- Saturday, November 17, 1984, the Red Hot Chili Peppers at JB's Down
As a teenager in the early 1990's when the Red Hot Chili Peppers were making their world domination known with albums like Mothers Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik I had begun to hear whispers that at one time these guys made an appearance at JB's Down here in Kent very early in their career. This past Spring when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I finally felt it was time to investigate this story in full.
One thing that gets me about this story is that something like this could be happening at any time on any night in Kent even today. On any given night you can see live music in town in over 10 different venues that all offer varying music of some kind, and you never know what the future holds for some of this talent. That's one thing that makes a quality college town so unique is that it can be a breeding ground for great art and music. Back in May of 1999 I got to see Dan Auerbach perform with the Patrick Sweany Band in one of those old brownstones on Prospect Street for a graduation party. Who knew that over a decade later Dan Auerbach's future endeavor The Black Keys would become one of the biggest bands in the world. I understand in that period you could have caught countless shows in Kent and in the area featuring that lineup, but those who got to see those shows unknowingly witnessed rock and roll history just by chance — and so that takes us to this late autumn night in 1984 down on North Water Street...
Historically, Nov. 17, 1984 is a very interesting date on the Red Hot Chili Peppers timeline. This was only three months after the release of their first self titled album The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the version of the band that came to JB's was a lineup that featured Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Jack Sherman and Cliff Martinez who also were the lineup on that first album. Legendary Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitarist Hillel Slovak had quit the band before the recording of their first album and wouldn't rejoin the band as a full time member until the following year. Some interesting but rough footage shows up on Youtube from this period showing this exact lineup and can be viewed here, here and here. Also check out that first album in its entirety by clicking here.
Recently I had the great pleasure of talking to John Teagle, who was the promoter on this show. This is what he told me about the night the Red Hot Chili Peppers came to Kent:
"The way I got involved with promoting at JB’s in the early/mid 1980s goes back to me being involved in the whole late 1970s Akron scene. I worked for DEVO for a little while and I was going to see Tin Huey, and the Rubber City Rebels during the whole 'Akron Sound' era and I was also the soundman for Hammer Damage and The Dead Boys. At that time the biggest bars in that whole scene were The Bank in Akron and JB’s in Kent.
"So then later when I started actually playing in bands we were playing these same places. At the end of 1983 I was asked to manage the bar at JB's Down and I thought that it might be an interesting thing to do. So my fiancé at the time Becky Armstrong and I ran the place and the two of us lived across the street for a while. Basically I was the one that funded bringing the bigger bands to JB’s by selling off my old guitars one at a time to kind of keep some money coming in. We didn't manage it real efficiently. We gave away way too much as a kind of communal hang out, but I would guarantee the bands coming in from out of town $300 to play for us. That was my standard top guarantee. Basically by me willing to put up $300 out of my pocket I got some great national touring acts into Kent. I got The Replacements twice for that price, you know? And this was always against the door. I always gave the traveling bands 100 percent of anything after their guarantee, the opener and PA outlay were recouped. I also brought in Husker Du a couple times as well as The Gun Club and for that same guarantee I got The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
"Back then there were a whole bunch of bands touring, living out of vans. If you put them up they didn't have big contracts or riders or anything like that, it was more of a communal thing. A lot of these guys were just happy they had a place to play when they came through. The people that came to JB’s Down to see all that punk music a lot of times didn’t even know who most of the touring bands were.
"Somewhere around the time that I booked the Chili Peppers I got this other band called What Is This, which was the other half of the original Chili Peppers. What Is This had Hillel Slovak and Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jack Irons played drums who later played in Pearl Jam.
"I can't remember quite how it worked out but I either got What Is This through the Red Hot Chili Peppers or I got the Chili Peppers through What Is This. I knew the Chili Peppers soundman through a band out of Cincinnati called The Erector Set that I used to book. And I think he called me or I may have gone through booking agent Frank Riley. The Chili Peppers at the time were just breaking and they had one album out, which they were pushing and it was the lineup on that album that came to Kent. There certainly wasn't any kind of fan fair like 'OH MY GOD THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS ARE COMING TO KENT! WE GOTTA GET READY,' nothing like that at all. They were just another band coming through. I don't think the crowd knew who they were. I think they just trusted it as something like ...'OK, it's JB's Down on a Saturday night, we'll see 'em cause there’s nothing else going on.'
"I remember when they showed up they were very pleasant, I mean they were California guys and we had a good working relationship with them at least for that one night. I remember talking to Anthony Kedis and I wouldn’t say we had a conversation, but we certainly chatted a bit and had a beer together, nothing intellectual or anything like that. We probably talked about some of the other California bands that I'd had or that maybe I should be getting. I talked to all the members in the band at some point but you gotta remember they were just another band on another night at JB's, so it wasn't like I was meeting my heroes on that night or anything.
