Racing at 45 RPM: SPEED! Nebraska reaches 20 year milestone | Feature

[Editor’s note: Since its founding by Gary Dean Davis in 1996, SPEED! Nebraska has been a torch-bearer for original Nebraska music and independent Nebraska musicians, releasing 37 records by 23 bands — Ideal Cleaners, Mercy Rule, Brimstone Howl, Mezcal Brothers and Davis’s own Frontier Trust among them — in its 20 year history. The record label celebrates its milestone anniversary this Saturday, Oct 20 at Brothers Lounge. Read on for stories and memories from the artists and collaborators who participated along the way.]

“Speed!” rhymes with “bleed” for a reason | by Jon Taylor, Domestica

When I think about Speed! Nebraska Records, I’m reminded of the ambulance ride that resulted from my relationship with the organization.

But I’m not complaining.

I’ve always been a willing participant in whatever shenanigans the founder of Speed!, Gary Dean Davis, has proposed. Whether it was the Hot Wheels race at Box Awesome, the Radio Flyer Death Match at the Bourbon Theater or the Soap Box Riots in Omaha, even the most ill-advised event turned out to be wildly fun (if not also wildly painful).

My bands have been lucky enough to release music on some cool labels — Pravda in Chicago, Faye in Columbia, Mo. and Caulfield in Lincoln — all with superior rosters full of great folks. Being on Speed! however, was different. It felt like being on a team and working with Gary meant your band had to be ready for anything.

Picture a bench filled with greasy punk rockers instead of elite athletes, with Coach Davis pacing the sidelines of the rock and roll battlefield, carefully plotting his next sonic move.

“Mercy Rule! Frontier Trust! Get to Baltimore!”

And like players entering the big game, we did.

“Mezcal Bros.! Domestica! Time for a compilation!”

These were not requests. You’d get a phone call or email a week or so in advance, telling you when you were expected in the studio and what topic your song would cover. Sure, the themes were always cars or drag racing, but still…

Enthusiasm is Gary’s racing fuel, and if your band was on Speed!, your job was to keep up. But you had to keep it fast– keep it loud– and above all, keep it fun. It’s a directive that was easy to follow because Gary jumped on stage and showed us how to do it.

If you ever saw him front Frontier Trust, D is for Dragster, the Monroes or the Wagon Blasters you knew one thing: Do not let Gary Dean Davis borrow your microphone stand. Imagine a crazed farmer trying to pole vault a line of monitors or attack some unseen varmint. You’ve been warned.

But do make sure you answer the phone when he calls. It will be interesting, I promise. You might end up with a pile of 45 rpm records to sell, some wild tour stories or find yourself climbing out of the shredded remains of a homemade go-cart.

Speed! made us proud of the joy that we generated simply by making a big noise. Speed! showed us that making a racket with your pals is as good as it gets. And most importantly, Speed! taught us that kindred spirits ought to make more than just music together. As part of that lesson, we learned there was some risk involved when trying to make our fun as big as our sound.

Participating in a Speed! event, therefore, usually meant wearing a helmet at some point. Despite the safety precautions, blood was spilled. Maturity levels were questioned. Emergency rooms were visited. Things were destroyed.

But we didn’t care, because Gary was always there, empowering us to go faster and farther, both in life and on stage.

Dan Jenkins, Ideal Cleaners

From 2004-2011, Ideal Cleaners released two 7″s, three full-lengths, and one EP, all on SPEED! Nebraska Records. We also appeared on the two Soapbox Riot 10″ records and Gary even let me design the sleeves for those. I have three SPEED! hats, a jacket, and so many SPEED! related shirts that I didn’t even bother to count them. Gary let me design some of those, too, and it’s always a great pleasure and honor to see people wearing them.

Ideal Cleaners played with The Monroes 15 times (I counted), and in my mind The Monroes were the walking embodiment of everything that made SPEED! great. They were awesome dudes, friendly and fun to talk to, and they genuinely gave a shit about you and what you had to say as people and as a band.

I mention all of the above to show that SPEED! was big part of my life during an awesome time in my life. I don’t have the slightest idea what SPEED! Nebraska ‘s legacy/impact is/was on the local/national scene, but I know it was HUGE to me personally, on many levels. And I think that’s all that matters. SPEED! affected lots of people personally in a positive way, and one can only assume that adds up to something more than just some cool trucker hats.

