Of The Alterboys, Ultrasheen and Vague Moon Records
By: Ginger Coyote
Punk Globe: So are you excited about going back to San Francisco for the Alterboys reunion in February?
Ginger, yes, absolutely... though it is not really an Alterboys reunion, although a resurrected version of the Alterboys will play at the reunion gig (at the Cafe du Nord on February 11th). It is actually a celebration of the the legendary Club Foot, one of the most primary grassroots performance spaces and music clubs in San Francisco in the late late 70's and early 80's, and a reunion of many of the artists and bands who played there. The Alterboys were just one of the projects that JC Garrett and his partner, the late Richard Kelly, had going at that time. The Alterboys were kind of the "house band" of the Club foot, although they performed elsewhere as well. The Alterboys were a satirical band that combined beatnik and punk sensibilities and attitudes. For pictures and a hilarious story about how the Alterboys accidentally came to be as a ruse for getting into a Dead Kennedy's gig, check out Garrett's website at http://www.sonofclubfoot.com
Punk Globe: Can you tell us where you are located now?
Chris Gill: I live in the Boston area, where I have my family, and do a pretty serious day gig (gotta eat, ya know!). I also have a tiny record company, Vague Moon Records, where I record and release an occasional CD Music and art will always be in my blood. In my core being, I have the same attitude I did when I was in the San Francisco punk music and art scene.
Punk Globe: Tell us about the reunion? Where will it be and who out the shindig together?
Chris Gill: The Club Foot reunion gig is at the San Francisco night club, Cafe du Nord, on February 11th, 2010. J.C. Garrett, the surviving co-founder of Club Foot is putting it together. It should be a blast. We'll have to ask Garrett who exactly has committed to coming and playing. I hear a big tribe from that 70's and 80's punk scene will converge for the gig. The Longshoremen, The Club foot Orchestra, The Alterboys etc... Garrett will have to tell us who is coming from among the bands and artists that so often payed at Club Foot, from among the Inflatable Boy Clams, Naked City, Bay of Pigs, Pink Section etc.. There will be surprises I'm sure.
Punk Globe: How long has it been since you were last in San Francisco?
Chris Gill: I visited Charley Hagan (my cohort in Ultrasheen and an original member of The Mutants) 3 years ago for a few days. Prior to that, it was spring 1981, to play with Ultrashheen at the Wave Goodbye album session at the Savoy Tivoli, which was the last gig there before they closed.
Punk Globe: Chris can you give the readers a rundown of your career?
Well, I started out playing drums for a whole bunch of garage bands in the 70's in the Boston area. I moved from Boston to San Francisco in 1979 to play drums for Ultrasheen which my Childhood friend, Charley Hagan was forming with Billy Bastiani, after Charley quit the Mutants, and Charley and Billy's band, The Mummers and the Poppers (featuring Deborah, later of Romeo Void, and Rachel, later of The Units) broke up. While Ultrasheen was getting off the ground, I also played in The Alterboys, served as the doorman of Club Foot, and did poetry and performance art at Club foot, Hotel Utah, Comisery Cafe and other venues. Ultrasheen was a quirky, punk attitude band, but musically more of a strange new wave band, with influences ranging from rhythm and blues to weird jazz and modern classical. We had a nice run for a year or so, playing a shitload of gigs in a relatively short time period (at the Mab, the Indian Center, 10th Street Hall, Valencia Tool
and Die, Rock City, Club Foot, I-Beam, Berkeley Square, The Palms, Savoy Tivoli etc.). We opened for The Dead Kennedys , The Mutants and The Offs a bunch of times, and shared and headlined gigs with Romeo Void, Flipper (who we lived with for awhile) and The Silvertones etc..It was a blast. We were different and fun, and both danceable and yet at times totally not. Ultimately we imploded under the weight of drugs and classic, fucked up band interpersonal politics, and broke up in November, 1980, just before our 4 song EP came out on Subterranean Records. After that I played in a cool band, Frank Hymng, with Fritz of The Mutants, Elliott Shannonhouse and Tono Rondone. We played a bunch of gigs on the same basic circuit and made a 5 song tape, which was released on local radio, but never made vinyl. The Frank Hymng tape was recorded on the day John Lennon was assassinated. I'll never forget hearing about it between takes. I would like to add how
culturally outside the mainstream and special the San Francisco punk art scene was, and how punk was an attitude not a
music style. Yeah, the thing that I wanted to get across is that a lot of different
styles coexisted in the San Francisco punk scene of the late 70's and
early eighties (hard punk, new wave, weirdo art rock, rockabilly, ska,
etc.).... and it all fell under the cultural umbrella of punk...
because punk was an attitude that we shared, which had to do with
thinking outside the box of the mainstream cultural norm, and
redefining and rejecting the musical and artistic rules of the cultural
norm. Not to sound nostalgic, but I feel like we had the kind of scene
that doesn't seem to exist much in cities anymore, with a very
populist, ever-changeable, yet fairly definable, group of
artists/musicians working to be free, change the rules and express
ourselves any fucking way we wanted. The very social norm that we were
working outside of, has over the years, put punk in a tidy little box,
with a certain image... focusing on an aspect or two of the image, but
totally disregarding the larger anarchistic cultural impetus that
society found then, and still finds now, rather threatening. The fact
that bands considering themselves punk are now on MTV is ironically
hilarious... Oh, well, there are still plenty of cultural and artistic
boundaries worth breaking!
