The History of Pancreas Joe: Part 1

White Punks

It was New Year's Eve, 1978. Denny, Shawn and Tony were driving through the LA suburb of Northridge, CA, headed to the bank (these were the days before ATMs littered the countryside and you actually had to go into the bank to get your money). All 3 had recently graduated from Chatsworth High in the San Fernando Valley. A week before, Tony had heard the Sex Pistol's for the first time. It was their version of the rock classic "Rock Around the Clock". He had never realized before how funny and amateurish they were. It started him thinking about forming a punk band. His problem was he had no real musical talent and didn't play an instrument. Shawn and Denny, however, did.

Denny and Shawn in KISS makeupShawn and Denny had known each other for several years, since Jr. High. Both had been huge Kiss fans and would jam together to KISS records, putting on the white and silver makeup and performing on the roof of Denny's condo. Shawn, a gifted songwriter, played guitar and even owned one of the classic Flying V's. Denny, an accomplished artist, played a black Gibson bass. Neither had ever been a member of a band before. They both had met Tony in their junior year of high school when all three joined a summer drama program at the school, working on a production of "Fiddler on the Roof".

As they drove down Nordorff Ave. Tony brought up the suggestion of forming a parody punk band. They wouldn't need to ever practice, he insisted, so time expenditure would be minimal. Both Denny and Shawn, perhaps jokingly, agreed. But the band needed a name. They threw several ideas around, when Tony suggested it be something like the "Syphilis Sam and The Child Abusers" (the news at that time just beginning to be filled with the child abuse issue, making it controversial and offensive, both desirable in a punk rock name). Everyone agreed that the "and the Child Abusers" had the right edge to it, but they needed something better to preface it. Without hesitation, Shawn said "What about 'Pancreas Joe'?" and Pancreas Joe was born.

Within a few weeks the band had added a drummer, David Einstein, another friend from high school, and the group had their first chance to play live. Each was now known within the band by their new 'punk' names; Shawn - Johnny Maggot, Guitar; Denny - Canker Sore, Bass; Dave - Jim Beam, Drums; Tony -Pancreas Joe, Vocals.

Panc and Cank at Farrells' On January 20 1979 the band performed in the Main Theatre at Valley College in Van Nuys, Ca for an audience that primarily consisted of a few friends (literally a few) and some of the theater personnel. Per their original concept they did not rehearse at all for this gig, and the music was raw and extremely unpolished. Many of the songs played that day were covers or based on the riffs of other bands, with Tony singing lead over whatever melody was played. The lyrics primarily consisted of obscene and offensive words and stories that he had written in drug induced stupor while at Denny's apartment.

Songs played: Birthday; White Punks on Dope; It Wasn't Me (with Pancreas Ala Mode); Running with the Devil; Wurm; Goodnight There.

All probably figured that was it for Pancreas Joe and the Child Abusers (PJ & CA) and didn't expect to ever play again as a band. Denny and Shawn joined a progressive rock group, The Boys, and Tony began experimenting with amateur filmmaking. But soon after the Valley College concert, Tony played the tape of the truly awful performance for his friend Steve. Steve was intrigued at the concept of a non-musician playing in a band just for the fun of it. Knowing some musician friends of his own, Steve soon formed the band Gutterspit, a band that would greatly influence PJ & CA's history over the next year.

In June of 1979, Gutterspit decided to throw a party for their friends as their first live performance. To make it a full evening of music they asked both The Boys and PJ & CA to open for them. Figuring that they wouldn't have to practice again, the members readily agreed to play the party. However a couple of weeks before the party was to take place, Steve brought over a tape of one of Gutterspit's rehearsals. Rather than a rough, coarse sound, the music was rehearsed and polished, more along the lines of New Wave than punk. The PJ & CA members soon realized that they would need to practice some if they weren't going to embarrass themselves. Four practice sessions were held over the next couple of weeks, enough so that they were competent, but not so much that they lost their amateur garage band quality. Programs were even designed and printed to make the illusion of a major punk band complete.Program from the PJ & CA Paris Concert

July 20, 1979 was the evening of the party, given at the home of the lead guitarist for Gutterspit, Jeff Paris. The Boys went on first before a group of approximately 40 people, playing a couple of Genesis and Supertramp songs, with the band located at one end of a swimming pool and the audience at the other. Next came PJ & CA, who played a humorous and rough 30 minute set of originals and covers, including the Canker Sore penned "Sadistic Drugs" and the Maggot/Pancreas anthem "Legalize Suicide". The crowd, ready for a night of "parody" rock, was enthusiastic and responsive. Just as the band was ending it's set with "Legalize Suicide", the owner of the house came forward and announced that the Los Angeles Police Department were outside and were shutting down the concert. However, after a quick idea session the show was moved inside, where Gutterspit entertained the crowd with their musical antics in such songs as "Arnold Loves the Ugly Girls" and "Pencil Lead".

