[The following's been swiped from the booklet included with the CD. If anyone out there has personal true stories about code blue you'd like to share, please forward to info@code-blue.us. For more about what dean's been up to, check out music video and documentary clips, photos and more stuff at www.pingmangazine.com]

In a field crowded with fine, adventurous new rock
’n’ roll bands that made their homes in Los Angeles
between ’78–82, Code Blue stood out from the pack.
This was a no-nonsense unit, without pomposity or
cuteness. They were unique at a time when most
bands wore their influences and commercial ambitions
on their sleeves. Those who caught the original
lineup in small clubs were struck by their power and
passionate delivery of great songs.
Leader/guitarist Dean Chamberlain had been a founding
member of the original Motels with Martha Davis.
Moving to L.A. and leaving that band after a few
years, he felt he had finally progressed to the point
of forming his own personal version of the great,
American rock ’n’ roll band. Dean composed a set of
representative tunes and went about the task of
finding suitable musicians. Within a year, the band—
now called Skin, with Randall Marsh on drums and
Michael Ostendorf on bass—had built a loyal following
and entertained serious offers from the two
largest record companies in the world.

the right place at the right time

Dean grew up in San Mateo, just south of San Francisco, and started playing
electric guitar when he was 14. He began attending Bill Graham-produced
concerts and caught a variety of artists, such as Howlin’ Wolf, The
Charles Lloyd Quartet, and Big Brother And The Holding Company,
appearing on the same bill. Rock, blues, jazz, folk, experimental—the wide
range of styles combined on Graham’s stage was extraordinary, all the
more so for those kids who saw their scope and appreciation of music
permanently broadened.

Dean saw Jimi Hendrix play on several occasions around the Bay Area.
Once, he became so caught up in the excitement, he climbed up on the
stage, only to be launched back into the crowd by Graham himself.
As a teenager, Dean spent a year in Brazil while his dad worked as a doctor
for the Peace Corps. He expanded his musical pallet by befriending
and playing with future Brazilian guitar hero Robertinho de Recife and the
young Arto Lindsay, who would continue his international career with DNA
and the Ambitious Lovers, as well as producing Brazilian megastars.
After returning to the States, Dean studied at U.C. Santa Cruz for a couple
of years before transferring to Berkeley. It was there that he formed the
group that would eventually become The Motels with Martha Davis,
Richard d’Andrea on bass, Robert Newman on drums, and high school
friend Chuck Wada on guitar and songwriting. This group was a funky
reaction to the swell of peace and love that Dean witnessed growing up in
the Bay Area. But by the early ’70s, the cosmic spell of brotherhood and
goodness had already faded, and the local music scene had grown stale.
It was time to move along.


“i came down to l.a. to see iggy pop at the

whisky a go-go and stayed.”

In the mid-’70s, Southern California was a rather bleak, barren place for
the many musicians flocking there in search of career opportunities. The
music industry had become fat and decadent as increasing record sales
built corporate giants. The popular L.A. sound of the day was light rock
with a country flavor. R&B had somehow turned into disco. Jazz musicians
traded their sharkskin suits and Italian shoes for dashiki’s and jazz-rock
fusion. Spandex-and-hair-spray bands maintained scattered pockets of
support in the Valley and Orange County. But the real problem was that too
few venues were available to host original music. What was a thoughtful
young man to do with his more subversive tendencies and rock ’n’ roll
ambitions?

Evenings spent at The Rainbow Bar & Grill, trolling for free drinks, proved
a reasonable strategy for Dean to get his bearings. Soon after arriving in
the City of Angels, he secured a job at Paramount Recording Studios on
Santa Monica Blvd. This medium-sized facility had been around since the
late ’60s and recorded such artists as The Doors and Sly And The Family
Stone. When he walked in off of the street and asked for a job, Dean
figured he had nothing to lose. To his surprise, he soon found himself
employed removing linoleum from the studio-bathroom floor.


welcome to the record business


In addition to honing his carpentry skills, on occasion Dean did assist
in the engineering of actual recording sessions, and worked with
legendary artists and producers, such as Sly Stone, Bob Crewe, and Bobby
Womack. He also recorded his own version of “Harlem Shuffle” during
allnight sessions that might have led to his subsequent dismissal.
Dean’s next day-job was at Warner Bros. Records, listening to
unsolicited tapes sent to the A&R department. This was a handy gig, as
it allowed him to pursue his own musical endeavors while getting paid to
listen to those of other musicians.

