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INTERVIEW: Rock n’ Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip – April 2015

| 29 April 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW: Rock n’ Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip – April 2015

JohnnyX (The Wild), Dan Sullivan (Hans Naughty), Mick O’Brien & Kevin Agosta (Lypswitch), James ‘JT’ Pelton (Dallas Dollz)

By Shane Pinnegar

Eonian Records have tirelessly excavated an enormous 36 bands who were pivotal in the third wave of the Sunset Strip, playing hundreds of shows in the rock n’ roll glory days of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Featuring two tracks from each band, Rock n’ Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip is a four-disc box set with extensive liner notes, bio and photos of each band and an essay reminiscing on those hedonistic times by Johnny X (The Wild) and Adam Gifford (Paradise).

Thankyou to JohnnyX (The Wild), Dan Sullivan (Hans Naughty), Mick O’Brien & Kevin Agosta (Lypswitch) and James ‘JT’ Pelton (Dallas Dollz) for helping us get a feel of those legendary times.

Rock n Roll Rebels of the Sunset Strip Vol 1 cover
Let’s set the tone – how long were you playing live on the Sunset Strip?

JohnnyX: I started playing on the Sunset Strip in 1985 in a band called Johnny & The Jaguars – a Rockabilly-funk kinda band. We changed our name to The Wild in 1986 or 87, and performed ‘til 1991.

Dan Sullivan: Hans Naughty played in and around the strip from mid-1983 to about 1994.

Kevin Agosta: Lypswitch played for 3 years – April of 1988 to April of 1991.

JT Pelton: I arrived there and we started playing the scene in 1984. We were there on the scene for about 10 years.
Are you originally from L.A. or did you move there chasing music fame?

JohnnyX: I moved to Hollywood from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA.

The Wild

The Wild featuring JohnnyX

Sullivan: Mark Crowley, the original bass player, and I are from Marysville, California, a small farming town in the Sacramento Valley. We moved to the San Francisco Bay area to pursue music, that’s when we met Terry (Broadbent – guitar) and Jim (Flanigan – drums), and we formed Hans Naughty. We got really big in the Bay area very quickly, headlining Bill Graham’s Old Waldorf, Wolfgang’s and other clubs like The Stone and the punk club Mabuhay Gardens. Actually Mabuhay Gradens was our first gig, and Dirk Dirksen, the booker, really helped spread the word about us – funny cause he always booked punk and we were metal/hard rock. We kept hearing about this burgeoning hard rock scene in LA, which had given birth to Van Halen, so we went down to visit. We stayed with a group called Angelus, they were cool guys and we met Stephen Pearcy from Ratt on that trip. Bands on the scene at the time were Motely Crue, Ratt, Quiet Riot, Dante Foxx (who later became Great White), Dokken, Armored Saint, Pandemonium, Snow – all unsigned at the time. We moved in 1983 to L.A.

Mick O’Brien: We moved to L.A. from Orlando, Florida in April 1988. The music scene in Orlando was mostly cover bands and Lypswitch was looking to play all original music. At the time, Los Angeles was the only place we truly believed could elevate the band to the record companies and the media and get us the exposure we always dreamed about as kids.
Pelton: I was originally from the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas, and ran away from home at age 16 to chase fame in L.A.
How much material did the band record?

JohnnyX: Quite a bit of tunes! Hollywood was an enormous cauldron of musical artistry and we certainly had a lot of good times – and hard times – to draw our songs from. Like a lot of the bands, some of the tapes have been lost or damaged. Most tapes somehow made it through the debauchery.

Sullivan: Shoot, we recorded tons – probably about 60 to 100 songs, but we rarely had budgets so a lot of the recordings sounded like shit sonically speaking. Remember – this was before Protools! Our first demo tape we did in the Bay Area and Brad Gillis from Night Ranger produced it. When we got to L.A. we recorded a demo with Don Dokken producing and Michael Wagener engineering – that was a stellar recording, but there were some issues with our financial backer and the studio, and we never got the finished masters… frikkin’ music business!!

