Listen to Che Underground!

Backlit AnswersFresh from Vault 13, we’ve prepared a little audio mashup to whet the collective appetite for the fuzzy warbles contained within.

So may I introduce to you the acts you’ve known for all these years: The Answers, Hair Theatre, the Mirrors, Noise 292, the Rockin’ Dogs and the Wild Desires! (The Wallflowers’ Mystic sessions arrived after this mix but are well-represented below.)

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Noise 292: “Mr. Pumpkin”
Detail: Noise 292’s Wendell Kling, David Rives, Matthew Rothenberg (photo by Becky Cohen)Here’s a late but significant contribution to the Noise 292 set list. “Mr. Pumpkin” by guitarist David Rives appeared on a four-song demo we recorded at Mira Costa College, I believe in April 1984.

The driving metalwork percussion is classic Wendell Kling, and I’m under the distinct impression that the drums on this session were generously contributed by the multitalented Sergio of Hair Theatre. Dave sings lead, and I’m on bass.

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Hair Theatre: “Rolling Soul”
Detail: Hair Theatre on stage (from crowd)From the same 1983 Lab Studios demo that brought us “Nightfall,” here’s Hair Theatre performing “Rolling Soul,” another signature number and staple of the band’s early-’80s repertoire. This track showcases the clean confidence of Hair Theatre’s early years and highlights the sophistication and charisma that vocalist/ songwriter Sergio demonstrated by age 18.

It also commemorates the collaborative skills of Sergio and Answers co-founder Dave Fleminger (demonstrated elsewhere with a recording of Sergio’s “He’s Calling You Tonight.”) “Sergio and I wrote that song one afternoon at [original Hair Theatre drummer Howard Palmer’s Carlsbad] shack,” Fleminger recalls. “The song really took off when it was revamped and reworked into Hair Theatre’s set, and it was always a thrill for me to hear them play it.”

Sergio (vocals); Sergio Castillo (bass); Cesar Castillo (rhythm guitar); Paul Allen (lead guitar); Steve Broach (drums).

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The Rockin’ Dogs: “Bye Bye Bye”
Detail: Rockin’ Dogs Dave Ellison, Sam Wilson (collection Cole Smithey)“OK, now we’re diggin’ into the archives!” writes Rockin’ Dog Dave Ellison of “Bye Bye Bye,” the latest stellar Dogs single and earliest Dogs recording to join our hit parade.

“This is from the historic Rockin’ Dogs San Marcos Sessions, featuring the earlier lineup of Sam Wilson on guitar/vocals; Dave Ellison on bass/vocals; Jim Meisland on guitar; and Scott Nichols (a k a Scott Slob) on drums.

“In 1982, we had a rented practice room in a metal building in San Marcos, which was owned by Vietnam vet auto mechanics. They used to work on cars in that building all night long. We used to practice until late at night, and they gradually grew tired of our racket and evicted us.

“Before then, however, we rented a mixer and some mics and recorded a demo of our set on a two-track home reel-to-reel deck. We were unable to overdub or mix anything after recording, so we set the levels and went for it … doing one or two takes of all the songs in one weekend, with me as engineer. This was the real raw, live sound we had at that time … amps cranked up to 10, and no distortion boxes.

“In spite of a complete lack of knowledge of recording, I think the sound quality is better than we got at any recording studios we later used.

“I wrote this song, so it’s me singing with Sam on backup vocals. Heavy Heartbreakers influence on this one — like a lot of our songs. Jim Meisland takes the first lead, and Sam takes the second. This is right around the time we played at Headquarters (the show you posted the flyer for) … a good example of how we probably sounded that night.”

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The Wallflowers: “Walldrugs”
Detail: Paul Howland, Wallflowers (photo by Cyndie Jaynes)Yet another Wallflowers signature returns from Canada after a 25-year hiatus.

Like the rest of this cache, “Walldrugs” features the original Wallflowers lineup of Dave Rinck (vocals), Paul Howland (bass), Tommy Clarke (guitar) and Aaron Daniels (drums).

“’Walldrugs’ and [Stooges cover] ‘TV Eye’ were recorded in a ’studio’ at Music Power,” Dave Rinck writes. “‘Raw Power’ [another Stooges cover] was, too, but not until a little later than the other two.

“‘Walldrugs’ is about some asthma pills we used to take recreationally. They made us so aggro and dizzy that we’d often take a handful of them before going on stage.”

