City Paper is not for tourists
At Jaxx, the monsters of rock still roam the earth. Most of them give autographs, too.
It was one of those moments that could happen only at a rock ‘n’ roll show where the barrier between performer and audience disappears, emotions run high, and the beer and bodily fluids flow freely. A moment that could happen only where former stadium acts humble themselves in the sort of intimate venue where they started their careers. A moment that could happen only at a nightclub where the vanity of faded stars meets the overheated expectations of a few enduring fans.
At a place called Jaxx, with a band called Ratt.
Like many headliners at Jaxx, Ratt is one of the hair bands that ruled back when metal and pop made puppy love together. The genre’s signature sound was melodic hard rock, with arena-sized riffs and power ballads and lion-maned frontmen who wailed like castrati on steroids.
Invariably, the singers for bands like Ratt were the pretty boys who preened in the dreams of equally big-haired female fans—and provided fantasy foils for their male admirers. These rockers shared one main philosophical concern: They were terminally horny. Their goat-god strut was best exemplified by David Lee Roth, who walked the line between rank stupidity and brilliant self-parody. Rock critics hated hair bands, but the little girls understood: Whatever else it was, it was a lot of fun.
Then Nirvana exploded, rendering hair bands instantly irrelevant—as dated as their teased ‘dos and tight spandex. What had once been cool was suddenly about as hip as digging Pat Boone after the Beatles hit the States. Dropped by Atlantic Records, Ratt called it quits in ’92.
But while the new generation was blasting “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” legions of hair-band fans never abandoned their idols. They supported them even as the former headliners took refuge on ever more obscure labels. And their loyalty was eventually rewarded. In 1997, with grunge ebbing and the smell of money in the air, Ratt reunited. Since then, every time the band has rolled through town, it has come to Jaxx—where people from all over the East Coast and beyond pay homage to the permed pipers who fueled their adolescence.
Unlike hip establishments such as L.A.’s Viper Room, where glam-metal nights are now a kitschy fixture of the very place where the scene took off in the ’80s, Jaxx has no truck with cheap irony. Retro it may have been, but when Ratt took the stage at the West Springfield club that night it was as real as anything else on the club scene.
And Adam and Eric Stegner were standing right up front. The brothers had made the hourlong road trip from southern Spotsylvania County, a mostly rural outback closer to Richmond than to Washington. Their first Ratt show had been nearly a decade before, at the Capital Center, when the L.A. band was still riding high after four platinum albums. The Stegners had never lost their faith, even during the lean years.
Some things had changed, though. On stage, Ratt singer Stephen Pearcy was shorn of his flowing black locks, and he was nursing a wicked sinus infection. On the packed floor, the Stegners stood pressed to the stage. (That’s the beauty of Jaxx. The club holds only about 500 people, give or take a would-be groupie or two, so even if you’re leaning against the back wall’s graffitied roll call of band names, you’re never more than 53 feet from the action onstage.)
Just a high-five away from the Stegners, Ratt blasted through old hits like “Lay It Down.” Everybody sang along. Then, in the midst of some unholy high-register shrieker, Pearcy paused to clear out his nasal passage. The Stegners watched the whole thing unfold, and there was nothing they could do. “He went to hawk a loogie,” recalls Adam. “I’m sure it was running down his throat and everything—so he got a big ol’ wad up and went to spit it up at the front of the stage.”
This wasn’t the obligatory phlegm of a crowd-baiting punk rocker, but infected mucus from an ailing former MTV poster boy years past his prime. “He sort of leaned back and held one side of his nose and actually blew it out of his nose,” says Eric. “I couldn’t really back up or duck or dodge. There wasn’t any time for anything like that.”
Pearcy’s dull-yellow discharge spurted through the prism of flashing, multicolored stage lights. It landed in Eric’s bushy, squirrel-brown hair. For the younger Stegner brother, this was something altogether new in his rock experience. He already knew what it is to be splattered and soaked by beer, blood, spit, vomit—you name it. At his very first concert, in 1986, he had received the usual rock-show baptism: “There was a guy that was drunk, and he puked on the guy in front of him, and I was behind these two,” says Eric. “The guy that he puked on turned around and cracked him in the nose, and there was blood flying everywhere, and my sister’s boyfriend got blood on his white pants. And the rest of the night we slid around in puke. I was holding onto the walls, ’cause you couldn’t get any traction.”
But nothing had prepared Eric for the rock ‘n’ roll snot now lodged in his hair. At this point, he had a choice to make. He could let it ruin his night, and bitch and whine and make a scene, or he could honor the never-say-die-until-you’re-forcibly-removed-from-the-premises spirit of Jaxx. He decided to take the high road and rock on. “I just wiped it out and stayed for the rest of the set,” he says.
