Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
Books of Rock, plus Concert Crasher Manifesto, Bands (Barely)Reunited, & more
Sneakin’ Up, Checkin’ Out, Cashin’ In
1 – Book(s) of Rock
Rock & Roll Homicide by RJ McDonnell, set in San Diego’s rock underworld
Forty Schmorty; Life Keeps Happening by Eve Selis & Mattie Mills
The Summer I Died by Ryan C. Thomas (of the Buzzbombs)
Heavy Mental by Ian Shirley
2 – Eben Brooks’ Shoots Sci-Fi Video based on a Roger Zelazny story
3 – Just Sing the Hits - When Bands (Barely) Reunite
4 - How I Snuck Into Around 100 Local Concerts
5 - Ratt & Roll Over: Beyond Behind the Music
6 - Battle Of the Local Blues Lovers
7 - Buffy Staked After Ken Cinema Event
8 - Rage Against The Rancho: Ex-Blinker Disses His Upscale Neighborhood
ROCK & ROLL HOMICIDE by RJ McDONNELL
“I moved to San Diego in the 1980s and intended to earn a living as a musician,” says author RJ McDonnell, whose just-released novel Rock & Roll Homicide is set amidst the local music scene. “However, I shattered my wrist a few months after my arrival and my plans changed.”
The book concerns Little Italy native Jason Duffy, a musician-turned-private eye investigating the death of a local singer. “Jason’s client is the widow of the deceased rock star,” says McDonnell. “She suspects that the record company, based in downtown San Diego, was involved in her husband’s death…he also investigates the band members, as well as a roadie and a groupie.”
Suspects among the murdered singer’s band include an alcoholic drug addict drummer on the verge of being booted from the group, a bassist who camouflages his rock star status by living in a lower middle-class neighborhood, and a lead guitarist who wrote half of the band’s songs and lives well beyond his means.
The investigation takes Duffy to a Mission Beach bar that resembles London’s West End in PB, a T.G.I. Fridays in El Cajon, Jake’s restaurant in Del Mar, and a Steve Poltz concert at the Belly Up. He also makes trips to Rancho Santa Fe, Cardiff by the Sea, Alpine, and Southeast San Diego.”
“My depiction of San Diego as home to a record label featuring an emerging headline act is my way of acknowledging the quality of music originating in San Diego,” says McDonnell, who resided locally for 26 years but now lives in Pennsylvania. “My love for music and belief in the San Diego music scene has never changed.”
Rock & Roll Homicide by RJ McDonnell is retail priced at $25.95 and is available on Amazon and at www.rockandrollhomicide.com.
FORTY SCHMORTY; LIFE KEEP HAPPENING by EVE SELIS & MATTIE MILLS
Singer/songwriters Eve Selis and Mattie Mills have written a book, Forty Schmorty; Life Keeps Happening. “During the process of writing the book,” says Selis, “Mattie was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45, and I became pregnant at age 43.”
“Mattie and I helped each other get through this journey,” says Selis. “She went through her chemotherapy with courage and the knowledge that she was going to kick cancer’s ass, not the other way around. I felt powerless over the disease, but knew our friendship would help us conquer anything.” Selis’ sister is a breast cancer survivor.
“As for my pregnancy, our friendship provided support…Mattie had two children in her forties, and had her fourth child at age 45. She was a great inspiration and help to me, because it had been so long since my first pregnancy…my daughter is thirteen years old.”
In addition to their book, the duo blogs about their experiences at FortySchmorty.com, which offers merchandise including BBQ aprons, tote bags, and string thongs, all emblazoned with the FortySchmorty logo. Selis recommends the latter as a gift for men, to purchase for their forty-something wives.
“Most males have been very curious and said that they’d love to read our book, just to get a better idea of what’s inside a women’s mind. It definitely helps answer a lot of questions men have when their wives are going through difficult or challenging times.” In addition to the book, blog, and website, related FortySchmorty podcasts are available from iTunes.
THE SUMMER I DIED by RYAN C. THOMAS
“My first paying sale was a story called ‘Cookies Have No Souls,’ for Space Squid Magazine,” says Buzzbombs guitarist Ryan C. Thomas (aka “Johnny Fuego”), whose side gig is as a horror and sci-fi author. “Up until that sale, all my stories were freebies for webzines or fiction magazine that paid, like, $5 a story.”
The executive editor for North County’s Ranch & Coast Magazine says his first novel The Summer I Died, published by Canada’s Coscom Entertainment (mainly known for comic books), pits rural teens against a razor-happy killer with a man-eating dog. “It’s my attempt to do a written version of a slasher film.” Thomas’ short stories have been published in anthologies like DreamGoblin and Twisted Cat Tales.
The Summer I Died concerns Roger, a nebbish comic book geek of the new Millennium variety, ie less Comic Book Guy and more Kevin Smith but still likely to cut in front of you in line to meet Scott Bakula. Gun totin’ dope smokin’ buddy “Tooth” would like to drag his friend-slash-pet-nerd into a more adventurous and thrill-filled life, far from the four color bubble our hero Roger has so far immersed himself in. As bad luck would have it, he does just that ------
The Summer I died is available at Amazon and at www.ryancthomas.com.
HEAVY MENTAL by IAN SHIRLEY
Author Ian Shirley is by definition what you’d call a rock ‘n’ roll writer, and he would be even if most of his works didn’t concern rock music in some form or other. The same way you can’t help but hear ‘50s doo-wop in your head when you read Christine, or the Sex Pistols whilst you read anything by Richard Meltzer, Shirley’s books seem to come with their own internal aural soundtrack.
In the case of his newly released sci-fi novel Heavy Mental, Shirley actually recorded a song, “Spy on Love,” essentially soundtracking a bit of peep show-inspired naughtiness from his rockin’ opus – you can find that MP3 here.
Dig that ‘70s porn wah-wah!! You can almost smell the chlorine urinals and feel the sticky floors, huh?
Heavy Mental concerns a metal singer named Brett Ray, who finds himself whisked off to another world/reality/dimension/dreamscape/acid peak, ala Adam Strange or John Carter, only instead of becoming a People’s Hero he becomes an accused pigf-cker -------
Far less dunderheaded than heavy metal/cartoon rocker spoofs like Cartoon Network’s Metalocalypse or Britain’s Bad News, Heavy Mental is loaded with nods to the lores and legends of rock, displaying an encyclopedic fondness of the genre and sprinkled with enough witty musical in-jokes to read like a transcript of the best episode of Mystery Science Theater ever dreamed up ------ think "Hitchhiker's Guide To The [Hawkwind]Universe" meets an imaginary Ramones In Space cartoon...by Ralph Bakshi. On acid. G-o-o-o-o-o-d acid.........
Ian Shirley is the author of the definitive books on Bauhaus and the Residents, and he’s written for Mojo, Record Collector, and other pop cultures mags - his first sci-fi novel Shadowplay was published in 1998.
Shirley also authored Can Rock & Roll Save the World, an exhaustive history of comic books and comic strips which have crossed over into the world of rock and roll, and vice versa (a subject of particular interest for me, having perpetrated some of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics covered in his colorful art-heavy book).
Heavy Mental comes out this week, and is available at Amazon, and at www.safpublishing.co.uk.
“I’m a very big fan of Roger Zelazny’s work, and I’ve read all the Amber Chronicles,” says singer/songwriter Eben Brooks, who just finished shooting an elaborate video for his song “Champs Élysées,” inspired by Zelazny’s sci-fi classic Courts of Chaos. “We chose Lestat’s to shoot at, because the writer and director wrote a script that fits perfectly with their setup and décor. Lestat’s has great stone gargoyles!”
Brooks explains the video story: “In Courts of Chaos, from the original Chronicles of Amber, there’s a scene where the protagonist is worried that one of the cornerstones of reality has been destroyed…the only way to save the universe is to create a new cornerstone. While he’s doing that, he lets his mind wander as he creates this new ‘pattern,’ to anchor reality once again. I read that passage, and the imagery was so powerful that I found myself thinking about it a great deal over the next several weeks.”
He says he’s influenced by sci-fi songwriting. “I’ve always been a big fan of Jethro Tull, who tend to weave fantasy and sci-fi elements into their songs. Hawkwind writes music heavily influenced by Michael Moorcock, and there’s always Led Zeppelin’s work based on Tolkien.”
