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Phil Gammage
"Adventures in Bluesland"
Phil Gammage: Adventures in Bluesland

Phil Gammage
"Kneel to the Rising Sun"
20th Anniversary Edition

originally released on New Rose (France)
Phil Gammage: Kneel to the Rising Sun

The Scarlet Dukes
"Rogue Escapade" Jump blues/swing
The Scarlet Dukes: Rogue Escapades
The Scarlet Dukes - Rogue Escapades

Certain General
"November's Heat" 1985's classic NYC post-punk LP November's Heat

Phil Gammage
"Tracks of Sound"
Edgy downtown jazz Phil Gammage - Tracks of Sound


by Jo Ann Sieger

jim nashJim Nash was one of the most charismatic and innovative individuals I have ever known. Jim, co-founder/owner of Wax Trax! Records, died of AIDS at the age of 47 in October 1995. When I heard the news, I was sad that such a unique individual was gone. Had it really been nearly twenty years since I first met Jim Nash?

I had the luck and good fortune to meet Jim back in 1976 in Denver, Colorado. At that time, in the midst of Disco Ducks, Rocky Mountain Highs and Stairways to Heaven, I found myself in the minority, an outcast in the Mile High City. I was 19 years old and wore glitter nail polish and platform shoes rather than flannel shirts and Birkenstocks. While everyone else was listening to FM fare of the day, I was buying up records by Sparks, New York Dolls, Roxy Music and T-Rex.

I came upon Wax Trax! quite by accident. Before Jim had the store (and subsequent label) in Chicago, he and his partner, Dannie Flescher, had a small store on Ogden Street (exact address unknown now) in the Capitol Hill area (seedy with traces of hipness) of Denver. I was riding in the family car one afternoon when I spotted a life-sized cardboard stand-up of Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks in front of a small storefront. I told my dad to stop the car and jumped out and ran inside. I couldn't believe my eyes. Jim and a few other friends/employees were quite amused at the sight of this out-of-breath, wild-eyed girl muttering about Sparks. Sparks were my favorite band at that time (and I'm still a fan club member today) so I was ecstatic. I was feasting my eyes as I looked about the store—the walls were covered with posters and record covers of rockabilly stars (Wanda Jackson, Elvis Presley, Link Wray), Glam rockers (Roxy Music, David Bowie, Sparks), 60's British bands (The Kinks, Stones) and garage bands (Astronauts, Trashmen.) On the store speakers, the Ramones' first album was blaring. Never had I met anyone else in Denver who had even heard of the Ramones. From that moment on, I became a "Wax Trax! girl" and became a semi-permanent fixture at the store.

When I first met Jim, he was a huge Roxy Music fan and had recently visited the UK where he met Bryan Ferry along with his then fiancé, Jerry Hall. Jim was animated and passionate when he talked about Roxy Music but then again, he was that way about the music that mattered to him. I would visit the store weekly and would have the latest Sparks import single or rare rockabilly instrumental ("Saturday in the Duck Pond") in my hand within minutes thanks to Jim and his staff. People like Greg Pickett, Steve Knutsen and Tom Nash (Jim Nash' older brother) were more like a family than employees and were characters in their own right. Outcasts like me.

When punk rock exploded in 1977-78, Wax Trax! had all the latest import 45's and albums. I was the first on my block to have "Neat Neat Neat" (Damned) "Anarchy in the UK" (Sex Pistols) "X Offender" (Blondie), "White Riot" (Clash) and "Orgasm Addict" (Buzzcocks.) This was years before the Internet so I doubt I would have had access to anything like that if it weren't for Wax Trax.

Jim and Dannie even flew to Texas to see the Sex Pistols ill-fated U.S. tour. Jim Nash was the coolest man in town. Wax Trax! was not just a record store but the CENTER of the burgeoning Denver punk scene too. Jim would host outrageous parties with go-go boys wearing fishnet stockings (and not much else) while blaring out "Love is the Drug" or "Beat on the Brat" or the entire "Real Life" album by Magazine. Wax Trax! was the oasis for the small group of outsiders, misfits, rock and roll fiends, transvestites, gays and straights that just didn't fit into the norm and loved rock and roll.

Before long, Wax Trax! hosted special "punk nights" at anyplace that would be willing (gay discos, country bars, etc.) with willing local punk bands (we may have had two or three at that time.) One early show in the spring of 1977 was held above the Ogden Street store in an old, bare loft room and featured the Ravers and the Front. That night was short-lived due to the local cops pulling the plug. They didn't like the looks of us one bit and said something about not having the proper permits.

