by SP Clarke.
Part 7: The Early ‘90s
At the dawn of the final decade of the last century of the millennium, change whisked like a cloud shadow across the Portland music landscape. Three significant events served to portend that change, occurring in quick succession within the first four months of 1990. And even before that, something happened in Old Town near the end of the ‘80s, which seemed to set the storm into motion.
The small, shabby Sav-Mor Grub grocery store, which sat slowly crumbling on the corner of Northwest 6th and Couch (just next door to Satyricon), served as a source of cigarettes and alcohol to all the untold countless denizens who populated the surrounding sidewalks; and was the locus for an array of what city administrators portrayed as “undesirables.” People from all walks of life: alcoholics, junkies, transients, the displaced, the distracted and the dysfunctional congregated at the corner in front of the store, commingling freely with often wary Satyricon patrons- who descended from an entirely different series of social strata altogether. The resultant chaos was always very near a flashpoint of volatility, though actual violence, beyond occasional gunplay, fistfights, knifings, bottle fusillades and muggings, was a rarity.
Still, it apparently came to no one’s complete surprise when late one night the market was mysteriously (and, as some contended, conveniently) blown to bits- leaving in its wake an empty lot. Fingers pointed in all directions as to the identity of the perpetrator(s). The police were reluctant, at best, to pursue the crime details with any real zeal, instead viewing the episode as something of a public service, all in all.
Rumors circulated that a gang was behind the bombing, an act of retaliatory terrorism waged over some sort of difference of opinion with the store owner. Other gossip targeted George Tahouliotis of Satyricon, although that was perceived to be a smokescreen diversion devised by Larry Hurwitz who’s Starry Night facility was a mere bottle‘s throw away from the grocery, who was also suspected of possible involvement. More than anyone, Hurwitz was the most aggressive in attempting to rid Northwest Sixth Avenue of its more unsavory elements. George’s attitude always seemed far more conciliatory towards the minions of the streets.
Ever the impresario, Hurwitz had attempted to branch out from his Starry Night stronghold, first with the ill-fated 6th Avenue across the street, then with a brief alliance with Cisco and Pancho’s, on Couch adjacent to Starry Night. Coincidentally, shortly after the store bombing, Hurwitz opened the dinner club Day For Night on the corner of Northwest 5th and Davis, next to Portland Music.
From that location, Larry was availed of a venue wherein he could stage smaller shows, featuring local bands- which would not be profitable ventures in the vastness of Starry Night. Every mindful of the mighty dollar, Hurwitz was able to serve hard liquor, a valued commodity in the immediate vicinity, because of the restaurant in the front of Day For Night. Neither Starry Night nor Satyricon served anything stronger than beer or wine from their bars. Day For Night became a point of destination in the growing Old Town configuration of clubs.
Still, Hurwitz was not without his shady past; known to be suspiciously elliptical on the subject of gate receipts, ruthlessly competitive for his share of the local music market and not beneath acts of intimidation to accomplish his aims. But Larry was no common thug. He was a sometimes rather charming, always very slippery individual who maintained a consortium of underlings at the ready to perform his perfidious biddings. Larry kept his hands clean. Larry covered his tracks. Still a pall hung over him and his feasible connection to the market bombing.
Yet, these events were mere preludes to the intrigues that were soon to follow. On the 23rd of January 1990, Paul deLay was arrested, charged with having sold over thirteen pounds of cocaine in 1988. deLay, whose local career was swinging into its third decade, found himself out of the scene and into prison for several years. His backup band, unwilling to relinquish their entitlement to the action during his absence, quickly formed the No DeLay Band to play out engagements without their leader.
Three days earlier, on January 20th, 1990 more than 180 counterfeit tickets to a John Lee Hooker show at Starry Night were discovered at the door by Chris Monlux of Monqui Productions, who were the promoters of the show. Cheated ticket-buyers fingered Larry Hurwitz as the man who sold them the bogus ducats. Characteristically, Hurwitz denied any duplicity in the matter, blaming instead one of his employees, Tim Moreau, for the crime.
Hurwitz promptly “fired” Moreau, who “disappeared” shortly thereafter, never to be seen again. In his apartment, detectives found his checkbook, credit cards and $150 in cash. It seemed apparent that Moreau had not planned to vanish at that particular time. The detectives also uncovered evidence that “suggested a counterfeit ticket conspiracy.” An accomplished contradictor of involvement, Hurwitz managed to elude charges regarding his employee’s “disappearance” for most of the rest of the decade- until he was finally extradited from Southeast Asia and arrested for Moreau’s murder in 1998.
