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road to rock stardom

(A Funny Thing Happened On) The Road To Rock Stardom
Wendy Nelson

by Tammy Moore

Autonomous. Iconoclastic. Enigmatic. They are strong words and yet nothing short of fitting for today's subject. She is a rising force within the ranks of those that operate behind the scenes in music. She is so busy these days that I had to interview her while she was having her long tresses dyed in her trademark vampire red and black colors. She is known as Wendy WWAD, and in addition to acting as editor-writer-photographer- staff recuiter-advertsing salesperson here at Rank and Revue, she is also a partner in the magazine with publisher Brenna Parthemore. She owns and operates Black 13 Booking here in Austin where she sets up local shows at venues all along Red River and sets up statewide and national tours for bands like Pink Swords and LO FREQ. She books the artists for BGGW shows, the production company that brought the original all-female roller derby league to Austin. She is a founding member of The Safe Ride Home Program, and is working on bringing a beloved pirate radio station to a website near you in the very immediate future. Look for www.kaos959.com this December 8th. Somehow, in the midst of all of that, she has also emerged as the reigning "queen of the benefit show."

WWAD hesitates to reveal where she was born (although I'm not sure why, as this compliments her pseudo-hillbilly image). Raised in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and classically trained on the piano, her love affair with rock and roll began at the age of eight when she first heard The Beatles. Growing up, she lent an ear to radio-friendly music back then and listened to bands like The Clash, Duran Duran and Adam Ant. Then in 1980 she stumbled onto Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard Of Ozz, and her world was forever altered. It was that record that started her down a path that led her to question all things mainstream. At sixteen, she began sneaking out of her parents house to drive into Dallas where her eighteen year old boyfriend, a sound engineer at The Twilight Room, would get her into punk rock clubs in Deep Ellum and turned her on to bands like Dead Kennedys, Scratch Acid, and Butthole Surfers. Today she loves both modern and old-school punk, hardcore metal, and even classic country. Look in
her CD player and you're likely to findMastodon, High on Fire, and Zeke but she admits to still pulling out the Slayer, KISS, and Mötley Crüe records on occasion.

She could've been a model with her impossibly skinny 5'10" stature and piercing blue eyes. But this University of Texas grad (she has a double major in English and RTF) was pulled in a different direction. She planned to write screenplays, and then right after she finished her first degree, the phone rang. It was Phil Owen from the Skatenigs, and he wanted WWAD to play keyboards for his band and wanted to know if she would be interested in going on tour with them. Oh, and, by the way, they would be opening for GWAR. It took her about one second to say yes. Two weeks of rehearsals later and she was in her first band, opening for her personal idols, in front of throngs of people. She was high from the aesthetics and high, no doubt, from other things as well. The tour lasted two months, and she stayed with Skatenigs for three years. She left the band but became engaged to lead singer Owen and remained that way for three more years until they decided on a mutual split.

Owen isn't the only notable musician that WWAD has been linked to. While there are others, perhaps her most notorious romance, thus far, has been the one with Hank Williams III. The men in her life have been huge factors in the music and events that have influenced her, and Hank III (or Shelton, the name bestowed on him at birth) is no exception. Her alliances have led to many memorable occurrences, and her life has been laced with more than a few racy episodes--like the time that she hopped on Williams tour bus to accompany him for a week on the road after his show here in Austin at The Continental Club. The first stop was Dallas, and after Williams' show that night, the band, crew, and one very wasted female that managed to finagle her way on to the bus, headed straight for Pantera's Dimebag Darrell's mansion there.
Williams had promised David Allen Coe that he would swing by there, and they could do
some recording together at Dimebag's studio. Dimebag's entry foyer was carpeted with a confederate flag rug and there were busts of each member of KISS sticking out of the walls along with a giant Ace Frehley throne, set against velvet leopard print wall covering.

There was a girl walking around serving shots that night, and party favors were out in abundance. After the recording session, WWAD and Williams made their way back to the bus, which, incidentally, was stuck in the mud. Meanwhile, the aforementioned wasted female had a fight with her boyfriend and began walking down the ritzy neighborhood streets screaming at the top of her lungs. The police were called, and the girl told them that she came on the tour bus with the band, so the police decide to have a look. There were drugs in full view, including a four-foot tall bong that Williams had received as a gift on that tour. A half-naked WWAD and Williams stum - bled out of the bus bedroom to be bombarded with questions by the cops. As luck would have it, though, there aren't too many folks that aren't impressed by Williams' lineage, including the local police. So, WWAD and Williams were let off with a warning to get out of that county as fast as they could dig the mud out under from those bus tires.

To say that she inspires people is an understatement. Her effect on those she encounters borders on the cult of personality. People actually follow her around. I like to call them WWAD Disciples, and I think tshirts are in order here. But I digress. People do things for her. Why? Because she's Wendy. Like a few years ago, she got fed up with being a cocktail waitress but had no other experience. So, she said as much to Mark Olivarez at The Backroom. No problem. He threw her behind the bar, and that turned into a seven- year career as one of the town's most infamous bartenders. She moved on to The Red Eye Fly, but when it looked like her bartending days were coming to an end, all it took was mentioning that to one of her customers. His name was Denny and he worked as a doorman for Stubb's outdoor shows. He also happened to work as Parts Manager for Harley Davidson Motorcyles. She could come and work for him in the parts department at Harley, he said. Did she know anything about parts for motorcycles? No, and it didn't matter. Why? Because she's Wendy.

