by SP Clarke.
Part 4: Mid-‘80s (Continued)
For acts seeking National exposure, 1985 began sweetly. Robert Cray, who had swept the Best Artist, Best Album, Best Song and Best Single prizes at the National Blues Awards, had already returned to town and was set with a second album ready for national release. Keyboardist Roger Sause joined saxman Kenny Gorlick (two former members of Jeff Lorber’s Fusion) in the recording of Gravity, Gorlick’s first album for Arista, under the name “Kenny G.”
Nu Shooz released their own recording of “I Can’t Wait” to immediate public acclaim, abruptly reaching Top 20 status on Z-100, eventually reaching Number One. Napalm Beach played on the headline bill at Seattle’s Bumbershoot. One wonders if Kurt Cobain was watching from the audience that day. It is more probable that Courtney Love was in the crowd, as she was a known camp follower of both Rozz Rezabeck of Theatre Sheep and Chris Newman of Napalm Beach.
In one of the most bizarre developments of 1985, the Oregonian fired music critic John Wendeborne, after fifteen years of service, for reviewing a concert that he had not actually bothered to attend- whereat he probably would have observed that the reviewed act had cancelled their show. Wendeborne, a champion of the Portland music scene, offered no defense for his arrogant and senseless behavior. He was replaced by beat writer Stuart Tomlinson, a very nice guy, who wouldn’t have known a horn solo from a lunch whistle.
Curiously, the Oregonian softened their hardline editorial stance a few years later, when it was discovered that fluff columnist Jonathan Nicholas had hamfistedly plagiarized part of an article which had appeared earlier in New Yorker magazine. In that case, the Oregonian board merely slapped Nicholas’ hand by suspending him for a few weeks. In retrospect, Wendeborne’s seems the more fancifully creative of the two reprehensible journalistic deeds. However, in both instances the daily’s face was widely red all over. Indeed.
Among the new bands to appear in the latter half of 1985, Green Room stood out as one of the more exciting acts. Snotty lead singer Mitch Fraas displayed a propensity for crafting brisk four-chord rockers, delivering the lyrics with a whiny faux English accent, a sound later propounded by Green Day. The Riflebirds stormed into the picture in the late Summer.
Former members of the Van Goghs and the Cry, guitarist Kevin Kraft and bassist Lee Oser found the perfect counterpart to their brooding romanticism when they encountered singer/acoustic guitarist Kate Lieuallen. Kate’s gorgeous voice and alluringly distant stage demeanor were the perfect foil for Oser’s introspectively intelligent original songs. The addition of drummer Kevin Jarvis immeasurably fortified the rhythm section, swiftly propelling the band into the upper echelon of local bands. The Riflebirds, too, regularly appeared at Dublin Pub, unable to turn down the sure paycheck.
As if running one of the top new bands in town were not enough for the guy, Dan Reed created a musical alter-ego in RIA. Fronted by Steve Hale a former member of the band Kashmir, RIA (Reed In Absentia?) performed sets that were primarily conceived and written by Reed and fellow Networker, guitarist Brion James. Neither played in the band.
Even with Reed standing discreetly behind the curtain, RIA’s sound bore a tangible resemblance to that of DRN. But, whereas the Network emulated Prince, RIA had more of a Scritti Politti vibe- though at times, it seemed that the bands were nearly interchangeable. Still, RIA had the players, the looks and the chops to carve out a name for themselves, apart from their Oz-ian relationship with Reed.
Billy Rancher and Flesh and Blood played on a few occasions in the Spring of 1985, primarily to promote their album Flesh and Blood. and to raise cash for Billy’s medical bills. Their inaugural show, at Starry Night was simply magical in appearance. The band- Lenny on lead guitar, fellow Pipsqueaks Chuck Retondo on bass and Pete Jorgusen on drums, a former Nu Shooz horn section, Tom Cheek on sax, with brother Jim on trumpet and the phenomenal Mary Reynolds on back up vocals- began the performance by cutting to a slinky groove as a familiar bony, angular shadow backlit behind an immense scrim, appeared in the upper left-hand corner of the stage, bouncing to the rhythm.
