Don't Call It Nothing Podcast #16 revisits Pinkpop 1993 to discuss first Lester Butler and The Red Devils and then Bob Forrest and Thelonious Monster. The former delivered a great performance, the latter delivered a disastrous performance, but both singers were stuck in similar death spirals. An intense episode that confronts addiction, ego, materialism, racism, and the thin line between life and death. There's one kind favor I ask of you. See that my grave is kept clean.Support the show
Theme Song: Mike Nicolai, “Trying To Get It Right” [Bandcamp]
Welcome to Don't Call It Nothing, the podcast dedicated to the lost history of '90s roots, rap, and rock 'n' roll. I’m your host Lance Davis and today is the first of two shows I’m gonna dedicate to Pinkpop 1993. Pinkpop – one word, pink like the color, pop like a balloon – is a music festival that’s been going steady in The Netherlands since 1970. The fest is not in Amsterdam. It’s actually 2½ hours south of the city in a small Dutch town called, well not called Landgraaf, so much as that’s how it’s spelled and I’m a dumb American. I need a Jan the Lazyman app that translates English into charming Dutch. Anyway, this festival is south enough in The Netherlands that it’s actually closer to Brussels, Belgium to the west and Dusseldorf, Germany to the east than it is to Amsterdam. And I bring all this up because the location of Pinkpop will become relevant later in the pod.
BUT – and a big Sir Mix-a-Lot but indeed – before we get to alla that I wanna welcome NINE new family members since the last podcast! What the hell??? We’re gonna need a bigger boat. Signing up at the $5 Good Beeble Level we have “The Judge,” Sean Courtney, the Mayor of Wigginstock, Mississippi. We have Jeff Olmstead, who once sent me an Otis Redding biography because he thought I’d like it, which is basically foreplay. We have Ed Hicks @browndogfarmandworkshop on Instagram, which I bring up because on Instagram in his bio it says, “The only thing wrong with dogs is that they don’t live forever.” I’m gonna cryyyy!!!! And we have Anne Warth, who you might remember from such Canadian TV shows as Tetanus Boy and Mimes: The Silent Killers. Happy birthday Anne! Glad to have you all on board.
Meanwhile, joining my boy Tom Engfer in the $20 Smell The Magic cocktail lounge and taqueria is Dr. Caleb Rose, who also just announced his engagement, so a big week for you, man. Congratulations are in order and if Facebook is any guide, you outkicked your coverage, sir. Joining Caleb in the Woo Pig tent will be fellow Razorback, John “Ducktaper” Smith, one of the greatest hosts the world has ever known. Faculty Lounge forever. Love ya brother. Let’s welcome Brian Raleigh, who remembers the “Ryan Adams is no Brent Best” debate on Yahoo Groups, as does Lauren Zieffler, who also joined at the $20 level, and as I look at every new member, the common denominator is Slobberbone. We have a Slobberarmy. Hell, other than Terry and Wendy, I can’t think of two people who’ve seen Slobberbone more than Lauren and Anne. What can I say? There’s a certain kind of love you can’t dispute. Finally, I wanna send a big ol hug out to Jules Campbell, wife of the late Lane Campbell, who joined at the $20/month level on his behalf. Thank you so much, Jules. Lane you are loved, missed, and repped. In fact, if you know Lane from Postcard, I’ve planted an Easter egg in this podcast that’s a little hat tip to him. Love ya brother.
All family members received my first bonus episode about my Japanese mom growing up in Hawaii during World War Two. I’m cooking up another bonus episode about Bill Hicks and how what once felt transgressive and righteous now mostly sounds like a loud white guy punching down. Hey, good thing standup comedy solved that problem, amirite? To become a Don’t Call It Nothing family member, hit that “Buy Me a Coffee” button at the top of the page or the “Support” button at the bottom. Or just hang out and listen, that’s cool too.
OK, so why Pinkpop 1993? I’m not a fan of music festivals and this one’s in the middle of Europe. What the hell’s so special about it? One reason is that it’s almost perfectly bisected into ‘90s music haves and have nots. On one side of the aisle you have Lenny Kravitz, Black Crowes, and Alice In Chains, who were booked and made the poster, but were replaced by Rage Against The Machine. Forget about the fact Alice didn’t play. Them, Rage, Kravitz, and the Crowes represent the ‘90s for the normies and basics. I have no doubt that were this podcast about those bands I’d have more downloads by orders of magnitude. But, how fucking dull would that be??? Alice In Chains goat singing grudge rock, Rage Against The Microwave Mao schticka Mao Mao, Kravitz and the Crowes doing classic rock karaoke. Just get the Chief and suffocate me with a pillow.
