|Outside Wong's West: Left to right: Larry ?, John MacAdams, De De Troit, Billy "Bass" Nelson, DNL
[This is part 3 of A TALE OF TWO CITIES, my recollection of the time when I played guitar for De De Troit.
Part 1 and 2 can be read by clicking on "Basic Values" and "Eddy Detroit" above. —DNL]
De De's band differed from Eddie's in several key areas foremost of which was that De De always performed WITH her band. De
De worked very hard at her music, actually. She visited a vocal coach often. She was learning the saxophone also. After her
days in UXA, she wanted to create a pan-global rock music with a radical political message. She had a second radical approach
to music which was that she wanted the volume levels to descend from the lofty heights of hearing damage. "It's TOO Loud!"
she would often complain during rehearsal. And she was right. We'd bring the volume down and the music got better.
Our set began with an up-tempo ska tune called "Don't Cry with Your Mouth Full." There was a song of Bosco's from UXA called
"Resistance" which had some very interesting chords. "Ghost Dance" balanced an AIM oriented poem atop the band's idea of North
American tribal drum and was surrounded by something De De told us was Afro-Cuban. She was probably quite right. Then there
was a rather peppy version of "Guantanamera" which, De De was always at pains to tell the audience, was written by Juan Marti,
the Cuban revolutionary. For no reason other than it was a wonderful yet forgotten Northern Soul song, we did Ruby and the
Tiaras' "Gone With the Wind." The set always ended up with "Backfire," partly because it was the single she was promoting
and partly because it tended to go off into no-man's land towards the end. That's a pretty cool way to end a set, really.
De De had closeted her dime-store bass in favor of a solid body Rickenbacker 6-string. An Englishman named Glenn Cornick arrived
to fulfill bass chores. [Dear Reader, if that name rings a loud bell, it registered the faintest of pings with John and I.]
Suffice it to say he was astonishingly good.
Now John, I should mention, was a veteran of Vancouver's punk scene, where, as Jughead, he had been the drummer of a very
popular bubble punk band called The Modernettes. [The guitarist/singer/composer of the band, Buck Cherry, has recently written
the finest music memoir that I have read from that time. That would be: GUILTY OF EVERYTHING by John Armstrong. I highly recommend
There was the obligatory gig at the Lhasa Club: awkward and echoing. Then came a gig at Madame Wong's Chinatown opening for
the Plugz. But sometime between the two, Glen quit the band. I think it was because I looked him up in my Encyclopedia of
Rock and discovered he was [as Dear Reader, you probably know] Jethro Tull's original bass player. Gone was the very long
hair and headband. The wire-rim glasses were about to be vaporized by laser surgery. But once the cat was out of the bag,
we began to look his way with too much reverence and he simply got bored. Or, I don't know, perhaps he had found a paying
He was replaced by another virtuoso bass player, a short feisty black guy named Billy Bass. What famous band are you from?
we asked him. Billy, who is now in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, was at no pains to let us know he played bass with George
Clinton in Parliament Funkadelic.
Billy taught us all about the beat. He held out his hands as if to play cat's cradle. "The beat is this big," he said. He
held his hands together as if about to clap. "Not this big." Back out to cat's cradle position: "The beat is this big. You
can play in front of the beat, on the beat, or behind the beat. It makes all the difference." A few years ago, my brother
Graham told me that Billy in Britain is considered the father of hip hop. Apparently Billy's grooves were sampled into the
earliest hip hop songs. I also must boast that Billy threatened to kill me if he ever found I was playing with another bass
player. I feel a little like Salman Rushdie.
I think Billy and not Glen played the Wong's gig. I remember only that it went well and that before we went on De De said
to the Plugz, "Hey you should stick around to hear me sing 'Guantanamera.'"
"If you sing it like that," I gotta hear it, said a Plug (Tito Larriva, I recall).
And this was the rub. The Plugz were sort of a leftist precursor to Los Lobos; they were probably the first Latino punk band.
If he had to hear De De's "Guantanamera" it was simply because she had mangled the vowels almost as badly as would Edith Bunker.
