The Thirsty Whale Reunion
All The Whale Memories Unfit To Print
Joe Cantafio: “We were so young. I was the old guy at 19, but my brother and two of the other guys were 16 in the band, performing at the Whale and nobody knew it, nobody knew they were that young. And that was the thing. We were trying to look like teen idols, and we actually were teenagers.”
Bill Wilkins: “What I remember about the Thirsty Whale is going up to the dressing room upstairs after we just played our asses off and having a record-company executive show up with this scowl on his face, and all he could say was, ‘I didn’t hear any hits. I don’t remember anything you did.’ We just about knocked him back down the stairs. And after that we went to Hedden West Studios to do a demo, I think it was our first demo. So what was it, 5 o’clock in the morning we started recording our demo after doing all night at the Thirsty Whale.”
Tommy Holland: “There’s so many memories. I remember one time, I don’t know how many people would remember the time I was hanging from the lights, because, you know, if you were onstage, you could reach up and touch the ceiling, and they had that textured fireproof shit all over. The lights were right above your head. Well, one night I decided to do some gymnastics, and I grabbed it and pulled myself up into a little position there, where I was hanging like a spider, and all of a sudden the whole light rack, everything on it and myself fell, probably whatever it was, 8 feet, but it seemed like 20 at the time. I fell down and knocked out my roadie, Danno. Danno got knocked out, and I fell to the floor, and the band just kept jammin’, right? It was packed, and they’re just goin’ and goin’ and goin’, and here I’m laying with a light bar and like 30 lights across me on the floor, and I had to do one of those where you first check and see if anything’s broke. But I checked, and everything was O.K., everything moved, so I just got up and kept jammin’. It was funny to look at the reaction on their faces when you think you broke your back and you get up and just keep jammin’. Of course, Jack Daniel’s had something to do with that.”
Jimmy DeCanio: “[Thrash metal] shows were actually hilarious. I’ll never forget, girls would jump off the stage, they’d end up at the back of the club with no clothes on and think it was fun. Honest to god, I mean, they’re laughing and think it was fun. They would stage dive, and I’d be at the back, I wouldn’t go anywhere near these people, and their tops are ripped off, their bottoms are gone, and they thought it was fun. I’ll betcha your father and mother would be real proud of you, stage diving with a hundred guys putting their hands all over you and ripping your clothes off, but to each their own. That was their fun, and as long as nobody got hurt, as long as nobody got crazy, you know, if this is your fun, it might not be my fun, but you see, my philosophy at the Whale was, I didn’t have to like the music that was playing there, I didn’t have to like the band that was playing there on any given night. I just made sure the club ran so everybody had fun.
“We had Whitesnake tell me what a dive I had and I threw them out of the club. [David Coverdale] didn’t know who I was. I’m unloading his truck. Most of the load-ins were done during the day. I was there just to make sure that if somebody needed something, as the owner, you’re there. But very few people actually knew who I was. We were helping them unload the thing, and he walked in the club and he goes like this, he goes, exact words: ‘What the fuck are we playing in a shithole like this for?’ I looked at him, and I said, ‘You said the magic words. You’re not playing. Get the fuck out of here.’ He said, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m the jagoff who owns the club. Now get the fuck out of here.’ Some of the guys I had working for me couldn’t fit through doors, they were so big. I said if I tell them to beat you up they’re gonna fucking kill you. Get the fuck out. I threw ’em out. They were playing with Warrant at the time, when Warrant was just coming up. And Warrant did two sets for me. They were gentlemen. They were nice. Done deal.
“When James Young would come in whenever Styx wasn’t playing somewhere, because he’s from Chicago, he’d come in and hang or, here, I’ll tell you what a gentleman that guy was. You know what kind of dollars he wanted to play when he had the James Young Band? He said, ‘I’ll take half the door, Jimmy. I’m only doing this for fun.’
