The Sunset Strip always seemed like such a mysterious place to me. I heard about it, read about it, saw pictures of it, but that was far from experiencing it. I was no stranger to bar hopping but my main drag as a teen was the Juarez Strip as in the bars that lined the road after you walked over the bridge into Mexico from El Paso. Juarez was my home away from home until I turned 21. It was where I would spend countless hours with a 2 dollar bucket of Coronitas getting to know every DJ and trying to make sure that an AC/DC song cut through the usual dance mix periodically. Getting the DJ at one nightclub to play “Jailbreak” always cleared the dance floor for me and friends to sing along while playing air guitar and head banging. Although my grand achievement was making friends with a DJ who would see me walk in and immediately put on Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” for me. But as fun as it was, I couldn’t wait to finally see the Sunset Strip.
I didn’t fulfill that wish until the end of the Sunset Strip rocker glory days, 1990 to be exact. I managed to get in what they call a National Student Exchange program and went to Cal State Dominquez Hills for a semester. You know your friend who is constantly talking about the year she studied abroad in Spain? Well if you ain’t got “Spain” money, you can go to Carson, California for a semester or two. Every weekend I used to take the bus up Central Avenue from Carson, through Compton and Watts, into Downtown Los Angeles and then up into Hollywood. I could not be more excited to be in Hollywood and it was an adventure.
The Rainbow is one of my favorite places, you can catch me there every Thanksgiving eating pizza just like my Mom used to make. But when I first came out to Hollywood it was a bit of a mystery hidden behind the pay wall of 2 drink tickets. Back then I was so broke I was regularly checking pay phones for quarters and looking for money on the ground in hopes of scrounging enough for just one cheap beer. Those 2 drink tickets were a fortune to me. I definitely wasn’t in Juarez anymore where a quarter would afford me a shot of tequila.
As grateful as I was to have seen the madness of the Sunset Strip, what really fascinated me were the days that were a bit darker and dirtier then what it all eventually evolved to. Needless to say I was pretty thrilled to hear about Numero Group’s release of “Bound for Hell: On the Sunset Strip” about those early days, and may I say, I wasn’t disappointed. “Bound for Hell” is an absolutely GORGEOUS 144-page hardbound book and 2-LP box set featuring 21 tracks from the bands that ignited the ‘80s L.A. rock scene. But if you’re a bit on a budget, no worries, they got you covered with a CD version with a kick-ass poster. There’s even a bonus cassette for anyone who didn’t throw their tape player out the window of their apartment on Lanewood because it ate their demo.
“Bound for Hell” features everyone from Bitch to Witch including Armored Saint, Black N’ Blue, Lizzy Borden and the legendary Odin. All 21 bands were interviewed for the book by Katherine Turman. From her days of writing for RIP Magazine to the co-authoring the absolutely epic book “Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal” and everything in between and since, Katherine is THE expert. The way she writes about each band makes you feel like you’re sitting in the big, back corner booth of The Rainbow. You know, just swapping stories with good friends and sipping down Jack and Cokes until your straw is only pulling up melted ice water and that last slice of pepperoni sitting on a pedestal has everyone eyeing it yet no one has the balls to take it. I’m telling you now, if that was your scene to grab that slice of pie, order another round, buy “Bound for Hell” and settle in for the trip it’ll take you on.
How this all came together is kinda as unlikely as many of the origin stories of the bands in it. First there’s Adam Luksetich who produced the project. Now Adam is too young to have seen any of the bands but like me knew he was missing something special. Then there’s Kevin Estrada who saw them AND photographed them. Adam and Kevin met like a lotta people, at work. But unlike most people at work, they were working on a White Zombie project for The Numero Group. These guys wanted to create something on the under-appreciated first wave of Sunset Strip metal and then recruited Katherine to write it, making that wave becomes a storm.
Katherine kindly allowed me to interview her. My first interview for The Los Angeles Beat and yes, this is really what I wanted to know. Katherine’s been writing for so long and knows everyone so she probably could have just written this without interviewing anyone so I had to confirm that she interviewed all the bands in the book personally and just for the book. She said yes. Cool! Now my real first question was, “How many claimed they saw Van Halen at either a backyard party or at an early show at the Whisky?” She quickly said 100%! So then I asked, “Really?” And she felt pretty certain. So then I asked, “How many of those do you feel are telling the truth?” She felt pretty certain that they were telling the truth. Well maybe one or two might have stretched it. So then I asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10 and 10 being Eddie is God / Van Halen changed their life to 1 being Van Halen ripped them off – what was the general vibe?” She said it was overall positive yet also grateful when the mighty Halen got signed so they could get choice gigs again. As for the “Eddie ripped me off claim” that is mainly owned by Rick Derringer! (Seriously, dude?) But that is another one of Katherine’s fascinating stories and maybe I’ll let her save it for her memoir.
So I guess you can tell I did not go to journalism school, but Katherine did and just these simple questions led to some really interesting stories for her to share. What most fascinated me was asking her about being a woman in rock. The Sunset Strip notoriously came off as a place for dudes to act badly. Recently it came out that the great guitar player Jennifer Batten didn’t rate a slot in the auditions for Ozzy because of that pesky uterus. Instead Zak Wilde got that gig as did the rise of false harmonic noodling. Certainly a conspiracy that the Excedrin corporation was behind.
“Bound for Hell” celebrates the women on the scene. Now you might think Katherine pushed for the inclusion and she did stand up for it, but there no need to push because there was no argument. Everyone wanted the book to feature all those who were influential and vital to this first wave and that includes Lisa Baker, Jaded Lady, Leather Angel, Hellion, and Bitch. Let’s face it, the women HAD to rock harder then the men and had to be tougher and stronger to deal with the industry and boys club that fueled it. We can all safely say they have seen some shit and there could easily be a book just on them. Although it seems the real potential candidate for a streaming service docuseries on the period would be Rik Fox who apparently can bend you ear for a considerable amount of time if anyone is willing.
“Bound for Hell: On the Sunset Strip” is a masterpiece on that era and not just for hardcore fans. It is so well done that it could easily be considered an art project as it is a musical one. Just the old fliers and ads for clubs are fun to look through and was where I saw “the one thing” I really wish I hadn’t missed: Seeing Slayer open for Bitch at the Roxy for SEVEN DOLLARS. DAMN! And as for the music, what can I say. I mean Armored Saint is in it, what more do you want?
Get yours and check out all the extras on the Numero Group website.