Monday, November 7, 2016

C'MON! (Chapter Five: We're Not Joking...)

My Story of Rock, Ruin and Revelation
(The 5th Anniversary Edition)
- Christopher Long -


We're Not Joking...

1985 — New Wave was winding down, hair bands were revving up, and the time was right for a real rock revolution.

As an aspiring young musician influenced by an eclectic mix of Van Halen, the Ramones, Frank Zappa, Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, John Denver and KISS, I was searching desperately for my own artistic identity during the mid '80s. At just 22, I'd already had my fill of playing in cheesy Rock 40 cover bands. Plus, I'd become disenchanted with my role as a drummer, pushed to the back of the stage. I wanted to become a frontman — a storyteller preaching the Gospel of rock and roll! Hence, I needed to form a new band — something different, something unique.

After playing drums for several years in a
menagerie of primarily Rock 40 bands,
I needed a creative fresh start in 1985.
Shortly after Trish and I were married in April, I stashed away my drum kit — I called up some new players, wrote some new tunes and took on the persona of D.L. Serios — frontman for my new band, Dead Serios. Fueled by blind ambition, and armed with little more than a fistful of marginally adequate hard rock tunes about chicks and cars, we set out to conquer the world — or at least the Central Florida music scene. And in September, we made our official debut.


…We’re Dead Serios!
In the beginning, Dead Serios, like many of my early projects, also sucked. We had a few original tunes, but we were far from unique. Plus, I can’t sing — a big problem for a lead singer. Initially, I was also ungraceful as a frontman. As I made my entrance onto the stage for our first show, I tripped over a cable and sent the guitarist’s Marshall amplifier crashing to the ground during the opening song, which was ironically a Spinal Tap cover. And after jumping around onstage for 30 minutes in girls’ boots that were way too small for me, I also broke my foot during our botched debut.

Our first year was a bumpy ride, indeed. Our songs were weak, I was awkward on the mic and the band's mismatched original line-up offered a less than compelling live presentation. But we followed every letter of the rock and roll "wannabe playbook," and we pressed on diligently.

Ultimately I became more comfortable (and graceful) onstage. I learned to combine my knack for storytelling with my growing ability to connect with an audience which allowed me to somehow get past my lack of singing talent. As they say, “If you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with…” well, you know. This theory would prove to be the basis of everything Dead Serios would ever do.

As for the misspelling of “Serios,” we weren’t intentionally trying to come up with some cool ‘80s style, Def Leppard-like moniker. “Serios” is misspelled simply because the guy who designed our first logo smoked a lot of pot. When he laid out the original design, he ran out of space on the paper and reasoned that the letter “U” wasn’t terribly significant. True story.

And I don’t know where it came from, but I’ve always finished each show with the now infamous tagline, “We’re not joking… We’re DEAD SERIOS!


Spreading the Disease 
After a couple of years, Dead Serios finally became known for our own unique (politically incorrect), punk-meets-metal style, and for having an outrageous, must-see live show. But in the summer of 1986 we were nothing more than a garden variety “poser” cover band with a handful of generic original tunes. I was also oblivious at the time to the new, heavier, faster and very non-commercial style of metal called Thrash (or Speed) that quickly was growing in popularity around the world. I didn’t recognize it then, but little-known underground bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax were revving up, and soon would give established multi-platinum arena bands like Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe and Van Halen some real competition.

As the saying goes, “If I only knew then what I know now,” I would have been much better prepared when Dead Serios opened for Anthrax at Brassy’s nightclub in Cocoa Beach, Florida in June 1986. For starters, I would have been more familiar with Anthrax’s music and realized that a band like Dead Serios simply had no business (at the time) being on the bill. In my defense, however, I will say that it was Anthrax’s first national tour and their major label debut album Spreading the Disease had only recently (barely) scaled the bottom ranks of the Billboard Top 200. I also should have been more familiar with the band members. Lead guitarist Dan Spitz chatted with me for several minutes while standing next to the sound board during load-in that afternoon and I didn’t even know who he was. I’m only five- foot-six and standing about an inch shorter, I mistook Spitz for a local teenage surf rat trying to sneak a free peek during soundcheck.

