Features & Columns

Tales from the Club

The stories that make the South Bay's live-music masterminds ask, 'What just happened?'
Corey O'Brian FAMOUS FLAME Corey O'Brien of the Blank Club watched Hayride From Hell's Joey Myers put on a smokin' set—literally.

THERE ARE ARTISTS who make music in the scene, and then there are artists who make the scene itself. Because make no mistake about it, bringing live music to the stage is an art. Behind the performances people see onstage is another world of VIP access—private shows, celebrity run-ins and other one-of-a-kind nights that most people never hear about.

But for the South Bay's club owners, bookers, promoters and producers, this exclusive access to what fans might consider a glamorous world of rock and rap stars has plenty of pitfalls, too. There are bizarre artists and their even more bizarre demands to deal with, and they never know when someone's drum set is going to go up in flames, or someone else might turn the tables and make them perform onstage, or even kick them out of their own club.

Several of the South Bay's live music masterminds, past and present, were willing to give a glimpse into the high highs and crazy lows of their world, and these are their best stories, long and short, glorious and humiliating, filthy and transcendent.

That Guy Is on Fire!

Corey O'Brien, co-owner, the Blank Club

One time Hayride to Hell was playing. Joey Myers was on drums, and he had the Hayride logo on his kick drum. He had a light inside there with a blanket, and the light caught the blanket on fire. So he's playing, and there's smoke coming out of his drums and he doesn't even realize it.

Every time he was kicking the kick drum, it would fuel the fire. Someone's like "Joey, your drums are on fire!" And he was like "Thanks!"

Hangin' With Kanye

Thomas Ramon Aguilar, Ungrammar Productions

I had been doing work at the SoFA Lounge when they were open for a couple years. I got a call from a marketing company out of New York City called Cornerstone Marketing. They throw a lot of basically speakeasy events, where they collaborate with corporate entities. They were working with Kanye West during his second album, Late Registration, in 2005. He had just gone double platinum with the album, and he was doing a tour, and he had a stop in San Jose.

I had been working at MACLA at the time, booking the space for community-based events. And Kanye had requested that wherever they threw the parties, the space be either somebody's loft or an art gallery, because he's an avid art collector. Long story short, we made the deal happen to put the party on at MACLA. I had to be specific about the clientele I could invite. They wanted 75 percent of the crowd to be female, and they wanted 35 percent of the males to be dapper guys, suit-and-tie or just very high fashion.

It was sponsored by Hennessy, so they came in and decked out MACLA, transformed it into a mega-club-lounge look, with a gallery on the side. It was pretty amazing how it turned out. The other cool thing is the video for the song he did with the cat from Maroon 5 ["Heard 'Em Say"]; they shipped in the storyboards for that video, and we hung them up around the black-box area of the MACLA theater.

He introduced the video, and the crowd was cool, because it wasn't a frenzy of people with their phone cameras trying to get a piece of him. It was a packed house; it was at MACLA, Kanye West was in the house; it was one of those nights I'll never forget. Not only that, but he was very grateful that we hosted the party. He did a tour of the gallery, and he dug it.

The Takedown

Jimmy Arceneaux, former booker, the Edge

I think the funniest thing that ever happened to me personally while working at the Edge was that I'd secured Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, which was a big deal at the time [1999]. I'd heard stories that he was horrible to work with, and that it was a lot of bad karma, whatever. I went "You know, I'm going to see how it goes, it should be cool."

So he shows up, and of course he's got an entourage of people around him. Now, back in the day when we were doing shows, I would always be at the backstage stairs with a flashlight, so the artist knew that I was there, 'cause most booking agents, you don't see them the night of the show, not traditionally anyway. Anyway, I'm a huge Ritchie Blackmore fan. He's one of the guitar players that made me want to play guitar, him and Ace Frehley. So it was a big deal for me to have him there.

