Al's Just Fine

The five members of Al's Not Well are no strangers to misfortune. The Hialeah-bred glitter-punk outfit has suffered the death of a beloved band member and numerous soured record deals. This past spring its luck seemed to have changed.

Having spent two years building a local following, the band released its debut disc, Glitter, on tiny Pembroke Pines-based Panacea Records. At a music conference in March, Panacea vice president Paul Trust slipped a copy to Randy Nicklaus. The vice president for A&R of the new national label Beyond Music, Nicklaus was duly impressed. Two weeks later he flew from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale to see the band in action.

In preparation for their showcase at Fort Lauderdale's Ridenour studios, the band members made orange and green glitter-covered stars at their rehearsal space, located above a liquor store in Hialeah. The band's all-male rhythm section -- Rick (bass), Eddy (drums), and Kala (congas and percussion) -- along with female back-up vocalist Bleu then donned orange and yellow outfits, piled into their 1986 Dodge van, and headed for Broward. Joce (pronounced Jo-see), Al's Not Well's songwriter, guitarist, and lead vocalist, was planning to meet the band at Ridenour, where Nicklaus was waiting with Beyond Music's then vice president, Bruce Tannenbaum. It was the sort of break the band had sought for years.

But Joce never arrived. On her way over, another car swerved into her lane, causing an accident that sent the diminutive singer through the windshield and landed her in the hospital with minor head injuries and a fractured wrist.

Trust paged the rest of the band and relayed the news of Joce's accident. Her bandmates arrived at the showcase dazed and unsure of what would happen next. "We met up with these people, and we were kind of heartbroken, because this is the thing bands wait to do -- showcase in front of a label," Kala recalls. "[Nicklaus] said, 'Well, since we're here and you guys are here, and your instruments are here, you want to go make some noise?'" Kala and the rest of the band agreed, but not without some trepidation: "It was terrifying. But what were we going to do? Just say, 'Oh, no, sorry, we can't do it,' and just be chickens about it?"

After hanging their stars around the stage, the four took their spots, leaving center stage empty. With Eddy crouching behind his kit and none of the others standing more than five and a half feet tall, the group looked like a company of Technicolor pixies. But that disarming impression ended when the band launched into its first number, a stampeding anthem called "Too Much." From a light machine perched atop the bass amp, a rainbow of colors spun out between Rick's arms and sliced through puffs of artificial smoke. Kala banged out a rolling beat on his silver-painted congas. Adorned by antennas blinking with small yellow lights, Bleu bounced on her tiptoes and smacked a tambourine.

The group ran through three songs in all, its sound tight and unrelenting. Within the band, however, was the gnawing sense that without Joce's riveting guitar lines and soaring vocals, the set revealed only a shadow of the catchy punk sound that defined Glitter. Fortunately, the audience responded with unbridled enthusiasm. Nicklaus and Tannenbaum had seen enough to want to hear the full lineup. And fast.

A week and a half later, Trust invited Nicklaus to see the band perform again, this time at Checkpoint Charlie's, a laundry room/pool hall/bar in the French Quarter, where Al's was gigging at the Louisiana Music New Orleans Pride conference. While regulars washed their clothes and guzzled beer, Al's Not Well prepared for its second chance.

Despite the band's bright costumes -- the musicians wore matching white outfits with rainbow car fresheners pasted over their hearts -- there was considerable concern about Joce's health. She had been out of the hospital only a little more than a week and was still healing from hand surgery. "Joce still hadn't fully recovered but she was willing to play," Kala says. "We were on this tight little tiny stage, and we have a lot of stuff. With the percussion and the drums and the congas, it was really crammed. Then Rick broke a string and Joce's guitar went out of tune."

Says Joce: "I think that was the shittiest show we've ever had. I was still injured. My hand was wrapped up in a bandage and I had stitches, so my hand was hurting. We played like fifteen minutes, but [Nicklaus] loved it. He was like, 'Oh, you guys are just so wonderful!' and 'I can't believe it!' and 'Your songs are beautiful!' He was being a record-label guy," she giggles.

Nicklaus says he had already recognized Joce's songwriting talent, and the band's expertise, from listening to Glitter. "When I first heard the CD, I really liked the songwriting, the playing, the fact that there was percussion in it," he says. "It's just a little bit different. The whole band is a little wacky. It's not the same old thing we hear and see over and over."

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