Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that only sounds like it walked the scorched earth of Arizona before or shortly after the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have a limited time to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew
For those regular readers of this blog that pooh-pooh our flexible timeline when we post Heritage Hump songs after 2005 as being "kid's stuff," this week we turned the wayback dials the farthest we've ventured yet into the past, into the last days of the Me Decade, just before the Me Me Me Me Decade of Yuppie acquisition to bring you a band called The Nervous.
Bil Yanok, a.k.a Bil Bored, could do a whole blog of his own on the Arizona music scene, but The Nervous provides us a good starting point. The group formed in 1979, back when punk had returned energy to rock but anything that had a synth or Farfisa organ was classified as "modern rock." Where the band proved to be really cutting edge was getting club owners to let them do a set of all original songs.
“Fresh out of NYC, I was used to bands playing their own music," says Yanok. "I was amazed that really good bands (i.e., Billy Clone & The Same) were relegated to playing only a few originals per set. This really was a cover band wasteland at the time. Not wanting to be a band of human jukeboxes, I assembled a set of original songs with the intent of cracking this unwritten cover song code.”
“There was another popular cover band at the time called The Doctors. All really good musicians in their own right. Somehow I was fortunate enough to get them to convert to my “fuck covers” mantra and we formed The Nervous.
"This was my first band, and I was honored that they thought my songs were good enough to stick their necks out for."
"Ironically, our first club show was opening for Billy Clone. It was also where we heard the tragic news that vocalist/guitarist Michael Corte had died from an overdose prior to the show. Of course, I never told the club owner that we weren’t a cover band or we would never have gotten the gig. The crowd was mostly there to see Billy Clone perform. Pressure was on and apparently we delivered. We made some converts and word spread (pre-social media style) that we were doing something different. The name of the club was the Star System (later to become Merlin’s) in Tempe on Southern & Mill. It became our house club and was a blast to play in because of it’s intimate stage and lit disco dance floor which showcased our crowd of unusual looking fans. It was just as much fun to look out at everyone having a good time as it was to play."
They even got the attention of New Times, whose contributor at the time, Suzin Coleman, employed reverse psychology on Phoenix fans with her article "Three Reasons Not to See the Nervous." Note how she names one of the reasons "The Nervous play all originals, which could be considered novel, but to play good originals, which they do, enters the Twilight Zone."
Italicizing the word "good" doesn't actually fill one with confidence about how many good original bands were out there at the time. But The Nervous found them and played shows with them when they were allowed to book their own opening bands.
"That was like getting the keys to the castle," says Yanok. "There were a few punk/modern bands doing all originals, and we were eager to get them involved. Who were they? Bands such as The Meat Puppets, JFA, Killer Pussy, The Feederz, International Language, The Deez, and Tucson’s Pills would be just a few of those opening acts at the time."
Nervous bassist Mike Modor also booked up-and-coming California bands to Phoenix like X, Black Flag, The Screamers,The Go-Go’s (which Yanok says was "an amazing surf punk band when they began") well before any became nationally famous.
The Nervous were also responsible for putting on their own shows called “Industrial Dances.”
Says Yanok, "For the first one, I booked the Knights of Pythias hall in Tempe under the guise of having a wedding party. The guy actually gave me the keys to the place! No insurance, no security, and we ran our own bar. Try getting away with that today. These parties were one of the few options at the time for socializing with like-minded individuals. Not easy to do . . . things were pretty redneck at the time, and it was fairly common to have to defend yourself for your appearance, let alone for the music you listened to. Remember this is all pre-MTV/Internet — dark ages stuff."
By 1980, radio was toying with the idea of putting new wave into regular rotation and The Nervous were heard regularly on K-15 thanks to an EP produced by John Dixon, a.k.a. Johnny D.
"We lived as fast as we played, and the band only managed to last a couple of years," says Yanok. “We were young, dumb, and some of us were just a little bit drug-clumsy. It took a toll on the band.”
“The essence of The Nervous was the energy of our live show. We did over a hundred shows in a fairly short span and that enabled us to improvise in a cohesive manner. So you might hear a slightly different version from night to night. It kept things fresh. I’ve been in many bands since then and none have come close to matching that perfect blend of innocence and insanity that only comes with being young and dumb. Wouldn’t trade a second of it!”
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It is an ethos epitomized in this week's Heritage Hump song "Incurable Condition." As a man of many words, Yanok is pretty succinct in summing up why this track is paydirt Nervous-ness.
"Your typical love song about being left for dead on the street in NYC," Yanok says.
Correction: This article initially misspelled Bill Yanok's name.