Monday, September 29, 2008

Project History

While rooting around in the York University archives I came across material from the Centre for Experimental Art and Communication (Toronto 1973-78). In summer 1977, CEAC housed the first punk club in Toronto (hosted by the Diodes) under the banner "Crash & Burn". Documents from the Crash & Burn events include show posters, photos and a small collection of audio recordings. One of these recordings is a "lost" demo tape from the legendary Los Angeles punk band the Screamers. During their active years (1977-81) the Screamers played several electrifying live shows but never released an official record. While in Los Angeles for an artist residency at Raid Projects, my aim was to find the former members of the Screamers (Tommy Gear, KK Barrett, Paul Roessler, David Braun, and Jeff McGregor; lead singer Tomata du Plenty passed away in 2000) and give them exclusive copies of the "Crash & Burn Demos" in the form of handmade vinyl records. The blog entries below chronicle the project's development.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Screamers in Toronto

A flyer for a show at the Horseshoe Tavern gives evidence of a Screamers performance in Toronto on Halloween (see August 6, 2007). Unfortunately, there's no year on the poster, but Imants Krumins who sent me the document attests the show happened in 1978. This event would have been promoted by the 2 Garys (Gary Topp and Gary Cormier) who at the time booked everyone from The Buzzcocks to Talking Heads. The 2 Garys appeared in the film The Last Pogo (1978).

The flyer also features a third Gary, Gary Panter, and his iconic drawing of Tomata du Plenty.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

For Tomata du Plenty

A record left for Tomata at his memorial site in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California.



Tomata du Plenty (1948-2000)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ground Control to Tommy Gear

Still no luck finding Tommy Gear. Leads via Kristian Hoffman of The Mumps and Vaginal Davis have been fruitless.

Jeff McGregor is also off the radar even though his acclaimed solo project The Solipsistics has a minor, though obscure, web presence. I'm trying to make contact through his former Snot Puppies bandmate Kevin Hunter (now with Wire Train and Bella Nova).

On the positive side, I've made contact with a friend of a friend of David Braun, which looks hopeful.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Artipedia

L.A. art blogger Fette led me to this unexpected posting on Artipedia by Philippe Mogane regarding my Screamers project. (Philippe started the record label Siamese Records in 1977 with guitar-demigod James Williamson of The Stooges, which devotees know is the label that released the rawest of Raw Power before David Bowie's weakened remix for Columbia Records.) Because of my own typo in the email address for Raid Projects, Philippe's email messages were bouncing back. Philippe wrote:

I just wanted to tell M. Leonard that, as the founder of the first LA punk label Siamese Records and the Editor of the I Wanna Be Your Dog fanzine, I befriended Tommy and Tomata of The Screamers. Our paths did cross many times. The LA music scene was quite small in the early 70’s. Specifically in the punk world.

I have some candid shots of both of them and some on stage as I was one of their biggest fans.

I understood as soon as I met them that they had plenty of talent.

I do hope this project will bring them to the light. They do deserve recognition and fame.

Thank you,
Philippe Mogane

Siamese Dogs Records
Home of The Godfathers of Punk and out of control Rock & Roll!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Still Searching For Screamers

I'm still searching for Tommy Gear, David Braun, and Jeff McGregor. I've now connected with KK Barrett and Paul Roessler. (Paul actually showed up at the opening reception.) I'll have to redouble my efforts to find the others since I'm only in LA for another three weeks.

Regarding the gift exchange, the agreement is that the records be kept on display until August 25th then given to the band members before I return to Halifax at month's end.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Finding KK Barrett

I've been in contact with KK Barrett, the drummer for the Screamers, through email correspondence. KK has shed some valuable light on the source of the demo tapes, demystifying their rarity to a degree, but his information satisfyingly closes the chapter on the origin of the recordings. The Eva Braun tape is from a video made at UCLA and retained in their archives. The versions of Peer Pressure and Punish or Be Damned are from the '77 recording sessions with Pat Garrett (see July 9, 2007). Chronologically, this would explain how the demos could have ended up in the CEAC collection in Toronto, since Crash & Burn operated in the art centre's basement from May to August 1977 before being shut down. The Screamers did not perform at Crash & Burn during its brief existence.

