The Direct Hits (v.4, 1981-2)
Just as The Digits' loss of bassist Cindy Podlas on bass was quickly solved when Don Williams recruited Jim Schuster, drummer Scott Hillman had a close friend who played bass and had been waiting for an opportunity to join The Direct Hits.
Mike Lawrence, who had been in the bedroom-based Misguided Youth with guitarist Chris Bagarozzi, was a fan of the band, but admittedly didn't have a purely musical interest in being a band with guitarist/songwriter Paula Pierce. Although Mike's non-musical plans didn't pan out, he was a perfect fit for the band both musically and tempermentally. Mike's aggressive playing and background singing was just what The Direct Hits needed to step up to the next level. Also, Mike had no interest in songwriting, which allowed Paula to flourish as the band's songwriter.
Trivia break: Mike and Don had a connection that went back three generations! Their grandfathers had been good friends, and their fathers after that. Mike's and Don's families spent a summer vacation together in Utah in 1970. However, they had lost track of each other years before and Mike joined the band with neither realizing the connection! Shortly afterward, Mike figured it out.
It took only a month to work Mike in and what turned out to be the definitive version of The Direct Hits debuted at Bucky's Bar & Grill in Covina on May 30, 1981. A photo from that show taken by Allison Lomath was used in the All Your Dreams...and more CD booklet.
Musically, everything was falling into place for the band. Jim's singing improved significantly with his move to rhythm guitar, Paula was unchallenged in her role as lead guitarist, while Mike and Scott jelled perfectly as a powerhouse rhythm section (and still do to this day in Battery Life). Visually, the band had also improved. Both standing over six feet tall, Jim and Mike were commanding figures on stage. Paula had perfected her Keith Relf/Brian Jones look. Mike and Paula's Rickenbackers were set off nicely by Jim's custom Charvel Telecaster. Behind the drums, Scott's near-manic playing gave truly three-dimensional motion to the stage presentation.
After a couple of months of gigging, the band went into the studio with Bill Inglot. Bill, who had taken The Rage in the studio and had recorded a live-in-the-studio demo of The Direct Hits (v.1), was now a budding professional producer. Having broken in Ethan James' Radio Tokyo studio in Venice with The Unclaimed (whose lead singer Shelley Ganz was Paula's boyfriend at the time), Bill brought the band in to record five songs. These five songsThen and Now, I Want You, This One Chance, So Much On My Mind and When Wednesday Comesended up making up tracks two-through- six on All Your Dreams...and more. With the exception of I Want You, which had lyrics by Don Williams and dated back to v.1 of the band, all the songs were less than a year old and were Paula's compositions (with Peter Case of The Plimsouls helping with the music on This One Chance).
The purpose of the demo was two-fold. The band was interested in getting out of the high school/college circuit and start playing clubs in the Hollywood and West Los Angeles. The demo definitely opened doors and they played most of the name clubs. Additionally, like any band, The Direct Hits wanted to be signed. They didn't have their minds set on a major label and would have been satisfied with any one of the many independent labels in Los Angeles and throughout the country. A professional press kit was developed with Rob Powell (a friend of Mike's sister, Jeanne) taking promo photos of the band. Rob, who was going to UC Riverside, had seen The Direct Hits multiple times at UCR's on-campus club, The Barn, and was a fan of the band.
Paula's songwriting pace had slowed down considerably in the second half of 1981, however. By the end of the year, only four originals had been added to the set and only two were written by Paula aloneSee If You Can and the future classic, Stop Pretending. Also making the set were Looking For A Reason (with Don's lyrics) and Jim Schuster's first song, For Just One Night. The Outsiders' I'm Not Trying To Hurt You (Paula's idea) became a mainstay of the set, while The Direct Hits experimented with other covers, such as the Bobby Fuller Four's Never To Be Forgotten (suggested by Don).
1981 ended on a high note, with a show at Madame Wong's West in West Los Angeles with Narrow Adventure. Don recorded both bands with a pair of Shure SM58 microphones direct to a high-quality three-head Sony cassette deck. It was this tape that was used for the live tracks on All Your Dreams...and more.
Trivia break: Narrow Adventure was made up of Kelly Callan on drums and vocals (Kelly's the founder of Avebury Records), her sister Kristi on lead vocals and guitar (Kristi has filled in for Paula at the Action Now reunion shows) and Kjehl Johansen on bass and vocals (Kjehl is now an Avebury Records artist). Narrow Adventure went on to become Wednesday Week. After Wednesday Week called it a night, three of the members (Kristi, Kelly and David Nolte) went on to form the 1990s pioneering alt-country band, Lucky, with former Direct Hits/Action Now bassist Mike Lawrence (later of Avebury Records band, Battery Life)!
Though the band had improved considerably live, Don's effort to secure a record deal had been fruitless. Don had become a big fan of Posh Boy Records, but had been unable to interest label owner Robbie Fields into signing the band based on the 1981 demo. His goal was to get The Direct Hits signed to Posh Boy and have Jay Lansford produce the album, as Don was impressed by his production work with Agent Orange and his band, The Simpletones.
Trivia break: Jay Lansford's connection to the band actually went back to 1976. Jay recounts: "I saw The Rage at the Whisky, and Paula was always hanging around, so I saw her everywhere. My friend Jeff Sargent moved from Arcadia to Chino, and he introduced me to her. I think in late '77 or early '78 Michael Schwarz/Sinatra, called me from the Canterbury (the famous Hollywood punk rock crash pad that spawned The Go-Go's). Paula had given him my number. This was for the band Raw Option, with Michael, Shawn and Mark Stern. The name was changed to The Extremes. We played four gigs, but I left the band in April '78. The Simpletones played later that year in Chino, and Paula and Snickers got intimate in my car."
