Stark Naked and
the Car Thieves is one of the more memorable names in rock 'n
roll history. You can find reference to it throughout the Internet
and histories of the music culture of the California sixties.
If you heard it once you rarely forgot it and you might find how
we came to call ourselves that interesting.
When we arrived in California from Indiana
to play music professionally, we still were known as the Checkmates.
We continued to use that name even though in our short-lived first
professional tour (5 weeks) that ended in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where we
were booked for two weeks and lasted two sets into the first night,
we ran into a problem. Our agent in Nashville had booked us into
a club where a very popular local band had that name
and everyone who showed up to see us was extremely disappointed with the crappy showing we put on that night. While there's more
to that story, the bottom line was we were booed off the stage,
out of that club, and nearly ridden out on a rail, tarred and
feathered out of town by the general populace. It was traumatic,
broke up the band as it stood and led to the decision that
ultimately took us to California. Thinking we had escaped the
Checkmates curse by not being anywhere near Fort Wayne, Indiana,
we used that name at our first solid night club gig at the Towne
Club in Hayward California, where we were just beginning to learn
the craft of a stage band. After a couple of comments from people
entering the club like "Where are the black guys that used
to be in the band? You guys were a lot better then" we began
to realize that the Checkmates were a lot better known and much
bigger than just Fort Wayne, Indiana or even the mid-west. And
it was playing hell with our own self-esteem. We would come even
closer to the Checkmates from Fort Wayne in the years to come.
As we began to gain some popularity in the bay
area, we were offered the opportunity to open a really posh new
club in Jack London Square in Oakland. Since this opening was
going to get a lot of press we figured it was time to come up
with the new name, something we'd been putting off for months.
A whole practice session was taken up with this process and it
was getting tedious and contentious as we ran through the bad,
half-assed and totally ridiculous crop of names that come up in
a session like this. Dave Dunn and I had been in Chicago a couple
of years previous, promoting the record we had out as the Illusions
(In the Still of the Night), when we'd heard some guys in a distributor's
office mention that their group's name was Stark Naked et. al.
We, of course cracked up. When we asked them if that was really
their band's name, they said, no, not really, they had just heard
it somewhere and though it was funny. It had become just kind
of a joke name to us since then. But now, faced with no decision
on a new name, the name surfaced again in the ridiculous category.
We argued and shouted and went away pretty much at an impasse
about what to do for a name.
It turned out that one of the owners of the "Casuals
On The Square", the name of the new club, had been in the
back of the room while we were attempting to reach a consensus
on our new name. He heard the name, figured that was it. The club's
publicist went with it and within a couple of days the ads were
out in all the local papers. Stark Naked & The Car Thieves,
Opening in Jack London Square! My first frantic thought was to
find someone and get this error changed. As a band, we were somewhere
between pissed off and scared to death and decided we should get
it changed before it ruined us, but the club owners told is it
was just too
late. The signs were ordered, the ads and flyers were out and
if we wanted to have a different name, fine but opening night
at the Casuals, we were Stark Naked & The Car Thieves. Get
used to it!
So we did the opening week and used that name
figuring it was only a week, we'd come up with a more innocuous
name when we returned to the Towne Club in Hayward. We hadn't
counted on the Dave Rapkin who owned the Galaxie in San Francisco's
very hot north beach district. He offered the band a year contract,
but we had to keep the name. No small wonder since his club featured
topless dancers. Meanwhile, Herb Caen, fabled society columnist
for the San Francisco Chronicle had picked up on the name and
decided he'd use it in his column just about as often as he could
work it into his column. We were now officially Stark Naked &
the Car Thieves, dragged kicking and screaming, but with no doubt
Allen's part in this name.
We found out much
later, when we went on Steve Allen's variety television
show, that Steve had actually created this name. He used
to have a routine where he would take two hats and place
all singular nouns in one hat and plural nouns in another
and randomly pull them out to form outlandish names.
"After we performed on the show (it was live then),
I was supposed to go over to his desk and talk to him about
it. I forgot, didn't go to the desk so we never really got
to find out more about it then that."
The Wrong Checkmates
The Towne Club