Scott Drake is sitting IN FRONT OF a beer at clancy's Irish Bar in Long Beach. Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It?" is segueing into Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" above our heads. He's talking about anonymity and stardom. Of the former, he points out that an officemate called Martha—she's from Georgia—can easily make small talk with Drake during coffee breaks without any idea of who he is. "I hear you're in a rock & roll band, Scott," she usually says while pouring more decaf. That's all she knows. She doesn't know about the Humpers—Drake's band, the one that called it quits two years ago even though they're famous in Yugoslavia.
The Humpers' genesis was in the beer-soaked bars of Long Beach, where Drake and Jeff Fieldhouse, guitarists for the then-defunct Suicide Kings, called some other friends together to jam. It was 1989. The Suicide Kings had just broken up but were, for some reason, huge in Yugoslavia. So despite their recent demise, the band—called the Suicide Kings, you'll remember—signed a deal to release an album for a nation ready to tear itself apart in a bloody paroxysm of ethnic genocide.
Now they had a record deal but no band—at which point Drake lied to the label and said he had a new band that was even better. He recruited a few buddies and passed along the guitar duties so he could concentrate on screaming in a really loud, catchy way. And the Humpers were birthed—a New York Dolls-meets-the-Ramones sound fused with evolving, garage-y Dead Boys-meets-Pagans punk. Their now extremely rare My Machine LP was released with mega-fanfare throughout Eastern Europe. And then there was civil war and fire, famine and Nuremberg-like human-rights trials at the Hague.
Drake discovered writing while hiding behind his hair in the back of a high school classroom, disdainfully dishing out poems to satisfy the smarmy assignments handed down by his sophomore English teacher. But Ms. Thompson got Drake's attention—and hooked his ego—by reading one of his poems to the entire class and proclaiming it the best of the bunch. Drake was disdainful no longer—he was good at something! He and Ms. Thompson made a deal: if he turned in a poem every day, she'd give him an A in the class. A songwriter was born! A student, too: Drake eventually moved on to reading nonfiction and began a lifelong love of philosophy. He became the kind of high school kid who'd hang out in the library reading encyclopedias.
Drake looks like what Eddie Vedder would look like if Vedder had an ex-wife, two kids and worked retail every day for a lifetime. Or if Vedder was an air-conditioning repairman. Or a pesticide guy who went out drinking every night in a smoke-filled, dank, watering hole such as Al's Bar in LA, then rolled around in the gutter a few times and got up and killed bugs again the next morning. Drake is way too cool to actually be famous.
After some personnel turnovers around the time of 1994's Journey to the Center of Your Wallet album (and two LPs for renowned Long Beach indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry), the Humpers were signed to seminal punk imprint Epitaph, which only inflated their rep.
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"We got to a point where it was embarrassing because so many bands were listing us as an influence," says Drake. "We were waiting for some kind of backlash because of people getting sick and tired of hearing about the Humpers. And then we started asking ourselves, 'If so many people are into us, why aren't we millionaires?' But we were always happy as long as we had 20 bucks in our pockets and beer in our hands."
The first time I saw the Humpers was back in '93. Ken the All-Night Rocker, a paraplegic celebrity in Long Beach (who also fronted a punk band), was being thrown around on top of a crowd, getting passed about like a football. He was full of glee, protected by elbow and kneepads, freestylin'! The Humpers—the band playing that night for nothing more than beer money—changed my musical tastes forever. Their second album, Positively Sick on 4th Street, may be one of the greatest CDs ever. It makes me pop around like a potful of boiling bacon grease. From the bombastic "Murder City Revolution" to the throbbing MC5 cover of "Rocket Reducer No. 62," Drake's frenzied vocals have more energy than clarity. Which is why I was so amazed at their last-ever Foothill show two years ago, when I found myself singing every word—or what I thought were the words—to every frickin' song. I didn't remember ever owning an air guitar, but there I was, wheedling right along with the Humpers' screeching Chuck Berry-esque power chords.
By 1998's Euphoria, Confusion, Anger and Remorse, the band had started to splinter and broke up. But now all the original members are back for two shows this week, doing all their old songs about their day-to-day lives: their cars won't start, and they can't afford much beer. It's just a two-off thing, though, and they don't have any plans after these gigs, so savor them while you can. I know I will—look for the girl staring at them with glazed-over eyes, an eternal Humpers fan.
THE HUMPERS PERFORM WITH ALL DAY, DICFOR AND THE HELLBENDERS AT THE LAVA LOUNGE, 3800 E. PACIFIC COAST HWY., LONG BEACH, (562) 597-6171. FRI., 9 P.M. CALL FOR COVER. 21+; AND WITH THE LEAVING TRAINS AND LOOGIE AT CLUB MESA, 843 W. 19TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 642-8448. SAT., 9 P.M. CALL FOR COVER. 21+.