RON YOCOM INTERVIEW:
November 18, 2006
The Sea Hags were a notorious hard rock band. Their stories of excess, and even death, have at times overshadowed the music on their one and only release. Vocalist/guitarist Ron Yocom survived and is now telling his story about life with one of rock’s most underrated bands. With his partner, Sarine Voltage, Ron has returned with the ‘now wave’ band Power Of 3 (www.thepowerof3.us) and news of a Sea Hags reissue.
SR: The Sea Hags manager was once supposed to have said, “There is only so far you can get with three junkies and one alcoholic”. How close to the truth was this?
RY: First, consider the source. At the time this was said, Chris Coyle had been fired and replaced, but I won’t deny that we were partiers. If you want to get technical, it was ‘2 junkies and 2 alcoholics’.
SR: Why did you decide to get into music, and how did the Sea Hags come together?
RY: Personally, I’ve always loved music and especially rock music. I was a teenage rock’n’roll photographer and I worked with local bands shooting promo shots and live stuff. But I also worked the big Day on the Green-type rock shows. I always dug hanging out with musicians and thought one day I could do it myself. Then I became 20 years olds and John Lennon had just been shot and I decided from that point to form a band myself. Chris was one of the kids that hung out at Electric Toys’ shows…they were a local New Wave hard rock band in Santa Rosa. I had a few songs that I had written and heard that Chris played bass. He was probably 16. We formed a band with a drummer named Barney Aldridge: The Tearaways. It was 1982. We had auditioned for a TV show. It was a local teen dance show. We got the gig because the scheduled band was in the process of breaking up. We gigged for about a year in the Sonoma County area. Then in 1983, Chris moved to San Francisco…I stayed in Santa Rosa, continued to write songs and then moved to San Francisco in August of ’84 to live with Chris and play in a band with Greg Tyner, a good singer…but the other guys were not the ideal guys. At this time, Chris had a trip planned to New York. When he returned, the group that I had joined, The Nasty Poodles, had not yet gigged…it had been 6 months. So I told Chris about my frustration with this and how our first gig was on New Year’s Eve, and he told me to do the gig and quit the band. So I did. That night, we jammed after my show and started the SeaHags the next morning, New Year’s Day 1985.
In February 1985, Greg Tyner introduced us to Greg Langston, a drummer. Greg had played in Beast, one of the very first Goth bands from San Francisco and also No Alternative and The Swinging ‘Possums. Chris and I were looking for a drummer to record a demo. We had 2 songs plus “Think About It” the Yardbirds’ last single from ’68. Greg did the demo with us and then helped us to book a show. The first show we had was opening for The Dead Kennedys in front of about 800-1,000 kids. We were nervous, so we booked 3 quickie gigs at The Sound of Music, to work the kinks out…and that was the SeaHags until Spring of ’88, when Adam Maples came in.
SR: In the early days you played several club shows with punk bands such as Husker Du, the Descendents and Camper Van Beethoven. What kind of a reaction did the Sea Hags get with these audiences?
RY: We did great! A lot of these shows were pretty diverse. You had Battallions of Saints doing Van Halen covers and by the time the SeaHags came around, I think the punk and alternative crowds and bands were accepting hard rock like never before. Our manager was Paul Rat from RZZ Productions. He put on all the big punk shows in the Bay Area, some in San Jose, all the way up through Sacramento to Seattle. All of our first shows, the first 3 years, were booked by Paul and David Kaplan, so we cut our teeth on punk shows. We knew how to play to those audiences because that was our audience for at least the first 2 years. But there were some run-ins with people who thought we might be too “rock”…but we took care of those…we could punk a punk. Ha!
SR: How did the band hook up with Metallica’s Kirk Hammett for production of your first demo?
