Planets Pack Rox Dance Floor With Infectious Rock `N’ Roll
By WILLIAM D. KERNS - A-J Entertainment Editor
Something extraordinary has been happening at Rox of late. Drive by that place on a weeknight and you're usually lucky to find 20 cars; yet last Thursday (and, it should be noted, Friday and Saturday as well) the parking lot was packed by early evening. The Rox has a sign behind the stage which reads "This ain't no disco," and for good reason: the club does not draw the disco-boogie crowd. Yet here were all these people getting up and crowding the small dance floor. Finally, there’s the case of A-J photographer Gary Davis.
Now Davis shoots a lot of local concerts; he's good at it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it’s his favorite pastime. Yet after he finished shooting a recent concert at Rox, he walked outside and locked his cameras away in his car—and then proceeded to walk back in to enjoy the band's final set on his own time. I stress this because this happens about as often as Lubbock draws tourists seeking good snow skiing conditions.
But if all three of these mysteries, these strange occurrences, inspire one to ask the simple question "why," the answer can be served up with Just two words: The Planets.
The Planets have to be one of the most exciting and professional rock 'n' roll bands still playing the club circuit. Showing more infectious energy, along with a curious combination of thought and spontaneity, than a great many rock bands playing major halls these days, it's only natural to assume that a recording company will wise up to the band's "saleability" sooner than one might think. In fact, I'd bet my last 10 bucks on it. But while one likes to see talent rewarded, the selfish factor of wanting this band available in nearby clubs as often as possible can not be denied.
Just as rewarding visually as it is musically, the Albuquerque-based Planets depend more on cover versions of songs than on original material, though it should be noted pianist Steve Morelock's originals like "I Belong" have yet to meet with anything but the most positive sort of vocal response. As well they should. With perhaps the exception of "Sweet Steel Guitar," a fine country flair which just did not seem to mesh with the other tunes being played, Morelock's compositions make the most of the other band members' talents.
This is most likely a key to the band's success, that the spotlight is shared and no strong points are overshadowed by up-front egos. Vocalist Denise Brissey, whose outfits and unpredictably constant movement add to the visual excitement, is without a doubt the most theatrical member. She is much more likely to kick out in spontaneous choreography during a song than vocalist Debbie Blakley. But both women work together; both have the ability to both belt out vocals and add sharp choruses for punch.
For example, Saturday night's gig started about 9:45 and, just minutes later, the audience had already started working up a sweat as Denise started rocking with "Rhumba Girl;" yet Miss Blakley's sultry sendup of Martha Reeve's "Power of Love" was just as effective. And let's not forget the snazzy (and popular) version of The Andrews (Pointers?) Sisters' "In The Mood."
The entire sound of the band seems to key on Morelock's keyboards, then take off on tangents. Joe Don Davidson does a superb job on lead guitar, and the rhythm combinations of John Harris' bass and hyper Davis McClarty's percussion more than once plays a big part in getting bodies moving and audiences up. Morelock, also, has a fine singing voice and, as evidenced by his surprisingly rambunctious and acrobatic singing of Billy Joel's “Big Shot," is not adverse to making his own visual statement.
Indeed, the only time visuals became bothersome was during "Hold The Line," when Miss Blakley and Miss Brissey tried a bit of coordinated body movement. It didn't work—solely for the reason that one could see, rather than experience, it unfolding. An analogy would be when one views a film and instead of being drawn into the story, notices that someone is "acting." But such comparisons are unfair, as the music saved the song anyway.
Though I'll admit being partial to the Zombies medley which came near the end at the Friday and Saturday shows, the best times came when the band introduced the club audience to their own versions of songs by Elvis Costello, David Bowie and especially Joan Armatrading. The songs were covers, yes, but they came off as originals to the Rox audience— partly because the tunes do not receive radio airplay in this neck of the Top 40 woods and partly because of the distinct styling offered by The Planets.
Indeed, accessibility and caring may be the band's most vital assets. Sheer talent, after all, can't carry the whole load. That the band cares about its own image is made obvious by the fact it carries its own sound systems, light systems and crew along to every show. (Their sound is the cleanest heard in ages at Rox. )
The band's accessibility stems from its awareness of what it takes to attract both the people who want to sit down and listen to rock and roll, as well as the people who want to get up and move to it.
