Jim Nash was one of the most charismatic and innovative individuals I have ever known.
Jim, co-founder/owner of Wax Trax! Records, died of AIDS at the age of 47 in October 1995. When I heard the news, I was sad that such a unique individual was gone. Had it really been nearly twenty years since I first met Jim Nash?
I had the luck and good fortune to meet Jim back in 1976 in Denver, Colorado. At that time, in the midst of Disco Ducks, Rocky Mountain Highs and Stairways to Heaven, I found myself in the minority, an outcast in the Mile High City. I was 19 years old and wore glitter nail polish and platform shoes rather than flannel shirts and Birkenstocks. While everyone else was listening to FM fare of the day, I was buying up records by Sparks, New York Dolls, Roxy Music and T-Rex.
I came upon Wax Trax! quite by accident. Before Jim had the store (and subsequent label) in Chicago, he and his partner, Dannie Flescher, had a small store on Ogden Street (exact address unknown now) in the Capital Hill area (seedy with traces of hipness) of Denver. I was riding in the family car one afternoon when I spotted a life-sized cardboard stand-up of Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks (see Rocktober # 26 & Sparks-O-Rama) in front of a small storefront.
I told my dad to stop the car and jumped out and ran inside. I couldn't believe my eyes. Jim and a few other friends/employees were quite amused at the sight of this out-of-breath, wild-eyed girl muttering about Sparks.
Sparks were my favorite band at that time (and I'm still a fan club member today) so I was ecstatic. I was feasting my eyes as I looked about the store - the walls were covered with posters and record covers of rockabilly stars (Wanda Jackson, Elvis Presley, Link Wray), Glam rockers (Roxy Music, David Bowie, Sparks), 60's British bands (The Kinks, Stones) and garage bands (Astronauts, Trashmen.) On the store speakers, the Ramones' first album was blaring. Never had I met anyone else in Denver who had even heard of the Ramones. From that moment on, I became a "Wax Trax! girl" and became a semi-permanent fixture at the store.
When I first met Jim, he was a huge Roxy Music fan and had recently visited the UK where he met Bryan Ferry along with his then fiance, Jerry Hall. Jim was animated and passionate when he talked about Roxy Music but then again, he was that way about the music that mattered to him. I would visit the store weekly and would have the latest Sparks import single or rare rockabilly instrumental ("Saturday in the Duck Pond") in my hand within minutes thanks to Jim and his staff. People like Greg Pickett, Steve Knudsen and Tom Nash (Jim Nash' older brother) were more like a family than employees and were characters in their own right. Outcasts like me.
When punk rock exploded in 1977-78, Wax Trax! had all the latest import 45's and albums. I was the first on my block to have "Neat Neat Neat" (Damned) "Anarchy in the UK" (Sex Pistols) "X Offender" (Blondie), "White Riot" (Clash) and "Orgasm Addict" (Buzzcocks.) This was years before the Internet so I doubt I would have had access to anything like that if it weren't for Wax Trax.
Jim and Dannie even flew to Texas to see the Sex Pistols ill-fated U.S. tour. Jim Nash was the coolest man in town. Wax Trax! was not just a record store but the CENTER of the burgeoning Denver punk scene too. Jim would host outrageous parties with go-go boys wearing fishnet stockings (and not much else) while blaring out "Love is the Drug" or "Beat on the Brat" or the entire "Real Life" album by Magazine.
Wax Trax! was the oasis for the small group of outsiders, misfits, rock and roll fiends, transvestites, gays and straights that just didn't fit into the norm and loved rock and roll.
Before long, Wax Trax! hosted special "punk nights" at anyplace that would be willing (gay discos, country bars, etc.) with willing local punk bands (we may have had two or three at that time.) One early show in the spring of 1977 was held above the Ogden Street store in an old, bare loft room and featured the Ravers and the Front. That night was short-lived due to the local cops pulling the plug. They didn't like the looks of us one bit and said something about not having the proper permits.
Besides the disappointment of not seeing the entire show, I was also embarrassed since my mom and younger brother had chaperoned me (I had never gone out before until I found Wax Trax.) I got over the embarrassment soon as fear took over. After being unceremoniously dumped onto the street, we found ourselves on Colfax Street looking for a phone to call my dad to pick us up earlier than expected. The Capital Hill area was seedier in those days so the only people on the streets at night were hookers, winos and up-to-no-good thugs. We huddled nervously together until we were rescued. Waiting for the man, I mean the dad, indeed.
A second show, about a month later, featuring a power pop trio from LA, The Nerves, was more successful (Jim had secured the proper documents this time.) They arrived 30-45 minutes late but it was well worth the delay. As they made their entrance up the fire escape, they walked in with their Beatle haircuts, three piece tan suits, plugged in their guitars and won over the small crowd with their infectious, power pop gems. Two of their songs, "Hanging on the Telephone" and "Will Anything Happen" were covered by Blondie on their breakthrough (sold in excess of 20 million copies) album "Parallel Lines" in 1978. What a wonderful, life changing experience that was for me.
Jim and Dannie started to reach out and bring in out-of town bands too. We were appreciative and welcoming to the Suicide Commandos (Minneapolis), Marbles and Tuff Darts (NYC), Charlie Burton and Rock Therapy (Omaha) and almost got the Cramps too. I think the local bar, Doc Weeds, was scared away so it never materialized. Jim and Company set their sights on creating their own scene. Since there were no punk venues, Jim had to be creative. Fern bars, hotel ballrooms and country bars like The John (perfect name for this toilet) became our temporary haunts. The John regulars were always trying to pick fights with us because they objected to our attire, same gender dancing and music. After a half dozen times, we were asked not to come back and escaping short of injury. Another venue, the Oxford Hotel had enough of us after someone fell through the plate glass window (one drunk ruins it every time). The funniest reason was when Club Aeroplane (after 3-4 shows) made up the lame excuse that we were banned because we didn't have the proper attire - people had on sneakers! Hey, I had on my fuschia cowboy boots though.
Finally by 1978, we were lucky enough to have a regular venue, The Malfunction Junction, and a favorite band, the Jonny Three.
The Jonny Three was the band endorsed and sponsored by Wax Trax and was gaining a devoted following. I was the unofficial president of the unofficial fan club!
The Jonnies played the Malfunction throughout 1978 and into 1979. We dubbed ourselves the "Littleton Contingent" after the Bromley Contingent that supported the Sex Pistols. The "contingent" went to every single concert the Jonny Three played (Malfunction, other bars, private parties, outdoor events.) On one occasion, Jim, Dannie, myself and a few other of the "contingent" drove to Laramie, Wyoming to see the Jonny Three play at the Summit Tavern. This place was in the middle nowhere, right off the highway. The bands played outside the tavern - no stage and crude PA system - and were all country rock type bands except the Jonny Three. The locals did not know what to make of this small, black clad, spiked haired group dancing and kicking up a dirt storm while twisting away to the Jonny Three. We didn't linger too long afterwards since we didn't like the way some of the bikers were glaring at us. Another trek almost took us to Omaha, Nebraska. However, the band van broke down so we had a party in Littleton instead. By the end of that night, the floorboards were quite loose and we were fearful we'd all fall through to the basement. That happened a lot when the Jonnies played private parties. They blew the roof off while we literally tore the floor apart.
The Jonny Three hailed from Littleton, CO and played guitar crunching rock and roll and melodious, supercharged bubblegum pop songs. Led by guitarist extraordinare, Kenny Vaughan, he and bassist Nic Leuthauser and Leroy "X" Smith on drums became the driving force of the scene. In 1978, Miles Gassaway, Kenny's childhood friend, joined on sax and keyboards to fill out the sound. Kenny and Leroy wrote memorable originals like "Liberated Astronaut Blues," "Stood Up," "Strangle Your Guitar" and "Littleton Party". They also did cover versions of "Lucifer Sam", "Tuff Enough," "Something Else," "Dead Presidents," and "Wig Wam Bam."
