Placebo Records and the History of Punk Music in Phoenix: A Celebration

Tony Beram didn’t think he’d find himself revisiting his distant past as Tony Victor in 2022, archiving artifacts and memorabilia from the years he devoted seven days a week to delivering the gospel from the basement of Phoenix to anyone who wanted to listen.

He was 16 when he got into the music business, leading a classmate’s band, Détente.

In 1981 he was promoting punk shows through Mersey Productions.

That same year, 19-year-old Beram launched Placebo Records with two members of his classmate’s band (who changed their names to Teds), Mark Bycroft and Greg Hynes.

The label’s first release was either “Blatant Localism,” a historic six-song, seven-inch track from Arizona skate-punk legends Jodie Foster’s Army (JFA), or a Teds EP titled “The Eighties Are Over.” .

It’s a matter of debate, but Beram sides squarely with the JFA side of the argument.

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“When I got out, I got out”

From 1981 to 1988, Placebo Records released “maybe 30 records”, Beram says, including three essential compositions of local music and seminal recordings by Mighty Sphincter, Victory Acres and Sun City Girls.

By the end of the decade, Beram says, “I was tired and didn’t have much to show for it.”

An older brother who had toured with the Everly Brothers offered advice that Beram took to heart.

“If you’re not making it in the music business at 30, you need to think about doing something else.”

Placebo Records’ last tracks hit the streets in 1988.

He’s pretty sure his last shows as a concert promoter were in 1990, by which time he had already launched a much more lucrative career as a ticket broker with a business he called Western States Ticket Service. .

By the end of his new company’s first decade, Beram says, “We were doing $14 million a year in revenue and had 50 employees. My family and I have traveled the world several times. We do World Cups and Olympics and millions and millions of dollars in business every year.”

As for the life he left behind to launch this new career?

“When I got through it, I got through it,” Beram says. “I didn’t want to go back there.”

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Find the Sun City Girls to reconnect with the past

But that’s exactly what he plans to do on Saturday, March 12, when Tony Victor, as announced, will participate in a panel discussion with Alan and Richard Bishop of Sun City Girls at a performance space and gallery called Club. Placebo on McDowell Road. in downtown Phoenix.

A poster advertising the event, presented by Mersey Productions in association with a new non-profit organization it has named the Placebo Foundation, describes it as “a Club Placebo Hootenanny exploring the history of Sun City Girls through tradition oral”.

As Alan Bishop has come to understand the expectations of the evening, Beram “tries to get into some of those stories and facts from the olden days that we may have forgotten – or before they were forgotten – to preserve as much history as he can.”

A day before the event, they will spend what Beram estimates is probably 12 hours filming interviews with the bishops.

As noted on Club Placebo’s website, the idea is to create a “living archive” dedicated “to celebrating and documenting the rich musical artistic history of underground music in Phoenix during Placebo Records’ tenure.”

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Inspiration to get back in the game

It’s a goal that grew out of an August 2020 Phoenix New Times cover story about the label’s history, written by Tom Reardon, whose current band, the Father Figures, features JFA’s Michael Cornelius.

As they rummaged through Beram’s storage unit, looking for items to photograph for Reardon’s story, John Rose of the Record Room told Beram that if he was considering emptying that unit, he would would like someone to come out and film it.

“I was like, ‘Why would you want to do that?!'” Beram said. “He says, ‘Because people would be interested in that.’ I said, “Really? Do you think they would be interested in this?'”

Then Reardon’s story was published and Beram was shocked to see the kind words people had to say about him.

“You wouldn’t think it now, but when I was doing all the gigs and releasing the records, I probably got as many negative comments as ever positive comments,” Beram said.

“That’s part of what pushed me out. I wasn’t making any money, but I wasn’t getting a lot of praise either. It was, ‘Why did you put that record out? and not this one?’ “Why did you book this group?” Just all kinds of little complaints.”

He naturally assumed that was what he would find in Reardon’s story. No more complaints.

“And it was like, ‘Oh, my God! All these people say these really nice things about Placebo and Mersey Productions and me? I was touched by a couple of things. And I thought, ‘Wow, c ‘is really nice,’ you know?”

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Building a Placebo Records Archive and Performance Space

It changed a lot of things he had come to think of that chapter of his life. And that was during the pandemic shutdown, so he had plenty of time to reflect.

