Rock 'N Roll Case Study: Doctors Mob
This installment talks about DOCTORS MOB, the "drunk rock" band of '80s. The band didn't fit into the "star mold" of that decade. The radio of the '80s was a sterile wasteland, with repeated plays of Phil Collins and his ilk, ad nauseum. Enter Doctors Mob, named after a little known rebellion in colonial America. Their debut album, HEADACHE MACHINE is one of the few albums of the '80s that still sound fresh today. Despite their excellent debut album and a so-so follow up, Doctors Mob found little success outside of their home base of Austin, Texas. The band was plagued by often-humorous (in hindsight) bad luck, which ultimately led to their breakup. When you hear the band stories (like how their tour van was stolen in NYC) you are reminded of Spinal Tap. But, Doctors Mob really happened!

Doctors Mob
By Ronnie

Doctors Mob was one of my favorite bands of the '80s. It was refreshing to have a band that took the immediacy and irreverence of punk, the melodic hooks of power-pop and the volume of hard rock. The motto of the band was "show up drunk, show up late or don't show up at all" and while alcohol fueled many of their live shows, the band COULD play! To see the band live was an experience where you never knew what to expect, with the band always throwing out the unexpected cover-version. I caught a lot of their live shows at both the Continental and Liberty Lunch and killed A LOT of brain cells in the process (hey it WAS the excessive '80s!). But it was that 'unexpected' element, plus some damn memorable songs, which had me coming back for more time and time again.

One memory came to mind while I was writing about the band. It was the record release party for the band's 2nd album, SOPHOMORE SLUMP at Waterloo Records in Austin. Another local band, Zeitgeist (soon changed to "the Reivers") was also celebrating an album release that day at the same store and both bands were in attendance. Since it was a dual-release party, albums by both bands adorned the shelves near the entrance. As is the common practice with bands even today, stickers are used for promotional devices. But, upon closer scrutiny, you could see that DOCTORS MOB stickers had been placed on the Zeitgeist album as well! Not just placed casually on the albums, but over the band's name! And you couldn't just pull them off the plastic shrink-wrap of the albums-they were there to stay! My friends and I started laughing at the hilarity of this "sticky" situation when one of the members of Zeitgeist noticed what we were laughing about and proceeded to have a meltdown! This only increased the level of laughter. It was then that I noticed the look on Glen Benavides' [Doctors Mob drummer] face. Glen had a mischievous Keith Moon-like grin, which told you that he probably did it, but you couldn't prove it. This story shows the attitude of the band: never be above having fun!

I recently talked to two members of Doctors Mob, Steve Collier and Don Lamb. We talked about the original goals of Doctors Mob and if their views have changed in hindsight.

Right: 1st lineup of the band (left to right: Jimmy Doluisio, Glenn Benavides, Steve Collier and Don Lamb)

E.C.: In rock ‘n roll there is always that need to pigeonhole a band into certain “style”. Doctors Mob was described as both a “new sincerity” band and “drunk rock”. Then there was your group’s motto “show up drunk, show up late, or don’t show up at all.” How much of this was “image” and how much was true? The lyrics to “Why Should You Care Now?” pop into mind: ”the critics pulling out his pen/ oh no, we’re in for it again/ the bad reviews will come and take their toll/ who said its only rock and roll?” Did you guys just want to have a good time on stage AND get the music across? The “new sincerity” moniker just sounds so pompous and Doctors Mob was NEVER pompous. However, the music was good enough where the band could have an attitude. Am I on the mark here?

Don: We didn't come up with "new sincerity", that tag was made up by someone who thought any band with torn jeans and untucked shirts all fit into the same category. The common thread among bands like True Believers, Wild Seeds, Zeitgeist and Doctors' Mob was that we all were friends, liked each others bands, helped each other out, and all had distinctive sounds. I think our sound changed along the way more than the others because we changed as musicians along the way. I had never played in a band before, Steve had been in a Mod type band, Glenn was a huge Kiss fan etc. We started out just playing along with each other and over time grew more comfortable and were able to play together, bring our own influence into the songs. That's why you hear big differences in the early recordings and live tapes compared to later stuff. We were tagged "New Sincerity" at one point, but our first live review headline was about being a danceable pop band, and later that we were Aerosmith transformed. We all wanted the band to be fun, and it was for the most part. We all wanted the people who came to see us to have fun with us, and they did for the most part. Drinking helped all of us achieve that (at least we thought so at the time). So the motto was the product of a real conversation early on. It was not something we worked at to keep up, it was just the by-product of our attitudes. I would hope the music came across to people along with whatever our attitudes were perceived to be. We never claimed to be saving the world but Steve had a great way of putting his own thoughts down in a way people could enjoy.