Still, Day For Night did not disappear from the scene right away. It existed for another two years; and served as a launching pad for several up-and-coming bands, most notably the Eugene-based frat band the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. The Daddies, were a front for the frantic antics of singer Steve Perry, whose madcap stage personae were subject to nightly alteration- a variety of props always at hand to accommodate the metamorphoses. His giant penis costume generated a lot of talk, as did the name of the band itself.
Negative reaction to their name by labels and the general public, forced the band to change it to just the Daddies for a while, in order not to impede their possibilities as a band on the rise. However, once their success was secured, the band subsequently changed their name back to its original innuendo-laden full length. One thing that never changed was Perry’s devout reverence for Jerry Lewis’ Buddy Love character in The Nutty Professor. Though it took some time for Perry to develop his own true personality onstage, his devotion to Swing era music and the vocal techniques of Sammy Davis Junior were clearly in evidence from the very beginning of the band’s run.
But there was still more bad luck to be found around town early in 1990. On February 2nd, Tony Lash, drummer for Nero’s Rome was struck in the back by a bullet fired from a gun in the street, as he sat on a couch inside the house of a friend in North Portland. The bullet traveled through the wall of the house and the back of the couch, before lodging in Lash’s lung, where it remains to this day. Tony was sidelined from his Nero’s drumming duties for several weeks due to his injury.
Yet even this abundant druggery, thuggery, shruggery and muggery was tame business in comparison to what was to happen next. It all began on a Saturday night at Satyricon on April 28th 1990. It began as a peaceful enough evening. The Dharma Bums were the headliners, drawing their customary hip, sensible collegiate-type throng to the club. A packed house of 200 or so well-wishers were gathered to celebrate the Bums’ increasing local and regional success.
In those days, Satyricon was not the pristine art palace that it eventually became. In especially poor repair were the restrooms. There were frequently long lines to get into not only the women’s restroom but the men’s as well- especially during breaks between performing stage acts. And so it was at 1:30 AM Sunday morning that it occurred to Satyricon owner George Tahouliotis that he really had to pee. He surveyed the prevailing restroom situation and ascertained that his best opportunity for relief might lay outside on the Old Town streets.
Accustomed to such predicaments, George knew just where to turn. He walked out the front door of the club onto the sidewalk, heading to his right. He strolled past the crowd milling outside Taki’s Gyro window, to the vacant lot where the bombed out Sav-Mor Grub market had stood only a little more that a year earlier. George maneuvered down Satyricon’s exterior wall, along the back of the vacant lot; and, feeling secure in his invisibility in the darkness, proceeded to relieve himself. It was at that point that Portland Police officer Rocky Balada entered onto the scene of the crime.
Officer Balada was no stranger to controversy. Having participated in the infamous “possum incident,” and in the production of tasteless commemorative t-shirts some of the good ol’ boys in the force were sporting in honor of the event, Balada had been demoted to patrolling the mean streets of Old Town on a bicycle. And while surveiling a possible drug transaction taking place in front of Satyricon, Balada, observed George exposing himself indecently while publicly urinating on the wall in the lot of the bombed out grocery store.
At this point in his career, Balada was one Portland cop with whom not to mess. He saw any bust on his scum ridden beat as a rung on a ladder out of that hellhole. George’s conspicuous misdemeanor, transpiring right before his eyes, was more than Rocky could resist. Mistaking him for just another expendable street bum, Balada began to hammer on poor George with his nightstick, screaming at him, “this isn’t a public toilet.”
Intimately familiar with the wide variety of strange people who populated the area around Satyricon, George did not perceive Balada- dressed in his black spandex riding shorts, navy blue flak jacket and black bike helmut- as being an officer of the law. Apparently, in the heat of the battle, Balada neglected to inform George of this fact. Who can say?
Fearing for his well-being at the hands of some crazed clean freak, George determined that his best alternative was to retreat back into the club. He backed away from the screaming stranger and re-entered Satyricon, joining his wife in a booth not far from the door. He assumed the altercation was at an end. However, when Balada appeared in the doorway, accompanied by two other officers, George realized that he had been skirmishing with Charlie. At about the same time the cops spotted him and rushed over, wrestling him roughly to the ground, ostensibly in order to arrest him.
