Perfect Sound Forever

An Oral History of the Long Ryders and Paisley L.A. (Part 2)

by Diane Roka
(January 2005)

The Paisley Underground

Steve Wynn (lead singer/guitarist, the Dream Syndicate): The greatest thing about the Paisley Underground scene was just, no one knew any better! I mean, we were – none of us had been [in] on any kind of scene, so we weren't that savvy to the way things were supposed to be. We made up our own rules. And [at] the end of the scene, [that] was when we all started to learn the system.

I think at the time, there were really almost no role models for us to look at and say, "We can do this, this, this and this, and a year from now we ride around in limousines and get millions of dollars." For us, the only thing we could hope to do was play shows now and then, to entertain each other. And maybe make your own record, and press a thousand copies and have something to show your grandchildren.

I mean, there was really nothing else that we could imagine. That gives sort of a freedom, just to explore in any direction. And the bands were very – all of them, every one of those bands – were very self-indulgent in their own ways. And that was great. You didn't have a lot of people saying, "You've gotta do this to succeed."

Actually, I remember at the first Dream Syndicate show, someone in the audience was eating a pizza, and I asked them to bring it up to the stage and give me a bite of it.

And so, we just, you know, we just really didn't think that it – it was actually a really crowded show, it was our first show, really crowded, and we were opening for a pretty popular band – and, um, after the show, Sid said to me, "That's very unprofessional, Steve. You shouldn't be eating a pizza onstage." And I said, "Well, I don't care! I'm unprofessional!"

And that's the way we felt. And I think, you know, Sid had a bit of that too. No one thought in terms of that Beatles thing where they all said, "We're going to the topmost of the pop-most." That kind of thing, none of us felt that way at the beginning. We just were excited about playing this music we loved, and getting to do it in front of each other. It was the purest of motivations.

Phast Phreddie Patterson (music writer/emcee/DJ): I think the Paisley Underground was something – the term anyway – was something that was coined by press try and package this. Somebody looked up one day and said, "Hey, there's several bands who have this thread of psychedelia going on – what's going on here?" And some of [the bands] even felt that it was derogatory. Because many of them – especially the Long Ryders and even the Bangles after a while, were not psychedelic bands any more. You know, they kind of shed some of those influences.

Greg Sowders (drummer, the Long Ryders): We were all very close. I mean, there was always sibling rivalry here and there, certain people wouldn't get along with other people. Mostly leaders of bands sometimes, but, you know nothing big. There was a sense of camaraderie and there was a sense of...a rising tide raises all boats.

And there was a playful competitiveness, like I said – the Dream Syndicate got signed to A&M and it was like, "Screw those guys, what about us?" But we still supported 'em. You know, I mean, [some] would say, "Aaah, they sold out", but we went to see each other's shows regularly. We bought each other's records. You know, sometimes [we] played on each other's records. It was a lot of support.

I can't speak really much for – you know, I never lived anywhere besides L.A. – but I thought there was a sense of camaraderie and support. And there's always jealousy and competition but it was pretty cool. I mean those bands I mentioned, we were really part of that scene – we toured together, we hung out, a lot of us were roommates at different times.

It was a legitimate scene, you know? It probably didn't really break through with a lot of mainstream hits, but it was an influential little music scene and very influential for a lot of bands outside the U.S.

And, you know, I mean, Steve Wynn hung out with Sid Griffin who hung out with Vickie Petersen from the Bangles, who was friends with Michael Quercio from the Three O'Clock who probably wrote a song for the guy in the Rain Parade. There was a sense of community.

I don't notice that as much these days, but I think that's because the competitive nature of things have gone to another level where, you know, every band that gets signed by a label, it's like, "Oh, man, you took our spot." Each video that's on MTV, if somebody else's video is on there, well, "How come ours isn't?" Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the way it seems, a little bit more intense these days.