Hans Naughty

Hans Naughty featuring Dan Sullivan

O’Brien: We recorded over 60 songs between 1988 and 1991. Most of the songs were rough demos recorded on 4-track in David Love’s home studio or recorded live at our practice studios.
Agosta: We recorded a lot of 4-track demos and two professionally produced demos; one in 1989 for MCA and another in 1990 for Current Management.

Pelton: We made a lot of low quality self-made recordings using a jam box or an old school Fostex cassette on 4-tracks. As far as high quality studio tracks, only about 8 – most of those being a prize for winning the Battle Of The Bands when we were back in Dallas in 1993. I wish we had recorded more of our songs in the studio but it seemed a lot of our funds went to endless parties and debauchery! Of course our greatest asset was our energy onstage, which is hard to capture in a studio environment. If I could time travel I would have definitely made recordings of our live performances.

Was it a surprise to be approached to be a part of this compilation?

JohnnyX: I had been asked by other labels to release The Wild’s tunes. Eonian Records had a different idea: they wanted to tell the whole story of The Sunset Strip through music, photos, liner notes and a bio of each band. A compilation box set like none other: genius, really! I am proud to have worked with Eonian to get this project done. It’s a true history of Hollywood at its best and rowdiest.

Sullivan: No surprise at all – we were a huge presence from, like, 1983 to 1987 on the scene, selling out the Troubadour and packing Gazzarri’s etc. Also I know most of the other bands, so it feels like a really natural fit. I want to do a show with all these guys!

Agosta: Yes it was! [It’s] really cool and we are proud to be a part of this, [along with] so many great bands from back in the day. Eonian records did an amazing job putting this together

O’Brien: Yes, I was pleasantly surprised. We knew back in the day that we were making some noise on the L.A. music scene, but we never imagined that 25 years later we would be a part of this. It’s a sincere honour for the band, most definitely.

Pelton: Yes it was and I am very proud and honoured to be part of it. There is a lot of great talent on the CD set and a lot of people I care about and truly call my friends.

Have you stayed in touch with the rest of the band?

JohnnyX: Yes, most of us have stayed in touch after all these years.

Sullivan: Sort of… I probably talk to Mark [Crowley], my original bass player the most, as we grew up together and are hometown buddies; he’s in the Bay Area again. I actually had Mark in the studio recently tracking some bass, it felt good. Terry [Broadbent] is here in L.A, and we communicate on Facebook a bit, same with Steve [Starnato] the second bass player, he’s back in Philly, but we chat once in a while, like when I call him to bug him about doing a reunion gig, [laughs]. I’ve lost touch with Jim [Flanigan], unfortunately.

O’Brien: Yeah, K.A. and myself are still pretty tight and we stay in touch quite a bit. It’s funny; we still reminisce about the crazy shit that happened back in the day! That period in our lives was full of hope and fearlessness, anything felt possible. But after 25 years, the guys in the band have their own lives now. Most of us have kids, a family and real jobs. There was a brief period in 2008 where K.A., David Love and myself collaborated on some experimental songs and we called the project ‘Hate Season’. The songs are available for download upon request.

Agosta: Yes, we are spread out across the country now, but have stayed in contact.

Pelton: Yes – to a degree. Perry [Taylor] our original drummer who became our singer was killed in a vehicle crash. He was my best friend and like my brother up to the time of his death. As far as the other members go, I am still in touch with most of them and see them from time to time.

Has this experience whet your appetite to get out there and rock again?

JohnnyX: Yes! JohnnyX & The Wild played a show with two of the bands from ‘Rock n’ Roll Rebels’ this last winter at The Viper Room – Paradise and Rough Justice. Sold Out. Next show is with another band from the box set called Blackboard Jungle. Quite a few of us ‘Rock n’ Roll Rebels’ plan on hitting the stage again. Stay tuned!

Sullivan: Well, from the sense of wanting to do a Hans Naughty set, definitely… but I’m still playing around town with a group called Honkystomp, and another group called Venice Barracuda’s, so I’m scratching my musical itch quite a bit. Plus I’m producing some young artists for an indie label I’m starting, so I’m getting plenty of musical therapy. I would definitely LOVE to do a set of Hans Naughty music – I’m just not sure I can round up the guys! I may need to do it with some surrogate players, but that would be fine.

