Buffalo's Drunkest Rock Bands Ever
by Donny Kutzbach
Peanut butter and jelly. Han Solo and Chewbacca. Rock-and-roll bands that play in bars and alcohol. These are all things that go naturally together. For every band that made their trade playing in local nightclubs, there is a story of how the bottle got the best of them.
It doesn’t seem like it was very long ago that my old band Semi-Tough played a show at the long-defunct Backstage Pub supporting indie darlings the Walkmen for a guarantee of nothing more than a case of Heineken beer.
That is just one story among so many in a city where rock bands seemingly exist solely to booze themselves into oblivion.
I will never forget the first time I saw the later era of the now late, great Mark Freeland’s Electroman when I was little more than 13 years old. At a Halloween party in the late 1980s, in an upstairs room at the old Connecticut Street Armory, I watched Freeland—notorious for his drunken antics—dissipate from a powerful, engaging frontman to an incoherent mess as he pounded drink after drink on stage. Of course, Freeland redeemed himself in the years that followed by stopping drinking, becoming an acclaimed fine artist, and making further innovative music, but for those who experienced him then, it’s almost impossible not to remember the drunken wildman in the Indian headdress.
Before they were Top 40 darlings, elevated to the status as internationally loved hitmakers, the Goo Goo Dolls earned the a reputation for being hard partiers. The band’s original manager (and current Town Ballroom proprietor) Artie Kwitchoff remembers the summer of 1988 not so fondly:
The Goo Goo Dolls were touring as the support act for Boston’s notorious skate punk band Gang Green. Following a show in Miami at the Cameo Theater, Robby Takac and George Tutuska decided to spend an evening with the Gang Green crew, who were known for their penchant to indulge in all kinds of illegal recreational activities. These were the days before cell phones, and trying to find them the next morning at the predetermined spot proved an exhausting challenge.
We headed across Florida along Alligator Alley with the goal to reach Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg. We missed the signs warning about the last gas stops for a ridiculous number of miles but did see the ones warning not to get out of your vehicle if you do run out. By some miracle we made it on fumes to the safety of a gas station but the stress of the morning was taking its toll. We finally made it to St. Pete, and while George and Robby were trying to sleep off the effects of a bad night with Gang Green, Johnny Rzeznik was contemplating his future and how a plumbing vocation seemed like a much better choice than rock band on this day. I remember sitting in the stands of a local high school stadium telling him he couldn’t quit the band and get on a plane to fly home at that moment, mostly because we owed too much money to dear friends of mine and that we desperately needed this tour to get us to the West coast in the hopes of securing a new record contract.
Well…let’s just say the pressure of the day resulted in a rather explosive performance that was then followed by a bout of drinking by Johnny that ended with his jumping fully clothed in the fountain outside Jannus Landing and then doing a swan dive into the van on top of George and Robby, who were lying on the two mattresses piled one on the other in Dan “The Man” Prabucki’s silver van ( the one without windows).
Shockingly they didn’t beat him senseless, they were too exhausted. All I could think of was, “I dropped out of school for this?” Oh, the glamorous life of a rock band on the road…
Former Artvoice scribe and frontman of another of Buffalo’s acclaimed booze-loving rockers, Mark Norris, remembers the hard-drinking, fast-living Bobo:
Bobo earned a devoted local following thanks to the outrageous onstage antics of Jimmer Philips and his guitar-slinging cohort Frank Sterlace. On an off night, Bobo was a trainwreck: Songs stopped abruptly and obscenities were hurled, followed by fists. On a good night, they were a marvel of precision and vision. By the time of the group’s final incarnation, the rhythm section had learned to start the four count before Philips could start talking.
Luckily, Bobo had the musical muscle to back up its collective blabbermouth. Sterlace’s lead lines were gritty and uncompromising and Philips’ “could have been a contender” delivery detailed tales of loves lost and chances blown. While the band’s music was contagious, its reputation was notorious. Even the most sympathetic club owner could be wary of booking the group.
Bobo wasn’t the kind of group to get thrown around lightly. Likewise, they weren’t thrown on a lot of national shows as the “local support.” Still, that didn’t stop the band from appearing on a bill.
On occasion, Philips and Sterlace would grab an empty acoustic guitar case, fill it up with cheap beer, and head down to the nearest rock-and-roll club. Upon arrival they’d tell the doorman they were delivering a needed guitar to the opening band, then proceed to watch the show and polish of their stashed beverages with the promoter, local opener, and headliner all oblivious to their “guest appearance.”
Buffalo promoter and record collecting scenester Marty Boratin remembers one of many stories that recall the mayhem of surf-punk-psych garage denizens the Jacklords:
There was at the Buffalo Music Awards one year and a drunken Buck Quigley (currently an Artvoice editor) took it upon himself to pick up several awards for bands that weren’t in attendance. He eventually got booted from the building when they realized that he had no connection to the acts.
Quigley recalls it differently.
You have to understand, around this time Marty was becoming well known for his ability to take a nap right in the middle of a wild party at, say, 4:30am—while standing bolt upright, holding a beer. People would marvel how he never spilled a drop. Then he would wake refreshed, and cook breakfast for a house full of musicians and revelers.
And while his story sounds like something I might have done in my impetuous, inebriated youth, I remember being thrown out because the emcees didn’t appreciate the things I said when the Jacklords won their plaque.I was pontificating about how music shouldn’t be competitive. Definitely not at my most eloquent. Next thing I knew, the bouncers were on me. My band had just won an award, and I was standing in the parking lot. I remember because there were some letters back and forth in Nightlife newspaper. 97 Rock deejay Carl Russo wrote saying I shouldn’t have been drunk at the big event. I wrote a letter back, correcting his grammar.
And Mohawk Place bartender/manager Erik Roesser recalls why current greats Johnny Nobody deserve due among Buffalo’s drunkest greats:
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Four or five years ago when Pete Perrone still owned the Mohawk Place, there was a Hot Rod Show scheduled and I had to be in early to set up. Johnny Nobody was coming back from what I recall was a three-month tour. When I pulled up, their white van was parked outside the club, which means they had to have puled an all-nighter getting back from wherever it was they were coming from.
The side door of the van was open and all three of them were pounding tall-boy cans. Basically, after being there all night, they were tailgating before unloading of their gear. The best part of the whole thing was Colin (the bass player) had a wrap around his arm. I asked him what happened to him. His response was that Drew (singer/guitarist Andrew Vaeth) almost got into a fight in Brooklyn so he had bit a chunk of his arm off and then stared down the dude responsible. It got him to back down because he thought Colin was insane.
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