Monday, November 14, 2016

C'MON! (Chapter Six: The Next Big Thing)

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


The Next Big Thing

I now realize, given my frequent self-righteous attitude, what a complete phony I really was during the Dead Serios heyday. Publicly I’d align myself with local and national level Christian rock musicians, as if I was “right on.” But behind the scenes, I was hanging out with various hometown pimps and drug dealers in order to secure the capital necessary to keep the project moving forward. These individuals were well aware of my band’s potential. They had tons of cash and many were eager to own a piece of “the next big thing.”

Capital Gain
In 1990 there was no Internet widely available to quickly and inexpensively market a band. From promo photos, demo recordings and bios to complete press kits, all materials were hard copies and had to be physically mailed to the recipient. Analog multi-track recording onto two-inch tape reels was still the industry standard, and a band literally could spend hundreds of dollars on cutting one single track in a professional studio.


My home office now has become the
"final resting place" for all of the old
original Dead Serios master recordings.
The convenient digital photography age also was still years away. Whenever Dead Serios had a photo shoot it was necessary to hire a professional, medium format photographer. He would then return to his lab, develop a hard copy contact sheet and days later we’d all stand around viewing thumb nail images with a magnifying glass to select the best shots. A few days after that we would receive a hard copy 8x10 master photo that would be sent off to a printing company. About a month later, we’d have a thousand new, glossy, black and white, hard copy promo photos and a bill for hundreds of dollars worth of photo-related expenses.

Add to this, demo duplication charges, folders, packing materials, postage, and bio printing costs at the local copy center and you can appreciate the expense involved in simply mailing out a few presentations. And let’s not forget about rehearsal space rental, long distance phone bills and advertising in various print publications. In short, the annual price tag for financing Dead Serios in those days was staggering.

In 1990 Dead Serios was being represented locally by "Hank," a guy who had recently relocated to Melbourne from L.A.. To Dead Serios members, Hank had a rather impressive industry background. He realized how close we were to making it, and he understood the importance of operating capital. Hank didn’t care by what means he acquired the cash, and neither did I.


Hank and I became close friends and we often traveled together to gigs  separately from the rest of the band. On one occasion Hank informed me that we needed to “make a stop” on our way out of town. I soon found myself sitting at a restaurant table with Hank and a man named "John." John was the leader of one of the area’s most infamous motorcycle clubs and he was notorious for dealing drugs and teenage girls. Standing well over six-feet-tall and covered with jailhouse tattoos, John resembled rock legend Gregg Allman and had an intimidating presence, to say the least. Although he seemed to like my band, I never knew for sure whether John was going to shake my hand or slit my throat. As a result, I rarely spoke during Hank’s meetings with John. And in hindsight, I’m glad that he never became one of our investors.

However, many of Hank’s other associates did contribute to the Dead Serios cause. I remember a few instances during our more dire cash-poor days when I accompanied Hank to what I can only describe as crack houses. I’d typically sit on a filthy couch in a dimly lit house with boarded-up windows, surrounded by an array of weaponry, while waiting for Hank to make an “arrangement” with a dealer holed up in a back room. I’d sometimes wait on Hank for an hour or more while enjoying the company of various unwashed, 90-pound teenage girls with bad teeth and tattoos who resided at the house. As a rule, Hank ultimately would reappear from a back room, wiping his nose as he’d toss me a roll of large bills and motion for the front door. It was dark stuff.

Dead Serios isn’t supposed to be taken
serios-ly. On the other hand, whether it's
intended or not, using the concept of the
“novelty song” is an excellent way to break
into radio play and achieve national attention.
Dead Serios may in fact be calculatedly serious.
-Rex Havoc (JAM! Magazine)


Onstage with "Buster" - one of the
many Dead Serios concert characters.
State of Control
Had you looked up the word “hypocrite” in Webster’s Dictionary in 1990, you would likely have found my picture alongside the definition. I genuinely had a true passion for the Christian rock scene and I went to great lengths to establish a connection to that world. But at the time, I certainly didn’t “walk it" like I "talked it.” And although I did a pretty good job of fooling many, there was one particular Christian rock insider who would see right through me.