In terms of economics, I get it. The top half of the poster pays for the bottom half. But, I’m interested in music not PNLs. So, Don’t Call It Nothing will spend the next two podcasts at Pinkpop ’93 exploring the acts who played while the sun was still out. The Jayhawks and Bettie Serveert will be next pod. This pod you’re getting Thelonious Monster, my very first favorite favorite no really guys I mean it this time favorite band ever, who played a disastrous set. Actually, that’s not true. The band played a good set. Lead singer Bob Forrest was a disaster and we’ll get to him and them shortly.
I wanna start with The Red Devils, who opened Pinkpop 1993 and began life in 1987 as The Stumble Bums, an offshoot of The Blasters featuring drummer Bill Bateman and not-yet-Blasters guitarist Smokey Hormel that featured a rotating cast of musicians in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. According to a 1998 Hormel interview, the early days of The Stumble Bums featured Johnny Ray Bartel on bass and Pat French (aka Frenchie) on harmonica. Before long the Bums were The Blue Shadows, Johnny Ray’s older brother Dave Lee was on rhythm guitar, and Frenchie was replaced by a Little Walter disciple named Lester Butler.
The band turned their regular Monday night gigs at the King King, a dive bar on 6th and La Brea in LA, into such a phenomenon that in 1991 Rick Rubin offered them a deal with Def American. But, he did so on three conditions: 1) They have to change their name again, 2) They have to get a permanent guitarist, and 3) They have to hang out in Rubin’s clubhouse, wearing sweatpants, listening to The Beatles. They said no to the clubhouse, yes to the other two conditions, and Rubin relented. The Bartel brothers were in a high school rockabilly band called The Red Devils, so that became the new name and Paul Size, a 19-year-old kid from Denton, Texas became their hotshot lead guitarist.
In July 1992, Def American released the band’s debut named after the bar where they not only honed their sound, but where the tracks were recorded. King King is a wonderful tribute to the heyday of Chicago blues and it led to short tours with the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, and Los Lobos. At this point, the only thing standing between The Red Devils and a steady career on the blues circuit was drugs and ego. But come on, what are the odds of that???
Red Devils - "Just Your Fool"
From the King King bar, though NOT the King King record – lemme make that clear to Def American’s cyber defense bots – that’s The Red Devils with Little Walter’s “Just Your Fool.” Shuffling their ass off, Butler throwing down on harmonica, it’s easy to see why for a hot minute they were the baddest motherfuckers in town. It’s when they left town that things took a turn for the worse.
In November 2019, Classic Rock ran a feature entitled, “Blues, drugs, fights, cops, jail, death: The incredible story of The Red Devils.” It’s posted at loudersound.com and I’ll have a link in my show transcription. According to writer Paul Rees:
Three months into the tour the band was in tatters. Dave Lee Bartel walked out after a show in Dallas, claiming Butler was paid double what the others got. They limped through the rest of the tour with a friend of Paul Size filling in and bad blood in the air.”“It got to the point where Lester was doing crack at every town we went through,” says Johnny Ray Bartel. “He’d stay up all night and listen to the board tapes of the gig we’d just done, and then go scream at Bill, the best musician in the band, telling him he was dragging. He basically just turned into this psycho drug addict who was never happy.” Butler’s sister, Ginny (Tura), disputes this image of her brother. “Les had occasional lapses with drugs and alcohol, but for the majority of his professional life he was sober,” she insists. “The stress of being together with the band 24/7 while touring was just too much for him. He was always a perfectionist with his music and he noticed when anything was off.”
Let me interject here because multiple things can be true or true enough. I have no doubt Lester was a perfectionist and touring is stressful. But, being sober for x amount of months or years doesn’t mean the selfish asshole behavior didn’t happen, especially while cracked out. And that’s true for all concerned. These guys weren’t angels. Returning to Rees’ piece:
“We were rowdy guys,” says Bill Bateman, cackling. “We went out for 120 days straight and there were all kinds of illegal things going on – drugs, fights, hookers, cops, jail, you name it. One of us was bound to end up dead. Lester had actually clinically died four times in previous years. On one occasion he woke up in the morgue with a sheet over his head. It was his opinion that he led a charmed life.”
