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Entertainment : The Name Game : Rock bands often hurdle over the boundaries of good taste when it comes to choosing an eye-catching moniker for themselves.

March 12, 1993|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rock 'n' roll holds no place for the queasy.

Consider a recent weekend at the Pelican's Retreat. On Fri day night, the Calabasas club featured a band called Rat Salad. Sunday brought another unappetizing bill: Acoustic Jelly and Vomit.

"When you're also running a restaurant, that's not so good," conceded Dave Hewitt, who books groups at the eatery and music spot. "But I like band names like that. They catch the eye. People definitely remember them."

That's what musicians are hoping for. In this music industry town, they name their bands with reckless abandon. Oodles of Poodles, Manson Family Tree House, Funky Mudchop and the Drop Crew. Anything to attract attention and a record contract.

Not all bands are inventive. "There's too many people out there wrapped up in trying to find the perfect rock-stardom name," complains Marc (Happenin' Harry) Harrison, a North Hollywood promoter. He's talking about the proliferation of names like Wild Sex Child or Satan's Army.

But strange names are something of a tradition in rock music--somehow, Strawberry Alarm Clock seems perfectly normal when uttered over the radio. Scan the weekly club listings and you'll see this tradition continued with plenty of thoughtful oddities. Disgruntled Postal Worker. Auto Body Experience. The Traveling Sununus.

"With rock bands, there's always a story behind the name," says Carey Lewis, who manages a blues-rock group called B.B. Chung King and the Screaming Buddah Heads. "Sometimes it's pain and joy. Sometimes it's shock value."

In the case of Lewis' band, lead singer Alan Mirikitani is Japanese-American. At a gig some years back, another musician told him that he played guitar like B.B. King. Mirikitani added the food company name.

Gastrointestinal affairs are but a single source of inspiration. Religion is popular: Jesus Hair, Girl Jesus, Mrs. God. And the human derriere seems to provide endless variations: Imperial Butt Wizards, and Butt Trumpets.

Speaking of anatomy, a longtime favorite on the local club scene is Sandy Duncan's Eye, an alternative-rock group whose moniker refers to the actress' glass prosthesis.

"We were kind of fascinated with '70s actors who hadn't done very much since then, like Bert Convy and Florence Henderson," Roberto Haraldson, the band's vocalist, explains. "Sandy Duncan had that distinctive feature."

Haraldson and drummer Campbell Emory once met the actress at a party. They had a photo taken with her but didn't mention the band. The singer says: "Some people feel we named the band to offend her."

Not that offensive names are taboo. The Dead Kennedys made it big, after all.

"As long as they're being creative and tasteful," explains Toy Domenique, the booking secretary at FM Station in North Hollywood. "Or if the name makes people laugh, or makes them want to know, 'What's this band about?' "

Know that Domenique includes the band, Sphincter Gods, in her "creative and tasteful" category. It may be that rock 'n' roll has different standards.

"Around here, we're more concerned about whether you hear the name and think about a kind of music that's different from what the band plays," says Bennett Kaufman, a West Coast vice president at RCA Records. "If a rock act has a name that makes you think of rap, that's not the best thing."

Indeed, a lot of bands derive their names--in an interpretational sort of way--from their music. The Valley duo, Acoustic Jelly, was formed out of a love of guitar jam sessions. "Then we changed jam to jelly, meaning the food spread," Steve Luczy says. The Boxing Gandhis found similar inspiration.

"Boxing is for the aggressive R&B we play and Gandhi is for our soul music," David Darling, of the Van Nuys group, says. "The name fits the band."

Other names arise tangentially. "My roommate is in a band," Harrison recalls. "They were trying to think of a name, and I told him, 'You're keeping me awake with this name thing. Why don't you just call yourselves Insomnia?' So they did."

The name game, however, isn't all whimsy. B.B. Chung King is often listed without the Screaming Buddah Heads because the full name is simply too long for most marquees. So the band is considering dropping that last part. As for Sandy Duncan's Eye, the novelty of the name eventually wore off.

"It sounded really dumb after a while," Haraldson says. "Then, after a few years, it became a generic sort of thing."

Other musicians worry that a strange name, while memorable, may come back to haunt them.

"I sing for a band called Pork," Harrison says. "People say, 'Harry, you're a good singer, but no one will take you seriously with a name like Pork.' "

Perhaps similar doubts nip at Mazzachunka, Fishwife and Los Lobotomys. It's the Milli Vanilli syndrome--with a name like that, we should have known something was amiss. But if the English quintet, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, can score a hit record, anyone can.

"You look at that name and say it's way too long and no one will remember it or know what it means," Kaufman, of RCA, says. "But it worked. If the music is good, people will remember."

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