“Musings of a Lead Guitarist” (Part Two)
February 21, 2003
The year was 1986, in the spring, and I was living in a garage that was converted to a bedroom-rehearsal studio in Baldwin Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles that sits just east of Culver City and south of Hollywood. The house was owned by Mary, who was the mom of our friend, Liz, who was a big fan and supporter of our music. Garfield and Rusty nicknamed the studio “Witch Mountain” because, besides Mary and Liz, there were Liz’s two sisters that lived there as well; Cory and Shannon. They were great people but when all four of them got together and bitched, no one could bitch like they could bitch. But they were also all very knowledgeable about music, especially Mary, whom we all called “Mom.” We were allowed to rehearse for free and could drink as much booze as we wanted and could bring chicks in there as well. It was, for the time being, what some might call “the life.” It was summer in Los Angeles and all I cared about was music and my friends, who were essentially my family.
The group now consisted of Rusty on Drums/vocals, Chris on Bass, Garfield on vocals/guitar and myself on lead guitar and vocals. We played a great many local parties as well as continuing to play Universities, especially Fraternity parties. We were making between $300-$500 a show, which was nice bread back then. Considering how clubs like the Roxy and Whiskey were ripping groups off with their “pay-to-play” policies, we were down right envied by other bands. Our key was to put on a great show but to always mix up our originals with the right blend of covers. We would play a song we wrote and then blast into the Jam’s “Start” before people even knew what hit them.
Everyone in the group had a specific job and were good at it. Garfield wrote nearly all the songs but Rusty added ideas to the arrangements, especially harmony parts that he and i would do. Chris’ job was to find girls to hang out and drink with after the show; he was excellent at this job, as know one was better at talking to girls than him. My job was to get the party started by rocking out to no end. There was always someone in the audience who was a guitar player. Usually, in the beginning of a show guys weren’t too shy about telling me how good they were. And they probably WERE better. But they weren’t prepared to go the distance i was willing to go to entertain people, to give them a show to remember. We called ourselves “Bad Press” and other bands hated going on after us.
Some Frats would even go so far as to ask us to only play THEIR Frat or Frats they approved of. This was the case at the ATO (Alpha Tao Omega) house just off the University of Southern California campus. They paid us well at each party, fed us and generally treated us like brothers. At every ATO party there were “at least” 15 kegs of beer. You have any idea how much beer that is? And they still ran out! After awhile, they realised it was much more convenient simply to have Budweiser drive a truck up to the back entrance and run spiles directly out the sides. This was the way things were done in the 80’s, when words like “excess” weren’t really in use yet. The ATO guys were also quite liberal with their lady friends, which was odd in that, Frats NEVER let bands mingle with the Sorority Sister visiters. But these guys were different. They weren’t uptight like most spoiled rich kids and they would do anything just to have some fun. This was the time of their lives and they certainly weren’t gonna miss out on it. Bad Press was embedded in their principles of what it meant to be in control of your destiny and they paid us well for it. There was always enough food, beer, cash and girls. Lots of girls.
The summer of ’86 was a very busy time and quite exciting. We were playing a lot of malibu beach parties, in addition to playing parties in Santa Barbara for weeks at a time. I had a girlfriend at the time, Ari, who was a very nice, fun girl. She was in the 11th grade but her mom didn’t seem to mind me taking her daughter out to movies and stuff, as long as i had her back home by curfew. She was always so sweet to me so i really can’t explain why I abruptly ended our relationship in favor of dating one of her classmates, Meg. They were as opposite as opposites come: Where Ari was kind, honest, loving and friendly, Meg was ruthless, mean, narcisistic and untrustworthy. I wanted Meg.
Although Ari eventually forgave my lack of class and bad choice, at the time I had really hurt her and for that, to this day i still feel aweful I ever did her like that (14 years later, Rusty and I would walk into a resteraunt in Marina Del Rey for lunch and non other than Ari was our waitress! Although she was nice and smiled a lot, you one could tell it still bothered her.) Meg and I started to hang out more and more and i really took a liking to her. She started to come to all our shows and she would bring all her girlfriends, which was like 10 girls. Everywhere she went, many of them tended to follow. I didn’t quite understand why until I was introduced to her father a few weeks after we started dating. They was loaded! Her dad was vice-president of one of the most successful Oil companies in the world. They had a huge home in the Palisades Highlands and her dad drove a sweet, fast new Corvette.
One day he overheard her playing our demo tape (or at least that’s what she told me. He loved his daughter and would have done anything for her-i knew that-so it mattered none to me how he found the music) and asked who it was. She explained to him about our band and that we could actually “make it” if we just had a little help. He asked her to ask me what we needed. I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. She said her father wanted to know, specifically, what Bad Press needed to make our music sound better. I went to the guys with this request. At first they thought i was nuts. But then they remembered who I was talking about. Meg. She had a way about herslef that made her very appealing. On the outside she was quite attractive with nice legs, a big rack, long blonde hair, a nice smile and big, deep eyes. On the inside she was insecure and sad, which may have explained her behavoir.
I called her that night with the list: 1 drum set, 2 guitar amps, 1 bass amp and a full P.A. system. See, we figured he’d say no to most of the request so we beefed it up so we’d at least get something we could use. To our utter shock her dad asked us to come to his penthouse office, which was atop his Oil complany’s skyscraper, where he intended to cut us a check. He only needed to know how much money we needed. Without thinking I blurted out,”Five Thousdand Dollars.” He said, “No problem. I’ll have my secretary cut you a check and you can cash it downstairs at our company bank.” I put the phone down and cracked open a beer.
If you’ve ever seen a bunch of 18 and 19 year olds jumping up and down, high-fiving each other, then you’d know what the scene was after i hung up the phone. But that wasn’t even it; appearently, he had hired us a manager that HE was going to pay for! We cashed the check and went shopping at Amendola’s Music shop on Centinela, off La Cienega for the drums and P.A. The amps (plus 2 guitars) were bought at “Guitars R’ Us” on Sunset Bl., across the street from “Guitar Center.” A week later we met our new manager, Mark, who was originally from Cincinnatti, but had moved to L.A. to work in the Oil business. He was excited to be working with us, which made us even happier, complemented us on our demo tape and remarked how he thought the last song ought to be the group’s first single. Here we were, without a record contract, talking about a first single! It was strange, yet exciting at the same time.
Our demo was recored on my old trusty tascam 4-track and i was proud of my production attempts, having gotten quite skillful over the years. The guys and myself began discussing ideas for this single that Mark had mentioned. The last song on the demo was called “Bad Vibes,” a song that wouldn’t be out of place right now, in that it was about how the leaders of the worlds were all irresponsible and were not worthy of their positions, as well as how it was effecting the envirement. Although we were young, we were very politically minded, the Clash being our heroes from day one. But this wasn’t the song mark was talking about. Appearently, in my rush to get Meg a tape, i taped over someone else’s music. When “Bad Vibes” ended, the original music on the tape finished playing and THAT was what Mark heard. We didn’t take it seriously and actually got a good laugh out of it. But for weeks to come, Mark would joke,”I wish you guys had written that one song. I’m telling you, it would make a great single.” We never could figure out what song it was