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Dave Daniels, the gray-bearded, bespectacled emperor of this realm, sips hot tea -- it's that time of day, even if he left his native England decades ago -- and, between hilarious tales of his wild youth as a promoter in Great Britain's early Sixties music scene, he talks about what he's doing to keep his venue going (plenty), the Miami music scene in 1994 (in case you haven't heard, it's dead), and two remarkable CDs that carry his imprimatur. Daniels doesn't act like what he is: one of the top architects and advocates of original rock in this community, a guru and godfather to countless bands. And Daniels doesn't sound frustrated or bitter by any means, although he has every right to.
"The business here is seasonal," he says. "It always drops off in the summer. It would always pick back up in September, but my base business didn't pick up this year." That's especially surprising in light of the fact that two of Miami's other premier rock clubs A Washington Square and Cactus Cantina -- have closed. Daniels wonders where all those original-rock fans are going now. It isn't Churchill's.
And maybe that's the problem, the reason the so-called local scene is, by most accounts, dead in the water. There are more bands, better bands. More national interest in the area's music. More recordings being released. But fewer and fewer members of the public are taking advantage of this cultural resource.
Daniels has something for stay-at-homes -- the two CDs. And something for everyone -- an opinion.
Bob Marley and Day by the River were, until the second week of December, the two most played CDs on the jukebox at Churchill's. Then Sun Brewed Action Music was inserted and all quarters found a new punchup. Action Music is the second CD recorded at the Church and issued by Frank Falestra's Esync label.
The first was Music Generated by Geographical Seclusion and Beer. Falestra, known as Rat Bastard, and Ralph Cavallaro recorded fourteen bands over two nights in early January 1993, selected fifteen of the songs, and had a sleeve printed with a picture of Churchill's on the front and a picture of Daniels on the back. The resulting CD scored on both sound quality and musical diversity, from the painful (Harry Pussy's "Brown Butterfly") to the even more painful (Load's "Pickin' Dayze/User"). Those bands are supposed to induce psychosis and cause bleeding in the ears, but the album is not just noise. Bands such as Drive Choir, Cell 63, Quit, and Holy Terrors (though furious and loud) also construct smart and memorable tunes. The magazine scrape, which specializes in the hard and smart rock generally known as underground, opined that this CD is an "amazing testament to our city's diversity."
It is that -- Demonomacy's hard-girl death metal and Boise and Moss's stripped-down "Plastic Friend" on the same record? -- but it also serves as testament to Falestra's diverse taste. Geographical Seclusion represents Falestra's choices of bands and songs, while the follow-up consists of music Dave Daniels most wanted preserved for posterity on CD. Once again Falestra perfectly captured the live shows this compilation draws from. Charlie Pickett (one of Miami's true legends and a Churchill's veteran), the Goods, the Chant, I Don't Know, and other top bands are masterfully represented. (In some cases that wasn't easy. One favorite Daniels acts is the Girls. He wanted them to be included but wasn't sure how to reach them. He heard that members of the group worked at the park downtown, so Daniels drove to Bicentennial and searched the area. When Falestra heard about this he immediately went to Bayfront Park, where the musicians actually work, scoped around until he found a building and a way into it, and finally hooked up with the Girls, who ended up with two tracks on the CD.)
Both releases are available at the Church for ten bucks, and a third has been recorded (at the Bored Shitless Music Festival that Falestra conducted at the Hideaway at the end of this past November) but not yet mixed or released.
While those two sonic achievements are the most significant of Daniels's recent undertakings, they are only a part of what he's trying to accomplish at his club. Daniels notes that "a good show always draws a good crowd" and that with the departure of the Square and Cactina he's getting better bookings, but that's not enough. He's also hoping to increase lunch traffic (bangers and mash, the best shepherd's pie on the face of the planet, Scotch eggs, sandwiches and chili and soup) and create a traditional happy hour on Fridays, which is the same day Pan Am Dave barbecues from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the club (a rib eye off the grill goes for eight dollars, ribs and chicken are also available) and a Lotto giveaway. "We put a number on each chair and spin a wheel. Whoever's number comes up gets to play free. If the jackpot is ten million," Daniels explains, "we give the person ten quick picks. When the jackpot went up to $70 million, we gave 70 free quick picks out. I'm glad someone somewhere won that week, because if it'd gone to $100 million it would've cost me $100."