RY: We got a call from a mutual friend–a very wild guy, but cool. His name was Derrick Patton. He gave us a call and said that Kirk was working with some friends of ours (Vain) and doing some recording. He said that he thought we would be a perfect band for Kirk to record. We thought, “cool!” and told him we’d get back to him. Then Courtney Love, a friend of Chris’, who was staying at our house for awhile, told us that the movie she was working on, “Love Kills”, was going to be needing tracks for the soundtrack, and that we should write a song called “Love Kills” and send it to Alex Cox. So we then called Kirk back and told him about the song and he decided to produce the session for $1,500. We then recorded “Love Kills” and, since we had him there, we also did “Bunkbed Creek”, “In the Mood for Love”, “Doghouse” and “Walkin’ the Cat”. We were thrilled to have the chance to work with Kirk. We had no idea that he was going to actually play on the recording and with us in the studio, because he had told us that he hadn’t yet decided–until the end of the session. The song was sent to Alex Cox and we got a reply telling us that he already had 7 “Love Kills” recordings from 7 other bands, including The Ramones, Joe Strummer and a bunch of other people that Courtney had told to write a song called “Love Kills”.
SR: Was the band aware that Ian Astbury of the Cult was interested in producing the debut, and how did you finally secure Mike Clink?
RY: Yes. Ian was a close friend and big supporter of the SeaHags. He offered to produce and I personally think that was a great idea. But the idea was very early on and I think that he was making a point as much as applying for the job…you know, just helping the band get some press and stuff was really what it was about.
The Mike Clink situation came about at a big meeting with Chrysalis about producers. I had a list in my pocket that was half a joke and half dead-serious. I wanted to wake up these executives to the fact that I could ask for a Mutt Lange or a Sir George Martin…so third on my list, Mike Clink, was not totally out of the question. Other names that were mentioned were Rick Rubin, a great producer, and a guy who was offered the job and declined. Also, Steve Brown, the Cult’s producer on “Love”. I said “how ’bout Mike Clink?” and my manager, Chris Coyle, said “what makes you think that we can get Clink?”…and I said “if he likes our music, why not?” So Kate Hyman, an executive at Chrysalis, said she had his number and she thought it was a good idea. They called him and he came and saw us in Long Beach and he liked the show. We got Mike Clink.
SR: How did the band react when Kevin Russell was brought in as the second guitarist, and how did Adam Maples come into the group?
RY: We were very concerned with the lead guitar position on the record. Clink brought in Kevin and he is a good guitar player. We called him “whatev-Kev” forever, but he hung in there and I gotta admit that his guitar playing on the record is great and I like it a lot more than I thought I did at the time. To explain that a little bit is: I was very frantic during the making of this record and it doesn’t help to have drummers removed and put in…and guitars put in–studio only–and after-the-fact at that. So it was understood that we were now going into hard rock territory…the songs were arranged with leads in mind–and also extended intros. Plus Bunkbed Creek, which Kevin Russell totally kicks ass on. Many of the stellar reviews feature Kevin’s lead guitar on this instrumental and it is totally essential to the overall vibe of the album.
As for Adam, he was one of Clink’s aces. Producers of Clink’s caliber have incredible Rolodexes. Clink not only found us Adam, he found us Frankie too. I didn’t know that until a couple of years ago. Adam was a drummer for OC band Legal Weapon. He had just finished their album (produced by Dave Jerden, I think). After Clink saw us, he had a meeting with me and Chris and told us frankly he wasn’t concerned if we wanted to keep Greg Langston as our live drummer–but for him to produce the album, we would have to get a different drummer for the studio. We, of course, knew that our drummer was not quite right for the direction the band was going. At first, with Greg, he was the musician of the band…we had to get many gigs and book recording sessions to keep him interested in playing with us. But as time went by, and the songs developed into bigger and louder anthems, his drums had trouble keeping up. The news was not delivered in the right way. The management was supposed to let Greg know and they did not. They could not seem to bring themselves to it, so he found out on stage at the Kennel Club in S.F. at a big Chrysalis to-do…and it was very ugly. Even after that, I was so pissed that I was told that I couldn’t have this drummer…but I didn’t have a new one yet, so I told Greg “look, you are my drummer until you’re not” so…when we went down to do the record, he came with us. On the first day of rehearsals both Greg and Adam were there. So Clink took Greg for a walk and asked him if he thought he could do this record. And Greg said “no”. So that was it. When Greg got back, I told him to meet his replacement, Adam Maples. It was a joke. But it was true. We’re still friends to this day and I’m glad to say Greg has offered to help in the making of the re-release of the SeaHags debut album, which will feature bonus cuts with Greg Langston on drums. Greg is a very dedicated and organized record collector and so having his involvement is very nice historically and just personally.
