December 27, 1981...a memory from 40 years ago.
Karl Precoda and I had been meeting regularly and jamming in my father’s basement in West LA over the course of the previous months, having met when he showed up to try out on bass for a band I was goofing around with at the time. “I don’t like this band very much but you’re really good—we should get together and play again sometime.”
There was an immediate chemistry between the two of us and, most of all, we were just having fun jamming on one chord for hours or playing loose versions of CCR covers or fooling around with some new songs I had been writing. I called up Kendra Smith, my best friend at the time and band mate from when we had both attending UC Davis in the years before. Like me, she had moved back to LA and had just recently started playing bass. I knew she’d dig what we were laying down and she enthusiastically joined our aimless duo and before long we found a drummer named Randy who I believe I met at the Rhino Records store where I was working at the time. Randy was game and enthusiastic but as much as an inspired but limited amateur as me and Kendra and Karl which was just fine since we had no ambition beyond making noise in the basement.
One day Kendra said, “I was talking to Dennis Duck at a party in Pasadena and he said he might like to play with us sometime.” Now, you have to understand that Dennis was a rock star as far as we were concerned. He was 6 years older than the rest of us and had already made a mark on the LA post punk scene, drumming with his band Human Hands. They’d put out records! They’d been played on the radio! I had seen them play live several times including a great show at the Whiskey a Go Go where they opened for the Feelies and the nervous energy of both bands coupled with a 103 degree fever I was battling from the flu to make for one of the most memorable shows I’ve seen to this day (and interestingly enough, the topic of conversation with me and Dennis and the Feelies’ Glenn Mercer at a show we played together just a few weeks ago).
Anyway, I was a little incredulous that Dennis would want to play with us. But I was also pretty cocky and full of beans about our cool little raggedy combo and on December 27, I called him up on a torrentially rainy afternoon (it DOES rain in Southern California sometimes) and said, “Hey, we’re getting together to jam in my dad’s basement tonight. Wanna come over?” Dennis lived an hour away in Pasadena, it was pouring and he would have to load up his own drums to make the trek but somehow I was doggedly persistent enough to convince him to come out. I guess I made a good case or maybe just wouldn’t shut up until he said yes. To this day, he’s surprised he agreed.
Anyway, Dennis arrived, drums dripping from the rain outside, set up and started playing with us in the basement . He had brought along a boom box to record the rehearsal. We didn’t try to impress him or even say much about what we were doing. We just did our thing and he played along. At the end, he packed up and I helped him to his car. “Thanks for coming out and playing with us,” I said—I am nothing if not polite—and he didn’t say all that much in return. I figured he was probably wondering why he bothered to come out and play with kids like us and pretty much assumed we wouldn’t be hearing from him again.
A few days later I called Dennis to thank him for coming out and asked him if he had listened to the cassette he had recorded of the rehearsal. He answered, “I’ve listened to nothing ELSE since then. It’s one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. I want to play with you guys.” And that was that. Three weeks later we made a quick four-song demo that became our first EP and only a few days after that we played our first show, opening for PIL spin-off band Brian Brain at Club Lingerie in Hollywood and we were off and running, only a handful of days after the first time we played together.
Here’s a link to that first rehearsal, copied directly from Dennis’ cassette that he still has all these years later.
40 years ago. Hard to believe. Since then, Dennis and I have held the fort, first with Karl and Kendra and then, over the following years in the 80’s, with Dave Provost and Paul B. Cutler and Mark Walton and now for the last 10 years with the consistent lineup of me, Dennis, Mark, Jason Victor and Chris Cacavas. Our new album comes out next June with the first single being released in March. With any luck we’ll be out there on road for much of the latter part of the year.
But for now, happy 40th Birthday to the Dream Syndicate. Like many good and incendiary things, it all started in the basement.