When American roots musician Corey Zander sets out on his first UK tour, things start badly and rapidly get worse. Not even his drug-strewn rock and roll past could prepare him for the violence of his reception in provincial England. Oliver Gray’s first foray into fiction places love, crime and travel in an authentic context of rock history.
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Researching the history of Corey Zander had taken a lot of effort but actually been quite fun. Most of the information came from an obscure and strangely-titled fanzine called Bucketfull of Brains, which specialized in “Americana” music. Then there had been an article by Allan Jones in Uncut. Jones, having previously been the editor of Melody Maker, contributed nostalgic articles looking back at the wildest days of rock and roll. It seemed that Corey fitted neatly into that bracket. Spending a lot of time on the internet and in Winchester’s library (recently re-christened, for no particular reason, as a “Discovery Centre”), Ben gradually reconstructed Corey’s life.
Corey Zander, born Alexander Cruz, was the only son of Pino Cruz and his wife Aileen, delivered in their small house in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in January 1962. Corey’s great grandfather was a Choctaw Indian who had arrived in Oklahoma on the Trail Of Tears, the popular term for the forced relocation of Native American nations from the south east of the US in accordance with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The expression “Trail Of Tears” refers to the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831 from their native homelands in Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina. Many of the relocated Native Americans, including Cherokee, Choctaw and Muskogee, died of starvation, exposure or disease on the cold and chaotic trail to Oklahoma. The Choctaw were the first to be removed and seventeen thousand families made the move to Oklahoma, originally called Indian Territory. Having effectively been ethnically cleansed, they eventually became known as the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
By the time Pino Cruz was born in 1938, the dustbowl existence of his family had become bearable, if hard. Pino himself was able, as an adult, to earn a tolerable living as a general handyman in and around Tahlequah, while Aileen looked after young Alexander. It was when Alexander was seven that Pino was accused of stealing from one of his clients. As it happened, it was a bottle of bourbon that went missing from a house where he was repairing the roof while the owner was out. He couldn’t deny it, as the bottle, now a couple of fingers lighter, was found at the bottom of his tool bag the next day, when the angry homeowner called in the police. Dissatisfied with the quality of Pino’s work, and probably looking for an excuse not to pay, the owner pressed charges on what was, on the face of it, a trivial case, and Pino was fined, but what was worse, disgraced within the local community, where the word spread that he was an untrustworthy person to employ.
There was another unfortunate result of his foolishness, as those few slugs of deadly liquid re-awoke an interest in liquor which had long lain dormant. Financial necessity and the strong disapproval of his wife Aileen, who was frightened of the effect of whisky on Pino’s temperament, had ensured many years of sobriety up to that point. Not quite on the level of Shakespearian tragedy, perhaps, but that light-fingered moment represented a significant turning point in Pino’s life. If he’d been able to rationalize it, he’d have said what the hell, if I work hard and a small transgression can pretty much ruin my life, what exactly is the point? Unable to find work, and finding the stress of responsibility for a young son tough to cope with, Pino took to thieving on a regular basis, using the proceeds to fund visits of varying success to the nearby Indian Casino. When he won, he would celebrate with whiskey. To his credit, he purposely didn’t drink in front of Alexander, keeping his binges until after the lad was in bed. It did mean that he was normally ill-tempered in the morning, but he wasn’t the kind of drunk who’d lay his hands on his wife or son. He just felt unhappy most of the time, and the atmosphere would surely have been bad enough to encourage Aileen to leave, if she’d had the choice. But she had nowhere to go.
It would have been advantageous from the point of view of creating a myth about the upbringing of the future rock star Alexander if his father Pino had died a violent death in a car crash or a bar fight, but the reality was more mundane. In 1968, when Alexander was just 14, Pino’s liver gave out and Aileen was left alone to look after the boy. By that time, the family had long since been forced to leave their small house in Tahlequah and now resided in a quite scruffy trailer in the woods near the Illinois River, just off Highway 62. But, as so often seems to be the case, the cliché applied that they were poor, but they were happy. Well, they weren’t at all happy that Pino had passed away, as he had been basically a good guy, who had tried to do his best for them, but Aileen was a particularly kind, caring and understanding mother, who took her responsibilities seriously.
