What a Long, Strange Trip...
We were snowed in in Flagstaff, walking on the ice. The Missiles and their manager, who was me. It wasn't the first time I'd considered killing them. Bill and Dave were several steps behind, and Ken was camped out in the shower of the Starlight Motor Lodge with a telephone and a bottle of Jagermeister. My car had "suddenly just sorta broke," according to Dave, who'd been driving it but abandoned it at a motel down the highway.
With unexpected snow, a blowout in the mountains and less than $50 among us, no one in Missile Land was very happy, save Ken, who was probably having a conversation without the benefit of consonants by now.
"Guess this means the trip to the Grand Canyon is out...."
"Shut up, Chuck."
The car was fine. Dave stared, marveling that this car -- the one he swore just an hour ago was completely immobile -- was now purring quietly.
"Did you try turning the key?" I shouted. "How about that one, Einstein?"
Later that night, jammed into a single hotel room, we slurped beer, made phone calls and insulted music videos on the tube. We stockpiled a case of beer and a couple of packages of bologna to tide us through what might be several snowed-in days. It was the road trip where I learned that Ken snores, Bill makes the best sandwiches, Dave can parallel park a van with a trailer and Chuck heaves a mean snowball. We would visit the Grand Canyon (fogged in), almost get hit by lightning, visit Flintstone Theme Park (deserted) and, oh yeah, play a gig or two.
That night in Flagstaff was one of my most and least favorite memories of road tripping with The Missiles. It was an accidental and more or less ill-advised partnership, and yet somehow, it worked. But that was then and this is now. Ten years and four days after Chuck Sanders, Bill Myers and Dave Randall debuted their straight-on guitar rock in the Houston music scene. Nine videos, five releases, five SXSW conferences, two Yamaha Soundcheck finals, seven also-rans in the Music Awards poll, one Taco Bell Band Search semifinals, one Arizona Music Conference, five weddings, two divorces, two children, 1,200-plus gigs and one van later, The Missiles are hanging up their guitars and unplugging for good -- saying goodbye with a final release, The Missiles' Last Album.
Chuck originally approached me in late 1989, when the band was having trouble with the CD release party for Atomic Fireball and wanted to know if I would be interested in helping them out.
"Are you aware that I'm a pretty lame manager?" I asked Chuck.
"We don't need a manager. We just need a little help."
That sounded fine, and I was game. We came up with a promotional campaign that included upwards of 10,000 Atomic Fireball candies. I had no idea that my ride with The Missiles was just beginning -- and would continue up through the end.
By the time I joined The Missiles, they had already weathered a mild roller-coaster ride to the top of Houston's local scene. Just trying to assemble a comprehensive list of band members is mind-boggling, never mind the list of support personnel.
Tulane Gordon, still one of their most avid supporters, not only gambled on the band in the early days but provided practice space when there were no other options. Randy Shearer took the thankless job of road managing most of the first tour, and Kim Agnor ran sound for a string of shows that more often than not found The Missiles playing to fewer than a dozen people. Becky Crisman was one of the band's first managers, and everyone credits her as one of the hardest-working and supportive members of The Missiles' past.
Chuck Sanders, Bill Myers and Dave Randall have been the consistent core members of The Missiles for the entire ten-year run.
"John Simmons, Jeff Agnor...," Chuck lists temporary Missiles.
"Brian Ashford for a long time," adds Bill.
"Colleen Meehan and Christy Gutowski. Backup girls," Chuck muses. "That was fun. And Paul Gutowski. He was one of the original members. Played keys," Chuck reminds Bill. "He was in the video for "How Can I Know," which none of us have ever seen.
"We had a sax, until it was stolen."
Beau Mullinax covered sax and bass for a good chunk of the late '80s, when a complete turnover suddenly left Dave out, and Kenny Cordray in, for a couple of months. A handful of gigs later Beau and Kenny were out, and Dave, along with guitarist Ken Jones, cemented the lineup that would eventually hit the road and finish out the run.
The Missiles' first release, on vinyl, is about as local-release-vanity-disk as you can get. By the time they got around to a second release, The Missiles had a stronger collection of songs and a larger fan base. A pivotal gig plopped in their laps on New Year's Eve of 1989. Z-107 threw a free concert in the park downtown and invited the city to come party with The Missiles. Over 30,000 attended, and pieces of the live recording found their way onto Heat Seeking Moisture.
Beer has been a major theme of The Missiles' ten-year career. A 1992-93 Budweiser sponsorship gave them the money to finally quit their day jobs and hit the road. "Free, cold beer and a chance to play," says Bill, summing up The Missiles' credo. Amid cries of "sellout" from local musicians, The Missiles took the money and ran -- from coast to coast, spending a good chunk of time on the road with the Beat Farmers.
"We got to stay in the Buddy Hackett Suite in San Francisco," says Bill. "And go to the American Music Awards."
A friend had scored backstage passes for The Missiles to the awards, and due to some rather naive maneuvering, we managed to find ourselves in a room stocked with deli trays and the ever-popular Free Cold Beer. We commandeered a sofa and sat down, waiting for nothing in particular. We were finally approached by an official-looking backstage type.
"So," he inquired, "you guys nervous?"
"Not really," Bill answered.
"Who are you guys again?"
"Ah. Right. Of course. And you're, um, presenters?"
"Oh, right. You're nominated."
"Not this year," Chuck answered.
Taken aback, the stage manager seemed embarrassed. Looking around, he leaned in and whispered.
"They overlooked a lot of good people this year."
Metallica, standing uncomfortably in the corner, coveted our sofa. We eventually opted for a safer haven, where Darin Murphy (of Trish and...), who had joined us in L.A. for the show, signed autographs for kids who had him confused with someone else (we're not sure who).
"What did you put?" Chuck asked.
"Best wishes, Darin Murphy," he shrugged. "What was I supposed to put?"
From Maine to San Diego, anyplace we could book and get to, The Missiles played. I had no clue how to route them, no clue how to book them. Gigs were canceled. Clubs closed down. Bad directions, bad tires. And all the gigs that made it worth it. Throughout the tour, The Missiles managed to hook up with other Bud bands, including Boston's Letters to Cleo and Baltimore's The Loft. Some gigs were inspired, like the All Bud gig in New Haven. Others, like an opening slot for the Ellen James Society, were less so.
And every so often we found the cities where the press and radio were not just kind, but downright supportive.
"Every time we drove into Albuquerque for a show, we'd hear ourselves on the radio," Ken remembers. "It was the greatest."
So why hang up the guitars now?
"The band still has a good draw, we still sound good, so why not quit now, when we're still having fun with it?" Ken explains.
"We can always have a reunion gig," Chuck adds.
"Charge $125 a ticket."
"Open for Barbra Streisand."
A few months ago, Bud informed us that they would not be renewing The Missiles' term. And maybe that's the real reason The Missiles are turning it in. The free, cold beer finally ran out.
The Missiles' final blowout, featuring an all-night Missiles show, a nine-video retrospective and a new video documenting the band's entire ten-year history, takes place at 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 8 at the Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington, 869-
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