Bomb(a name abandoned after the Marines are killed in Beruit with a truck bomb).
Conroy moves to Santa Cruz in 1979, running a record store (Carlos Santana & Jack Cassidy were customers) and then goes to work for Greenpeace. Conroy joins Northwind whose first album is produced by George Winston (well before the New Age label is bandied about). He gets his own radio show on KZSC, Alternate Currents, where he does a pirate radio show playing live music on the air doing experimental electronic music using tape loops, prepared guitar, analog synthesis and turntables. They call it Cheese Whiz and predates known hip-hop turntable techniques. Works with Bob Beede (who is pioneering brain-wave Synthesis), Eric Muhs, Original Darins and Big City Orchestra which also has Dave Kerman (5uu’s, Motor Totemist Guild, Present) in the lineup at one point. Forms several groups combining rock and free improvisation: the Sferics, the Aggregate (with Henry Kaiser) and Invisible Dinosaur (with two Bass players). The last of these efforts is Ut Gret and this one clicks. He teams with David Stilley (the bass player in the Band of Ronnies featuring a transsexual lead singer), who started building his own synthesizers out of Buchla and Serge components and was now playing saxophones, brass and double reeds and James Potter (Big City Orchestra) who plays all the members of the clarinet family. It starts as a quartet with Conroy on fretless bass and violin.
He studies bass with Mel Graves, studies violin at Cabrillo College and sitar with Ashwan Batish and Gamelan with Lou Harrison’s music director, Trish Nielson. . Along the way he starts to incorporate a wide range of string instruments into various settings, playing with Camper van Beethoven, Russian Avant Garde Composer Sergey Kuryokhin, and the 21st Century String Quartet. As drummers fell by the wayside (the first being a self-described pinhead hermaphrodite named Chris Rowe), they became a chamber group and spend several years stripping Ut Gret’s music of any standard melody, harmony or rhythmic continuity until it dawns on them that they had eliminated 99% of the music’s potential. After James trades all his clarinets to David for his modified Serge/Buchla/E-mu Frankenstein sythersizer he built, he quits to pursue composing, leaving Ut Gret as a duo. The electronic element and percussion is reintroduced and the wealth of string instruments are reconfigured to switch quickly from one sound to another and superimposing multiple string sounds on top of each other and calling it zitherphonics. The avant garde pointilistc approach turns sensuous and coherent. They tour with Eugene Chadbourne during which Conroy introduces him to Camper Van Beethoven and they record Camper Van Chadbourne. For a while, Mark Bradlyn, the violist in the 21st Century String Quartet and electronic musician who did programming for Phil Lesh’s legendary Seastones recording, joins Ut Gret making a trio again. They tour the West Coast. Conroy also teams up with now former Gret alumnus James Potter and songwriter Gage Kenady to form a proto-grunge group, Flophausen in1985 that combines beautiful teenage love songs with slamming guitars and elements of Stockhausen. Conroy also plays in a varity of jazz settings with artists like Jey Clark (who played duets with John Zorn in the 70’s) and Graham Connah. Ut Gret is knocked by the 1989 earthquake, literally digging their instruments out of the rubble. Conroy convinces Stilley relocate back to Louisville, KY.
In Louisville, the duo meet an incredible array of underground artists. They quickly team up with Mark Englert and Greg Acker (Animals on Foot) and form Local Universe to play idiomatic improvisation of different ethnic styles. They also form UBE (Urban Bush Ensemble) as an Ut Gret side project to play Afro-pop dance music with Bob Douglas, Andy Rademaker, and Dean Zigoris (later of French TV). After five years in Kentucky, David Stilley, a native Californian, moves back to Santa Cruz. Greg Acker who has lived and studied music in Africa and India joins and becomes the next-generation Gret. In addition to being a virtuoso flutist/saxophonist and percussionist, Greg is an amazing instrument builder and a whole new range of expression opens up. Russian poet, writer and gypsy guitarist Misha Feigin joins up to reconfirm the existence of the three-body problem in physics and music. During this time Conroy started playing and recording with singer-songwriter Paul K, and also the Secret Commonwealth Ensemble, a thirteen year-long project consisting of performing a series of four operas by composer Danny Dutton.
In 2002 Ut Gret became a quintet. Stalwarts Joee Conroy and Greg Acker are joined by drummer Gary Pahler (King Kong, the WEB, Thrash Jazz Assassins, Arch Analysts), Steve Good, the patron saint of weird Louisville Music (too many bands to mention) on reeds and reuniting with Steve Roberts on trumpet, keyboards and percussion. Now an ensemble of capable readers, they are able to articulate a wide range of jazz, world music styles, rock and through-composed new music while still retaining improvisation as the basis of the group. Ut Gret has range that is nearly unlimited and whose versatility is unmatched. Joee Conroy is finally on the verge of realizing his goal of discovering music so powerful that it can alter the flow of the ocean currents.