While on tour with Guardian, bassist David Bach had given me a series of spoken-word audio cassettes by Pastor Bob Beeman. As head of the L.A.-based Sanctuary church, Beeman was well known in the Christian rock community. I was thoroughly inspired by Beeman’s cassette series and as I became more familiar with his church, I discovered that one of its leaders was Barren Cross bassist Jim LaVerde. Best described stylistically as a Christian version of Iron Maiden, Barren Cross was one of the biggest names in Christian rock and had been a longtime favorite of mine. Given LaVerde’s Sanctuary connection, I was delighted to get the call confirming Dead Serios as the opening act on the Florida leg of the 1990 Barren Cross State of Control tour.


I was excited to have the opportunity to connect with Barren Cross on a professional level and I was eagerly looking forward to our upcoming appearances with them. However, Dead Serios failed to make a terribly positive impression on Barren Cross or their fans during our first show together in Orlando. Unlike the connection we enjoyed with Guardian fans a few months earlier, Barren Cross fans were noticeably less enthusiastic regarding our garage-type, punk-meets-metal songs about lesbian cops, exploding potatoes and boogers. In fact, during one of our Barren Cross dates, I noticed a girl in the crowd clutching her Bible close to her chest with her eyes shut tightly and mouthing words as if she was praying for deliverance from an evil presence throughout our entire 45-minute set. Looking back, given the content of our act, I can’t say that I blame her.

At best, Dead Serios are side-splitting. At
worst, their jokes are too obvious. But the
hooky, thrashy Megadeth-meets-SOD music
generally carries ‘em away. Live, they use
more props than anyone this side of Gwar.
-Tom Nordlie
(Thrash Metal Magazine, July 1990)

From simulating sexual acts with mannequins to showering audiences with F-bombs, to stripping, spitting and puking, there was nothing I wouldn’t do or say while performing. Being onstage made me feel six-feet-tall and bulletproof. I recall one time in particular, we were performing in Miami, opening for the hard core kingpins, Circle Jerks. Two songs into our set, we began getting heckled by a rather large and disapproving skinhead faction. And be sure, I wasn’t going to allow their taunts to go unanswered. “You suck!” they shouted repeatedly from the mosh pit. I finally replied over the microphone with great confidence, “No, dudes  YOU suck!” Oddly, they remained non-disruptive for the rest of our set, as if they suddenly respected us for having displayed a little gumption. In fact, I recall partying with many of those guys behind the theater after the show!


Me and bassist, Joe Del Corvo,
performing with Dead Serios in 1990.
In typical Dead Serios fashion, my bandmates and I immediately headed to the bar following our first show opening for Barren Cross, and we soon achieved a level of drunkenness that was unprecedented, even by our standards. I remember getting so loaded that while Barren Cross was onstage I had to go outside of the club to walk it off before I passed out on the bar. As I came around the back of the club, I noticed Phil, Bill and Joe hanging out next to our equipment van. Upon stumbling closer, I noticed that Phil and Joe were arguing, and by the time I reached the van, their verbal dispute had turned physical. Apparently only half as drunk as the rest of us, Bill attempted to break up the now bloody scuffle while I stood there in a stupor, trying to comprehend what was taking place.

Bill Erwin and Phil Billingsley
 performing with Dead Serios in 1990.

Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls.
Those led astray by drink cannot be wise.
Proverbs 20:1 (NLT)

This type of occurrence actually happened with such frequency in the Dead Serios world that I coined the term PGS (Post Gig Syndrome) to describe our predictable acts of after-show dysfunction. In later years, I began arranging to have a car waiting outside of each venue at the end of every show with the engine idling so that I could walk directly off the stage and immediately speed away without having to be involved in the inevitable PGS.

Barren Cross and Dead Serios both arrived at the next venue at the same time the following day. As crew members were setting up the stage for that night’s show, I approached Jim LaVerde, and with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other I introduced myself and began apprising him of my spiritual beliefs and my passion for the Christian rock scene  including my interest in the Sanctuary church. He wasn’t impressed.

However, after a couple of shows, LaVerde and I actually began to bond a little. And then, following our last show together in Melbourne, he leveled with me. “God came to me earlier tonight and told me to talk to you,” LaVerde confessed as we both climbed into the back of my pick-up truck in the club’s parking lot. He wasted no time in making his point. “I ‘get’ your band,” he quickly confessed. “And I think your songs about cops and boogers are really funny. But don’t you dare come up to me with a beer in your hand and tell me how ‘right on’ you are!” Wow, nobody had ever been that direct with me. And for the next hour, LaVerde “preached it” in a way I’d never heard before  or since. In fact, I didn’t know whether to jump for joy over hearing his powerful message of faith or to jump off the roof of the club, realizing what a dirthead I really was. Although LaVerde’s words freaked me out for the next several days, I still didn’t truly “get it.” And before long I was once again back to my old ways  trying to play rock star from both sides of the spiritual fence.