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The Answers: “Home”
Detail: The Answers’ Tony Suarez, Dave Fleminger, Dave Anderson (collection Dave Fleminger)Here’s Answers Phase Two in kinetic action!

“[‘Home’] is from a performance at King’s Road, Aug. 13, 1982, opening for Banner,” writes guitarist/ vocalist/ songwriter Dave Fleminger. “Luv the impromptu intro with [MC] Jerry [Cornelius].

“As always, Dave Anderson delivers the powerhouse drumming that propels the breaks right out of the gate. One minute and 40 seconds in the key of A, all about an unfamiliar place with dirty dishes that remind you of home.”

Dave Fleminger (guitar, vocals); Tony Suarez (bass); Dave Anderson (drums).

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The Answers: “Electric Flowers”
Detail: The Answers’ Dave Fleminger (collection Dave Fleminger)Music historians recognize three major phases of the Answers: the founding lineup that included guitarist/vocalist Dave Fleminger and bassist/vocalist Jeff Lowe as well as drummer Joe Asaro; a middle period during which Tony Suarez took over bass duties and Dave Anderson, drums; and a latter phase that featured Jeff’s return from LA. “Electric Flowers” inaugurated that third era in the band’s history.

“Here’s the Answers live at the Headquarters, Jan. 1, 1983,” Fleminger writes. “We kicked off the new year with our first show since Jeff rejoined the band, probably about a week beforehand.

“It’s an off-the-board recording, so my raspy vocals are kinda goosed and loud. ‘Electric Flowers’ was a blast to play as it had one of our signature one-chord, 16-bar raveups in the middle of it, just bashing away in double-time … good times.”

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The Wallflowers: “Funland”
Detail: Wallflower Dave Rinck playing pinballBy popular demand, another Wallflowers classic from the recent Canadian airlift joins the Che Underground play list. Wallflowers lead singer Dave Rinck has famously referred to “Funland” as the “anthem” of the first Wallflowers lineup, and bassist Paul Howland writes of “Funland”: “That one is probably my single favorite Wallflowers tune. That one and ‘Rubber Room’ kind of cover the whole Wallflowers sound for me.”

“Pinball was quite important to the original Wallflowers,” Rinck writes. “We hung out in arcades a lot (especially Funland downtown, which inspired a song of the same name), and at one point I even acquired a pinball machine, which we played for 24-hour marathons.”

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“He’s Calling You Tonight”
Detail: Sergio of Hair Theatre (photo by Cyndie Jaynes)A beautiful example of Che Underground musical chairs in action,
“He’s Calling You Tonight” brings together the talents of Dave Fleminger (Answers co-founder and sometime Hair Theatre guitarist) and Sergio (Hair Theatre co-founder and sometime Answers vocalist).

“This is a Sergio song we recorded on the 4-track with overdubs,” Dave writes. “I played the guitars, and Sergio played the drums.

“It showcases once again what a fantastic vocalist he is, and the double- and triple-tracked voice-lines are especially effective. … There’s a profound sense of desperation in the vocals that truly carries the message of the lyrics.”

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Noise 292: “Sister Ray”
Noise 292 backstagePerforming at the Che Cafe Nov. 17, 1983 (with Hair Theatre and 11 Sons), Noise 292 pays homage to two of its bedrock influences, covering the Velvet Underground’s epic “Sister Ray” and throwing in a few stylings from Joy Division’s version for good measure. (Check out Kristin Martin and me tearing into the “Good night” vocals at the end, à la mode d’Ian Curtis!)

“My first memory of witnessing a Noise 292 show has you screaming your ass off during a performance of ‘Sister Ray,’ incredibly cathartic and tribal,” writes Dave Fleminger. “I’d never seen anything like it … way scarier and more musically violent than Fairmont Hall fare. Ear-punishing.”

Matthew Rothenberg (rhythm guitar, vocals); Kristin Martin (bass, backing vocals); David Rives (lead guitar); Wendell Kling (trash percussion); Joanne Norris (drums).

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The Mirrors: “The Breeze” b/w “Sight Unseen”
Detail: Still from the Mirrors video “The Breeze” b/w “Sight Unseen”In another first for Che Underground: The Blog, here is a never-before-distributed video featuring San Diego’s legendary Mirrors, the luminous successor to the Answers. Guitarist and producer Dave Fleminger describes the creative process:

“These tracks are among the Mirrors’ last San Diego recording sessions, around June 1985. As with all Mirrors sessions, they were made in my bedroom with one mic and a Teac four-track. The soundtrack is still based on cassette mixes, as these have yet to be properly remixed.

