Welcome To My Nightmare
The original Underground Records history was an odd synopsis I wrote in third person, and I always thought it was weird, since there is no "staff" (at least not anymore) at Underground for someone else to have written it. In 2001 I decided to change the history and have it as a timeline, which to me seems more appropriate and we can skip the bs. It is slightly similar to my description of my songwriting catalog, yet this timeline will deal more with Underground Records, the entity that it is (was), instead of some hard sell. Here it is, enjoy!
Fall 1979 - I started using the Underground Records name and first logos on cassette mixtapes I would make of vinyl I bought at the local record shops. My buddy Chip Porter and I'd record and DJ over the vinyl through speakers onto a Radio Shack portable cassetee recorder, which I'd then giveaway the tapes at middle school. At this point I was learning how to play my first electric instruments and fronting my first bands. I'd include our rehearsals on the mix-tapes. The mix-show is called Trip 248.
Mid 1981 - First demos go out with Underground Records name featuring myself on vocals and guitar, backed by Tony Chotas on drums and Jimmy Chotas which were a few songs on 4-track we did off Mind Expansion for the most part. My vocals are absolutely terrible and we're turned down by every label and management firm we send stuff to, some multiple times.
December 1981 - I did most of the recording for the album I had written called "Viscosity Of The Nighthawk" and some cuts from "Days Of Greed and Gold" direct to cassette then dumped that onto a four track (the live recordings also included Tony (boner) on the drums) then did the vocals and bass on the other two tracks. A friend named Ron Murphy also helped on some of the guitar stuff. I did a cassette insert and used the UGR name and logo. I gave the tapes away at school (Osbourne Senior High).
January 1982 - While showing high school classmates my lyrics for my first 10 or so albums I had written, and handing out tapes of the "Nighthawk" recordings, I laid the folder with the handwritten and some typed lyrics of my songs down and when the bell rang left them behind. After class I went back, but they were gone, so I had to re-write the songs from memory mostly and re-compile the albums. Somewhere, somebody........
June 1982 - I finally got a hold of another four-track and cut about a dozen songs under the name Theoria (means multiple theories). I just had the name Theoria and the Underground Records logo on 50 cassettes I took with me to Germany where my dad was working for Lockheed. I met Lee Milton (an American) and Stanley (???) Mueller (a German) in Frankfurt and we were the first Theoria, and really the first Underground Records recording and performing artists!
August 1982 - I came back from Europe for my 11th grade year. I had a new girlfriend named Amelia Bradley, who at 14 was one of the finest girls you'd ever meet, and she endured hours of myself teaching myself to tune a guitar (up till this time I played open-E tuned) and telling her Underground Records was going to be huge. I did recordings of some of the songs I was working on around that time, yet to this day I have no idea where that stuff went. Amelia and I went to Atlanta to concerts and gave away tapes with the Underground logo on them.
Late 1982 - Local bands and I started trading tapes. After I had contact with about three or four bands I listed them and myself on a one-sheet typed up catalog for trading. The first Underground Catalog! Around this time I put together a band under my name and we played Atlanta clubs and I started flyering seeking bands to record for Underground Records. Camping out at Turtles for Van Halen tickets I put together a gig in the shopping center parking lot. Michael Sasser and Mike Walker started a riot, after that Turtles didn't allow camping out for concert tickets anymore.
February 1983 - I threw together another band under the name Stormtrooper and used four-track recordings I did in January and February as a self-titled debut on Underground Records. I sold the tapes at keg parties and club shows. The band played one gig, an Underground Records release party for Stormtooper in Ted Bigham's basement. Over 300 kids showed up and so did the Cobb County police.
March 1983 - Underground Records releases compilation 90-minute cassette of all the recordings I had done up to this time. The tape was just called Underground Records. I made up over 500 and sent them to stores wherever I could find, all over the world. I think I got paid for maybe 20 tapes.