The Planets have, just in the space of a couple months, made giant strides as a good draw in West Texas and New Mexico. With crowds willing to go see the band perform two, three and four nights in a row, it's only natural to assume we'll be sharing the band with other areas in no time at all.
(The Planets will play at 9:30 p.m. today at Rox. Call the club for cover charge information. Also, The Planets will open a show featuring The Clash and Joe Ely on Oct. 7 at Rox.)
(Lubbock Avalanche Journal - September 24, 1979)
Planets Could Wind Up Stars In Near Future
By WILLIAM D. KERNS - A-J Entertainment Editor
There was a time when music lovers in Albuquerque, N.M could wander over to Ned's El Portal and, even without benefit of a marquee listing as a hole card, successfully wager that The Planets would be providing the rock and roll inside. The Planets—Steve Morelock, Denise Brissey, John Weston Harris, Davis McLarty, Debbie Blakley and Joe Don Davidson— were a house band. Attempts to branch out were thwarted when an Austin gig was canceled because the club's ownership changed hands, and again when California hotel executives discovered the band they'd hired had no intention of playing disco.
So the band kept playing at Ned's: expanding its repertoire, getting tighter, growing more comfortable on stage. And it paid off.
The first thing The Planets discovered when playing new stages was that, even without a recording contract or media hype, it could still draw huge crowds solely on the strength of word-of-mouth publicity. In short, audiences spread the word. And the first thing those audiences discovered was that The Planets cared enough to provide a concert atmosphere in a club setting. After all, this band not only played exciting, involving rock, it also carried its own sound and light systems— and (get this) even took the time to personally program the break music played between sets.
As a result, the band has skyrocketed in popularity. It's only natural to expect a record label to wise up and get the band's name down on a dotted line before long but, according to band founder Morelock, the musicians still recognize their weaknesses as well as their strengths. No one, he indicated, is going to collapse with frustration if the dreams don't come true this year.
On a surprisingly hot Sunday afternoon, a few Planets had gathered at McLarty's family home in Lubbock, obviously still trying to put together the pieces of the night before. The Planets had played its third straight gig at Rox the night before, stopping the music at 2 a.m. but continuing to party elsewhere until who knows when. Drummer McLarty and bassist Harris had just finished a 5 p.m. 'burger breakfast, but Morelock appeared too pooped to handle anything more nutritious than a cigarette.
Still, though McLarty joked "we're just waiting for a record company to give us a quarter of a million dollars and say Go to it,"' Morelock had the presence of mind to elaborate. "We may not be completely ready," he said. "Not ready in regards to our image. Not ready as far as being sure of what we want to portray on stage. See, things would change a lot if we were only playing 45 minutes or an hour on stage each night. . .We also don't have much studio experience."
Morelock's opinions must be respected. It is, after all, his band, having originated The Planets in early 1975 from a diverse musical segment. Vocalist Denise Brissey was a lounge singer. As she put it, "I always wanted to sing torch songs. You know, Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday." Debbie Blakley had a country music background. Lead guitarist Davidson was working with a Las Vegas-based country show band. Somehow, Morelock managed to see the complimentary angles in all these musicians and molded them together into a thrilling, sincere and seemingly spontaneous rock and roll band. Asked, however, how it was decided to carry two female vocalists, he said, Denise was with us first, but she was still unsure as to whether she wanted to sing rock and roll. So she quit the band. Debbie joined us then but two weeks later she got violently ill. So with our tails between our legs, we went back to Denise and asked her to play with us again. It worked out better. Then everybody that was used to seeing us kept saying they missed Denise, and Debbie sang so well, that we just decided to keep both of them." McLarty then quipped, "But we still don't do any songs by Heart (a rock band helmed by Ann and Nancy Wilson)."
Despite the number of fans, The Planets still harbor mixed feelings about their home base, though. Morelock indicated, Albuquerque was good for us starting out; I don't know how it would be with other bands. When we first started playing therein there weren't too many clubs. Since then, a lot of clubs have become rock and roll clubs." But McLarty interjected, "Yeah, but instead of being discos, all the live music clubs are Top Forty bands. None of the clubs has a cover chargers and people just bar hop."
"The bands are all just interchangeable in Albuquerque. So we don't play there as much as we used to."