Um, WHAT??? He woke up in the morgue with a sheet over his head?!?! That sounds too cinematic to be true. But if true, you think that would prompt some personal changes. I don’t know. If I woke up in a morgue because people logically surmised that I was dead what with the not breathing and no heartbeat, I might be convinced to take up yoga, maybe mix in a salad, possibly even join a gym. That’s just me, though. Back to Rees.
When Butler returned to LA, he told Rubin he wanted to work with different musicians. Rubin humored him by holding a series of open auditions, but then informed Butler he was only interested in the original Red Devils. The patched-up band, with Dave Lee Bartel on board, toured Europe through the spring and summer of 1993, hitting a peak on an early afternoon slot at the Pinkpop Festival in Holland. Pinkpop was the Red Devils’ valediction.
Red Devils - "Your Turn To Cry"
The Red Devils with a song I’ve seen titled “Your Turn To Cry,” “Time To Cry,” and “Backstreet Crawler.” Also the first song played at Pinkpop 1993 because the Devils were the first act to hit the stage. You hear Paul Size tear ass on guitar and you’re like, “Well, nothing’s topping that,” and then here comes Lester Butler bringing the heat on blues harp. But, the solos mean nothing if you don’t have that fat fucking pocket. That’s the key. Take away the solos and this is still a jam. Keep the solos but replace the rhythm section with hacks and you got nothing. It’s all about bottom up. It’s that insistent, hypnotic John Lee Hooker boogie rhythm with the rim clacks and snare drops, Johnny Ray Bartel’s bass on and just behind the beat, and Dave Lee occasionally playing rhythm guitar like a piano. You can hear this last part underneath Butler’s solo about 1:40 into “Cry.” It’s a wonderful thing.
Lester Butler Interview
Q: Who’s Little Walter?
A: Little Walter was the greatest harmonica player ever. He electrified the instrument and sorta did what Jimi Hendrix did to guitar, but for harmonica. He was from Louisiana, but he moved to Chicago and played in the postwar '50s with Muddy Waters.
Q: What's typical of the Chicago blues from the ‘50s?
A: It's what rock 'n' roll to me is based on. It's raucous. It was dance music in the clubs back then. There's a lot of different elements, but that's what I like to search out, the more raw, rockin type deal.
Little Walter - "Hate To See You Go"
That’s the great Little Walter Jacobs with “Hate To See You Go,” recorded in April 1955 and released as the B-side to “Too Late” on Checker Records that September. Why did I highlight this track? Because even though Walter unleashes a bitchin eight-bar solo towards the end of the song, it isn’t about the solo. It’s about how the harmonica fits inside the sock rhythm established by drummer Fred Below, bassist Willie Dixon, and rhythm guitarist Luther Tucker, which allows Jacobs to sing and blow harp above. And right in between both is that sweet guitar riff anchoring the song. Who’s that? None other than the great Bo Diddley upon whose song this song is based.
Bo Diddley - "You Don't Love Me" (excerpt)
Recorded March 2, 1955, the same day he recorded “I’m A Man” and the song that bears his name, “Bo Diddley,” that’s a little taste of “You Don’t Love Me” with Otis Spann on piano, Willie Dixon again on bass, and Billy Boy Arnold on harmonica. Listening to it now, it sounds like a poor man’s “Bring It To Jerome,” which Bo cut a few months later. Turns out that Walter was at the studio that day, so it’s not a stretch to see how he got from “You Don’t Love Me” to “Hate To See You Go.” He sped up the arrangement, removed the piano, and leaned hard on Bo’s guitar.
Billy Boy Arnold was no Little Walter, but who was??? He was a solid player who cut a few sides for Vee-Jay in Chicago, but was never quite able to make the jump from sideman to solo star. However, in a weird quirk of fate, two of his singles were recorded by Eric Clapton-era Yardbirds and one of those, “I Wish You Would” became a blues staple in the years to come. The Yardbirds version kinda sucks. If you wanna hear that song done right listen to The Blasters first album. Not the self-titled one with cartoon Philface on the cover. The one before that, American Music [Adios Lounge], which was released here in SoCal on Rolling Rock Records. Oh, you know who else covered “I Wish You Would?” The Red Devils at Pinkpop.
