Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Playing with the Three O’clock and Some Black Woman

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, July 27, 2008)

My original plan was to answer the two emails I got last week in response to my political rant. Both claimed that I was hateful and closed minded. It's always interesting that I get these claims from conservatives, who really have cornered the hateful and closed-minded departments (see Dick Cheney, Robert Novak, Michael Savage and so many other black-hearted monsters), yet persist in blaming others for the attitudes they have sown. But to tell you the truth, I just don't have it in me to answer such nonsense at this time. I just don't feel like being angry this week. So, I'll eventually get to an answer to those letters when I feel like it, and it will be sometime soon.

In the meantime, I just want to write another tour report. There are three I've wanted to talk about lately. The first is another chapter of the Thin White Rope Soviet tour that took place in Lithuania and involved freezing temperatures, sledding on toilet seats, drinking moonshine and trying to escape the attentions of a lovelorn female fan. The second is my soul-killing American tour with Redd Kross that included vegetarian meals at Dairy Queen, giant bugs invading hotel rooms and an almost fistfight in the middle of the California desert. But both of those are going to have to wait for another, soon-to-come time as I've opted for the third story. That's the story of my time with the second band I ever toured with, the Three O'clock.

I first saw the Three O'clock in the early 70s when they were called The Salvation Army. They were a three piece playing punk-pop with a psychedelic edge. The next day I called Lisa Fancher, of Frontier Records, and told her she needed to see this band. She saw them the next time they played and before long, they were signed to her record label. A threatened law suit forced the band to change their name and the Three O'clock was born. Almost immediately they had a minor local hit with the song "Jet Fighter", which gave them a big following on the indie rock circuit.

As I've talked about before, I was living in New York when I received the call from Three O'clock manager, John Silva, to come back to Los Angeles and become the tour manager for the LA Paisley-Underground band. This was when the band was pretty much in its final days. I did several tours with them that never left California, except for one show in Reno. Guitarist Steven Altenberg was still in the band on my fist short tour with them, promoting the album "Ever After", but that would be his last. He was to be replaced by Jason Falkner in 1987, who would record the album, "Vermillion", their first for a major label, Prince's Paisley Park Records through Warner Brothers.

I was pretty much brought in because I had toured with drummer Danny Benair's earlier band, Choir Invisible, and got along fine with them. I had been friends with Danny for over a decade by this time. I think manager Silva was also hoping I could provide some balance for Singer Michael Quercio. Michael was openly gay to those who knew him, but he was still living in the closet publically due to the band's rabid fan base of teenage girls. He was becoming more and more frustrated with this and was beginning to aggressively act out a lot and somewhat cruelly towards the other members of the band, especially the newer guitar players. I got the feeling that this was one of the main reasons Altenberg left the band. I think Silva was hoping I, as an openly gay man, would help keep Michael in check, although I was not one to try to talk anyone back into the closet in any form.

Usually Michael would come to me with some scheme, saying he was going to play in drag on stage, or try to vocally pick up one of the cute boys in the audience from the stage, and I would talk him out of it for his own sanity, as well as that of the rest of the band. It got frustrating at times, but I can't say I didn't have lots of fun with all the crazy shenanigans going on. Michael had a thing for Marines and several times he dragged me along to weird Marine gay bars. They were a bit too rough and scary for my tastes, but Michael sure seemed to be in his element. Fortunately, they were few and far between. I remember one in San Diego was the scariest and roughest of them all.

During that date in San Diego, my future was set when I met our opening band, Thin White Rope, and fell madly in love with their music. With Silva yelling at me for dragging my feet, I had to reluctantly kick them off the stage for playing too long. Being a road manager wasn't easy. It would be several months more until I started working with them though.

But all things come to an end and Three O'clock was no exception. Despite having a first single written by Prince ("Neon Telephone"), the album went nowhere fast. There had been problems in the studio dealing with the amount of sampling involved and the band members just weren't really feeling it anymore. Everything imploded and it was decided to bring the band to an end. I always felt it was too bad. They were a really good band, verging on great at times, and they deserved a better fate than what they got. It happens a lot though. (Just look at Thin White Rope.)

But one more thing had to be taken care of. Before they split, the band agreed to play a charity event for AIDS research. I believe this was put together by the late Craig Lee, of the Bags and Catholic Discipline. I know he was the person I dealt with most of the time.

Since there wasn't a band to play, Michael decided he was going to go it solo. But he didn't want to have anything to do with the Three O'clock sound and this was a problem considering that most of the tickets had been sold to fans expecting their fix of psychedelic pop music. Michael was actually planning on just making some very arty noise and calling that a set. I got a call from Silva again, asking if I could get involved and try to lead Michael towards some sort of compromise in sound.

Again, I was maybe the wrong person to call, as my taste in the music I make is rather experimental and noisy. At the time, I had an occasional band with Skip called Jes Grew. We added friends and other musicians as needed and most of the sets were loosely talked about and then improvised for that particular show. Skip and I are not musicians and it showed, although I'm proud of what we did and most of the time we made it work. (Our first show was opening for the Red Hot Chile Peppers and we pretty much drove the audience out the doors and into the streets. We always kept the audience for the other shows we did over the next two years or so.)

