Malibu Kens History Chapter 4

The following text represents my opinion and my best recollection of the events that happened 20 years ago. If you were there you may have a different recollection of these events and a different opinion. Scott Juskiw, January 2001.

IV. Smoldering Demise [January 1981 - June 1981]

January 1981 began with a number of new gigs. We played at the Centennial library Theatre on January 17, 1981 along with the Wheelies and the Rock 'n' Roll Bitches. Apparently, QCTV videotaped the event, but I don't recall ever seeing the tapes. The most significant gig for us was another opener for the Modern Minds at the Riviera Rock Room. I don't recall if it was a two day (Friday - Saturday) or a three day (Thursday - Saturday) gig. What made it special was that part of the Saturday show would be broadcast live on K-97 FM (they weren't going to broadcast us, just the Modern Minds). In the usual fashion, we were hired by the Modern Minds, not by the Riviera, and I don't think we were paid anything to be the opening band. We were even on the marquee, but they spelled our name as one word, "MALIBUKENS". When Mike asked someone at the Riviera to put a space between the U and the K they looked at us as if to say "who the hell do you think you are, the Rolling Stones". Not that it mattered, we were fired after the first night. The Riviera Rock Room manager, John Bell, hated us and told the Modern Minds that we couldn't play there any more and that they couldn't hire any opening bands. We were surprised and annoyed by this, especially since it was our first gig as the Malibu Kens and we were putting on a much tighter show than we had ever done before. The next evening, when John Bell went on stage to introduce the Modern Minds, there were numerous calls from the audience to bring on Joey Did and the Malibu Kens. Some of those calls came from Ian McGillis, Liam Cashman, and some others who hadn't seen us in a long time. But John Bell just dismissed them, and us. So the Modern Minds had to play the whole evening themselves. They did the live broadcast on Saturday night and we had a great time. Listening to a recording of the live broadcast I can hear me and Ed screaming, and I can distinctly hear Mike yelling "K-97 sucks".

It was Kim Upright that asked us to open for the Modern Minds at the Riviera. He had taken an interest in us a number of months ago, though I don't understand why. Whereas most people hated us or barely tolerated us, Kim seemed to think we had some kind of untapped potential, that we would be the next big thing and he wanted to be a part of it. This seemed very bizarre to us and we weren't sure what to make of it. We enjoyed the attention because we liked doing gigs with the Modern Minds. Even after the Modern Minds split up, Kim stayed in contact with us and helped us get a number of gigs over the next year, eventually displacing Ian Istvanffy as our manager. Kim also helped us produce our single, Be My Barbie.

On March 6 and 7 we went into Homestead Recorders to record our first single. We had argued long and hard about which songs to record. For financial reasons we decided to record a two song single, rather than a three or four song EP. Considering that our songs up to that point were either written by me and Dennis, or me and Mike, we decided to pick one song from each song writing team. Since I had a hand in writing all the songs I didn't care too much about which songs were picked. Our first choice from the Dennis/Scott combo was Crude City, not because it was one of our better songs, but because we were an Edmonton band and Crude City was about Edmonton. We should have picked Back in the Archipelago; I thought it was our best song. I even remember Lars Wanagas (owner of Homestead Recorders) asking us if we were going to record that song that went "Baaaaack in the archipelago, oh woah, I'm back in the archipelago". It was weird hearing someone else singing our song, a sign that we should not have ignored. Dennis was very keen on recording Insomnia for the Mike/Scott song because he believed it was the most musically progressive of the Mike/Scott songs. Mike however, being his own worst critic, threw a real wrench into the works. He hated the lyrics to his own songs and decided to rewrite the lyrics to Insomnia a few days before we were to go into the studio to record. But it wasn't just a rewrite of a pop song about being very tired, it was a completely new song with a new title, a rant about running away from home. At the time, I was really angry at him for doing this. I liked Insomnia. I hated the new song: Wednesday Morning. But there was no room for negotiating; we were booked to record at Homestead Recorders and Mike wasn't about to budge on this one.