Red Devils - “I Wish You Would”
Lester Butler Interview
A: Oh yeah, I’ve gone all kinds of different ways. Punk bands, rockabilly bands … this is sorta like a mixture of the Canned Heat, ZZ Top, as well as classic Chicago blues. We like Jimi Hendrix just as much as Howlin Wolf.
Q: You have such a tight band I noticed.
A: About 100 dates in a row will fix anything. Besides, early in the morning we had no time to drink [laughs].
Red Devils - "Goin' To The Church"
That’s The Red Devils at Pinkpop 1993 with “Goin’ To The Church,” a jet engine performance that reconciles the band’s love of Chicago blues with Led Zeppelin. Here’s the thing, though. I don’t like Led Zeppelin. I think everyone should go through a Zep phase, preferably in or around high school, but it’s emotionally stunted Nuremburg rock. This is what I love about “Church.” It appropriates the stacked riffs and Balrog drums of “How Many More Times,” and Butler’s overdriven harmonica echoes Page’s guitar feedback, but the Devils spend ONE track in Mudsharkistan. If the Red Devils had 6-7 songs like “Goin’ To The Church,” they would’ve been intolerable. Actually, they probably would’ve been massive and co-headlined Pinkpop ’93 with the Black Crowes [laughs].
As Rees noted earlier, “Pinkpop was the Red Devils’ valediction.” Unfortunately, the good vibes didn’t last. Within a year of this performance, Paul Size quit, the band was dropped by Def American, and Johnny Ray told Rees, “Lester stole a bunch of money from us and wiped the band out. We were broke and having to sleep on our fans’ couches. It was strictly his greed that took us out – that and drugs.” Bill Bateman returned to The Blasters and the other three musicians returned to day jobs and part-time gigs. Says Bateman, “Lester got back on the shit and he was a rookie. It was his first band, and he didn’t realize how hard it was to get five guys together that play that well. He tried to undermine it and it blew up in his face.”
Thelonious Monster - "Walk On Water"
From 1987, that’s Thelonious Monster with “Walk On Water,” a slashing funk jam produced by Flea. For all of the things to rightfully dislike about the Chili Peppers yabba dabba doouniverse, this is not one of them. I love how Dix Denney and Chris Handsome do the wah-wah weave as Jon Huck plays NOT the annoying slap bass you might expect when you hear words like “funky” and “Flea.” No no. Huck is playing a bouncy countermelody that works both with Handsome’s melodic vamping, but also down low with Pete Weiss’ steady drumming. Lyrically, singer Bob Forrest turns Neil Young‘s “Don’t Be Denied” on its head. Where Young lamented being objectified by the business part of show (“a millionaire through a business man’s eyes”), Forrest embraced it. He loved being told how good he was by journalists, labels, other musicians, scenesters, and podcasts 34 years in the future. He loved being compared to John Doe and Paul Westerberg. Of course, the downside to believing the hype is you turn into an asshole. Thus, “Walk On Water” serves as critique of the celebrity industry and self-critique of one’s need for celebrity. Bob may have been an asshole, but at least he admitted it, and his charmingly brutal honesty was an intrinsic part of the Monster’s appeal. This is important to note because where 1987 may have been the apex of Bob Forrest and Thelonious Monster, Pinkpop ‘93 was the nadir. If Lester Butler undermined his own band because of drugs and ego, he wasn’t alone. In a 2019 interview, Bob reflected on his past self, Pinkpop in particular.
“I was kind of a drug addict alcoholic train wreck on a good day. I caused a lot of trouble and was very selfish. Alcoholics and addicts are very selfish and self-obsessed. So are musicians. So, when you have an alcoholic addict musician songwriter, that’s about the biggest asshole you can be [laughs].