Wax Trax! and the Jonny Three were a powerful force during 1978. Wax Trax! was very proud to be associated with such an original and exciting band as the Jonny Three. After the Jonny Three disbanded, Nic Leuthauser would work at the Chicago Wax Trax! store as a buyer until 1991 so a Wax Trax!/Jonny Three connection would last for years.
1978 was the peak year for Wax Trax!, Jonny Three and the Denver punk scene. Jim Nash moved the store to a larger location a few blocks away on Washington Street (638 E. 13th Avenue, Denver, 303-444-9829) and gained more clientele.
Wax Trax! hosted a local radio show, Rockpile, on Saturday afternoons spinning obscure rockabilly classics by the likes of Hasil Adkins, Collins Kids, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates and doing on-the-air interviews with the Jonny Three. The Jonny Three played every weekend and got local press write-ups and the "contingent" continued to grow. Fans inspired by Wax Trax! and the Jonny Three, started their own bands. Soon we had a blossoming punk scene with bands with monikers such as the Defex, Lilly Rose and the Thorns, Violators, Corvairs, Broadcasters and the band I fronted, THE GUYS (female Ramones power pop).
With the local scene and bands like the Ramones, Devo, the Specials, Pere Ubu and Magazine coming to town, I was in rock and roll heaven.
However, like all good things, it started to change at the end of 1978. Jim, Dannie, Mike Smyth (British born new partner and third owner) and company decided they had enough of Denver - too limited and frustrating - and set out to conquer Chicago. A fabulous "Get out of Denver" going away party was held at the German Turnverein Hall. New Wax Trax! owner, Dave Steadman was introduced (the Washington Street store would remain) as we said goodbye to Jim and Dannie. Everyone pogoed with abandon and the Jonny Three rocked like men possessed by Elvis and the 1910 Fruitgum Company (they encored with "Wig Wam Bam.") At the end of the night, many of us, myself included, sat down at the foot of the stage and cried our eyes out. We knew what we were losing and Chicago was gaining.
Off they went to Chicago taking their Elvis collectibles and Sex Pistols imports and irreplaceable style. By this time, New Wave was infiltrating so it was becoming more mainstream and less innovative and exclusive. Jim wanted to expand the Wax Trax! Empire (merchandising and record label) and in Chicago he felt like he had a better chance and more of an audience.
Within a month, Jim lured the Jonny Three to Chicago to play in his living room and local clubs. After playing legendary (long gone) venues such as O'Banions, Mothers and Gaspar's in Chicago and the Longhorn in Minneapolis, they started to gain a new following in the Midwest. Not only did Jim take the best records and his innovative style, he was pulling our beloved Jonny Three to that metropolis with him. Just as it looked as if the Jonny Three would really take off and possibly be based out there, they disbanded due to too much excess (sex and drugs and rock and roll) and mishaps (Leroy X, while making a hasty retreat out of a loft bed, fell out and broke his arm.) They were destined for bigger things so I was grateful to have had that special band at that magical time in my life. I have not had another band that meant so much personally to me as the Jonny Three did. Both Jim Nash and Kenny Vaughan were very instrumental in me getting into a band. The love and admiration I had for those two men gave me the desire, encouragement and passion to pursue my singing career.
If I had not moved to San Francisco in 1980 with my own band, The Varve (another all woman, art-punk-rockabilly styled band),
I probably would have found myself in Chicago.
I visited the first Wax Trax! store on Lincoln Avenue December/January 1979. I felt a sense of loss and sadness as I watched lucky Chicagoans snatch up records and t-shirts. Boy, did they have an adventure ahead of them. Funny thing is that in 1996, I would find myself across the (former) Lincoln Avenue store while attending a Sparks-O-Rama. I had come full circle with that realization.
Wax Trax! is still located in Denver on Washington Street and has even expanded to three stores on the same block (Wax Trax I - used CD, Wax Trax II - vinyl (old rockabilly and oldies) and Wax III - CDs, tapes, vinyl.) A few months after Jim left Denver, a car came crashing through the wall of Wax Trax! destroying many collectibles. Luckily no one was badly injured. I was in the store at the time and I watched in slow motion as headlights were coming through what was once the front counter area. Despite that bit of excitement (the reformed Jonny Three played a benefit to help repairs), Wax Trax! and the Denver scene did not shine as bright as it once did (the "contingent" went their separate ways and the masses embraced New Wave). Jim Nash had the original spark, vision and energy that was the impetus for the Denver punk scene. Before Wax Trax! we had nothing but heavy FM bands, disco and watered down pop and a bleak musical outlook. Jim Nash and Wax Trax! made an indelible mark on my life and set me on a far more adventurous path than I ever imagined. I will always be grateful for that.
JONNY III cover art
First show at Billy Jack's date / venue unknown
Apr-78 14-15 Hotel Oxford, Denver w/Suicide Commandos/Dirty Dogs (later Accelerators)* 21 Desert Fox, Denver Talent Night? 28-29 Broadway, Denver w/Tuff Darts*
May-78 5-6 The John, Littleton (real hick bar) 13 Private Party, Littleton Garage County Line Road landlady came and threw everyone out! 20 Private Party Chip's Wedding in suburbia by day 20 Private Party Wax Trax owner, Danny Flescher Birthday party Basement of Wax Trax, Washington St. hot sweaty fun, good snacks
Jun-78 3 Broomfield CO outdoor party w/ Dirty Dogs 4 Doc Weeds, Denver Punk Night (debut Train, Train, Train) 6 - 7 Heartbreak Hotel studio 16 The John, Littleton 17 Outdoor party across from Hot Line Junk Yard, Littleton w/ Quiver 17 The John, Littleton note: Nic wears shorts and platform shoes 23-24 Malfunction Junction, Denver Grand opening 24 Boulder, CO outdoor party (day) 30 Malfunction Junction, Denver with Marbles from NYC
Jul-78 1 Malfunction Junction, Denver regular venue, 3 sets for JIII 3 Laramie, WY Old condemned theater w/Dirty Dogs 4 Laramie, WY Laramie Days, Summit Tavern 7-8 White Mule, Denver w/ Suicide Commandos 14-15 White Mule, Denver w/Dirty Dogs, Dancing Assholes 16 Nic's Birthday 22 Private party, Denver Chip's house, Lincoln St debut: Branded, Jack the Ripper 28-29 Pearls, Denver w/Man Ka Zam from NYC (RETURN OF MILES FROM NY)
Aug-78 5 Sweetwaters, Denver w/Joint Effort, Miles joins on sax 1st time 8 Littleton, CO Western Welcome Week, Bega Park debut: Lucifer Sam, I Can't Help It Party at Nic & Leroy's on Hill Street afterward 11 The John, Littleton Leroy's Birthday 12 The John, Littleton 18-19 Pearl Street, Denver w/Charlie Burton and Rock Therapy (Lincoln NE) debut: Strangle Your Guitar 19 Wax Trax Rockpile radio show Jonny 3 & Rock Therapy interview. Miles officially joins Jonny 3 on sax/organ 20 Sweetwaters, Denver w/ Joint Effort 26 Kenny Vaughan project guest with country band
Sept-78 1-3 Summit Tavern, Laramie, WY w/ Dirty 15 Club Aeroplane, Denver Lilly Rose & the Thorns 16 Club Aeroplane, Denver cancels because "people were dancing with tennis shoes on" IS THAT A LAME REASON OR WHAT? 16 Leroy's House, Hill St, JIII rock out the house, floor almost caves in and the Police threw everyone out (again) 21-22 The John, Littleton rednecks vs. punks 23-24 Malfunction Junction, Denver w Lilly Rose & The Thorns