A couple weeks later in late December, 1980, I took a bus to Boston to visit my family for Christmas. I met a lady there, moved in with her, eventually got married and had a family, and never lived in San Francisco again. When I got backed to Boston, I answered a xeroxed ad on a telephone pole, and joined a teenage noise band, called Vitamin (I was in my late twenties, but the other players were VERY young). Vitamin was just as weird and original as Ultrasheen, but very different. Whereas Ultrasheen took itself very seriously, Vitamin was all about noise and fun. We had a cool, couple year run of a lot of gigs in the Boston underground scene, playing with Mission of Burma, The Neats, Leper, SSD Control (whose first gig was opening for us) etc.. We were fronted by Jason Shapiro, who was 15 when I joined. He later ended up in L.A. with Celebrity Skin. Jason was a one of a kind, genius maniac, who made up his own chords, sang songs about killing
bugs in the backyard of his
mother's house, and knew how to have manic fun like know one else I've ever played with. Vitamin was the balls. Jason
and Michael of Vitamin hitch-hiked or took a bus (I can't remember) to San Francisco in 1981 or 1982 or so, when they were about 15 and 17 years old primarily to meet Flipper. I had give them the 3d street address where Will and Steve lived,and where I had lived... Flipper, being Flipper, took them in, even though they were complete strangers and let them stay there. They became friends. We later opened for Flipper in Boston the next year, when they were touring.... Or the time Vitamin opened for Black Flag in Boston, and I played drums wrapped all up in aluminum foil (I had only boxers underneath), such that the foil tore off as I played. One of the guys in Black Flag (I have no idea who) was pissed off at me at the bar between sets, for doing it, I guess feeling like I was upstaging them. Vitamin used to do shit likethat a lot. Like the Mutants, for whom every gig
for awhile was like a spontaneous outbreak of Halloween, Vitamin had
fun. We tried to make each gig its own event. During one gig in a
club that had been a church, Jason announced that I had a new "axe,"
whereupon I slowly brought out a guitar case, and opened it. Then I
took out a rusty, old axe and proceeded to chop up my bass drum to
bits, as Jason and Michael chanted: "He's got a new axe, he's gonna
give it 30 whacks." It was splendid fun.
When I quit Vitamin in early 1984, to take care of my baby daughter and support her with a "real job," i stopped playing for awhile. In 2001, I started Vague Moon Records, and put out my own Cd's, as The Primidonnatives, and released a few other records. I am about to release a new album, Throw the Radio, by me and my nephew, Duncan. We are called big Dr. Junior and The Primidonnatives. It is roots and weird and pretty cool.
Punk Globe: It seems that alot of bands are reforming and having fairly successful careers. Would you ever consider doing that with The Altar Boys?
Chris Gill: You'd have to ask Garrett that. Not likely. I was not even the original drummer for the Alterboys, who basically consisted of Garrett and Richard Kelly, Jo Jo Planteen and a fairly interchangeable cast of other players. The original drummer, who switched to trumpet when I joined, was Richard Edson, who was an important collaborator with Richard and Garrett in the Club Foot venture. He left San Francisco for New York to play with John Lurie, and later became a movie actor ( he played the sleazy parking lot attendant who wrecked Ferris Bueller's father's car in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) in movies like Stranger than Paradise, Do the Right Thing and a whole lot of others.
Punk Globe: And of course you played with the fabulous Ultrasheen with Charley Hagen and Shirley Larry Waters.. Such a brilliant band. Are you in touch with any of them? Ultrasheen played a Punk Globe Party with The Dead Kennedy's. Vktms, The Lewd and No Alternative as I remember..
Thanks, Ginger, Yes Ultrasheen what a blast it was, especially at first...to be part
of the rhythm section of this big, unwieldy and revved up, genre
bending band, with two great singers and some wild horns. Charley quit
the Mutants to put something together of his own. First he did the
Mummers and the Poppers (which included half of the future Romeo Void
and some members of the first, larger version of Ultrasheen). Then he got Billy Bastiani, who was a helluva singer and one of the funniest people I ever met, to front Ultrasheen, along with Shirley Larry Waters, who was a great lady and had really good pipes, too. At first we played punked
up R n' B, along with some new wavy rock originals. We quickly got
into doing a lot of gigs in the punk/new wave circuit, and were a danceable
, energetic, wild band. After a few months, we added Jed (later in
Research Library, The Appliances and some other bands), who was Charley
and my friend, who had just arrived from Boston. At that point he and
Charley switched off on bass and guitar. Peter Woods and Jay left to
form Romeo Void with Deborah Iyall, and we shed some of the horn
players, to become a five piece band. We became more lean and mean.
