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
Even the retail side saw a friendly tolerance bordering on altruism. Rich Ulloa, who had managed a promising group called the Coins, opened his first Yesterday and Today Records store in June of 1981. These stores, along with Open Books and Records, were critical to the local scene's growth. Separated by geography, the stores shared (and still share) similar inventories and business approaches. And yet Ulloa and Wimmer, who are friends, have nothing but good things to say about one another. Studios, too, were shaped by a similar sense of teamwork: Frank Falestra's co-op studio, Sync, currently located on Lincoln Road Mall, became one of the leading studios that recorded South Florida's early Eighties bands -- a place where the bands traded everything from equipment to licks.
Falestra, in fact, used his friendship with Hal Spector, the owner of a home studio, to expand his recording activity and launch a club. They had first met at a gig where they both laughed at the sight of exploding stage equipment. By late 1985, the two had found a location across from Barry University and opened their own club, Banal. They had no liquor license, so could only offer a portion of the meager door take to the groups. The bands came anyway. "Most of them just played and didn't even ask for the money," Spector says.
The BYOB club thrived for about ten seconds. "The apartment complex right in front of the place was where the Barry University nuns lived," Spector recalls. But he didn't realize the connection until one of the women at the complex, dressed in civilian clothes, visited the club. "A few minutes later all these cop cars pulled up. 'Lock the door and close it down.'" So, after barely two months of unpermitted fun, Banal was forced to move to another spot, in North Miami. After some time and many a rewarding live show, Falestra and Spector gave up the project. "Frank and I were afraid we were going to get arrested. I mean, we never carded anyone. Eventually they would have come and got us."
Before Banal shut down, about halfway into the Eighties, the South Florida rock scene had hit full stride. The Bobs were recording and mesmerizing live audiences on a regular basis, releasing two twelve-inch EPs marked by startling originality and striking hooks. The Front, one of the Land That Time Forgot bands, had several songs ("Sewer Babies," "Aluminum Room," and "Immigration Report") on the air at the University of Miami's WVUM-FM, all of which sounded as if they should be national hits -- Billboard even said so. A band called the Z-Toyz discovered that a video they shot here was being aired on MTV. The Spanish Dogs were cranking out product that explored a variety of genres without losing the rock edge. Pickett headlined a national tour.
And all these bands, and plenty more, could be seen on any given night playing live at local clubs, from the Banal to 27 Birds to Flynn's in Miami Beach. "There were a lot of venues," Wimmer notes, "but it was the gigs themselves that were the centering experience."
And then the gigs began to dry up by 1986. Clubs closed, became T-shirt shops and restaurants. The bands began to disintegrate. Ted Gottfried moved to New York City to open See Hear, a store that sold nothing but music-related reading materials. Dave Parsons also left for New York, ending Mouth of the Rat's fanzine reign. Radio Free Living Room, on WLRN-FM (91.3), the local band's best broadcast friend, became Off the Beaten Path, which spotlights national underground bands. Something was about to be lost.
Key players left and new goals arose in their lives. Leslie Wimmer: "I think it just sort of transformed. People grew up, changed their focus. The Eat's 'I Led Two Lives' really sums it up, the lyrics about 'Woke up this morning went to work/The night before I was acting like a jerk.' The nonmusical world took preference for that group of people."
For a music scene to succeed, Ted Gottfried notes, "You need a bunch of things at once. Newspapers have to think it's important. But the scene was so marginal that no one could afford advertising. There was a guy at the Fort Lauderdale News [Cameron Cohick] who championed the Eat and other local bands. So you knew about shows and records. Then he left." And no one really took up the slack. The scene's evangelists had other things to do.
Many of those who are still in town will mingle and play at this weekend's anniversary party for Open Books and Records. Though everyone who could be reached has been invited, Wimmer won't know until it's over who showed up. Whoever goes there, it will surely be one hell of a party.
The album that brought them all together for one shining moment in 1982 will be playing that day, but the people who made it possible have all changed in important ways since then.
Ashton himself quit his job at the Miami Herald to accompany the Essentials when the band moved to L.A. The group enjoyed a couple of breaks A for example, they had the honor of being opening act at the first-ever Red Hot Chili Peppers show. But the close quarters and financial pressures got to the band and they broke up by 1984. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Czachowski returned to Miami and formed the Chant with bassist Jim Johnson, taking that group to places the Essentials had already been, wonderful places where rock and roll mattered A and then went beyond them. After releasing an album (Three Sheets to the Wind) and recording another (eventually released as Two Car Mirage), the Chant moved to Atlanta, along with Ashton. Today Czachowski and Johnson perform with different bands while occasionally reuniting the Chant. Ashton now works for a record store, and he and Johnson share a house in Atlanta.