Sunday, October 18, 2009

On the Road with Redd Kross

Quite a few months ago, I talked about my first ever United States tour with a band called Choir Invisible. That tour had many moments of fun, but it was also extremely frustrating and exhausting, so when we called it off and came home, I promised I would never tour again.

Several years later, I was temporarily living in New York City and trying to decide if I wanted to stay there or return to LA. I was missing Skip terribly, but I loved New York and had a great job there. That was when music manager, John Silva, called me and asked if I would like to work with the Three O’clock, a band he was managing at the time. I had promised myself that I would never tour again, but I loved to travel and I really wanted to get to Europe and the rest of the world. I never had much money and the only way I could see going overseas was with a band. The Three O’clock were fairly popular and had just signed to Prince’s label, Paisley Park, through Warner Brothers Records. Getting back to Skip and possibly being able to travel the world made up my mind and I took John up on his offer.

I’ve also talked about my tours with the Three O’clock. I did several tours with them, but never got out of California, with the exception of one show in Reno, Nevada. Then the band split up. Silva was also working with another LA band with the name of Redd Kross. At the time I knew the band pretty well, or at least I knew the two brothers, Jeff and Steve McDonald. I had met them very early on at the Hong Kong CafĂ©. They were very young and embodied everything that I thought a great punk rock band should have. They were extremely fun, had great songs, and expressed a snotty attitude that tied it all together. I had them out as guests on my radio show in Riverside and would see them play live as often as I could.

They eventually morphed into a loving parody of extremely long-haired heavy metal and garage rock, but they were still loads of fun and they still had those great songs. So, when Silva asked me if I wanted to manage their first ever USA tour in 1987, I jumped at the chance. Both John and I figured that we already knew each other and got along well. I was a fan of the band, so the tour should work out well for all of us. We were all wrong.

I should stop here to say that I’ve shut a good amount of this tour out of my mind. I was miserable from almost the first moment we left on the tour, and was almost suicidal by the time the tour ended two weeks later. So there’s a lot I can not remember about this tour. But there are some basics and a couple of shows that stick out which should give you a feel of how this tour went.

At this time, along with the two McDonald Brothers, the band also consisted of Robert Hecker on guitar and Roy McDonald (no relation) on drums. As soon as we took off, I begin to find out things about these guys that I wasn’t thrilled about. They claimed to be vegetarians. By that they meant that they loved Dairy Queen, where they would eat french fries and milk shakes. And let me tell you, that was all they wanted to eat each and every day. And only at Dairy Queen. Every time we saw one on the road, they would get all excited and we would stop for a meal of fried potatoes and ice cream. As a lover of food, that began to grate on me badly after only one day.

Another big problem was that the two brothers did not get along at all. They were always bickering and many times it would get violent with lots of loud yelling and fists flying. In a small crowded van, that became a big problem and I found myself having to pull over the van many times to try to keep the two siblings from killing each other so the tour could continue. (I’ve come to discover that this is standard reality for bands that have brothers in them, although I realize that not every brother band is like that. But it sure seems like a good many of them are and I quickly resolved to never work with a band again if any of the members were brothers. Of course, several years later I would start working with the Poster Children, who had two brothers on guitars, so another promise went out the window. Those two brothers got along very well though. In fact, except for some musical stubbornness, which they were well within their rights to have despite the business frustrations it caused, they were a pleasure to work with.)

On tour in 1987, we also had a problem with the band’s public image. That was something that couldn’t be helped though, and we all just had to deal with it. I can remember at least two incidences, one in Wyoming and the other in Mississippi, where the appearance at a gas station/rest stop of four guys with tight jeans, shiny shirts and hair down to their waists brought cat calls and close confrontations with bigoted locals. In North Carolina, we had a day off and I decided to stay in the hotel and read, knowing the band was going to spend the day at Heritage USA, the Christian theme park that Jim & Tammy Faye Baker had built several hours away in South Carolina. I kind of wanted to go, but badly needed some time away from the band. When they returned hours later with stories about confrontations with Jesus Freaks and just the whole strange nature of the place, I was really disappointed that I had stayed in, but it was probably all for the best.

The biggest problem of all was the band’s utter cluelessness about how to conduct themselves on and off stage. They were young and they had never toured before. I was also fairly young and still a novice at this touring thing or I probably would have had more patience with them. (Professionally, I really should have had more patience with them.) But it was hard.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the club owner was so excited that the band was playing his club, that he threw a big surprise party for the band. He had invited lots of locals and had stocked his club with barbecues and lots of locally made sausages and beer. He didn’t know the band were “vegetarians” though and that they didn’t drink alcohol at all and since he threw it as a surprise, neither Silva nor I were able to tell him about it. The band weren’t happy, but I finally convinced them that he had his heart in the right place and he wasn’t trying to insult the band purposely. But that evening, they only played a 20 minute set and then walked off the stage. They also refused to come back on for an encore. The club owner went crazy. He was screaming at me that the band was contracted for at least an hour long set and he expected them to get their asses onstage and fulfill that contract. When I tried to talk to the band, they claimed it had nothing to do with the club owner’s party. They had just decided that if they only do 20 minutes and leave the audience wanting for more, that the next time they came back to this city, the audience would be even more excited to see them again. I was flabbergasted! In the end, I had to call Silva and somehow, by threat or sweet talk, he managed to talk the band into getting back onstage and finishing their complete set. All this took about 30 minutes and the audience stuck around the whole time, so I guess they did want more. Unfortunately, this incident left the band mad at me for ratting them out to Silva, but I didn’t see any other option.

