Luke Spiller and the boys turn the clock back decades for Pamela Des Barres and their fans
It’s a very rare moment when I wish I was a young woman again. Sociologically, musically, spiritually, sexually, I spent my youth cavorting through the most expansive free-lovin’ era; a never-comin’-back timeframe that many younger people wish they could have experienced first hand, mouth, mind and genitals.
Happily, I’ve held on to my youthful attitude and endless desire for music in all its glorious forms. I never miss my longtime faves – Dylan, Sparks, the Old 97s, (seeing them next week!) Bruuuuuce, Paul, Todd Snider and a few others, but it’s been a couple decades since I actually wanted to get my hands, etc. on a rock & roll frontman. (In fact, it was Jack White who aroused that need in me. My heart says yes indeed, but alas…)
Certainly, there is good new music being made these days, but it’s often difficult to discover as it’s mostly a do-it-themselves operation. A&R folks have gone the way of flower crowns, and today’s groupies meet their faves on Instagram. So when the buzz reaches my ears, my curiosity is piqued, and I perk up, ready to rock. I saw Greta Van Fleet at the Troubadour and swayed with the youthful groovers as the wailing Josh Kiszka climbed high into Robert Plantsville, but I found myself wanting to shake them into a bit of charisma, and dress up the entire band in more eye-popping splendor, like the GTO’s once assisted the Alice Cooper lads. And, of course, I’ve been down front for all of Jack White’s various band incarnations. As mentioned, Mr. White was the last rock-god I’d have turned back time for – until recently.
I remember standing with my darling mother as she dressed in front of the mirror at around the age I am now, as she studied her reflection. “I still expect to see a twenty-one year-old staring back at me,” she sighed wistfully. I can dig it, mama. My beloved music and my delightfully young pals are like a continuous elixir transfusion, keeping my love-pump well-oiled and nourished. And they too will eventually find out, the spirit doesn’t age, decay or disappear; I believe it lives on eternally somewhere in the Great Beyond.
Back in 2016, my sagacious son Nick insisted I listen to his favorite new band, The Struts, a quartet of dashing British dandies, possessed with glam glory and excellent swagger. The singer, Luke Spiller, had exceptional cheekbones, the perfect amount of smudgy kohl eyeliner and shimmery lipgloss, (like my long-ago Yardley Slicker) and the devil himself peering through his twinkling peepers. Their first album, “Everybody Wants“, had recently been released. Nick YouTubed me through their various vids and live gigs, and I was equally enthralled by their smashing, thrashing rock and bloody roll – clever lyrics combined with just the right amount of grandiosity, foolishness and cacophonous JOY — missing in the mainstream for way too damn long.
Nothing wrong with the mainstream. That’s where I first heard Elvis, Dion, the Beatles and the Stones. But in the days of long-play FM radio, Top 40 was snubbed by hipsters lost on the Dark Side of the Moon or climbing that tattered Stairway to heavy metal Heaven. The mainstream nowadays is all over the damn place and, thankfully, features more female divas than ever, but not much actual rock & roll unless you subscribe to Sirius XM and stay tuned to Little Steven’s Underground Garage.
When the Struts video, “Primadonna Like Me” (from their latest album “Young and Dangerous“) appeared a couple months ago, I must have watched it a dozen times in a row and played the album over and over like I did with “Revolver“, “Beggars Banquet” and “Blonde on Blonde“. I’m chuffed to see Alice Cooper making a cameo, throwing darts backstage with the band, giving the Struts his Billion Dollar Baby seal of approval.
Luke’s large, wide-open voice and spangled visual has created copious comparisons to Freddie Mercury, whom he admits to adoring, but this front man is not emulating anyone. He’s blessed with that untamed, creamy roar, glint of amused knowing and just the right touch of sultry savoir faire.
Guess what, dolls. The Struts reminded me again that spirit doesn’t age, and the groupie heart is always in bloom. I wanted to meet this band. And my handy dandy Please Kill Me column came in very handy indeed. I was invited to chat with Luke and the boys before their upcoming concert in Ventura, a mere 45-minute drive up the coast, so I invited my dear Nichole, another Struts connoisseur, to come along for the joyride. Nichole is like a daughter to me and has been in my LA writing workshops for ten years, but that night she came as my “assistant,” at the ready to hold the mic, ask a pertinent question and just make the interview a more festive occasion.
From what I’ve been able to discern through the years, many musicians have read my first book, “I’m With The Band“, or have at least heard of my classic shenanigans, and warm up pretty quickly, but as we entered the bus, parked in front of the theatre, Luke was folded into himself, wearing opaque glasses, blank and unreadable. The rest of the band, guitarist Adam Slack, bassist Jed Elliott and drummer Gethin Davies, were gracious and welcoming, but I could tell I was just another journalist in a long line of blatherers on a supremely long-ass tour.
We all sit around together and as an ice-breaker, I pull a copy of I’m with the Band out of my bag as a gift, and ask if perhaps they might have heard of me. Gethin opens the book and begins to read: “The Landmark Motel was in the throbbing heart of Hollyweird on Fountain Avenue…” I tell him that’s when my group The GTOs lived alongside the Alice Cooper band, then Jed asks about my diary entries. “Yeah that’s what made the stories so immediate – ‘I just got in the limo while Zeppelin play their fifth encore to 20,000 screaming fans…oh, here comes Jimmy…’”
“That’s incredible,” Jed remarks, “I mean, we’ve had conversations about you—that’s why I was so embarrassed when you came in, because we’ve all chatted about your book so many times.” Gethin shakes his head, “No one tells us who’s coming to interview us.” Finally, Luke sits up, intrigued, “My girlfriend is reading this book right now,” he marvels, “She’s read sections to me…” Whew. Suddenly all is well in the Struts bus, even though Luke keeps his sunglasses on.
When Nichole asks Luke what his fave rock bio is, he heavily praises “Queen Unseen” by Peter Hince, as a voice comes over the speaker in the bus: Sunday, November 4th, in Ventura California, at the Ventura Majestic Theater, doors are now open; have a mediocre show! “Do they really have to remind you of where you are?” I query, and the band members all agree that after many moons on the road, they indeed need a reminder. “Actually, Luke’s got quite a good hobby,” says Adam, “The other day we had a hotel room and I went in to get a shower and Luke’s in there, high, painting a guitar.” How fascinating,” I muse, “What a cool thing to keep you from going crazy on the road!” Very different from the way Keith Moon used to entertain himself.
“I started doing it for myself, then started getting loads of commission requests,” Luke says, “So in the last couple of years I’ve done into the thirties.” Of course, I have to see these pieces of art, and ask Luke to please show me examples, and for a while Nichole and I ooh and ahh over the beauty and meticulousness of the artistry appearing on Luke’s phone. They are astounding. “Yeah, people want them for certain times of year, people’s birthdays, and… it’s a lot of work. Now I’m gonna just start doing them in my spare time then basically auction them off.” When I mention that one of the beauties looks like it was made for Waylon Jennings, he smiles, “Yeah!”
When I tell the band that I’m mad for them, haven’t been this excited in way too long, and need to turn my Please Kill Me readers on to their spectacular music and how it all began, Jed says, “That means a hell of a lot, given your history! Well, I started because my dad played guitar, and I was playing clarinet at the time. Then I thought, ‘The clarinet isn’t quite as cool as guitar,’ So I started a school band, and I remember having a moment when I played the first song in a talent competition, and it sounds corny as hell, but afterward, this girl came up and asked for my number. And I was like, ‘wow, this is hilarious.’ I mean, that’s not the sole reason I started a band, but it certainly helped.”