Don had taken to doing live sound for the band because he was often dissatisfied with house soundmen. He also wanted hands-on knob-and-fader experience before taking them into the studio. His intention was to produce a more modern-sounding demo than the Radio Tokyo eight-track recordings. He booked The Direct Hits into The Music Store in Walnut, California, in May 1982 to record Stop Pretending, See If You Can, Every Word I Say and I'm Not Trying To Hurt You on the studio's 16-track recorder. These four recordings are tracks seven-through-ten on All Your Dreams...and more.
Trying to give the band a more polished sound, Don worked with the band on the arrangements. Stop Pretending reflected this the most. The acoustic guitar, harmonica, cascading vocals and lead guitar line through the chorus were all developed by Don. Paula's boyfriend at the time, Dennis Pash of The Leopards, played harmonica on the track. The vocal and lead guitar ideas survived through to The Pandoras' version of the song.
The result was certainly different from the power pop style of the 1981 Radio Tokyo demos. This version of The Direct Hits was much darker and patterned after The Plimsouls. It also benefited from superior studio technology and though there was some grumbling from the bandthe downmixing of the drums on Stop Pretending, in particularthey were willing to let Don have something he was confident he could push.
The tape was quickly dispatched to Posh Boy Records and Robbie called almost immediately upon hearing it. He wanted to sign the band. Less than a month after The Music Store demos were finished, the band was signed to Posh Boy.
After another month had passed Robbie was putting together Rodney On The ROQ III, and wanted to include The Direct Hits on it. He came to a practice and had them play every song they knew. One of the songs Robbie settled on was Try, one of the earliest songs Paula and Don had written together. Though not enthusiastic about doing an older song, they went with the wishes of the record company and went to work sharpening their performance of Try, which had been dropped from the live set by this time. Also selected for recording was See If You Can and a new song, Someone Who Will.
Someone Who Will was an indicator of a problem developing for the band. Paula had resumed an on/off relationship with Shelly Ganz of the '60s-obsessed garage band, The Unclaimed. This time she was more serious than ever about Shelly and overnight began concentrating on '60s garage music as obsessively as Shelly. Paula's new song was pure garage, but like many of her early Pandoras songs, not something one might describe as a purely original composition. This was a writing style she unabashedly had learned from Shelly, who had the same method of "writing" songs for The Unclaimed. Someone Who Will was nothing more than a transparent re-write of The Easybeats' Sorry, which both The Plimsouls and The Three O'Clock had recently covered, and the rest of the band was not happy with this development.
At the same time, Paula had decided to abandon her tomboy look. Inspired by Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, Paula felt that she could be more successful if she feminized her appearance. Trips to the thrift store with Don had Paula decked out in some wild '60s mini dresses in no time.
The Direct Hits went into Gold Star Studios with Robbie Fields, but only finished one songTry. The Posh Boy recording sessions were not smooth. The engineer insisted on changing the key to Try and angered the band when he complained they hadn't accomplished the task quickly enough. Mike was so agitated at Try becoming the focus of the sessions that Jay Lansford locked him out of the studio for a few hours.
Jim Schuster's comments: "The key change was the engineer's idea. I remember we recorded three backing tracks and only did vocals for Try. The engineer taught Paula the guitar harmonies and overdubs in the booth. He was at the board and she sat on a stool right next to him and he sang her the overdubbed guitar parts. I remember Paula was impressed with his ideas. She played these parts through the board (no amp). After all of the backing was finished, Robbie said he wanted Paula to do the lead vocal. We told him it couldn't be done because Paula couldn't sing in that key. Robbie was bummed. When I started singing, he came running out of the booth holding his hands over his ears yelling, 'This is terrible! He can't sing!' Mike wanted to punch him. I did too. I think that's why some of the band was locked out of the studio for a while. The whole scene was like that '70s movie that had David Essex in a '60s-type band where the producer tries to change the singers. I think we were all kind of in awe with the whole experience. That's why Paula did the sexy 'trys' for the engineer and Robbie. I think under normal conditions she would have said no to that. If Bill Inglot had asked her to do that she would have said, 'That's gay, man.' All in all, it was fun to record anyway."
Mike Lawrence remembers the Posh Boy sessions: "The line I remember that dumb-ass engineer saying while I was trying to relearn Try after the key change, 'If they can't do it, we'll get Redd Kross back in here to record.' I remember Jim getting pissed at the fact that they kept making him sing the same line over and over and he finally said 'It's rock and roll. It's not supposed to be perfect.'"
Other songs started, but not finished were Someone Who Will, You Lie (later recorded by The Pandoras) and Why Can't It Be? Unfortunately, those tapes are lost and presumedly destroyed or erased.
As one might expect, the production of Try did not sit well with most of the band, Jim being the exception. They felt it was too bubblegummy, while Jim felt it was the most polished, professional and radio-ready recording the band had made. Don was unhappy that the final verse of the song disappeared (the unabridged Try can be heard on the live version on All Your Dreams...and more). Paula, looking for an instant hit, went along despite her distaste for the slick pop production. Ironically, Try sounded more like The Quick than anything else, and The Quick was the reason Paula first joined a band. Had The Rage been able to record Try in 1976, all four of them would have been ecstatic. But six years later, her tastes had definitely changed.
In October, as Posh Boy Records was readying Rodney on the ROQ Vol. III for release, it was discovered that there was already an English band named The Direct Hits. It was time for a fourth name in three years.
The Direct Hits (v.4) Galleries:
The Direct Hits (v.4, 1981-1982)
Action Now (v.2 1983-1984)