Aileen, who worked as many hours as she could get in a hair salon in Wagoner, not far from Tahlequah, had long harboured a wish to be a teacher. This was a wish that could never officially be fulfilled because of the lack of requisite qualifications, but it did come in useful when, almost inevitably, the teenage Alexander began to be an unreliable attender at school. It was a pain to get there, especially in winter, when a lengthy walk to the nearest road to pick up the school bus could be an unwelcome prospect in the early mornings. Aileen certainly didn’t sanction these absences, which were followed up half-heartedly by the school authorities, but she did believe Alexander’s pleas that he often felt unwell, with stomach pains and headaches. Please could he stay at home, just for today? Okay, just this once, dear, she would accept, realizing she would have to beg for extra shifts if she was to purchase more heating oil for the mobile home, which was isolated and could be bone-crackingly cold.
It would be many years before the concept of home schooling would become commonplace and monitored by education authorities, but in a way, Aileen and Alexander were pioneers in the field. Mathematics and particularly, literature were on the agenda, as Aileen made sure that the many absences from school were not to hinder Alexander’s education. He never told her, but in later life he realized that the stomach cramps were most probably caused by the sneering comments of his classmates about his poor home and his ostracized father. Yes, his therapist in the eighties would confirm, you were suffering from stress.
This was the pattern for much of Alexander’s teens. Most afternoons, Aileen would be picked up by a work colleague for shifts at the salon, which would be the opportunity for her son to pick at the various decrepit musical instruments his dad had left behind. Pino had claimed there was a rich musical tradition in his Native American background, but had shown little skill himself. Occasionally, as the alcholism took hold, he had deluded himself with the hope that he might be able to make some cash in the bars of north east Oklahoma, but the bitter reality was that he could hardly play and he certainly couldn’t sing. Listening to Alexander, Aileen was surprised and gratified to begin to hope that maybe there was indeed a talent there, and that it had simply skipped a generation. It certainly wasn’t from her side of the family, white middle class with no musical instruments anywhere near their home, and Aileen was pleased to give Alexander every encouragement.
Alexander tried out the banjo but found it displeasingly harsh and unyielding, at least in his hands. But armed with his dad’s ancient acoustic guitar and a harmonica in a holster he crafted himself from an old metal coat hanger, he could really fancy himself as a Bob Dylan figure, as he droned out folksy classics like “Down By The Riverside”, “When The Saints Go Marching In” and “Oh Susanna”. He struggled with finger picking, so his style ended up pretty much as the kind of strumming beyond which most people’s guitar skills don’t develop. He even tried his hand at writing a few songs of his own, using his limited arsenal of chords, but really, he didn’t have much in the way of subject matter to work on. Aileen was impressed by these works of art and proud of her boy when he would play them to her on her return from work, but she was biased.
It was inevitable that Aileen would eventually meet a new man, and it brought a welcome change in circumstances to the small family. Lance Wilson was a friend of Aileen’s boss and ran a small diner in the centre of Tahlequah, aimed at the motorists and tourists plying the Historical road Route 66, which ran right through the town. Lance, not long divorced, was an astute businessman and all-round good guy, and before long, life in the apartment above the restaurant was a good deal more comfortable and convenient than it had been in the trailer in the woods. The trailer was sold to a dodgy-looking couple who would doubtless use it as a drug den, but then that wasn’t the Cruz’s problem any more. Aileen was now in a position to do more shifts and Alexander, recently turned sixteen, was able to earn some cash as well, by means of the traditional rite-of-passage of burger-flipping. He was no longer required to attend high school but he had survived that long on account of being unobtrusive and co-operative on the occasions he’d been there. He certainly never caused any trouble and in the main, teachers had been impressed by how he had dealt with his unconventional upbringing. Half-hearted attempts to persuade him to stay on for further education after high school failed, because, having moved into town, Alex (as he was now, more coolly, known) was in the process of developing a social life.
