by SP Clarke.
Part 6: The Late ‘80s (Continued)
The gradual shift in pop music away from slick, highly polished productions toward a more raw, stripped-down sound was a musical trend which seemed to be springing from all the major rock centers by early 1988. While this sound may have seemed new, with Seattle eventually getting all the credit for the “stylistic innovation,” in Portland, it was merely a natural outgrowth from the local alternative movement of the late ‘70s- spawned in clubs such as the original Long Goodbye and Urban Noize; a sonic movement championed throughout the ‘80s by bands such as the Wipers and Napalm Beach, among many others.
It is ironic to note that the Obituaries played a show at Satyricon on Friday, October 23, 1987, wherein the opening act was an unknown band from Seattle called Soundgarden. Obviously, in retrospect, fortunes were soon to take an abrupt turn for the competing Northwest cities. For, though it was widely acknowledged at the time that, throughout the ‘80s, Portland clearly held the upper hand, with a music scene which dominated that of her sister city to the North, it was Seattle that ultimately received the historic accolades and monetary rewards.
But much of that was yet to come. In the early months of 1988 Nu Shooz and the Dan Reed Network were garnering most of the press in Portland. And deservedly so. Fresh from the gold record success of their first Atlantic album release, Poolside, and the hit singles it generated, Nu Shooz completed their second album, Told U So, recorded at Prince’s Paisley Park facility in Minneapolis and at Jeff Lorber’s studio in LA.
The March release of the album and the first single, “Should I Say Yes,” renewed for the Shooz the prospect of a relentless promotional cycle of touring, media appearances and performances. And, lurking in the shadows, casting a pall over the entire endeavor, was the dreaded “sophomore jinx,” which was also known as “Men At Work Syndrome.”
It was a familiar scenario (one which Quarterflash was then experiencing in the final phase): a band, coming from out of nowhere, signed to a major label contract, produces a hit first album with all the attendant public acclaim and financial subsidies. The second album, while reaping critical approval, is a huge sales disappointment. By the release of the third album, sales are so dismal that the label drops the band.
Ever mindful of this, Nu Shooz, which was essentially John Smith, Valerie Day, manager/co-producer Rick Waritz and a cadre of dedicated side musicians, were determined- yet pragmatic about their careers in the major leagues. As the year wore on and the course of the album was run, their practical attitudes toward the corporate process would serve them well. Nevertheless, they did have a video for “Should I Say Yes” in the waiting
Concurrently, the Dan Reed Network were entering the gristmill with their eponymously entitled inaugural release on the Polygram label. The breakout single “Ritual,” was ready for public consumption, with the customary video prepared for the offering. The Network had their priorities in order. They were poised upon the precipice of stardom (or abject failure) and eager to make the leap.
Reed, a cerebral and spiritual young man, selected the legendary Bill Graham to represent the band in a management capacity. The choice of Graham, a man who gained his renown in the ‘60s staging psychedelic rock circuses at the Fillmore in San Francisco, with the Dead, the Airplane, Santana, et al; seemed an odd fit for the glamfunk Network. Still, Reed was intuitively drawn to Graham, for better or worse.
Not to be outdone, Crazy 8s were commanding attention too. Though theirs was a more grassroots indie guerrilla approach, borne out of endless touring and a series of successful self-produced recordings, which usually earned respectable positions on the CMJ hit charts. The 8s received plenty of major label attention; rejecting all offers- which never met with the band’s expectations. But very early in the year the band began to focus upon the date of August 8th, the only date in the century that would read 8/8/88, and none possibly better for self-promotion than the “Day of the 8s.” There was no doubt that the band would make the most of the opportunity.
Cool’r, while definitely still in the thick of the label feeding frenzy, seemed to lose a bit of momentum; perhaps brought about by a series of false starts, first with A&M, then with Epic. It was at that point, with the band’s affairs in disarray, that music lawyer David Wray, the self-proclaimed “Ayatollah of Rockarolla,” stepped in to negotiate for Cool’r a recording agreement with A&M.
Wray, who had previously been trolling in LA, hoping to hook contracts for Linn and Ed and the Boats, impressed label execs with his savvy professionalism. Wray managed to persuade seven label reps to attend a Cool’r showcase at the Roxy in LA, creating a flurry of excitement about the Portland scene among the jaded SoCal industry types. Another blip on their radar screens. The significance of these events lay in the fact that Portland had finally become a real player in the national music game: middle relievers or pinch runners to be sure, but on the team all the same.
After conquering the hoards to the south, Wray returned to Portland determined to find another band to lead into the fray. The logical inductees were the Caryl Mack Band. The team of Mack and her songwriter husband Scott Parker bore many of the positive traits of Quarterflash.
