The Offbeats existed from summer 1981 to fall 1987. We began as a mix of pop, punk, and hardcore (or simply "thrash pop," as some 'zines called our music). Later the sound became more of a loose (i.e drunken) form of punk rock 'n roll. Along the way there were a few record releases and a whole lot of personnel changes, making our history a rather convoluted affair. I wouldn't blame anyone for skipping the remainder of this bio, but for the rest of you, what follows is a chronological list of some stuff that happened.
Tom "Tommy Hawk" Miller (that's me) and Bob Richey of the recently disbanded GENERICS began rehearsing with Larry "Keith/Lair Matic" Lewis. Larry was previously guitarist and vocalist with the AK-47'S and BRONCS. He wrote a lot of songs and was a much better guitarist than I was at the time. John Lovsin was also hired to play bass on a temporary basis.
The first gig was is in September, a benefit for CLE MAGAZINE at the Pop Shop. The name Offbeats was chosen a week prior to the show--simply because we needed to call ourselves something. Also in the band at this point was a female keyboard player whose name escapes me. At the show, Bob told the sound guy to "take her out of the mix" because her keyboard sounded like a doorbell. She quit shortly after this, or was asked to leave, it doesn't matter which. Moments later we went to Cave Studio and recorded Larry's song "Lost in Rome," John's "Key of E," and one of mine, "Ned." The first two ended up on the CLEVELAND CONFIDENTIAL LP (Terminal Records) billed as solo recordings by John and Larry. "Ned" is unreleased; as far as I know, there are no copies of this tape in existence (which may not be such a bad thing). The Offbeats song on CLE CONFIDENTIAL, "I'm Confused," is actually an old GENERICS recording.
In November when John quit to join the military, we played several shows as a three piece, with myself and Larry switching off on guitar and bass.
1982: In January I asked my friend Scott Vocca to play bass. Scott was a banjo picker, not a bassist. Although he quickly became a good bass player, I now wish we would have also done some recordings with him actually playing banjo too. Most of my great ideas have always been in hindsight. Around this time I wrote a bunch of new songs, most of them fast thrash numbers. This was at odds with Larry's more "pop" approach. Understandably his interest began to wane.
In the spring we recorded 5 songs; these ended up on THIS TAPE SUCKS and SHED YOUR PRIDE, two low grade tape comps put out by yours truly. Also that spring, Scott and I met Tom Strange and Jimi Imij from Kent hardcore band ZERO DEFEX. One night we got drunk with them and at some point in the evening, Scott and I got the brilliant idea--egged on by Strange and Imij--to shave our heads. Talk about a BAD hangover the next day.
We continued to play shows, slowly gaining a following in N.E. Ohio's tiny hardcore scene. After one of them, at the Bank in Akron, Larry quit. Almost immediately we also kicked Bob out of the group for skipping practices. He was also playing in the re-formed PAGANS at the time. Of course, drummers that want to play punk rock in Cleveland circa 1982 were a rarity--and Bob was a great drummer--so since we couldn't replace him, we decided to break up. I joined a band called AGITATED, named after an Electric Eels song. Scott got married and conceived a child.
In October Scott and I recorded some songs with Sean Saley from STARVATION ARMY on drums (Sean learned these songs by air drumming to an old practice tape). To date none of these recordings have ever been released. This, however, inspired us to re-form the group for real.
1983: At the beginning of the year the Offbeats played their first show with Larry "Bud" Wright and Chris Justus on drums and guitar, respectively. Bud and Chris were about the most polite, nice guys I had ever met. Bud used to thank me constantly for inviting him to join the band. We played many local shows around this time, mostly at the Lakefront and Pop Shop. We also got a big deal gig opening for the DEAD KENNEDYS at the Engineer's Hall in downtown Cleveland (current site of the Marriott Hotel). 1200 people came out of the woodwork for this. Jello himself requested us, along with THE DARK and POSITIVE VIOLENCE. Giving the opening slots to whatever hardcore acts they liked was the DK's policy on tours--their way of "keeping it real" with the local scenes, I guess.
