The Fabulous Motels (1971-74) and the Young Adults (1975 – 2011) have perhaps one of the strangest stories since they started out, not as a band but as an artist collective. In 1970, most of the members of what would become the Fabulous Motels were students at the Rhode Island School of Design but they did a lot more than make films, photography, paint and sculpt.
Charles (Rocket) Claverie was studying film at RISD and fellow student, Dan Gosch was in painting. Together they decided to become “environmental superheroes” and created the personas of “Captain Packard and Lobo.” They would don capes, masks and tights and bring a film crew with them as they did things like invade the RI State House to give an award to then-Governor Frank Licht (captured in a short film, “Captain Packard and Lobo Visit the State House”) or show up uninvited to a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise opening where they would startle Colonel Sanders who would be there to christen the store.
Meanwhile, at the University of Rhode Island, Stevie (Thunder) Strzepek and Bruce (Rudy Cheeks) McCrae were doing a campus radio show called “The Stevie Thunder Bad Taste and Immaturity Hour,” where they played Wayne Newton records and sang along. They were eventually thrown off the air when, one evening, Charles Rocket decided to enter the news booth and “make up” fake news. This apparently ran afoul of FCC regulations and they were summarily booted off the air.
Stevie Thunder arranged for a show at URI featuring the short films of Charles Rocket (among them, Captain Packard and Lobo Visit the State House and the notorious Tits and Trucks). The screening, called “Polaroid Sausage,” attracted a sold-out crowd and the crew (now including, along with Charlie, Dan, Steve and Rudy, Dave “Sport Fisher” Hansen and Barbara “Simone Cuc” Conway) decided that we could take Polaroid Sausage on the road.
We soon secured a gig at Connecticut College in New London and, when we went there to sign the contract with the school’s Student Entertainment Committee, we soon found out that they were expecting a band. We tried to explain that it was a humorous “film lecture” show but they didn’t seem to understand so we quickly told them, “The band will play at 9 PM).
So we had gotten our first gig without even having a band. We needed some other musicians so we immediately recruited guitarist Jefferson Thomas and bass player Bill (Domino Floater) Bradshaw and commenced rehearsals. The line-up that first night gig in 1971 at Connecticut College was Sport Fisher on drums and vocals, Domino Floater on bass, Jefferson Thomas on guitar, Stevie Thunder on accordion, Charles Rocket on accordion and vocals and Rudy Cheeks on harmonica, concert bells, clarinet and vocals. Dan Gosch was also there, acting as master of ceremonies and Simone Cuc put together a female dance troupe, “The Tantalizing Tampoons,” comprised of Simone, Bonita Flanders and Mary Kotselas Clarke. The audience was totally puzzled as we presented both music and elements of the Polaroid Sausage show.
But now we had a band and we decided to book some gigs, most of which were at RISD where we eventually became the house band. We were also writing our own material now and dispensing with the strange cover tunes we favored (Palisades Park, Last Kiss, Double Shot of My Baby’s Love, etc.) for our own material (Your Mother’s a Fish, I’ve Got a Hankerin’ to Yank her into my Arms, The Anguish, Workshop Love, Men). For the next three years we played primarily college concerts with only one area nightclub having the audacity to book us, the Jail in India Point in Providence.
In 1972, there were a couple of incidents of note. First, we played a show at RISD the same night that new student, David Byrne, came to town to hook up with his old Baltimore buddy and RISD student, Marc Kehoe. David and Marc did the intermission show and David became a part of our gang. A few years later, David would “try out” as the guitarist for a band that Charles Rocket was forming after the breakup of the Fabulous Motels but, he wasn’t chosen. Instead, he decided to start his own band, Talking Heads.
In December of 1972, the Fabulous Motels played the first of several shows at the Mercer Arts Center in New York City, then the hottest rock n’ roll spot in the city due to the emergence of their “house band,” the New York Dolls and another New England band, The Modern Lovers. By this time, there had been a number of personnel changes with Dan Gosch playing toy drums and dancing, Jon Scherff on guitar and Jeff Shore had replaced Stevie Thunder, playing keyboards instead of accordion. The Dolls were all in the audience that first night in December of 1972 when we, brought the house down, when the other band we were alternating sets with (a band called New York Central) refused to come out for their last set, telling us in the dressing room, “We can’t follow that.”
