by Bon Von Wheelie
from Wig Out #24 (October, 1997)
The last couple years she decided that Girl Trouble was part of the official birthday celebration. Since Granny had been one of the go-go dancers at the Java Jive in the 60s, usually her old dancer friends would drop by. It ended up being a sort of unofficial Java Jive reunion. We were more than happy to be part of it. And then there was the cake. The dreaded cake. Granny always had to have a birthday cake. Not just any cake but one of those awful store-bought jobs with an inch of cake and five inches of white, gooey, sugary, sickening frosting. You better eat a piece of it. She wouldn't give up until you were finishing off your piece of her cake. The taste of beer and that cake will be etched in our minds forever. It's a remembrance of Halloween almost as vivid as trick or treat.
The last birthday we spent with Granny was a great one. She turned 86. This year she decided that maybe dancing wasn't going to be in the cards. The health problems of any normal 86 year old were catching up to her. We all showed up together. She and her friend/"adopted" son Robert saved the back corner booth for us. The year before she wore a donated dancehall girl costume. She got mad when we asked her what she was supposed to be. This year just showing up was pretty amazing. She'd had a pretty tough year. She wasn't even soliciting gigs for us. That wasn't a good sign. We all crammed back there with Granny and they brought out the big cake. She insisted K.P. go to every table and push that cake on the unsuspecting beer drinking crowd. We watched laughing as table after table rejected this "treat". Granny claimed K.P. didn't try hard enough. I ate the cake but I shoved the frosting aside. She caught me so I blamed Dale. I should have known I couldn't be sneaky enough to fool her. Even though Granny had decided to sit this one out, some inebriated Java Jive regular insisted she dance with him. We were all apprehensive but he was actually very careful with her. So Granny did dance on her birthday after all. Java Jive owner Bob, all the employees, her friends and everyone in the bar sang her "Happy Birthday". She told some of the usual Rusty Warren style "dirty" jokes. Granny just loved to tell those jokes. She also loved to give you shit and if you could shovel it back, all the better. There was plenty that night. It was a great party.
It didn't seem possible that we'd known Granny Go-Go for over six years. The day we met her to ask if she'd dance at a show with us, we didn't realize that it would be the start of a friendship that lasted the rest of her life. Thinking back on it now, we wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
GRANNY AND ME
I'd known who Granny was long before the rest of the band. She was famous in the 60s for dancing during the talent portion of Stu Martin's Early Date/Late Date at the movies TV show. Bad movies, local talent and two young chicks in beehive hairdos who would record your vote. What a combination. Stu seemed to be a strange little guy. I liked him. Granny always called him Stu Baby. Granny used to be a fixture at all those rough scary clubs on lower Pacific Avenue before they tore the whole thing down. She told us she danced at this bar that I remember hearing in hushed terms when kids were present. It was called Ezmerelda's and Granny danced upstairs in Ezzy's Attic. It was probably somewhere near the all time coolest Tacoma attraction for GIs and weirdoes, The Fun Circus. That's when Tacoma was really Tacoma. Then Granny moved to California for awhile and made it "big" on The Gong Show and $1.98 Beauty Pageant. That was Granny's bigtime. You got to admit it is damn impressive. Granny won the $1.98 Beauty Contest. She danced to Jailhouse Rock by Elvis. I'm not sure when she moved back here but she danced in a lot of strip clubs. Granny was no stripper though. If you ever were stupid enough to call her that once you sure as hell wouldn't do it again. She acted like a lady and danced like a lady. That was her motto.
I remember in the winter of 85 Kahuna and David Duet told me
about going across 56th street to the Safeway. They said there
was this wild old lady in a patent leather red coat with long
white/blonde hair who started talking to them in line. She showed
them her scrap book and advised them they should drink whiskey
in the wintertime instead of the beer they were buying. Gee, I
wonder who that could have been?
Around 1989 Girl Trouble went over to the Java Jive and there she was, dancing by herself. She didn't care who was there. She was working it and having a blast. We were in awe of her. I told them I thought it was Granny Go-Go. We were too awestruck to talk to her. K.P. and I fantasized about what it would be like to have her dance with us. We thought it was probably a pipe dream until K.P. found that his sister-in-law lived close to her and knew her. Erika got the ball rolling for us to hire Granny.
(Granny poses with an unknown pal at the Java Jive in 1968.
Granny's place wasn't exactly the Ritz. In fact it was probably
at the other end of the spectrum. Granny lived in a small depressing
little shack that was rotting away. The fact anybody could charge
rent for a dump like that should have been a crime. It probably
was. But it was all Granny could afford and it was all hers. Being
independent was the thing she prized the most.
