Introducing Napalm Beach

Snow Bud and Sub Pop

For Snow Bud and the Flower People, the pothead joke band developed in winter 1985, Chris drew on the Cramps’ influence, stripping down to Twin Reverb, Big Muff, wah, and solid, primitive drums. Snow Bud’s first show was in Portland at Satyricon, January 28, 1986 (the Space Shuttle Challenger had blown up that morning). Unlike the Cramps (more like Hendrix), early Snow Bud songs featured heavy hooky bass riffs. For early live shows, Chris put Sam Henry on bass and (future) Dead Moon drummer Andrew Loomis on drums. Later Snow Bud became its own band, with Nathan Jorg on bass and Lance Paden on drums, a lineup which lasted from 1993 to 2013.

Snow Bud cassette

Snow Bud’s first two cassettes, a bunch of songs that were written title-first in a single night (Killer Bud, Bong Hit, No Shake, etc) were popular with the underground kids. Chris sold a couple dozen at each of his first two Seattle shows (early ’86), and they were sold in independent record stores around Seattle, Portland, and eventually, San Francisco.

At one of those first Seattle Vogue shows, Green River frontman and KCMU DJ Mark Arm arrived as Chris was setting up his gear. Mark carefully examined all of Chris’ gear – the Fender Twin Reverb, Big Muff and wah that he used to get his signature Snow Bud (now – sans wah – Boo Frog) tone.

Snow Bud at the Vogue 1986

After the show, Bruce Pavitt found Chris backstage. Pavitt introduced himself and said he had a new label, Sub Pop, and that he was interested in Snow Bud. Chris said, “Sounds great”, and put the Sub Pop business card in his pocket. He didn’t have a manager at the time, or a phone, and he never called Sub Pop.

Sub Pop’s first records were Sub Pop 100 comp (1986), and Green River Dry As A Bone (1987). Meanwhile, Mudhoney had acquired and was using the Fender Twin/Big Muff combo by 1988. It is an integral part of their tone to this day.

Snow Bud - Sub Pop Sunday

Was it unfortunate for Chris that he never signed with Sub Pop? Probably not.

I know that for most of his career, Chris didn’t think about his music in a strategic, businesslike way. He understood early on that he wouldn’t get rich or famous playing punk rock in the northwest, so he stayed busy playing to enthusiastic crowds in alternative clubs and all-ages venues. He lived gig to gig and record to record. He moved around a lot, didn’t have a phone, and relied on others (not all of whom were trustworthy) to relay messages to him.

Not to mention, Snow Bud was a joke band (that somehow lasted 27 years). It was supposed to be a side project, not an identity. And in the late 80s, I don’t think that either Sam or Chris would have handled fame or money well. So there should be no regrets about any of that.

My only issue, as far as Seattle is concerned, is that Chris, Snow Bud, and Napalm Beach have all been deleted from the narrative of 80s northwest underground music, especially when it comes to Seattle. That’s not accurate, and it’s not right.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s an old rivalry that keeps everyone amnesiac.

In the early 80s, Napalm Beach opened for national touring acts in Seattle such as Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers and X in 1981, and PiL in 1982. Some Seattle punks were angry about that. Seattle bands at that time didn’t have the chops or songwriting skills that Napalm Beach had. Seattle punks gobbed Napalm at PiL[4] and threatened to riot at Johnny Thunders[5].

Napalm Beach might have made some enemies.

Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers - 1981


[4] It appears that both Steve Turner and Mark Arm were both at the 1982 PiL/Napalm show. “I met Mark in October of ’82, right when my senior year started… we could never really decide if it was the Public Image Ltd show or the TSOL show where I met him in line.” Steve Turner, as quoted in Everybody Loves Our Town (Yarm, p 45.) Green River got their chance to open for PiL in 1986. This show went down in history for the “welcome” shown to PiL by Green River and co, and many people believe it inspired Lydon’s 1987 song, ‘Seattle’.

Mark: Yeah, it was pretty out of hand, but it was a reaction to seeing someone that you respected at one point turning into something that you imagine that at one point he hated.

Steve: I never respected him at any point, really.

Mark: The first three records are great. I saw them a long time ago and it was an amazing show.

(Maximum Rock n’ Roll, August 1990)

[5] Untouchables opened for Johnny Thunders in Portland and Seattle Spring of 1981. At the Portland show, future Napalm Beach bassist Otis P. Otis (also mentioned in footnote #7) traded his Gibson Les Paul Jr. for Thunders’ duct-taped together (but autographed) L6 guitar.

According to Grunge Is Dead, the U-Men picked up their singer, John Bigly, at the Seattle Johnny Thunders show (Prato 54). It was an all ages show in a rented hall. The Untouchables let the Heartbreakers use their backline. Untouchables played a great set, but Johnny Thunders spent most of his set backstage doing drugs. Finally the Seattle punks lost patience and rushed the stage, shouting “Johnny Thunders sucks!!! Untouchables suck!!! Fuck you!!!” and looking like they were going to rip the stage apart. Johnny Thunders’ two travelling thugs then beat the crowd back from the stage with microphone stands and so forth, until the show was shut down.

Chris met Thunders one more time after that, on tour, in April 1991, while playing Xtasy Club in Berlin. Chris and Sam spotted Johnny in their hotel and invited him to breakfast. At this point, Thunders was touring with a sax player, playing to tiny crowds. He was alone and seemed down but cheered up as they talked, especially when Chris told him how much his music had meant to him. He told Chris and Sam that he was on his way to Hamburg where he would record with the Toten Hosen, and then use the money from the session to buy a ticket to New Orleans where he hoped to start a band with “a horn section and black chick backup singers” (Johnny’s words). He signed a blank page in Chris’ passport “with all my love and admiration”, before they parted ways.

Thunders died in New Orleans three day later.

Unlike what Wikipedia (currently) says, it appeared to Chris that, in Berlin, Thunders had been using heroin, and plenty of it. (No one knew he had been suffering from leukemia.) This does NOT make his death any less tragic or or the circumstances around it any less criminal.

Johnny Thunders Tribute - T/K Records 7 inch

(continues overleaf)

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