Taking Up A Lost Cause
A Tale Of Teenage Punks Who Bravely Dodged Fame And Fortune In The City Of Orange
The City of Orange, California, deep in the heart of conservative Orange County. Kids were let out during school hours to attend religious services in mobile church trailers parked outside on the street and just off of school property. It was a way around the separation of church and state. In the late 1970s the first wave of Vietnamese war refugees arrived in the city to a less than warm welcome. A group of Vietnamese students were jumped after school, and when relatives came to their defence things had reached the racial boiling point. One Japanese American student was even assaulted by other students who were swept up in anti Vietnamese sentiments. Most people in Orange liked things in their city the way they were, and were not interested in changing things one bit.
Jay Bauman "It did not get anymore white bread and middle class than Orange in the 1960s through early 1980s. The only division was between Protestant and Catholic, but it was not much of a division other than which trailer during 'released time Christian education' you attended. I never met a black kid until my junior year of high school."
Willi Zarth "There were maybe one hundred black people in all of Orange, if that many."
Danny Oberbeck "Orange was jock city, not very punk at all. It was very suburban but old at the same time. Not a lot going on besides Big O Skatepark and Holiday Roller Rink. A wall divided the skatepark and roller rink, and the punks hanging out at Big O would pick up on the girls at the roller rink. That's where I met my future wife Kim."
In late 1980 a group of high adrenaline skaters would form Lost Cause, looking to shake things up in their suburban surrounds.
Danny Oberbeck "We all met at the Big O Skatepark in Orange where I spent my every waking hour skating. My friend Duane Peters introduced me to Johnny Ernst who also skated there. Johnny heard I had a drum set and suggested we form a band. Steve Stone, who was also there, said let's all go to Danny's house and that is how we started."
Steve Stone soon called his friend Scott Mitchell over. Scott's guitar had two strings and he could only play two chords, but it was enough for the newly christened "vocalist" Johnny Ernst to rant over.
Danny Oberbeck "It seemed for the first time of playing together with anyone, of it being a real band. A few days later Steve Stone called a new waver friend Steve Young who arrived in all of his cockiness and man could he play. I thought there is no way he is going to stick around as he was good enough to tour and we only had two chords."
Stick around he did, though only on the grounds that they had to constantly practice. Still not everyone instantly recognized the raw potential in this newly formed group.
Danny Oberbeck "We were looking for a name and Duane who also practiced at my mother's house with his band Political Crap said 'Why don't you call yourselves Lost Cause because that's what you are'.
At a gas station next to Big O where Danny Oberbeck and his friends used to buy drinks, they met a big hippy working there named Kenny Kaine. Kaine would soon take over the role as band manager.
Danny Oberbeck "Kenny asked us if we had a band, saying he managed bands, and then came over to my mother's house to check us out. Kenny thought the band was quote 'far out' and 'groovy'. Kenny drove a huge Lincoln and brought us all over the place in it."
Ron McCamey "He wore sunglasses twenty four hours a day, even when he slept. His dad was a sheriff up in Santa Barbara."
The band recorded their first demo in May 1981 and that same month, after their first gig opening for Political Crap at the Coockoo's Nest for a show that Kenny Kaine had put together, Steve Stone exits the band and is replaced by Mike Horton.
Danny Oberbeck "We played and were really good. Political Crap went on and fell apart. Steve Stone walked up to Chris Barclay, their bassist, and said 'Man you guys suck'. Chris shoved Steve Stone off the five foot high stage at the Coockoo's Nest and Steve landed spread eagled with his bass case flying open. Right after that Steve left the band. Mike Horton was another local Orange punk we knew. We ended up becoming somewhat of the Coockoo's Nest house band".
Besides the Nest, Lost Cause would become regulars on the local punk house party circuit, playing numerous 'keggers' with the Convicted.
Jay Bauman "There was a guy named "Spike" who lived right across the street from Orange High School. When Chapman College expanded in the late 80s or early 90s, his house was torn down. Spike's mother was really lenient and easy going, she used to let him have house parties with Lost Cause and the Convicted. They had a fairly big backyard, it was a double lot. They would have a keg or two of beer and charge three bucks a head to get in."
With Mike Horton they recorded their self-titled 7", released by High Velocity Records in September of 1981. "Born Dead" off the 7" would show up on the "American Youth Report" compilation LP put out by Invasion/Bomp! Records in 1982. Mike Horton was then replaced by Willi Zarth, whose equipment Mike had been borrowing.
