By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The comrades-in-arms of this early Miami rock scene were an often odd set of zealots. Wimmer recalls the time a friend invited her to meet fanzine publisher Dave Parsons and his wife, Sam. (Sam later turned up as the bass player for Smegma.) Wimmer feared that he might turn out to be an Amway salesman -- and she was right. At his apartment, though, she recalls, "I was looking through his records -- Blondie, Television, Ramones, Pistols, Buzzcocks...he had all the stuff." Parsons started and published a fanzine called "Mouth of the Rat" ( the English translation for his town, Boca Raton) devoted to the blossoming local scene. "He handwrote the whole thing," Wimmer recalls with a touch of reverence. "Like with any beginning, the policy was just do it."
A skinny former cab driver named Richard Shelter knew that tune well. His long, curly black hair hid the tattoo on his head, whose presence there he explained this way: "Sure it hurt. Life is pain." Shelter took over the club 27 Birds to offer great rock shows by local bands. He booked national acts such as the Ramones and Dead Kennedys at the then-forlorn, now-bustling Cameo Theatre. Later he fronted his own band, the Preachers, whose guitarist, Nick Kane, would later side for Iko-Iko and recently joined the Mavericks.
One of the top draws in the early Eighties at the Birds was, of course, Charlie Pickett, who, after having worked with a couple of different lineups, formed the Eggs. On stage, stomping his boots, he happily stole licks from the Velvet Underground (whose work he would later cover on-stage with R.E.M., who often invited him to sit in for encores) and whole songs from Flamin Groovies and others. His voice cracked when he sang. His guitarist, Johnny Salton, was a hunchbacked junkie and his bass player was also a junkie, but with better posture. Together they rocked so hard it made your bones hurt. After Live at the Button, Open released a five-song Eggs EP in 1984 called Cowboy Junkie Au Go Go, which included the heroin anthem "Overtown" (written, of course, by the two addicts).
Salton, the Eggs's guitarist, seemed to have three great loves in his life: his guitar-playing, bad horror movies, and substance abuse. During one early show at the Casbah, Salton obliviously took bizarre stage effects to new, well, levels. Half the audience kept their eyes glued to whichever amplifier Salton had left his last lighted cigarette on. At certain points it appeared he had four or five cigarettes going at once, some of them burning right into the amps, one dangling from his mouth, another stuck in the neck of his mighty, mighty ax. The tables near the exit were the most popular that night.
Through the haze one thing shone through: Salton's brilliance. Hendrix, Beck, Clapton, Salton. That's what shoulda been. Salton went on to release solo albums that achieved critical success in Europe and continues to perform annually with Pickett A and is developing more of his own projects.
Noted music critic Ira Robbins, writing in his book The Trouser Press Record Guide, described the Eggs as "the new wave bar band," called the group's sound "fiery stuff," and compared Pickett's singing to Neil Young's. "It's hard to believe," Robbins wrote, "this band isn't as big a global legend as it deserves to be." That, too, is what shoulda been, and you can't say Pickett didn't give it a shot. In 1986 he went to Minneapolis to record the Route 33 LP for Twin/Tone, the label where nationally celebrated bands such as the Replacements and Soul Asylum got their start. Pickett -- working at that time with guest musicians such as Gun Club's Jim Duckworth and Velvet Underground's drummer, Maureen Tucker -- didn't fare so well. His next album, The Wilderness, was released on the Safety Net/Fundamental label. Unfortunately, Pickett's music was too smart, tough, and honest for mass consumption. Only smart people got it, and there aren't very many of them in the world.
Herald critic and unofficial Essentials manager Bill Ashton had started Safety Net with a tax refund. He did so for one reason: he liked the Essentials and felt they should have a record out. So he did it himself. Ultimately, these labels helped win some respect and attention for their bands, including write-ups in Billboard, a video on MTV, airplay on college radio, even some small-scale national tours.
Safety Net, like so many entities of the early Eighties scene, was a co-op project that put music first and money fourth or fifth. In fact, back then, there was little of the enmity and competition so common in today's rock scenes, including Miami's. Wimmer and Ashton each had record labels, yet the two often worked together. If Open didn't have the resources to put out a record everyone knew deserved release, Safety Net would. And vice versa. For instance, when Open couldn't release an EP by the Bobs, Safety Net simply slapped on its own label. (The Bobs, with their evocatively clever lyrics and funky arrangements, were a far cry from the better-known soft-rock a cappella group with the same name). Later the Bobs's Bob Rupe would produce a number of local records and get signed by national labels as a member of two cutting-edge bands.