SR: Do any stories from the recording of the debut stand out, and what were your thoughts on how the finished product sounded?
RY: Yes. When we were recording, the band–for the first month–was in the main studio doing the bass and drums. I would do some scratch guitars just so Chris and Adam knew where they were at. But when we went back into the control room to hear the playbacks, Clink would be blasting the speakers so loud and I thought for awhile–like a week–that this guy just rocks harder than us and that we couldn’t take it. But then I noticed after we walked down the hall the volume would come back down to a more reasonable level. So I told Chris “it’s not that he’s the ultimate rocker with the volume, he’s just blowing us out of the room cuz he doesn’t wanna hear our bullshit comments”.
Then when we were recording the vocals to “Three is A Charm”–this is basically a Chris Schlosshardt solo spot…he does the lead vocals and most of the back-ups–Chris and I were singing in the vocal booth and I had been punching in vocal parts to “Back To The Grind” all day, so my voice was kinda harsh. The back-ups were these high Stones-style ‘hoo-hoos’ and as I was recording, Clink was looking at me real funny through the glass. After I blew it about 3 times, he just put his thumb up and swung it over his shoulder and told me to get out of there. So we switched places and I was in there watching Clink sing my lines…it was funny…he was real good. No overdubs.
Thoughts on the finished product…I wasn’t quite sure what to think. It was so different from the 3-piece Greg version of the band that it was all very new. Even though the songs had some age to them, they were all rearranged to some degree. Some even re-written completely. So when the record was finished I sat down with Clink and I asked him “Seriously, is this good? I think it is, but I can’t tell anymore, my ears are burnt.” And he said “It is so good”. In fact, he said that he was much prouder of this album than Appetite for Destruction. He said “don’t feel bad cuz it took so long because you essentially did 90% of this record…it directly involved you and these things had to be done one at a time”. So at the end of the record, I was exhausted with it. But I knew we had at least 5 or 6 great tracks. I mean songs that were well-written, well-recorded, well-performed and would have a staying power.
SR: Kevin Russell wasn’t interested in joining the band so Frankie Wilsey was brought in, how was he found?
RY: “Whatev-Kev” wasn’t interested? Who asked? To us, he was tolerated as a studio musician only. We had no intention of checking him out as a live member. We held auditions in Los Angeles and San Francisco for guitar players and we checked out some great guys. It wasn’t an open audition, so it wasn’t like an American Idol thing…the guys we checked out were good, signed, working lead guitar players. One guy was Marc Ford, who eventually ended up in The Black Crowes. He sounded great when he jammed with us, but when I talked to him afterwards, I told him earlier in the day I’d found out he’d just got signed to Atlantic and thought that that was an opportunity that he should not pass up. I also told him he sounded great and he should do his own record and then see how he feels. To be honest, we wanted a San Francisco guy. Adam fit in with us extremely well for a guy not from the Bay Area and we didn’t want to take a chance with a guy who wanted to stay in LA. With Frankie, what I remember was somebody had mentioned that we were going to be jamming with Frankie Wilsey in San Francisco and I was like “yeah, I dig Frankie”…I was a fan of Head On, a very cool glam band that was probably the biggest unsigned band in San Francisco in 1983. We also liked Frankie’s band The Bastard Sons of God.
SR: What bands did you tour with for the debut album and how did things go?
RY: We toured with Badlands, Jake E. Lee’s band, and we played Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus, places like that with them. It was great. Jake was kinda shy, but his singer Ray Gillian was great! Bless him, he passed some years ago, but he was really cool. He always sat about 4 rows back during our sound check and I asked him why he checked out the whole thing every time…and he said “you don’t see that many good rock’n’roll bands these days”…so that was really nice. Also, Eric Singer, the drummer, was very cool and, of course, he does a lot of drumming for Kiss, so that’s cool. And the Georgia Satellites. We played 4 big shows in England with the Satellites. They were totally cool and that’s their reputation. I’ll tell you one little story, we were opening for the band in London at the Town & Country…it’s a huge wide stage in front of about 4,000. As I was singing one of the last songs of our set, I inhaled a big breath of air and a long sweaty string of hair went in my throat. I started gagging. It wasn’t a death threat, but I was in danger of barfing in front of 4,000 people. So I ran to the side of the stage and the Satellites were watching us play from there. I just busted through this line of musicians and threw up on the back stairs. The Satellites thought that was so cool that they invited us onstage at the end of their set to see if I could do it again.