Danny Oberbeck "Mike was wanting to move in a different musical direction along the lines of the Banshees, so in came another local friend named Willi Zarth. Willi was a great addition because he had a new group of friends and was not a skate punk like the rest of us. Willi looked more hardcore and surfed, and brought in that more aggressive Huntington Beach edge to the band."
On September 26, 1981 Lost Cause played an event sponsored by radio station KNAC titled 'Future Shock' at the Santa Ana Stadium on Civic Center and Flower in the city of Santa Ana. Despite being near a police station and city hall the concert goes off without any major problems. Other bands on the bill that day are TSOL, 45 Grave, Red Brigade, Gears, Middle Class, and the Hated.
Willi Zarth "At Future Shock Mike Patton from the Middle Class blew out my bass cabinet. It was weird for a punk show because it was the middle of the day in a football stadium. The show was pretty well run and we actually sounded good that day."
Singer Johnny Ernst leaves and is replaced by Kenny Timmering, who liked to wind the audience up with his flamboyant approach to being a frontman.
Danny Oberbeck "Johnny's mother tricked him into thinking she was taking him out to dinner but instead drove him to the airport to send him to live with his brother in Virginia. The song "Senior Citizen" off the ep was written about Johnny's mother. Kenny Timmering, who worked at Big O, kept asking us if he could sing for us and we were impressed when he did. Kenny was from Tustin and was a great front man."
With Kenny Timmering on vocals, the band play a show in Santa Ana that quickly descends into chaos.
Danny Oberbeck "Our manager Kenny Kaine put on a show at the Broadway Theatre in Santa Ana with us, China White, Social Distortion, TSOL, and Verbal Abuse on New Year's Eve of 1981. We were in the middle of our set when police in full riot gear started pouring through every door. Kids started going crazy, throwing chairs through the windows. It was good old cartoon violence. I jumped into someone's car I didn't know just to get the hell out of there."
Willi Zarth "We sounded pretty bad and somewhere during our set the power went out. People started tearing out the chairs and that was our cue to get the hell out even though I wanted to stay and help in the mayhem."
Joey Ruffino (China White) "The Broadway was an old 1800-seat movie theater and the kids ran upstairs to the restrooms and busted all the plumbing. There was water dripping from the ceiling and running down the walls. There was a glass concession area that got smashed and looted. The promoters didn't want to pay us and TSOL because we never got to play after the show was shut down. They had already collected all the door money and were not giving refunds so we thought we should get paid. Mike Roche from TSOL and myself had to threaten the promoter with a beating to get paid."
Always the hard networking manager, Kenny Kaine knew the people who ran Rockshire Records, and they were interested in having a punk band on their label. Lost Cause became that band, with High Velocity ending up as a subsidiary of Rockshire. Two weeks before the album was to be recorded, Kenny Timmering decided he was long longer interested in the band because it had gotten too serious and he was only into it for the fun. Another Orange local and one of Willi's surfing buddies, Ron McCamey, took over on vocals. Ron quickly learned the songs and even re wrote some of the lyrics before they went into the studio to record.
Ron McCamey "I was at the first Lost Cause show at the Coockoo's Nest when they played on the same bill with Political Crap. Willi Zarth and I had been friends for a long time and we were there together with some of our other friends. That was May 1981. I was not impressed with Lost Cause at all. Over the following months Willi joined Lost Cause and I saw them play again at a Halloween party in Santa Ana at a place known as The Shack. I was completely blown away! I thought they were the coolest band I had ever heard. I remember feeling a little bit jealous because Willi was in such a cool band. I really loved their sound. I had no way of knowing at the time that 6 months later I would be a member of Lost Cause. I had been trying for two and a half years to get a solid band together, but it just never seemed to work out. I was jamming with a lot of musicians, including Willi, over those two and a half years. It seems funny now, looking back on it, that I would end up just kind of falling into a band that was already recording and playing gigs. Lucky me."
Rockshire had signed a worldwide distribution deal with MCA. There was a tour of Canada being set up. Their "Forgotten Corners" LP was selling well for a local punk record and they followed its release up with short treks to San Francisco and Arizona.
