Interview: Hart Baur from "Skum Rocks!"
I have officially seen the most unbelievable documentary so far this year. It is called “Skum Rocks!" and when you see it you will swear it is completely made up. I found proof that it isn’t though as I talked with Skum’s lead singer and star of the film, Hart Baur. Skum was a band that formed in the 80's and gained East Coast popularity from pretty much everything that goes along with rock n roll; except the music. I sat and listened to him tell me unbelievable stories of lost recording tapes that were found years after they recorded for their album “Lost at the Circus”, purposely overselling their shows by thousands of tickets, calling the cops on themselves to get their shows stopped, recording at Abbey Road, impersonating Joe Walsh, partying with adult film stars, and so much more. Check out this fantastic interview I did with Hart and take it all in for yourself.
Nick Leyland from The Movie Network: Congratulations on your new film Skum Rocks! As I talked with your director Clay, I said, when I was watching it, I had a very hard time believing that that stuff was real.
Hart Baur: Some crazy stuff happened, that's for sure.
TMN: Well, the first thing is, what sparked this documentary after you guys haven’t been together in years?
Hart Baur: We broke up in the early '90s. It was just one of those things where it was like a magical moment in time, when youth and creativity kind of all mixed together and it really was a special time. A lot of it had to do with the fact that we did so much, one, without even really knowing what we were doing, and two, just having absolute blast with it and never ever getting uptight about the failure of it all or the lack of quality in the beginning.
It was amusing to us that this whole thing was kind of working and we didn't even really realize what we had. I think the first time that I kind of got an inkling of it was when Todd and I came back to our apartment one night, I was a junior in college back in '80, I guess it was '85, 'cause Todd was a senior. We had a shoe box and there was $6,000 in the shoe box from the show. We're like, "How can this be happening?" It's like this isn't real, but it is.
Hart Baur: We f@#$#%^ suck.
Hart Baur: And it was just sort of like we got to a part when we called the cops on ourselves. We've had this huge show, and we called the police on ourselves because the band in front of us had played our songs and played 'em well. We couldn't play; there was just no way. There was no way we could go on stage. We would have humiliated ourselves. So we called the police on ourselves. We started passing out beer when the cops arrived and they shut the show down. And that just got huge and after that everyone wanted us to play. So we had, this didn't make the movie, but we had to think of a way to get out of playing even more shows on campus, 'cause every fraternity was throwing money at us to book us 'cause it was like the outlaw band, the soccer team's outlawed band. But we claimed that we were banned from campus by the administration, that it was illegal for us...
There was no way that we could be allowed to play on campus and that got people to stop trying to book us because we didn't want to play on campus anymore 'cause we didn't control the show. We had to be a 100% in control of it. If we were hired by someone to play, it would've imploded so we were banned from campus and put posters all over... And of course when we got banned from campus we got even more popular.
Hart Baur: So it just kept feeding on itself. And the band moved to Miami, and Pat Burke, who I'd played soccer with in high school, and actually I've known Pat since I was eight years old, he played a show with us and he got wind of what we had done and he wanted to be a part of it and he's like, "Look, I got this really kickass guitarist Johnny Eaton. We could take what you guys have been doing and we could really run with this thing." Well, we got these other guys in the band and he goes, "I'll take care of George," [laughter] and he runs George off to take his spot in the band. It started getting real at that point 'cause suddenly you brought in the real musicians and we suddenly got substantially better.
And then it just all imploded at that point because no one was really prepared for what was happening. The musicians weren't ready for all the popularity that was there, and that got to them and we weren't ready for the quality of the music to be there, which got to us, and so we're just a perfect storm of success, led to perfect storm of failure.
TMN: I think this may go down in history in marketing classes as one of the most unbelievable genius marketing campaigns in the history. It's "you want it, but you can't have it" kind of thing. And you got these celebrities talking about you and now a film. I mean it's unbelievable.
Hart Baur: It is kind of crazy. Yeah, we got a really good vibe with the celebrities who came through Miami, and also a lot of the adult actresses who came through here. Back in the day, Traci Lords was in Miami a lot, Barbara Dare, all those. We kinda got into that, into the whole venue. Jon Stewart played on our soccer team at William & Mary. He was our teammates at William & Mary.
TMN: That's crazy.