I don’t have a singular memory that characterizes SPEED! for me… it’s all rolled up in one big warm happy blanket of awesomeness. But here are some stand-out moments, in order of occurrence (I looked up the dates):

The Monumental Triple Release Show at O’Leaver’s on 10.20.07 — Three SPEED! 7″s released on one day. We’d played some shows in Minneapolis and St. Paul the two nights prior and had a blast, only to roll in to O’Leaver’s and have the best night of the “tour.”

SPEED! Riot! Drag Race and Rock Show at the Slowdown on 11.24.07 – Hot Wheels racing!

SPEED! Nebraska Spring Nationals at Box Awesome on 05.17.08 – More Hot Wheels! (see poster)

SPEED! Nebraska Radio Flyer Death Match at the Bourbon Theatre on 03.13.10 – Adults aggressively pushing other adults in little red wagons. And there were bands.

SPEED! 15th Anniversary Celebration on 11.11.11 at Brother’s Lounge – I had such a good time (if you know what I mean) that I left my guitars on the sidewalk outside the bar. Eternal thanks to Jon Taylor for putting them in my hands before we drove away. And there was cake!

Finally, I loved every single time we rolled into the O’Leaver’s parking lot to play and being greeted with cheers, laughter, and hugs from our SPEED! pals.

Viva la SPEED!

Max Morrissey, Bud Heavy & the High Lifes, Sower Records

To me, punk is both an ethos and approach. It’s punk to hold the door for people, scoop your neighbor’s driveway, and share your skills with others. It also applies to how you do things. You can play music, in my eyes, that is punk because you’re dealing with real issues, true feelings, and using your music as a vessel. Punk music is music that matters.  

The first time I met Gary Dean Davis, he was clad in a Dekalb hat with matching jacket. That was important and humorous to me because I’m from a small town, where I saw farmers and blue collar workers like my father donning that uniform. Then Gary and his Wagon Blasters busted into punk songs that dealt with adult issues with the same vigor we all used as teenagers. There was one song about a Valentine that brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m an elementary teacher or the fact that I wear my heart on my sleeve. Who knows?

It doesn’t matter if you’re blasting Frontier Trust while organizing your records or sitting in your chair bobbing your head to the fantastic amalgamation of punk and twang listening to The Monroes—you know you’re going to hear something that matters.

Nebraska is not flyover country. The Midwest produces important music. You can thank labels like Speed! Nebraska for keeping that alive.

Gerald Lee Meyerpeter, Filter Kings

The SPEED! Nebraska label has always had a diverse lineup of bands as far back as I could recollect. They’ve released a tremendous amount of regional music from abstract bands, roots acts, straight up rock n’ roll outfits to tractor punk. Much of it available as vinyl only. Moreover, they singlehandedly kept 7″ records and trucker hats in style for the past two decades!

On a personal level, I have always felt that being on the SPEED! label makes you part of this other family you never knew ya had, but it was always there. I’d meet these friendly, like minded label mates for the first time and plays gigs, then go a year or two without seeing them in some cases. But any time you play a show with ‘em down the line, you pick up right where you left off. Just like old friends, ya know?

My fondest memory of the SPEED! Nebraska label came when they held their first Soap Box Derby & show. Unfortunately I missed the actual race due to work obligations but heard all about it later. All the racers (all SPEED! bands I believe) built their own cars. Most of them focused on building the cars to go as fast as possible. But somehow forgot to design a way for them to slow down….or even stop. The wild eyed looks on their faces (and road rashes on their bodies) said it all. On that day, those cats gave a whole new meaning to what SPEED! Nebraska was all about. Gettin after it man!

Andy Fairbairn, former Duffy’s Tavern booker

When I think about SPEED! Nebraska, two things come to mind right away. The first is that SPEED! is Gary Dean Davis. My first memory of Gary Dean came in February of 1992. I was a judge for the Big Red Rock O’ Rama. Three days, 30 bands and after a whole they all started to run together. Then they showed up. Gary Dean Davis and company were making their Lincoln debut as Frontier Trust. We were all blown away. It was Hank Williams meets the Ramones and it was like a punch in the face, but the coolest, most bad ass punch in the face I could dream of. Of course they won and then they instantly became my favorite band.  Their first full length record was called Speed Nebraska and released on Lincoln’s legendary Caulfield Records. It’s still one of my favorites. Out of that came the name and then the amazing logo.

