Tim Ennis Interview

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Could you give me a brief overview of your career in music?

I know you asked me to give you a brief overview of what Iíve done in music, but Iím afraid thatís not the way this turned out. Itís like that essay test in school where you donít know the right answer (such as "I was in this great band for twenty years that was creative and wildly prosperous at the same time"), but instead, you do know a lot of other tangential information (such as "I played a lot of weird music in a ton of never-was bands with a million different cool characters") so you just write about that instead and hope for some mercy from the teacher.

Like I said, if I had been in one or two really successful bands, that would be one thing, but I ended up playing in lots of odd, experimental, underground and marginally popular groups. The "Stop Starting Bands" movement was formed in response to my career. I have had a lot of fun, though, and have been lucky enough to trick some incredible people into playing music with me, most of whom must have had lots of patience just to put up with my B.S...

I know that I tested the patience of my parents. After much pestering, they bought me a guitar for Christmas in 1963.

I took guitar lessons with Larry Davis in Redding, and he helped his students form bands. His studio was in this 1950ís era storefront with plate glass windows looking out on one of the busy streets in Redding. We would practice in there, and watch the cars drive by, the occupants of the cars watching us watching them. (Good practice for the Units Windows show...) The first band I had was with David Harvey, Kelly Ferrera and Pat Long. We were called Rock, Paper, Scissors, or Iron Love or something equally embarrassing in retrospect. We played some teen fashion shows and sock hops. Little Black Egg and Hey Joe kind of thing. I played in these student bands from í64 through í67, then pretty much stopped playing music and started acting in school plays while I was in high school. Shout out to Neil Rucker, my drama coach, who was a great mentor. He saved my life, believe me.

After high school, Scott Ryser and I had an extremely underground band called Mars Needs Women with his running buddy John Watts. Ryser and Watts were infamous for fixing up funky classic cars and for their quasi-legal pranks and escapades. Watts was a highly skilled drummer who would practice for hours on end every night at the high school band room. He had the Paice/Bonham/Mitchell thing down cold. In Mars Needs Women, I played guitar and sang. Scott played bass, his new Mini Moog which he named "Joy Boy," and piano. He wrote almost all the material and sang. We never played out live, and the band broke up after Scott caught me sneaking the forbidden use of his Mini Moog to record a music soundtrack for a play at Chico State.

I moved to San Francisco in 1973 to study acting at San Francisco State.

Sometime in 1974 or 1975, I switched from guitar to bass and met drummer Richard Driskell at a jam session. Driskell had the best drum sound I had ever heard. (Gretsch drums!) He was extremely versatile, with an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music (especially R&B), technical chops, and a huge record collection. And he was actually a professional musician, making a living playing Country Western music at a gay bar in the Tenderloin! He toured with MX 80 Sound and started ModMach after he left the Units.

Sometime later, maybe 1976 or 1977, Scott and I shared a flat in the Avenues with some other roommates, including Lori Lorenzo and Amy Weiss, who both later played with the Units. Scott and I had a jam band called the Wild Newt Patrol with Brad Saunders on drums. Brad had been a neighbor of Scottís in Redding, but had moved to San Francisco early on, where he got into Latin music and began studying percussion at the SF Conservatory of Music. He was already a great drummer by then.

A bunch of us started the Units in 1978, but went through some personnel changes before we emerged from the underground. Read all the dirt in my answer to question three.

I also played in Tuxedomoon for a while in 1978 and 1979, and met my wife Kathy Brock through Blaine Reininger. In addition to being an immensely talented musician, composer, and arranger, Blaine was one of the funniest people Iíd ever met. Crazy wanna-be Cholo refugee from Pueblo, Colorado. I learned a lot from playing with Tuxedomoon. It was a great band with highly skilled musicians, and despite all the lifestyle and scene distractions, they were very disciplined and rehearsed really hard to put on good shows. Since I was playing in two bands, one of which was very busy and one of which was about to get very busy, Steve Brown asked me to choose between the two, so I dropped Tuxedomoon and hung with my home boys...

Then some time in the summer of 1979, I think, shortly before they recorded the "Warm Moving Bodies" EP, I left the Units after all.

I started playing drums around this time.

Jeorgia from Versus had an experimental music performance group called Electrodynamics that she asked me to play drums for. I jumped at the chance because I loved her guitar playing, and she was one of the coolest people on the scene. We did a couple of shows, including one at the Mabuhay where instead of setting up on stage, the band set up all around the outside of the room. Nice concept, but we couldnít hear each other!

Tracy Santa and Buzz Tietjean showed up at my flat one day and dragged me and my drums to a rehearsal with Steve "Baby Chico" Hilton. We became 84 Rooms, named after a residential hotel at 84 South Park (RIP). I played in 84 Rooms from 1980 through 1982. I seem to remember that we played tons of shows to the delight of dancing hordes, drank too much, played too loud, sang off-key and had an incredibly good time. "84 bums playing skiffle, ska and scum" was our motto. Santa has had a string of international releases, and I played a gig with him at the American University in Bulgaria in 1999.

