Tales of Terror

Bad Dream or Acid Trip?

Posted on January 1, 2010 – 9:21 PM | by OldManFoster
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By Guphy Gustafson  photos by Kaysh Shinn

One of the most influential bands Sacramento ever produced, punk legends Tales of Terror ruled Sacramento’s underground music scene a quarter century ago. Derailed by tragedy twenty-four years ago this month, the question remains: Why is one of the most important Sacramento bands of all time all but forgotten in their own home town?

Often cited as the foundation of the grunge movement, ToT blended hardcore, psychedelia and rock to form an original high-energy sound that had a lasting impact on music fans around the country, including Kurt Cobain.  Based at the Stucco Factory, Sac’s legendary artists’ warehouse on R Street, Tales of Terror toured relentlessly and also played seemingly every punk venue in town- Club Minimal, the Entertainment Factory on Fair Oaks, On Broadway (now Pho Bac), the Clunie Auditorium and even the Crest.

The Tales of Terror cast of characters: Rat’s Ass (Pat Stratford, singer); Dusty Coffin (AKA Boots, AKA Geoff Magner, bass); Luther Storms (AKA Emperor Fuckshit, AKA Lyon Wong, guitar), Capt. Trip Mender (Steve Hunt, guitar), Thopper Jaw (AKA Thumper, AKA Mike Hunter, drummer).  It’s like a fucking Russian novel with all the nicknames, it took me ages to sort them out.

Formed by Stratford and Magner out of the ashes of the Square Cools, one of Sac’s first punk bands, Tales of Terror were different from the start.   Fueled by epic amounts of alcohol and later, LSD, their performances were high-energy, even by the standards of Hardcore bands of the time. But what really set them apart was their range of influences, which ran from rockabilly to seventies rock.  Tales of Terror were Elvis fans, which explains both their badass cover of “Hound Dog” (which had migrated from the Square Cools set list), and the song “Over Elvis Worship” which describes a tattoo on a body part that most men are terribly protective of and features the lyrics, ”Shaking my balls all over the place, with a smile upon my face.”  Shake it!

Unlike the stereotypical punk band, Tales of Terror knew how to play their instruments- but that didn’t stop the belligerent, in your face assault of booze soaked rock.  Their frenetic shows were the stuff of legend – backflips from the stage, Rat’s Ass (or the whole band) wrapping themselves in duct tape and slowly ripping it off during the set, the obligatory jumps and poses, drinking out of a bottle while using both hands to play, anything and everything.  An array of youtube videos clearly shows their live energy and exuberance.  In the July 2008 issue of Exclaim magazine Mudhoney’s Mark Arm (whose earlier band Green River covered ToT’s “Ozzy” on their 1986 Dry As a Bone EP) listed some of their gigs as the most inspirational he had seen:

“They were one of the wildest bands I’ve ever seen. They were obviously kids who were rooted in punk and hardcore but they were expanding things a little bit, like they did “Spanish Castle Magic” and the drummer had this really nice Mitch Mitchell [of the Jimi Hendrix Experience] kinda feel instead of the hardcore, like ‘1-2, 1-2, 1-2’ kinda thing. The singer would do back flips and, by the end of their set, everyone was wrapped up in each other’s cords and rolling on the ground and I’m like, ‘This is what a rock show should be.’”

Their live shows have been compared to The Stooges and early Guns and Roses (who some suggest ‘borrowed’ Tales of Terror’s “Danant” as the basis for “Used to Love Her.”)   By 1984 they were on top of their game, touring, playing all over town, and supporting big name punk acts like The Vandals, Dead Kennedys, and Fang.  Word is that when they opened for Social Distortion they were so spectacular that everyone booed Social D when they took the stage. And rightly so. They played the last show ever at Stewart Katz’s infamous all ages venue Club Minimal.  Hell, they might have played the first show there, they played there a lot, even though it was only open a year.

Their one album, the self-titled Tales of Terror, was released in 1984 on a San Francisco label, CD Presents, and is revered today as a great example of California skate punk.   Though distribution was limited (it is estimated that less than 5000 copies were pressed) the record’s influence stretched far beyond Sac’s borders.   Many, including Mark Arm, cite Tales of Terror as a key inspiration for the then-burgeoning Grunge scene.   Dave Chavez, of seminal SF punk band Verbal Abuse, quoted in Gimme Something Better, thinks the connection could have been even deeper. “With the right management and maybe a little bit of rehab here and there, Tales of Terror probably would have been the Nirvana and broke.”

Though ToT toured heavily during their brief career, it was a more direct link that initially brought them to the attention of the Northwest flannel-wearing set.  Stratford knew Alex Vincent, Green River’s drummer, from high school.

