Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 09 - February 1986

"A dozen armed cows runnin' amok in our town" - Terminal Mouse, "Cows From Hell"

Schedule
01 - Treva Spontaine and the Graphic
07 - The Right Profile w/ the Dayroom Monitors
08 - Jack and the Cadillacs
13 - Terminal Mouse
14 - The Pressure Boys with Flat Stanley
15 - The Accelerators with Leopard Society
20 - Snatches of Pink and Johnny Quest
21 - Shakin' Sherman and the Blazers
22 - Gumbo Ya-Ya
26 - The Connells with Lifeboat
27-28 - "King Mackerel and the Blue are Running"

Going into our fifth month with the Alley, I was still holding down a full-time IT job in Greensboro with no prospects of doing anything different, so Jeannette continued to do most of the hard stuff.  She’d been preparing for this for years, working in clubs, living in the Cat’s Cradle bandhouse for awhile, doing graphics and really studying what it took to run a club.  So while I got to swoop in at night and play the host, she did most of the work.

But while it might seem from the story so far like Jeannette and I did all of this by ourselves, nothing could be further from the truth.  There may have been no employees of Rhythm Alley, but it took a lot of folks to make it work.  One of my biggest regrets is that I never learned to run sound.  Many performers provided their own soundguys but for those that didn’t we had a number of really good folks to call on.  Arch Altman was one, of course, as he owned the sound system.  Mark and Tim Harper, Matt Matthews and others were also really good and we could usually find someone to be available.  But the guy who was most consistent in getting the best sound out of the system, regardless of the style of music, was the Pressure Boys soundmaster, Mike Beard.  Mike bailed us out more times than I can count.

The most important role though was our bartenders, all of whom were volunteers, working for tips and the chance to hear some good music.  There were some folks that had worked for Judy that stuck around, at least for awhile.  There were friends of mine from before the club like Kevin and Lex and there were friends of Jeannette’s.  There were folks that hung around the bar so often we put them to work, like the immaculately dressed Kenneth Bond.  But the stalwarts were Barney Pilgrim, Bryan and Diane.  We simply could not have done it without them.  On a typical night, I’d work the door, we’d have one bartender and Jeannette would float (she’d usually have been there since early afternoon cleaning up, stocking the coolers, checking on load-in and soundcheck, etc).  During the show she would tend bar during the breaks and other times it got busy or while one of the bartenders gave me a break at the door, keep an eye on the room, restock the beer chests, change kegs, make sure the band got paid and generally ensure things went smoothly.  On a really busy night, like a Connells or Pressure Boys show, we might have two bartenders plus the two of us.  We trusted the folks behind the bar to cut patrons off that needed cutting off, whether they were obviously drunk or just being obnoxious assholes.  And they knew they could trust us to have their backs.  If an unruly customer tried to appeal to a higher power (i.e. “the manager”) we never failed to back the bartender that they were unhappy with.   It made for a much more pleasant bar!

February started at the end of the weekend with an appearance by Treva Spontaine and the Graphic.  They were yet another band that had a cut on the More Mondo compilation (I’ll have to actually talk about the comps at some point) and had at least one album out on local Dolphin Records.  Treva’s excellent voice and Brad Newell’s guitar playing made for some really good power pop.

The first full weekend of February we featured The Right Profile with the Dayroom Monitors.  I only now realized how often the Dayroom Monitors played the Alley that year (they’d opened for Three Hits just a couple of weeks before).  The Right Profile was led by future Freakonomics co-author Steve Dubner, who doubled at the time as the rock reviewer for the Triad Spectator.

The Right Proflie single_a.jpg
The Right Profile single sleeve

Before the Interwebs, weeklies like the Triad and Triangle Spectator were the main source of advertising for clubs (other than flyers) and the music critics that wrote for them were relatively influential (but never nearly as influential as they wanted to think, I’m fairly sure).  In addition to Dubner writing for the Triad paper, Rick Miller (the PHux one, not the SCOTS one - always have to be clear) and Jonathan Mudd were the main writers for the Triangle Spectator.  Before we were done, Fred Mills and Parke Puterbaugh were writing about the local scene before both went on to national prominence.  The “Chapel Hill scene” had been getting some national attention for awhile, although some of the bands were more properly from the Triad or Charlotte and you really had to stretch Chapel Hill to include Raleighwood.  Godfrey Cheshire’s door-to-European-door sales job with “Greetings to Comboland” had brought some well-deserved international attention and a number of record deals with European labels for NC bands.  It was damn cool time and place to be doing what we were doing and I was trying to create our schedule in a way that would help us and the bands take advantage of the hype.

All of that being said, somehow Jack and the Cadillacs ended up on the calendar again.  Couldn’t tell you why.

Valentine’s weekend started out with Terminal Mouse on Thursday (have I mentioned that we really liked those guys?) and the Pressure Boys on Friday for Valentine’s Day (can’t you feel the love?).  Saturday we did our first date with The Accelerators.  Gerald Duncan’s band had been around for a couple of years by then, recording at least one Don Dixon-produced album and a really nice cover of “Blue Christmas” that I still play during the holidays.  Good, solid rock and roll.

You know, I’m looking at this schedule again and thinking that this might have been my favorite month!

Thursday the 20th was a double-bill with Snatches of Pink and Johnny Quest, which worked well since they both had catalogs of short, very fast songs - tough to put together a whole night with just one of them.  Johnny Quest was one of the bands that I’d made it out to see a number of times before we bought the club and were one of the only bands I’d bother to drive over to Raleigh to see (including a memorable show with the Pressure Boys at the old Culture Club on Morgan Street).  They hadn’t quite built up the following then that they were to get within a few years but I think we got a pretty good turnout for both of them together.

The Blazers and a second round of Gumbo Ya-Ya rounded out the weekend.  Sherman Tate and Hege were both born to be front men - different styles but both had a great command of the audience.  That’s what I call one big fun party weekend!

While we were doing these terrific shows, we were also preparing to host another run of “King Mackerel”, this one to be an 8 night run, from Thursday through Thursday.  Before then we had one more big show to do, which I recall ticked off Bland as he really, really wanted to be able to set up the stage for the show before opening day.  But, hey... the Connells!

I’ve said before that the Connells could sell out the Alley on a weeknight in a snowstorm with a home Carolina game going on.  That’s because they sold out the Alley on a weeknight in a snowstorm on the night of a home Carolina game.  It was a Wednesday night, UNC was playing on campus, it was cold and spitting snow and the house was packed.  Unfortunately, the opening band (Lifeboat) was trying to get to town after a gig in Maryland or somewhere the night before and of course the snow was worse north of us.  Mike insisted that they wanted to wait for Lifeboat so we had a full house on a school night and it was 10:00, 10:30, 11:00 and finally Lifeboat made it to the club and went straight to the stage.  I don’t remember whether last call during the week back then was 1am or 2 but I’m pretty sure the show went well past last call and was one of those nights where we were pulling beers out of people’s hands and shoving them out the door by the time it was over.

I did try to vary the types of music a little more after that but when I look back on why I wanted to be a rock club owner, February 1986 was it.

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