Rakshasa (a.k.a. RadioVision): 1978-1986
Dave Barrows: Saxophones, synth, vocals
Jeff Baca: Drums, percussion, vocals
Randy Thomas: Bass, guitar, vocals
Eddie Segura: Guitar, bass, vocals
Bess Barrows (a.k.a. Elizabeth Terpiloff): Some lyrics
Larry Barrows: Sound and support
(Later we had guest musicians including Steve Menashe on bass).
This is the story about the first rock band I was in during my teens and early 20s. It's a long story but it was a fun and important time in my life, so I thought I'd try to tell it here.
When I was a teenager, around 1978 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I got kicked out of the school band because I missed a marching band gig for a football game.
I had been playing baritone saxophone in the Santa Fe High School marching band. I had an opportunity (through a friend named Trevor Davis) to play a bit part as an altar boy in a teleplay about a mad priest, being filmed at a studio in southern New Mexico. The bandleader (known as "Boss" Ponsler) told me I'd get demoted to the number two band if I missed the game, but I went ahead anyway, because the TV gig sounded more fun than marching around a football field with a bari. I think I was about 13 at the time; it was a major turning point in retrospect. I don't remember much about the video gig except when we walked our footsteps were too noisy for the recording so I was asked to walk softly.
This event is significant because after my demotion and a few weeks in the number two band, I guess my pride had been injured to the point where I decided to quit the school concert band scene altogether. It was around that time that I started playing my student model Bundy alto sax at home along with my rock records.
I'm not sure what motivated the impulse to play along with records, which, as far as I can remember, happened without any instruction or prompting from anybody. I didn't know that was the way most jazz musicians had learned to play since phonograph records were invented, and I wouldn't get serious about jazz until years later. (The first vinyl records I bought with my own money were "Yes - Fragile" and "Kansas - Point of Know Return"). There was also a fairly eclectic rock radio station called "KRST" out of Albuquerque, NM. But generally my musical tastes were those of your typical teenager from 70s rural America. In short, I only got into what I was "hip to" at the time.
It wasn't very long before I had learned a number of guitar and saxophone solos that I could play along with note for note. For instance I could play all the guitar solos on the Santana Abraxas album, and all the flute parts on the Jethro Tull Aqualung album. I could also play Jimmy Page's guitar solo on Stairway to Heaven note for note. And I learned all the sax solos on the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers album. And pretty much the entire "Best of Cream" album. And a number of Beatles and Pink Floyd songs. And the horn parts from that great masterpiece of popular music, Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life," which my step-Mom Jan and my father Bob gave me for Christmas one year.
Anyway around the time I got kicked out of the school band and learned all those rock solos, Trevor and I started talking about forming a band. He had gotten ahold of a drum kit, and we both went in half on a Peavey amplifier and came up with a band name, which was "Lost", whose symbol was a butterfly. I remember Trevor being much more talented as a visual artist than a drummer, and although he stenciled a very nice butterfly logo onto his kick drum, even at that early stage in my musical development, I couldn't help but notice that Trevor didn't seem to keep time very well. Thus, "Lost" was probably a good name for us!
None of that stopped us from proceeding, and we started seeking a bass and guitar player. Meanwhile, Larry had been dabbling in guitar and playing in a band called "City Different Soundstage" (because Santa Fe was known as "The City Different"). They played school dances at my high school Santa Fe High, doing songs like "The Time Warp" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was huge at the time. The best musician in that band (and I thought, the best guitar player in Santa Fe) was Eddie Segura, who, although of Latino descent, had a bit of an Asian look to him and was thus known as "Mongo". Having heard him play, and because my brother knew him, it seemed natural to ask him to come play in our garage with Trevor and me. I remember Eddie and I hitting it off immediately, and distinctly recall, as I was about to say "we should do this again," him asking "WHEN are we going to do this again?"