Green River is sometimes considered the first grunge band, but they are more famous for the bands that sprung from their breakup, Mudhoney and, uh, Pearl Jam. (Both fans of my writing will be pleased to hear that I hope to never mention Pearl Jam again, ever.)  Mudhoney later released a song called “Tales of Terror,” and if that isn’t enough grunge cred for you, Kurt Cobain mentions Tales of  Terror twice in his journals- the LP appears at number 32 in his list of his top 50 albums (Meet the Beatles is  #37) and the song “Chamber of Horrors,” which has lyrics as lackadaisical as some of Nirvana’s best, is mentioned in a list of songs.

The original LP is now rare. (There was a copy on Ebay in November that sold for $33.00 and none since. Why didn’t I buy it? Why!?!)  Downloads sometimes appear on the internet, but they are usually quite hidden. Like every band, they have a MySpace page with a few songs to check out and I was able to snag a “Rat’s Ass Approved” CDR of their complete issued output through murky channels.  The original record has been out of print for twenty years; there have been speculations and hopes of an impending re-release, but it is a tangled web. The songs may or may not be owned by CD Presents, who never paid royalties and I am more than ready to talk shit about, or by Alternative Tentacles, who I won’t. Either way, don’t look for it soon.

It all came to and end on the night of January 5th, 1986.  Rumors and rampant speculation have swirled around the incident for years, but the facts are sadly straightforward. Lyon Wong was walking late at night near the Zebra Club when some teenagers in a truck drove by and yelled at him.  Someone with Wong yelled back, and the teens circled the block and pulled over.  During the ensuing melee, Wong went down, hitting his head on the curb; he was dead by the time he arrived at Sutter General. The teenager who threw the punch that sent Wong to the sidewalk was a minor; he received only six months in prison.

Some less substantiated stories of that night have been repeated over and over: that the truck was full of Sac High jocks; that the light sentence was because the perp was a star on the football team; that Lyon was hit from behind. I could only find a small article about Lyon Wong’s death in the Bee and nothing at all about the trial.  I did find out the name of the kid who struck Wong and learned that after feeling terrible about what had happened for his entire life, he too was killed by horrific violence. I vote that we leave both of their memories in peace.

Like that, it was over.  The band opted not to continue without Lyon Wong.  The various members drifted into other groups, most notably the Pirates of Venus, the Cactus Liquors and the Whorelords.  None ever received the attention- or the acclaim- of Tales of Terror.  Those who knew Lyon Wong described him to me as one of the brightest lights they ever knew- a musician and artist, and a really fun guy.   Twenty-four years after his death, his memory is still bright.  If time has been kind to Wong’s memory, other members of Tales of Terror have not had it so easy.  Dusty Coffin died of a methadone overdose in 2004.  Rat’s Ass suffered a series of strokes that have left him impaired and unable to live on his own.   Rock and Roll has never been known for its retirement plan.

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  1. 28 Responses to “Tales of Terror”

  2. josephine wells

    By josephine wells on Apr 16, 2010 | Reply

    I have an un-opened copy of the TOT record. You may wonder where i got it? I was Pat Stratfords girlfriend for about 3 years in the 90′s. He made me promise that i’d never open it and i haven’t in 16 yrs. At the time he only had 3 copys left. 1 for him, 1 for his mother, and 1 for the girl he loved. I will always treasure it. People have tried to get that from me but i don’t think i need to say that its PRICELESS. He also gave me vhs tapes of other projects he’s done along with TOT stuff because he knew that they would need safe keeping. If he reads this…I’d like him to know ” i still got em ”

    joesphine

  3. Jonas Calacsa

    By Jonas Calacsa on Jun 5, 2010 | Reply

    Nice article…I always wondered what happened to them–I had a copy of the record also–I let my buddy borrow it and haven’t seen it for 5 years–

  4. Epaminondas

    By Epaminondas on Jun 29, 2010 | Reply

    I’m not too sure that the perp died. My recollection is that he was a star qb for Cordova High, not Sac High. If it’s the same guy, he went on to a major university and had a cup of coffee in the pros. I’m interested because he was the football coach where I coach. And he allegedly covered up multiple sexual assaults on campus by one of his players, including a young lady I CONSIDER MY DAUGHTER. This young lady was the only one of many assaulted, who had the courage to testify. She caught a lot of SHIT from the other victims, and the FOOTBALL TEAM. For all of her trouble, NOTHING WAS DONE. Are his initials, TT? Am I getting warmer? After the multiple rapes in the girls’ bathroom which were covered up by the fb coach, A.D., admininstration, campus police, police dept. This fb coach and possible juvenile murderer conveniently found a job as an announcer at his alma mater. He still comes around the campus to privately coach kids. He is very personable. A real charmer. I intend to expose him, the school admin, the police dept., and ALL who let a SERIAL RAPIST go free.