Oct-78 13-15 Malfunction Junction, Denver note: JIII take break to watch DEVO on SNL 20 Malfunction Junction, Denver debuted: Stood Up, Baja, 20 Flight Rock 21-22 Malfunction Junction, Denver 21 Studio, Boulder CO Kenny Vaughan w/Rachel Faro (yuck) 28 E. Bates house, Denver Halloween party, basement party, black lights. debut: Walking the Dog
Nov-78 3-5 Malfunction Junction, Denver debuted: Flip, Flop and Fly 6 Turnverein House, Denver WAX TRAX GOOD BYE DANNY & JIM PARTY w/Corvairs debut: Bronx Freeze 10 Malfunction Junction, Denver 11 Malfunction Junction, Denver 10-14 Westword arts paper JONNY 3 featured LOOK OUT WORLD! 17-19 Malfunction Junction, Denver w/ Corvairs
Dec-78 9 OMAHA OR BUST Didn't make Omaha, van broke down. Played an improptu "OMAHA OR BUST" party in Littleton (Dirk & Leslie's) Debut: "Rock 'n' Roll Lovin'" Rockin' Little Eskimo, Weekend) JONNY 3 GO ON ROAD FOR MINI TOUR OF MIDWEST 13-15 Longhorn, Minneapolis 17 Jim Nash (Founder of Wax Trax empire) private party, living room, Chicago, IL 18 Mother's, Chicago JONNY III RETURN (YAY!) 22-23 Malfunction Junction, Denver 25 Party at Leroy & Todd's JIII don't play but so what, they are there 26 Private party, Denver 1060 York Street house (Alice, Denise & Sandra) 31 Obanion's, Chicago. I attended this one. JIII played 4 sets (slept through 4th set, uh um)
Jan-79 1 Mother's, Chicago Cancelled, No one knew about gig 7 Harlow's, outside Chicago w/Bohemia (dreadful) Afterward all go (including JIII) go to White Castles for hamburgers 8 Mother's, Chicago 9 Huey's, Chicago 12 Gaspar's, Chicago w/ Skafish 19 Malfunction Junction, Denver Returned to a PACKED house 20-21 Malfunction Junction, Denver new songs: You Know Who You Are 27 Oxford Hotel, Denver. Private party. Encored with "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy"
Feb-79 1 Kenny Vaughan's Birthday 5 Rainbow Hall, Denver New Talent night (Kenny wears rainbow shirt) 7 Sweetwaters, Denver 9-10 Rainbow Hall, Denver opened for Elvin Bishop 9-11 Malfunction Junction, Denver 12 JONNY III ON THE ROAD AGAIN 14-17 Longhorn, Minneapolis 18 Chicago Various parties 26 Gaspar's, Chicago
Mar-79 8 & 10 Gaspar's, Chicago 11 O Banions, Chicago opened for Kenny & the Kasuals 12 Mother's, Chicago 14-17 Longhorn, Minneapolis 18 JONNY III RETURN HOME 23 Malfunction Junction, Denver SRO, crowd FANTASTIC 24 Malfunctions Junction, Denver debut of Kenny's new pink Fender 25 Malfunction Junction, Denver New songs: Tonite I'm Gonna Leave You", "Cruel Sea" 30-31 Malfunction Junction, Denver
Apr-79 1 Malfunction Junction, Denver added: "Wig Wam Bam" 14 Private party, 1060 York St. (One year since I first saw JIII) 19 Malfunction Junction, Denver w/ The Guys (my band, yay)
20 Malfunction Junction, Denver Kenny wears his western outfit 21 Malfunction Junction, Denver New songs: First Love, Three Chord Rock 23 Sweetwaters, Denver, Kenny jams with Joint Effort 25 Mabuhay Gardens, SF Cancelled, van won't start
May-79 4 Rainbow Hall, Denver open for Tom Robinson band 5 Mountains, Colorado 7 Tulagi's, Boulder w/ Corvairs JIII wear Indian headgear for Wig Wam Bam Played: Purgatory Point 8 Littleton, Todd's House JIII Going Away party 9 MIDWEST TOUR #4 Van actually starts 11-12 Gaspar's, Chicago 19-20 Longhorn, Minneapolis 24 Pirates Cove, Cleveland 25-26 Bookies, Detroit
Jun-79 VARIOUS OUT OF TOWN GIGS Nic Leuthauser replaced by the notorious Dave Hill (ex Front bass player)
Jul-79 8 Utah Moon, Boulder Kenny, plays with Ms. Trixie and her all male band" 20 Ground Round, Denver w/Violators, Accelerators (ex Dirty Dogs) cancelled 29 Englewood, CO Party near Cherry Creek Reservoir -bunch of bands. New songs: Love's Made a Fool, Indian Giver, California Sun, Special Delivery, The Savage, Wild Weekend, Shine
Aug-79 3 Littleton, CO Western Welcome Week Kenny dons fringe jacket, "Henry VIII" for kicks 4 JIII Leave on tour
Sept-79 17 JIII Cut Tour short Leroy X breaks his arm, JIII (mach 1) call it quits November Ground Round, Denver Original lineup (Kenny, Leroy, Nic) reunited for Wax Trax Anniversary party Leroy X would start spin-off Leroy X & Excitation with Kenny Vaughan joining on guitar
1980- Jonny III try and reunite with various new Members
Fall-80 - Move to NYC but return after one month and then promptly break up
THE VARVE, an all female punk band, originated in late 1979 in the small but musically adventurous underground of Denver/Boulder Colorado. Founded by Jo Ann Gogue (vocals) (ex Guys La Dolce Vita fanzine), Carolyn Crampton (guitar) and Sue Digby (bass) (ex Profalactics and Not New Wave News fanzine.) After much difficulty in finding other musicians to fill out the band, they resorted to asking other women at parties if they wanted to be in a band. Kelli Kozak (keyboards) and Anne Brent (drums) were recruited and the Varve (a geological term meaning sedimentary deposits in lake over time) was born with Jo Ann adding alto sax to her vocal chores.
Five separate forces moving together and apart with chaotic togetherness. The Varve sound was danceable and compelling, dense, chaotic, fragile and highly orchestrated, primal wardance, jazz-influenced rhythms, and rockabilly style vocals with Madness/Contortions styled sax. The Varve rehearsed in a room underneath the bleachers of University of Colorado (Sue and Carolyn were both students) football stadium to hone their sound. Early songs were "Somebody By Default," "That Soon But Not That Fast," "I'm The One" "Undercover's Hero" "Terminal" "Frictional Drag" "Pondersoa Saga" "Erotic Frigidaire" and two crowd favorites "Mondo Condo" and "Wild Thing." Their debut was at a party (minus Kelli Kozak) for a few people from Iowa. Soon they were a favorite on the scene supporting the likes of Leroy X and the Excitations, The Visitors, Transistors, Gluons and the Young Weasels at various venues (Walabi's, Molly's and Four Mile House) and hot tub parties. Their farewell show was a benefit for the Ft. Logan Mental Health Center with the Metrotones.
In September 1980, the Varve joined the exodus of bands moving to greener pastures if not fame and fortune. They piled the Varve van high with guitars, amps, punk records, pink cowboy boots and dreams and drove to San Francisco (minus drummer, Anne Brent.) Soon, they found a female drummer looking for a new band and Kat Zumbach (ex Urge) was a Varve. Without so much as a hiccup, they were back recording demos and charged onto the performing circuit.
Like the Corvairs before them, they played at the Palms, Mabuhay Gardens and Berkeley Square as well as the Sound of Music, Rock City, Le Disque, On Broadway, Valencia Tool & Die, and The Stud among many venues in San Francisco and other Northern California cities. They made one sojourn to Los Angeles and played with the Fibonaccis.
In November 1982, The Varve made a triumphant return to Denver and Boulder headlining the Mercury Caf with the Young Weasels and the Boulder Theater.
The Varve became well respected and a constant force to be reckoned with on the San Francisco scene. Dirk Dirksen, master of ceremonies at the legendary Mabuhay Gardens (Fab Mab) LOVED the Varve (he was a tough cookie and didn't like many bands.) WELCOME TO VARVE COUNTRY was a slogan jokingly used during this time. Their sound was a unique mix of funk, jazz, rockabilly and strains from out of this universe (jangly guitar scratches, jazzy multi-note melodic bass lines, poppy yet sinister keyboard, solid drumming, funky alto sax and vocals that someone once said was the result if you mixed Yoko Ono with tribal American Indian music and rockabilly hiccups.)