The Long Ryders – Musical Inspiration

Sid Griffin (singer/guitarist, the Long Ryders): It's funny, because, I mean, we just didn't come from the musical thing, we came from this weird thing about, you know, somebody would say "What are the bands influences?" And normally, "a rock group" of Caucasian, primarily males and sometimes females, usually says, "The Beatles, Elvis Presley, etc., etc. etc." And they'd say "What are your influences?" and we would say things like "Well, you know, sunshine. We really like that in our songs. And we really like the sound of rain on the roof in our songs."

And so on and so forth, and it would just blow people's minds. And I remember Tom Stevens the bass player saying, "Chuck Berry doing the duck walk, that's a big influence in my music." And they were saying "What do ya mean, Chuck Berry's what?" And Tom would go, "The physical thing about him doing the duck walk with that sass and that verve and that, you know, glint in his eye."

Stephen McCarthy (singer/guitarist, the Long Ryders): I can't say that there was a whole lot in Los Angeles that was inspiring me to write. You know, I might have been thinking about history from back home, or just people back home, or [Laughs] you know.

I mean, there was such a slower pace of life, and Los Angeles is so crazy, and it gets a bad rap. I think Los Angeles is kind of a – there are pockets of that town that I really like a lot. Like if you found a little neighborhood where you could live and you could really find some peace of mind or whatever. You might be inspired to write something by, you know, whatever. It might be...a sunny day or your girlfriend or something, something somebody said – it's just kind of hard to pinpoint it. But I know that I kind of missed being back home. You know, not day-to-day, but, I knew that I'd get back here. Maybe that's one thing that would inspire you to write tunes.

Phast Phreddie Patterson: Well, they were always, I felt, good guitarists. Steve especially. Though Sid is a good guitarist as well.

And they always had well thought-out ideas. But you can see by playing together and touring together and making records together and hanging out together that they became more and more of a band, a tight musical unit.

Their songs became more focused. And they became – they started to try different things that were a little outside of what they usually did. And I thought that was brave of them. And I thought that was what they were supposed to be doing – what they should be doing.

I mean, can you imagine if the Beatles had never made Sgt. Pepper's or never – if they'd never taken acid and they were still doing, "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah," ten years into their career?

You know, no one would buy their records.

They reminded me of the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield – I think especially the Buffalo Springfield. Because the Buffalo Springfield were also a bunch of talented musicians with various backgrounds that needed each other to exist, for the most part. I mean, for my money, most of the people from the Buffalo Springfield – Steve Sills, Neil Young, and you know...what was the guy from Poco...I don't like any of their records.

Richie Furay, right. I don't like very many of their records after the Buffalo Springfield.

I have maybe three Neil Young records. I can't name a Steve Sills record that I like, you know? And I don't, you know, one or two songs from the first Poco record, you know? But those Buffalo Springfield records are just great to me.

Greg Sowders: The idea was, let's do it our way. You know, we didn't want to take money from the record company. When we finally did get big record deals, we didn't take tour support, and we wanted to control our own art and it was just a very do-it-yourself attitude that we learned from the punks. But ultimately we thought punk rock in L.A. – I do kind of exclude X because they were very musical – but a lot of them really sucked. We really wanted to play our instruments well, so, our music was probably a little more melodic than that scene was. But that do-it-yourself attitude and the "we want to control everything ourselves and deal directly with the fans" – that's what we learned from the punks. Plus, we liked to play our songs kinda fast [Laughs].

X could write songs. See, at the end of the day, too, especially now that I'm a music publisher, no matter what you're doing, no matter what the spectacle onstage is, or the message that you're trying to bring, your theatrics or whatever, the way you look, ultimately, if your songs aren't any good, it will not endure. And, you know, X endured 'cos their songs were great.