Several things about Anthrax impressed me immediately. First of all, they had great gear. From their trademark custom camouflage Marshall amplifiers to their top-of-the-line Grover Jackson guitars, they had the equipment that a band like mine could only dream of owning. Also, they took total control of the show. When Allan, one of the club owners, complained to Anthrax’s soundman about the excessive volume during soundcheck, the tour manager threatened to have the band pack up and leave if there was going to be a problem. Allan backed down in short order. And it was beautiful!


Then the tour manager got in my face and educated me in the area of merchandise protocol. Anthrax was the first national band that I had ever opened for. As a support act, I soon learned that the merch I could sell, where I could sell it and how much I could charge were all subject to the approval of the headliner. Who knew? Although the tour manager did allow Dead Serios to sell our stuff and even allowed us to set up our merch table next to Anthrax’s, we had to sell our goods for the same price as the headliner’s. Needless to say, the cheesy-looking, one-color Dead Serios T-shirts that sold easily for $5.00 each at our own gigs weren’t exactly a hot item once we were forced to match Anthrax’s T-shirt price of $15.00. But I took it all in stride, writing it off as a big league learning experience.

I also learned that night when a venue has only one dressing room, as was the case at Brassy’s, it belongs entirely to the headliner. I had innocently placed my stage clothes on top of one of Anthrax’s equipment cases and when I returned to the dressing room after our soundcheck I discovered one of Dan Spitz’s guitars had been laid on top of my stuff. And I soon realized it wasn’t going to be moved until Spitz’s guitar tech was good and ready to move it.

I'll be the first to admit it - in
1986, I was a COMPLETE poser.
(Now stop laughing!)

With the club barely half-full, Dead Serios took the stage around 8PM. And it became painfully obvious after just one song that we were the wrong band for the gig — as the local metal heads passionately chanted, “Not!” in between each of our tunes. “Not!” was known to Anthrax fans as a term of considerable disapproval. Although I was unfamiliar with the term’s specific connotation at the time, we all knew that this crowd hated us.

By the time Anthrax hit the stage the club was packed. I couldn’t believe that 400 people in Cocoa Beach, Florida had ever even heard of Anthrax much less wanted to see them live. As they kicked off the first tune, “A.I.R.,” their tour manager once again approached me and suggested sarcastically that I should “pay attention” and “see how it’s really done.” Although I found his comments to be gratuitous, he was right. As I watched the crowd going crazy, I was certain that Anthrax would become a major international act — and they did. The band went on to achieve gold status with such subsequent records as Among the Living, State of Euphoria and Persistence of Time.

There was a new rock revolution on the horizon in 1986 — and Dead Serios clearly was NOT part of the movement. Anthrax had “spanked” us mightily, but from that night on, I made sure that NO headliner ever got the best of Dead Serios again. I realized that I could AND should throw out the "playbook." We had to stop being so serious (no pun intended), start mixing it up and taking some risks if we were to stand even a remote a chance of breaking out.


Generation Landslide
We spent the next two years writing, rehearsing and playing everywhere we could. Master of Puppets and Spreading the Disease soon replaced Metal Health and Pyromania as my favorite LPs of the day. Although I faced considerable resistance from certain early band members who lacked my vision, this new-found energy and attitude was being reflected in our music quickly. As a result, our sound and line-up soon "evolved." Then — I saw Alice Cooper in concert for the first time — another HUGE game-changer. And the light bulb goes off!  I thought, if Dead Serios could merge our developing punk-meets-metal sound with an outrageous stage show and streetwise lyrical content, we just might be on to something. Kinda like a hardcore version of Saturday morning T.V.

Our Christmas single, "Dead Under the Tree,"
was a hot item in Central Florida during
 the 1986 holiday shopping season.
After numerous personnel changes, I’d finally nailed down the perfect band line-up in late 1988. At that time I already had released several self-financed Dead Serios singles, E.P.s and L.P.s on my own independent, Long Song Records label. I also learned a lot about “greasing” the “machine” necessary to move our product on a national level. A helpful sales rep with a major music distributor told me point blank during the late ‘80s that if I expected his company to push our records, I would need to send him packages of cocaine through the mail. “Send it to my attention with the words ‘Promotional Materials’ printed on the outside of the mailer,” he instructed me boldly. I may have done a lot of stupid and desperate things to promote Dead Serios in those days, but I never was foolish enough to send drugs through the mail.