As the figure hesitantly descended an apparent staircase, the shadow grew longer and more distorted in back of the scrim; approaching grotesquely gigantic proportions. When he finally landed at the bottom of the stairs, Billy took the stage from behind the curtain. He seemed appallingly thin and unsteady; wearing a green-tinge blond Ken-wig, a Jethro-plaid, green suit and several layers of kabuki makeup. He looked much like a wax-figure of himself.
It was wonderfully exhilarating to see Billy again, singing new songs, from a new album with an exciting new band; but it was horrible to see him in such an awful state, so ravaged of his youth and vitality by cancer and chemotherapy. Dan Reed’s remarkably intuitive and imaginatively simple set design symbolically captured Billy’s enduring story: for, as he descended from the heights of Unreal Godhood to emerge into the hideous world of Flesh and Blood, his shadow loomed larger and larger behind him.
The public was not aware that Billy collapsed after that show, and after, or during each subsequent show. They did not see him between sets, puking blood and bile in a bucket in the backstage kitchen of Last Hurrah. Because of Billy’s stubborn refusal to give in to his disease, it was not readily apparent to his audience, despite the blonde rasta wig he wore to cover his hairless head (a result of chemotherapy), that he was still sick. They merely saw an entertainer desperately attempting to recover the past glory of his career. They did not see a human being struggling to hold onto his life.
But, as 1985 came to a close, little more was to be seen or heard from Billy Rancher after those Spring shows. Instead, inexorably weakened by his illness, Billy retired to his bedroom to record new songs- when he had the strength. Though he was being systematically robbed of his vigor and energy, Billy Rancher’s spirit and creative force remained vibrantly strong and true.
Among the cyclical peaks and valleys which inevitably have befallen the Portland music scene over the past two decades, 1986 stands out as a particular zenith- both for the momentous achievements which transpired during the year, as well as for other significant events which ultimately became golden strands in the fabric of an entire generation of local rock musicians. More, perhaps, than any other year, 1986 reflected the ineffably quixotic nature of not only the music business, but of life itself.
One of the most auspicious episodes of the year took place in January of 1986, when Nu Shooz signed a contract with Atlantic Records for the distribution of their single “I Can’t Wait” in North America, Australia and the UK. The ramifications of this action reverberated throughout the year, gathering momentum, nearly week by week.
But this was no overnight success story for guitarist bandleader John Smith and Nu Shooz. By the time of their signing, he had replaced every position in the group at least once. This was quite a feat when considering that the membership usually seemed to hover around nine at any given time. Founding the band as Larry and the Lawnmowers in 1979, ostensibly to try his hand at arranging horn charts in a Latin format, Smith moved through no less than four bassists, a minimum of five drummers, at least five lead vocalists, several keyboard players, an array of percussionists and countless brass and reed players; as well as innumerable backup singers. A reunion of former members of Nu Shooz would be quite the convocation indeed!
With each change, Smith would tinker with the band’s format and style, absorbing the strengths and weaknesses of each new replacement member. When ex-Skyriver vocalist/guitarist David Musser came on board in 1982, he played Daryl Hall to Smith’s John Oates, as the band adopted a more urban, Philly Soul presentation. When keyboardist/vocalist, ex-Burnside Bomber Mark Bosnian joined the cast, the band assumed an even glossier sheen. Musser and Bosnian eventually departed, allowing percussionist Valerie Day to gradually assume the role of lead vocalist. Her winsome vocal charm allowed Smith to form a band around her that had it’s roots in Motown and classic soul, with heavy elements of funk and the thriving urban dance sound.
The evolution of the song “I Can’t Wait,” recorded at Cascade Studios on Northeast Vancouver Avenue in Portland, is a textbook example of how a grassroots, hometown effort can metamorphose into a national phenomenon. With the help of the program director at Z100, “I Can’t Wait” became a regional smash in the Summer of 1985. Through independent distribution, the single made its way to Europe, where, thanks to an extended Dutch dance mix, it became a Eurodisco hit.
