The Village Pistols Story

The Village Pistols was a coming together of hare-brained ideas by several people living in and around Greensboro, North Carolina in the Summer and Fall of 1980. I had been in bands for since I was 15 and at the ripe old age of nearly eighteen, I found myself out of a gig and out of sorts as the powerpop group I played lead guitar for had suddenly broke up after a particularly bad gig. Between that band and its previous incarnation the bassist Dwayne Dodson, drummer Craig Pearman, and I put together a one(two)-off punk band called the Leeches. We played on and a half shows and were the first REAL punk band in Greensboro and maybe North Carolina. It was an all covers affair for the most part but we really made a bunch of people frightened and probably mad in a short period of time. That mutated back into a pop combo with Dwayne trying to continue the Leeches and Craig and I reforming our old band using Ronald Tucker on bass instead of Dwayne. This band, which also featured Mark McCracken on guitar, played virtually every weekend around G-boro that Spring and Summer. There was a real burgeoning scene forming with groups like the Alibis (a cover band that covered every cool rock/punk/new wave song), The Krackers, The Stimulatorz and us doing the pop/new wave scene. And there was a slew of roots/blues bands who also had their own niche. Suddenly around late Summer a huge influx of people descended upon our cozy little scene and things got real weird real fast.

Maybe it was disco's timely death or word had spread to a large group of people who wanted a different party atmosphere, but nevertheless, the little pizza joint called Friday's suddenly was packed every night with a lot of unfamiliar faces. Suddenly there were bouncers, high cover charges, rampant drug use, sleazy liaisons of sexual nature, and then, inevitably, the dreaded out-of-town bands. The blues and roots bands were, by and large, pushed across the street to the even smaller Nightshade Cafe. While Friday's hosted only new wave acts. Except for cash cows like the Alibis, and Truehearts, it became hard as hell for local acts to even play at Friday's anymore on a decent night. The bands that did were having their sets wrecked by rowdy Disco-Dans that caused fights, spilt beer, pinched girlfriends, heckled the bands, and generally made giant rutting asses of themselves. Basically what was once a great little weekend thing to do - going to see a band, get a pizza, hang out with your friends - became a nightmare of stupidity. We wanted our scene back.

The original idea for the Village Pistols came from college student/record store employee/college radio DJ/mad genius Ed Shepherd. Ed originally conceived of the idea over a few beers with friends and he constructed, with his girlfriend Lisa Brown's help, a poster announcing the imminent arrival of the Village Pistols. A crude graphic design that featured elements of the Village People and Sex Pistols logo and a revealing photo of Marilyn Chambers was quickly snatched off kiosks and telephone poles around the Tate St. area of Greensboro and around UNC-G. Ed at the time was a musician wannabe (in the nicest sense) and created and devised more concepts than any human could possibly carry out. These ideas were often funny and a bit crazy, but he had a knack for holding sway over an audience of friends and working everyone up into a frenzy about his "projects". Originally it was just a poster project for fun and then slowly the idea gained momentum and I saw it as a way to get Craig and Ronald working again after the breakup of our band...sort of another interim project like the Leeches.

At a party Ed and I pitched the idea to Bill Nash, the leader of the Alibis, and he was definitely into it. We knew we wanted to do something more outlandish than anything any of the scenesters had ever seen locally. Bill was totally serious about playing bass in a cheerleader outfit. By now Ed wanted to be in the group too. No experience, no ability, c'mon anyway. Craig, as always, had to be convinced but soon joined up. Bill just had too much work and gigs with the Alibis and had to drop out of the project before we started rehearsals and so Ronald was drafted into the fold. From that point we set about developing our concept. That concept was to play a few gigs, completely incognito and in masks, shock the hell out of the trendy little twits that had, in our eyes, ruined our scene, and reclaim it as our own. Since we wore masks we could continue with other projects without fear of alienating core scenesters. Rehearsals started in September 1980 after I visited NYC for the first time. We first rehearsed in Krackers' guitarist Doug Baker's house on Market St. near UNC-G. With me on guitar, vocals, Ed on pseudo guitar, vocals, Craig on drums, vocals, and Ronald on bass, vocals - the Village Pistols lineup was set. I'm fairly certain that it was Doug who suggested we play "Strawberry Fields Forever", but it may have been Ed. Doug definitely wrote the arrangement, stripping it down to three chords and giving it that breakneck tempo - our first act of sacrilege, not our last.

