Halloween night 1988 marked the date of the official live debut of a band based in Arcata, the college town located in the Humboldt County, California. The band in question had already been learning the ropes live previously playing in Laundromats while piecing together the full line up. The young men in question went by the name of ‘Brents TV’, and would over the next decade have an effect on Lookout Records through it’s unique sound and host of members that would remain a constant thread in the labels history in various bands. Of the bands line up, a young man named John Denery – younger sibling of another local musician Dallas, the frontman for the Berkeley based ‘Sweet Baby Jesus’ – was the catalyst for the bands creation following his relocation to Arcata to attend Humboldt State College.
John Denery (Brents TV, Judy & The Loadies, Ne’er Do Wells, Hi Fives, The Bomb Bassets) : “Dallas always shared his music with me. He had a very organized collection of cassette tapes, hundreds of them, stuff like the Residents, Tuxedo Moon, Frank Zappa, Mothers of Invention, Dr. Dimento radio shows, Jean Luc Ponty - at one point he played the electric violin! Then when Dallas went to college he'd send tapes in the mail for me to listen to. The very first tape he sent was a collection of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Of course it was awesome and I loved it. He kept feeding me tapes for the next few years, actually most of my life. Lots of early rock n roll, then lots of early blues -Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rodgers, Jimmy Reed and soul stuff like Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, etc. Then he started sending more punk rock stuff like the Ramones and Buzzcocks. The Ramones became my favorite throughout highschool. The next phase of tapes was Berkeley bands like Soup, Crimpshrine, Mr. T Experience and of course Sweet Baby Jesus. Dallas would invite me to his shows, which was awesome. I had the nice brother that didn't mind hanging with his 15 year old younger brother. I thought Sweet Baby Jesus was the best band I had ever heard or seen. Granted I may not have seen anyone else nor be the most objective about it, but they were incredible. Dallas did this dance move our family called the collapse that sorta defies description. By the time I went to college at Humboldt State I was a gigantic Billy Childish fan, thanks once again to my brother who sent me a tape of the Milkshakes. I had no intention of ever being in a band but I met Chris Imlay at college who shared my appreciation of the Milkshakes, Ramones & Sweet Baby Jesus. We started thinking about being in a band before we had ever touched a guitar. He learned how to play first, then taught me. During this time we used to hang out with Virgil Shaw who amazed us. He had the greatest voice, loved singing old country, teen angel type songs and rock abilly. We somehow got Virgil to join us, found Brian Keeney, who coincidentally was from Berkeley and knew Sweet Baby Jesus, and Jon Quittner and that was Brents T.V.”
John Quittner (Brents TV) : “I was culturally in transition from my hessian years - still with long hair and the love of Slayer, but big into Ramones and The Cramps at the time, and finding that punks were my true tribe. I ran into John Denery in a burger joint and was minor-ly star-struck. "Wow! I love Brents TV”. “Do you like the Cramps?" John says "Oh yeah, I love the Cramps but my true love is the Ramones." "ME TOO!".
John Denery (Brents TV, Judy & The Loadies, Ne’er Do Wells, Hi Fives, The Bomb Bassets) : “Someone described us as The Kingston Trio trying to do Ramones songs. Acoustic guitars, a banjo, stand up drummer who used a kettle and a bike horn. We toured the West Coast only playing Laundromats. We started in Arcata and played one Laundromat in every town up to Crescent City.”
John Quittner (Brents TV) : “So we get to talking and he says they kind of want a bass player. I had never played bass at the time, but hessian that I am, I do play guitar - and for Brents TV I will happily learn bass. The two of us are equally excited, because unknown to me at the time, I am slightly legendary to THEM as "the Joey guy." I looked very much like Joey Ramone in those days, and they used to see me driving around Arcata blasting loud music and say to each other "you know the Joey guy plays rock 'n roll." I do! John runs home to tell the other guys that their new bass player is none other than the Joey Guy, who will be over momentarily. But as fate would have it, this day is April Fool's Day 1988, and not only do they assume that this is a joke, but they have taken the occasion to distract him with a joke of their own. He had some new LP at the time with which he was truly in love - I have to assume it was Billy Childish and/or Mickey Hampshire in some combination - and they had made an elaborate tape loop of it "skipping" as he came into the house. Well he heard that and freaked, and all was forgotten until I actually did show up with borrowed bass in hand and best pal Erin in tow because a - she loved them even more than I did and b- I was nervous. I got the first ticket of my life driving to their house.”
John Denery (Brents TV, Judy & The Loadies, Ne’er Do Wells, Hi Fives, The Bomb Bassets) : “This was a very fun time. There was a group of us, mostly Humboldt State college students who hung out a lot. Whenever there was a Brents TV show, it involved the band members and about twenty other friends.”
