The genesis of Elvis Christ

(Jack Gamboa continues his Che-infused memoir of his mid-’80s band.)

Elvis Christ "On the Gym Steps"; UCSD, Friday March 6, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)It was the very first day of school after summer break. I was walking to my Propaganda Films of the Third Reich lecture. (I had already taken Bram Dijkstra’s “Devils, Vampires and Other Horrible Creatures of 19th Century Literature.”) Suddenly on the path to the quad I saw my best childhood friend Steve. I had not seen him in months!

Elvis Christ; "On the Gym Steps," UCSD, March 6, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)He was a guitarist, so we were talking about the local band scene, I was telling him about the rockabilly outfit the Wild Desires. I “BongoChild” drummed for Dave “LadiesLove” Ellison on Magnatone Typhoon and bass legend Andy “ThunderTrain” Seidlinger on lownotes. A bad-ass situation too perfect to last. We had broken up a few months before. Andy had also been playing my borrowed drums for a pair of punks who called themselves Leather Geek, but he transferred to UCLA to study Structural Engineering. I told Steve: “I would love to meet up with Leather Geek! I never saw them play, but I hear that they threw legendary parties. Rumor has it that Jory is an excellent guitarist, and Eric did a poetry reading of ‘Walk This Way’ by Aerosmith!” Steve was laughing and digging that. So we were gossiping about musicians and stuff like that. We turned a corner and entered an open lawn area (I think it was called ‘the Quad’ in those days) …

BAM! There are Eric and Jory sitting RIGHT THERE! Just eating some lunch in the grass, talking. I think they asked me if I was Jack as I walked by. I said yes … thinking “No kidding, its them!” I had only seen them once before briefly with Andy, but in those days there were very few punks and an insider’s recognition existed between us all. And Eric had a distinctive style: Mohawk in orange or green, leather jacket, birth-control glasses, shorts made of plaid polyester leisure slacks cut off at the knees with scissors and not hemmed. (Eric worked summers at a dry cleaner’s shop his father owned and he got all the clothes from the bin of stuff people abandoned there.) So I introduced them to Steve, hey — they were all pre-med — they all doctors now by the way; in fact Steve was for a while a Swedish gynecologist! Really.

Elvis Christ at the Che Cafe!

Eric and Jory were smiling and laughing, “We were just talking about you!” Steve and I looked at each other, I told them that I was just telling Steve about them! We all just smiled and wondered how strange a coincidence that was. Eric then asked me if I would like to be their drummer.

I immediately told them I was available. They were ecstatic! Eric and Jory were literally giggling and speechless because they had been sitting there wondering how they could coax me to quit the Wild Desires. (Stealing bassists and drummers is common in the music biz.) No shit.

Steve bailed to his next class, but I stayed and talked to Eric and Jory. I liked them right away! I told them my next class was Propaganda Films of the Third Reich and they wished they were art/lit students. They were super funny and smart. I liked them immediately. So they said they had a bass player lined up and we could all meet at like 6:00 in an empty lecture hall that very night to jam and maybe work up some songs. I was STOKED! So I said bye to them and jammed to my lecture, cause now I was late …

So I get there and the large hall is full. Even in the stairway aisles. But there was an island of maybe three seats in the very center of the crowd. This always happened in large lecture halls because the early arrivals want to sit in the center of the room but not right next to each other, so as the seats are taken those empty ones in the center remain vacant. I looked at the empty seats with favor and all the kids in the row looked at me with chagrin. I would have to ask like 20 people to move their knees for me. I did. And I got a fantastic view.

So then the professor-lady arrived and starts lecturing and we are taking notes and I was wondering when the first Leni Riefenstahl Naked Lady movie was going to start. But then another student was standing in the aisle, looking with interest at the empty seat next to me. Next thing I know, she is ploughing her way through the crowd just as I had done. I was appalled, but in an admiring, amused way. The teacher lady did that thing where she quit talking till the latecomer sat down. She is paid to talk, so her silence makes the other students feel like they are getting ripped off. It increases the scorn-factor. Some lecturers lock their doors after class starts to dissuade crashers and punks.

But this tardy lass did not care at all, for not unlike me, she was a punk. I could tell. She had ratty hair and was wearing jogging sweats and a huge plaid shirt, probably her boyfriend’s. Her skunky makeup needed tending. She looked like a cranky mess, but also sort of … hot. A whiff of her mild B.O, attenuated with essence of ganja sealed the deal. I was turned on. I passed her a note asking her if she was actually appearing in her pajamas.

She returned the note with her answer in the affirmative and asked me where my pinky was. I wrote back to her that I cut it off with a machete. The movie started. She had black finger nails. We passed notes the whole time. She liked the bit about my stint in a mental ward. Her name was Kat. We opined about the sexual proclivities of the instructor, who looked strident but in need of some erotic … maintenance. Class was over soon, and we hoped we would see each other again soon.

~Later That Night~

I met up with the guys at band practice. I looked a the gear. Eric had a mic and a strange looking thrift-store lecture-style PA sound system. But it was loud. Jory played a Telecaster, an interesting choice for punk. (This was before I learned that he is a big Bruce Springsteen fan.) Through a Marshall amp. He was strumming out some cool licks, and his tone did not make me want to barf right away. Promising! “Where is the bass player?” I wondered.