Alex hadn’t exactly been a loner, but the circumstances in which he had previously lived made it hard to get out and about. Two other friends who had quit school at the same time as him were Jesse Allen and Mark Houghton. With a mutual interest in music, it was inevitable that they would form their first band together. Mark played fiddle, while both the others fancied themselves as guitarists. In the end, Alex conceded the more prominent rôle and agreed to teach himself double bass, on an ancient instrument that Lance Wilson bought for him from a second hand music shop in Tulsa. Using the hours when the restaurant was closed, the trio christened themselves the Woodsmen in honour of Alex’s old home and rehearsed enough folk songs to be able to get some (unpaid) gigs in a couple of the local bars. Using their dubious carpentry skills, they even constructed a makeshift stage in Wilson’s restaurant (which he predictably called Sir Lance-A Lot). They built up quite a following as passing truckers and local drinkers chomped their Lanceburgers and swigged their Route 66 beer.
And then … punk. Well, it happened to many bands around 1978. Not only were the Woodsmen planning to “go electric” and add drums, they were about to turn into a kind of band for which their particular corner of Oklahoma was unprepared. The way it happened was pretty sensational. A regular customer at Sir Lance-A-Lot, and indeed an occasional solo player there, was David Blue, drummer of a respected local soft-rock band called Bliss. It was David who told Alex about a show that Bliss had been booked for at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, opening for an English touring band. Would he like to come along for the ride? It promised to be something really special.
Alex was doubtful. Cain’s Ballrom, while a legendary venue, was known for Western Swing, a type of music that the Woodsmen were trying to get away from. But the idea of being an honorary roadie for the night, carrying in David’s drums and helping to set them up, was tempting. The date was January 11th 1978, the admission fee that Alex was excused on account of being “crew” was three dollars fifty, and the headlining band, “all the way from London, England” was the Sex Pistols. The following night, at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, was to be the Pistols’ last-ever gig, but no one knew that at the time.
Presumably, some of the people in attendance had known roughly what awaited them. Certainly, Alex and the band were well aware of punk. He’d read interviews with the Ramones in Rolling Stone and had already booked tickets to see them, due to play at Cain’s a month later. The cool, high-energy rush of bands like the Ramones and the New York Dolls was appealing to the teenage Woodsmen, feeling pretty isolated in their geographical and cultural position. Rural Oklahoma was a conservative and deeply Christian environment. Nonetheless, without the offer of a lift and a free ticket, Alex wouldn’t have bothered with the Sex Pistols, as their reputation for chaotic live shows didn’t appeal to the musician in him, even though this was their first (and, as it turned out, only) American tour.
The band’s reputation had preceded them, and outside the quaint ballroom, a quite large crowd of banner-waving, bible-punching protesters had gathered in the road. One of the banners read, “Life is ‘Rotten’ Without God’s Only Begotten Jesus.” The audience was an uneasy mix of punk followers, the normal Cain’s audience and the merely curious, some seeking trouble. There were also numerous journalists from national music magazines, and a smattering of undercover police, on the alert for any potentially lewd behaviour onstage. Alex was unaware of any of this, armed with a backstage pass and dutifully carrying in the drums in the freezing conditions; Bliss had barely made it to Tulsa though the snow.
The Pistols had arrived early. They’d driven overnight from Dallas, partly to combat the bad weather and partly because Johnny Rotten had allegedly smashed a Texan reporter’s camera and they were concerned about the wrath of him and the police. Bliss weren’t granted access to the Pistols’ dressing room, but they could hear them living up to their reputation, swearing and being contemptuous of any questions they were asked. Bliss performed a short and largely ignored set, and Alex was out front when the Pistols came onstage and blasted into their show. It was loud, it was rough and ready, but it certainly wasn’t chaotic in any unintended way. Like millions of other youths the world over, Alex had his life changed that evening, as Johnny Rotten leered into the microphone, Sid Vicious snarled and sneered, and Steve Jones studiously ignored an entire pitcher of beer that was thrown over him. This wasn’t just hype, it was pure excitement.