Pearcy mumbled into the mike as if to acknowledge the incident but stopped short of a formal public apology. “He didn’t seem sorry,” says Eric. “It was like, ‘I didn’t really mean to do it, but you’re up in the front row and you run that risk.’”
The brothers agree that it wasn’t intentional. But something else, something far more insulting than the errant snot, has forever soured the Stegners on the band. The members of Ratt, it turns out, don’t give a rat’s ass about their fans—the ones who’ve spent a decade defending the faded band’s honor against the ridicule of hipsters and hiphoppers. In the four times the Stegners have seen Ratt play Jaxx (twice since the sinus-cold debacle), the band has refused to meet the fans. In fact, after their most recent gig here, the Ratt boys not only holed up in their tour bus, they yanked down the window shades, as if the very sight of the 10 or so faithful outside was too much to stomach.
Through the years, the Stegners have seen nearly 200 acts at Jaxx, and they have the ticket stubs to prove it. For them, and for many others, Jaxx is no mere nightclub. With Baltimore’s Hammerjacks long gone and Georgetown’s Bayou now dead after decades, Jaxx is the metro area’s final sanctuary for rock’s has-beens and rejects. Here is the refuge on the road for Cinderella and Great White and Quiet Riot and former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach. It’s where classic-rock dinosaurs like Nazareth, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Oak Arkansas, and Eric Burdon refuse to die. All along the mid-Atlantic coast, the word is out among the true believers: Jaxx rocks.
“You know, as a kid growing up in this neighborhood, every young man always had their favorite rock ‘n’ roll band. I was a Led Zeppelin kid. I was in high school when their first album came out. It changed my life, man! There was nothing like a Led Zeppelin concert. I got my ticket stub from the Baltimore Arena, June 11, 1972. I know everybody here’s got a great Led Zeppelin story. But tonight, this is about John Paul Jones, who was always my favorite member of the band. He just seemed to always be doing so much and never relying so much on being a personality as being the fucking rock bottom of that band. So tonight, this isn’t just a concert, this is an event, and I’m glad that all my friends could be here to share this, because for a little neighborhood bar in West Springfield, this is a big fucking deal. So when John comes out tonight, I’d like us to show him just how much we’ve appreciated him and his contribution to our music and our lives.”
—Jaxx owner Jay Nedry, introducing former Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones
Before it was Jaxx, it was Boots. And before it was Boots, it was Zaxx. And before it was Zaxx, it was the Copa. And before it was the Copa, it was the Wild West Rock Theatre, a movie-house-turned-nightclub launched in ’79. That’s when Jay Nedry first performed here with the Roadducks, the legendary Southern-boogie bar band that is now the unofficial house band.
The club is tucked in the back corner of a strip shopping center, next to a pair of Chinese and Indian restaurants and behind a Mobil gas station, about five miles from where the Beltway hits I-95. It is a solidly upper-middle-class neighborhood with a golf course through the woods. When you drive by at night, all you see of the club is the Geno’s Pizza sign, a souvenir from a previous tenant.
Nedry booked shows here for years, in between Roadducks tours. In ’96—the band now downgraded from full-time traveling act to semiretired—he took over the place on his own, with a new strategy. Venues like the 9:30 Club catered to the alternative scene, and Cellar Door Productions booked mainstream rock acts, so he went trolling for other game: “I wanted to carve out my own niche, so I started doing the ’80s hair bands that nobody else wanted.”
Nedry liked the music anyway, and he also booked other favorites from his days as a Roadduck: fellow Southern acts like Molly Hatchet and .38 Special, and classic rockers like Robin Trower who no longer fill big halls but still boast loyal followings. The mix of acts has created a scene like no other in the Washington area. Still lean and shaggy-haired at 49, Nedry now sees himself as a sort of rock preacher helping convert the heathen.
“Here’s what’s happening,” he half-yells in his hoarse, revved-up delivery. “You leave from a typical ’90s show, and everybody’s snarling, surly, like they’re going to go home and skin their dog. They’re pissed off. Some of those ’90s kids will come in here to watch an ’80s show—a Dokken, a Slaughter—and you’ll see the girls come in, all dressed up in matching skirts and jackets. The hair’s nice, the nails are done, they got hose on and matching shoes—the ’80s look. So the women are rock ‘n’ rolling. The guys are happy. Everybody’s in a good mood. And when they leave here, everybody’s doing the bump, head-butting, high-fiving.”