John Quittner (Brents TV) : “I believe that the Laundromat show tradition was an extension of Berkeley punk culture as absorbed through John and Brian, but it translated well in Arcata. If you showed up at an all-night Laundromat in Arcata with all your friends, there was probably no one else there. But if there were people there, so much the better. Sometimes the squares and older people kind of dug it - it was punk rock but that band was a truly good time, not abrasive as such, and owed enough to Jerry Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers that it was understandable to a lot of people. And until I joined, they didn't even need electricity.
John Denery (Brents TV, Judy & The Loadies, Ne’er Do Wells, Hi Fives, The Bomb Bassets) : “It seemed like an obvious, best thing to do. Laundromats were always open, all ages could go, it had a wall socket and a built in audience. Plus clubs were too big for us, but we could fill a Laundromat. The first one went well enough that we started doing them more often which inspired the song ‘Laundromat’. Our friends would bring their laundry to our shows while we played.”
John Quittner (Brents TV) : “We drove to Crescent City and played every rural Laundromat we could find all the way back to Arcata. That tour included one non-Laundromat attempt to play underneath the giant Paul Bunyan statue in Klamath - which is where the photos on the Lumberjack Days single were taken.”
The 7 track 7” EP ‘Lumberjack Days’ (LK 36) was the follow up to a self recorded tape that had circulated from the band of a live set at a party. Given Lawrence Livermore’s Arcata connections it would seem that the band would cross paths eventually, setting off Lookout’s mining of the Humboldt county bands.
The record introduced the ultra excitable hip swinging sounds that was unlike any other band on Lookout so far, incorporating a style reminiscent of rock n roll chipmunks working the railroad lines on the chaingang singing jaunty skiffle tunes. The sound was however an exciting fresh take on a scene that was at the current time open to anything. One thing that Brents TV had in abundance that was captured on the ‘Lumberjack Days’ records was energy, although this also was lost on some people, especially Maximum Rock N Roll, who were unsure at what speed to even play the 7” due to the overly excitable vocals.
The EP had actually followed the break up of Brents TV, who hadn’t ever sought acceptance from the East Bay scene more down to the isolation factor of residing in Arcata, and the fact of being in their own world almost 300 miles north of San Franscisco. With this is mind the scathing local reviews such as in MRR served to avoid the issue of unnaceptance.
John Denery (Brents TV, Judy & The Loadies, Ne’er Do Wells, Hi Fives, The Bomb Bassets) : “We didn't feel like outsiders because we hardly knew about the scene. Arcata is a very small town, around 15,000 people and a 7 hour drive from Berkeley. Besides Brian, who grew up in Berkeley and myself, who watched Dallas play shows at Gilman, we had little idea about Gilman bands or Lookout records. We played Arcata with Crimpshrine in an alley way and Sweet Baby. Other than that, we played with local Arcata bands. After we broke up, we got back together to do a week tour with Green Day.”
John Quittner (Brents TV) : “We did one proper tour, in the winter of 1990-91, and Brian wouldn't come, which was a great shame because he embodied a lot of the spirit of that band. But he was a true counterculture kind of guy, who loved the pickup shows in Laundromats but couldn't see the point of playing clubs, or of playing with Green Day, who even in pre-stardom days were slightly slick and had Al on drums. We enlisted our buddy Morgan Hunt, a really superb punk drummer who played a full drum set, and it made our rinky-dink sound kind of beefy. It was really unlike the previous Brents TV thing, but in a way it was really great. We really did not know what we were doing. Six people in my 1978 Toyota Corolla liftback with a little fez on top that held what little equipment we could bring. Thank god Aaron Elliott came as our roadie. Green Day cancelled, but surprised us by showing up for the second half of the tour, screwing up most of the shows, but Aaron wheeled & dealed until we were playing somewhere every night anyway. By far the most memorable show of that tour had to be a party at a house at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, with the house packed and the floor bouncing up and down until you really thought it would give out, John being carried aloft by the crowd throughout the set, amps on fire. This was Green Day, Brents TV, Fitz of Depression, Giant Henry – who became Unwound later - and Witchy Poo. That was how I fell in love with Olympia. I moved there later and still live there. Kurt Cobain was there too, but as with Green Day it was pre-showbiz era and didn't seem especially noteworthy. That tour took place during my first attempt at vegetarianism. I was three weeks into that, but on the first night of the tour in Eugene, Oregon I got stoned with Virgil and we ate raw Spam out of the can with a spoon. It was also my first trip over the border into Canada. During an interview with Nardwuar on CITR radio in Vancouver, a female caller insisted upon a date with Billie and came to the show in Vancouver and the show in Victoria and somehow became ever-present. I remember her belief that she and Billie needed to record a duet of "Blackbird." She did find us a place to stay in Victoria, in a house where the residents hated and resented our presence. We referred to her as Snoko -- like, Yoko of the snow. Anyway I don't know if that was Billie's very first stalker but it was definitely one of them. Also in Vancouver, me and Virgil packed Green Day's car in ice and snow during their set. It froze overnight, and when they received a call at 6am insisting that they move it because it was in the hotel manager's parking spot, they received an impossible frozen surprise.”