The day of Pinkpop, I was so used to playing at 10:00 at night or midnight that I got a bang on my door at 9:30 in the morning. ‘We gotta go.’ ‘Go fucking where???’ Because the further we got away from Amsterdam, the further I was getting away from heroin that was gonna get me well. So then we’re there, it’s 12:00 in the afternoon, we have to play at 2, I’m hungover, dopesick, depressed, and saying I wanna kill myself [laughs]. That’s the state of mind of me at that time. If I couldn’t get dope, if I couldn’t drink, I wanted to die. I felt like I was dying. Fortunately, the wonderful people at Pinkpop put a bottle of Jägermeister in our dressing room. [cracking up] Why you would put that in there, I don’t know! But, I drank a considerable amount of it trying to get over my dopesickness to go play. By the time I got out there I don’t remember where I was or what was going on.”
That was Bob Forrest of Thelonious Monster just a couple years ago talking about that fateful Pinkpop. Over the course of the set he jumps in the photographer’s well and then realizes he can’t get out without literally climbing the stage scaffolding, which he does and then hangs out like he’s on the monkey bars at school. He then shimmies up the scaffolding to the very top of the stage like 30-40 feet above the ground, realizes “Oh shit, this is way higher than I thought,” and then comes down via the curtain, which rips and Bob kinda goes Night At The Opera back to the stage. (And FYI, that’s the Marx Brothers Night At The Opera, not Queen.) There are parts of the show where he’s singing the words laying down dissolute or sitting on the monitor. So, as I play “Body & Soul” from the festival, think about the fact you’re hearing a song about a guy trying not to have a nervous breakdown while having a full-blown nervous breakdown in front of tens of thousands of people.
Thelonious Monster - “Body & Soul”
That’s Thelonious Monster with “Body & Soul” from their ill-fated 1993 Pinkpop performance. Lemme say that even though Bob melts down, the band keeps it together. That’s the sub-tragedy of the Monster’s set. I’m sure Bob’s bandmates weren’t any happier about going on at 2 in the afternoon, but they came to play. Dix Denney, in particular, slays on guitar and earns bonus points for a garish orange shirt pulled straight from the H.I. McDunnough Collection. I believe it’s the same one from the Stormy Weather cover. I could be wrong, though.
Side note: Years before he was in Thelonious, Dix Denney and his brother John were in The Weirdos [Adios Lounge]. For a hot minute in the late ‘70s they were the best band in Los Angeles and they’ve got a few tracks everyone should be familiar with. “We Got The Neutron Bomb,” “Destroy All Music,” “A Life Of Crime,” and “Helium Bar,” just to name four. They were probably too, well, weird for the mainstream of 1979, but they didn’t do themselves any favors by not releasing an album until 1990, long after they had any kind of commercial momentum. Still, Condor is a pretty good record and considering it came out in the 1990s, I should do a podcast on it.
If Thelonious Monster was a band I’d never heard of UNTIL Pinkpop, I’d probably be like, “Fuck these guys. This lead singer sucks.” [laughs] But, the reality is Thelonious Monster was my Replacements and Bob Forrest was an unexpected mentor. I saw the Monster or Bob solo probably 15-20 times between 1990-92 and as often as I could I’d talk to him. He was funny and charming and he could obviously tell I was a total fanboy, but we spoke like equals, which I appreciated. Bob’s the one who preached to me about Tonight’s The Night for fuck’s sake. Thelonious played “Mellow My Mind” and it was like someone turned on all the lights in the house for me. When I came up to Bob after the show to ask about the song I got a full lecture about Neil Young, Danny Whitten, and the Ditch Trilogy. A dry eraserboard may have been involved, but that could be me projecting. Like the Mats, Bob and the Monster taught me that as much as I enjoy some classic rock, what I really love is classic rock filtered through punk. Add a perceptive singer/songwriter to the equation and occasionally you get magic.
Thelonious Monster - "Lena Horne Still Sings Stormy Weather"
One of Bob's finest moments as a songwriter and Thelonious Monster's finest moments as a band, "Lena Horne Still Sings Stormy Weather" is essentially a folk song done as rootsy punk rock. Rhythm guitarist Chris Handsome is credited as co-songwriter with Forrest, so I have to imagine he came up with that sweet opening riff. And that slide guitar has to be Mike Martt, who came to Thelonious from Tex And The Horseheads, mid-‘80s punk ‘n’ rollers who definitely influenced the Monster. John Doe produced their 1985 album, Life’s So Cool, which is my favorite Horseheads record and one you should track down. I don’t know if this is coincidence or irony, but Doe also produced Stormy Weather, the 1989 album from which “Lena Horne” matriculates, and also my favorite Thelonious record.
