By Jeff Moses
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By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
"Man Collapses in Struggle With Police" was the headline of a recent Associated Press story that appeared in the Arizona Republic's obituaries section. "Man" was one Kurt Mayberry, 39, who had stopped breathing at Maricopa Medical Center on June 13 after an apparent cocaine overdose. The article gave the gory details: Mayberry had been walking down the street, naked. He followed two boys home and broke into their apartment. Inside, he found a teenager and two other children; he told them to call the police. Cops arrived to find Mayberry hiding in a bedroom, "acting incoherent, delusional and paranoid," according to an officer at the scene. Mayberry attacked the officers, who--the piece notes--did not use excessive force. During the struggle, he collapsed, and was taken to the hospital. End of story.
Well, not really. To many Valley residents, Kurt Mayberry was a lot more than just another drug-related statistic. Mayberry was a local musician of some impact as a solo artist and as singer/songwriter/guitarist with the X-Streams, one of the bigger Valley bands to come out of the New Wave/ska scene in the early Eighties. Mayberry, along with his wife, Debbie, purchased the Sun Club in 1989, a legendary Tempe rock dive now immortalized forever on the cover of Dead Hot Workshop's new 1001 album.
Bob Steinhilber co-founded the X-Streams with Peter Tessensohn, Steve Kriol and Lorraine Springer. Steinhilber played drums in the band until 1985. He says that Mayberry was the final ingredient that made things take off. "We had Kurt come along, and from the git-go, it was just great. I've played in a lot of bands, and for some reason, this just clicked right away. . . . I didn't know him to be a heavy drug user; all of that was hidden from me. I guess he had a side of him that he was loath to reveal. He was so talented, he had a style, he played guitar like nobody ever did."
Yet for all the band's immediate success--the X-Streams were a big draw in Phoenix and Los Angeles--its story is wracked by misfortune. "I hesitate to use the word 'curse,' but it's like that," offers Steinhilber. "It just broke my heart over and over again." On the group's first trip to perform in L.A., rock luminaries like Tom Waits, Rickie Lee Jones and members of the Jackson family turned out to catch the set. The show was great, says Steinhilber, but things got ugly later. "We had just finished the gig, and Kurt and Steve were fighting over Lorraine," says Steinhilber. "It was just a jealousy thing, but they went behind the car, and when they got back in, Steve's head was kinda crushed in. It was pretty bad. The next day, I was at someone's house and our manager called up and said, 'Hey, Bob, Steve's in the hospital, he's not going to live. Kurt's in jail and he's charged with second-degree murder. And I quit as your manager.' Click." The gods were smiling this time; charges were dropped. "It turned out that Steve lived and he started playing with us again," Steinhilber says. "Here was this guy in a wheelchair onstage with his head all bandaged up, looking like he just got out of Auschwitz or something. But it was just one thing after another. As soon as things started going good--we'd be looking at a record contract or whatever--something terrible would happen."
But the problem didn't always involve Mayberry. This from an early-Eighties New Times column by Dewey Webb, describing a Tucson performance: "All went swell until the second set, when guitarist Steve Kriol started playing like he never had a guitar in his hands before. Not that that stopped him, but it did stop the rest of the band, who were so embarrassed they unplugged their instruments, left the stage and watched as he continued to bang away for another half-hour. . . . Kriol later chalked up his erratic behavior to an old cow-milking injury. Sources close to the band provide a more pharmaceutical explanation. Later that night at a post-show party in a record store, Kriol and Springer got into a bloody melee with a broken perfume bottle in a locked rest room."
Steinhilber recalls, "We broke down the door, and there was blood all over the place; it was a big mess. It was always just stuff like that. We recorded an album in '85; I jumped ship then."
Mayberry and Tessensohn continued to play together over the years, most recently as Cloud 10. The duo recently released a self-titled CD on their own Skintone label, but, as soon as the ball once again started rolling, tragedy on an almost unbelievable level reared its head.
"I hadn't seen the guys in about ten years, and then about two months ago, Kurt and Peter approached me with a new CD they wanted me to do the artwork for," says Steinhilber. "Then when Kurt and Peter were flying up to San Francisco to this independent record company convention looking for a distribution deal, Peter's wife OD'd on heroin on the plane, in the rest room with her little boy on her lap [Kathy Tessensohn was declared dead of acute heroin toxicity by a Nevada medical examiner]. Then about two or three weeks ago, Peter called me and said that Kurt had flipped out and attacked him, and he had to have him put in jail. I called Kurt and he didn't want to talk about it. I'd never seen any of this crazy behavior from him; he'd always been a perfect gentleman."