I had the good fortune to encounter and interview Mr. John Hurd – formerly of The Magnet Men, a band that features in the Nirvana story as the band Chad Channing was in when Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic first encountered him (at a show Nirvana played under the name Bliss with Aaron Burckhard apparently on drums in August 1987 – their last known show of the year.) John was kind enough to share his memories of the band, the era, his remembrances of the rock scene in the area at the time Nirvana were starting out.
I first picked up the guitar when I was 11 – I talked my parents into buying me a cheap electric from the Sears catalog. It had a die-cast metal whammy bar that broke right off when you tried to use it. A real piece of shit. Too much so to even take lessons on it. So I got a better guitar soon after and started taking lessons at the age of 12. At about 17 or 18 I started going to punk shows. Besides Community World Theater, there was also The Crescent Ballroom, which hosted tons of shows around that time: one of my favorites at the Crescent was when the Butthole Surfers played. I think that was the show that they damn near burned the place down with some kind of cheap pyrotechnic display.
The Magnet Men first formed when I was eighteen. I was still in school but cutting class all the time. Most of my friends had already graduated and were doing jobs and trying to move out of their parents’ houses. There was a communal apartment on Bainbridge Island where Chad lived with Andy Miller and James Nybo. We had a tight knit group of friends that would hang out there almost every night playing guitars and talking, partying. Chris Karr and I had been jamming together and approached Chad about starting a band. Both those guys had been in bands already but this was my first real go at it. We all liked the same weird bands and kind of had an idea what we wanted to do. One of us would bring a riff or a song and we would just learn it and try to fit the pieces together. Very much a learn as you go kind of thing.
The original lineup was Chris Karr on Bass, Chad Channing on drums and me on guitar. Chad and I first met when we were youngsters around 1980: I was 11 and he was about 14 or so. We were playing with gasoline with a few otter neighborhood kids. We had a Folger’s can with some gas in it and we were flicking matches at it. When the gas caught fire, one of the kids kicked the can and the flaming gas landed on another kid’s arm and caught his jacket on fire. Rather than taking the jacket off, the kid ran screaming down the street, flailing his arms and making it worse. His hysterical brother ran after him yelling ‘My brother! my brother!’ When we started hanging out again through mutual friends in ’87, Chad and I had both forgotten we had ever met when we were kids. One night he was telling the Folger’s can gas story at a party and my jaw just dropped.
Chris Karr was a schoolmate of mine who played bass in NPO and the high school jazz band (incidentally with John Goodmanson on guitar too). Poulsbo’s North Kitsap High School produced some notable talent – John Goodmanson (NPO, Danger Mouse, engineer and producer of Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater-Kinney), Ben Shepherd (March of Crimes, Soundgarden) Chad Channing (Nirvana, Fire Ants, The methodists, Before Cars), Damon Romero (NPO, Lush,Treehouse, Bell) Jason Everman (Stonecrow, Nirvana, Soundgarden) to name a few. The Magnet Men was my first real band. We were a heavy prog-punk instrumental band. Our only criteria about song writing was that the songs had to be complex, difficult and fun to play. We loved to do lots of tempo and time changes and abrupt starts and stops. We would practice anywhere we could find space, but eventually we convinced the local storage unit facility to let us rent out a garage and jam late at night after they closed. For gigs, we would play at house parties mostly, being a little too young to play in bars and clubs yet.
Once we had a set’s worth of songs ready, John Goodmanson invited us to play live on the Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA) radio station, KAOS. We had no vocalist then, but were a purely instrumental band. Soon after that radio show, Ben Shepherd joined us on vocals, we changed our name to Tic-Dolly Row, and we did another live radio show at KAOS with him. Those recordings probably still exist somewhere, although I’ve long since lost any copies I had. Ben came up with the name Tic-Dolly Row, describing it as a sailor’s term for down-and-out. It comes from the french word ‘Tic Douloureux’ which is a painful nerve disorder of the face.
We used the KAOS radio show as our demo and sent it to Community World Theater in Tacoma. Tacoma was and still is a working class town about 45 minutes south of Seattle. There weren’t too many all-ages places to play back then but Community World was definitely one of the most active. I’d gone to see a couple shows there, I think Killdozer and The Melvins. We got a gig opening for Inspector Luv and the Ride-Me-Babies, Sons of Ishmael and the band Bliss, who would go on to become Nirvana. That lineup was Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and I think Aaron Burkhard on drums. Although it could have been Dave Foster. Community World was an old, run down hall with a small stage that hosted some really legendary shows. The audience the night we played was fairly small, consisting a lot of our friends and a couple dozen local Tacoma punks. As far as what they were wearing, it’s hard to say. I seem to remember leather jackets, jeans, trench coats or army surplus stuff. Some mohawks here and there.