Hart Baur: I think it was Robin Zander who told me one night, "You guys are never gonna make it because you guys don't take yourselves seriously." He goes, "But that's the beauty of you guys, 'cause you guys are completely free. And you're free not to make it. You don't have anyone throwing $100,000 on your recording tand you have to produce two or three hits. You're not under all this pressure." And Cooper told us, "The only difference between you guys and us," 'cause his band started out as all athletes that couldn't play; they were all track runners and he said, "The only difference between you guys and us is that you guys were smart; you guys quit." And we all laughed, "Ha-ha-ha." He was like, "Well, no, no, I'm being serious." He goes, "We were stupid and we got lucky." He goes, "But if we didn't get lucky, I would've been 35 years old, drug addict, alcoholic with no job and no career. I would've been screwed."
Hart Baur: He goes, "You guys were smart and got real jobs and did whatever you did."
Hart Baur: To kinda answer your question, when these tapes were found, it was like, "Well, let's just do the album. Let's put it back out just so we have it finished." And then we started this film thing, and all these celebrities jumped in, and the next thing you know it got out of control." Clay did a great job. He did a great job putting this all together.
TMN: Were the tapes really in the back of that guy's car?
Hart Baur: I got a call five years ago, and this guy says, "I have a box with some of your stuff in it." I'm like "What stuff?" And he's like, "Well, it looks like there are some papers and some books, and there are some tapes." And I go, "What do you mean tapes?" He's like, "Yeah, there are some tapes." And so, he had these freaking tapes at his house for who knows how long. And we all just assumed that these were just done. So it’s kind of like the perfect storm. We're all relatively successful in our lives and but were like "Let's have some fun", and then Clay got involved and it just went over the top.
TMN: How big did you guys get in your peak in the '80s and '90s?
Hart Baur: These venues back then would allow you to sell tickets, and they would take a percentage of the tickets at the door. It was so ridiculous and I couldn't believe that people would do this with us. They would say, "Yeah, you guys sell the tickets, we'll sell them here, too, but every ticket we collect, we will take X amount of dollars and you guys pay us before the show goes on, or we settle the gate." So let's say that you have a venue that has 500 capacity; you sell 500 tickets; you sell them for $7 a piece; you give the venue $2; they get to keep all of the bar, and you take the $5. Well, we would sell 2,000, 3,000 tickets. It was like a no-brainer, 'cause if people didn't get in, you weren't paying anything on it, but you're keeping the money.
So the last show we played in Miami was at the Grove Cinema, where they used to do "Rocky Horror", and I think we sold over 1,500 tickets and the capacity was 600, and people couldn't get in. It was just freaking chaos; cops were there; it was out of control. I remember the guy going, "How many f&%$%#@ tickets did you guys sell?"
Hart Baur: 'Cause he was in trouble because people couldn't get in, the fire people were like, "You have to get these people out of here." By the end of the night, he goes, "That was the best bar we ever had; tripled our best night." And he wanted us back, but he goes, "You guys can't oversell tickets." And we're all like, "I have no idea what what you're talking about." So we would draw good crowds. At the college, what we would do is we put on these events like the movie said, and we didn't have any equipment at all. So we would book the band that had the best sound system. We booked the band that had the best bass amps, the band that had the best guitar amps, the band that had the best drums, et cetera. And then we would say, "You guys play this show; we're gonna do it for charity, but at the end of the night we get to use your bass amps, we get to use all of your equipment." So we would do these huge shows with five or six bands, and we'd get all the equipment for free. And put on these massive shows and we'd raise a lot of money for charity.
And the bands had to do it because they needed the press. There's a difference between a musician and someone like us. We weren't musicians, so we didn't see it through the prism of a musician. A musician is like, "Okay, well, it's gotta be perfect, the sounds gotta be perfect." They focus so much on the musical aspect of a show that they forget about the show itself.
They forget about the theatrics of the show. They forget about selling the show. They forget about promoting the show. To them, if 10 people show up, but it sounded perfect, it was a good show. To us, if it was packed, people couldn't get in, and we sound like hell, it was a great show.
Hart Baur: It sold out. So it was all about the result of the crowd not so much the result of the music.
TMN: For starting off not being that musically talented, you've gotten to go to Abbey Road. How did you get to record there?
Hart Baur: Abbey Road, Sun Studios... And you heard the music in the movie, right?
TMN: Yeah, was that the music of you guys?
Hart Baur: That was us. I wrote almost all those song. I didn't know what the hell I was doing.
TMN: I guess I was just thinking that you guys just never finished the album.
Hart Baur: The album's finished. It's all gonna be released at the same time. We've about a 250-page book with massive amount of pictures with celebrities, it's hysterical. The book is absolutely hysterical 'cause it goes into a lot of the avenues that the movie just cannot go into. And then the album... I think "John the Bag Man" that was recreated but that was exactly how it was written. I was like, "Okay, well, this is an A chord," and this is kind of an A chord. That sounds pretty good together. And this is a D, and if I move my finger here, it's kind of a D. I don't know what it is, but that sounds good. And as we're writing it, I'm like, "We need a bridge or something," so we did some sort of bridge. [laughter] No freakin' idea what we're doing...
Hart Baur: But it all sounded good. When you put the real musicians to what we did, it was like, "You gotta be kidding me. You guys wrote this stuff?" We're like, "Yeah."
TMN: Clay wanted me to ask you about how you guys got your first TV appearance, and how Joe Walsh contribute to it.
Hart Baur: There’s footage of us playing on that horrible TV appearance. It was lip synced, and they wouldn't let us play live. Pat Burke comes over to my house right when he was supposed to join the band, and we're sitting in there and we're watching TV, and he was coaching with me at the high school I was at. And he just couldn't believe all the s^%$ that he's looking at and reading all the articles. He's like, "Oh my God," he goes, "This is just crazy. How the f*$# can you guys do this?" I'm like, "Pat, do you wanna be on TV?" He's like, "What do you mean?" I'm like, "Well, do you want to be on TV? What would you say right now if I can get us on Channel 17?"
He goes, "There's no way you can get us on Channel 17". So I pick up the phone, called information, called Channel 17, talked to the program director, claimed I'm Joe Walsh from the Eagles... 'Cause he was down here all the time. The Eagles record all their albums at Criteria. Did my Joe Walsh voice, told the guy I'm producing this band; it's the next biggest band in the world; it's gonna be huge; we're down here; we wanna get these guys on TV. The guy's like, "I'm a huge Eagles fan. I love you guys."
Joe's like, "Well, this is not really the Eagles music, but it's something that I'm really 100% behind. It's more like James Gang going crazy." So the guy's like, "I've gotta have you on." Joe's like, "Okay." The guy goes, "Can I get a picture with you when you guys are here?" Joe's like, "Absolutely." [laughter] So we booked the f*%$#@* TV show. Pat's like, "Un-f*&$%#$-believable. What are you gonna do when Joe Walsh doesn't show up?" I'm like, "Well, we'll deal with that when we get there."
Hart Baur: What can we do? At that point, I go, "You never know, Joe might show up."
Hart Baur: So we're there, and we did two songs. It was all just basically just to kind of hook Pat completely in, sell him completely on the project, that this can really work.
TMN: I cannot believe that. [laughter]
Hart Baur: Well, that wasn't really planned out; that was just like spur of the moment, like, "Okay, you wanna see how this works? This is how it works."
TMN: Yeah, 'cause he was telling me how much stuff didn't make it into the film just because people wouldn't believe it.
Hart Baur: Oh yeah, yeah. Clay was reading all these articles we had, and he was like, "This is just unbelievable. This is crazy." It's crazy, crazy stuff. Jon Tarrant, I mean... The film... I thought Jon was great, and the fact of that line, where he goes, "I don't know who's in charge; I certainly wasn't." He was, all accounts, just absolutely, off the charts, effing crazy. There's so many things that he begged, "Please don't put this in the movie."
Hart Baur: "I've been sober for over 17 years. I have a wife, I have kids. I'm respectable in my community." [laughter] But this was a guy who, one night, we come out of the college deli, I was with this girl, for whatever reason, at 2 o'clock in the morning, which was against my better judgment, I let Jon Tarrant drive the car. But I was interested in making out with this chick. So we put the seat back, we're making out, suddenly I hear gravel under the car, under the tires. And I had this lime green Ford EXP with Florida plates. Everyone knew whose car this was; there was no doubt it was my car.
And I look up, and he's driving into the Sunken Gardens, which is like this beautiful sunken garden in Williamsburg, and it's very, very picturesque. It's where Lafayette's troops stayed before the siege of Yorktown, all that. So there's people playing Frisbee at 2:30 in the morning, and he goes, "I hate these freaks." And he starts barreling right towards them in my car, twisted out of his head. They scatter, he cuts the car around, goes after 'em.
She's like wide-eyed in terror, like, "I heard about this stuff with you guys, but now I see it." And I go, "Tarrant, get the f*&^% out of here." He pulls the car out and get back in the street, he takes it near the corner. Me and the girl get out. I go, "John, you got a 5-minute head start, and I'm reporting this car stolen." He goes, "Gotcha." So he takes the car full speed, ditches it in the woods outside of Williamsburg, and crawls through the woods, gets back home like three hours later. And I called the cops, said my car was stolen.
