Mamma Casserole (aka Michelle Smith) is to the Comet Tavern what Tom Douglas would be to the Pacific Inn. As the resident booking agent of one of the best dive bars in the country, she's like a five-star chef behind the line. The woman also brings a sharpened set of musical skills to the chopping block—her records would put most collectors to shame, she danced on counters during her days at Nuggets in Boston, and now she turns out night after night of piping-hot rock shows. Don't expect some light and fluffy goods, though—her bills are heavy hitters and, like the Pacific Inn's fish and chips, just a taste of what she's cooked up will have you coming back for more.
Please tell us Mamma's real name and what you do for the Comet Tavern:
Michelle Smith; I am the Comet's talent coordinator.
How did you find yourself booking there?
I started to do one-off events, such as political events for No Vote Left Behind and DJ theme parties. They were pretty successful, so the old Comet owner began to give me random nights to book, then that turned into weekends, which eventually culminated in booking the place full time.
What was your first job in the music business?
I worked at Nuggets record store in Boston starting in 1985. I was the record buyer and countertop go-go dancer.
Why did you decide to get into such a crazy world?
I think I exited the womb a music fanatic. But it was my getting involved in the punk-rock scene in Boston in the '80s that thrust me into the working side of things. I managed a few bands and was in two of them as a frontperson, (the Spirit of) '70 Sex and Freakbeat.
What are the top three shows you've booked?
The Black Angels' first Seattle show was a show I booked at the Comet. They blew my mind live. It was before anyone knew who they were. I think 50 people paid. Also, the Nice Boys, the Time Flys, Electric Shadows, Greatest Hits, the Knast. I am a HUGE power-pop/glam fan, and all these bands pretty much conjure up the spirit of bands like the Sweet, Slade, and Small Faces. And the Gris Gris in February 2006. This was the first band I gave a guarantee to at the Comet . . . but I just had to have them! I think the Gris Gris are probably one of the best live bands I have ever seen.
Best thing about booking:
Giving amazing unknown bands a place to play.
Most frustrating aspect of the job:
Getting people to come out to shows to see these unknown bands play. It's especially hard when certain touring bands end up playing to an empty house on a Monday night.
What's your worst DJ'ing experience?
I was DJ'ing a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club 7-inch at the Baltic Room when this asshole guy purposely picked my needle up off the record and slammed it back down on the vinyl, scratching the shit out of it. He is still in a coma at Harborview.
What was the first record you can remember buying?
The Monkees: Greatest Hits.
Who was your first rock-star crush?
Michael Nesmith. I still have a crush on him . . . well, the him from 1967.
How did you get the name Mamma Casserole?
I am really into puns, and it started out as a band name, spoofing Mama Cass. For about 10 years people have called me Mamma. I am a pretty nurturing person, and I like to cook . . . and the casserole just seemed to fit. Casserole—rock and roll!!!
Most hilarious thing that's happened during a Comet show:
Ricky from the Pleasureboaters, at the opening of the "new" Comet, did a kick while he was playing, and his shoe flew off and hit a girl in the face. She was OK [and] it was pretty funny.
Favorite drink at the end of a long night:
A Chest Licker. I invented it. [It's a] tall Citron and soda, a splash of cran, and tons of lime.
Top five records to listen to while . . .
1. Having a dance party in my living room: Mighty Hannibal, Hannibalism.
2. Lying on the couch: Alice Cooper, Pretties for You.
3. Cleaning my apartment: Buzzcocks, A Different Kind of Tension.
4. Making out: T. Rex, Light of Love.
5. Having a dinner party: Dexter Gordon, Getting Around.
A weekly peek behind the curtain of the Emerald City music world, Behind the Scene sheds light on folks you won't see onstage, but who make it all happen.