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“Rock ’n’ roll,” Mays says.

“Rock ’n’ roll, so, like, Led Zeppelin?”

“Nah, more punk rock stuff, more modern.”

“Huh. Pretty cool crowd here?”

“Oh yeah, definitely.”

Mays started his music-promoting career in the ’80s, after he left San Diego State. “I started doing it just as a fan and as a hobby, and I always had other jobs.” Back when he was known as Tim Maze, he booked local and national punk bands at the North Park Lion’s Club, Wabash Hall, Carpenters’ Hall, and the Jackie Robinson YMCA. Pall Jenkins of the Black Heart Procession and Three Mile Pilot remembers, “I used to go to Maze Productions shows back when I was 14 or 15 — going to punk shows like GBH, DRI, Black Flag, Bad Brains...” Mario Escovedo of the Dragons and MEX, says, “I first heard about Tim from his early promoting days with my brother in the Zeros, and then I got to meet him…as I formed a band and got to play the Casbah.”

Mays purchased a bar called the Pink Panther in 1986. “After I bought the Pink Panther, I worked at the Broadway downtown the first year we were open. Then I took a leave of absence one Halloween because we were doing some event, and by that time the Pink Panther got so busy that I never had to go back to work [at the Broadway]. So ever since, like, ’87 I guess, I haven’t had a day job.”

I ask Mays how he’s been able to consistently book obscure bands that later go on to greater success. “I did a radio show with George Varga the other day on Sign-On San Diego and gave him a playlist of songs that I’ve liked…since I was a kid. He was asking me how do I stay on top of the taste and all the new bands and stuff, and it’s super hard. You can’t listen to them all, there are so many. But again, I work with a lot of good booking agents, and I trust their taste because they’ve been doing it as long as I have…So I think, If they’re representing this band, then there must be something good about them, and more often than not, there is. It’s a very symbiotic relationship because we enable them to book those new bands, and I on the other hand look to them to bring those new bands to me. So without one or the other, the whole thing wouldn’t work.”

Mays says there are only two types of band he won’t book — reggae acts and “bands like Sublime…I just don’t like reggae. I think the whole thing was co-opted in the late ’70s and ’80s by a bunch of white frat boys, beach dudes, and so I don’t like it at all.” Beyond that, he’s had to widen his musical horizons over the years. “I learned a long time ago, I can’t just book what I like because you’d go bankrupt.” He talks about the evolution of rock music since he’s been in business. “We started out with bands like the Jesus Lizard or the Didjits, and [the booking agents] have now progressed to bands like Antony and the Johnsons. Also the record labels, like Sub Pop or Touch ’n’ Go Records, labels like that — 20 years ago, if your band was on Sub Pop, you knew what they were going to sound like, pretty much. Now, that’s not the case because they’ve branched out, and we’ve branched out our musical offerings too over the years because you have to, and because these people that I work with and trust have.”

“It’s funny,” says Mays, “because the staff here, the more we keep doing this and the bigger we get, the more we sometimes have to have a band with more commercial appeal, and the staff here is super spoiled…they get bummed out, and I actually have to sit them down and say, ‘Look…it’s a job, the band is what it is, and I don’t care if you don’t like the band or you don’t like the people they bring. They’re still here to have a good time, and you’ve got to make sure they have a good time!’ I try to book the stuff I like, but sometimes there’s a hole in the schedule you’ve got to fill, or you’ve got to do a favor for somebody. Yeah, I’ll book something I don’t like. But no reggae and no bad ’80s metal-type stuff. Other than that, pretty much anything. And that’s good because then different people come in and see the place, and maybe they’ll come back for something else and check it out.”

I speak with Mays on a Wednesday morning during his “office hours,” the time he sets aside each week to answer the phones and return emails, although he admits he returns emails from home throughout the week as well. “Since I opened my new place [the Starlite Lounge],” he says, “I’m not here as often as I used to be, which is good. It’s funny, because I spend a lot of time at the Starlite now, three or four nights a week I’m there. And now when I do come back over here at night, the music is so loud! I’m not used to it anymore. It’s weird, because this was my primary work environment for so many years…and I don’t have to do that anymore. I like being here, and I like seeing the bands. So when I’m here now, it’s more special.”

In the few hours I am with Mays, he meets with his accountant, shows the plumber a leaky toilet (“It’s like a toy toilet,” he explains), looks for a lost handbag for a woman calling in, books two bands, counts the previous night’s take from three cash registers, signs off on two liquor deliveries, and returns numerous emails. His accountant, Lori Hurt, is a new addition to his team — so new that when he starts to write her a check, he has to ask, “Lori, what’s your last name again?” Hurt says, “He used to be a lot more hands-on, but lately he is so much busier than he used to be. All this stuff I do, he used to do himself, all the books.” Mays insists that his other businesses, which include the Turf Supper Club, Krakatoa, and the Live Wire, don’t demand that much of his time. “I spend a couple days there [at the Turf Club] doing daytime stuff…the coffee shop, one day a week. The Starlite, I’m there a lot just because it’s new. Most of my time is spent doing work between [the Casbah] and the Starlite.”

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