They played with the likes of Flipper, Translator, The Mutants, Red Asphalt, Pop-O-Pies, Toiling Midgets, Toxic Reasons, Angst (another Colorado transplant,) The Contractions The Farmers and Romeo Void. They opened for Geza X (from LA), The Mo-dettes and Brian Brain (from England) and came very close to opening for the Cure and U2 on very early tours.
Soon they began to make radio playlists (college stations through the U.S. and local Bay Area rock stations) with a demo tape, "Frictional Drag" off of the LIVE AT LE DISQUE double album, a three-song EP "Bamboo Curtain" and their self-produced seven-song cassette,
Like many bands, they would eventually disband in 1983 due to the usual frustrations (stifling music scene, lack of venues and lack of worldwide fame.)
Jo Ann played in one punk band, Impending Doom, for a short time after the Varve before taking a long retirement from the music business to pursue other artistic endeavors (acting, Brazilian dancing, writing.) Still living in San Francisco she has been singing part-time for the past two years just for fun. She is relocating to Pennsylvania with her new husband. Sue moved back to Denver for a year and then relocated to London, England playing with a few bands. She still works in the music business on the booking side. Carolyn is a well-respected artist and has local shows in San Francisco. Kelli is rumored to be living in Southern California. Kat is playing in a new San Francisco band, Alfred, at the present time. Anne Brent has retired from the music business and is living in San Francisco.
Heartbreak Hotel Studios, Denver, CO demo tape (Undercover's Hero, Rockateens, That Soon, I'm the One)
Tom Mallon Studios demo tape, 4/81
"Frictional Drag" LIVE AT LE DISQUE double live records, Jump Records 10/81
Hyde Street Studios, San Francisco, CA.
T&B Studios, San Francisco, CA.
7/29/81 Rock Journal Channel 25 with Debora Hill (interview, aired "Bamboo Curtain" video (video recorded on zero budget on a San Francisco rooftop)
10/21/81 City Beat, Channel 25, filmed at Iguana Studios, rehearsal and interview
8/31/82 Varve, live show filmed at the Stud Bar Local clubs I-Beam and Sound of Music filmed live performances
Weird Angle (photo)' "Hardcore California" (photo, band mention)
San Francisco/California The Quake Magazine, Xerox Mouth, Brave Ear, Music Calendar, Santa Cruz Express, Another Room, Punk Globe Colorado Local Anesthetic, Pulsebeat National/International Zigzag, Boston Gay Community News: Women in Rock, Shout, Kill (German), Shades (Toronto) VARVE Songs: Bamboo Curtain, Crayons, Decibel, Edie's On Fire, Erotic Frigidaire, Frictional Drag, I Wanna Be Repossessed, I'm the One, Mondo Condo, Motion In a Void, People Like You, Pondersoa Saga, Rock-A-Teens, Silkwood, Somebody by Default, Terminal, That Soon But Not That Fast, The Plan, The Ridge, The Twitch, Undercover's Hero, Understanding Wood
WANDA SONGS: Wanda Goes To Church, Wanda's Got New Boots, What's Wrong With Wanda
Cover Songs: All By Myself, Bed and Breakfast, Fire In Cairo, First Time, Make Like A Rock, Memories Are Made of This, Nicotine Stain, Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World, Wild Thing
(This interview originally appeared in "Pulsebeat #2" in 1981. This interview was conducted when Ms. Gogue was visiting Denver on a vacation from San Francisco.)
It's not surprising news that the cities of Colorado have remained isolated from the media-ravished world of modern sound and style. Of course, minute waves (no offense) have been sent toward the West and East Coasts from our oceanless shores. Denverdom is just one of those cities that most Americans don't hear form in the way of music. We've watched the world go by without giing it much of a push in either direction (although heh heh heh, it's been rumored that John Hinckley was a passionate fan of the K. Klones)
This is not to say that we've been totally disconnected. Earth, Wind, and fire, The Soul Survivors, Lothar and the Hand People, The Jonny III, The Corvairs, Jello Biafara, to mention a few, have been heard elsewhere to different degrees of popularity and obscurity. but if the story of Rocky Mountain (you don't have to cringe every time you hear the term—John Denver's dug his hole) Modern Music can be told at all it's thru the biographies of The Varve. we've sacrifised them to the gods and sent them to San Francisco, (Denver seems to be tipped in that direction lately) but their roots are in Colorado and many of us are watching their progress as thought they're still the garage disturbing their neighbors.
Carolyn Crampton (guitar, vocals) and Sue Digby (bass, vocals) were the editors of NOT NEW WAVE NEW, which along with LA DOLCE VITA, co-edited by JoAnn Gogue (lead vocals, sas, percussion and "fancy footwork") were the only relevant fanzines to be printed here with a strange form of) regularity. Carolyn and Sue were also in boulder's infamous Prophylactics when in late '79 they joined with JoAnn who was in The Guys. Later they added Kelli Kozak (keyboards, synthesizer) and Anne Brent (drums) and became The Varve.
They started at the Four Mile House last Spring with a harsh textured sound. Every time they played they improved-more confident on stage and with each other, intermingling rich layers of sound delivered with no pretense and puntuated by JoAnn's manix sax and mini skirts. Anne Brent stayed behind when The Varve took off, and was replaced in S.F. by Kat Zumbach (drums and vocals), formerly of The Urge.
There's lots of experimental stuff in their songs, wrapped around a thick base of reggae and rockabilly, causing an eclectic sound that dances off the stage and into your body. Word is they've gotten even better. they've been in the studio doing a demo tape ("good enough to be played on the radio") and their song "Frictional Drag" is going to be on the "LIVE a Le Disque" L.P. They're also playing a big gig in May with Geza Z. Hope we don't have to wait for a record before we hear The Varve again.
The following interview is from January of '81 when JoAnn was staying with her family in Denver for a short while. She played sax a few times Anatomically Correct and spent an evening drinking coffee at Muddy's and talking with eriK Erikson and me. the JoAnn returend to her new home in California, an apartment above a hamburger joint named "Hot and Hunky" where The Varve live.
Susan = Susan Francis
Susan: Are you getting any gigs in San Francisco?
JoAnn: Yeah, slowly but surely...the thing is, we don't have a tape of a picture or a bio...we have some pictures with our old drummer...we made posters where we x'ed out her face. It said "the Varve are looking for a new drummer", we put that up and that's the only ad we did cause we found this other drummer....
Erik: How'd you find her?
JoAnn: She was at a Contractions gig and she used to be in this band called The Urge...we tried her and she played great, we couldn't believe it...She's real powerfuly and she does lot's of rolls and stuff, she's not afraid to rolls at all. She just pounds it out.
Susan: Do you have a manager now?
JoAnn: We just got her...She was a friend of Sue's and she had seen and liked us and she wants to manage us. She said she has alot of free time to take our tape around and stuff like that and she's even willing to travel.
Susan: Do the bands in S.F. that are on the same level as the bands here need promo packs just to get regular gigs?
JoAnn: When you first get there. We've been calling clubs up and the first thing they say is "Well you need a promo package to get in". At The Palms we played there we brought in a dumb tape we had done and just a little thing and that's how we got in. And then we played Rock City 'cause the guy that works this studio heard us and he told him that we were great, and he took it all on his word and he booked us a headline gig without ever even hearing us or anything, and we were going "God I don't believe this"...they got this big together with three all-girl bands. One was from Santa Cruz and another one had just started in S.F., and us.
Susan: Do people still think of you as an All-Girl Band?
JoAnn: Yeah, they still do.
Susan: Do you dislike that image?
JoAnn: Yeah, like when we make posters don't put "all-girl band" or we don't put nothing like that 'cause we want to compete with the bands. we want people to hear us and say "they have good songs", not, "Oh, they have good songs for girls"...it's hard.
Susan: I've heard guys in bands say that girls just don't rock the same way they do.
