June 2006

Mentone Music Month

When I suggested to Dennis, former member of The Mechanics (influential Orange County band of the late 70's) that I'd like to interview him, he avoided the subject for about a month. Once I suggested that he could rant and bitch all he wanted (his favorite past time over the years, at least in my presence) and there would be gourmet coffee provided, he seemed to perk up.

For those of you who've never heard of The Mechanics (and that would be most of you), here goes: Arriving at the same time as punk in Los Angeles, The Mechanics were one of those bands overlooked for being too rock for punks (long hairs), and too punk for the metal heads (too fast, this was pre-Metallica.) Like similar bands, they get more respect now than they did during their heyday.

Here is our interview, conducted out in my garden, accompanied by coffee, Avo Uvezian cigars, and the occasional neighborhood cat.

R.G. I've known you a while, and you seem to be a little put off when people refer to your old band as punk. Let's talk about you and the Orange County bands The Mechanics get grouped with, Social Distortion, Agent Orange, and The Adolescents...

D.C. Sure., but can we also talk about bands I like? Kidding! I like those guys! Seriously. I have to note though that I've never seen any of those bands play live except Agent Orange. I just knew them years back from hanging out, so the grouping thing came much later on.

R.G. So you don't consider them your contemporaries?

D.C. Not really. They all started taking off when we were at the end of our run, like 1980. Not trying to re-write history, but I was more interested in competing with bands like Sister (future WASP-man Blackie Lawless) and A La Carte than punk bands. Punks didn't like us much, though you wouldn't know that by what's been written. We played things punk speeds, but our roots were always in rock and roll. Sandy was like the biggest Kiss fan on the planet, Tim was into The Who and Gary Glitter, I wanted to be Michael Schenker... Punk musicians liked us, but your average punk didn't at all.

R.G. You did have Iggy Pop as a singer though.

D.C. Hah! True. Scott is his own guy though. He was mesmerizing, probably still is. I intend to see his band Poop one of these days. I'm still friends with their bass player Perry. He's a cool guy.

R.G. Do The Mechanics still stay in contact?

D.C. I talk with Tim (Racca) every couple of months. That's about it. Everyone's off doing their own thing. Have been for years.

R.G. So I guess no reunion plans?

D.C. Probably no. There's a guy named Brian Sheklian who owns an indie label called Grand Theft Audio, whose been after us a few years to put out a CD of old stuff. I suppose that could lead to a reunion, or a reason for one, but its always been a firm no from Tim on it. He wrote most of the songs, so he's got the final say. You still never know though.

R.G. O.K., back to the script. Social Distortion.

D.C. Mike Ness and Dennis Danell used to hang at our Fullerton studio and drink beer with us. Dennis was a real sweet guy, by the way. Not a mean bone in his body. If I had to guess who'd have made it out of those three bands, I would have always guessed Agent Orange. I thought Mike Palm had that whole rock star potential thing. Great hair and he was a good dresser. S.D. didn't play very well, Ness didn't have that much charisma then, but he became really good, didn't he? He writes catchy songs and looks extremely cool now. We saved his butt from a potential pounding once. One night about 2:00AM, Dennis Danell came running into our studio behind a Harbor pawn shop and said they needed help. Scott and me ran into the alley behind it and S.D. were fighting with these huge, dumbass Pee Wee (local blues guy) roadies. Since they were now outnumbered, they pointed fingers and made a bunch of threats and took off in their beater station wagon. Mike had one of them by the collar and was swinging him around like they were at a barn dance. He's a short guy, but he's tough. Sadly the last time I saw him was around 1985 when he was still battling some demons. He needed money and asked Scott and Sandy for some. Instead of saying no, they said, 'No, but Dennis may have some. He'll be here soon!' When I arrived an hour late he was all shaky and ended up slamming the door in my face when I said I couldn't help. I'm happy he made it. He now owns apartment buildings and a cool car mod business, so very glad for him. He liked Tim Racca the best out of all of us, and still says nice things in print about him. Tim's very appreciative of it.

R.G. Agent Orange.

