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Ten Bands You Can't Kill

Collectively, the following bands and performers have appeared in our Rock & Pop listings in numbers approaching the hundreds, if not way more (unfortunately, we couldn’t get an intern to do the actual tallying). Many have gone through numerous name changes, personnel changes and changes of heart along the way; some have stuck together like the Mafia. Some have flirted with fame, others have kissed it on the mouth. One thing they all have in common is that they can stand onstage, be it at Al’s Bar or House of Blues, and proudly belt out Stephen Sondheim’s showstopper "I’m Still Here."

Charlie Popdefect

Popdefect

How many years in music? Eighteen and a half years . . . Jesus!

Day job(s)? Inevitable.

Goals when you started? Form band and keep it going.

Goals now? Kill band.

Big brush with fame? Gregg Allman at a Popdefect show in Columbia, Missouri, turns to his entourage during our second song and states, "I’ve heard enough!" and they all get up and leave. Also, on our first U.S. tour Ray Davies grabbed Nick’s ass in some seedy club in Chicago.

Worst gig? The one and only time we played the Viper Room. It was a benefit for Hilltop Nursery School, where we were invited to play three songs for the kids. We barely pass the first security check. On the next level, we must pass by a huge, mean man with a small head that somehow supports a high-tech communication device. Somehow we squeeze by and make it to the stage. We are rewarded with the sound man’s command that we have five minutes to set up and play and, bless their generous hearts, one free beer per band member. After our second song, we all reach back for our well-deserved beers, only to find they’ve been removed due to the club’s no-drinking-onstage rule.

Moment you felt like quitting? On one of our early low- or no-paying tours, we had stopped at a rest-stop area in the deep South to make our per diem bologna sandwiches. Although we still had enough bread to make that day’s tasty treats, we had bought a new loaf in the last town for the lean days ahead. As Nick and Charlie prepared their last and only meal for the day from the three-day-old loaf, they watched in horror as Al untied the new loaf of fresh bread for his meal. Needless to say, a vicious fight ensued.

Why didn’t you quit? We should have.

Most money made in one night? $600, not including T-shirt sales.

Would you do a Gap commercial? Hell yeah! We’d sell babies’ organs and nuclear-weapon secrets if we thought there was money to be made.

Where do you see the band in five years? We’d rather not look.

Abby Travis

How many years in music? Fourteen in public.

Day job(s)? Playing bass for other folks, the stock market, transferring credit-card debt.

Goals when you started? When I started playing bass, I had no goals, and it all went downhill from there.

Goals now? To have a long, diverse, busy and fruitful career. I’d also like to not have to engineer the records.

Big brush with fame? Having a drink with George Harrison at a Grammy party when I was 18 or 19. He told me I was beautiful!

Worst gig? I played bass with the Ring ling Sisters at a golf/lesbian party in Palm Springs once. Annette Zilinskas sang this really pretty song, and the audience didn’t even clap! It was harsh.

Moment you felt like quitting? After my last gig.

Why didn’t you? Because I never make big decisions while I’m on my period.

Most money made in one night? I was raised not to discuss money in public.

Would you do a Gap commercial? Only if Joe D’Allesandro would pose with me

Where do you see the band in five years? Joseph Campbell once said, "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us." I think it’s pretty good advice.

John Talley-Jones

Urinals, Uniblab

How many years in music? Twenty-one years since Urinals’ first performance and my debut as a "musician."

Day job(s)? Information support at UCLA.

Goals when you started? Have a good time, express myself, annoy people.

Goals now? Have a good time, express myself, travel.

Big brush with fame? When I was in Radwaste in the ’80s, our producer, Keith Levene, and I were ushered into a Capitol Records V.P.’s office so he could tell us that he "didn’t hear any hooks."

Worst gig? Too many bad gigs to remember, but one of the most dispiriting was in 1993 with Trotsky Icepick. We had driven from Tallahassee to Athens, Georgia, for what we thought was going to be a well-attended gig in front of an enthusiastic audience. We found ourselves in a hidden-away bar in the woods on the far side of a low-income housing tract. There were four paying customers max, and the promoter, going above and beyond the terms of our contract, gave us $1 more than the split we required: We got $7, and the other band of note on the bill, also from L.A., only got $6. "Don’t tell them I did this," the promoter instructed, "but I liked you guys better."