Around a dozen people scheduled to appear in the video were no-shows. “An hour after shooting was to begin, we were frantically calling people to come to Lestat’s. Even the makeup and wardrobe girl ended up on camera, because of the lack of people.” The video for “Champs Élysées” – which opens on one of Lestat’s stone gargoyles - can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsTT2s....
Formerly with the Celtic folk band The Wild Oats (1991 – 2002), Eben Brooks has been playing monthly at Lestat’s since 2000.
JUST SING THE HITS, AND THE CROWD IS HAPPY – When Bands (Barely)Reunite
Nostalgia is a bread and butter business. San Diegans are regularly afforded the chance to see bands whose last chart hit was in the Stone’s age, whose heydays may date back further than the first moon landing.
The Grass Roots, the Turtles, the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Guess Who, the Drifters, the Coasters, the Shirelles, and dozens more “revival” acts seem to be perpetually on the road, like contemporary Flying Dutchmen, often performing together on oldies package tours. In some instances, there are several versions of a single group touring at the same time, each with few if any original members.
This controversial practice has resulted in lawsuits initiated by controlling trademark holders, disappointed patrons, and by hoodwinked promoters who’ve been forced to issue refunds. Bogus tours have been launched by groups calling themselves Badfinger, the Byrds, Spirit, the Grass Roots, the Supremes, and others, with lineups completely unrelated to the best known and most legitimate versions of those bands.
Locally, several groups with few original members have aroused audience ire. One band billing itself as the Alarm hit the stage at 4th & B without key singer and guitarist Mike Peters, causing customers to demand their money back. The Catamaran issued dozens of refunds to angry patrons when Ambrosia, advertised with a photo of founding duo Joe Puerta and David Pack, came to town without Pack, the band's chief composer, guitarist and lead singer. Last week’s Blurt column covered the debate over the Dead Kennedys continuing to tour without former frontman Jello Biafra.
And take a look at the recent Blurt about dueling Sugarhill Gang tours, one of them ineptly promoted (and then canceled) by local village fool Willie Psycho, a man in dire need of spellcheck software. Psycho's epically failed attempts to play promoter proved to all that just slapping the word “Original” in front of a bandname is no guarantee of getting anything akin to the real thing, even/especially when you spell it "Orginnal."
In summer 2004, Tobey Tenuda spent several few weeks planning a multi-band showcase called “Bands Reunite: Rockin’ All Night,” a traveling revue of 70s and 80s bands with their original (or most pivotal) members reuniting to perform for the first time in upwards of 20 years. Tenuda freely admits the idea came from watching VH1. “They had a series a few months [Bands Reunited] back where they gathered up guys that used to be in Flock Of Seagulls, Dramarama, all these 80s hair bands, and they put them together to rehearse and do a one-night performance. I thought ‘brilliant,’ I have a lot of contacts, I could do this myself, but make it an actual tour!”
Tenuda, who has promoted shows for Orange County and L.A. venues like Fat Freddy’s, the Palomino Club and Sunset Strip mainstays like the Viper Room, says his lawyer instructed that he could legally use the words “Bands Reunited,” so long as they’re “slightly changed or interspersed with other words, so it’s not an exact copy. So all our press releases and contracts, we called the show ‘Bands Reunite: Rockin’ All Night.’”
He signed up several classic hard-rockers including Mountain, UFO, Nazareth, Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash and says he was already booking into venues across America, including a few prospects in San Diego (he declines to say where – “this may still happen and I don’t wanna f-ck it up”) when he got a tersely worded notice from VH1.
He read me the VH1 warning, and it’s clear from the threatening language (“immediate injunction,” “seize all profits,” “confiscate your firm’s financial records and any mailing lists”) that VH1’s lawyers disagree with Tenuda’s. “But I’m doing a tour, they do a TV show, it’s two completely different things, there should be no ‘market confusion’ and there’s certainly no appropriation of their trademark. Besides, ours is 'Reunite,' present tense, theirs is ‘Reunited,’ past [tense]. I should be Teflon [from lawsuits].”
He says VH1 considered acceptable alternatives. “I’m willing to take a major financial hit and change everything to ‘Rockers Reunited’ if they’ll sign something basically giving me their blessing and agreeing not to sue me.” UFO is already off the tour, not due to VH1 but to immigration problems.
“Their lead singer couldn’t get a work visa permit to come to the U.S.,” informs Tenuda. “After 9-11, it’s really hard to get visas. It turns out he was once fingerprinted in the U.S, twenty years ago….he wasn’t even arrested and he’s been here [in the U.S.] a dozen times since then but, nowadays, if you’ve ever been fingerprinted, they don’t let you in.”
He also tried to talk the members of San Diego’s own Iron Butterfly to take UFO’s place on the bill, even though one original member is dead. However, his plans for "Bands Reunite" were ultimately scuttled entirely, once VH1 went balls-to-the-courtroom-wall with their opposition.
One act which does turn up from time to time, in alternating versions, is the Box Tops, a white soul group originally formed in Memphis in the mid sixties around vocalist/guitarist Alex Chilton. “The Letter” topped the U.S. chart in 1968 (“Gimme a ticket for an airplane, ain’t got time to take a fast train...”), and they hit number two the following year with a sitar-soaked piece of psychedelia called “Cry Like A Baby.”
By 1969, the band was down to only two original members; Chilton and bass/piano player Bill Cunningham. Their last top twenty hit was the now-forgotten “Soul Deep.” They disbanded in 1971, with Chilton going on to form the cult pop group Big Star.
An alternate Box Tops was put together 1974 by one of their producers, Tommy Cogbill, to record “Willobee And Dale,” however the LP was a commercial flop.
In the late seventies, groups from the Woodstock era became dependable draws on the nostalgia circuit. Jason Mershon, former owner of the Harbor Nights nightclub and restaurant in Point Loma, was a show promoter in Colorado at the time.
“I was in the entertainment promotion business,” he told me in a lengthy interview, “and they [The Box Tops] were one of the bands I promoted. Alex Chilton wasn’t with them anymore, and they were going through different singers. I was booking a lot of similar acts. Cory Wells from Three Dog Night, I was booking him. We didn’t call it One Dog Night or anything, but we promoted him as their original singer.”
“There was a version of Steppenwolf going around without John Kay, just with Nick St. Nicholas [bassist on one Steppenwolf LP] and Goldy McJohn [keyboardist on the first five albums]. People would complain about Steppenwolf. They were upset that John Kay wasn’t in the band. And I’d say ‘John Kay isn’t with the band. This is Steppenwolf now and he isn’t with them anymore.’ ”
At that time, 1977, the only member of the Box Tops who’d recorded with Chilton’s original group was Tom Boggs. Boggs had replaced original Tops drummer Danny Smythe in 1968, playing on “Cry Like A Baby.”
“They asked me to join them as their singer,” says Mershon, acknowledging that his experience as a promoter was a factor in his assignment. “I hadn’t really been in any bands before, but I could sing in that gravely voice like Chilton had used. I was also able to promote them, so I sort of did double duty that way, getting them gigs at the same time.”
Mershon claims there was never any resentment, from audience members or club owners, over Chilton’s absence from the lineup. Unlike with the Steppenwolf tour he’d promoted. “He [Chilton] was never a well-known lead singer. It wasn’t like Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, or Steve Tyler. When I did the tour in ‘77 and ‘78, it wasn’t like people knew who Alex Chilton was. He wasn’t a household name, so there was no problem carrying it off. It’s funny; after the shows, people would come up and say ‘Wow, you sound just like you do on the record.’ They didn’t care, they didn’t know, like I say.”
I ask if there had ever been a single complaint relayed to him. “No.”
“You can rationalize it in some way,” he continues. “They want to hear the music of the groups. People want to hear the Temptations, they want to hear the Coasters and the Drifters. I mean, how many of those members do you think are originals? None. Zero. But the thing is, they still have the licensing. I don’t know how many Drifters or Coasters or Shirelles are floating around the country, but they’re all doing the same thing. People are happy. As long as you put on the show, just sing the hits in the same style, the crowds are always happy.”
What about obtaining licensed permission to sing the songs of the Box Tops? “That was no problem,” says Mershon, “because that falls under ASCAP and BMI. Any band can perform those songs if the venue you’re playing at is licensed by ASCAP and BMI, so those are all covered under that.”