D.C. I didn't really know them until years later. Mike bought an amp from Tim once, and that may have been the only time he was at our studio. Scott Miller's an insanely funny guy, and probably the only other male I know besides myself that thinks there's a shred of truth in astrology. I have a good Scott story. Agent Orange had a 30 foot vinyl banner for some British youth program in their studio. That came from when Scott was in England on vacation and went to see The Damned play. It was hanging behind them as part of their decor, and when they were done he jumped on stage like he was a roadie, rolled it up and took off out the side of the club. All the Damned roadies were looking at him scratching their heads. Hah! Mike Palm and me hung out in the 90's for a while, mostly sampling great Thai restaurants in Hollywood, but he took something I said the wrong way so that was that. He's playing in a surf band now and lives with his wife and kids near San Diego. Oh, their music! Mike writes brilliant hooks but never arranged all that well. Scott bashed well but wasn't the best timekeeper in the world, and if you don't have a Ringo, you're kind of sunk. They still have a following around the U.S. Mike designed their logo and all their swag, by the way. He should have been a designer!

R.G. The Adolescents.

D.C. We knew Rikk before we had the name The Mechanics. He was dressing like Captain Sensible of The Damned then, and always had different stage names for himself like General Hospital. Him and Robert Logan were best buds. He was the first bass player we ever auditioned, and we probably would have said yes, but he was a little too punk for us with the rolling on the floor when he played and everything. He was still a great player and a lot of fun to hang out with. Frank was a little kid then, though he had a sense of humor like an adult. Everything he said was funny. By the time they became The Adolescents we weren't hanging out with them anymore. Sorry I don't have more, but they were never really on my radar. Different era.

R.G. O.K., what about the bands you do appreciate?

Stormer - Drivin' - 1977

D.C. Hah, sorry for not having that much! All the 'Mechanics were the first O.C. punk band' stuff seemed to flow from when Mike Ness said he liked us in recent years. It's not really true, but it's still nice to get mentioned once in a while. I made a joke out of it on my website, but no one seemed to get it! Naughty Women and The Strand had their punk elements, and they were both before us, by the way. Naughty Women were great. They'd dress in slutty women’s outfits, then accuse the audience of being a bunch of fags. The two main guys would drive up and down Sunset and beat off which I though was brilliant. They made fun of everything, even the whole, "We're going up to Hollywood, oh wow!!" thing. Personally, I was a diehard A La Carte fan. Then Smile and Van Halen. Big on Van Halen. We used to hang out at the Golden West Ballroom in Norwalk every Thursday night once I was 16 and got my drivers license. Thursday nights there in 1976-1977 were valhalla. Girls still dressed on the glam side with the glitter heels and pixie cuts, every band had a good guitar player with a Marshall, there were so many bands then. The Dogs played there, there was a glammy band named Maelstrom fronted by a cool blonde guitarist named Larry Cheeseman who were great, even the bands that weren't so great had their moments. One metal band called Sorcery played Sabbath riffs while the singer stood at an altar pretending he was singing the words out of some holy book. Hah! Stormer had this absolutely fucking brilliant guitarist named Jimmy Bates (RIP Jimmy) who played a left handed Flying V and he could rip. His vibrato was just nuts. Saw UFO there who sadly were drunk and played horribly. The Golden West was the first place I saw Van Halen. The Boyz were on the same bill and George Lynch was just as good as Eddie back then, in my humble opinion. Saw The Runaways too. Went to school the next day with 'Jackie Fox' written on my tennis shoe. Young love, hah...

R.G. I went there a few times. There seemed to be a lot of people who made it in other bands much later on.

D.C. Yup. The guys in Autograph were in Wolfgang, there were a bunch. Off the subject, but Sandy and me saw our first muff shot there. Have to get this in! We were talking to Loren of The Dogs backstage after their set, and their goddess of a bass player Mary Kay sat down, and, most likely for our horny 16 year old benefit, peeled her pants off and slung her leg over a chair while she browsed around for another pair of pants. Loren kind of grinned at us when he realized we were listening to him, but not actually looking at him at all. We ended up high-fiving in the parking lot and acting like idiots after that! There was this girl at my school (La Vista in Fullerton) named Lisa who people sort of dismissed as the school whore, but she walked around there like she was someone, and rightfully so. She was good friends with people like Paul Stanley and they'd hang out when he was in town. She regognized me there from school once and felt me up from the other side of the stage curtain during a band called Avalanche's set. Didn't know what to make of it, but it's not like I moved out of the way or anything. I thought she was cute!

R.G. Did The Mechanics ever get to play the Golden West?