A couple of days before heading into the studio we created demo recordings of Crude City and Wednesday Morning. We met with Kim and let him hear the songs so he would know what to expect from us in the studio. We had never recorded in a real studio before and we appreciated his advice and assistance. Previously, I had been in full control of all the basement recordings we had made; the end result was always my production. I was expecting that someone else would be there at Homestead Recorders to "produce" us, to give us that overly compressed 20 layers of guitar sound that I liked so much. It didn't happen that way. We setup our gear in the studio, and we played the songs. Then we overdubbed a couple more guitar tracks, added the lead vocals, added some background vocals, and finally mixed it down to stereo. The end result was so boring. Although we played the songs better than ever before, they were so clean sounding as to be almost sterile. The basement demos we had made only days before had much more feeling and energy. We went back a week later to remix the songs in order to bring out more energy. We remixed Crude City but it didn't sound much different, the guitars were just a bit louder. The tape for Wednesday Morning had been recorded over already and so we couldn't remix it (we didn't buy our own tapes, we just used ones from the studio to save money). In the end we spent 11 hours on the recording and mixing at $50 an hour. We asked Lars to send the tapes off to World Records and get 1000 copies made. We knew we didn't stand a chance of selling that many but that was the minimum order. It would be several months before the vinyl would arrive. Our next step was to work on the packaging.

I don't recall who came up with the record title, but we stuck with the Malibu Ken theme and called our single Be My Barbie. We had numerous resources available to us for the artwork: Dennis designed the record label and back cover, Myron Nebozuk drew the front cover art from a photograph taken of us from the Riviera Rock Room, Ken Chinn created the poster and lyric sheet, and Eric Baumgartner took the photos. We had 1000 copies of all the artwork printed up at Central Web (the minimum order) and bought a bunch of plastic bags to stick everything into (I think they were sandwich bags). The artwork was all done for free, we only had to pay for the printing and the bags.

And then we waited, and waited, and waited, for the records to arrive. It would be a long wait and other things would happen in the meantime. There were more hall parties and other gigs in the intervening months. The most significant one would be the Teen Dance held at Spartan's Men's Club on April 3, 1981. Mike organized this gig and it was both phenomenal and historic. This was the first punk rock gig to be held at Spartan's. It would be the first of dozens if not hundreds to follow. During the next few years, Spartan's would become the place for hall parties. Gigs were almost weekly up until the day the building was torn down. The Teen Dance lineup included the Malibu Kens, the Urban Surfers, and New Values. Hundreds of people were there. However, probably only half of the people paid to get in. Tickets were printed up and sold in advance but we believed that many were given away for free. There was no door security other than our manager Ian at the main entrance. People were sneaking in all the other doors. I recall seeing the Diefenbakers walk in the front door and Ian asked them if they had tickets, they just shrugged their shoulders and walked in without paying. What was Ian supposed to do? Beat them out the door? Ian told us people were walking in for free all night long and that he would never ever do that job again. So although attendance was high at the Teen Dance, profit was low. After paying the hall rental and PA, only about $300 was left to be split up between the bands. I remember that the PA rental was expensive and that it came from the PA Shop along with a crew to operate it. These guys had never been to a punk rock hall party and they were completely unprepared to see people climbing on their speakers and diving into the crowd, along with all the beer throwing and other reckless behaviour. This totally freaked them out and they were worried that their equipment would get damaged. They wanted to leave and Mike had to pay them in advance, in cash, to get them to stay. They never did another hall party. But Mike did. In fact, he organized another similar gig, the Wine and Cheese Social, about a month later. This gig was not nearly as successful, probably because there was better security so fewer people got in for free. I recorded the Urban Surfers and the Malibu Kens at both the Teen Dance and the Wine and Cheese Social. I also got a recording of the Rock 'n' Roll Bitches who made an impromptu appearance at the former and played a few songs unannounced. They probably just walked in like everybody else, but at least they worked for it.

On April 25, 1981 we played a gig with Blank Generation, Insex, and 54-40 at the Sub Theatre. This was long before 54-40 became famous, they were just another punk band back then. The gig was videotaped by QCTV and they created an hour long special which featured each band for 15 minutes. I recall playing the gig and being present at the video editing session, but I don't recall seeing the finished product. Many others did see the show when it aired on TV and it would come back to haunt us.