Brad Saunders heard me play drums with 84 Rooms, took pity on me, and generously offered to teach me (for free) how to really play drums. We had great weekly sessions for a couple of years. We actually played a show at the On Broadway as a drum-set duo. An as-yet-undiscovered Whoopie Goldberg was on the bill with us. Hilarious and very friendly... Brad is playing professionally now with some big jazz bands, and building custom snare drums on the side.

Steve Wymore, from Pink Section and 5 Year Plan, and I had a potentially great but short-lived band called Aldo Ray with an awesome French musician named Yael on bass. Aldo Ray ended badly after I screwed up a live recording session for the Savoy Tivoli album.

I had a recording project called Mitey Dog Meets Jah Flea with Gary Miles of Dub Oven, along with Ahmed Sibdial-Sau and Stefen Vaughn Mason. I really loved that project. Punk meets dub with some uniquely creative results. Ahmed, if you read this, send me an e-mail!

Ron from Bay of Pigs asked me to do a country western project with him, along with JC Garrett from the Alterboys, Richard Marriot later of the CF Orchestra, and Charlie Hagen from the Mutants and Mummers & Poppers. It was called CF Players, and we rehearsed at Club Foot. Strictly Roots C&W. Ď50ís and Ď60ís George Jones and early Johnny Cash. We wore cowboy shirts, recorded some demos, and played some shows, parties and backyard barbeques.

Around 1982, I went back to SF State to study sound recording. I subsequently built a small recording studio in my basement and recorded some records, including "I Bury Ringo," film and art-show soundtracks, and lots of demos. We put out a compilation album called "Behind the Garage Door" which got some great reviews. Someone in the newspapers said it was art.

I got to be friends with harmonicist/intergalactic communicator Lemon DeGeorge from Phoenix Thunderstone, who had a similar recording set-up as I did, and we worked on a lot of projects together. He recently did audio for the film Genghis Blues that was nominated for a 1999 Academy Award.

Around 1986, I started a funk band called Get Rich Quick with Dan Rielly and Terry and Al McIntyre. The McIntyre brothers were the original wild boys from Truckee. Terry is a trombone player and boxer. Since we played exclusively on Broadway and SFís Barbary Coast, Al developed a popular "love" act with his beautiful new Stratocaster. Dan is a music producer who started the hit Abba tribute band Bjorn, Baby, Bjorn.

When my decent day job ended in 1989, I moved from SF to Portland, OR, and started a pop-funk band with Peter Rockwell called Tikihead, which lasted a couple of years. I sold all of my recording gear to buy a new set of Gretsch drums just before we broke up the band. John Connell-Maribona who runs Pambiche restaurant here in Portland was our bass player.

From 1991 through 1994, I studied traditional African music with Nii Ardey Allotey from Ghana and played drums and percussion in his rehearsal and performance groups. I was forced to quit when he insisted that we go onstage without wearing shirts. Not all of us were in top physical condition like he is.

A couple of years later, I played briefly in Doris Daze, a pop band with great singers, and a couple of the demos I did with them ended up on their first CD (I quit before they could fire me).

Subsequently, I did a truly out-of-control creative recording project called Psychic Surgeon with Tod Ahseln and Lance Miller. We stopped doing the project when Lance moved to Eugene to start Perfect Records and work as sound engineer for the U of Oís music department.

In 1995, Ezra Ereckson from Second Avenue Records and PNCA, and his boyhood co-conspirator Jason Lohr called me to play in a new group they were forming, which was temporarily called Total Art Matchbox (a Ben Vautier reference), and then metamorphosized into Kaiju 7. We got Tod Ahseln to join Kaiju towards the end...

After Kaiju 7 disbanded, we had hijrah with Ezra, Tim Andrews on keyboards and Captain John Keane on bass.

Meanwhile, an "African reggae" band called I & I, run by OB Addy, who sings like a bird, used my drumming services for about 8 months in 1998. Thanks to the business talents of Donica, OBís wife, we played lots of good-paying shows, including a huge outdoor show in Bend. Probably the biggest audience Iíve played to. I also filled in for a number of shows with OBís cousin Chata Addyís African pop band Susuma.

In 1997, hijrah metamorphosized into Systemwide with the addition of DJ S-Dub and Jasonís return on bass after the Captain abandoned ship.

In the late summer of 1998, I had the unique experience of playing music on the yard inside the walls at Oregon State Penitentiary on two consecutive days; first with Systemwide and then the next day with I&I. The guards ended the I&I concert early when we started playing "I Shot the Sheriff" and around 1,000 prisoners all ran to the front of the stage and started pumping their fists in the air...

I played in Systemwide from 1997 through July 1999, when I retired from show business.

With the pension and royalties I am now collecting, I plan to move soon to the south of France and relax in a fine style.


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