May 1983 - Underground releases Todd West - Lords Of The Realm. I found a flea market that had boxes and boxes of unused major label promo cassettes. I put labels over the faces and re-recorded over them. I got elected President Of The Student Council at school and instead of attending graduation services for that year's senior class, as was one of my duties, Amelia and I went to the Triumph concert that night and handed out Underground compilations.
Summer 1983 - I bought an electro-voice mixing board with money I saved working at Gary Bang motorcycle parts. I ran the stereo outs from the board into an EQ then straight into a cassette deck. This is how all in-house (my parent's house) Underground Records recordings were done until 1986. Bands I recorded in the summer of 1983 included The Pimps, Groove Daddies and The Crimpples.
Fall 1983 - As President of the Student Council, I did the morning announcements and would throw in samples over the PA of some of the Underground stuff. Kids loved it but the faculty didn't.
I was supposed to MC the homecoming football game, instead I set the band up and threw a keg party at Craig Jackson's, giving away Underground Records stuff. About 400 high schoolers showed up and the police stopped the band playing after Karen Latimer passed out in the middle of Pat Mell road, stopping traffic, and another girl hid under Craig's bed so her mom couldn't find her (don't know if Karen passing out or the mom brought the cops). After the cops left the band played on.
January 1984 - I raffled tickets for Ozzy Osbourne's February 27th concert using Sabbath's Dirty Women as backing music over the school PA for a week. My doing the morning announcements ended soon thereafter. At Ozzy's show I gave out over 100 Underground compilations featuring my stuff, Cheap Bastards, Robotoys and Syphillis tunes.
April 1984 - New version of Theoria came into being that featured Richard Kilgore (the Gore) on bass. I told him if he would buy a bass I'd teach him to play it and we'd form a band. Teaching Kilgore the bass wasn't too bad, but getting him off the couch and standing upright while he played was the hard part. We lucked up and got Phil Calvin (Philbro) for our drummer. The new Theoria cut tunes on a four-track and was released on Underground Records as "High Energy". The cassettes I gave away at high school and at gigs. I sent some to record stores as promos for a full length vinyl we never got around to finishing. The songs were from albums I was writing at the time and some older tunes.
We played alot of gigs, one being a house party especially memorable for the nude gal dancing on the pool table. When the guy's mom who owned the house where we were playing came home she was not amused. House and pool parties were big around this time.
May 1984 - Underground releases a mixture of cuts from my Crystal Serpent album under the Theoria name.
July 1984 - Underground Tour kicks off featuring Theoria, The Losers and Pig Latin. The tour goes nowhere, I sold my Gibson Flying V to finance the tour, I lose my ass.
Late 1984 - Theoria hits the 4-track recording method again and Underground puts it out as a self titled cassette. I also attempt to get a deal, or a label to subsidize Underground, make it a real record company, neither happens.
During this time I also demoed a few songs off Invertebrae Superior mostly acoustically. I shelve the stuff for over 30 years until I run across it again and realize how good an album it is. I decide to cut the entire album in the studio.
January 1985 - Underground releases Subscript A, a one session one take recording I did on a four-track to accompany a movie script I'd wrote. I gave away all the cassettes and actually got a few plays of some of the stuff on college radio, including the station @ Ga. Tech in Atlanta, WREK.
February 1985 - Underground releases Pig Latin - She's Got Balls on cassette. I set the band up a US tour, after the second gig Jimmy O'Neal, lead vocalist and guitarist for Pig Latin, disappears. I gave the masters to the drummer and the band disappears with the tapes.
April 1985 - I meet Hank Montero at The Metroplex, an Atlanta underground club, and he starts to work for Underground booking and promoting bands. Since Underground Records isn't an actual commercial entity, he gets the booking commission as payment for his work. A month later he disappears taking my entire list of booking agents and clubs with him.
May 1985 - Theoria plays a five keg bash near Kennesaw State College to celebrate Underground's official three year anniversary. Someone spikes Philbro's water with acid and he plays a drum solo the entire evening with a strobe light going. Kilgore chases members of the Maddogs motorcycle gang, twice, trying to make off with the kegs, and they later succeed in stealing one and burning a yamaha motorcycle belonging to a frat boy in a bon fire. Keith (chuck) Tanner gets in a rumble with the frat boys and the entire box of Underground vinyl I had pressed for the occasion disappears without a trace. Those nights, you don't forget.
