Music News

Ace Venture

We're standing around in the airy Tiffany's Cabaret parking lot, doing very little. Just shooting the shit, really. Johnny Ace's resident lackey, Eugene Haugen, a bony kid with Social Distortion hair and thick eyeliner, is videotaping the scene with a hand-held. He says he's making a documentary of his favorite band, Johnny Ace. It's a warm night, stars are out. Plenty of humidity.

Squat, middle-aged men wearing golf shorts and sport sandals pile out of SUVs and enter the club. One group files in after the other. Looks like a dental floss convention is in town.

Two chunky goons with fitness-center physiques move toward us. They're dressed identically in what could be described as British Secret Service outfits. Attached to their vests are small two-way radios. And each of the goons wears a smirk on his face. They have nice, bright eyes and perfect white teeth. This could be a scene from a bad Steven Segal movie that will inevitably end with lots of karate kicks and fractured limbs. It's like that. The strip bar, the goons, the central casting cadre of punk rockers and goth kids.

Joining me and Haugen are the four members of Johnny Ace and our pal Darren Gailey, the goth kid/screenwriter given to feminine extremes. I'm surprised on a regular basis Gailey doesn't get killed, particularly considering he lives in north Phoenix. North Phoenix is no man's land for anybody who takes chances.

The goons, of course, aren't down with us. Goon No. 1 makes Haugen extract the tape from the camera.

"Hand over the tape," he says. "We saw you point that thing at the club. You were taping one of the girls getting out of her car."

"I can't give you the tape," says Haugen credulously, figuring there are seven of us and two of them. What are the odds?

I'm thinking these two guys could take us in nothing flat.

"I'm shooting a documentary on the band," Haugen explains.

Goon No. 1 talks into the button-size radio attached to his shirt: "He needs to come out to parking like now. You need to send him out to the parking lot."

Goon No. 2 leans against a car and smirks some more. Is that all these guys do -- smirk?

Haugen relents. "I'll give you the tape. It's not a problem," he says as he hands it over.

Goon No. 1 sees the tape recorder in my hand.

"What's that for?" he asks. "What's the red light for?"

"Nothin'," I tell him. "Just recording this for fun."

"Well, turn it off," he blurts.

I turn it off and put it in my bag.

Moments later, a diminutive guy in his late 40s appears. He's wearing alligator shoes, a Mr. T gold-chain starter kit and a porno mustache. A quintessential adult cabaret Boss Man. And he's not gonna take any crap from a bunch of punks. Not this guy. He makes this very clear in the rigid way he positions his feet; his unyielding don't-fuck-with-me look.

Boss Man thinks we are on some school project. He figures the video camera is some cute college gag or something. Since when do college kids wear spiked hair, leather trousers, net shirts and studded belts? I doubt many in this bunch have even set foot on a college campus.

Goon No. 1 hands Boss Man the tape.

"I'll watch the tape and delete anything having to do with Tiffany's," he barks at Haugen. "You can come back tomorrow and get your tape."

Goon No. 1 tells Haugen to put the camera in the car. He tells me to put the recorder in the car.

The New Times lensman arrives for a shoot, but we get out of there. Instead we move closer to Johnny Ace's home base, west Phoenix. There must be a strip bar there.

So Johnny Ace tells me their story in the interior of a west-side adult cabaret called Bailey's Platinum Club. All of the band's members are strip-bar enthusiasts. Bailey's is dark and mirrored, with gilded walls and faux plants. Strippers are dressed in French maid outfits, schoolgirl uniforms, spike-heeled boots and sheer G-strings. Men lurk in the shadows. The usual riffage blares from the house system: Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes," Buckcherry's "Lit Up."

The four members of Johnny Ace, it turns out, hate nearly every local band. They rip on everybody. They even loathe New Times.

Some say Johnny Ace sucks. A few say they're great.

Johnny Ace doesn't actually suck. They give it the old college effort. There's a latent songwriting base that can carry their show. Onstage, they pose with the best of them. They've The Attitude, albeit contrived as all hell. But what isn't contrived as all hell and not found making rounds in local clubs?