Black Flag, or the Germs, or a lot of these bands were fun to watch and were powerful and culturally significant but musically they left a lot to be desired. And our intention was to be as good as we could at song writing. Our playing was okay, there's always somebody that's a better player than you no matter how good you get. But we really wanted to write good songs. And we wanted to say something in our music lyrically and also to write catchy songs. We wanted to be on the radio. Even though we had this DIY attitude, we were not anti-success. We wanted to do well, but under our own terms. So if they said, "Well, look, you need to write a ballad, because that's what's going on," that wasn't our thing. We wanted to write our songs in our own way, and then hopefully radio and our fans would come 'round to us.

It worked that way outside the U.S. – we did quite well with radio and fans. In the U.S., as always, it was an uphill battle to fight the mainstream.

Phast Phreddie Patterson: What I like about almost every record I buy is that these acts operate out of their own vision. And they don't have one ear to the radio, or one eye on what everybody else is doing. They just feel, "This is what I want to do, I'm gonna do it." You know what I mean?

I think that's it as well, because you know, X was never part of, you know, they never looked around and said, "Everybody else is doing this so I'm going to do that."

The Long Ryders never did that. And I think that's the key, that each of them have their own vision.

They may, at times – I know X did it once or twice – they would allow, you know, say, a big name producer to come in and shape their music a little bit. But I don't think it hurt them, necessarily.

I was sitting with Phil Alvin of the Blasters. We went to see Lazy Lester, who's this old blues cat, and he hadn't played in years and years and years. Or at least if he had, we didn't know about it. And he's playing at the Palomino – this is the mid-'80s sometime, I guess – and I'm sitting with Phil Alvin and Lazy Lester's there singing and playing harmonica. And Phil keeps turning to me through the whole show and goes, "It sounds just like Lazy Lester! It sounds just like Lazy Lester!"

Could not get over the fact that it sounded just – well, it was Lazy Lester!

And that's the point. Lazy Lester didn't change his thing to be disco or modern funk or whatever. Lazy Lester was Lazy Lester, and he can't help being anything but Lazy Lester.

And that's how, you know, a lot of these acts are. They are what they are.


Sid Griffin: We didn't really get too much hassle from people. Every once in a while, a punk would come along and sort of spit at us and laugh at us, and make fun of us because we were sort of wearing buckskin and cowboy boots, but that's fine. That's fine.

Greg Sowders: You know, there start's to be a...see, to me, anytime music gets exciting – 'cos it is, besides the music, to me, it's also a cultural thing – the fans want to dress like you, and then you reflect how the fans dress, and there's a scene, and hopefully a certain amount of camaraderie. And, to me, that's what makes it interesting. Because rock 'n' roll has always been about the kids and subverting the mainstream and doing your own thing.

The English bands were always really good at that, and they always had a great sense of style. But, for me, when music had gotten into the whole thing of...well, it's coming out of it now, but jeans and t-shirts and staring at the ground while you play – it was boring. I like a little bit of flash, and a little bit of an image, a little bit of a look, whether it was Chuck Berry or the Rolling Stones, or you know, whoever now. There's a vibe.

Sid Griffin: In England, and a lot of places in America, people want to dress up and act out what the guys are onstage, okay? The guys onstage are in black and have spiky hair and are jumping up and down and spitting, so the audience members like to do that. The guys onstage or the gals onstage, maybe it's a glam rock band, with all the makeup, so they do that. Maybe the people onstage wearing cowboy boots and cowboy hats and going "Yee-haw!" and some guys in the audience are wearing cowboy hats and cowboy boots, and denim and checked shirts and blah blah blah.

I've never really been into that. I mean, I will wear an outfit for the stage, but people – even in the old days in the Long Ryders – people would always ask me, "Why do you dress like you're going to—" I remember one guy asked me – "Why do you always dress like you're going to a barbecue?" And another guy asked me, an A&R man once asked me, "What happened to my cowboy? What happened to my cowboy? You look like you're going to play tennis!" And I was going to play tennis.

And Ian McLagan, the great keyboard player for Rod Stewart – he was also with the Small Faces – once whispered to a friend of mine, "Why does Sid always look like somebody's dad?"