PJ & CA's set: (* denotes cover) I Hate Love; It Wasn't Me*; Go to Hell*; American Gothic; Sweet Jane*; Sadistic Drugs; Birthday*; Legalize Suicide.

Again all expectations were that this was the last concert by the band. But again an outside force came in and resurrected Pancreas Joe and the Child Abusers, though in a much altered form.

Metal Heads and Satan Claus

Soon after the concert with Gutterspit, Shawn began working at the Karl's Toy Store in the Northridge Mall. There he met up with an old friend, fellow musician Rick, a highly talented keyboardist. Shawn soon introduced Rick to Denny and they began to hangout, discussing music. One evening at Denny's apartment, the three and Tony, who already knew Rick from another mutual friend, were playing the tape of the Paris concert. Listening to the unrefined rock parody, Rick, being a fan of such highly polished groups as Jethro Tull and Yes, commented on how terrible they were. They tried to explain to him that they were supposed to be terrible, that they had proudly proclaimed themselves "World's Worse Rock Band". Rick began to formulate an idea in his head, telling them that with some practice they could be a pretty good band, with the addition of his keyboards. Denny, Shawn and Tony agreed to give it a try.

The first change that was made was to get a new drummer. Dave had gone back to college and for a replacement they got another friend, a mild-mannered, extremely versatile individual, who had played drums for The Boys and Gutterspit, Kurt. Kurt's pastime was building fireworks and so his band name became the Professor Mad Bomber. Rick was known in the group as Dry Heave. Rick and Tony set out immediately writing new songs for the band. The songs they produced were much more refined musically than the previous songs had been. The sound was much closer to hard rock than punk, and much more complex, thanks to Rick's convoluted chord and time changes. The lyrics were in line with the current trend in metal bands towards a darker, more sinister pose. Songs with titles such as Jack the Ripper, Top 40 Demolition, Cradle Robber, Temple of the Night and Antichrist.

The group began rehearsing in September of 1979 at Rick's house twice a week. With the addition of Rick's Hammond Organ and synthesizers, and Kurt's collection of percussion, the sound became fuller and almost symphonic. Over the next several months they became a tight musical unit. Meanwhile, Gutterspit had continued to play several parties over the same period, and in January 1980 had arranged to play a concert at their high school alma mater, Chatsworth High, the school's first rock concert. They asked PJ & CA to again open for them, assuming that they would be getting a slighter tighter version of the previous band. A week before the concert, however, some of the key members of Gutterspit paid a visit to a rehearsal of the band and were taken back by the transformation.

The arrangements were made for the evening of the concert, which was to take place following a basketball game being held at the school. When time came to print the posters advertising the concert, the school objected strenuously to the name "Pancreas Joe and the Child Abusers" and would only print " Pancreas Joe and the Abusers". Again programs were printed, with some fine artwork by Denny included in the Pancreas section. The school insisted having off duty LAPD officers present in case of trouble.

In preparation for the concert the group was asked what music they'd like to have played before they went on. The band members decided that rather than have an album played, they would produce something specifically for the purpose, with a combination of recorded fictional scenarios chronicling the history of the band, interspersed with music from artists who they admired. They called this "Obscurities" and featured, along with spoken word segments by members of the band, songs by the Sex Pistols, Lena Lovich, The Who, Johann Strauss, Talking Heads and Pink Floyd. The song "Momma Always Rolled A Good Joint" came from the sessions for this recording. It was also agreed that to make a suitably dramatic entrance, an edited version of the Holst's piece, Mars from The Planets, would be played before the band dived into their set.Airborne Disease

On the night of February 8, 1980 the band played their third live concert to an audience of approximately 150. Before the band went on, Shawn took to the stage to give a solo rendition of Neil Young's "Hey, Hey, My, My". Then the lights went down and the curtains opened as the Mars overture hit its crescendo and the band lunged into their first song "Top 40 Demolition". Hanging suspended at mid stage was a poster of the BeeGee's, which was sliced to pieces during the bridge by Tony, wielding a sword, and breaking LPs against the edge of the stage, pieces of vinyl flying everywhere. Next Tony wandered the stage wearing a WW2 era gas mask, while singing the apocalyptic "Airborne Disease".

