I think I mentioned in the first instalment of the series that I wouldn't necessarily be writing stories only about rusty and that I might delve a little deeper into my rock'n'roll back pages. This tale will be exactly that, a little story from the summer of 1987 when I was a member of The Doughboys and we were in the U.S. on a three-month tour supporting an album that was recorded and mixed but somehow remained stubbornly unreleased for the entire time we were on tour. I left off the last blog with a mention of the time we went to find our drummer Brock at a Grateful Dead show in Wisconsin but I've decided to tell a different story entirely. The first part of the tale is about our initial meeting with Henry Rollins, The Descendants and MIA when we were lucky enough to be added to their tour during two stops in Florida. The second part is a re-telling of a particularly peculiar night in Norfolk Virginia.
During the summer of 1986, my first Toronto rock group, the largely unsuccessful Big King Corpse, had broken up and I was without a band. Then my old pal from the suburbs of Montreal, John Kastner of the Asexuals, phoned me up on a landline and asked me if I wanted to start a new band with him and another West-Islander, drummer and singer/songwriter Brock Pytel I don't think I gave it more than a minutes thought, I basically agreed to do it and then would figure out the details later. The thing that made me jump at the opportunity was the fact that I knew I'd probably be making a record within a year. I was already twenty-four and outside of one unfinished/unreleased session with BKC and a bunch of home recordings, I hadn't managed to record and release an actual album yet in my life. John on other the hand had been releasing records since he was practically still a teenager and that's what I wanted to do too. I had known John since I was around fourteen and he was about ten years old. He and his pals would come down to the basement we rehearsed in and John would run the light show by sitting near the electrical outlet under the ping-pong table while he plugged and unplugged a small lamp trying to simulate a strobe light.(while we played instrumental versions of KISS songs rendered unrecognisable by a BIG MUFF pedal)
But I'll fast forward over the birth of the band and the recording of the first album. By the summer of 1987, it was done and we made ready to embark on a slightly dodgy U.S. - Canadian tour. By dodgy, I really just mean the grassroots ways that tours were organised back then. Everything was run on those stolen telephone credit cards, you'd get new ones when the old ones didn't work.( in fact, I spoke to my parents more on that tour than I did at home, as I would get bored and lonely and call them up for no reason just to chat) I think our tour was booked by the infamous Johnny Stiff.(in retrospect, not the most confidence inspiring name for a promoter) with help from our producer/manager Steve Kravac. Now, this was no fancy stay in hotels/air conditioned tour bus type of tour...this was five guys in a dark blue diesel van with no AC, touring the American south in the dead of summer and making just enough to fill the van with gas, eat, and get to the next show. But it was a blast because we stayed at folks houses in every town we were in, and that is way more fun than going back to a hotel room every night, even if you do wake up with cat hair stuck to your face.
Now, this particular tour had started at CBGB's in NYC and then wound its way down through Virginia and Georgia where we ended up doing a show in a rural hall with the band MIA from Las Angeles. While I was talking to their singer Mike, I found out he knew Carlos Soria from The Nils and the two bands just kind of hit it off after that...we liked them and they seemed to enjoy our johnny jump around as well. I can't remember how it all transpired but after this show, we were headed back to Florida so we could open two shows for MIA with Henry Rollins new solo band and the last hurrah of the original Descendants.(before Milo went back to college) It was quite a step up for us, as we had been playing to half-empty clubs most of the time, along with the occasional decent gig, but this was much better as were doing a huge old theatre in Miami ( Cameo) and then a pretty big club date in Daytona Beach (where we had actually been laid up sick two weeks previous, borrowing money so we could recover in a motel, not knowing that it was some sort of American high school break that week and we were engulfed by drunken party teens....they actually managed to ruin the Violent Femmes “Blister In The Sun” by playing it nonstop for five days or so) But these were pretty good shows to be a part of so we were really stoked about the upturn in our touring fortunes.
