Planet Ten, The Origins (One Wabbit's Perspective)
By Larry Smith
When George reached out via email to ask if I’d contribute reminiscences about the scene from the early ‘80s, I was a little shocked. First, I hadn’t heard from him in ages, and second, well, me? Really?
This is NOT meant to be definitive, and I genuinely hope that readers use the comments section to correct, clarify, and add PERSPECTIVE to my musings. With interaction there are plenty of stories that could be drawn out, but I don’t want to presume that anyone would want to hear everything I could describe.
First, if you think Planet Ten was a shithole (you’d be right of course), you should’ve seen the place where John and I LIVED. (And MANY of you did, I am aware!) Moldy Towers was located at 312 ½ Broward Street, behind the Howard Johnson’s. The ½ was because it was a two-story building built in the ‘20s or ‘30s by the owner’s husband, and our “apartment” was accessed by a rickety stairwell that ran along the left side.
Ramshackle is a good adjective; there were no “true” doors or windows (nothing was square), everything had taken on a tilt from time. But it was CHEAP – I think we paid about $125/ month in rent; I KNOW that John paid more than I did, because he wouldn’t clean, and it was worth a little extra to him to have me do all the cleaning. (I think I paid $50, and he $75.) Having graduated college and gotten a couple of decent paying jobs, I could live like a KING on $200/week. At the time, I smoked cigars and pipes, drank excellent Scotch and Bourbon and listened to a lovely stereo at high volume daily.
There were other inexpensive (but much nicer) building around us, and we had a really nice, kind of artsy community. We got to know a LOT of the high-school punk/ goth set and were generally a place where underage drinking and shenanigans was not only tolerated, but on some level encouraged.
John and I had been in Faith In Medical Technology and were truly best friends as well as roommates. We enjoyed jamming together, and knew that, after NOT being in bands for a while, we NEEDED to be in a band again. John recruited Peg, who I believe recruited Mike, and thus Silly Wabbit was begot. I have no idea how we found Derrick, but a high-school drummer rounded out the band.
We would go to Governor’s Square Mall every Sunday, to a German pub (Mr. Dunderbaker’s, or something like that) and have Stella’s and sausages. Then off to band practice at Moldy Towers. This was untenable; while I’ve adequately described the shit-holiness of MT, I cannot begin to convey the SMALLNESS of the space. We practiced in the kitchenette, kind of the foyer, and while noise wasn’t the issue, there wasn’t room to turn around.
I think Mike found the building, but I could easily be wrong. I distinctly remember going to check out a print shop (Peg mentioned it was an ink-making place, and she could be correct, but I think it was “Modern Printing”, or a print shop with the word modern in its name) that was around the corner from the legendary OK Club, just down the street from CA Chapel.
It was one room, but a good-sized room, with no air, but a garage door that opened to the neighboring field. There were two bathrooms, and in the back (across from the bathrooms) large shelving made of lumber. The entire floor was covered in ink. Even though it was “dried”, you’d leave footprints, as you could feel the sponginess of the surface. It was CHEAP, like, Moldy Towers rent kind of cheap. I think we ALL fell in love with the place immediately and rented it on the first visit. It had a “vibe”, it just felt like it could be a home-away-from-home.
I may be the one who suggested using kitty litter to get the ink off the floor. I know that it was thick enough that we literally used shovels to scrape as much as we could, but the tacky residue needed something else. So, kitty litter it was. Hundreds of pounds. Bag after bag, we’d dump it on the floor and sweep with hard-bristled push brooms. I don’t remember wearing any kind of facemask or respirators, I DO remember coughing fits and being covered in a dust that was palpably poisonous. The joys of misspent youth… After weeks of hard work, we were able to move in. I think Mike and John built the drum stage, but I’m not sure who did it, or even if it was done right away (though I THINK it was, I KNOW it was done before the expansion). We made doors to cover one set of shelves (the lower ones, just a panel hinged at the top with a padlock at the bottom) so that we could leave amps and instruments there.
The sound booth housed our minimal PA gear, an EV/Tapco 5212 12-channel mixer (I believe that Larry Schmidt nailed this specific board to the wall at Reel Rock’s offices with a railroad spike, at least I’d heard that anecdotally, though never saw it for myself), a QSC-1400 stereo power amp (1 channel for mains, 1 for monitors), a stereo 31-band EQ, and a cassette deck are the only pieces I can recall. We had Ramsdell Audio 3-way mains (15-inch woofers) and a couple of 2-way floor wedges. An assortment of mics and I think 1 or 2 cheap DI boxes rounded out the system.
As Silly Wabbit, we all genuinely embraced the silliness that was The Adventures Of Buckaroo Bonzai Across The 8th Dimension. (That and Repo Man were among my favorite movies.) We all took “John” names; I don’t remember everybody’s (I think John was John John), but I know that I was Laughing John Rhythmless. Planet Ten was an obvious choice, though, again, I don’t know who suggested it. (A refrain from the movie was “Where are we going? Planet Ten! When? Real soon!”) It was immediately adopted as the name for the space LONG before the sign went up.