I had a song fragment from the last band that was deemed too Buzzcocks-like for our sweet Monkees/Beatles sound. Originally I tried to finish it with Ronald's brother Raymond. I think we called it "Bad Drugs", but I think it was called something more crude and sexual for a little while. We may have taped it but who knows where the hell it is. I brought that in to the rehearsal and we whipped it up into a tune called "Big Money". We also learned some covers of really annoying songs by avant-punks like Gang of Four (then only a cult thing in G-boro), Public Image and Wire. The Alibis had made the climax of their set a rousing version of the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" and it was what the little scene gimps yelled for from the very first song to eventual capitulation at the encore. It had become something of a joke for them and they probably wish they never played it. We also played it in the Leeches and we were now going to begin it, stop, profanely pronounce its irrelevance and launch into the atonal, arhythmic "Poptones" by Public Image. Weren't we clever. Also whipped up was a rocked up version of "Macho Man" and a few other tunes including the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer".

Our first show was October 19, 1980 at Friday's supporting the Alibis. Introduced by Gary Collins, the Alibis drummer, we pretty much achieved all we needed to achieve with that first gig. The crowd was thrilled as well as annoyed. We were sloppy as hell, loud as fuck. Ronald came into his own designing our masks and stage wear. Using permanent markers and rubber Halloween masks, he concocted hideous and garish faces for himself, Craig and me. The masks were so stinky and hot that it made playing really hard. For me, "Poptones" was the highlight. Several young girls pretty much flipped me the bird throughout that song. "Big Money" was also cool but I had not formulated any lyrics so it was just adlibbed hogwash. "Macho Man" segued into the tail out three chord rave-up of "Free Bird" where I played some of the worst guitar if my life. That night I smashed a Skynyrd LP and threw it into the audience and truly upset a genuine redneck. Just as it was over we got the hell out of there, out the back door, ran the one block to Ed's house, changed, and drifted back down to Friday's where no one was the wiser it was us who were up there just a few minutes before. That same yahoo who was pissed about me smashing his favorite album was telling me how angry he was about that heinous act. Little did he know... Mission accomplished.

The only negative from that show was Ed's obvious stage fright. He faced the audience for maybe 30 seconds of the whole set. This was all new to him and even with his huge Bugs Bunny mask and costume he was terrified. Listening to the tape his fear was not evident. Besides the masks we had taken to speaking with stupid British accents between songs and it was somewhere around then we decided we were from Manchester, England by way of Haw River, NC. If these trendies wanted an out of town band, by God... Of course all of the musicians in other bands knew who we were and what we were up to and supported us greatly. On word of mouth only we were offered more opening slots with other bands. At this time I was working in a record store and my co-workers' avant-garde jazz/classical/rock group, The F-Art Ensemble of Greensboro, had an upcoming gig that they wanted to share with us. It would be their medieval music quartet for a set, a small classical orchestra for a set, their jazz configuration for a set and lastly a Village Pistols set.

This gig was the following week and we played pretty much the same set except this time we printed handbills for the audience that had our set outlined. We had moved rehearsals to the UNC-G music building (where we snuck in). We added a song of Ronald's called "(I'm Not Being) Arty" and dropped "Bodies". The greatest addition and the song I wish we had recorded later was "Lynyrd Skynyrd's Funeral" an original of mine and Craig's that was never rehearsed on purpose. It was three minutes of Abmin7, shrieking, wailing, and crashing drums. By the time we got to it the audience was nearly hysterical with anticipation of a song with that title. We traded the "Free Bird" coda for "God Save..." and we had Bill Nash sit in on guitar at the end as well as taking the vocal chores on "Anthrax". This gig too was a raging success and we played miles better than the previous one. My "chops" were more on track as I was using my own gear rather that the Alibis and we had new masks that let us see and breathe better. You can hear someone yell "Stop wanking off, fat boy!" as I am indeed wanking my plank before the first number. A great memory. Better than having a full beer can thrown at your 1957 Les Paul. The tape of this show shows us at our rowdiest and best.

At that point we started to formulate the idea for the next gig. This was supposed to be a one-off but we were riding high on the approval of the musician community and we were annoying the hell out of audiences. We may have done some more shows in this time but methinks not. For the next gig we would annoy everybody. This would be our last show with the original lineup and the last show that was true to the original concept of the Village Pistols.