Stephen McCarthy: Well, I mean, it wasn't something [where] we said, "Alright, we're gonna dress this way," or, "We're gonna look this way."

I mean, I think early on – you know, everybody kind of like listened to the Byrds and everybody wanted to be the Byrds and all this stuff – we probably ended up having, like, bangs hanging down in our faces on the first record, or something.

Tom Stevens (bassist, the Long Ryders): Right after I joined, Sid paid for a haircut for me. It was a Master Prince Valiant.

Sid Griffin: We always wore boots in the early days, and you had to wear tight black Levis. That was the dress code for the first year or two of the band. You could wear any shirt that you wanted, and you had to have the bowl haircut.

Tom Stevens: I do remember ditching the blue jeans. And I still wear black Levis to this day. 'Cos they are way cooler.

Stephen McCarthy: But, ah, I don't know, I just think for me it seemed fairly natural. I mean, it looks a little bit goofy looking back on some of those photos, but we, you know...I had just had vintage Western clothing and maybe not a whole lot of people had that, or were looking like that at that time.

It wasn't – we wanted to have some kind of a look – but it wasn't so much like, "You wear this, you wear that," you know. We're gonna look all the same. It wasn't quite like a band like the Knack or something, who were trying to look like the Beatles, or whatever.

We had listened to certain like rock 'n' roll and country bands from the '60s, and I guess maybe we thought that look initially. But after the first record, I think that we didn't really think about it so much.

Sid, yeah, Sid had – he had some kind of wild jacket that he would wear sometimes, but...[Laughs] you know, you've gotta do something on a record to try to stand out a little bit. I never really thought about it that much. You know, if I look at those covers, I mean, I've just got like a country western shirt on, or whatever.

Yeah, you know, you start off and you're – this happens with so many musicians, or bands. You start off kind of, you know, it could be anything. You could be saying, "Hey, man, I'm really into this Lawrence Welk sound." You might sound like this group or that group. But then, you know, after a while, hopefully, you establish your own sound and maybe a look about you that's a little bit different than the next person.

So, I don't know, maybe I'm in denial, look back at some of those records and they do look kind of funny now. But after a while, we were just like, okay, you know, "We just dress just the way we dress," you know.

Europe and the Paisley Underground

Sid Griffin: I don't really think it's so much about anything in the music as [it is] people in the media, in the U.K., that were tastemakers, grabbed on to the Long Ryders early. And for some reason, the Long Ryders, early on – we were on a magazine cover, in England, within like two years of forming! I mean, God, how did that happen?

And then the NME cover and we were twice on the Whistle Test, the biggest U.K. television show for rock 'n' roll of its day. Just the tastemakers of the NME, the New Musical Express, and the Whistle Test just loved us, and got us on these shows. And that was like putting a rocket up your derriere – whoo!

And we got this huge audience, because they were assuming that the NME and the Whistle Test [and the BBC] knew whereof they spoke. I mean, if the Blasters or X or Green on Red or any of those bands had quite gotten that, then it would have happened the same way.

Stephen McCarthy: The best that I can put it is that it was a reaction to what was going on there at the time. It seemed like that there were a lot of bands playing music with synthesizers and just kind of cold dark lyrics, doom and gloom and all this stuff. And we show up and, you know, sing songs with guitars and steel guitars. It just, it was just a completely different thing from what was going on there at the time.

I think that the Blasters, or Los Lobos and R.E.M. and us and the Blasters, we kind of hit there at the same time, I think.

And, I guess it was just something new. And it was just sort of back to the roots, or music, American music. And it seemed to be something that they hadn't heard in a while. Or at least the people of our generation [hadn't]. I'm sure that older folks had been listening to Hank Williams and Elvis and all that stuff for years.

But, I guess if you were into the Cure and into the Smiths and into all that, maybe it was something a little bit different.