We had a GREAT place, and in the spirit of The OK Club started having parties when we’d feel like doing a gig (‘cause we weren’t getting booked anywhere else). We’d have friends come play with us and made many new friends this way. For one show, we asked for a rabbit, “stuffed or otherwise”, be brought as “cover charge”. There were MANY stuffed rabbits, but also some drawings, and one roughly hewn rabbit carving. And someone brought a LIVE BUNNY. It was a baby, just tiny, and adorable. Mike took it home but called me the next day telling me he was a bad dad and couldn’t handle it. My wife and I took it in, and though it started small grew to be a New Zealand Giant White that weighed nearly 20 pounds. And of course was named Silly from the get-go.
That’s MY recollection of the genesis of Planet Ten. Mind you, at this point Silly Wabbit was still using it as our practice pad, and gigs were few and far between. But it was developing the character and feel that would lead to a business venture down the road.
Larry Smith, 2022
Planet Ten - A place to practice
By Mike Henderson
As Larry mentioned it all started as a practice place for our band, Silly Wabbit. I had been on the hunt for a "loft type" place since I started playing in bands in Tallahassee in the early '80's. All the commercial places, no matter how decrepit, were crazy expensive. Several friends had worked out deals with self-storage places, but most frowned on renting to bands - and they were expensive. At some point, I noticed a For Rent sign on a building next to the Civic Center, near where CA was (for some reason, I missed out on the OK Club even though I was a big fan of the Slut Boys).
The Slut Boys were a deciding force in my coming to Tallahassee. I was looking at colleges to attend in Florida in the spring of '81 and having been nonplussed with south and central Florida, came to Tallahassee to check it out. While walking around campus with my dad, I noticed a flyer on a telephone pole. A Diane Arbus photograph of a young boy holding a hand grenade alerting viewers to a band called the SLUT Boys playing soon at a venue called Tommy's, which happened to be across the street. We crossed the street, and the windows were plastered with flyers from previous shows - Joan Jett - Psychedelic Furs - Iggy Pop. All that in this tiny place! My college decision was made right then and there. I was in my first band, and this town is punk rock. Walking down the strip past Randy's Campus Theater (my original choice for a band/club space) and Mike's Pawn Shop and Beer Barn I saw Bullwinkle’s and made a vow. To come to Tallahassee, start a band, and play Bullwinkle’s.
I started school in the fall of '81, and Tallahassee wasn't quite as punk rock as I had thought. Spent a few months recruiting a band and being harassed for my long hair and punk clothes. There were many rednecks - mostly harmless - they just liked yelling and threatening. I started my first band here - Grandma's House, with Johnny V. on vocals, Christine Taylor on vocals, me, Ann Boardman on bass (who I stole from the Guise - I saw them at the Down Under and HAD to have Ann in the band, and drummer Bill Fuller. We practiced in the basement of his grandmother’s house "way" out on Plantation Drive - hence the band name. We were fun, played a few covers, Devo, X, and some originals. I had met Burk Sauls from the Know-It-Alls thru my neighbor in Salley Hall at FSU, Lloyd Tabb (whose brother George was in Roach Motel from Gainesville) and went to EVERY show they played. They were fun, new wavy and punk rock. Tallahassee was coming alive.
One day Burk called me and asked if we would like to open for them at Bullwinkle’s. I couldn't believe it. YES! When?? he said tonight! I was excited and terrified. We had maybe six songs, but I said "of course" and started calling the group. We ended up doing the show and two sets. The first set was four songs and the second was all six. I finally played a club in Tallahassee. It was awesome.
Grandma's House went on to play for the next year or so at Tommy's, Bullwinkle’s, Smitty’s and a couple of house parties. We played a lot with the Know-It-Alls and the Generix. Bil from the Generix was my next door neighbor at DADA/vermin estates across from the Tri-Delta House on Park Avenue, and I recall the "end of the world" party on the front lawn blasting the sorority girls that was shut down by the police just as we were going on. We moved the entire thing and crowd into Bil's tiny one-bedroom apartment and played for hours.
Our drummer Bill, left for the Air Force and we never quite recovered. Drummers were hard to find. Doug from the Know-It-Alls filled in for a while, but at some point Johnny left and that was the end of that.
A couple of years later I got a call from Paul Suhor (Sector 4) asking if I would like to try out for a band he was starting. I was all in. Sector 4 was this incredible whirlwind of creativity that really jump started the Tallahassee music scene. They, Hated Youth, Daughter Damage, and others really got things moving, so I was very excited to work with Paul. Funny history - one day at Mike's Pawn Shop I saw this amazing cool guitar - an orange G&L S-1 and HAD to have it.. I saved/scrounged some cash and went back for it, and it was gone. The next week I saw Sector 4 at Smitty's and Greg Sapronetti was playing that guitar! Oh well..
When Greg joined the military, he was selling some things, and asked if I wanted to buy that guitar. Yes. It was my main guitar from then on.