From Europe the song was imported back to the US, where it became a hit in New York city dance clubs. Demand for the tune was so strong in the New York indie stores that Atlantic finally got wind of the furor and entered into the picture- and which is why the terms of the initial distribution agreement between Nu Shooz and the label were so explicit. The band had already conquered Europe on its own.
From January of 1986 onward, the fortunes of Nu Shooz remained on a sustained upward course. Meanwhile, Crazy 8s were making a distinct noise of their own on the independent distribution scene, shunning development offers from the likes of the Warner Brothers label, while ringing up sales of over 12,000 units for their first album, Law And Order. A subsequent appearance on Star Search and a rating by Rolling Stone as one of the top nine independent bands in the nation, positioned the 8s in an advantageous light.
The fall 1985 release of their second album, Nervous In Suburbia, garnered the band further attention by selling over 6,000 units its first week in the stores. Seattle’s Rocket music publication and the Oregonian proclaimed the Crazy 8s “Northwest Band Of The Year” for 1985 in year-end features. As 1986 dawned, the 8s’ single, “Touchy Situation,” was receiving heavy airplay on radio stations in Portland and Seattle, as well as on many college stations around the country.
Saxman Danny Schauffler, who had recently migrated to the 8s from Nu Shooz, is recalled for the amazing transformation his stage personae underwent during the trek. Whereas he began his career with the Shooz looking like a reed-geek, fresh out of some New York junior college stage band, by the time of his tenure with the 8s he was sporting carefully coifed, frosted hair as well as an eye-catching wardrobe- helping immeasurably to augment the band’s stage appearance; as well as their sound with his smooth sax technique.
The Riflebirds, riding a wave of media attention, released their first single “Dreaming Of A Kiss” to immediate public response. Foj Kohler, who had recently opened the expansive and popular Pyramid club beneath I-405 in Northwest Portland, became the band’s manager and quickly set about to circulating their name in concentrically widening circles that eventually encompassed Los Angeles.
With heavy local and regional airplay for the title track from their album More Lovin’ Less Attitude, the Razorbacks (they dropped the Rockin’), a fine rockabilly power trio, which improved immensely with the addition of slamming rock drummer Jeff Hudis. With Upepo graduate and music writer, bassist J. Michael Kearsey and lead guitar wunderkind Chris Miller, the Razorbacks rapidly became media favorites, reaping throngs of ravenous fans along the way, from Portland to Seattle and everywhere in between.
February brought the second Mayor’s Ball, staged at the Memorial Coliseum. The event netted $30,000 for the Oregon Foodshare project, as 7,000 music lovers crowded into a variety of spaces to see over thirty bands perform. The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly The Razorbacks’ heroic rescue of Steve Bradley’s 10:45 set in the Plywood Room.
Just returned from a tour of London and environs, the Razorbacks had begun their night at the Mayor’s Ball performing in the opening slot. Having already packed their gear away to a distant staging area, the ‘Backs were undeterred when Bradley’s backup band failed to show up for their engagement.
Gamely, the Razorbacks offered their services to Bradley, cobbling together available gear to allow Kearsey and Miller to plug in. However, no drums were at hand, given the tight strictures of scheduling and usable set-up space. Valiantly, Razorback drummer Hudis fashioned a snare drum out of a cardboard box, proceeding to knock out a bombastic set with his cohorts- to the amazed joy of an appreciative swarm of sweaty spectators.
February also saw the only Billboard magazine showcase in which Portland has ever participated. Essentially a few pages of puffery provided by local scribes, interspersed between seven pages of ads purchased by regional music enterprises, Billboard’s involvement in the matter largely consisted of generously furnishing the print space and cashing the checks for all those ads. Editorially, the publication remained neutral and transparent, maintaining a limp stance. Still, combined with other brief moments of media exposure, in the surrounding months, the showcase helped to open the eyes of the rest of the country to the music scene that was flourishing in Portland, Oregon.
