God’s Waiting Room Muzak
(Remembering The Tampa Scene)

The New Puritan ReView
Minneapolis, MN
Wednesday, 25 April 2001

Tampa (yes, Florida) has certainly nurtured some pretty cool bands, but then one of two things always seems to happen: a) the bands never get heard by anyone beyond the walls of whatever venue they are playing in, or b) the bands that seriously want to do something wise up and get the hell out of town, so they might stand a chance of pricking up some ears.

NOTE: This little commentary was written in 2001, although the following lists of artists and venues included here has been updated (circa 2014), in order to reflect the ever-evolving face of the internet, as well as the history attached to some of these names.

Part of the problem with a place like Tampa is the geographical layout – there are next to no sidewalks, so everyone has to drive, and the casualty rate there is high indeed. The record stores worth going to are far and few, so I’m actually amazed that the city accounts for 33 whole sales in the first week, and almost as many the second week. Most likely, that is the number of people in bands down there who will surely be joining the rest of us in the upper reaches of the continent within the next year or two. Considering what things are really like there, think of those sales like we think of the electoral college (besides the fact that it’s just plain stupid, I mean) – around 60 sales in a couple of weeks might equal a couple of hundred in a larger state like NY or CA. Also, Florida is for the most part, a minimum-wage state – literally. For those kids to part with whatever Isolation Drills is retailing for down there, probably means they live on peanut butter for a week.

I lived in Tampa Bay for a couple of years in the mid-’90s, and there was a pretty surprising list of very diverse bands there at the time:

Allison Plus One

I once saw this band’s singer/guitarist Dave Decker, fall into his amp – which toppled over, knocked him off the stage and then fell on him, while the rest of the band just kept playing. That was during the first song of the set. He got back on stage, plugged everything back in, and finished the set, as though nothing had ever happened. Amazing. They have a couple of CDs out on No Idea Records, and beyond that, I’m not sure whatever became of them.

Classic pop-rock. Lead singer Paul Reller recorded and produced the last album ever recorded by Tiny Tim, on the Tampa University campus. Oh, and apparently, he also played with G. G. Allin for a bit. Reller, that is, not Tiny Tim.

Upbeat straight-edge kids with a Fugazi-like stage presence, and whose sound sort of reminded me of Some Velvet Sidewalk. They were pretty cool with me hanging out with them, considering I was an older dude, the out-of-town guy, and I liked to drink a lot of beer. In retrospect, they have no internet presence that I can find. I think it was band member Dave Gunter who explained to me that “chester” was a slang term that meant something like “cracker”. After Chester broke up, Chris Deininger joined up with members of Pohgoh, to form the Maccabees, who have recorded and EP on New Granada Records.


Edison Shine
Post-modern psychedelic-tinged “indie” pop, to put it very mildly. Huge sound. I loved these guys, although Gerald Hammill would stubbornly refuse to let me have a copy of their earlier, out-of-print cassette album, because he said it sucked. Whatever; I’m just tryin’ to be a completist, y’know?

Helium Bomb

Hello Joseph
Drummer Richard Belinc later became a member of another Tampa outfit, The Lemmings.

(who has since relocated to NYC)

Lazy Susan
I only got to catch this explosive little combo once, at Blue Chair in Ybor City. I know of one “official release, a Pinwheel 7-inch, “Little Antique Store”. Harold and Brian went on to form Hankshaw, who released a couple of full-length albums [Nothing Personal and Everyday I Wish You Harm] on No Idea Records, but apparently disbanded in 2010. At that time, Brian was also in Rec Center, which was sort of a spin-off of Pohgoh. As of 2011, Harold was recording with a new group, called Sweet Pharaohs.

Pee Shy*
Featuring the charming and talented duo of Jenny Juristo, and Cindy Wheeler, who owned Three Birds Bookstore in Ybor City.

[*both of whom have had albums produced by Dean Wareham – yes, the one from Luna and Galaxie 500]

Pink Lincolns
In the year 2013, I received a couple copies of a newly released compilation of this band, featuring one of my photos from their old stomping ground in Tampa, The Stone Lounge [RIP]. Good times!

Poppy love-rockers, what some kids called “emo”, if that actually means anything. Vocalist Susie Ulrey was previously the voice of Stitch. After Pohgoh broke up, a discography of sorts was released on Outback Records, titled, In Memory of Bab. Susie went on to perform and record with Rec Center. At a later date, Susie Richardson, Keith Ulrey, and Matt Slate all ended up together in The Maccabees, who put out an EP on New Granada Records.

The Psychles
Psych-rocker outfit

Rosewater Elizabeth

chunky sludge-metal that could give The Melvins a run for the money

Shoemaker Levy 9

Skinny’s 21

Howard Stelzer
A former roommate of mine, who relocated to Amherst, and runs the alt-noise label Intransitive.

