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Eddie Vedder and the Bad Radio Era
Bad Radio may enjoy more notoriety and interest today than when they were performing due to the current success of their former vocalist, Eddie Vedder, now known to the world as the frontman for Pearl Jam. Most books about Pearl Jam skip over the Bad Radio era of Eddie's music career, likely due to the fact that the band was never signed to any record contract and few outside the southern California area knew them. In fact, Eddie's published comments on this time are essentially restricted to "I had just broken up with a band, Bad Radio, mostly because of the lack of ambition on the other members' parts." (Pearl Jam, by Mark Blake, c. 1994 Carlton Books Limited)
The November 28, 1996, issue of Rolling Stone magazine contained a cover story about Eddie called "Pearl Jam's Mystery Man." Though this article was widely considered to be an anti-Eddie smear article and was not received well by either music fans or musicians, it contained the most complete published narrative of the Bad Radio era to date. Note that many of the details of this article are disputed by other Bad Radio band members, so it likely contains several factual errors. Selected portions of the article, those relating to Bad Radio, are reprinted without permission here:
Working low end jobs as a hotel security guard and petroleum-station attendant, he penned a large number of original songs while working the graveyard shift but did not take his talents public until late 1986, when he responded to an ad in the San Diego Reader. A Duran Duran influenced rock band, Bad Radio, was looking for a singer to help take them in the more alternative, Love and Rockets direction. Vedder submitted a homemade audition demo, which included his cover of Bruce Springsteen's brooding "Atlantic City".
At a live audition, Vedder sang a number of cover songs, including the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black". Three singers auditioned that day. "One guy wasn't too bad", says Valery Saifudinov, who ran the rehearsal studio and was present for the audition. "But Eddie had something from the inside, some energy. Everybody agreed that Eddie was the choice." Only after Vedder got the gig did his Bad Radio mates learn that their new singer had a cache of finished songs. "We were blown away, " says bassist Dave Silva.
A Bad Radio demo cassette from 1989 reveals the band trying to mix bland, radio-friendly rock with the funk-inflicted grooves of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Vedder sings in a thinner, higher register than he's known for today-that is until the last song, a version of "Better Man", which would eventually appear on Pearl Jam's Vitalogy and become one of that band's biggest radio hits. Here, Vedder's vocal manner emerges full-blown: the testosterone-heavy, David Clayton-Thomas style baritone that would become his signature. Onstage, Vedder's early dramatic training came in handy. Constantly fingering his long mane of hair, grimacing, pounding his mike stand against the floor, Vedder brought all his theatrical know-how to bear. "Eddie's always been a great performer," says his San Diego friend Mike Aitken, whose parents where Vedder's landlords for four and a half years. "I'd be at shows, and people would be going , 'Wow, check this guy out!' They may or may not have liked the music,
but everybody was just like, 'Whoa, this guy's good!'"
If Vedder was the focal point of the band onstage, he was also the focal point offstage. Though hired simply as the group's singer, he quickly seized the reins of the operation, becoming not only Bad Radio's chief songwriter but their manager, booker and chief promoter. He xeroxed elaborate handmade publicity fliers and designed the artwork for the band's demo cassette, which he shilled to local radio stations. "It was his deal," says Marco Collins, one of the San Diego DJs who used to field Vedder's calls. "He was the one trying to plug the shows. He was the one hustling."
Vedder was, by all accounts, a tireless hustler. "Eddie was constantly promoting that band, trying to make it into something," says San Diego club promoter Tim Hall. Steve Saint, a veteran of the city's rock scene, recalls Vedder's drive: "90 percent of guys in garage bands are sitting around, waiting to be discovered, waiting for some record agent to knock on their door. Eddie didn't take that attitude. He was constantly trying to put his band in some place where it could be seen." Another San Diego music scene source says, simply, "He was the best networker in the biz."