“By the end of that summer we were all in San Francisco, part of the mass migration documented elsewhere on the blog. The players are me, Jeff [Lowe] and Anni (on guitar, bass and drums, respectively), with Jeff and me each singing the song that we authored.

“This video was one of several student projects I did at CCAC (now CCA) in Oakland, ’85-’86.”

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Hair Theatre: “Nightfall”
Detail: Sergio of Hair TheatreHere’s a keystone number in Hair Theatre’s brilliant repertoire: “Nightfall” is one of my clearest memories of this unforgettable band.

According to vocalist Sergio, this performance was part of a four-song demo recorded at the end of 1983: Hair Theatre’s second demo session and the first with lead guitarist Paul Allen.

“Nightfall” was recorded at Lab Studios in Carlsbad by James of Manifest Destiny. “James was very patient with us, very good,” Sergio recalls. “He was used to doing everything punk-style: one take and out. I insisted on a couple of tracks for my vocals,” and the band devoted multiple takes to making sure the sound was polished to a fine edge.

“Nightfall” features Sergio (vocals); Sergio Castillo (bass); Cesar Castillo (rhythm guitar); Paul Allen (lead guitar); Steve Broach (drums).

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The Rockin’ Dogs: “Always on the Run”
The Rockin’ Dogs’ Sam WilsonWe’re spinning another sizzling Rockin’ Dogs hit requested by the Wallflowers’ Dave Rinck, this one from early in the band’s extraordinary collaboration.

“‘Always On the Run’ was one of the first songs we did,” writes Rockin’ Dogs co-founder Dave Ellison. “I’m pretty sure Sam wrote it before we started the band. It was always a part of our set … at least for as long as I was in the band.

“I always liked playing the lead on this one, but I think I screwed it up a little here. Oh, well … no time to do it over when you’re a young musician on a budget!”

Like “Candy Rock” and “Back of Your Heart,” this track was recorded at AccuSound Studios in El Cajon, Calif. “Always on the Run” features Sam Wilson (vocal, guitar); Dave Ellison (lead guitar); Cole Smithey (drums); Jane Bunting (bass).

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Noise 292: “The Assassin”
Detail: Kristin Martin and David Rives of Noise 292Here’s a prime example of the Noise 292 dark cabaret — and of Kristin Martin’s power as a singer and storyteller.

Recorded July 29, 1983 (when we performed with the Answers and Hair Theatre at the Che Cafe),
“The Assassin” showcases Noise 292 at its most atmospheric — it’s another facet of the modernist vibe of “Chanson Dada.” (Check out how the drums and scrap-metal percussion complement Kristin’s haunting vocals and David Rives’ spooky guitar work!)

Kristin Martin (rhythm guitar, vocals); David Rives (lead guitar); Hobie Hodge (trash percussion); Joanne Norris (drums); Matthew Rothenberg (bass).

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Noise 292: “Chanson Dada” live at Che Cafe
Detail: Matthew Rothenberg, Noise 292Never mind the later, cleaner studio version: With this live version of “Chanson Dada,” Noise 292 lives up to its name.

Recorded Nov. 17, 1983, when we played the Che Cafe with Hair Theatre and 11 Sons, the band activates the metal machine; the middle eight (sixteen? thirty-two?) sounds like we’re torturing a large mechanical animal with a chainsaw. Not recommended for nursing mothers or people with mercury-amalgam fillings! Kristin Martin (rhythm guitar); David Rives (lead guitar); Wendell Kling (trash percussion); Joanne Norris (drums); Matthew Rothenberg (bass, vocals).

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The Answers: “Teenage Problems”
Detail: Dave Anderson, Tony Suarez, Dave Fleminger of the AnswersThe Answers come alive! Here’s a very hot number from the 1982 lineup of this protean band. Dave Fleminger sets the scene for this song, which perfectly captures the SD teen spirit we’re celebrating on Che Underground: The Blog.

“The Answers, opening the day’s festivities at ‘Mod Mania,’ hosted by Lumpy at the Adams Ave. Theater, Sept. 18, 1982. Dave Fleminger (guitar/voice); Tony Suarez (bass/voice); David Anderson (drums).

“I’m kind of glad the vocals aren’t clear on this recording, as you first get the message of the song through the energy of the performance rather than the words.”