Parker, as with Marv Ross, was a talented songwriter, who supplied the material that his partner sang, playing rhythm guitar on stage; remaining mostly in the background. Parker had won numerous contests and awards for his craft, acquiring a prominent reputation for his achievements. Mack was a brassier vocalist than Rindy Ross. Where Rindy played sax with her band, Caryl played keyboards with hers.
Sensing perhaps a J. Isaac-like role in the scheme of things, Wray found in the Caryl Mack Band a unit that had been built for success. Adding in December 1987 bassist Todd Jensen, who had graduated from Sequel, the greatest of all ‘80s Portland hair bands and Quarterflash drummer Brian Willis, who had been freelancing as a producer and player for the past year and a half, the Mack band had ostensibly solidified their rhythm section and were set to let Wray lead their own charge upon LA.
But the Mack Band’s Roxy showcase did not attain the anticipated results. While politely attended and warmly received by any available Oregonians in the area at the time: Marv & Rindy, Andy Stokes, Tommy Thayer of Black & Blue (who may have been focusing on one member of the band over the others) and Kevin Jarvis, only two label representatives showed up for the affair. Unfortunately, the one who displayed the most interest in the band was fired from his position with Atlantic Records four days later.
Within a month Jensen had left the band, off for the greener pastures of LA. In truth, Jensen was not a great match. His decided metal-lite look, one he shared with guitarist Ronn Chick, stood in stark contrast to Mack and Parker, who tended to dress like bohemian cowpoke artist types. Their musical styles clashed as well, never fully meshing into a cohesive sound. So it was again proven that David Wray no more had the magic touch than his predecessor J. Isaac.
But, another entertainment attorney was also at work in the Portland scene at the time; toiling away quietly, dispensing information and real legal advice in place of shiny promises and happy pats on the back. Bart Day was (and continues to be) one of the most valuable resources within the Oregon music industry.
His monthly published columns (first called Legal Eagle, then Legal Ease) regarding the business end of the music rattlesnake, have conferred for free a wealth of priceless information to any musician who seriously fancies the notion of entering into the snakepit of the entertainment industry. Considering the dearth of knowledge the typical musician has amassed on the subject, Day should be knighted for his selfless efforts; henceforth forever to be known across the land as Sir Bart.
One more band to begin the year 1988 under close major label scrutiny was Nero’s Rome. Fronted by the handsomely charismatic singer James Angell and driven by moody guitarist Tod Morissey and the rhythm section of bassist Stewart Fritsch and drummer Tony Lash, Nero’s Rome created a sensual sound that bore elements of the INXS, Simple Minds and the Doors- a richly dark milieu which allowed Angell free rein to express his direct and concise sexual innuendoes in lyric form.
Needless to say, the concept was popular with the females among the spectators. And Nero’s Rome’s minions grew exponentially throughout the year, which led to a predictable increase in the male population of the audience as well. Thus, Nero’s Rome shows were among the most popular in Portland at the time- charged with the static of raw animal magnetism and sexual electricity.
A single airing of the Nero’s Rome song “Eye For An Eye” on Q105, a favorite rock radio station of the day, generated unprecedented listener response. An LA record promoter was so impressed with their song “Into The Rain” that he managed to generate interest in the band from the MCA Records and Island Records labels. They were an act whose star was surely on the rise.
But within the community of Portland- a city which was tolerant, if not exactly supportive, of the musical contingent among the population- winds of malevolence began to blow. And in the winter of 1988, several incidents took place, leading local musicians to think that perhaps the city fathers were out to get them. The first institution to be caught in the crossfire was, of course, Satyricon.
It might be difficult to recall, all these many years later, that in those days Satyricon was positioned at ground zero of skid row. It was not the Pearl district which we now know as bursting with trendy restaurants, upscale shops and high-rent loft apartments. It was a burnt out ghost town, which had formerly been a Gypsy ghetto in the ‘50s, before falling into a downward spiral of decay and disrepair over the next thirty years.
A mere attempt to walk the sidewalks in the general vicinity of Satyricon required a helmet and full body armor. One was likely to encounter beer bottles or bullets, knives or other implements, flying through the night sky with alarming regularity. They would explode on the pavement or ricochet off building walls. Then there was the array of winos, heroin dealers, drug addicts, street denizens, criminals, mentally ill wanderers and other assorted nefarious characters, who milled about the surrounding streets and directly in front of the club itself.