In recent years, early Dead Serios
records have become pricey collectibles.
It was in late 1988 when I first noticed that things were starting to happen for Dead Serios. We had just won our first Battle of the Bands competition at a local nightclub on Labor Day. And as I drove home from the event, admiring the four-foot-tall trophy perched on the front passenger seat of my pickup truck, I decided to turn on the radio for a little late night music. Wouldn’t you know it, at that very moment a track from our (then) current record, Blow Chunks, was playing on 89.5FM WFIT. Surreal, to be sure.

By the summer of 1989, we were packing every local venue where we played. In fact, Dead Serios was drawing bigger crowds on Monday and Tuesday nights than most other area acts were drawing on the weekends. Even national level rock stars were coming to our shows. It wasn’t odd to be playing in Orlando and look up to see Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore in the audience or UFO’s Paul Chapman. One night in particular I recall peeking out the window of a little club we were playing in Indialantic, Florida. It was just before show time and standing at the front of the line out on the sidewalk was Slayer guitarist, Kerry King. I nearly wet myself right there. I rushed to the back of the club to alert our bassist, Joe Del Corvo, but by the time we could get back to the front door, King was gone. I asked the doorman where the angry-looking guy with tattoos had gone. “He didn’t have an I.D. so I sent him away,” the doorman replied.


Dead Serios - 1989
(Me, Phil Billigsley, Bill Erwin and Joe Del Corvo)
The Dead Serios machine was revving on all cylinders in 1989. Featuring our concert staples "Psycho Dyke," "Fatter Than Yo Mama" and the rap-meets-rock College Radio track "Butterbean Queen," our indie album Possessed By Polka became a popular underground release that year. And with an over-the-top live show, we were gaining cred where it counted — on the road.

We played an outdoor festival in Melbourne during the summer of ‘89. Hundreds of people packed in near the front of the stage — sweltering in the July heat. The crowd was so rowdy that our show had to be stopped a couple of times while security guys pulled people out the crowd — placing some into squad cars and some into ambulances.

But there was one night that I’ll truly never forget. We were performing at a club in Palm Bay, Florida, also during the summer of ‘89. At one point during the show I noticed a girl in the front row who was trying to get my attention. As I knelt down to hear what she was saying, she pulled her top (way) down low and revealed a cartoon caricature of my face that she’d had tattooed between her breasts. To say the least, it was pretty freaky. She hung out with the band quite regularly for the next several months and even helped to get us a few high-profile gigs. But after that, she mysteriously disappeared from the Dead Serios world — never to be heard from by us again.


During the late '80s, I moved thousands of
copies of these two Dead Serios cassette
releases on my Long Song Records label.
In October 1989, I was informed by Dead Serios drummer Bill Erwin and guitarist Phil Billingsley that we had been invited to travel to Columbia, South Carolina and play a few club dates with a group called Hootie and the Blowfish. Phil’s girlfriend, Kim, grew up with, and had since kept in touch with, a couple of the band members and reported that they were THE hottest act on the East Coast college scene.

At the time, Dead Serios was becoming a huge Florida-based act, and with our catchy single, “Butterbean Queen” garnering considerable college radio airplay, we were excited now to be getting road gigs. Needless to say, we were thrilled to make the journey to Columbia.


Florida Today ran a major feature story
regarding the video shoot for the popular
Dead Serios tune, “Butterbean Queen.”
This was our first out-of-state band experience and I learned a lot in the course of a few days. One lesson I learned was to keep a low profile when on the road. Although I’d become fairly well-known in my hometown, I discovered that my flamboyant fashion sense wasn’t necessarily appreciated elsewhere. “Is that how they do it in Florida?” I was asked by a local redneck in Brunswick, Georgia who noticed the license plate on our rental car as I pumped gas at 6AM. “Do what?” I replied. “You know. Wear two earrings like a faggot,” he said. “Well, that’s how I do it,” I told the guy, as the intensity of the dialogue escalated quickly. Fortunately, I was soon surrounded by my bandmates who helped defuse the situation and get me into the car without further incident. We then went across the street to grab an early morning bite at McDonald’s. As we entered the already busy restaurant we experienced first-hand the old saying, “if looks could kill.” There we were, four drunken long-haired city boys amongst a roomful of backwoods folks wearing overalls. The vibe was so immediately troubling that we turned around and split before there was a chance of reliving our recent gas station altercation. I won’t say that our Brunswick experience completely mirrored a scene from the movie Deliverance but to this day, I still bypass the town on my cross-country travels.