A self-described “old hippie,” Nedry had his own such epiphany when he first caught a glimpse of one of those ’80-show ladies, his future girlfriend, Kim Cocho. Like many Jaxx patrons, Nedry dates events in his life by the rock shows associated with them. “It was Feb. 2, 1996, and she came to see Slaughter,” he recalls. “There was about 150 people. It was right after the blizzard of ’96, and she came through the front door, and I fell
Cocho, 20 years his junior, had grown up in nearby Woodbridge. She hadn’t been to the club since it was called Zaxx. But the chance to see Slaughter up close and personal was too good to pass up. Instantly smitten, Nedry gave her his business card. They started dating, and they’ve been together ever since. Rock music has been their bond, especially bands like Slaughter, Ratt, Led Zep, Warrant, and the real headbangers. “He doesn’t act his age,” says Cocho of what attracted her to Nedry.
Cocho became a hostess at Jaxx four years ago, soon after she met Nedry. These days, she has a following almost as big as some of Jaxx’s hair-band headliners. Nedry’s not kidding about her looking like an ’80s girl, either. She looks like a checklist for a pop-metal video vixen. Hair teased. Body taut. Skin tanned. At work at Jaxx, she nearly bursts from a lavender miniskirt with matching high heels and nails. “She’s the best bartender in the world,” declares Adam Stegner, watching Cocho’s ensemble glowing under the black-light-drenched bar. “And she’s not bad to look at, either.”
On her Web site—kimmierocks.com, linked to the official Jaxx page—there are myriad photos of Cocho in various stages of undress. And she reveals some of her favorite things. Color: pink/beige; liquor: Captain Morgan’s rum and Dr Pepper; likes: NASCAR, fast boats, summertime fun, cookouts. According to Nedry, the site has been instrumental in attracting customers from faraway places like Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Nedry is effusive in describing their relationship. “She’s my partner and my best friend,” he says. “She’s beautiful, but she’s a dead shot. She’s got a concealed-weapons permit, and she’s nobody to fuck with. You get guys always telling me she’s got great tits—well, she does. She’s got perfect hooters. But she’s one of these incredibly sexy women who actually talk to guys. She’s nice to people, which I thought was such a refreshing attitude after meeting these half-witted stupid cunts in D.C., all the assistant secretaries and directors of nothing. Everybody in Washington’s got a title. Most of which are very unimpressive to me.”
The son of a prominent Washington lawyer, Nedry has spent a lifetime kicking against said assistant secretaries and directors of nothing. He got his musical education as a teen roadie for Northern Virginia’s answer to the Beatles, the Roaches. At Robert E. Lee High School, he played splash parties and teen dance clubs with various bands before his parents sent him to a military school. He attended college at William and Mary, where he earned a degree in political science—but all he really wanted to do was rock.
Nedry says he could have gone to law school and followed in the footsteps of his dad, Alan Nedry, who was vice president and senior counsel in the Washington office of Southern California Edison Co. A major player in Republican Party politics, the elder Nedry was well-connected in the Reagan administration. “I would have been hooked up big time, but I had less than no desire to do that,” Jay Nedry says. “I figured there were too many lawyers and not nearly enough drummers in Washington.”
The stint with the Roadducks paid Nedry’s bills for years. They were the house band at the Purple Moose in Ocean City, Md., among other gigs: “We played tollbooth openings and revolutions and field grain parties in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “‘No bar too far and no hall too small.’”
Nedry also stayed busy booking shows around Northern Virginia. One gangly, goofy, good-natured kid from Lee High kept showing up at the Wild West; he was a drummer, just like Nedry. It was Dave Grohl, future Nirvana member and later frontman of the Foo Fighters. “After a while, Dave said everyone around here sucked and that he was going to go to Seattle, and we all laughed at him,” recalls Nedry. “The next thing I know, his record’s gone platinum. Who’d a thunk it, but goddammit, he did it.”
Despite his affection for Grohl, Nedry considers grunge the nadir of rock. “Nirvana was terrible,” he says. “I’m old-school, classically trained, and you get these ’90s bands and it’s like they have a lead screamer and a back-up shouter and each of the guys are playing in a different key.” Of course, Nedry’s enough of a hustler to cater to all tastes, as long as they bring in the crowds. “I book the Anthraxes and the Testaments. It’s not what I prefer, but the kids like it. I can’t get Johnny Winter and Robin Trower every night. You got to have somebody else: And really, Testament is great and Anthrax is fabulous for what they do—it’s the pretenders and wannabes I don’t like.”