The Plug was making fun. She was offering solidarity and received a chuckle in return.
Like most people, De De's singing voice was different than her speaking voice. She had quite a nice even tone with a lovely
well regulated vibrato. But —and this was a tragic 'but'— she could not quite carry the tune. And she was venturing
from punk into an arena where musicality had a higher value. And whereas a Lou Reed or a Jonathan Richman could claim lack
of tunefulness was mere social comment, Excene Cervenka was the only woman to pull off the same trick. And that was probably
because her band, X, embodied her politic with her. They gave it the old testosterone endorsement. De De's band did not. We
were a good band. But we were just a band. We made not attempt, for instance, to experiment with different keys or repertoire
that might suit her voice better. (NB: she seems to be known now as one of the LA scene's vocal inovaters [see below], no
thanks to us.)
Well, the scene had already happened. X had made it pretty much intact but were never huge. The only bands to get close to
huge were the Bangles and the Go Gos and both had been sent off to fat farms and tarted up before being allowed to record
their music which, of course, had undergone similar make-overs.
De De was quite pretty and had a little of the Marilyn Monroe sacred whore look to her when she cared to dress that way. But
there was nothing of that in her manner. In fact, she mostly wore very interesting pan-global ensembles. She was kind, sincere
and altruistic and there was never any vamping either offstage or on.
Revolution aside, the scene all boiled down to sex appeal and show biz. If the women are revolutionaries and not naughty pussy
cats, it makes the men look less noble, less handsome, stupid even. De De Troit was about to be ignored to death. What made
it all a drag was that she was trying only to be herself at this point in her career. Had she been a man, this would have
|John MacAdams at De De's house
| John Armstrong admits throwing John MacAdams down the stairs in this excellent memoir.
There were three great gigs I remember with De De Troit. The first was at the Vex in East LA. It was probably the weirdest
gig I've ever done.
By my recollection, the Vex was at this point a small Quonset hut next to a large Quonset hut in a large dirt lot in East
LA. Each hut had a stage in it. There was a connecting passage between both and opposite the stage in the bigger hut was a
bar. This may have been the third incarnation of the Vex which in 1980 had been a great place for East LA and West LA punks
to mingle. Originally it had been run by a nun. Now it seemed run by a gang of very large bouncers.
There was an acoustic event (unplugged we call it now) in the smaller room and De De had booked me into it. The feature band
was to be the Knitters. An acoustic band comprised of Excene Cervenka and John Doe of X and the Alvin brothers from the Blasters,
it was in fact to be their debut performance. The rest of us were to perform three songs each.
When we arrived the first performer had not show up and I was asked to fill his slot. I remember singing the old Texas outlaw
ballad "Sam Bass." It went over like gangbusters. There was a loud enthusiastic roar from the crowd and I quickly followed
up with similar fare with much the same response. The second performer did not seem to get as good as a reaction as I did.
However, I was so impressed, that twenty years later I still remember two of her songs: "Animal Wild" and "Boogieman." Just
having arrived from Louisiana, it was her first LA performance. The young woman was non other than Victoria Williams who would
soon, as they say, make it.
My official spot was next so I skipped up to the microphone for a second helping of adoration. However what I had noticed
but hadn't registered was that the audience Victoria and I had sung to had for the most part migrated to the larger Quonset
hut to see another band. It was now a different audience I was singing to. A very different audience. I was loudly ignored.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see two kids with mohawks in front of me (there were no seats at the Vex) trying to
set each other on fire. The noise in the room was so loud I could not even hear my guitar (which I was wearing). So I couldn't
pitch my voice to sing. I made the enormous mistake of saying as much into the microphone. It was more of an observation than
anything else. I wasn't under the impression that anyone was listening.
But I was wrong. John Doe, with the Knitters in tow, hopped up to the mic as I exited stage left, and shouted to the audience,
"Hey, you guys can make as much noise as you want." They did. The Knitters kicked ass. Mine first.
