If you are interested in the history of famous artists, you’ll find that they all seem to have something in common, a singular event that puts them on a trajectory to fame: Brian Epstein drops in on a lunchtime concert at Liverpool’s Cavern Club. Linda Keith drops in at the little-known Cheetah Club in New York and finds Curtis Knight and the Squires, the house band, featuring Jimmy James on lead guitar. Linda Keith is Keith Richard’s girlfriend; Jimmy James is Jimi Hendrix. You read those accounts and a little bell in your head goes “Ding!” It’s not much of a leap to think that for PKM that magic moment would have been March 1, 1982, when the three-piece dynamo brought together more than 8,000 screaming fans at Raleigh’s Dorton Arena—without having a record label.
In any genre, the pool of the most talented artists is a fairly small one. Pee Wee Watson, Kenny Soule and Michael Gardner had known and respected one another since the late 1970s. In 1980, Michael was living near L. A., writing songs, determined to make his mark. Pee Wee and Kenny were touring with Nantucket, who had signed with Epic. Michael needed a demo. In June, the three converged at Arthur Smith Studios. The chemistry was exhilarating, and that energy and excitement translated into the music and performance of PKM. By the time they had finished the tracks for what would become Rock Erotica, they had earned the attention of celebrity DJ Daniel Brunty at Raleigh’s WQDR. “He spun PKM’s demos as we stood there in the studio, our collective jaws dropping as we watched the phone lines light up before the song was even over,” Kenny said. “I believe the first tune [to ever get played] was ‘Long Night.’” Their first gig together was at The Purple Horse in Raleigh in April of ’81. “We basically smoked the N.C. clubs for the rest of that year,” says Kenny.
They opened for Ozzy Osborne, Blue Oyster Cult and Joan Jett. They opened for Cheap Trick. They rocked. Their live performances earned them devoted and loving fans, pounding out songs the room sang together and generating a kind of joy that communicated who they were and what they felt for their music and their audience. The multiple award-winning videographer Steve Boyle captured the band’s performance live. You can find it at http://www.returntocomboland.com/pkm.htm. The songs stand up, even to this day, and the performances will remind you of what you fell in love with when you went to see and hear PKM.
So why did that little bell not ring? Why didn’t PKM tour the world? Many of us still scratch our head and wonder. “We were in the right place at the wrong time,” Michael says. “When New Wave [music] moved in, it killed rock and roll as we knew it. PKM was just too ahead or behind our time, depending on how you look at it.”
Still, in 1985 the band independently released Rock Erotica. And for the many thousands who gathered their friends and loved ones for a night of great music and shared joy, that record still does its work. You will find it here.