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In a field crowded with fine, adventurous new rock ’n’ roll bands that made their homes in Los Angeles between ’78–82, Code Blue stood out from the pack. This was a no-nonsense unit, without pomposity or cuteness. They were unique at a time when most bands wore their influences and commercial ambitions on their sleeves. Those who caught the original lineup in small clubs were struck by their power an passionate delivery of great songs. Leader/guitarist Dean Chamberlain had been a founding member of the original Motels with Martha Davis. Moving to L.A. and leaving that band after a few years, he felt he had finally progressed to the point of forming his own personal version of the great, American rock ’n’ roll band. Dean composed a set of representative tunes and went about the task of finding suitable musicians. Within a year, the band—now called Skin, with Randall Marsh on drums and Michael Ostendorf on bass—had built a loyal following and entertained serious offers from the two largest record companies in the world.
THE RIGHT PLACE THE RIGHT TIME
Dean grew up in San Mateo, just south of San Francisco, and started playing electric guitar when he was 14. He began attending Bill Graham-produced concerts and caught a variety of artists, such as Howlin’ Wolf, The Charles Lloyd Quartet, and Big Brother And The Holding Company, appearing on the same bill. Rock, blues, jazz, folk, experimental—the wide range of styles combined on Graham’s stage was extraordinary, all the more so for those kids who saw their scope and appreciation of music permanently broadened.
Dean saw Jimi Hendrix play on several occasions around the Bay Area. Once, he became so caught up in the excitement, he climbed up on the stage, only to be launched back into the crowd by Graham himself. As a teenager, Dean spent a year in Brazil while his dad worked as a doctor for the Peace Corps. He expanded his musical pallet by befriending and playing with future Brazilian guitar hero Robertinho de Recife and the young Arto Lindsay, who would continue his international career with DNA and the Ambitious Lovers, as well as producing Brazilian megastars.
After returning to the States, Dean studied at U.C. Santa Cruz for a couple of years before transferring to Berkeley. It was there that he formed the group that would eventually become The Motels with Martha Davis, Richard d’Andrea on bass, Robert Newman on drums, and high school friend Chuck Wada on guitar and songwriting. This group was a funky reaction to the swell of peace and love that Dean witnessed growing up in the Bay Area. But by the early ’70s, the cosmic spell of brotherhood and goodness had already faded, and the local music scene had grown stale. It was time to move along.
“I CAME DOWN TO L.A. TO SEE IGGY POP AT THE WSHISKY A GO-GO AND STAYED”
In the mid-’70s, Southern California was a rather bleak, barren place for the many musicians flocking there in search of career opportunities. The music industry had become fat and decadent as increasing record sales built corporate giants. The popular L.A. sound of the day was light rock with a country flavor. R&B had somehow turned into disco. Jazz musicians traded their sharkskin suits and Italian shoes for dashiki’s and jazz-rock fusion. Spandex-and-hair-spray bands maintained scattered pockets of support in the Valley and Orange County. But the real problem was that too few venues were available to host original music. What was a thoughtful young man to do with his more subversive tendencies and rock ’n’ roll ambitions?
Evenings spent at The Rainbow Bar & Grill, trolling for free drinks, proved a reasonable strategy for Dean to get his bearings. Soon after arriving in the City of Angels, he secured a job at Paramount Recording Studios on Santa Monica Blvd. This medium-sized facility had been around since the late ’60s and recorded such artists as The Doors and Sly And The Family Stone. When he walked in off of the street and asked for a job, Dean figured he had nothing to lose. To his surprise, he soon found himself employed removing linoleum from the studio-bathroom floor.
WELCOME TO THE RECORD BUSINESS
In addition to honing his carpentry skills, on occasion Dean did assist in the engineering of actual recording sessions, and worked with legendary artists and producers, such as Sly Stone, Bob Crewe, and Bobby Womack. He also recorded his own version of “Harlem Shuffle” during allnight sessions that might have led to his subsequent dismissal.