Forrest's songwriting triumph – especially in the context of Reagan/Bush America – was in striking a note of optimism. There's no reason for the protagonist of “Lena Horne” to feel hope, especially against a backdrop of depressing and destructive materialism. Two of Los Angeles' most distinctive googie-style coffeehouses, Ships and Tiny Naylors, were torn down because that's what Los Angeles, and by extension, America does. We don't preserve the village green. We raze it and open a Starbuck's. We'll do just about anything to squeeze an extra dime, we'll probably even sell our own grandmothers.
And yet, the song's message remains one of perseverance. Forrest doesn't say things are bad and getting worse. He says things are bad, but they could get better. Not will, but could. A vote for Jesse Jackson isn't a pointless and cynical gesture of protest, it's one man's emphatic endorsement in the machinery of democracy as a force for change. Maybe we’re working our ass off and can't afford to pay our bills, maybe Tiny Naylor's was torn down, and maybe there are people who'll sell their own grandmothers. That doesn't mean things can't get better. We just have to believe they can get better and hope and pray and wish and give it our all.
Bob Forrest – "Colorblind" intro
Before I moved here (Huntington Beach), I lived in Inglewood with my mom and dad and we lived in these houses that all looked the same. Every house on the block looked exactly the same. It was an all-white area, there was no black people or Mexican people anywhere near this environment. And in one house these black people moved in and it was such a tragic thing in our family. We couldn’t live on the same block as black people. So, my dad put the house up for sale, we moved, and this is a song about that experience.”
–Bob’s intro to “Colorblind” at Pepper’s Golden Bear, Huntington Beach, CA, February 7, 1991 (I, the HB resident home from Chico, was in attendance)
Thelonious Monster - “Colorblind”
Probably my favorite song about racism not involving Ras Kass or Ice Cube. “Colorblind” is not a sweeping broadside like “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll,” yet it’s no less effective in exposing white supremacy to the harsh light of truth. It’s one thing to tackle the subject as an adult, but Bob’s masterstroke is writing the song from the perspective of his 6-8 year old self. His world is Marco Polo, Slip ‘n’ Slide, and playing hoops with Michael Johnson. He doesn’t yet understand that redlining in Los Angeles WAS Jim Crow and that SoCal police departments, exemplified by William Parker’s LAPD — and later Daryl Gates’ LAPD — loved being vicious dogpack racists just as much as Bull Connor’s redneck armada. There’s no way young Bob could possibly comprehend that whites drive blacks out of neighborhoods for the exact same reason cops murder unarmed black people. Both groups see whiteness as a thing to serve and protect at all costs and blacks as less than human, essentially deserving what they get.
“They said it wasn’t a question of race
It was just property values”
This lyric is dead-on brilliant because it ties directly to the history of redlining and nails with surgical precision how the first rule of white supremacy is: DO NOT TALK ABOUT WHITE SUPREMACY. If you don’t talk about it, don’t address it, then it doesn’t exist. I mean, Bob heard all the men in the neighborhood getting trashed and hate vomiting n-bombs at the bar in the back of his house. He may have been a little kid, but he knew they were talking about his friend Michael. And yet, these fragile-ass white dudes couldn’t even admit it was race. They hid behind property values, as if property values were a scientific concept like gravity and not a subjective assessment of value based on waspy notions of good and bad neighborhoods. That’s why the second rule of white supremacy is: Gaslight yourself first and you’ll find gaslighting everyone else is as easy as flipping a switch.
Thelonious Monster - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (Pinkpop)
The climax of pretty much every Monster show – and often the last song before the inevitable encore – was their rendition of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” An existential scream as roaring punk blues, “Grave” was the final song of Thelonious’ Pinkpop set, but far from a climax. The moment that drew the biggest crowd response was when Forrest was trying to duct tape Dix, fell, and hurt his knee. Again, it’s hard to blame the band for any of this. They sound good, especially Chris Handsome on wah wah and the churning Pete Weiss/Dallas Don Burnet rhythm section. Bob sings about half the song and bails, as the band vamps to the outro. If you watch the video, the camera follows Forrest as handlers take him to a trailer for ... observation? To yell at him? Get him medical attention? Maybe all of the above.