Every artistic endeavor needs a foundation of bureaucracy. It was the Portland Music Association that rose to fill that apparent void in Portland. Originally formed as something of a service organization and as a sort of conduit to business contacts and information, the PMA was integral in the actualization and execution of the nightmare sound and lighting logistics for the Mayor’s Balls.
Other successful early ventures included a panel discussion concerning the music publishing and legal industries headed by Marv Mattis of BMI and George Harrison’s LA attorney Allen Lenard- who were imported to town just for the occasion; a songwriting workshop featuring local heavyweights; and the creation of the “Roadie School” at the Oregon State Penitentiary: where big stars such as the Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan were persuaded to perform for the entertainment hungry inmates. Yet, soon enough, internal squabbles and power struggles began to subvert the energy and direction of what had previously seemed like such a good idea.
Within the local club pond one strange band briefly floated to the surface. The Rainy Boys were the brainchild of Lew Jones and the ex-members of the band Walkie Talkie, formed to record spontaneous music. The concept revolved around the participants gathering on a Sunday afternoon, ingesting precise quantities of mind-altering substances, starting a reel-to-reel, four-track tape deck and recording whatever music came to mind. When the forty-five minute tape ended, the session was over.
Soon thereafter, Dianne Hollen replaced Jones as the ringleader, backed by me on keyboards, Allen Whipps on lead guitar, Arthur Beardsley on bass and Marshall Snyder on drums. Hollen, whose previous band experience had included stints fronting George Orwell and Green Ice Cream in the early 80s, as well as flings as a journalist and occasional comedienne, proved to be extraordinarily gifted as an extemporaneous lyricist. Many of her early “Sunday-afternoon” songs, such as “Jerry Can’t Remember Things,” “Christa’s Mother” and “Ants” stand as marvelous pieces of work, thanks in no small part to the backup band’s seemingly psychic ability to change musical gears behind her.
After recording nearly one hundred songs in this manner, the band decided to try their hand at performing their magic live. And so, armed with elaborate hand signals to indicate the key in which the band would play a particular song, and buoyed by the motto: “We’re the Rainy Boys. We never play a song twice,” the troupe played their first live gig to an appreciative audience at Key Largo. Fielding song topics from the crowd, with the band swinging into strange arrangements on the fly, Hollen proceeded to make pop genius out of subjects as arcane as “60 Minute Gourmet,” Space Needle,” “Sodomy” and “CIA;” enlisting, at random, various audience members to perform as backup singers, all the while maintaining a steady monologue of one liners and bizarre tales.
The culmination of the set came when an unknown sax player (Christian Mulherrin) stepped in on the last song to jam ecstatically with the band. But, despite recording over 150 original songs in just a few months, the band broke up after only a couple of gigs. Hollen, determined to open for the Mentors at Satyricon, despite the band’s outright refusal to do so, brought in another band to play the gig with her. And that was the end of the Rainy Boys. Hollen soon migrated to LA, where her talents could be better appreciated- and she was never heard from again in Portland.
Key Largo began a long tenure as a pop music hub when Tony Demicoli took over the reins as part-owner and full-time manager in the Spring of 1985. Having bounced around after the closure of La Bamba, most recently at Aldo’s on 1st and Taylor, where he had instigated a very hot scene in the cramped upstairs space, Tony was more than ready to take on the responsibility of a larger venue. Meanwhile, Last Hurrah remained the primary competition, despite inconvenient long-term construction that displaced Carlos Camus from his shoe shop in the space above the basement club. Carlos was a familiar character within the greater Portland community, with a previous barbershop on upper west Burnside, across from the Ringside restaurant. The suave and dapper Carlos’ faithful patronage of Last Hurrah was rewarded with a perpetually reserved floorside table, a bottle of champagne chilling on ice—a tradition that Key Largo preserved until the club closed. Not to be excluded, Larry Hurwitz kept his hand in the scene with the opening of 6th Avenue, a large, dimly lit club, across the street from Starry Night, which featured all the top bands. He continued to operate Starry Night for larger shows.
