by SP Clarke.
Part 5: The Late ’80s
After the wild roller coaster that was 1986, it seemed only natural that 1987 would be a year of transition and retrenchment in the Portland music scene. Still, it was the year 1987 that saw the birth and rapid growth of new bands that would later go on to flourish through the end of the decade and well into the ‘90s, becoming forces in the local scene for some time hence.
It’s indeed strange to look back upon the typical monthly music listings of 1987 to see the names of bands such as Slack, Dead Moon, the Obituaries, Killing Field, Nero’s Rome and the Dharma Bums all starting the year in the traditional Wednesday “band on the rise” slot at Satyricon. It’s also interesting to note that nearly all of those bands were plugged into weekend gigs by year’s end.
Still it was the old, reliable bands whom commanded most of the headliner gigs. Familiar names such as Nu Shooz, Crazy 8s, the Dan Reed Network, Cool’r, John Koonce, Curtis Salgado, Paul Delay, Steve Bradley and Badly Bradley, the Razorbacks and the Lloyd Jones Struggle remained the prominent figures on the scene. But a second tier of bands was quickly rising to the fore.
Nu Shooz, riding the wave of success with their ‘86 album Poolside, released on Atlantic Records; a gold record in “I Can’t Wait” and a satisfactory follow-up in the ballad “Point Of No Return,” garnered for themselves a Grammy nomination as “Best New Band Of 1985.” They then journeyed to Minneapolis to record their second album, Told You So, with Prince producer David Z.
The Dan Reed Network weighed offers form Atlantic and Polydor, eventually choosing the latter, while Reed protégés RIA entertained proposals from Geffen and Warner Brothers. At first, Cool’r appeared set to sign with A&M, then seemed to settle with Epic for an album deal, before abruptly switching back to A&M again.
The Miracle Workers, decade-long underground favorites, migrated to LA after signing with the indie Moxie label. Initially, the Razorbacks- who were altering their sound from rockabilly toward a tougher, r&b/blues style- then John Koonce, became ensnared by the mysterious Central Oregon “timber baron” Tim Blixeth, who spoke often and broadly of big plans for his acts, with lots of money for support. But nothing ever came of the man’s talk and he quickly disappeared back into the woodwork from whence he came,
Portland, often viewed as remote and ingenuous by the rest of the world, was the regular victim of low-grade scams. Earlier in the decade a reptilian charlatan huckster known as Carlo Trentadue tried, on a several different occasions, to bilk a number of bands out of something, although his plans were so poorly conceived and inanely executed that it was never entirely clear as to what his precise intentions were or what it was he actually wanted- as, typically, he would be trying to peddle some sort of “product” in the local music stores at the same time.
Still, Trentadue talked of “contacts in LA” and “multi-album deals” frequently enough to frighten off all but the most gullible of fledgling musicians. And wildfire word of his corrupt status generally spread with such rapidity that it is doubtful that he ever succeeded at anything other than creating a slight stir- like an ill-wind blowing off a landfill. Other spurious ventures of the sort cropped up from time to time, but little, if any, serious damage was ever visited upon the Portland musical community by these counterfeit promoters.
Crazy 8s continued their independent success, touring endlessly. They crisscrossed the country incessantly, converting students at every college campus along the way to their ska/funk sound. But a lot of the blues acts were relegated to the White Eagle, with occasional nights at Key Largo, the Dandelion Pub and Last Hurrah.
The bands remained vastly popular, but perhaps not as popular as they should have been. The Razorbacks were a huge draw in Seattle, yet had trouble finding lucrative gigs in their home town, despite having a hit album. The same could be said for Curtis Salgado and Paul DeLay, though they fared somewhat better in the Portland clubs. Local venues were quickly being overtaken by a new energy that was emanating out of one club in particular.
Satyricon, swinging into its fourth year of existence, had spawned a vibrant alternative scene. Besides offering the most varied of musical fare possible (nearly every band in town played there at least once), perhaps paring Terry Robb and the Jackals one night, Cool’r and Ed and the Boats the next; Satyricon offered inexperienced bands, of any stylistic persuasion, the chance to play a set during Monday’s “New Band Night.” Those that succeeded or persisted long enough, graduated to Wednesdays, with occasional opening slots on a Thursday or maybe even a weekend.
