Fake Rolling Stones at Mabuhay Gardens, 1981

I was there . . .

by Geo Epileptic

This was a historic incident that deserves to be recorded. I first posted this story on social media, and asked people to fill in gray spots, and many did. The most significant responses I have added below.

When The Rolling Stones were in town during the Tattoo You Tour, some punk rockers who worked at the Electric Theater on Market (next door to the Warfield, and today the Crazy Horse Gentlemen's Club). decided to form a fake Rolling Stones band, and actually got a date at the glorious punk venue, The Mabuhay Gardens.

Fab mab june 1981 calendar.jpg

June 1981 calendar for Mabuhay Gardens

Dead Kennedys, Mabuhay Gardens April 4 1981 wnp73.2968.jpg

April 4, 1981, Dead Kennedys at Mabuhay Gardens.

Photo: Greg Gaar, OpenSFHistory.org wnp73.2968

I checked the dates of the Tattoo You Tour and it was in Fall of 1981. I was George Epileptic then, radio producer, show host and DJ at KUSF 90.3 FM, although I'd already stopped actually attending classes at USF. Instead, I was selling tickets and popcorn at the Electric Theater, next door to the Warfield on Market St. I think today it is an adult movie house, but back then it was managed by the same guy that managed The Strand, and was similarly staffed by poor artists and musicians. I remember Mike Reid from C'est la Guerre worked there... and two of the guys from Wire Train. (Kevin Hunter & the other Kevin?) And lots of our friends often stopped by to hang out.

Anyway, the Rolling Stones were coming to Candlestick in October, and there were rumors that they were going to play a 'secret' gig, like they did in Worcester, Mass. One night the guys who worked next door at the Warfield came by next door with a wild story: that night there was a Filipino nightclub singer performing there named "Mr Fatu," but a a lot of people in the audience, like over 100, were convinced that "Mr. Fatu" was a code name for the Stones (because the tour was called Tattoo You), They patiently sat through the Filipino show, and when it was over, they refused to leave expecting Mick & company to show up. We went next door and sat in the balcony watching this crazy shit before heading back to work.

So back at the Electric we had a good laugh at what was going on over there and someone had an idea. (I think it was probably Reid): Why don't a bunch of us get together and make a Stones cover band called "Tattoo" and easily get hundreds of people at a gig? I had been working with Dirk Dirksen and Ness Aquino upstairs at the On-Broadway and downstairs at the Mabuhay Gardens, doing live radio broadcasts and benefits and stuff, and knew that I could get them to give me a night. So I made myself manager. Brendan Early of Mutants played guitar. Denis from Liars was there… guess he played guitar? Kevin Hunter from WireTrain also played guitar... or did he sing…? Reid played bass. It was John Silver on drums. I guess all those guys happened to be hanging out at the Electric that night? Please correct this lineup if I am wrong. But I remember it came together that suddenly.

Three short weeks and maybe three short rehearsals later, the night we got at the Mab came up. That afternoon, we were all at my house -- ah, yes! it WAS at Haight and Shrader... (and so you must have been there Rob!) getting high and listening to the soundtrack from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by Ennio Morricone, and someone called me and told me to put on the news. Dirksen had called someone and spread the rumor that the Stones were going to appear and a thousand people descended on Broadway trying to get into the Mab. We were horrified. Terrified. We had thought it would just be a small joke, or maybe a little party for our friends... but of course, Dirk never missed a chance to make a splash if he could, and he sure did that night. I remember clearly listening to that dramatic music (It was the Ecstasy of Gold track…) and wondering if we'd created a monster. Were we prepared to face a riot of pissed off Stones fans? It was frightening, but also really exciting. What was gonna happen? Were we gonna get torn to pieces by an angry mob? Well, THAT would be a new experience! Shit like that was the essence of punk to me back then. Daring ourselves to do crazy fun creative dangerous shit. We loaded up the gear and headed down to Broadway with our stomachs in knots, palms sweating, heart racing and grinning stupidly. (wow... sounds like acid, don't it? but it was real.)

By the time we got down there, the crowd had subsided. Fortunately, Dirk stopped inciting the rumors and began to beat them down. Still the Mab was packed wall-to-wall with die-hards who WANTED TO SEE THE STONES. Christ, what a potential train wreck.. When it was time to go on, I remember going onstage first to say a brief intro that I hoped would give the right message, that we weren't trying to rip anyone off, that this was a sort of homage to the Stones, but better because you could hear the songs in this cool small club, and not at a giant stadium... I don't remember exactly but whatever it was I said worked because they did not kill us, but instead loved the set… sorta. That's what I remember. Susan, did you come onstage that night and sing Gimme Shelter? Do you remember who else was in the band? If other folks have details they can add to this tale, I'd sure appreciate it. This, like so much else that happened then, went unrecorded - no videos, no articles or books, no pictures... just happened, and then evaporated into fading memories... but isn't that like most theater -- and like most music, too...? Its very non-materiality makes it all the more precious to have experienced. Like anyone who was there, I never regretted 1 minute of any of it.