Seeing their friend being beaten by rogue cops, Taki the Gyro cook and bartender Bruno, rushed to his aid, trying to explain that George was the owner, there must be some mistake. But Balada and his cohorts would have none of that and immediately set about roughing up Taki and Bruno as well, hauling the three of them out the door onto the street.
Questioning the tactics of the police, while occasionally spitting on them, outspoken guitarist Gilly Hanner of Calamity Jane was grabbed by the hair by one of the cops, summarily smashed into a wall and dragged towards the door as well. Musician Steven Birch was at the bar during these events and was drawn into the disturbance, attempting to intervene on Gilly’s behalf. He was subsequently arrested. Scrappy ex-doorman Lindsey Burnette entered into the fray and was promptly arrested. Bartender John Noyola attempted to leave the club and became involved in a violent encounter with one of the officers, resulting in his arm and nose being broken when the cop beat John with his flashlight.
At George’s instruction, doorman Steven Spyrit interrupted the Dharma Bums performance and calmly informed the massive crowd that the show was over and that they were to leave the club peaceably and in an orderly fashion. A gathering herd of police cars were haphazardly strewn in the street outside. Looking for trouble where none more was really to be had, the police set about attempting to incite the patrons as they tried to exit the building. However the crowd remained passive, dispersing through the litter of police cars to the parking lot across the street, where they spontaneously broke into a lovely rendition of the song “Goodnight Irene.”
Staunch purveyors of balanced reportage and the truth above all else, the Oregonian chose to cite solely the official police account of the events, which contained overblown and erroneous claims of violence and mayhem. It was a riot. A riot in Satyricon. If not for the heroic efforts of Officer Rocky Balada, our city would have been overrun by drunken hordes of lawless bottle-tossing anarchists, urinating on every wall in Old Town. The… horror!
The resultant trials of the “Satyricon Six” found each defendant guilty of various minor infractions, trumped up to their fluffiest by overzealous crime fighters in need of sensitivity training. John Noyola, alone, was sentenced to actual jail time, for his violent beating of a flashlight with his arm and head. It was only ace Oregonian investigative journalist Phil Stanford’s interest in the case that ever portrayed another (more accurate) side to the vaunted “Satyricon Riot” at the Dharma Bums show. The sheer absurdity of the official story was patently obvious to anyone who knew any of the unfortunate players.
Still, vital layers of innocence and naiveté had been abruptly peeled away from the Portland music scene in a very short period of time, exposing raw nerves and constricted sinew. A metamorphosis was imminent. Change was at hand. And, as ever, it was the new bands entering into the scene that ushered in that change.
By the turn of the decade, The Obituaries had more or less self-combusted. Lead singer Monica Nelson left Portland altogether for New York City, to return only rarely. Meanwhile, Obit lead guitarist Rob Landoll, along with Obituaries bassist Regina LaRocca, quickly rebounded with M-99, a more streamlined punk metal machine, driven by lead singer Heidi Hellbinder’s explosive vocal pyrotechnics. Along with M-99, a great wave of new bands, such as Calamity Jane, Sprinkler, Thrillhammer, Sean Croghan’s Crackerbash, Hitting Birth, Silicone Jones and Love On Ice washed over the Satyricon scene, commanding immediate attention from the press and public.
Oily Bloodmen were purveyors of a thick, metal-tinged sound, led by impassioned vocalist Rich Rosemus. Jackals graduate Steve Casmano joined as bassist, Roby Williams as drummer, while Seth Perry and (later) Dale Moerer were the guitarists. Together they made a name for themselves in the underground club scene.
Calamity Jane was a punk band comprised of four talented young women, including 18-year old drummer Marci Martinez, guitarist Joanna Bolme, Gilly Ann Hanner on guitar and vocals, and her sister, Megan, on bass. Through the early ‘90s they steadily rose to prominence, reaching a pinnacle in 1992. Gilly Ann’s membership as a participant in the Satyricon Riot, alone would cement forever her name in the chronicles of local rock music, But the band was pretty good as well. At least, Kurt Cobain thought so.