Besides the disappointment of not seeing the entire show, I was also embarrassed since my mom and younger brother had chaperoned me (I had never gone out before until I found Wax Trax.) I got over the embarrassment soon as fear took over. After being unceremoniously dumped onto the street, we found ourselves on Colfax Street looking for a phone to call my dad to pick us up earlier than expected. The Capital Hill area was seedier in those days so the only people on the streets at night were hookers, winos and up-to-no-good thugs. We huddled nervously together until we were rescued. Waiting for the man, I mean the dad, indeed.

A second show, about a month later, featuring a power pop trio from LA, The Nerves, was more successful (Jim had secured the proper documents this time.) They arrived 30-45 minutes late but it was well worth the delay. As they made their entrance up the fire escape, they walked in with their Beatle haircuts, three piece tan suits, plugged in their guitars and won over the small crowd with their infectious, power pop gems. Two of their songs, "Hanging on the Telephone" and "Will Anything Happen" were covered by Blondie on their breakthrough (sold in excess of 20 million copies) album "Parallel Lines" in 1978. What a wonderful, life changing experience that was for me.

Jim and Dannie started to reach out and bring in out-of town bands too. We were appreciative and welcoming to the Suicide Commandos (Minneapolis), Marbles and Tuff Darts (NYC), Charlie Burton and Rock Therapy (Omaha) and almost got the Cramps too. I think the local bar, Doc Weeds, was scared away so it never materialized. Jim and Company set their sights on creating their own scene. Since there were no punk venues, Jim had to be creative. Fern bars, hotel ballrooms and country bars like The John (perfect name for this toilet) became our temporary haunts. The John regulars were always trying to pick fights with us because they objected to our attire, same gender dancing and music. After a half dozen times, we were asked not to come back and escaping short of injury. Another venue, the Oxford Hotel had enough of us after someone fell through the plate glass window (one drunk ruins it every time). The funniest reason was when Club Aeroplane (after 3-4 shows) made up the lame excuse that we were banned because we didn't have the proper attire—people had on sneakers! Hey, I had on my fuschia cowboy boots though.

Finally by 1978, we were lucky enough to have a regular venue, The Malfunction Junction, and a favorite band, the Jonny Three. The Jonny Three was the band endorsed and sponsored by Wax Trax and was gaining a devoted following. I was the unofficial president of the unofficial fan club!

The Jonnies played the Malfunction throughout 1978 and into 1979. We dubbed ourselves the "Littleton Contingent" after the Bromley Contingent that supported the Sex Pistols. The "contingent" went to every single concert the Jonny Three played (Malfunction, other bars, private parties, outdoor events.) On one occasion, Jim, Dannie, myself and a few other of the "contingent" drove to Laramie, Wyoming to see the Jonny Three play at the Summit Tavern. This place was in the middle nowhere, right off the highway. The bands played outside the tavern—no stage and crude PA system—and were all country rock type bands except the Jonny Three. The locals did not know what to make of this small, black clad, spiked haired group dancing and kicking up a dirt storm while twisting away to the Jonny Three. We didn't linger too long afterwards since we didn't like the way some of the bikers were glaring at us. Another trek almost took us to Omaha, Nebraska. However, the band van broke down so we had a party in Littleton instead. By the end of that night, the floorboards were quite loose and we were fearful we'd all fall through to the basement. That happened a lot when the Jonnies played private parties. They blew the roof off while we literally tore the floor apart.

The Jonny Three hailed from Littleton, CO and played guitar crunching rock and roll and melodious, supercharged bubblegum pop songs. Led by guitarist extraordinare, Kenny Vaughan, he and bassist Nic Leuthauser and Leroy "X" Smith on drums became the driving force of the scene. In 1978, Miles Gassaway, Kenny's childhood friend, joined on sax and keyboards to fill out the sound. Kenny and Leroy wrote memorable originals like "Liberated Astronaut Blues," "Stood Up," "Strangle Your Guitar" and "Littleton Party". They also did cover versions of "Lucifer Sam", "Tuff Enough," "Something Else," "Dead Presidents," and "Wig Wam Bam."

Wax Trax! and the Jonny Three were a powerful force during 1978. Wax Trax! was very proud to be associated with such an original and exciting band as the Jonny Three. After the Jonny Three disbanded, Nic Leuthauser would work at the Chicago Wax Trax! store as a buyer until 1991 so a Wax Trax!/Jonny Three connection would last for years.

