IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY BAND . . . : The Story of T.S.O.L. Brings Them to 'Hell and Back Together'

Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition

With T.S.O.L., the dark, stormy, extremely loud hard rock that fans heard on albums and in concert went along with the tension and turmoil roiling behind the scenes.

It was always a band that seemed to have something to prove, something snapping at its heels.

Or, as singer Joe Wood likes to recall, spitting in its face.

Wood and drummer Mitch Dean, the two main partners in the current band, joined T.S.O.L. (which stands for True Sounds of Liberty) together in 1983. Their arrival marked a transition from the Huntington Beach/Long Beach band's earliest punk rock days, when it was known for rabble-rousing concerts keyed by its charismatic original singer, Jack Grisham. When Grisham and drummer Todd Barnes exited the band, not all its fans warmed to the new version. That, Wood has said, led to occasional wet demonstrations of disapproval.

As the years went on, the new band established itself as a hard rock contender, but it never was quite able to make a badly desired move to major-label status.

When T.S.O.L.'s 1987 album, "Hit and Run," showed signs of doing well, Dean recalled recently, the band's booking agency fell apart. When the band emerged in 1990 with a first-rate heavy metal album, "Strange Love," its record company was falling apart. And, when all the business machinery for success seemed to be in place, Dean said, "We were falling apart, drinking and doing drugs."

T.S.O.L. will take a look back at all the struggle and striving with a retrospective album, "Hell and Back Together," due out later this winter on Restless Records.

For now, Dean and Wood say, they're taking a far more relaxed attitude toward T.S.O.L., playing just for the fun of it, while exploring other musical directions with other bands.

"T.S.O.L. is on the back burner," said Wood, who is 30. "We're doing shows rarely. But we still do them because there's still people out there that want to see us, and we can have fun doing the old songs."

Dean, 31, said there is new material, and plenty of it, that the band, which now also includes bassist Dave Mello and guitarist Steve Caton, would like to record. But a round of shopping tapes to labels during 1991 turned up no takers.

"T.S.O.L. is a hard sell. I can face that," Dean said. "There's so much history behind it, and the record companies are always looking for something new. A lot of them don't want to take a chance with (a band with) such a history of confusion. We've hit 'em all, and I just think they're sick of hearing it. 'Not T.S.O.L. again!' "

So Dean and Wood are both exploring new possibilities. Last summer, they and Mello hooked up with guitarists Dean Chamberlain (formerly of the Motels and Code Blue) and Mike Dewey (an ex-Mentor) to form Orange Wedge. The band follows a more lighthearted agenda than T.S.O.L., Dean said, playing extended instrumental jams reminiscent of early '70s heavy-blues bands like Humble Pie. As front man, Wood takes on a trippy alter ego, playing a character dubbed Peter Stroke.

The band name doesn't have to do with Orange County, or with the Wedge, the Balboa coastal zone immortalized in a Dick Dale surf-rock instrumental.

"In the Fillmore days in San Francisco, one of the more popular hits of acid was called Orange Wedge," Dean explained. "Not that we take acid, but it was an artifact from the period" that the band is drawing on in its music.

Wood, meanwhile, launched a band of his own about two months ago, a six-piece backup unit geared to playing the Joe Cocker/Bryan Adams-style bluesy pop-rock on which he hopes to base a solo career. Caton, the T.S.O.L. guitarist, serves as his main songwriting partner and band director.

"It's a challenge to get up there and sing without screaming the songs," Wood said. "And then I get to scream in my other two bands. I get to have my cake and eat it too."

Wood said he wouldn't mind trying to bite off a big mouthful--which is what would be on his plate if all three of the bands he plays in were to land recording deals.

"I would really like to be able to do all three, but I don't know how realistic that is."

T.S.O.L. would still like to get a recording deal and release its fresh batch of songs, Dean said. The band will continue to play occasional shows. "It's an easy band to maintain," Dean said. "We know the stuff inside out. It's a nice thing, but you don't want to overdo it. We'll know when it's time to wrap it up."

Who: T.S.O.L.

When: Friday, Jan. 3, at 9 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 4, at 9:30 p.m.

Where: Friday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Saturday at Bogart's in the Marina Pacifica Mall, 6288 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach.

Whereabouts: Coach House: San Diego Freeway to the San Juan Creek Road exit. Left onto Camino Capistrano. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Plaza. Bogart's: San Diego Freeway to the Seal Beach Boulevard exit, go left, then right on Westminster Avenue and right again on Pacific Coast Highway. Bogart's is just past the intersection of Westminster and PCH, on the left.

Wherewithal: Where to call

Coach House: (714) 496-8930; Bogart's: (310) 594-8975.

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