Jaxx has hosted everything from an over-the-hill Vanilla Ice to Norwegian death-metal bands and hardcore ensembles from Chile. And though Nedry doesn’t much like country music, he brings in David Allen Coe a few times a year—always one of the biggest, rowdiest shows. “The last fight we had here was at a David Allen Coe concert: two women. Both weighed about 250 pounds apiece,” he says. “One of them accused the other of looking at her 300-pound toothless old man. It would have been hysterical had it not been so serious. One of my Marine security guards had to get her by the elbows, and got her off the ground, and she’s biting and clawing and kicking.”
Fracases notwithstanding, Nedry sees his place as a return to the good feelings of the Woodstock generation. “For us, even all the way to the ’80s crowd, everything was external: The more people you had at a party, the better the vibe, and the better the vibe, the better time you had—the more you developed a sense of humanity. The ’90s thing is all internal—Nintendo, the Internet, the kids sit in front of a screen and thus all of this alienation. As I tell the kids, ‘Lighten up. Get your friends, get naked, get out in the field some spring day, drink some Boone’s Farm, smoke a couple of joints, play Frisbee,’ and you’ll go, ‘God, this is Man living in a complete state of nature, exercising true freedom of the will, and goddammit, this is fun.’”
W.A.S.P: The Most Dangerous Band in the World
—from a W.A.S.P. T-shirt
On a Saturday night, Jaxx is jampacked: W.A.S.P. is making a weekend stand. Nearly two decades ago, W.A.S.P. was just another long-haired group from L.A. with tattoos and mascara. Then Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center targeted the band’s lyrics and graphic album covers, which became some of the first to carry warning stickers. Naturally, W.A.S.P.’s popularity soared. The band members gained further notoriety in the documentary film Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. There is a memorable scene of the guitarist swigging Jack Daniel’s in a swimming pool while his mother scolds him.
W.A.S.P. has managed to survive, thanks mostly to the dynamic presence of lead singer Blackie Lawless, a consummate entertainer from the Ozzy Osbourne school of stage theatrics. A few summers ago, Lawless chain-sawed a pig on Jaxx’s small raised stage—a feat that is still talked about in Jaxx circles.
Like many here, a woman at the bar sports an official W.A.S.P. “I Fuck Like a Beast” T-shirt, referring to the band’s best-loved song, “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast).” She has just bought it at the merchandise table, where for $300 you can also purchase blood-soaked skulls autographed by Lawless. (“Yeah, we sell some of ’em,” says the glum vendor.) The mother of two teens, the W.A.S.P. fan drove from Southern Maryland to catch the show, the first time in 15 years she’s seen the band. This is the soundtrack of her youth. Her husband likes country music, so he stayed home with the kids. Monday, she will return to her job as a civilian Navy employee.
Lawless is not the sort to disappoint his fans, at least not onstage. In a black leather outfit zipped down to reveal his bare chest, he stands defiantly behind a microphone stand rigged up with motorcycle handlebars. He surveys the crowd, peering into the darkness through ratty black hair and black-mascara eyes: “Hello, Virginia, how the fuck are you?” he rasps. “Any of you monsters come here tonight looking for a little bit of pussy? Anybody here fuck like a beast?”
Robert Jackson raises his fist and answers in the affirmative. And yet, despite his best intentions, he will probably not get any pussy here tonight. Jackson and his buddies made the four-hour drive from Wilson, N.C., crammed into his pickup—three in the front cab and two guarding the beer cooler in the truck bed. A second caravan—female friends—never got under way. One was sick, another had to work, and the others bailed out. The 27-year-old Jackson sells carpet for a living, but his real calling is rock ‘n’ roll. He mostly digs the ’80s warhorses, but he likes some of the new thrash-metal stuff, too. Jackson says he’s a Jaxx regular because there aren’t any places around Wilson or even Raleigh where he can see these sorts of bands. “I love coming here,” he says. “It’s like you almost consider it home.”
W.A.S.P. rambles through a solid two-hour set, including a cover of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” (which, tonight, inspires nothing more than some fist-pumping) and a couple of encores. Lawless reminds the crowd to buy a new compilation, The Best of the Best. He quaffs some fake blood from a couple of skulls and rubs the drippings across his chest. Finally, W.A.S.P. retires into the dressing room, which is actually the kitchen for the restaurant next door. As the band dines on a post-show meal, fans begin gathering in the rain outside. Word is that W.A.S.P. will come out for a meet ‘n’ greet.