Maybe it's the 'whisky and cigarettes' throated voice or her intriguing conversational abilities. An avid reader, one would be hard-pressed to find a subject that WWAD could not converse on. Or maybe it's because she reeks of C-O-O-L. Besides the way she looks, walking into WWAD's home is to behold a floor-to-ceiling display, in practically every room, of rock and roll and horror inspired imagery that would rival any collection. Her home also serves as the local rock and roll motel. After years of meeting touring bands either by touring with them or following them to different locations as a fan, she has struck up friendships with so many rockers, and they all know that at WWAD's diggings they have a place to lay their heads whenever they roll into Austin. Having known her for several years now, it didn't surprise me in the least when I walked into the salon for this interview and she tossed me a Victoria's Secret bag full of hot pink, black, and punk plaid g-strings. They were a gift from her new paramour. She'd been seeing him for about a week, and already he was driving her to appointments and lavishing gifts upon her. Why? You know!

In her five-inch platform combat boots, she towers over most females. Between that, the booming voice, the hair, the thirteen tattoos, and the glittery gothic make-up, she appears somewhat intimidating. But true to form, underneath the hardcore exterior lurks the heart of a philanthropist. When Josh Langford from the Knocked Out Stiffs was arrested, WWAD did a benefit to raise his bail. When fellow Rank and Revue staff members Chad Holt and Jesse Miller were arrested on fraud charges (for forging SXSW wrist bands), she organized the "Freedom for Fruntbutt" benefit this past July 4th. And when her dearest male friend Handsome Joel Svatek was tragically killed after being hit by a drunk driver. The accident affected her deeply, but WWAD channeled her grief by raising $10,000 to help Svatek's family with their medical bills. It is in tribute to his life that the Safe Ride Home Program is being developed. Safe Ride Home is also releasing a double album Handsome Joel Tribute that will feature bands like Speedealer, Speedloader, Dixie Witch, Honky, Brewtality, Inc., Camarosmith, Mastadon, Supagroup, Hazard County Girls, Syrup and The Old 97's. She is also currently organizing benefits for Hunter Kinsley, a photographer for BGGW, who had his eye sockets smashed in by drunk frat boys on Thanksgiving night, and one in February for Rank and Revue.

Since she had spent most of this past summer and fall on the road with Austin sensations Dixie Witch and Honky, I thought she might be able to shed some light on the realities of life on the road for club level bands. This is what the seven-day-a-week music scenester had to say.

R&R: What is involved in booking tours for club level bands from booking the clubs to financial survival?

WWAD: My partner (Clayton from Dixie Witch) does the mapping. He does the hard part. Since he's already been on so many tours, he knows the distances between all the cities. Basically the bands will tell me how long they want to go out and how many cities they want to hit, and Clayton finds out the best route to take. Then I ship out promo packages, shoot an email to the booking agent, and if I don't hear back in a couple of days, I call them. If that doesn't work, I try to find an alternative venue that's not too far out of the way. Financial survival is problematic. We get ten bucks a day to live on. You get a certain amount of booze from the bar, some drink tickets. And at some clubs we have it set up so that we're being fed that night. Some clubs will do that, and some won't.

R&R: What about housing accommodations? I noticed in the Dixie Witch Chronicles that
there are is a lot of couch surfing going on.

WWAD: We have friends. It seems like there are always people in every town that are willing to put you up. Dixie Witch has toured three times before, and they've met people. But there have been some towns where Trinidad will literally announce from the s t a g e, "Hey, if there's anybody willing to put us up, we need a place to stay." We had to get a hotel a couple of times just because they were travel days, and the band wasn't playing.

R&R: What kind of promotion is involved before your bands get into any given town on
a tour?

WWAD: Actually, my guys are really good. Pink Swords have this great artist named Rob Jones. He's fucking awesome and they always have killer posters that they send out to the clubs for me. I don't have to do that.

R&R: What kinds of crowds can the artists anticipate?

WWAD: With Dixie Witch sometimes they've played for two people, and sometimes there's been two hundred. And then again we've driven from all the way from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City to play for twelve people.

R&R: How have you developed your network of clubs?

WWAD: One thing I think that's been really helpful about this Dixie Witch deal, with my booking, is when I've gone out on the road, I've met the promoters at all the clubs where I would send my bands. And that's been helpful, simply because now I can just email promoters (in lieu of mailing press kits) and just say, "Hey, I need this date," and they know who I am. There's a face to put with the name. I'm not just a random booking agent. And it's been good for the magazine, too, because we get a lot of CDs (for review) from bands from Philadelphia or New York or wherever. And I leave the 'zine all over the country.

R&R: Knowing all that you know now…what is the best piece of advice you could give to aspiring artists in this crazy pursuit of success in music?

WWAD: I would say you just have to keep forging ahead regardless of stumbling blocks
that you're going to have because there's going to be a lot of them. And learn how to
get along with your band. You've got to keep doing it. You've got to be consistent. You've got to keep going out on the road so the name gets out there.

There is one final issue that must be addressed here, or this writer will fail miserably in her attempt to accurately represent Wendy WWAD. It would be unfair to call her a socialist, but she grows increasingly tired of the capitalistic movement she perceives within the strategies of major label marketing. There may be nothing that irritates her more than the onslaught of media-force-fedear- candy-pop that our society is bombarded with on a daily basis. While many people's taste in music tends to mellow as they get older, this particular thorn in WWAD's side may explain the gravitation towards music fueled by rage and rebellion as she continues to move through life. She is nothing if not passionate about her love for independent music. She is, most certainly, a champion of the underground and the innovative musicians that dwell within that realm. If there were one point that she could drive home to the masses it would be sovereign thinking where music is concerned. There is a seemingly endless vacuum of untapped talent in music that is not mainstream. Find it. Listen to it. Get lost in the ideology of it. "It's all about the rock." Right, Wendy? Keep reaching for the dream.

photograph by Larry Stern

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