Today's #ChailleChallenge: Follow the Bouncing Greg Chaille
Greg Chaille and Gretchen Baer behind the artist's car she drove while campaigning for Hillary Clinton.
Standing in the Bisbee, Arizona, studio of artist Gretchen Baer, her friend Greg Chaille checks off items on a mental list of things that need to be done before a live May 20 "swapcast" by his boss, comic Doug Stanhope, and his fellow standup and podcaster Bert Kreischer.
Baer, who made national headlines with her Border Bedazzlers project that had youth seven miles away in Naco, Mexico, decorating the Mexican side of the U.S. border fence, has on this day a new flat barrier to paint. It's the backdrop for the stage at the Royale in Old Bisbee, where more than 150 fans will be watching the equally impaired Stanhope and Kreischer shoot the shit. Chaille checked in on Baer because she was recreating the back wall of The Funhouse, the bar/podcast studio within Stanhope's residential compound in Bisbee's Warren neighborhood.
I left Baer, Chaille and Bisbee—in that order—shortly after that meeting in the former schoolhouse that houses her bright and airy art studio. The swapcast would go on to be deemed a success, at least by the hosts and cheering audience members, many of them hardcore Stanhope fans known as Killer Termites. At least part of that success has to be attributed to the subject of today's Summer Guide story "Originally From OC, Greg Chaille Unveils Arizona's Funkiest Town." His official title for Stanhope is road manager, but Chaille also drives the tour van (quite willingly), mans the merch table during standup shows, produces the The Doug Stanhope Podcast, maintains the comic's websites and heads up online merchandise sales.
As he was driving me around Bisbee in a white Suburban, I mentioned how I have heard at least two different comics refer to those who do all sorts of specified and unspecified tasks for the famous as that person's Chaille. His title might more appropriately be "fixer."
Such a role can be stressful, which might explain why Chaille felt the need after the Stanhope-Kreischer swapcast was in the can to lose his clothes and do a cannonball in an Arizona swimming pool as a way to unwind.
That led to an amazing picture captured by Stanhope's podcast co-host Chad Shank, who has called it the only piece of art he has ever created.
Indeed, it was such a striking image that after it was posted online, someone suggested creating a meme ...
... which led to the #chaillechallenge.
Killer Termites dutifully took up said challenge:
Hit Twitter and enter #chaillechallenge for the whole collection, which now includes videos as well. (There are still more images via @gregchaille.) Among the best videos is a new take on the classic Twilight Zone episode where airliner passenger William Shatner is freaked out by a thing ... a thing on the wing! But the video that is more appropriate given his vagabond life is the one that has Chaille dropped out of a plane to skip across a body of water.
Follow the bouncing Chaille:
He was born in Santa Ana and moved with his family when he was in the third grade to Fullerton, where he attended Sunset Lane Elementary School, Park Junior High, Sunny Hills High (Class of ’84) and Fullerton College. He and his twin brother Michael’s friends from junior high became roadies for bands, including the Tazers, that played house parties during the peak of second-wave punk that saw the emergence of Fullerton’s Social Distortion, the Adolescents and Agent Orange.
“Fullerton was hub back then," Greg Chaille recalled over drinks at a Bisbee bar. "It was a fuckin’ blast.”
Tuning guitars for band members, he wondered if he could learn to play. He got a Marshall half stack and a crappy electric guitar that he later switched out for a Fender Telecaster and jammed with his roadie friends. Dan Lauriano, a Sunny Hills pal, asked Chaille to join a band he was forming with Steve Haas and Karl Jaeke, Last Call, which he called “a KROQ-style of music cover band,” played punk, new wave and rock in venues all over Southern California. They considered Casey's in Orange and the original Mulberry Street location of Heroes in Fullerton their home gig venues.