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Noise 292: “Stupid Future”
Detail: Kristin Martin/Hobie Hodge of Noise 292“Stupid Future” was posted to the blog on the 25th anniversary of Noise 292’s first performance: May 26, 1983, at the Che Cafe with the Answers and the Odds.

This luminous rendition comes to us from Nov. 17, 1983, when Noise 292 performed with Hair Theatre and 11 Sons at the Che Cafe. Kristin Martin (vocals, rhythm guitar); David Rives (lead guitar — check out that solo!); Wendell Kling (trash percussion); Joanne Norris (drums); Matthew Rothenberg (bass).

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The Rockin’ Dogs: “Back of Your Heart”
Detail: Rockin’ Dogs two and twoI am very excited to unleash another track from the Rockin’ Dogs’ legendary AccuSound sessions, and a personal favorite in the Che Underground canon. “Back of Your Heart” has me hooked; the Link Wray chicken-scratch lick just before “Your bo-o-oy” is another addictive Dogs signature, Cole Smithey’s drumming is especially sharp on this number, and I love the call-and-response on the chorus.

The lineup on “Back of Your Heart”: Sam Wilson (vocal, guitar); Dave Ellison (bg vocal, guitar); Cole Smithey (drums); Jane Bunting (bass).

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The Answers: “Lucifer Sam”
Dave Fleminger of the AnswersThe Answers’ sizzling cover of the mini-masterpiece “Lucifer Sam” by Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd was a catalyst for all sorts of musical adventures.

Tell-Tale Heart Eric Bacher recently recounted how bandmate Dave Klowden’s urging to come watch the Answers play “Lucifer Sam” changed his musical life; it’s a tale eerily similar to my own memory of Noise 292’s David Rives insisting I run to watch a San Diego band that was actually covering Barrett! (I’ve long regretted that the Answers’ absence from the UCSD gig with the Three O’Clock prevented us from instigating a mass “Lucifer Sam-off”.) Gravedigger V and Nashville Ramblers vet Tom Ward also vividly recalls the Answers’ “Lucifer Sam” a quarter-century after the fact.

This viral gem was recorded in February 1983 and features Dave Fleminger (guitar, vocals); Jeff Lowe (bass); and Dave Anderson (drums). It’s spiky and wonderful, and it still holds the creative fizz of that moment of musical discovery.

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Noise 292: “Talking in Circles”
David Rives plays Che CafeHere’s “Talking in Circles,” the first of three compositions in the Che Underground archives by Noise 292 guitarist extraordinaire David Rives.

Dave and I played our first gigs together (Hair Theatre vocalist Sergio actually recalls watching us playing the Oak Crest Junior High School talent show in 1977), and he was my original guitar hero. This piece — which I believe was recorded in summer ’83 at the Che Cafe itself — showcases his formidable skills as a writer and performer.

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The Wallflowers: “Paradise on 4th Avenue”

Wallflowers Phase Two group shotAs if to provide some karmic yin to “Survive the Jungle”‘s yang, Dave Fleminger just scored a pristine white-vinyl copy of the Mystic Super-Seven Sampler #2, a 1984 release featuring “Paradise on 4th Avenue,” the Phase Two Wallflowers’ homage to San Diego’s Studio 517 and its avatar, Steve Epeneter.

“I considered ‘Paradise on 4th Ave’ to be the anthem of the second Wallflowers (like ‘Funland’ was to the first line-up),” writes Dave Rinck, the immortal front man for both deathless incarnations.

“This was recorded by James at the The Lab in San Diego in 1985 for the Mystic EP. The line-up is: David Rinck (vocals), Paul Howland (bass), Todd Lahman (guitar), Armando (alto sax), Arturo Reyes (drums).”

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The Wallflowers: “Survive the Jungle”
Wallflowers Phase One“Ridin’ in an airplane … We’re goin’ back to Vietnam!” Airlifted to us after a quarter-century of exile in Canada, this vicious Wallflowers jam shrieks over Che Underground like a flaming F-15. The instrumental interplay among Paul Howland (bass), Tommy Clarke (guitar) and Aaron Daniels (drums) is simultaneously funky and menacing, and Dave Rinck’s vocals are positively shamanic.

The Che Cafe patio meets the Mekong Delta — with wah pedal!