“You know what I found? The bigger the band, the less they wanted. The smaller bands coming up, they wanted everything because they were nothing. You take the big bands, even at that time, I had Blue Oyster Cult there. You know what Blue Oyster Cult wanted? They wanted a couple pizzas and a case of beer. None of this nonsense with three-page riders. Blue Oyster Cult: ‘Give us a coupla pizzas and a case of beer, we’re happy. We’re here to make money.’ Isn’t that something? The bigger the bands? Ronnie Montrose: ‘Jimmy, gimme a case of beer and,’ he liked Jack Daniel’s at the time, ‘and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a pizza for my guys.’ That’s it. You talk about easy? But the little bands, Rough Cutt, ’cause Ronnie Dio’s wife was managing Rough Cutt at the time, these guys came in with a three-page rider, I said, ‘If it wasn’t Ronnie Dio’s wife managing you I wouldn’t even have booked you. I did this as a favor to the William Morris Agency.'”
Dirty Dan Buck: “The Boyzz were poised to be the next big band out of Chicago, or one of them. One of the cool things because of that was we got to do all these simulcasts out of the Thirsty Whale, and it was kind of a rare, big, exciting, electric thing that was happening whenever we’d do a simulcast, because everybody’s senses were heightened, and just the band being what we were at that time, this outrageous band. So anyways, we would do these simulcasts from there, and we were known to be not the sweetest-talking people, well, me in particular, hence the nickname Dirty Dan, because we would just . . . we were foul-mouthed. One of my best memories was, this is like ‘MET or ‘LUP, one of the big radio stations in Chicago at the time, they’d come out and do these things, and they would always say, ‘Even though we had a dump button, try to hold back, because we don’t want the coloration of this whole thing to be like nasty the whole time.’ I’d go, ‘O.K., I’ll try my best.’ And then I’d go out there and I wouldn’t even remember what they said.
“I don’t think there was a limit as to how many people they would allow in there. It was just sweaty, hot, elbow to elbow people, so much so that you walked in there and the degrees would raise like 20 degrees on the inside of that building. It was just so hot in there. And then we’d do the simulcast and just have a ball. Well, I’ll never forget, my mom would record those things sometimes. She goes, ‘How come there’s all this beeping going on in between your songs and stuff?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, Mom, it must be some kind of electrical glitch or something. I don’t know what it is.’ It was just that if I wasn’t saying something foul, the audience was saying something foul. And everything was picked up by all the mics.”
Billy Corgan, Sr.: “I can tell you one incident about the Thirsty Whale when we were playing there. Sam & Dave showed up, and it was stormy weather, snowing, and we were like the in-between band, we were the house band, and Sam & Dave was the main attraction coming in to play. They had that song out ‘Soul Man,’ and a couple others at the time. Their whole band had gotten snowed in someplace in Iowa or Indiana or someplace. So here they come up to us and they go, ‘Do you know our music?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, I’ve played your stuff, I’ve heard it, this and that.’ But we went in the kitchen, and they’re bourbon drinkers, and they’re drinking bourbon and everything. And right there in the Thirsty Whale kitchen I learned their show, and we walked up there and, cold, played their show.”
Jimy Sohns: “I was working with Tough Love, Bitch/Tough Love. The guys were stuck in their shoes. They couldn’t move. Not only were they all good looking women, they played better than most of the guitar players in the bands that were playing there.”
No story on the Thirsty Whale would be complete without a mention of its next-door neighbor, Gene & Jude’s Hot Dogs.
Joe Cantafio: “I remember the people that owned Gene & Jude’s would tell Jade 50’s, ‘We will give you free hot dogs after your second set if you come over here. You have to come here, we won’t deliver it.’ So we used to go there. And they would tell everybody, ‘Jade 50’s will be here after the second set,’ and there would be a line of people there. And we’d sign autographs and eat hot dogs, and they’d sell more hot dogs, but we’d get free hot dogs and tamales so we didn’t care.”
Tommy Holland: “You could go to Gene & Jude’s and get yourself a hot dog and some fries before you went in. You gotta have something to throw up. You gotta load the machine before you go in.”
Jimy Sohns: “Shadows Of Knight played there so we could get Gene & Jude’s hot dogs on breaks. And that’s the truth.”
— Guy C. Arnston