Written by Bevis M. Griffin
“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains it’s own see, it’s own lesson, on how to improve your performance next time”. ~ Malcolm X
For the balance of 1986, beginning in mid-summer and all throughout the blustering fall, the Black Rock Coalition performed a series of well-received showcases across New York’s five boroughs, to vividly illustrate the phenomenal range of musical diversity hiding in plain sight.
At the time, the formative BRC had primarily relied upon word-of-mouth communique as its principle form of recruitment. During the course of my initial close encounter, I presented a simple question to the group of organizers on-hand… “Why are ya’ll afraid to get paid”? It was simply a rhetorical question; but from where I sat, it seemed rather obvious that they were literally sitting upon an untapped treasure of unique raw-talent so all they needed was to take it to the stage! Thankfully, that message was well received, and within a few weeks, the BRC embarked upon a series of open auditions for The Black Rock Coalition Orchestra.
Shortly thereafter, I became a featured performer with the BRCO Review, which featured an astonishing array of accomplished, young musicians from Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. The dynamic traveling backline featured jazz pianists Geri Allen, and Mark and Scott Batson; Jared Nickerson and Melvin Gibbs on bass; David & Marque Gilmore on guitar, drums, and chapman stick; along with soon-to-be Living Colour superstars: William Calhoun on drums, Corey Glover on vocals, and it was all directed by guitarist extraordinaire, Vernon Reid.
The cast of featured vocalists was equally impressive in its broad-range of gender inclusion. I was gobsmacked by the number of ultra-powerful and gorgeous, femme fatales featured. Vocalist magnifique, Cookie Watson; metallic-flamethrowers, D.K. Dyson and Sophia Ramos all stunned me with their unique displays of savvy audience instigation and singing prowess. In all my years in Texas, I’d only witnessed ONE Black female rocker; the great Tina Turner.
I vividly recall our debut performance at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell in the summer of ’86 to a surprisingly large, wildly diverse crowd covering the entire spectrum of human ethnicity. My showcase featured a blistering and faithful rendition of Banzai Kik‘s anthemic “Noisy Music”. The audience response was surprisingly intense which drove my adrenaline through the roof! The song’s closing refrain became a massive call & response sing-along, “Nothing but Noise”! As I gleefully waded into a sea of high-fives and vertical pumping fists, I knew I had arrived. I fondly recall actor Laurence Fishburne appearing out-of-nowhere, expressing his approval!
February 12th, 1987 marked a watershed event for the BRC, Banzai Kik, and Bevis M. Griffin. The Bowery‘s legendary bastion of all-things punk/alternative, CBGB & OMFUG; hosted the Black Rock Coalition’s aptly titled Stalking Heads of ’87 Black Rock Nation Time Festival. For two consecutive nights, an international amalgam of heavyweight music journalists from all parts of the globe; including Europe, Asia, South America, Brazil, Japan, and Australia, all braved single-digit temperatures to witness a prolific exhibition of genre-defying Black music.
The promotional strategy devised by the BRC’s expert marketing team created a media frenzy! The industrial-strength and seemingly intractable barrier of racial-bias, which ultimately culminated into a virtual “glass-ceiling-syndrome” for progressive Black artists, who were routinely penalized for “genre-non-conformity”; and who subsequently were denied label funding routinely afforded to their staunchly supported white “label-mates”, whom A&R executives euphemistically identified as “visionary”. We sold out CBGB two nights in a row! Cookie Watkins, Michael Gregory, J.J. Jumpers, Uptown Atomics, The Deed, Eye & I, Living Colour and Banzai Kik, shattered the two-night-attendance record held by Talking Heads!
The following months proved to be extremely rewarding in the wake of Stalking Heads ’87. Rolling Stone magazine did a generous expose on the musical vitality of the BRC movement. Banzai Kik received particular attention for its arena-rock presentation, and Living Colour, Eye & I, and The Deed, all received enthusiastic endorsements from the pens of Kurt Loder, David Fricke, and Nelson George. The Black Rock Coalition had successfully asserted that Rock & Roll music, at its nitty-gritty-core, was ostensibly OUR indigenous invention, and we have united en masse to proudly reclaim not only its legacy but the authority of its future!
Now mind you, 1987 was a wildly prosperous year for the recording industry at large, bands like U2, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, and Motley Crue were in direct competition with artists like Prince, Terrence Trent D’Arby, Public Enemy, INXS, and the king of pop himself, Michael Jackson. Millions upon millions of cassette tapes were being consumed around the world, as C’s were still a new medium, but were yet to be considered as the industry-standard delivery platform. Roughly a week or so following the Rolling Stone article, I received an unexpected phone call.
The man on the other end of the line was New York attorney, Stan Snier, and he was calling on behalf of famed U.K. record executive Ian Ralfini, who was pursuing an acquisition of the entire music catalog of Shelter Records, formerly owned by Denny Cordell of Tulsa, OK. Stan informed me that he and Ian had caught Banzai Kik at CBGB, and wanted to discuss the possibility of developing a record deal. I soon met with Ian at his lower Manhattan office located on East 4th Street, just off Broadway. Ian loved the music and he offered to sign me! He was particularly intrigued by a song called, “I Ain’t Keith Richards”, written as a cautionary tale about excessive intoxication, and performed in homage to the legendary “Human Riff”.
The only caveat was that he was still negotiating with Viacom regarding the Shelter option. He offered me a novel proposition, in the form of substantial advance and “letter of intent”. I signed a 30-day waiver, essentially promising Ian Ralfini that I’d give him a month to close with Shelter before accepting any subsequent offers that might entice me to sign elsewhere. Suffice to say, I was elated by this arrangement and the financial incentive was “significant”.