D.C. No. It was gone by the time we existed. Became a church for a while, if you can imagine. We were still learning our chops then. I used it like school. I'd stand in front of guys like Tommy Girvin of Smile or Mike of High Wire and try to remember through my pot haze every note they played, then try it at home. I still remember most of their sets by heart. They'd frisk you on the way in, so when Scott found out there were holes in the soles of his three inch platforms if you removed the caps, he's sneak in grass that way and we'd get lit.

High Wire - I've Been There Too - Myron's Ballroom, 1977

R.G. Who was the most famous band you ever played with?

D.C. Actually it's more like guys in bands before they made it. Carlos of Quiet Riot was in Snow who we played with at a dive called La Cabana. It was funny. While the opening band played, he was in the parking lot in their moving truck with his Marshall's at full-tilt playing leads. He he had Eddie's old gear, and was basically another in a legion of Eddie clones then. We played with Video-Nu-R which was Mick Mars's band, Suite 19 which was Tommy Lee, Xciter which were guys from Dokken. Some Ratt guys somewhere. A bunch I'm forgetting. Sandy still opens for a lot of 70's rock bands since he plays The Coach House a lot nowadays.

R.G. Most fond memories?

D.C. Have some not so fond ones that are probably more interesting! Got my favorite Flying V broke in a frat party fight in Berkeley. Knocked unconscious on that one! Fought some wrestler type in the bathroom who wasn't smart enough to do anything but grab. Bounced his head pretty good. Then when we came out for a second set, he tackled my drunken, blotter-filled ass from behind and my head went right into a concrete floor. That was a good time! Got alcohol poisoning once and the rest of the guys had to play as a four piece in a battle of the bands at the Cuckoo's Nest. All our friends came to an all night party in Costa Mesa the night before and Scott and me outdid ourselves. There's pics of him face first asleep in a dog house the next the morning. I crawled into the tub there and didn't come out until the next night. I was making jokes for everyone but I really thought I was gonna bite it. Had like two fifths of the Lord Calvert and couldn't move. Brilliant.

R.G. Your fondest memory outside of playing?

D.C. The usual stuff. Family, of course. Having a cool 63' Thunderbird for a while. My first real guitar (a Telecaster). Oh, I do have one! 8th grade English class. That was the best! Our teacher usually taught from his table in the back of the room instead of from the front, so everyone had to crane their necks around to look at him. I was in the first row, so I was blessed with a perfect view up the skirts of the three blondes in the next row. It was like Christmas every day! They were all adorable, and my dream girl Debbie looked like a cuter, cuddlier Marcia Brady with her straight blonde hair and big legs. They all wore pantyhose and mini-skirts to school every day, and back then pantyhose had no lining or cotton in the crotch at all. I lived in fuzzy dreamland for like seven months. Life should always be so cool!

R.G. You haven't let go of your iPod since you got here. Here's your chance to talk about it.

D.C. Oh man. I've kind of gone apeshit with this thing. There's about 14,000 songs on it. Mostly 70's rock, British Invasion stuff, and a ton of video. Thanks Kazaa! Don't print that! Hah. I've gotten about 200 songs by Smile from people who've visited my website, a bunch of A La Carte, a lot of great local bands I thought I'd never hear from again. It makes me very happy. Lately I've been playing Phantom Power by The Super Furry Animals practically in a loop. They're fucking brilliant. You can edit that. The La's L.P. is genius too. Lee Mavers should have been the next Brian Wilson.

R.G. Are you still playing? And what about the rest of The Mechanics?

D.C. I am, though I'd be lying if I said I was devout. I'm much more into playing with my son and web designing, though I still practice in my head all day. Scott and Sandy are serious. Those guys gig all the time. Tim Racca's probably the most into it, though he rarely gets out. He's put out like three solo CD's and is always recording something new. Not sure what Tim Maag, Brett, Mike or Eric are up to music wise. My CD will be out at some point, hopefully before I'm 50. I've got three years! The working title is 'Short Wave' and is mostly covers of great stuff people have forgotten about. The title track comes from owning a bunch of different short wave radios in 5th grade and basically living in my closet/makeshift radio room with them. Nice to be out of the closet. So sorry... Try the corned beef!

R.G. Thanks again for talking with Mentone Music!

(Tape machine shuts off now in case there's more embarrassing moments... A thanks to Dennis for using more words than I'd expected. He really does drink a lot of coffee.)

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