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The Answers: “Nowhere”
Detail: The Answers in treesA shimmering testament to an amazing band at the height of its powers. “Nowhere” always took my breath away when the Answers performed it live — and 25 years down the road, Dave Fleminger’s evocation of “what time erases” gives me chills.

This track also bears witness to the Answers’ genius for making home recordings sound like landscapes you’d want to live in! Here’s Mr. Fleminger on the genesis of this tape: “Written by little ol’ me …. instrumental track recorded in [drummer] Dave Anderson’s bedroom (the usual practice spot) with one mic on one channel of a Tandberg reel to reel, vocals recorded in the downstairs bathroom at Pat’s house in sound-on-sound mode. June 1983. Fleminger, [bassist Jeff] Lowe, Anderson is the lineup.”

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Noise 292: “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
Detail: Matthew Rothenberg, Noise 292Here’s another helping of sonic steak Tartar, to borrow Dave Rinck’s evocative phrase: Noise 292 serving up a very raw version of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” at the Headquarters in Pacific Beach, August 26, 1983 (opening for the Pandoras and the Answers). This was the first Noise 292 lineup, and this number features Kristin Martin on bass; David Rives, guitar; Hobie Hodge, trash percussion; Joanne Norris, drums; Matthew Rothenberg, vocals and S&M tambourine (with which I raised a big hematoma on the heel of my hand every time we played this song). Leighton Koizumi of the Gravedigger V and the Morlocks made his live rock-‘n’-roll debut playing electric violin on “Heroin” that evening, although Wendell also took over violin duties when he replaced Hobie on percussion.

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The Wallflowers: “Raw Power”
Wallflowers Phase One group photoI’m pretty sure I met the Wallflowers at an apartment party — maybe in Kensington? — in early summer 1983. I believe Dave Ellison brokered my introduction to the most joyfully subversive band in the whole Che Underground circuit.

Here’s what Wallflowers vocalist Dave Rinck recently called “the raw stuff, the real steak Tartar of the band”: Wallflowers Phase One demolishing the Stooges’ “Raw Power”! Man, I’ve missed these guys.

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The Rockin’ Dogs: “Candy Rock”
Detail: Rockin’ Dogs on the streetHere’s a signature number from a superb band. Dave Rinck of the Wallflowers has called the Rockin’ Dogs’ “Candy Rock” his favorite San Diego rock-‘n’-roll tune, and it’s easy to see why.

We’re still trying to remember the spring 1983 Answers gig where we met, but the Rockin’ Dogs were an electrifying addition to the Che Underground scene. They looked tight, and they sounded explosive: Cole Smithey (drums) and Jane Bunting (bass) made a killer rhythm section, and vocalists/guitarists Dave Ellison and Sam Wilson (musical collaborators since age 14) were an endlessly fascinating study in stylistic contrasts; just check out the interplay of guitar styles on “Candy Rock.” The Rockin’ Dogs put Poway on the map for me!

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Hair Theatre: “Meet Me Outside”
Detail: Sergio of Hair TheatreThe first time I heard Hair Theatre was a party at Margarat Nee’s house in Leucadia in the summer of 1983. They came out of nowhere (a k a Carlsbad, a few miles north of my sphere of activity), and I knew from Note 1 that we needed to invite them to join the scene coalescing around the Che Cafe. What an incredible band! What fantastic stage presence!

Making its digital debut on Che Underground: The Blog, here’s Hair Theatre doing “Meet Me Outside.” Listening to this, who else can clearly picture Sergio in action?

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The Amazons: “Candle”
Matthew on guitarWhile I’ve never been as prolific as Dave Fleminger, Jeff Lowe, Sergio or Sam Wilson (to name just a few), the songs I write have tended to follow me from band to band.

Here’s “Candle” — a song a few of you may recall from way back in the wilds of Noise 292 — as interpreted by the Amazons, my late-’90s acoustic trio in San Francisco. (The bassist is Jason Brownell, a friend from Milwaukee before my arrival in San Diego County for junior high; drums are contributed by Todd Barker, who attended San Dieguito high school with me and David Rives, to name just two musical alumni. Kickin’ it old-school!)

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“Noise 292: Chanson Dada”
Detail: Wendell at the CheFrom a studio demo dated April 1984, here’s Noise 292 playing their hit single “Chanson Dada!”

(N.b.: While we were sonically pretty far out on the fringe for 1984, this composition does come in at a radio-friendly 2:59. A fiercer, live version from 1983 will make its way onto the site sooner or later.)

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