Hytones sharpie logo

Sharpie logo by J. Free

The Hytones

Laura LeCocq: vocals, guitar, bass, horn
Vicki Jazz: keyboards, vocals
Steve Brown: drums
J. Free:
vocals, guitar, bass, homemade synthesizer
August Strohm: guitar
Kimuel Hailey: drums
Micki Ellis: guitar
Nick Leonard: alto sax

The further back in time I go, the more interesting it gets. By the mid-'80s, it had become so di rigeur to succumb to industry and dwell on the social reactionary politics of art, one often forgot that it could actually be fun to be in a band.

The original line-up for this band was called Luke Warm and the Late Girls, and was spearheaded by Phil Schuster (aka Zel From Hell), one of the former guitarists from The Sacred Version. I'm almost certain that the first version of The Hytones was the same line-up, with the addition of pre J. Free-era Jeff Larkin sharing songwriting and vocal duties with the groups' main vocalist Laura LeCocq, and also filling in on bass or guitar on a few songs. I had been the sound engineer for The Late Girls, and did a bit of footwork to book shows for the group as well. At one point, this meant patching up a misunderstanding with the booking agent for the Seventh Street Entry, regarding an incident which had resulted in The Sacred Version being banned from First Avenue/7th St. just a few years earlier. The Late Girls even borrowed me as an extra, for a music video shot on the roof of their practice space for a local TV show. (Sadly, the "creative editing" the show's programmers applied to the finished result suggested they weren't as receptive to "underground" music as they had led us to believe). For reasons I can't figure out, I no longer seem to have any of the tapes I made of The Late Girls - which is a shame, because they really had a unique groove, and were never given a fair shake in the local club scene.

March 1982 First Avenue calendar

First Avenue flyer; March 1982 [courtesy Gerard Boissy]

Getting a band booked in Minneapolis in those days was tougher than one might think, if you were weren't on the list of officially designated hipsters (which frankly, hasn't changed much in the past few decades). One well-known sound man associated with First Avenue was successful in preventing The Late Girls from playing in that venue, based on his personal assessment that "they sucked." [Whether this professional commentary was influenced by his own love affair with the presumably original sound of '50s & '60s retro-garage rock, or the fact that his own band had a practice space in the same building as The Late Girls, has never been verified, but it casts an interesting perspective on what it takes to be a successful artist in Minneapolis, at any rate.] Fortunately, the demo I had produced convinced the booking agent that the group had merit, and they were given permission to enter the hallowed walls of First Avenue, which at the time, was practically the only venue in town, if you weren't in a covers band.

Zel left the band after a while, and I was invited to join as the second vocalist/guitarist by the group's multi-faceted keyboardist, Vicki Jazz. Vicki had a unique style of playing that allowed her to double as the group's bassist, on a second keyboard. I used to just watch in awe at times, as she would play two completely separate melody lines - at the same time, on two different keyboards. Most of the time, she didn't even have to look at what she was doing - she would play with her eyes closed, and you could tell she was off in the music somewhere.

March 1982 First Avenue calendar

1st gig: 7th St Entry 8 Jan 1982
[detail from polaroid snapshot by Patricia Larkin]

Initially, Vicki tried to encourage me to sing some standard rock + roll numbers that I could trade off with Laura, like "Burning Love". I never was a big fan of Elvis Presley, and every time I tried to sing that song, it came out sounding more like The Cramps. Vicki also was the first person who ever got me to really listen to Captain Beefheart. Where others had failed before, trying to sell me on the eccentric character traits of Don Van Vliet, Vicki just played the records and showed me the ins and outs of the music itself. Because of Vicki Jazz, I own every single Captain Beefheart album ever made, as well as every live recording I've been able to get my hands on - and that's some legacy, let me tell you.

The Hytones' first line-up had more in common with popular rock of the day than with the avant-garde, but the inspiration for both creative impulses were present. Ironically, this same mix of creative ideas and roles eventually led to a complete fallout of the band. Yours truly was going through a divorce at the time, and ended up staying at Vicki's house, which also happened to be the practice space for The Hytones. Vicki and I continued working out musical ideas together, and decided to forge ahead with the band name.