An hour later, the band still hasn’t appeared. There are at least 40 people out here in a steady downpour, a dreary yet hopeful line that snakes around to the front of the building. It’s nearing 3 a.m. One fan, a meat cutter from the local Safeway, announces sadly that he has to leave to start the early-morning shift. He trudges into the darkness, cradling his plastic bag of unsigned LPs and CDs. Then, someone comes bolting around the corner: “Blackie just snuck out! He just got in that fucking van, I swear to God. Blackie has just left the venue.”
“That’s bullshit,” says a female fan, her hair limp in the near downpour, her cold lips quivering. “Damn, Dokken didn’t even pull that kind of shit.”
“That’s the second time that’s happened,” says Jason Bacon. The 21-year-old hotel security guard was here when the all-female band Vixen played Jaxx. “The lead singer, Jetta Gardner, came off the bus, and I went up to her to get an autograph, and she flew out of here in a minivan just like that.”
Nedry says such snubs are rare at Jaxx, but they are part of the business: “Blackie’s a prick,” he says. “He’s a rock star. The best musicians are the nicest guys. The marginal musicians like Blackie, what they don’t have in talent, they make up for in attitude. The greatest guitar player in the world, Al DiMeola, gets off stage here and he’s like a fucking Chicago ward politician, shaking hands and talking to people.”
Nedry has already booked jazz virtuoso DiMeola to help celebrate his 50th birthday this fall, for a weekend fest that will also hail the return of Jaxx stalwarts Blue Oyster Cult. The ’70s band features three original members, including Buck Dharma, an old chum of Nedry’s. It’s still the real BOC, says Nedry: “The guys that left were just the rhythm section.”
For some rockers, the unofficial covenant of Jaxxdom—an autograph and some face time for every fan—means socializing when they’re feeling less than sociable. When former Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson played a few years back, says Eric Stegner, “this guy at the front leaned forward and flailed his arms up in the air, ’cause he was half-drunk and happy to see Bruce and all. He hit the microphone up into Bruce’s mouth, and Bruce took the mike and rapped him on the head three times, messed the mike up and broke the dude’s head open. The guy fought his way out the door—it ended up taking three or four security guys to get him out. I can see why Bruce was irate: He caught it pretty hard in the mouth.”
Despite the mishap, Dickinson graciously greeted the fans after the show.
According to the Stegners, Dickinson and acts like Great White are the rule rather than the exception. Great White, they declare, are great guys. The brothers have shown up for a second night in a row to catch the L.A. hair band’s weekend stand at Jaxx. Great White, it turns out, commands more loyalty than most. Through the dark days of grunge, the band forged on, recording for small labels and rarely taking a break from the road. Lead singer Jack Russell quit drinking, but he never cut his hair. Russell’s gray, stringy locks sprawl like dying weeds from his Axl-style bandanna.
Eric Stegner has kept his locks long, as well. He’s a construction worker, so no one cares about how he looks. Adam, though, succumbed to corporate pressures to hold on to his job as a “supply specialist” at Zany Brainy, a “superstore” for children.
Onstage, the band plays some new songs but doesn’t neglect the hits, like the version of Ian Hunter’s “Once Bitten Twice Shy” that saw heavy MTV rotation back in ’88. In a way, it’s become Great White’s theme, imbued with more meaning as the years go by and middle age looms.
“You didn’t know that rock ‘n’ roll burned,” sings Russell, appearing haggard under the glare of the hot stage lights. “So you bought a candle and you loved and learned.”
In between songs, Russell tells the crowd that he needs some material for his hammock back home in Santa Monica, the one he is busy constructing entirely from women’s undergarments. It’s an old gag, but it works, and a cascade of bras and panties hits the stage. It’s another vintage Jaxx moment.
Petite, bespectacled Mia Trobino helped contribute to the hammock. She came from New York City for her 30th Great White show and hooked up with fellow fans who had trekked all the way from Buffalo. She’s been following Great White like a remora for the entire East Coast tour, before the band heads to Europe. She works in the video department of New York University, where she says her taste in music is often disparaged by her trendy co-workers. “A lot of people say, ‘Get more modern,’” she says. “I found what I like, and I stick to it. I’m not fickle. The guys in the band are all nice people to hang out with. When they say, ‘Thanks for coming,’ they mean it. And all those people who tell me I should grow up all want to hear the details of the road trip when I get back.”
Trobino goes looking for Great White, who are greeting fans out by the tour bus behind the club. The Stegners, meanwhile, remain inside; they got their autographs the night before. They are blissful in their post-show exhaustion, ready to drive back to Spotsylvania in peace.