The name of the theatre we were playing in Miami was the Cameo, a lovely old Art-Deco gem in South Beach that held around fifteen hundred people. It was a soft seat theatre, so not the ideal location for a punk rock show but a beautiful spot nonetheless. We opened the show and got a kind of mixed reaction. We were doing our usual Doughboy leap-around live show, but with the entire audience seated and staring up at us, it just felt weird being up there. The audience seemed slightly bemused by us,( it was the only time I ever noticed an audience snickering at us a little bit) so we did our forty minute set and got the hell offstage to make way for the three co-headliners. At one point I made my way upstairs to the nice theatre dressing room in order to grab a beer or something, and nobody was in there except Henry Rollins. I hadn't yet met either the Descendants or the Rollins band, so I introduced myself and started chatting a bit with Henry. His tour was being managed by Toronto hardcore promoter Jill Heath (JillJill) and I'm not sure but she might have been Henry's main squeeze at the time as well. Anyway, I forget what we actually talked about but we had a rather pleasant half hour conversation and I left the dressing room with a pretty good impression of Mr Rollins...at least until I saw his band play...hahaha. Now I gotta say, I was never really a Black Flag fan and most hardcore bands just irritated the hell out of me. I had cut my teeth on the first wave of punk and hardcore was just too musically strictured for my tastes, plus I couldn't stand the uniform part of the fashion...almost seemed to me the antithesis of what I considered punk. Now, there were technically a few “hardcore “ bands that I did like, for instance, the Bad Brains or perhaps a Dead Kennedy's but generally, my tastes ran a little more all over the musical map than that. But I still thought it was pretty cool that we had landed these shows and I watched the other bands sets with genuine interest.
MIA was really good and they kind of fell under the Social Distortion template. I was actually more familiar with their music than either the Descendants or Rollins as I had heard Murder In A Foreign Place through a compilation cassette and liked it. They also used to do a punk rock version of California Dreamin' that was a huge crowd pleaser and would show up at the end of their set. The Descendants were brilliant as well and I quickly fell in love with their nerd-core pop punk songs...plus they were funny with their coffee maker plugged into the cigarette lighter of their van so they could guzzle gallons of fresh Joe before their shows. In fact we all jealously guarded our Descendants merch plastic coffee cups which could be used to disguise any beverage you happened to be drinking.(beer) And we had previously been doing crappy shows with tonnes of horrible speed metal bands with names like Impulse Manslaughter, so this was a breath of fresh air compared to that. Anyway, the Miami show went off without a hitch and we made our way back to Daytona Beach for the next one. I managed to actually find the poster for this show on a Short Dogs Grow show timeline website. In fact, a bunch of pictures from that show have surfaced on the interwebs over the years, which is pretty cool. I had never seen any pictures from that time period until the last few years when they began to surface...mostly from this show but also from a gig in Tampa and another at Gilman St in Oakland.
The show in Daytona Beach was at a place called Penrods, which if memory serves me right was either on the beach or very close to it. The first thing everybody noticed when we arrived for the sound check was the stage...or more accurately what surrounded the stage. Just like that scene from the Blues Brothers movie (the one in the redneck bar) the stage was surrounded by two by four framing from floor to ceiling, which was covered by good old fashioned chicken wire! When we asked why there was a fox proof barrier to the stage, we were told it was there for “insurance purposes”...which seemed odd but somehow plausible as well. While it was a novelty, everyone quickly forgot about it and it was business as usual. Now as I mentioned earlier, the band short Dogs Grow had been added to the show as well, so there were five bands all crammed into what normally would have been a decent sized dressing room. I remember getting dirty looks when I brought a gal I'd met backstage, as there wasn't much wiggle room. So I'm sitting there doing my warmups, which consists of me having a beer and tuning my guitar when Henry starts going through his pre-show ritual. Now you might think he'd be warming up his voice or something like that but basically what he did were pre-show calisthenics. Stuff like situps and crunches with all the requisite jock grunts and groans. For some reason, I'm finding this rather fascinating so I'm staring at Henry while he does his workout. It's kind of like a punk rock Richard Simmons, He then see's me watching him from the corner of his eye and he turns to me and yells in his best drill sergeant voice” What the fuck are you looking at” I visibly blanched and manage to stutter out an “I-I-I don't know...nothing” while everyone in the dressing room turns and looks at me. Feeling a little sheepish, I just slink quietly out of there to try and get off of Henry's radar. He is definitely not the affable, talkative fellow I met the night before...no, the Hank Man was angry that night my friends, like an old man returning soup at a deli! Now we were the first act to play, so we got up behind the chicken-wire and did our set. The reception was a little better than the previous night in Miami as the smaller stage was more up our alley...remember we were still a fairly new/young band on our first tour and we were just beginning to find our mojo. We looked kind of different from all the other bands as well as I was our only member with short hair, while half the band sported dreadlocks...plus we had more stage leaps per song than any band since The Asexuals. Whenever I would look to my left it seemed like our bassist Jon Asencio's feet would never be attached to the stage...he seemed to be permanently airborne with his hands barely touching his bass and his dreads flopping madly. Kastner was a little more stage-bound because he sang the bulk of the set and it's really hard to leap and sing into a mic at the same time. That's when I started using Brock's bass drum as my step ladder for stage jumps, you could propel yourself an extra three feet in the air with it as your trampoline. Although occasionally you would miss the thing and wipe out into the drums, which can really hurt on account of all the metal bits sticking out.