Around this time we recorded a bunch of songs at a studio called "The Island." Most ended up on the Offbeats first piece of vinyl, WHY DO YOU HANG OUT? Some people have told me over the years that they think this is the best thing we ever did. I think they're out of they're fucking minds. To me the sound quality is truly crappy, as is my "singing." Personally I think the highlight of the record is Scott's "1, 2, 3, 4!" belch at the start. I also like his song "Who the Fuck Do You Think You Are?" (about the Zero Defex, I believe--inspired by that skinhead haircut?) "Maybe" is also OK as a song, although I'm not particularly fond of this rendition.
In this version of the band I was doing virtually all the lead vocals. I missed having another singer, so before the EP came out I decided to replace Chris with my friend Doug Enkler. He had just returned from college, where he had played in a cool band called ONE MAN'S HEAD. He wrote really great songs and could sing better than me. Yes, telling Chris he was out was really hard, but--like a jerk--I do it anyway. Probably a better idea would have been to have just kept Chris AND added Doug, but I didn't think of it at the time.
Not long after Doug joined we played our first out of town gig, in Athens, Ohio. During the show Doug got thrown out of the club for knocking over PA equipment. I have a tape of the performance that I love, where you can hear stuff falling over, and the sound guy is yelling, "Knock one more thing over and I'll break your head!!!!" Finally he killed the power and Doug (pretty drunk, I guess) was escorted out. We were then told we had to finish the show without him, or they wouldn't pay us the 200 bucks they owed us. Of course we needed the cash to buy gas (and beer, and pot...) so we had to do it. In the end we got paid--and somehow we also skipped town with the opening bands money. Naturally they bad mouthed us all over town, so we never played there again.
1984: In the spring we recorded a dozen or so songs at a 16 track studio. This was supposed to be for our first LP (never released). 4 songs ended up on I CAN SEE YOUR HOUSE FROM HERE, our second 7 inch EP (the title came from the punch line to an old Bill Cosby joke). One other recording, "Alaska/Society," went onto the THEY PELTED US WITH ROCKS AND GARBAGE Comp LP. I still think these are the best recordings we ever made.
Before our new EP was released, Scott quit--the company he worked for transferred him to Florida. We were, of course, sorry to see him go, but didn't blame him for getting a real life. Scott's spot was taken by Carl Miller (no relation, just another good friend). I enjoyed having Carl in the band. Like Scott, he was a pretty cool guy and he fit in well.
We played NYC for the first time in the fall, at CBGBs. It was a pretty stupid afternoon all-ages show. The few people there largely ignored us. NY was always the worst place to play, in my opinion. Around this time I think we played Pittsburgh too--at a fucking dump called "The Electric Banana." We did pretty good there, if I remember right. We always did better in less "hip" markets (since we were never hip).
1985: I got a crazy notion in my head--I guess we all did--that we should "get serious" and sign to a real record label. To that end, we recorded a demo tape of new material, slightly more "rock 'n roll" than our previous thrash outings. Then we remixed it...and remixed it again....and again, never really getting it right. I'm sure we all had a swell time playing shows during this period (one major gig: opening for the DEAD KENNEDYS--again), but what I remember most about 1985 is recording, making press kits (hard to do when the press largely ignores you), and sending out demo tapes. In lieu of a record contract, we also made plans for our 3rd single, OUT OF BREATH b/w DON'T TAKE MY ADVICE.
1986: Early in the year, after many mailings of second generation demo cassettes, a guy named Michael Crumper called back. He was from RELATIVITY RECORDS in New York City. He loved our songs. So did the president of the label, supposedly. No, they'd never seen us play, but they offered to send us a record contract. I didn't really believe it...no one could be THAT stupid--but they actually did it. Holy shit! Of course it was a terrible contract--a 5 LP option with a really lousy royalty rate and a $10,000 advance that we had to pay back out of OUR percentage--but there was never any question in my mind that we would sign it...and we did.