Afterwards, Alex witnessed Vicious and Rotten stubbing out cigarettes on their arms as their fee was counted out to them by venue manager Scott Munz, who was later quoted in the local press as considering them “blasphemous, provocative and irreverent”. These were all attributes which appealed to young Alex, and when he described his evening out to the other Woodsmen, the band’s change of direction became inevitable. Within weeks, Alex had switched to electric bass, amps had been bought (Mark built his own cabinet), a drummer had been recruited, Jesse had switched from fiddle to electric guitar and the band name had been changed.
Was it arrogance, provocation or youthful idiocy which led them to christen themselves The Chocs? Jesse, too had a Choctaw family background and the name sounded to them both snappy and memorable. From a publicity point of view in the era of punk, they couldn’t have done better, but as soon as the first gig posters appeared (their slogan was “Chocs Away!”), there was outrage in the community. The Oklahoma Choctaw Historical Society declared it a slur on their traditions, while the Tahlequah Daily Press called for the group to be banned. In music business terms, it was a PR triumph: scandal and notoriety before the fist gig had been played.
Checking out a rehearsal, in which he discovered that the cheery folk tunes had been replaced by aggressive, three-minute shoutalongs, Lance politely made clear that his restaurant would not be a suitable place for them to make their début. Business was tough at the best of times, and he certainly couldn’t afford a potential boycott. Although keen to support her son’s efforts, Aileen agreed, so the Chocs’ first gig took place at a local college (where the principal insisted they were billed merely as “special guests”, to avoid the posters causing further offence). Apart from a few scuffles and some derogatory comments from some of the male students, who didn’t like their girlfriends checking out the guys’ newly-purchased skinny jeans, it went well enough to generate the beginnings of a following. There was certainly no competition in the way of other punk bands in town.
Modelling themselves vaguely on the Ramones, the Chocs died their hair black and, doing their own bookings, played anywhere they could in the area. This took them through various roadhouses, where they were generally received with hostility (which helped enhance their anti-establishment reputation), and a few more high-profile gigs in places like Eureka Springs, over the border in Arkansas, and the Crystal Pistol, the newly-established punk venue in Tulsa. They even pitched for the Patti Smith Band support slot back at Cain’s Ballroom, but it was already taken. It was at one of their Crystal Pistol shows that they met Larry Goldberg, who was to become their manager and sign them to his Stud record label.
Larry fancied himself as in the same mould as Seymour Stein, the founder of Sire Records. Respected for his maverick personality and ability to find quirky and original new wave acts, Stein had built up a successful empire and Larry Goldberg planned to emulate him. He was actually a New Yorker but was visiting friends in Tulsa that night, and had read a news item in the local paper about the Chocs being pulled over on the highway on suspicion of dope possession. Nothing had been found, but the cops had allegedly pushed them around a bit and spoken to them demeaningly. Alex’s mum Aileen, by now becoming quite enthused about the following the Chocs were building, had written to a journalist under a pseudonym, complaining of victimization. This led to a nice piece of publicity for the band.
The police were probably a bit out of date in what they were searching for. Most of the hippie groups they were used to would undoubtedly have had a stash of weed somewhere in their van, but the Chocs were a high-energy band and needed to do a lot of late-night driving, so speed was their chosen stimulant. There were almost certainly some little pills flicked out of the window onto the grass verge as they were being pulled over. No matter, they got their piece in the paper and Larry Goldberg came to their gig.