Post-show backstage shot featuring members of 
Deep Purple, Barren Cross and Dead Serios.
(Orlando, Florida – May 1990)
Critical Mass
Sometimes we fail to recognize the “big picture” no matter how crystal clear it may be. And I was afforded numerous doses of rock reality as a result of Dead Serios’ connection to the band, Nuclear Assault.

The first time Dead Serios opened for the New York-based thrash band was in Florida during their first U.S. tour in early 1987. Since they were signed to a well-known record label, my expectation was that Nuclear Assault would arrive at the gig in a deluxe tour bus, loaded with all of the rock star-type amenities. However, I was taken aback to discover that at the time, they were actually traveling in a dilapidated school bus. And since the show was being held in the ballroom of a fairly ritzy hotel, I naturally assumed that the band members would have been set up with a couple of sweet suites. Wrong again! In fact, I was dumbfounded when I overheard drummer Glenn Evans literally begging the promoter to allow him to “borrow” a room for an hour just so he could shower. Huh? “This isn’t how it’s supposed to work,” I naively thought to myself. How could it be that a guy with a record deal, playing in the headline band, was without a place to shower, shave or snooze?


But by 1990, Nuclear Assault had finally graduated to deluxe tour bus status and were on a national tour with the band Testament, playing theater-type venues. Over the last couple of years I had established a close friendship with their lead guitarist, Anthony Bramante, and when the tour wrapped up in Orlando, Florida, Anthony graciously invited me and Joe Del Corvo to come and hang out. Joe and I were now in awe of Nuclear Assault. Their current record, Handle with Care, was selling well and their recent videos for “Critical Mass” and “Trail of Tears” had become staples on MTV’s popular Headbanger’s Ball program. In our view, Nuclear Assault had truly made the “big time.” So imagine my surprise when discovering how delighted the members were to be getting off the road while we were at their hotel after the show. In fact, Anthony didn’t even want to go near his bandmates or return to their bus. His bags were already packed and he was clearly eager for me to take him anywhere else — PRONTO. Although I didn’t “get it” at the time, I would completely relate to Anthony’s tour-related anxieties years later. In fact, from numerous road stories and traumatic intra-band accounts to tales of deals gone bad, Anthony offered me considerable insight into the music business big league.

With Anthony Bramante, goofing around
in my pool during the summer of 1990.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch Cherry Bomb!
My writing career actually began completely by accident. I was in Los Angeles in the spring of 1990   pounding the pavement and knocking on doors, promoting Dead Serios. While in town I happened to stop in a Hollywood bookstore where I finally located a copy of Neon Angel, the newly released autobiography written by former Runaways siren Cherie Currie.

At that point, the beautiful, one-time, up-and-coming actress, rock star and now author was enjoying somewhat of a comeback, making various appearances on the television talk show circuit promoting Neon Angel. Having seen Currie recently on one of these shows, I knew her book was in stores but I couldn’t find it anywhere in my hometown of Melbourne, Florida. This was years before the birth of and other online mail order services, so you’d really have to search to locate certain hard-to-find books and records.

It’s amazing what treasures you can find in Los Angeles. I had been a Runaways fan for years and during this trip I not only found a limited edition autographed copy of Neon Angel, I also scored Japanese import CDs of the first two Runaways records, The Runaways and Queens of Noise. Now, had this been the extent of my 1990 L.A. journey I could have returned home completely satisfied. However, this story was just beginning.

As I was packing by bags, preparing for my trip back to Florida the next day, I began to examine some of the promotional materials on Currie that I had received when I purchased her book a few days earlier. I noticed that the address for her management office was right around the corner from where I was staying in Hollywood — and I got a crazy idea. I had an acknowledged major “thing” for Currie and I also was eager to create a unique experience that would make this trip particularly memorable. So without giving it too much thought and certainly without considering any consequences, I called her management office, masquerading as a music journalist. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and I certainly don’t suggest this as a way for anyone else to break into the business. But I decided since I was going to be leaving L.A. the next day, I may as well go out with a bang! After all, what did I have to lose?