So what was it with all the spitting anyway? Early on we were introduced to the idea that it was common for an audience to spit at punk bands. I don't know how these fads start, but I sure wasn't too happy about it. I don't recall ever being spat on at a gig. I'm guessing that nobody spat on me because they knew I'd walk off if they did. Dennis got spat on at our first gig by Michelle McNally, but that was mostly done as a joke. If there was ever a target for spit it was spelled Mike McDonald. I couldn't believe what Mike used to go through at some of our gigs, it was totally disgusting. I think it was at the Wine and Cheese Social where Dale and Gubby stood right at the front of the stage with beers in hand. They'd drink, then spit, then drink, then spit. They did this continuously for our entire set. And it was all directed at Mike, he was absolutely drenched. He looked like he had been dipped in a vat of gob and placed onstage. He couldn't even wipe his face off because his shirt was soaked. How the hell did he ever put up with that?

Between the recording and release of Be My Barbie the band went through its usual growing pains. Dennis seemed to be losing interest once again in what we were doing and was becoming more interested in Rockabilly. There was no way we could play Rockabilly, we could barely play punk rock. Nor did the rest of us have any interest in Rockabilly. Dennis even wrote a Rockabilly song, Rock Past Twelve, that we utterly destroyed; we played it like a punk rock band. I remember Dennis being very annoyed at how we ruined his new song. The rest of us could sense that a division was growing in the band and it came as no surprise to us when Dennis eventually announced his intention to start a new band. The split was mutual; we were interested in having someone else play bass in the Malibu Kens: Jungle Jim from the Urban Surfers.

Mike had met Jungle Jim at a hall party many months ago when we were still called Joey Did. I had indirectly became acquainted with Jim via QCTV's Discs and Dedications show. Discs and Dedications was an after school program on channel 10 where DJs played their favourite music and talked about it; essentially a radio show on TV. Jim had a remarkably similar taste in music to Mike and I. Mike went to watch Jim host the show one day and there he met Ian Istvanffy, the show's creator, who eventually became our manager. Jim had created the Urban Surfers with Al Miller and Evan C. Jones in the early part of 1981. I first met them all at the Teen Dance. Mike, Ed, and I all got along well with Jim and through the months of April to June of 1981 we would all become good friends. Jim introduced us to the Rose Bowl, the best pizza in the world, where we would wind up becoming almost daily patrons for years to come. Knowing that Dennis was going to leave soon, it was sometime in May 1981 when Mike and I asked Jim if he would be interested in quitting the Urban Surfers and joining the Malibu Kens. Jim was flattered, but declined the offer. This left us a little unsure about the future: Dennis was about to leave, we didn't have a replacement for him, and we had a record on the way.

The last gig we played with Dennis was at the Ambassador Hotel June 2, 1981. The Ambassador occasionally held week long "benefit" gigs for local bands. Nobody ever got paid for playing, it was mostly for exposure. There were usually two bands playing each night and each band would play two evenings that week. We were scheduled to play Tuesday and Thursday evening that week. When we played the Tuesday show we knew the band was about to split up and figured we had nothing to lose and therefore we should try to have some fun. We abandoned our previous resolve to play a tight set where we concentrated on musicianship and instead we jammed as we often used to do in practice. We made things up, played things badly, and had a lot of fun. I remember having lots of problems with my guitar going out of tune and that Dennis was very quiet the whole evening. It must have sounded awful and looked very unprofessional because the next day we got fired and we were not allowed to play the Thursday show. The Urban Surfers were called in to replace us.

What made it more ironic is that the Urban Surfers broke up a few weeks later. Ken MacKay had been thrown out of the Rock 'n' Roll Bitches a few months prior and had been talking to Al Miller about making a new band. Al kicked Jim out of the Urban Surfers and along with Ken Mackay and Evan C. Jones created the Reverb Angels. This was great news for the Malibu Kens since Dennis had left us by then and we didn't have a replacement. For a while we toyed with the idea of having me switch to bass and getting a new guitar player. We had auditioned a few people but nobody really clicked. Although I was a terrible guitar player, I enjoyed it much more than the bass. When we heard about the Urban Surfers breakup, we asked Jim once again if he'd play bass for the Malibu Kens and he did accept, although not immediately, and not without a few small concessions (mostly concerning the choices of cover tunes). Thus by the end of June 1981 Joey Did was finished and the "real" Malibu Kens had formed. These Malibu Kens would continue on for another two years before finally calling it quits.

