LIES collected and written by George Barker, Lesli Baker and Jon Bleyer
This story is cross-posted from PanhandlePunk.com.
Note: this was originally posted 2/23/20. See the end of the post for additional updates.
I started going to shows around 1985, which made me a little late to Tallahassee’s punk rock party. I dove into the scene headfirst though (not literally – I wasn’t much of a stage diver). At the time I had great reverence for local punk pioneers like Slut Boys, Sector 4 and Hated Youth.
Flash forward to 2015. Around then my interest in collecting early North Florida punk recordings and ephemera was intensifying. I wanted to know more about my hometown’s early punk history – especially those years before I started attending gigs. I hoped to build on my existing flyer collection. And of course the internet had become a great resource and networking tool for gathering this information.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was transitioning from avid collector to an archivist of North Florida’s largely unchronicled punk rock history.
Back in the day, the Florida Flambeau was a critical source of local cultural and musical information, and many of the old issues have been uploaded to the web. I stumbled onto the following passage from a gig review featured in the November 1, 1978 edition:
“Next to appear was the area's onlv punk band, Mad As Hell. While the audience booed them and showered them with balled-up beer cups, it was, in spite of itself, reacting the way punk audiences do in London and New York. Mad As Hell got the audience mad as hell and should be very pleased with themselves for getting this type of response from a Tallahassee crowd.”
Whoa…there was a punk rock band in Tallahassee as early as 1978? I had no idea. The Slut Boys were the Godfathers of Tallahassee punk rock by any standard that I knew – and they didn’t form for a couple more years. I asked myself: “Who in the hell were Mad As Hell?”
Florida Flambeau gig review, November 1, 1978.
A bit of time passed during which I wondered about this mysterious pioneering punk band from my hometown. I researched other references to Mad As Hell and found very little information. Who were these guys? The one bread crumb of a clue I found was buried in an archived 1979 FSU yearbook:
MICKLER, B. Leisure Services & Studies, B.S.; Member FRPA, Intramural Sports, Foreign Language Club, En-joy Travel & Leisure, Drummer of Mad As Hell, Member of Rex Trailor.
I did a bit more digging and found a drummer in Birmingham, Alabama named Ben Mickler on Facebook. On May 23, 2016 I sent the following message:
Hi Ben, were you the drummer in a late '70s band from Tallahassee called Mad As Hell? I am trying to track down any info about, or recordings by, this band. I grew up in Tallahassee, played drums in a couple mid-80s Tallahassee punk bands, and have recently been working to document and archive as much about the history of Tallahassee's punk music scene as possible...the earliest reference I'm aware of to punk in Tallahassee is in a 1978 Florida Flambeau article citing Mad As Hell as "the only punk band" in town. I'd love to know more about the history of the band. Thank you!
Two and a half months later, on August 10th, I received the following reply:
Hey Jon. Yes, I was drummer for Mad as Hell, possibly Tally's first punk band. Along with Johnny O and the late, great Randy "the Ripper" Hill. We formed in Dec 1978 and played around Tally for a couple of years.
Hi Ben, thanks for getting back to me! Are there any known recordings of Mad As Hell? Man, I would love to hear them if so. I am a dedicated collector and archivist of early Tallahassee punk music. I will gladly pay for the trouble of getting a copy of a recording if it's at all possible. What venues did you guys play? Cool to see you are still at it. Thanks again for hitting me back.
I never received another response from Ben Mickler despite reaching out again multiple times. My efforts to track down “Johnny O” led nowhere. I was able to discover that the Randy Hill in question later went on to play in a band called “Cactus Jack and the Cadillacs” in central Florida.
At this point I still wanted to know more, but had mostly answered my own question: “Who in the hell were Mad As Hell?”
I continued my efforts to document and preserve Tallahassee punk rock history, most notably founding Panhandle Punk Productions and working with bands to piece together the “Trouble With A Capital T” compilation album. I also started a Facebook group that attracted many of the folks from Tallahassee’s old scene. “Mad As Hell” came up within the group, and one of my friends and old band mates Mookie Burnette offered this recollection:
“They were a cover band that did punk songs. They were attempting the "punk show" in Tallahassee. "Fuck you! You suck! Not really. Thanks for coming." Not bad, very entertaining.”