After making my deposit at Apple Bank, I went straight to Trash and Vaudeville on East 7th! My buddy, the late Jimmy Webb, was TV’s fashion consigliere, and I bought practically every piece of glitzy neo-glam-punk clothing I wanted, without ever looking at a price-tag. Unfortunately for Ian, the Shelter deal disintegrated, so I was once again a “free-agent”. I’ve often lamented our parting-of-ways, as we had great creative and personal chemistry. A week later, my pal Vernon Reid invited me to The Ritz on E.11th to see Bad Brains.
Bad Brains and Fishbone, were both highly revered throughout the populace of the BRC. The first time CK Bailey introduced me to the single “Pay To Cum”, I chided him for playing a practical joke on me and accused him of setting the play-speed at 78 rpm in lieu of 45. There was also some ATX controversy surrounding Bad Brains in relation to The Big Boys. The band had recently released its incendiary third album, I Against I in November 1986. It had been three years since Bad Brains last performed in America, and the buzz was hot!
Upon our arrival, Vernon escorted me to the band’s green-room to facilitate an introduction. I’d previously met their phenomenal guitarist, Dr. Know, at the aforementioned BRC festival, and he enthusiastically invited us to follow him to the band’s smoke-laden inner-sanctum to meet and greet the rest of the band and crew. Towering bassist Darryl Jennifer offered us his herbal hospitality, which we respectfully declined and he cordially introduced me to singer and front-man extraordinaire, H.R., his elder sibling the amazing drummer, Earl Hudson.
Just before we all departed for showtime, Doc introduced me to manager Anthony Countey. Dr. Know surprisingly told Anthony that he should seriously “check this ‘bad-brotha’ out” and with that AC requested my tape, and subsequently called the next day for a meeting. At his West Village flat on Carmine Street, Anthony declared that he was deeply impressed by the Banzai Kik demo tape, and that he was developing a new production company called “Shake the Earth” with a new pair of colleagues named Andy Griggs and Lynn Robinson.
Both Lynn and Andy would serve as my day-to-day handlers since AC and Andy would soon embark upon a U.K. tour with Bad Brains for the bulk of the Summer of 87′ and within a week I’d signed a four-year management contract with an addendum for a production-deal. Andy Griggs was a U.K. ex-pat who had formally managed the notorious sleaze-metal band, Hanoi Rocks, and who infamously lost drummer Razzle Dingley to the horrifically violent auto-collision involving a “criminally-intoxicated” Vince Neil of Motley Crue back in 1984.
Andy was a no-nonsense former R.A.F. officer with a ‘hardball’ approach to management. Lynn Robinson was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and was a former child-star actor who worked closely with childhood friend and renowned New York session drummer, Anton Fig, and who also excelled as a PR specialist for legendary radio consultant and taste-maker Lee Abrams. It was through Lynn Robinson that Anton Fig received a copy of the Banzai Kik tape. The combo-gods once again aligned the stars that facilitated the opportunity of a lifetime.
In the fall of 1987, I received an excited call from Lynn who had just received a phone call from one of my all-time-favorite record producers, the great Jack Douglas, who announced that he was forming a new boutique record label called Supertrack in partnership with EMI. Jack had allegedly reached out to Anton Fig, whom he knew had a pulse for serious talent, and at Anton’s behest, he immediately contacted Lynn to investigate this musical discovery. I was absolutely thrilled by the prospect of working with the man who’d produced some of the greatest rock artists of all-time, and especially for the platinum trifecta by Aerosmith!
To make a long story short, I met Jack at Lynn’s flat, and we got along famously off the bat! He complimented both my vocal ability and unique vocal arrangements and inquired upon the production of the demos, which he assured me were very well recorded. I was relieved by his endorsement of Tim Hatfield‘s work and Jack suggested that he’d like to meet Tim also. By the end of our discussion, Jack and I had agreed to work together, and I left him and Lynn to work out the contractual details between their respective production entities as planned.
Within a matter of days Shake The Earth had developed a budgetary proposal that would allow Jack Douglas to book an extensive series of recording sessions at The Record Plant. We met with famed songwriter Richie Cordell and his business partner Patty, and a co-pro-agreement was cut between Patty, STE, and Jack’s Waterfront Productions. It was awesome!
Next we imported Chris Bailey back to Manhattan from Austin, along with our media team which now consisted of famed DiMarzio pick-up co-founder, Steve Blucher on guitar, David Gross on bass guitars, and explosive jazz-rock aficionado, Warren Benbow on drums. We rehearsed for several days at S.I.R. and Top-Cat Studios, with a top-quality backline of gear. We had all of the accouterments of a world-class outfit and it all went surprisingly smooth.
After a preliminary session at the famed Chung-King House of Metal located in Chinatown, Jack Douglas confirmed that we were ready for prime-time and we migrated to 321 West 44th Street and settled into the hallowed halls of Studio B, where Jimi Hendrix recorded his magnum opus, Electric Ladyland in 1968. and where Aerosmith recorded “Toys in the Attic” and “Rocks”. Jack rolled up his sleeves and worked his inimitable magic time and time again as Banzai Kik proceeded to deliver hard-rock jewels like a well-oiled music machine!
For a brief moment in time, it seemed as though I was truly living in Rock & Roll Heaven. Fate is often a cruel mistress, and in this case, it proved to become egregiously vehement. In the course of a few months time, I suffered the loss of my father due to gun violence and upon returning to New York to resume my recording affairs, I was shocked to discover that our promising deal with Jack Douglas had mysteriously collapsed under the weight of a dubious and protracted legal-dispute, which legally deterred me from seeking alternate options for the balance of my contractual agreement. Between 1988 and ’90 I lived in Rock & Roll Hell.
P.S. Visit www.bevismgriffin.com to sample music excerpts and view the rest of this story.