Monday, October 28, 2013

True Rock Tales: Tad and the 1993 World Series

Major League Baseball and Pearl Jam: One hasn’t been culturally relevant for twenty years; the other is Pearl Jam. This October finds these two odd bedfellows paired up, as Eddie Vedder and company have been named Fox Sports’ “Artist Of The Month”, timed to celebrate both the 109th World Series and Pearl Jam’s tenth studio album, Lightning Bolt. As unlikely as this duo may seem, it’s not half as strange as MLB’s first foray into alternative rock. The Riffage's Steve Haag turns back the calendar to 1993 to examine Tad’s brief, unlikely reign as the Official Band of the 1993 World Series.

In the post-Nevermind gold rush, executives of all stripes were haphazardly throwing cash at so-called “grunge” bands, hoping to discover the next Nirvana, and the brain trusts at CBS Sports and Major League Baseball were no different.  An internal memo from MLB dated March 29, 1993, noting the popularity of Nirvana and “movies such as [1992’s] Singles,” among twentysomethings, suggests finding a “Seattle-area ‘grunge’ band” for “possible promotional tie-ins”. Several bands, including Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees and Skin Yard were all considered(1), but MLB and CBS settled on Tad, mistakenly believing (in an epic failure of due diligence) that the band’s 1991 “Jack Pepsi” single had been approved by the beverage manufacturer, thereby indicating Tad’s willingness to “play ball” with corporate America. Too, the band’s third studio album, Inhaler, was scheduled to be released by Giant Records on October 19, 1993 – Game Three of the World Series.(2) It all seemed too perfect.

Would you trust these men with your marketing campaign?
Major League Baseball and CBS Sports did in 1993.
In early May 1993, American League President Bobby Brown and CBS Sports Vice President of Marketing Raymond McClellan traveled to Seattle to meet with Tad frontman Tad Doyle; Brown and McClellan found the enormous, hirsute singer passed out on his front lawn, surrounded by empty beer cans, shirtless and cuddling an axe. Several frantic phone calls by Brown to acting commissioner Bud Selig went unanswered; unsure what to do, the duo returned the next day to Doyle’s house and negotiated a contract with a sobered-up Doyle and guitarist Scott Thorstensen. The agreement called for the band to be paid a guaranteed $12,000 up-front to play a “warm-up” gig in the parking lot at the Kingdome before the Mariners-Red Sox game on July 4, 1993, where they would be introduced by Selig and Mariners manager Lou Pinella as the “Official Spokesband of the 1993 World Series”. The contract was signed, and preparations were made for the Fourth of July concert.

Some time before dawn on Sunday, July 4, 1993, the members of Tad – Doyle, Thorstensen, bassist Kurt Danielson and drummer Josh Sinder – loaded up their van with gear, alcohol and fireworks, chainsawed through a parking gate at the Kingdome and began tailgating.(3) Around 3:45 a.m., a roman candle fired into the back of the van ignited the fireworks stash, incinerating the vehicle and destroying much of the band’s equipment. No one was injured, but the band was unable to play that night. (Buffalo Tom, in town by dint of having played at The Tractor Tavern in nearby Ballard the night before, performed the July 4th Kingdome show in Tad’s stead, without incident.) The Fourth of July stunt was an unmitigated disaster, with the group banned for life from the Kingdome; the ban was later extended to include the Mariners’ new home, Safeco Field, and the Seahawks stadium, Qwest Field (now CenturyLink Field).(4)

"I wish I had thought of that," Tad Doyle
By all rights, the parking lot debacle should have scuppered the relationship between the band and MLB/CBS, but MLB officials, fearful of losing their potentially lucrative toehold in Alternative Nation, agreed to continue working with the band. (An unconfirmed rumor has it that Irv Azoff, the head of Giant Records, convinced labelmate Kenny Rogers to perform at Bud Selig’s 59th birthday party on July 30, in an effort to mollify MLB brass.)  The remainder of the summer was largely uneventful, bordering on successful, with Tad appearing on CBS's The Late Show With David Letterman on September 6, performing Inhaler’s lone single, “Leafy Incline” before a stunned Ed Sullivan Theater crowd. A triumphant performance in the band’s estimation, it very likely earned the band a slot opening for Soundgarden on the 1994 Superunknown tour. It would also prove to be the high point of the band’s relationship with MLB and CBS.

On Friday, October 15, 1993 – the day before World Series – Tad headed to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to travel to Toronto for Game One (where they were scheduled to perform both the American and Canadian national anthems on-field back-to-back), but they were informed by Air Canada officials that they wouldn’t be able to fly, as none of the band members had valid passports. MLB officials were apoplectic, but the band, unfazed, performed an impromptu, acoustic run-through of Inhaler in Concourse A.(5) The band instead flew to Philadelphia on October 17, where they crashed at the apartment of Magnet magazine founder Eric T. Miller in preparation for a rescheduled National Anthem performance at Game Three on October 19.

Immediately fascinated by Philly favorite Yuengling beer, the band insisted on roadtripping to the Yuengling Brewery in nearby Pottstown. The band’s rental van broke down on I-476, leaving Tad stranded on the side of the road for three days: October 19, 20 and 21 –
South of Sunset stars Glenn Frey,
Maria Pitillo and Aries Spears
Games Three, Four and Five – before they were finally rescued by Miller. MLB officials were left scrambling to find three replacement singers for the American National Anthem, eventually settling on, respectively, Darryl Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra and actor Scott Bakula. (The band was also supposed to play “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch of Game Four on-field with Eagles singer/guitarist Glenn Frey, whose
short-lived detective series South of Sunset was being heavily promoted by CBS during the World Series. Frey performed solo.) It was later revealed in an MLB debriefing memo dated November 9, 1993, that an MLB staffer driving to Philadelphia on I-476 on October 19 saw an enormous man sitting in a lawn chair with a chainsaw across his lap on the median next to a broken-down Econoline, recognized him as Doyle and, tired of the band’s antics, chose not to report this sighting to his superiors.

CBS, infuriated with MLB’s failure to control Tad, severed their ties with the MLB, and has not broadcast a baseball game since. With nothing to show for their $12,000, MLB and CBS officials immediately terminated their contract with Tad, stranding the band in Philadelphia. The band busked for bus fare in Reading Terminal Market, finally returning to Seattle on November 18.(6) Doyle, who had stashed the $12,000 in a coffee can buried in his yard, used some of the funds to fight the lawsuit brought by the couple who took umbrage at their found photo appearing on the cover of the band’s 8-Way Santa album, and spent the rest on printing the infamous Inhaler tour poster of a picture of Bill Clinton smoking a joint over a caption reading, “It’s heavy shit” – an ill-advised move that got Tad dropped by Giant Records and capped off Tad’s, MLB’s and CBS’s wild year.

(1) The full list of bands considered by MLB/CBS can be found in Appendix A of Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge [Three Rivers Press, 2012].
(2) Incidentally, Pearl Jam’s Vs. was also released on 10/19/93.
(3) In the subsequent police report, Thorstensen claimed the band was “woodshedding”.
(4) When the Kingdome was demolished in March 2000, Doyle was quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer saying, “I wish I had thought of that.”
(5) This performance was captured on video by a roadie and is an easter egg on the band’s 2008 documentary DVD, Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears.
(6) A busked performance of “Cyanide Bath” appears as a hidden bonus track on the band’s 1995 album, Live Alien Broadcasts.