The band came in and soundchecked, and of course Ritchie didn't come 'til right before the show. Ritchie comes out to go onstage, right? He's standing there and he's got his classic white Strat and he's dressed all in black—Ritchie Blackmore is like 2 feet in front of me. I was so excited, I leaned over, and I went to say, "Mr. Blackmore, it's a pleasure to have you play the club, I'm a big fan." I got halfway through the sentence, and three pairs of hands from behind me picked me up off the ground, kicked open the backstage access door and threw me out into the alleyway behind the Edge. I've got scrapes on myself from hitting the ground so hard, and I'm shocked.

So I ran around the corner, I grabbed my security guy, and I'm talking to this gigantic Swedish dude who's with Ritchie Blackmore, the guy must be 6-foot-5. I'm not very tall, and I'm poking him in the chest going "I'm the guy who pays you at the end of the night, why'd they pick me up and throw me out of the building?" And he goes, "Nobody talks to Richie. Nobody." I was like "Okkkkay." That was that. I got thrown out of my own club.

The funniest part was I was so mad, I was jumping up and down. You know those old cartoons with Yosemite Sam? I was jumping up and down like that, screaming, because I was just so aghast, like, what just happened? Did this really just happen?

Blood, Sweat, No Tears

Matt Crudo, former managing partner, VooDoo Lounge

We had one rider from this band Urgahol, a black-metal band out of Europe. Part of their rider [clause in their contract] was they wanted a pint of blood. Little did they know I used to work at a butcher shop. I got them two quarts. I went to the place I used to work, Antipasto's, and said "Hey Gino, I need blood." He was like "What are you talking about?"

I don't think they'd ever had anyone actually get it for them, because when I said, "Here's two quarts of blood for you guys," they were like, "What?" I said, "Yeah, I brought the blood for your rider." They seemed shocked that I actually got it for them. But they used it. Their whole thing, we found out, was they wanted to put it on their bodies and let it dry, so when they'd go onstage and start sweating, it'd look like real blood. It made the place smell kind of funky.

Fil Maresca WAKE ME WHEN IT'S OVER: Fil Maresca threw a proper wake when F/X closed.

Till Death Do Us Party

Fil Maresca, former owner, F/X the Club

One of my fondest memories is that we were lucky enough that we negotiated our exit from F/X. We got to pick the day and the time we were going to shut down. Two days before we closed the club [in 1995], we had a wake. It was invitation-only; we had a coffin onstage. And we had professional mourners—we didn't tell anybody, but we hired some actors from City Lights and San Jose Stage, and I told them, "I need you to be old Italian women at a wake." They came with the veils—and the screeching and crying.

People got real creative. All we told them is that it was a wake and they needed to wear black. Which isn't hard for an F/X audience—everything they own is black. Once you got in, everything was free. We basically pulled all the old booze out of the closet; people were drinking creme de menthe on the rocks.

It was one of the finest events I've ever done. It was very respectful, it was very theatrical, and for me it was a great cathartic event. Because this had been six years of my life, and after that I could let go. And it was a very personal place for people. It was the first alternative club in San Jose. The whole area in those days had a nice alternative feel to it—between us and the Cactus and Ajax and Marsuggi's, those were all places where you went and it felt like home.

This Business Makes My Head Hurt

Eric Fanali, promoter, Grand Fanali Productions

In 2002, Wesley Willis played the Los Gatos Outhouse, It was six dollars. Wesley Willis was fairly established at that time as an artist and a musician—this was a couple years before he died. I booked the show, but I didn't entirely know what I was getting myself into. I had heard the stories about the larger-than-life fellow that was going to come down and play at this tiny teen center behind a high school, on a stage that we built ourselves over the weekend, out of stuff from Home Depot.

I got the rider, and usually I cross off all the riders always. Green M&Ms, whatever it is, I just cross all that off. His was very simple, it was two cartons of soy milk. I was like, soy milk? But that's what it was, he wanted water and soy milk, and a little takeout. I ended up buying him Taco Bravo.

He came out, and he was very cool and soft-spoken, until he said "Headbutt!" I'm like, "What?" "He said "Headbutt!" I said "Uh, okay." And then he head butted me with his forehead, which he had a bruise on from probably head butting the 30 or 40 thousand people before me. It was in a loving way, though.