However, according to KK, the band eventually made it to Toronto for a gig in 1978. (Anybody out there remember seeing this?) KK remembers "playing at a club in the basement of the George Nelson Hotel" and "going to the FILE magazine offices and also spilling [his] college French to a drunken fan outside." I double-checked this with AA Bronson (KK->AA!) who wrote that the Toronto venue was the King Eddy (King Edward Hotel) not the George Nelson. (AA Bronson published FILE magazine with Jorge Zontal and Felix Partz under their collective name General Idea.)

KK recalls that tapes of that show circulated, which he's never heard. Rarities for sure! AA Bronson says he isn't aware of these tapes, but pointed me in the direction of FILE's punk issue, which may have information on the Screamers' stint in Toronto.

KK Barrett is now a successful production designer and art director. He has worked on I Heart Huckabees (2004), Lost in Translation (2003), Adaptation (2002), Human Nature (2001), Being John Malkovich (1999), Crack House (1989) and Cheerleader Camp (1987).

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Opening Reception @ Raid Projects




Photos by Jennifer Leonard. More photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenlen/sets/72157601238510969

Paul Roessler pictured in bottom right-hand photo.

Installation Views

A few shots of the installation at Raid before the opening:


Photos by Craig Leonard

Monday, July 30, 2007

Finding Paul Roessler

I was honoured last night with a visit to Raid by former Screamer Paul Roessler. He was extremely gracious about the project and found it to be an overwhelming tribute to the Screamers. Paul shared details about the history of the band and gave his perspective on some of the pervasive mysteries surrounding the band's breakup.

Tommy and Tomata were the conceptual forces behind the Screamers (see July 9, 2007) . Besides the unquestionable intensity of the band's music, live shows were exhausting theatrical affairs that were constantly changing in order to keep the performances unpredictable. The band had always been concerned with progress and towards the end emphasized its performance over its musical content. In this direction, the involvement of filmmaker Rene Daalder sealed the band's demise.

Daalder provided the resources to construct a film studio that would indulge the Screamers' interest in its theatrical evolution. Daalder's "unwatchable" film Population One featured Tomata as the last living human after a nuclear blast. The film was constructed around flashbacks and music videos. Somewhere during the filming, creative differences rose to the surface and the core band members felt the need to part ways.

As Geza X states, "When Rene became involved, the artistic vision of the band got derailed...Rene had them playing to loops, run off a tape recorder--an extremely interesting idea, granted, kind of an early industrial techno twist to that--but it really wasn't the Screamers anymore. The Screamers' magic when they rocked out with those Tinkertoy synths slowly turned into this low-budget multimedia nonextravaganza which wasn't really that good, and the band started withering behind it" (We Got the Neutron Bomb, p. 215).

Paul has never stopped making music. Since the Screamers, on top of his solo work, he's played with Dc3, Nina Hagen, 45 Grave, Twisted Roots, Nervous Gender, Prick, Abby Travis, Leah Andreone, Geza X and the Mommymen, Mark Curry, The Joykiller, The Controllers, The Mourning Glorys, Crimony, Mike Watt and the Secondmen, Pat Smear, Saboteur, and Josie Cotton.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Installation Preview

I found a copy of an original Screamers Fan Club flyer in the Xeroid Records bootleg CD In a Better World and used it to turn the gallery at Raid Projects into Screamers HQ. (The Screamers Fan Club was started by Herb Wrede and Diane Grove.) More installation photos to follow.



Installation views (north wall) at Raid Projects.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Record Test

It's taken nearly a month to locate a working turntable, but the wait has been rewarded with a handmade record that actually plays. The audio is far from flawless and is only worsened with video compression, but it's surprising enough that there's sound there at all! The quality should improve after cleaning the record surface with an anti-static solution. Check it out:

video

Friday, July 13, 2007

Handmade Records

The first records are out of the molds. The grooves are clearly rendered, but some tiny imperfections are visible (which might add something interesting to the audio). Any excess plastic around the edges was easy to trim off with a roller cutter; however, the use of a Dremel in areas with thicker plastic was necessary. The audio quality test follows as soon as I can track down a turntable...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rubber & Plastic

The liquid plastic is curing in the rubber molds. The finished records will be a translucent white. It was difficult to judge the exact amount of plastic needed to fill the mold without spillover. When the plastic hardens and is able to be removed from the mold I'll have to cut off and sand any excess around the edges. (The grooves, of course, are on the bottom side.)