The Fabulous Motels got some interest from Columbia/Epic records and did some demo records at their New York studios but nothing came of it and soon, disappointed and thinking that we were just “too weird” to succeed in the rock n’ roll business (I don’t think there were any other bands out there, except for, perhaps, the Mothers of Invention, who would, in the middle of a set, turn the stage into a game show set and proceed with a fake game show). So the Fabulous Motels hung it up in early 1974. The Young Adults
In the spring of 1975, Charles Rocket had a job managing a nightclub in East Providence and Rudy Cheeks was living in Newport. Charlie called up Rudy and said, “Why don’t you come up here and be the special guest for a show on April Fools Day.”
Rudy, who had just about had it working a normal job in Newport was eager to do it and showed up in wedding dress and Batman helmet. The upshot is that, after this “show,” Charlie was fired from his job managing the nightclub and Rudy had already decide to move back to Providence to start another band. Rudy called a meeting of former members of the Fabulous Motels to see who was interested in doing a band and the only two takers were Sport Fisher and Jeff Shore. Rudy got a hold of college friend, Roy Gilley, to play bass and Jeff arranged to secure a rehearsal hall in downtown Providence (the notorious “Microwave Lounge,” an old lemonade stand on Richmond Street, close walking distance from Leo’s and the original Lupo’s and Met Cafe.
We immediately set about to writing new songs and ended up rehearsing for about a year before finally emerging as The Young Adults. By then, we had convinced Ed Vallee to leave the soul band he was playing in up in Boston to come down and be our guitarist.
We played for the first time in the early spring of 1976 at Leo’s. John Rector, the owner of Leo’s needed us to back up Brute Force (Stephen Friedland), a musician who had an album out on Columbia Records in the mid-1960’s (Brute Force: Confections of Love) but had an even more interesting backstory.
When the Beatles started Apple Records, someone had sent a copy of Brute’s song “King of Fuh” to Apple and George Harrison became very keen on it (as reportedly was John). George wrote an arrangement and it was recorded for Apple and put out as a single in England. It was immediately banned from sales and airplay as the chorus was “and the Fuh King did what he wanted to do and the Fuh King said what he wanted to say.” The 45’s that were pressed are now considered rare collector’s items.
The gig with Brute drew a curious crowd that overflowed out the front door of Leo’s and was, by all accounts a big success and John Rector decided to throw a big party in the back parking lot at Leo’s in July of 1976. We would be the band and so we needed to have at least two full sets of songs but, we were ready after all the time in the rehearsal hall writing tunes. This led to our first gig at Lupo’s, the biggest and best nightclub in downtown Providence. The Young Adults played there and a few other local clubs. We also played the first of a number of gigs with our old friends, Talking Heads, the first one in the fall of 1976 at RISD during an art event called “Space Window.” This was just before their first album was coming out and I remember looking at the cover art backstage with them before the show. And then, we caught a big break.
The Providence Journal had never really taken rock n’ roll seriously as an art form but, in March of 1977, they decided to put the Young Adults on the cover of their Sunday magazine (The Rhode Islander). This was priceless publicity in the Rhode Island market and, instantly, thousands of people in the state new the name The Young Adults and bookings picked up.
We also started playing up in the Cambridge/Boston area, originally at the Inn Square Men’s Bar in Inman Square, Cambridge and later in a number of other clubs. We were warmly received. We also attracted a booking agency in Connecticut who started booking us in clubs all over that state. Things were looking up.
Meanwhile, we needed to find a venue in New York. The building in New York that housed the Mercer Arts Center had tumbled to the ground and we decided that the current “hot club,” CBGB had already had the first wave of bands out of there signed to record contracts so, we were looking for a different place. We decided to book gigs at a club called “Trax” up in Columbus Circle. We received a good reception there and continued to book shows there.
Also, through Rich Lupo and our friends in Roomful of Blues, we met the legendary songwriter (and co-producer of Roomful’s first album), Doc Pomus. Doc took a liking to us and would come down from New York to see us play at Lupo’s.
Rich Lupo was itching to get a big name act for the club and, having always been fond of Bo Diddley, he booked him into the club in 1977. But Bo required a backup band and Rich asked us and we accepted the assignment to do a week of shows with Bo. That worked well (we even did a recording session with Bo at Normandy Sound) and, the next year we did it again, this time with filmmaker, Jim Wolpaw, recording it all for posterity in a short documentary “Cobra Snake for a Necktie.”
We got to do a lot of interesting gigs: a live-from-Normandy Sound broadcast over WBRU radio, lots of college concerts (a couple of memorable ones with Talking Heads), a couple of shows in Long Island with The Ramones (where we got to hang with the late rock critic, Lester Bangs, backstage) and a fun show with our old pal from RISD, Martin Mull at Rhode Island College).