“It was the first time since I was 16 that I could sleep,” he recalls with a laugh.

“I slept for about a week, then I got bored. And once I got bored, all these ideas started swirling around in my head.”

He knew he had to find something that didn’t just feel like reliving the past.

Two of his children suggested doing something on the Internet.

Then, one of the buildings his real estate company owns in downtown Phoenix became available when the tattoo parlor that rented it had to downsize due to COVID-19 rules.

So he redesigned the space according to his needs, including a small stage.

“The idea is to take things out of storage, archive them, sort them and store them properly, label everything so that someone who is doing an article can do some real research and look at the objects and photograph the things “, says Beram. .

“And if someone wanted to make a book, they would have a way to go through all of this.”

It’s part of the idea. The other part enriches the archives with new interviews.

Beram points to the first of the label’s local music compilations, 1982’s “Amuck”.

“If you were to make a list of all the names involved in every band that’s on ‘Amuck,’ you’d probably find that an inordinate percentage of them are dead now,” Beram said.

“So part of the idea was, ‘How do we get these people before more of them die, ask the right questions to get them to get their memories back, and film it all professionally to make a living recording of that period of time on the Phoenix music scene?'”

Alan Bishop says the fact that we’ve already lost so many major players on this stage only makes it more vital “to get as many of them as possible as soon as possible”.

What to expect at Club Placebo Hootenanny

The Hootenanny is the first attempt in this direction. The Bishops will also perform – both as a duo (the Brothers Unconnected, who last performed in February 2020) and individually (as Uncle Jim and Sir Richard Bishop).

These performances will also be filmed and archived with the interviews.

That way, Beram says, it’s possible to feel that they have one foot in the 80s and the other foot in 2022.

Bishop says he can’t wait to revisit his days as a Placebo artist.

“I don’t know if I would want to do it every week or anything,” he says. “But it will be fun to do it and see what comes of it. And just being with everyone again is good.”

It’s been a long time, says Bishop, and he’s still working on new music, so it’s hard to really put his own recorded history into perspective.

“Maybe if I was retired I could go back and pay more attention to it and be more specific about how I really feel,” he says. “But I don’t regret anything.”

One thing he knows is that he’s grateful that Placebo took a chance on what Sun City Girls were trying to achieve at this point in their journey.

“I’m glad there was able to be some kind of springboard in Phoenix,” he says, “to be able to launch us into believing in ourselves enough to have the confidence to carry on through whatever adversity comes your way as you’re trying to put effort into making music or anything in an area that’s not popular.”

It’s Beram’s hope that any given Hootenanny could be just as memorable as a night at Mad Gardens, as the kids on the subway preferred to think of Madison Square Garden at 27th and Van Buren Streets, where Beram thinks that he promoted 80 to 100 gigs in the 80s.

“It’s a noble goal,” he says. “But that’s what we’re trying to do.”

There won’t be concerts every night — or even every week — at Club Placebo.

“We pay so much attention to detail for these parties that I can’t see there being more than four a year or anything like that,” Beram says.

He would like to see Placebo’s most recorded acts – Sun City Girls, Mighty Sphincter, JFA and David Oliphant – as the first four events.

“All of these things are ongoing,” he says.

“I’ve been in talks with JFA and Mighty Sphincter. I think it’s all going to happen. But we want to make sure we can present it in a way that the night is memorable. It’s not something we we can just arrange.”

“I was kind of a pack rat”

Eventually, he would like to use the space for events that are more akin to a gallery opening, where they could display some items from the archives.

“I don’t think it will be possible to expose everything, because it’s a lot more than people might imagine,” Beram says. “I was kind of a pack rat. I think every fan mail JFA ever received is somewhere in that storage unit.”

He would love to take it to the point where they could run it more like a museum.

“That would mean staff and things like that where you have to be open a lot,” he says. “But we could do it.”

In the meantime, he feels pretty good about the way things have gone.

“It’s nice to go through old stuff and find things you haven’t seen in a long, long time,” he says.

“It brings back memories. And it’s fun to promote again, especially now that I don’t have to worry about covering my expenses.”

A Placebo Hootenanny Club

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 12.

Or: Club Placebo, 119 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix.

Admission: Suggested donation of $20.

Details: 602-263-1111 ext. 9208,

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley.

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