It took me two trips to the metallic brown ’68 VW microbus to drag in all my drum gear. It was stowed in two heavy canvas totes and four black cases. First I unrolled a cheap imitation (but pretty) Persian carpet. I unpacked “The Desk” onto it. I had a stunning antique Rogers Holiday model four-piece set in the iridescent, swirley Blue Oyster finish with the deep, chrome plated Dyna-Sonic snare, Swiv-O-Matic bass pedal, nasty-cool, extra heavy Zildjain hi-hats, a smokin’ ride and decent crash. The boys admired my set. Everyone did.

The bassist arrived. It was KAT! I recognized her immediately and we both just froze. And started laughing. The dudes asked us if we knew each other and she said “Yes, we just met today in our Propaganda Films of the Third Reich lecture!” Eric and Jory looked at each other in disbelief.

Elvis Christ "On the Gym Steps"; UCSD, Friday March 6, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)Elvis Christ "On the Gym Steps"; UCSD, Friday March 6, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)Elvis Christ "On the Gym Steps"; UCSD, Friday March 6, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)Elvis Christ "On the Gym Steps"; UCSD, Friday March 6, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)

Elvis Christ "On the Gym Steps"; UCSD, Friday March 6, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)Elvis Christ "On the Gym Steps"; UCSD, Friday March 6, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)Elvis Christ "On the Gym Steps"; UCSD, Friday March 6, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)

What a rippy-ass coincidence! I met all three of them within 10 ten greatest minutes of all Rock history. At UCSD, that trippy crucible of weirdness. We sensed destiny at play.

We worked up three or four decent little songs that very first night, and actually completed our massive, complicated and omnipotent anthem DISHROOM! For this fascinating metal tune I employed doubletime on the high-hats, with snare then a round of toms and then snare every other measure. It was wicked cool. A rare creative achievement. Jory has a head full of excellent rock hooks, stirring melodies and killer leads. Eric seems to endlessly flow perfectly hysterical lyrics. Kat looked smaller than her P-Bass, but she wrapped her dainty hands around the neck and down-picked with authority. She could keep up! She was frickin’ rad. I was having so much fun rocking rocking with them! Creating music with Elvis Christ was always intuitive and fast.

The Elvis Christ Experience went on to rock the UCSD crowd at the Che Cafe, and the bikers at the Spirit Club on Morena Drive and survived sundry road trips to places like Las Vegas and Santa Cruz. Some favorite shows: Opening for Dinosaur Junior, Incredible Shrinking Dickies, Thelonious Monster, Mary’s Danish, Pandoras, Red Hot Chili Peppers, First Offence, Night Soil Man and so many bands that I can see and hear in my memory, I just can’t remember all their names. What a fantastic time to be making music! I was frequently blown away by the talent and fun I encountered at shows. And the Tijuana scene was just as big!

Elvis Christ; the Roxy, Feb. 25, 1986 (collection Jack Gamboa)Thelonious Monster, Elvis Christ; Spirit Club, Sept. 28 1988 (collection Jack Gamboa)Elvis Christ, the Panic; Che Cafe, April 3, 1987 (collection Jack Gamboa)

After about three years, EC broke up. We argued a lot, and then one cloudy day I just got up and left. I was very impulsive then and I cheated on my poor girlfriends back then, too. I was stupid. Elvis Christ had been working up new material. Jory had written the hook for “Hermaphrodite,” and it was not complete, but I had heard amazing parts for it and I knew as soon as he designed a chorus we would have a hit. I was experimenting with the beats. Very fast. Ridiculously powerful. And there was “Farming on the Roof,” a truly new style of rocking; stark, powerful and steady. Almost predictable, but satisfying. We were had that righteous groove thing going. We definitely could have cut a bitchen’ CD if we had lasted another year. We did have a lot of fans. The dudes went to med school. Kat moved to France. I became a dad …

But I still think we have something to prove. Our only studio work was done after my set was stolen, and I drummed on trash that Greg had to hold in place for me while I played. I ruined our only video of one of our best concerts … There is very little evidence of how great we were. I cannot let the work we did vanish forever! Our demo tape only contains four songs. Maybe it can be digitally remastered.

We had a beautiful reunion last summer, here in Portland. It was so wonderful to be with them again. But we did not get to jam. Someday I am going to win the lottery, get another drum set and make the band come and play in the Elvis Christ Revival Orchestra! I will put everyone and their lovers up in my exquisite mansion, and we will Ignite the Night with music. Then we can post it all on YouTube and it will be used in health-insurance ads and we will play the Saturday Night Live and I can hug Tina Fey.

— Jack Gamboa

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4 Responses to “The genesis of Elvis Christ”

  1. Mmrothenberg Says:

    I love how life seemed to fall into place back in those days. My whole association with most of the protagonists of this blog seemed to be a series of chance encounters that happened in almost no time at all.

    Jack’s kismet-ridden day on campus that brought together Elvis Christ evokes that same feeling — it’s not one I’ve experienced for many years, now that I think of it, and it may be one thing I really miss about being young and impulsive.

  2. matt johnson Says:

    Okay, the transition is complete. I immediately tried to “like” your comment, tocayo.

  3. Lesha Holland Says:

    “Jack Gamboa continues…”

    Where’s the first part again?

  4. Mmrothenberg Says:

    >>Where’s the first part again?

    Lesha: Right here!