By the mid-eighties the rock and pop scene in Nashville was beginning to build some momentum, and with my background in the British ‘60’s scene I was getting more production work that catered to this new breed of Nashville-based artists. I entered a partnership with Steve Gibson and Bill Martin in a venture named RockBlok; we had our office right behind the storied Exit/In performance venue, and were in the thick of things. Steve, a notable session guitarist, was having mainstream success with fine pop-leaning artists such as Michael Johnson; Bill had left his position as publishing manager with Buzz Cason’s Southern Writers Group to get more hands-on with actual record-making. I was producing successful A/C diva Orsa Lia, along with a wildly talented but off-beat band, The Smashers, who scored a major label deal with Epic Group, largely due to the song-writing talent of New Yorker Victor Lovera, and the skintight sibling harmonies of Virginia and Fagan Ahrou.
We were pretty focused on the rock and pop end of the Nashville spectrum and, as a result, one of the most dynamic live acts on the scene, The Hots, were brought into RockBlok by Bill Martin. Fronted by an impossibly pretty blonde named Katheryn Pate, with an impossibly naughty stage presence, they played scathing, knowing songs, mostly written by Katheryn husband, Andy Byrd, a fearsome guitar slinger into the bargain. It was usual that by the end of their show Katheryn would have shed most items of costuming she’d started with, but it was never done like a stripper….it all seemed to emanate from the emotion of the blazing performance style they had developed.
They were a rather headstrong group of people, so Bill invited me to co-produce with him, which I did. However, internal tensions within both The Hots and The Smashers were to prove their undoing. I managed to finish The Smashers debut album for release, but we weren’t able to bring The Hots to market, or indeed prevent their acrimonious break-up. So that was eighteen months of effort out the door. To make things worse, my relatively smooth cruise with the delightful Orsa Lia came to a grinding halt half way through her sophomore follow-up to her gold record debut album, as a result of a horrendous car crash that killed her passenger, leaving Orsa with catastrophic injuries that effectively put a halt to her career…
Steve Gibson was keeping the doors open with his continuing hot streak, but Bill and I were momentarily high and dry. However, due to a relationship we had with a cutting-edge electronics company, Valley Audio, we were beginning to get our hands on some of the emerging technology of drum machines, high-performance synthesizers and so on that would enable a new kind of music…the first stirrings of what is now known as EDM….electronic dance music.
We started to explore this avenue, although there weren’t any Nashville-based artists doing it at the time, so Bill and I decided to create an act from scratch. We began to write material and create the high-concept formula we had begun to envision. On my still frequent returns to England I’d begun hearing a new style of girl group records, deadpan yet knowing vocals, not so much sung as chanted, epitomized by The Waitresses, and Bill had been paying attention to Wendy O. Williams, the turbulent front woman of The Plasmatics, with her dominatrix persona.
The concept evolved into something that would be consciously erotic, but with the women not portrayed as victims or sex toys, but rather as aggressively sexual superwomen. Katheryn Pate had been honing a variant of that persona with The Hots, and implied that she’d be interested in participating in whatever we came up with, which gave us a building block. We thought that a contrasting type would work, and we found that character in Aleda Pope, who inhabited a demi-monde of her own devising, somewhere between burlesque and rock ‘n’ roll, but with undoubtedly sexual overtones. She was a tireless self-promoter around the fringes of the Nashville underground, and her flyers stressed her undoubted physical assets, which seemed to emphasize the fact that she was the perfect foil for Katheryn. Brunette to Katheryn’s blonde, curvaceous to Katheryn’s slender, yet sharing a sexual boldness and willingness to show things off. We set up an initial meeting with her, and were a little surprised to find she had been a schoolteacher before embarking on her show business journey. Then we had Aleda and Katheryn meet, and the chemistry boded well for further progress.
