How It Happened:
In the Spring of 1980, Manfred Hofer (guitar), Sylvia Juncosa (keyboards), James Moreland (vocals) and I (bass) assembled in Sylvia's garage and learned some songs of James'. I believe a girl drummer named Dawn also showed up but was quickly booted out for wanting the band to sound more like the Talking Heads (not that there's anything wrong with that, in and of itself, but not for us). Many drummers came and left, but the four of us became the core of the Leaving Trains for about three years. Our first show came about as an invitation to share a stage with the Urinals, and my life has never been the same since. Thank you forever, Kevin, John & Kjehl. There's much more Leaving Trains history; you had best go to their website.
Being in the Leaving Trains was like riding a saddled tornado. It was cool, it was confusing, it sometimes hurt, and when I jumped off I was dizzy for years thereafter but had a smile on my face.
Some of my Trains high- (and one low-)lights:
When Sylvia started To Damascus with her friend Sue Rollin on bass, they asked me to join on guitar, an instrument at which I was only a beginner. We tried it, only I wasn't very good. I bowed out, and Sylvia ended up ditching her keyboard and switching to guitar, at which she was extremely good, as we all now know. When Sue left the band, Sylvia replaced her with various bassists and I filled in from time to time, eventually playing on 60% of the album Succumb before being replaced by Pat/Tyra (von) Pagenhardt (she's cagey about her real name).
To Damascus' 2nd LP, Come To Your Senses, caused enough excitement to warrant a national tour in 1987, but Pat was unable to go. I climbed back aboard, joining Sylvia and drummer David Winogrond for the 5-week swing through unwitting America. It was during this whirlwind trip that, among other events too numerous to mention here, David introduced me to the singular phenomenon known as Van Der Graaf Generator. (Check out frontman Peter Hammill's website, and some great lyrics while you're there!)
We got back home from the tour, and after recovering, I coerced David into joining my friend Bret Gutierrez and me in a band that was called, at times, Gridlock, Screaming Flesh Machine, and Screaming Angry Flesh Machine. Out of this unholy trinity came rehearsals of primitive versions of "Low Rain" and "Lullabayou," and a Radio Tokyo recording session that included Obsession and some great songs by Bret. (Where are you, Bret? Come get your free CD!)
Screaming Flesh Machine rusted from neglect and the joints stopped moving. David and I huddled over his Yamaha drum machine in his apartment and worked out parts for "Why'd You Break My Heart Again," "Low Rain" and "Prisoner of Lace." We went back to Radio Tokyo, this time with Sylvia and Manfred, too, and recorded.
Our engineer, Rich (Vanilla) Andrews suggested we talk to someone he'd just worked with, Gia Ciambotti, about singing the lead on Why'd You Break My Heart Again. Glad we did.
By this time Manfred had left the Trains, and joined and departed the Nymphs, but fellow former Nymph Bobby Belltower was starting a new thang with Lisa Ferguson. I stayed long enough in this project to meet and subsequently wave goodbye to a procession of guitarists including Eric Erlandson (Hole), Cliff Frates (Little Puppet, Punchbox) and J. Francis Connors (Black Angel's Death Song, Trashcan School). It turned out Cliff and I had more fun jamming away from Lisa than with, and "Meteor" was born.
I somehow fell in with Andi Hayes and T.A. Ybarra of The Web and I brought in drummer/friend Brad Holtzman from the Need. Andi and T.A. cooked up some great vegetarian tacos and enticed Brad and me into joining them as The Acid Queens - oops, no, hmm, make that Kill City, whereupon we gigged furiously around LA for a while, and put out a 7" on Dionysus. Andi was a hit with the crowd, especially when doing panty-less backbends in a leopard miniskirt. (See photo ... NOT!)
I left Kill City in 1991 to go back to school (UCLA), but in doing so, I accidentally skimmed the "bassist wanted" section of some music magazine and noticed a request by a Van Der Graaf Generator cover band, and I couldn't NOT say no. I passed the audition for genius/madman Alan Eugster by playing one note (for several measures, I must add).
Van Der Graaf Junior (VdG Jr.), as we were called, performed publicly only twice in many months before I had enough. The music was great, but of the band members only Alan and I were VDGG fans. The other 5 band members (guitar, drums, 2 saxes, keyboards) were there seemingly only out of masochism, obligation, or a morbid fascination with train wrecks. Scheduling rehearsals at which everyone could show up, I believe, finally drove Alan mad. We DID focus long enough to record two VDGG covers: "Killers" and the BBC's "Theme One."
Soon after finishing UCLA with a BA in English in 1993, I was again antsy to play. Manfred, Brad and I began jamming with Sean O'Brien, whom we knew through his marriage to Carrie, an old friend of Manfred's. This ensemble went for ages without having a name, and we even did our first gig as Headlong Grin, a name only I seemed to appreciate! It was obvious we'd finally have to sit down and select a moniker. We went through a list of literally hundreds of names before settling on the (as it turns out) widely-used name Cottonmouth. Newly christened, we also headed into the studio, emerging with eight great-sounding tracks, including "Meteor."
I had had occasion to plunk around on my Roland W-30 Workstation keyboard for VDG Jr. and, inspired by the studio events of Cottonmouth, eventually came up with likeable and, more importantly, recordable versions of "Drone" and "Lullabayou" that I liked.
All too soon
I felt intimidated by Sean's profuse song-writing abilities, so in 1996
I left Cottonmouth, who went
on to rename themselves The
Mariettas and put out the "12" CD.
So I trundled on alone for a while, but fruitlessly. Checking that dang "Bassists wanted" section again I got in touch with one Jim Zappa (no relation, that I know of) who was looking to put together a cover band of alternative hard-edged stuff: Nirvana, Soundgarden, STP, etc. Cool!
Two years (and a surprising amount of revenue) later, my busy calendar with Rustbucket (as we were called) afforded me the luxury of getting a 4-track recorder and I promptly laid down on tape a mess of stuff that needed laying down, most notably "Baby Truce," "John Milton," "Karen Says," "Warm Hands Cold Heart" and "Forever And A Day."
Unfortunately, once Rustbucket's set list began straying from White Zombie and Rage Against the Machine into Rod Stewart and Joe Walsh territory, I realized I was again facing in the wrong direction. Buh-bye.
In early 2002, Manfred gave me CDs by his upstairs neighbor, Kjehl Johansen, the forementioned guitarist of the exhilarating Urinals and 100 Flowers. These solo CD's planted a seed in my subconscious. Soon thereafter my dentist's receptionist asked me whether I had ever done work as a studio musician. I said no, but wanted to. She suggested I get her a "tape" to pass on to friends in the biz, and I began to think of all the songs I had recorded over the years.
Soon after that, David and I were in shallow discussion at one of our favorite hangouts when I mentioned the simplicity with which even I could release a CD these days. David, ever the realist/cynic, said, "Prove it!" I immediately declared my determination to release a CD by the end of the summer.
In compiling songs I found myself short, minute-wise, of the (at least) 40 minute CD length I had envisioned, so while mastering the other 12 tunes with engineer-/drummer-superb Mike Harrison of The Terraplanes, I furiously finished writing "What Kind of Woman Is This, Man?" and "The Web." We finished recording and mastering in late August, Disc Makers performed their magic, and on September 20, with two days left in summer, "Clearinghouse" was ready to hit the stores.