Once, during a gig in Waterbury, Connecticut, Gary Kurfirst (the late manager of Talking Heads) sent Chris Blackwell, the founder/head of Island Records to see us (Doc Pomus was in on this too as he kept me abreast of whether or not Blackwell was going to show up in Boston or in Waterbury). We guessed that once he got a load of the Young Adults, he was not dealing with the next U2 here.
After our brush with Chris Blackwell and Island Records, we didn’t hear from any more record companies and, while our band business was going well and we had a legion of fans throughout the Northeast, things were not looking good for our goal: a major label contract and an opportunity to let people outside of the Northeast of America hear the Young Adults.
Jeff Shore was the first of the band principles to decide to leave. At the time, the working unit was Thom Enright on guitar, John Rufo on bass, Jeff on piano, Sport on drums and vocals and me. To me, the loss of Jeff would totally unbalance the band and it would be up to Sport and me to keep things going, to keep writing songs and continuing on. My feeling was that, without Jeff’s huge contribution to the songwriting, even if we were to find another piano player (and that didn’t seem too difficult), it would never be the same and Jeff’s ability to be the buffer between Sport’s and my differing tastes in things could turn into a rather schizophrenic sound and presentation. I told the guys that I wanted to think about it for a month.
So, in late 1979, I decided that the band had done what it had done and it was time to move on. This meant that I would be without income (I knew that the guys, like Thom and Sport) who wanted to forge on with music would be very attractive to a number of other bands or that they could start bands of their own.
As it turned out, Thom and Tom DeQuattro (who was playing drums for us at the time when Sport would come out front to sing) were quickly snapped up by Duke Robillard and ended up being Duke Robillard and the Pleasure Kings for the next 7 years. Sport started his own modern rock band, Cool It, Reba, with musicians from New York City where he had relocated. We played (what we thought was) our last Young Adults gig on New Year’s Eve, 1980, at Center Stage in East Providence. Duke Robillard and the Pleasure Kings opened and our “special guest” that night was our old bandmate, Charles Rocket, who, at the time, was a regular member of the Not Ready for Primetime Players on Saturday Night Live. It seemed like a fitting ending.
I decided that it was best for me to start from scratch. And I do mean scratch.
I immediately went from being in one of the more popular bands in the Northeast to being a dishwasher in a local Providence restaurant. I had no idea what I would do next but I knew that I would figure something out. As it turned out, I ended up being a newspaper columnist, a radio talk show host, a nightclub entertainer and cable TV pioneer, pretty much leaving music except for such tasks as creating the theme music for my cable TV show, Club Genius, a particularly bizarre piece of music and writing a song for a film that was shot but never released (Comediac: the Motion Picture). But, while I was doing this, I had seemingly left music behind. But, like Michael Corleone in the Godfather III movie, I was about to be “pulled back in.”
In the early 1987, Rich Lupo and his college pal, Jim Wolpaw (the filmmaker who had made the documentary film with the Adults and Bo Diddley and later went on to create a short film that was nominated for an Academy Award) had decided that they wanted to make a feature length film. Rich called me up and wanted to run the idea by me.
Jim had written a script for a film that would be about one night at Lupo’s. There was a plot about terrorists threatening to blow up the club but we didn’t discuss what the film was about. Rich told me that, in order to make the film, he had to have the Young Adults as the band playing at the club that night. That would be the only thing that could illustrate the true craziness that was Lupo’s.
I called Sport in New York and Jeff and Thom and the rest of the band and we decided that this was such a crazy idea that we had to do it. We figured that this was like Rich deciding to take all the money he had earned at the club and making a giant bonfire out of it. We wanted in.
So we scheduled a 3 night Young Adults reunion show for summer of 1987. The show would be recorded by a mobile recording truck but we would actually actually perform our segments later when the film was being shot in the fall. We would also have the material for a live album.
The reunion shows turned out to be a pretty big deal with big stories in the Providence Journal and reports on the local TV shows and it we knew that we’d have packed houses every night. Actually, since we were all together and had rehearsed for a few weeks to get in shape, we decided to take a few other side gigs at local clubs just to sweeten the pile of money we were going to make.
As it turned out, Lupo was getting evicted from his original club because of a contractual dispute with the building’s owner and so, in the summer of 1988, the Young Adults did another series of shows to close the original Lupo’s along with a slew of other bands (NRBQ, Roomful of Blues).
Then, all was quiet for a few years. The movie (now called Complex World after a Young Adults song) had not come out (Jim kept editing and re-editing) and Lupo’s was closed. Then, in 1991, the film was finished and there was a distributor interested (Hemdale Films) and Lupo found a new location to re-open the club, a few blocks down Westminster Street. So, once again, we played at the grand re-opening of Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel for another big payday.