Outside of New Orleans, we were staying at a Motel Six and since there were no Dairy Queens around, we all decided to walk across the street to a truck stop to find something to eat. Robert wasn’t hungry and wanted to stay in the room. So off the rest of us went, where I remember a pretty satisfying meal, for me at least. Several hours later, we returned to the room to find it was full of horror.

Now, while the other three guys in the band were long-haired rockers, Robert was just an out-and-out Hippie. He was completely into the peace-and-love thing and because of that, had helped break up the brother’s fights a number of times. He also loved communing with nature, and that’s exactly what he was doing when we returned to the room. He had opened all the doors and windows, claiming he needed the fresh air. The problem was that this was summer in the swampish, deep South. The room was full of insects. There wasn’t an inch in the room that wasn’t crawling with some sort of beetle or flying creature. Some of them were huge! They were embedded in the bedding. They were snuggling in our clothes. They were everywhere, buzzing and chirping and looking for flesh to bite. We were all horrified, but Robert didn’t see the problem. They were just natural. It took us hours to finally clear the room of all those creatures so we could comfortably go to bed.

In Austin, Texas, we played a show with Dinosaur Jr opening. I had met the Dinosaur guys before at Richard Kern’s apartment in New York. I had never heard of them at that time, but they seemed nice enough, although really quiet and reserved. It was during this show that I realized that Dinosaur was almost as clueless as Redd Kross and listening to the two bands talked just boggled my mind. All-in-all though, it was a fun show and I don’t remember any major problems.

I can also remember bits and pieces of a few other shows. I recall a great show in Ann Arbor, and I also remember being disappointed that we weren’t going into Detroit, although we were so close. (I still have never been to Detroit, one of the few major cities in the USA I haven’t been to.) Cleveland was a fun show. We arrived at a club along the river and were horrified to see people swimming and rafting amongst all the garbage and crap floating in the water. (I believe a few years later, that river caught on fire, finally prompting the city to clean it up.) That was also the show where I met the band Death of Samantha, who quickly became a favorite band and good friends. That friendship is still going today with some of the band members, who went on to form Cobra Verde and join Guided By Voices. And another good show was in Dallas, when a few of the Butthole Surfers showed up, bringing with them a load of chaotic fun and craziness in the dressing room.

The last thing I remember of the tour was the drive back home to LA. We were driving through the Mojave Desert and were really all on each other’s nerves. I don’t remember what it was, but something got said and Jeff and I started arguing. It escalated and escalated and before long I finally had had enough and pulled the van over. Both Jeff and I piled out of the van and we just started screaming at each other. I think there was some light pushing and maybe even a few punches that didn’t connect were thrown. It was close to really getting ugly. I believe it was Robert who waded in and calmed us both down, but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We climbed back into the van and finished the trip without saying a word to each other.

When I saw Silva the next day, I immediately told him that there was no way I could ever work with that band again. He told me that that was okay because they didn’t want to work with me either. In fact, that was the last time I ever worked for Silva again. A few months later, I re-met with Thin White Rope and started working for them exclusively for a number of years. I also finally got to Europe with them. That was a job I loved.

For their next American tour, Redd Kross got local journalist/scenester/great guy, Phast Phreddie to be their tour manager. He was a whole lot mellower than I was and just took everything in stride. I heard that during one fight between the brothers in the van, one tried to kick the other and missed. Instead, he kicked out the side window of the van. I would have probably melted down over that. Phred just got the van fixed and continued on with the tour. More power to him. Everyone was happier.

As I said, I was pretty good friends with the band before the tour, but in the years after, the McDonald’s and I have rarely spoken to each other, even ignoring each other when we were at the same events together. It’s too bad that it worked out this way because I was truly a fan of the band and I really did like those guys when I didn’t have to work with them. In recent years, the tension has broken a bit and I’ve talked to both Steve and Jeff when we’ve seen each other around town. I wouldn’t call the conversations extremely friendly, but I’m glad we can acknowledge each other again after all these years. We were all young and new at the game at the time. I look back on the tour and laugh now. If I was working with them now, I would have done things a lot different. You live and learn.


I really am trying to get this blog back on a regular schedule. I would like to do this blog every two weeks, with my food blog on alternate weeks, meaning I would have a new blog entry every week, just like the old days. I’m working towards that, but right now, I’m overwhelmed with trying to raise money so we don’t end up homeless and broke. Most of my time is spent listing items for sale on Amazon, Gemm and EBay. I’m trying to get that into a schedule as well, so I will have certain days for listing, writing and time away from home for movies and such. (I’m so far behind on movies now. I haven’t had time to see one in several months.) This will also help me find the time to work on these stories a bit more so I don’t feel I’m rushing them out, as I feel I did with this new entry. So please be patient with me and I promise that I’ll get all this together. I still have so many stories I want to tell. Keep with me and you’ll hear them all.