Silicone Jones were the brainchild of bassist John “JC” Connell, who with his previous band Tikihead as a vocalist and funk bassist extraordinaire. With JC were bassist Matt Poelle (Silicone Jones played much of their material with two bassists- with JC often taking the “lead bass” role), guitarist Mark Anderson and drummer Dug Vogel. Their brand of danceable funk was extremely popular in the clubs for several years. Connell was known to refer to his Cuban heritage in some of his raps, occasionally delivering his lyrics in Spanish. Later, about the time of the addition to the band of guitarist Derek Jensen, late of Quality Pie, and drummer Mike Collins, JC changed his last name to Maribona (his mother’s maiden name). After leaving the music business, Maribona opened several successful Cuban restaurants in the Portland area.
Meanwhile, Untouchable Krew were one of the first local funk acts to incorporate rap and hip hop styles into their presentation. A successful run of opening engagements for Crazy 8s helped to expose the Krew to an extensive, well-established and quite appreciative new fan base. Their sound was so fresh that major indie label Enigma signed them to a contract, the first urban/rap act in their stable of predominantly white alternative acts. The U-Krew songs “Ugly” and “If U Were Mine,” produced by Marlon McLain, quickly shot up the Billboard urban/dance charts, into the Top 100.
The Krew: Larry Bell, P. Kookie Alexander, Hough-Kough Morse and brothers J. Mack McClendon and Hakim Muhammad, all hailed from Northeast Portland where, individually and collectively, they developed a strong work ethic and an abiding respect for family and community. Bell, the primary musician and McClendon the lyricist, combined humor and pathos to create stylish musical pastiches. Aided on their record by musicians from Cool’r and McLain’s Dazz Band, the Krew made the jump from local popularity to National notoriety without the slightest misstep.
Heatmiser began as a side project for Nero’s Rome drummer Tony Lash, where he honed his skills as a producer and engineer, working with bassist Brandt Peterson in backing songwriter/guitarists Elliott Smith and Neil Gust. Together as Heatmiser, they burned through energetically well-executed sets of emotive, finely crafted songs.
Hazel, a smart and hard-hitting trio comprised of drummer Jody Bleylie, bassist Brady Smith (formerly of Sugarboom) and singer/guitarist Pete Krebs rose to prominence by virtue of their engagingly volcanic stage shows. An added attraction to their performances were the spasmodically loopy gyrations manifested by their benefactor mascot Fred Nemo, who was supposedly heir to a chocolate fortune or some such thing.
Migrating to Portland from Juneau, Alaska, singer/guitarist Charlie Campbell, bassist Chuck Thompson and drummer Chris Slusarenko began their tenure in Portland, first as The Elvis Coast, before changing their name to Mood Paint. The band were one of the first to expound the new grunge sound, although it wasn’t quite yet called that at the time. It was just called alternative rock. Still the band’s potent combination of alternately dark and frenetic instrumental work and abstract lyrics, was met with mostly indifference from the listening public. A few years later the band changed its name to Pond.
Love On Ice were one of Satyricon’s most popular bands in the early ‘90s, with a sound derived from chunks of metal, funk and Jane’s Addiction meets Alice In Chains rock. Lead singer Dan Kreuger, guitarist Dirk Sullivan, drummer Stan Robinson and bassist Brent Williams (brother to former Mien Street drummer Gregg Williams) originally met as music majors at Mt. Hood Community College. After a few years kicking around the region in a variety of cover bands, Love On Ice first broke out on the local scene in 1990, as a means to showcase the band for a host of indie and major labels who were responding to a four-song demo the band had recorded in Seattle. The fledgling Interscope label quickly fronted the band a couple of hundred thousand dollars to record an album. Using Satyricon as their base of affairs, the band maintained high visibility in the local scene through out the early ‘90s.
It was also at about that time that Sweaty Nipples began to rise to the fore in the local scene. The Sweaties, brainchild of the three fundamental Nipples, drummer/vocalist Brian Lehfeldt, bassist Davey Loprinzi and vocalist Dave Merrick, started out as underagers who formed a band primarily as a means to afford the lads entry into Satyricon- where they were availed of the opportunity to see some of their own favorite bands. Over time, Sweaty Nipples evolved a hybrid sound. Like their contemporaries, Slack, they adopted funk elements into the mix. But the Nipples fused popping funk basslines with hard-hitting thrash metal guitar and drums to eventually arrive at a singular sound that was all their own.
Hitting Birth grew out of Sunday night experimental performance art functions at Satyricon, masterminded by poet Stephen Spyrit, bassist/guitarist Daniel Riddle and drummer/percussionist David Parks. At first the band created a tribal industrial maelstrom of sound that incorporated amplified shopping carts among many found instruments. Spyrit soon left the fold, but the band further adopted funk and psychedelic motifs to further widen their amorphous sound, adding an everchanging cast of instrumentalists, singers and dancers to their intense, circus-like encounter sessions.
