Plays guitar and sings in the veteran Cincinnati rock foursome The Tigerlilies. One of his earliest bands, The Thangs, was the first band to play Sudsy Malone’s and recruited others to build the early Sudsy’s scene.
Our first official show at the Jockey Club in Newport. We opened for the Auburnaires. I must have been 18 or 19. The Jockey Club was a significant place, like Sudsy Malone’s, only Sudsy’s lasted way longer. The Jockey Club is sacred to some people. They had The Ramones there. They had The Cramps. Not to sound like my grandpa, but there are so many places to play now. Back then the Jockey Club was the only place to play, or this place next to Sudsy’s, JR’s, which was a super small bar. When we became The Thangs, we were playing the Jockey Club, but nobody would go there.
I loved the Jockey Club because it was kind of like CBGB’s. The people who booked the that club started booking a place that was right up the street from Sudsy’s called Shorty’s Underground. When Sudsy’s was going, there were two places on the same block that were both having great bands. They fed off each other, and even more people came out.
The Jockey Club’s owners were two brothers, very old guys who had seen all kinds of craziness, and Newport was just an empty rundown shell of itself then in the 1980s. Top Cats was another place a lot of bands played, but it didn’t feel like a home for underground rock, like Sudsy’s did.
I think Sudsy’s was the right spot at the right time in the right space. The Jockey Club was such a sacred place to some people, but the last couple of years it was empty. If it was a band from New York or England that was well known, it would be packed. But the next night it could be some awesome band from Michigan or somewhere, and nobody would care.
So how we got our first show at Sudsy’s was we started going around to any bar that we could hang out in—all of us worked in restaurants—and we’d get to know the owner or bartender and ask to play a show. I was a big fan of the Buzzcocks, and I remember reading about them and how they had no place to play in London so they’d just go to bars. And so we tried that. We would go just about anywhere and let them know that we weren’t going to, you know, mess up their bar, that we were responsible—somewhat at least, you know?
So we went to Sudsy’s during happy hour, and there was a guy playing acoustic guitar. He didn’t have a guitar amp or anything. We loaned him our amplifier so he could play that night and, in exchange, we could come back there the next week and play as a rock band. The owner, John Cioffi, was really against it and thought it would interfere with the laundry business the place was doing.
So the next weekend we loaded in our own PA and everything, which had these totally crazy huge speakers we’d bought from some band from the 1970s. It was like $1 to get in that night, which included two draft beer tickets. Nobody would do that now! And it was packed. Cioffi came back and said, “I want you to play tomorrow night, too.” We played at Sudsy’s for a month straight on Fridays and Saturdays and got all of our friends’ bands to open for us. We told him Cioffi should get other bands to play, and he never looked back. He started booking, and then he hired Dan Reed.
Before that, Sudsy’s was dead on a Friday night. Who the hell was going to do their laundry in college on a Friday or Saturday night? Nobody. John Cioffi would always say to us, “Thank you for playing, but my ears are ringing.” And my brother Steve would say to him, “No, that’s the sound of your cash register.”