Fifteen bands that should have been huge!
By Ruben Mosqueda
I love rock ‘n’ roll music. I remember discovering KISS via my uncle’s 8-track collection. I remember going out cruising with him in his muscle car while he cranked the tunes. It was the late 70’s and I was hooked, and by the early 80’s, I was listening to the usual suspects — Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Iron Maiden, KISS sans the paint, Van Halen and the like. We didn’t have radio like Southern California did. It was a treat to listen to KNAC when visiting, though depending on where you were, you could go 20 paces in another direction and you’d lose reception! I clearly remember listening to Armored Saint and then nothing! Towards the tail end of the 80’s into the early 90’s, we were able to tune into the Texas based, syndicated Z-Rock which was dedicated to metal and hard rock. It featured the likes of Extreme, BulletBoys, Sleeze Beez… and other discoveries.
Sleaze Roxx readers know most of these bands and are probably on their lists too. You’ll probably agree or perhaps not, post your comments on our Facebook page or in the comments section at the bottom of this feature. We’d love to hear from you.
Here’s a list of 15 acts that should have been huge. They aren’t in a particular order.
1. Little Caesar
2020 marked the 30th Anniversary of Little Caesar’s self-titled debut album, produced by the great Bob Rock. The album’s lead off single was a cover of the motown classic “Chain of Fools.” I was floored by a tattooed looking biker with long curly hair with an incredible soulful vocal. Armed with tracks like the aforementioned, “Cajun Panther,” “Drive It Home,” “From The Start” and “In Your Arms” this album is as solid as they come. Singer Ron Young was featured in Terminator 2, he’s the biker that was thrown out the window by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the bar scene. Little Caesar was reissued by Rock Candy Records based out of the U.K. a few years back.
Little Caesar‘s “Drive It Home” video:
Junkyard had such a fitting name as it fit their image. They were rough around the edges, sleazy, dirty, and loud. Junkyard have a little twang to their sound too, which sets them apart from the second wave of L.A. acts. Their self-titled 1989 Geffen Records debut featured nuggets like “Hollywood,” “Blooze,” “Hot Rod” and the ballad “Simple Man” which in my opinion tops Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ballad by the same name. The band were a staple on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. You couldn’t tune in and not see the video for “Hollywood.” It’s their signature song and it’s never gotten old. The band released an EP in 2003 before they took a hiatus (they have since reformed and released new music). Tried And True was an acoustic collection of tunes. A stripped down record like that was unexpected, out of the box for a band like Junkyard, but it worked incredibly well.
Junkyard‘s “Hollywood” video:
3. Circus of Power
New York City’s own Circus of Power first landed on my radar when I saw the video clip for “Motor” on MTV. Circus of Power released their self-titled debut on RCA in 1988. They had an image that rivaled Guns N’ Roses and a sound that was grittier, grimier and sleazier. They looked like they rolled up on the wrong side of the gutter, but had the songs and chops! Frontman Alex Mitchell had a Jim Morrison vibe to his vocals. Their no frills approach should have caught on like wildfire by the time the grunge movement rolled in. It didn’t. What a travesty. Their RCA albums are out of print but Rock Candy Records has reissued Circus of Power and Vices with new liners and bonus content.
Circus of Power‘s “Motor” video:
This band was identifiable because of frontman Micky Finn’s blonde mohawk. Sure that set them apart, but they were a mix of Sunset Strip rock and European glam, so a cross between the New York Dolls and Hanoi Rocks. The band was signed in 1986 by Elektra Records who sat on the album, then eventually released the band. They were then picked up by MCA Records who released their debut album Feel The Shake and eventually released a video for the title track. What a wonderful band and they’re still going strong today. They still bring it live too. This is another act that I saw in 2019 on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise. Unfortunately, with guitarist Fernie Rod having apparently left Jetboy and guitarist Billy Rowe having joined Buckcherry, it seems that it will be difficult to continue the band.