Steve Wynn: You know, I'm asked that all the time, and I have a lot of different ideas, but I think that Europe has always supported the artistic underdog in a lot of things, in movies, music, and literature.

They don't always want to be foisted just our mainstream, they don't want that foisted upon them all the time. I think a lot of times that they want to find the thing that is kind of...that has a lot of integrity artistically, but isn't maybe being appreciated. There's an excitement in that. An excitement in saying, "We can appreciate something that people in this person's own country don't appreciate."

And also, all of the bands in the Paisley Underground really were playing very good music and – again – had a lot of artistic integrity. And so, the further you got away from the American hit making machine, I think the more people just could enjoy it for the music itself.

The Unit Theory

Sid Griffin (singer/guitarist, the Long Ryders): I think that today's alternative music and underground music is just the good music that's pushed underground. It's not inherently alternative or underground, it just happens to be there because it can't get to the top.

What I mean by that is I think that it's backwards. People think that there's this underground alternative scene now; I think this is the normal way things should be. And the fact that Dylan and the Beatles and all those bands that we've been talking about – the Who or Small Faces or whomever got going in the '60s or the early '70s – I think that's the anomaly. I think that's the weird thing.

I think the reason the Band and Robbie Robertson and Creedence and John Fogerty got going was not just that the Beatles had a boom, but because there was that demographic of the Baby Boomers who were born between 1945 and 1965. They're twenty years old, they've got some income from doing whoever it is they're doing, and they've buying all these records.

I think if the Baby Boom hadn't have been numerically so huge, Dylan and the Beatles would be the sort of Wilco or Son Volt of their day. I used to think that this is wrong, these alternative bands of the last twenty years and the Long Ryders, we should have been doing how the Beatles were doing. I've now decided that no, we were probably at the station that was right, and Dylan and the Beatles were the ones that lucked out. And they were the anomaly – they were the weird things that got to the top.

It's not weird that we were held down at the bottom – you know what I mean, not the bottom – but it's not weird that the Long Ryders, X, Blasters, Green in Red, the Plimsouls never made it to the top. What's weird is that Bob Dylan – who couldn't really sing to the normal guy or the man on the street's ears – it's weird that Dylan got up there. That's the weird thing.

If you listen to a lot of things like the Beatles before Sgt. Pepper's when they were doing this Everly Brothers country-esque harmony and Dylan on Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited – those are just sort of well-recorded alternative underground music albums!

I mean, think how weird that is that Bob Dylan took Beat poetry, of like Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso and Freewheelin' Frank Reynolds and all those guys, Lawrence Ferlinghetti – think how weird it was that Dylan got away with songs like that.

Like, on Highway 61 and Bringin' it All Back Home – and of course Blonde on Blonde, I mean, "Gates of Eden," what the hell is that song about? It's just a string of wild Allen Ginsberg-like images, and it's great, but what it means to you and what it means to me and what it means to Bob Dylan are undoubtedly three different things.

And what's weird isn't that Green on Red didn't have hits or the Long Ryders didn't have hits or that Peter Case isn't a big star – because Peter Case is a hugely talented guy, he's one of my top five musicians of all time, period – what's weird is that Bob Dylan did.

You know, it's like, Emmylou Harris sells a few hundred thousand of each album she puts out, and she's never, ever, ever, been big. And I've often wondered, is that because she doesn't dilute her sound? She's just consciously doing what she's doing? And I actually think that no, she's at about the level that you can get and be good, a few hundred thousand units in America.

There are very, very, very few albums that go platinum or multi-platinum that you or I would embrace. Especially after [they go platinum]. I think that Emmylou Harris, who sells –the live album and her album Wrecking Ball, they didn't sell all that well because they weren't on that high profile of a label – but I think that's about right. A few hundred thousand units, and any more than that and you're really asking to be a turd.