1978 was the peak year for Wax Trax!, Jonny Three and the Denver punk scene. Jim Nash moved the store to a larger location a few blocks away on Washington Street (638 E. 13th Avenue, Denver, 303-444-9829) and gained more clientele.

Wax Trax! hosted a local radio show, Rockpile, on Saturday afternoons spinning obscure rockabilly classics by the likes of Hasil Adkins, Collins Kids, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates and doing on-the-air interviews with the Jonny Three. The Jonny Three played every weekend and got local press write-ups and the "contingent" continued to grow. Fans inspired by Wax Trax! and the Jonny Three, started their own bands. Soon we had a blossoming punk scene with bands with monikers such as the Defex, Lilly Rose and the Thorns, Violators, Corvairs, Broadcasters and the band I fronted, The Guys (female Ramones power pop). With the local scene and bands like the Ramones, Devo, the Specials, Pere Ubu and Magazine coming to town, I was in rock and roll heaven.

However, like all good things, it started to change at the end of 1978. Jim, Dannie, Mike Smythe (British born new partner and third owner) and company decided they had enough of Denver — too limited and frustrating — ;and set out to conquer Chicago. A fabulous "Get out of Denver" going away party was held at the German Turnverein Hall. New Wax Trax! owner, Dave Steadman was introduced (the Washington Street store would remain) as we said goodbye to Jim and Dannie. Everyone pogoed with abandon and the Jonny Three rocked like men possessed by Elvis and the 1910 Fruitgum Company (they encored with "Wig Wam Bam.") At the end of the night, many of us, myself included, sat down at the foot of the stage and cried our eyes out. We knew what we were losing and Chicago was gaining.

Off they went to Chicago taking their Elvis collectibles and Sex Pistols imports and irreplaceable style. By this time, New Wave was infiltrating so it was becoming more mainstream and less innovative and exclusive. Jim wanted to expand the Wax Trax! Empire (merchandising and record label) and in Chicago he felt like he had a better chance and more of an audience.

Within a month, Jim lured the Jonny Three to Chicago to play in his living room and local clubs. After playing legendary (long gone) venues such as O'Banions, Mothers and Gaspar's in Chicago and the Longhorn in Minneapolis, they started to gain a new following in the Midwest. Not only did Jim take the best records and his innovative style, he was pulling our beloved Jonny Three to that metropolis with him. Just as it looked as if the Jonny Three would really take off and possibly be based out there, they disbanded due to too much excess (sex and drugs and rock and roll) and mishaps (Leroy X, while making a hasty retreat out of a loft bed, fell out and broke his arm.) They were destined for bigger things so I was grateful to have had that special band at that magical time in my life. I have not had another band that meant so much personally to me as the Jonny Three did. Both Jim Nash and Kenny Vaughan were very instrumental in me getting into a band. The love and admiration I had for those two men gave me the desire, encouragement and passion to pursue my singing career. If I had not moved to San Francisco in 1980 with my own band, The Varve (another all woman, art-punk-rockabilly styled band), I probably would have found myself in Chicago.

I visited the first Wax Trax! store on Lincoln Avenue December/January 1979. I felt a sense of loss and sadness as I watched lucky Chicagoans snatch up records and t-shirts. Boy, did they have an adventure ahead of them. Funny thing is that in 1996, I would find myself across the (former) Lincoln Avenue store while attending a Sparks-O-Rama. I had come full circle with that realization.

Wax Trax! is still located in Denver on Washington Street and has even expanded to three stores on the same block (Wax Trax I — used CD, Wax Trax II — vinyl (old rockabilly and oldies) and Wax III — CDs, tapes, vinyl.) A few months after Jim left Denver, a car came crashing through the wall of Wax Trax! destroying many collectibles. Luckily no one was badly injured. I was in the store at the time and I watched in slow motion as headlights were coming through what was once the front counter area. Despite that bit of excitement (the reformed Jonny Three played a benefit to help repairs), Wax Trax! and the Denver scene did not shine as bright as it once did (the original "contingent" went their separate ways and the masses embraced New Wave). Jim Nash had the original spark, vision and energy that was the impetus for the Denver punk scene. Before Wax Trax! we had nothing but heavy FM bands, disco and watered down pop and a bleak musical outlook. Jim Nash and Wax Trax! made an indelible mark on my life and set me on a far more adventurous path than I ever imagined. I will always be grateful for that.

Read Wax Trax Revisited Part Two Chicago