Several places tried to do shows… Smitty’s, Emmanuel’s, Sweetbay Studio, The Down Under. Tommy’s had closed and Bullwinkle’s had gone horrible. CA labs (later CA Chapel) fixed all that.
George Barker and the CA people put on some of the most amazing shows ever here in little Tallahassee. Circle Jerks, Bad Brains, Black Flag, 7 Seconds, Verbal Assault, Sonic Youth…wow. I don’t know how they did it.
Anyways, Paul started Pygmy Runt and we played several times at Sweetbay, CA and MANY house parties at Paul's house. It was a lot of fun and fizzled out fairly quickly, as is often the case.
A few months after that, I received a call from Larry Smith, who I kinda knew from FIMT, but didn't really, asking if I would like to join a band with him. I was honored and quite frankly surprised by the request, and was happy to accept.
We started meeting at Governor’s Square Mall at Dean’s Pub on Sunday mornings right when they opened for Steinlagers and snacks to prime us for practice which would last until late evening. God that was fun.
I've always enjoyed weird, nonsensical, pun-ish band names, and at some point during practice, I blurted out, "Silly Rabbit" and I think Peg said something about Elmer Fudd, "Kill the Wabbit" and Silly Wabbit was born.
Moldy Towers, etc. - Renting the practice space, etc..
When we moved in and had cat-littered the floor and cleaned up the space we needed something to cover the large windows facing the street. I recalled spaces using newspaper to cover the windows and I just happened to have saved every copy of my Weekly World News subscription from the last 3 years, so I thought that would be clever to cover the windows. That worked out well.
After renting the space which would become Planet Ten - it was quite large, 1500 sq ft or so, and we had played a couple of “shows” there - more like parties - we were approached by a couple of people about using our space to have larger shows. Alex Weiss and Michael Pinney mostly. We said sure pay us $100 or so and do whatever - we figured that would help cover the monthly rent, which while not much, was a lot to cover back then. The shows seemed to be pretty successful, and the Wabbit Warehouse was getting the rent paid. I don’t think any of us had any idea of booking shows or starting a club at this point.
Around this point, I went to Germany to visit my brother who is in the Air Force. I saw many cool hole-in-the-wall bars and clubs and brought this knowledge back with me.
One night I got a call at home from some guy SCREAMING about the band he was promoting and why the hell I hadn’t called back to confirm the show and he was screaming and cursing and I just said, “i don’t know what you are talking about” and he continued screaming and I said, “I don’t know what this is about, go fuck yourself” and hung up.
He called me back a minute later, a little less screamy, and identified himself as Johnny Stiff, a promoter from NYC that had a band booked at my club. I told him that all the booking was done by individual promoters and I had no idea what he was talking about. He went on about how tough it was for these guys on the road, and they were starving, etc., and that they were counting on this gig and I told him, “look, i’ll let them do the gig, I don’t know anything about it, so I can’t give them any guarantee, but I will pay them as much as I can, depending on the turnout”.
Which was kind of the philosophy of Planet Ten. We weren’t trying to make any money. We wanted the bands to make money, and any little bit extra we could get, would go back into equipment or maintenance.
I took over booking shows at that point.
Funny, when I called the number Stiff gave me to confirm the show with the band, a Mom answered and said, “Oh! He’s out by the pool,hang on… “
Starving... Hmm... Fort Lauderdale… lesson learned.
After that we started doing more shows. Johnny Stiff started calling regularly and I got in touch with several labels and promoters across the country. The network was developing, and it was exciting to talk to these people and see the bands that were forming. Lookout Records comes to mind with Operation Ivy, Chrimpshrine, and so on. They were very exciting. I remember Jesse from Operation Ivy telling me how much Planet Ten reminded him of their spot 924 Gilmore Street in California. I met so many wonderful people, invested in music, way before there was any internet or real means of communication. It was all mail and phone and in person.
With the increased popularity and number of shows came other obstacles. We were shut down one night because we didn’t have a business license. A WHAT? Ok. Larry and I went downtown and navigated through that. We had to pay sales taxes, a fee for the sign, have the place inspected and approved, etc.
Somehow we got thru all that.
After a few shows, we had made a little money and purchased proper PA equipment and things started moving along. It was certainly a labor of love. We all had day jobs to support us. I was working five day doubles at a Chinese restaurant to make it all work. We had a lot of great bands come through. I can’t even imagine how intense it would have been if we would have had the internet and that level of communication and technology available back then.
We were just winging it. Having a club was never a goal. It was just happening. And it was wonderful.
The decor was eclectic - a lot of crap I had collected that I thought was weird and cool, art from friends, furniture from Goodwill, donations and spray paint. The sound booth I designed one night at Poor Paul’s, inspired by necessity and cheap beer, built that week. The Planet Ten stage was carefully pilfered from the CA Chapel parking lot where it had been left out to rot. I walked up Macomb and brought back each piece to build the Planet Ten stage. Each piece was like 2’x6’. I made many trips and was never questioned. That’s kinda the story of Planet Ten.
I am so fortunate to have been here at that point in time and to be a part of Tallahassee punk.
Mike Henderson, June 2022