When Punk Played the Cain's
© Tulsa World
Concert: Sex Pistols Tribute Show featuring N.O.T.A., Riot Squad, the Skalars and Steve Jones
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main St.
Tickets: $5 at the door
It sort of crept up on us.
It caught Davit Souders by surprise, anyway. Souders — concert promoter for Diabolical Productions and Little Wing Productions — had been looking at his calendar for January and wondering why something in the back of his head was hinting that this month had special significance. Special significance to punks, that is — and these days, that's not as limiting a category as it once was.
It dawned on Souders as the calendar began to turn. It's 1998 — the legendary Sex Pistols played here 20 years ago this week.
Gotta throw a party.
“It occurred to me that out of the seven dates on that historical U.S. tour, perhaps we should celebrate the history of that event,'' Souders said this week, waxing rather eloquently.
So on the actual anniversary — this Sunday — Souders has thrown together a bill of rude boys and punks to celebrate the brief stopover of the world's most notorious rock band in one of the nation's more famous venues, Tulsa's own Cain's Ballroom.
Yes, the Sex Pistols came ashore in the winter of 1978 and careened through the heart of virgin America at the height of their brief career. Infamous manager Malcolm McLaren purposely scheduled the British punk band's first and only U.S. tour through the South so as to generate appropriately confrontational attention.
Cain's owner Larry Shaeffer fills in the details of how the band came to our humble hamlet.
“I had booked a jazz-fusion group in the mid-'70s called Go. A Warner Bros. rep named Noel Monk came with them and loved the Cain's. When Malcolm McLaren was putting together the Sex Pistols' tour, the theory was not to play the Chicagos and New Yorks but play the South, where the likelihood of adversarial situations would be greater. Noel was working with them and said, `I know the perfect venue, too,' and set them up for the Cain's,'' Shaeffer said.
The Cain's was already a famous musical venue, thanks to the smarts and endurance of a native Texan named Bob Wills half a century before, but this event put the ballroom on the map for a new generation. (Each interview I do with serious rock 'n' roll performers includes at least some banter about the Cain's, their eagerness to return to/see the place, and this question: “The Sex Pistols played there, right?'')
The Cain's also is one of two venues from that 1978 Pistols tour still in operation. The Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas — where the Pistols played (and fought) the night before their Tulsa show — has recently reopened.
At least for some, the concert proved to be a pivotal moment. Tulsa resident Mike Lykins (you may remember him as Michael Automatic from the Automatic Fathers) was right up front for the Tulsa show — he's in the photo that ran in Creem magazine — and left the ballroom that night a changed man.
“It was just raw,'' Lykins said. “Every little creepy band that came out around here in the next few years probably wouldn't have if the Pistols weren't here. Until then, it was all coming from Aerosmith and Kansas and Yes, getting more and more sophisticated. These guys said, `No, let's just crank up those creepy guitars and have at it' ... I mean, that wave would have come here eventually, but to have them give it to me personally was something else.''
The Cain's survived with no lasting scars (though I'm told one of the holes in the backstage walls is the result of Sid Vicious's fist) but plenty of lasting memories.
“That was the first dangerous show Cain's ever did, but it wasn't really bad,'' Shaeffer said. “People came expecting all these dangerous things to happen — there were vice cops thick in the crowd, the fire department was here, protesters outside — but I don't even recall them using any profanity on stage. They didn't do anything but play loud rock 'n' roll music.''
Which is exactly what four other acts will do this Sunday to remember the event. All the bands will be playing at least some Sex Pistols songs.
Tulsa's own punk legends N.O.T.A. will be heading the bill. Leader Jeff Klein said he missed the Pistols' Tulsa performance.
“I was sitting around with a girlfriend who didn't want to go, whining about wanting to go,'' he said.
Surely the most intriguing performance this weekend will come from Steve Jones — not the Sex Pistols' guitarist but the bass player in Tulsa's own out-of-control rockers, Billy Joe Winghead. Jones will be performing an acoustic set of Pistols songs. Don't be tardy — that's too weird to pass up.
Some memorabilia will be on display from the Tulsa show — tickets, photos, Sid's autograph, possibly the contract for the show — all wrapped up in a Union jack that once flew over the British embassy.
God save us.
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These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.