It wasn’t particularly Larry’s style of music, but he was an astute impresario and could see which way the wind was blowing musically. The Chocs fitted the mould nicely and the next morning, over coffee in Lance’s bar, he offered the band a deal. A few days later, the contract arrived in the post. Aileen asked a lawyer friend to look it over. The friend was actually a real estate expert and found it hard to work his way through the dense music business legal terminology such as “points” and “redeemable but not recoupable”, but nevertheless said it seemed “all right”. All the publishing was assigned to Larry. With local friends as witnesses, all four members signed the contract. Cue joy. It hardly seemed possible.
Larry had a record producer friend who had a studio in Oklahoma City, and, after a few weeks working on arrangements and rehearsing, the Chocs came up with ten songs which they considered representative, almost all of them three-minute rants with few chords, so relatively easy to record. The line-up was now the classic rock group configuration: Two guitars, bass and drums. For the album title, “Rock With The Chocs” was rejected by consensus as naff and replaced by the hardly less naff “Don’t Knock The Chocs” – seen as having echoes of “Never Mind The Bollocks”. The song chosen for a single was the one which least represented their style – a stadium-style rock anthem called “Mad And Bad”, written by Alex, with a singalong chorus inaccurately plagiarized from John Lydon.
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been had? Baby baby, I’m mad and I’m bad.”
The day after Alex had seen the Sex Pistols, they had played their last ever show, in San Francisco. Johnny Rotten famously signed off with the question, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” The Chocs would never have thought about copyright issues, even assuming you could copyright a throwaway remark, and Larry wouldn’t have cared anyway.
No one had jobs they were committed to, so when Larry recommended relocating en masse to New York, the Chocs were up for it in a big way. The loft apartment they were installed in seemed to be mysteriously rent-free. It was a long time before they realized that this was just one of the many items being put down by Larry as recoupable expenses, but for the time being, life was sweet. Larry’s contacts book was strong enough to secure them a residency at CBGBs and regular shows at the Bowery Ballroom. When he sent them on a coast-to-coast tour, all meals and motels were paid for even though the fees at the murky fleapit venues they played were tiny. The euphoria when “Mad And Bad”, on the Stud label, peaked at number 72 in the Billboard charts on the back of an interview in Rolling Stone and a healthy amount of radio airplay, was enough to make the Chocs feel they had truly arrived. Back in Tahlequah, the Daily Press suddenly had a new attitude to them: “Chocs Away! Local band storms US charts.”
Alex himself felt quiet satisfaction. Although he normally co-wrote the band’s songs with Jesse, “Mad And Bad” had been a solo effort, a throw-away idea, really. Alex was confident that the songwriting royalties would soon start to flow. In the meantime, however, all four Chocs were busy being very stupid and above all, in the tradition of young, naive rock groups, boringly predictable. Yes, they were enthusiastically partaking in pretty much every drug that their itinerant lifestyle regularly pushed their way.
For Alex, cocaine became crack, first tried out in the Château Marmont Hotel in LA after a gig at the Whiskey A-Go-Go. Everybody was doing it, even venerable elder statesman of rock like David Crosby, so it didn’t seem any more significant than slamming down a Tequila. The consequent mood swings and unreliable behaviour (all the Chocs indulged to varying degrees apart from Mark, and even he developed an alcohol problem) meant that further fame and fortune failed to materialize. Their second single made no ripples and “Don’t Knock the Chocs” was a sitting duck for the barbed-pen music critics, who gave it a royal trouncing as naive and derivative.
An inability to deal with drugs wasn’t the only rock ‘n’ roll feature of Corey’s personality. He indulged enthusiastically in the delights of the flesh too. The groupie scene offered itself to him and he certainly wasn’t going to decline. But sometimes, he would take liberties which went beyond casual sex. On one occasion, in Detroit, he had to get out of town fast when a furious father with a gun was after him for allegedly going too far with an under-age girl who had resisted his advances. He’d misunderstood her flirtatious behaviour as being an invitation for sex, and didn’t like it when she was reluctant. “I thought she was asking for it,” he told the other Chocs.