Moment you felt like quitting? Whenever a band I’ve put energy into breaks up.

Why didn’t you? Too oblivious to reality.

Most money made in one night? I’m too embarrassed to say.

Would you do a Gap commercial? Absolutely — though the concept is so absurd I don’t have to worry about it ever happening.

Where do you see the band in five years? Opening for the re-formed Sigue Sigue Sputnik at the Roxy.

Johnny Legend

Johnny Legend & His Naked Apes

How many years in music? Thirty-three, starting with first paid gig in ’66.

Day job(s)? Actor, producer and director of film and video; writer; wrestling manager and promoter; film distributor.

Goals when you started? To be a rock & roll singer (not just a star), and all those jobs I just mentioned.

Goals now? Believe it or not, same as when I started.

Big brush with fame? At least once a week, but I like to brag that I was the guy playing at the London Fog on the Sunset Strip the night before the Doors opened for their first Hollywood gig.

Worst gig? I submit this as the worst gig of all time: Some hideous dive in Bell Gardens, turned out the entire audience was ex-cons, parolees and hardcore country & western drunks. Within five minutes, our sole invited guest, Doctor Demento, had to stare horrified as one guy smashed another patron’s head into the jukebox, leaving a head gushing blood atop a vintage turntable. Billy Zoom, our lead guitarist, took one look, grabbed his guitar and amp, and disappeared out the back door. The crowd caught on and closed in, making sure none of the rest of us escaped. We had to reconfigure the band on the spot. And we had to play three sets, pretending each song was "from the new Waylon Jennings album coming out next week," et cetera. The drunken crowd somehow swallowed an entire evening of familiar tunes they’d never heard before.

Moment you felt like quitting? See above.

Why didn’t you? Had to do a TV gig the next day.

Most money made in one night? Somewhere in the thousands, somewhere in Europe.

Would you do a Gap commercial? I may have already. I’ll have to check.

Where do you see the band in five years? Headlining the grand reopening of Raji’s.

Steve Gregoropoulos

W.A.C.O.

How many years in music? About 30. In this lifetime, anyway.

Day job(s)? In order? Motel-room painter, record-store clerk, company driver, cab driver, cab dispatcher, dishwasher, office temp, movie extra, assistant, person-who-talks-on-the-phone-at-movie-company-and-has-own-assistant . . . and I’m sure I forgot some.

Goals when you started? I started in music when my parents got a piano and I decided to try to rewrite Pictures at an Exhibition by learning it by ear off an old Horowitz recording. So I guess my first goal was to be a Russian composer. On the other hand, when I first veered off into the "pop" thing, I wanted to be like the "obscure" artists I liked as a kid — Syd Barrett, John Cale, Patti Smith, et cetera — an unappreciated cult figure.

Goals now? It seems like I’m not too good at goals.

Big brush with fame? My favorite brush with my own fame was playing, as the Wild Stares, in Budapest before the fall of communism. We drove into town, and on every giant neoclassical column in town there was a poster for us. Cars would stop and point at us. One of our shows was on national television, and we didn’t even know about it, but when I had breakfast the next morning, the old innkeeper came and served me and said, "I . . . see . . . you . . . teevee" and then did a little impersonation of me.

Worst gig? Something called Taco Land in San Antonio. The club was handing out bumper stickers that said, "Don’t be a pussy." Our bass player began to taunt the crowd with "Hey, just because I’ve sucked a few cocks doesn’t mean I’m gay" and other Lenny Bruce–isms, causing a pall of hatred to descend upon the room. This would have been fine had the hatred remained focused in an us-against-them kind of way, but having commenced hating them, it was no time before we began hating one another as well. It turned into an onstage brawl, while the racist homophobes just stood and stared at us in stunned silence.

Moment you felt like quitting? When I got asked to do this "geezers of rock" retrospective . . . no, seriously, I’d have to say I got a little down reading about my life in the Perfect Sound Forever Wild Stares article last year, and thinking about all the good times in the past.