To create the mold I poured the liquid rubber compound over a dub plate I had manufactured from the original demos (see June 25, 2007).

Monday, July 9, 2007

Members of the Screamers

The core members of the Screamers were Tomata du Plenty (lead vocals, d. 2000), Tommy Gear (Arp synth, vocals), KK Barrett (drums), and Paul Roessler (Fender Rhodes synth). In 1978, Paul replaced Jeff McGregor who briefly replaced the band's original Fender Rhodes keyboardist David Braun. As the band's live shows became more and more theatrical, Sheila Edwards was added to the group as Tomata's foil briefly before its disbanding in summer 1981.

I made contact today with Paul Roessler through his website (www.myspace.com/paulroessler) and KK Barrett through the website of his wife. Tommy Gear still remains elusive. A memorial website for Tomata du Plenty can be found at www.myspace.com/tomataduplenty.

Thanks to Cake Nunez and Not For Hire magazine writer/publisher Kim Buresh (via Bill Lopez) for the leads.

Cake Nunez

I was contacted by Carlos "Cake" Nunez (www.myspace.com/cakeflip), the friend of Bill Lopez (see June 22, 2007) who used to write for Flipside. We exchanged some emails about the Screamers and the demo tapes:

Which Screamers demo tape did you find there? The 1977/1978 demos, by any chance? I know that it's out on both LP and CD (bootleg) already. I know KK Barrett and Paul Roessler and met Tomata before he passed (hung out with him at Mr. T's Bowl when Nudist Priest played some years back).
- Cake

The demos I found in Toronto may be the same as those already floating around: Peer Pressure, Punish or Be Damned and Eva Braun.
Peer Pressure and Punish or Be Damned may very well be from the First Screamers demo session (7-7-77 on a TEAC 2340 4-Track) produced by Pat Garrett (which appeared on the Scuzzy the Death Cone Clown vinyl AND the Trying To Be Like Jesus bootleg CD), but I can't say for sure since I haven't heard either to compare. They're definitely not live recordings, which in the case of Punish or Be Damned rules out the Target Video soundtrack.
I'm pretty sure they're not the 1978 demos produced by Geza X because there's no presence of an "audible whine" , which these demos reportedly have.
The third song is Eva Braun and this may be the Geza X version that shows up on Trying To Be Like Jesus bootleg OR it may be the soundtrack extracted from the (unknown?) video for the song. The version I found doesn't have the "whine" present in the Geza X recordings, so I'm guessing it's from another source. I haven't heard the video soundtrack, so on that I can't say.
It would be great to compare the demos found in Toronto -- let's call them the Crash & Burn Demos after the punk venue where they were submitted in '78-- to those produced by Garret ('77) and Geza X ('78). Do you have a copy of either of these recordings or know someone who might?
- Craig

I went through my collection of Screamers stuff and couldn't locate those three tracks, so you most certainly have some rarities on you there! I would love to hear those tracks someday!
- Cake

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Novelty Buttons

I made up some buttons of the album cover to hand out before the exhibition. Contact me if you'd like one...

Record Covers

I'm using glossy black spray paint on white record sleeves. Since I have to produce two distinct single-sided records from the double-sided dubplate when using the rubber mold technique, I'm using "gatefold" sleeves.


I used two packs of 2" stencils, poster board, and masking tape to lay out the lettering for the album cover.

The Bags

Jenny Lens (see June 23, 2007) led me to Alice Bag's blog Diary of a Bad Housewife. With Pat Bag (Patricia Rainone), Alice formed the notorious Los Angeles punk band The Bags in 1977. I sent Alice an email hoping she'd know how to contact the Screamers.

Harmony In My Head

I sent details about the Gift for the Screamers project to Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Henry Rollins Band) through his radio program Harmony in My Head (www.harmonyinmyhead.com). I think it's a safe guess that he's still a diehard supporter of DIY ventures and may put a word out on his radio program.