Ron McCamey "I remember playing the Tool And Die in San Francisco and Ginger Coyote took a shine to Danny. Danny kept asking us to hide him from Ginger but we had no sympathy. There was this brother of the girl running the Tool And Die who kept giving us crap during our soundcheck. He was drunk telling us to play some songs with some meaning. He walked up and kicked Steve Young's Marshall half stack. Our manager Kenny Kaine grabbed the guy and punched him in the face, and then dragged him up the stairs punching him several more times. Earlier in the day some crazy bum tried to pull a knife on Scott Mitchell while we were staying in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco. Kenny Kaine knocked the knife out of his hand and slapped him around a bit. Kenny Kaine always looked out for us."
During 1982 into 1984 Danny, Willi, and Mike Horton had also put together a psych punk side band called Ash Wednesday, with Bryna Golden (future Babylonian Tiles) and Linda, future owner of Orange County nightspot The Doll Hut. Things were looking way up for the band, but with a name like Lost Cause that would not last forever. In 1984 they became an instrumental band after Ron left, and in October of the same year Rockshire Records' owners pleaded guilty to embezzling millions from Hughes Aircraft.
Ron McCamey "Willi was kinda messed up and I had enough so I decided to leave the band."
Willi Zarth "I was on a path of self destruction and then I basically fell off the map. At a class reunion Jay Bauman told some people who had set up a memorial for me 'I hate to tell you this but unfortunately Willi is still alive'."
Danny "Ron left the band and came back, and then left again. The owners of Rockshire were then arrested for embezzling millions from Hughes Aircraft to start their label and were eventually found guilty. It made the front page of the Orange County Register. Somebody said, have you read the newspaper today. I looked and that was the end of our big record deal."
Their original vocalist Johnny Ernst returned in 1985 and songs for an ill-fated 7" were recorded, with the band breaking up on new-year's eve 1986.
Danny Oberbeck "We were still practicing and writing songs at Willi's place in Santa Ana, but it was kind of aimless and we were at a standstill. I was acting at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove and there was going to be a private invite only new year's eve party and they liked the idea of a punk band playing it. Unfortunately a bunch of punks who were not invited showed up and proceeded to break into the prop room, stole paint and painted 'Fuck OC Cops' all over the theater. They were jumping out of the mayor's upstairs opera box. It was a complete mess and I was there until early morning trying to clean up. That's when I left the band. They got another drummer Jeff "Skin" but the momentum was gone and it all fell apart."
After the break-up of Lost Cause, Willi, Ron, and Danny form Oliver, a Big Country-ish power pop band, while Steve Young joined the Dischords and Dye Young. Lost Cause had a very short lived 1991 reunion, and Mike Horton went onto Super Collider.
In the mid 1990s ex manager Kenny Kaine finally realised his opportunity for a big pay off after years of managing bands with little to no compensation. It is a short-lived ride with an unfortunate ending.
Danny Oberbeck "Our ex manager Kenny Kaine discovered some early Metallica tapes under his bed that he had produced and wanted to release them, but Metallica's then label offered to buy the tapes and Kenny asked for too little and in no time blew through the money really quick."
Ron McCamey "Kenny went to the park to score some coke at the corner of Haster and Orangethorpe. Kenny went back to the park after realising the coke he had bought was fake. The guy saw Kenny and started running. Kenny chased him across the park and the guy started climbing over a fence in a nearby alley. Suddenly Kenny was surrounded by a bunch of guys. Kenny tried to flash his wallet and claim he was an undercover cop. He was stabbed a bunch of times and bled to death on the way to the hospital."
Danny Oberbeck "It was a real shame because Kenny was a really nice guy with good intentions and poor planning. Several years ago I also found out Steve Stone had passed away."
These days the majority of Lost Cause are family men. Drummer Danny Oberbeck still skates while keeping various musical and other creative irons in the fire.
Ron McCamey "Danny was always a true artist, he was all about music and theater, well basically any type of art. He is a very creative person. He understands art as a medium for communication."
Brian Sheklian is the owner of Grand Theft Audio, a California label releasing CD retrospectives of early punk, post-punk, and hardcore groups from around the world since 1995. As a writer he has contributed to Flipside and Maximum Rock N Roll, as well as several German music publications. In his free time he likes to take up other people's time.
2007: All copyrights to this article belong to its author and prior written consent must be given by the author to anyone wishing to post, re print, and/or publish this article or any portion of it.
Brian "GTA" Sheklian – tMx 30 – 07/07
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