Singer-guitarist Gary Heffern made his local mark in the 1970s with Monotone and the Nucleoids. He rose to prominence during his stint with proto-punkers the Penetrators, which included several future Beat Farmers, including drummer Country Dick Montana.
The Penetrators got their first big break opening for the Ramones at SDSU’s Montezuma Hall. “During that period,” says Heffern, “we racked up a number of concert disasters all over San Diego. There was the time we played at the San Dieguito High School gym, and someone in the band got caught either smoking pot or drinking. The principal stopped the show, and the kids went crazy and had a teenage riot. One of those kids reminded me of that show years later; his name was Eddie Vedder.”
The future Pearl Jam vocalist eventually appeared on Heffern’s second solo album Painful Days, as did REM’s Peter Buck. Heffern later moved to Finland, near the Arctic Circle, where he still resides as of early 2009. There, he formed the Beautiful People with guitarist Timo Rautio, aka Luke Whitten.
Heffern’s 2008 solo album Consolation, with guest players Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Alejandro Escovedo, and Peter Case, includes a cover of the Bruce Springsteen song “Growin’ Up.” Heffern returned to San Diego in January 2009, to do a Penetrators reunion show, during the Casbah’s month-long 20th anniversary celebration.
He visited San Diego again in April 2011, to perform with a Penetrators (and partial-Injections) reunion on the 3rd. The Casbah also hosted his April 6 release party for Gary Heffern and Beautiful People with his backup band including hometown heroes from Tell-Tale Hearts, the Shambles, Mystery Machine, Gravedigger V, Crawdaddys, the Loons, and others.
Gary Heffern and Beautiful People was recorded with his Finnish backing band. A new video for “Hand of the Devil” and related article was posted at cheunderground.com/blog/?p=7636.
On July 13, 2011, he jammed onstage with Mudhoney during an encore of The MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” at Tavastia, Helsinki, in Finland. “They were on fire,” says Heffern. “Packed house. It was like a sauna onstage.”
In September 2012, the former Penetrators frontman began recording a new album in Norway. January 2014 found him returning to the Casbah for another Penetrators reunion during the venue's 25th anniversary celebration. He also played a solo set at the club on January 26, backed by Bart Mendoza and Kevin [Donaker-Ring] from Manual Scan, David Doyle from the Unknowns, and Alan Brown.
Heffern's book of poetry Unholy Dreams, laid out by longtime musical collaborator Ray Brandes, became available on Amazon in summer 2014. “I find most books of poetry suffocating and stifling,” Gary Heffern emails, “so it was important to me to add all the artwork and pictures in order to allow the reader some time to breathe, to contemplate the words, and then the visual artwork. I think it completes the story.”
He staged what was billed as his Farewell performance in January 2019 at the Casbah, Gary Heffern’s Last Waltz, where he was backed by Cindy Lee Berryhill (returning to the scene after a long hiatus while caring for her late husband, rock journalist Paul Williams), Ray Brandes (Tell-Tale Hearts, Mystery Machine), David Doyle (Unknowns), David Fleminger (the Answers, Alvino & the Dwells), Victor Penalosa , (Zeros, Flamin' Groovies), and Kevin Ring (the Shambles, Manual Scan). A film of the event made its debut at the Casbah that December.