Another highlight was an instrumental selection featuring Rick, Denny and Kurt, playing a lilting piano piece written by Rick, backed with bass and drum. It was a welcome break in an otherwise high power performance. Next was the song "Cradle Robber" featuring Tony dragging a doll around the stage, tearing it to bits by the end of the song. The audience of mostly teenagers loved it.

Next Gutterspit hit the stage, but the probably due to the late hour and crowd energy spent on the opening act, didn't get the response that PJ & CA had, and had a disappointing set.

PJ & CA's set (* denotes cover): Hey, Hey, My, My(solo by Shawn)*; Top 40 Demolition; Abuser's Theme Song; Jack the Ripper; Airborne Disease; Temple of the Night; Legalize Suicide; Instrumental Break; Momma Always Rolled a Good Joint; Cradle Robber; Answer Today; Antichrist

I Don't Wanna Be a Child Abuser

Pancreas Joe and the Child AbusersThe rhythm guitarist for Gutterspit, Paul Fruedenberg, approached them immediately following the gig at the high school. He expressed his interest in joining PJ & CA. The group all felt that they could use another guitar to balance what had become an increasingly keyboard oriented sound, so they agreed. Soon afterwards the band decided to have a party to play for all their friends, many of whom hadn't been allowed to attend the concert at the high school (the school had declared that a school ID had to be shown in order to purchase a ticket). The party took place at Rick's house in Canoga Park on March 22, 1980, the group playing to about 40 people, the set being similar to what they had played at the high school with the addition of 2 songs, The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" and Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2". The idea that the band should be playing more cover material had become a contentious issue, with part of the group on one side, that it would help to vary the set, and allow each member to play some of their favorites by other groups, and the other side feeling that they should be dedicating themselves to writing more songs and playing only originals. It was agreed to try a couple of covers for this gig to see what the audience response would be.

Song's Played (* denotes cover) Top 40 Demolition; Abuser's Theme Song; Jack the Ripper; Airborne Disease; Temple of the Night;Legalize Suicide; Instrumental Break; Momma Always Rolled a Good Joint; Cradle Robber; Another Brick in the Wall*; Baba O'Reilly*; Answer Today; Antichrist

Another issue that had begun to come up at this time was the band's name. Most of the members felt that the name "and the Child Abusers" presented a image that they didn't want to be associated with, arguing that they didn't like be known as Child Abusers. "What are you guys complaining about, they think I'm the head child abuser" was Tony's (the sole holdout) response. But it was soon agreed that they would change the name to just "Pancreas Joe".

Almost immediately following the party, the band was asked to participate in a battle of the band's at Chatsworth High. But the long months of rehearsing had taken their toll and as sometime happens in creative collaborations, egos, and disparate views on the direction things should take came into play. Shawn, who had been unhappy with the band's heavy metal direction, was first to quit, followed by Rick. Denny and Tony considered playing the battle of the band's with Paul and bringing back Dave Einstein to play drums, as the punk band they had started as, but soon also decided the time was right to end things. Paul threatened to go on without them, understandably upset having quit Gutterspit to play one party, but eventually went back to his previous band. Pancreas Joe and the Child Abusers broke up, having played only 4 concerts.

Gutterspit would continue on for several more years, changing its name to Fred and playing clubs around L.A. Tony joined his friend Steve, along with Tony's sister Christina, for a one time gig in July of 1980, again opening for Gutterspit. The trio was known as the Dukes of Glouster, with Steve on keyboards, Christina on guitar and Tony as vocalist, and played a (mercifully) short set of songs including "Eleanor Rigby", a rewritten "Baba O'Reilly", "Can't Explain" and Devo's "Mongoloid".

Rick soon built an 8 track recording studio in his garage, with help from Kurt and Shawn, recording primarily his own material, but also a set of originals that Shawn had written. Soon after Denny and Shawn had both moved to San Francisco, Shawn continuing to work on his music, eventually to attend UC Berkeley, and Denny began attending the prestigious San Francisco Art Institute. Kurt continued to play and record with Rick, as well as Gutterspit/Fred, while attending CSUN, studying music theory. Tony began experimenting with film, working on several projects with Steve.

But Pancreas Joe wasn't dead yet, only laying dormant, and would soon be called back into service. Go to the History of Pancreas Joe: Part 2.

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