Seems Like Old Times

Back together after a decade of ups and downs, Dead Hot Workshop tries to restore its legacy

That prediction would, sadly, prove false.

As 1998 dawned, Dead Hot Workshop wasn't pining over the loss of Steve Larson. The band was too busy putting the finishing touches on its new CD, Karma Covered Apple. The sprawling, 18-song affair was recorded as a trio, with a parade of local luminaries (Michel Johnny Walker, Emily Curtis, Robin Wilson) aiding in its completion.

Dead Hot revisited: From left, Brent Babb, Curtis Grippe, Steve Larson and G. Brian Scott.
Timothy Archibald
Dead Hot revisited: From left, Brent Babb, Curtis Grippe, Steve Larson and G. Brian Scott.
We could all wear ripped-up clothes: Dead Hot Workshop onstage at Tony's New Yorker in the early '90s.
We could all wear ripped-up clothes: Dead Hot Workshop onstage at Tony's New Yorker in the early '90s.


Scheduled to perform with Gloritone, and Jamal Ruhe on Saturday, November 4. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Nita's Hideaway in Tempe

The collection proved that whatever losses had been incurred, it had not diminished Babb's gift as lyricist, nor the group's ability to fashion ineffably memorable songs.

A star-studded CD-release concert in March of '98 and the attendant publicity gave the false image of a band in a state of good health.

Although the disc sold well -- close to 3,000 copies (a solid figure for a local title) -- the galvanizing effects of its release were short-lived. Soon, it was back to a grinding schedule of local club dates, playing to apathetic and rapidly shrinking audiences.

"It got to where it dwindled to doing shows at Sport Rock [Cafe] for, like, one person," says Babb.

For Grippe, the period was especially bitter. "Despite the fact that we made the best record of our career, that was a really tough time. It was totally embarrassing."

But worse was yet to come.

In mid-'97, Scott had signed on to play with singer Robin Wilson's post-Gin Blossoms outfit, the Pharoahs. His wallet fat with a record-company advance, the bassist began a protracted slide into personal and chemical excess.

"I got into it with a crowd of people that was not really conducive to what I was supposed to be doing, music-wise," confesses Scott. "I got involved with different people, different things. You can read into that as much as you want -- and you'll probably be right."

With Scott (and even Babb) frequently missing gigs, Dead Hot's reputation suffered further. The group, once heralded for its uncompromising integrity, had been reduced to a sad, almost pathetic shell of its former self.

With its fortunes waning, the band's personnel crisis reached a head. In April '99, Scott parted ways with the group. Shortly after, he would be forced to leave the Pharoahs as well.

It seemed a convenient moment to bury the band and start anew. But much to Grippe's chagrin, Babb insisted on continuing under the DHW moniker.

"I'm spiteful at heart, I'm spiteful," says Babb, only half-jokingly, of his reasons for maintaining the decade-old combo. "I just figured I . . . I didn't want it to die."

The band, now just a duo, fell back and regrouped. In late '99, after a six-month hiatus, DHW redebuted with a new bassist, Steve Flores (Dialectrics, Royal Normans), and a new lead guitarist, former Satellite six-stringer Chris Whitehouse.

While the "comeback" effort yielded a spate of well-attended local shows and a high-profile appearance at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, it was clear that something was missing.

"People were asking for songs we couldn't play anymore, songs that maybe the other guys didn't even want to play," says Grippe. "If someone's asking for 'Burger Christ' and you can't play it . . . well, that's not Dead Hot Workshop anymore."

Babb is more succinct in his assessment. "It did not work. I loved those guys, but we just didn't have the same chemistry."

With the group mired in a state of creative limbo, guitarist Whitehouse quit, moving back to his native Colorado. The band, which had maintained a solid lineup for nearly a decade, had suffered its third loss in less than three years. Dead Hot Workshop, once again, was in shambles.

There is a moment near the end of the 1999 Clash documentary Westway to the World where singer Joe Strummer is lamenting the group's breakup. As he relates the "bitter lessons" he learned from the experience, an amazing thing happens: Strummer begins crying.

The crusty old punk, who once sang with such vitriol of "Hate and War," was reduced to tears at the memory of what had been lost. The peculiar human alchemy that occurs among rock 'n' roll bands -- especially the great ones -- is a thing of such moving power. As Strummer came to recognize 15 years after the fact, it's also a delicate balance, not to be trifled with or betrayed. A few months ago, Curtis Grippe came to the same realization.

"I've always had a reverence for Dead Hot Workshop and always felt it should be Brent, Brian, Curtis and Steve," says Grippe. "I always wanted it to be that, but things happened that caused that idea to fall apart."

"When a chemistry between four people takes a life of its own, it's a special thing -- people notice it, they become drawn to it, drawn to the power of that," he says, echoing Strummer's words. "We had that, but by the same token, that kind of power can get out of your control."

That raging chemistry led Steve Larson to Seattle after his departure from DHW in 1997. Upon returning to the Valley after nine months, he briefly hooked up with underrated roots combo the Dialectrics. Larson was busy piecing together material for a solo project early last year when the call came to join former Refreshment Roger Clyne's new combo, the Peacemakers.

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