Why didn’t you? Lots of things. Like playing the Wig Rodeo score live at Spaceland to a full house of people listening silently to 20 minutes of modern instrumental music. Or hanging with my newest W.A.C.O. buddies, Elana and Becca, who’re about half my age and treat me as good as they treat their friends who can’t even go into a bar and drink legally —people like that make you focus on all the good times yet to come.

Most money made in one night? About $1,000.

Worst career move? I don’t really think of music in terms of a career.

Would you do a Gap commercial? I would never license a W.A.C.O. song for a commercial, but I’d write music for a commercial.

Where do you see the band in five years? Hmmm . . . two things I’d like to do at some point are a) do some shows with French horn and some low-string doubling and mallet percussion for a full chamber-orchestra lineup, and b) play a couple of stripped-down electric shows, just to fuck people up.

Bob Lee

Claw Hammer, Backbiter, Fearless Leader

How many years in music? First took drum lessons in 1978, fourth grade. Been playing in bands since 1984.

Day job(s)? Ice-cream scooper, dishwasher, food-warehouse-floor worker, HoneyBaked Ham glazer, telemarketer, general office temp, head-shop counter clerk, pest- control-company dispatcher and account manager, product-literature manager. Currently insurance specialist for a medical-device manufacturer.

Goals when you started? Be in a band I really liked that would tour and make records. At age 10, get good enough on the snare that my mom would buy me a whole drum set so I could play crazy shit all over the kit like Keith Moon.

Goals now? Have a good time all the time. Continue to make records without constantly touring.

Big brush with fame? Played with Devo on songs for the Supercop soundtrack; played onstage with Mike Watt, Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl in Carrboro, North Carolina; forced the evacuation of an entire Cincinnati hotel after getting drunk with Mudhoney — all summer of 1995. Guess I was on a roll.

Worst gig? Spaceland, April 1997: Record-label publicity reps took us out and got us plastered right before playing a "very important" show, one they’d invited all these writers and other label people to. I got so buttered I couldn’t remember a single song we did after the show ended, but later heard it was, er, less than tight. At 7:30 the following morning, badly hung over, drove four hours out to the middle of the desert to play a biker rally with Backbiter, performed at noon in blistering heat, head pounding, dry-heaving, caustic dust stinging my dehydrated eyes, on a black, uncovered stage in the middle of the desert, to an audience of about 15 old men, all of whom were in little tents, far away from the stage. Probably the two worst gigs ever, 12 hours apart. ç

Moment you felt like quitting? Taking the stage in the Amboy, California, desert at noon with a hangover to play for 15 old men.

Why didn’t you? Vowed never to play in the desert at noon ever again, and have been able to stick to that.

Most money made in one night? $1,000 in Toledo, Ohio, to play for a bunch of college kids who walked straight past us to the disco downstairs.

Would you do a Gap commercial? No, I shop exclusively at Target.

Where do you see the band in five years? Practicing in my garage for a gig supporting NRBQ.

Tex

Groovy Rednecks

How many years in music? 8,276 gigs.

Day job(s)? Driver, doorman.

Goals when you started? Have fun, meet girls, drink free.

Goals now? The same.

Big brush with fame? 1999 outstanding Americana/roots artist, Southern California Music Award (Bammie).

Worst gig? September 12, 1992. At a kegger party in Occidental, California, I drank way too much tequila and butchered the first few songs, wandered off and passed out. The band somehow faked the rest of the set. They got paid. I didn’t.

Moment you felt like quitting? April 8, 1998. Venice Bistro. We had to play a three-set free audition on a Wednesday night to try to get a Sunday paying day gig. When I asked the owner what he thought, he said he had had complaints about us. I got so mad, I destroyed my mike stand completely.

Why didn’t you? Because we’re stubborn bastards!

Worst career move? Playing in Hollywood too much.

Would you do a Gap commercial? For a barrelful of money!

Where do you see the band in five years? On gig No. 597.

Terry and Bernadette

Shoofly

How many years in music? Bernadette and I have been performing, off and on, since we met in the late ’80s.

