One of the things Rockafellas always seemed to allow was a close-up relationship between the bands and the audiences, whether it was hanging out in the parking lot before and after the show, or sticking around for all-night drinks in the Purple Pit, the level of access was always on a personal level.
Two of my favorite bands during the 80s were the Silos and The Reivers, and there was a week when both of them played at Rockafellas within a couple days of each other. The Reivers played first, on tour supporting their first Capitol Records album, Saturday. The Austin, Texas band had a front line consisting of the powerful voice of Kim Longacre and the deeper, more grounded vocals of John Croslin, which gave them a unique sound that really has no counterpart in current music that I can think of, other than the interplay between Caitlin Cary and Ryan Adams in the early days of Whiskeytown.
They had an off day or two after their show and decided to stick around to hang out with their friends in the Silos. Before the Silos show, I had the opportunity to spend an hour or two talking with Cindy Toth, the bass player for the Reivers, and we hit it off enough that we traded a couple of postcards in the mail that year.
The Silos had just released what has become their classic album, Cuba, and they were sporting the classic lineup of the band, which included Bob Rupe ( Who later joined David Lowery’s new band, Cracker) as well as the lone remaining original member in the current version of the band, Walter Salas-Humara. These guys were alt-country before there was a term for it, and songs like, “Tennessee Fire,” still hold up well today. Walter even played a special request for me that night—I had cornered him before their set and asked for a song off the Silos debut album, “A Few Hundred Thank You’s,” Which Walter apologetically said they didn’t really play live any more, but he’d see if he could remember it. He did, and to this day I can still hear the song and sing all the words without the lyrics in front of me.
Poi Dog Pondering came through Columbia for the first time with only an EP available, and they busked on campus at USC before talking Rockafellas into a show. Their shiny, happy acoustic pop collective had one guy who was touring with them only until they got to New York City (they started in Austin, Texas), where he would join up with another band, Javelin Boot.
Another similar band was Tiny Lights, who hung out before their show on the picnic table that was out in front of the club, kind of between it and the Subway shop next door. They played funky, acoustic pop/rock and released several really good albums, but their biggest contribution to music is probably their cello player, Jane Scarpantoni, who has gone on to play with everyone either in studio sessions or touring. Google her name, or look her up on Allmusic.com.
House of Freaks, somebody reminded me, blew the roof off the place with their two-man band, years before White Stripes popularized the lineup. Drummer Johnny Hott was an unconventional percussionist, with a 55-gallon barrel for an upright bass drum, and his ‘sticks’ were baseball-bat sized wooden rods with what looked like actual baseball bat donut weights on them. “Bottom Of the Ocean,” is still a great song, as is, “40 Years.”
Another personal favorite was Thin White Rope, a California band whose music was an unclassifiable blues/metal/prog rock blend. Guy Kyzer, the singer, had a gravelly, guttural voice that fit the rhythmic tension of the band’s Can-influenced tunes perfectly. Their one show at Rockafellas was loud, fast, and kind of a blur, to be honest.
Most of the rest of my Rockafellas memories are also much like a blur. I’m as surprised as anyone else that I’ve remembered as much as I have this past week—thanks for the comments and emailed memories you’ve passed along, too.
I’ll close by noting a couple of shows that didn’t happen, for one reason or another. As one reader commented, Skinny Puppy was scheduled to play the club, a show booked by Carl Singmaster of Manifest. The part of the story I’ve been told over the years was that the band arrived at the club and said they couldn’t do the show because the stage was too small for their full lights/smoke/etc. production. They then left. Carl reacted by pulling their albums from his stores for years afterwards.
The night Hurricane Hugo came to town, or maybe the night after, there was a band called the Sea Hags scheduled to play, an L.A. group that was being touted at the time as the “next Guns N’ Roses,” or something like that. They even made it to town, but the show could not go on due to lack of electricity, of course.
This weekend’s shows will have plenty of power, I’m certain, and I’m looking most forward to the reunions of Treadmill Trackstar and 49 Reasons, as well as the set from Sourwood Honey. In the words of another veteran of Rockafellas’ stage, Webb Wilder, “Work hard, play hard, eat hard, sleep hard, Rock hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need ‘em.”