This leads to the second thing I think of when I think of SPEED! Nebraska: the super awesome hats. My favorite hat of all time is my red and white SPEED! trucker cap. I wore that baby with pride for years and years. It stood for state pride, local music pride and even more so for having kick ass taste in music. I’ve gotten other SPEED! Hats and other cool merch over the years, but they’ve never been as cool as the original. Just like the original behind the label, Gary Dean.

George Peek, Solid Jackson

I was in an Omaha band called Solid Jackson, with Andrew Scott Buchan, Blake Smola, Pat Oakes and Paul Higgins. Solid Jackson was active from early in 1994 and through the end of 1996 and in that time released two full length records with Omaha’s Sing, Eunuchs! label (1995’s Solid Jackson Record and 1996’s Natural), along with various compilation appearances.  

During its tenure, Solid Jackson was enamored with and were fortunate enough to share many bills with Frontier Trust and Davis’ later invention, D is for Dragster. In those days, the scene in Omaha was very supportive. Solid Jackson was fortunate enough to have found friends in many bands, including Davis’ bands, Ritual Device, Culture Fire, Fischer, Cactus Nerve Thank and Mousetrap. These bands were the young guardians of our local punk scene at that time. But, this support group extended to a broader range of songwriters, musicians and bands of all types, such as Simon Joyner, Bill Hoover and Conor Oberst; and, other bands playing jazz or ska. It also extended down I-80 to our Lincoln friends in Opium Taylor, Sideshow and Mercy Rule.

At the heart of it all was an impulse to make music by, with and, yes sometimes, for ourselves. Ever present was Gary Dean Davis. Frontier Trust had quite a run and we admired them for multiple reasons. They, of course, played great, infectious music full of energy and elan. But, it was more than that. Gary and Joe Kobjerowski had learned from Tim Moss how to book their own tours. And, they were doing it. Through Frontier Trust, Gary established relationships across the Midwest. We looked up to this. It showed us what a small band from Omaha could do. But, more than anything we loved it when they were home and loved playing with Gary, Bill, Brian and Joe.

Ultimately, Frontier Trust disbanded. But, Gary was still ever present. I don’t know if Gary thought he’d be in another band, but he was passionate about music and about Omaha. It was then that he conceived of creating a record label. He knew we had recorded a song called “Fell,” which was a staple of our set at the time, but that we weren’t going to put it out and had begun focusing on newer songs. He approached us about doing a 7” as an inaugural project of his new project, Speed! Nebraska. We agreed and the Fell 7” is Speed! Nebraska’s opening gambit; and, appropriate to the label name, it was dubbed Speed! 100 instead of 1 – because 100 sounds fast and fast is fun.  

This was in 1996. Later that year, upon the death of our band mate, Blake Smola, Solid Jackson disbanded, the Fell 7” being our final release. Thus, in many ways Gary’s label was about new beginnings. I don’t know if Gary thought Speed! Nebraska, would take root. But, take root it has. Now, twenty years later, Speed! Nebraska has put out records by at least 15 bands, some of which are Gary’s bands. It has incessantly sponsored numerous shows and soap box derby races; and, it has been branded upon caps, shirts and windbreakers you can spot all throughout Omaha. Through it all, there has been Gary with an enduring passion for music and a steadfast commitment to our place. Wikipedia says the label specializes in “putting out 45s by local bands.” Well, that’s one way to put it.

Dan Schlissel, -ismist Recordings/Stand Up! Records

I’ve known Gary Dean Davis a long time, since before Speed! Nebraska. I already ran a record label (-ismist Recordings from Lincoln). The impact for me was immediate and on a business front. I was helping the crew distribute their records, almost as a subsidiary. These were records that would have a catalog number in their catalog as well as mine, not quite joint releases, but not far off from it. After I moved to Minneapolis, I’d get a package in the mail every once in a while of new releases or merchandise. It was always a bright spot in my day.