We now were to support the Krackers who were now known as Treva Spontaine and the Grafics. Gary Collins also did split time in this band but it was Doug who introduced us. This gig was what we dubbed the "Weird Gig". We played no "music". We improvised to a backing tape made by Ed and myself that featured soundbites from such diverse sources as the Last Poets, Kraftwerk, Robert Fripp, Frank Zappa, and some of my own noise recordings. For this show the costumes were more outrageous, and I played bass, Ronald Played a floor tom and a cymbal, Craig was on guitar, and Ed fingered Treva's Vox organ. Not only did we annoy the hell out of the crowd we also pissed off the Grafics and our stock slipped with the musos who had supported us. The thing was out of hand and the scene still raged on idiotically and were no closer to putting together a REAL group. I became more of an arrogant little shit and stood defiantly against the scene as it had eaten my previous group alive. Now the musicians who saw the need for change were getting to like the money, chicks, drugs, etc, that the Friday's scene offered. They didn't need or want a spoiler. Still the outta-towners poured in, like a little group from Georgia called Rapid Eye Movement.

After the weird gig we decided to chill for a while and then one horrible event changed the course of the Village Pistols forever...the death of John Lennon. We were to open a charity show on December 11 at Friday's and it seemed inappropriate to do our toxic shock rock when so many of us were encapsulated in grief. Ronald, a huge Lennon fan, was so grief stricken that he bowed out of the show with our blessing. We brought in Dwayne on bass, and Ed also sat out in a fit of depression and he was replaced by (real guitarist) David Doyle, my co-worker at Record Exchange and a member of F-Art. No way in hell were we gonna do SFF or any other Beatles related sacrilege. We worked up a quick set of pop/rock covers of the Costello, Nick Lowe variety and played our first set without masks, without Ed and Ronald. We were the VPs in name only. This was a nice gig. All the bands gave all the money to the Empty Stocking Fund of the United Way.

By the start of 1981 the Village Pistols pretty much ceased to exist. We did one more command performance at a party at the Record Exchange in January of 1981 which again was not a real gig in the Village Pistols sense. This gig had Dwayne on bass, me, Craig, and the return of Ed on minimal Vox organ. This was for a small gathering inside the store and we played mainly Dwayne's quirky originals left over from the Leeches and a few of his atonal concept pieces. We did a sick version of "I Think I Love You" where Dwayne bled all over my guitar which he played on that song (for some reason he put a razor blade on his bass in true punk fashion). This gig was taped but I don't really consider it a real Village Pistols gig as much as Dwayne calls it a "Trash Can Baby Band gig".

The next few months saw little VP activity. Ronald had set his new group in motion with Lee Spencer, Craig, and Dwayne on bass. This band cut a demo in February of that year and when Dwayne joined it left me in the cold. Musicians rarely split time among two bands in those days. I tried to form a couple of new wavey groups to no avail. I still hung out with Ed who now also worked at the Record Exchange. Somewhere in the Spring of that year Ed decided to start an indy record label that would feature local acts like The Grafics, Ronald's new group and others. He wanted the first release to be a 45 by the mostly defunct Village Pistols. My deep desire to own a piece of vinyl with me playing on it made me more than game. We would have to get Craig back on board as well as Ronald and even Dwayne. There was never any question as to what the songs would be. Enough time had passed that "Strawberry..." was again fair game. "Big Money", despite the fact I had no concrete lyrics, was the obvious a-side.

We had heard from some Chapel Hill bands that this guy Mitch Easter had a cool home studio out in Kernersville. We called him up, went over there and met him and thought he was just a swell guy and just non judgemental and hip enough to let us punk away in his studio. We rehearsed a few times with both Ronald and Dwayne on bass and we went in on July 1, 1981 to cut the 45. Dwayne and Ronald's bass exchanges verses on "SFF" and Dwayne handles "Big Money" alone. I multitracked the hell out of the guitars on "BM" but only put maybe two on the flip side. Both vocals, mine on my song, Ed tackling "SFF", were done in one take. The backing vocals were done in a round table manner. That's Craig doing the long caterwaul at the end of "Big Money" ending with the word SHIT which we edited out. We coaxed Mitch to do the organ solo on the back side. We gave him one take, he nailed it while I engineered. We did a mix and carted it away but a day or two later I felt "Strawberry Fields Forever" needed MORE guitar. We went back exactly a week later (working around the gracious X-Teens)and cut one more guitar track with me playing Mitch's red Strat through a Marshall stack at an incredible volume. Mixed, it was all but a real record.