The middle three bands all play in succession and the show was pretty straightforward. Lots of moshing but nothing too crazy, just everybody having a good old punk rock time. Finally, Rollins, who was the headliner on these shows, hit the stage for his set. This band is no Black Flag, it's basically Henry with some semi-nerdy math rockers doing boring prog-hardcore with Henry yelling tunelessly over top. But it's still Henry so anything can happen. He gets out behind the chicken wire and before they start to play he begins to rile up the audience a bit. He gives them the crazy Henry stare and then says in a terse voice “My Mother always told me, if I did this long enough, I'd end up in a cage” He then launches himself onto the chicken wire as the band begins to play and he sticks to it like a punk rock spider on his web. At that signal, the audience surges forward en masse and starts to rip the barricade down. I was watching from out front instead of side stage and I recall moving backwards towards the back wall as this started to happen. Shit is flying through the air and I don't wanna get hit. I seem to recall the audience taking down the framing as well but in the picture below it's still in place. But it's fuckin' mayhem inside of the club, pieces of wood and chicken wire are flying through the air, some people are full on rioting while others are just running to escape, but it's basically madness.
I watch for a while but I'm more in self-preservation mode so I leave the club just as the cops start to roll in. Honestly, I can't remember what happened after that except that I stumbled out of the MIA van as the sun rose the next morning. But that's a story for another blog. After this show, the management for either Rollins or the Descendants decided that they liked us and we were added to the rest of tour...which basically went up to Tampa then on through to New Orleans before wrapping up before it got to California. We would do a few more Midwest dates before heading out west ourselves but getting on this tour was just great for the band at the time. Our record still wasn't out and nobody had heard of us, but word of mouth was how things spread back then, and we were playing in front of a lot more people and were getting better and better as we whipped ourselves into road shape playing with much better bands than ourselves. And it was loads of fun. Most of the time.
Now as I mentioned earlier, previous to this we had been playing at pretty small, half-empty clubs. In fact, just before arriving in Florida we had done a gig in Norfolk Virginia that was one of the weirdest on the tour. The promoter was this very hot looking gal who was promising us a beach house for accommodation along with a host of other seemingly implausible things, but first she had to leave the show to “go get the money” I remember John Kastner, who already smelled a rat, saying stuff to her like” Please come back and don't fuck us around” The one thing she did do was to free the beer taps, so for the rest of the night I would go the bar and just use a pitcher as my glass. Then I would drink about half of it until it was warm, toss the swill out the back door and go get a cold refill. As a result, all the bands were hammered and the show was a drunken mess. At one point, the promoter lady came back and gave us $50.00, which kind of surprised us...we really didn't think she was returning. For some reason we asked if it was “our money” and she replied that it was for all three bands and that we should be the ones that paid them. That, and the beach house had fallen through and we were on our own for accommodation. Then she got up and split the club as fast as her legs would take her out of there.
I'm not sure why, but we decided to give the other bands their share of the loot even though nobody knew we had it and we were broke as hell. When it came time to pay one of the speed metal band their $16.66, it triggered a long-simmering feud that had been developing between two guys in the group.(brothers if I am remembering correctly) Their rock'n'roll dream was basically coming apart at the seams in front of them and they were bemoaning their fate as a shitty band going nowhere quickly. They too were completely drunk, so the more maudlin of the two brothers started kicking the front of their van in despair, eventually knocking out the right front headlight. That was too much for brother number two, who drunkenly started hauling all the guitar cases out of the van. He then threw them in a pile in the parking area and began to jump up and down on them, breaking through the cases and basically snapping the necks off their axes. It sounds terrible, but it was one of the most hilarious pieces of slapstick comedy I'd ever witnessed till that point in my life. Unfortunately for the band itself, it was quite serious...their tour was now officially over. But at least they hadn't manslaughtered each other!
