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Jeff Drake Back on the O.C. Scene

Pop music * After bouts with drug addiction, he's clean again and reunited with several rock comrades.

May 11, 1999|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Jeff Drake had to depend on the kindness of strangers, he might not be around to attempt the umpteenth--well, at least the fourth or fifth--resurrection of his rock 'n' roll career.

Luckily, he's been able to depend on the forbearance of his friends, much as he may have taxed it during bouts of heroin addiction over the past 15 years. Clean again at 37, he is back on the scene for the first time since 1996, fronting a band of old comrades under a new name with a familiar resonance: the Injectors.

They open for one of Drake's heroes, former New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, in Costa Mesa on May 21.

Drake arrived on the Orange County rock scene in 1981, fronting the Joneses, a raunchy uncomplicated rock band with a sound and aesthetic patterned after his chief inspirations: the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders and the Sex Pistols. The Joneses were strong contenders on the Hollywood club scene during the mid-1980s, and their debut album in 1986 was the first full-length record ever released by Doctor Dream Records, Orange County's longest-running rock label.

But heroin took its toll, and the Joneses never recorded another album. Instead, broke and hungering for a fix, Drake impulsively attempted an unarmed robbery at an Anaheim bank in 1991 and wound up serving 2 1/2 years in federal custody. The bright side was that he got drug treatment, resumed rocking after his release from prison, and stayed clean for six years.

Then, Drake said, he moved into a building in Hollywood where a downstairs neighbor was an old friend from the punk rock scene who was dealing heroin. "It was just too convenient. It really shocked me that it was possible [to relapse]."

Drake said he left town for two years, hoping to break his contacts with the drug culture. He made new dubious contacts in Phoenix, then managed to quit in Portland, Ore. He was miserable, however, and in January, his girlfriend enacted one of Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover"--"get on the bus, Gus"--by presenting Drake with a one-way ticket to L.A.

Drake arrived a virtual refugee: "I had 15 cents in my pocket, nowhere to stay, nobody knew I was coming. If I didn't have good friends, I probably would be homeless."

*

Drake said the friends he called--collect--hadn't heard from him in two years, but they responded with the basics: food, clothing and shelter. Soon he got his old job back as a cosmetics salesman, and before long, some old cronies were playing with him. Most of the other Injectors--pianist Greg Kuehn, bassist Mike Occhiato and drummer Mike Sessa--had played hitches in the Joneses. Dave James, who shares the singing, songwriting and guitar-playing with Drake, is a close friend he met several years ago.

"When you get into [drug addiction], your real friends don't want to be around you," Drake said. "You're killing yourself, and they know who you used to be. I'm grateful that the friends I have come back when they see I'm not like that, at least until the next time. And, hopefully, there won't be [a next time]."

The Injectors offer no great departures from the Joneses' approach, Drake said: "I'm pretty much one-dimensional." He talks more of leading a stable life than of any great musical ambitions. A tiny Huntington Beach label, Cabeza de Tornado Records, just put out "Anita Fix," a three-song vinyl 45 of previously unreleased Joneses demos from 1994. Drake, who always has had a small but loyal cult following of punk- and garage-rock enthusiasts, hopes to land a deal for a CD reissue of the entire Joneses recorded output of one album and three EPs. "It's kind of weird. We're looking for a record label for a band that doesn't exist anymore."

Doesn't a record title like "Anita Fix" and a band name like the Injectors glorify Drake's old nemesis, heroin, and promise a dose of bad karma?

"I can't pretend [the history of heroin addiction] doesn't exist," he said. "I'm going to throw it out there. All people have to do is look what I've gone through, and if they have half a brain, they'll realize it's not the way to go."

* The Injectors, Sylvain Sylvain, Streetwalkin' Cheetahs and Doom Kounty Electric Chair play May 21 at Club Mesa, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa. (949) 642-8448.

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