Adam Stegner says the highlight for him was hearing Russell nail the decadent lyrics to the country-rock shuffle “Wasted Rock Ranger,” the B-side of “Once Bitten Twice Shy.” “That’s my life song,” he says. “I love that tune. It’s kind of the way I’d like to see myself living my life.” It had been a long time since the band had last played it live, he says, not since they were playing arenas back in the late ’80s, around the time he first saw Great White at the Capital Center.
For Adam Stegner, this is more than a nostalgia trip. It’s a chance to do things right, to rock out the way you’re supposed to—and to get a goddamn autograph. Adam says the shows he’s seen at Jaxx rate better than the old big-venue versions. “When they played the arenas, they were inaccessible,” he says.
Plus, the music was only an echo of the thunder he hears inside Jaxx. Forty channels of 10,000-watt-powered house mix blasting from Meyers speakers right in his face, the band sweating in front of him: This is the way rock ‘n’ roll was meant to be heard. The fog machine is pretty slick, too.
“We need to have some real rock ‘n’ roll music played out there,” barks Nedry. He’s holding court in the lounge of Jaxx, downing a porterhouse steak and a Heineken, his pre-gig meal. Tonight, the Roadducks are making one of their regular monthly appearances. They were supposed to be the opener for the Marshall Tucker Band, longtime buddies of Nedry’s who canceled for more money at a frat party in South Carolina. Moments before, a bleary-eyed man approached Nedry’s table to complain about the slick, syncopated music blasting from the PA system after opening band Outta Touch had finished its set.
Nedry always listens to his customers. “I don’t want this smarmy music,” he orders a worker. “We’ve got Southern Rock Night, and you guys are out here playing jazz!”
“It’s the new Steely Dan,” explains the employee. “That’s all I got.”
“Why don’t you ask Kim if she could let you use her Ratt CD in her car?” says Nedry. “I’d hate to have you have to think and use your brain.”
The employee skulks away as Nedry digs into his steak. As he eats, a parade of well-wishers come by. Roadducks shows resemble family reunions. Nedry hasn’t seen some of these people since high school. One young kid comes up to tell Nedry he’s got another act for an upcoming all-ages show. “The band’s called Nein,” he says. “It means ‘no’ in German.”
Nedry says the guy should call him and they’ll set something up. “I’ve been doing these all-ages shows for years,” he says. “You’ve got to plant the seeds so the tree will bear fruit.”
A heavyset man with a shaved head and a pentagram necklace does a little more business before Nedry gets up on stage. The Rev. Drew Rite, a satanic minister and promoter from Frederick, Md., is here to finalize the details for an upcoming Easter Sunday show. The event will showcase his own band, Black Mass, as well as Incantation, Vital Remains, Infernal Majesty, and Dirge. “I’m hosting it, and I’ll also be doing a satanic ritual and a satanic sacrifice—all ages,” explains Rite, who says he had a difficult time finding a venue for the event. “This Easter Blasphemy Black Mass is a first-time thing. That’s what I like about Jay: He’s open-minded. Nobody else will take a chance on the show, but Jay will.”
For Nedry, it’s a simple matter of good business. “There’ll be 400 kids here,” he shrugs. “All the decent kids will be doing the Easter thing, so the kids that don’t care about Easter will come. A lot of them just do it to piss their parents off. Some people say to me, ‘How can you allow this stuff here?’ I go, ‘I’m not in the censorship business.’ I hate death metal.”
There are other upcoming shows that will more than negate any bad vibes from Easter Black Mass. There’s Robin Trower. Todd Rundgren. The Nelson twins. And Nedry is really excited about Gary Wright, the ’70s synth-schlockmeister whose “Dream Weaver” made a crowd-pleasing cameo in Wayne’s World. “I’ve got the Dream Weaver coming here!” crows Nedry. “I mean, he’s only sold 12 million albums, played in Spooky Tooth, with Foreigner. It’s going to be very, very cool.”
The Roadducks themselves don’t draw much of a crowd, but the band parties on until last call. Nedry’s drum kit is a massive contraption festooned with enough cymbals for a Buddhist temple ceremony. He serves as band MC and resident jokester as the Ducks roar through a set of Southern boogie. During a Skynyrd song, the Rev. Rite hits the dance floor, shimmying with a female companion who has her arm in a sling. She is the girlfriend of his “boss,” a Wiccan woman who sits at a table back in the lounge.