The old shack was located in one rough neighborhood. Granny lived on the east side of Tacoma right behind the Country Boys grocery store parking lot. You drove through the lot to a small alley where Granny had set up her own roadblock of tires to stop nightly visits from cars and vans carrying who knows what. At first it was actually hard to tell a house was back there. The blackberry bushes almost engulfed the place and was no doubt home to more than a couple rats. It was poverty. Even so, it sure beat the hell out of any boring retirement home. Nothing would ruffle her feathers more than somebody daring to suggest a rest home as an alternative to her place. Living in one of those joints would have driven her nuts. But more to the point she would have driven everybody else nuts first.
Unfortunately, the one thing you immediately noticed upon entering Granny's pad was this pungent odor. It wasn't pleasant. Okay it was cat piss. Granny always had too many pets. Usually a couple of ratty looking small dogs (at least we think they were dogs) and several stray (sometimes mean-looking) cats. She gave it her best shot to keep things in control but more often than not the animals were taking over. Sometimes the smell was not so bad and sometimes it made your eyes sting. She tried to cover it up with a hell of a lot of those stick-up deodorizers but it wasn't exactly working. She loved those animals. You'd better not make any comments about how many there were. She'd fight anybody who thought they could relieve her of a few pets. That was her family. Mind your own damn business. For awhile she had this really huge dog tied up outside. The crummy neighbors finally moved away but left the dog behind. She thought he'd be able to assist with her security detail. Maybe so, but he was too much dog for an old lady to handle. She finally did have to admit that she couldn't take care of him.
We'd go over and visit once in awhile. We'd look at her old photos and she'd try to give us vegetables she grew out back. It seemed like Granny would decorate her place with anything somebody gave her. I remember she had lots of cards up and part of a Hallmark store Christmas display. She always seemed to have a few broken microwaves sitting around too. Her bed was in the living room because the teeny bedroom was rotting off the back of the house. The slumlord wouldn't fix it. A Girl Trouble visit to Granny's house, this time to get a photograph for the Work That Crowd single. Check out the background. This is a photo we didn't use but it shows Granny clowning around. Guess who is Granny's favorite?
GRANNY AND K.P. KENDALL
A visit to Granny's was always an adventure, but especially for K.P. You see, K.P. was Granny's favorite. We didn't realize that when we hired Granny on for that first night, Granny hired K.P. on for the rest of her life. It was hard to tell whether she thought of him as a best friend, son, possible boyfriend, or personal assistant. Probably all of the above. Whatever, K.P. got the brunt of the "Granny wrangling" as our pal Larry Roberts aptly described it. She'd call K.P. daily, three, four or five times a day. The phone was her lifeline. She was great at leaving messages. Now I wish we'd saved them. It was more than obvious who was leaving the message but each time she'd carefully repeat her full name and number.
Granny got the idea that K.P. should show up one Thanksgiving. He came over for a Granny-cooked turkey that he said was actually very tasty. Well, that did it. Then it was Christmas dinner and Easter dinner and New Year's Day and Mother's Day and Valentines Day. Pretty soon Granny was making up holidays just so she could coax K.P. into coming over to hang out. They'd watch Elvis videos but Granny wouldn't let K.P. touch her fussy VCR. Never mind the fact that the only reason it was "fussy" was because Granny didn't know how to use it. K.P. said watching Granny operate that machine used to drive him crazy. K.P. ended up doing a lot of things to help Granny out. We'd always enjoyed hearing the latest Granny adventures, first because they were always so entertaining but mostly because we didn't have to go through it.
Granny lived for the Puyallup Fair in September. She'd go several times. She loved to hit the oldies shows and dance in the crowd. Of course, the crowd was always amazed at her performance. Her favorites were the Beach Boys. They were really nice to her and she was even on their Christmas card list. She also loved Fabian. He brought her right up on stage and let her practically take over the show. Now there's a guy Granny could work with!
Granny at the fair. As you can see the crowds thrilled (or were stunned) to see Granny strut her stuff.
Sometimes Granny would get pissed off at K.P. She'd leave him a nasty message on his machine when he wouldn't return her barrage of phone calls. Granny would hunt you down. "Don't run away, lie or try to snow her. Granny will find you." She'd find you at work, at a club; wherever you were, she'd call you. It was scary.
