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It’s a weekday afternoon and I’m in Hollywood, California. I have an hour to kill before going into a meeting so I decide to take a walk down the famous Sunset Strip. Now Tuesday afternoon on the Strip is a far different place than it is on a Friday or Saturday night. Not to mention the 2017 Strip is a far different place than it was in 1986. The Whisky A-Go-Go, The Rainbow, and The Roxy are still there. Gazzarri’s is gone, as is Tower Records. The buildings are still there like the ruins of ancient Egypt but the cultures that inhabited them are now dust in the wind. Hollywood is going through yet another re-model. More chain restaurants, stores and hotels are going up all over the place. The grit and glam is slowly being forced out.
As I walk down the small hill from Doheny Drive and the Gazzarri’s building, down towards the Roxy and Rainbow, I’m flooded with memories of the hundreds of bands I’ve seen in these clubs. The thousands of flyers I was handed while trying to make my way from one venue to another.
I was lucky enough to see Guns N’ Roses at Gazzarri’s, talk to Lemmy at The Rainbow, get sprayed with Silly String at the Roxy by Poison and have my eye dotted by a bible flung into the crowd by Stryper.
There are so many bands that went on to stardom, as well as bands I’ll never remember. There were also those bands that when I saw them, I knew were going to be the next big thing but for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen.
Before I get to my top 5 bands that should have been bigger, here’s a shout out to a couple of bands that never even got the record deal to make an album. The first is Brunette. Lead by the Gioeli brothers, they went on to form Hardline with Neal Schon of Journey. Hardline still exists, without Neal. Singer Johnny Gioeli still has an amazing voice. I only saw Brunette once. Johnny was so sick he was throwing up into a bucket on the side of the stage but he never complained and sang his ass off.
There were two bands with similar names playing the Strip at the same time. One was Paradise, the other was Pair-a-dice. The latter put on a great show every time I saw them. Again, a strong singer by the name of Paul Lancia. This band seem to have it all going on for them but it just wasn’t the right time I guess. Paradise didn’t grab me as much.
On to the top 5 bands from the Strip that should have been way bigger. They all got their record deals and had at least one album out but just couldn’t break through for whatever reason.
5. Phantom Blue- An all girl heavy metal band. Realistically they were about a decade and a half ahead of their time. Female singers and players are all over the hard rock landscape these days. Singer Gigi Hangach was a powerhouse. Drummer Linda McDonald is one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen, male or female. Sadly, guitarist Michelle Meldrum died in 2008 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Instead of realizing they had something completely unique and capitalizing on it, the record company marketed them as just another band on their roster.
4. Tuff- For a long time you couldn’t walk past a telephone pole or a fence without seeing a Tuff flyer. Hard work, perseverance, and dedication finally paid off with a record deal. It probably happened 18 months too late. The live shows were all about fun. The girls that followed this band had the dudes following right behind them going into the clubs. Singer Stevie Rachelle is a walking, talking encyclopedia about all the things that happened on the Strip. A hidden gem of an album is their 1995 album Religious Fix.
3. Salty Dog- They were the Led Zeppelin blues band of the Strip. There was something different about the rhythm section of Khurt Maier on drums and Michael Hannon on bass. Usually you can feel it thumping in your chest when music is loud. With these guys they could shake you to your very core. Singer Jimi Bleecher walked the fine line between singing and screeching. It was all right there for these guys, but bad business deals and drug addiction were their main roadblocks. They replaced Bleecher with Texan Darrell Beach, who was the male incarnation of Janis Joplin. By then though, it was too late.
2. Kik Tracee – These guys should have been the bridge between glam and grunge like U2 was with new wave and rock. But instead, the world decided to take the plunge on grunge. Signed just a matter of weeks after high school, the four players, Rob Grad on bass, drummer Scott Donnell, guitarists Michael Marquis and Gregory Hex had been playing the clubs since they were 16. They found Minnesota native Stephen Shareaux and the record deal followed shortly after. While they get lumped into the L.A. glam sound, I’ve always thought they sounded closer to what The Cult sounded like on their Love record with some Guns N’ Roses and L.A. Guns thrown in. Internal troubles and the shifting music scene finally did these guys in.
Now at number 1…
Shark Island. Hands down and it’s not even close. When Axl Rose is lugging a video camera on his shoulder to take video of Richard Black, for “study” purposes you know this band had something going on. Shark Island was the house band at Gazzarri’s for years. They were the undisputed kings of the Strip. For whatever reason the record companies stayed away. I had wanted to see them and it never worked out for one reason or another. Finally the day came when I saw them play and from the moment they hit the stage until after they had left, I stood there with my mouth open. There are a handful of shows that I’ve been to that were life changing and this one is at the top of the list. Without saying a lot (directed at the audience) Black is one of the top 3 front men I’ve ever seen. There have been multiple line-ups but the one that recorded Law of the Order with Spencer Sercombe on guitar, Chris Heilman on bass and Greg Ellis on drums was a well-oiled machine. I’m convinced if they had gotten their deal 5 years earlier, when they should have, they would have been one of the biggest bands on the planet.
Those days on the Sunset Strip are gone now. They will however, live on in the hazy memories of the people that were lucky enough to experience it.
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