PUNK ROCK GLORY
by Tim Harris
Being community-minded as we were, we decided that we should play in all the neighborhoods of Louisville. This was tied up with our decision to stay in our hometown and play this new music and we wanted people to hear it. But it also had something to do with the fact that any venue hosting the cool music of the late seventies wouldn’t have us – they wanted country rock, southern rock, art rock, but not punk rock.
Somehow, I think I got the role of walking in a bunch of far-flung bars and asking innocently if our band could play. Those who said yes were really those who didn’t know any better. One of the more memorable gigs was at The Schooner in Louisville’s very tough Portland neighborhood (it was really tough back then). Undeterred by the sign on the door that said “No guns allowed inside” I asked if we could come play and they were happy to have some live music.
I should explain that we were always very polite, we didn’t act like jerks, and we were really inclusive in our punk rock glory; we just wanted to play for people. So Tara made a really cool poster and we had a punk rock gig at The Schooner in Portland. I can’t say it changed anyone’s life there but it was a good thing for all. Our usual colorful crowd showed up: some women in goth garb, some boys in khakis from the East End who were scared to go down there, some of our redneck brothers who fit right in.
At one point they asked us to do a Mop Dance, sort of like musical chairs, where the person left holding the mop when the band stopped, was out. I think we trotted out “Everything’s the Same” as a “slow song” for the mop dance, though it was faster than a slow Ramones song. I can’t say the crowd really liked us, but I think we all shared a love for Hank Williams, and we all had a good time.
Willo’s, a bar on East Oak, had gone through many incarnations. When they said we could play, we didn’t really think about the poles on the stage, but there seemed to be some sort of weird vice scene going on there and we never really figured it out.
We played a teenaged pregnancy school and a women’s prison. I was working a temp job setting up the convention center with a guy who taught at the School for Pregnant Teens and he asked me if our punk rock band could be his contribution to the school’s program of events. I thought for a moment and said something like, “Oh, hell yeah!”
We played at ten in the morning to 75 or so women with big bellies. A couple of them had to leave to go into labor. Could even be that “Will It Be Today?” induced labor.
Another job led to my friend Angel, who was a prison guard. The gig was a trip and Chip always reminded me that we had at least a couple of walkouts – those prison inmates who would really rather go back to their jail cells than listen to us!
Our drummer Dave Bradley tipped us off to a place called the Iroquois Hideaway in the South End and we approached them little realizing this would become our CBGB’s. Well sort of kind of. Somehow we punk rockers got wind of the fact that Leee Black Childers, a Louisvillle product who had been Bowie’s photographer, was in town. For some ridiculous reason, we all got the idea that if this Bowie insider could see all of us play, that he could make our careers! (He later hung around Louisville some with Jayne County and …) So we got together with the Endtables, the Blinders and us and we went out to the Iroquois Hideaway to ask if we could have an important impromptu gig that very night. The new owners, Dave and Marsha (who would soon change the name to The South 40) said fine, and I really don’t think they knew what they were getting into. Of course, Leee Black didn’t show up; I forget what the plan was to induce him to The South 40. But the part I remember was The Endtables were playing some great song with the Durig brothers and Steven Jan thrashing away with Rigot at about six foot five just presenting a commanding, confounding presence while Ricky Feather, one day to be the genius behind Bodeco, slung the Sanders sisters, Sherry and Diane (they were both the soul of the Louisville punk rock scene and yes related to Colonel Sanders), across a table with him, sending glasses and pitchers flying.
At the back of the room, Dave and Marsha sat dumbfounded wondering what had become of their new bar. Or at least that is the picture in my mind. Actually, rhe word to describe Dave and Marsha’s reaction was “non-plussed” or perhaps it would be accurate to say “it was all cool with them” because they proceeded to let us play there regularly. We were actually all pretty nice folks and we brought in some business and we went on to have some memorable experiences.
One of our proudest moments was when a biker gang guy who was really into us, suggested he ride his chopper into the bar during our set (fortunately there were not steps). Once again, we said something along the lines of “Hell, yes!” and he rode in and Chip jumped up on the cycle with mike in hand singing while Tara and pointed our guitars at him in a nice tableau and we just kept playing, at least to the end of the song.
We also met at the South 40 (and helped sneak in as our roadies) the teenaged crew that included Charles, Alec, Doug and Kathy, later to be parts of the Dickbrains, Freakwater, Your Food, the Bulls, Doug’s current band, and in the case of Charles, Antietam.
One time Marsha was talking to Chip about what made the South 40 great; she said it was all the different kinds of people that came there: punks, bikers, rednecks, Klanners. Klanners! Having never met any there, Chip was not non-plussed.
There were many other memorable gigs – I’ll have to leave the St. Matthews Potato Festival, the St. Albert’s 8th grade dance, the barn dance where a guy punched Chip for not playing southern rock (purely aesthetic objections as Chip and I noted later), to others.
But one other was pretty significant for what it said about the future age of marketing. A major American beer producer who was then in the process of eliminating Schlitz and Stroh’s from their slate of major competitors has just introduced a new product, their light beer. They were way ahead of their time in having “street teams” to create memorable marketing experiences which would lock their product into the minds of adolescents, tied up with the first time they got drunk/
So through a fellow punk rocker, we were offered $250 to play this gig at this German beer hall. That was a great deal of money for a gig then and we were willing to do it. It was strange but getting around the laws about underage drinking seemed so easy. They just sold these tickets for drinks and then you could go get a light beer with your ticket, didn’t matter if you were thirteen or fourteen or whatever. (Wolf and John of Your Food, Antietam, the Bulls, Orange Orange were among the fourteen-year-olds enjoying the BDB for the first time over their light beers.
