Click on the person's name to read their musings on themselves, the band, the club, history, the present...
Ten years of top 40 muzak. Some of that was hellish, some was very helpful if you want to write your own music...a point of reference, a concept of form. Clubs in the Fres-no wanted top forty or disco......no original music no folk music on a regular basis....jazz, yeah, right....classical could remain in the schools and churches forever. Most all of us in the original band were from the arts....why not create a performance space for artists in and outside of the community and have a beer at the same time. This was prime time hippie...patchouli oil ...all that stuff. We could do this....but we were all broke. So everybody needs to get like......$300 and we can make this work..Enter the city and many codes we were unaware of. Long story short...we fought with the city and won. We opened with the original band ....Tad Wadhams, Dave Stewart, Jim Bixler, Phil Wimer, Bill Bixler and Judy Bixler. And of course our 7th band member Lauren Lamkin who kept the business and band running smoothly....most of the time. All of the band members built the club from the bottom up....and when we opened it was full of happy people. Some culture on a regular commercial basis was now available. We were sort of a KPFA beer joint. A fern bar. After a few months Jeff Bowman enters and adds to the band some nice percussion an a sense of humour that always reflected the average opinon of the band when he would "speak" with the audience. So we got this lease on this building in the then wastland called the Tower District. We dug holes, pounded nails, tried to rehearse for our someday opening plus find gigs out of town. Physical and emotional exhaustion made for some interesting songs written before we opened.When we opened our doors it was packed every night. We did not expect this, and so, all of a sudden we needed the place cleaned and plants watered and beer ordered and people booked and things break and keep the books etc........ We were hippies.......it took some adjustment. This same group of people plugged along for ten years as a band and a club. The band put out two great studio albums and performed all over the west coast and central valley. We never got a record deal but that can be taken as a compliment as well. In all my years as a musician I will never forget the experience I had with the people in this (band/club) called the Wild Blue...............more to come...................
The following are tributes/remembrances from those who loved her.
- judy, i loved you madly
last century, in late august
A brief history of the Wild Blue Yonder in the late 20th century
Through no fault of their own the fabulous Bixler Brothers, Bill (Bix) and Jim have always been the focus of articles and stories written about the Wild Blue Yonder club and band. When the decision was made earlier this year to do a reunion and a corresponding website, I mentioned to Bix that I hoped that there would be some type of history attached that accurately told the tale of how it all came to be. You see, we are all very proud of what we did together so long ago, and all of us literally put our blood, sweat, and many tears into the concept, construction, and running of the Blue. But as the spokesmen and the songwriters for the band most attention had always been focused on them.
Bix basically said "good Idea... do it..." so herein I am going to try to spell it out. I figure the people that will come to this webpage are people that are genuinely interested in the history of how it came to be. So here ya go...
I for one, still find it fascinating that this group of people, mostly musicians, were able to pull something off that really changed the landscape of Fresno at that time. You see, when we found the location for the club the tower district was in bad shape. There was no Roger Rocka's, no Daily Planet, no Butterfield's Brewery or any of the charm that the tower district is now known for. There was a Mayfair Market and a lot of closed down store fronts and of course, Lauck's bakery...
We found this old building which had been a physical therapists office. We rented the place in march of 1974 for about $150.00 a month and set about turning it into our club. It eventually took tearing out all the walls, including the entire front of the building, to satisfy building codes and fire ordinances. We each put in 300 bucks for construction costs etc, and we started knocking down walls.
Our concept was to have a night spot that could serve as an alternative to the mirror balled, disco thumpin', top 40 playing clubs of the time. It was very self serving actually, because we couldn't get a gig! We wanted to play original music only and NOBODY would hire us under those conditions. We had a vision, and here let me say that I believe the vision was Jim's, of a place for original music, rock, jazz, country, all kinds of music, and art. We'd have rotating art shows with work from local artists, and poetry readings too. We'd have our band sure, but other like minded songwriters with bands that also wanted an outlet to play their own stuff could come and play at The Blue. Like our pal Randy Sharp, and Jeff and Doug Carlson's band Folly's Pool was another. Anyway that was the idea and we poured ourselves into it completely.
It took us 6 months to build the Wild Blue Yonder. We even had to go to the city council to have a parking ordinance changed allowing buildings built before 1950 to be exempt from the parking laws. (we didn't have enough parking spaces) Everybody worked together so lets list the original owners here for the record:
Bill Bixler, his wife Judy, Jim Bixler, Phil Wimer, Dave Stewart, Lauren Lamkin, the only non-band member, and me,Tad Wadhams.