Susan Miller:

I totally remember that night at the Mab. I was not in on the planning but I was certainly there for the event. I was backstage (remember that itty bitty tiny backstage at the Mab? It was more like a closet). Anyway, for some reason I was back there with Ian Cartmill who somehow convinced me that I should sing a duet of Gimme Shelter with someone. I wish I could remember who, but we did it. I remember being a little frightened because every time a new song started the audience would surge expecting to see The Stones! And that song really sounded like they were coming out. It was so much fun. ha ha. Thanks for the memories of that night, Geo.

Brendan Early:

I definitely don't remember any happy crowd at that place that night, Mr. E. I do remember some bottles flying our way, Dennis from the Liars on vocals getting at least one---we were scared shitless---what were we thinking? The crowd booing demanding money back, one guy grabbing the mic from Dennis cause "He could sing Jagger better than him"---and we let him sing one!! It seemed to mellow the place down a bit---fun, though, once we realized they weren't gonna tear us apart-- it was Kevin from Wiretrain on second guitar, by the way, and, of course, we never made a thing monetarily—Dirkson had to give most of the door back but hey-- we survived.

Rob Doumitt:

Thanks for rattling the rocks in my head George. The fall of '81 sounds right. We were roommates at that time; I moved to the house in late spring of '81. I recall getting to the Warfield in the early evening and hanging out waiting for a sign that the Stones would be there, and then sheepishly shuffling off knowing we'd been punk'd. By the time you put on your show, I was over it. You're right though, a perfect example of the mad shit we used to get up to on a regular basis.

George Epileptic:

FUCK!! Thank you, everyone for going back in time with me... filling in the blanks, and seeing it from different angles... hahaha.... Well I never said they were HAPPY... but flying bottles were nothing new at the Mab... and yes, I do remember not making any money... again, Mab normal... Brendan, you know I always loved your guitar playing. Mutants were my def fave SF band... Patti, we hadn't connected yet, we were still staring at each other at gigs and parties... Translator?? what was I thinking??// it was WireTrain... and Kevin Hunter... he was manager at Electric... Dennis from Liars... he was there the Fatu night... and so I guess it WAS Mike Reidy (that's how he spelled it back then) on bass and John Silver on drums... so WTF was Ian Cartmill doing backstage? well another Mab night -- and to me, it sounded better than the real Stones ever could, because we did it ourselves. oh fuck yeah, that's right, Steve DeMartis was singing, too... I forgot that... and Susan Miller from The Tanks... I never saw any mentions in the press myself... I'd love to see them... Also Suzee Ramona said there were calls at KUSF about it, and I wonder what they were about. I hope I didn't cause too much chaos at the station... although I guess that was sorta inevitable... I don't know why I let Dirk get away with not paying us anything... I think he claimed there was damages to the place we were responsible for or some crap like that...

Michael Reid:

Steve De Martis took over lead vocals after Dennis during Brown Sugar was dragged from the stage after he attempted to throw a bucket of water on the crowd. I never saw him again until 15 years later when he was working at Tower. Regardless we broke the all time attendance record at the Mab and made headline news on all local tv stations and the Chronicle the next day: "1000'S FLOCKED NOT TO SEE THE STONES ".

One more thang — yes it was my idea. Me and John were sitting on the candy counter at the Egyptian (later Electric ) laughing about FATU and as soon as I connected TATOO YOU and FATU I pitched the idea. John and you agreed we should do it. I was pitching it almost in fun — and John said "lets do it”. BTW Dirk refunded nothing — where do you think he got the money for a new PA for The On Broadway ?.....also the Chron reported upwards of 10,000 people came to Broadway that night.

Toxic Reasons, Mabuhay Gardens Dec 14 1981 wnp73.3592.jpg

December 14, 1981, Toxic Reasons play the Fab Mab.

Photo: Greg Gaar, OpenSFHistory.org wnp73.3592

Dead Kennedys, Mabuhay Gardens Dec 14 1981 wnp73.3562.jpg

Dead Kennedys, Mabuhay Gardens Dec 14 1981

Photo: Greg Gaar, OpenSFHistory.org wnp73.3562