Lauriano, Last Call's original drummer and manager, later left to become a booking agent, and when that fizzled out he started a new band that played in the same spots. Years later he went on to open the Rockin’ Taco and Chomp restaurants in downtown Fullerton before moving to Mission Viejo with Derby Deli & Deuling Piano Bar, whose performers included Haas. Lauriano is now the owner of Riptide Rockin' Sushi & Teppan Grills in Mission Viejo.
When Lauriano left Last Call, Chaille pretty much did double duty as manager and bass player, which he’d switched to from rhythm guitar early in the band’s history. “Back then you could make a living playing cover gigs,” he says. "I was horrible at rhythm guitar. I picked up the bass quick after we couldn't find anyone who could (1) play or (2) was willing to travel."
In 1989, Chaille spent a Fullerton College semester aboard in Salzburg, Austria, before returning home and to the band. “One day I got my A.S. degree in the mail. They said I forgot to pick it up.” Last Call got scouted by a promoter who soon had the band playing at The Wave Waikiki Nightclub, which ended its 26-year run on Oahu in 2006. Band members lived in two condos in a high rise across the street from the Hawaiian venue, which was two blocks from the beach. Chaille, who’d grown up surfing 52nd Street off Newport Beach, the Huntington Beach Pier area and Trestles, brought his board to Hawaii, as did other Last Call members. “There were no expenses. You always had a girlfriend. You never paid for a drink.”
Last Call later relocated to Guam, where they got to live the rock star life, hitting the beach in between shows and playing for locals and military members dumped off on the island for R&R. Chaille recalls, “Someone once told us, ‘Man, I can’t believe you guys are here.’ We’re just a cover band from Orange County, so we asked who else has been here. ‘Tesla,’ he says. We had to know, ‘When did Tesla come here?’”
Always on the lookout for songs to add to their sets, they learned the latest sounds from the cassette tapes freely traded by the military recruits. But the schedule was grueling. For instance, following Typhoon Omar, Last Call played 21 straight nights as the club owner had the only working generator on that side of the island. About a year-and-a-half after arriving, “the gig eventually dried up,” says Chaille, who about then noticed bars all over were replacing cover bands with DJs, who proprietors preferred due to the low overhead.
But one place that beckoned: Chilkoot Charlie’s in Anchorage, Alaska, where Last Call started playing in 1991. “There was so much work up there,” says Chaille, who recalled hearing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” the first time and realizing a new genre of music—grunge, alternative, whatever you want to call it—would reinvigorate the Last Call playlist. “At one point, we could play any one of 300 songs.” Today he’ll hear something on the radio like “Melt With You” and think to himself, “I’ve probably played that song more times than Modern English has. I know I played ‘Killing in the Name Of’ more times live than Rage Against the Machine did.”
In between shows, the band would go to the nearby comedy nights at Pierce Street Annex, where Chaille ran into Roger Rittenhouse, a comic he had met on the road the previous year. Chaille later parlayed his skills honed from managing Last Call into booking standup comedians. After the closure of the Anchorage Pierce Street Annex, which was part of the nationwide chain that began in San Francisco and included the Costa Mesa location that closed in January, Chaille pitched the idea of bringing comedy to Chilkoot Charlie’s on otherwise dark nights. It was during these comedy nights that he met two touring standups who would play massive roles later in his life: Mitch Hedberg and Doug Stanhope. (It was also during this time that Chaille met comedians John Norris and Mat Becker; all three now co-host the Near the Wild, Alaska Podcast.)
Chaille quit Last Call in 1996 to “make good money” producing the JJ & Bob morning show for Anchorage rock music station KWHL. He had to cut that career short a year later to return to Orange County and care for his ailing father, who after a couple years had to be put in a care facility. In 1999, Chaille left Fullerton and followed a girl he thought he would marry to Bellevue, Washington. A year later, he joined a new rock radio station in Anchorage, 87.7 KZND The End. "It was the Wild West because the eccentric dude who owned a local TV station figured out how to broadcast radio over an unused, government-owned frequency," Chaille says. That did not sit well with the competing stations, and being so far at the end of the dial kept the station out of the regular ratings book. "We were rebellious and played that angle up," Chaille says. The station eventually acquired a better position on the dial, becoming 94.7 KZND.