Bob wouldn’t gain control of his addiction for another three years and Pinkpop was the symbolic, if not practical end of Thelonious as a viable, marketable entity. They may have played a few other dates in Europe just to fulfill a contract, but once they got back home they were done. Even if the band wanted to play, Bob was in no condition, and their rep in LA was shot to shit. They’d reunite for one-off shows and they put out independent albums in both 2004 (California Clam Chowder) and just last year in 2020 (Oh That Monster), but their touring days ended in ‘93.
That was Bob Forrest interviewed in 2019 about how he got sober, stayed sober, and then used his sobriety to become a drug addiction counselor. At the start of that clip was him performing “Cereal Song,” a tune about addiction that he wrote for Bicycle Thief, his band after Thelonious Monster. The song is about how heroin and cocaine controlled his life and killed his friends and the hook is devastating.
“And what has it got me
Just some teeth I can't chew
My favorite cereal with”
I’m proud of Bob for making it through the other side. Rock culture prefers a sexy death spiral over a redemption arc, but as a 52-year-old recovering alcoholic who may or may not have had his own cocaine problem once upon a time and fistfights depression and anxiety on a regular basis, I’m gonna be a stan for life’s second acts.
You know who’d love a second act? Lester Butler. Things didn’t work out as well for him. He scuffled in LA for awhile until finally in late ‘96/early ’97, he put together a new band called 13. When I say they’re Diet Devils, it’s not because they suck. It’s just that one band had Bill Bateman and the Bartel Brothers and one didn’t. 13 released a self-titled album in 1997, but if you have Spotify, check out Live @ Tamines 1997. Recorded on August 29th of that year at the 7th South Blues Festival in Tamines, Belgium, Butler's harp playing and gravelly vocals are pure fire. Guitarist Alex Schultz throws down some sweet leads, as bassist Mike Hightower and drummer Eddie Clark swing the pocket. Next to Tamines, the studio album feels a shade sterile. Still pretty good, just not blazing.
Let’s return to Paul Rees’ article about The Red Devils. He writes:
On the evening of May 8, 1998, Butler pitched up at Bill Bateman’s house in Hollywood. He was with another girl from the fast crowd he’d been running with. “He’d been smoking rock, snorting coke, taking downers and drinking rum, so he was high,” remembers Bateman. “The two of them sat in my living room and Lester was begging her for an injection of heroin, rather than snorting it like he had been.” Bateman says he then left the house to go score his own heroin. He’d recently been convicted on a drunk-driving charge, so was on foot and gone for more than an hour. When he returned, he says, Butler was still nagging the girl to shoot him up again. “Eventually she did and he OD’d,” Bateman continues. “I was high myself by then and wasn’t paying them much mind.”We may never know exactly what happened, as accounts differ, and by his own admission Bateman was worse for wear. Bateman recounts that the girl’s boyfriend came over, panicked, took Lester’s cocaine, and shot it up through the veins in his hand. “They had the idea that this would bring him back, and it killed him. They took him in his van to their house and he died there. After he’d been dead for eight hours they dropped him off at my place again, and I took him to the hospital. Then the cops turned up.”
Ginny Tura (Lester’s sister) challenges Bateman’s account of her brother’s last hours and also the notion that he’d careered out of control. “Lester was sober for many years, and this relapse was fatal because his tolerance was low,” she maintains. “Bill did not make the emergency call when Les first passed out and allowed two drug addicts to go off with his body. In my opinion he should have also done jail time.”
Ginny wasn’t the only person challenging the official account. In a post dated December 15, 1998, so seven months after Butler’s death, the following was published anonymously to a Lester Butler tribute website I believe based in Finland. I found it at the Fuller Up Dead Musician’s Directory and I’ll link to it in my show notes.
Now, you can certainly hear the word “anonymously” and dismiss the contents. It’s possible that the writer originally included his or her name — I feel like it’s a woman — but in subsequent reposts the name was lost. Whatever the case, I simply want you to listen and ask yourself if this accounting of events seems credible. I don’t know if every single assertion is airtight fact, but to me it sounds plausible, like someone with inside information. The post is as follows, judge for yourself.
Les didn't overdose -- he was overdosed while unconscious and unable to help/defend himself. Check the court records.