Soon after, Martha Davis and the other Motels relocated to L.A. Their intention?
Putting the band back together with Dean, securing a record deal,
and hitting the big time. Still, there was a nagging problem: There were few
places for a ’70s alternative band to perform. The Motels had to stage and
promote their own shows—their first one, at Barney’s Beanery, and then
one at Radio Free Hollywood at Troopers Hall, where over 200 people
showed up. Demos were recorded for record-company consideration.
Punk found its way to Los Angeles in early ’77. This extreme reaction to
the status quo was a long-awaited fire hose, washing away the deadwood
to make way for new live music. The excitement was palpable on the
street. Punk clubs sprang up in Chinese restaurants and Polish meeting
halls, and established venues soon took notice. New bands, liberated from
the stodgy constraints of musical ability, were being formed daily.
Musicians who had been knocking around were inspired by the new punk-rock
attitude, though not exactly sure of how to embrace it. Dexterous guitar
riffage seemed to be out of fashion, and Dean played “lead guitar.”
Things were beginning to move for The Motels. Phil Spector attended a
show at The Starwood and, afterward, requested a meeting with Martha
alone. Dean felt a change in the air. That group’s more-or-less-equal creative
participation was fading as Martha was becoming the primary focus.
It was time to move along.

By this time, Dean had progressed to a point where, musically, he knew
what he wanted to say and had a clear idea of the steps needed to say it.
Furthermore, he had the confidence in his ability to create something that
would attract and excite audiences.

skin to skin

A band requires space to develop its sound and work out material. With this in
mind, Dean rented a storefront near the corner of Highland and Romaine, in
Hollywood, and set about a futile effort to soundproof the rehearsal space. This
was necessary because, like any self-respecting “lead guitar” player, Dean’s
amplifier was really loud, and some neighbors just might’ve had weapons.
A “musicians wanted” ad was prepared for The Recycler. Dean interviewed
and auditioned hundreds of bass players and drummers before meeting
drummer Randall Marsh, who had previously played in the original
Mudcrutch with Tom Petty back in florida. Michael Ostendorf agreed to join
on bass, and the band was complete. According to their plan, they had six
months to practice before their first gig.Dean had written only one song before
starting the band. He hadn’t sung
in front of an audience either. But this didn’t deter him. All of the
songs that appeared on the first album were written within that year.
Demos of songs and arrangements were recorded regularly on a Dokorder
four-track. It was a good time. Everything seemed to be coming together.
Dean wrote “Modern Times” alone at his family’s vacation house in
Inverness, Marin County, under the influence of Southern Comfort. He
wrote “Hurt” while housesitting for another former Motels bassist, Lisa
Brenneis. “Face To Face” was a touching memory of a high school girlfriend.
“The Need” was inspired by William Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch.
The band, by this time called Skin, began to play around town in late ’78. At a
show in October, at Club 88 on Pico, the newly retooled Motels had the opening
spot. Skin took the stage with the old Stones favorite “She Said Yeah.”
They were strong and self-assured, even at this early stage of development.
There was something special about the band. Their arrangements, though
sparse, had an explosive quality. Dean’s guitar work was restrained, yet
loose and reckless in the way he would casually toss out single-line licks
and noise shards. It was apparent that this group was not trying to sound
like anyone else or be part of any style or movement, and record companies
began to take serious notice of the enthusiastic crowds packing the clubs.


“you didn’t tell me you were good.”

