Whoever said, "The more things change the more they remain the same," could have been talking about pop music in Orange County.
While the combined 1984 seasons at Pacific and Irvine Meadows amphitheaters offered nearly 100 concerts with top pop, rock, country and jazz performers, the Orange County club scene has ground to a virtual standstill.
But in trying to remain optimistic, we'll highlight--in no particular order--the good news and the bad news in the county's pop music activity during 1984.
- Bad News: The Jacksons ballyhooed "Victory Tour" bypassed Orange County. Performances at Anaheim Stadium were canceled and replaced with shows at Dodger Stadium.
- Good News: In view of the constant internal bickering surrounding the Jacksons' shows throughout the country and in light of the group's technologically dazzling but emotionally anemic concerts at Dodger Stadium, the good news was: The Jacksons bypassed Orange County.
- Bad News: Despite heated negotiations by officials at Irvine Meadows and Pacific amphitheaters to bring Bruce Springsteen to Orange County on his 1984 swing through the Southland, he played only in Los Angeles.
- Good News: Springsteen's scouts reportedly were impressed with both amphitheaters, so perhaps next time around Bruce will change his mind. Let's also hope one of the local facilities can lure Prince to the county when his 1985 tour reaches the West Coast.
- Good News: Despite the absence of Springsteen and the Jacksons, the county was treated to a number of outstanding concerts in '84. Among the best: Lowell Fulson at Medley's in Fountain Valley (Jan. 4), Toy Dolls at the Concert Factory in Costa Mesa (Jan. 15), Jerry Lee Lewis at the Cowboy in Anaheim (Feb. 29), Lone Justice at the Golden Bear (March 17), Buddy Rich at Orange Coast College (March 30), Johnny Cash at Anaheim Convention Center (April 29), Fear at the Concert Factory (June 9), the Gyromatics at the Golden Bear (Aug. 9), Paul Simon at the Pacific Amphitheatre (Aug. 11), King Sunny Ade at the Pacific (Aug. 15), Eurythmics at Irvine Meadows (Aug. 30), the Pretenders at the Pacific (Sept. 4), Everly Brothers at the Pacific (Sept. 9), Elvis Costello at Irvine Meadows (Sept. 15), the all-star tribute to Steve Goodman at the Pacific (Nov. 3), Los Lobos and the Wild Cards at the Golden Bear (Nov. 16), Public Image Ltd. at UC Irvine (Dec. 8) and the Knitters at the Golden Bear (Dec. 18).
- Good News: Berlin's June 29 show at Irvine Meadows represented the first time any group to emerge from Orange County in recent years headlined one of the county's two amphitheaters.
- Bad News: The county's first act to headline one of the two amphitheaters was Berlin. If a local band can hit the big time, why can't it be one that inspires, instead of one that panders? Officials at both amphitheaters said prior to the start of the '84 season that they would consider using worthy Orange County performers as opening acts. Let's hope those good intentions don't go unrealized in '85 as they did in '84.
- Bad News: Rocshire Records, Orange County's most ambitious attempt to establish a record company capable of competing with major Los Angeles labels, crumbled when Rocshire owners Clyde (Rocky) Davis and his wife, Shirley Davis, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of embezzling $12 million from Hughes Aircraft's medical claims department to finance Rocshire Records. (The Davises are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 14.) The record label went under, but Rocshire Studios and Rocshire Productions--under new ownership--are still struggling to overcome the stigma of the scandal.
- Good News: Other independent labels continued to help local bands, and released fine efforts by groups such as Psychobud, T.S.O.L., Cathedral of Tears (which has since disbanded) and Blue Trapeze. In 1985, expect new releases from the James Harman Band and the long-awaited debut recordings by the Wild Cards and the Gyromatics.
- Good News: Spangler's Cafe opened in Anaheim, bringing this originality-starved region an adventurous agenda of local music, poetry readings, original video art and other refreshingly out-of-the-ordinary entertainment.
- Bad News: A half-dozen other outlets either closed or dropped original music from their entertainment policy in '84, including the Concert Factory in Costa Mesa (although a new owner is currently attempting to resurrect the club), Ichabod's in Fullerton, Mugsy Malone's in Anaheim, the Great Wall in San Clemente, the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and Medley's in Fountain Valley. It's nice to see the Elton Johns, Linda Ronstadts, Billy Idols, Elvis Costellos and other major names performing in Orange County, but with fewer and fewer outlets where new acts can build followings, the county is leaning toward an unhealthy dependence on imported music. That could result in a massive deficit in home-grown talent in '85 and beyond.
- Bad News: As the club scene dwindled to the point where Radio City in Anaheim is the only establishment booking local acts on a regular basis, Radio City instituted a policy requiring bands performing midweek shows to put up a $40 deposit, refundable only if they drew at least 10 paid customers.
- Good News: Radio City owner Jerry Roach abandoned the policy after a few months. Although he had a legitimate argument against the minority of bands who treated the club's open booking policy simply as a free rehearsal hall, the problem here was that other bands had nowhere else to turn if they decided they didn't want to pay the deposit.
- Good News: The Newport Harbor Art Museum continued its occasional series of new music by presenting avant-garde performers Harold Budd and David Thomas. Even better news is that museum officials are not only continuing the series but expanding it. Through the first half of 1985, there will be an average of two concerts per month with various "new music" artists.
- Good News: The Ritz (which was quickly renamed Spatz because of identity confusion with the Newport Beach restaurant of the same name) opened in Huntington Harbour with an ambitious plan to bring big name jazz to Orange County on a regular basis.
- Bad News: After only a few months of trying to beat the competition, Spatz threw in the towel and joined them by turning into a Top 40 club. There is some hope, however, in that Spatz is currently experimenting with booking bands like T.S.O.L., the Vandals and Cathedral of Tears. This month, Tex & the Horseheads and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are scheduled to perform.
- Good News: Several promising new bands made at least some headway during '84, among them conscientious rockers Living Daylights, new wave cowboys Western Skies, happy-go-lucky Exude ("Boys Just Want to Have Sex") and thought-provoking Blue Trapeze.
- Bad News: Other eminently worthwhile groups from the county continued to struggle for recognition. Among the best Orange County has to offer are the James Harman Band, the Wild Cards, the Gyromatics, Mnemonic Devices, T.S.O.L. and Psychobud.
- Good News: A pair of talented Orange County singer-songwriters--Jeff Pearson and Nick Pyzow--made strides in 1984 toward promoting their own songs and breaking out of the local nightclub circuit that each has worked for years.
- Bad News: Chicago-born singer-songwriter Steve Goodman died. A Seal Beach resident for the last few years, Goodman, 36, died Sept. 20 of complications following a bone marrow transplant he received as part of treatment for the leukemia he had battled for 15 years.
- Good News: Goodman's sense of humor, his wit as a lyricist, energy as a performer and warmth as a human being will be fondly remembered by anyone who knew him, listened to his records or saw him perform. (His three self-produced albums, "Artistic Hair," "Affordable Art" and "Santa Ana Winds" are still available by mail order for $8 each from Red Pajamas Records, P.O. Box 233, Seal Beach, Calif. 90740).
- Bad News: As much as finger-pointers might like to blame club owners, Orange County audiences must shoulder their share of the responsibility for the current club situation. As long as people bypass new and innovative music in favor of Top 40 clubs--where the most original thing to be heard is "Do you come here often?"--the quality of entertainment will rise or fall to meet patrons' demands.
- Good News: There is enough quality talent in Orange County to create a vibrant local music scene, so this would be a good time to make a resolution for higher audience standards and expectations in '85. Then it will be up to the club owners--and the bands--to deliver. Happy New Year.