While Les was at the house of Bill B. Friday night May 8 he was injected by a woman named April Ortega. She gave him too much and it caused him to immediately pass out. She and Bill got scared and threw him in an ice-bath but it didnt help. Next her boyfriend Glenn Demidow arrived and they decided to inject Les with cocaine instead of getting him medical attention. Nothing happened. So they injected him again with more cocaine. Nothing happened. So they injected him AGAIN with even more cocaine. What a surprise -- he wasn't reviving!!
They still didn't get him medical help. April and Glenn then drove him to his gig and left him in his van (unconscious) while they went in and listened to Lester's band (without Lester) telling people that HE had passed out and was sleeping it off. Lester still hours later wasn't able to wake himself (would you with 5 doses of deadly drugs in your system?) They still didn't get him medical help but instead took him to their apartment at 2am, they went to sleep, then the next night after he had died in their care dropped his dead body back at Bill B.s house.
They were literally at the house 2 minutes just to dump the body and then drive away in Lester's van. Lester's body was put in a guest bed to look as if he had died in his sleep. Luckily a friend, J., stopped in and instantly saw that Lester was in bad shape and immediately took him to County USC where he was pronounced dead-on-arrival. April and Glenn are serving 2 and 3 yr sentences – Bill B. is free without being charged with aiding in covering up a murder! Lester was pronounced dead Sunday May 10 – Mother's Day.
After receiving toxicology reports from the Coroner, the detectives picked April up as she walked out of a drug center w/Bill B. weeks after Lester's murder. Glenn fled but finally turned himself in to his lawyer weeks after April's arrest (nice boyfriend, huh?).
Bill was not arrested – guess its ok to cover up a murder and harbor a dead body as long as you're not the one actually injecting the drugs. April and Glenn were charged with 2nd degree murder. After months and months of court dates, the D.A. offered April and Glenn a plea bargain down to Involuntary Manslaughter, against Lester's family's wishes. Of course they plead guilty and accepted the plea bargain for sentences of 2 and 3 yrs only.
Had they been convicted in front of a jury of 2nd degree murder, they would have been in jail 10-15 years. It’s ironic that they admitted to overdosing him with 5 lethal mixtures of heroin and cocaine causing his death, but they only have to serve 2-3 yrs – that's our criminal justice system – not much of a deterrent. April and Glenn should have been prosecuted for administering the drugs to an unwilling and unconscious victim, kidnapping him, murdering him, and stealing his van when all was over. What a tragic loss of a truly talented individual!
Again, that was originally posted on December 15, 1998, and while it makes Bateman look very, very bad, he admitted he was a junkie and obviously in a dark place. I have to imagine he harbors an immense amount of guilt over Butler’s death because it was such a stupid, preventable tragedy of errors. At the same time, this is precisely what can happen when you’re an addict. The dope lies and you fall in love with the lie. You need the lie. It can destroy your band, your life, and yet one night your need for that lie is so strong that it leaves you dependent on people caught up in their own lies. "For they that sleep with dogs shall rise with fleas." Though often attributed to Ben Franklin, that line was actually written by English playwright John Webster, who in 1612 published a play exploring the way people depict themselves as good, virtuous, and “white,” despite all evidence to the contrary. The name of the play? "The White Devil."
Thelonious Monster - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (Raji's)
From Raji’s in Hollywood on April 2, 1992, that’s Thelonious Monster with their signature set closer, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The band recorded it for a possible live album, unfortunately the EQ got all fucked up. I did what I could, but there’s still not enough bottom end. It’s a hoppin performance, though, and shows how powerful the Monster could be on their best night. By the way, that harmonica you hear is Pat French (aka Frenchie), who regularly sat in with the band in ’92-’93. He’d play on “Grave,” but occasionally stuck around for another song or two. If his name sounds familiar, it should. I said it at the beginning of this podcast. Frenchie was one of the original harmonica players in The Stumble Bums, who became the Blue Shadows, and who ultimately became The Red Devils.
That’s gonna do it for Part 1 of my look at Pinkpop 1993. Gimme a few weeks to finish up Part 2 featuring The Jayhawks and Bettie Serveert. As I said at the top of the show you can become a member at the $5 or $20/month level by hitting that Buy Me a Coffee button at the top of the page or Support at the bottom. Please visit the Don’t Call It Nothing Facebook page and website, dontcallitnothing.squarespace.com. Like, comment, tell yo mama, and tell a friend.
Talk to ya next time!