Another band that made a timely name for themselves in the clubs were the Beauty Stab. A glam/pop amalgam of estimable talent, Beauty Stab were fronted by colorful vocalist Cor E. Stafford, abetted by guitarist Jon Fell, bassist Adam Flick (whose father, Bob Flick, was a member of the Brothers Four ‘60s folk group), keyboardist Ed Gelmetti and anchored by monster drummer Courtney Taylor. Gelmetti later joined Killing Field. Taylor parlayed his experience with the Stab (as well as a stint as a Key Largo employee and as a brief member of Nero‘s Rome) to ultimately front his own project, the Dandy Warhols, later in the ‘90s.
Drunk At Abi’s were mainstays of the alternative circuit. Their infectious brand of punkified funk and soul invoked comparisons to Simply Red on PCP. Gifted lead singer JR Pella, often wearing a skirt/kilt, added to that charged atmosphere. Sometimes seeming to channel jazz, soul and r&b masters from the ether, Pella would exorcise his demons, through sometimes inspired vocal excursions, delighting frenzied throngs of spectators.
The Kurtz Project were altogether a horse of a different color. An ensemble which consisted of drums, bass and violin, the Project served as a vehicle for the manic machinations of one Richard Shannon III, better known by the monosyllabic moniker: Tres. Tres could transform a rickety version of the Moody Blues’ “Nights In White Satin” into an elegant soliloquy worthy of young Prince Hamlet. Even the band’s name had significance. The Kurtz in question, the original drummer, had run off to Alaska for a job on a fishing boat and had not returned. Tres and Ben Ellis, the bass player, opened the X-Ray Cafe shortly thereafter.
The X-Ray, located on Northwest 2nd Avenue near Burnside, became an all-ages haven for disenfranchised bohemians and countercultural guerrilla artistes, whose number were legion within the Portland inner-city community. Shannon utilized his unique abilities as a facilitator of the highest order, to organize peaceful political demonstrations, as well as knitting parties at the kitsch shrine known as the X-Ray. Shannon continued with his political aspirations, entering the city mayoral race later in the decade, losing to Vera Katz.
Fearing riotous bottle-throwing hordes, Katz refused to continue to place the city stamp on the Mayor’s Ball- an orgy she saw as a legacy of the lax administration of former mayor Bud Clark. This cast the entire event into jeopardy. A decision to allow sponsorship of the Ball by high-profile, corporately-owned local radio stations opened the door to other program changes.
A determination that the Ball needed a little punching-up, led to the conclusion that National acts should be brought in to the band line-up. This drew the ire of local musicians and patrons alike, causing rifts within the local community. Further contention grew out of allegations that promotional money had been misappropriated by members of the PMA. But, notwithstanding these besmirchments, the Ball continued on, well into the ‘90s.
In October of 1990, engineer Jack Barr, who had recorded all the best bands (including Billy Rancher, Quarterflash and Ed & The Boats) in town at his High Tech Recorders studios, died of pancreatic cancer. With Barr’s death, the city lost one of its biggest boosters.
At the turn of the decade, another phenomenon was noted by astute observers. Portland’s Eastside, long a low-rent home to many of the musicians who played the downtown gigs, was notable for only two distinct venues: the Dublin Pub and the Pine Street Theater. And occasionally the East Avenue Tavern staged productions beyond open-mic evenings.
But a growing folk contingent established itself at the Laurelthirst tavern on Northeast Glisan at 30th. Concerts organized by Steve Hettum, former manager of Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods, but a talented singer/songwriter in his own right, solo musicians such as Lew Jones, Billy Kennedy, Ed and the Boats’ Dan Haley and Seattlite Terry Lee Hale helped to inaugurate the room. Because of its proximity to a rather politically correct high-density neighborhood, the ‘Thirst maintained a lo-fi strategy in an attempt to avoid complaints from nearby residents.
Still, the club made a resolute commitment to music by moving the pool table and video games into an adjacent room, clearing the main area of noisy distractions; and opening up the old brick hall to improved sightlines and better acoustics. And it wasn’t long before small combos and quiet, acoustic bands began to perform there, ever conscious of, as at the Dublin Pub, the invocation of a definitive decibel ceiling before management or the cops would be forced to intercede.
