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San Diego Spotlight: POP MUSIC / THOMAS K. ARNOLD

Ugly Things Holds Special Beauty for '60s Rock Fans

December 28, 1988|Thomas K Arnold

It's not exactly Rolling Stone, but, then again, it isn't trying to be. Ugly Things, a typewritten, photocopied "fanzine" published irregularly by San Diegan Mike Stax, is devoted to obscure 1960s rock acts about which its glossy, megabuck cousin couldn't care less--not then, not now.

The seven issues of Ugly Things that have come out since 1982 contain articles on, interviews with and rare photographs of such illustrious also-rans as the Pretty Things, the Music Machine and the Downliner Sect.

"I've had some stuff on the Rolling Stones, things like that, but I tend to stay away from bands that have already been covered so much," Stax said. "The '60s was a period when so much good music was being made that a lot of it didn't get any attention. A lot of great bands got overlooked and never got the credit they deserved. And I think there are people out there who want to read about them."

There must be. The latest issue of Ugly Things, published last August, sold nearly 2,000 copies--at $3.50 apiece. Half were distributed to independent record stores throughout the country by Midnight Records in New York. (Locally, Ugly Things is available at Off the Record in East San Diego and Blue Meannie Records in El Cajon.)

The other half, Stax personally sent to regular readers as far away as England, Sweden, Japan and Australia.

"Right before I go to press, I notify everyone on my mailing list," Stax said. "Then I wait for the checks to come in. Mostly, I send out one copy at a time, but there are a couple of people in Europe who order 50 copies and then resell them to their friends."

Stax, 26, is a native of Watford, England. He moved to San Diego in 1980 to join the Crawdaddies, a local band modeled after such early '60s British rhythm-and-blues groups as the Yardbirds and the Pretty Things.

Two years later, he started publishing Ugly Things "to carry on in the tradition of magazines like Bomp! and Bam Balam, which, when I was growing up, had turned me on to all these incredible bands from the 1960s that I had never heard of," he said.

The publication's name, Stax said, reflects its content.

"When I came out (from England), what was really big was Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls and all these other pretty-boy groups," he said. "But what I was into was the Pretty Things and the Rolling Stones, which in the '60s were considered to be the ugly, nasty, dirty bands."

Since issue No. 1 rolled off the presses--er, the copier--in March, 1982, Ugly Things has been strictly a one-man operation. Stax single-handedly types the copy, pastes it up and photocopies and staples the pages.

And, even though the publication's initial run of 200 copies has increased tenfold, Stax considers himself lucky if he breaks even.

"Each issue costs me more than a dollar to Xerox, and I spend an additional $200 to $300 to halftone the photos," he said. "On top of that, there's postage--not to mention my own time. I work on it every single day, sometimes five minutes, sometimes 12 hours."

Fortunately, Stax has a real job. He works at the College Copy Center, out by San Diego State University.

"If I wasn't working there," he said with a laugh, "my standard of living would be a lot lower--and my printing costs a lot higher."

It's been a very good year for San Diego's The Paladins. Last summer, Alligator Records released the group's second album, "Years Since Yesterday." To date, the LP has sold upward of 20,000 copies. The group subsequently hit the road for a national concert tour, often teaming up with such other roots-oriented acts as Los Lobos, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

The future looks even brighter. On Jan. 15, The Paladins' first video, "Good Lovin' ," will be premiered on MTV, the 24-hour cable television music-video channel. The clip was taped live last September at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

In February, The Paladins will enter the studio to begin work on their next album, with Los Lobos sax man Steve Berlin producing.

And in March, the group will head overseas for a monthlong tour of Europe. Highlights will be appearances at the Amsterdam Blues Festival and on the German television show "Unfilter," with Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman.

Singer-guitarist Dave Gonzales and stand-up bassist Tom Yearsley formed The Paladins in 1980. They made their first vinyl appearance in 1982, on the local "Who's Listening?" compilation album, and two years later placed a song on Rhino Records' "The Best of L.A. Rockabilly" LP.

In 1987, Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds produced The Paladins' debut album, which came out on the Wrestler Records label. Also lending a hand in the studio were guitarist Anson Funderburgh and pianist Katie Webster, the legendary "swamp boogie queen."

LINER NOTES: San Diego pop fans may have a hard time deciding how to celebrate the arrival of 1989. They can spend New Year's Eve with local roots-rockers the Beat Farmers at the Bacchanal in Kearny Mesa, Sha Na Na and the Commodores at the Town and Country Hotel in Mission Valley or Little Charlie and the Nightcats at the Belly Up Tavern.

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