GRANNY AND GIRL TROUBLE
Girl Trouble found that out the hard way. The first time she
danced with us it was incredible. It was also a lot more work
than any of us would admit to. Granny first danced with us at
the Off Ramp in Seattle. We figured this old girl would get too
tired at the club waiting around for hours between the soundcheck
and show. So we took our equipment up, then K.P. and I drove back
to Tacoma and picked Granny up. We drove to T-town in the worst
rain storm of the year and got stuck in the worst traffic jam
of the year on the way back. As K.P. dodged traffic Granny related
stories of health problems and how she had those little plastic
plugs attached to her so medics could quickly hook up a life support
machine if she had another attack. Gee, that was reassuring. We
almost missed the show. Kahuna and Dale were on needles and pins
thinking we wouldn't make it. We spared them Granny's heart attack
But it was worth it. The crowd loved Granny. She was always the professional. She'd wear this old ugly housedress. When it was time to "take the stage" Granny would unzip it to reveal the most amazing gold sparkle go-go dress with black fringe. She really didn't have to do anything else. That alone made those 500 people go ape. When she got out there and danced it felt like the whole place was blowing apart. We will never forget it. Here's one of our favorite shots of Granny in all her glory at the Off Ramp show. She was supercharged! The excellent photo is by Ron Hall.
She pretended that she'd gotten that reaction a lot. Yeah,
right Granny. She'd do that - play it down - but we knew she was
mighty impressed. She was even more impressed (although she still
never let on) with the $100 we gave her. We even got her a personal
driver (aka Dad) to take her right back home after her performance.
She got the total red carpet treatment.
That's when she saw she might be able to work this thing. I'm not sure if Granny ever fully understood that we played shows without her. From that time on, to her, she was a part of the act. Make that an IMPORTANT part of the act. We'd decided that all the planning we'd gone through, along with Granny's heart machine attachments, made playing outside of town practically an impossibility. We pulled it off once. We didn't want to chance it a second time. Tacoma shows would be Granny Go-Go shows. It would be easier for us all.
Of course we didn't tell Granny that. We would have gotten an earful. She wouldn't have taken "no" for an answer. So we had to lie to her. It was a bold move. K.P. told her we weren't playing anywhere. Well, that didn't work out. Don't be lying to Granny. She'd call the clubs and find out we were playing. K.P. spent a lot of time dodging Granny about our shows. She once told him, "They say you're playing and they want me back too". Sure they wanted her back. They didn't have to chauffeur her or worry about the condition of her heart that night. And they didn't pay her, we did. I don't think Granny ever got hip to that either. Some nights Granny made a lot more than Girl Trouble did.
The first Tacoma show Granny did she ended up calling the club about three times before we could go to pick her up. K.P. was pissed. He finally brought her over and we all figured it was time to baby-sit this old woman for an hour before the show started. Think again. Granny got right down to working that room. She went to every table and introduced herself, telling stories, jokes and entertaining the patrons. We discovered that part of Granny's routine was to work the crowd before the show. That's when it hit us like a ton of bricks. WE were actually cramping HER style by not getting her there well-ahead of showtime so she could meet and greet everybody.
One night Granny flipped us off on stage during the show. The sets were planned so that Granny would dance toward the big finale. Then we'd bring her out again for the encore. This particular night she was dancing on the floor off to the side of the stage. Some of the audience thought they should help her get up there. K.P. wanted to give Granny the big introduction during the next song. That was the plan. He motioned Granny to get back down there until it was time. That did it. Not letting a true professional take the stage when she wanted?! This was an outrage! Granny was so pissed off. She stormed out and stood there in the middle of the crowd flipping us off while we finished the song. When Granny flips up that little bony finger, you know you've been flipped off! I thought we should stop in the middle of the song. K.P. knew exactly what to do. We ended the song and he started making the big introduction. Of course when Granny heard the applause she couldn't let her fans down. She came back in a flash to put on the show. As mad as she was she wasn't going to let that stop her from performing for her crowd. When they cheered, all was forgiven. Like K.P. said, "Besides, where was she going to go?" We were her ride home and she knew we wouldn't pay her if she didn't dance. These incentives proved more important than holding a grudge.
One rainy night K.P. and former tour boss Jim May were taking Granny home after a show. Granny was reeling off her usual jokes and philosophy to Jim. She told him that when she died she hoped it would be dancing. K.P. said, "Well, I hope it isn't at one of our shows!" Granny looked him dead in the eye and said, "Well, I hope it is!"
We needed to tour. At least Granny wouldn't think she was going along on those shows. We were wrong again. She begged K.P. to take her along. We'd get more people to see us in California because she was popular there. I wouldn't dispute that. The thought of Granny bouncing for five weeks with us in the van made us shiver. Granny still thought of ways she could swing it. She told K.P. she was an excellent camper and would be willing to dig for clams and make clam chowder. We never did figure out what she thought a tour was like. Hipping Granny to the real world of rock and roll was kind of tough. Needless to say we didn't pack an 84 year old woman with a heart condition along with us. Sure she was disappointed, but never defeated.