I remember being pretty nervous playing that show. The sound there was pretty horrible unless the place was packed with people – that night it wasn’t. But we still rocked it. I remember Ben jumping around and pretending to fuck a lingerie clad mannequin they left on the stage. After we played, Bliss used Chad’s black North drum kit, with the scoopy looking drums pictured on the “Bleach” cover. Watching their set, you could tell that Bliss had something, but honesty they didn’t leave a huge impression – to me they sounded like a lighter version of The Melvins.
Later, when Nirvana signed their first deal with Sub Pop, they were looking for a new drummer. They remembered Chad from that show we played, and after Tic-Dolly Row broke up, he joined them. When Chad joined Nirvana, they became a force to be reckoned with. They played out all the time, at clubs, lots of house parties and crazy floor bending packed rooms in the Evergreen State College K-dorm activity area. Chad and I were roommates during some of their first US tours, and he came home with great stories, videos and photos. Sub Pop gave them only a tiny monthly stipend, so I got Chad a job working part-time for my mom’s ceramic business. We slip-cast and glazed a shit ton of very cool ceramic fishes. Kurt lived in Olympia at that time and Krist lived in Tacoma. They would drive the van up to our house in Poulsbo and pick up Chad for band practice, then driving the 2 hours back to Krist’s house in Tacoma for the weekend. My mom is proud that Nirvana once practiced in her basement. She is still a fan. I can’t say that I knew Kurt very well. He was usually pretty quiet and a really nice guy but kind of hard to talk to. Krist was just the opposite, hilarious and friendly. He usually had a gallon jug of Gallo red wine or a case of cheap beer at the ready.
That band (Then called Tic-Dolly Row) changed again when Chad told us he was getting burned out on drums and wanted to play guitar. So Andy Miller joined us on drums and Ben wanted to play guitar too. So we had 5 of us now, trying to make a go of it. At times We had 2 drummers and 3 guitar players. I feel like the whole thing just kind of got muddied with noise and eventually we all just decided to move on to other projects.
Soon after that, Chad joined Nirvana and Buddha’s Favorite Color was formed. That was Jeff Hoyle on vocals, Andy Miller (Bell, Before Cars, Paundy) on drums, Chris Karr on bass and me on guitar. We were a very psychedelic, heavy group. Jeff has a real gift for poetry and turned it into song lyrics. He has a pretty amazing vocal range. Andy was (and is) an insanely good drummer. With his jazz background, Chris’s bass playing shaped our sound. Chris would never play a song exactly the same way twice which probably rubbed off on all of us to keep things fresh. We recorded our first demo in ’89 with Rich Hinklin at the old triangle-shaped Reciprocal Recording studio in Ballard (where Nirvana’s Bleach and a lot of the first Sub Pop records were recorded). We sent it off to Alternative Tentacles records. They passed on us, but we were giddy when we heard from Steve Fisk that Jello Biafra thought we were the most psychedelic band in the Northwest. We got some pretty good response from the demo and played around Seattle quite a bit, at clubs like OK Hotel, The Central Tavern, The Vogue, Hollywood Underground and some loft parties in the Pioneer Square neighborhood.
One of my favorite gigs Buddha’s Favorite Color did was at the Squid Row tavern in Capitol Hill opening for Afghan Whigs. It was their first Seattle show, promoting their first single with Sub Pop. Fuck, they were LOUD. The police showed up after getting several noise complaints. This was a busy urban neighborhood, but the cops made them turn it down anyway. One night, Buddha’s Favorite Color was to play a house party on Bainbridge Island with Nirvana. The party was in a big garage at this girl’s house when her parents were away. Right before our set, our bassist, Chris Karr, was standing under a door jamb and a big piece of plywood fell down and banged him on the head. He decided he was too dizzy to play, so Nirvana went on first. They probably were four or 5 songs into their set when the cops showed up and broke it up. There was a keg of beer and a bunch of drunk underage kids. I remember the first kid they saw holding a beer was arrested, and everyone else scattered.
BFC recorded 3 demos over the next few years, calling it quits around ’92. On our last recording, Paul Heyn replaced Chris Karr on bass. He was in the band about a year.
The next band I was involved in was The methodists, forming in 1995. The methodists were a guitar heavy pop band. The lineup was Erik Spicer on guitar/vocals, Dan McDonald on bass, Chad Channing on drums and me on guitar. We hit it off creatively very quickly and became a song writing machine. We played around the Seattle area a lot in the mid to late 90’s, and some shows in Portland and LA and recorded our one and only LP, Cookie, in 1998 engineered by Kip Beelman and mastered by Jack Endino. This band was a lot of fun – Chad and I would trade instruments during our set and Chad would get up and sing his
songs while playing guitar. I would play drums on his songs and try to keep up as best I could. We did a live room show on KCMU (now KEXP) before going off on west coast tour. We came back from that excited as hell but things eventually petered out with that band and we broke up in ’99.