All the bands I played in 1980-2012
BY Alexander Laurence
Besides all the noise I made with my brother when I was 10 years old, my music career probably started around the summer of 1981. The plan was to form a band with Patrick Quinn, who I knew in High School. Patrick was good a classical music guitarist and he liked punk rock music. I took guitar lessons that summer and learned to read music. It was very traditional. I remember studying the cover of a Plasmatics single and learned how to do a bar chord. In the Fall of 1981, Patrick moved to SF to go to college and I was still in high school. Through some friends, I met Rick Harrison, and we decided to form a band along with Benny Rapp and Greg Sisson. Greg Sisson was in one the first punk bands from Huntington Beach, called The Slashers.
We called ourselves THE SLIP KIDS. We were named after a song by The Who or China White, a punk band who were our friends. Sisson didn't play with us for the first few months because he didn't have any gear. We rehearsed as a trio for a few weeks. I was horrible. I knew how to play but I had no experience playing with others. Rick Harrison had one song, and I wrote three songs pretty fast. I realized that in this band we lacked a vocalist, a songwriter, but it was okay. I realized that even though I didn't know what I was I doing, I had to be the main songwriter and default leader, even though it was Rick's band. There was a big difference in direction we all wanted to go. Rick and Benny wanted to be like the Damned or Generation X. I was more into the Buzzcocks and Wire. I think that we sounded unique: a combination of lack of ability and the confusion of ideas. None of our songs had titles, but to me a few came to be known as "Genocide" and "Another Reality." It was late 1981, and I was feeling that punk had already been done. What we did was a little pop punk and very limited musically.
For a few weeks we practiced with Don Snell, who was a great guitarist and a lot older than most of us. Me, Rick and Benny were all 17 or so. Don was at least 20. With Don, he was more of a lead guitarist and I played rhythm. With Don, we played all our five original songs, and one song by Don, and also "Untouchables" by Gen X. The song by Don was like a hardcore punk song. It was more like an instrumental song. I was thumbs down on that one. It was actually more like a weak song by Wire. The band was getting ready to actually play a show. We all hung out in Hollywood one night. Benny told me how they wanted Frank Martinez (at one time in The Vandals) to be the lead singer. In my own mind I wanted to be the lead singer, and I wanted Craig Stonoff (Movement) to be the guitarist.
A week passed and I was out of the band, and Frank and Greg Sisson were in. A few months later I heard THE SLIP KIDS were playing at a party at a friend's house. I watched them and was bored. Rick nodded his head when they played one of my songs. It all sounded a little dated to me. It took so long to write songs and find people to play with, by the time the songs were actually played to an audience, it was a little dull. I remember trying to start another band very quickly. I heard that Don Snell and Jeff Milucky were forming a band, and I wanted to join, but that never happened. Stonoff wasn't really doing Movement anymore, but he was very negative about any new bands. He was really jaded.
Around this time I wrote my first decent song entitled "Powerline."
I found a flyer in Zed's Records in Long Beach. There were two guys in Palos Verde looking for a guitarist. I was getting better at guitar and had taken a class in music theory. I taught myself how to play a little piano. One of these guys in PV was Steve Brown (later he would be in the SF band Broom). These guys were great musicians. They could play anything. We played during 1982 when I was 18, and they were closer to 15. We were more like some post punk bands like Magazine and Joy Division and Outer Circle. I played guitar and keyboards. The drummer played a different beat on each song. We had slow songs and fast songs. I had a big tape recorder and recorded most of our practices. We created a ton of material quickly. We had one song called "The Other Room." I met this guy named Adam who wanted to play with us, but Adam ended up playing with Jesse Rodrigues from Movement. It was a long drive to Palos Verde, and sometimes we wouldn't practice for a month. I had left high school and a few months had passed. When I came back to Palos Verde, Steve Brown was playing with a whole new group of guys. It was more rock oriented. By the end of 1982, I was more into Birthday Party and stuff like that. The Palos Verde Group never had a name, and soon we went our separate ways. We did have one song that was a little like Nirvana "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and I had written a song with very similar chords to Mazzy Star "Flowers in December" in 1982. We were a little more advanced and probably could have done something interesting.
Towards the end of 1982, I had met Jeff McCann. He had just moved to Huntington Beach from Texas. The band we formed was called SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS. It was mostly Jeff's esthetic and style. We played a bunch of instrumentals by The Cramps, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones. For a while it was just me and Jeff, and then we were joined by a guy named Mark. It was the first two guitar and drums, no bass guitar band that I knew about. Some girl who played bass in our band was in The Cramps for a few years. I think now that Jeff was ahead of his time. I wanted to write some original songs, but my songs didn't really go with this band, which was more like a psych garage band. I quit some time in 1985, and was replaced. I met up with Jeff again at Long Beach State, and we played for fun again, in 1988, after they had played a few gigs. They were doing this retro garage rock instrumental thing in 1983, and now, a few decades later, it seems like every other band now is like that.