All of us worked HARD pounding nails and building frame walls and the whole time curious onlookers would ask us what the hell we were doing. As we explained to passers-by, the word apparently spread. We started to get people who wanted to help. A couple of the eventual bartenders actually started by helping with construction. One friend's dad was a plumbing inspector who came by when needed for technical help. By mid-august we were getting close to opening. However we had forgotten one thing. We had been working so hard building the place we hadn't worked up enough material to play on opening night. So we went out to Fowler where many of us lived and put our energy back into the band.
I can honestly say that on opening night September 6th 1974, we had no idea whether anybody would show up. I suppose we expected a few people and hopefully, word would spread, but that night I was shocked to see a line around the corner onto olive avenue. I guess there were a lot of music fans that were also sick of hearing bad disco bands!
We were successful from the very first night. But by successful I mean we were sold out. We didn't make any money as owners because we chose not to pursue a hard liquor licence. They are expensive of course, but also because It would add a harder edge to the feel of the club and we were all about knotty pine, huge plants hanging from the ceiling and oh yeah, a stage that took up a third of the available floor space! But financially we only made money from the cover charge at the door. And we only made that money on the nights we played. The same as every other band. The club may have been able to sustain one owner but not seven of us! Our big treat as owners was to have "partnership meetings" once every four months where we'd go out to dinner and the club would pay for it.
To this day I am still proud of my involvement with the Wild Blue Yonder. I have been a professional musician ever since and I can say that it was the best college I could have ever gone to. I played in the Blue, I was the bass player on the jazz jam nights on sundays and I played bass with Jim's country band "Appaloosa sky". It was a great time in my life. Eventually about a year after we opened, Dave Stewart quit the partnership to pursue other goals. And we had subsequent drummers Hank Rodriquez and Alan Carlson but after the original seven was reduced to six, we had no additional owners. In the band however, we were blessed with the addition of a man of many talents Jeff Bowman. Once the Fresno Bee said he played over 200 instruments. He was, and is, a percussionist extraordinaire. He was a little late to be an owner but he was an integral part of the band. He was our MC (remember the hysterical "AND NOW" introductions he used to do for us every night?) and he had his own comedy show at the club once a month with his partner Paul McAdam (sorry for any misspelling paul) called "The Thundering Tuna Comedy Review"
A personal note: I was the baby of the bunch. When we went to sign all the business licences I was on all except one. The Beer and Wine licence. When the club opened I was 2 months past my 19th birthday. I assume I am probably the only person to own a bar before I was old enough to drink in it! As the youngster I was less qualified, less responsible, maybe more wild at heart than the rest of the members at that time. We all had specific jobs as owners and some were more difficult than others...
Jim booked all the art and music at the club.
Like Dave, I eventually decided I needed to move on and left the Wild Blue Yonder. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my music in 1982. But the club continued on for many more years. I will always cherish my times with these dear friends and partners. Like so many bands, I feel the whole was somehow bigger than the sum of the parts. We had a sound all our own and though we never got to play for the masses, all of you and all of us remember and can appreciate just how special it really was.
tad wadhams 7/22/02
...on the Wild Blue
When I first met Bill Bixler, he was looking for a new singer for his band "The Outpatients". I, in turn, was looking for some players to perform my original material and form my own band. I was tired of hired hands playing lovelessly at endless LA showcases and had put my demo tape in with the Musician's Contact Service in Hollywood. When I heard Bill's advertisement on the vocal hotline, "Fresno Band looking for vocalist--has Recording Studio, Night Club, and lots of bookings--Relocation not a must'" I always used to snicker. I never thought I'd be leaving Malibu for Fresno. Little did I know, that new "Outpatients" vocalist was going to be me and that relocation did indeed turn out to be a must.
My first visit to Fresno included a tour of the Wild Blue. The band playing was Aqua Bob, and the place was packed. I had to admit I was impressed. This was not what I expected to see in the middle of the Central Valley. A tastefully furnished room, (grey and mauve was the look of the day) with lots of young enthusiastic people dressed in black, and real music with a great sound system-- this was better than the LA showcases by far. I knew I was hooked. I was going to have to enter a new "bittersweet" chapter of my life at the Wild Blue.