"The show itself was almost a riot, it got pretty wild. They did what they did right from the start. They were funky, punk obnoxious with the expected stage banter and all. There were probably 100 people there. The JB's Down stage at the time was in the middle of the room on the north wall not at the east end like it is now, so people spread out around the stage. You had the two wings so people crammed right into the middle.
"I remember Flea being fun to watch. He's a character and at that time he was pretty out there. I also remember that there was a lot of bantering back and forth between people in the crowd and the band. At one point when they were playing some of the punk rock girls were yelling stuff at them and then Anthony would just dish right back pretty firmly and quickly until people got offended. During the show I saw this incident where the guitar player, Jack Sherman, walked off in the middle of the performance! I can't remember why, maybe it was something somebody yelled out ... there was a lot of fighting within the crowd. Then Cliff Martinez (their drummer) came and was trying to console him and get him back onstage. This whole time I'm just thinking to myself, 'oh yeah this is another punk rock ploy' and their soundman was like, 'no no no, they have never done this. This is serious.'
"In the other cities the punk rock crowds would dance and get wild and get right up to the stage, you know, but in Kent at that time there weren’t as many people going to these shows so nobody had to push forward in order to see. People just kind of migrated to the back and hung out. We didn't really give these people the hero worship that a lot of these bands were accustomed to.
"I'm thinking when Black Flag played for us at JB’s there were enough people where they would crunch forward. So it wasn't like MTV where you have all these people piling up against the stage to see The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was more like local art student kids who were just like, 'All right, prove yourself. Let's see what you got.' And that was very common in Kent at the time. It could be an almost brutal crowd if a band came in with a rock star attitude. The Replacements; first time they came that was real wild.
"The last that I saw those guys in the Chili Peppers was after the show when F Models drummer Steven McKee took Anthony and Flea to a party up towards campus and there was some kind of story with that. I didn't go to the party. I had to stay and clean up the bar. It was a fun night."
That was where John Teagle left the story off with me. He told me to track down Steven McKee because he would be able to tell me more. After asking around through some friends I was able to track Steven down and we'll get to what he told me later.
From here my research got really scattered, but I was able to get partial emails on some threads from a crew of girls who interacted with them that night and even hosted an after party for the gig at College Towers. Their stories are a little broken due to how I got these quotes but they allow you to pear in on a tiny yet colorful corner of history.
One of the quotes went like this:
"I think we lived on the fourth floor of College Towers but hell, I'm not sure. I remember how the fight started and it was (name deleted) and me out front of JB's, and Flea came up to us and said 'Are you actually going to go in or are you going to be really punk and hang outside all night?' To which (name deleted) replied: 'Happy Easter, Asshole,' which was his line in the movie Suburbia. This enraged Flea, who proceeded to call us all kinds of names and stomp inside. The band continued to berate everyone in the audience and I recall we all started throwing stuff at them. Then they came to our apartment and we did mess with them A LOT, disconnecting the calls etc and they ended up leaving."
Another story went like this:
"He asked where they could get heroin. Me thinking it was a pill wasn't sure but definitely grossed out, like 'hey buddy, there ain't nothin' that beats pan beer!'"
And then there was this one:
"They called one of the bartenders a slut repeatedly from the stage during their show — in addition to becoming enraged at you shouting 'That's the Spirit!' in your Ethel Merman voice which is why (name deleted) tried to punch one of them and why we started throwing things at them."
And this one:
"I don't remember very much. We all drank a lot that night. I do remember that they didn't like to be heckled and started berating us over the mic. We had the bartender invite them to our apartment afterwards just so we could mess with them. Flea used our phone to make a call and someone pulled it out of the wall and disconnected his call. Stupid stuff, but honestly, that's all I remember."
This one came in a separate email from a well known local, David Jerome Bragg, who for sure was there that night:
"I do remember Anthony being hung up on getting laid that night. I got along with Flea very well, we joked around a lot and had a good time laughin' at stuff, but Anthony kinda rubbed me the wrong way, too much ego I think. I do remember that they definitely thought Kent, OH was strange, and it was in those days. What a great place to be in the 1980s. The Black Flag show was the best though."
It turns out these email fragments help explain this much clearer story that I got from Steven McKee, who John Teagle mentioned earlier that I should track down for more info on what happened during and after the show:
"Back in November of 1984 I was living in North Hill which is a little neighborhood on the north side of Akron at a place called The Club House, which housed many well known local musicians from the Akron-Kent scene. And at that time I was in a band called The F Models and we were pretty much the house band at JB’s for a couple years. We played there two, sometimes three times a week. Johnny Teagle did the booking, so we were privy to anybody who came to town. We didn’t open up for the Chili Peppers that night, but we did play the night before opening up for The Gun Club.