Satan's Cheerleaders live at Safari' Sams 1985: https://archive.org/details/sc1985-10-10
At the same time I had try to form a band with Greg Yalch. We were in this band called MASQUE for a few weeks. But the other guys wanted to be a Bauhaus clone band. I wrote a few songs with Yalch. One has survived called "So Happy." By 1983, when there was idle time, we were joined by Clark North (who is now an important Tattoo Artist). We hung out more than actually did anything. I left and was replaced by Brad Logan and Rob Whittencotten. They called themselves Cinema of Cruelty, or COC. I remember one show at Clark's house by Edison High. Greg used to play me wild tapes of his new band. Logan quit and went on to join a hundred punk bands. Some new guys joined and they called themselves THE BELLJAR. I saw them play at Safari's Sam in 1986, and Greg was the only original member left. It was a far different band, more like The Doors and the paisley underground bands. The Belljar was one of those bands that wore a lot of black and could be taken as a Velvet Underground revival band. Greg Yalch got heavily into drugs and the band broke up by the end of the 1980s.
I also played with Sharon Vaughnn in a band called HOUSE OF CARDS. I had met her when she worked at Fedco. Sharon was in a rockabilly band. Me and Sharon played with a number of people. One who I remember was Dave who later played in Swamp Zombies. I saw them play a few years later in San Francisco. I was originally the guitarist, but Sharon found some guy who wanted to play guitar and wanted me to play bass. I lasted a few weeks. I heard that they played some places like Radio City, where many of these bands also played.
From 1982 to 1985 I was always making tapes. I had a little recording studio in my bedroom. I would record demos all the time with anyone who would come over. I had a drum set in the corner of my room that belonged to my girlfriend. Mark Held and I had a band called FUMES. We also did some rap songs in 1984 and performed them live at a poetry night at Safari Sam's in 1984. Our best songs were "Recovery Room" and "Fuck The World." They were like anti-punk songs. I recorded a lot of dub reggae tracks. I recorded hours of drums tracks, in case I wanted to use them as a backing track. The Mark Held stuff was more experimental. More anti-rock. In my own mind I wanted to do something more like Eno and Talking Heads.
By 1985, I did record some songs with Anne DeJarnette (Mneumonic Devices). I started making 8mm films and most of the stuff we did was like soundtrack music. Anne DeJarnette and Greg Yalch were in my first film The Immaculate Conception (1985). For about a year all we did was films and photography. I sold my guitar and my amp and retired from bands for at least a year.
For about a year, I didn't do much music. I started to take college more seriously. But I still had time to try out for a goth band. I was in EX-VOTO with Larry Rainwater and Greg Bevington for about a week. I couldn't play it with a straight face. It was like a Sisters of Mercy clone band with drum machine. We played songs by Steppenwolf, Joy Division, and Bowie. I couldn't get the guitar part right in their song "In The Modern Time." They wanted me to make noise and play power chords, and not play any real guitar stuff. It was secondary. The bass riff was on top of everything. They were goths.
I had lost focus. I was never going to be in a proper band. I was in the middle of an English Lit degree. But in 1987 some things happened. Wire reformed. I had written a ton of poems. Patrick Quinn was going to move back to the west coast from Boston. I had envisioned a band ever since the days when I hung out with Anne of Mneumonic Devices. It was like a band that combined rock and classical influences. I had written about 30-40 songs. This new band I called THE ELIZABETHANS. But Quinn didn't actually move back to California until 1989, and when we started to play the new songs, he struggled. We could only play the simplest stuff, the drones of songs like "Heliotropes Turn Black." Then we co-wrote a bunch of songs together, but there was no band. Just a massive amount of songs on tape and ideas. As the years went on, it was easier to record songs, and do demos. I started out with a two track tape machine, where you could only record live takes, or music, and dub in the vocals.
In the meantime I recorded some stuff with Devin Rench. We called out new band VICTIM. It was more industrial sounding. We had a friend who worked for Yahama and we recorded a few tracks at his studio. I showed Devin the songs I had written previously. He wasn't interested. Devin wanted to write his own lyrics and wanted me to do the music. We tried to play some parties with backing tracks but it never really worked.
That is mostly what I did during the 1980s.
1) I probably only played two real gigs in the 1980s.
2) I wrote about 100 songs during this time.
3) I also wrote 20 short stories and 3 novels.
4) I focused on going to college during the later part of the 1980s.
5) There was no internet in the 1980s, so you had to do demos and play live shows to be noticed.
6) The bands I was in, Ex-Voto, Satan's Cheerleaders, The Belljar, released records years later after I had left the band.
7) All this happened in LA and Orange County.
8) There were hardly any PR people in the 1980s. Now there are 3 publicists for every journalist.
9) There were no computers like today and no itunes in the 1980s. If you wanted to hear a record you had to own the record.
10) I realized that I didn't have the patience for bands. I moved to San Francisco in 1988. Things would be a lot different there during the 1990s.