What initially impressed me about the Wild Blue nightclub was its vitality and its openness. What I didn't know were the many transformations it had undergone or the deep well of history that was its foundation. I didn't understand the basis for all the passion, nostalgia and even anger that I felt from some of its veteran customers. In a city starved for music, fans defended their favorite bands at the Wild Blue with a kind of familiarity and possessiveness I was not accustomed to in LA. Later I learned to love that personal quality about the Wild Blue, that it wasn't just some showcasing house, but a place that had, for years, been a sanctuary for many. It was the only place to be with other like minded people and to hear music with a level of sophistication,integrity and heart that had probably not been heard before, delivered by interesting likable folks. I'm talking about the Wild Blue Yonder Band. Because as my time in Fresno went on, and its rich history unfolded itself to me, and even as I became a part of that tapestry , I knew that the best years had been the early ones, when a kind of innocence and openheartedness prevailed and anything was possible.
The past isn't always clear to us until we've had some distance from it. Now seems like the perfect time to reflect and revisit those old days. What's amazing is that hearing the band rehearse today, the music holds up, and the players hold up too,..except for Judy, who will never be forgotten. Her death catapulted many of us into an unexpected series of changes..Bill, their children, Solon and Hud, and the rest of us too. For my part, I tried to spin some light into the darkness of her leaving by throwing myself into The Wild Blue and all that it could become. Being from LA gave me a familiarity with certain musicians, agents and managers. I was able to use those connections to bring a new form of music to the Wild Blue. The radio station KEZL, with J Weidenheimer, Leslie Davis, Mike Vasquez and many others became my home away from home. With the help of everyone, we made The Wild Blue the place to go for contemporary jazz. Musicians were practically assured a full house, tons of radio exposure, newspaper coverage (thanks to Ken Robison), decent pay, a nice place to stay, and a feeling of being truly loved for their music. My little booking business grew to the point where we were turning bands away. It was a fun, energy charged time and only slowed down when every other venue in town began to offer the same bands, saturating the small but devoted market. Jim Bixler was also bringing great funk bands to the club along with the local talent he always booked, Wendy Russell was keeping the Reggae flowing, and it was a pretty exciting time. That's when we broke through the wall and expanded. A hard liquor license became available and we all trained as bartenders. Things always happen all at once, and so of course at the same time that I was doing all this, earning a Master's Degree in Dance at Fresno State, and dancing in The Portable Dance Troupe, Bill and I were offered a record deal on SinDrome Records. Then my good friends at KEZL had a chance to feature our music too, and that they did. The "little" town of Fresno and the folksy little Wild Blue Club had given me the most productive, creative time of my life. (That is, before I had my son Robben, and nothing beat that.)
The end of the era came gradually..Bill and I needed to relocate to LA. The kids were growing up and out. We were all feeling burned out. Original music wasn't valued like it had been before. Disco nights were the most popular and lucrative nights of the week. And metal detectors had become necessary at the door of the Wild Blue. When an offer came, out of the blue, to buy the Club, it seemed better to leave while it was still a great place to be, while so many people loved it, and while the memories were only good.
We never regretted it, but we do miss it. Some of those nights are etched in my mind as the best musical experiences I have had; Ivan Lins, Leon Russell singing "A Song for you", Gil Scott Heron starting out brilliantly, getting a little loose but still great, those early nights of Brasiljazz, I can't even begin to name them all. I consider myself so lucky to have had all that music around me, and in me. It really soothed the sadness that we were all feeling and helped us through a transition time. I grew up in those years, in a lot of different ways.
So this is my little tribute to the Wild Blue Yonder. I hope through me you have gotten to see things from a slightly different perspective...from someone who stepped in later, but who left with a heart full of all that had come before. And the fruits of it all are so pleasing to see, as we watch Hud mature into a fantastic drummer, and a fantastic person, a truly devoted husband and father to Hana and Hayden and Cathy..a loving caring guy whose heart, through it all, has managed to remain open. And Solon, brooding and intense, is capturing the hearts of many fans with his charismatic performances, playing guitar and spinning so wildly that we worry a little..(don't hurt yourself Solon). One of these days, we will all be asking for his autograph, that is, if we can catch him on the run. And happily, Solon has learned, like his dad, how to dig in and get his hands dirty, ie, how to run the equipment, plug things in, get the sounds, etc, and consequently is an integral part of his band "Thirty Seconds to Mars" whose album is being released as we speak. We also benefit from his good taste in girlfriends, namely, Kisma. Not to brag, but even stepmothers take pride in their children. We have spent a lot of years together now, going on 18 as a matter of fact.
And Robben, our six year old son, is running us ragged and inspiring us daily with his special Robben-isms, too precious to even try to explain. We hope he will grow up with the light of music in him, like his brothers, because he has something truly unique and special in him that can only add to the legacy.
so bye for now..