Tacoma Punk Pioneer Girl Trouble Refuses to Quit It

In the quarter-century since its debut, the band’s kept its fan base hydrated and moving.

I don’t remember the date, the month, the year, the venue, or even the other bands on the bill, aside from the Groovie Ghoulies. But I do remember Girl Trouble buying a round for everyone in the house. A round of H2O, that is.

The venue, you see, had decided to charge for water. Girl Trouble got wind of this, which led frontman K.P. Kendall to announce from the stage, “Anybody who wants water, just put it on the Girl Trouble tab. Just go ahead. From now on tonight, the water’s free!”

I never learned how much that water cost the band that night, but I figure I’m not the only one who remembers the Tacoma foursome’s generosity.

Other bands might set themselves on fire and/or jump off cliffs to please audiences. But Girl Trouble, 29 years old this year, manages the sadly-too-rare trick of sending audiences into convulsions while, behind the pose, actually being very sweet people. They even have had to leave music aside for niceness at times: Asked why they haven’t gigged so much lately, drummer Bon Von Wheelie reflects, “We have been very involved in caring for elderly parents. Not very ‘rock,’ but it’s a responsibility we take seriously.”

Girl Trouble, according to legend (and Ms. Von Wheelie), played its first non-party gig at a battle of the bands in 1984, and came in second. The first-place band included a guy involved in organizing the competition. “There were rumors that shenanigans had happened,” Von Wheelie recalls. “The prize was $75 and another 45-minute set. Actually, I was thrilled and relieved that we came in second. We hardly had enough material for our half-hour set . . . It was a great night, and that’s when I discovered that our friends were the best supporters we could ever hope for.”

Von Wheelie’s guitar-playing younger brother, known as the Big Kahuna, was “born on the day that the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.” Big sister loved classic Northwest rock and British Invasion bands; Kahuna borrowed all those records and added the Ramones, the B-52’s, and the Sex Pistols.

“If you were into punk rock in Tacoma, you were in a very small minority,” says Von Wheelie. “In fact, it was dangerous to dress like that here.” Kahuna met his future frontman, Kendall, at the legendary Bob’s Java Jive in Tacoma, a punk refuge. Von Wheelie says, “Finally I just bought some cheap drums, and Kahuna and I just practiced together in the shed we still practice in today.”

Bassist Dale Phillips, the band’s brooding, silent sex symbol, bonded with Kahuna at school over Ramones platters. They liked Kendall, admiring how he’d take over any party he went to, bidden or unbidden. He said he couldn’t sing, but “We said that was OK because we couldn’t play. We all learned together.”

In 1988, following a series of singles, the band released its debut, Hit It or Quit It, on Sub Pop. At 25, it’s receiving a second life courtesy of a K Records reissue. Asked for her best memories of the album (the first time around), Von Wheelie reflects: “We have vivid memories of going to Velvetone Studio in Ellensburg and meeting Steve Fisk for the first time. The fact that Velvetone had an 8-track recorder seemed so high-tech.”

The Groovie Ghoulies are gone now, along with many other Girl Trouble fellow travelers. Girl Trouble itself has scaled back lately, focusing on family, its campaign against pay-to-play in Seattle, and a lawsuit related to that issue which took Von Wheelie two years to quell. Ask them about their two movies in the works when you see them at their album re-release show this week. And let’s just hope this time, the water’s on the house. With the Fallouts, Head, Selector Dub Narcotic. Chop Suey, 1325 E. Madison St., 324-8005, chopsuey.com. $7 adv./$10 DOS. 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 23.


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