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VALLEY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Doc Tahri Specializes in Music That Defies Categorization

Tunes by former Valley kid Bret Helm and band have been called 'insanity' and 'avant punk funk white trash thrash rap.'

June 13, 1996|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It may be hard to believe, but Bret Helm is really a Valley kind of guy.

Formerly the bassist for Public Image Ltd., Helm is currently the bass player, singer, songwriter and producer behind the alternative band Doc Tahri.

Doc Tahri also features guitarist Jennifer Batten, who works regularly with Michael Jackson, and drummer Monte McConnell. The band has a new CD, "Einstein Was a Bullfighter," available on Cash Only Records. The music is not something you're likely to whistle at work or hear on KBIG-FM.

Critics have called Doc Tahri's music "avant punk funk white trash thrash rap" and "a manic blend of silliness, sarcasm, social commentary and blatant insanity." Helm describes his own vocal style as "David Byrne on acid."

The music reflects apparent influences of Talking Heads and Zappa plus something else.

"After two years with [Johnny] Lydon and Public Image Ltd., I got a dark, aggressive edge," Helm says.

But years ago, he was just another Granada Hills kid trying to make his way in the musical world.

"I'm a bit of a Valley dude, but a lot of my old haunts have been built over," Helm says. "The Valley was more open back then."

Still he has fond memories of going to local Valley record stores such as Slipped Disc and Moby Disc with friends--each trying to come up with the most esoteric recordings.

After graduating from Kennedy High, Helm attended UC San Diego, where he met Batten and earned a bachelor's degree in music composition. He was teaching bass at three different Valley music stores when he auditioned for Public Image Ltd. in 1984. He stayed with the group for two years and then started Doc Tahri.

Helm lives in Valencia now. Besides working with Doc Tahri, he keeps busy with session work. And being a community-minded guy, he even finds time to lecture local high school music students on "Life After Marching Band."

* Doc Tahri's "Einstein Was a Bullfighter" is available on Cash Only Records. Call (805) 254-4675 or contact doctahri@aumusic.com.

Peaceful, Easy: "I love the Eagles," Michael Kline confesses, without too much prodding.

Although he grew up in Baltimore, Burbank resident Kline and his band, the Gypsys, have captured the essence of the quintessential California band of the 1970s.

The Eagles played music that was attractive to a wide audience. Its strengths were good melodies, strong vocal harmonies and a mellow, acoustic-guitar-based rock sound with a slight country feel. Kline, who appears at the Hot House on Tuesday, plays music like that and he does it very well. But he's not an Eagles clone.

As most people over the age of 18 know, love can only get you so far these days. Luckily for Kline, he has some other cards up his musical sleeve.

One ace is that his debut CD, "Seeing the Circle," was produced by Charlie Midnight, who formerly worked with heavyweights such as James Brown, the Doobie Brothers and Joe Cocker.

Unlike a lot of artist-released product, Kline's CD has superb production values--but only six songs.

"We had to make a decision whether to go for better production quality or to do more songs," Kline says. They decided to go for quality. And Kline says he's glad they did. Various tracks from "Seeing the Circle" have been added to the playlists of over 100 radio stations nationwide.

And finally, Kline has a good day gig. His job title is dad.

Kline spends his days taking care of his 9-month-old son, Austin. Kline says that's helped his music as well.

"Austin doesn't worry about what people think about him yet; it helps me to do what I feel," he says. "[As an artist], I owe it to myself to listen to how I feel."

* Michael Kline & the Gypsys play Tuesday night at the Hot House, 12123 Riverside Drive, North Hollywood. No cover. Call (818) 506-7058.

Hard at Work: The Roving Godivas' lead singer and guitarist, Leslie Knauer, doesn't have one day job, she has three.

She works as a piano tuner and a waitress besides running an open mike night at the Cat and Fiddle down in Hollywood.

Which one does she like best?

"I like waitressing," she admits hesitantly. "It's embarrassing to say."

Which does she like least?

"Tuning will just suck the music right out of you if you tune all day," she says. "It will drive you nuts."

Besides Knauer, the Roving Godivas, who are playing at Bourbon Square on Friday night, consist of bassist Mary Kay and drummer Carol Control. They don't perform naked, but Kay does own a horse.

Knauer and Control met while both were members of the all-girl glam-rock band Precious Metal. And Kay is the cashier at the place where Knauer waitresses. Is that a Hollywood story or what?

Precious Metal made a few albums and toured the world, but Knauer's most vivid memory is of being "bothered" by the cleanliness of Swiss bathrooms. The band also made the news a few years back when they enticed mogul Donald Trump to appear in one of their videos.

But Precious Metal is no more, and the Roving Godivas play an alternative rock sound with Knauer's vocals prominently out front.

* The Roving Godivas play Friday night at Bourbon Square, 15324 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys. $5 cover. Call (818) 997-8562.

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