O’Brien: Yeah, I’m still out there rocking – always have been. It’s not anything like Lypswitch, but I’m still scratching that itch because I truly love entertaining and playing music: it’s in my blood. The name of my new band is Six Feet From The Edge – check us out on Facebook.

Pelton: Yes it has. Music was always – and still is – an emotional release and a passion. We always had our share of songs about women and parties but we also had songs about real life circumstances like going to court, near death circumstances, society and our connection with music and the stage. That passion will never die.

We’re all familiar with the stories of decadence from Motley Crue, Guns n’ Roses, Poison et al, did you enjoy similar experiences?

JohnnyX: Hell, yes! Sex, Drugs, Rock n’ Roll! The Sunset Strip!

Sullivan: Yes, we definitely did. We played with all of those groups you mentioned at one point or another in the early ‘80’s and yes, every experience they had, I’m sure we experienced too – with the exception of heroin, we never got into that. Just lots of whisky, hairspray, and parties!

Agosta: Oh hell yes, there was some crazy madness that went down! But we couldn’t afford to party like those bands, we were basically living on ramen noodles and cheap beer.


Lypswitch featuring Mick O’Brien & Kevin Agosta

O’Brien: Hell yes, we did! But I plead the 5th on this question, sorry…

Pelton: Yes – I don’t think the legal statute of limitations has run out yet for some of the things we did!

What’s your favourite on-stage memory of those times?

JohnnyX: There was a club called Xposeur 54. At full tilt, it could hold about 1,000-1,500 rockers. It was a great club to play, monstrously enormous, hip and cool. Hollywood at it’s finest.

Sullivan: It was, I think, in 1984, when the US Festival was happening, so a lot of big bands were in town. We were playing the Troubadour and if I remember correctly, David Lee Roth was in the crowd as well as Rob Halford and guys from the Scorpions. This was huge for us as they were our rock n’ roll heroes. It was surreal looking out from the Troubadour stage and seeing the faces of rock n’ roll legends – frikking awesome!!!

Agosta: It’s hard to pick just one, but some of those big shows at the end of ‘88 opening for (and learning from) the bigger bands was amazing and really helped us establish the band. Those were gigs with Love/Hate, The Wild, Funhouse, D’molls, Bang Tango… good times.

O’Brien: I vividly remember looking out into the sold-out crowd at The Whisky in 1990 and seeing all these people going nuts. That was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and pride.

Pelton: I have quite a few. I have great memories from every time I was on stage – good AND crazy. We owned our own nightclub in Hollywood called The Galaxy Stage. We were an after-hours underground club with live bands and alcohol. We opened officially at about 10pm and we closed around 5 or 6am. It was a pretty decent sized club with 2 different stages. We had built the main stage, which was about 3.5 ft high by 40 foot across and 20 feet deep. I had rigged up most of the club myself and I had made a dry ice fog machine from a 50-gallon drum, speaker wire, old water heater elements and a squirrel cage fan from an old air conditioner.

I had just made it right before we went on stage and it had bare wires hanging out all over it. The roadies had filled it with water and spilled it all over the stage while I was in the dressing room changing the strings on my guitar. I heard the drums start so I didn’t get to trim my strings. I just tuned and ran out on stage and plugged in and grabbed the bucket of dried ice to fill the fog machine I made.

As I poured it into the machine it was like time stood still. The double bass drums and crowd sounded like an old broken record player as I witnessed my own misfortune unfold. I dropped the empty bucket and tried to grab my guitar but it was too late and the uncut strings made contact with the bare wires on the open topped junction box on the fog machine I had made. Of course at this same moment I noticed I was standing in a puddle of water. I saw the spark as I completed the circuit for my electrifying experience. I was being shocked and it would not let me go. It literally made my strings glow orange on my guitar and branded the neck to look like a grille.

Perry our drummer at the time noticed what was going on and I was screaming “the pain, the pain!” That is all I could get out. He jumped off the drums and pulled the power cord which then caused me to be launched across the stage and I slid on my face and chest about 8 feet to the front of the stage. The crowd went wild and cheered like it was part of the show. It hurt all the way to my bones. I stood up and told Perry to hit it as I switched to my backup guitar and we played like it never happened. It was a great moment I will never forget and one that I still laugh at today!
How about your favourite after-party memory?