An A&R executive from Warner Bros. happened to see Skin at a local club
and was surprised to see her own A&R assistant, Dean Chamberlain,
fronting this great band. A deal was offered the next day; the contract was
signed soon afterwards. Although Columbia Records had also made a
serious bid for the band, Dean knew that Warner Bros. cultivated a nurturing,
family-type ethos. Skin were in good hands.

The label strongly suggested Skin find professional artist management.
Dean had taken care of business up to now and didn’t see the need, but
he capitulated. Also, the name Skin seemed a bit harsh and extreme—
maybe they could come up with something a bit more radio-friendly.
Nigel Grey, fresh from producing the first two Police albums, saw the band
play at Blackies and was duly impressed. He signed on as producer and
suggested they record the album in London. A sudden disagreement in
creative and business direction caused Michael Ostendorf to part ways
with the band as they were preparing to record.

Gary Tibbs filled the vacated spot just as the group had hit upon its new
name, Code Blue. At the time, Gary was the hottest young bassist around,
having come off of a stint with The Vibrators and playing on Roxy Music’s
successful Manifesto album and world tour. Code Blue was off to London
to record at the legendary Olympic Studios, scene of the Stones and Jean-
Luc Godard’s film, Sympathy For The Devil, The Beatles’ “All You Need Is
Love” telecast, and early Led Zeppelin albums.

London was bone-chillingly cold, as illustrated by the half-fingered gloves
worn by Dean on the album cover. Basic tracks were recorded efficiently
enough, although Dean suspected that some of the tempos might be too
fast. (Yngwie Malmsteen or some other guitar god was in the studio next
door, recording within a circle of candles.)

Grey proposed that overdubs be recorded at his own studio in the south of
England. It was there, situated over a working dairy, that the project came
to a grinding halt. Details are somewhat sketchy, but in the end, relations
with Grey were severed, and the tapes went back to L.A. with the band. In
all fairness, Grey did insist that Dean write a third verse for “Whisper/Touch.”
A good call.

When the band reconvened recording sessions at Sound City in Van Nuys,
they were producing with engineer Mike Stone. Benmont Tench, from
The Heartbreakers, came down to a session and contributed organ parts.
Dean, Randall, and Mike Stone chose faders and mixed the album in short order.

The LP sounded amazing. It was a new and refreshing take on the young
man’s condition, shot through with romance and danger. There were no
songs about buildings and food, parties and fast cars. And there was not
a weak track in the bunch.

“i’m not really a happy guy by nature.”

The Code Blue record-release party was a wild affair hosted at an old
Hollywood-hotel bungalow. Hundreds of people attended, most of whom
the band had never met. As the night wore on, it deteriorated into a drunken
orgy of wasted hangers-on. The party was symbolic of the band itself:
What began as an honest vehicle for musical expression was creeping
toward oblivion.

While preparing for the tour to support the record, Code Blue received
word that Gary Tibbs would not be joining them. Joe Read, fresh from
Bram Tchaikovsky, filled in on bass and rehearsed for their national tour, on
which they inexplicably opened for classic-rock legends Thin Lizzy. The
six-week tour began on a positive note, with a good reception in
Columbus, Ohio. Most shows, however, were not well-received and left the
band—who drove around the country in a rented sedan—spiritually drained.
The events surrounding the recording and the less-than-hoped-for reaction
to the record and tour caused Dean to reevaluate Code Blue’s direction
and basic premise. They would continue searching for the next year or
so, until they finally broke up. Their second album, True Stories, was a collection
of demos released posthumously.

Code Blue is an overlooked gem that ranks among the best rock albums
of the ’80s, captured a sincere and unique slice of raw emotion. One
wouldn’t necessarily link it, stylistically, to the decade, although
“Whisper/Touch” does play on Andie’s car stereo in a scene from Pretty In
Pink, forever sealing it in the ’80s time capsule.
In the rush of the moment, opportunities are created and seized. There may
be a brief window for you to take your shot before it closes. If an artist can
maintain his values throughout the process without settling for compromise
and adulteration, the ultimate reward just might be hanging onto his soul.

—Chris Silagyi

 




© 2003 Hybridesign