SR: Looking back on the late 80s hard rock scene, was there a band that you thought would have made it for sure. Or a band that became big and at the time you weren’t impressed?
RY: Yes. Us.
Yes. Pearl Jam. I, at the time, did not dig this band. Also, Kurt Cobain is known for being unimpressed by this band. And I think it’s probably for the same reasons. The SeaHags played with Green River in Seattle in 1986, and they are great guys. I was a big fan of Mother Love Bone which, again, are the same guys. But now, many years later, I read an article in Rolling Stone and Eddie Vedder said that he thought Kurt might have changed his mind about Pearl Jam’s music. I think that is a real possibility because I have changed my mind about Pearl Jam’s music. And that’s just a gift of growing older.
SR: What led to the break-up of the Sea Hags?
RY: Frankie leaving in October 1989 is an easy answer. But we were free-thinkers and partiers…and hard to deal with when we didn’t want to be dealt with. Me and Chris had a complex and long relationship. We worked very hard to make it and, as well as being in the band together, we also worked at the same day job together and we also lived in the same house together. We finished each other’s sentences and I think it made for a very strong bond that benefited the band, but also took its toll on the band too.
SR: Chris Schlosshardt died of a suspected heroin overdose in 1991. What were your thoughts then, and looking back do you think anything could have been done to help him?
RY: I was in New York City working with some new guys on February 1st (1991), the day Chris died. On December 27, 1990, I was walking with a friend, Barry Wilder, down Vallencia Street in San Francisco, and Chris and his girlfriend, Shoshaunna, drove by and waved. Chris and I hadn’t talked for almost a year. The group was officially broken up February 1st (1990). But Chris came out of the car with a smile and we shook hands. We talked for a little while, but I did not tell him of my plans to go to New York to play with Ronnie Johanssen from Princess Pang. This was the last time we ever saw each other. On the day that I found out, February 2nd, I had run into one of Chris’ best friends in New York, Saudia. She had told me that she had a dream about Chris…and then she saw me. She told me she was going to call and asked if I wanted to say “hi”. I said sure, knowing now that the news that I was in NYC wasn’t going to stay a secret. So I told her to go ahead and give him my number in New York and said good-bye. When she called back, right away I knew something was wrong. She told me that Chris had died the night before at about 8:05 p.m. At that time, in New York, it was 11:00 and me and my brother, Jim Yocom, a good friend of Chris’, were at the Dakota, visiting Strawberry Fields. Again, to be perfectly honest, after I hung up the phone, I just walked down to the Lower East Side and scored. I was in shock. I had to fly back for the funeral. Kirk Hammett was there, as were 400-500 friends, fans and family of Chris. My thoughts were: we–and I mean the SeaHags family/business–were free-thinkers…what I’m saying is we all indulged to some degree…and I mean girlfriends, management…just everybody we were involved with. Now I don’t want to sound preachy or weird, but this is me, Ron Yocom, saying this…that Chris was warned and well aware that he indulged to excess. Like I said, we all indulged…maybe one or two didn’t…but that’s it. And Chris’ usewas obviously self-destructive.
Could anyone have done anything to help? You know, it’s funny, but Chris took me to my first ‘meeting’ and I didn’t get it for years. But I get it now. And I think he was pointing me towards that. Look, the bottom line is, this guy was a great musician, super-sweet guy…he had his problems, he didn’t hide ’em…hell, he sang about them. Let’s remember him for his life. I know it’s hard not to rubberneck…I love juicy gossip just as much as anybody. But the fact is, we’re talking about him because he was a great rocker.