JohnnyX: That’s easy for me. The Dallas Dollz had an after-hours club called The Galaxy Stage on Santa Monica Boulevard. I lived there for a while with them. Insane in the membrane! After-parties that went on for days… I had great times with those guys.

Sullivan: Okay, are you actually asking me to REMEMBER after parties? [laughs] We were so wasted I couldn’t remember them the next day let alone 30 years later! Okay, but seriously, I loved the parties in the alley off of Gardner – it’s where the guys from G’n’R rehearsed and crashed out, and after they broke big, JohhnyX & The Wild were there. That parking lot in that alley had some good late-night debauchery! I also remember a night at an after-hours joint called The Galaxy, and me and Axl were drunk and sharing the mic singing a Rolling Stones song together. It was weird, we all really mutually respected one another back in the day, there was a certain camaraderie among the bands, there was also a bit of competition, but more mutual respect than anything else from my memory.

O’Brien: Honestly, I don’t remember us having too may after-parties. But then again, it may have been all of my consumption of Jim Beam that has clouded those memories over the years…

Agosta: The LP Sounds after parties! They would kick off at 2am when the Strip closed and go into the next day. We played one with Funhouse in 1990 and it was just over the top!

Pelton: Well the party lasted for quite a few years but one example of a story I could tell would be the Giant hamburger, Moped of terror and Gang relations Mission…

This guy was struck by a vehicle in the intersection while riding his moped, so hard it broke the front assembly off the motorbike. He was taken away by ambulance so we “borrowed” the moped that was left behind on our way back from taking the giant 15-foot across inflatable hamburger off the roof of the AM/PM store. The hamburger was our original mission – the moped was a bi-product, which became a side mission.

We took the hamburger and the moped back to the club and proceeded to use clamps and locking pliers to hold the front end to the frame of the bike then things got crazy. The two stages met and had a connecting hallway into the kitchen, then the bar area. This made the perfect track. Introduce lots of alcohol and other methods of altering your state of mind and “bash the guy on the bike” was created. Our Bass player hit the furnace on one run and did the first flip on a motorcycle long before the guys that are doing it today. I had the rear end caught up in a blanket trap that was set for me that nearly ended in a decapitation on the main stage. After numerous crashes, broken walls and property damage we went outside and made a deal with the Cholo gang to use the moped to travel down the 101 freeway to get more party supplies and join us afterwards in our indoor destruction derby until the club opened. We seemed to pride ourselves on not setting limits on our fun-o-meter.

From halfway around the world, the whole Sunset Strip scene looked like Emerald City from The Wizard Of Oz. Was it as magical a time to be living inside of it?

JohnnyX: Click those shoes and have mercy on our souls… music, mayhem, fast times and faster women. Fans coming from around the world. It was magical and I would not change a damn thing!

Sullivan: Great question! Yes, it was really magical. I have a 22-year-old daughter, and her and her friends tell me they wish they were around in the ‘80s scene. I really liked it in the early ‘80s – say ‘83 to ’85-ish. It was raw and fun. There was a ton of drinking, drugs and sex, but there was something very innocent about it, no ‘thug’ type of mentality, and everyone was having FUN. The gals were decked out in mini-skirts and fishnets and stilettos, and the guys were all decked out – it was a great time, on any given weekend the Sunset Strip would have hundreds, if not thousands, of rockers hanging out between Doheny and La Cienega – basically from Gazzaris to the Whisky. The problem is around say ‘86/’87 it became a bit poser-heavy, laden with dudes who didn’t really play just hanging out trolling for chicks. Honestly it was this sort of poser nonsense which led to the Grunge backlash which killed the scene… so yeah, in the early days it was great, but after ‘86, it got a little jaded.

O’Brien: Yeah, the Sunset Strip was like winning the Golden Ticket. The possibilities were endless and we were full of ambition and a relentless pursuit to get that record deal.

Pelton: Yes. We loved it. I had some of the best times and best friends anyone could hope for.