Of course Fridays and Saturdays are the big concert nights, but Daniels says he wants to form a solid itinerary seven days a week. Killing Season has begun hosting the Tuesday night open-mike jams and Daniels is seeking the right person to handle the nearly defunct acoustic/folk jams on Wednesday evenings. Falestra holds forth with various insanity on Thursdays. "With the absence of the other clubs," Daniels says, "we should be able to do better acoustic nights." And this week Daniels will debut Pancake Tuesday. "It was a tradition in England," explains the British expatriate. "Kids would see how many pancakes they could eat. The next day at school you'd say, 'I ate fifteen!' or what have you. In addition to pancakes we'll offer oat cakes with bacon and cheese or sausage and cheese, because they go better with beer."
With all this cool stuff going on, and the club's reputation as one of the great rock dives in the universe, you have to wonder why Daniels must change anything to draw crowds. "I think all the Herald articles about crime on [Biscayne] Boulevard hurt us," the proprietor offers. "Everyone thinks we're located in such a bad neighborhood. I hired a barmaid not long ago, and on the night she was supposed to start, she didn't show up. I found out she'd heard that another barmaid had been stuck up by a man with a gun in our parking lot after work. I talked to the other barmaids and they knew nothing about it. No such thing happened."
Certainly there is crime in Little Haiti, just as there is crime in South Beach or anywhere else. And drug dealers did set up shop outside the club after Hurricane Andrew, but Daniels says the cops went after the dopers, forcing them to move to spots away from Churchill's. "It's been more than a year since a car was stolen from here," Daniels claims. "In fourteen years, maybe thirteen cars have been stolen. October was the last time a car was even broken into, and that car was parked on the street as I recall, not in the lot. Realistically, there is no problem here. I considered hiring a guard, but then I'd have to charge people to park in our lot, and they'd likely just park on the street further away, which would increase the chances of something happening to their cars." Also, there's a doorman out front during shows and many windows in the club's walls facing the parking lot, further reducing the odds of an incident.
Crime is crime and it's everywhere. A bigger concern is band loyalty. Because his club is relatively small (about 300 max cap) and lowbrow, Daniels has often booked upstart groups, as well as adventurous ones. "Many bands get their start here," Daniels says. "The frustration is that when other clubs open or become willing to book these groups, they might prefer South Beach. So we find ourselves competing against the same groups we fostered and helped."
That isn't always the case. After signing to Epic, Nuclear Valdez returned to the Church to shoot a video. Daniels says, and the band's management confirms, that the Mavericks (who literally formed on the Churchill's stage) also returned to the old haunt to shoot a video. MCA and the band gave Daniels $100. The bar boss put out a spread of food and drink. "They appreciated that and promised to return and perform a proper show for me. And they did."
And then there's Mr. Charlie Pickett, whose songs on Sun Brewed Action Music are further testament to his absolute greatness. Pickett has released plenty of albums over the years, but because his music is tough and honest and smart he never reached a huge market. The disillusionment drove him to Michigan where he enrolled in law school. During breaks he returns home and performs at the Church.
Daniels takes a sip of tea and waves so long to the older man in the blue suit. "Ah, yes, Charlie," he says. "He's always been sort of my favorite, very supportive and helpful. He usually pays his band out of his own pocket and plays here for free. I remember many years ago talking to Charlie about the old England scene and how Miami was beginning to recapture some of that. I asked him to play, he said yes, and I asked how much I should charge at the door. We could've got five dollars easy. He said, 'Charge two dollars.' I thought that was wonderful."
Pickett will graduate from law school in Michigan this spring. He plans to celebrate -- by performing live at Churchill's.
For information about Churchill's Hideaway call 757-1807 or see the "Clubs" listing.