The cool intelligentsia of the New York music scene had no place for these literal hicks from the sticks, so it wasn’t really a surprise when, in March 1981, they were called to Larry Goldberg’s Manhattan office.
That was the day when the Chocs realized that they really should have looked into their contract in more detail before they signed it. The second album which they had been looking forward to recording turned out merely to be an “option”, that Larry could have taken up if he’d wanted to. The publishing rights for their songs rested with Larry too, with only a tiny percentage due to the writers, and in any case, any royalties due from record sales or publishing had long since been eaten up by their day-to-day expenses. The way Larry presented it, he’d been doing the band a massive favour by enabling them to pursue a brief career, but now he needed to cut his losses.
For the three other Chocs, it was the end of an adventure they’d never really planned in the first place. Mark, Jesse and drummer Brian returned to their families in Oklahoma, got jobs and continued to play local venues in amateur bands. Alex however, decided to stay in New York, the reason being that he had fallen in love.
It was while attending an acoustic show in the Bottom Line club that Alex had got chatting with the girl doing the door. Molly was a pretty art student and also a part-time musician who was aware of who Alex was. Before long, they were partners in life (Alex moved into Molly’s tiny apartment in the Bowery), in music (they started writing and performing together) and yes, in crime (they shared an interest in hard drugs, in particular heroin). The couple eked out a living doing poorly paid support slots as an acoustic duo, but that wasn’t enough to live on. Their reputation around town became that of a down-market Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, as they eventually emulated the likes of Peter Perrett and Johnny Thunders in a sordid lifestyle funded by their own dealing. That old cliché about how you have to hit rock bottom before starting to climb back held true for the pair, who were struggling to cope with their baby daughter Lucy, born in October 1983.
Desperate to meet her granddaughter, and unaware of the lifestyle change which had affected her son, Aileen drove all the way to New York to bring the young family home to Tahlequah for Christmas. That something was wrong was soon obvious. Unmistakable clues were a lethargic baby, a mother who kept dozing off, and a father who had to make regular mysterious trips to visit unidentified “friends”, usually late at night. All those fears about what might befall her son in the Big City seemed to have been justified.
Back at home, things had been looking up for Aileen and Lance. They’d gone into business together and their Sir Lance-A-Lot brand had expanded into a small chain of outlets; the concept of burgers and live music had caught on. This meant that Lance was in a position to offer his adopted son and his new family a spell in a local rehab facility, something that would have been impossible for Alex to finance. Feeling less anxious back in his childhood environment, Alex was in a good position to summon up the willpower required, but Molly soon opted to return to New York and the oblivion it offered. It was only weeks before Lance again had to head up to the Big Apple to retrieve Lucy, and after a couple of months, poor Molly was dead, found slumped in the bathroom of the Luna Lounge after taking an overdose. Nobody knew whether it was intentional or not.
While Alex was away in rehab, Aileen unexpectedly found herself being a mother again – to her granddaughter. Little Lucy, often parked in a buggy in the office from where Aileen administered the Lance-A-Lot empire, gradually regained health. Alex took months to get over the death of Molly, but in a way the pointlessness of it galvanized him, until he was eventually able to resume fatherly duties and effectively start his “solo career”, touring the Lance-A-Lot chain with an acoustic guitar, doing a set of originals and a few covers by the likes of Leonard Cohen and Elvis Costello. The climax of each show was, inevitably, a singalong version of “Mad And Bad”, the nearest thing Oklahoma had to a state anthem until, many years later, the Flaming Lips released “Do You Realize?” Predictably, the lyrical preoccupations of Alex’s songs tended to centre around the torment of withdrawal, the cruel vagaries of the music business, the agony of lost love and the joys of fatherhood.