Dallas Dollz

Dallas Dollz featuring JT Pelton

Do you agree with the assertion that Grunge killed rock n’ roll?

JohnnyX: Nope! Nobody talks about it now, but a lot of those Seattle dudes were checking out the shows in Hollywood and hanging out afterwards. Everybody was there. Truth speaks volumes.

Sullivan: See my answer above! Yes definitely, but it was a backlash – there were too many poser bands coming out and people were sick of it. It started out as a really rocking scene with great hard rock bands, but devolved into a very vapid, poser-based scene, which pretty much was the beginning of the end. Grunge was just the natural reaction to an overexposed and over-made-up, over-posing, and musically under-talented scene. I remember we did an ad campaign in Music Connection Magazine, with me holding a whisky jug, bare chested and in a cowboy hat and the caption read ‘no make-up required”. You can still find that image online, it was our protest ad to the Poser scene which was developing… you could definitely feel the shift from a really vibrant, natural, exciting scene to a very vapid, lame and worn out scene.

Agosta: You can’t kill rock n’ roll! But I do think the combination of the 1992 L.A. riots and grunge pretty much destroyed the L.A. scene at the time.

O’Brien: No, Grunge killed the L.A. music scene, not rock n’ roll. Grunge was a darker, more introspective perspective of rock n’ roll. If anything, it was more punk than rock. Grunge captured a huge part of the American youth that were dealing with isolation, lost identities, drug addiction, broken relationships and the rebellious freedom of those circumstances that invigorated their relevance. To be brutally honest, L.A.’s music scene was all about playing the clubs, hot chicks, getting laid, glamour, partying ‘like a rock stars’ and excessiveness. Grunge gave America’s youth a new outlet and they were hungry for a change. It’s just unfortunate that it happened when it did.

Pelton: No. I love a lot of the grunge bands. Executives make the decisions of which they are going to push and what they are going to bring to market. Most people are diverse and like several styles of music. I think there was room for metal, grunge, punk, industrial and glam all at the same time, but labels chose not to invest. Then came rap, which I think killed the market because most of it is sampled and it let labels see how they could make music without paying bands. Rock has somewhat had a resurgence with bands like Asking Alexandria and Bullet For My Valentine, just to name a couple. I think people want to hear bands that can play instruments again and put on a show with no lip-syncing. But again, the industry controls what the masses are exposed to.
When you hear a Guns n’ Roses, Poison or Motley Crue song nowadays, do you feel proud to be an alumni of those bands, or disappointed that you didn’t hit it as big?

JohnnyX: No, not at all disappointed. Those have been some of the greatest bands in rock history. I am extremely proud to be associated with them. Glorious times – rock n’ roll rebels forever!

Sullivan: The answer is both. It was a crapshoot back then – there were plenty of bands with plenty of talent that didn’t break big. It was definitely hard, seeing other groups whom you respected and who mutually respected you, shoot on by you, when you knew that basically with the right producers, a major label and some marketing your band could easily have been just as big. I don’t regret any of the experience, I’m really proud to have shared stages with and held our own with some of the biggest ‘80s rock bands in the world, like Metallica, Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt, etc. Fond memories of all of it, but I figure God had another plan for the Naughty boys and me. I don’t regret it a bit, and am proud that we got as far as we did… it’s not like we never got out of our garage [laughs]. We had some experiences which still help me today as I work with younger artists, so yeah – proud on many levels, and a wee bit, like, ‘damn, that could have been us.’ But who knows – I might be dead right now if that had been me, so time has a way of leaving you with just the fond memories. Peace and thanks.

O’Brien: Proud, because those bands laid the foundation for Lypswitch and many other bands like us on the L.A. scene.

Pelton: When you are young, you are learning to play and you don’t realise the business part of music. It is also so easy to get in the loop of being satisfied being the ‘hometown hero’ and being afraid to step out of your element. Also it is easy to get caught in the traps of women, drugs, the influence of others and bad management. I am proud of my accomplishments and the fact that at least I pursued my dreams and made an impact in the City Of Sin.
Rock n’ Roll Rebels & The Sunset Strip is out now through Eonian Records

Read our review HERE

Category: Interviews

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