The film finally came out and played a run of over a month at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence. I assume that is still the longest running film booking there. I attended the New York City opening and, just to show that I’m a real “movie guy,” I took with me my friend Bridget LeRoy, great-granddaughter of one of the Warner Brothers and granddaughter of filmmaker Mervyn LeRoy. I had attended Bridget’s wedding in New York in the early 80’s and, since she grew up living in the Dakota, met her neighbors, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon (who was the ringbearer at her wedding).
“Complex World” got mostly good reviews from the Boston Globe, the New York Times and the New York Post, but it was more of a cult-type film and, after the initial release, was rarely seen again. And, after the reopening of Lupo’s, we figured that was it and the Young Adults was over. But, oh no. There was a final chapter.
In 2011, Thom Enright was fighting brain cancer. He had been diagnosed with it a few years earlier and had fought it hard. Given 6 months to live, he had been continuing on for three years and playing regularly. A close friend (Lori Urso, aka Ursala George, a blues singer) asked Thom if there was one thing he really wanted to do before the inevitable. He told her that he wanted to play again with the Young Adults.
So Lori (who the rest of us didn’t know) hunted us all down and told us what Thom had said. It had not been 20 years since we had last played but we all instantly agreed to do it. So Lori put the whole thing together and we did three nights at the new Met (owned by Rich Lupo) on Main Street in Pawtucket. It was a pretty amazing party with people flying in from all over the country to attend the shows. We were thrilled to have Sport’s buddy, the great John Hammond, show up for the first night. Phoebe Legere and George Leonard opened the shows.
Sadly, Thom Enright passed away in February of 2012 and Tom DeQuattro passed away, also from cancer, in November of 2012. There won’t be any other Young Adult reunions on this planet. Bo Playing with Bo Diddley was an interesting experience. The first day we met Bo, he was aloof and brusque but once he realized we could play (after 15 minutes of jamming the afternoon of the first show), he warmed up to us and, within a few days, we were buddies.
Bo was a very friendly and inquisitive guy and very funny. We were talking about food one day and I told him I had seen the film “Let the Good Times Roll,” a documentary that captured a concert featuring some of the original rock stars (Bo, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, etc.) and remembered a scene where he was backstage cooking chicken for his band. Chuck Berry was standing in the doorway of Bo’s dressing room, chatting with Bo, in the scene. Bo told me that, every time he turned to give a piece of chicken to one of his band guys, Chuck would steal a piece from the grill and put it in his guitar case. Bo discovered this and opened up Chuck’s guitar case, full of chicken. (Bo also confided that he was a very good cook but I never got him to cook for me, although I cooked for him one night.
We also played an afternoon concert at the men’s maximum security section of the Rhode Island state prison (the Adult Correctional Institute or ACI). I was setting up on stage and the first prisoner who walked in the door for the show was a guy named Herbie that I had gone to college with. He just shrugged and said, “I fucked up, man.” I told him that we all fucked up and asked when he would be getting out. I don’t know how things are going with Herbie but I did see him on the bus about 10 years later and hope that things are well with him.
In those days, the pecking order at men’s maximum is pretty easy to figure out. I found out that the guys in the expensive bathrobes with good haircuts were Cosa Nostra. Nobody messed with them.
We played and Bo got real down and dirty and the inmates loved it. It was the most appreciative crowed we played for in that 8 day period, doing two shows a night with Bo at Lupo’s. Many years later, I went to women’s maximum security to show them one of my Comediac movies and they were equally appreciative. I don’t ever want to be in prison.
On the last night of our series of shows, we gave Bo a trophy of a man playing a guitar with the enscription, “Bo Diddley, Man of the Century.” We had the trophy in a brown paper bag on stage and, when we presented it to him, Bo jumped back a little. He later told me, “I thought you had a snake in there.” In 1978, when Bo came back to Lupo’s and we reunited for another bunch of shows, he told me that, back in the early 60’s, the Rolling Stones had given him some cufflinks with his initials on them after a series of gigs in the UK. He said, “I took those cufflinks and epoxied them on to the trophy.” Heads
Playing a few shows with our good friends, Talking Heads, in the late 70’s was also very enjoyable because I had known David and Chris and Tina for years and Jerry turned out to be a great guy. I also got to be friendly with their amazing sound man, Frank Gallagher, the wild Scotsman. The issue of the “tutu trunk” kept coming up during these shows.