"The night that the Chili Peppers played there were two other bands on the bill, The Subterraneans and In Fear of Roses. I remember the Chili Peppers had a video 'True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes,' which was on MTV at the time. I believe that was probably their first video that they had off of their very first album. So when it was announced they were coming to JB's there was already a lot of buzz about them, plus nobody sounded like them at the time.
"The show itself was crazy. Their performance was just super intense, they were just awesome. Nobody had ever seen anything like them. They were just super high energy. Seeing the Chili Peppers in a 150 seat club even at that stage of the game was pretty awesome.
"I just remember at one point there was this confrontation with these girls in the front area who were heckling, and the band stopped in the middle of their song and released this tirade of obscenities! I wish somebody would have recorded that because it was absolutely incredible, but clearly this was some kind of intense confrontation.
"After the show I ended up hooking up with Flea and Anthony ... I don’t really know why that happened but we just sort of gravitated towards each other, and I just thought they were cool and they needed a ride and that was it. At that time I had a van. Being a drummer with a van I was pretty valuable in those days. I actually loaded up some of their equipment and stuff. Their guitarist Jack Sherman ended up disappearing and I ended up taking Flea and Anthony to this party that was on one of the upper floors of College Towers.
"So we get to this place and we knocked on the door and who opens the door but one of the girls who was in the middle of the confrontation! It was her party, which I didn’t know! We weren’t well received over there. There were a lot of people I knew that were like 'I can’t believe you brought them here,' and I remember thinking 'what the hell, I didn’t know.' It apparently was a bigger deal than I thought it was. I didn’t know those girls were gonna be there. It was such a ridiculous situation that whole thing. We stayed there for a little bit and we were pretty much run out of there by all these girls but it was actually kind of funny.
"After that I ended up taking them back to their hotel, which was the Red Roof Inn over on I-76 and S.R. 43 in Brimfield where I had a couple beers with them. I was there for maybe an hour, an hour and a half or something. It was late by that time. Maybe 2 or 3 in the morning, and they had somewhere to go the next day though I don’t remember where that was. We finished our beers, gave each other a hug and parted ways.
"I actually spent a total of about five or six hours with them that night, and I remember some of the conversations I had with Flea and Anthony. I remember them asking what was up with Kent. At the time in Kent it was cool to act like you didn’t like the bands. I don’t know why people were like that, but in those days it was cool to not clap and to boo and stuff and they were just amazed by that. And I remember Anthony saying that this was the weirdest place they had played in their life. I’m sure they played weirder places afterwards. I actually remember reading an article a year or so later where they brought up Kent, OH and what a bizarre, strange place it was. They couldn’t figure out what people do there. I also knew they had changed drummers and we talked about how they ended up with Chris Martinez.
"They were cool surfer dudes who were as personable and friendly as you can imagine, and you could tell they were excited to be on the road traveling and touring and playing. You could tell that was what they wanted to do and that’s what they’d always do. I remember we talked about playing in bands and who they’d played with before. At one point I remember Flea asking me 'What’s it take to get laid in this town?' They were definitely on the prowl that night but they didn’t get a very good reception at that party so ... we all went home alone. It’s a cool memory to have."
A couple of other notes here...
There was quite a punk rock scene in Kent in the 1980s that centered around JB's Down (now just known as JB's), and if you have Facebook you should check out this great collection of punk rock flyers from The Mark Hughes Archive that shows just how dense and thriving this scene was.
Also, a rare film recently surfaced titled "gimme womenshelter (FOR A LIFE WITHOUT FEAR)" showing the JB's Down scene from back in the early 1980s. The film is by PJ Southam and is a featured video in this piece. Check it out to get a taste of what it was like inside JB's Down during the same period the Red Hot Chili Peppers played there.
I have to mention that John Teagle who was the promoter on this show and who provided me with one of the awesome testimonials for this piece was/is a part of one of the great local bands The Walking Clampetts. Check out this (rough) live clip of the Clampetts on Youtube.
Also, Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis writes about this period and this tour in Chapter 6 of his excellent autobiography Scar Tissue. According to Kiedis, the tour was sixty dates in sixty-four days. Kent, OH was just another night for them, but you gotta wonder if they remember their brief stint in our town.
Big thanks to Ernie Smith, Mark and Mary Hughes, David Jerome Bragg, John Teagle, Michael Purkhiser, Steven McKee and everyone else who helped me with this. It is much appreciated.
In closing, I leave you with this killer jam from the Red Hot Chili Peppers...
If you enjoyed this Kent story don't miss my others here on Kent Patch concerning Bo Diddley, DEVO, W.C. Fields, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong, George Carlin, Phish, Duke Ellington, Bruce Springsteen and Jackass star Ryan Dunn.