Still, not all concert goers are happy when they find out that they’ve paid to see what is essentially a cover band, with few if any founding members.
“I know this one agent who promoted a lot of bogus bands,” says Mershon. “He had a group on the road called Bread, without David Gates, which I thought was completely ridiculous. He had all these names like Steppenwolf. There’s a million Temptations. Even the ones out there now, there are no originals. They’re all dead. I mean, the Guess Who are making a lot of money right now without Burton Cummings, their lead singer. It’s mainly a nostalgia thing. Look, Rob Grill of the Grass Roots [bassist and vocalist] owned that name, and he rented it out to different groups. There were a lot of Grass Roots going around.”
Would Mershon would be willing to seek out, say, Pete Best, early sixties drummer with the Beatles, and book him on a tour with a group they'd call the Beatles?
"No,” says Mershon, “because the Beatles were four well-known individuals. That's not the case with all bands."
So were there ever any legal threats over the use of The Box Tops name?
“Oh no,” Mershon insists. “What happened with a lot of bands that were big in the sixties, even with Steppenwolf, the copyright of the names became, uh, not defunct but it wasn’t copyrighted anymore. So a lot of agents bought up the names. They owned them and they put all these different groups on the road. The Box Tops thing, the name was floating around. They stopped having hits in 1971, so actually there’s very few people who remember them. Joe Cocker’s version of ‘The Letter’ is probably played on the radio more than the Box Tops’ version.”
Chilton’s alleged obscurity is open to debate. He still sometimes tours with Big Star and as a solo act, and he’s released several critically acclaimed (if commercially unsuccessful) albums such as 1979’s “Like Flies On Sherbert.” In 1987, the Replacements included a song called “Alex Chilton” on their record Pleased To Meet Me. He’s fronted a reconstituted Box Tops for the past several years, and new generations know his Big Star song "In the Street" (1972) as the theme song to That '70s Show!
Certainly many rock aficionados, myself included, consider Chilton the definitive - and only - voice of the Box Tops. I mention this to Mershon, which – unsurprisingly – results in a distinctly more defensive tone and posture.
“We had every right to use the Box Tops name legally,” he insists, “because Alex Chilton didn't own sole rights to it. And ethically, because I WAS a former Box Top. Maybe I wasn't the ORIGINAL singer, but Phil Collins wasn't Genesis' original singer, and his version [of the band] is considered legitimate."
I mention that Collins was a member of Genesis before founding vocalist Peter Gabriel departed for a solo career. "Okay then, Van Halen was still Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, even though he came from outside the band. I'm not Alex Chilton but, in the late seventies, I was the lead singer of the Box Tops. And that legacy has currency value.”
When Mershon was again asked to join the Box Tops for a five month tour in 1991 and 1992, no members remained who’d ever been in Chilton’s Box Tops.
Inevitably, such a “revival” would be characterized by many as plundering the bottom of a nearly dry well, an attempt to squeeze a few last drops (and pennies) from the name recognition. Mershon opted this time for a more subject-specific and safeguarded approach, especially since Alex Chilton was touring around the same time with a unit called Alex Chilton’s Box Tops.
“I called myself J.J. Breeze then,” says Mershon, “and we called the group J.J. Breeze and the Box Tops. We had that name so there wouldn’t be any confusion. I copyrighted the new name to make sure that everything was legal, and so that nobody would think we were misleading them.”
Mershon - aka Breeze - also wrote several new songs for the group, including a humorous ditty about condoms called “Protection,” which was released as a single under the name “J.J. Breeze.” The song became a staple on Dr. Demento’s Funny Five for several weeks.
So was the inclusion of new original songs an attempt to further distance this new Box Tops from other versions of the band? “Absolutely,” says Mershon.
When not with the Box Tops, Mershon was throwing beauty contests like Miss Legs America, in bars and clubs across the country. “I called myself Jason Legs Hunter and spent about ten months a year on the road doing that, from 1980 to 1985.”
By 1994, he’d written a musical play called Heaven Rocks. “It’s about what Heaven is like now, with all the different rock stars. Elvis, Morrison and Hendrix are taking over everything, things have changed a lot, and Moses doesn’t like it. Everybody you can think of that’s dead is in the play.”
The production premiered in Palm Springs in 1994, moving on to Boston, L.A., and elsewhere. The show even utilized some of the songs he’d written for the early ‘90s Box Tops tour, along with other tunes co-written with Jerry Corbetta, former lead singer of one-hit wonders Sugarloaf (“Green Eyed Lady.”). “We had a lot of the top [rock star] impersonators in the country,” says Mershon. “It was quite a production.”
One thing the show did NOT have was any songs by those original artists.
“We did all original music, but in the style of the stars. We couldn’t get permission to use the hits. The lawyers said we’d be infringing on the copyrights. In fact, one of the subplots of the play was about copyright laws, and how the estates won’t let you have the rights to the music. In the play, the Devil is disguised as a lawyer and he goes up to Heaven to tell the stars that they can’t play their own songs anymore because they’re now owned by the estates.” For several runs of Heaven Rocks, local crooner Jose Sinatra played John Lennon.
(Mershon & friends brandishing awards, as seen at rnrheavenrocks.com)
While the show was between productions in the mid-to-late ‘90s, Mershon reflected on the Legs contests he’d thrown in San Diego, at venues in places like Escondido and Pacific Beach. “I always liked it here, and knew my way around. When I came down in 1997, I was looking for a business venture to invest in.”
Point Loma’s Quality Inn had a restaurant and nightclub built onto it that was closed at the time. Mershon purchased the business and fixtures outright, also agreeing to pay lease fees to the hotel for use of the club venue; he called it Harbor Nights, and then Jason’s. “For the first seven months, we had live bands six nights a week. We probably had a hundred different local bands come through.”
The club went on to host various late night raves and events, such as Vortex, which Mershon describes as “a really outrageous fetish ball.” The club also regularly booked “tribute bands,” groups which specialize in recreating sound-a-like sets of music by performers who are either defunct, dead, or far too famous to play an obscure Point Loma hotel bar.
Mershon acknowledges that this sort of endeavor has been a recurring motif in his entertainment career. “It’s a nostalgia thing,” he repeats. “The music is timeless, and people want to hear it, even if the original bands aren’t out there any more.”
(Art: Bob Camp)
He’s optimistic about the local scene, at least the bands themselves, even if the audience for live music in San Diego is as fickle and mercurial as any he’s come across in his travels. “In L.A., people will drive for a half hour to see a good band, and they’ll go see that group everywhere they play. Here, it’s hard to get them to walk across the street to see a top act. I could offer free limo rides, and the club would still be half empty, no matter how much promotion I do. That’s why the all-age raves seem to do so much better sometimes.”
Would Mershon be interested if a group with the Box Tops moniker asked him to hit the revival highway with them one more time? “I don’t know,” he says. “The last time I did the tour with them, I had spent so many years on the road. I think I finally burned out on it. I realized I wasn’t missing anything. It just wasn’t as fun as it was when I was 25 years old.”
Note: In 2002, when the original Box Tops reunited with Alex Chilton at a German recording studio to cut several new tracks and re-record a few others for a planned box set compilation, Mershon was not invited.
The current version of the Box Tops, which toured in 2003 and 2005, includes Chilton, Gary Talley, Bill Cunningham, and Danny Smythe.
HOW I SNUCK INTO AROUND 100 LOCAL CONCERTS
RATT & ROLL OVER - Beyond Behind t/Music...
The partially reunited Ratt appeared at Viejas on April 20th – not sher about you, but I fully remember all the lawsuits and nasty accusations that flew between members past and present, right up through Robbin Crosby’s June 2002 death, continuing even AFTER the “reunion” with estranged/underemployed lead singer Stephen Pearcy was announced in Summer ‘07.
Not even last year’s Behind the Music on Ratt really delved into just HOW MUCH these guys have been HATING on each other for the better part of 20 years.
Luckily, I’m here to put it all down, for the record -------
“The original band broke up fifteen years ago and there have been several questionable incarnations of it since then,” blogged former Ratt bassist Juan Croucier on his MySpace page last year. He said he wouldn’t participate in the current Ratt reunion tour with Pearcy.