Jed's influence added a jazzier, modern music element to our songs, and
we dropped some of the R n' B songs. That is the version of Ultrasheen
that is in the Target Video, and which, I think was a seriously cool
band, with a shitload of potential, and which played a ton of gigs in a
very short time period. Once we did four or five gigs in the same
night, which seriously pissed off Ray Starr, who booked The Palms.
He thought he had some kind of exclusive deal with us, and banned us
from playing there again. Basically, we loved being on stage together,
but got burned out fast, with some of our members developing drug
problems, which caused severe tension in the band. Plus we had some
disagreements about musical direction. I think it all just happened
too fast, in a big rush. Iremember a period of a number of weeks when
some of us barely talked to each other, and met up only to perform.
Members started showing up late for gigs, and one time Franko was so high he fell off the stage of The Mabuhay. These antics did not sit very well with Dirk. I think that was the same night Franko and I had a physical fight in the alleyway of the Mab. Scene maker Lamar came to Franko's
aid by cutting my pants and a little bit of my leg with a little sickle
she had in her purse, as a guy in the crowd around us yelled, "The
bitch got a hook!" I guess I knew we were doomed after that. It was
sad, and was kind of a microcosm of the whole scene, which had so much
energy and potential, but got damaged by drugs and the inability to
keep it together. I remember our breaking up after a contentious gig
with the Suburban Lawns at the California Institute of Art, just as our
studio record was about to come out (late fall of 1980 I think). We
all went on to do other things after that, but certainly with some
regret about the wayUltrasheen ended. We did manage to get back
together for one last gig and live recording in April, 1981, to
celebrate the closing of The SavoyTivoli. But that was our swan song...
I thought we were fabulous, too, but our fabuloscity didn't keep us from exploding in a ball of flames. Charley and I are still great friends, and I am still friends with Jed Speare, who is a very influential (though struggling as always to survive) artist and composer in Boston. I assume Franko died of junk at some point, like his other band mates from Fast Floyd and His Famous Firebirds. I last saw Billy at my wedding in 1982. I bet Shirley is out there somewhere. I hope she still sings.
Punk Globe: I know alot of people who would love an Ultrasheen reunion! Could that ever happen?
Chris Gill: It would take some doing to round us all up, and coax us from our different lives to play again for no money! We were cool, but little known beyond San Francisco.
Punk Globe: Did Ultra Sheen ever release any music?
Chris Gill: One 4 song vinyl 45. I've got a few copies. Subterranean has re-released at at least once. You can find it on the Internet. at work now. Ultrasheen recorded output: we also
are on the live Rock City album and the Wave Goodbye Savoy Tivoli live
album. We also did a Target Video performance.
Punk Globe: Tell us about your other projects?
I am a fake band (about to become a real band, with my nephew) called The Primidonnatives, which plays weird art rock, and has released 3 Cd's on my own label. I also did a progressive electronica/spoken word project and Cd under one of my pseudonyms, Mo Digliani, with the fabulous Randy Roos on guitar, synthesis and production, along with our our talented friend, Big Whoop, Robin Hartman. We called ourselves Van Gogh Shadowtree. I also released a CD by the excellent indy rock band Building 6. I'm about to release Throw The Radio by Big Dr. Jr. and The Primidonnatives.
Punk Globe: How is your Record Label doing? Who do you have signed to the label?
Chris Gill: No signing, exactly. I release records of myself and friends. We'll continue to do so.
Punk Globe: Does the label have distribution?
Chris Gill: Mostly my own distribution efforts. We're working on broadening distribution.
Punk Globe: Do you care to give us any website addresses for My Space or Facebook?
Punk Globe: Are you open to bands sending you demo's for consideration?
Chris Gill: Eventually, but too busy on own projects so far, and insufficient capital and time to go big at this point.
Punk Globe: Having gone through the band business when you were younger do you have any advice to upcoming musicians?
Chris Gill: Sure. Have fun. Be original. Fuck professional technique and go with your body rhythms. Listenabilty will follow. If you have passion about music, do it forever. If you are trying to get rich, get a real job.
Tell us about things happening with you and the label in 2010?
Chris Gill: The Big Dr. Jr. and The Primidonnatives Cd release in a month or two, and a new Primidonnatives Cd by the end of the summer.
Punk Globe: Any last words for Punk Globe readers?
Chris Gill: Anyone with an idea in their head can create art and music. Don't let the professionals scare you off. Most great music is created by people
who don't know what they are doing. That's how they manage to do something different and worthwhile. Keep the faith.....