Back when David Byrne had a loft above a pool hall in downtown Providence, he found a trunk full of tutus. He and his roommate, Marc Kehoe, would try them on, try using them as decoration and whatever else they could think of but nothing really appealed to them so they gave the trunk of tutus to Dan Gosch who then gave them to me. Strangely enough, the Young Adults did the same thing with the tutus….tried them on, pinned them on stage as decoration, etc., but we soon tired of the tutus as well. After our first gig with Talking Heads, we had the tutu trunk in our equipment truck and I had it transferred to the Talking Heads equipment truck surreptitiously. No one said anything about it until the next gig when the trunk magically appeared back in our equipment truck. I think this happened a couple of times. I have no idea where that tutu trunk is now but I hope someone has figured out something to do with them.
Food was another subject of interest. We did a show at Brown University’s Alumni Hall and the backstage food was sushi for the Talking Heads and doughnuts for the Young Adults. I asked Gary Kurfirst, Talking Heads manager (and also co-producer of the concert) about this and he told me, “Gee, I thought you guys would like doughnuts.”
We did a show a week later at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and the backstage food was, sushi for Talking Heads and an Italian dinner for Young Adults. The entire band and crew of Talking Heads all came into our dressing room to eat the Italian food. I asked David about this and he said, “Gary always gets us sushi.” I asked him if they like it that much and he said, not really. He thought that Gary just thought it would be good for them.
Most of the time on the road with the Young Adults, we did the same stupid stuff that other bands did: watching Hee Haw before the gig on the TV in one of the motel rooms and then, when we tired of that, grabbing a bar of soap out of the bathroom and drawing a penis into Roy Clark’s mouth, then immediately leaving the room. There was a great museum at Yale that the whole band went to visit that had fabulous dioramas and dinosaur skeletons. After being in there for about two hours, we were getting ready to leave but couldn’t find Dave Menard from the road crew who, we discovered, was still in the first room of the museum, studying the same item for the whole time. This is the kind of thing that can happen when you have a painter on the road crew. We dragged him outside and had a snowball fight.
The two day gig in Long Island with the Ramones was notable for a couple of reasons. First, John Rufo, our bass player, left his bass in the hallway outside his room at the motel for about 15 minutes to discover it stolen. We had to explain to John that the noise he was hearing was hookers and you can’t leave stuff out in the hall when there were hookers working the joint. Luckily, we were able to contact Talking Heads soundman, Frank Gallagher, in Manhattan and he was able to secure us another bass for John to play.
We almost missed getting to the club in time for the first night because Jeff “J.O.” O’Neill insisted that he had to see the end of “Destroy All Monsters” which was on the TV at the motel. When we did get to the club (My Father’s Place in Roslyn), we found out that Joey Ramone’s brother had a band and they had been inserted as the opening act before us and the Ramones. The singer in Joey’s brothers band was Lester Bangs, the famous (in the world of rock n’ roll, anyway) rock critic.
Lester turned out to be a really good guy and, after he caught our set, he was surprised to find out that the “comedian/lead singer” act he had been working on had already been perfected by me (of course, I’d been doing this for almost a decade so, yeah, I had it down). I don’t think that he was willing to don a nurse’s uniform and try to lure women onstage to check their blood pressure (a move that would occasionally work for me), but he was visibly excited when, after the crowd starting throwing beers at us and demanding that the Ramones come out, I responded by saying, “Gee, I guess you don’t like this. I think I know what you’ll like” and then whipped out a Bible and started droning on as they threw even more shit onstage. I know it doesn’t sound possible but, by the end of our set, we had actually won the audience over and they called for an encore. I gave Lester a gift – a plastic dinosaur mask – which he wore backstage for the rest of the weekend.
Since this was primetime for punk rock, we ran into a lot of the early punk bands and usually hit it off pretty well. We did have a little misunderstanding with the Dead Boys back in Providence one night. They borrowed our PA to play Lupo’s (it was a last-minute booking and we were playing the night before and the night after their show) and I very gently suggested to Stiv Bators that he not bleed on my microphone (he complied). But down in Lupo’s basement (the dressing room) near the end of the night, someone had barfed on J.O.’s girlfriend Joyce’s coat and J.O. became incensed. So J.O. marched over to the Holiday Inn and knocked on the Dead Boys’ door. Stiv opened the door, J.O. punched him in the nose and stomped off. Later we found out that it was Cheetah Chrome who had barfed on Joyce’s coat. Sorry, Stiv. I still think J.O. should have made peace by sending Stiv a VHS of “Destroy All Monsters” but we were not always on our best behavior.