Though the attack from the stage stung, it was neutralized by the first audience's positive reaction. And there was no time
to ruminate as I was about to go on in the larger room with the De De Troit Band. The room was packed. Possibly 200 people
which for us was big. I remember that Gita was there that night; we'd been married less than a year. She had sort of glued
herself to a side wall close to a bouncer just to keep out of harm's way.
Weird as the vibe was, once we started to play, the reaction was again over-the top. The stage sound was good; I could hear
myself and the band. And by this time, we had gotten to be a unit, a band. We were in fact good. And so De De, being comfortable
with us and being welcomed by the crowd went into her zone. I had not seen it before. It was somewhat trance-like. I remember,
as per her request, the soundman added a lot of slap-echo to her vocals on the end of "Backfire" and suddenly I realized
De De was on her knees declaiming the suffering of the world. Then she was rolling around on the stage as if she'd been shot.
Now this sort of melodrama is by no means new to the rock n roll stage, but with De De there was this cosmic sorrow to it
which, I think, was quite different. Also, it was spontaneous. Not premeditated. I forgot what we did for an encore.
De De was in bliss in the parking lot as we loaded up to go home.
An ambulance driver named Larry took a room at De De's house. He also was a singer and De De enlisted him for backup vocals.
Larry was a thoughtful person whom I liked immediately.
The Cathay de Grande was a large nondescript place in Hollywood. Mostly punk bands, I recall. The performances happened in
the basement. What happened on the ground floor I do not recall. The place was jam-packed and The De De Troit Band were one
of four or five bands slated to play that night. Every band had its equipment piled to one side of the room. We took turns
guarding ours. Trotting upstairs for something I overheard a discussion between Billy and Larry. Billy was convinced that
all the punk girls were lesbians because they did not respond to his advances. His advances however, were greatly embarrassing
Larry. "You can't walk up to these girls, start playing with their hair, and hand them your pick up lines," he said. "That's
just what white people expect of us. Where's your pride? You've got to show them some dignity."
Further up the stairs De De was complaining to Danny Dobrin, a trial lawyer who also played guitar in Doberman. "He can't
say that!' she cried. "This place is not an armpit."
"Yeah, it's a toilet," said Danny. I didn't stick around for De De's reaction.
Our band was up next and we prepared to haul our gear onto the stage as the previous band hauled off. Before this could happen
we realized that another band was setting up instead. In no time they were plugged in and launched into their first number.
It took us till the third song to realize they were guerrillas. Not only was it not their slot, they weren't even on the bill.
They were a band on tour from Washington without an LA gig. So they showed up at the Cathay and took one. Brilliant! And they
It was a very small stage and the five of us were a tight squeeze. What delighted me was that I could reach out and touch
the audience in front of me, De De next to me, and John on his drum throne behind her. John's ride cymbal was a few inches
from my shoulder. The audience was bouncing all over the place and we were playing well. I like an audience right on top of
me. It stems from that night, I think.
With the success of Madame Wong's in Chinatown, Madame Wong had opened Wong's West in Santa Monica. While the Chinatown locale
with its famous teak wood bar had ambiance galore, Wong's West had all the charm of a mortuary which, in fact, is what it
had been. This could have translated into black humor but it did not.
We were last on the bill. The sound was very good. We played exceptionally well to all of two people. Gita held an impromptu
photo shoot outside the club and invited the audience to join in. We hung out for a while and when John went to load up he
discovered his cymbals had been stolen. This was a devastating financial and aesthetic loss for a drummer. When he and De
De got home, they discovered the house had been robbed and Larry had moved out.
That was John's last performance with the band. He went to the Naropa Institute in Colorado to study percussion. He was replaced
by Roberto from Basic Values. It was a definite downer. We were booked into the Vex again but this time it was a dud show.
Outside in the parking lot, De De pleaded with us to accept an invitation to perform that night at an after-hours club in
downtown LA. I was exhausted and suffering from a deep cough. Roberto had to pick up his wife in Long Beach and take her home.
I probably said if it weren't for the lack of a drummer I would be only too happy to play the after-hours club. De De nabbed
a passing drummer from another band.
"You wanna sit in tonight for us?" she asked.