I don't remember how the other guys appeared, but it must have been the case that Eddie knew Randy Thomas and Steve Wilson, who came in to play guitar and bass respectively. But it soon became clear that Trevor's drumming wasn't cutting it. We resolved that Trevor had to go, but this was a dilemma as he was my best friend. I think around that time Jeff Baca appeared, and Jeff was a better drummer than Trevor. This was my first introduction to band politics. Trevor sensed what was happening and asked me, "are you phasing me out of the band?" I admitted it was true. His family had always been great to me, and I had taken his Dad's Red Cross sailing class, and we had always been great friends, and the whole thing was traumatic. His Mom was upset, Trevor was upset, and it was all very unfortunate. I think I ended up buying him out of his share of the Peavey amp, which he and his Mom delivered to me. That was the last I saw of Trevor or his family.
I've always regretted the way that played out, and if Trevor Davis or anybody from his family ever happens upon this post, I just want to say I'm sorry. It was my first encounter with the idea that if you are striving for music of a certain level of quality, that becomes more important than the people whose feelings might get hurt. The music world is filled with stories of bands that have broken up. Bands become like families, and sometimes they split up, and those break-ups can be as emotional as any divorce. It all might sound a bit comical to the casual observer but anybody who's lost a job to somebody else will testify there's nothing funny about it. In any case, anybody who heard the band later may have their doubts as to whether ousting Trevor really had any effect on the musical quality!
UPDATE July 2011: Since I wrote the above, Trevor found me on Facebook; he is now known as Trevor "Bones" Davis; he told me the events described above were a catalyst for him to become very serious about drumming, and in the intervening years he has become, from the sound of it, quite an accomplished drummer who has performed with many bands and gives drumming workshops. See http://bones.bandcamp.com/ or http://bonesdrums.com. I'm very happy we've reconnected. Once again the magic of Facebook. Actually I just reconnected with Eddie as well... he's alive and well and living in L.A.!
Seriously though, around late 1978 or early 1979, the lineup was Eddie and Randy on guitar, Steve W. on bass, Jeff on drums, and me on sax. The band took the name "Rakshasa," which we got out of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, identified as "a demon or goblin of Hindu mythology." Our logo was a tiger which I traced from one of the Oz books and accompanied with the word "Rakshasa" written in lightening bolts. I guess we just liked the name, although later we found it was virtually impossible for clubs to spell it correctly on marquees. We did a few gigs in Santa Fe, including one memorable one at St. Michael's High School where we did a 20 minute version of "Freebird".
But by that time Larry had moved out to L.A. to be with his mother Bess (Larry is actually my half-brother but Bess was like a mother to me as well). That summer I went out to visit him and it seemed like Larry was having much more fun than I was, spending Bess's money buying clothes and going to rock concerts in L.A. At their invitation, and much to the dismay of my family back in Santa Fe, I decided to move out to L.A., live with Bess & Larry, and finish high school at Fairfax, in Hollywood. Once that happened Larry and I started thinking it would be great to have the band come out from Santa Fe, and we'd all become rock stars. Bess, incredibly, agreed to let them come out. That was probably about the extent of the planning.
In June of 1980, the band arrived, and suddenly we found ourselves all living together in a two bedroom apartment in L.A: me, Larry, Bess, and the other four members of Rakshasa. Steve Wilson, the bass player, abruptly decided to move back to Santa Fe (though recently, oddly enough after 30 years, he contacted me on Facebook). After a very short time we realized we needed a bigger place and Bess (who clearly had adopted these boys from Santa Fe) rented us a house. Larry became our sound guy, and Bess was our de facto den mother and biggest fan, and even wrote some lyrics for a couple of tunes. We were to live there for five or six years. We turned the garage into a rehearsal studio. I finished high school and my "career" as a rocker began. We all got various jobs like working in flower stores, liquor store delivery jobs, bank tellers, working at bagel bakeries, etc, to help pay the rent.