TMN: Oh my God. [laughter]
Hart Baur: And the girl just looks at me, and I go, "This is rock 'n roll." She goes, "I don't even know what to say."
Hart Baur: People here have heard the story, but like Clay said, you don't believe 'em.
TMN: No, I don't. When I watched it, honestly, I was thinking to myself, "They have to be making some of this stuff up to fill the space. There's absolutely no way that this is real."
Hart Baur: Well, some things are embellished a little bit, but it's all there, man. It's all just freaking right off the gate. There's so many things that did not make the film, because they're so out-of-the-world ludicrous that no one in their right mind would believe it happened.
TMN: What’s up with the TV show?
Hart Baur: There's talk of a TV show. I think a TV show would be hysterical 'cause we would do it sort of like Scooby-Doo in the sense that you have a guest celebrity every week, and do a reality show based on that, and you create all these really horrendous situations. Take John Eaton for example. All you gotta do is just put a crew and follow him around the city without him even knowing he's being filmed, and you got material for an episode.
Hart Baur: None of us had ever really worked in front of the camera before, and everyone was really good. Everyone was really very natural and they weren't nervous and they went right out and did it. And so the TV show aspect of this could be really, really funny.
TMN: It definitely could be.
Hart Baur: It could be really, really funny. There was a footage of us in Abbey Road and we get to... [chuckle] This is hysterical, I'm not even making any of this up. We're in Abbey Road, and the best musician in the lot is Tommy Craig, the drummer. John is the most talented. John's just this genius guitarist who can do whatever he wants to, whatever he puts his mind to it. But Tommy Craig is a... Like I said, he almost was in Guns N' Roses. He's very, very meticulous about his craft. He tabs everything out. So we're gonna go to Abbey Road and we're gonna do "Back in the USSR," which we did a kickass version. And we did a piano-accordion concerto to lead into it. And then right before the song kicks in, we have two Russian girls saying all sorts of horrible things in Russian right before the song kicks in. The song's about coming home, and basically getting laid.
Hart Baur: So the girls are saying everything they wanna do to the guy when he gets home, in Russian.
Hart Baur: So we get there and we didn't rehearse, because everyone lives in different cities; we were all meeting in London. Everyone had to prepare on their own, for the track. Of course, the drums are the backbone of the track. The drums we're gonna do first. Pat was flying in later that day, so he was gonna have a very short time. So we get there, and I'm exhausted 'cause we flew in the night before, I went into one of the siderooms to take a nap. And Brazel comes in, and Brazel says, "Hey, Hart you gotta come... Eaton's meltin' down." I'm like, "What do you mean?" He's like, "Eaton's f*&%$%* the whole thing up." 'Cause the drums were done, so I go in there, Eaton's like, "Man, Tommy f*^%$& the drums up. There's too many measures in the song." Tommy was like, "There's not. It's exactly tapped out." Tommy had been working on this thing. I saw him that morning, at breakfast. He's making sure he goes over all his notes. So, what had happened, was Tommy Craig had picked the only version of "Back in the USSR" available on the Internet, that had an extra verse.
Hart Baur: Where he found this, no one knows. But it was there. He played it for us, to prove he wasn't completely crazy. So, we're at Abbey Road, and a girl that we got as a background singer, to do the background vocals for us was a friend of ours, who sings in Paris, comes over. She's like, "Yeah, Pete can save the day. John is playing the wrong key, but this is that and so... " And the guys who were there on Abbey Road were like, "You gotta be kidding me." I mean they're like, "These guys are spending this money to be here, and the drummer doesn't even know what's he's playing?"
This whole thing's filmed. You have us listening to the YouTube thing and like, "No, Tommy, that's not the track. It's not off the White album. This is something else." He's like, "Dude what are you talking about? This is it." I'm like, "No this is something else." John's like, "That's not it, man."
TMN: Oh my god.
Hart Baur: Yeah. So, we're on the clock on Abbey Road, and the drum track, which was supposed to be knocked out early was wrong.
TMN: I couldn't imagine being at Abbey Road and screwing up a Beatles song. [chuckle]
Hart Baur: You can't write it, and it was not planned at all.
TMN: Now, the film has done several festivals right? It's done Raindance, and it did Dances with Films, right?
Hart Baur: It did Raindance, and it did Dances with Films. When it was at Raindance it wasn't really finished. It counted as a world premier, but it wasn't finished. I think it's pretty much ready. What was your take on the film? It ended well, you liked the way it ended?
TMN: Yeah, it was funny, because now that I've gotten to talk to you guys, it makes the film 10 times better, because I'm realizing all that was real. I think, for me one immediate thing that got me into the film is the fact that Alice Cooper narrated it. How did that all happen?
Hart Baur: Well, Alice was someone we had met way back in the day, met him and Shep Gordon. I don't know when. So, they were always on the radar. Personally, my take of what I brought to the band from a creative perspective, was the visuality of it all. KISS, Cooper, even Van Halen, even though it wasn't smoke and fire, it was still a very, very visual, very athletic show. And Cooper was the one who I thought would be perfect for this, because he has an understanding for Vaudeville rock and roll, for theatrical rock and roll, for the realm of the absurd. Shep Gordon also, was a master of that. So when we were getting to the point of getting someone to narrate it, it was like who would be best fit for this. Jon Stewart was the obvious choice. Well, we're friends with Jon, he would probably do it for us. I was like, this is a rock and roll film, although it has nothing to do with music, which is kinda funny, I think. Cooper would be the best one for this. So, I wrote him. Shep Gordon and I were on the phone the next day. Next day, Alice calls me after that, "Let's work this out."
Hart Baur: There are a lot of parallels between his career and this band. And Shep Gordon saw the same thing. And I didn't know this until way after the fact that we're involved in the project. Shep Gordon called the cops on Alice Cooper, several times to get his show broken..
Hart Baur: Yeah. Shep is smart enough to pick up on all that. That was just something that was just very inline. So it was very, very parallel to what Cooper did, in terms of the self-promotion... And what Shep Gordon did, one of the greatest moves he ever did as a manager... This guy's managed everybody.
It was just being quick on your feet and having fun with it and not taking yourself too seriously. But the best thing he did for Alice Cooper was the Toronto Music Festival, wanted to hire Shep Gordon to manage their festival. They were gonna pay him $65,000. This was back in the '70s, which that was a hell of a lot of money, at the time. And it was John Lennon's first concert since the Beatles broke up. The Doors were also playing. Lennon was headlining, so Shep says, "I will manage the festival for you for $1, with the stipulation that Alice Cooper goes between the Doors and John Lennon.
And they agreed to it, sold out 75,000 people, in Toronto. That was when the chicken got torn to shreds by the crowd and Alice Cooper became an overnight infamous sensation. And that was it.
TMN: That's awesome.
Hart Baur: Yeah, so he was really, really, really, really smart, very, very, very brilliant man. But to answer your question, that's how that came about. It came about for me, asking, and it came about from them doing the research and realizing that this is extremely similar to what we did, and they really respected the fact, they respected that there are other people like-minded like them, out there, who can see the world and not think that they're better than somebody, because they play, or in our case, not play a guitar well.
TMN: Tell me about the message of the film Skum Rocks and the new show?
Hart Baur: My take on the message of the film, is more so that it really is a message of, almost hope of pursuing the American Dream. It's very uplifting, I think. How many people in this world grow up and say, "I wanna be a school teacher," or "I wanna be an accountant," or "I wanna be a lawyer." That's not what you play when you're seven, eight years old, very few.
Hart Baur: Everyone wants to be an athlete or a movie star or a rockstar or an astronaut, and those are the games that kids play. I have a six and four-year-old and they play princess and Frozen and that's who they dream of being. They're not gonna become that, of course, but they dream of it.
And what we did was, we went for it. We went for our dreams, even though we really had no plausible expectation of achieving them. We at least did it. And to equate that into the athletic thing, when we were playing, everyone's like, "Well, I could have played for William & Mary if I really wanted to." I'm like, "Well, you can't say that because you don't know." "What do you mean I don't know?" I'm like, "Well, you can't say that. If you went out for it and got cut, at least you would know that you went out for it and gave it your effort. If you went out and made it you would know you made it. But you can't... " "It's like me saying, "Well, I could have played for the Dolphins if I played football." It's easy to say, but it's not true, because how would I know that? If I had played football in high school, played football in college and went out for it then I would know. So we knew that at least we gave it a shot. If this gets out there, and I think it can, I think it could really resurrect a lot of people's dreams before it is completely too late.
TMN: Hey, Hart, man, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me, man. It's been fantastic, and I really enjoyed the film, and I hope it does great things.
Hart Baur: Well, thank you. I hope so. I think something's gonna happen here. We're excited about it.