An acoustic-tinged “Eastside Sound” rose from the ranks, borne partly out of bands practicing in basements across the area, and partly in the necessity of adherence to often strict club rules in regard to volume levels in residential neighborhood bars. And the success of bands such as the Dharma Bums, mirrored a particular national fashion trend toward flannel-shirted shoe gazers, sporting faded old Levi’s, torn at the knee- a look perfected by Neil Young twenty years earlier. In fact, Young served as a sort of muse to a whole generation of young guitar shredders and forthright song poets.
The emergence of Belmont’s Inn, an expansive hard-liquor bar at the corner of Southeast Belmont at 34th, helped to solidify the expanding club scene on that side of the Willamette River. Belmont’s was no recent entry into the local club scene. In the ‘70s the club was known to be a tough, biker Blues hang out, where the sight of a row of Harley’s parked neatly at the curb was not uncommon. Later, the establishment was briefly converted into a disco inferno lounge of truly mythical stature.
But after a fleeting incumbency as “Eli’s II” in the late ‘80s, the club lay dormant for several years, noteworthy for the tragic hit and run auto accident which killed a patron attempting to cross the intersection of 34th and Belmont late one night. But in the early ‘90s, Belmont’s experienced a renaissance beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
Jeanna Andros was hired as the first booking agent for the “new” Belmont’s, in an effort to give the club an image facelift, with the hope that her high-profile in local music circles would attract the name bands: who were loathe to play on the Eastside of Portland’s Willamette River. Jeanna was directly responsible for laying the groundwork at the club, booking several popular bands into well-received shows. However, much of Belmont’s revival was attributable to the inexhaustible energy and concerted efforts of a young woman named Lisa Meyer, who became Jeanna’s successor when the latter quit to marry Jazz bassist Phil Baker.
Meyer, whose only prior music business experience lay in a short-term engagement as manager for the Punk band Naked Lunch, displayed uncommon acumen and savvy in luring some of the best local bands into playing in her club on the heretofore forbidden Eastside. Slowly, but surely, she convinced one favorite band after another to take a weekend night. First, Nero’s Rome became regulars. Dub Squad and Killing Field played frequently. Then the Daddies and the Dharma Bums began to make appearances.
In addition, Meyer managed to book early performances by a touring Afghan Whigs in support of their first national indie release; as well as Seattle’s Posies, in their formative days. Each show was better attended than the last. The Daddies eventually made Belmont’s their Portland home, regularly taking in over $2,000 in door receipts for each appearance.
Lisa was also fundamental in nurturing an impressive lineup of then lesser-known bands, including Tao Jones (which featured guitarist Dylan Thomas Vance and vocalist Leah Welch), Orphan’s Reason, Josephine’s Ocean, the Willies, Big House (which evolved into Ray), Gravelpit, Little Women, Heatmiser and Everclear, to fill in mid-week nights on the monthly calendar. Several of those bands swiftly ascended to local prominence, garnering a significant fan-base from triumphant gigs at Belmont’s.
Orphan’s Reason, led by vocalists Janet Price and Jamie Ewing (who both played guitar) made a brief but memorable mark on the local music scene with a sound that called to mind 10,000 Maniacs at times (without Natalie Merchant’s histrionics), when Janet was singing. Buoyed by the rhythm section of Robert Ingram and drummer Kirk Smith, the quartet (which originally hailed from Grants Pass) made a distinct impact upon club go-ers in the early ‘90s.
Josephine’s Ocean had a few things in common with Nero’s Rome, especially in vocalist Rod Tucker, whose crooning vocals played off of Alan Davis’ stinging lead guitar phrases. The Reason Why drummer Todd Bryerton, bassist John Bartholomew, guitarist Derek Jensen and keyboardist Lance Miller played funkable dance music, that evolved into an act which displayed more of a sense of humor, when the band became known as Quality Pie (named after the legendary after-hours eatery located in Northwest Portland).
Convenient parking behind Belmont‘s Inn, which was situated in the corner of the huge, mostly deserted Carnation dairy warehouse complex (which is now Zupan’s and upscale apartments), allowed for easy accessibility. The only nearby residents in the area were apartment dwellers above the club and other shops which lined Belmont. For the most part, noise complaints were few. This, coupled with their hard liquor license, afforded the club elite status. It was the only Eastside club at the time that truly rocked.