JoAnn: Yeah I've heard that too. I don't know, it just seems that it's not as hard, when a guy comes out with a guitar and hits it he hits it real hard where sometimes a girl just goes "dalllling", It's a big difference.
Erik: Is there any reason why women should play like men?
JoAnn: that's what we said "Why should we play like men?" that's what our argument is. We want to play like how we play. we don't want to be a hard rock imitation of a male band. We see lots of bands doing that, they have the same rock star moves on stage as a guy. Strutting around...but why should you? I don't want to be wimpy.
Susan: could you listen to music from a band not knowing who they are and not seeing them, and know whetere they are all girls or all guys? Is there that much of a difference?
JoAnn: I don't think there is sometimes. I mean, how would you know?
Susan: When I heard you play at Ft. Logan Mental Health Center with the Metrotones I thought you sounded a bit like Gang of Four.
JoAnn: Did you? I think we sound even more like that now than before we left. We have these strange directions that we've gone into since we left. the moment we got there before seeing anybody we started writing these songs in a different vein. they're different than the songs we hae now. They're alot more like Gang of Four, Delta 5, Magazine-type of thing. And that's why people don't know what to make of us. 'Cause thy've seen girls like the go-Go's you know, real bouncy and pop and (in a high silly voice) "Come on girls let's go!", like that. And then I've seen bands and then there's us. We haven't fit into any of those categories yet because we're playing really different type of and stuff and we're not trying to play like guys. We're just trying to play like us. That's why our songs come out with the sound they do. It's from all these different people thinkin' "well I think I'lll just play this". We haven't been playing for years and we all play the way we think. We might think we want to play in a certain style but as soon as we play it doesn't sound like it.
Susan: Do you have male "groupies"?
JoAnn: yeah we had bunch of 'em...Our manager was out in the audience and she said it was real funny seeing the reverse going on. Instead of all these girls going "(she gasps)", these guys were going (in a breathy voice) "God, they're great!" with their tongues hangin' out. I couldn't see 'cause I wasn't up there but I remember there were these guys right in front...and I can't take that, it was weird. And then wehen we went out to the van they were helpin' us carry our stuff out and there were all theyse guys hanging around the van and we were going "What are we going to do know?"(in a suspicious voice): "I don't know." (in another person's voice): "Let's get rid of 'em" They're real nice and everything but it's weird...We get girls too. When we played one time this girl stood right under me the whole time just looking up and every time I looked at here she was still there.
Erik: Maybe she was trying to figure out how to play guitar or saxaphone.
JoAnn: You never know. I used to watch people, staring and trying to steal what they were playing...
Susan: Why did you leave Denver?
JoAnn: Just to have more opportunities to play. We felt like we got in a rut here and we couldn't do anything...we weren't getting any new ideas...going to the same clubs. Plus we lost our drummer who wasn't a drummer when we got here. We said "Do you want to play drums?" and she had a really good attitude and she learned them. We couldn't find a girl drummer. The only one we know at the time was Cleo of The Guys. So we thought "we're not going to get a drummer here unless we find somebody else and teach them to play "but we wanted a drummer that knew how to play already. Somebody who could keep the beat all the time, not falter. And that's another reason why we left. We were going to leave anyway. We were planning on doing a dour, going to Chicago and Minneapolis and stuff like that and then come back here and go to S.F...but without our drummer we couldn't go and play so we just moved to San Francisco to find a drummer.
Erik: Why did you decide on S.F. instead of Chicago?
JoAnn: I don't know it just seems there's more going on in S.F. For some reason we wanted to go West. We didn't want to go to N.Y. It didn't seem like a very good thing to do...I had never been there. I had no ideas. I just said "Okay, let's go". I didn't know what we were getting into. It was sort of scary. Through the whole trip, every place we stopped was fun but as soon as we saw the sign for San Francisco we all got very quiet and we thought "Now what?"...We found a house in one day...we had to get jobs, we had to go to all the clubs and find out what the hell is going on. It was like going cold and we did it! We found a drummer and got gigs. We thought it would be months and months...we were there a little over a month and we played our first gig and got a new drummer and worked her in.
Susan: Is it more real in S.F.?
JoAnn: I don't know. It seems the same to me...It's just that we're playing in these clubs and there's nobody there that we know but as we've been playing a few more people that we know have been coming so we're starting to get people that we recognize.
Susan: Are there clubs like the Four Mile House and Walabi's?
JoAnn: They have some clubs that are strictly country, some clubs that are strictly new wave and they don't change during the week...they have clubs that are smaller than Walabi's to the Mabuhay which is a lot bigger.
Susan: How do the audiences differ?
JoAnn: It seems like they have two. They have a hard-core punk crowd and then they have a really arty type of audience and they're always against each other. It's like art groups vs. punk groups. The punks go in their black leather and chains and stuff and they go to see the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and push, don't dance, just push. I guess the more arty ones are the ones that don't go out much. They're more underground. They're more like the Blitz kids.
Susan: What bands do they listen to?
JoAnn: They listen to...well they come out when the English bands come like Gang of Four and Cabaret Voltaire...somebody said to su that we sounded like an English band that they would come and see like Delta 5 or something--that's what we sounded like to them.
Erik: Do you think that has something to do with sitting here in Denver with no English bands coming or no bands at all coming and listening to English records all the time?
JoAnn: It could be. I'm not really sure. 'Cause we all have different influences. And I'm more weird rockabilly. We all have these different influences and they come in and they make this one sound...more English.
Susan: Could that be a Colorado sound?
JoAnn: I don't know, could be. When we first started playing somebody said that we had a real western type of sound to a lot of our songs.
Erik: Do you still play cover songs that you did before?
JoAnn: We dropped all but two...We do "Make Like a Rock", that really old rockabilly song.
Erik: "Make Like a Rock and Roll"?!
JoAnn: Yeah because it's a campy song and we play it at the end of our set...alot of people don't play covers out there, except the Flamin' Groovies. They do like 5 Beatles' songs in one set. I couldn't believe it. I was real dissapointed.
Erik: They've allways love the Beatles. When the Beatles became unpopular they were still at it. They were unpopular for quite a while.
JoAnn: Of course the thing is here you have to have 3 sets at least to headline. There you just have to have a set, like an hour set with maybe a couple of extra songs for variety, encores, something...but once you get know out there you can headline 'cause they have 3 or 4 bands a night, they don't just have one band with an opening act.
Susan: What's the other cover song you do?
JoAnn: "Memories Are Made of This" by The Saints.
Susan: What was that you were saying earlier about Denver clubs now?
JoAnn: At one time everybody knew each other, like a little gang. noew there's all these new people in on it that must have just got in on it lately. Every time I've gone out since I've been here there's been a whole different crowd and I'm not sure what they're expecting and the original people don't come out anymore. Now and then they'll come out...There's only so many bands to see, when you've seen them millions of times...There's so many bands to see (in S.F.), I haven't seen one fourth of the bands there yet. I keep seeing their names in the paper. I haven't even been to all the clubs yet!
Susan: Does The Varve have any plans to return to Denver?
JoAnn: I'm not sure where we're going to but I know we want to come back and play. It would be ideal if we could have some things set up in Chicago, Minneapolis too, do a tour...like the Contractinos did. But we'd have to have money to do that and get things all straightened out.
Susan: Do you ever hear anything about Denver bands in S.F.?
JoAnn: No. It's real funny. they think of Colorado as a joke. They don't know that there could be a scene here. They think it's real West or something. They think it's horses and cowboys. It makes me mad. I'll tell someone we're from colorado and they'll go "oh god, where did you play there?!" and you start to get defensive--"We have a real good scene there." It's a great scene for the few things we get here, everybody has to try so much harder. Out there you have all these international bands coming in and here you have to fight to get someone like Magazine. I remember showing someone a driver's license and they said "oh, you mean they have cars in Colorado?" We're from Denver and don't want to hide it and say we're not.
Susan: Is there anything new in the way the S.F. bands are performing that you didn't see during your trip here?
JoAnn: No, I haven't seen anything new. There's nothing new there.