Meanwhile we entered the rat race which is the L.A. rock scene. At first we rented rehearsal space until we had turned that garage into a studio. We started out doing Rush covers and a bunch of other material, and ended up doing pretty much all original music, some of which I wrote or helped write. (Like many of the bands we were into e.g. Rush, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin etc, in my youth I was into reading the science fiction and fantasy genre so there were elements of that in my lyric writing). We played all kinds of weird gigs, mainly clubs in L.A. and Hollywood, including Madame Wong's (West, and downtown); Club 88; the Music Machine; the Troubadour; various "battles of the bands" at clubs like Gazzari's on Sunset; and all kinds of parties at our pad (where we had given the garage the name of "The Fabulous Omega Room," after our "record label" or "publishing company" or whatever it was, namely, "Obelisk Omega Records" (I think we just liked the logo because of its very subtle sexual overtones).
We did a lot of recording, sometimes demo sessions in various 8-track analog studios in places like North Hollywood, but mostly just made cassettes of our rehearsals in the Omega Room. Nothing much came of all this effort, apart from a few rejection letters from people like a former high school classmate of mine who went on to become a major A&R man for A&M records and later signed a whole bunch of big name bands. I think he might have helped us at one point but we were deaf to his advice. My Mom also had a cousin who had become a major executive at Polygram, but after he kindly forwarded a couple cassettes for us, nothing happened.
Who knows - maybe we just kind of sucked. Or at least our demos sucked. Or maybe we didn't "make it" (in the sense of getting a record deal) because we were doing a sort of dinosaur prog-rock when the pop music industry was already moving in another direction and we were pretty much behind the curve. (From what I've heard a lot of record deals are not all they're cracked up to be anyway).
We changed our name to RadioVision and tried to change our sound to adapt, but by that time it was already the beginning of the end. In retrospect I guess we were fairly naïve about a lot of things, our timing wasn't quite right, and we just didn't have that stroke of luck so many bands wish for. Also for me, at that time, looking back, I clearly didn't have much of a decent saxophone sound or technique, and I needed a lot more practice and education, which I tried to make up for later.
Be that as it may, on the positive side, we did have a following and played a lot of fun parties and club gigs in Hollywood, and some people did like our music. I got to enjoy the experience of spending six years living and working with the same band, and the friendships I formed during that time. We got really tight and played some challenging and interesting original music. We met a lot of cool people and a lot of strange people, and were on the bill with a lot of weird bands. I learned a lot about performing, recording, and marketing one's own musical product (as well as hauling gear and getting paid nothing while working your ass off). You can say what you will about the music, but in retrospect I think it was pretty cool that I was involved such relatively sophisticated stuff when I was still only a teenager.
In the end Eddie got married and quit the band; Jeff & Randy and I continued as a trio for awhile, and tried adding various other musicians including our friend Steve Menashe on bass, and did a few gigs with the new configurations.
By 1986 I was totally burnt out on the whole thing, felt like I was stuck in a rut and desperately needed a change. I was becoming increasingly aware of jazz music and how as a saxophone player it was obvious I needed to embark on some serious study. I had taken a couple lessons with Jeff Clayton in L.A. and I was beginning to realize there was a vast musical world out there of which I was largely ignorant. That and a number of other circumstances, plus my own desire for something new, conspired to take me up north to San Francisco.
At the time of this writing, it's been about 30 years now since the boys moved out from Santa Fe and we had that crazy six years doing the rock band thing in L.A. Sadly, Bess passed away quite a few years ago now. As far as I know Eddie is still in L.A., Randy's in Portland Oregon, and Jeff is back in Santa Fe. I'm not in touch with them (apart from Jeff who I talked to on Facebook recently, and I saw Randy once a few years back) but I think of them from time to time and I hope they're all doing all right. I really appreciate the experience we all had together in 1980s L.A., performing as "Rakshasa" and "RadioVision".
— David Barrows, London, June 2010