His first song was called "Osama bin Laden." This is a year after 9/11. The first lyric was like "Osama bin Laden, why are you such a bad guy?" Everyone went crazy. The show was legendary. We had to squeegie the windows, because we were sold out and the windows all fogged up, and there were three or four hundred people up against the windows trying to get a glimpse of this guy.

Truth in Advertising

Larry Trujillo, former booker, the Blank Club

Back in either 2003 or 2004, it was one of the early shows at the Blank Club, there was this one artist called Extreme Elvis. The reason he's called Extreme Elvis is not just because he takes things to extremes, but because this guy weighs 275, 300 pounds—he's really, really big. He does a very off-color Elvis bit, to say the least. And there was this old guy who used to go to all the Blank Club shows, probably about 60 years old—he used to be there no matter what.

This Extreme Elvis guy, he starts taking all his clothes off, that's where it starts getting really crazy. This particular night, though, he started pissing from the stage into the audience. Of course, everybody backed up in horror, like "Holy shit!" Except for the one old dude. And not only was he standing directly in the stream of it, but he was actually dancing and twirling around while this was going on. We were horrified that this guy was pissing in our club—not only that, but on top of this guy—but it was hilarious. So at the end of the night, we paid him and everything, but we said, "You know what, dude, if you're ever going to play here again, you've got to come in here and clean this up." So one of his dancers actually mopped up for us.

The Switcheroo

Barbara Wahli, promoter, Barb Rocks

A little over three years ago, one of the bands made me go onstage with them to sing. They found out I knew the lyrics to the Dramarama song "Anything Anything" that they covered. So I went onstage terrified, and glued to one spot, and I sang with Point 3.

I'd done the occasional karaoke, but I never thought of my voice as something people should be hearing in a song. It was kind of terrifying at first, then it was fun to do, so I don't mind so much anymore. The worst is watching the videos afterwards, where you see yourself and you're like "Oh God, why am I doing this?" I wouldn't say I get better. I look less terrified onstage. So since then, every year on my birthday I sing with a band.

I Wanna Be Sedated

Chris Esparza, promoter, Left Coast Live

I worked at One Step Beyond, it was my first nightclub job. I was a bouncer, doorman and then manager of security. We're talking '87, '89. My first day on the job, there's a concert I'm supposed to work that's Megadeth and the Ramones. They put me in the barricade between all of the crowd and the Ramones. I'm in the center of the barricade, people are flying over my head, the band and the roadies are throwing people off the stage, yelling at me. No matter how hard I try, I'm getting maybe half of them. And Joey Ramone—hair over his head, can't see his face—every time he leans over the front of the stage and bends that mic in this kind of power stance, he drools nonstop because he's so high or messed up on meds or something. Literally, I'm underneath—for an hour. And I can't move. I'm trying to do my job, getting rained on by Joey Ramone. It was trial by fire.

Mike Avalon JOLLY GREEN GIANT JELLY: Mike Beard (right, alongside owner Mike Jafardi), promotions guy at the Avalon, remembers the night the singer from Green Jelly couldn't find his way to Santa Clara.

Be Your Own Rock Star

Mike Beard, promoter, Man Down Productions

Over the years there's been some really good stories, but this one stands out. It was last year. There was a band back in the early '90s called Green Jelly. They had a big video hit called "Three Little Pigs." They hit me up last year to come through the Avalon.

I knew who they were, and that I could put local bands on with them. The band was really cool, the tour manager was really cool, but the singer would call me up and he was really specific about things he really needed. He'd call me once a week up until the show.

The band shows up at the Avalon and sets up their gear, and the singer's not there. The singer called me and the tour manager all through the night saying, "I'm on my way. I'm coming from Bakersfield. I'll be there." Well, he ended up not showing up for the show. Tom the tour manager went up on stage and said, "Hey, I'm sorry; the singer is broken down on Highway 5."

But the rest of the band was there, they'd come up from L.A. with all their gear, and they were really disappointed, too. But then a guy by the name of Danny Shipman, who was a big Green Jelly fan, jumped up onstage and sang "Three Little Pigs" with the band. So we ended up having people from the audience come up and sing Green Jelly songs. It made it a really cool night.