With our characters in place, we began shaping the already composed material to suit. While neither was a powerhouse vocal talent both could sell a song and the deadpan approach to their twinned unison over the robotic drum patterns and synth textures was certainly ear-bending. Another recent innovation was MTV and music video, which seemed to be a more suitable vehicle for our rude and naughty brainchild than live gigs. Bill was in contact with a collective of young film-makers and performers led by Coke Sams, Jim May and Mary Matthews, and his pitch to them of the concept was well received.
Unsurprisingly, Aleda knew where to obtain the requisite dominatrix costuming, including thigh-high boots, chain garter belts, whips etc., and I added silver helmets, which was an idea I pinched from Yoko Ono. (I’d participated in a Plastic Ono Band session where she handed out painted helmets for everyone to wear while we were cutting.)
The working name of the concept was Bootcamp Babies, and the video people started coming up with visual scripts to fit the quasi-military erotic content of the songs. I can’t remember who came up with “Chain Of Command”, but we all agreed it said everything the content implied. Mary Matthews was expert at location and getting appropriate permissions and licences, so for the production of “Drill” we filmed at an actual National Guard base, with the climactic set piece being shot at night with War Memorial Auditorium as the backdrop.
With a top-notch video production in hand and a completed 6-song E.P., Bill and I went to New York to pitch, but were greeted with incredulity that such an outre piece of product could have originated in Nashville, the “Nashville Curse” still being alive and well bi-coastally at that time.
With momentum stalled, our female principals went their separate ways. Katheryn wanted to take it live and recruited a replacement for Aleda, but nothing really developed on that front.
The video folks were still on board, however, and so was Aleda. As a result we went in and filmed “Pussyfoot” with a Katheryn lookalike at a Nashville sound stage. This time we tried our luck in L.A., with the same result. Total incredulity that this could have come out of Nashville, and therefore…get thee hence!
The whole thing came to a total halt a few months later when Aleda was found dead in her apartment, according to the coroner’s report as a result of erotic asphixiation. She was found hanging by the neck in her full Chain Of Command gear…..
That’s the story…See you tomorrow for the video release at 3:00pm Central
This week we will be talking about my foray into electronica by exploring the history and impetus for the creation of the girl band you see above: Chain Of Command. In preparation I have prepared a playlist to prime your ears for the pulsing beats. Enjoy!
Wedding Party Attendees
Front Row L-R -Jaqui Carthy, Mrs. Keith Field, Diane Ferraz, Irene, Patti Snow, Michael Snow, Bill “Oz” Evans, Lana Evans, Sandra Sweetnam-Ford, Morag Gilmartin, Pat the projectionist.
Back Row: unknown, unknown, Keith Field, unknown, Norah Kellaher, Bill Kellaher, Leonie Kellaher, Lil Kellaher, Roger the Roadie,Unknown, Dave Sweetnam -Ford, Barry Reeves, Ruth Reeves, Pepe Ferraz, Tom Kellaher , Gerry Wood, Unknown
The picture was taken by George Sweetnam Ford, which is why he ain’t in the photo ! The location was the garden behind our house in Putney, West London. August 31st. 1967.
Make sure to Have a listen to the Merseybeat Playlist at the bottom of this post! Wish I could have been there.
So you think you’ve heard it all before? There’s definitely a case to be made for Sgt Pepper being the most over-rated album ever. For years, it regularly topped ‘best album’ polls whether voted for by critics or fans. But at some point over the last 15 years, it started to fall from favour. Overfamiliarity means it is now often passed over, with Abbey Road having become the more highly regarded album from The Beatles output (I prefer A Hard Day’s Night, Revolver and the White Album myself, thanks for asking!). Pepper may still make the top ten in these polls, but it’s not the talking point it once was.
However, giving the album my full attention for the first time in many years the other night (and at high volume), I found myself hearing it with fresh ears and a new perspective. Part 1 of the Merseybeat mixtape (covering…
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What beats beneath your steely skin
That drives the magnet in your eyes
That pulls and pulls me deeper in
That breaks my will…my spirit dies.
By Bill Martin and Michael Snow