The Flyer Wars On The Sunset Strip In The 1980’s

Curt Dudley who wrote about Ratt Guitarist Robbin Crosby’s last two years of life, brings us an excellent story about The Flyer Wars of the Sunset Strip.  Enjoy!

The Flyer Wars-Part 1
The 80’s on the Sunset Strip was everything and MORE that has already been said about the subject by countless people who experienced these same years/and events with me, obviously I do not know EVERYONE that was there but I know their experiences will be similar and can relate. I decided to put my own thoughts on the record and save them for posterity’s sake. Purely nostalgic…..

Just about all of the clubs like The Troubadour, The Roxy, The Whisky, The Starwood, Gazarri’s etc. opened their doors around 8:30 pm and usually the first band would go on at 9:00pm sharp. Not always the case, but most of the venues stuck roughly to the 8:30pm-2: 00 am routine which translated to 3-4 bands per night, per venue.

If you couldn’t get in because a show sold out…… there was always The Rainbow. Almost every night SOMEBODY whose band had already graduated to the big stages would be in there holding court and getting piss-blind drunk. It really depended on who was in town and off the road. Examples would be members of Motley Crue, RATT, WASP, Motorhead and the list goes on and on. There was always something happening at The Rainbow.

Sometimes it was very entertaining, depending on what room you were in….Some rooms were off limits to peons like us (me and my bandmates) but once in awhile you were allowed in…..I saw things in there that I would not believe if I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes….anyway some nights it was downright boring. I have little patience for sloppy drunks, especially people I don’t know, so I got irritable and my mood sometimes shat upon friends and bandmates good times. I mean why can’t these morons hold it together in public? Not cool….ugh.

Things were wayyy different back then and one of the most irritating things about these gigs was the amount of time it took to load out the band that had just played their set and the next band to load in….nowadays the venues have a sort of an in-house ‘back-line’…It cuts the time, by half, needed to get the next band on. All of these venues were/are very small and cramped with virtually no room to store gear inside….

It was not unusual to load your gear directly from the street via a side door, to the stage. IF that happened, it was a huge security risk for our gear that sat on the sidewalk with the line to get into venue virtually all around you!. For example, Anyone who has been to the Roxy or Whisky know HOW small these places are!!

Shit always rolls downhill and if load out/load in took longer than normal, the glorified ‘promoter’ would start shaving set time allotted for the bands lower on the bill….The headliner didn’t have to worry about this because they benefited directly from the ‘time shaving’ of earlier sets! The headliner, naturally, played their whole set while ours shrunk to just 30-35 minutes….. that sucked!!.

Now, keeping in mind there were literally HUNDREDS of bands at any given time all vying to get a coveted ‘shot at a slot’ on these stages. You can guess what usually happened…and you would be right! Fierce competition at best and free for all brawls at worst. Back then, there were no cellphones or computers of any kind and even if you had a computer…. there was no internet. Al Gore had not yet invented it !! (yes, that is a joke!)

So the dilemma was just how to get the word out…it had to be done, no alternative because not only did the bands battle each other for a slot on a bill….we were still competing to draw people and get them to YOUR show/venue and not one of the other venues bills. It was pretty crazy because there were FIVE venues all within one square mile!!

Sometime in 1984 ‘The Flyer Wars’ started. Now, you had all of these bands doing whatever it took to increase their fan base and hopefully create a buzz about the band….it was brutal, a wild race to beat out the other bands and get the word out faster and more efficiently than the next guys. Some bands were very adept at this game….Warrant and Poison come to mind.

Bottom line was, you HAD to get stage time and then the patrons could decide whether your band was worthy of attention. You were fortunate if your band had management and were able to advertise shows in the local rags. ‘BAM Magazine’ is one that comes to mind. We had ‘management’ that wasn’t up to the task, but we didn’t know any better. To us, management was just an unpleasant necessity we had to put up with, no fun to be had there. In our minds, all they did was get in the way of our skirt chasing….and phooey on that!

At that time, there were wooden telephone poles. These were prime places to advertise because it was free, although illegal and there were enough of them to go around in theory. If we weren’t playing on a Friday or Saturday night, you would find us on the strip passing out Flyers, talking to anyone who would listen to our bullshit, shaking hands, kissing babies (not really!) and always on the lookout for ‘pole space’…stapling as many flyers as we could in the shortest possible amount of time. We didn’t want to waste ALL of our time replacing flyers….we had other fish to fry. The women!

At first, it all worked well and all the bands were mindful not to step on each other’s toes…. that did not last long! Then it started. Bands would go from pole to pole ripping down other bands flyers and putting up their own. It didn’t take long before we started to work out our own way of tackling the problem, but it was always an uphill battle and our flyers got shredded just like ‘theirs’ did. It was not uncommon to walk by the same pole 5 times in an evening and see a different flyer each time, It got that stupid.

Another ‘tactic’ was to get as many flyers as possible from the ones passing them out….and as soon as possible …..FIRE them into the nearest trash can !! This went on and on and you really had to focus on the task at hand. Getting stage time and experience by any means short of murder.

I don’t even wanna know how bad it was for bands that flocked in from the mid-west, New York and everywhere in between, coming face to face with the cold/harsh reality of the way things really were in ‘LA’. Most came here with some kind of glorified image of Hollywood as this glamorous place where dreams come true and everything is there for the taking….when in reality it was a musical war zone….and a shithole of a war zone at that.They also had not taken into account the grind of competing with other bands that had decent management in place and that were better, ‘prettier’ and had more street savvy. They were in for a rude awakening.

Axl Rose stepping off that bus with a few things under his arm is exactly how it was! The opening scene of the video ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ by Guns & Roses, gives a very realistic, and sobering preview of how it was going to be….some of these bands were very hungry and had come a long way to just GET HERE. The Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Mecca of Hollywierd. Many cracked and broke under the pressure….hightailing it back home, wherever that was.

There were entire bands that lived out of a crappy van or car just to get a shot at the big time. A shower was a welcome luxury and something other than McDonalds or Ramen ‘Soups’ to eat was a real treat! If you ate Ramen for months on end, one started to go a little berserk from the lack of fuel in the form of calories.. Every day it seemed to taste worse than the day before….I saw a lot of Ramen eaters develop what I called….’The Thousand Noodle Stare’, eyes blank and watery, and ultra lean because they were quite literally starving!

One of the things that worked for and against us all equally, were THE GIRLS and the distractions they created for us. They were sometimes used as WEAPONS to distract other bands from getting their ‘work’ done.

They knew exactly how to tie them down by chatting them up, flirting and wearing almost nothing or ‘accidentally’ popping out a boob or two. Cinching up their skirts and showing a little more than just thighs….was lethal for most of us. Us 20 something-year-old guys with an overload of testosterone were bound to crack sooner or later, and then discipline was out the window!! The girls knew this. It is pretty much a well-known fact that boys love girls, …and vice versa except maybe in San Francisco, there all bets are off, but I digress. I don’t think we realized in the middle of our Boone’s Farm- Strawberry ‘Haze’ but The females were engaged in a parallel war of their own!

For some ‘ladies’ it was the thrill of the chase and they would stop at nothing until they got what they wanted. Others were only slightly brighter and kept a close eye on which band, singer, guitar player, bass player….well not so much the bass players!! … that were gaining ground and seemed to be the ones best able to position themselves for a “record deal’. The girls were especially loyal then, just in case the horse she had hitched her saddle to got signed. If we got our shot at the big time…. the girls were never far away and always watching. Ya get my drift?

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