Afterward, Nedry relaxes at a booth. Someone from the kitchen appears with the steak he didn’t have time to finish earlier. “You take it,” says Nedry. “Give it to your dog.” I ask him how he’s managed to stay fit and trim after three decades in the rock business. “You ever see a fat drummer?” he says. “I was at war with those drums tonight, and I feel fucking great.” Still pumped up, Nedry regales listeners with Roadducks stories and obscure rock arcana, outlining the history of teen culture and declaring Little Richard’s back-up group the Upsetters the “hardest rocking band of all time.”
Cocho stands by the booth, already wrapped snug in her satin Bud Lite jacket and ready for the door. She says she was in no condition to rock
“I gotta get home,” she apologizes. “I’m sick.”
“That’s what I love about her,” says Nedry. “I mean, she’s sick as a dog and she didn’t want to come to work tonight. But she did it ’cause she knew there were gonna be people here that wanted to see her. The show must go on.” Nedry walks her out the door to the parking lot, escorting her to her white sports car.
When Nedry returns, he and Rev. Rite seal the deal for the Black Mass. They both agree that it’s going to be a kick-ass rock show. They sign the contract and shake hands on it.
“You’re a serious-looking dude,” says Nedry playfully.
“But did I do business like I said I was going to do business?” says the Rev. Rite.
“Yes, you did,” comes the reply.
“Are you happy?” says the Rev. Rite. He points to the booth where his associates sit, downing the last of their mixed drinks. “‘Cause that’s my boss. That’s Gina and that’s Ginger. She wants to see that you’re happy.”
“I’m happy,” says Nedry.
Nearly a month later, it’s a Tuesday evening at the club, not your typical night to rock out. But tonight, the real difference is who is here. Nearly 90 percent of the crowd, it seems, are women. Not girls, mind you, but grown-up women, a disturbingly large number of whom drive Camaros and nearly all of whom could kick an alt-rocker’s twee butt. They are dressed to the hilt, in spandex, in miniskirts, packed into poured-on jeans.
For once, even Cocho, stuffed exquisitely into python-print shorts, has been upstaged. One knockout strides through the club in a perpetual figure eight. She can’t sit still because she needs to be seen: She has a tight black Playboy T-shirt thrust forward from the momentum of huge cantilevered breasts that seem to defy gravity, the whole undulating assemblage propelled forward on spiked heels.
These women have gathered to see heartthrob Sebastian Bach, former lead singer for Skid Row, another hair band from the ’80s and early ’90s. Skid Row had a couple of monster MTV hits, such as “Youth Gone Wild,” but the big draw was always Bach. The blond-tressed, baby-faced singer was probably the prettiest of all the pretty-boy frontmen, and even today he makes the Hanson boys look like the shampooed Oklahoma rednecks they really are. Bach is one of those guys who look like girls but don’t come off as sissies. The chicks dig him, and the guys have to admit that his songs and his tattoos are cool.
“Sebastian always draws the girls,” says Adam Stegner. “A lot of guys come up here just for the pussy action.”
The Stegners, though, have come for the music. They have seen Bach four times here, not to mention all the shows back when he played the stadium circuit with Skid Row. The brothers arrived at Jaxx a few hours ago to check out the opening bands. Now they nurse their Jack Daniel’s-and-Cokes in a booth at the lounge, waiting for Sebastian. Usually, they order a steak or something to eat, but tonight they are saving their money for the upcoming stock-car races down in Charlotte, N.C.
The brothers scan the schedule, picking out which bands to see next. Stephen Pearcy of Ratt is supposed to play next month: After leaving the band, he’s gone solo with his new project, Nitronic, hobbling on plastic kneecaps he earned from a nasty stage fall. “I got things to do that night,” says Eric, who says he will never again pay money to see Pearcy perform. “June 29 is my birthday, and I’m coming out to see L.A. Guns.”
Nedry stops by to say hello to his regulars. Hardcore faithful like the Stegners are the customers who keep Jaxx in business. Everyone else, though, is fickle. As it turns out, the Easter Black Mass event never materialized. And then the following week came another blow: The Gary Wright show was canceled due to lack of interest.
This sort of thing happens all the time, says Nedry, no matter how big an act once was in its glory days. Former Who bassist John Entwistle drew barely 100 people and played an overamped, sloppy set when he played Jaxx last year. “I’m never having him back,” vows Nedry.
The only acts that Nedry can always count on to fill Jaxx are the old hair bands. Like Bach’s. “The first time Sebastian played here, we had a half-dozen women from Japan, a bunch from Seattle,” says Nedry. “‘Cause he hadn’t played in years since Skid Row broke up. And boy, the women are here tonight—this what I mean about the ’80s.”