Also in May, Underground releases Rituals Of The Spring Equinox on cassette. I pay to have it pressed on vinyl and the pressing plant goes out of business; my $1500 for the pressing is never seen again. Until the 90's I paid for anything related to the label out of my own pocket from money I made at whatever job I had (still basically how it works). It was getting old, and I was broke.
August 1985 - Underground releases Indian Summer - Internal Calling on vinyl and cassette. I manage to get it in most Atlanta record shops and many throughout the southeast. Bill Smits, bassist for Indian Summer, gets a list of the record stores from me about the third week Internal Calling is out, then goes to the Atlanta stores and claims I stole the recordings from his band and never paid them (I paid for the pressings and recorded them without charging them at my house). He makes the record stores give him back the records and leaves nasty answering machine messages at my house. He hides from me until December 5th when he spills beer at the Ratt concert on my girlfriend's leather trench coat I had bought her for an early Christmas gift, I recognize him and he thoroughly gets his ass kicked.
November 1985 - Underground compilation Atlanta Hardcore released. Features hardcore and punk bands from the Wreck Room and Metroplex scenes. Paid for by the bands artists on the compilation were Dread Of Night, Downgrade, Sideswipe, Theoria, Monkey Man, Static Confusion and Verbal Assault. I press 1,000 vinyl 12 inches and it sells out within a month. I split the money evenly between all the bands.
Spring 1986 - I meet a guy at an Atlanta club (I think it was called Harvest Moon Saloon, but I'm not sure) after a gig who says he owns a label called Underground Records and he's going to sue me. He says he has trademarks and has been in business for eight years. After a lengthy fist fight I break a chair over his head and the club calls the police. We steal away into the night in a 1960 Ford pickup with our gear. Never heard from that guy again, and come to find out he didn't own any trademarks.
Fall 1986 - I purchase a Tascam 388 eight track for use with the label. Immediately begin recording more local bands, doing demo work and stuff for release on the label. First release was Eurovibrator I cut the first few days having the machine.
Also in November, Underground releases Todd West - Extremities on cassette. It's a hybrid release using some semi-finished stuff I had from 4-track cassettes I transferred over to 1/4 inch. I used a copier in the student center at Kennesaw State to print out the j-card inserts and a press release to send out to record stores with a demo mailer. I don't remember getting any paid orders.
February 1987 - Quit college and went to work at Warner Elektra Atlantic (WEA). Since that was basically what I was going to school for, I figured who needs a degree. I knew I could talk some of the Warner cats into sponsoring Underground. I started to work in the warehouse and immediately began shopping Theoria demos.
Spring 1987 - I move from the warehouse into the buying department as the assistant buyer. I'm talking up Underground Records as a development program for WEA labels. No one pays much attention.
Summer 1987 - Underground releases three of my albums in a row, Wiccan Priest, Polyphony and Sound Caress. I also remaster and add to the Theoria High Energy stuff and put it out as a tape release which doubled as a demo to the labels.
Summer 1987 - Head to Miami for the WEA convention. Hand out hundreds of Underground comps and talk up the label as a market developer. Lots of support, but people don't remember Underground when I call back after the convention. First night, Billy Lasseter and I wake up the entire hotel by going on an early morning rampage where we clear out the Geffen suite liquor cabinet and re-open the Atlantic Records suite (hey, the door was unlocked) at 2am with the stereo full blast and every prostitute we could find in Miami invited up to party. We end the night with Henry Dros (or however you spell his name), President of WEA, and some of the ladies in the hotel's penthouse hot tub.
The next day I was awakened by the telephone with Johnny Stephens, my boss, asking me if I liked my job. I had supposed to have been in morning meetings and it was now after lunch. I went to a huge room where they were showing Guns N Roses Welcome To The Jungle on a large screen. I tripped over a cable and disconnected the video machine. I apologized and went back to bed.