This guy from the beer company wanted us to wear light beer t-shirts and we didn’t want to, but finally our drummer Sean agreed. As we began to go through our paces (we were a seasoned act at this point, having played in NY a lot and we knew how to run through a set). We just really weren’t quite providing that sexy, groovy feeling for baby’s first drunk that will hook a kid for life on that particular brand of beer, so the guy from the street marketing team asked us to slow down. So we slowed down from an all-out sprint to our other mode, which was something like the really fast canter Secretariat slowed into in a 31-length victory.
Our “slow” stuff didn’t really please the guy. So, at the end of the night, this cat tried to screw us out of our money. First he said, we would get paid later or something, or he would send us a check. It just so happened that we had some friends in for Kentucky Derby week who were bright, energetic, and it just so happened, very interested in our plight that night. So first we sent into the negotiations a friend of Chip’s who had just graduated from Yale Law School and he argued with a U of L law school guy who lamely tried to defend the beer company’s planned screwing us out of our money. But what proved to be really effective was our friend who wrote for Rolling Stone who promised an expose about the whole thing (Damn! I wish she had written that.) The lawyer eventually recommended we settle for the $200 cash the guy came up with.
But to anyone wondering about those drunk fourteen-year-olds that night, well I guess they couldn’t menace the roads because they couldn’t drive yet, and please don’t blame us. We just didn’t get that whole drunken brawl going, like the good marketers a rock band is usually expected to be.
One of the most remarkable early gigs was our second, at the old Gault House at Second and Main with the I-Holes and No Fun. This was before Tara had joined our band. Many Louisvillians interested in the new music showed up, and as the editor of The Scene, the local paper’s Saturday magazine, told me later, “I really enjoyed myself.” I took this as a pointed comment that he didn’t enjoy us, but most people didn’t know what to make of what we were doing anyway and it was exciting to have some news to break to the community!
(I laughed in, I think, 2006 when they announced the Bowl game for the University Louisville’s fantastic football team, then ranked number 2 I believe. In the background they were playing the first Ramones album, something I had gotten a lot of grief in college for playing in my dorm room when it came out! Almost thirty years later, it was jock music!)
This gig produced two of the most remarkable people on the early Louisville punk scene. While the BDB played our set, the voice came out of the crowd in a Kentucky drawl with what came to be my favorite cheer of all time, “Sacrifice the bass!” The voice came from Kenny Ogle, a guy from Shively who really looked like a somewhat hick version of Jesus Christ, or at least the way they portray Jesus in a lot of churches. He had penetrating intelligent eyes, long hair, and an ability to talk to anyone. His companion Mark hardly ever said a word, just sitting there silently taking everything in. They later led Malignant Growth, Kenny as front man of course, and Mark as an amazing guitarist (later for Fadin’ Out and Kinghorse).
Kenny and Mark lived very near the chemical complex we called Rubbertown (hear the BDB instrumental with that title) and I often thought that they were chemically engineered to have superhuman constitutions. It was said by unreliable sources that Mark could take acid and fall asleep. He was beyond Zen. Kenny’s Mom was gorgeous and seemed like two years older than he was, and his father was long gone.
One time in Lexington, they came along as our roadies and the bar gave free beer to us and our crew on a tab. I didn’t usually drink a lot, so I might have had a beer. Same for Sean, Chip and Tara might have had a couple. So at the end of the night, the bar informed us that our tab had like 39 beers, all the rest for Kenny and Mark.
The very first time we played in Lexington was a really magical experience as it was among the first punk rock gigs there, and one of the first times they had had a punk rock band from out of town, so Hallelou’s was packed and everyone was excited – the band, the crowd, it was really a fun moment in history. So Lexington had this bizarre, very ineffective part of their law, that all bars and clubs have to close at 1 a.m. I say “ineffective” because I’m guessing the law was to discourage drinking and partying and the kind of stuff that people do in bars. But the laws in Lexington simply guaranteed that a bunch of drunk people would spill out of clubs at 1 to drive their cars around drunk to find wherever the after-party was – no way everyone was going home.
Well, Kenny and Mark came with on this first BDB trip to Lexington, and we all ended up at this party at this house in the middle of the night; Lexington was always a little more knowing and scary than our downhome scene in Louisville. At some point Kenny and Mark left to go back on the 90-mile drive to Louisville. Meanwhile pretty much everyone at this party fell out asleep on couches, recliners, the floor, bodies littered across the room.
I don’t know when or how I fell out, but I woke to Kenny shaking me, saying, “Hey man, we got to get Mark out of jail.” It was October and the night really got pretty cold and Kenny was wearing flip-flops and a torn-in-half t-shirt. Turns out Mark had gotten pulled over and jailed for drunk driving in Versailles, the beautiful town near Lexington famous for horse breeding. So, what had Kenny done when his friend, and the driver and owner of the car, had gotten arrested? Well, first of all, he had walked back into Lexington for twenty or thirty miles in his flip-flops and t-shirt in the middle of the night when it was maybe 49 degrees. Then, and I must say I am amazed about this, he found the house where this party was and walked to it and woke me up. So we went and somebody bailed Mark out and we went back to Louisville. Like I said, they were genetically evolved to be resistant to things like cold, bad food, bad drugs, alcohol, bad people.