Glory Days

It's time for early-Eighties nostalgia, thanks to a record store's anniversary celebration of Miami's rip-roaring rock

Wimmer, Gottfried, and Ashton were among the relatively few locals who appreciated and understood -- but most of all enjoyed -- what Pickett was up to in the early days, before the accolades and the albums. Pickett was about shaking some action in a place culturally deadened by the superficiality and self-absorption (not to mention self-abuse) of the Seventies. Ted Gottfried and Leslie Wimmer knew just what to do -- create a record label. All that was required was putting out a record. They launched the label with a single by Charlie Pickett in 1981: "Feelin'" and "White Light White Heat." The sleeve featured a picture of Pickett -- wearing a black tuxedo with bow tie.

At the time of Pickett's first release, his band included musicians who would later play critical roles in other local bands, such as the Cichlids and the Eat. A second single was issued, "If This Is Love, Can I Get My Money Back?" and "Slow Death." Both records sold out their 1500-unit pressings.

Later Pickett formed the Eggs, a remarkable outfit that maybe had too much talent for its own good. After personality clashes splintered the Eggs, Pickett, working with others, gained a little of the national critical attention he long deserved.

Pickett's records were not the first releases of South Florida's early-Eighties rock scene. The Eat, whose members reacted to disco excess with the Do-it-Yourself ethic of punk, had already issued the single "Communist Radio." About 1000 copies were pressed. At a 1980 New Wave New Year's Eve show at Sunrise Musical Theatre, the Eat's frontman, Eddie O'Brien, tossed out handfuls of the single to be crunched underfoot by the pogo-dancing mob. "Those singles," Wimmer says now, "would be worth about $150 apiece to collectors."

The Eat -- with Eddie's brother Michael on guitar, Glenn Newland and later Ken Lindahl on bass, and Chris Cottie on drums -- were at once emotionally powerful and hilariously funny. Cottie, holding his sticks backward and pounding with the fat ends, was as big as his drum kit. But nothing was as big as his backbeat. Somehow the O'Briens and company were consistently able to match him measure for measure.

"When you saw them live," Wimmer says, "you knew you were seeing a group as good as anything in the world. I remember when Eddie would dress as a priest. He had short, thick hair, and an even thicker New York accent. He'd do these running commentaries between songs about sports and the Mets and it was so funny. I was on the floor in hysterics sometimes." The Eat's 1980 five-song EP and a later cassette release, Scattered Wahoo Action -- a title meaningful only to serious fishermen -- ultimately would be prized by collectors; there's constant talk of new compilations of their vast repertoire.

Their musical inspirations could come from anything. After one Eat show, a woman who'd been in the audience became furious after she failed to pick up one of the Eat's friends and fans, Dave Phillips. Eat members wondered aloud what her beef was. Phillips's sister responded, "Oh, she's pissed off because my brother wouldn't fuck her." The band came up with a hook right there in the parking lot, and then turned it into a song, "She's Pissed Off," that was released on Scattered Wahoo Action.

The bands in South Florida were equal opportunity rebels, years before "foxcore" and "riot grrrls" became fashionable terms. Smegma, for instance, featured two women who borrowed an Eat member -- whoever was available -- to play drums. Some female fans, such as Leslie Wimmer, were a bit put off once they learned the definition of the band's name. Nonetheless, she and Gottfried would clear the floor of their record store so Smegma, the Eat, and a number of other local bands could play live there. At that time the groups were full of hope and a cocky idealism, as if nothing could prevent them from becoming underground heroes.

One of those aspirants was a group called the Cichlids, featuring vocalist Debbie Mascaro. Under the aggressive management of Robert Mascaro (no relation to Debbie), the band in 1980 released an album, Be True to Your School, on Henry Stone's legendary "TK" imprint, where KC and the Sunshine Band had found fame a few years before. With their glamorous clothing, elegant looks, and funny-smart songs, the Cichlids were new wave progenitors and the closest thing to rock stars on the scene. After releasing records and drawing a sizable local following, the members went their separate ways.

Johnny "Stix" Galway, one of the Essentials' founders, had an even clearer idea of where he was headed when he arrived from South Carolina. "One day this guy walks into the store with his friend," Wimmer says. "They had these heavy Southern accents. Stix says, 'We're from outta town and we wanna know where all the punk bands play.' I started laughing, then said, 'Well...okay.'"

Galway -- an extraordinary drummer -- hooked up with guitarist-singer Walter Czachowski to form the backbone of the Essentials. After Galway left to join other bands, Czachowski enlisted a replacement drummer and turned the Essentials into a punk power trio (with Steve Sincere on bass and Pete Moss on drums) that shot to the fore of the local scene. Through their records, and especially their live shows, the Essentials became so popular they felt it was time to move to L.A., which they did. They seemed to have everything it took to become punk stars.

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