Ryan Meyers, Sioux Guitars, Sioux City, Iowa

Speed! Nebraska anniversary? We need to back up a bit. There would be no Speed! without Gary Dean Davis. I meet him about 25 years ago at the infamous Sioux City punk club, King’s Court. He wore the same sort of mailman black oxfords and Levi’s I wore but I couldn’t understand the “feed & seed” caps he wore and at the end of every song he shouted “THANKS!” as almost a command to the audience.  

Speed! Nebraska started like every other underground indy label in the fact that no one else would put up the money to put out a 45 of Gary Dean’s band so he did it himself. Being in love with 45’s, Speed! put out singles before vinyl went out of style, while it was out of style, and since vinyl came back into fashion. Parlaying the returns off of one 7” to fund the next one, Speed!, like most indy labels is a labor of love and not a money making venture.  

The bands on Speed!’s roster are bands that Gary Dean believes in. Sometimes, I get the impression that Gary Dean believes in the bands he backs more than they believe in themselves because Gary Dean’s true talent is as a coach and cheerleader. It’s fitting his day job is as a school principal. He believes not only in the bands he’s in but other bands, with the only stipulation, that they come from Nebraska.   

I love that Speed! has a formula of sticking to mostly 45’s with Nebraskan bands. Congratulations to Speed! for their anniversary and us at Sioux Guitars wish them many more.

Trey & Lallaya Lalley, Brothers Lounge

We love our 7-inch collection and always feel bad we don’t have a 7-inch jukebox at Brothers Lounge. Gary Dean Davis has all the style, so much style. SPEED! Nebraska Records has always been focused on Nebraska being loud and on display, supporting and letting people know you can play in a band and do something with it from Nebraska. Gary is especially proud to be the local tractor punker. We are lucky to have so many great people who have influenced and mentored us through our years in the punk scene but Gary is his own breed that every other state should be envious of.

Chris Harding Thornton, Cog Factory/Drastic Plastic/Saddle Creek

The most inspiring thing about SPEED! Nebraska, for me, is what the label’s ethos seems to be. Granted, I can’t say definitively what that is or where their heads are at because, weirdly enough, I’ve never actually talked to Gary Dean or Tulis about it directly. But from an outsider’s vantage point, it seems their main aim hasn’t been to make money or even to do what a lot of small labels form to do, meaning function primarily to support touring bands. I really think SPEED! Nebraska’s primary goal has been to document. And I suspect being a documentarian who sits back, who doesn’t participate in shaping the sound or story or what have you is a pretty thankless, unglamorous job. Don’t get me wrong; they get to have a super sweet logo and street cred, but that’s no pile of cocaine and a hooker.

I try to write books, which turns out to be a really long process for some of us, and the whole time, you’re doing it with no actual promise that the books are going to go anywhere or do anything. On top of that, most of us need to have a day job in order to support what amounts to being a really pretty frustrating hobby. For someone like me, then, there’s something inspiring and head-leveling to see other people who likewise have day jobs but still say screw it and keep plugging away, doing what they do for what I can only assume is some hardwired need to do it.

I do have a couple SPEED!-related stories, but they are actually too juicy and controversial to give up.

Mike Tulis, SPEED!/Cultural Attraction

I first met Gary Dean Davis in the mid-1990s when he was in Frontier Trust. Back then I was frequently traveling to St. Louis and Chicago, and I’d often go to see Frontier Trust in those cities. Every time I ran into Gary at an out of Omaha show, he’d shake my hand and say, “Hi, Mike! Are you living here now?”  Frontier Trust disbanded in 1996, and Gary Dean Davis decided to start Speed! Nebraska Records to release a 7″ by his friends in Solid Jackson. Speed! Nebraska Records’ second 7″ was for Gary’s Tractor Punk version 3.0 band, D is for Dragster.

I became the replacement bass player for Fullblown in April 1997. Gary liked Fullblown, and offered to put a 7″ out for us. Fullblown reciprocated by releasing two CDs on the label. When Fullblown parted ways in October 1999, I offered to assist Gary in running and helping to fund future releases on Speed! Nebraska Records. Since then, it’s been fun to help build a Nebraska based label which mainly releases vinyl 7″ and 10″ records and CDs by Nebraska based and/or Nebraska associated artists who in many cases are also friends.