Hytones 1982 flyer

Hytones 1982 flyer for the last ever performance

A friend of mine, Micki Ellis played acoustic guitar with us for about a month or so, adding an extra dimension to our sound. Micki had a keen sense of rhythm, accenting my jagged approach to guitar, and underscoring Vicki's keyboard-driven bass lines. Last but not least, Kimuel Hailey answered the call for a drummer, and the minute he started playing, it was clear the auditions were over. This solidified the mix of creative inspiration the band would continue to work with for the rest of its' brief existence. We had some good times, playing this unidentifiable weird brand of pop music, and it's hard to believe that all of this activity took place in under a year's time! We also played a handful of good shows along the way with a bunch of other talented Mpls bands, including Sometimes Y, The Hightops (okay, some booking agents are just too clever for their own good...), Fine Art, Things That Fall Down, and even The Suburbs!

I've still got the flyer for what turned out to be our last ever show, and which unwittingly set the course for the next phase of my musical plunderings. In my typical cut-and-paste fashion, I included a phrase that had gotten stuck in my head (and was also the title of one of our instrumentals), "Dancing In The Dark", because it seemed to suggest something about the direction the band had been moving in. I hadn't figured out yet that it would become the name of the next project I would be involved in.

I never figured out exactly what it was we were doing in this particular group, but for the most part, I think we had fun trying. I think in the original line-up, we may have collectively thought we were a credible rock band. After the personnel shifted around a bit, we might have thought we were some kind of a funk-ified pop group or something. Recently, my wife expressed a bit of surprise when she heard these recordings for the first time, and suggested to me that this seemed to be one of the more accessible outings she had heard from my past; but at the same time, the project that leaned the most toward the avant-garde. I guess I never had thought of that before, but it kind of makes sense to me now. All I know is that at the time, we were just too new wave for our own damn good.

who, what, when and where:

(why...? ...why not!)

Hytones cassette

Alien Nation, the first Hytones compilation cassette

After the last incarnation of the band called it a day in 1982, I gathered all the recordings of our live shows, practice sessions, etc, and compiled two 90-minute cassettes, representing "the best" of The Hytones - Alien Nation, and The Drone Of The Dead. I have no idea whatever happened to the original recordings, and I'm even more puzzled that I apparently decided to master the compilations in mono. Possibly, it had something to do with whatever equipment was available at the time, coupled with the notion that I hadn't considered the possibility that I could do a better job of mastering some day in the future.

Below is a breakdown of who did what and when. I don't have any photos available for Laura LeCocq, Steve Brown, August Strohm, or Micki Ellis, and the only photos I had of Vicki, Kimuel, and myself were lifted from the photo booth shots we used on our very last gig flyer. They kind of have a nice yearbook look to them, don't you think? I've included a few .mp3 audio tracks from the various incarnations of the band. All audio tracks were recorded by myself on whatever lo-fi tape deck I happened to have available at the time.

Vicki Jaskierski; 1982

Vicki Jazz: keyboards, inspiration

The Hytones - v.1:

Laura LeCocq: vocals, guitar, bass, horn
Vicki Jazz: keyboards, vocals
Steve Brown: drums
J. Free:
vocals, guitar, bass, homemade synth
August Strohm: guitar

existing recordings:
• 8 January 1982; Seventh Street Entry
• 13 February 1982; living room session

J. Free; 1982

J. Free: voice, guitar, personality

The Hytones - v.2:

J. Free: vocals, guitar
Vicki Jazz: keyboards, vocals
Kimuel Hailey: drums
Micki Ellis: guitar

existing recordings:
• 2 March 1982; living room session
• 5 March 1982; The Whole Music Club
• 19 March 1982; Seventh Street Entry

Kimuel Hailey; 1982

Kimuel Hailey: drums, heart and soul

The Hytones - v.3:

J. Free: vocals, guitar
Vicki Jazz: keyboards, vocals
Kimuel Hailey: drums

• 24 April 1982; Goofy's Upper Deck
• 2 June 1982; living room session
• 8 June 1982; living room session
• 15 June 1982; living room session

with Nick Leonard: alto sax

• 22 June 1982; living room session
• 29 June 1982; Seventh Street Entry

Final show: 29 June 1982; Seventh Street Entry
[This show was recorded by our former drummer Steve Brown, but I'm afraid I never did get to hear that tape!]

live at 7th St. Entry & home rehearsal sessions

Brand New Cadillac © Vince Taylor; 1958
Space Monkey © Patti Smith; 1978
live at Seventh Street Entry, Mpls, MN 8 January 1982
(J. plays scratch guitar on Brand New Cadillac; bass on Space Monkey)

Just One / Went © J. Free; 1981
recorded at the house of Vicki Jazz, 15 June 1982

Theme from Dancing in the Dark © Vicki Jazz / J. Free; 1982
recorded at the house of Vicki Jazz, 6 June 1982