I slept through most of high school. I cared little and consequently knew little about the college experience or even colleges in general. That was about to change during this trip. As I found out, Columbia is home to the University of South Carolina. Known as the “Fighting Gamecocks,” I learned that both the school and the town take its athletic program quite seriously. So seriously, that upon arriving in Columbia, we discovered the word “cock” placed prominently in various ads on buildings and billboards throughout the town. Given the lowbrow mentality of Dead Serios members, we found this to be extremely amusing. Heck, I’m nearly 50 now and it still makes me giggle.

Dead Serios was actually sort of a divided band. There were Bill and Phil — the “party hardy” Wild Turkey-drinking “alterno” guys who were all about musical integrity, and then there was me and bassist Joe Del Corvo — the Dallas Cowboys-loving KISS Freaks who just wanted to be rock stars. Whenever we were on the road, Bill and Phil typically wound up hanging out and crashing with members of the bands we played with, while Joe and I opted for staying in hotels. And while in Columbia, Bill and Phil stayed at a house rented by Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan and frontman Darius Rucker while Joe and I lounged in our hotel room each day before the show, ordering from room service and watching hair band videos on MTV.

Dead Serios live onstage - circa 1989.

At the time, Mark Bryan was an afternoon DJ on the local college radio station in Columbia, He graciously invited Bill, who was also a college radio personality in Florida, to co-host his show during our first journey to South Carolina. It was a great opportunity to promote our music and plug our gig that night at Rockafellers nightclub. And at one point during the show Bill called me at the hotel and asked me to come to the radio station and join him for an on-air interview with Mark.

In those days I went by the stage name D.L. Serios. I also went to great lengths to create and protect a certain image for myself and my band. So when Mark referred to me by my real name on the air, I threw a fit. Although I don’t think the listeners were aware of it, those who were in the control room couldn’t help but notice my discontent. The guitarist from the headline band had been kind enough to give my unknown band prime radio air time, and in return I acted like a jerk. I later regretted my on-air behavior and I apologized humbly to Mark.

From the tips of my toes at the front of the stage to the club’s rear exit sign, Rockafellers was packed that night. Dead Serios gave a rock solid performance and the crowd response was awesome. This particular show, however, was a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Hugo, a mighty storm that recently had ripped through the area. We knew that we wouldn’t get paid — and we didn’t. But we also performed with Hootie the following night at a different club that was not part of the fundraiser. Hence, I was a bit taken aback when Rusty, Hootie’s manager, offered us nothing more than a few T-shirts as payment for the second night’s gig. We certainly appreciated the opportunity to perform in a new market and we realized it would be a money-losing journey. In fact, unless you’ve had at least a couple of hit records, every journey is typically a money-losing venture. However, a little gas cash would have been nice. After all, it ain’t always easy finding a friendly Hess station along U.S. highways that accepts “Hugo Relief” T-shirts as a form of currency!


Phil Billingsley onstage
with Dead Serios - circa 1989.
On a subsequent Dead Serios trip to Columbia, Rusty and the Hootie members literally locked themselves in the office of Rockafellers after their set to secretly count out that night’s take. About an hour later they presented our road manager with $50 cash as payment for our opening set — which was okay, I guess. It was certainly more valuable than a couple of T-shirts. I didn’t care how much we were being paid and I cared less about Hootie’s cut. After all, we were friends, right? Heck, I’d just spent most of that day sitting on Darius Rucker’s couch, filling out my Christmas card list! So to be left standing in the hallway like a common fool, while the Hootie guys snuck in back to divvy up the spoils, was pretty insulting.