SR: Chris’ fiancee, Inger Lorre of the Nymphs, was also known for outrageous behavior. Did you ever meet her, and what kind of influence was she on him?
RY: Yes, I’ve met her. I know her. And I really like her. Y’know, back then, when they were going out, I pulled her aside and told her “y’know I have no problem with you at all…I get you…but if you see him acting out of character, pull him back…because you’re a front girl, you know? and he’s the one that needs to be brung along here a little bit”. Now, I did have a problem with Chris. We were doing a show at The Scream–a big LA show–and Chris was trying to speak to her from the stage. I am a traditionalist when it comes to stage etiquette, from rock’n’roll all the way down to a puppet show. It doesn’t matter. Inside jokes and information just shouldn’t be transmitted from the stage. And I flipped. Not on stage, of course. But again, I pleaded with Inger to teach this kid something. As an influence, she was cool. Chris was really into that la-dee-da page six column stuff. And Inger was a bit outrageous and quite cute…and she knew a few of the writers. So she was regularly in the paper. I know that people say there’s no such thing as bad publicity…but when Keith Morris had a thing for Inger, and a column in the LA Weekly, we got some weird press.
SR: There was a rumor that you spent time in federal prison for a drug offence, is there any truth to that?
RY: No. But I did spend about 4 months in San Francisco county jail in 1999. I was just a street-rat/druggie and I got in trouble a couple of times. And the third time they held onto me for a couple of months. But it turned out to be a good thing, because I did hard drugs for maybe a few months longer after I got out, but that was it. I’m thru now and have been since April 3, 2000. So the jail thing wasn’t the greatest, but it did help me get clean. I’m now living in Los Angeles with Sarine Voltage. Our new band is called The Power of 3 and our style is “Now Wave” (you can check us out at www.myspace.com/thepowerof333). I play guitar and sing and Sarine does vocals, keyboards and programming. We’re getting airplay on Indie 103.1 FM in Los Angeles as well as Malcolm Dome’s BBC radio show Total Rock Radio (www.totalrock.com). Also, the SeaHags’ debut album’s being re-released by Rock Candy Records in January 2007.
SR: Did you do anything musically between the Sea Hags and The Power Of 3?
RY: Yes. After the SeaHags broke up, I did a thing with the Princess Pang guys called The Chiefs in NYC. And also jammed with Johnny Thunders in New York on that same trip. You see, in New York, the rhythm sections, bass and drums, are at a premium. So everybody uses everybody else’s. So we essentially borrowed Johnny’s drummer, and he borrowed our bass player, who borrowed Syl Sylvane’s keyboard player. And that’s how it would go. Also, when I got back from New York, I started a band with a bassist, Mike Anderson, and his drummer from Sway, a San Francisco band. Was just basically trying new material and getting stage time from clubs I knew around town. It was called The Holy Barbarians. It was a band name that Ian Astbury had given me. We would often sit around and think of cool band names or song titles. I’m here to tell you that Ian thought of ‘Creed’ and ‘Electric Head’ a decade before anybody else. I also jammed with some cool people, but there were times where I would not touch my guitar for very long periods. I also have been writing in different styles than the hard rock SeaHags stuff and am digging harder sounds once again.
SR: Have you kept in contact with Frankie and Adam over the years?
RY: Yes and no. Adam hooked up with me a couple of years after the ‘Hags and set me up on a blind date in Hollywood with some little actress that was nice. I think his wife, Anne, had something to do with it. Also, I saw on the internet that Adam won an award for a record he did. It won Minnesota’s ‘Record of the Year’…so I thought that was cool.
About Frankie, I see people that see him and we send cool messages back and forth. But if you’ll notice Frankie’s hard to find from all the girls posting messages for him on your message board.
SR: You are now fronting a band called the Power Of 3. After all this time, what finally persuaded you to re-enter the music business?
