Terry Daktyll’s pale, flute-thin arm reaches up to put another cassette into the empty mouth of the VCR. It’s a recent set-closing performance of David Bowie’s “Rock and Roll Suicide,” shot in early June at a very in spot on the Sunset Strip. The camera work is quite good, the two-camera setup well edited, and the sound is superb. Mick Ronson’s been dead for years but the guitarist on stage could be his twin, 35 years ago. The voice of the David Bowie figure is quite powerful if occasionally shrill; the physical resemblance so above uncanny that it almost inspires fear. And I have been somewhat nervous for the last hour or so, being in the apartment and presence of the founder/ leader/singer of possibly the world’s most arresting tribute band Spice Oddity. From this ancient two-story building off Hollywood Blvd. on Las Palmas, which also conveniently houses the band’s other members, manager, and fan club organizer, will emerge a force that, Terry is convinced, “will rip the entire concept of the ‘tribute band’ a new cloaca.”
The fact that every member of the band is actually female is one of the things that first got it noticed when it formed six months ago. Another is Terry Daktyll’s enduring, cult-like fame as chief songwriter/singer of the early “chick punk” group Bulimia. Fellow Bulimics Tracy Hurley and Sandra Earp are also in Spice Oddity. Original drummer Marsha “Bam Bam” Gorge and sax/cowbell/triangle artiste Stephanie “Upchuck” Wood both tragically passed away in the early nineties, victims of an unnamed eating disorder. One of the most-loved and truly legendary aspects of Bulimia’s reign was the fans’ favorite moment, when after singing the very last note of the night, Terry (then known as “Scary”) Daktyll would vomit on the eager, fortunate fans who had somehow managed to get seating near the stage. “I never sing on an empty stomach,” Terry explains, “and it was important to keep my weight down. I wasn’t about to mess things up backstage. I mean, we’re guests of the venues that have us play. Too many groups these days seem to forget that.”
Something I was actually expecting occurs musically as the song we’re watching on the TV reaches its grandiose end. I ask Terry to rewind about half a minute back and put it on pause. Curious silence, comforted by the low whirr of the VCR in play/reverse allows my eyes to bite into the beauty of Terry’s profile as she studies the TV screen. She’s in her early 40s but could pass for a girl in her late teens, if the observer were on drugs. Certainly not more than 30 if one were not and didn’t know better. Or perhaps 14 or 15 if one did know better but had appeared on “To Catch a Predator.”
“Before we watch the end of the song again, Terry,” I blurted out, “do you miss writing your own songs? As far as I’ve been able to guess, you’ve only been doing other people’s songs for around … well, several years.”
“I haven’t written anything since Bulimia ended. That’s over maybe 20 years. I’m sick of hurting people, influencing bad behavior. I’m sick of having been called a pervert for stuff like “Finger in my Epiglottis” and “Up the Down Foodtube,” which Weight Watchers or someone tried to get banned from the radio. And when Reagan nearly used “Power Hurling as Americans” at that Fourth of July celebration in D.C., I decided to just do covers of other people’s stuff, in a different guise. I mean, I was so misunderstood, so upset, so depressed. I could barely hold down my food as long as I needed to.”
After a much-needed rest in Brazil, Terry returned to L.A. and sang in various cover bands for several years, when she noticed the emergence and acceptance of an entirely new breed: the tribute band.
“Tribute bands,” she explained,” are just cover bands on steroids and THC, for the most part. I lived a couple years with a guy who was ‘Jim Morrison’ in a great Doors tribute band. He had the look, the voice, the moves … but he was friggin’ like that all the time! And people around him acted like he was really Jim Morrison all the time! He would write poetry . . . everyone would eat it up, and it was as bad as the stuff the real Jim Morrison wrote. When he didn’t get the part in Oliver Stone’s movie, he was convinced I had something to do with it. So, I may have known Oliver Stone and Val Kilmer around that time, and maybe I’d been sleeping with one of them on the side, but he had no way of knowing that … he beats me up and leaves, then about a week later shows up on my doorstep with flowers and a note saying ‘Light my Fire.’ He had grown a beard, sort of, and in one hand he was holding a microphone with a cord trailing down by his boots. ‘Dan,’ I said, and he interrupts, ‘Call me Jim, baby. You know I love you madly. Wontcha ride my storm?’ And I swear I couldn’t help it – I threw up all over him and haven’t talked to him since.
“Some tribute bands become engulfed – possessed by the characters they’re playing. Reality becomes some quaint concept, rarely addressed. You gotta have a sense of humor, if nothing else. My first semi-successful tribute band was with me on keyboards and backup vocals. We did covers of Partridge Family hits. We were called ‘The Family’ but we dressed like the Manson family; the guitarist who sang lead looked just like Charles Manson, the drummer looked like Tex Watson and so on. I was Sandra something. We did revise some of the lyrics. I remember ‘Come On, Get Crazy’ and ‘I Think I’ll Kill You,’ and we did a lot of private parties in Topanga Canyon. They really would get off when we did ‘Helter Skelter,’ which I always objected to, since I don’t think it was ever even a Partidge Family song, and that’s bad for cred. When ‘Charlie’ suggested we cut little x’s on our foreheads and take a few months off to take some dune buggies out to the desert, I said, ‘no thanks, man,’ and split. I’ve never trusted any Scientologists since then.”
It’s time to watch the very end of the video again. I point out to Terry that everyone I’ve ever seen do this song misses the A major near the end. And this is no exception. “Omigod!” she half-cries, half-whispers, then rushes to her piano, feeling out some chords. “Really? Really? Omigod, you’re right! How… where… how did you know?”
“I was there,” I replied. “I ate up that album; I loved it then. I still love it, and I’d love to hear somebody finally get it right.”
We put on our clothes and said our farewells. She invited me back to another show in Santa Monica the next weekend. Despite the seemingly-momentous correction I’d revealed, it was as if it had never been offered. No A major. But the crowd was screaming – joyous, ecstatic again that night for the thin white puke, who told me backstage afterward that she had forgotten all about fixing the ending of “Rock and Roll Suicide.”
“Who really cares, Hose, besides you? Anyway, it’s not your song. It’s mine.”
“It’s David Bowie’s,” I insisted.
“Yeah, like I said, it’s mine. So lighten up and gimme a kiss.”
The transformation seemed to have become complete. “Gosh I’m sorry, David,” I said as I backed away from her and began heading toward the stage door. “You know I’m not into guys.”