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NIGHT LIFE THE CLUB SCENE

Ska's the Limit : The Untouchables' upbeat music will speak directly to the audience's feet at the Ventura Theatre.

August 29, 1991|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You're probably going to have to dance at this one. And it won't be the fine print on the ticket stub giving you subliminal orders to shake that thang.

It will be the Untouchables' music itself, an upbeat mixture of rock, soul and ska, that will be speaking directly to your feet Saturday night at the Ventura Theatre. But don't expect Eliot Ness to make it.

The band has been around for 10 years--that's probably why the band's last album was called "A Decade of Dance." But according to perceptive tabloid writers, lately the Untouchables have appeared even less than Elvis. And word has it that, much like The King, they aren't dressing as well as they used to either.

"Well, we haven't been around that much lately," guitarist and original member Clyde Grimes said in a recent phone interview. "We've just been doing weekend jaunts up the coast. Jerry Miller and I are the only original members left, but everybody else has been in the band at least two years. This is the best lineup we've ever had, and we dress a lot more casually than we used to."

The band name wasn't taken from that bunch of famous cops from the '30s who looked like Robert Stack or Kevin Costner. Nor are they a bunch of lower-caste Indians unpopular with other Indians.

"Our name is basically a parody of other rock bands during the '70s," Grimes said. "A lot of them got so big they became like gods and out of touch. Ten years ago, Jerry, I and a lot of the other original members were getting into ska and reggae music. We all grew up together in central L.A. We decided to start a ska band because there weren't any other ska bands in L.A. except for the Boxboys. In fact, their guitar player, Larry Monroe, is a DJ now. Anyway, none of us had ever played instruments before except for me and another guy."

Everyone knows there are several categories of musicians. Some musicians aren't in bands, so who cares about them? Most of them are in bands that no one will ever hear of. Others are in bands that will never make it. Among the signed, professional musicians there's the Big Guys, the Pretty Big Guys and the Thanks Anyway, Guys.

The Untouchables, for the longest time, seemed on the verge of becoming the Next Big Thang, but didn't.

"Once we got signed to Stiff Records in 1985--it seemed we were on our way," Grimes said. "But then after Stiff went under, we got hung up in legal hassles for four years and had an identity crisis. All we were doing then was touring, not putting out any records, so we had a crisis. In 1987-88, we didn't know what we wanted.

"Now we've improved the band--we're 10 times better as musicians."

So all this leaves the Untouchables doing the Smokey Robinson thing--shopping around. They have a new demo, high hopes for a deal, and a bunch of upcoming gigs.

"We really enjoy playing and living the life of a musician," Grimes said. "We pretty much live off our music. Our current demo is the best stuff we've ever done. Hopefully, we'll have a studio album out by the end of the year."

And maybe they will get so big they won't have to do any more gigs like one a few years back.

"We had this gig in Moscow, Idaho, and we flipped the van at six in the morning on some black ice," Grimes said. "Our bass player flew out of the van, and it rolled over on him. We thought he was dead. Then five people showed up at the gig. I thought, 'What the hell are we doing here?' "

The band has plenty of show-stopping songs such as "Free Yourself," "What's Gone Wrong," and "Live & Let Dance," but the one the crowd shouts for until they hear it is "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" by, that's right, the Monkees. It will be last. Trust me.

"Everyone dances at our shows," Grimes said. "We have a whole new following. We opened for the Divinyls at the Palladium last month, and no one seemed to know us. Now we have 4,600 more kids who like us. We've played 'Steppin' Stone' ever since we first started--I think our old guitarist got us to play it first. Now, we can't get rid of it. We used to do it in the middle of the set, but everyone would split."

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