Status: On hiatus
Jetboy‘s “Feel The Shake” video:
5. Tora Tora
I was familiar with Tora Tora long before I saw them live. They had received airplay on MTV with the bluesy “Walkin’ Shoes.” These guys brilliantly meshed the boogie of Van Halen with the blues sound of the mighty Led Zeppelin and Cactus. A&M Records released their debut Surprise Attack in 1989 right before the Seattle wave helped devour the 80’s rock scene. Armed with tracks like “Walkin’ Shoes,” “Phantom Rider,” “Life’s A Bitch,” “Guilty,” “28 Days” and “Being There,” made for one of the best debut albums of the genre. I saw them in 1990 when they were touring behind this album and they played the entire thing! Fast Forward to 2019, I saw them twice on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise and they were just as incredible! If you missed out on this sleeper band, don’t hesitate to seek out their music.
Tora Tora‘s “Walkin’ Shoes” video:
6. Love On Ice
Portland, Oregon’s own Love On Ice mixed some of the best elements of hard rock and alternative and created a unique, edgy form of hard rock. Check out their record Nude released in 1992. Also you can find the track “Showdown” on the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack. The song “Showdown” was on Love On Ice‘s demo that they shopped around to labels and it was cut exclusively for the soundtrack. “Showdown” should have been on Nude if you ask me. It was that good and a fan favorite in their live set. If you want more information on Love On Ice including why they ended up disbanding, I interviewed guitarist Dirk Sullivan back in May 2021.
Love On Ice‘s “Showdown” video:
7. Salty Dog
This band would have been the second coming of Led Zeppelin had their album Every Dog Has Its Day not hit the streets in 1990. They were two year away from Kingdom Come who landed a gold album in the United States and an opening slot on Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock Tour that hit stadiums across the US. Salty Dog, who were named after a fruity adult beverage of vodka grapefruit, served in a tall glass — salted of course — missed their shot by months. The album featured hard hitting tracks like “Come Along” and “Ring My Bell” along with a killer cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Spoonful.” Geffen Records lack of promotion buried this album and it quickly hit the cut-out racks. Have no fear as part of their domestic campaign, Rock Candy Records issued an expanded version complete with new liners and some pre-production demos. Salty Dog should have been bigger than Kingdom Come… The drum sound on their debut record is simply monstrous.
Salty Dog‘s “Come Along” video:
8. The Scream
I could just say this band features John Corabi who landed the Mötley Crüe gig based on the strength of this record and a couple of guys that were in Racer-X. Their debut album Let It Scream is an Aerosmith influenced rocker that is an event from beginning to end with tracks like “Outlaw,” “I Believe In Me,” “Man In The Moon,” “Never Loved Her Anyway” and “Love’s Got A Hold On Me” featuring Badlands’ Ray Gillen. Everything you just read should be enough, right? Did I mention it was produced by the great Eddie Kramer? Let It Scream was issued by Hollywood Records in 1991, then reissued by Spitfire Records in the 2000s and again by UK label Rock Candy Records in 2018.
The Scream‘s “I Believe In Me” video:
9. Shark Island
If you look up on YouTube and search “Richard Black & Axl Rose”, you will no doubt be directed to a video clip of Shark Island along with Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose and (at the time) guitarist Tracii Guns performing a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll.” In said clip, Black is slithering around on stage like you saw Axl doing on the “Welcome To The Jungle” video. You bear witness to Rose mimicking Black’s movements, not yet refined, but definitely something he ‘borrowed’ from the Shark Island frontman. Shark Island went on to release their debut album Law of The Order on Epic Records in 1989. The lead off single was “Paris Calling” which is a great mix of AOR and Sunset Strip rock ‘n’ roll. They also covered Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” which was a brilliant addition to the album.
Shark Island‘s “Paris Calling” video:
10. Bang Tango
I absolutely love their debut album Psycho Cafe. It was issued in 1989 on MCA Records, the album was preceded by an independent live EP titled Live Injection also in 1989, that is also worth owning. Bang Tango had a chance at a bite of the apple as the decade came to a close, their gritty, aggressive, groove oriented hard rock should have had mass appeal, but the label didn’t know what to do with this band in terms of marketing it and MCA dropped the ball. When their sophomore album Dancin’ On Coals was released, the scene was in the midst of an overhaul and the fact that the band leaned toward a gothic image and sound, just totally alienated what fanbase was left. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great record, but doesn’t match Psycho Cafe. Some of the highlights from the debut album are “Someone Like You,” “Breaking Up A Heart of Stone” and “Attack Of Life.”