Dean’s next day-job was at Warner Bros. Records, listening to unsolicited tapes sent to the A&R department. This was a handy gig, as it allowed him to pursue his own musical endeavors while getting paid to listen to those of other musicians. Soon after, Martha Davis and the other Motels relocated to L.A. Their intention? Putting the band back together with Dean, securing a record deal, and hitting the big time. Still, there was a nagging problem: There were few places for a ’70s alternative band to perform. The Motels had to stage and promote their own shows—their first one, at Barney’s Beanery, and then one at Radio Free Hollywood at Troopers Hall, where over 200 people showed up. Demos were recorded for record-company consideration. Punk found its way to Los Angeles in early ’77. This extreme reaction to the status quo was a long-awaited fire hose, washing away the deadwood to make way for new live music. The excitement was palpable on the street. Punk clubs sprang up in Chinese restaurants and Polish meeting halls, and established venues soon took notice. New bands, liberated from the stodgy constraints of musical ability, were being formed daily. Musicians who had been knocking around were inspired by the new punk-rock attitude, though not exactly sure of how to embrace it. Dexterous guitar riffage seemed to be out of fashion, and Dean played “lead guitar.” Things were beginning to move for The Motels. Phil Spector attended a show at The Starwood and, afterward, requested a meeting with Martha alone. Dean felt a change in the air. That group’s more-or-less-equal creative participation was fading as Martha was becoming the primary focus. It was time to move along.
By this time, Dean had progressed to a point where, musically, he knew what he wanted to say and had a clear idea of the steps needed to say it. Furthermore, he had the confidence in his ability to create something that would attract and excite audiences.
SKIN TO SKIN
A band requires space to develop its sound and work out material. With this in mind, Dean rented a storefront near the corner of Highland and Romaine, in Hollywood, and set about a futile effort to soundproof the rehearsal space. This was necessary because, like any self-respecting “lead guitar” player, Dean’s amplifier was really loud, and some neighbors just might’ve had weapons. A “musicians wanted” ad was prepared for The Recycler. Dean interviewed and auditioned hundreds of bass players and drummers before meeting drummer Randall Marsh, who had previously played in the original Mudcrutch with Tom Petty back in florida. Michael Ostendorf agreed to join on bass, and the band was complete. According to their plan, they had six months to practice before their first gig.Dean had written only one song before starting the band. He hadn’t sung in front of an audience either. But this didn’t deter him. All of the songs that appeared on the first album were written within that year. Demos of songs and arrangements were recorded regularly on a Dokorder four-track. It was a good time. Everything seemed to be coming together. Dean wrote “Modern Times” alone at his family’s vacation house in Inverness, Marin County, under the influence of Southern Comfort. He wrote “Hurt” while housesitting for another former Motels bassist, Lisa Brenneis. “Face To Face” was a touching memory of a high school girlfriend. “The Need” was inspired by William Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch. The band, by this time called Skin, began to play around town in late ’78. At a show in October, at Club 88 on Pico, the newly retooled Motels had the opening spot. Skin took the stage with the old Stones favorite “She Said Yeah.”They were strong and self-assured, even at this early stage of development. There was something special about the band. Their arrangements, though sparse, had an explosive quality. Dean’s guitar work was restrained, yet loose and reckless in the way he would casually toss out single-line licks and noise shards. It was apparent that this group was not trying to sound like anyone else or be part of any style or movement, and record companies began to take serious notice of the enthusiastic crowds packing the clubs.
“YOU DIDN’T TELL ME YOU WERE GOOD”
An A&R executive from Warner Bros. happened to see Skin at a local club and was surprised to see her own A&R assistant, Dean Chamberlain, fronting this great band. A deal was offered the next day; the contract was signed soon afterwards. Although Columbia Records had also made a serious bid for the band, Dean knew that Warner Bros. cultivated a nurturing, family-type ethos. Skin were in good hands.
The label strongly suggested Skin find professional artist management. Dean had taken care of business up to now and didn’t see the need, but he capitulated. Also, the name Skin seemed a bit harsh and extreme—maybe they could come up with something a bit more radio-friendly. Nigel Grey, fresh from producing the first two Police albums, saw the band play at Blackies and was duly impressed. He signed on as producer and suggested they record the album in London. A sudden disagreement in creative and business direction caused Michael Ostendorf to part ways with the band as they were preparing to record.
Gary Tibbs filled the vacated spot just as the group had hit upon its new name, Code Blue. At the time, Gary was the hottest young bassist around, having come off of a stint with The Vibrators and playing on Roxy Music’s successful Manifesto album and world tour. Code Blue was off to London to record at the legendary Olympic Studios, scene of the Stones and Jean-Luc Godard’s film, Sympathy For The Devil, The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” telecast, and early Led Zeppelin albums.
London was bone-chillingly cold, as illustrated by the half-fingered gloves worn by Dean on the album cover. Basic tracks were recorded efficiently enough, although Dean suspected that some of the tempos might be too fast. (Yngwie Malmsteen or some other guitar god was in the studio next door, recording within a circle of candles.)