  5. Joseph Malki

    By Joseph Malki on Sep 20, 2010 | Reply

    I remember Tales of Terror and the excitement of meeting the Wong brothers. I remember that both of the surviving brothers were very talented too (one was a step-son who did recording at the Stucco Factory – does anyone remember his name?). The Sactown Hard Core Punk scene was wonderfully political and vibrant. Unfortunatly, from time to time the violence between jocks, black gangs, mods, skin heads, vattos’, punks, etc. always ended tragically. We all remember Nazi Bob. I was influenced by the anti-establishment nature of the music and power of people fighting the insanity of the Reagan era. That included the punk assault on city hall when they tried to close Club Minimal down. I am proud to say I threw a roll of toilet paper on fire that was caught on the local news during the forray. Tales of Terror provided home grown talent and energy for a generation of people who were empowered to take on totalitarianism. Unfortunately, we all just too high to make much of a difference…the outcome of the post-hippie/post-punk word became a sad compromise known as the green movement. Which could be seen as a largely a bourgeois proposition. Perhaps Tales of Terror were right in their cynical attitude found in these lyrics for the song Evil:

    I don’t care about you,
    Why should you care about me?
    You don’t care for me,
    Why should I care about you?

    When will we ever figure it out?
    We’re just animals,
    Peace will never work

    There’s too much evil
    There’s too much evil
    There’s too much evil
    There’s too much evil

  6. Craig Hickox

    By Craig Hickox on Oct 20, 2010 | Reply

    I still have my Tales of Terror LP and the Tales of Terror song book. Have my copy of Them Boners be Poppin’ too.

    They were the best band I ever saw live. Of course, Stratford singing “Hello there ladies & gentlmen” while fronting the Virus of Penis, I mean Pirates of Vevus wasn’t bad either but his best work was with ToT. ToT/Fang shows at Club Pitiful (Minimal) & Club Can’t Pay (Tell) were legend.

    Great article Guphy

  7. straightuprighthooktotheface

    By straightuprighthooktotheface on May 8, 2011 | Reply

    I know why Lyon Wong was killed. He was guilty of being Asian. It’s obvious that it was a hate crime. I’ve been in many similar situations where I’m walking down the street and cars of frat boys or high school kids yell racial epithets at me. That is until they find out that I carry a .44 magnum on me at all times. If only Lyon had a .44 on him, he’d still be alive.

  8. bob ficenec

    By bob ficenec on May 16, 2011 | Reply

    Pat was my best friend at cordova lane elementary school and Mitchell Junior High we used to skate anywhere and everywhere we could we saw each other during high school and I watched his various projects play. He was a great performer skater and gymnast, he took me to one of his gymnastics classes once he was incredible. I spent many nights at the Stratford house his dad was a music teacher I remember the trumpet, my mom babysat Pat and Charlie. If they’re out there hi Pat, Charlie, Eloise and Mac(?). If anyone knows how to get a hold of him post it here.

  9. venice dave

    By venice dave on Jun 28, 2011 | Reply

    my memory from those days is sketchy, according to the article they played the last show at minimal. the first show they played in my recollection was in roseville at a legion type hall in the old part of town with maybe los olividados. there were only about a dozen skaters there and they shredded the wood floors during the show.

  10. J Rowe

    By J Rowe on Aug 6, 2011 | Reply

    I came from Modesto and spent many weekends up in Sac checking out bands at various clubs (drinking & drop’n acid too)…I loved TOT and got the chance to see them a couple times, the most memorable for me was a show at The Crest on K street mall w/ Problem Fish (from Modesto). I’m not sure who else was on the bill, I mainly just remember TOT…we threw handfuls of pennies & plastic fish at the stage & Rat’s Ass was having a blast fucking with us back…anyone remember them doing a cover of “Hey, Hey we’re the Monkees” but changing the lyrics to “hey, hey we’re the junkies”?? haha, good times.
    I remember when Lyon died as well, I was actually in town that weekend hanging with some old friends…
    So what ever happened to people like Nazi Bob, Darby & Bluto, James No Class, Graham? anyone know??…jeez, I can’t remember anyone else’s names…too much partying maybe?

  11. Steven Danz

    By Steven Danz on Nov 2, 2011 | Reply

    My uncle was Geoff Magner I couldn’t have asked for anybody cooler he was very nice and sweet to me and my mom. I remember the last time I saw him was at his house with his girl friend Chris. I remember when he smoked he blew it out of his nostrils and looked like a dragon and he had an Anton LaVey beard. He had about six dogs and a cat all of them he had rescued he really like animals. I miss him so much.
    RIP

  12. JJ

    By JJ on Mar 27, 2012 | Reply

    These dudes….

  13. Steven Widow

    By Steven Widow on Jul 21, 2012 | Reply

    I remember going to Geoff’s house and he had a lot of skulls and stuff to the point it looked like something out of chainsaw massacre and he had a shitload of Kiss stuff

  14. Steven Widow

    By Steven Widow on Jul 21, 2012 | Reply

    Can you maybe email me a scan of the songbook?