But it was Satyricon that was the ground-zero proving ground for any new or veteran alternative band. In just a few short years, the old town club went from derelict, skid row dive to a derelict skid row dive that happened to be the loci for all that was new in music, fashion and culture. Owner George Tahouliotis became a cult-figure in his own right with his affably, straight-forward demeanor and righteous belief in freedom and fairness- attitudes which prompted frequent visits from the Fire Marshall as well as other city officials (especially out on 6th Avenue following volatile punk shows); insuring that George was always the center of some firestorm of civic controversy. But his shining moment in that regard was still several years in the future.
For his part, Lew Jones continued to experiment with musical forms outside of the folk genre with which he had become closely associated. In the Spring of 1986 he founded the Lew Jones Band, a punky power trio that featured young Toby Rapp, of the Boy Wonders, on bass and one Dan Cunneen on drums. Cunneen would later go on to distinguish himself as the drummer for the Obituaries. In the ’90s he became the drummer for the Seattle “Cocktail Nation” outfit the Nitecaps.
Jones was one of the first Portland musicians to receive local radio airplay when his 1979 single “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Tonight,” with Steve Bradley on lead guitar, made its way onto several stations’ playlists. To this day he remains a folk radical, changing musical gears more frequently than Neil Young. His steadfast refusal to play the “music business” game, has often relegated him to the media periphery, despite the fact that he is one of the most prolific and original songwriters the city has ever seen.
Craig Carothers, Jones’ more accessible singer/songwriter rival in the area market, also experimented with a band format from time to time. In the early ’80s he first tested the waters with Orange, Orange and later with Go 90. Orange, Orange was an all-star crew that featured Carothers, Denny Bixby on bass, Dan Brandt on keys, Brian Davis on drums, Rudy Draco on sax and lead guitarist Doug Fraser, who would shortly join Quarterflash for their second round of slaving for the star making machinery.
Working the thriving “unplugged” scene at Aldo’s, Carothers established the Nerve with fellow singer/songwriters John Bunzow and Gary Ogan. Ogan’s resume was perhaps the most stellar of all. In the early 70’s, Ogan and fellow folkie Bill Lamb had a minor regional hit as Portland with “Portland Rain.” Only Providence, who had produced an album around the same time for the Moody Blues’ Threshold label could claim greater fame in that day.
Ogan, a consummate songwriter and versatile musician went on to work for several years with Leon Russell, before returning to Oregon. The Nerve was a predecessor to today’s popular “Songwriters In The Round” concept, as the members would trade songs, as well as lead and backup vocal responsibilities.. Carothers and Bunzow, certainly no slouches as songwriters or performers held their own within the trio. Although Ogan could always be counted upon to produce a memorable ballad to win the night.
Cool’r was the most popular dance band of the day, frequently holding forth at Last Hurrah or Key Largo. The stalwart players in the band, especially the rhythm section of bassist Nate Phillips and drummer Bruce Carter, were a formidable line-up indeed. They could be counted upon to deliver funk of the highest order. Andy Stokes’ buttery vocal delivery provided all the lubrication necessary to provoke dance floor hysteria. Their new album, Let’s Talk About It, while not up to par with previous Cool’r album releases, still produced the single “Dangerous,” which was one of their most popular numbers ever, garnering black radio airplay across the country.
By May of 1986, Nu Shooz were national darlings. Atlantic penned the Shooz to an album deal on the strength of “I Can’t Wait,” which peaked at #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and #1 on the Dance charts. For the next single off the new album, Poolside, the band quickly submitted a track recorded in Jeff Lorber’s LA basement studio as part of the failed Warner Brothers developmental deal. A stronger song than “I Can’t Wait,” the ballad “Point Of No Return” was released just as it’s predecessor began a slow descent down the national charts. Appearances on American Bandstand and Solid Gold, as well as regular rotation on MTV guaranteed the band star status.