Shortly after inking the deal we were told to find a producer and re-record the album. Somehow Tony Maimone of PERE UBU was lined up for the job. Then we heard he didn't know anything about producing, so he was out, replaced with Brian Sands. Brian--now this guy was a real character. To put in bluntly, he was a total drunk. Also a fucking nut. I liked him immediately. I guess he'd recorded a bunch of stuff in the late 60's and early 70's, pre-punk Cleveland underground rock. What we needed was someone to keep our own drunken bad ideas in check. What we got was a guy who was arguably worse than us! In Brian's defense, he was a blast to record with. Perhaps Brian was lousy at mixing a song, but he was really good at mixing gin and tonics.
Before long we found ourselves at Suma Recording, spending about 5 grand of Relativity's dough. Unfortunately, once the hangover wore off we realized what we had was a tape worse than our original demo! Yeah, we fucked up--but part of the blame, I believe, also belongs on Paul Hamman's shoulders. As the engineer at Suma, you'd think the guy would have pulled ONE of us aside and said, "this recording sucks," but no, he let us proceed without a peep.
Once we sent the tape to Relativity they hit the roof. At this point they should have done themselves (and us, in the end) a favor and booted us out the door. What they DID was fly a guy named Randy Burns out from LA to do a salvage job on the tape. His claim to fame was engineering a MEGADEATH LP. He took one listen and convinced us to re-record the whole thing FOR THE THIRD TIME--and we only had 3 days to do it before he flew back to California! What a mistake! Salvaging the original tape would have made for a WAY more interesting record than the rush job we ended up with. Yes, the sound quality was arguably better, but the performances were not. Everything was played way too fast, every song sounded exactly the same. Bud in particular, was extremely unhappy about this. Randy was always yelling at him, "hit the snare drum louder!" I guess this really fucked with his playing style. However, after 3 sleepless nights, we finally had a tape (way over budget) that would become EVOLUTION OF THE STICKMAN, our debut LP.
We ended the year by playing a short but fairly successful east coast tour (we lost less money than usual). We also released the OUT OF BREATH single on St. Valentine Records as a "teaser" for the album.
1987: What should have been our crowning achievement--a soon to be released LP on a major independent label, instead marked the beginning of the end for the band. The previous year's recording process had created a lot of tensions. I think we were all basically sick of each other at this point. Going on several short out of town "tours," we would often get on each other's nerves.
Our record was released on April 1st. April Fool's Day. Very fitting. To begin with, we hated the cover, thought it was a piece of fucking shit. It was basically forced upon us by Relativity. We also had some personality conflicts with them. We thought they were uptight and pretentious. We countered this with REALLY obnoxious behavior. An example--we played a showcase for the label in NYC. Earlier that day Doug and I were razing Crumper about...I don't even want to get into the details, actually. Just stupid shit, basically being obnoxious and getting on his nerves, which was easy to do. Real smart thing to do to the guy who had just signed us! At the show I sort of laid off of him, but Doug kept it up, making fun of him rather mercilessly for about 2 hours. This did not exactly endear us to the record label, but to be fair to Doug, I had egged on a lot of it earlier in the day. Luckily we redeemed ourselves a bit by playing a wild show. I remember Doug spent a good portion of our performance laying on his back on the stage, incredibly drunk but still rocking out. Relativity loved this--or so they said. I guess in their eyes we were being the goofy, nutty drunks that the early Replacements usually were. Crumper loved the Replacements. He had some far-out delusion we would become Relativity's version of that band. Yes, he actually told me this. What a laugh.
In July, Bud quit the band very suddenly. Unfortunately it was not a very amiable parting of the ways. I was really sick of booking out of town shows, so when the LEMONHEADS offered to set up a joint tour, I jumped on it. The catch: they do the booking, we supply the musical gear. Bud had a major problem with letting them play his drums. There was no talking him into it. Basically he handed us an ultimatum: either him or the tour. We choose the tour, so he quit. Realistically though, if Bud was upset we didn't choose him, he also had to have been relieved to be done with our rotten tours. At any rate, we recruited Regan "Sly" Sylvestri as drummer, the last personnel change we would ever make. He managed to learn our set in a week.