Bang Tango‘s “Breaking Up A Heart of Stone” video:
11. War Babies
Seattle’s own War Babies featured former TKO frontman Brad Sinsel. The band received some air play on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, with “Blue Tomorrow” (a tribute to Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood) and “Hang Me Up” (which was co-written by Paul Stanley of KISS as well as “Cry Yourself To Sleep”). The strength of the singles enabled them some air play on radio in and around the Pacific Northwest, but not enough to break them from the stigma of a band with an 80’s sound. If you look on eBay, you can score yourself a copy of their 1992 self-tilted Columbia Records debut album. The album was reissued by Bad Reputation Records out of France in 2007 with bonus content.
War Babies‘ “Hang Me Up” video:
12. The Outpatience
Using a play on ‘outpatient’ which as you know is a reference to rehab, this So Cal act features Guns N’ Roses protégé West Arkeen on guitar, James Hunting on bass (who would later play with John Corabi in Union) and his brother Joey Hunting on guitar. Their album Anxious Disease was released in 1996 and by 1997, Arkeen died from an opioid overdose. The Outpatience disbanded shortly after and this album did not receive its due as a result. Track down a copy of this out of print gem. It features appearances from Guns N’ Roses members Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan as well as Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens.
The Outpatience‘s “Cold Duck” video:
13. Sea Hags
This band was the Bay Area’s answer to what was happening in L.A. with bands like L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat and of course, the mighty Guns N’ Roses. Their long out of print self-titled album , produced by Mike Clink (Guns N’ Roses, Megadeth) was reissued by Rock Candy Records in 2007 with bonus content and new liners. The Sea Hags did get a taste of success outside of the United States. They were special guests to The Georgia Satellites on their European tour and booked some headlining club gigs on days off from the tour. In the end, lack of support by Chrysalis Records and dope problems imploded the band and ultimately resulted in a casualty. Sea Hags‘ bassist Chris Schlosshardt died of an overdose. Guitarist / frontman Ron Yocom tried to relaunch the band in 2007 but things eroded quickly with Yocom disappearing as quickly as he reappeared.
Sea Hags‘ “Half The Way Valley” promo video:
14. Rough Cutt
What potential! With Ronnie James Dio taking them under their wing, Rough Cutt issued their debut self-titled album in 1985 with songs like “Cutt Your Heart Out,” “Take Her,” “Dreamin’Again.” “Black Widow,” “You Keep Breaking My Heart,” and a pair of covers in “Never Gonna Die,” and “Piece of My Heart” (the latter which was made famous by Janis Joplin). We thought they were on course to rival Mötley Crüe and Ratt, but such was not the case. The band dissolved after the ‘ultra slick’ follow-up Wants You. The band has reformed a handful of times, recorded more music and then disbanded again. As of 2022, there are two camps fighting for the name. Going into June 2022, it is radio silence from both camps. The Paul Shortino camp released an album of demos as III in June 2021 while the Chris Hager and Dave Alford camp released a video for a song titled “Black Rose” in March 2021 but no album.
Status: Two bands with the same name.
Rough Cutt‘s “Piece of My Heart” video:
15. Mother Love Bone
This one might be a polarizing pick only because, while Mother Love Bone were a glam based band out of Seattle, once they disbanded after the death of frontman Andrew Wood, two of the band members went on to work with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell in Temple of The Dog. After the Temple of The Dog project, it facilitated the formation of Pearl Jam. I don’t need to tell you what happened next. Mother Love Bone’s Apple was released posthumously and features killer cuts like “Stardog Champion,” “Stargazer,” “This Is Shangrila,” “Holy Roller,” and the ballad “Crown of Thrown.” I was fortunate enough to have caught a couple of their shows. What a band.
Mother Love Bone‘s “Stardog Champion” video: