Smart Barker is the reincarnation of the Philadelphia-based rock band Milton and the Devils Party, which had a brief shining moment of modest popularity and then faded into obscurity. The name of the band didn’t help matters—but that’s a long story.
MDP/Smart Barker was founded by Daniel Robinson and Mark Graybill at the beginning of the 21st century. Over the years, they have been joined in music-making by Bob Falgie, Pat Manley, Tommy Traddles, and other great musicians.
Robinson and Graybill first began making music together in the 1990s as the duo Burton Ernie. In 2002 Robinson and Graybill formed Milton and the Devils Party, teaming up with guitarist Pat Manley. The quartet released their debut album, What Is All This Sweet Work Worth?, produced by Harris London, in 2004. In 2006 the New Jersey-based label, FDR, released an expanded and remixed version of the first album. Thereabouts, MDP downsized to a three-piece band, with the departure of Manley, who continued contributing on a part-time basis, and with the addition of drummer-vocalist Bob Falgie. During the next decade, Falgie, Graybill, and Robinson performed frequently in Philadelphia, New York City, and adjacent regions; they made two albums as MDP in Philadelphia with producer Brian McTear—How Wicked We’ve Become, released in 2017 on the Philadelphia-based label Transit of Venus, and You Must Contribute, Brain!, recorded in 2008 but not released until 2013 when the band independently released it with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. Shortly thereafter, the trio decided to drop the “Milton and the Devils Party” moniker for a number of reasons, chief among them, the inscrutability and/or pomposity of the name and the impression it gave, just or unjust, that the group was a band of power-pop intellectual poseurs or of heavy-metal Satan worshippers, or both. The truth is in there, as it were. With Falgie becoming increasingly involved in other projects, Graybill and Robinson rebranded the band as “Smart Barker,” refusing, after the previous band-name debacle, to explain the significance of the new name other than its assonance and potential association with Robinson’s childhood idol Bob Barker or with Graybill’s dog. Wishing to make a record of their live sound, Falgie, Robinson, and Graybill recorded TRIUMVIRATE as a power-trio in Falgie’s basement with some vocals overdubbed in Robinson’s home studio. Falgie left the group in 2017, leaving TRIUMVIRATE as document of what Smart Barker / MDP sounded like live during the Falgie era.
In 2016, rejuvenated by a new song written by Robinson and Manley, “I’m Gonna Do It,” featured in the 2017 film Leaving Virginville, Smart Barker re-released its MDP catalog under the new name and on its new label, Milton Music. But the group also released several new recordings—live tracks performed by Falgie, Graybill, and Robinson, some tasteful covers produced by Robinson with Graybill and other musicians, and some remixes/edits of older tunes. Smart Barker ended the otherwise traumatic year with its first holiday single, also its first instrumental and first Graybill-penned track, “Los Pantalones de Navidad.” In 2017, in addition to TRIUMVIRATE, Smart Barker released a new version of “To Jane” (originally from WIATSWW), with a new vocal and remix, backed with another Graybill instrumental composition “Going to Grasmere.”
Graybill and Robinson, continuing on as Smart Barker, at the time of this writing, are working on new music for release in the near future.
Photo: Robinson (half the size he is now) and Graybill (hasn’t changed at all) in 2005.