RY: It’s fun. It’s funny, but the SeaHags never really got dropped. We just broke up. We just stopped. But we had a record that had high critical acclaim and was a major worldwide release. So when we stopped talking to each other, me and Chris, the checks kept coming. We were doing pretty good. In fact, as a band, all I remember is waiting for these checks. After we broke up, they started coming. So of course we refused to tell anybody we broke up for quite awhile. Axel Rose is reported to have walked away from the business. Sounds crazy, but I feel that’s what I did 5 years before he did. The rent on my apartment was paid in advance for 3 years after the band broke up. I figure we did something right…and like I said, it’s fun. It’s a cool challenge…both Sarine and I know it’s about the music…but we also know it’s about getting that music to as many people as possible. And we’re willing to do the work (and have the fun) to make that happen. So that’s what. It’s fun and challenging.
SR: How do you think Hag fans will react to the new sound of the Power Of 3?
RY: I don’t know. That’s their job. I’ve gotten e-mails already from SeaHags fans who raved about the ‘Hags and say The Power of 3’s ‘awesome too’.
Quote from a fan in Germany: “I’m a SeaHags fan since the album was released in the late 80s. Today I stumbled across The Power of 3. The new stuff you did with Sarine is great as well! I read that your live shows are limited, but I was still wondering if you guys plan to show up in Europe in the near future for a gig or even a small tour…? Would be awesome!” — Jorge/Germany
So we’ll see. To me, the SeaHags was really about the energy that could be stirred up by the people standing in front of you at the show. That’s us, the band. And that’s what we’ve got going with The Power of 3. In the early days with Chris, I’m talking about The Tearaways, the best part of our shows was just the energy and enthusiasm that we, me and Chris, brought to the show. Sarine is a high-energy performer and those are the ones that I work with best. Not that more introspective and quiet-type performers can’t be great, but, for me, it’s a release. A live performance really is us acting out a lot of the emotions of the audience and stuff. So really I think people will like the sound…I hope they will. But it’s their job, not mine. Sarine’s programmed and added 3 SeaHags songs for fans of the SeaHags’ listening pleasure, with no prodding by me. So right there, that tells me that she sees a link. She wouldn’t add the material for any other reason.
SR: How did the new band come together?
RY: I am going to have my partner, Sarine Voltage, answer this question.
Sarine: Okay, Ronnie’s taking a smoke break, so here we go: My old bass player, Mike Rosen, called me up on Hallowe’en 2002, asking if he could please come over and hang out…told me he’d been jamming with Ronnie the day before and said I ‘had to meet him’. Mike thought Ronnie was the shit. I remembered the SeaHags from an old Propaganda magazine I’d had from my goth days, plus I’d actually ‘met’ Ron at Chris’ wake, of all things, in ’91–my girlfriend had conned me into going to ‘this really cool party where a bunch of musicians’d be jamming’ and said I could jam too. I finally agreed and she announced on the doorstep that I should pretend I knew this guy ‘Chris’ and that it was his wake. Sweet, huh?!
All I remember was her introducing me to this guy (Ron), telling him I was a bad-ass keyboard player…and Ron, with a sullen sardonic look on his face and his guitar all slung low, asking if I could generate a tone and sound like _____ (Chris’ bass). I never thought of or saw him again till 11 years later when my old bass-player ended up re-introducing us at a mutual friend’s house November 1st (2002). I invited Ronnie over to jam with me and…he just never left. We didn’t plan on making a “band”–he was wanting to put together a ‘power trio’ boy band and I was intent on doing a keyboards-only band without guitar. But we ended up digging on each other’s styles, plus I always liked the boy/girl vocal thing going on. We began writing and arranging a bunch of cool tunes and by April of 2003 we had some real energy going on–and about 30 songs under our belts. So we headed to Hollywood to sound it out–and actually had the audiences singing along to our original tunes at our very first shows…’permission to go on’. Yeah. Voila–The Power of 3.
SR: What is planned for the future with your new band, and can we expect an album shortly?
RY: We’ve just relocated to Los Angeles and plan a full-on live and recording and writing schedule. We have a DVD coming out by Campaign for Care (all proceeds go the homeless). The DVD includes live performances by Babyland, EMA3 and The Power of 3, as well as information on how to help the homeless. We feel it’s very important to remember that we’re all one and that everybody matters. Tune in for the next exciting episode…
Thank you so much, Skid…and to all the people that enjoy the music that the SeaHags made, I hope you check out The Power of 3…have fun…and rock on!