Susan: Are people as bored there as they are here?
JoAnn: I think so. There's just so many more people it's hard to tell. It's hard to find one crowd. There's lots of crowds, not one whole scene, there's a lot of little parts. The bands don't know each other that well, they're really competitive. A few bands might know each other but it's not like they hang around each other. Here I find it's getting more competitive than it used to be. Everybody knew each other and supported each other. Now it seems they're breaking up into different groups.
Susan: What do you think of the new Jonny III? I mean, you used to be president of their fan club, you must have some opinion.
JoAnn: They're the same They're not doing anything new. They're the same Jonny III that was playing 2 years ago...they're a fun band...
Erik: I think they changed alot from the beginning until they broke up.
JoAnn: yeah they did. When they first started they were more raw, more punk. When they came out they were in the height of punk. They were considered a punk band. Now you listen to them you can't call them punk, they're rock n roll.
Susan: How many issues of LA DOLCE VITA did you have?
JoAnn: We had 6 out in 6 months, then a long period of time and Carmina and Regina had the very last one in September which I didn't do anything on. I was too busy with The Varve.
Susan: How did you get into your first band?
JoAnn: I always wanted to be but I thought I wouldn't have the guts to. I thought I could be a drummer so I could hide behind the drums 'cause I can play drums. But The Guys needed a lead singer.
Susan: Who was in The Guys then?
JoAnn: Sherry Morris, Cleo Ortiz and Eletta. They wanted me to be their lead singer buy I turned them down because I didn't think they'd be any good...they asked Kenny (Vaughan) "Who could we ask?" and Kenny said "Oh ask JoAnn." I could have killed him because I thought I couldn't sing. they asked me and I turned 'em down and then they went through several people who tried to get in their band that never worked out. I started thinking about it. Some people thought they were really terrible but I wanted to hear for myself. I saw this poster that said that The Guys were going to play in Boulder and I knew they didn't have a lead singer and I knew they didn't know about it so I called 'em up and said "did you know guys are playing next month?" and they said "NO! We don't even have a singer!" I said "I know." She said "Do you wanna try?" and I said "Sure." So I went over there and I sand "Gonna Kill that Girl", that Ramones song and it tooke me half an hour to get the courage up to sing. Everytime the time came where the singing came in, I wouldn't sing. I would just freeze. I was so scared. They'd go "Come on, sing!" And I'd say, "I know, but I can't, I'm scared." So finally I did it and it was alot easier than I thought. I get nervous now just before we go on but once I'm on stage I'm fine. after 6 or 7 months we weren't getting any more ideas. We came to a dead end and couldn't write songs that we'd agree on...we went different ways.
Susan: You had a manager too...
JoAnn: yeah, Mike Odell...We were a real power-pop type of band, we were punk in that we could not play our instruments very well. We had never been in a band before, we just went up there and did it.
Susan: Did you used to practice in front of the mirror and pretend you were on stage?
JoAnn: No. No I don't like to look in the mirror very much, actually.
Susan: Do you want to be famous?
JoAnn: Yeah. I would like to be in a band and just making a living from that instead of having to work a straight job in the day or do this at night. We can't practice like some musicians who've always been in bands and have never worked a real job. They can practice hours a day, that's how they're so good. If we could devote more time we could practice and write some more songs.
Susan: What does Varve mean?
JoAnn: I was afraid you were going to ask. I can't even explain what it really means. It's like deposits in a lake. Don't quote me. You know how over time sediments build up and that's how they can tell how old a certain fossil is or something. So we thought okay, what does that mean to us, and we thought we're all little...
JoAnn: Sediments. We're all different but you put us all together and we become one, one sound. The Varve Sound.
Susan: How did you end up in The Varve? How did you meet Carolyn?
just seeing each other's bands playing. When we first played at that
benefit in Boulder at the Free School the Prophylactics were playing
and she was in that band at the time and I remember I met Sue becuase
she did an interview with The Guys for Not New Wave News and
then a year later I'm in a band with these two people. I would never
have imagined that I'd be in a band with Sue and Carolyn...We even
played together in the Glenn Miller Ballroom Boulder Women's Lesbian
Network or something. We played this gig and we both got thrown off the
stage, it was great. They wanted to hear disco records. So when the
Prophylactics were on stage, they had gone through maybe half a dozen
songs and people started leaving and yelling "We want disco" and then
somelady came up to the microphone and said: Well if you don't like
them why don't you go and leave for a while and come back when the
records are on: and I was really getting mad because they asked us to
play there. So the Prophylactics played a few more songs and then left,
they told them to leave, and they were telling us that they didn't even
want us to go on stage. They said just take the money and don't play. I
said we didn't come just to see this place, we want to play. So we went
on stage and they were ready to unplug us any minute, we got through
before we all almost got killed. The first song I came out with, I was
so mad, people were moving back because they thought I was going to
kill them, I couldn't see straight, and I sang "Gonna Kill That Girl."
And I would move out and I had my pink cowboy boots on. I was jumping
around the stage so much. It was one of the hardest times ever on
stage, just going, going, and at the end of the song I was out of
breat, I was jumping around and was so mad. Somebody grabbed the
mocrophone out of my hand and said "OKAAY, now the next song..." and
after each song we had a confrontation with people tellling us we're
too loud, too this, we gotta get off...So finally I got too mad and
threw the microphone on the floor and Eletta said "That's okay, we
don't wanna play with you 'cause you're just a bunch of dykes anyway."
And I thought "Oh god we're gonna get killed." Then we had to carry our
equipment through the crowd but there were some that were real nice who
said "We liked you, too bad they wouldn't give you a chance". and they
helped us take our stuff out. but it was kinda scary.
Susan: How'd you get booked at a Mexican Fiesta?
JoAnn: I don't know. Something our manager worked up. He heard about it and thought it would be good...We thought "Okay it'll be fun." Boy were we wrong.
An all-girl punk band from Denver, THE GUYS were a popular opening act at Denver (Malfunction Junction and Ground Round) and Boulder (Tulagi's, Boulder Free School) area clubs. Their line-up was Aleta Haas (guitar), Cherri Morris (bass), Cleo Ortiz (drums) and Jo Ann Gogue (vocals.) At the time of their inception the Guys were new to their instruments and to playing music but got plenty of experience after their debut gig at Malfunction Junction in early 1979. What they lacked in musical chops, the girls made up in their contagious enthusiasm and catchy tunes. They quickly became one of the most well liked groups on the punk circuit and opened for the Jonny III, Defex, Violators, and Instants among others.
They made one demo tape in summer 1979 at Heartbreak Hotel Studios (Logan St., Denver) that consisted of original songs: Sidney, Rock-A-Teens, Hey Look, God of Rock 'n' Roll, Teenage Boredom, You're The One, Disco Clash and Rock, Rock, Rock.
Cover songs: I'm Gonna Kill That Girl, California Sun, Okay, You Don't Break My Heart, First Time, and Wild Thing (a favorite among fans).
* Rehearsed in an office (by night)
* Jo Ann made her surprise debut (no one knew who the singer was) with the Guys four days after joining
* last two shows ended abruptly in squirmishes and near riots - (Boulder Lesbian show the audience did NOT like punk music nor the fact that the Guys were not lesbians turned off power and shown the door) - Outdoor Mexican fiesta ended when drunken macho crowd got unruly and yelled "get off the stage you dykes"
* were rabid Jonny 3 fans (Jo Ann was the self appointed Fan Club President; Aleta wrote "God of Rock 'n' Roll about Kenny Vaughan (which Jo Ann was only too glad to sing.)
* managed for a short time by a guy named Mike O'Dell who always wore a German helmet
*Jo Ann once published "La Dolce Vita" local fanzine
The Guys (Mach I) disbanded in the fall of 1979 but resurfaced again with Cherri and Cleo with a new guitarist, vocalist and keyboard player.
Jo Ann Gogue joined forces with Carolyn Crampton and Sue Digby (Boulder's Prophylactics) and formed the Varve (see Varve info. for more info.) while Aleta Haas joined forces with her then husband, Shawn McNary, (ex Violators) to form a band in the early 80's called S.T.A.B.