While all the turmoil about band breakups was going on, we still had to deal with our unreleased record. What a terrible time for it to come out. It was sometime back in April, when we heard from World Records that Be My Barbie would be shipped to us on May 20, 1981. On that very date we got a call from Lars saying the records were in and we went to pick them up. But it would be a couple more weeks before we began to sell the records. I believe the delay was due to us having problems getting the plastic bags. We also had to fold all the posters and outer sleeves and insert them into the plastic bag along with the record. We didn't package all 1000 copies because we knew we'd never sell that many. We had a record packaging party and prepared about 200. We also inserted bonus singles into the first 50 packages just to confuse people. The bonus singles were various kids records that I had from many years ago, mostly weird Disney stuff.

I don't remember the cost of the record pressing, or the artwork printing. I also don't remember how we paid for the whole thing. We rarely ever got paid to play gigs. We must have had some money saved up from some gigs and then I probably loaned the band the rest of the money. The Malibu Kens must have worked for a whole year to pay it all off. I do remember that in order to cover our expenses we would have had to charge $2.00 or $2.50 for each single, assuming that we sold all 1000 copies. I believe we tried to sell the single for $3.00. We sold most of them directly, some through Sound Connection, and a few were sold through Sam the Record Man in Edmonton Centre. In the end we only sold about 150 records. Most of the sales occurred during June 1981 after Dennis had left. We had very little interest in promoting the record and trying to sell it. Although we were sticking with the Malibu Kens name, the band on the record didn't exist anymore. Once Jim joined the band we changed our musical style and didn't even want to play those songs anymore. We did play Crude City and Wednesday Morning a couple of times, but only to try to sell the record; we hated playing them. The new Malibu Kens were a 1960s garage rock band, the band on Be My Barbie was a 1980s punk rock band. We didn't want to promote something with our name on it that wasn't a proper reflection of our new musical style. In hindsight, we should have changed our name.

Mike came up with a great publicity stunt to promote Be My Barbie. In July 1981 we staged a "burgers and coke" hunger strike at K-97. The premise was that we would subsist solely on burgers and coke until they played Be My Barbie on the radio. It was a great publicity stunt and we got a lot of attention for it. We got a half page write up in two local newspapers and the Alberta Report along with our picture. We made up signs and picketed outside of K-97 for a whole day. They made jokes about us on the radio. They also interviewed Mike and I recall hearing him on the 6 o'clock evening news that day. We even had Ed phone in to a talk radio show to tell them about our plight. I had to work at Safeway that evening and even there I heard people talking about it. When I told them that it was my band, they laughed their heads off. Unfortunately, we weakened and gave up the stunt after the first day. Dennis wasn't involved in the hunger strike since he had already left the band, but afterwards he lamented that we didn't stick it out long enough to make The National. Maybe we could have sold a few more records if we did. The main reason we gave up so soon was that we simply didn't care about Be My Barbie. It was an embarrassing albatross to us; the bastard son we didn't want. Dallas told us a story about a coworker of hers that read about our hunger strike in the newspaper and said, "The Malibu Kens? I saw them on QCTV a few months ago. They were awful, I hope they starve to death." We found out from someone that K-97 eventually did play our record a week after the hunger strike. They asked listeners to phone in their comments. We were told that the negatives outnumbered the positives. Naturally.

We kept trying to sell the record throughout the summer, albeit half-heartedly. We were just trying to recoup some of the expense. We had so many records leftover that we had to find alternate uses for them. We used to make ashtrays by covering up the hole with tape and then heating and bending the vinyl upwards. By September 1981 we had given up trying to sell anymore and split up the remaining stock five ways between myself, Mike, Dennis, Ed, and Ian (our manager). We each received about 170 records. I think most of them ended up in landfills shortly thereafter. Over the next few years I would chuckle whenever I saw one in the used bin at Sound Connection. Especially funny were the ones that Mike had signed for friends. Twenty years later that record would become a collector's item in Edmonton's alternative music scene. Not because the record is any good, just because it's so rare. It was one of the first records released by an Edmonton punk band, and there were so few that entered the channel. Oh, if only people had bought them when they had the chance.

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Last updated: October 14, 2017