Fall 1987 - Theoria plays a party to showcase for some of the WEA labels, I spent alot of money on a nice presentation kit about Underground Records to give to label personnel. No one shows up. The band gets drunk and we burn the promo kits.
After the Theoria letdown, I dedicated all my time to a new band I sang in called Wrong Crowd. We cut a self titled cassette to shop to labels and sell at gigs. It goes no where with the labels.
November 1987 - Underground releases Lunaris, a soundtrack to a script I had written of the same name on cassette. It features the title cut which I wrote as a piece to play at a recital a year earlier while in college. I had gotten a B grade.
New Years Eve 1988 - While playing with Wrong Crowd opening for Alien at a new years party in East Point, Georgia, Kilgore and I manage to drink a case and a half of Budweiser before the gig, between the two of us! I cussed the other bands out, broke equipment and fell off the stage, splitting open my side along the ribs. I patched myself up with duct tape and carried on.
Spring 1988 - Thrown out of Wrong Crowd.
Summer 1988 - WEA convention #2. New Orleans. This time I took along new recordings Philbro and I did as Equinox. Same result, gave alot out, everyone said Underground would work great as a indie label developing for a major, no one stood behind what they said. That year, I ended up with the biggest bar, fully stocked, in my room at the end of the third night. Don't ask me how. Jerry Smith, then comptroller for the Atlanta branch, called me early the next morning and asked if I was OK. I couldn't figure out where the sheets for my bed were, then Jerry asked me to please haul them in from hanging outside my window, the hotel was complaining. I also ran up over $800 in room service that year. After that, room service was not allowed at WEA conventions.
Summer 1988 - Went to three Van Halen Monsters Of Rock festivals. Handed out demos to all the bands I met backstage. Kilgore and I terrorized Miami and gave Metallica hell backstage after we drank all their beer. Somehow Kilgore ended up with someone's snare drum. We opened a gate backstage and let in hundreds of people from outside who didn't have tickets. We started a massive food fight out in the crowd which had the whole stadium throwing things. The entire security team lined up and left the concert. We were asked to leave. We didn't. No one called about the Underground Records stuff after the show.
I took hundreds of demos to the festival in Dallas. All the guys in Metallica kinda shyed away, except Jason, he was cool. I gave everyone demos. I started another food fight out in the crowd, 90,000 in the Cotton Bowl makes one hell of a ruckus, and had a fight with some guy in a car after the show that tried to run over me. Philip (Roach) Pealor, left me at the airport for many hours the next day, but other than that it was a blast. Still, no one called about the Underground demos.
Fall - Winter 1988 - Move into the dungeon, a decrepit house in Marietta on a cul-de-sac with wood all around and an empty house next door. Most of the windows are broken so I board them up from inside the house, put padding and carpet on all the walls, set up my recording gear and get to work. I record the Wild album there, and Philbro and I hook back up and cut Theoria - Pleasure Form, which was a much more psychedelic experiment than our first full recording. It was supposed to be our demo for labels. The vocals were so bad I understand now why it was laughed at.
During the Pleasure Form sessions, I leave to go get some more tape and some food, meet friends at Krispy Kreme parking lot and talk for over an hour. Two hours later I go back to the dungeon, which had to be locked when you left because otherwise the door would creep open and the surrounding woods was where local punks and winos would go do their thing, so better safe than sorry. I unlock the door to find Philbro in a dark corner mumbling something about ghosts.
Spring 1989 - My girlfriend and I go to New York to see some labels about the Pleasure Form demo and talk about doing A&R for them using Underground Records. Most kept saying they hadn't listened to the tape yet (label speak for you suck) when we'd call back a few days later. Go back home to Georgia and have the entire ceiling of the dungeon collapse on me while asleep one morning during a rain-storm. From then on I'd move my gear when bad weather set in and used the house for a rehearsal studio.