Then in November 2018 the last part of the puzzle was solved, thanks to Know-It-Alls front man Burk Sauls who messaged me the following information:
Oh, and Doug and I were talking about the elusive "Jonny O" of the band MAD AS HELL, who were basically a punk cover band, but were a really pretty radical thing in a town where at the time, ALL live club bands were country or southern rock or cover bands playing Jimmy Buffett and The Band and 70s soft rock covers...Jonny was always the nicest guy - I had many great conversations about bands and music with him back then... a kindred spirit... and I was always impressed by how he somehow got away with playing the various clubs in town with his teased-up hair and eye-liner.. ha. And the Molly Hatchet and Lynyrd Skynyrd fans seemed to be into it. I think he probably converted a bunch of those old southern rockers. haha. In my memory of the early 80s Tallahassee scene they were - I believe - the first band to address the presence of "punk" and "new" music... Maybe simultaneously with the Slut Boys, but Mad As Hell were more likely to have played the bigger venues because they were more "pro" sounding and had a "show" kind of stage presence... I have memories of them doing Sex Pistols songs.. Ramones... and even an Elvis Costello song or two.. very similar to the Slut Boys set list in their early days, but Mad As Hell were a bit more "glam" and kind of dressed in that UK inspired punk style a bit... Sort of like Generation X... They always sounded really professional and tight. Anyway....Doug sent me this... and I present to you the mysterious Jonny O:
Burk’s message contained a now-defunct link to an attorney in Tampa: J. Steele Olmstead. Almost immediately I sent him a lengthy email, detailing my efforts to document early North Florida punk and to learn more about his old band, an excerpt of which is below:
I’m interested in additional info about Mad As Hell’s history, and especially whether any recordings, photos, news articles, or gig flyers exist…As Tallahassee’s first band to openly embrace the punk sound and aesthetic, I feel Mad As Hell deserves it’s due.
On February 3, 2019 I received the following email response from Johnny O:
You are correct about being overlooked.
We were on the Vanguard. I was in London in 1975-76 and saw the punk and band scene up close. I brought punk back to Tallahassee. Randy Hill and Ben Mickler were musicians who wanted to play in a band. I had the idea for the 3 piece and wrote all of the (bad) songs. I convinced Ben and Randy to try punk.
We did pure, unharnessed, dissonant, angry punk originals about unfairness, inequality, irritating stepparents. and punk covers. My favorite cover: Turning Japaneses by the Vapors. No one did that racists, sexist, social embarrassing song. No one could do what we were doing because we were misfits. College grads who could not get jobs with our degrees. That disappointment and anger came out in our songs. It was so bizarre, because punk was born in London out of a working class ethos which for reasons of the financial structure of English society and London's concentration of young people, resulted in anger at the unfairness of the prospects the kids faced. When I brought punk to North Florida, other musicians didn't see it as a viable alternative musical format. Punk was not business friendly.
No one was doing what we were doing. We toured to central Florida and played in New College for Halloween in 1978. We were interviewed on campus radio and perhaps the recordings are still down there. As to the gig, some things are best left undiscussed. I can only say, I did not do the acid.
We recorded an EP with three songs at Eli Studios. The sessions were engineered and mixed by Rick Ott.
We pushed the edges, until we got a real singer. Bryan Pritchard who was from the Illinois punk pop scene. He'd watched a local band go international - and wanted to replicate that. Randy and Ben got tired of Tallahassee audiences throwing objects at us and on stage, in a feeble attempt to replicate London and by that time NYC and LA audiences. So we added more pop and changed our names to "The News."
When Huey Lewis starting charting we changed our names to something I knew: The Derailleurs. I see some band in the 90s stole the name.
My dad died in 1980. John Lennon then was murdered. I lost my way and quit the music business to recover. I finally did, but the guys had stopped loving what we did and joined another group called Crew22. I was gone to law school by that time.
It’s now February 2020. Who in the hell were Mad As Hell? Now I know. Of course I still have questions…does anyone have the studio or interview recordings Johnny O referenced? How about old gig flyers or photos? Hopefully time will tell. Johnny O didn’t respond to follow up messages. I did send a message to engineer Rick Ott which has thus far gone unanswered.
If you have recollections of this band, share them in the comments below. And please contact 80sTallyPunk@gmail.com if you have access to Mad As Hell recordings, photos, flyers or ephemera.