Think: Helmet with melody. I know of one split 7-inch with Hot Water Music, and one CD, The Industry of Natural Occurrence on No Idea Records.

Of course, there were a few solid labels that put out the records by these bands:

Screw Music Forever
Now based in NC.

24 Hour Service Station
Still going strong in Tampa as of 2014.

New Granada Records

No Idea
Technically based in Gainesville, but they did release a number of Tampa bands on the label.

And of course, the venues:

The Stone Lounge
Run by the charming and savvy Kim Dicce, who had previously booked bands at The Brass Mug, (later moving on to The Rubb, and I believe, The Masquerade in Ybor). I helped out the house sound engineer Patti on occasion, and she introduced me to the Pink Lincolns, who I eventually went out with for a short tour, with Sub-Machine. Unfortunately, the venue was forced to close after a number of incidents which brought in the police, and which in turn forced the end of the venue’s all-ages policy. A Mephiskapheles show comes to mind, if only because the old school ska crowd couldn’t deal with the long-haired metal ska shtick, and there was at least one knife fight at that show. A detective told me once that it was likely going to come down to a choice between a 21+ only policy for the venue, or the liquor license could be in jeopardy. Apparently, this is why we can’t have nice things, but it was a fun place while the doors stayed open. Apparently after it closed, the building was home to a strip club for a short time. Progress?

The Brass Mug
Heather Mullis used to bar-tend there, and bought the venue shortly after I left Tampa, so I can’t say how it’s changed, but since she is still the owner as of 2014, that should say something about the kind of dedication involved. I liked the atmosphere of the place; it was tiny, and a complete dive, but that also means unpretentious and comfortable. I saw pop bands, hardcore bands, and anything in between – sometimes on the same bill. In 2012, I heard that the venue was still going strong, and relocated to Florida Avenue – leaving behind the legends and the history attached to its Fletcher Avenue roots, but I’ll always remember it the way it was.

The Blue Chair Music Store
Of course, a truly alt record shop would be one of the first places I checked out when landing in Tampa. Unfortunately, it became a classic example of how an artistic “scene” attracts developers who gentrify the living soul right out of a place (the credit for that goes to the Ybor Arts Council). I saw it happen years earlier in New York City’s lower east side, and I saw it happen again in Ybor City. The Blue Chair only existed from 1992-96, according to owner Marty Clear, but what a happening little space it was! One of my fondest memories in that space was the night I set up a small recording rig to document a benefit show, and some pirate radio folks patched into my mixing console to broadcast the whole event, which featured a slew of local favorites, including Magadog, members of Home, and Skinnys 21. And yes, I still have the tapes to prove it. Oh, and I could still kick myself for not purchasing an original copy of Home Box Set when I saw those tapes in that jar on the counter. A day later turned out to be too late. Live and learn.

The Jazz Cellar
Somewhat upscale basement jazz club (although they let me in all the time) on 9th Avenue in Ybor; run by the owners of Paragon Music. Seeing Mose Allison there was one of the all-time highlights of my stay in Tampa. Another venue that closed shortly after I moved away. Maybe I should have stayed?

…and the list goes on and on …

Ybor City was definitely the happening place, but if you’ve never been there, you can’t begin to appreciate what a miracle this truly is. I mean, Ybor is a strip in the middle of nowhere, and runs about five or six blocks long. There were a few bars, a coffee shop, an old-fashioned deli, a vintage shop, a jazz club (for about a minute, anyway), and The Blue Chair – the bookstore / record store / venue run by Tom Roe, who has since relocated to NYC, I think, and writes for The Wire, if memory serves. The point being, that even in a desolate hell-hole like Tampa (and similar hell-holes all across the USA which I have visited for a time), there are always a handful of brazen individuals who will muster up the resources to make a cool scene. In the case of Tampa, the best thing to do for all involved was to leave, but I’m willing to bet there are a new band of rowdies stirring shit up as I write this, and hopefully they will escape the state lovingly nicknamed “god’s waiting room”, while they still have some life in them. In the meantime, I still have a bunch of singles, LPs, live cassettes, photos, and band t-shirts from all these groups that still hold up remarkably well, even in the year 2014.

Over and out.

UPDATE / BONUS INTERNET FIND!! (Just so you know I wasn’t making all this up)

A LINK to a collection of gig flyers [still live as of 2022!] featuring some of the names mentioned here.

There *was* another link at a now-defunct site which was called hardcoreshowflyers.com.
It’s really a shame I didn’t grab a bunch of images from that one, as it featured sensefield, helium-bomb, pohgoh, stone-lounge, circa 3-31-95. So it goes …

© J.Free / The New Puritan ReView; 2001; 2022