Steve: We pretty much just wanted to be a rock band from the start. We got lumped in with the "New Sincerity" crowd because of when we started, but we never wanted to be part of all that. The whole "Show Up Drunk, Show up late, or don't show up at all" thing started as a joke actually. In a very early incarnation of Doctors' Mob there was a drummer I used to play with (not Glenn!) who would literally show up to play shows either drunk, late or not at all. We were joking about this and came up with the motto which we put on T-shirts and jackets. We never knew it would turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy!

When I first started playing in bands in Austin, I played drums for the Big Boys who were completely about having fun and not at all career-minded about music. Later when I started Doctors' Mob, things were starting to get pretty competitive and people were taking their bands really seriously. REM had just broken through and people were really into getting signed to a major or whatever. The local press also was always rating the current "best band in Austin", and betting on who was going to hit the big time. I don't know if it was fear of failure, but we didn't want to run the race with everyone else, so we tended to self-destruct a lot. The music was always treated seriously by the band although our presentation wasn't.

E.C.: Steve was the primary writer for Doctors Mob, but as a band what style were you trying to convey in the songs? The energy of punk rock, the melodic charm of power-pop and the power of heavy metal?

Steve: I was always into heavy sounding melodic rock and imitated the styles of a lot of those bands. I was really into The Jam and The Who and power pop stuff like Cheap Trick. When we started opening for bands like Samhain and the Circle Jerks, we would play faster and louder to cover up how much melody we had so people wouldn't throw things at us. I think that it eventually turned into our sound.

Don: What's wrong with all of the above? Style was not a concern, good songs were the important thing. Nobody wants to do crappy songs in a certain style. We all put our parts in hoping to make the song its best. Sometimes that meant distortion, sometimes fast, sometimes slow etc. We never said some part brought to the song didn't fit our style. It may not have fit the song but that's another issue.

E.C.: Did the coverage that Doctors Mob got from the 1985 MTV_s "Cutting Edge" help or hurt the band? If memory serves me, it seems that the only thing that came out of that show was that Timbuk 3 was signed (and they weren’t even a true Austin band).

Don: I don't think it helped as much as we would have all liked. It focused the media on Austin for awhile and that was great, but in the long run we only saw minimal impact. A few times while on tour we would hear "I saw you on MTV last night" after they would rerun that episode. Only one band came out of that with a bright future. The rest went back to begging for a place to stay at the end of each show.

Steve: It definitely helped us. The Cutting Edge show was about the only indie national music show at that time, so suddenly people knew who we were. We didn't see "Drs. Mom" nearly as much on club marquees after that.

E.C.: You guys always seemed to open for cool bands, such as Husker Du, that seemed to be the best exposure. What bands did you enjoy playing with the most?

Steve: There were a lot of great bands we played with. I remember we played some shows in Missouri with Camper Van Beethoven on their first tour. We went to the college radio station where they were going to interview both bands, and we realized they had no idea what either band looked like. So Camper went and did the Doctors' Mob interview and we did theirs. The people at the station just thought we were really messed up. Another memorable night was playing with Poison 13 and the Replacements at Liberty Lunch. It was so cold outside that people were starting bonfires all through the crowd to keep warm. It was totally chaotic.

Don: We started out opening for things like Love Tractor and Chris Stamey then went on to Green on Red, Guadalcanal Diary, Husker Du and the Replacements. I don't remember opening for bands as a regular thing but in one two week period in Austin we opened for Husker Du, Butthole Surfers and Meat Puppets. I think every other band in town hated us for awhile after that. The best times opening for other bands was when we would play with other bands from Austin while on tour. Playing with Glass Eye in New York or Wild Seeds in North Carolina or True Believers in New York are some of my favorite road memories.