Owner George Tahouliotis, shrewdly tolerant and tirelessly fair, became a figurehead in the alternative community. His club, located in one of the worst sections of downtown Portland, served as a safe harbor for all disenfranchised artistic types. Punks and jocks, artists and poseurs, regulars and gawkers, leather jackets and sport coats, jack boots and Nikes- all commingled in a highly charged atmosphere of danger and beer. But it was a heady ambiance, to be sure.
It was in Satyricon, where anything was likely to happen, that something usually did. The volatile mix of patrons was nothing, in comparison to the often disparate natures of the performers. The Jackals were one of the top drawing bands at the club. They might share the bill with the Razorbacks or the Terry Robb Band or headline an evening with lesser known bands or touring national acts. Either way, they pretty much owned the Satyricon stage whenever they played.
The Jackals were “pants down rockers,” as band guitarist David Corboy once asserted. Joined by bassist Steve Casmano (who also played with Corboy in Sado Nation, earlier in the decade) and Louis Samora, who had left his position as drummer with Rats to play rhythm guitar in the new band; as well as drummer Robert Parker- Corboy and the Jackals played a stripped-down, snarling, high-energy form of rock that included elements of rockabilly and late ’40s era rhythm & blues. In 1987 they released Prowlin’, a full-length album, which met with rousing public response.
Chris Newman’s Napalm Beach elicited a similar response, if not greater still. Their new alter-ego band Sno-Bud and the Flower People, were also extremely popular. While, with drummer Sam Henry and bassist Dave Dillinger, Newman was laying the foundation for the entire grunge movement with the heavy, Hendrix-influenced guitar sounds and dark lyrics of Napalm Beach- they explored Chris’ more playful side with Sno-Bud, whose only lyrical subject, with perhaps one or two exceptions, was weed. The joys, the woes, the highs, the lows, the love, the need for weed, glorious weed.
Local promoter and musician Jan Celt was in the midst of building a roster for his newly formed Flying Heart label, from which he had recently released an album by his own Soul revue, the Esquires. The Napalm/Sno-Bud catalog seemed as particularly well-suited for Celt as Flying Heart did for Chris and the band. It was a marriage made if not in heaven, at least in High Times. Celt proceeded to produce a long line of recordings for one or the other of the two manifestations, beginning with Napalm’s Monster, released mid-1987.
Celt’s Polish heritage served as an excellent entré into Europe for Newman and the boys. That European connection served Napalm/Sno-Bud and several other bands quite well in the years to come. Through Celt’s encouragement, Newman also created several comic books, which helped to expose his abundant talents as a cartoonist, as well as further his reputation as a true renaissance man.
The Obituaries were already developing a reputation by the end of 1986. By 1987 the band was a force to be reckoned with; as well as a wreck to be forced with. Portland had never seen, nor may never see again the likes of the enormously talented and confused Monica Nelson. Monica had star quality. Profoundly gorgeous, she bore a passing resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, but with more of a European look. Still, she was a young woman besieged by demons.
Her early days as lead vocalist with the band were drunken primal therapy sessions, wherein she would shriek, rant and scream, as guitarist Rob Landoll would lead the rhythm section through a high-powered onslaught. On any given evening, Monica was as likely to jump off the stage to punch out some lout in the audience as she was to simply slither down the mic-stand into a limp lump of drunkenly exhausted mush. But the raw-nerved brilliance in her occasional focused performance, flashed glimpses of the magic she could conjure.
Hockey loving Bruins fan, Rob Landoll, a street-savvy transplant from the tough side of Boston, was the anchor and guardian protector of the Obituaries. Through his musical vision, the band developed from an erratic punk mess into a powerful metal-tinged machine. The additions of drummer Dan Cunneen, late of the Lew Jones Band and Final Warning, along with Terminally Hip bassist John Naylor, helped to solidify the presentation.
The Obituaries’ antecedents lay in the vibrancy of bands such as X and Patti Smith, but the guts and the chutzpah belonged only to Monica and Rob. They quickly became weekend headliners at Satyricon, as well as the Long Goodbye; with periodic bigger shows at the Pine Street Theatre.