That particular harrowing journey was doubtlessly the reason why Satyricon maintained a relatively peaceful ambiance, despite the rich cultural/political mix of its clientele. All shared a profound sense of relief to have safely made it into the club at all. Whatever festivities taking place inside were a picnic compared to what lay (literally) just outside the front door of the establishment. Maki’s Gyro closet, next to the club entrance, at the end of the bar- which had a tiny retail window onto the street, was a popular spot for the underfed to find inexpensive sustenance. So there were always several contingents of transients nearby, in various states of collapse.
But the first signs of gentrification were beginning to filter into the immediate neighborhood. Several years earlier, Portland Music had located a retail outlet one block east from Satyricon, on the bus mall on Northwest 5th Avenue. Then, abruptly, the vacant lot directly behind the club was sold to a car rental company. Nearly overnight, what had long been a convenient parking lot, as well as the location for the band load-in door and the rear emergency exit of the club (which often served as an emergency urinal when the “rest rooms” were crowded) vanished. A chain link fence, 8 feet tall, skirted the perimeter of the property, conveniently blocking altogether the rear exit to the club. There were rental cars to be protected from the likes of Satyricon habitués.
Then, without warning, the city Fire Marshall, who had been involved in previous dealings with the club since its inception, elected to impose a capacity of 49 patrons in Satyricon- owing to the lack of a second emergency exit within the club. The previous capacity being 149, such a ruling was seen as a concerted civic effort to have the club removed once and for all from the Old Town landscape . Talk began to circulate of a conspiracy at City Hall. Still, it wasn’t long before Satyricon owner George Tahouliotis found a way to create a second exit, allowing him to resume the club capacity of 149 (which often exceeded 200 patrons).
The fires of such calumny were further fed by a City Council decision to ban the time-honored postering of Portland telephone poles by insurgent rock bands. Led by the fervent beliefs of councilman Dick Bogle, it was deemed that telephone poles were, in reality, historic symbols of the bountiful forests that once grew throughout the Willamette Valley. The poles were tributes to our pioneer forefathers, who had the good sense to preserve the trees in their current form. Secondarily, of course, the poles helped to provide telephone service.
Local bands, a segment decidedly at the lower end of the income demographic, recognized posters as not only an artistic extension of their musical endeavors, but as an inexpensive and effective means to promote local performances. Furthermore, musicians saw the actions of Bogle and the City Council as an outright affront to all the people who had graciously donated their time and effort for civic functions such as the Mayor’s own Balls and the various city sanctioned food fights which took place every Summer on the Waterfront.
One person who took a very visible stance against the Council’s decision was Dave Clingan, owner of Rockport Records. Rockport was an used and import record store that often served as a space for live musical events. In addition, Clingan was an active supporter of the local alternative scene. He responded to the situation by promptly collecting $125 at a meeting of the Portland Music Association, enough money to print a notorious poster promoting a charity concert at Rockport on April Fools Day.
Clingan also organized the “Mayor’s Ball Too” alternative show in the Convention Hall at the Memorial Coliseum, as part of the 4th Mayor’s Ball on April 8th. Bowing to more pressure from concerned factions, including the Mayor himself, the PMA chose to reduce the emphasis on the Ball as a showcase for Oregon’s original music artists. Instead there was favored an approach that would ensure the presence of a broader spectrum of the general populace than had attended in previous years. With this in mind, Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts were drafted as the headline act, their madcap antics always a guaranteed draw.
Clingan was given a “room,” at the show, which was more like a giant concrete warehouse, where all those alternative kids could gather, remaining far from the sight of the rest of the more conservative Ball-goers. Clingan chose his performing acts wisely, skimming the cream from the local alternative scene- with bands such as Poison Idea, Napalm Beach, the Jackals, Slack, the Hell Cows, Dharma Bums, the Obituaries, Dead Moon and Untouchable Crew. The Mayor’s Ball Too was a rousing success.
Curiously, the rest of the Mayor’s Ball was a success as well. While Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts performed admirably in their role as Portland’s low-rent answer to Sha Na Na, the real hero was Dan Reed, who generously promoted the show on local radio spots. The Network attracted throngs of fans eager to see their idols perform on the main stage. It was a big week for DRN. Their debut single “Ritual” from their first Polygram album had reached #49 with a bullet on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart and a review of the album in People magazine.
Meanwhile, throughout all the turmoil, amidst all the signings and rumors of signings, the local scene continued to flourish. In the alternative Pop arena, veterans such as Ed and the Boats (who underwent a personnel change in the Spring of ‘88), Napoleon’s Mistress (who seemed condemned to undergo unending personnel changes), Da Da (who broke up in July over artistic differences), and Radio Silents (who soon were to evolve into Sing Sing Sleepwalker) were joined by newer bands, such as Killing Field, Here Comes Everybody, Détente Touch, Never Ever, Kamikaze Lovers, Lip To Lip and Dub Squad.