After that bit of theatre, we went back inside the club to start prospecting for a place to stay overnight. We'd gotten pretty good at finding accommodation after shows since sleeping in the van sucked ( although one of us usually did sleep in it every night so the gear didn't get ripped off) Anyway, I approached this rather large gal who was sitting at the bar by herself, gave her the spiel, and asked if she had room to accommodate the five of us. Without more than a few second pause, she gave me a gruff “Ya sure, follow me” and got up and began walking out to where her car was parked. I quickly ran around and grabbed everybody and we all piled in the van so we could follow her to her place. When we got to her house on a tree-lined street somewhere in Norfolk we were somewhat relieved. Everything about the night had been sketchy as hell but at least we had a place to crash. She lead us into her house and showed us her living room, which had couches, pillows and whatever else we needed to crash out on, and then she slid open these big wooden double doors that separated her bedroom from us in the living room. Of, course we all looked in because we were kind of curious about her, and above her bed was the largest hanging swastika banner that any of us have ever seen in our lives.(not that we'd really seen that many before that) It's as wide as her queen sized bed and six feet tall! We all immediately looked at each other with actual fear in our eyes. You have to remember that among the members of our band are a half-Jewish person and a part Jamaican man. (along with a burgeoning Buddhist, an 18-year-old Irish roadie and myself) We really couldn't be more alarmed but there we are, really tired and drunk, and she doesn't seem to really know who/what we are so maybe we can ride this out until morning.
I don't recall much chatting and she ended up going right off to bed... luckily not summoning any of us into her chambers. Then Ilsa slid the old Brandenburg Gate's shut and we started to nervously whisper amongst ourselves like a bunched of scared school kids, eventually calming down enough to sleep. In the morning I was the first one up, and I quickly shook the lads awake as quietly as I could. Everyone literally tip-toed around the room and gathered their stuff and we slunk out of there as fast as we could. As soon as were are all safely in the van we exploded into laughter about the escapade and the night in general. At this point in the tour, we had already seen plenty of good old fashioned racism, but this was our first brush with the Southern Skinhead tribes, who grew more numerous as soon as you hit Florida. In fact, we soon heard a tale from Tampa about Henry Rollins telling all the nazi punks to fuck off and the skins then waiting for Henry and his band in the parking lot by their van and giving them an old-fashioned beat-you-up. Oddly enough, none of their ilk seemed to realise we didn't conform to the Bavarian Purity Laws of 1977 and we are largely left alone by them. In fact, for some reason, we go over really well in Tampa, which has a pretty large concentration of skinheads. There's a book called “The Road” by Tampa area author Tony Patino, that both John Kastner and I did interviews for...in the book I mention some stories from this same tour. Here is a link. http://www.cltampa.com/arts-entertainment/a-e-events/article/20745866/punk-nostalgia-converges-with-tony-patinos-the-road
Well, that's about it, for now, I've gone on a longer than I intended as I tried to string a few different stories from that tour together. There's a few more I'll probably get to as well in the future...it was wild and wacky tour...and really my first lengthy rock'n'roll road trip and probably the most fun one as well. Next up for Rusty is a gig a Toronto's legendary Horseshoe Tavern on March 10'th 2017. Hopefully, we'll see some of you blog readers at the show. Please don't hesitate to say hello and let me know what kind of stuff you would like to read about. I'll be only too happy to oblige! I should also mention that if you'd like to hear a track from our upcoming new record, you can sign up for our mailing list on the homepage and we'll send you an mp3 of the song. Till next time!
My Vision Street Wear Skate Shorts and Elvis Presley White Bucks (without socks) were my go to stage wear at the time
Here is the show poster for the gig at Penrods in Daytona Beach
Henry Rollins climbing the chicken wire barricade at Penrods. It looks like only the bottom portion of the wire has been removed at this point
The band and the van
Another band pic that is missing Brock but has our eighteen-year-old roadie Ken Leonard in it. He was fresh off the boat from Ireland
The Cameo Theatre In Miami
And finally, a link to an article about the Cameo around the time we played there. Plus a link to some Doughboys pics from Gilman St on the same tour.