Within seconds, I had Rick, Currie’s manager, on the phone and I quickly convinced him of my bogus status as an East Coast music journalist. I told him that I was a staff writer for JAM!, a popular and quite legitimate publication based in Orlando. Realizing that I stood zero chance of ever actually meeting her, I told Rick that I’d like to schedule a telephone interview with Currie. After asking me several questions regarding the magazine, Rick told me that Currie was on her way to the office as we spoke and that once he had verified my credentials with the JAM! office, I could do the interview right away.

I couldn’t believe it. Rick actually bought my story  hook, line and sinker. I also quickly realized that I probably had less than a minute or two to contact JAM! editor, Darrel Massaroni, and apprise him of my scheme before Rick had a chance to call and find me out. Fortunately, Massaroni was, at the time, a major supporter of my band. So when I got him on the phone and told him my story he was actually very amused and supportive. In fact, he not only agreed to vouch for me, he also encouraged me to “get a good story” and informed me that the deadline for the next issue was just a few days away. Having now covered my bases, I quickly began jotting down questions and setting up a cassette tape recorder as I prepared to conduct and record what would become my first official interview. As instructed, I called Rick’s office back around 1PM and within a minute or two Cherie Currie was on the line.

Considering that I had no idea what I was doing, the interview went quite well. For nearly an hour Currie and I talked about her time in The Runaways, her solo records, her acting career and how she successfully had beaten her near life-ending addiction to drugs a few years earlier.

As the interview was winding down, I mentioned to Currie that I didn’t have a very good promo photo of her to accompany the feature and perhaps she might want to send a better quality head shot to the JAM! office. Then came the real bombshell. Instead of opting to mail a photo, she invited me to meet with her that afternoon at Rick’s office and together we could go through a box of photos and I could select whichever one I liked. Without haste, I immediately took a shower, got dressed, jumped in a cab and within minutes I had arrived at Rick’s Sunset Boulevard office.


Through a partially opened door I spotted Currie in the distance as I entered the office reception area. Upon introducing myself, the secretary at the front desk immediately escorted me to the room where Currie was awaiting my arrival and then closed the door behind her on the way out. Only a few hours earlier I was thrilled just to have found an autographed copy of this woman’s book — now we were alone, face to face, hanging out together — rummaging through a box of her various promo photos. In my world, this was big. No, it was bigger than big. This was colossal. In fact, I wouldn’t have been as psyched had I been invited on a private getaway ski weekend in Aspen with Paul Stanley! And I simply couldn’t believe that I successfully had managed to pull off such a stunt.

With Cherie Currie in 1990.
(Photo: Mike Laughlin)
Upon returning to Florida, I submitted my first feature story, which appeared in the April 6, 1990 issue of JAM! Before long I found myself being approached by people who had read my interview with Currie and they would often compliment me on my writing style. I found these compliments to be hilarious. Little did they know that it was all a total fluke and that I literally had bluffed my way through the entire thing.


An acronym for At Will of the Lord, AWOL was a high-energy hard rock band based out of Merritt Island, Florida that became one of the “must see” live acts on the local scene in 1990.

The members of AWOL were a couple of years younger than me, yet I was inspired by their ability to lay it down live  to leave gallons of sweat behind onstage, while sticking to their powerful Christian message. To say the least, I was truly a fan of this young, up-and-coming band whose style could best be described as a hybrid of Stryper-like arena rock and the funkiness of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The new crop of hot young rock club chickies really dug these guys too. In short, I found considerable value in being connected to AWOL.

I developed a personal brotherhood with the AWOL guys, and as a result, our bands performed numerous shows together. In fact, from 1990-1992, there was rarely an occasion when one of our bands booked a date without including the other in the deal. I was so on fire for AWOL, musically, spiritually, and personally, that I chose their band logo as my first tattoo in 1991. Now that raised a few eyebrows. First of all, this was back before all Americans seemingly were required by law to be tattooed by age 16. In Melbourne, Florida in 1991, being in a band, sporting ink was still somewhat of a novelty. And having a tattoo honoring a rival band was perceived by many at the time as plain weird.


I became particularly close to the group’s frontman, Paul Peters. And although we would drift apart as time marched on, he would play a surprise key role in my spiritual transformation, two decades later.

The Downward Spiral
At the height of our notoriety, Orlando’s JAM! magazine named Dead Serios as Florida’s “Entertainer of the Year” at its annual Jammy Awards ceremony in January 1991. “Now we’ve got ‘em!” declared our (then) manager, Jerry Landers, when I phoned him in Los Angeles to give him the good news of our big victory. Our moment had arrived and we could now no longer be denied  or could we? The fact is, at the exact glorious moment of our “crowning,” the Dead Serios “machine” seemed to blow a gasket.