E.C.: HEADACHE MACHINE is one of my favorite albums of the ‘80s. It’s immediate, catchy, clever and well…it just rocks! While I loved SOPHOMORE SLUMP, the songs seemed to lack some of the lyricism and melodic punch of the first album. I mean, what the hell is the song “Pat Blashill” about?! I love the time signature of the song, but could never figure out what the lyrics meant. How do you compare the writing of the songs from both albums?

Steve: The first album was recorded really quickly by Chris Gates, who did a great job. I remember at the time, Spot was producing all those great Husker Du albums and had just moved to Austin. I mentioned to Chris about Spot producing us, and Chris told me he knew all of Spot's production methods from working on the Big Boys albums, so Chris got the job. I think we paid him in beer.

It's a bit cliche, but basically Sophomore Slump was mostly rejects from Headache Machine. After the first album we were too busy touring and playing rock star to write new material. Only about four songs on the album were written after Headache Machine. The song "Pat Blashill" was a joke that probably should have come out as a B-side or something. Pat is a friend of mine who was the original manager of Doctors' Mob. One night he said, "Why don't you write about something interesting, like MEEEEE!" Many beers and three chords later, a song was born. We even got slagged in a review claming we wrote a song to diss an ex-band member.

Don: I remember the first album being easy to come up with. We played alot more and practiced more early on so we naturally wrote more songs. The second album was some left over stuff reworked and some stuff we were still writing up to the time we were in the studio. I don't remember being all that confident in what the second album was turning out like.

E.C.: Speaking of which, can you describe how the demo of SOPHOMORE SLUMP differed from the finished product? Was it closer to the first album?

Steve: We did a demo of the album for Relativity with Mike Stewart and it sounded pretty close to us live. We probably should have had Mike produce the second album.

Don: The finished album sounds much more energetic. We got bogged down in trying to make an album instead of capturing what we were about. It was miles away from the first album, which is why we went back in and rerecorded guitar and vocals. We wanted to bring some life back to it.

E.C.: Also, since the band had its pick of producers, do you think the finished product would have been much different if you had picked Bob Mould instead of Tommy Erdelyi?

Don: Who knows? We thought Tommy would work well with us. He had done the Replacements and was on his way to do Redd Cross. He was the producer for the Ramones greatest albums so who could have guessed the outcome. We were intimidated by a living legend and did not assert ourselves enough. After he left to do Redd Cross and we had a chance to listen back to what we had, we all agreed it needed work. Fortunately our label agreed and was willing to let us go back in on our own and redo some of it.

Steve: Probably, but at the time working with a Ramone was a big deal for us. Tommy produced something a lot slicker than we expected, although in his defense, in 1986 people still thought that if you toned it down a tad, you'd get radio airplay.

E.C.: Steve’s web site mentions a current musical project with John Clayton. Can you describe the music for me? Will it be released?

Steve: John and I started The Sidehackers in 1993. That project broke up about 1996, but we've been writing and recording together since that time as the Rite Flyers. John's a great songwriter and bass player and our tastes in music are really similar. Some of the songs are four track recordings we made and other songs were recorded with Jim Eno, the drummer of Spoon, in his home studio. The music's pretty Beatlesque, but there's some noisy stuff on there too. We're just about to master the record. so hopefully it'll be out in a few months.

E.C.: Any projects from you Don?

Don: I have not played with anyone in a real format since the band. I have done some stuff with one of my daughters at her piano recital and played with some friends from work at a hoot night. I have different priorities now then when I was younger. I have worked at record stores for 20 years and have been at Waterloo for 17 so music is still most of my day.

E.C.: Steve, out of all the groups that you’ve played with (for instance, the Big Boys), was Doctors Mob the most memorable or satisfying to you?

Steve: Definitely the most fun. Glenn is a great drummer and is hilarious to hang out with. Don always came up with cool guitar sounds, Jimmy wrote great songs when he was in the band, and Tim was the "secret weapon" of our live performances. When the chemistry worked, it was great.

