Nate Whitsell 11 a.m., Aug. 28
RIYL: The Motels, Patti Smith, the Bangles, the Go Gos
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- Blurt: "King Fowley's Evil Empire" · April 28, 2010
Inception: San Diego, 1979
Ex-Band Members: Lisa Aston Emerson, Bass guitar
Influences: The Runaways, Fanny, Joan Jett, Suzai Quatro, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Patti Smith, the Motels
Formed in Spring 1979 and originally an all-girl band, the Dinettes were fronted by singer/songwriter Doriot Negrette. The band - á la Josie and the Pussycats - had a black girl in the group, singer/guitarist Joyce Rooks, at least for a while. Rooks had been in the Cockpits, also originally all-girl, though they later recruited male players like future Beat Farmer Country Dick Montana.
“I joined the Cockpits in 1978 by answering a Reader ad,” recalled Rooks in 2010. “I had a guitar and amp and a cello which I kept hidden, as it didn’t seem punk rock enough at the time.” The Cockpits played their first gig at Porter’s Pub at UCSD; after several membership changes, the group essentially morphed into the Dinettes.
Runaways mastermind Kim Fowley booked the Dinettes for his Battle of the Girl Bands at the Coo Coo’s Nest in Costa Mesa in late 1979, expressing interest in signing them to some unspecified label or rep firm. However, the band’s constant lineup shifts, and an aggressive fast-talking manager named Gene King led Fowley to instead pine for local Girl Talk singer Lauralei Combs (though they never signed a deal).
The band also played at the first Western Front punk festival in San Francisco, organized by Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra.
Doriot Negrette (later known as Doriot Lair) recalls “When the Dinettes played at the Western Front in San Francisco in the fall of 1979, we didn't get a gig at Mabuhay Gardens like the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag or the Pens. We were booked at the Deaf Club which, as a young San Diego bumpkin, I hadn't realized was more than just a cool name for a venue with really loud music, that since the Depression it was a social club for the deaf.”
“As we waited to play, people were making a big deal out of blowing up dime store balloons. I was just hoping we weren't going to have to duck balloons in addition to the customary bottles, but all was clear when from the stage I saw people who'd earlier been signing that were now holding the fully blown balloons between their fingertips and against their chests. The nerd in me was jumping up and down because I knew what they were doing: they were using the balloons as mini-resonance chambers to experience the music. Double-bumpkined!”
“I later learned it'd been Alexander Graham Bell who'd figured out the whole bubble-vibrational-sympathetic-frequency angle. Bell gave balloons to his deaf students in 19th century Boston as a sort of early warning system for detecting the approach of horse drawn carriages from behind. Wow! And so the telephone was born.”
In late 1979, the band released a single recorded at Accusound, “Poison” b/w “T.V.” They also recorded demos at Straighta Head Sound, and a live tape was later circulated from a November 1979 gig at the Deaf Club in San Francisco (which is indeed for deaf people). Rooks split in 1980, and the Dinettes later allowed men to integrate the group, though they ultimately split for good around 1981.
Lisa Aston (later Lisa Aston Emerson) continued to play punk with the Injections and Xterminators.
Rooks joined Trowsers, a ska/reggae band which Kim Fowley also had a fleeting interest in, as well as becoming a latterday member of the Penetrators. As a cello player, she turned up locally around 2003 in Cabaret Oscuro, with Bauhaus bassist David J (who was living in San Diego at the time).
In 2009, Doriot Negrette posted a message at www.cheunderground.com: “The Dinettes went on two cross-country tours and imploded in Atlanta, just before opening for Joan Jett. Joyce [Rooks], bless her heart and soul, had the sense to ditch us before the madness progressed to a fever pitch, before we even left San Diego. On the road, Lisa Aston Emerson (RIP) was taking acid everyday and becoming more mired in a psychotic haze. One of our roadies (RIP) maxed out on crank…it was so very WT and not at all what I’d had in mind.”
In April 2010, former Dinette Sue Ferguson recalled “Those were great times, and when I think back, we did not know just how important those times were. I went from the Dinettes to Private Sector, then a very brief stint with the Unknowns, then Dark Victory with Scott Harrington, then Shelf Life with Irene(Dinettes) and Richard from the Puppies, then Trowsers with Joyce. Whew! Just recently got together with the Dinettes, Lisa was missed as we all talked about those days.”
The surviving Dinettes were interviewed on camera in 2010 for a documentary film on vintage local garage bands, spearheaded by journalist and local music historian Eric Rife.
As of 2011, Sue Ferguson (now Ferguson-Delguidice) was playing keyboards with her husband Mark “Harpo” Delguidice in a folk/rock/blues/Americana band called Harpco. In 2013, she joined a new group called JuJu Satori.