Meanwhile, Vedder worked hard to establish Bad Radio as the band with a social conscience. He booked the group at an array of benefit concerts, including a local Amnesty International benefit, and rain forest fund raiser. And Vedder had a song for every occasion. "His songs always took a slice of life - either it was a homeless guy or some kind of racist situation," says Saint. "So when an opportunity came up, [Vedder] would always jump at the chance to do something-and [he'd] usually have a song that would match the cause." A live performance videotape of Bad Radio from those days shows Vedder announcing from the stage, "Here's one I like. This one's about the homeless."
According to some, Vedder's activist zeal drove a wedge between him and the rest of Bad Radio. "Eddie got so pissed off," says Pierce Flynn, a surfer friend of Vedder's. "He wanted to have them play a bunch of benefits and social activist stuff, and the band wanted to go other ways." But Silva says it wasn't so much that they were opposed to Vedder's activism but that he kept them in the dark about it: "He wouldn't let us get close enough to him to say we want to be a part of it. He'd just say, 'We're doing this show and this benefit'. He'd go out at Thanksgiving and buy all this food, and feed homeless people. He'd tell us afterward, and we'd be like, 'Oh my God, we would have helped.' He didn't really let us know what he was thinking." And there were other problems between the band and it's singer. "We were on a different level," Silva admits. "He had already surpassed us in terms of dedicating his whole life to music."
In late 1989, three years after answering Bad Radio's ad in the San Diego Reader, Vedder invited Saifudinov to Bad Radio's headlining gig at the Bacchanal. "Afterward we were having a party," Saifudinov recalls, "That's when Eddie sat with me and said, 'I'm leaving the band.' I said, 'Why? What's going on?' He said 'I just have to move on. I'm trying to go and do things.'"
Bassist Dave Silva, who was interviewed for the Rolling Stone
article, has been vocal about this article's (mis)treatment of Eddie and how he
related to the rest of the band:
I want everyone to know this in regards to the
Rolling Stone article.
When I was asked to be interviewed for the mag, I asked everyone
involved if it was going to be a respective piece on Eddie and
Bad Radio and the San Diego scene -- I was told it was about BR
and the SD scene and how he made it. I was assured that it was
going to be a good piece, or else I wouldn't have done it --
believe me, I would rather just stay out of anything Eddie,
because the fan base is so hardcore -- but they said it was
going to be a cool article and I wanted the fans of his to
know how Bad Radio was with him.
I did not recieve any money for the article. When Eric Boller
started the interview off he was pleasant and the questions
weren't at all negative, but then the next time he
interviewed me he was looking for dirt -- and when I didn't give
him any, he stopped interviewing me and had an assistant finish
the interview (mostly just checking dates and such) so I thought
I had said enough. They were trying to get pictures of his mom,
and his old friends...it was just like the National Inquirer.
Anyway, the last time I spoke with Eddie we had left on a good
note, so I hope to keep it that way. Also, anyone who knows
enough about him will see how hard he worked for what he has.
Eddie's a good guy -- or he wouldn't have such devoted fans!
Dave Silva [former Bad Radio bassist] Residents1@aol.com
Bad Radio guitarist Dave George had this to say about Eddie and the Rolling
Stone article:So, what is the final word on Eddie's days in Bad Radio? That's for you
No one ever approached me about the Rolling Stone
piece on Eddie, but if they had, I would have told them that he
worked his ass off to get where he is. Make no mistake, he was
a pain in the butt because we basically just wanted to play music,
while he was without a doubt the most intensely focused and driven
person I've ever known. But he deserves any success he's gotten,
and I admire and respect him. He gets all kinds of shit in the
press about being a poser, etc., but I have never seen him being
anything but 100% committed to the music. The fact that he worked
hard does not invalidate his moral and emotional involvement what
he is doing, quite the opposite. He's into it, and that is no sin.
You don't have to be a slacker to be a musician.
Dave George [former Bad Radio guitarist]
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