“There has not been a sincere attempt at redemption by my former band mates, for their insidious and sometimes malicious wrongdoings in the past, toward me,” said. “Near the end of negotiations, ulterior motives prevailed and I was eventually simply stonewalled… their ignorant and unscrupulous habits came into focus once again; a stark reminder of our tumultuous and dysfunctional past.”
The “reunion” tour also featured Poison (insert your own rat poison joke here). Among the reactions to the announcement on Blabbermouth.com at the time:
“This is just sad.” (Dude Of Life)
“Please God, say it isn’t so.” (Mast O’ Dawn)
“Mulletfest 2007.” (IFH)
Ratt’s partially-reunited classic lineup includes just three guys from their MTV heyday: Guitarist Warren DeMartini, drummer Bobby Blotzer, and now Pearcy (who replaces his replacement, Jizzy Pearl). The late Robbin Crosby was replaced by guitarist John Corabi. Non-participating bassist Juan Crocier was replaced by Robbie Crane (from Vince Neil's band).
Back in 2002, the legal rights to tour and record under the name “Ratt” belonged to guitarist DeMartini and drummer Blotzer. This was established in court, when the duo accused Pearcy of passing off his own faux-Ratt as the real thing on the road.
According to a 2002 ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David A. Workman, WBS, Inc. - Ratt's touring entity - is “the sole and exclusive owner of the Ratt trademarks, and thus WBS’ arrangement with DeMartini and Blotzer supercedes and nullifies any claims Pearcy may make for use of the name.”
Ratt’s earliest incarnation, Mickey Ratt, formed in the late seventies and underwent several lineup changes. Stephen Pearcy founded the original band and recruited local high schooler Jake E. Lee as guitarist. At the time, Lee was giving guitar lessons to another teen named Warren DeMartini, who would soon get a job working at Guitar Trader.
After Mickey Ratt changed its name to Ratt and moved to L.A., gigging at Whiskey and the Troubadour, Lee left the band, eventually replacing the late Randy Rhoades in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. DeMartini, on Lee’s recommendation, was invited to join the group.
Ratt’s classic lineup, from the days of MTV hits like “Round And Round” and “Lay It Down,” included Pearcy, DeMartini and Blotzer, as well as Robbin Crosby (guitar) and Juan Croucier (bass). Ratt’s self-titled debut album was released independently in 1983, soon leading to a major-label contract with Atlantic Records.
In 1984, the LP “Out of the Cellar” hit the U.S. top ten, selling over three million copies, with its first single "Round and Round" reaching number twelve on Billboard’s singles chart. The video for that song was in heavy-rotation on MTV --- it featured the late comedian Milton Berle recreating his drag queen persona (assuming he ever de-created it).
They released a string of albums after that but, by 1992, Pearcy left and the band split up, presumably putting away the pouty poses for good.
Ratt reunited briefly in 1997, but the group soon became estranged with their lead singer once again.
The renewed animosity between turn-of-the-century Ratt members and their once-and-future frontman seemed to peak in January 2000, when Pearcy walked out on the band and manager Tim Heyne six days before the start of what was being billed as a “comeback tour.”
Pearcy claimed in later court documents that his ex-bandmates posted on the Internet that he had "quit" the band and caused the cancellation of January 2000 tour dates, and that they had publicly accused him of being an "alcoholic" and/or a "drug addict." Pearcy contended the group ignored him when he informed them in December of 1999 that would not tour with Ratt, and that Blotzer and DeMartini misled the public by saying that he would. Ratt subsequently hired singer Jizzy Pearl, of the band Love/Hate, and toured Florida and the midwest.
Ratt members past and present took to badmouthing each other at every given opportunity. The website metal-sludge.com interviewed Bobby Blotzer and read him a quote from Ratt’s former singer. “Pearcy recently said about you, ‘Bobby's a drummer, not a songwriter. He's a guy who knows nothing about anything and now he thinks he know something about everything. Bobby's a pr--k. Give yourself some respect man and shut the f--k up! You're running the integrity of our music and band into the dirt. I'm sure that Robbin and Juan are thanking themselves for not being part of this mess [the new Ratt].’ What is your response to that?”
Blotzer replied “I just laugh at Pearcy…anyone who knows Pearcy knows what I'm talking about. The only songs that Pearcy truly wrote himself were the ones on the EP [1983’s ‘Ratt’]. Beau Hill, Juan [and] Robbin...used to come up with most of the melodies on the tunes, and rewrite most of the lyrics that he [Pearcy] would come up with. Sorry, but that’s the truth. And as far as myself being only a drummer? I've played guitar for 28 years and, while I'm not breaking any records for the most material written, I've had some good ones down the line.”
Asked what he thinks of Pearcy touring with a band he calls Ratt, Blotzer said “I think it’s a joke.”
The legal battle got more bitter on February 20, 2001, when Pearcy filed suit against Blotzer and DeMartini and Ratt’s former manager Tim Heyne, claiming breach of contract and seeking unspecified damages. Pearcy alleged that his two former bandmates withdrew thousands of dollars from a corporate checking account the trio opened together.
Judge Workman dismissed Pearcy's claims for trademark infringement, unfair competition, defamation, misappropriation of corporate assets, and breach of fiduciary duty, and ruled that Pearcy was engaging in unfair competition himSELF, by using the trademark “Ratt” name for his own touring group billed alternately as “Stephen Pearcy’s Ratt,” “Ratt Featuring Stephen Pearcy” and “Ratt With Stephen Pearcy.”
Ratt's Beverly Hills attorney, Kyle P. Kelley, then said "My clients are delighted with the court's ruling. The court determined that the allegations against DeMartini and Blotzer were meritless and unsupported by evidence…DeMartini and Blotzer will protect their trademark rights and will vigorously pursue anyone who books an unauthorized Ratt concert."
An injunction was then placed against Pearcy, demanding he cease and desist from using the Ratt trademarks, and another order was sought attempting to force him to turn over profits earned from his unauthorized Ratt tour.
“Stephen Pearcy’s Ratt” was part of a summer 2001 package tour called “Voices Of Metal,” which also included other ‘80s hair band survivors plying their tired trade on Highway Has-Been, such as Slaughter, Vixxen, Cinderella, and Britny Fox.
The official website for the DeMartini-and-Blotzer-led Ratt, www.therattpack.com, posted a notice in May 2001, stating “Ratt is not currently on tour with the Voices of Metal lineup - any advertisement you are seeing is Stephen Pearcy promoting himself as Ratt without the right to do so, and the band will be going to court…to resolve this matter. An official notice will be posted after said court date.”
In papers filed 6/4/01, at department 86 of the Superior Court of California, County Of Los Angeles, Pearcy was the plaintiff of case #8739 (Stephen Pearcy VS WBS Inc. et al).
However, it was the defendants, including DeMartini and Blotzer, who were granted a preliminary injunction to stop Pearcy’s use of the Ratt name while court proceedings were still pending!
To quote from the filing: “In 1985, Pearcy, Blotzer, DeMartini, and two other musicians formed a partnership, and the partnership registered the servicemark Ratt with the United State Patent and Trademark Office. The rock group disbanded in 1990 and the members went their separate ways. In 1997, Pearcy, Blotzer and DeMartini revived the group, formed a corporation called WBS, and each of them assigned his partnership interest in the trade name Ratt to the corporation in exchange for 3000 shares of corporate stock, 1000 shares each to Pearcy, Blotzer, and DeMartini.”
“In early 2000, the parties disagreed over the type of engagement that the group should play, and at a meeting of the Board of Directors of the corporation which Pearcy was notified of but did not attend, the Directors voted to remove Pearcy as an officer and as an employee of the corporation. Pearcy then formed a competing rock group, which he calls ‘Ratt With Stephen Pearcy.’ Despite the fact that he had been stripped of authority to act on behalf of the corporation, Pearcy then hired an agent who booked the new group for a tour of concerts extending through August of 2001.”
WBS, Blotzer, and DeMartini sought to enjoin Pearcy from using the name Ratt in connection with such musical performances, and that restraint appeared to be permanent, once they and WBS had legally proven their sole rights to use of that name.
Pearcy next tried to claim that "unwritten agreements" promised him permanent lead singer status, and he even filed a brief opposing the injunction (6:27-20), stating that the other members of Ratt promised never to use that band name without him at the helm and that he, Pearcy, was assigned, albeit not in writing, to be the sole “artistic director and controller of all live and recorded performances by Ratt.”