I have fond memories of playing in various bands on Speed Nebraska Records (Fullblown, the Monroes, the Third Men, the Sons of. . ., and Lupines). Also, how can one forget the thrill of various racing events held in conjunction with the Speed Nebraska Records cavalcade of artists, including Hot Wheels racing nights in Lincoln and Omaha, the Radio Flyer wagon races at the Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln, and the fabled four years of O’Leaver’s Soap Box Derby races at Seymour Smith park in Omaha, Nebraska?  

After 20 years, Speed! Nebraska Records has certainly gone much farther and been more successful than Gary and I ever imagined.  Much of Speed! Nebraska Records’ success is due to the aspirations, talents and integrity of the bands who have chosen to release their recordings on the label, and the loyalty of our customers and local record stores.  Nineteen 7″ 4500 rpm records, sixteen CDs, two Soap Box Riot 10″ compilations, and many stickers, t-shirts, and trucker’s hats later, it’s been a helluva lot of fun!  

I’m looking forward to celebrating the label’s 20th Anniversary with the Wagonblasters, the Lupines, and our friends at Brother’s Lounge in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday night, October 22. Following the show, I’ll be riding shotgun next to Gary Dean Davis sitting in the driver’s seat as he grips the steering wheel driving Speed! Nebraska Records into the future!

Speed! Nebraska Records catalog:


100 Solid Jackson “Fell” b/w ”In a Car”
200 D is for Dragster  “Chrysler Solid State” b/w “The One On The Left Is The Brake” & “Jailhouse Rock”
300 Fullblown “Honky Tonk Homicide” b/w “Clowns in Action”
400 Entertainment “Shake” & “Pretty Lips Are Red” b/w “Everyday Is A Party When You Loves Jesus” & “The Stranger”
500 Pioneer Disaster “Texas” &  “Bootstraps” b/w “Cactus Town”
600 Monroes “Kiss Your Elbow Goodbye” & “Got Food?” b/w “Knocked Over”
700 Bombardment Society “Nocturne Addiction” b/w “Four Months In The Making” & “Assembly Of Youth”
800 Monroes “Razorback” & “”Ready, Set, Topeka” b/w “Breaker, Breaker” & “Six Days On The Road”
900 Ideal Cleaners “To The Moon” b/w “Sad Sack Satellite”

A-100 Frontier Trust / Mercy Rule “Don’t Let It Go” b/w “Arlington”
A-200 Monroes “Inferno (The Divine Hoedown)” b/w “Superbell”
A-300 Monroes / Diplomats “Hayloft Stomp” b/w “Can Your Frug do the Boogaloo?”
A-400 Ideal Cleaners “Greco-Roman” b/w “Squid Vs. Whale” & “The Inaudible Foot of Time”
A-500 Brimstone Howl “ Heat Of The Beat” b/w “Six And Seven”
A-600 Mezcal Brothers “Brunette Baby” b/w”Nobody Else But You”
A-700 Monroes “Drillin’ Daylight” b/w “Speed of Slow” & “”The New 60”
A-800 Domestica “Mommyhead” b/w “Bleeds”
A-900 Wagon Blasters “Golden Lariat’ & “Fortified” b/w “Collapse”

B-100 Filter Kings “Drink You Away” b/w “She Can’t Love You”


1000 Fullblown s/t
2000 Fullblown “Agents of Entropy”
3000 Carsinogents s/t
4000 Domestica s/t
5000 Brimstone Howl “Seven Mean Runs”
6000 Ideal Cleaners “The H is O”
7000 Brimstone Howl “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!”
8000 The Third Men “Boost”
9000 Ideal Cleaners “Muchacho”

A-1000 The Sons of. . .  s/t
A-2000 Filter Kings “Finer Things”
A -3000 Techlepathy “Anthem For Future History”
A-4000 Ideal Cleaners “Chord Jams”
A-5000 Ideal Cleaners “Far as You Know”
A-6000 Killigans “Another Round for the Strong of Heart”
A-7000 Lupines “Over the Moon”


10/100 Soapbox Riot
10/300 Soapbox Riot 300

23 bands; 37 Releases, and counting.