The History of The Dangers - as told by Chris LeRoy
PART ONE: MEAT LOCKER OF LOVE
The Dangers started in 1979 when Bob Kjorvestad convinced a childhood friend, Chris LeRoy, to come to a jam session at a meat locker in Grand Terrace. California. On that night Bob on guitar, Chris on guitar played with Randy Abraham on drums. It was eerie, and smelled like a smokehouse but the energy was palpable enough to make two decisions: This band thing was a good idea and neither Bob nor Chris could handle lead guitar.
Bob wrote out a 3x5 ad looking for a guitar player who liked The Clash, Costello, The Beatles, and Tom Petty. He placed it at Liers Music in San Bernardino that next afternoon. Johnny Hickman was living in Redlands and stopped by Liers to check out some guitars, saw the ad and called.
The first meeting/practice was at Chris LeRoy’s railroad car skinny apartment in Loma Linda. Johnny guessed the tall guy was Bob from the gruff phone call and the tall styrofoam of beer he was holding. Chris was much shorter and quiet until they sat down to acoustic guitars. Their first song was The Beatles “ I Should Have Known Better.”
By the end of the afternoon, Chris showed Johnny one of his own compositions, “Take Her Away,” and Johnny revealed his tune, “Other Woman’s Boy. Back to electrics they played these and Costello’s Mystery Dance and Petty’s “American Girl.” It was obvious. It happens with any good band who might get great; the chemistry was pulsing, the harmonies instant and intuitive, all power, all passion. All there and they knew it.
The Dangers in 1979 were:
Johnny Hickman/ Vocals, Lead Guitar
Chris LeRoy/ Farfisa Keyboards, Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Bob Kjorvestad/ Bass, Vocals
Randy Abraham: Drums
Damn. So many great names sprang from the punk era. It felt like all the best were taken: The Clash, The Jam, The Damned, Christian Bubbly Death! We met the next day to practice again and settle on a name as Randy had found a new club that wanted bands for the next week. We just called out names in the kitchen, bad names like The Livers. There was a litany of bad names from Riverside bands at that time, URBAN SPRAWL, NOSTALGIC SANTA, DIRTY DIRT AND THE DIRTS… We did not want to live in shame! So we felt thrilled with the first choice, The Outsiders, like the novel, Bob reminded. It took two days to figure out that The Outsiders was taken. Chris found The Outsiders single in his 7th shoebox of 45's (“Time Won't Let Me”). A great song so it was quickly was added to the repertory. Johnny sang that, as he did most of the Dangers vocals early on. Still, no band name and a gig in 4 days.
Back at the practice living room, the night before the first gig at MY PLACE OR YOURS in San Bernardino, Bob came up with “The Dangers.” All agreed it was not as powerful as The Clash, but had a poppy ring. It rang true. Hemmingway might pick a simple name like The Dangers. He would never have come up with URBAN SPRAWL, telegraphing the whole story. And maybe we didn’t need a fighting name, just a warning.
This is an early key point about the band. Although emerging from the LA punk wave with grand punks like X leading the way, The Dangers always felt ties first to pop, to melody, and then to the energy beneath. Chris handed around a mix tape interlacing The Buzzcocks’ SINGLES GOING STEADY, and The Beach Boys PET SOUNDS, and early Dangers practices felt channeled through Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album. Beauty and struggle. A sad story wrapped in strong melody. That was our dream. The Dangers never felt compelled to sound tough, and that made them stand out. They were plenty rough around the edges.
In Chris’ kitchen they became we. Facing a huge American flag hung over the stove to cover up hundreds of little nails Chris had hammered like a he-man through paneling and his paper-thin bedroom wall, THE DANGERS toasted the new band.
“Gentlemen,” Randy said, “I give you The Dangers.”
“Long Live The Dangers in the U.S.A” Bob said.
“And this wall,” Johnny chimed in.
PART THREE: POPPING OUT OF A MUSIC BOX
Our first show as The Dangers was about two weeks into our existence. It was a fly by the seat of your pants club that would only be open for another month, but to the band, it was the big time. There was a five-foot tall sheet of bulletin board paper proclaiming The Dangers! The Reactors! And Friends! We soon learned that And Friends meant there were only two bands likely to show up.