Right: 2nd lineup of the band (left to right: Don Lamb, Glenn Benavides, Tim Swingle and Steve Collier)

E.C.: It was great to see the only two full-length Doctors Mob albums (HEADACHE MACHINE & SOPHOMORE SLUMP) finally released on CD (LAST ONE IN THE VAN DRIVES). That leaves the SHE SAID EP as the only “Mob” vinyl that hasn’t seen CD release. Are there any plans for this to eventually see a CD release? What about the original demo for SOPHOMORE SLUMP?

Don: If there is a sucker out there dumb enough to pay for it, we could scrape together enough outtakes and live stuff to make a CD. I don't know if anyone would want it. We have a friend who put together a CD of that kind of stuff for us. Some of it I had forgotten about, others I wish I could. All in all entertaining to very few I have a feeling.

Steve: When we put together the CD compilation we wanted to have the She Said EP included, but we couldn't fit it all on one CD. I think there are only five or six songs recorded for the Sophomore Slump demo, so I doubt if it'll come out.

E.C.: Or what about recorded live performances by the band? I have a cassette tape of Doctors Mob playing live on KLBJ (“Local Licks” I believe was the show) promoting the SOPHOMORE SLUMP album. Did the band record any of the live gigs?

Steve: God, I hope not.

Don: I have tapes of early stuff. The very first show we did opening for the Big Boys. Thanks to Steve, we had an in with them and they were nice enough to let us work out our first gig jitters in front of their fans. It is hilarious to hear that timidness and fear coming from the stage. Songs that we never played again are on there along with songs that became other songs. I have some live radio stuff and some demos we did before ever signing a record deal.

E.C.: The Doctors Mob story almost reads like “Spinal Tap”! You would almost expect a scenario with an out of town gig where the marquee read, “Doctors Mom”! But, in reality you had founding members quit (Jimmy Doluisio), they were building the recording studio around you when you recorded your first album, your van was stolen on tour, no-one could locate the master tapes years later to transfer your albums to CD’s etc. Was this sting of bad luck the ultimate cause of the break up of the band? The Doctors Mob story sounds like an excellent subject for a “Spinal Tap of the ‘80s-like movie”, at least a very entertaining book!

Don: I think it would make a better Video game. You pick your band, go on tour and try to reach the end of your tour while having to battle evil club owners, record companies who change A&R people on you, van problems, personality problems, bizarre fans, money trouble, you name it and it becomes an obstacle on your journey. In looking back at it when we get together once in awhile we had a great time with lots of great memories. They seem hilarious to us but would probably bore anyone else. That's o.k.

Steve: We did seem to have unusually bad luck, although most of it seems funny now. I think the band broke up because we were exhausted. There weren't any of the outlets for exposure that indie bands have today, and we all were tired of coming home from tours to work at bad jobs, just so we could go out again in two months.

E.C.: What are the other guys from the band doing today?

Steve: Everyone's stayed around the Austin area. Glenn works at a printing company. Tim has a contracting company and I'm doing freelance animation. I haven't talked to Jimmy in a while, but I think he's working at UT.

Don: I work at Waterloo [Records]. I don't know what Glenn is up to. I haven't heard from Jimmy in many years.

E.C.: The band has done several reunion shows over the years. Is there any chance of another studio album? Just as a lark?

Steve: Not if we're lucky.

I don't think anyone's playing much anymore, and the new songs I've written are all going to the Rite Flyers project. But on the other hand, who knows?

Don: If Steve wants to write songs, and someone wants to pay for the Studio, I'm there.

E.C.: Let’s imagine the following scenario, you have a band like Doctors Mob playing TODAY? Do you think it would work? Did they have something that is missing from today’s music?

Steve: A band like Doctors' Mob would have trouble finding a genre these days. There are bands that try to be "fun" these days, like Blink-182 and Green Day, but it seems really fake and pre-meditated. I think what Doctors' Mob had going for it was true unpredictability.

Don: I think it would work today. I think there was something that is different about bands today. I don't know that I could pinpoint it but I think people miss it. If they didn't why would anyone remember us 15 years later or want us to play again after all this time. Someone from a local club just asked my a few weeks ago if we would do another reunion show at her club. If there wasn't something missing from the local scene today why would anyone even be thinking about us.

Click here for Steve Collier's website
Click here to read an old Doctors Mob article in the Austin Chronicle