A Change in the Air: Heavy Metal Days

Greg Sowders (drummer, the Long Ryders): We saved up our money and split for Europe on our own. We said, "Let's go over to Europe and see what we can do." And it was great. I mean, we were really successful, our tours over there. We were making bigger records and playing bigger tours and going out of the country.

And it was funny, because probably – that was from maybe '81 'til maybe '85, '86. And we came home, and the scene had changed. And it was a whole new crop of club bands, and heavy metal had really hit.

And I think that it's just a natural progression; we were trying to do this kind of organic, trippy, '60s kinda thing, but I noticed there was a natural progression in the music. It was getting louder, everybody was growing their hair a little bit longer, fashions were changing. And we came back and the next logical progression – there's always a group of kids that are, as you get to be 25, 26, the next generation are 18, 19 – and suddenly Guns N' Roses was around, and Jane's Addiction was around. And the Sunset Strip was all about heavy metal.

And it was the first time I ever came back and felt like, "Wow, something's really changed here!" It was the next generation. And our music was now considered something that was, you know, we'd had the #1 college record here, and we'd had hit records overseas, and we were kind of the sort of thing that already happened, [they had] grown up and moved on. And there was a new baby scene that had nothing to do with us anymore, except that it was club bands.

And I think that the record companies – some people say it was after the Knack got popular and all the record companies decided they could make money off of new music. But what I saw was with the metal stuff, that suddenly there was nothing underground anymore. The underground was over.

It was all about record company people going to every club, every night, to see every band. Every band had a manager. Every band had pay-to-play gigs and people were buying the house out so they could paper it with their own fans.

MTV hit, and changed everything.

We used to kid, "How are you gonna keep it down on the farm once they've seen MTV?" Everybody that ever wanted to form a band now wanted to have a label deal and get on MTV and sell a million records, instantly. There was nothing about, "Let's start a band, let's play in a garage, let's rent a van and tour the U.S., or tour the state. Let's build up a following, pay for own record and hey, let's see what happens." It wasn't like that anymore.

And I think the kids – there's always an underground scene to a certain degree, and there are always kids who are in it for the right reasons – but the corporatization, and the fact that, you know, everything is instantly available. You can have a band one day, and the next day you can have a record, you're on the Internet, you have a video. You're vying with other bands for attention – it's all like a sensory overload. Nothing gets to incubate anymore.

The Beer Commercial

Sid Griffin: Well, I know, we tried all sorts of silly things – you know about the beer commercial disaster.

People felt, when all is said and done, that, how can this band, the Long Ryders, be these hip, cutting edge guys, rebellious, and have songs that are anti-war and questioning this and that and sign up to a big American corporation? And that's a really good question to ask. And the answer is: we needed the money.

Stephen McCarthy (singer/guitarist, the Long Ryders): Our manager kind of got that together. And he thought that it would be good exposure for the band – which certainly it was. I mean, as they say, a bad review is better than no review at all. [Laughs]

Which I don't necessarily agree with, but...[Laughs]

But yeah, we did get a lot of grief for that. And, you know, I think some of it was justified.

Really, here's the band that has sort of this, you know, some political leanings, and all that. And then you're accepting some money from corporate America. So, it was kind of a difficult thing to deal with.

We really got hit hard for that.

Greg Sowders: [The backlash] really surprised us. Because when we got hired to do that, we thought, "Well, hmm, okay. You're gonna pay us a ton of money." We were broke. Contrary to what people think, you don't make a lot of money unless...we were broke. We thought, "Well, let's see, we do drink beer, and a lot of it...[Laughs]

So it's not hypocritical: we're professional musicians, we get paid to play music, okay, that's what we're doin'. And if nothing else, maybe it'll put us out, and we, at that point it was like, "Look: we want to do this for a long time. We're getting tired of being cult heroes." You know, at some point you do like to take the message to a few more people.