A couple of years later, the Hootie guys journeyed from Columbia to Melbourne to attend Phil and Kim’s wedding. During the reception Mark Bryan informed me and Bill that Hootie was in negotiations with a major record label. In “the land of unsigned bands,” everybody has “label interest” so I found Mark’s news a bit difficult to take seriously. Sure, Hootie and the Blowfish had a few good tunes and a large college following, but they were no Dead Serios! In my view, we blew Hootie and the Blowfish out of the water and there was no way they were getting signed before us. To my chagrin, Hootie and the Blowfish was soon signed officially to Atlantic Records. Their debut record, Cracked Rear View, arrived in stores on July 5, 1994. Packed with Top Ten singles, the record reached #1 on the Billboard Top 200 and has gone on to sell in excess of 16 million units. Conversely, Dead Serios’ self titled 1994 record contained zero hits and sold  fewer than 1,000 units. I guess we showed them!


Holy (Rock and) Roller
Shortly after our first Hootie excursion in October 1989, Dead Serios embarked on a Florida mini tour with the southern California-based Christian metal band, Guardian. Produced by Stryper guitarist Oz Fox, Guardian’s debut record, First Watch, had just been released and I was amped to be out performing with true blue Christian heavyweights.  The Guardian members were extremely cool and they seemed to “get” Dead Serios. “We gotta get a deal for Dead,” they would declare as we hung out together before the shows. And given my semi-genuine spiritual posturing at the time, I became fast friends with the guys.

But I actually was a fraud in those days. I’d suck up to the Guardian members and strike up conversations with them about Jesus and current contemporary Christian music, only to slither off after the shows (usually drunk) with random rock chicks who had really big hair and extremely small skirts. And to make matters worse, I was married at the time. But given the turmoil which Trish and I were beginning to experience in our relationship, I could somehow justify my behavior. But truth be told, I was just another rock and roll dirtbag.

I briefly kept in touch with Guardian bassist David Bach following our little 1989 tour. And although Dead Serios was credited in the “Special Thanks” section of the next Guardian record, Fire and Love, they never secured “a deal for Dead.”

Me and Dead Serios bassist, Joe Del Corvo,
with the members of Guardian in October 1989.

Money Talks
Dead Serios was performing around the country and receiving college radio airplay, as well as generating national press coverage by late 1989. Unfortunately, while we certainly were “happening,” there was no significant amount of money coming in. We were drawing huge crowds on the club circuit, but we were rarely ever paid more than a couple of hundred dollars per show. And with equipment vans to fuel, a crew to feed and hotel rooms to pay for, it was tough just slogging from gig to gig. But, then again, even the up-and-coming major label touring bands we were performing with were typically broke.

These loutish corner boys belted out two grunts
of noisy acoustical clatter and one chunk of garage 
slop that made me smile a lot. These full-grown
men shambolicked at the edge of chaos. All of
their stuff kicked more butt than a whanging
drill press, filling the ballroom with songs full
of menacing anti-establishment screeds which
without a doubt shook all the plaster off the walls.
(The Orlando Sentinel – 1989)

Then there was the challenge of financing the promotional effort necessary to keep us in the press, on the radio and appealing to booking agents and club owners. Fortunately, for a while I had great medical insurance coverage through my day job at The Tape Deck. For every bone I broke, I received an insurance check — and in those days I broke a lot of bones, particularly while onstage. My broken hand in 1988 financed the pressing of our Possessed by Polka record. In 1989 my broken foot paid for the pressing of our “Best Of” compilation. But by 1990, as the demands of promoting the band became greater, I could only work part-time at my day gig and I was no longer offered medical insurance.


Consequently, I was earning less and I wasn’t receiving compensation for my frequent onstage injuries. It soon became clear that I couldn’t continue to finance the band personally. And if we were going to succeed, I’d now have to get really creative in terms of acquiring the necessary operating capital.

This Florida Top Ten music chart appeared in
Orlando’s JAM! magazine in December 1989.
(Dead Serios was ranked #1 and #3!)


Read C'MON! in it's entirety 

Copyright 2012 / 2016 Christopher Long

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