Day job(s)? Bernadette is an actress — theater, film, voice-over and French-TV work. Terry works as a graphic artist. (Bassist Michael Polcino is a director for the The Simpsons.)

Goals when you started? The same as now.

Goals now? To continue playing music and working in artist environments.

Worst gig? Maybe the time right after the release of our first album as the Apache Dancers, when our record label at the time, Happy Hermit, sent us over to London for one gig to open for Concrete Blonde. The gig was at the Border Line. Terry had en route come down with a nasty flu and completely lost his voice, and could barely croak like a frog. We tried performing anyway, limiting Terry’s singing, which consisted of a few inaudible croaks. Later, during Concrete Blonde’s set, Terry sat backstage groaning at the lost opportunity, and the plumbing on the wall burst, spraying out into the room, flooding the backstage, where both bands had left all their equipment and belongings. Frantically, Terry tried to signal the management through a totally muted voice and through some kind of sign language that there was an emergency backstage — all this while Concrete Blonde played their loud set, with a screaming, cheering crowd. Finally, the problem was noticed and the pipes were mended.

Moment you felt like quitting? After realizing that the music industry is full of corruption, from the bottom to the top.

Why didn’t you? After realizing that there is corruption in almost every industry, from the bottom to the top.

Most money made in one night? Prefer not to say — nothing to write home about, but nothing to sneeze at, either.

Would you do a Gap commercial? Yeah. Did you see the totally cool Gap commercial featuring Rufus Wainwright? Very entertaining. The Gap makes those fun and sexy dancing khaki commercials and go-go commercials, as well — more interesting than the regular TV programs.

Where do you see the band in five years? Playing the Love Boat. No, just kidding. Touring China . . . oops, goofed again.

Bryan Small

The Hangmen

How many years in music? Fifteen.

Day job(s)? Driver, busboy, construction worker, drug dealer, computer operator.

Goals when you started? Sing songs, play electric guitars, make records and get some money for it.

Goals now? Same.

Big brush with fame? Playing with Iggy Pop at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. Doing drugs with Timothy Leary in the bathroom of the Viper Room.

Worst gig? Jacks Sugar Shack, 1993. Way too much alcohol. Bass player attacked me onstage using his Fender as a weapon. He was fired that night. Horrible gig.

Moment you felt like quitting? Every day, but it passes.

Why you don’t . . . I can’t, I would be miserable.

Most money made in one night? $1,000, I think. Maybe more.

Would you do a Gap commercial? Sure. When?

Where do you see the band in five years? I hope we will be a few records down the road with the same lineup and reaping the rewards we so richly deserve.

Lava Diva

How many years in music? Collectively? 83 years.

Day job(s)? Foley artist; art teacher for junior high and high school; admissions at Cal State Northridge.

Goals when you started? To play music and have a good time.

Goals now? To meet chicks.

Big brush with fame? Passing Angelyne driving in her car on our way to Vegas.

Worst gig? Nomads, circa 1994. Dawn broke her guitar string and had to borrow Mike Starkey’s [Stanford Prison Experiment] guitar, which was too heavy, hung way too low, and was in a different tuning. Greg lost a stick midsong, and it flew straight into the back of Dawn’s head while she was singing a nice slow song. And Johnny’s guitar teacher came up to the stage in the middle of a song and told her to "just stop playing" because it sounded so out of tune.

Moment you felt like quitting? After Johnny’s second show, she hated it so much that she vowed that if she didn’t enjoy playing after three more shows, she would quit.

Why didn’t you? At the third show, she had a good time.

Most money made in one night? We played to a group of drunk guys in a Bakersfield bar, most of whom were yelling, "Show us your tits!" louder than we could turn our amps. We got paid $250 and all the beer we could drink.

Worst career move? Going to breakfast with an A&R guy from Polygram, and after ordering most everything off the menu for ourselves, eating all the food off his plate as well. We never heard from him again.

Would you do a Gap commercial? Lava Diva will do pretty much anything for free food. It really depends on the catering they plan to have on the set.

Where do you see the band in five years? Changing diapers on a pool table at the Coconut Teaszer.