Asked if The Planets had been taken for granted in Albuquerque, having been so easily accessible for so long, McLarty said, "Maybe at one time. Now that we're not playing there as much, people are starting to appreciate us more and more. But see, it was only six months ago that people could see us there five or six nights a week, two weeks a month, and for nothing! "
Bassist John Harris then volunteered, "I think our being taken for granted is just a comment on Albuquerque. Those people there are just so spoiled. It's the only town I know of where 350,000 people can all go hear free music."
His feelings are no doubt shaped by the fact that an across the boards "no cover charge" policy groups bands as equals, despite the fact The Planets supply club audiences with better shows than many provided by name bands in major halls. McLarty said, "When people come see us in a bar, we want them to leave thinking they've been to a small concert." That image is maintained not only through the tight music and theatrical visuals supplied by Miss Brissey—whom McLarty describes as "just gonzo, full tilt, wild and zany, off the wall"— but also through the undeniable talents of stage manager Scott Trujillo, lighting coordinator Curt Jaeckel and especially
band member and sound man John Cline.
That the band carries the extra equipment and personnel along on each booking is not only expensive, it's practically unheard of on the club circuit. Indeed, a member of the Joe Ely Band recently expressed astonishment at the sheer weight of equipment carried by The Planets, inspiring McLarty to reason, "Well they're in a position, with a record deal and three albums that they can just tell a club, 'We want a thousand bucks, lights and a good PA system.
"We have to have our own sound system. I mean, it would ease things is we had a record deal, too. our price would go up. Right now, to afford lights, we're barely making it. But it's an extravagance we feel will pay off."
The band's present goals are no loftier than college bookings and the establishment of what McLarty terms a Southwest Circuit. The drummer elaborated, "What we're really trying to do is play New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and Arizona. We want to find good rooms in cities there, and do a Southwest Circuit of showcase clubs. It's just a matter of finding the right club, then getting into the area so we can get our name known and draw.
"It may take a while. . .Hopefully, we'll be able to play Texas cities like Austin, Dallas and Houston in November, and get into Phoenix or Tucson in December. The record deal will come when it comes.
"Really, I feel that to get a record deal in 1979, you've got to be able to offer a hit single. Record companies aren't going to invest in you unless they can get their money back with a hit. Unless you have really heavy duty management, anyway. And, like Steve said, we don't have much studio experience. We've got a lot of tape, and we're toying with the idea of a regional album. But we have to play five days a week to make a living, and there's not much time or money to invest in spending $50 to $60 per hour for studio time."
Pondering a moment, he added, "We may be able to do it with private investors, cut an album and release maybe 5,000 copies. That's really the way to do it, to be able to go to a record company and say, 'These are the clubs we've played, these are the reviews we got and this is how many LPs we've sold. Then maybe you can click on the regional thing. Like Heart: their album was a local album that caught on."
With or without a record, though, The Planets are still drawing both the dance crowd and the many who just like to sit back and listen to good rock. "It's a happy medium," said Morelock, who supplies the brunt of the original material. Even our cover versions, though, have our sound. We do more obscure songs. And the fact we have two girl singers singing songs that were recorded by guys makes it our sound, too. Anyway, that's part of our appeal, and that’s enough for now. I mean, I don't want you to get the impression we are dissatisfied just because we haven't been picked up (by a record company) yet.
We are not dissatisfied. We all enjoy what we're doing. I don't think even one of us is bummed out. Like last night at Carlo's (Carlo Campanelli's Rox); a lot of people showed up to hear us, we played our (rear ends) off and everybody had a good time. As long as we can do that, well, we can't ask for much more than that."
Rest assured, though, both the band and the fans must expect much more than that. Morelock's creation already stands well above club band status. Given more exposure—and the luck that comes with being in the right place at the right time— The Planets could wind up stars.
More on Planets
The Planets will play at Phi Kappa Psi’s Fandango here Friday, then take off to play Saturday night at Eastern New Mexico University's homecoming in Portales, N.M. The band's next Lubbock appearance is slated for Oct. 22-23 at Rox.
REO Speedwagon dropped by the Rox Monday night and, after graciously being loaned instruments by The Planets, proceeded to take the stage for three songs.
(Lubbock Avalanche Journal - September 30, 1979)