When 16-year-old Ted Friedman founded the Gravedigger V in his parents’ garage in the early 80s, little did he know they’d become one of San Diego’s most influential bands. “All the respect didn’t kick in until after we split,” he tells the Reader.
“When we got interviewed by BAM magazine, our pics were taken with the guys from Jefferson Airplane and we played to thousands of people that day, but I still had to take the bus home! When we played a festival at the polo grounds in Golden Gate Park, our drummer Mark [Mullen] would kick his drums over at the end of every set. The sound guys freaked out and grabbed him by his hair and pulled him offstage. Bizarre, having your drummer bounced from his own band’s show!”
The Gravedigger V consisted of Leighton Koizumi on vocals and sound effects, Ted Friedman on lead guitar, John Hanrattie on rhythm guitar and backup vocals, Dave "the Animal" Anderson on drums and percussion, and Chris Gast, who was replaced on bass and backing vocals by Tom Ward.
The members began practicing under the name the Shamen in 1983, in bassist Chris Gast's garage. The group began writing songs together while its members were still teenagers; lead singer Leighton Koizumi was only 16 years old when the band began to perform. Their first gig in September 1983 was a yard party at 5266 Cobb Drive, off Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. Still called the Shamen, with Matthew Johnson on drums instead of Dave Anderson, the party was also the first public show for the Tell-Tale Hearts.
When the band eventually became the Gravedigger V and went on to play the Whiskey à Go Go, the members had to wait outside between sets, as they were too young to be in the club. The name "The Shamen" was abandoned after the group discovered that it was already in use by another band, and so after a night of brainstorming, purportedly at a local Bob's Big Boy, the group renamed their band the Gravedigger Five, a take-off on the old "Monster Mash" backing group the Cryptkicker V.
After only a few performances, the group caught the interest of Voxx Records owner Greg Shaw, who signed the band to his imprint in January 1984. The band recorded their first LP the same year, sleeping together in a car in an alley adjacent to the studio while not recording.
That album, All Black and Hairy, was released towards the end of 1984, but even before its release original bassist Chris Gast was ejected from the band as a result of his substance abuse problems. Shortly after Gast's dismissal, the rest of the band fell apart and the group disbanded. The band released its entire catalogue posthumously.
In 1987, three years after the breakup of the band, Voxx Records released a second Gravedigger Five LP. Under the title The Mirror Cracked, Voxx packaged a number of unreleased All Black and Hairy session tracks, backed with eight crudely recorded live tracks recorded in 1984.
The Gravedigger Five's second release contained a number of cover songs, including two Stoics songs, "Enough of What I Need" and "Be a Caveman." The LP also contained a version of "No Good Woman" with fellow Paisley Underground alum Paula Pierce of the Pandoras on backing vocals. Lead singer Koizumi took offense to the mediocre way the album was assembled.
After the Gravedigger Five disbanded, Koizumi and Friedman moved to the Bay Area where they founded the Morlocks, another Paisley Underground garage rock revival band which continued the Gravedigger Five sound. Dave Anderson and Tom Ward continued on together in the band Manual Scan, and afterwards Anderson went on to perform with the Trebles, the Answers, the Crawdaddies, and Skid Roper.
The band reunited for one final show in 1999, playing Cave Stomp at New York’s annual garage rockathon. This would be the last time a full reunion would be possible, as bassist Chris Gast passed away in New York in 2000.
In 2010, singer/bassist Tom Ward moved back to San Diego, after many years in NYC. That summer, singer Leighton Koizumi married Brendan Berg. By the end of the year, their 1986 debut All Black and Hairy had been reissued on limited edition red vinyl by Bomp Records subsidiary Voxx.
A reunion performance happened July 21, 2011, at Parco Comunale Decimomanna in Spain, where the band still enjoys a large cult following. In Autumn 2012, the band announced plans to record their first new music in over two decades, according to singer Leighton Koizumi. March 2014 found the reunited band playing European dates, including Germany.
The band is featured in the 2014 book, Knights of Fuzz, detailing sixties-inspired bands including other locals like Shake Before Us, the Loons, the Morlocks, the Event, Tell-Tale Hearts, Manual Scan, and the Crawdaddys.