At the other end of the spectrum, Quarterflash’s third release for Geffen, Back Into Blue, stiffed miserably, owing in part to several misguided decisions from a production standpoint. The choice to record the album at a chateau in France, while romantic in notion, was a logistical ordeal that bore bland fruit. The band always insisted that the demo of the title track they recorded at Jack Barr’s High Tech recorders was superior to the overwrought first single off the album that the label released. Additionally, the label A&R person working with the band, Carole Childs, took a leave of absence from her position to be Bob Dylan’s girlfriend, rendering moot any label support for the album. It was doomed from the start.
Back home, Alf Rider, erstwhile keyboardist from the Unreal Gods, assembled Da Da, a band fronted by three gorgeous female singers, behind which the band concocted a distinct tribal love vibe, heavy on the tom-driven drum beats (executed by a unknown young neophyte named Courtney Taylor). Akin to Bananarama commingling with Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Da Da created an immediate stir in their goings between Key Largo and Satyricon, presiding over fashion shows, light exhibitions and other visual experiments that were groundbreaking at the time. Alf’s duty on stage chiefly consisted of playing acoustic guitar and jumping around a lot, smiling fiendishly. One of the women, Shandeen, left the band early on to form Roisin Dubh, a stormy Irish rock band. But Shannon and Stephanie stayed the course, more than compensating for their compatriot’s departure with their increasingly resplendent onstage wardrobe.
Other bands were rising through the ranks to make names for themselves, Napoleon’s Mistress led by Robert and Gina Noel received high praise for a six song EP they had recorded at High Tech Recorders. One song, “My Sin,” was penned by Oregonian music critic Marty Hughley- who can trace his journalistic roots back to Two Louies, where he wrote under the name Marty Sharp.
Green Room released a five-song live recording, produced by Greg Sage. Radio Silents made their debut, to critical acclaim; featuring the songwriting and guitar work of Greg Paul, late of the Surf Cowboys, and the impassioned lead vocals of Jack Inglis. Robert Brown of Nimble Darts resurfaced with Robert Rude and the Attitude, while Curtis Salgado, back from a year on the road with Roomful Of Blues, resumed his local career with the Stilettos.
Poison Idea ruled the punk roost at Satyricon, while the Caryl Mack Band was making its debut at Eli’s. Here Comes Everybody played its first gigs, releasing a demo cassette later in the year. Never Ever, having changed its name from Arctic Circle and its format from Dead-like jammy to cutting edge synth Pop, emerged onto the scene. Slack, a charming frat Funk band made its first live appearances. The Usual Suspects were prominent. Nine Days Wonder was showing up in the Eugene area.
Roger Sause divided his time between his live Hypertension shows and creating new Shock recordings. Fred Cole retooled his punk band to catch a burgeoning cowpunk wave with the Range Rats, while Chelsea Rae rode it with Rancho Notorious; with the Silvertones and Ronnie Noize’s Rebel Kind following not far behind. The Silvertones, fronted by vocalist Jet Harris, who was backed by olead guitarist Tommy Gunn, keyboardist Vince O’Connor drummer Kelly Bilyeu on drums and Lebanon’s own Debbie Dagger (nee Smith, who later went on to play bass with blues guitarist Monti Amundson and the Blubinos), played mostly cover material, but created a lot of excitement in their short tenure in the scene.
On the metal front Glacier sported a European distribution deal for their recording. Mayhem and Matt McCourt’s Wild Dogs had label support as well. Jeff LaBansky, Outrage, Iscariot, Ransom and Haven were the club favorites. Crysys made waves all over the world with a hit album that went mostly unnoticed locally.
Other top bands, failing to make the last push to the top, broke up. Meredith Brooks and the Angels of Mercy called it quits in the early Summer, after drummer Grant Roholt (formerly of Sequel) failed to show up for a gig (something he was wont to do from time to time- ah drummers!). At about the same time, Jack Charles turned up MIA for a Mien Street gig at Last Hurrah, initiating the self-destruct procedure on that once promising act. Brooks later moved to Los Angeles, where she went through several more bands, before finally finding success under her own name. Jack Charles made a half-hearted attempt at a new band after Mien Street, but soon retired from the scene to become a regional sales representative for several musical equipment manufacturers.