And we didn't think it was a sellout. But like I said, like when the Dream Syndicate got their record deal, we all thought, "Oh, those guys sold out," well, this impacted on an even larger scale. Some of our peers and some of our "underground" fans thought we had betrayed them. People – when you're a band like the Long Ryders that really get out there night after night and slug it out in the trenches – people feel like they own you, like they have a piece of you. They're invested in you. And we had really hardcore fans that were really – they were alternative. It was underground, alternative, whatever you want to call it. It was a little bit more real back then. And people took it very personally. They felt that we had sold out. We didn't feel the same way, you know, in retrospect, maybe...

Steve Wynn (lead singer/guitarist, the Dream Syndicate): It's so funny. The '80s, which was so driven by money and overproduction and these completely blatant commercial attitudes about music, and [was] probably the worst decade ever for music, I'd say, since...well, decades I can't remember. But, it's weird that rock critics and underground people got so upset about that. Maybe they felt like that was just another example of everybody going for the money. But my way of seeing it at that time was: I would rather a band do a commercial, so they could pay their rent, and then have the freedom to make the music they want to make.

I just thought it was so obvious. I mean – most bands sell out by co-opting their music to please a record label. That's selling out. That's selling out, when you try to write a hit or write a single. You're selling out when you bring in a producer you don't want to work with, or when you make a record that you don't believe in because it's what the label wants. That's selling out.

Taking X amount of money so you all can pay the rent and go back to the record label and say, "We do it our way, or you're going to have to drop us." That's integrity.

Greg Sowders: Now, everybody sponsors everything. You know Van presents the Warped Tour. Punk rock bands have sponsorships. It's not what it used to be. But at the time, I think some of our fans felt betrayed. And, you know, we had been critic's darlings for quite a few years, it was time for them to turn on us.

Sid Griffin: And also, [when] it was out, we thought that, "Well, now, Middle America has heard of the Long Ryders, and [by] our next album, they'll at least know who we are." And, of course it didn't really work like that. 'Cos we were between a rock and a hard place: Middle America didn't quite accept the new album that came out later, Two-Fisted Tales, and our original audience left. They said, "Hey, you know, the Long Ryders aren't hip anymore. They work for the big American corporation."

Phast Phreddie Patterson (music writer/emcee/DJ): Well, it hit them hard because there was a lot of people involved in this business of music that are – I mean, you can't say anything except that they are two-faced hypocrites. I have strong feelings about this. It hit the Long Ryders and hit some other friends of mine, the Del Fuegos. They both did this thing...this sponsorship by Miller beer. And it ruined both their careers.

And I think there were two other bands who I can't remember that were involved in this promotion [the dB's and the Cruzados – Ed]. And, I remember seeing one of the commercials. I think I saw the Del Fuegos commercial. It was basically just them hanging out. You know, there wasn' wasn't like, "Oh, man, we're the Del Fuegos, you should drink this beer," tt was just them kind of hanging out. And it was kind of brought to you by Miller beer or something. And, it wasn't offensive at all. Now, suddenly Spin magazine writes this big article – "The Sell-out of Underground Rock" or something like that, I can't remember.

And it mentions this thing. And it completely – what it does, it says that these bands sold out, they sold their souls to Miller beer.

Now who in rock 'n' roll does not drink beer? And I'll tell you, I'm sure that this guy who wrote this article drank beer, 'cos you know, everybody drinks beer. Well, I don't anymore, I haven't for eighteen years, but that's another story...

But, you know what I mean?

The guy who wrote the article, I guarantee you that he had never been on tour with a band. He doesn't understand the economics of being in a rock 'n' roll band.

He doesn't understand that these bands, they sometimes sleep on people's floors because they don't make enough money. None of the bands involved in this thing were making as much money as the Rolling Stones.

What the Miller commercial should have been, it should have been money going into the underground rock 'n' roll community. Positive money, money that could help these bands operate, [help] them eat a little better, travel a little better. Maybe get the money to buy a decent van. That kind of thing.

