Asa Brebner (November 21, 1953 - March 10, 2019) was an American guitarist, singer and songwriter. He was a member of The Modern Lovers, Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, Spitballs and Mickey Clean and the Mezz.
Asa Brebner grew up in Boston, the only child of two writers. He attended a progressive high school and learned guitar from listening to R&B, the Rolling Stones and odd-ball blues records. After graduation he and a friend hitchhiked through Central and South America. As he approached the bottom of the world, Asa got separated from his pal and was picked up by local cops, who charged him with being an American drug smuggler. Following a quick trial in a banana republic, Asa was sentenced to twenty years in prison. He was 17 years old. After a year spent suffering dysentery, learning Spanish, and reading Kazantzakis, Asa escaped prison and made his way to the American Embassy. The U.S. diplomats smuggled him home. Back in Boston in 1974 Asa started the Mezz, a stripped down rock 'n roll band. They convinced the owner of a Kenmore Square bar called the Rathskeller to let them play. Thus began the "Years of the Rat," the dingy club that became a center for what was later dubbed punk rock.
During the reign of the Mezz (and its two spinoffs - Nervous Eaters and The Chartbusters) the Rat would become the birthplace of The Cars, Human Sexual Response and lots of other Boston favorites, as well as a pit stop for the Ramones, Talking Heads, The Police, and countless others on the same narrow road. But by the time Punk Rock became an international cause celebre in 1976, Asa was already off to his next adventure. He had a day job running a Cambridge health food store frequented by Jonathan Richman. When Richman's first Modern Lovers album - recorded a few years earlier - was finally released in '76, Jonathan found himself in demand. He convinced Asa to join the hastily reformed Modern Lovers, just in time for their first tour or Europe. A few days after his last Rat gig, Asa was playing in European concert halls to fans from Sid Vicious to Mick Jagger.
Although Asa continued to tour and record with the Modern Lovers, he spent his off-time at the Rat. In 1978 Robin Lane showed up - new in Boston and amazed by the punk scene. Asa and fellow Mezz/Modern Lover Leroy Radcliffe put together a band for the newcomer. Over the next two years Robin Lane and the Chartbusters became a hotter property than the Modern Lovers (After the Chartbusters were signed to Warner by Jerry Wexler, Asa continued to play on Richman's albums).
Robin and the Chartbusters recorded two albums and an EP in 1980 - 81. They also toured America several times, leaving the whole band exhausted and unhappy. They earned critical raves sold well enough to crack the top half of the Billboard charts and were early faves on MTV. But the Chartbusters were doomed by circumstance. In the summer of '81 Robin left the group to return to California, have a baby and focus on family and song-writing. Warner Brothers immediately paid for Asa and the band's rhythm section to go into the studio with David Knopfler, who had just left Dire Straits. After several months of recording, Knopfler decided he wanted his new group based in London. Asa figured he would rather stay in the U.S. and front the band himself. Knopfler returned to the Old World and a record deal based on the American sessions. In 1982 Asa launched The Grey Boys, the first band in which he sang and wrote all the songs. Accompanied by the Chartbusters rhythm section, Asa played the Boston clubs and immediately won critical acclaim. The Boston Phoenix claimed he "was already set for mainstream stardom". But Asa wasn't so sure he was ready. At 26 he was already a vet and needed a chance to get off the rock treadmill. He divided his time between song-writing and outside projects (his cartoons appeared in High Times and other magazines). At the end of 1982 the former Chartbuster agreed to reunite with Robin Lane for one album and tour. For the next two years Asa worked as a guitar player. He did several club tours with Lane, and reunited the Modern Lovers with Richman to play Europe, the UK, the States and Australia. He continued to write his own songs, and rehearse them with pick-up bands when he was in Boston. In early '86 Brebner passed on another British tour with Richman and assembled a hand to play his own material. He called his new group Idle Hands. They went into a little eight track studio and recorded a demo tape.
The song "Last Bad Habit" from the demo tape reached the ears of Elvis Costello, Mark Knopfler, T Bone Burnett and Mitchell Froom who acted as judges for Musician Magazine's Best of the Unsigned Bands contest and appeared on the Warner Bros. Best of the Unsigned Bands CD compilation in 1988. The ensuing years have found Asa continuing to write, record and play his songs. In 2001 Asa Brebner produced the comeback-album of Peter C. Johnson, 'Bloodshot', on which he played as well. He would re-appear on later PCJ-albums as well.
These days he can be found at the musician/songwriter hangs of Cambridge - Toad, the Lizard Lounge and the Middle East - backed by former band-mates and an impressive array of area players. He released his first solo album, Prayers Of A Snowball In Hell on Ocean Music (new home for Robin Lane, Barrence Whitfield and Four Piece Suit).
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