We sent it off to Discmakers in Philadelphia and eight weeks later we had 1000 singles. Ed and his girlfriend Lisa did all the art design and label design. This was their labor of love for the launching of an ambitious project When word got out that The Village Pistols of all bands were going to put a record out, many local musicians and fans gave it very little support or credence as this was certainly not the most deserving of bands to actually have tangible product out. The spirit of the thing was to be fun and playful and Ed expected other local bands to clamor to the newly christened Nylon Records and beg to be on his label. Ed was a huge fan of the Stiff and Ralph labels and their DIY spirit and wanted to start his own label that featured the prodigious talents of Greensboro rockers. He invested his savings into this project. Even if the single sold out at $2 a pop, he could never hope to break even. The picture sleeves cost around $.75 each and the records were about a buck throw. But he wanted to do this badly and we all wished him well and I helped out wherever I could. When the records arrived on September 15, 1981 we individually (Ed, Lisa & I) stuffed each one into its sleeve and used a green number stamper to individually stamp each one. In so doing we discovered that many (almost half) the discs were seriously warped. This was actually a blessing because he could get a cash refund on the damaged records and that would offset his costs a little. The record was distributed by hand locally and regionally and through our record store contacts we got a few in the hands of Disc Trading, Dutch East India and maybe Jem Importers.

We planned a tour to support it and had dates lined up in Greensboro, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh (possibly Charlotte too). We even had a gig booked at a gay bar in G-boro as a lark. But getting Craig and Ronald back into it was a tough task. Ronald though it would compromise his new band as did Craig but Craig finally gave in. Dwayne, always game, came along. It could be that Ronald wasn't offered the spot but time fades memories. Somehow the out of town gigs collapsed and the Saturday night Friday's show was switched to a dreaded Thursday guaranteeing no crowd. We played the last gig on September 27, 1981 to about twenty people who saw us do a set of new songs (mostly covers), the hits, and some of Dwayne's songs. We played a medley of rock riffs (a la Stars on 45) and a song by my new obsession Motorhead.

Somehow, the ball was quickly dropped. Ed retired into semi-seclusion. I saw Lisa around but Ed worked only a few hours a week and was demoralized. The record stiffed badly. I estimate no more that 50 copies actually sold. I started an ill fated band with Bill Nash. Craig, Ronald, Dwayne, and Lee became (after a few name changes) the Return which lasted over two years. Ed reportedly sold off the remainder of singles to a distributor in New York for a fraction of their cost. He married Lisa but they quickly and inexplicably divorced. The Return regrouped in 1985 to record an unreleased album under the name of Film At Eleven (the same name as mine & Bill's group). My Film at Eleven never found a stable lineup - we cut a demo at Mitch's in February 1982. Dwayne & I cut a record of some of his instrumentals (and a VP track "Terrorists") with Mitch Easter and Craig sharing drum chores. I ended up in a band that went to England and recorded some sides before disbanding and returning home. Craig and I started work on his solo album in 1984 with Don Dixon engineering at Mitch's. It is still unreleased. I lived in the DC area for a while, (where Craig still lives after moving up there to work with me). Upon returning to NC Ronald & I formed a band, Bullwinkel Gandhi that is still going to this day. We play Beatles influenced 60's pop...our true love. We recorded a straight guitar-based version of "Strawberry Fields" on our first album (possibly as penance for our irreverence). Our new album, which all agree is the highlight of our twenty year musical journey, was recorded and produced by, you guessed it Mitch Easter. If anyone ever finds the VP single, pick it up keep it [actually send it to me - Henry] and let me know. It will always be my most special piece of recorded product as it was my first.

Be cool,
Mike Nicholson
July 1, 1996

Fifteen years later....where are they now:
Ronald Tucker lives in Greensboro with his girlfriend. He play guitar in Bullwinkel Gandhi where I play bass now.
Ed Shepherd lives near Hickory, NC with a ladyfriend. He has since become a real musician and a graphic designer himself.
Craig Pearman is still living in suburban Maryland. He is a working actor.
Dwayne Dodson lives in Raleigh, has a little boy and sometimes tracks some bass for one of Ronald's many recording projects.
David Doyle still works at the Record Exchange.
Lisa Brown's whereabouts are unknown.
Bill Nash reformed the Alibis in 1983 and again briefly in 1991 but then was stricken with cancer which he subsequently beat. You can sometimes find him at College Hill Sundries.
Doug Baker is married and expecting his first child. He is the buyer for the Music Loft chain.
I live in Chapel Hill with my wife & two kids. Still a musician, but a graphic designer/computer geek by day.
Mitch Easter is a successful record producer and musician. He has two great dogs and a cat. Friday's closed down in the Fall of 1984. It is now a hair salon and a Subway. The scene died long before that.

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