GRANNY ON VINYL
After dealing with Granny it was only a matter of time before we wrote a song about her. There's not much better subject than an 81 year old go-go girl. "Work That Crowd" was written in 1993 in honor of her fabulous career. We decided Granny should say something on the record but bringing her into a studio sounded like much more hassle than any of us were willing to go through, especially K.P. We got the idea to tape her talking about herself and we'd just patch it over the solo ending. I think when the record came out Granny thought we'd be rich. Here was a record by a rock band with her on the cover. What more could you want? She insisted it would go over big in California. Try telling an 82 year old that your only payment was in records and you won't even cover the cost of recording. It was really just a lot easier to give her the royalties. So every so often we'd kick Granny back some of the "royalties" that came in.
GRANNY'S LAST DANCE
We started feeling something was up when Granny stopped asking about gigs. She knew it was just about time to hang up that gold lame go-go dress for good. She couldn't even manage to dance for her scheduled spot in our "My Hometown" video. Granny not taking advantage of a chance to strut her stuff? Now that was depressing. Granny went on for about a year with more medical problems than K.P. could keep up with. Then like a small miracle she began to feel a bit better and stronger. She even mentioned performing again. It was about time we did another Tacoma show so we asked Granny. She was willing but her health was still unpredictable.
The Swiss was a very clean old refurbished bar in Tacoma. They
mostly have bands that can play a whole night with some breaks.
We got asked to play. "Sure, I guess we have four hours of
material. We should have enough after 13 years together. We'll
need to play l lot of songs to fill that timeslot." We decided
we'd attempt a four-hour marathon. If Granny could dance great
and if not maybe the sight of us killing ourselves would be entertaining
enough for the evening. We purposely didn't put Granny's name
on the flyer. We'd just see what happened.
That night Granny was her old self - shooting the shit, telling "dirty jokes" and working that crowd like only she could. I made her a tip jar. She knew exactly what to do with it, picking up tips from most everyone in the joint. We played four 50 minute sets. Granny sat up on stage with us like the queen of the ball. She WAS the queen of the ball. Every couple of songs she'd jump up when the mood hit her. The crowd fueled her routines. It was pandemonium. People danced, cheered, touched her and passed around her tip jar to gather more money. We played 63 songs but the night was definitely hers. During our breaks she sat up on stage. People came up and got autographs, got their photos taken with her and took a few minutes to talk. She never would have admitted it but she was in her glory. By the third set we were getting pooped out. Not Granny. She was possessed. We hoped this would not be the show she talked about with Jim May and K.P. that rainy night. Luckily it wasn't. She danced, wowed her adoring public, collected her payment from us, took her tip jar and went home. There couldn't have been a better night to go out on and she did. That was our last dance with Granny Go-Go. Granny got a new hairdo especially for the show (shorter and RED!). First she wows the Tacoma crowd with her spectacular show and then dances with lucky dog Gary Hoffart. The photos are by longtime Granny fans Gary and Shawna.
SEE YA LATER, GRANNY
K.P. ended up spending a lot more time with Granny that last year. Her health was in bad shape. She went one last time to the fair with K.P. pushing the Granny wheelchair. Granny had other very capable caretakers but she still depended on K.P. She depended on him to come over and help bury one of her dead cats. She depended on him to be on call in emergencies. She depended on him to watch the house and feed those ratty pets when she finally had to go to the rest home. She was sure she'd be back but the specialists knew otherwise. The conditions at the house weren't good. With the consent of Granny's closest relative K.P. finally had to call the Humane Society about the pets. We told him that when Granny went yonder and found that those pets had gotten there before her she would come back to get him. I wouldn't be surprised.
Finally the day we were dreading came. Sylvia Eads, Granny Go-Go, died on December 22, 1996. We knew it was coming but that didn't make it any easier. A few years before I would have bet that she'd outlive us all. Everybody that had known her or ever seen her dance would never forget her. She got you going. Whether it was good or bad, she knew how to get you going. Girl Trouble learned a lot about survival from Granny. No matter what the odds, no matter what happened, no matter who was against you, just keep hanging in there and you'll make it. We were in awe.
There was a big wake for her at the Java Jive. Everybody showed
up to hang out, dance and exchange Granny stories, and believe
me there were plenty of those. The saddest part was that Granny
was missing a really good party. Now that's what would have really
ticked her off.
The day after Granny died she made the front page of the Tacoma News Tribune with a color photo and big write-up. We thought that Granny would have been so thrilled to realize she was "front-page news". Wait a minute. We're talking about Granny here. She wouldn't be surprised. She wouldn't have expected any less for a performer of her caliber! And she was right on the money about that one. If anybody in T-town deserved the front page - she did.
So when we think of Granny we remember she did exactly what
she wanted, how she wanted, and when she wanted. How many of us
can make that claim? This Halloween have a beer and a piece of
sickening white cake
and eat all your
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