Another of Pearcy’s unsuccessful arguments was that the public expects and demands that any group going by the name Ratt should have himself as lead singer, and this “secondary meaning” of the trademark name gives him ownership of it. I sh-t thee not! The guy may not have had much hair left, but he still had a huge set of brass ones.
“Pearcy produces no evidence of any such secondary meaning,” countered WBS. “The evidence is insufficient to show that the public is confused or deceived or that defendants are promoting the group by representing that Pearcy is still a member of it.”
Ratt at that time was comprised of DeMartini and Blotzer, guitarist John Corabi (formerly of Motley Crue), bassist Robbie Crane, and Pearcy’s replacement Jizzy Pearl, formerly of Love/Hate.
In the wake of all the lawsuits, both Pearl and Pearcy were blasted by Ratt fans on the message board at www.therattpack.com. This prompted forum moderator Cherie to post an announcement stating “I know we have fans of Ratt past and present, but as you can probably tell, this site focuses on Ratt in the present form (Warren, Bobby, Robbie, John and Jizzy) and while everyone's differing views are appreciated (it'd be quite boring if they were all the same), all I ask is that we show some respect to the band whom this website belongs to and to each other.”
Sample thread discussions included one about Pearcy’s announced acting role in a movie called Camp Utopia, in which he’s said to play a character named Timothy Bach. Screen name Leroy asked “What’s his role, a dope fiend?”
Jbyesjb added his own jibe: “And don't forget the recent news of his doughnut disorder!? I don't know if it's true or not: disclaimer, just repeating what I read on another board: but rumor has it [Pearcy] likes Crispy Cremes dipped in mayo! I'm gonna heave!”
In a message thread entitled “About Stephen Pearcy and Ratt's Future," Evansville Ratt said “I hope what I'm about to say will not be misconstrued, but I really love Stephen's voice and the way he pronounces the lyrics to the songs. IMO [in my opinion] he's the coolest lead singer (Rock Star) that has ever fronted a band. I realize what he has done with this recent lawsuit has been totally uncool, but one can never take away the awesome impact he has had on Ratt's music.”
Evansville didn’t think much of Jizzy Pearl. “How many more albums are we going to have to endure that have bummed out rhythms (riff) sections, no Rock Star guitar solos, and a lead singer that sounds like he's choking on something?”
In July 2001, during an interview on KNAC in L.A. which was later transcribed and posted on the station’s website, one-time Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby admitted that he had “full-blown AIDS” and that he’d been living with the virus for the last seven years.
“Basically,” he said, “it’s killing me. I’ve got a terminal disease. Recently, I went in for surgery cause my back hurt so bad, and they got all this infectious fluid out and then they found that my bones were not getting oxygen under the infectious fluid which is called osteomyalitis. I’ve been in the hospital for eight straight months and in and out for over seven years."
Crosby said he was diagnosed with HIV in 1994, but that he didn’t have any way of knowing exactly when he contracted the disease. Its dormancy period can be up to ten years, so medical opinion is that he could have been exposed as early as the mid-eighties. Crosby said he got into heroin early in Ratt’s career, and that’s how he thought he acquired AIDS.
He also mentioned that he was smoking heroin with Motley Crue members Nikki Sixx and Vince Neil in 1983. "Nikki Sixx and I had gotten into the heroin thing together. He was supposed to be the best man at my wedding and he didn’t even come, ‘cause there was going to be people drinking and that was when he had just gone through his rehab thing. That really fried my -ss."
In an interview posted on the website launch.com, Crosby described his thoughts when he first found out about his illness. "It was kind of odd. It took a while to sink in, like I kind of expected it or something after all the stuff I had done, you know, on tour.” In this interview, he seemed to be theorizing that perhaps he’d been infected due to unsafe sex, rather than needle contamination. He acknowledged that either scenario was as likely. “I was no-holds-barred. I had no reason to not, so, you know, I'm pretty sure that I got it on tour."
Speculation became and remains rampant that backstage sex was to blame for Crosby’s illness. On the message board at groupiecentral.com, groupies posted their own unsubstantiated but entertaining gossip about carnal encounters with the members of Ratt and other rock stars.
Groupies were, then as now, a fixture on the L.A. rock scene, if not the very reason for its existence, and the members of Ratt have freely admitted to intimate contact with these female followers in many interviews.
Screen name Fantasex said “I implore anyone who had sex with [Crosby] to get checked for HIV immediately and, most importantly, if you turn out positive, stop having sex! It’s amazing AIDS isn’t more rampant among those of us who’ve been promiscuous with promiscuous men, and you can be sure that more of us, and more rock stars, will turn up with AIDS as time goes on.”
Not that Crosby was the only bandmember to partake of backstage bacchanalia, as both he and those posting at groupiecentral admit.
Screen name Disappointed said “I was with Pearcy during the first two albums…he was ok in the sack, but got plain boring after about 15 minutes. One night he was such a yawn that I went and spent the rest of the night with Bobby Blotzer…now that's desperate.”
Sunset Sally said she spent a lot of time at Pearcy’s apartment on Fuller Avenue, near Hollywood Boulevard. “I was Stephen's neighbor back in the good ol' Sunset Strip days. He partied a lot, but so did I, so we got along quite well. Most of the time we were both more interested in doing lots of drugs than having sex, but the sex was fun too. Sometimes, we'd both go out with other people to different places, but then one of us would call the other late night after ditchin' whoever we'd been with...neighborly love, ya know what I'm saying…thank God my rock star neighbor was Stephen and not [Motorhead singer] Lemmy!”
Crosby never badmouthed groupies, and he acknowledged that many one-night-stands from his “glory days” had been sending him well-wishes after getting word of his illness. "It's unbelievable how much mail I get,” he told Launch, “and it makes me realize just how many fans there are, and how many there must have been to be this many still now, you know? They wrote me just to, you know, wish me good luck. You know, that's gotta make you feel good. It just warms your heart…[it] warms mine."
In July 2001, Crosby was residing at an L.A. hospital and undergoing full-time AIDS treatments. He was released for a time, but was readmitted in early 2002. He told friends that he felt his prospects were good for survival, and that he was going off his medications soon. He said he was walking again, something he hadn't been able to do in a long time.
In 2002, Juan Croucier – the other living guy NOT included in the current “reunion” – was playing in a band called Liquid Sunday. Crosby became active in discussions on The Cellar message board at Croucier's website, www.juancroucier.com.
Crosby posted messages announcing that he's "working right now and finally coming back 100%…I'm working [on a new project] with my old partner in crime and best friend Juan Croucier."
In March 2002, Crosby posted a message at liquidsunday.com saying "Things are looking up! I'm looking forward to working on new music. Without your strength I would be nothing. God bless you all. When time allows, we will be rejoined again in the sprit of rock and roll. I love you all! Here we go!"
Robbin Crosby died Thursday June 6, 2002, in his Hollywood apartment. He was 42.
Bobby Blotzer had remained close to Crosby after Ratt’s disintegration and reformation without Crosby. Blotzer posted a message at therattpack.com on July 7, reporting that he spent much of Christmas eve 2001 with the stricken guitarist. “It has been about 10 hours since we all lost one of the most kind hearted, the most compassionate, intelligent, talented, strong, I mean f--king strong like I could never be, humans to ever have the pleasure and to be lucky enough to have in our lives! I've been sitting here in the company of the people that I love tonight and we've been watching some videos of Robbin doing what he's always done best and that’s ...kick ass live on stage!”
He continued, "I want everyone to know one thing here, too. Never once did any of us hear King complain about his situation...You have to understand something...The man was put through hell and never, ever bitched about it. I know that I’m the biggest whining pussy about things that aren’t even a fraction of what he had to deal with…I only wish he could have been able to use it like a decade before. There are so many touching stories that we have that are what the essence of who Robbin was. If you guys only knew...the only peace I'm feeling right now is that he's out of the nightmare that has attacked him.”
Stephen Pearcy posted a message as well. “Our dear friend Robbin Crosby passed away Thursday morning. His family and close friends are asking for your respect, prayers and appreciation. Robbin was a sweet soul, great talent and he will be dearly missed, rest in peace.”