But it’s not just the ’80s revival that has made Jaxx popular with women. Nedry says that when he started dating Cocho, she sternly told him what the place needed besides kick-ass bands: “‘Have soap and towels in the ladies’ room,’” recalls Nedry. “That’s a big deal with girls. We didn’t have soap in the ladies’ room for years. Now I get people stop me and say, ‘Man, you got soap in the ladies’ room! I’m gonna get laid ’cause my old lady is so happy.’”
Bach lives up to everybody’s expectations, from his soft blond hair (still waist-length and as responsive as a velvet whip) to his tight satin pants to his voice, a several-octave instrument that veers effortlessly from metal screamers to delicate falsetto ballads. Several times, he comes dangerously close to a yodel. The whole show is one extended flirt between performer and audience, and it’s a blast.
For the night’s closer, Bach and the band—which includes former Anthrax guitarist Paul Crook—blast into “Youth Gone Wild,” and the crowd obliges. Before leaving the stage, Bach pays his respects to the skinny man hustling around in the dark in tennis shorts, emptying ashtrays and chucking empty beer bottles: “All right, Springfield!” he says. “I wanna thank fucking Jay Nedry, one of my good friends! This motherfucker rocks every night. Not just on weekends! On Tuesday night! Let’s hear it for Jay Nedry and for fucking Jaxx!”
Less than 30 minutes later, Bach walks through the bar in triumph; he’s not going to make his fans wait out by the bus for the meet ‘n’ greet. He’s mobbed, and he loves it; he autographs everything in sight, including the bared breasts of a woman from Stafford. She is here with her husband, who proposed to her at a Sebastian Bach show at Jaxx a year ago. An hour goes by before every fan seems satisfied. Adam Stegner gets some photos taken with Bach, and then he and Eric head for home; the brothers have to be at work in a few hours.
On the tour bus, Bach finally escapes the crowd for some post-show relaxation. The Doors’ “L.A. Woman”—the swan song recorded when the once-lean Lizard King was a bloated alcoholic ghost of himself—purrs from the tape deck. By contrast, Bach seems barely to have aged at all. “I eat the same thing every day, dude,” he explains. “A piece of burnt chicken and a fucking baked potato. It’s all carbs, and it’s the only way I can fit into these fucking pants.”
“It’s strange to be 32 and be considered classic rock,” Bach admits. He’s planning on stretching out even more, when he begins rehearsals next month for a Broadway production of Jekyll and Hyde. He says he’s a natural for Hyde—the only concession he will have to make for his Broadway role will be covering up his tattoos. “I know it’s fucked up,” he says. “But I did ‘Youth Gone Wild’ when I was 19, and now Jekyll and Hyde when I’m 32. I like that progression—to me, it’s cool. I like to sing; I like to wear cool clothes; I like to rock. Hyde is a very lecherous, drunken, evil motherfucker. In the show, I kill seven hookers and beat a priest to death, which is basically what I did last night. The Jekyll part I’ve got to work on.”
For Bach, Jaxx remains a dependable pit stop on the never-ending road trip, a place to meet his most rabid following and tell them thank you. It has a killer sound system and an owner who is as big a fan as his customers. “Jay is a really great guy,” he says. “Jay is himself a rock freak. I think he does it as much for himself as anything. He loves the chicks and the flashbulbs and everything.”
Not long after, Nedry steps into the bus, with a final request: “There is a young lady who’s a friend of mine outside. It’s her 33rd birthday. She just wants a picture and an autograph.” Bach politely obliges, and Nedry heads back out into the throng. Minutes later, he returns with a gift for his rock ‘n’ roll cohort. It’s a healthy serving of 1940 Jack Daniel’s Reserve, on the rocks in a plastic cup. “Every time I come here, he brings this out,” Bach says.
Bach takes the libation outside for one final appearance before his fans. Stepping down from the bus, he does another 15 minutes, talking, smiling, posing for photographs. He hands around the cup for some guest swigs.
Nearby, a woman clad in black leather named Samantha is pleased with the way the night has turned out. She’s got a souvenir from an earlier encounter: “This was his beer, and I’m drinking it,” she says. “I wish I could have told him I’m a dominatrix.” Then she explains why she’s been a fan for more than a decade: “His voice makes me come.” At this moment, a Jaxx regular pays her a compliment: “The W.A.S.P. lead singer, Blackie Lawless, dresses just like you,” he says.
“I had a tarantula named Blackie Lawless once,” she replies demurely.
Bach’s manager gives him a final last call, and the tone of his voice says that this time he’s not kidding: “Hey, Sebastian,” he says, “we gotta roll!” CP