'Cos you know these bands are operating on a very low budget. And, you know, for big money to come in and help these bands – it was something that should have been hailed, instead of derailed the way that it was, or derided the way it was in Spin magazine, where the guy said, "Oh, this is," you know, whatever. I can't even remember...

At the time the underground rock scene was still fairly new. I'm talking early '80s. It was before someone like Nirvana blew it all open. Then suddenly, anything that could be considered alternative was signed to a major label.

Although, you know, the Long Ryders were signed to a major label, for all intents and purposes. So were the Del Fuegos. But they weren't funded by the major labels, not nearly as much as major labels would fund, you know, a Rod Stewart record or something.

So, you know, they needed this money. And the person who did this article, did it out of complete hypocrisy, I think. And ignorance. Not knowing the economics of being in a rock 'n' roll band.

You know, I see rock music on commercials, and you know something? I'd rather hear rock music on a commercial. You know, you're watching TV, a commercial comes on – I'd rather hear, you know, an Iggy song or whatever, than whatever shitty jingle they're going to come up with. You know what I mean?

Well, some people think that rock music is religion, and they treat it as such. And it's not. It's pop music. Let's face it. It's pop music.

I mean, there was a period when I felt that same way, where rock 'n' roll was a lifestyle, sure, but you know something? It's not a religion. And it's not a sacrilegious if the Long Ryders or Iggy or whoever has a song in a commercial. It's not a big deal.

And if Iggy or Sid Griffin or whoever makes a little bit of money off that, that's even better, if you ask me.

I don't think it's selling out. 'Cause you know, these people, if they don't – I mean, I guarantee you, that the guy who wrote this article was paid for this article. You know what I mean? He doesn't write it for fun.

The Long Ryders and Iggy don't sing for fun; they sing for money. Because if they were to do it for fun, they would have to do something else in order to make money, and if they were to do something else to make money, they wouldn't be able to sing, or write their songs as well as they do. And people don't understand that.

Some people get it in their head that [the underground] is such a fabulous thing, it's on this pedestal. And you can't touch it. And it can't be sold. Well, you have to buy the record, right? You have to go pay a ticket to go see these people perform. It's all commerce.

They don't want to look at it as that. But it is commerce. And it has to be, in order to survive.

My feeling has always been, when I supported a band – and a good example was the Go-Go's, 'cos I was an early supporter of the Go-Go's. I gave them early press when I was writing. When I was a DJ, I played their records. I'd hang out with them. I was the one who suggested they do "Cool Jerk," as a matter of fact. Whatever.

When I first heard the song on the radio, I cried. I was so happy. I was just so happy for them.

I knew they were no longer my band. It graduated. I saw their record on the charts, doing well. "Oh, it's going gold. It's doing really well." I was so happy for them.

I knew they were no longer my band, [and] I felt it was my job to look for another band. You know what I mean? I think that's a healthy kind of thing. Where, "Okay, it's the people's band. They belong to everybody now." But you don't hate 'em for that.

'Cos that's the goal.

Radio is horrible, but if you can get some good bands on radio, it'll be good. And so you support these bands and hopefully they'll make the jump into radio. Like the way the Go-Go's did, or whoever. That way, radio will be good again. And that's the goal. The goal is for radio to be good again. So you can turn it on and listen to it.

Everybody always wants their music to be popular. And anyone that tells you different is a liar.

They should. The goal is to get as many people to listen to your music as possible. Not just for the commerce value, but for your own intrinsic kind of, "I am an artist. People love me." And that's important for an artist, for a singer or songwriter. You know, you want people to want your music. It's really important. And you want them to want it the way you do it.

You know what I mean?


An Oral History of the Long Ryders and Paisley L.A. Part 1

Sid Griffin (official)

Steve Wynn (official)

Phast Phreddie Patterson @ Rock's Backpages

Long Ryders / Dream Syndicate fansite

Rebels Without Applause: The Sid Griffin/Coal Porters Fanzine

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER