Monday, August 11, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 08 - January 1986

"All he wanted to do was fill the empty spaces" - The Pressure Boys, "Around the World"

04 - Bluegrass Experience
09 - Gumbo Ya-Ya
10 - Fetchin' Bones with Snatches of Pink
11 - Blast Crisis
15 - Marti Jones and Don Dixon
16 - Glenn Phillips
17 - Killer Whales
18 - The Bad Checks with Foreign Bodies
23 - Bullets of Blue
24 - The Phantoms
25 - Three Hits with the Dayroom Monitors
31 - Rod Dash

Calendar I did for the bulletin board just inside the door at the Alley

When we started the business together, Jeannette and I naturally figured we would play to our perceived strengths.  She had the experience in the club business and and had the contacts and knew what she was doing, so she was going to handle the booking in addition to doing the stuff people don’t think about (dealing with beer deliveries, the linen service, the band check-ins, etc) while I, in addition to holding down a day job, would use my math major skills to keep the books.  That lasted about two months before we realized (roughly simultaneously) that there was a better division of labor.  Being a math major helped not a whit with bookkeeping and my disorganization (I’m quite the slob, both externally and internally) was going to cause problems with our suppliers.  On the other hand, I had a pretty definite idea of the sound I wanted and had inherited some of my dad’s sales skills and was on my way to developing a decent relationship with a number of the bands as well as some of the booking agents.  In retrospect, there was probably a bit of sexism at play with some of the bands that hadn’t played for us before - I think they just assumed that I was the one running the show - or maybe it was just my propensity to step in and take over.  Whatever the reason, Jeannette’s much more structured and knowledgeable approach was perfect for making sure everyone got paid on time and I started 
focusing on trying to maintain a varied calendar.

"Division of labor" sounds balanced but it certainly was not in regards to the club. While I was able to take care of running flyers to Universal in Greensboro for printing during lunch and making phone calls during the day, I was really only available to be at the club at night and on the weekends. Jeannette was the one dealing with almost all the behind-the-scenes stuff. And she was a professional graphic artist so she did the calendars and most of the flyers, with a few exceptions where I had an idea I wanted to try. On the other hand, my day job kept us fed and housed which certainly wasn't going to happen from just running the club.

One of the things I hadn’t really anticipated but should have was booking “against” Dave Robert at the Cradle.  Being a newbie, working all day in another town and spending the rest of my time at the Alley, I never really developed a relationship with DR, so we hadn’t talked to each other about this at all.  But I was running into bands that considered themselves “Cradle” bands, others that gravitated towards the Alley and some that wanted to play both.  We always believed that more clubs meant more music fans so we didn’t see the Cradle as competition (more on that later).  Our only rule (and we made it clear) was that we didn’t think it was a good idea for bands to get over-exposed (not good for them and not good for us) so if you scheduled the Cradle, we’d want to wait at least a month before you played the Alley.  I know there were a couple of times that bands played us and then played the Cradle a couple of weeks later - I didn’t like that but there wasn’t much I could do about it.  However, I do remember one band getting on our calendar and then popping up on the Cradle’s calendar a couple of weeks earlier and I canceled their date.  I’m pretty sure that only happened once.

The first weekend in January can be pretty dead as it’s before a lot of people get back into town, so Bluegrass Experience was a good choice to bring in the long-time townies on Saturday night.  We didn’t even try to open on Friday.

The next weekend was one that I hoped would set the tone for the year.  Thursday night was our first date with Gumbo Ya Ya, fronted by George Hamilton V.  Hege and I had both gone to high school in Charlotte at the same time (Myers Park for him, Independence for me) and we’d both hit UNC’s campus the same year, but other than walking past each other on Franklin Street (you couldn’t miss George’s long scarf or his jeans tucked into his cowboy boots), I don’t think we ever met until our senior year when my friend Handsome Dave was played in one of George’s bands.  I’d never seen Gumbo Ya Ya but they had developed a sizable following and they did indeed put on a terrific show.

Gumbo Ya Ya photoa.jpg
Photo from the Gumbo Ya-Ya demo tape - a real photo.  Hadn’t seen that before.

Fetchin’ Bones on Friday night was one of those booking successes that I’d hoped for.  At the time they were being handled by Venture Booking, who I’d been talking to about some other bands before I realized they had FB.  I’d become a big fan of Fetchin’ Bones when they were opening for other people’s opening bands a year before and by this time they were starting to get some national attention.  We finally came to terms and were able to pair up Snatches of Pink with them as an opener.  I thought it turned out to be a great bill - SOP (Michael Rank, Andy McMillan and Sara Romweber in that original lineup) were great and Fetchin’ Bones put one of those shows that I still remember 30 years on.  While some bands even on the club circuit had silly contract riders, Hope and company just wanted some good vegetarian fare and were more than happy when we handed them some money and sent them down the street to Pyewacket.  A reliable Saturday night with Blast Crisis and the year was underway in decent shape.

The middle of January started with another showcase show - this one was a rare Wednesday show but I wasn’t too worried about drawing a crowd.  Marti Jones had just released her first solo album, produced by Don Dixon and covering material from the dB’s, Bland Simpson and Mr. Dixon himself.  Don, of course, was the godfather of the local music scene and would have drawn a crowd to hear him read his grocery list.  I believe Rick Miller (the former Spectator reviewer, not the frontman from SCOTS) opened, but whether he billed himself as Rick Miller, Parthenon Huxley, PHux, or Rick Rock I do not recall. The show was terrific and it did indeed sell out.

I joke about Glenn Phillips sometimes which isn’t fair as he is a terrific guitar player and had a small but avid following in Chapel Hill.  His style was a bit too mathematical for my taste but I was happy to continue to book him from time to time, although we did do this show on a Thursday rather than give up a weekend night.

Friday night was our first show with the Killer Whales out of Charleston, SC - they were a fairly polished synth pop band (they reminded me of The Producers, which is probably why I associated them with Atlanta) and had had a minor hit a couple of years earlier with “Who Controls the Video Screen?”.  They also did an excellent cover of Joe Jackson’s “Pretty Boys”.  I think I’ve still got an unused Killer Whales bumper sticker in my small trove of club junk.  They were never a huge draw but they did okay and we liked them.

Saturday turned out to be the last big show of the month and was one of the few times I put a double-bill together, with Foreign Bodies and the Bad Checks.  At least I think that was my doing, although it's possible the bands put this one together themselves. Regardless, I thought it worked and it became our third sold-out show in 8 days.  Somewhere buried under a bunch of boxes in a storage unit, we probably still have the closing sheets from the Alley so I could tell you what the door was like for all the shows, but it would take Indiana Jones to excavate them.  But I happened to denote sell outs on my booking calendar for January but for no other month.  I’m very consistent in my inconsistency.

The rest of the month consisted of smaller shows but folks that I wanted to see.  While that wasn’t a booking philosophy that would work long-term, it was the height of basketball season, the weather sucked and I couldn’t book the Bad Checks every weekend.  Thursday the 23rd was a show with a band from the Triad called Bullets of Blue.  They’re one of those oddities where I remember liking them but I can’t really remember what they sounded like.  Blues, one would assume.

We did the Phantoms again on Friday night (I definitely remember their sound - they were probably just a few years too early to ride the rockabilly resurgence) followed by Three Hits again, this time with Kenny Shore’s jangle-pop Dayroom Monitors on Saturday.

Three Hits cassettea.jpgThree Hits cassette tape insert  

We closed the month out with short weekend featuring Rod Abernethy in his Rod Dash guise.  Rod had been a member of Arrogance and had played with Glassmoon on their most recent album.  He’s since gone on to be a very successful composer of music for video games and other media.  It was a good show and brought in a lot of folks from the earlier days of the Comboland era.  I think this was around the time that Rod had been on Star Search, as I remember a number of Ed McMahon jokes that night.

All in all, it was not bad for what we knew would be a slow month and the calendar was shaping up pretty well to get us through the rest of winter (and ACC basketball season).

Labels: , ,


At 8:33 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

It was the January 15th Marti Jones show that I met my lovely wife Diane. Bryan Milosky and I came to see Marti Jones but Bryan also used it to introduce me to Diane. He thought we would hit it off...and we did. I remember also hanging out a little with Kitty Moses (X-Teens) that night. Marti Jones signed her album for me and was really sweet.

At 9:36 PM, Blogger Tony Plutonium said...

I love that story!


Post a Comment

<< Home