"Yeah, I guess."
The after-hours club seemed to be nothing more than an old abandoned hotel. We set up in a room empty except for a beat-up
old love-seat. Someone was sprawled on it half awake. Two others lay on the floor. One of them was awake, I think. De De played
and sang full out. She was magnificent. There was no applause. I could now tell I had a fever and was beginning to shake.
The drummer played with abandon and with little reference to what Billy and I were trying to lay down. Apparently there was
another after-hours club awaiting us. I put my foot down.
I drove Billy back to North Hollywood and De De back to Hollywood. The night was fading. The LA sky was glowing Prussian blue.
It was then I may have told De De I couldn't do this any more. Or perhaps I'd already given my notice and I was explaining
that nights like this were why I couldn't do this anymore. Somehow I recall her saying in her usual way:
"That's all right. I understand."
I went to the doctor that afternoon. "David," she said disgustedly, "you have pneumonia."
After I recovered, I was invited to De De's house to advise her new guitarist on chord changes and the like. He had been learning
his parts off some rehearsal cassettes of ours and was very complimentary of my playing. Nice as he was, he was not much of
a guitarist, however. Neither was the bass player who replaced Billy after he had also jumped ship. I felt so sad. We had
abandoned De De and yet here she was: pushing ahead despite all odds.
|De De Toit and Ursula Lloyd by renowned LA artist, Eloy Torrez
I finished my album shortly after. Basic Values had reformed with another guitarist and two members of Witchdoctor who were
the band on the "Backfire" single. Their lead guitarist quit and I agreed to sit in while a replacement was found. We played
a tiny hole-in-the-wall club on Hollywood Blvd. A girl in the audience had cut a round hole in her sweatshirt so that her
breast would emerge and disappear as she danced. The toilet door would not stay shut and so the bathroom light periodically
strafed the dancers like a lighthouse light. I played so loud I felt my skin was crawling with electricity. My ears were ringing
badly as I walked out on to the street with my amp and guitar. Two girls called to me. "Man you were amazing," one said. "You
are a totally awesome guitar player."
I couldn't tell if they were making fun, parroting what they thought I wanted to hear.
Kax Ratliffe and Hersh Edwards, the new drummer and bass player asked me to cut a single with their band, the Regal. The song
was called "The Love Sign." Side A was the new wave version. Side B, the funk version. It was a fun little record but it went
Meanwhile, Bob Watts went on to join various other bands, one of which, The Western Heros, included the Chicano artist Eloy
Torrez. His great mural of Anthony Quinn, entitled "The Pope of Broadway," is now a famous downtown Los Angles landmark. In
1985, Eloy would make a beautiful silk screen print of De De holding my infant daughter, Ursula. Dressing De De as a peasant,
Eloy would capture a hitherto unseen side of her — a side which gita and I loved.
A few years later, Eddie Detroit returned. He was nearly blind, he said. He was also hobbling on a cane and looked like something
rejected from a Grimm's fairy tale. By this time I had adopted Brandon's no rehearsal policy with Eddie. We performed at some
restaurant on Vermont. His very large girlfriend fell off the stage.
We held a Fourth of July party outside our apartment. Eddie, a Zen Buddhist banjo player named Jimyo, a young kid on trombone
named Junior Morrell, and I played all night. Great fun!
Though I saw De De Troit often while we were in LA, I never made music with her again. De De, I learned after several years,
reformed UXA and their first LP, ILLUSIONS OF GRANDEUR, was released as a CD in May of 2004 by the Get Back (Italy) label.
They had this to say: "Another little gem rescued by our punk rock task force from the oblivion, U.X.A (acronym for United
Experiments Of America) were an essential part of the Posh Boy West Coast punk revolutionary army. Led by the interesting
and uncommon vocals of De De Troit, U.X.A. contributed to establishing female vocal punk bands (Avengers, X) in the genre
and also gave the typical pop punk sound a chance to expand the visual of new rock."
© 2004 by David Nigel Lloyd
|UXA: Illusions of Grandeur
|UXA: Tree Punks