The romantic relationship did not last. "We eventually split up," Chaille says. "I loved it up there so I stayed." He took a job tuning guitars at the Experience Music Project and eventually got hired at RealNetworks—the online content company behind RealAudio—in the Broadcast Operations Center (satellite acquisition). While there, Chaille also started maintaining Hedberg's website and in 2003 he took over Stanhope's as well.
At a Stanhope Panamint Desert Party, Chaille met a woman and later quit his RealNetworks job to move back to her hometown of Tampa, Florida. They lived there together for three years and got engaged before breaking up. “She got the house,” Chaille says.
While in Florida he took a job for the Halloween season managing aspects of haunt attractions. "They offered me a full-time position to manage their prop warehouse, which I accepted," Chaille says. But one day Hedberg called from the road and asked Chaille to take over as tour manager. "I quit my job that day," he says. "The next week, I was on the road with Hedberg during the third leg of the Hedberg/Stephen Lynch tour. I had a lot to learn; it was trial by fire.”
Chaille was with Hedberg during a couple Letterman appearances in the early 2000s and often sold merchandise at the comic’s club shows, about a third of which he booked. He last saw Hedberg two weeks before the comic died of a heroin and cocaine overdose on March 29, 2005, in a New Jersey hotel room. Chaille says he knew about Hedberg’s drug abuse reputation but never personally saw him take hard drugs. He remains close with Hedberg's widow, comedian Lynn Shawcroft.
Not long after Hedberg’s death, Chaille returned for awhile to Fullerton and then in 2007 went back to Bellevue, where his twin brother Michael owns the special effects and haunted prop business Ghost Ride Productions. Chaille worked at Ghost Ride and continued to book comedy at Chilkoot. One day he traveled with Brett Erickson, a comedian he had known since 2001, to the Alaska town. That day he met “Ms. Tracey,” who listeners of The Doug Stanhope Podcast know as the Funhouse bartender and one half of "The Chailles."
"Brett told me her name was Erica," Chaille says of Erickson, who is currently based in Los Angeles, spends a lot of time in Bisbee and was on a recent mini-tour with Stanhope and Morgan Murphy that started at the Irvine Improv. (Chaille was not at that gig because he was attending a haunted attractions convention.)
Stanhope was taping a piece for a travel show that brought him to Bisbee. Living on the Los Angeles coast at the time, he was asked by a local off camera about moving there, and he answered that he would consider it. Stanhope called a real estate agent, found and bought two side-by-side lots in the Warren neighborhood and later added the small building that became the Funhouse, the nearby Rape Trailer and other RVs sprinkled throughout the property.
By 2009, Chaille was back at Chilkoots full time as the promotions director—with the understanding that if his brother or Stanhope needed him for their respective ventures, he would be free to go. During this time, Chilkoots started a summer concert series that Chaille was key in producing. "We put on shows in our own two-acre parking lot," he recalled. "Puddle Of Mudd, Papa Roach, Barenaked Ladies and Dropkick Murphys were the big ones."
He still went out on the road with Stanhope, and in 2013 the comic suggested Chaille work full time for him and move to Bisbee. He and Tracey now live in a house on the other side of the fence from Stanhope's, with a gate allowing access.
The Chailles and a friend watch Dr. Strangelove at Bisbee's Shady Dell RV Park & Campground.
Back home in Bisbee, he produces the Stanhope podcast, maintains the Stanhope websites and heads up online merchandise sales through a small Warren storefront space that is packed with t-shirts, coffee mugs, posters and recordings. On the road, he sells some of that merch at comedy shows. “Oh yeah,” he answers when asked if the bibles prominent atheist Stanhope steals out of hotel drawers, autographs and resells for $35 each are hot sellers.
The Chailles are always looking for new opportunities to travel. “I like being in a metropolis but not for very long,” he says, confiding that Bisbee is the closest place he’s felt to being home.
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