Anyways, I talked to Michael and he agreed to let me in on the band he was forming for the event. It included Bill Bartel (Pat Fear) of White Flag, Gwynne Kahn of the Pandoras, and Dave Nazworthy and Ed Urlik of the Chemical People. True to the rumors, they were planning a pretty unstructured set of art damaged noise, but after talking to Bartle, who actually has a pretty good head on his shoulders, we decided that a set that was more structured would be a much better thing. After all, this was for charity.

We were practicing in the garage of Maxine Factor's home in Beverly Hills, and I think that helped shape the music we decided on. As the set came together, I was getting more and more excited about the upcoming show.

For a name, I threw out "Some Black Woman". The idea behind that was that when someone asked a concert goer who they were going to see, they could say they were seeing some black woman. It was the type of stupid joke that appealed to me back then. (Hell, it still appeals to me now.) The rest of the guys liked it and it stuck, although we did have some problems with Craig, who refused at first to accept that name, fearing charges of racism if we used it. It took some time, but we finally talked him into it, although I don't remember how.

After several months of preparation, the day of the show arrived. The place was pretty full of pop fans eager to see the collection of bands performing that evening, none of whom I remember. There were a lot of my friends there, although I was disappointed that John Silva decided not to show up. So here's how it went:

We opened the set with Kiss's "Beth". This was just Michael and his guitar backed by the original Kiss orchestral backing track on tape. Somehow, Bill was able to get a hold of this, although I never really found out how. It made for a great, easy opening to the show though.

At that point, the rest of us came on stage and we broke into the Beatles song, "I've Just Seen a Face". The set was progressing. This was the full band, with Michael singing. We were still poppy, but it was getting louder and more aggressive.

We went fully crazy with the third song. This was a version of the Stooges song, "We Will Fall", which has always been one of my favorites of theirs. It's also loud, dirge-like and rather obnoxious and our version was worse than the original. This time it was my turn at the vocals. I was pretty zonked out with the loud noise coming off the stage as I screamed and rolled around in a frenzy. I do remember looking out at the audience and only seeing horrified stares of all the young teeny bop girls sitting in the front rows. I'm sure they were wondering what happened to their pop idol, Michael, and why he was subjecting them to this.

We got a hold on things again for the fourth song, which was another Kiss song, "Strutter". This is one of their best hard rock songs and we did a pretty straight version of it, with Michael and Bill singing. I was still leaping around the stage, playing a cowbell and adding my background vocals, but the little girls in the front were relaxing now that Michael was front and center once again.

And then we closed out the show with a final number. This was another Beatles song, "Tomorrow Never Knows". But it wasn't anything quite like the original version. We brought on dancers and a couple of guest musicians and the version we did was loud, long and extremely psychedelic. It ended with everyone in an exhausted heap and most of the instruments in shambles. I thought it was beautiful and the audience reacted as if they thought it was too. (A recording of the performance of this song showed up on the Tater Totz album, "Mono Stereo". I'm credited with playing the tambourine, although I was ..boards on this one. I don't know how to play keyboards and it sounds like it on the recording, so I'm glad that Gwynne gets the blame in the credits.)

We had no idea how people would react to our show. I thought it was a good blend of the accessible and the esoteric, but I was afraid that people would be sorely pissed off after sitting through it. But just about everyone seemed to like it a lot. I even got some compliments from a few of the front row little girls, although most of them kept their distance from me. Craig was very happy and called the evening a success. And a day later, I called Silva on the phone and he answered by saying, "I heard it was a really good evening". So, I guess it worked. I was happy and proud of it and the rest of the band seemed to be as well. Michael just seemed very happy to be able to sonically go someplace he hadn't been before.

And that was it for my dealings with the Three O'clock. Michael went on to form another band, Permanent Green Light, and I talked with him about management, but nothing ever jelled. I did a bit of work with Danny Benair's band, The Falcons, stage managing a show they did backing Chuck Berry, which was a really crazy night for all the reasons you might think of if you know anything about Chuck Berry. John Silva went on the manage Nirvana, the Beastie Boys and Beck and I only worked for him one more time, on that horrible Redd Kross tour. I've pretty much lost contact with all of them these days, although I do get in a few words with Danny every now and then.

But the time I did have with them was fun and set the stage for my future dealings with other bands, most notably Thin White Rope. It is a time of my life I look at fondly. I wish it could have lasted longer and turned out better for all involved. But that's the music business for you. I feel that way about every band I've worked with.


Now, that was so much better than anger, don't you agree? I'm sure I'll be angry again, but I'm going to try to hold it off for a few weeks. Wish me luck. The political situation in this country doesn't help me much. But if I think happy thoughts, like finally getting to try the chilies rellanos at La Casita Mexicano, I know I can pull it off.

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