Tuesday, August 25, 2020

How a Friend's Pricey AIDS Treatment Led to a Romeo Void Reunion

About 20 years ago at the height of the Napster revolution, I came into possession of four demos by Romeo Void, once my favorite "intact" group of the early '80s. (Blondie broke up and two members of the Pretenders OD in '82 , leaving the band's future in doubt.) The Romeo Void demos appeared to be from what was apparently an attempt at reunion in 1993, nearly a decade after they'd split. I wasn't actually a big peer-to-peer music trader -- at least not in the way the kids were doing it back then. Instead, my friend Greg and I had had become well-known on the internet for our compilation CDRs -- meticulously crafted collections of B-sides, rarities or vinyl transfers of albums that never reached the digital age.

In addition to our transfers of Slow Children's two albums and collections of hard-to-find tracks by Maria McKee, Bananarama and Tracie, one of the most popular things I traded in was the Romeo Void demos, which never saw the light of day, even after the band's appearance on VH1's "Band Reunited." That they'd all but vanished seemed like a huge shame to me -- you can pretty much find anything on YouTube these days -- so I reached out to singer Debora Iyall to see what she'd think of my uploading them there. After telling me she wanted to make sure former bandmate Frank Zincavage was OK with it, she got back to me to say they both think they're "ready" for the world to hear.

As we worked out some of the details -- artwork, credits -- I ended up learning that Romeo Void had actually played a few live shows in the run-up to these demos, which makes sense now but was complete news to me. Pre-internet, all information was catch as catch can. So how upsetting to learn that they'd actually played at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., just down the freeway from the Orange County Register newspaper where I worked around the time.

While I had some of the band's attention, I decided to see what more I could find out. Here are some recollections of the reunion from Debora (vocals) and Frank (bass). (They've been edited and condensed.)

What was the backstory on these demos? Was Benjamin Bossi [RV's sax player who developed hearing problems] able to play on them?

Debora: In my opinion how this came together was after we did a benefit show to help our sound man Louie Beeson who was stricken with AIDS. He specifically needed expensive treatment for his eyesight. (Editor's note: This is the Louie who gets name-checked in RV's cover the Fabulous Thunderbirds' "Wrap It Up."] 

We did two nights at the club Slim’s in San Francisco. The Knitters [X's side project] and Chris Isaak supported us. Benjamin already couldn’t play because of his tinnitus, he performed acoustic on guitar if I remember right.

I did my vocals in a room Tom Waits often used to record his piano.

[Louie Beeson would die on Sept. 22, 1992, with his boyfriend, Steven Loving, and his cat, Scooter, by his side.]

From HERE.

Frank: Thinking back I don't really remember how Debora and I arrived at a consensus to do the Slim's shows for Louie. Can't remember if we had even been in contact since '85. We probably had been contacted by Dawn Holliday, the booker for Slim's. Louie had been doing sound for a variety of touring bands and also was an employee of Slim's, doing the house sound when not on the road. Dawn was always a big fan of Romeo Void and a good friend to Louie. All the other members of RV were still in the Bay Area -- Peter Woods, Aaron Smith, Benjamin Bossi -- so getting together for rehearsals wasn't a problem. The big issue was that Benjamin might not be able to play. He played at the first rehearsal and then decided he couldn't continue due to his tinnitus. We were able to bring in Sheldon Brown, whom Benjamin knew, to play sax for the shows. Sheldon is an amazing jazz oriented player.

The shows went well and somewhere along the line after that Debora and I started working on songs again. Also around this time my younger sister was graduating from Sonoma State college and when I was at her graduation I met her friend Klaudia Promessi, a saxophone player. And because of this Sonoma connection I found out about Prairie Sun Recording studio in Cotati. Again, I don't remember how it happened but the owner of Prairie Sun, Mooka, agreed to let us record there for a minimal fee with the hope that full payment would happen if we were able to get another contract with Sony. And, of course, that didn't happen. He still owns the multi-track tapes to those sessions.

So we worked on the four songs in my basement home studio, Klaudia playing sax, Peter contributing the chords for one of the songs ["Stormy Eyes"]. Then went up to Cotati for several days and recorded basic tracks. Over a month or so we finished overdubs, vocals and mixing. After this we somehow managed to get a few shows booked, did another show at Slim's on Halloween, played somewhere in Monterey, L.A. and Orange County. But Sony wasn't interested and we weren't interested in continuing to foot the bill to play small clubs occasionally. Everyone had other lives and jobs. So that phase came to a close.

Somewhere after that ('90s?) we had our VH1 "Bands Reunited" experience, playing a show at the Whisky in L.A. We brought Sheldon back for that.

Trying to keep a band together is no easy endeavor and I'm not surprised by some of the comments I read by other bands and their difficulties. Sometimes I think bands should include a marriage counselor along with manager, booking agent, sound man and crew.

Fascinating stuff!

And with no further ado, here are the "lost" Romeo Void reunion demos:

Producer: Frank Zincavage / Engineer: Mooka Rennick / Recorded at Prairie Sun Recording, Cotati, CA / October 1993 / Vocals: Debora Iyall / Guitars: Peter Woods / Drums: Aaron Smith / Bass: Frank Zincavage / Saxophones: Klaudia Promessi / All songs published by Talk Dirty Music, administered by BMI

Via Wikipedia: "San Francisco Days" is the fourth album by Chris Isaak, released in 1993. The album was dedicated to the memory of Louie Beeson, who was the sound consultant.

UPDATE: How nice is this? Louie was immortalized on the AIDS Memorial Instagram page by KC Powers on Nov. 10, 2020:

View this post on Instagram

— “Remembering Louie Beeson (June 5, 1952 - September 22, 1992) much loved, beautiful and wonderful friend to many in the music community. Louie was a consummate sound engineer who toured widely with bands The Gun Club, Romeo Void, @chrisisaak, @nickcaveofficial & The Bad Seeds, @jesusandmarychain amongst so many others. Some of the photos here are a day on The Gun Club tour we spent the day off at Magic Mountain amusement park riding roller coasters. A handsome man with a sweet demeanour. And wry sense of humor that instantly attracted massive crushes from people of all genders. A real charisma. A thoughtful friend. Louie died in 1992 but I know our friends think of him all the time. We miss you Louie. We love you Louie.” — by KC Powers @kidcongopowers #whatisrememberedlives

A post shared by THE AIDS MEMORIAL (@theaidsmemorial) on


tmpr said...

Amazing stuff. History and amazing music.
So sad about Louie. Saw them in San Francisco in 1983. Was and remain a huge fan. Thanks!

David Huskins said...

Great tunes - great band. Thanx for the links. Decent folks helping out with the cost of meds. The prior pandemic sucked too.