But there were plenty of folks there for a punk place in San Berdoo! The Reactors were a great hardcore band with a bass player who looked like a Mexican George Harrison, a tough punk girl singing named Dash and a very intense guitar player named Tony Bramel, who would later write many Dangers songs with Chris. The Dangers went on and Bob was very drunk. On the first song, he fell off the right hand side of the stage knocking over the PA, which crashed on to the head of a happy dancing girl with a chain in her nose. She got back up and so did Bob and the set continued. The same girl fell again when Chris hopped off the stage on Costello’s Mystery Dance, clipping her pretty good, but she was the hearty type. What a sport! A great start! Show biz!
We played all our covers real fast, twice as fast as they should be. Chris sang The Police “Message in a Bottle” and looked at Johnny who looked at the list and shrugged. No more songs! So, he threw in “Take Her Away,” the earnest pop tune. The audience whooped it up and was just as happy. We went to Johnny’s “Older Women’s Boy.” Big applause. So, onto another Chris song, “ The Girl is Alright.” Midway through the song, Johnny and Chris exchanged a raised eyebrow look, and nod. If our songs went over as well as the covers, if the audience liked this new stuff so much, we could never be a cover band again. So be it! We did end that night with a cover song to fill in the last 20 minutes of the set... The Modern Lovers “Roadrunner.” Chris ran around the stage, made fun of the band, especially Johnny’s perfect hair, and rolled on the floor, like he was having an attack. This was the best night of our lives. We gathered at Denny’s and reveled in our new future. It was like popping out of a music box never to be pushed back in.
HISTORY OF THE DANGERS 4: RADIO CITY
We played our second show at My Place Or Yours. I don't think we made it to the third show because the club was closing down. As per usual a landlord expected to be paid. Pay was old school.
We empathized with the young club entrepreneur, Bryan, and wondered how a place that had a good crowd and a real stage was already in debt, with the landlord ready to bar the door. We found out our next gig there was canceled the afternoon before the show, but Chris came to an odd conclusion. "It may be too late for this place but if we had these chairs, we could start our own club."
All afternoon and into the evening the band and Chris' brother, Robert, raced through the club loading chairs high into the long bed of a faded yellow Toyota pickup. A week later this moveable punk feast hiked from a relative's garage to a new punk nightclub, The Beat. Conveniently located (if you wanted to be shot) on Highland Avenue in San Bernardino, the former blue-collar tavern The Robin’s Nest transmogrified into The Beat, our dream clubhouse, and a local joint that embraced new music. HEY DEVO!
The Beat was hot as hell, with sticky black floors, narrow checkerboard walls, a sound board just short of an electrical fire, girl fights, crooked fire marshals, parking lot uprisings, large wimpy bouncers, hallway fights where Kristie would jump three feet in the air to slap Bob K upside his head, late bills stuffed under overdue notices, the world’s most sincere Sixties soul and blues cover band, The Mondo Combo, even more crooked city inspectors and city managers, a solid but crooked stage, Tiny, the Alice Cooper impersonator who begged weekly for us to let him do his show, smoke bombs, 45 Grave, The Stepmothers, Death Patrol, bullets ricocheting off the face of the building, death threats all the dang time and some spectacular rock and roll music from the LA scene, but most often from the house band, The Dangers. MACH SHOW!
At this point The Dangers had played some riotous house parties, including David Lowery's 19th(?) backyard birthday bash in Redlands. UPTOWN! Still, we had had to build ourselves a nightclub to get that third official club gig. A long sweaty time was required to construct the stage and checkerboard bar, and to drag out the remnants of the old Robin's Nest. The more we built the more trash accumulated in the center floor. The Dangers practiced afternoons in the middle of the room on top of that debris. Johnny could balance on a 2x4 and still tap foot and band into the next song. A very young and talented Bob Vennum played stylish bass and carried dry wall like a pro.
In the middle of these sawdust sessions a three-chord sequence got rolling, and Johnny happened on an irresistible riff. Randy Abraham pounded the floor tom and the snare in a jungle beat, and Chris started chanting "Radio City...Radio City." We wound this music like a top and suddenly stopped because we knew we hit on our first genuinely catchy music, and had better write something down.
Racing the fading yellow Toyota to Chris' girlfriend Kim's apartment, REDLANDS! UPTOWN! Johnny and Chris sat cross-legged on the carpet and wrote in a blaze.
Johnny's best line:
" We got girls and beers and cigarettes on the ground."
Chris' best line:
"You got to spend big money for fear of being alone."
Nothing earth shattering here, but in about five minutes RADIO CITY was a done deal. Born on a scrap heap, RADIO CITY was rock with no pretensions and energy to burn. It burns still, this simple song about the power of music, the love of finding it and the dare to make it.
In 10 months our club was gone but the beat went on.