Despite their militaristic appellation, the Killing Field were an impassioned quartet that combined elements of REM, Tears For Fears and U-2 into their presentation. Lead vocalist/acoustic guitarist Michael Stanford, lead guitarist Daniel Gallo and bassist/keyboardist Kennedy Payne composed emotionally charged numbers that rang true with a growing number of loyal fans. Over the preceding two years, the band had worked extremely hard to establish a strong following. Their efforts were coming to fruition in choice headliner gigs at clubs such as Key Largo and Satyricon. Rumors began to circulate that major label stringers were sniffing around.
Here Comes Everybody espoused a high tech sound that bore a relationship to the work of Adrian Belew in King Crimson as well as that of David Byrne’s solo projects. The team of drummer/vocalist Michael Jarmer and his wife, keyboardist/percussionist/background vocalist Rene Ormae (whom, as mere teenagers, played with bassist Bob Wadle and keyboardist Julie Jones in Incognation) had already run through numerous guitarists and bassists by the time of their third release Brand New Species during early 1988. But the addition of guitarist Greg Kirkelie for that recording, helped to solidify their quirky sound, providing the band with a sense of stability- which afforded them the freedom to play in a live setting with more regularity. Bassist John Huckfeldt of the Corps, later joined the troupe.
Though they played out in the clubs only slightly more frequently than HCE, Never Ever had other stylistic similarities which closely related the two bands. Lead singer/songwriter Mat Madison was at times a mesmerizing vocal presence, who could summon harrowing intensity into his presentations. Guitarist Greg Gilray and keyboardist Greg Lanz helped to flesh out Madison’s gritty discourses, to create a forthright techno sound of their own. Tragically, Madison was killed in a bicycle accident in Seattle in July of 1988, cutting short what should have been an illustrious career.
Détente Touch, featuring Ken Bergheim on lead guitar, Ursela D (real name Carol Batchelor), Todd Garton on bass and Collin Colebank on drums (who later played with the the Willies and Atom Girl), migrated between Satyricon and the Long Goodbye, sharing the stage with many top bands. Ms. “D” was known to be somewhat provocative from the stage, gaining renown for a particularly lurid show, with Untouchable Krew, at Satyricon.
Kamikaze Lovers were the vehicle du jour for chanteuse Maureen Andrews, a talented songwriter and rhythm guitarist who began her local career in the early ‘80s with the new wave band Stolen Toys. Andrews was a capable craftswoman, in the Chrissie Hynde vein; who penned at least one certifiable hit in the gem “Little Columbus,”
Following the death of his brother Billy in December 1986, Lenny Rancher descended into a tailspin for a period of time before resurfacing with Lip To Lip, a band that followed the Reggae tradition his brother was exploring at the time of his death. Members of Billy’s last outfit, One Hundread Percent, including Houston Bolles (who had entered the local scene, as a Lincoln High-schooler, with Harsh Lads in the early ‘80s) populated Lip To Lip as well. But Lenny was too distracted at the time to give the undertaking his full attention and bowed out of the band in early 1988. He was replaced by guitarist Newell Briggs, who had served a recent tour of duty with Curtis Salgado and the Stillettos.
However, Briggs’ stay with Lip to Lip was fleetingly brief. Soon enough, he bolted, to join Alan Alexander in forming Dub Squad. Although they were to undergo many changes of their own over the ensuing years, Dub Squad began as one of Portland’s first and most genuine reggae bands. Alexander’s pleasing vocal stylings, nicely augmented by Briggs’ expert upstroke guitar work and the backing vocals keyboardist Mel Kubik (who also played sax), Karen Searcy and Mary Sue Tobin (who also played sax) made of them one of Portland’s premier bands for many years to follow.
Calvin Walker, Salmon Dave and the Nerve served as reliable mainstream dance acts. Walker, a longtime mainstay in the local funk rock and soul scene was a great drummer as well as a gifted vocalist. The Nerve evolved into a Craig Carothers fronted project with John Bunzow providing backup. Gary Ogan (as was his inclination) left the Nerve to pursue a position as the musical director for Kayuse, wherein he wrote songs for the talented country singer Tenley Holloway.
The stage revue Salmon Dave was yet another venture from the indefatigable Mark Bosnian. Keyboardist/vocalist Bosnian was determined to make a name for himself in the music industry, going so far as to undergo cosmetic surgery in order to supplement his good looks. Playing a mixture of cover tunes and original numbers, the band was a club favorite and gained national recognition with a performance on NBC’s Today show. However, eventually attorneys for the well-known ‘60s soul duo Sam and Dave got word of the homophonic similarities and promptly issued a cease and desist order on the enterprise.