The first show of the tour was in Cleveland (naturally), where we met the Lemonheads for the first time. I went up to Evan Dando and the bass player: "Hi, I'm Tom. Have a good trip out here?" "BITCHIN!!!" "So...we're thinkin' you guys might want to play last tonight...." "RAD!!!!" Did you check out my guitar amp? Think it'll work for you? "BITCHIN!!!" The Lemonheads circa 1987 were about two months removed from 12th grade. Like us, their first LP had just been released on an independent label. Evan was not yet the seasoned rock star pro he currently is. Trying to engage the band in conversation resulted in little more than exclamations of "BITCHINRADRADBITCHIN!!!!!" I couldn't take it. I had nothing against them, just little in common. Although I was still in my twenties, they made me feel old. After the first few nights we gave up trying to hang out with them and basically steered clear as much as possible.
I can't remember too many details about the actual shows. I do remember the Lemonheads generally going over better than us. They were young, cute and played nice pop/punk songs. We were not as young, not as cute and I guess our songs were not as nice, either. The major problem we had was NO PROMOTION. No posters at the clubs, no records in the stores, no ads in any magazines. What the fuck? Where the hell was Relativity?
In Minneapolis we ran into a girl named Kat on the street. She was forming a band with her roommate, who played drums. They were gracious enough to give us a place to stay and in return we kept them up all night drinking and cracking jokes. Kat played her demo tape for us. I remember not being real impressed. Actually, I thought it sucked. Over the years I've found myself to be utterly clueless about what other people might like. This incident is a prime example--the band she formed was called BABES IN TOYLAND. Like the Lemonheads, they were soon light years ahead of any band I was ever in, popularity-wise.
When we got to our show at Maxwell's in Hoboken we found out what had "happened" to Relativity. It seems all the people who had signed us either quit or were fired. The new people had nothing to do with signing us, so therefore they were not interested in us. I can't believe they even showed up for the gig. We tried to talk to them before the show and they all but yawned in our faces. Their disinterest in us was all too clear. I don't even know if they bothered to stay and watch us play.
By this point we were all rather cynical and jaded about this whole Offbeats thing. All of us, that is, except Regan. He seemed truly happy to be in the band, being the fresh new guy. One night we stopped at his parents house on our way through Connecticut. He amazed us all by telling his folks that he was "thinking of turning that scholarship to Yale down...in order to play with the Offbeats." BAD idea, Regan.
Our last show with the Lemonheads was in Boston. They were home. We, on the other hand, were fucked. We had 5 more shows left that I had booked independently: Syracuse, Philadelphia, Washington DC, somewhere in Virginia and somewhere else in North Carolina. About 5 miles out of Cambridge we suddenly lost all oil pressure. Our friend Jim Smagola was on the tour with us as roadie/fix-it guy. Yes, he knew engines...and what he knew was that our oil pump was blown...oh, and guess what? Replacing it entailed unbolting the engine mounts and jacking up the entire engine block! To their credit, Jim and Carl were determined to fix our wounded vehicle on the spot. They actually tried to lift the engine with the tire jack...and they almost succeeded. It was a Herculean effort, but one that came up just slightly short. Exhausted, they finally packed it in shortly before dawn, promptly falling asleep. In the early morning light Doug and I finished the last of the beers and walked to a pay phone to call a tow truck. 5 days and 500 dollars later we were on our way home. The van was fixed but we were now in debt and had missed every one of our remaining shows.
Our last ever gig was about a week later. We played with STARVATION ARMY at Cedar's in Youngstown. I don't remember much about the show except that the crowd was sparse, it being a weeknight. On the way home I got pulled over for speeding. After the state patrolman had handed me my ticket and we were back on the road, Doug announced, "I've had it. I can't take it anymore. I quit." That was all there was to it. None of us tried very hard to talk him out of it, as I recall. No one brought up the idea of continuing the group, either.
About a month later I got a notice from Relativity in the mail. Our contract was terminated.