  15. Phil Johnson

    By Phil Johnson on Oct 23, 2012 | Reply

    I am the original singer for the whorelords, cowrote most of the songs and three of us are still alive. Tom Johnson mike Farrell and that would be me. I’m down for a reunion punks not dead just smells like i. Also my sister Julie was square cool original manager. The mighty whore lords want to fornicate you all.

  16. phil johnson

    By phil johnson on Feb 6, 2013 | Reply

    rats ass told me once that ” the whorelords was the funnest band he was ever in”

  17. neil franklin

    By neil franklin on Feb 6, 2013 | Reply

    Best Sacramento band ever. Period. My first show was the club minimal emergency rent benefit. Trying out stage diving, I landed on my head and was knocked out for 10 minutes during there set. Very proud of that. Still can picture them inside a car during the sac streetstyle at tower on watt. Epic fucking band.

  18. Nazi Bob

    By Nazi Bob on Feb 19, 2013 | Reply

    Love the Band, had a lot of closeness with them I have never been able to find again… Any of you who were at the entertainment factory show where they opened for Fang will remember the constant banter between Pat and I…Hey hey we’re the junkies was pats response to our shooting speed… he was’nt happy with it at all… Saw him last about ten years ago and was supposed to go fishing together but never followed through. Went back to federal prison for just bout 5 years…. I’m fine, good shape and great health… Prison preserves. That and I was married for 17 years, sired 7 children and now bust my ass to support them…. Fuck 215… I made a lot more money as an outlaw. Darby is tattooing in orangevale at a shop called black rose… Ran into him recently… Can’t believe we lost Magner.. I still have a divet in my shin from where that fucker hit me with a skateboard when I was 13…. A reunion? I’m down… All you fuckers ain’t got to worry about ur girlfriends anymore… Its’s your 20 something daughters.

  19. Ill mikey

    By Ill mikey on Apr 16, 2013 | Reply

    I’m pretty sure I sold that lp on eBay in 2010 mentioned in the article here. I remember going out to Chinese food with Andy mike e and pat and Eric hogan In the mid 90′s pat had some rad stories. What up bob^

  20. Rachel

    By Rachel on Jun 20, 2013 | Reply

    Wow- just found this page. I am writing a paper for college (after going back) about that time and Lyon . God, I remember the march to city hall- and drinking under the overpass at club minimal. Feeling old when I explain it to my 15 yr old .

  21. William Burg

    By William Burg on Jun 22, 2013 | Reply

    Rachel, do you know the date of the march to City Hall? What year did it happen?

  22. Eric the Red

    By Eric the Red on Aug 7, 2013 | Reply

    Can’t find nazi Bob. Seems to have gotten spun out and caught up.

  23. Eric the Red

    By Eric the Red on Aug 7, 2013 | Reply

    First met nazi Bob in H unit kiefer blvd. dude was using salt to scrub a 13 from his skin cause he was goin to ya. Dude was a living legend at 17 years old. Not sure his reputation precedes him any
    More. I’ve helped that fucker out more than most peckerwoods would, put my money and ass on the line more than a few times. Good dude, but can’t find him anymore. I think the worst may h ave happened. He owes me, but he has worse trouble than that. Hopin he’ll get right/white one day

  24. Chris Squire

    By Chris Squire on Sep 8, 2013 | Reply

    What ever became of him? Any other bands?

  25. Matthew Johnson

    By Matthew Johnson on Oct 8, 2013 | Reply

    These guys were a amazing band. Its such a bummer Wong was murdered. I mean their lives were filled with terror but they seem pretty fearless. The worlds not a right place. If it was these guys would be headlining arenas all across the Globe. But its all CHOW.

  26. Nick Domich

    By Nick Domich on Nov 30, 2013 | Reply

    Ozzy!

  27. Matthew Johnson

    By Matthew Johnson's Johnson on Jan 1, 2014 | Reply

    Hey I read my comment. Its the new year and I’m blasting Tales of Terror! You can find it on amazon in mp3 for 7 bucks. Download it! Long live Tales of Terror! I’ll hate the HERD forever for not making this band rich and famous. Burn down their churches!

  28. Liam

    By Liam on Feb 20, 2014 | Reply

    Hey guys, I am a major Tales of terror fan!! I was lucky to find their album on Youtube I know there were some copies of their album autographed by Rat’s ass on ebay.
    Has anybody got the songs of theirs called: LSD for Africa and Texas against the world?

    It’s a shame about Lyon Wong and there isn’t much information about that which is sad. I heard that Pat has been very sick with stroke and has partial blindness as a result, Dusty’s death is sad too. What an amazing band and I would love to converse with all of you, hear old stories after all we seem to be a minority here very sad indeed I hope Tales of terror get their due respect.

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