It was not long after this that Mark Meek and his wife Cindy opened Mark’s Hawthorne Pub on Hawthorne Boulevard near Southeast 35th Avenue. The Hawthorne Pub had a capacity of about 100 people, and became a second club on the Eastside to provide for Rock music. Their calendar would always contain a balance of Rock and Acoustic acts. The club served as a cultural and musical middleground between the “unplugged” Laurelthirst ambiance and the totally plugged-in scene that was underway at Belmont’s Inn.
Between those three clubs, many bands were able to play a lucrative circuit on the Eastside, developing loyal followings along the way; while obviating the necessity of having to play the downtown circuit- a concept which was theretofore unthinkable for Alternative bands, who had always aspired to the top spot on a Satyricon weekend bill.
One of the first bands to emerge from that circuit were the Crackpots in Exile. The Crackpots were an off-kilter Folk/Funk outfit whose sense of humor and quirky admixture of styles, which foreshadowed Beck in some ways, were wondrous to behold. Lead singer/rhythm guitarist Beth Basile and bassist extraordinaire Billy Rudolph were recent migrants from Michigan (hence the “in exile” aspect of their name), who worked with guitarist Scott Mitchell and drummer Ian Shadburne for a time; until their regular crew, guitarist Bobby Soxx and drummer Johnny Lambert, arrived from Michigan- along with a huge contingent of émigré fans and friends. Soon singer/guitarist “Little Sue” Weaver was added and the band was complete. The Crackpots worked almost exclusively between the Laurelthirst, the Hawthorne Pub and Belmont’s Inn, always to huge crowds of enthusiastic fans.
A young fellow named Bill Leeds served a dual role, both as one of the new owners of the Laurelthirst and as the keyboard player in the Treefrogs. As with the Crackpots, the Treefrogs functioned primarily on the Eastside; although the ‘Frogs later toured the Northwest extensively, whereas the Crackpots did not. A Deadhead jam band of the highest order, the Treefrogs performed original songs written by Leeds, lead guitarist Fred Stephenson and rhythm guitarist John Henry Bourke, backed with Sean Nowland’s bass and Jeff Duffy’s drums, as well as with further solo support from Jeff Haigerty on harmonica and Rob Matthews on sax. Their shows were a guaranteed sell-out at the door, offering goodtime, downhome songs about livin’ and lovin’.
Completely Grocery were another fun band who traveled the Eastside circuit with great regularity. Mixing aspects of funk and soul into their hippy-dippy exhibitions, the band altogether lived up to their name. Their energetic gigs were always well-received, happy parties. Ted Thieman’s adroit soul guitar stylings were a satisfying foil for John Mitchell’s sometimes monotonal, stoned-out vocal musings. Ace drummer Jeff Cavanaugh created a solid foundation for the band, especially with Julie Avina (of Mr. Seed), who replaced original bassist Ted Smith.
The Willies, lead guitarist S2 Carpenter, bassist Jim Cobern, drummer Collin Colebank (formerly of Détente) and singer/rhythm guitarist/songwriter Eric Levine, were named Willamette Week’s “Best New Band” (certainly the name the Willies had nothing to do with that selection) of 1991. Levine melded wit with intensity, intelligence with humor, into oddball songs- which were comparable to the work of Andy Partridge of XTC in their depth, scope and occasional idiosyncrasy.
Motorgoat, played out rarely, but were one of the first ventures for the talented husband and wife team of Sam and Janet (Weiss) Coomes. Sam’s clever, catchy songs and multi-instrumental accompaniments were of a quality that was a level above the reach of most local songwriters. Janet’s understated, but compact drumwork was essential to the impact of every song.
Coomes’ first band, the Donner Party, formed in San Francisco in 1983, released two albums before breaking up in 1989. After moving to Portland, he formed Motorgoat with Janet in 1990, eventually adding a bass player. They released two cassettes and a 7″ single before disbanding in 1993. However, Sam and Janet have continued to work together under the name Quasi, for the past ten years.
With so many bands in the stew, there was a great deal of local product to be found around. The record store, Locals Only was the first endeavor of its kind. Opening in the mid-’80s, originally in the New Market Mini-Mall that stood in the building in which La Bamba was once housed, Locals Only offered the available recordings of nearly every musical act in town. That and nothing more. No Sting, no Prince, no Faith No More. While it is difficult, even today, to imagine that such a business could survive, Locals Only managed to prosper and thrive for nearly a decade.
SP Clarke © 2011 – All rights reserved