I had been engineering a recording for some friends who went to Georgia Tech college. They introduced me to dial-up bulletin board systems (bbs), telnet, and Compuserve. I could see that digital distribution of music was the future. Although at the time, file sizes were way too big and modems were (are) too slow, I thought with WEA behind me, I could develop a network to distribute, market, and promote music via dial-up bbs, and services like AOL (I think it was called Applelink or Quantum back then), Compuserve and Prodigy, all of which I experimented with whenever I could get to a computer with a modem during the spring of '89. I did up a presentation for the big-wigs at my branch at WEA, and for what it's worth, didn't get anyone's attention.
That, along with wanting to work more on my music and label, made up my mind to quit WEA in July 1989. You do stupid stuff like that when you're young. I really started to try on my own to develop a file type that was small enough for the bbs to use for downloading music, and made another presentation via mail to some people at WEA, and this time around CBS too. No one returned calls. I learned more about the real internet from my friends at GA. Tech, and I knew, that was the future of music distribution. Seems, at the time, no one else gave a damn.
Late Summer 1989 - Decided to hit my third WEA covention, this one again in Miami, and see if I could get some interest in hooking Underground up as an indie label. Hocked my car title and made up as many PR kits as I could, and drove by myself down to Miami. Snuck in after an old friend hooked me up with a convention pass and spoke to as many label people as I could. First day I gave out all my PR kits. Second night got attacked by wild gal working the convention as an escort. After she pulled the emergency stop on the elevator going up to the label suites, she had me down on the elevator floor and had her clothes off....
Suddenly, the elevator starts back up! The doors part, and standing there are old WEA mates Jack Klotz, Jarid Neff and Pat Boatenreiter. I hear "hey, isn't that Todd West", look past the gal on top of me, see who it is, give 'em the horns, and say "what's happenin' dudes!" Elevator doors close, we go down. The next day Aerosmith performs after dinner at the convention. Their big hit at the time was "Love In An Elevator". Roach Pealor calls my home answering machine yelling about doin' some gal in an elevator in Florida. Despite being somewhat notorious for the remainder of the covention, it was not a pretty site when I got home explaining the rumours to the Buff. I did get some good feed back and some leads on the PR kits, and alot of hell yeahs for my seemingly excellent elevator mechanic skills. Still, can't get more than talk out of the indie label hopes.
End Summer - Fall 1989 - Play local region in support of Pleasure Form as an Underground release. Mostly empty rooms and heckling. Philbro and I go through six bass players before Philbro gets fed up and quits the band in the fall. Put together a band with Tim Spears on drums called Khmeir Rogue that lasted a few months, played a few gigs and finally crashed and burned when we couldn't find a permanent bass player; the only one sticking around was a guy named Joey who pissed in his pants before every show and stepped on my guitar cables on stage, pulling them out of my guitar. Tim finally put his foot down and refused to play with the guy.
My girlfriend is pregnant and after a trip to Florida for Christmas, we decide to move out of the dungeon completely. Throw large moving party and everyone denies that themselves or me actually rent the place when the police show up. Told 'em it was a guy named Ralph who had gone for supplies.
Winter 1989 - Spring 1990 - Work on getting Pleasure Form's final round of label solicitations out and getting record stores outside the US to stock the tape. Not much luck either way. In May 1990 my son Raven was born and I was proud at last to have perhaps contributed to something successful. Work on final Wild mixes and start getting the single "Get Heavy" out to college radio. I try to get Underground in at any larger label, for use as a farm-label, or for some of the cool new bands I was working with, like Obsessive Compusive, which a friend of mine from high-school, Robbie Cantello, played bass. Though I had told myself I needed to concentrate more on my own music and recording / marketing / promoting, I started booking and trying to sign bands like Shok Lamour and OC to record labels. Though the dreaded cover band circuit was dying, original music clubs still hadn't come around enough to make good enough money on just booking original bands, at least not in my case. So I got really broke, really quick.
Also started to really notice, I did alot of work, but never seemed to get anything completed or done up right. It wasn't long, as I entered my mid-twenties, that life completely fell apart.