Clunking in from the Silverton area, Perfect Circle, named after an REM song, met with a smattering of attention from the Portland press in the mid-’80s, before disappearing. But when they reappeared a year or so later as the hiply named Dharma Bums, they swiftly rose through the ranks, to mandate highly coveted weekend slots at Satyricon,
Headed by dynamic lead singer Jeremy Wilson, the Bums espoused an REM-like Folk dimension in their presentation, but with far more directness, energy and electric drive than their predecessors. Wilson’s onstage acrobatics were legendary, It was customary for him to leap from amazing heights: from side-fill monitors, PA stacks, lighting scaffolds, balconies, whatever was available in the moment.
Impassioned guitarist Eric Louvre, and the dependable rhythm section of drummer John Moen and bassist Jim Talstra, afforded Wilson a reliable safety net over which he could freely perform his physical and vocal gymnastics. His charisma was so robust, his magnetism so strong, his intentions so affirmative and affirming, Jeremy Wilson could do no wrong. And the Dharma Bums became the toast of the Portland alternative music scene.
But the scene at Satyricon involved far more musical factions than the aforementioned. Bands with a surlier motif also held forth. The wholly sarcastic hardcore musings of Poison Idea- featuring the mythically menacing likes of vocalist “Jerry A” Lang, guitarist Tom Roberts (aka Pig Champion) and drummer Steve “Thee Slayer Hippie“ Hanford; Jerry A’s rugged spinoff band Gift; and Oily Bloodmen; the found-sound experimentation of Michael Lastra’s Smegma and the very strange and acerbic Hell Cows.
The stripped down leather punk strut of Lethal Dose was memorable for the intense basswork of one Regina LaRocca, who would later go on to greater things with the Obituaries (and M-99 and Caustic Soda). Then there was the barroom cowpunk of the Durangos, with distinctive vocals and guitar of Kal Tanner, who traveled up from Salem to make frequent appearances. Windsurfer faves the Ultronz journeyed in from Hood River to dish out their zany brand of twisted windsurf rock.
Singer/guitarist Fred Cole, along with his bassist wife Toody, had struggled for several years to find the right vehicle for his broodingly paranoid rock anthems- since drummer Louie Samora’s departure from the Rats to play guitar with the Jackals. When the Coles elected Andrew Loomis, part-time bartender and well known figure around Satyricon, to chair the drum position in their new band, they could not possibly imagine the incredibly long road that was about to unfold before them. Loomis, a veteran of the Boy Wonders and a stint with Sno-Bud and the Flower People, was not initially interested in playing with the Coles, until they deserted their adopted cow punk leanings for a more traditional punk rock format.
The band selected their name after viewing a red moon rising over the Nevada desert, coming home from an early gig. The first inclination was to call the band Red Moon. But, always with the eye of a graphic artist, Fred thoughtfully determined that two four-letter words would look better on a marquis or poster, so the band soon became Dead Moon. Their first gig was in September of 1987
Fred Cole’s unflagging dedication to making honest, original music led to the formation of his own Tombstone Records label (he had earlier founded the Whizeagle label), whose very appropriate motto “Music too tough to die,” set the tone for the releases that would follow on that label.
In 1988, for his 39th birthday, Toody presented Fred with a 1954 Presto-88 mono disc cutter (the very disc cutter upon which the “Louie Louie“ was cut for the Kingsmen). Fred immediately became the envy of nearly every musician in the world. He could actually cut his own records, which he proceeded to do with clockwork regularity. The limitation of the lathe, to produce only monophonic records, was of no great hindrance for Cole, whose rough-hewn manifestos were not necessarily conducive to multi-track layers of rich stereo sound anyway.
Ed Jones, a mindful rocket in search of an astronaut, was the recurrent master of ceremonies at Satyricon. His circular monologues, vehement diatribes, humble band introductions and sometimes awkward segues between sets often lent equanimity to the otherwise chaotic proceedings which were frequently known to occur about the premises.
Ed’s intentions were generally good, if at times subversive in nature. Still, he was a facilitator for the club, instigating performance art evenings and poetry readings- at a time when such things were far from fashionable or trendy. Brilliant and mercurial, Ed left and returned to Satyricon several times over the years.
Another Ed, and Satyricon regulars, Ed and the Boats, scored a major coup in March of 1987, when they somehow managed to secure the opening slot for the Pretenders concert at the Civic auditorium. Iggy Pop was supposed to be the opening act. But he suddenly “took sick” mid-tour and had to cancel his Portland performance, four days before the engagement. When the promoter of the concert called old friend Sally Custer to ask for suggestions as to which among local bands might be the right replacement opener for the show, Custer, who had only recently become the Boats’ advisor, blithely nominated her act. Unsuspecting, the promoter mulled the idea over for several minutes before consenting to the rather off-beat idea. “Yeah, Ed and the Boats. Why not? They can do it.”