In August of 1986 Foj Kohler journeyed to LA to promote the Riflebirds. In his travels, he met with Irving Azoff, MCA Records president, who had been instrumental in the careers of heavyweights such as the Eagles. He also met up with Marvin Etzioni from the band Lone Justice, who was working on a project with Duane Jarvis. Jarvis, who had left Portland for LA after Map Of France went down earlier in the 80s, became a point of destination for Foj at the behest of Jarvis’ brother Kevin who had taken over the drum duties for the Riflebirds.
While Foj was chasing butterflies in LA, mutiny was afoot among the employees at the Pyramid Club back home- who had elected to commandeer the club, ousting Foj, in his absence. The OLCC also had a bone or two to pick with Kohler regarding his policy of allowing customers of any age into the club. But soon enough, Foj returned, with Marvin Etzioni in tow, to quell the insurrection at the club and bring new zeal to the Riflebirds’ camp.
Ed and The Boats, adding two new members to the crew, released their EP Go Fish, recorded at High Tech Studios. While picking up me, the keyboardist from the Rainy Boys, the Boats’ sound was most profoundly affected by the addition of vocalist Becky Kapell whose clear, clarion tone created the perfect textural environment for Dennis Kenny and Dan Haley, the primary songwriters and vocalists. Their penchant for complex close vocal harmonies was made manifest through Becky’s tremendous natural abilities. The longtime rhythm section of Greg Newman and drummer Les York provided complex accompaniment for Kenny and Haley’s idiosyncratically accessible pop songs.
As Autumn fell upon the city, the Dan Reed Network released their first studio effort, Breathless, an EP whose cover art was nearly as expensive as its sonic production. Still, the album generated local radio airplay and a public buzz that carried the band on to the next level of popularity.
On October 3rd Nu Shooz’ Poolside was certified gold by the RIAA, with sales of over 500,000, reaching #42 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart. They were even spotted smiling from the “Random Notes” section of a Summer issue of Rolling Stone. The year belonged to Nu Shooz from start to finish. The year of a lifetime, which it eventually turned out to be for that band.
1986 was Billy Rancher’s year of a lifetime as well. Through the months his health gradually deteriorated, with occasional periods of relative well being- which always gave rise to speculation that he might yet overcome even his most strenuous bout of cancer. After all, he was Billy. Even in an extensive interview, conducted in late September, Billy was still full of plans for the future: with intentions of marrying his longtime girlfriend Karen Sage the following Spring, as well as for re-releasing Flesh And Blood, along with releasing new material and preparing for new shows.
But, within a month and a half, Billy’s condition took a decided turn for the worse. Without concern for the debilitating weakness and outright pain he was experiencing, Billy, assisted by Incredible John Davis, summoned a close circle of friends and family to High Tech Recorders to lay down the tracks for “Make Love Not War,” which was to be his manifesto for the 1986 Christmas season.
At the studio were gathered the keyboardist for Ed and the Boats, as well as keyboardist Jeff Alviani from Cool’r, Jan Celt from the Esquires and founder of Flying Heart Records was on bass, “Little Gregory” Stockert on accordion and Davis on guitar. Also among the entourage were Billy’s mother and sister, Ellen, a musician in Seattle, sitting next to Billy- who lay prone on the control room couch, as yellow as urine and as thin and fragile as a leaf in Winter.
Weak and wracked with pain, subdued by painkillers, Billy still led the production with visionary precision, as Jon Lindahl made the proper adjustments at the board. In three hours the song was complete, with Billy singing his tortured vocal laying flat on the couch as his mother worried for his life.
Three weeks later Billy Rancher was dead. He never heard the local radio stations play his Christmas message. His musical era had truly ended a few years earlier, when his health began it’s terminal decline. But his legacy as a musician and as a courageous human being was just beginning. His fortitude and tenacity, even in the face of overwhelming odds, stand to this day as a testament to the human spirit. Billy Rancher’s era was at an end, but his irreverent attitude and anti-establishment stance were poised to make a noisy return to the forefront, as an exciting new era was about to descend upon the Portland music scene.
SP Clarke © 2011 – All rights reserved