Dead Serios being named
“Entertainer Of the Year” in 1991.
(Photo: Christopher Lee Helton)
Our first two post-Jammy Florida concert appearances in 1991 were with the industrial band, Genitorturers. To say that the Genitorturers audience failed to connect with Dead Serios’ slapstick style would be an understatement. I was physically assaulted by their disapproving fans as I jumped into the crowd at both gigs with my toy lawnmower to act out our concert mainstay, “Lawn Care Studs.” In fact, the hardcore audience in general was now starting to turn on us. And for the first time, I was beginning to feel as if I was actually in danger being onstage.


As a kid, Billboard was my favorite
magazine. Hence, it was surreal when
Dead Serios graced its pages in 1991.
I already had recognized the writing on the wall months earlier and in an effort to save our sinking ship, I suggested that we do the unthinkable  we added a lead guitarist to the band. Attempting to focus more on our music and less on our campy show, we brought ace guitarist, Doug Gibson, into our ranks. Although Doug’s contribution made us a better band, our new high road musical direction came a bit too late.

The ensuing months only brought further darkness and dilemmas to the Dead Serios world. We did get one last shot with a major label in August, but the rep from Atlantic Records who came to check us out as an opening act for the soon-to-be chart-topping band, Saigon Kick, was less than impressed. I’m sure that our lackluster performance had something to do with it, and production restrictions imposed on us by the headliner’s tour manager didn’t help. But more likely it was due to our unabashed onstage drunkenness. In fact, we were now developing such a dubious reputation for being alcoholic derelicts, that despite our Jammy Award status, we were becoming almost un-bookable. Things were becoming grim in our personal lives as well, as Dead Serios members soon endured divorces, arrests and even one member's botched early ‘90s suicide attempt.


Dead Serios T.V. concert performance.
Shot live onstage in front of 3,000 fans.
(Orlando, FL - 1991)

But perhaps the most frustrating and humiliating part of our story took place when Dead Serios seemingly became victims of identity theft. In the summer of 1991, I sent a promo pack to an L.A.-based attorney in hopes that he could secure us a record deal. He called me a couple of weeks later to inform me that although he was personally impressed by the band, he saw little chance of us getting signed.

A few months later people began approaching us, commenting on how they’d heard Dead Serios on the radio. At first I thought nothing of it as we’d been receiving college radio airplay for years. But more and more people continued congratulating us on finally scoring a hit record. Suddenly, even national level musicians began calling my house, offering the same sentiment and adding that changing our name was apparently the smart move. None of this made sense to us. We hadn’t been signed, we weren’t receiving commercial airplay and we hadn’t changed our name. Then one day, a kid came up to me at a local fast food joint and began reciting the lyrics of this new “Dead Serios” tune he had just heard on the radio. It caught my attention because the rather clever lyrics were a takeoff on the story of The Three Little Pigs.


Finally, someone in our organization got a copy of the record. When I heard it, I recall literally being rendered speechless for the first time in my life. From the heavy, chunky guitar riffs, to the growling vocals to the novelty-type lyrics, the song entitled “Three Little Pigs” by the group Green Jellÿ was a carbon copy of Dead Serios’ sound and style. And to add further suspicion to this tale, it soon came to my attention that Green Jellÿ was managed by the same L.A.-based attorney who just a few months earlier had passed on representing Dead Serios. Hmm. Let me be clear that I’m not making any accusations. I’m merely conveying a really "odd" show biz "coincidence."

The Last Gasp
Major record labels clearly didn’t embrace Dead Serios like the fans and press. An Interscope Records A&R rep once went so far as to tell me flat out that our music “sucked.” “You ought to quit now and stop embarrassing yourself,” she recommented, with considerable arrogance and disdain.

Despite our lack of major label interest, we knew we were on the verge of becoming “the next big thing” in the early ‘90s, when actually our days were numbered. The Seattle grunge movement was revving up and about to consume the entire rock world. And there would be little room in that world for a band like ours. The once tight Dead Serios unit began to splinter and before long, one by one, my bandmates all moved on to pursue other projects. Although I stuck it out for a couple of more years with various line-up changes, our window of opportunity had been permanently slammed shut by the end of 1992.

Our last gasp.


Read C'MON! in it's entirety 

Copyright 2012 / 2016 Christopher Long

No comments:

Post a Comment