And do it they did, ripping through an eight-song set that Oregonian music critic Stuart Tomlinson later termed as one of the best local performances of the year. Their appearance on that bill, as well as Tomlinson’s positive take on the Boats in his review of the Pretenders concert, served to officially introduce the quirky band to the general Portland community- despite the fact that the core of group had been in operation since 1980.
Much of this newfound exposure was directly attributable to Custer, whose gritty determination, and long list of connections compiled while working at the Paramount in the late ‘70s, were invaluable in gaining for the Boats a visibility they had previously been unable to achieve. Custer was one of several women in the Portland music scene who took on the administrative role of manager and business representative for local bands.
Jeanna Andros, daughter of the “Great Pumpkin,” Dee Andros- one-time head coach and long-time Athletic Director at Oregon State University, guided Cool’r all the way to the label negotiation stage, dealing with Lou Adler of A&M Records. Attorney Cheryl Hodgson, called in by Tony Demicoli and Alf Rider, who had been managing the band’s local affairs, advised the Dan Reed Network at the managerial bargaining table with Bill Graham. But, ultimately, her ministrations only resulted in acrimonious recriminations and litigious disputes; although Hodgson’s primary contingencies seemed to be the securing of a job with Graham.
Litigious disputes seemed to be the theme at the third Mayor’s Ball in April 1987. PMA President and Ball organizer Jim Miller spent the evening in a dither, lengthening the Razorbacks’ early Main stage set, only to attempt to cut short Cool’r’s later set, even as Marlon McClain waited in the wings to join the band onstage; going so far as to demand the elimination of some bands’ Main stage performances.
This was all a concerted effort to prevent the Ball from going past the listed midnight closing time, whereupon IATSE union workers at the show would start drawing unscheduled overtime compensation for which Miller had made no provisions. Mutiny and rebellion among the volunteer staff of stage managers and crew, foiled Miller’s endeavor to undo the havoc he himself had managed to create throughout the course of the evening.
As the year 1987 progressed, the Portland club roster metamorphosed as well. The Last Hurrah, long a bastion of the popular music scene, was forced to close. Owing to the ceaseless pressures born upon them in contending with the bureaucracy of City Hall’s urban renewal schemes, greedy landlords, rising operating costs and a gradual change in the landscape of the scene they had helped to spawn, the owners, Michael and Peter Mott, decided to retire the establishment in June of 1987.
The last of the vital clubs in the scene that erupted in the early ‘80s, the club whose legacy extended back into the ‘70s, closed. Concurrently and, as if to signal the definitive changing of the guard, drummer Brad Naish left the Wipers replaced by Steve Plouf, initiating an enduring tenure with Greg Sage. Bassist Brad Davidson married and moved to London where he was an occasional member of the Jesus and Mary Chain.
In 1987, the Wipers on the indie Enigma label (which had recently signed a distribution deal with BMG) released Follow Blind, their seventh album. While it was only half of the albums, Sage had hoped to record in that time, the Wipers’ first decade was only the beginning of an extended career for Greg Sage.
After recording an eighth Wipers album in 1988 and an extensive tour in 1989, Sage and Plouf moved the band to Phoenix, Arizona, where Greg could be closer to his aging mother. The pair have recorded another half-dozen albums since, including three Sage solo albums and three as the Wipers.
In the wake of the departure of Last Hurrah from the club horizon, Key Largo supported many of the orphaned acts; while Eli’s, briefly 3rd Avenue before reverting to the Eli’s moniker under new ownership, was a port for others. One of the bands that migrated to Eli’s was Linn. Displaced after the breakup of Mien Street, Margaret and Mary Linn, who had acted as Jack Charles’ backup singers, stepped to the spotlight with a band of their own.
The Linn sisters came from a musical family. Their older sister Susan was a well known singer, as was their older brother Dan, who fronted several bands of his own- most notably the Grown Men, with Lew Jones and Shakey Louie. Their younger brother John was the bassist in Linn. Their older sister. Diane, later became a notorious Portland city commissioner. Still, the sisters, beautiful and talented, were a hot commodity unto themselves. Their stage movements, which appeared impeccably choreographed, were actually extemporaneously intuitive. Their perfect vocal harmonies were a gift from nature. The band’s style of dance oriented techno pop, with a touch of Soul, was a logical extension of the Mien Street sound.