Their written manifesto circa 1979 reads:
THE GUYS are a powerpop all girl band. They've been called the female RAMONES but with a touch of SHANGRI LAS/RONETTES. Seeing the GUYS onstage would be like watching SHINDIG in 1984. Pure, unadulterated fun!
Sittin here with the radio on
Wax Trax! began in 1974 as an alternative record store in Denver founded by Nash and Dannie Flesher, his partner and longtime companion. In 1978, they moved to Chicago and opened a new Wax Trax! store on the city's North Side. The store became the focus of Chicago's underground music scene. In 1980, some fans convinced Nash and Flesher to release a 12-inch EP by their band, Strike Under, and the Wax Trax! label was born. The label pioneered the industrial music movement in the U.S., issuing music by such acts as Ministry, KMFDM, Front 242, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, and Revolting Cocks--dark, grim, technology-oriented rock with a machine-like dance beat. (Occasionally, the label put out lighter releases, such as Divine's single "Born To Be Cheap"/ "The Name Game.")
The artist-oriented label worked largely on handshakes--an approach that ultimately backfired when a number of bands left for major labels. Wax Trax! was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1992 and was subsequently sold to TVT Records, but Nash and Flesher retained creative control.
TVT president Steve Gottlieb says, "Jim was just amazing. He was brilliant. He did what few people ever do--he built a kind of magical, personal imprint that made people want to buy and listen to his records just because it was a Wax Trax! record. He was an amazing inspiration to a whole lot of people. He knew how to nurture chaos and created a great home for a lot of creative people who I know are going to miss him--along with countless fans."
Gottlieb also describes Nash as "a visionary and a beautiful, gentle man." Gottlieb adds that Wax Trax! "is having its best year ever and will continue under the leadership of Dannie Flesher."
In November 1994, Wax Trax! released "Blackbox," a three-CD boxed retrospective. In addition to Flesher, the Kansas-born Nash is survived by his daughter, Julia; his son, Aaron; and his granddaughter, Olivia. A fund for donations in his memory will be established at a charity yet to be named.
Mr. Nash, 47, and his partner, Dannie Flesher, opened Wax Trax! in 1979 at 2449 N. Lincoln (the store moved two years ago to 1657 N. Damen). It is credited with being the city's first record store devoted to hard-core and industrial dance music, while also specializing in '50s and '60s cult artists and local bands.
Wax Trax! Records released the first recordings of Ministry, a Chicago band that went on to international renown. Its other groups have included My Life with Thrill Kill Kult, Throbbing Gristle and Front 242.
Acquired in 1992 by New York's TVT Records, the label has continued recording new and established bands.
"Jim had breadth and idiosyncracy and unpredictableness, and Wax Trax! reflected that," said TVT head Steven Gottlieb. "It thrived on a kind of 'nurtured chaos.'
"People do the label a disservice when they say it was just about industrial music. Jim let artists go in a lot of different directions, and they adored him for that."
"He was a great friend and we'll miss him dearly," said Ministry leader and Wax Trax! associate Al Jourgensen, through his publicist.
Mr. Nash is survived by Mr. Flesher, his companion of 25 years; a daughter, Julia; a son, Aaron, and a granddaughter, Olivia.
The elaborate compilation, simply titled "Black Box," covers the era from the eclectic label's origins in 1980 to its near demise in 1992. Included are highlights from those 13 years, during which the label launched the careers of Ministry, the KLF, and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult.
The collection, which is wrapped in a black net mesh, is housed in a steel box and contains a poster, a 76-page booklet, two coasters, a sew-on patch, and a string of loose cassette tape.
The limited-edition set, which will retail for $ 69.99, is geared to followers of the bleak, brutal beats that characterize most Wax Trax! acts. Only 10,000 copies will be made available.
"It will definitely sell well here -- even at that price," says Ginny Simpson, manager of the Sacramento, Calif., alternative-intensive retail store the Beat. "There is significant consumer awareness of the Wax Trax! label. Both Ministry and KMFDM have large followings at our store."
A scaled-down compilation, retailing at $ 45.49, will hit stores Dec. 1. Wax Trax! was founded by label president/co-owner Jim Nash in 1980 with silent partner Dannie Flesher. The duo had opened a record store by the same name in Denver in 1973, before ultimately settling in Chicago.
To promote the release, endcap displays will be set up in national and regional retail outlets, including Tower Records, Best Buy, Newbury Comics, Harmony House, Streetside, Title Wave, HMV, and Virgin Megastores.
In addition, consumers will receive a coupon for a $ 2 discount on the set when they buy any Wax Trax! /TVT CD or cassette by an artist featured on the compilation. Participating retail chains include Camelot, Musicland, Blockbuster Music, Wherehouse Entertainment, and Trans World.
It was TVT, the label on which Nine Inch Nails got its start, that came to the floundering label's rescue at the 11th hour. Wax Trax! , though financed and marketed through TVT, remains a separate entity. Wax Trax! maintains creative control of its roster, says Nash.
In the fall of 1992, Wax Trax! filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, following a rapid and rocky decline spawned by excessive spending and several ill-advised business decisions.
"I'm a music fan, not a businessman," says Nash. "In the year before we filed bankruptcy, we made some bad decisions. [The Italian industrial group] Pankow wanted a five-color inner sleeve on its vinyl release even though vinyl was dying. We released a CDV of Front 242's 'Headhunter.' That wasn't exactly a popular format."
However, it was that same disregard for convention that helped break the elusive industrialist disco act Front 242.
"Who else would bring a Belgian band to America to tour on the strength of one 3,000-copy-selling single?" says Nash of 242's early days. The label successfully emerged from Chapter 11 in January of this year.
"I think Wax Trax! is very much Jim and Danny's vision," says TVT president Steve Gottlieb. "They just release the music they love, and it happens to appeal to others.
" Wax Trax! is part of a long tradition of independent labels that have single-handedly changed and nudged the evolution of music. Few labels are able to establish themselves in music history with a specific genre of music. Wax Trax! has successfully done that, though the industrial label that is placed on the music is something that the critics do."
A single-disc collection of more recent music on Wax Trax! /TVT, titled "After Burn," will come out Oct. 18. "We really grew fast in the mid- to late '80s," says Nash. "We went from a staff of three in 1984 to 20 in 1986. Our failure was just bad business management. I'm not a spreadsheet kind of guy. I think that our financial failures have defined the Wax Trax! sound as much as our biggest sellers."
FRONT 242 LEFT OFF
"I guess the label is still upset about the fact that we went bankrupt," says Nash. "Some people can accept it, and some cannot. The label won't even return our calls. It's unfortunate."
"Cold Life," the debut track by Ministry, on which Al Jourgensen sings in a well-polished British accent, is also conspicuously left off the collection. "Al hated that record and didn't want it on here," says Nash. "That's fine with me. I respect Al, so I'll respect his wishes."
Nine Inch Nails front man Reznor leads off disc one with 1000 Homo DJ's track "Supernaut." Reznor's version has never been released before, though bootlegs have been rampant for several years. A different version, fronted by Ministry's Jourgensen, was previously available commercially.
A two-cassette Wax Trax! /TVT video compilation will hit the streets before the end of the year. Among the 34 videos featured is the controversial AIDS-themed Coil video, "Tainted Love." That video, which contains stark and disturbing visuals portraying a man's decay from the disease, is now on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art.
"It was one of the first videos to deal with death and AIDS," says Nash. "No one wants to see videos with people in body bags."
As Wax Trax! closes the door on its past, it will focus on expanding the boundaries of alternative pop.
"I feel we are a tad more mature now," says Nash. "There is an emerging pop sensibility, like on the new Chris Connelly [material]. Both the artists and the mainstream tastes are moving toward a common middle ground."
