Poorman’s Radio Days: Nightmare At Billy Barty’s Roller Fantasy

Wild Surf. Photo courtesy of the Ripp Tides.

It was the perfect setup. A hot Orange County band had just opened for the Stray Cats at the Hollywood Palladium. Singer Randy Redmon (age 17), sax superstar Mike Brown (16), guitarist Dave Moore (20), bass player Ed White (ageless) and drummer Tom Doyle (15) were on the fast track to success. They were the Ripp Tides with a modern surf sound and living the Southern California surfing lifestyle in 1982. I was the biggest media fan of the band. I loved their sound, still do! Five KROQ jocks were playing the title track from their album Every Day on the radio: “Wake up in the morning, and put my wetsuit on …” You get the picture.

The Ripp Tides were ready for the big time, and we were going to deliver them to the promised land with their first headline gig at a concert venue holding 1,500 people. This was a Saturday night summer coming-out party. Billy Barty’s Roller Fantasy in Fullerton was the venue where the party was going to happen. The Roller Fantasy was a combo roller skating rink and concert venue. Billy Barty was a famous actor/activist little man standing 3-foot-9. He would be at the gig bringing the Ripp Tides on stage. I was really excited to share the stage with him and everything leading up to the gig looked great!

The previous week, promoter Tom Tucker invited everybody over to his house in El Toro (now Lake Forest) to party. He then hired the five jocks playing the Ripp Tides on KROQ to make appearances at the gig besides myself, the main host. They pumped the concert on the air numerous times and played the Ripp Tides on the radio like crazy. The jocks were promised $150 each for their appearances. I was promised $200 as the main host. I’m not sure what the band got paid. Earlier during the day of the concert, the Ripp Tides did an in-store appearance at Pier Records near the Newport Beach Pier. Two hundred kids lined up to meet the Ripp Tides, treating the band like rock stars. All indicators suggested a big crowd in Fullerton!

The night of the concert arrived, with great promise and hope, I showed up at the venue an hour and a half before the start. There was an energy in the building. A massive backstage bash was going on upstairs, one of the best I’ve ever seen. The green room was packed with partying, beautiful people. We enjoyed a lavish spread of fried chicken, a bathtub filled with ice and plenty of booze, herbal cocktails aplenty (there was a thick green smoke in the room), KROQ jocks, bands, Billy Barty and groupies. The Roller Fantasy was rockin’! We were getting ripped (no pun intended) with no knowledge of what was going on outside. Suddenly, a half hour before the concert was to begin, everything changed. The joy evaporated.

The doorman at the ticket window came upstairs and announced that not even 20 tickets had been sold. Everybody was shocked! I made a frantic call in to KROQ and went on the air announcing tickets were still available. This didn’t do any good. The Ripp Tides’ airplay on KROQ–which at that time was the hottest music station in the OC–and all the on-air plugs, plus the kids who showed up for their in-store meet-n-greet still didn’t translate to any ticket sales. The first band went on at 8 p.m. There were sales of only 25 tickets at that point. Panic set in.

Nobody could find Tucker the promoter. Somehow, I located him outside the venue, and I believe he paid me $150. Everybody else got stiffed: five KROQ jocks, the bands, security, ticket takers. It was a nightmare. I’ll never forget going on stage and introducing Billy Barty later in the evening. There were at best 30 people surrounding the stage in the corner of this massive, empty roller rink with nothing but a glitter ball in the middle of the venue. You could hear the hollow, empty reverberation of the onstage mic we didn’t need as I introduced Billy to the sad crowd.

The postscript to this gig wasn’t pretty. Everybody was searching for Tucker to get paid after the show. My lasting memory of him was that of a long, stringy haired, skinny guy sweating profusely–and apparently bailing the scene of the concert flop! He had banked on paying everybody from ticket sales that never materialized. Brown, the Ripp Tides sax player, told me he went with his older brother, who was a bodybuilder, to Tom’s house the following week to get paid the $60 he was promised. Tom was nowhere to be found. Nobody has seen him since. The Ripp Tides never recovered from this gig, and eventually they broke up.

Randy formed a new group called the Shout that played around the OC for quite a few years. I believe Tom Doyle has gone on to great success in the finance world. Brown has probably enjoyed the most musical success; he is still playing sax with the group Sha Na Na. He recently played a giant gig at Woodstock.

Irony of all ironies, the Ripp Tides are having a reunion concert at Fitzgerald’s in Huntington Beach on Aug. 2. I did not know this prior to writing the story. The full band is playing! I’m excited to see them! I wonder if they’ll hire me to host the gig for $200?

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2 Replies to “Poorman’s Radio Days: Nightmare At Billy Barty’s Roller Fantasy”

  1. Interesting story. I had never heard of these guys, though I was 17 in 1982 and lived in OC. They look quintessential Orange County circa 1982, they could have been guys from my high school. We all kind of looked like that!

  2. My daughter and I flew from Branson, Mo for the Ripp Tides reunion. You couldn’t keep me away! I followed them thru high school. Saw them open for the Stray Cats and Bow Wow Wow. Fond summer memories!!

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