The Caryl Mack Band was another Eli’s favorite. Spurred by her husband’s award winning songs (he won a PMA songwriting contest, among other commendations) Mack’s vocal style was somewhat akin to that of Rindy Ross. In fact, the band generally gave the impression of being a Quarterflash in training. Professional, motivated and perserverant, the Caryl Mack Band were the consummate MOR performing act.
The Long Goodbye, revived by new owners John Drichas and John Iven, was second only to Satyricon in the adventurousness of it’s nightly band lineups. With separate upstairs and basement bars and stages- the new Long Goodbye witnessed the likes of the Obituaries, Ed and the Boats, Radio Silents, Here Comes Everybody, the Riflebirds, Billy Kennedy and Napoleon’s Mistress, as well as serving as the breeding grounds for such favorites as Mike Danner’s soulful Dial Memphis, Mitch Fraas’ retro punks Green Room, the bar rock Batz and for the purist quartet, Surf Trio, among many others.
The emergence of the Long Goodbye helped to offset the loss of the Pyramid club. Foj Kohler had managed to survive a takeover attempt by his staff, while he was promoting the Riflebirds in LA. But ongoing problems with the Health Department, the Fire Marshall and the OLCC, in addition to the landlord, drove Kohler out of what seemed like a the perfect rock ‘n’ roll venue.
The Riflebirds became involved with Marvin Etzioni, guitarist for Lone Justice, through drummer Kevin Jarvis’ brother Duane. Duane was working out of LA, playing guitar with the Divinyls during the time he met Marvin. On a trip to LA, Kevin piqued Etzioni’s interest in the Riflebirds, playing for him their single, “Dreaming Of A Kiss.”
Lone Justice had scored a national hit with “East Of Eden,” the single from their first major label album: which featured the exciting young vocalist Maria McKee (sister of Brian McLean, a founding member of the seminal ‘60s Punk band, Love). But the sophomore jinx struck on the second album and by release number three, Lone Justice were more or less adrift. It was at this point in his career that Marvin made the acquaintance of the Riflebirds.
And, at first, Etzioni’s presence around the band in their Portland engagements created a flurry of excitement and anticipation. But then he managed to insert himself into the mix, playing mandolin and guitar. Subtly, he altered the Riflebirds’ sound, a delicate balance between Folk and Beatlesque Rock. Lead singer Kate Lieuallen, always a retiring figure on stage, withdrew even further from the spotlight, diminishing the bands elegant charm.
When he eventually lost interest and left town, Etzioni took Kevin Jarvis with him- leaving the Riflebirds the task of finding a new drummer, while they tried to figure out what had happened to them. Though they went on playing for another year with a new drummer, they never fully recovered the momentum they had lost during that episode.
Another popular band among the alternative set was Slack. Slack sprung out of the Reed College dorms, where bassist Steve Lew and drummer Yorck Franken regularly jammed after classes. Soon sax player Sam Hagerman started joining in on their sessions, creating a sound that incorporated funk and rap influences. Rap was just starting to break into the white musical culture via the exuberant rants of the Beastie Boys.
Not long thereafter, guitarist/vocalist Kermit Rosen entered the fold and the band began to play out around town. Slack soon became all the rage on the Satyricon/Long Goodbye circuit, with their goodtime stage presence and endless party dance atmosphere. Joyous throngs of inebriated young revelers swarmed to their shows. In addition, Slack introduced a form of music that was new to the Portland underground, opening the door for countless local bands that followed after them- propounding an admixture of funk and rap balanced with metal and rock.
Resurfacing after a recent tiff with Satyricon owner George Tahouliotis, Ed Jones presently became a fixture at the Stadium Inn near Northwest 20th on Burnside. There, Jones found a confederacy of like minded individuals in Bruno, a gypsy Fagin sort, who acted as the de facto in-house comedian- and Stephen Spyrit, the owner of the enterprise. An astutely intellectual young man, availed of tremendous abilities to organize and unify diverse assemblies of people, Spyrit, as well as Bruno, would later become unwitting participants in one of the most infamous incidents ever recorded in the annals of Portland music.
SP Clarke © 2011 – All rights reserved