A second try at stardom wasn’t on the agenda at all until Green On Red hit Oklahoma City in mid-1985. Country rock and its indie branch-offs had attracted Alex’s interest and his set already contained Byrds and REM covers, so he drove over to see the pioneering Los Angeles band, unattractively classified by the press as “cowpunk”, or more coolly as the “Paisley Underground”, having been joined in 1985 by Chuck Prophet for the “Gravity Talks” album. In a corridor after the gig, Alex bumped into Green On Red’s front man Dan Stuart and their brief conversation about music was enough to convince Alex that his next step would be to form a psychedelic country rock band back in Tahlequah.
From the original Chocs, both Jesse and Mark were interested. Alex purchased a 12-string Rickenbacker, a drummer called Will Sharp was recruited via a notice in the local music store, and once again, the search was on for a name. This time, it was easier and less controversial. Gram Parsons was the acknowledged king of country rock and “gram” was a drug measurement, so The Grams was a cool name with all the requisite rock and roll connotations.
Things moved fast. The country rock that the Grams were doing chimed exactly with what the music industry required at that moment, and by mid-1986, they had completed tours supporting REM and the Dream Syndicate and also been signed by a proper label, a subsidiary of A & M. Their first album, “Desert Grave”, largely written by Alex, while not charting, hit all the right notes with publications such as Melody Maker and NME in the UK. They even made the front cover of “Sounds”, although not with a photo, just a flash heralding an interview on page 6. Ironically, despite being recognized far more in Europe than in the US, they never got to tour over there, partly for financial reasons and partly due to managerial incompetence.
The Grams were dropped in 1990, having only got as far as demoing their second album but not recording it. They hadn’t hit major headlining status, but they had certainly achieved respectability. Sales, however, were more important to the record company than the much-coveted kudos of a “cult following”. But without that cult following, Corey Zander would never have reached Wikipedia. Alex’s friends had called him Zander for years, and Corey Zander was his idea of a cool country rock name. He adopted it when the Grams were signed, partly to avoid unwelcome comparisons with the Chocs, and partly to draw a line under his previous espousal of the darker side of rock and roll. The Grams were an entirely drug free band, although none of them were averse to the odd slug of bourbon to help out with onstage confidence.
The Grams had spent time in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but their base had always been in North East Oklahoma. Thus, Corey (as he was forever henceforth to be known) remained close to his daughter Lucy, with Aileen helping out when the band was on tour. But many of the musicians Corey was meeting on the road hailed either from Nashville or Austin, Texas. Corey felt that Nashville was probably a bit “straight country” for him, but Austin, the self-appointed “live music capital of the world”, was an alluring prospect. Still not comfortable with the prevalent right-leaning, church-orientated ethos of Tahlequah, Corey was intrigued by tales of this liberal-minded University city where music was king. Austin, so he was told, was home to hundreds of music venues and like-minded blues and roots musicians such as Stevie Ray Vaughan (the most famous), along with the likes of Joe Ely, Doug Sahm, of course, Willie Nelson. It sounded very much like the kind of place he’d like Lucy to grow up in.
And so it turned out that, as Ben already knew, Corey had been a minor luminary of the Austin scene for over 20 years. He “relocated” there (something Americans seemed to do with ease and regularity) in 1991, starting a new life with Lucy, who grew up in a laid-back atmosphere near the bohemian South Congress area, filled with music bars and art galleries. It was inevitable that Lucy would become both a musician and an artist.
When Ben was approached by the UK agent Glenn Wallis, then, he was told that Corey Zander was one of the more respected musicians in Austin, regularly playing legendary music haunts such as the Saxon Pub and the Cactus Café, on bills including the likes of Alejandro Escovedo and James McMurtry. Ben was aware of the Grams and knew that plenty of Austin musicians, many of them ex-members of well-known bands, regularly toured Europe as solo artists. The audiences they drew tended to be respectable, if not large, but he was attracted by the “exclusivity” of the fact that Corey had never toured the UK before. So when approached by Glenn Wallis, Ben had said, “What the heck, let’s give it a go” and wandered up to The Station to enquire about putting on a show. But as he struggled with the lack of ticket sales and the non-existent publicity, he was painfully aware of a sensation of having bitten off more than he could chew.