Grey proposed that overdubs be recorded at his own studio in the south of England. It was there, situated over a working dairy, that the project came to a grinding halt. Details are somewhat sketchy, but in the end, relations with Grey were severed, and the tapes went back to L.A. with the band. In all fairness, Grey did insist that Dean write a third verse for “Whisper/Touch.” A good call.
When the band reconvened recording sessions at Sound City in Van Nuys, they were producing with engineer Mike Stone. Benmont Tench, from The Heartbreakers, came down to a session and contributed organ parts. Dean, Randall, and Mike Stone chose faders and mixed the album in short order.
The LP sounded amazing. It was a new and refreshing take on the young man’s condition, shot through with romance and danger. There were no songs about buildings and food, parties and fast cars. And there was not a weak track in the bunch.
“I’M NOT REALLY A HAPPY GUY BY NATURE.”
The Code Blue record-release party was a wild affair hosted at an old Hollywood-hotel bungalow. Hundreds of people attended, most of whom the band had never met. As the night wore on, it deteriorated into a drunken orgy of wasted hangers-on. The party was symbolic of the band itself: What began as an honest vehicle for musical expression was creeping toward oblivion.
While preparing for the tour to support the record, Code Blue received word that Gary Tibbs would not be joining them. Joe Read, fresh from Bram Tchaikovsky, filled in on bass and rehearsed for their national tour, on which they inexplicably opened for classic-rock legends Thin Lizzy. The six-week tour began on a positive note, with a good reception in Columbus, Ohio. Most shows, however, were not well-received and left the band—who drove around the country in a rented sedan—spiritually drained.
The events surrounding the recording and the less-than-hoped-for reaction to the record and tour caused Dean to reevaluate Code Blue’s direction and basic premise. They would continue searching for the next year or so, until they finally broke up. Their second album, True Stories, was a collection of demos released posthumously.
Code Blue is an overlooked gem that ranks among the best rock albums of the ’80s, captured a sincere and unique slice of raw emotion. One wouldn’t necessarily link it, stylistically, to the decade, although “Whisper/Touch” does play on Andie’s car stereo in a scene from Pretty In Pink, forever sealing it in the ’80s time capsule.
In the rush of the moment, opportunities are created and seized. There may be a brief window for you to take your shot before it closes. If an artist can maintain his values throughout the process without settling for compromise and adulteration, the ultimate reward just might be hanging onto his soul.
There is another artist with the same name:
II. House-rockin', soulful vocal Blues and R&B. Bobbie Lancaster is an outstanding new vocalist backed by a tight rhythm section with exciting harmonica, keyboard and guitar solo work. Great original songwriting.
Genre: Blues: Blues Vocals Release Date: 2003 On CDbaby here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/codebluemusic
Code Blue is a six person blues band based in Bloomington, Indiana. Founded in spring of 2001, Code Blue features of some of the most seasoned blues musicians in southern Indiana.
Code Blue regularly plays in a variety of settings including blues jams, regularly featured sets at blues venues, jazz dinner clubs, and private parties. Our set lists accommodate a range of audience preferences, including avid blues listening, dancing, and background music. We feature diverse vocal styling and a variety of instrumental tunes in blues and jazz genres.
Code Blue maintains an e-mailing list of 500 fans. We have developed a loyal following which has grown as our band has evolved. The popularity of the band is underscored by our busy schedule in prime locations in the very competitive Bloomington music scene. Our lead vocalist, Bobbie Lancaster was voted by the readership of the Indiana Daily Student as the number one female vocalist in Bloomington for 2003. While Code Blue features original tunes, the band was voted one of Bloomington's top three cover bands in the Indiana Daily Student 2003 poll, and was also voted one of the top three bands in the B-town Music News 2002 poll. Code Blue was also featured in Bloomington's first summer Blues Fest in July of 2003. Code Blue's Monon Train was featured on the 2003 Live from Bloomington CD, a compilation of the area's best original songs from local bands. The Code Blue repertoire concentrates mainly on Blues and Rhythm and Blues, with a sprinkling of jazz.
Code Blue's members are:
- Bobbie Lancaster, vocals
- Dave Baas, guitar and vocals
- John Orie Stith, bass
- Mike Moody, drums and vocals
- Jeff Isaac, piano and organ
- Doc Malone, harmonica
Check out the artist's website:
1. Pile of Socks
2. Don't Lie to Me
3. Hound Dog
5. Keeping the Blues Company
6. One Eyed Man
7. I Can Tell
8. Night Time is the Right Time
9. Another Lover
10. Monon Train
12. Monday Morning Blues
13. What I Need to Know
14. Cry Baby
15. Midnight Special
16. Bright Lights, Big City Read more on Last.fm
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