Former Ratt bassist Juan Croucier posted "To a King among men: Robbin, you will always be loved by those who knew you. I will always love you, beyond words. Your kindness and compassion, knew no bounds. Your heart was pure love. Your spirit was a gift to be admired. It was an honor to have been your friend. I will always cherish the many wonderful memories we shared together, over the many years. The world is a better place because of you. I wish you all the love in this world and all the peace in heaven. The pain and suffering is over. God bless you. Love, Juan.”
Also sharing his feelings that day was Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx: "Lost two more warriors today. One was a king and a friend. One was someone I admired (Dee Dee Ramone). The rock 'n' roll band in heaven is sure getting bad ass. God bless…."
Fans of Crosby and of Ratt expressed their condolences at the Ratt website and at KNAC’s online message board, including this June 8th post from screen name B5erik: “Robbin was a great songwriter, and a solid rhythm guitar player who added crunch to Ratt's sound. That's the bottom line. The fact that he was also a junkie and had unprotected sex with too many girls just shows that he was a flawed, foolish person as well. He was another person who felt like he had to live up to the Rock and Roll Star stereotype/image.”
Local musician and longtime Shambles member Kevin Donaker-Ring - who worked with Warren DeMartini at Guitar Trader - told me at the time “I talked with Robbin on many occasions and saw him play more times than I can remember…my fondest memories of Robbin actually come from a band he was in before Ratt, Phenomenon. They were a local San Diego band, playing clubs and high school dances. When I was in junior high school -- eighth grade to be exact -- most of my friends were older and already in high school. Well, Phenomenon played just about every other dance at the high school, but never at the junior high. So my friends at the high school would buy me a ticket, and I'd bluster my way into the dance whenever Phenomenon was playing.”
"And they were great,” said Kevin. “Robbin always played a Gibson Flying V, and he'd be wearing platform shoes. The guy was well over six feet tall, and with those shoes below him and the hair on top he was an imposing figure. This was the late 70s so they played some serious rock 'n' roll…they used flame pots. Real pyrotechnics shooting columns of fire fifteen to twenty feet in the air. Inside the gym! You could feel the heat all the way at the back of the room. That he soared higher with Ratt is undeniable, but for me the memory of Robbin playing in a high school gym and the heat on my face from those columns of fire will live on in my memory forever.”
On June 7 ’02, the Crosby family posted this notice at therattpack.com: “Thank you for your interest and generosity. No flowers or cards, please. Send any donations to the only recognized memorial fund, set up by the Crosby family: Robbin Crosby Memorial Fund, benefiting pathfinders (a halfway house), c/o Regent's Bank, 875 Prospect St., Ste. 100, La Jolla, CA 92037.”
Robbin's remains were cremated. A memorial service was held at Windansea Beach, with friends and family on surfboards and spreading his ashes out to sea.
Ratt spent the next few years touring with singer Jizzy Pearl, with guitarist Warren DeMartini doing a brief stint with Dio. Ratt was struggling to stay alive, barely on life support and often unable to sellout even small venues.
Despite the fading glory and dwindling crowds, the new model Ratt continued to act – if not party – like rock stars.
Longtime 4th & B figure “Dutch” Schultz told the Edwin Decker for the Reader last year "During sound checks, Ratt tried to bully the opening act, a local band called Cage. For instance, as the two bands crossed paths at the back door, Ratt expected the guys in Cage to stand aside and let them walk out. They ended up bumping into one another, which almost caused a fight in the parking lot. Ratt demanded that the opening band be scratched, after both bands had already sound checked."
In Summer 2005, the apparently misnamed “Rock Never Stops” tour featuring Ratt, Vince Neil, and Slaughter stopped after just one date. Arriving patrons at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom in New Hampshire July 23 were greeted by a sign informing “Vince Neil was in a car accident and broke his leg. Because of this, he will be unable to perform tonight. Both Ratt and Slaughter will still be performing.”
Ticketholders who’d bought passes at the box office were given three options; enter to see Ratt and Slaughter and receive comp tickets to upcoming concerts by Staind or Blue Oyster Cult, enter and get $10 back off the $29 ticket, OR turn in tickets through the Casino box office for a full refund.
“The problem,” according to a post by Ripper2004 on metaltemple.com, “was they weren’t giving refunds [on-site]. You have to bring your receipt back to the box office or mail it with your tickets to the Casino…who the f--k keeps ticket receipts?!”
Ticketmaster patrons were told on the Casino website to “consult Ticketmaster,” with no confirmation that refunds would actually be offered.
“You should have seen the stampede screaming for refunds after the show,” posted FemmeFatle. “John Corabi [guitarist] from Ratt tried to sing a couple of Motley songs with Slaughter and got booed him off the stage…he’s not even their singer, he can’t f--kin sing! Ratt closed and they got massively booed too…it was a joke, they sucked.”
All the remaining Rock Never Stops tour dates were cancelled.
After the Hampton Beach show, Ratt flew direct from to Winter Park Colorado to perform on their own the following day, at – and I swear I’m not making this up - “Hawgfest.”
IMO, once you’ve been sued by your former lead singer, had your guitarist die of AIDS and drug-related complications, been booed by Vince Neil fans - in New Hampshire! - AND you’re playing something called “Hawgfest,” it really IS time for the rock to stop.
In October 2005, Stephen Pearcy dropped the first hints that the band’s MTV era lineup (minus the late Robbin Crosby) could reform. “I tried to put an end to that Ratt mess last year,” he said at www.stephen-pearcy.com. “I made a proposal, sh-t or get off the pot. It could be a good thing, our 20 year anniversary.”
And the dollar signs began lighting up countless soulless eyes…
"We're trying to come to terms with Stephen, and we're very close,” Ratt drummer Bobby Blotzer then told the L.A. Daily News. “The guys in Motley Crue are going to make $10 million each this year. We've always been a little under them as far as touring, but not very far behind."
Wait, what’s that I hear ---- sounds like ------ ‘ka-CHIIIING!”
But before the so-called “reunion” could happen in ’07, Pearcy was caught trying to milk the ol’ Ratt nipples once again ----
Pearcy claimed to have vintage Ratt demos featuring a young Jake E. Lee (from an early incarnation of the band), which he wanted to release as a Ratt CD. Besides seeming to violate the court order against him cashing in on a band name he had no claim to, Lee himself disputed Pearcy’s contention.
The former music major at Southwestern College - who went on to play with Ozzy, Dio and others – told the Swedish magazine Fuzz “I've seen Dr. Rock by Ratt advertised as ‘featuring Jake E Lee,’ but I've never played that song in my life. The only stuff Pearcy would have with my playing on it would be a rehearsal tape we once made in his garage, recorded with a cheap boom box. I can't remember which line-up that was, but I believe Stephen was playing the rhythm guitar.”
Pearcy’s “Rat Attack” CD went ahead and compiled the early Ratt demos with new versions of old Ratt songs re-recorded with his group Rat Bastards.
Pearcy admitted on his own website that Jake E. Lee declined to participate in remaking Ratt history. “We've contacted him and he never took to doing the [re-recording] project.”
In May 2006, “Behind the Music: Ratt” debuted on good ol’ VH1. A VH1 producer I sometimes do research for told me at the time "This is the third time we've tried to work with these guys." He said drummer Bobby Blotzer got bleeped the most. "Every time he mentions Pearcy's name, it's preceded by 'that motherf--ker.'"
When the episode aired, it included lots of local footage, including interviews with the late Robbin Crosby shot for a previous BTM attempt, before the guitarist died.
Pearcy's segments include his contention (not shared by all band members) that Crosby was felled not by sexual excess, but by dirty needles.
So, as we know, Ratt partially reunited its classic lineup in summer ‘07, with Stephen Pearcy, Warren DeMartini, and Bobby Blotzer. The late Robbin Crosby was replaced by John Corabi, while Crocier – who (wisely?) refused to participate - was replaced by Robbie Crane.
In the wake of the “reunion” announcement, they released a Very Best of Ratt CD AND a DVD compilation Videos from the Cellar.
From most accounts, the Ratt "reunion" tour has so far run hot and cold. Singer Pearcy bowed out of one gig early, prompting much speculation that he was about to quit again. However, it turned out that replacement player John Corabi was actually the one about to become Ratt's newest ex-member.