This post will be updated below as additional information about Tallahassee’s first punk rock band Mad As Hell comes to light.
UPDATE: March 27, 2020
The above promotional announcement for Mad As Hell's 1978 Halloween show in Sarasota was taken from the 10/20/78 edition of "Blessed Relief", a student run newspaper at New College (h/t Peter Schow).
"An incredible Band that destroys the labels of Punk and New Wave with raw, hard-driving rock 'n roll. Mad As Hell will perform their renditions of the Stones, Queen, Vibrators, Beatles and the Who, along with such unbelievable originals as "Sammy is a Dope", "Do the Patti Hearst", and "I Think I'd Rather Die". Hailing from Tallahassee, this power trio will assault you with a sound which will make this Halloween party unforgettable."
And here is a similar promotion from the 10/27/78 edition. The tongue-in-cheek quotes are hilarious:
Presumably the song titles referenced in these ads are on the elusive Mad As Hell demo recording. Please contact 80sTallyPunk@gmail.com if you can help with tracking down a copy of said demo.
And here are a couple more related sources that were not included in the original post...first, a letter to the editor printed in the December 1, 1978 Florida Flambeau from Stephen Byrne indicating Mad As Hell also played a Halloween show in Tallahassee that year – but were not well received by some audience members:
I'm mad as hell. What particularly pissed me off was the rude response of some members of the audience at the Halloween concert. To be more specific, some concert-goers had the disrespect to shower a certain band.
Those members of the audience had every right to show their distaste. However, the method which they chose to employ was definitely in poor taste.
Every performer deserves a certain respect, whether or not their material agrees with the audience. These particular members of the audience failed to show the least bit of respect. I. for one, found their actions inconsiderate, immature, and unbefitting of college students.
Finally, here is a letter from Mad As Hell's own John Steele Olmstead published in the February 1979 Florida Flambeau:
Rock ‘n’ roll will never die
I feel a compelling force to reply to Mr. Ken Lewandoski in his editorial "Blue Money" of Nov. 29, since he was so deliberate in closing with "OH, how long. Lord, how long?" Okay, I'll tell you! Rock will die when people no longer feel bad.
Rock will die when boring jobs and dead ends no longer bother young minded people.
Rock will die when frustration and pent-up urges are sedated by total happiness.
Rock will die when 2.000 to 50,000 people can get together and have a great time, get high on themselves, or music, or anything else there and not fear of being in danger (think about it).
Rock will die when politics, or other public affairs come as honest as a performance by a true artist of popular music, or when everyone there agrees on their purpose for being there (think again).
Rock will die when the penchance for being avante-garde for the sake of being avante-garde is purged from the ranks of those starving jazz musicians.
Rock will die when country music removes its "hankering” for cliches, limited instrumentation and progressions in chords. (Observe Mr. Buffett's success of late, or Mr. Willie Nelson's or the First Original Hank Williams.)
Rock will die when no one wants to hear it any more.
Rock will die when it stops diversifying…punk rock, country rock, wrench rock, power rock, techno-rock. southern rock. New Wave, folk rock, California rock (most notably L.A. rock) (Any business major will tell you the secret to success is diversification…got it?)
Rock will die when another type of music, call it what you will, replaces the acceptance and interaction that a rock and roller trades with the audience, the people he or she lives for and loves.
Rock will die when there are no more masochists to be rock stars left, (contrary to popular belief it is NOT easy to keep your head above water financially and still be an honest performer despite what People magazine says about rock and rollers. Do you believe everything you read?)
Rock will die when I look at my audience and they are bored while I'm performing.
Really Kenny, do write about something you DO know something about.
John Steele Olmstead
August 18, 2020 update:
John Steele Olmstead message via Facebook: "Mad as Hell demo. Gave it to my bass player years back for some reason and he lost it... I should have said drummer. Should have known he'd lose it... he's a drummer."
11/29/2021 09:26:11 pm
I worked sound for Mad As Hell beginning 4/79 through The News and Deraylers. Was also member of Rex Trailor. B Mickler was best drummer in Tallahassee. I have seen and listened to the "missing recording" and was there from Slappy Hour riot at USF to Tommy's to the club downunder gigs. Also the infamous party at the White House on Pensacola St that was shut down by TPD. As Pete Townsend said "Long live rock, be it dead or alive...
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