Among roots rockers, the Razorbacks still ruled the roost. John Koonce launched the Hawks, a streamlined rhythm & blues band. Steve Bradley teamed with his sisters to form the goodtime Badly Bradley. The Mayther Brothers, Chris and Craig, leaned heavily toward a blue-eyed soul sound. Terry Robb could be counted upon to play in any style that was required of him.
Staunch blues purveyors, such as the authentic, Chicago-styled Paul DeLay, the more uptempo Bloomfield-informed Curtis Salgado and Stillettos and the Memphis-colored musings of the Lloyd Jones Struggle continued to draw huge crowds of blues lovers, who found safety in the numbers 1-4-5. Brainchild of blues fanatic Mark (Delmar) Goldfarb, the Waterfront Blues Festival became an instant and longstanding tradition, still going after all these years.
Blues scene newcomers arrived, such as Big Mama Thornton-inspired Margo Tufo and the Blues Sisters. The Texas Roadhouse R&B bluster of guitarist Monti Amundsen drove the Blubinos like a ‘53 Mercury sedan, speeding down some lonely sunburned two-lane blacktop highway, backed by Debbie Smith (Debbie Dagger of the Silvertones) on bass.
In the Summer of 1988 the Dan Reed Network were still on tour, up and down the Eastern seaboard, playing the 600 seat theatre and auditorium circuit. What had begun in late February as a four-week tour to promote their first Polygram single, “Ritual, stretched into four months, as the song continued to “have legs” in the Billboard charts, re-attaining bullet status on several different occasions, as the weeks rolled by.
In addition, the band’s live performances were drawing increasingly more rabid response from the growing numbers in their audiences. Their “urban jungle beat” was starting to catch on. And the masterfully choreographed stage movements between Reed, bassist Melvin Brannon III and guitarist Brion James matched the supremely high level of musicianship the band consistently upheld.
After a particularly well-received performance in New York City in front of an illustriously star-studded crowd, Bill Graham compared the excitement surrounding the band to that of the Rolling Stones in the early ’80s (when he managed them), who revived their careers yet again by playing small venues throughout England, creating a definitive buzz about the band via their electrifying stage shows.
Back home in Portland, the Network could be heard everywhere in the air. One could not walk within one hundred yards of a Gap store without being strafed by the in-store sound system: “You… are… my rich ewe wool” was the Gap mating call of the day. The band’s funky tribal beat was the talk of the town- and in the ears of all the world.
Crazy 8s commemorated the vaunted 8/8/88 date with a huge show at Starry Night in front of 1400 spectators, celebrating the release of their live album Big Live Nut Pack. The album sold 6,000 copies (with CDs tellingly outselling vinyl at a 25 to 1 ratio) in less than four weeks, garnering for them the cover spot in the prestigious College Music Journal monthly magazine. There was no ignoring the Crazy 8s. They were everywhere.
Meanwhile, initial sales were sluggish for Nu Shooz’ second album release, Told U So. Though charting in the black music market and 12” extended single sales, the Shooz could not get airplay for “Should I Say Yes” in the dance clubs, a ball that the band felt was dropped by the Atlantic records promotional team. To further exacerbate the situation, the band elected not to tour in support of the album. But the ship was soon righted. Favorable sales on the second single released from the album, “Are U Looking For Somebody Nu” helped to buoy the band’s esteem. The third single, “Driftin’” did moderately well.
Feeling a renewed confidence in his abilities, Shooz manager Rick Waritz took an interest in the Killing Field, appreciating the band’s keen sense of dynamics and musical acumen. He began to shop Killing Field tapes around to some of the major labels, receiving a positive response from Atlantic Records. Locally, Q105 airplay for Killing Field’s song “Down With You,” helped to keep interest in the band at a sustained pitch.
Meanwhile, recordings being circulated of songs such as “Swing With Me” and “Eye For An Eye,” were creating a stir among several major labels for Nero’s Rome. MCA, Island and CBS’ new Sony label frothed enthusiastically over the allure of the band’s appeal.
Over the decade of the 1980s, the Portland music scene matured to the extent that it was regarded by major labels as a reliable resource- a conduit for top-quality bands of all stylistic persuasions. There was so much focus, on a national level, for a select few of the local bands, that many other top quality acts were ignored in the rush. But there was an impressive second tier of bands who were awaiting their moment in the sun, with a third tier right behind them, scrambling for recognition. The scene was vibrantly alive and thriving.
SP Clarke © 2011 – All rights reserved