According to Blabbermouth.com, "Following weeks of rumors and speculation, Ratt drummer Bobby Blotzer has confirmed that former Quiet Riot guitarist Carlos Cavazo will be joining the group as the replacement for rhythm guitarist John Corabi (former Mötley Crüe singer). According to Blotzer, 'We have been rehearsing with Carlos and it sounds pretty freakin cool. He'll be playing his first show with us in Baton Rouge, Lousiana on August 27...So come on out to the show and rock with us! Crab [Corabi] has one last show that he's committed to with us on September 5 in Virginia Beach."
Wait, so the newest new guy debuts August 27, but Corabi's gonna come back and play September 5 before getting out of the Ratt trap for good?? AWK-waaaaard.............
Me, I don’t really wanna see three guys out of five recreate “Round and Round” for the umpteenth time, knowing full well how much they’ve hated and battled each other all these years.
I’d rather play some Boomtown Rats instead, or maybe the Goodrats --------- thank gawd for bands that were never big enough in the first place to reunite.
BATTLE OF THE LOCAL BLUES LOVERS
(Art by Ken Meyer, Jr.)
“My enemies have betrayed me
have overtaken poor Bob at last
An’ ‘ere’s one thing certainly
they have stones all in my pass.”
(Robert Johnson “Stones In My Passway”)
“The blues in San Diego is non-existent,” local guitarist Len Rainey told me awhile back. “It’s more of a jazz town, there’s not much blues to be had here. You’ve got Croce’s, one of the main international places, you’ve got Patrick’s a little bit but you just don’t have the bigger venues.”
Hoping to boost the local scene, Rainey (with the San Diego Blues Society and Gemtone Records) used to put together events like the Annual Super Bowl Blues shows at 4th & B, which he also headlined. “4th and B was nice enough to give me the place again and said ‘Len, put some blues in the place for me.’ I had 500 people show up so there’s definitely a market for it, I would think.”
Former 4th & B owner Bob Speth was impressed. After the second year’s Super Bowl Blues show, he said “They did real good, they sounded good and the audience was a lot larger than the year before. I like it. We’re contemplating doing some more blues...we’ll book whatever’s hot. We’re your basic run of the mill bar, we’ll give the people what they want. If they’ll buy a ticket for blues, then we’ll put in more blues.”
Jim Phillips was general manager of Blind Melons, the venue at 710 Garnet Avenue that opened in 1989 and is now known as 710 Beach Club (previously called the Elbow Room, Mary’s by the Pier, and Bangers). He said Blind Melons lost money on events just to bring blues acts to the stage. “I think people just have an interpretation that [the blues] is just two old black guys just really bummed out about everything,” he said. “Maybe that representation doesn’t appeal to a lot of people.”
Music historian and broadcast vet Dan Pothier hosted a Friday night show for NPR, Bluestime. After the program was cancelled, I interviewed him at his home. “KPBS said that NPR didn’t think that the blues had any support in this city,” according to Pothier.
“They told me that NPR was cutting back on blues, period. And I found that to not be a fact. Any time you talk to the general manager of a station and he tells you that he can’t understand why people play dead folks’ music, well, I have a problem with that...I took that to mean that he didn’t place much stock in Mozart, classical, blues, anything that’s not current.”
He says that Bluestime was cut from the KPBS schedule with no warning. “I don’t particularly care for the way they did it, but I had a sneaking suspicion that something was up when I went in to do my Friday show. They treated me like I was a kid who was going to explode on the air after they told me they weren’t going to carry the show any more. When I went in, there was already someone else preparing to go on the air. They won’t let you go back on the air after they tell you they’re terminating you. That’s a common practice in commercial broadcasting.”
He points out that KPBS is not a commercial station. “Public radio is just that, it’s public supported, it doesn’t depend on ratings and chart positions.”
Why was he told the show was cancelled? “[KPBS’s] new program director told me that NPR’s main office claimed there was no market for the blues in San Diego. I never got anything in writing. But the director of National Public Radio is African American and I don’t think he’d come down with something like that.”
Pothier says he never went on the air that night - he just left the building and didn’t even turn on the radio to see what his “replacement” was putting on the air in place of Bluestime. “I just took my lump in my throat and drove away.”
Tammy Charnow went to work for KPBS in 1994, and she recalled for me about Bluestime getting pulled. “There weren’t very many people listening to it, which was unfortunate.”
How do they know this? “We have a research company most radio stations use, Arbitron, and we use them to track our listenership. Plus we have a department of people who take calls from the public and we pay a lot of attention to that.”
So ratings ARE a factor in public radio, even though they’re not selling ads? “We need to know if people are listening just as much as anybody else. If the listeners don’t like what they hear, they won’t support us with pledges.”
How does KPBS decide what shows get canceled? “A lot of times it relies on what people in focus groups tell us. Also, I think what happened was we didn’t have a lot of money for local programming and we had to cut something. That was the program that had the least audience. We thought we should put that money into a program that had more people listening to it.”
“Dan [Pothier] is a great guy,” she concluded, “and it was a great show, but people just weren’t tuning in.”
Pothier was at one time President of the aforementioned San Diego Blues Society, which helped put on the 4th & B Super Bowl Blues shows. He says he resigned that position, because his job and other commitments didn’t leave him enough time to fulfill his duties.
He instead became Event Coordinator for a newer group, BLUSD (Blues Lovers United Of San Diego), which he says was initially comprised mostly of former Blues Society members.
“There were some philosophical differences....some things didn’t quite gel with a lot of people. They thought that, by regrouping, we might speed things up a little faster. It wasn’t anything where anybody came to blows or anything.”
Once he found himself with time again, why did he join BLUSD instead of rejoining the Blues Society?
He paused a bit before answering. “I thought the direction I wanted to see a blues organization to go in was not the direction the San Diego Blues Society was going in at the time. So when I was called to help form another group [in January 1999], it took me awhile to decide. Rather than take a position as an officer again, President, Vice President, Treasurer, it took me awhile to decide what to do besides just being a member. This organization was going in the right direction. A lot of the people we had over there are now over here.”
I asked what specific grievances they had with the way things were done at the Blues Society? “There wasn’t enough being done for the dues-paying members. They didn’t get enough in return for their support,” he says, suggesting that many more events and outreach programs are being launched by BLUSD.
Len Rainey played benefit events for both the Blues Society and BLUSD. “The blues is universal, so I’ve got to do it for both of them,” he told me. “I kind of tread lightly between both of them.”
Why, in his opinion, didn’t the two groups get along, since they had the same goal; promoting the blues? “It’s just probably there’s a lot of strong people in both organizations and they don’t see eye to eye on certain things...that’s probably why some of the people from the Blues Lovers, who used to be in the Blues Society, kind of broke off and did their thing. They couldn’t get along with Dana [Shocaroff, then President of the San Diego Blues Society].”
Jim Phillips at Blind Melons first heard about the Blues Society around 1997. “There was a woman [Shocaroff] who kind of like was running it by herself and she wanted to do all of her events at the Belly Up, didn’t want anything to do with Blind Melons...a number of people got tired of being in that organization and not being able to expand their horizons.”
Phillips said he attended the first meeting of the new group, along with about twenty or thirty others. “Those who’d been in the Blues Society felt that there had been a lack of communication, no direction, no voting...[they] were virtually alienated by this woman who was running it. She had her own, I guess, agenda.”
Phillip Shuey was elected President of the new BLUSD and re-elected the following year, but he was originally on the Blues Society committee for a brief time.
Shuey said he went into the hospital for surgery, and “When I came out, a whole group of people had left. It was one of those classic palace coup situations where a couple of people were making the decisions and the masses didn’t like it so they stormed the castle and got beaten back and so they left. That’s how a lot of times a splinter organization or a second organization is formed...the reality was there were a couple of strong personalities in the Blues Society and a lot of the rank and file members and other board members were making suggestions and kind of being ignored, they felt, so they decided to bolt.”
When I contacted Dana Shocaroff, she said “Trust me, there was plenty of badmouthing me. Actually, I did take it personally a little bit for a while there but I got over it. They would actually - I used to get phone calls. They were calling it Dana-bashing. But you know, as Cher said, if they quit talking about you, they forgot about you.”