But an equally important outlet for his musical passion was Wax Trax, a record store opened in the fall of 1975 by Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher. According to Knutson, "I got a flier about it in the mail, and it listed all my favorite bands: New York Dolls, Bowie, and a lot of groups that I thought no one but me knew anything about. It was like a letter from heaven, because Denver didn't have anything like it then."
Wax Trax (which opened in an Ogden Street storefront before moving to its current location at 638 East 13th Avenue) turned out to be a dream come true for Knutson; he describes it as "a club with these passionate members who met each other by accident and realized they weren't crazy." He spent so much time there that Nash and Flesher hired him to work for them in late 1976. Two years later the owners decided to move the business to Chicago, selling the Denver outlet to regular customers Duane Davis and Dave Stidman.
Along with Marilyn Megenity's Mercury Cafe and a handful of other hipster hangouts, Wax Trax helped give birth to Denver's late-Seventies underground music scene. The Jonny 3, an outfit that starred guitarist Kenny Vaughan (now a successful Nashville session player), was the first of the bands in this movement to attract a sizable audience, rising to prominence in 1977.
To understand the overwhelming importance of Wax Trax! in Chicago record store history, recall the depressing retail landscape of 1978. Current singles were really only available at the Ashland Avenue Sounds Good. Rose Records (later Tower) on Wabash arranged its albums by label, not artist. The Downtown Records chain had a few sealed Danny Williams cut-outs, but not much else. New wave promo LPs by Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Dead Boys littered the Second Hand Tunes, Wax Stax and Ha Ha stores. But full-line imports, oldies and obscurities were absolutely not available anywhere. So vinyl-starved Chicagoans welcomed Wax Trax! with open wallets on the Saturday after Thanksgiving 1978.
My opening day haul included a full run of Sean Bonniwell Music Machine singles on Original Sound and Warner Brothers, six yellow vinyl Five Americans Abnak promo singles (including, of course, "Ignert Woman"), four Yma Sumac Capitol singles, "Walkin' My Baby" by the Trashmen and Lou Christie's first Roulette album with the rare alternate blue cover. I was hooked.
On a typical Friday afternoon, I would hit Wax Trax!, go straight to the 'New Arrivals' bin and wrangle for the latest singles with law students, radio DJs and assorted record hounds. Ask any Wax Trax! staffer and the advice was always the same: "Buy the twelve inch, it's really good!" Format overkill was never a concern; I'd buy the import and domestic album, the seven inch and the twelve inch singles, all in the name of 'completeness.' (Never mind that I later had to dump pitifully 'complete' collections of the suddenly unlistenable Elvis Costello, Simple Minds and Gary Numan!)
Jim and Dannie would greet customers with the breaking news ("Didja hear about Sid Vicious?") or 'the next big thing' (two-necktie-wearing Wazmo Nariz or Praxis magazine's Raymilland). Co-owner Mike Smyth would return from European buying trips overloaded with Lou Christie UK Buddah 45s that he'd picked up just for me. Smyth eventually founded Phonoluxe Records, still the best store in Nashville.
But Greg Pickett was my main contact at Wax Trax. Especially in the early years, Greg ordered the new releases and evaluated the used goods. Greg was by far the most serious record collector I had ever met. He owned every (and I mean EVERY) worthwhile record, new or old, single or album, American or British, major label or independent. Unlike many hard-core collectors, Greg was a kind, thoughtful and truly generous person. Greg was working the counter when Klaus Nomi visited Wax Trax! on September 16, 1980. Describing the meeting, Greg said, "Nomi had alot of flash-but there was real talent behind the flash."
A world-class Sparks fan, Greg fed me Sparks sheet music, UK Island 45s and "The Wedding Of Jacqueline Kennedy To Russell Mael" (US Island 043). Sadly Greg died in 1985 after a two-year illness. Even in the hospital he remained a record man, anxiously paging through the latest Billboard Buyer's Guide.
Carol Blank was another key Wax Trax! employee. Carol had a highly developed sense of fashion and a wide knowledge of English pop, blue beat and dance music. One afternoon in December 1982, Carol convinced me to purchase Funkapolitan's "In The Crime Of Life" single. The next morning I was shocked to learn that Carol had died.
As a tribute to "our good friend Carol who turned us on to a lot of good music," WXRT-FM's Terri Hemmert played Roxy Music's "Oh Yeah" ("Where was I / How was I to know?"). Jim & Dannie were still crying over Carol when they attended the ABC concert at the Riviera December 14th.
As the store became established, Jim & Dannie started sponsoring shows and selling (handmade) concert tickets.
Wax Trax! Shows at rock dungeons like Gaspars, Mothers or Tut's, were often opened by local bands, including Tutu And The Pirates (nice toilet seat guitar), and Skafish ("Disgracing The Family Name"). Then, as now, concerts could get a bit gnarly. You'd stand for hours waiting for the terminally late main act. And when the show finally started at 3AM, some drunk guy with a swastika tattoo would dance all over everyone, "accidentally" humping a few females, stepping on feet and burning people in the back with a lit cigarette. When challenged, he'd inevitably reply, "Duh, sorry dude, you know how it is."
Wax Trax! initially favored European acts like Roxy Music, David Bowie, Eno, the Human League, Heaven 17 and even Spandau Ballet. Gradually, tastes expanded to include the free-form Slits and Pop Group ("Getting ever closer / To the new being").
Independent labels were stocked extensively: Les Temps Modernes (Minny Pops, Crispy Ambulance), 4AD (Bauhaus, Mass, Sort Sol, The The), Stiff (Desmond Dekker), 2 Tone (Specials), Tommy Boy (Planet Patrol) and Sugar Hill (Grandmaster Flash). Rare items would be strategically held back for leaner times, like a clear vinyl XTC "Life Begins At The Hop" single or the first (raised letter) pressing of OMD's "Electricicty" sleeve.
Heavily inspired by Joy Division's 'Unknown Pleasures' album in July 1979, Wax Trax! became the supreme Factory Records center of Chicago. Any Factory record by Crispy Ambulance, Section 25 or the Names was stocked in abundance and featured prominently. A custom-made 'Joy Division' neon sign glowed behind the front counter.
Wax Trax! printed tickets and planned to present Joy Division at Tut's on May 27, 1980. Unfortunately lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide on May 18 and the first-ever US tour was cancelled. Curtis' suicide affected Wax Trax! staffers very deeply.
In January 1985, Wax Trax! presented Factory's Section 25 ("Looking From A Hilltop") at Cabaret Metro. The classic ad from that show was later reprinted in the CD booklet of LTM's Section 25: 'Deus Ex Machina: Archive Recordings 1983-1985' (August 1998).
Wax Trax! allegedly had some connection to the 'blue MONDAY' album (Fac-Pro-3) which boasted New Order's live version of Sparks' "When I'm With You."
The Wax Trax! Records label started quietly with limited edition singles like Eno's "Lion Sleeps Tonight."
WAX001 was 'Immediate Action' by Strike Under (Steve & Chris Bjorklund, Pierre Kezdie, Bob Furam). Strike Under appeared on the 1981 'Busted At Oz' album. Steve Bjorklund later joined Breaking Circus & Red Red Meat. Bob Furam was in the Saphires and is now a film editor.
In summer 1982, Wax Trax! Records hit Billboard's Dance / Disco Top 80 chart with Ministry's "Cold Life" / "I'm Falling" / "Prymental" twelve inch (Wax Trax! 110072 XA). From there, the sounds got darker and often harsher. Front 242, Chris Connelly, My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult and other Wax Trax! artists found national success.
Wax Trax! marketed, manufactured and distributed Play It Again Sam Records USA, including SIGLO XX's masterpiece "Under A Purple Sky" (BUIS 1035).
As the focus shifted to the Wax Trax! label, other store stock suffered. Employees and customers left. Reckless Records blew into town in 1988. And finally in mid-1993, Wax Trax! moved to Damen Avenue in Wicker Park.
But the memories still remain:
On June 9, 2002
Andy Wombwell (Rhino Films) discussed Jim Nash and Wax Trax! in liner notes for
Wax Trax! Records'
Rocky Mountain Low
Rocky Mountain Low