She said the defections did not interrupt Blues Society activities. “My board - our board, not my board - our board, when there was word of the other society, they had their choice of staying where they’re at, [or] we dissolve and combine [with BLUSD] or them leaving. And they were one hundred percent behind me and said ‘If you go, we go.’”
I did not fail to note how she called the Blues Society officers “MY board,” before correcting to “OUR board”………
“I also got calls from several members who said ‘Please don’t give up.’ And I said ‘I have no intention of giving up,’ so we continued on. I know what I’m doing is good, I know it comes from the heart. Sometimes when you get attacked, it hurts because they attack your heart. But it’s gonna take more than a handful of men to knock me down.”
Though I interviewed Shocaroff awhile back, it’s worth noting that, at present, four of the six BLUSD Directors are women, as are both members of the group’s advisory board (Michelle Lundeen and Nancy Tiger).
Shocaroff grew up near Chicago and moved to San Diego a little over 20 years ago. Her day job for awhile involved running a La Jolla escrow company, but her first love has always been the blues.
“The Blues Society’s objective [was] the promotion and education of one of America’s first art forms. It’s like any new organization. It takes a lot of work, a lot of time and it’s all volunteer, which means a lot of patience [waiting] for people to do things. So we kind of tried to get out there full force the first year and then said ‘Okay, wait a minute, we need to pull back here, get out non-profit status, get our ducks in a row, build a solid foundation.”
I asked about what others had called her “strong personality.” “My strong personality? Those are people who hate to see a woman in power, don’t you think? I’m not surprised, I’ve heard everything that you’re saying to me, from various people as far as what [they] were saying about me.”
About Phillips’ claim that she “didn’t want anything to do with Blind Melons,” she responded “We would not call one venue our home, we didn’t think that was fair.” She says Blind Melon’s was particularly insistent about this but that she felt that the Society should be able to book acts into as many clubs as possible.
Once in awhile, she said, there was a conflict with BLUSD over a specific location. “One venue told me that they were approached by both of us but he chose to work with me, that was his choice. I do have to be a little bit careful because we have announced things before and the other organization has done it. And when I question them on it, they just said ‘well, too bad,’ that was quote unquote, too bad. So we just step back.”
“I met with their [BLUSD] president…and wished them all the luck in the world...we all have our different expertise. I think there’s plenty of room.”
The Blues Society used to produce shows at Buffalo Joe’s, Etta’s Place, Patrick’s and others, as well as being one of the sponsors of Blues On The Green in El Cajon. During one Street Scene, they booked seven bands into the Juke Joint, which normally features only jazz and comedy, with great results. The club then changed to having blues every Sunday for awhile.
However, the Blue Society grew increasingly inactive, as BLUSD eventually became the dominant local blues society involved in performances both here and in other cities, as well as running their successful Blues In The Schools (BITS) program.
What is it about BLUSD that enabled them to win the battle of the blues? “They want something bigger,” said Jim Phillips. “Not just one person but a board of eight to twelve people to be able to vote on issues that they feel are important for the direction they want to go. They want a huge membership base.”
Phillip Shuey says BLUSD was dominant as of its first year of operation. “We got involved as an active participant in the Blues Foundation, which is based in Memphis Tennessee. They have around 107 affiliates around the world who carry on the work on a local basis.”
BLUSD also takes part in the International Blues Challenge, a Blues Foundation national competition to find best unsigned blues act. “We put 25 or 26 bands up on the stage over four weeks, had judges score them according to the criteria of the Foundation and then we [send] the top vote getter…to the final competition in Memphis.”
Dan Pothier doesn’t see the two groups as having operated at cross purposes. “Regardless of how many organizations there are, if they’re heading in the right direction, in the same direction, it’s okay.”
At the International Blues Challenge 2008, BLUSD sponsored Aunt Kizzy’s Boyz. They did well in the band category, but did not make it to the finals. Local Sue Palmer DID win an award for Best Self-Produced CD, for her album “Sophisticated Ladies.”
BLUES LOVERS UNITED OF SAN DIEGO www.blusd.org
BUFFY STAKED AFTER KEN CINEMA SCREENING
I confess ---- I once broke up with a girl over Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Over the few months we dated, we watched episodes of the series together, and she seemed to enjoy the show as much as I did (and still do).
Then, I put on a video of the musical “Once More With Feeling” episode, which I consider one of the all-time coolest hours of television – just brilliant stuff. My girl didn’t even get through the second song before she stood up and announced, with disdain on her face and poison in her tone, “This is stupid. I hate this,” and she left the room.
I knew at that precise moment that this was not a girl I could ever respect, let alone love…
That was a couple of years ago. Late last year, I heard that the Buffy Musical episode would be screened in my favorite surviving single-screen theater, the Ken in Kensington, in an October 5th audience-participation blowout.
Though attending fans didn’t know at the time, that Ken event was the final curtain call for the traveling show based around “Once More With Feeling.” 20th Century Fox, which owns the program, has demanded all future audience-participation screenings be shut down.
"Notice for this was very sudden and unexpected," says event founder Clinton McClung on the Buffy Musical website. "Basically, the idea of presenting television shows in a theatre is so new that there are a lot of details that still need to be resolved around payments of residuals, deals with the guilds and unions, etc.”
McClung says he did arrange licensing authorization through Criterion Pictures, the theatrical distributor for Fox's television shows. However, Fox says Criterion had no authority to license the sing-a-long screenings, which have also taken place in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Michigan, Maine, and Hawaii.
Chris Alexander at Fox says in a press release that "significant payments" should have been tendered before the musical Buffy episode got its Rocky Horror-style theatrical makeover. "We have to protect our interests, and that's what we're doing…There are plenty of legal ways for fans to enjoy Buffy, but this particular event is not going to be possible at this time."
Event organizer McClung says “Both Fox and Criterion need to fix some of these issues before [we] can continue to do any theatrical screenings." A three-night St. Louis screening has been cancelled, as was a proposed NYC event. “For now, it looks like San Diego was our swan song.”
I wonder if my ex is now working for Fox Television?
Locally-based comic book publisher IDW holds the license to publish comic books based on the Buffy TV show, and on its companion series Angel. They’ve released several titles based on characters from both series, most notably a Spike miniseries, as well as official canonical sequels, in editions fully authorized by series creator Joss Whedon.
RAGE AGAINST THE RANCHO: Ex-Blinker Disses His Upscale Neighborhood
I guess it makes sense that rockers as rich as the guys (formerly) in blink 182 have run out of things to angst over. "I guess this is growing up..." and all that, dontcha know.
So it's kind of a hoot to discover that the debut album by +44 with Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker includes a track dissing Hoppus' former neighbors in so-upscale-it's-obscene Rancho Santa Fe.
His rage against the Rancho is mainly directed at the neighborhood's homeowners association. Hoppus told newstimeslive.com “There's a song called ‘Lillian’ on the record that's about people that try to control other people's lives...And there's a place in San Diego called Rancho Santa Fe, which is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life. It's country sides, rolling hills, there's trees everywhere. It's this gorgeous place, and it's filled with some of the most backstabbing, evil, just bitter, bitter people in the world."
"The homeowners association is very strict and it's strange because everybody who lives there is very wealthy…They're just bitter and it's a sour, sour community. The woman who started the homeowners association there is a woman named Lillian. So it's kind of about people trying to control one another.”
Hoppus seems pretty bitter and sour himself, judging from the tune's lyrics:
"The place I used to live, made me feel like a tourist
I couldn't coexist with the cold and suspicious
When the last remaining left was starting to filter
It seemed the perfect time to step into the future
Your heart is no grave to be perfectly honest
Your mouth's a smoking gun
And you smile while your twisting the knife in my stomach
Until everything is gone
Take all you can from me
I've got weak constitution
I'm led so easily
I left it all behind, in the dead of last winter
I left it all behind, but the question still lingers
So long forgotten friends, no, you don't know the difference
Between love and submission, and I'm not that obedient
Your heart is no grave, to be perfectly honest
Your mouth's a smoking gun
And you smile while your twisting the knife in my stomach
Until everything is gone
Take all you can from me
I've got weak constitution
I'm led so easily."
I expect the next +44 album will include a tirade against Hoppus' Porsche mechanic ("Fixed my air with faulty parts, now my leather interior smells like farts").
Like this blog? Here are some related links:
OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/
FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/
SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic
JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford