Discover more from Alive in the Nineties
Journey to The Center of Cat Butt
Take a ride through the warped world of Seattle's short-lived moto-grunge band
“You’re drinking whisky with the Seventh Son little girl, seven days a week.” —David Duet, singer
“Our M.O. was just to get as annihilated as possible and rock out.” —Danny Bland, guitarist
“Cat Butt are out of control. …If they weren’t in a band, they’d be criminals, in the armed forces or dead.” —Melody Maker
In January 1987, 20-something singer David Duet started assembling his vision for the sleazy garage band in Seattle that became Cat Butt. They recorded 12 original songs, released eight, and one cover, then broke up in December of 1989, just as news about Seattle’s incredible music scene started spreading around the world.
The first song that Cat Butt released was “Big Cigar” on the infamous Sub Pop 200 compilation. Measured in weirdness and ferocity, “Big Cigar” is one of the best grungy rock songs to emerge from Seattle, right up there with Dickless’ “Saddle Tramp” and Soundgarden’s “Nothing to Say.” The Sub Pop 200 comp came out in November 1988 and featured early Northwest bands like Soundgarden, The Fastbacks, Green River, and The Nights and Days, and I bought it during the early ’90s when all that Seattle stuff was the pinnacle of cool. But I didn’t like Cat Butt’s song. It was so fuzzed out and feral that it probably turned me off as a teen, the same way the Nights and Days’ song “Split” was too “garage” for me, and I went back to blasting Soundgarden. When I heard that comp again around 2008, I fell so hard that I searched for everything Cat Butt released, which amounted to a single 7-inch record and a six-song EP that Sub Pop pressed to vinyl and never released digitally.
“Big Cigar” was pure boozy rock built on a classic garage foundation. It was like The Stooges mixed with The Sonics mixed with Mudhoney with a brain injury, its body pulled from a drunk driving accident, entrails wrapped around singer David “Nobody” Duet’s neck. The band sounded like Northwest punks who dropped acid and embraced ’60s hot rod style, which is kind of what they were. That’s why they covered Murphy and the Mob’s 1966 song “Born Loser.” That’s why Duet punctuated songs with deranged snarls, trills, and growls so perfectly timed that they would’ve made Iggy Pop proud. But unlike many of the first wave garage bands from the Nuggets era who sound like they recorded inside a beer can, Cat Butt’s recordings had the depth and fidelity of professional studio engineering. In my early 30s, fuzzed-out guitars and a feral aesthetic were my thing, and Cat Butt’s take on psychedelic garage intersected with my abiding love of old Seattle. As some fan said on YouTube: “Who the fuck can’t love this song? Fuck the clean mainstream music of today.”
People said a lot of things on YouTube.
“David ‘Nobody’ the singer is my brother,” someone named Leo Pitre wrote, “and yes they were on Subpop….his real name is David Duet and he is a sick fuck that quit school at 15 and moved out never seeming to be worried about us (his family) and see if we needed help with anything even something so miniscule as mowing the grass. He is a piece of shit!”
FooCards88 replied: “LOL leaving his family!! Grunge as fuck!!”
Although the term “grunge” turned into a hollow one that people applied to slick, mainstream bands, the term “grungy” had legitimately described raw guitar rock as far back as the 1970s. Northwest underground bands played many different styles, but the ones who did have these grungy elements emerged in the mid- to late-1980s, and they really did have a distinct sound: a loud, heavily distorted, slowed down mix of metal and punk, often with Drop D tuning on their guitars. Many were on Sub Pop 200. Years before mainstream media started describing bands as grunge that weren’t grungy at all, David Duet embraced the term grunge, using it to describe Cat Butt’s style and sound, even calling them moto-grunge and grungedelic. “I’ve gotten a lot of hell for that,” he said in Mark Yarm’s incredible oral history of grunge, Everybody Loves Our Town. Cat Butt’s personalities, limited ambition, and party lifestyle made them so volatile that they broke up before they had the chance to even get labeled as grunge pioneers, let alone develop any reputation outside Seattle. Like the kid said: They were Grunge as fuck.
To know me is to know how much I love Cat Butt. In 2022, as I write this, some YouTube listeners love Cat Butt as much as I do:
“Another band a lot of people have no idea actually existed.”
“This band needs to make more music. So underrated.”
“Cat Butt kicks ass.”
“The band name and song title [“Freebase”] alone claims greatness.”
We diehards seem few and far between, but there are a lot of Northwest OGs who hold strong Cat Butt memories.
“I saw Catbutt at some random spot on 12th near Yesler in 1990 (?) while visiting this fair city for the first time,” remembered Midwestern music-nerd Steve Fisk. “The singer got up on a folding table and was jumping on it until it broke in half. He didn’t seem fazed. That was a fun night.....”
“Once at The Vogue David [Duet] opened his mouth to start singing the first song and his teeth flew out,” wrote Seattle fan Carrie Montgomery. “He CAUGHT them, stuck em back in and didn’t miss a word of the song…”
“Never a dull performance,” remembered Northwest music fixture Anthony-Anton Long. “Really shook up The Vogue the first time I saw them. I caught Dave’s flying tambourine, luckily not with my face!”
“Early Cat Butt shows epitomized, and may have been the pinnacle, of the whole thing,” wrote another fan.
“Really, the live experience was the Cat Butt experience,” guitarist Danny Bland told me. “The record is pretty good—I mean, it has its moments—but I think that it really should have been a movie. That’s not tearing down the record at all, but to me, Cat Butt was a live experience more than anything else.”
“I sadly missed Cat Butt, but always was intrigued by the name,” one fan wrote. “When I arrived in Seattle from Oly in ’89 I was just 18 and it seemed like all the shows were in bars that wouldn’t let me in.”
That’s how I felt. I’d just started high school in ’89 in faraway Phoenix, Arizona.
Catt Butt only played Arizona once: at the Sun Club with L7, in the fall of ’89. I lived down the street but hadn’t heard of them. The show was probably over-21 and on a school night anyway. Bland booked the show. That night, Duet and guitarist James Burdyshaw got in a fight on stage, though they disagree who started it.
“It feels good to go back and listen to the grunge bands who should have gotten more recognition but unfortunately didn’t,” another fan wrote on YouTube.
It did, but as Burdyshaw told me in 2022: “Basically, I think Catbutt is more famous as a myth than the actual band was. And David keeps stoking that fire 30-plus years later.”
Their myth remains strong, and myths thrive in a vacuum.
So little was written about Cat Butt that it was hard to know their story. In 2008 when “Big Cigar” finally clicked for me, grunge was long since dead, YouTube hadn’t yet swelled with rare music, and Discogs didn’t provide the enormous scale of previously hazy details that it now does, so Cat Butt was the kind of band whose profile remained low. Yet strangely, Cat Butt was also the band that Alice in Chains thanked in the insert of their famous album Facelift. They were the band that barely lasted three years but that Nancy Wilson of Heart namechecks in CNN’s documentary series The Nineties. (She and Singles director Cameron Crowe were married, so they saw a lot of early Seattle shows.) They’re the band that Guided by Voices mentions in the first verse of their 1990 song “Pendulum” on Same Place the Fly Got Smashed: “Come on over tonight / We’ll put on some Cat Butt and do it up right.” They’re the kind of band who don’t spell their own name consistently: Is it Catbutt or Cat Butt?
Online, someone named Steve Manning told lead guitarist James Burdyshaw:
“Catbutt: one word
Sub Pop: two words”
“Steve,” Burdyshaw replied, “sometimes we spelled it as two words. It depends on where David’s head was at when he made a poster. I don’t really care about getting Sub Pop correct.”
“Though they remain an easy target for detractors,” Sub Pop records cofounder Jonathan Poneman told me, “Catbutt were a powerful and compelling live band with more personality than any dozen of their local contemporaries.”
The best account of their short musical life appeared in 2011, in Everybody Loves Our Town. Cat Butt doesn’t get their own chapter, of course, but the book brilliantly weaves them into many early chapters about Alice in Chains, U-Men, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and L7, since these bands’ lives coincided. Beyond that, Cat Butt mostly lived in random posts on the Internet, including the Pacific Northwest Music Archive Facebook group, where members actively comment and respond to things that fans post, from band history to rare live photos to general gossip about all the times they took acid at shows (James: rarely) and fought on-stage (more than once). That fan group is how I got in touch with their original bassist Tom Price, rhythm guitarist Danny Bland, drummer Erik Peterson, and James Burdyshaw, who suggested that I write a story according to every band member’s version of events, because they’d all be different. That fan site is where I gathered many quotes, flyers, photos, and details from countless tangled comment threads by band members, musical friends, and Seattle listeners. As a fan, I wanted to have a single detailed Cat Butt story, one that didn’t read like some sloppy dump some drunk took beside the toilet bowl. The band deserved to live forever in one glorious story, so I went for it. I didn’t ask for permission to use all of the photos or flyers that appear here, but I hope my love of this band and my crediting images’ sources makes mine as forgivable a sin as punching your bandmate on stage.
Their album title Journey to the Center of sets the right mood for this journey of intoxicants, warped musical visions, and gloriously irresponsible living. As Duet sings in their song “64 Funny Cars”: “Come on baby take a ride with me, I’m gonna drive you around the world.”
To understand Cat Butt, you have to understand Seattle’s small musical underworld from the early 1980s, back when Soundgarden was an experimental noise band, and when Sub Pop Records cofounder Bruce Pavitt only ran the Fallout Records, Books & Comics retail shop, by the Space Needle.
When Duet started putting Cat Butt together in 1987, few people were paying attention to Seattle music outside of Seattle.
Born in the swamps of southern Louisiana in 1966, where people traveled by boats and young David Duet built forts in the woods, his family moved to Texas in the middle of the night to escape his violent stepfather. In Texas, kids mocked and beat David up for his thick Cajun accent, so he developed a new accent. “I was a misfit,” he told one interviewer. “People didn’t like me.” Surviving a poor, traumatic childhood that deeply scarred him, he found freedom in the emerging punk scene, where he hung out with older people who introduced him to an underworld of drugs, late nights, and music. Pronounced Doo-A, the French way, not with a hard T like singing a duet, David ditched his surname and took the nickname David Nobody as a teenager while doing graffiti. He didn’t want anyone to know his full name or have anything to do with his former life, so he created a new one. He also found healing through creativity.
“All that pain and stuff fed into my art,” he told one interviewer. “From day one I was drawing and painting. …I started playing guitar at seven, and I fell in love with rock music.”
Seeing a group of girls get on stage at an Osmonds show at the Houston Astrodome left a deep impression on the eight-year-old David. The girls knocked down security, leapt on stage, and stole Donny Osmond’s shoe. As the girls raced past David back into the crowd, he thought, That’s what I want to do with my life! Whatever makes girls do that is what I wanna do. “And that’s what I started trying to do,” he said.
He ran away from home at age 12 and became the singer of a punk band. At his first show, he opened for Subhumans. A few months later his band opened for DOA. Homeless and often sleeping in 24-hour laundromats, he fully left home at age 14 and briefly moved in with his guitarist Mike Hutchins in a little apartment in downtown Houston, never graduating from high school, but equipped with great verbal acumen thanks to teaching himself vocabulary by watching late-night TV. “People say TV’s a bad babysitter, but for me it was very good,” he said, especially for writing lyrics.
This is when his lifelong friend Jeannine Gervais Harrell met him.
At age 14, in 1979, Duet was a regular at Houston’s only punk club, The Island. The club let in underage kids. Duet wore plaid bondage pants and had a mohawk like a skunk: thick and platinum in the middle, black on the sides. Despite going by the name David Nobody, he had a way about him that made people think he must be somebody. “He and his girlfriend Lisa Seale were like these little shiny Christmas ornaments,” Harrell told me, “so shiny and innocent. They were incredibly warm, fun, charming kids. Everybody was attracted them, so any bands that came to town ended up hanging out with them, you know? But David was the light that all the moths went to.” She and Duet instantly hit it off. Being nearly a decade older than him, he became a little brother to her.
Jeannine, David, Lisa, and Lisa’s brother older Greg briefly shared a studio apartment in Austin that became the ultimate rock party pad. Touring bands who played in town often hung out at their place, including Flipper and Jeffrey Lee Pierce from Gun Club. “One night Stewart Copeland from The Police had his limousine parked out front and wouldn’t let his chauffeur driver upstairs while Stewart hung out with us all night,” said Harrell. “It was just craziness in this itty-bitty apartment, very exciting and very innocent.”
After living in Texas’ punk community, Duet and his girlfriend Lisa Seale moved to Seattle on Thanksgiving of 1983. Her parents lived in Anchorage and made their living in the oil industry, so Seattle put them closer to her family than Texas did.
“Seattle was still young, was still dangerous,” Duet said. “It was just completely different from Texas. You got to wear black leather all the time. But Seattle had a heroin scene. …In Seattle, it was, like, everywhere.” There were bars downtown where people squirt their syringes all over the bathroom walls, splattering them with blood. Duet and his new friends were young and relatively innocent for the types of things Seattle hurled at them, but along with heroin, Seattle also presented them with musical opportunities and creative freedom. “I saw a lot of people take steps toward their death, or their demise. I saw a lot of people take steps to being very rich rock stars, too,” Duet said. “Everybody was really young, and everybody was discovering new things. Of course, they were old things—but new to us.”
Jeannine and Greg Seale moved to Seattle, too. With the Seale’s oil money, they paid for Lisa to attend the private Cornish College for the Arts. Duet was intoxicated with Lisa—she was his best friend, his soul mate, his muse—so he followed suit: Even though Duet hadn’t graduated from high school, his talent and visual arts portfolio earned him a scholarship to Cornish, though he didn’t attend for long.
As a musician and a fan, Duet and Seale went to tons of underground shows. “They were the same loveable shiny ornaments when they first got to Seattle,” said Harrell. “Everybody was attracted to them here, too. They were backstage at everything. As long as I’ve known him, he never had to pay to get into a single show.”
In 1985 he landed at a house party where the Tacoma band Girl Trouble was playing.
Formed in 1984, Girl Trouble is a Northwest institution who mixes surf with garage and R&B, and their shows have always been huge sweaty dance parties. “This guy showed up,” guitarist Big Kahuna said in the documentary Strictly Sacred, “and he looked like Jeffrey Lee Pierce. He was totally a rough looking character, and he was from Texas.”
“I fell in love with them instantly,” Duet said of Girl Trouble. “I was up front dancing. I was singing along with the covers. I was so happy to find a band that, like, fit my mindset.” Then their singer Kurt P. Kendall had an identity crisis. Unsure if singing in a band was what he wanted to do with his life, Kendall quit, and a month after the house party, the band asked Duet to take his place. “They had lyrics and a tape ready for me right then,” Duet remembered. “And I went home with my homework.”
Duet loved the band. He also loved being a singer. He told anyone who would listen, “I’m the singer in Girl Trouble! Girl Trouble’s the best band in the world!” Duet had a wild rockabilly style, part Cramps, part Charlie Feathers, steeped in Texas tradition. He wrote songs with them, like “Aunt Mabel Cried the Day That Elvis Died,” based on his relative’s agony over the death of The King. But as great as the band sounded great, people were attached to Kendall.
“It was painful for everyone,” K Records’ founder Calvin Johnson said in Strictly Sacred. “It’s like when your friend, they break up and they start going out with someone else, and then you’re just trying to be polite. The reality is, and I’m sure that David would tell you this: He’s not Kurt.” He was also too wild for them.
“I was a little crazy,” Duet said. “I had to watch my Ps and Qs a lot.”
He was also creative. At one 1986 show at CoCA, Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art, Duet transformed the stage into an enormous dayglow Ouija board.
But the band practiced three times a week. Only the bassist had a driver’s license, so he would drive Duet from Seattle and Tacoma and back to practice when he was able, and that was a slog. When Girl Trouble drummer Bon Von Wheelie told Duet he needed to practice more, Duet told her, “If you feel the need to practice, go ahead.” She was like: Alright, buster. When Kurt decided to resume singing in 1986, Duet had to look for something else to do.
The previous year, he’d befriended Seattle’s legendary proto-grunge band The U-Men on their first tour. The U-Men formed in 1981, and their raw, dirty guitar sound and irreverent sense of humor helped set the tone for Seattle’s musical underground. Seattle was small, and after Duet’s stint in Girl Trouble, he worked as what you could call The U-Men’s roadie on their late-86 tour.
Seattle was still a quiet town in 1987, largely ignored my mainstream music media, often skipped by big touring bands who went straight to Vancouver from San Francisco, or east to Minneapolis, but it was an interesting town brimming with darkness and creative energy. Seattle’s isolation helped foster tons of weird, good bands throughout the 1980s. There was The Macs, The Fartz, The Fags, The U-Men, The Fastbacks, The Young Fresh Fellows, and Malkunshun. Green River and Soundgarden formed in 1984, both influenced by The U-Men. Members of these bands often knew each other, even if only from hanging out at shows. Their musical styles varied, but the underground scene was small, and that created strong bonds, lots of overlap, and a sense of liberating, if smothering, freedom. People still left to find greater opportunities and escape rampant heroin use, including the bands The Fags and The Blackouts, and bassist Duff McKagan, who famously moved to L.A. as a punk rocker and helped form Guns N’ Roses as a hesher. As The Fastbacks sang about downtown Seattle in 1987: “Everyone seems to be leaving / And I can’t believe how lonely it is here on K Street / There’s no one like me here on K Street / How lonely it is here on K Street today.” The freaks had their own thing, and it was small. But there was also something special happening in that little musical crowd.
The old story goes that future Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayl came up to future Mudhoney singer Mark Arm in the audience of a 1982 TSOL show and was like, “Hey, I think you’re in my philosophy class!” and became friends. Mark Arm and future Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner may have first met in line at that same show. That’s how small Seattle’s musical underground was. Of course these people formed bands and record labels with each other. By 1985, Sub Pop Records officially launched, determined to record those Northwest bands, and the Seattle-based record label C/Z Records released Deep Six, a compilation that’s often labeled as the first to gather bands under the Northwest rock umbrella, including some of those same cutting-edge locals that would later appear on Sub Pop 200, including The U-Men.
The U-Me were never famous—they packed in fans but only played small venues—but they were hugely influential on local bands. By 1987, U-Men guitarist Tom Price and drummer Charlie Ryan were pillars of Seattle’s underground music, what in hindsight you call icons. Photographer Charles Peterson called them “the first true grunge band.” The U-Men were also the center of another local music myth, where they lit a huge inferno in a moat in front of the stage at 1985 Bumbershoot. The band dumped in lighter fluid, then their singer tossed in a flaming broom to use as a match. “I throw the broom in and there was a giant fireball,” their singer John Bigley said, “20 to 30 feet high, easy. It was gigantic and it made a sound, this whoosh of oxygen.” Someone in the crowd said it looked like the flames had engulfed the band. Security went nuts. The show staff was furious. The normals in the audience were horrified, but tons of the kids in that mystified audience formed bands or were already in bands—like Kurt Bloch, Kim Warnick, Mark Arm, James Burdyshaw, and photographer Charles Peterson.
“I’ll never forget driving our bus out of the Seattle Center grounds,” said U-Men drummer Charlie Ryan, “all of these nice, normal people looking up at us, these freaks in a school bus who had just set the moat on fire.”
The band tried to tour the Western U.S. in the summer of ’86, but most of their Southwest shows got cancelled as the underground venues they’d booked closed. That happened a lot back then. They spent a month of the tour in Duet’s old stomping ground of Austin partying, crashing on peoples’ couches, and stealing food from 7-11, until the locals got tired of them and booked a show to generate the funds necessary to get The U-Men out of there.
“It was quiet the rowdy party scene,” Duet said in the book Everybody Loves Us. “The morning after we all hooked up, I remember being woken up by a cop knocking on my knee with his billy club. A majority of us were passed out across the street from Chris Gates’s house—in a funeral home parking lot, with various tarps and blankets thrown over us. A funeral procession was trying to get in.” Wild carefree living set the tone for Cat Butt, too, which was still an idea of a band Duet carried with him.
“David had the name Cat Butt in his head back when we lived in Austin,” Harrell said. “He was making stencils for a Cat Butt band logo in Austin, and he was writing songs for it before he got to Seattle.” He’d even used the name Cat Butt for a few one-off bands that he’d assemble for a single show.
When The U-Men kicked their bassist, Jim Tillman, out of the band for personal differences, the remaining members found themselves with time on their hands, so Duet asked U-Men guitarist Tom Price to play bass and drummer Charlie Ryan to drum in this band he finally needed to start.
“Tom and I accepted our friend Davie Duet’s invitation to be rhythm section in his band Cat Butt until he got something more permanent,” Ryan said.
Duet had already recruited his Texas friend Michael Hutchins to play rhythm guitar. Duet met Hutchins while he was bumming around Austin as a homeless punk. Going by the name John Michael Amerika, Hutchins had played with a bunch of Houston bands, mostly notably the Burning Hearts and The Mydolls.
“Mike was a sweetheart and the greatest guy in the world,” Duet said in the oral history, “but he had a drug problem.”
“He was a real fringe guy,” Ryan said. “As fringe as we were, I still felt like I had a foot based in reality at all times. I could always go back to the old man if I ever needed to get bailed out. I could always get back into working in a restaurant. But man, a lot of the guys that you met would never be going back and entering normal society.”
Mike robbed pharmacies before the movie Drugstore Cowboy showed the world how that scam worked. He borrowed money from people he never paid back. Eventually the cops started looking for him, using Cat Butt’s show flyers to monitor his movements. But for the first year of the band’s life, he managed to play great guitar.
The U-Men infamously found their lead singer John Bigley after he fell through a window at a party at a punk house. That’s a high bar for any rock singer, but Duet excelled at showmanship, and he’d pair well with anyone who’d set a moat on fire. These musicians also shared love for many bands like Poison 13, The Morlocks, rockabilly, garage, and surf.
Duet had many versions of the name’s origin story.
“My great grandparents had a maid that lived in a remote part of Texas with hundreds of cats,” Duet told The Rocket in 1987. “She was really poor and she discovered a cheap way to eat.” He liked to tell people that she shaved what he called “a thin layer of meat off each cat’s ass—allowing the other cats time to heal—and then [cooked] it like bacon.” It was a good story. Duet had a reputation for tall tales. For fun, he even went by the name David “Moth Man” Emmanuel Duet, abandoning his old David Nobody tag. Sometimes he said he named the band after his grandma’s habit of making meat pies from this unidentified cut of meat; or that he and his girlfriend Lisa Seale got stoned and fixated on their cat’s ass. Another version had him and Seale braiding their hair and rubbing bleach and black dye in it before cutting off their colored braids. “We called them calico cat-butt hairdos, ’cause it looked like a calico cat’s butt,” Duet said in the oral history. “That’s where the initial spark for the band name came from.”
They had a great name and a solid line of bullshit to go with it. Next they needed a great lead guitarist.
“David and Tom recruited me while I was in 64 Spiders,” James Burdyshaw said on Facebook. “They were practicing with just Mike on guitar for about a month but wanted somebody to play screaming garage leads.”
Raised in Seattle, Burdyshaw started playing guitar as a kid and cofounded Seattle’s sludge-punk band 64 Spiders in 1984.
“64 Spiders was a name I conjured up before I even had a band,” Burdyshaw said on Facebook. “At some point in 1983 I merged my birth year with insects and thought This sounds like a good band name. I almost renamed the band House of Thelma or Bodkin Symphony in ’85. Thank God [my bandmates] Joe, Eric, and Dave Lee talked me out of it.”
Although obscure, 64 Spiders’ sound was ahead of it time and signaled a regional musical shift epitomized by Green River, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden. Other listeners had more colorful descriptions. One website said, “They sound like punk rock took a crap and that crap learned how to sing and play instruments,” but if Cat Butt was moto-grunge, some 64 Spider songs were proto-grunge. You can hear it. Unhinged and relentless, the guitar sound was nasty in the best way, and the singing, no matter which member was doing it, was nuts. That combination endeared them to many locals and some out-of-towners like me. When the makers of the Hype! documentary asked Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil which early Seattle bands he loved, Thayil said: “Skin Yard, My High, Feast, 64 Spiders, Bundle of Hiss.”
Legendary local engineer Jack Endino recorded the band’s only sessions between October 1986 and February 1987.
In 1987, 64 Spiders released six songs on a homemade cassette. “Bassist Joe literally only made a handful of these with Radio Shack cassettes and xerox copies of the cover he compiled from a drawing I did while stoned,” Burdyshaw said. It was 25 copies, to be exact. Back then music was a do-it-yourself affair. That was youth. That was Seattle. That was punk rock. The songs “Potty Swat” and “Rubber Room” are some of my favorites to ever come out of early Seattle.
“‘Rubber Room’ was the very first song I ever wrote for the amoeba version of 64 Spiders back in the summer of 1984,” Burdyshaw said on FB. “It didn’t have any lyrics or a title (we called it ‘Rimshot’) until [bassist] Joe Ross wrote them a year later after he joined my amorphous band. There’s a demo we made with our original lead vocalist Dave Lee singing it.”
They played Seattle a lot and opened for everyone from Soundgarden and Butthole Surfers to Green River.
In August ’86, Burdyshaw drew the flyer for an August 1986 show with Malfunkshun at The Ditto Tavern in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. “This was Eric Lee Walker’s last stint on drums with us,” Burdyshaw said. “I made this poster from the first page of Man-Thing #6, Marvel Comics’ answer to Swamp Thing in the mid-70’s. ...When I was a kid, this two-part story fascinated me because it dealt with a circus clown who commits suicide and then becomes a powerful spirit who transforms these people into elements of his past and forces them to walk through his life, laughter, sorrow and pain. I was nine years old reading this and it was pretty heavy.”
Andy Wood sang in Malfunkshun. He famously became the singer of Mother Love Bone, who became Pearl Jam after he died in 1989. At a show at the Lincoln Arts Center, Burdyshaw handed Wood a stack of these homemade flyers for their Ditto show. He asked Wood to put them on poles around town to advertise. “I spent days making a poster,” Burdyshaw said. “He decides to toss the whole pile into the crowd during this show instead. About 40 posters ended up on the floor with people stepping all over them. …I should have picked them all up.”
Like youth, underground music is an ephemeral affair.
In 1989, two years after 64 Spiders broke up, C/Z Records put two of their songs on the Another Pyrrhic Victory compilation, about dead local bands. That same year, Issaquah’s Regal Select Records pressed 500 copies of the band’s only vinyl release, featuring my favorite Spiders songs “Potty Swat” and “Rubber Room.” Regal Select released Northwest garage records by bands like The Night Kings and The Fall Outs and four installments of their Puget Power EPs. Thankfully, bassist Joe Ross recorded that Ditto show and a few others through clubs’ soundboards, and they released highlights on a cassette compilation decades later.
Burdyshaw was active in the scene because he loved music, seeing shows, and making musical friends. The more fellow freaks he met, the more musical opportunities opened for him. Seeing Soundgarden in 1985 expanded his world further.
“Having just turned 21 a few weeks earlier,” Burdyshaw wrote on FB, “I went down to The Vogue with my friend and bandmate Eric Walker to check out some arty music (and legally see rock music while drinking). I’d been hearing about this band for several months and eager to see for myself what they were all about. It was December 11, 1985. A new Wednesday rock music night at a place that’s mostly known for goth dance parties every weekend. It was $2.00 to get in and no other bands were on the bill. Our friend Bruce’s sister Susan was the new manager of these guys and showed a lot of interest in the singer (she had recently dumped her association with spooky drone band Red Masque). I heard the singer was originally the drummer, but they had a veteran rocker dude on drums now. I recognized Hiro, the bass player, from seeing him before in a Souxie-esque band called The Altered. These guys were way heavier than I expected. Like Aerosmith and Zeppelin mixed up with Joy Division and Chrome. The guitar player had a chorus effect pedal going the whole time. And the singer stared at the ground and screamed like a banshee. It was supersonic post-punk with loads of ’70s overtones. There were maybe five people in the room total. I introduced myself to Hiro and we exchanged numbers, became great friends, and I ended up hanging out with them for the next year until I got pulled into the David Duet club.”
Duet and Burdyshaw first met in 1984. But it was in 1987 at a Seattle house party, after Duet had returned from tour with The U-Men in January, that Duet told Burdyshaw about his desire to play wild raw guitar music styled after Tim Kerr’s iconic Texas band Poison 13.
Burdyshaw listened. Turns out they shared a love of loud garage punk.
When Burdyshaw went shopping at the local institution Fallout Records, Books & Comics one day, Tom Price was working behind the counter. “[A]nd when I saw him there,” Burdyshaw said in the grunge oral history, “he nonchalantly brought up Cat Butt. He’s like, ‘Hey, we’re lookin’ for another guitar player. Are you interested?’ I was like, ‘Yeah!’”
Why not? Young bands naturally multiply like rabbits and die as quickly. They were all just energetic kids playing music in a scene whose members you could on a few hands. Burdyshaw was 22.
He tried to get Duet to sing in 64 Spiders after his singer bailed, but Duet wanted to make Cat Butt happen. So Burdyshaw played in both bands for a little while, until his 64 Spiders drummer, Scott McCullum left, and he shifted all his attention to Cat Butt in late-87. “The notoriety of having two guys from the U-Men, plus David’s charisma, meant all of our shows were crowded, and girls were comin’ up to me like they’d never come up to me before,” Burdyshaw said. He brought a unique, heavy guitar sound to the mix that Amerika didn’t have.
This was Cat Butt’s first lineup.
Like The Ramones had before them, members gave themselves nicknames. Tom was “Manny Eldorado” Price. Charlie was “Circus” Ryan. And of course, Mike was John Michael Amerika—probably to hide from drug debts and cops.
Cat Butt’s non-musical influences included whisky, comic books, beer, horror movies, and psychedelics.
It was time to play out.
Their first show was on February 28, 1987, at the tiny Ditto Tavern. Naturally, they opened for Girl Trouble, who wanted to support their friend David’s new band.
Art Chantry, one of the era’s most iconic visual artists, album cover designers, and flyer-makers, was as that show. “First time I ever saw GT,” he said. He didn’t design the flyer, though. Duet hand-drew and cut it himself. He’d been drawing and painting for most of his life, so of course he was going to design his bands’ flyers and logos. He wrote the setlist on the back of this flyer.
The Ditto was located at 2303 Fifth Avenue. According to Clark Humphrey’s book Loser: “Hank Ivan opened the Ditto Tavern in Belltown at the end of 1984. …They shunned some of the lowlife hardcore outfits but booked the emerging grunge acts, alternating with art-rock bands like Capping Day, the Walkabouts, Pure Joy, and A Western Family, plus fun-rock bands like the Young Fresh Fellows, No News, Danger Bunny, Different Ones, and Center For Disease Control Boys….Still, paid attendance seldom exceeded 40; bands like Soundgarden often played for fewer than a dozen people.”
When 64 Spiders played the Ditto the month after Cat Butt, in March 1987, The Melvins were scheduled to headline. When they canceled last minute, the Spiders got Green River to play. “I had to call Stoney [Gossard] and work out the PA situation,” James said on FB. “The Ditto didn’t have a house PA for all their shows. Stoney said to me, ‘You better rent that PA or we won’t be playing.’ So $50 out of the band fund it was.” Gossard was Green River’s guitarist, then he formed Pearl Jam with Green River bassist Jeff Ament after they formed Mother Love Bone.
On April 21, 1987, Cat Butt played The Vogue, a well-established venue located at 2018 1st Avenue. And on May 14, 1987, Cat Butt played a short-lived underground venue called Scoundrel’s Lair.
Located at 3244 Eastlake Ave E., Scoundrel’s Lair stood beside the University Bridge on Portage Bay, which is the eastern arm of Lake Union. Built in 1916 as a single-family home, the building’s Norman French architectural styles made it one of the most distinctive buildings in Eastlake. Originally a business called Skewe’s Furniture, it hosted shows as Scoundrel’s Lair from 1987 to 1988, but the building had a storied history and continued as numerous restaurants after the freaks left.
“Most, if not all, shows listed at this venue, located on the upper floor of a distinctive historic building, were booked by Sub Pop Records’ cofounder Jonathan Poneman, who initially called the space Club Fiasco. Poneman was also booking occasional shows at the Canterbury on Capitol Hill at this time. It’s not clear exactly when the club ceased hosting live music, but published show listings dwindled by October of ’87, and stopped after June 1988. Sub Pop’s growing popularity no doubt contributed to Poneman winding down his participation with the club.
From 1965-68, this address was home to a legendary jazz club called the Llahngaelhyn, which was [according to The Seattle Times, 16 Oct 2013] ‘known for all-night jam sessions, where touring musicians such as pianists McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea and saxophonist Roland Kirk dropped by, and local players such as bassist David Friesen, guitarist Larry Coryell, saxophonist Carlos Ward and guitarist Ralph Towner cut their teeth. The late Seattle beat poet, Jesse Bernstein, was also a regular.’
“The show Catbutt played with Pop Defect was with the original lineup including Tom Price and Charlie Ryan,” Burdyshaw wrote. “A real fun show and a good crowd on a Thursday! I was on some psychedelic drug at the Killdozer/Melvins show and loved it! I know I saw Bundle of Hiss there, too.” Soundgarden had played a few nights earlier, with Andrew Woods’ pre-Mother Love Bone band Malfunkshun.
Others recollected online:
Lori Aronica: “That was a fun club except for having to pack the PA up all those stairs and then back down. I think that’s when Sub Pop was pretty new and Poneman would pay us with a check and they would always bounce the first time we tried to cash them and clear the second time.”
Ted Walker: “Played there....those rickety stairs were a nightmare for load in/out.”
Screaming Trees guitarist Gary Lee Conner: “What a happening place, never knew about it, just a bit before our time in Seattle…”
Three months and a few shows into their life as a band, The Rocket newspaper wrote about Cat Butt. They were off to a strong start of mythmaking and self-effacement.
“We’re all friends anyway,” Duet told The Rocket, “and it’s a chance for us to do songs we all have laying around. The bulk of our set is originals.” That wasn’t true for long.
They wanted to put out a single, Price said, but they had to get some things together first. “Well, it’d be cool to get a single released, but we haven’t been together long enough to work anything out.”
Did they have plans? “The future of Catbutt is sweating, bleeding, and saving enough money for a toaster over,” Duet said.
Ryan added: “Yeah, and don’t forget our major tour of Olympia.”
In June 1987, Cat Butt recorded four songs at Reciprocal Studios with Jack Endino to produce that debut single.
Endino played guitar in his own band, Skin Yard, but he would build a big name for himself by recording all the killer local bands, from Nirvana’s Bleach to Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff to Soundgarden’s Ultramega OK and becoming Sub Pop’s de facto house engineer turned him into the de facto engineer of “grunge.”
Cat Butt came to the studio with four original songs. “Big Cigar” was the best of the bunch, and arguably the best song they ever recorded.
“Big Cigar” is not catchy like Mudhoney’s song “Touch Me I’m Sick” or Nirvana’s “School.” It’s not a melody that worms its way into your ear and leaves you singing “I’m drinking whiskey, now baby!” But it is weirdly infectious, and musically, it’s just as potent as any of those well-known songs. It’s just too weird to be a sing-along, but it’s one of the best songs to come out of Seattle’s grunge era for its ferocity and originality, and it came out before people even started talking about grunge.
Duet starts the song by singing:
“Well, I used to wear my heart on my sleeve, but baby, no heart, not no more.
You know I done ripped it out, rip it out, and nailed it to your front door.
I’m drinking whisky now baby.
I just don’t care no more!”
Burdyshaw’s guitar rips in, Ryan pounds the drums, and Duet screams the lunatic chorus:
“I’m drinking whisky, pretty bay-bay-bay-bay-ba-baby. I don’t care anymore!”
Cigars are a symbol of wealth, power, and privilege. Old white men smoke them in office buildings while running big businesses and living high on the hog. Cigars symbolize success and excess. As Pink Floyd sang, “Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar / You’re gonna go far.” It’s easy to take Cat Butt’s song as a skewering of that big fancy milieu, even them poking fun at the idea of getting signed to a record label itself, including one like Sub Pop who talked such big talk in 1987 and had such global outspoken ambitions. It’s not. The song is just an expression of wildness, nihilism, disregard, heartbreak:
“A black cat just crossed my past, but baby I just had to laugh. I’m drinking whisky baby, and I’m smokin’ one big cigar!”
The song has such an intense delivery, and lyrics so ridiculous that they shouldn’t work, but they do, and that’s the fun: “You’re drinking whisky with the Seventh Son little girl, seven days a week. Seven from eleven is a lucky streak! I’m drinking whisky!”
Even if the song’s not “about” anything, the way Duet delivers those lyrics is the thing—how he sings, not what he sings. It embodies the intensity of that time in their lives, and like lighting a pond on fire during a performance, nothing’s more rock ‘n’ roll than that level of ferocity.
Some listeners heard Poison Idea in Duet’s delivery. Others heard the Meatmen’s singer Tesco Vee, even The Cramps’ singer Lux Interior. Duet has incredible howls and powerful screams like the best ’60s garage bands. He has great timing, like Iggy’s howls on The Stooges’ Fun House. He also had a wild Texas attitude, trilling and doing weird rockabilly type vocal moves.
“I think David would agree with that,” Bland said of that description.
While “Big Cigar” landed on Sub Pop 200 in 1988, those other three original songs have never surfaced. They weren’t what that band considered up to snuff, so they never released them. But in 2022, Burdyshaw and Jack Endino were revisiting them for possible release.
In 1987, the band didn’t have anywhere to release anything yet. They had no record contract. They’d figure out what to do with those songs later. For now, they did what they did best: focused on playing shows.
They were all about the shows.
“Saw them at Satyricon in ’88,” said Portlander and self-described snobby transient Dean Lake. “There were maybe 15 people total at the show. David spent most of the show writhing on the floor or stumbling around. My friend and I thought he was drunk off his ass. But no, after the show he popped right up and started chatting with us. Seemed sober. Brought out some t-shirts he said he made himself (64 Funny Cars shirt). Only $10. Bought one and still have it.”
“I remember one show, in a hall somewhere on Cap Hill,” said Seattle music fan Julie DeMott, “they may have been playing with L7. They had a smoke machine and Eröck kept it on high high high. Within minutes you couldn’t see 10 inches in front of you.”
“I love the band and saw many shows. I remember always some drama that either stopped the show,” said local listener Sylvan Smith, “a fight, members not showing up, late starts, too drunk to play. Great band!!!”
Old school Catbutt-head Ricardo Wang loved seeing them play, even though his memories are blurry. “Always David Duet flying through the air and the feeling they were as likely to implode as combust as they glared at each other,” Wang told me. “I remember one gig where the crappy sound led to David doing a Mister Microphone TV ad routine, ‘Hey good looking, we’ll be back to pick you up later!’”
Dave Starry saw them play at CoCa in 1988. “A friend and I were near the stage, standing pretty much alone,” he said, “when David Duet unexpectedly jumped off the stage right on top of me, and we both went sprawling to the floor. Then he jumped back on stage in the band played on as I stood back up and dusted myself off.”
Guitarist Danny Bland appreciates the fans they have but knows their audience was small. “You know, the amount of people who claimed to have seen Cat Butt versus the reality is extraordinary. If all those people who claimed to have been there actually had been, we may have continued to be a band, but I don’t know how many folks actually saw us. We played a lot in Portland. Portland was one of our mainstays. We were popular in certain regions. We did well in Texas. We did pretty good in Phoenix, L.A., San Francisco, Portland. That’s about it, really.”
“I went with them to Portland once, and they played a Halloween show,” Jeannine Harrell told me. “People dressed in all kinds of costumes. Dean wore a loincloth, and I painted his full body green. We all did acid and watched Gumby and Pokey at some party. Later we went to a Denny’s. Dean had no shirt on, only had a stinky blanket around him. And at like three in the morning, he walked into this Denny’s with a beer in his hand and a big old smile. They didn’t even throw us out. They just laughed at him and said he had to put some clothes on before he could eat in there.”
Art Chantry always dug Cat Butt, particularly Duet’s stage presence. “Well, I did enjoy his habit of turning his back to the audience at the edge of the stage and just letting himself fall backward into the crowd,” Chantry told me. “This was before crowd surfing was a big fad, so he was EXTREMELY brave doing that shit. But I don’t think they ever let him hit the ground.” Chantry never designed a flyer for them, though he wishes he had. “David was good, but a little too nuts to survive. A lot of great performers during that era were just a little too nuts to become famous.” Like who? “Ben McMillan of Skin Yard and Gruntruck, Kelly Canary of Dickless, Upchuck of The Fags, [poet] Jesse Bernstein—a LOT of others. A lot of these folks had been stewing in their own juices for a looooong time before anybody paid any attention to them. That’s HARD living right there. Being a punk rock musician in a (then) nowheresville place like Seattle was a damned hard and gritty road to follow.”
As a close friend of Duet and Seale’s from Texas, Harrell became Cat Butt’s stage mother in Seattle, their nanny, their benefactor. She was at tons of their rehearsals. She took their pictures, created some of their stage decorations, and helped resolved many of their interpersonal spats. She drove them around, since few if any of them had a car. Because she had her own apartment, she fed them, sewed up their filthy torn jeans before shows, let them sleep on her floor. She even hustled their girlfriends out of situations when the musicians didn’t want their girlfriends to see certain things.
“I was pregnant with my daughter, sitting on the side of the stage while Cat Butt was playing,” Harrell told me. “I had a big blanket and someone’s coat over my belly, because I was pretty big and pregnant, and it was loud. David comes over to me in the middle of the first song and hands me something. It was a cap. His front tooth was capped from skateboarding as a kid, and he hit it with the mic this night and knocked it right out. So I spent the show holding his tooth.”
She and Duet spent a lot of time making art together in Seattle. “David’s an incredible artist,” she said. “If he could get himself together, he could make some money from how talented he is. He’d just sit with a Sharpie at my apartment, when I was going to Cornish, and he’d just doodle in my sketchbooks, then he’d just cut them out very patiently, and perfectly, making stencils. He had a really good eye for that. He was a natural. We made a lot of art together: paper mache stage decorations, help with my college projects, did an elaborate paper mache Elvis statue whose leg moved and that got used in the big Miracle on 34th Street charity event in the Fremont district.” Considering her family, Duet spared her some of the darker sides of his young musical adventures.
“Loved them,” said Anthony Hardiman, friend and original drummer for The Putters, “but was a little careful when they were around at parties, things always seemed to get very interesting.”
“When we were in the band,” Duet said in Yarm’s oral history, “there was the image that we were doing all these drugs, but we actually weren’t. We put that image out in interviews and stuff and tried to seem like the craziest people alive, but we’re actually not. We were quite un-drug-involved then. Especially considering our peers at the time. Our peers just kept it on the down low.”
“He was a big drinker when we knew him but never touched drugs,” Girl Trouble’s drummer Bon Von Wheelie of Duet’s time in her band, “not even pot that I remember. The typical Texas drinker and storyteller.”
Duet stayed like that off and on during his time in Seattle. He dabbled with hard drug. He later called his use “more like adventures” and admitted “It got a little more intense here and there.” His main drug was drink. “[In Cat Butt] we pushed much greater drug use than we did,” he told one interviewer. “It was kind of our thing that we were completely wasted all the time. That built up a reputation that was far more advanced than the actual [drug] use was. People thought we were way worse than we were. And that kind of persisted most of my life.”
That was Duet’s version.
“I don’t think we presented an image of being wasted at all,” Danny Bland told me about his time in the band. “I think we were totally fucking wasted. And that was really as important as anything. When we rolled into town on tour, or we rolled into Portland to play a show, we made friends with the bartender way before we made friends with the sound guy. We wore our priorities on our sleeve. And, in our mind, I think we just felt like we had the music part down, so let’s get down to the party. That wasn’t a crafted image at all. That was just what we were.”
Behind David’s unhinged trilling and James’ wild guitar, deep in the cat’s butt, beat a young heart fueled by recklessness and abandon. That’s the spirit of the band that permeates everything. It’s why they recorded so little music. It’s why they lasted such a brief time. In a sense, that is the true spirit of rock ‘n roll. You hear it in the best guitar bands, from early Jane’s Addiction to The Stones of New Zealand to the first three Stooges albums. The song “Big Cigar” embodies it.
“Musically and performance-wise, from wakeup to pass out, just reckless. That’s the best way to describe it, for me,” said Bland. “Like I said, that was not a crafted image.”
“When they moved to Seattle, Lisa’s parents bought Greg a house close to Cornish on Capitol Hill, in the middle of a whole bunch of fancy houses,” Harrell told me. “Lisa and Greg’s parents just gave them money, so they didn’t really have to do anything. That wasn’t a good thing. This house ended up turning into a dark attraction for a lot of interesting but wild people doing what you can imagine.” Their innocence left while Seattle’s musical world blossomed along with its drug habit. “David always had a key to whatever place I was living. But in Seattle, drugs came into the picture, things just muddier, and I got less involved. We were still family, but being a mom, I wasn’t involved in parties and the drama, and they kept most of that stuff away from me as much as they could.”
In Cat Butt, Burdyshaw drank beer and took psychedelics—nothing major, but enough to maintain the band’s wild reputation, which was part—possibly most—of their charm.
“I’d quit doin’ hard needle drugs in spring of ’88,” Burdyshaw said in the oral history. “ …I thought about [our guitarist] John Michael and all the people he had ripped off and how brown his teeth were and how he used to scratch himself all the time, and I was like, I’m not gonna do this drug anymore.”
Many of us try drugs when we’re young, especially artists, and they get on with their lives. Others can’t. In Cat Butt, Duet enjoyed presenting the band as this wild, inebriated, musical tribe, but as friends recall, he always walked the edge of the dark side and chose the path of pain. And for him, as a lifelong teller of tall tales, the wild side was partly a persona he put on, a game he could play, until later in life when it wasn’t.
Here’s the thing: If Duet left his family to move across the country, as his brother said, you can’t blame him. Their stepfather beat their mother and tortured David and his brother, openly loathing them for not being his blood kin. “That was my introduction to pain,” Duet told one interviewer. “There was a lot of pain.”
During Cat Butt, he could make things work.
After the “Big Cigar” session, Price and Ryan left to resume playing with U-Men, who got a new bassist.
On May 29, 1987, Price and Ryan played their second-to-last show with Cat Butt, opening for the band My Eye and Green River at Seattle’s Washington Hall. A local named Lori LeFavor promoted it. “The first show I ever promoted!” she said on FB. “It was my first show, and I will never forget it. My Eye is actually the band that approached me to do the show in the first place. I had been helping with other all ages shows but this was the first show I promoted. So it definitely happened! Alex d’Vincént from Green River was my first assistant.”
Burdyshaw knew both bands. “I used to live at [artist, cover-designer] Suzi Hutchinson’s house from March 1987-July 1987,” Burdyshaw said. “My Eye practiced there.” Hutchinson had designed a U-Men album cover before moving on to work at places like Mad Magazine.
“I remember that day very well,” James wrote on FB, “just not that it was still May. Mark Arm came over to Tom Price’s house and hung out with us (i.e. Cat Butt) because he didn’t want to be around his band for some reason. It was a pretty hot day and I wanted to wear cut-off shorts on stage. Mark offered to cut them for me, but made them fringy because he thought it was funny. We were all sitting in Tom’s living room (David, Charlie Ryan, Tom, Mike Hutchins, Mark Arm and me). I ended up lopping off the fringes which made the shorts really fucking tight. We drove down to Washington Hall and [Lori LeFavor] introduced yourself to me and said if we needed anything, please let you know. We played first and then drank beer in the parking lot. My Eye played next. Then Green River played and Mark threw cooking oil onto the floor. People up front started slipping around like crazy. I stayed back and drank more beer. FYI, Blood Circus was just forming and didn’t have a name. Michael, T-Man, and Doug all wanted me to play in their new band and approached me in the crowd. I told them me and David were already planning on replacing Tom and Charlie with permanent members and politely declined.”
Price and Ryan did seven shows with Cat Butt. Their last show as official members was the Wake Up and Smell the Pavement Skate Jam, at Seattle’s Washington Middle School, on July 19, 1987.
“The last show we played with them before they finally left to concentrate on The U-Men again,” Burdyshaw said in the oral history, “Michael’s leg was in a cast, and he made up this story about falling down the stairs at his apartment trying to catch the cat or some nonsense. The truth of the matter is, he broke his foot jumping out of a second-story window of a pharmacy he was rippin’ off. He was a total drugstore cowboy, before that movie ever came out.”
“In the chaos of kids swarming Natas Kaupas and The Gonz,” a fan named Drew Barthélemy remembered, “my foot was run over by a car and they were the soundtrack. Another act of senseless violence we can blame on Cat Butt.”
James Burdyshaw: “Why not? At least it wasn’t me instigating it. Before we played one of the Santa Cruz pro skaters fell and broke his arm. We must have conjured up the devil’s brood that day.”
“We’re waiting to play a skateboard contest,” Duet said in Yarm’s oral history, “and eventually John Michael shows up, and he’s wearing his Zorro hat and his leather overcoat, and he’s got a brand-new cast on each leg. He played the show sitting in a chair. We were kind of wasted and I was in a long blond wig and black leather miniskirt and fishnet hose. On the first song, I split my knuckle open on my tambourine and blood squirts all over these little kids in the front row. It was a Sunday afternoon and there were a lot of parents that were just appalled at what they saw, ’cause we were the biggest freak show on earth.”
As Tom Price told me: “Wild band, wild times.”
Burdyshaw suggested two of his friends as replacements: bassist Dean Gunderson, aka “Fly Daddy Gundo”—who’d played with a band named The Butt Pirates—and drummer Erik “Erök” “Boom Boom” Peterson, who’d played in Yard Sale.
This is Cat Butt 2.0.
This line-up emerged in late-summer of 1987, played on the single “64 Funny Cars” and lasted until summer of 1988. This line up made their debut at The Vogue in November 1987, playing with Swallow.
On November 14, 1987, Cat Butt 2.0 played at Community World in Tacoma, Washington with Doll Squad. Apparently the show was filmed, but the Cat Butt footage never got released, because it got lost.
Girl Trouble drummer Bon Von Wheelie remembered the details: “Matt Zodrow and Stefan Helhus made a documentary about us for an Evergreen [State College] project: Girl Trouble in the City of Destiny. We spent a bunch of time doing stuff around town (eating at the Flying Boots, going to the B & I, etc) and being interviewed. But they needed some concert footage. So I asked Jim May if we could book a show at Community World so they could film it. We got Cat Butt and Doll Squad to play too. It was not a bad show if I remember. So Matt and Stefan put it together and it was pretty cool. We showed it around some and sold a few copies at shows. That was about it. Many years later when my nephew Isaac Olsen decided to make a Girl Trouble documentary. Stefan popped up at just the right time with some of these old tapes they’d shot back then. Isaac was able to use a lot of it and it was nice that Matt and Stefan were generous with sharing it. Unfortunately, some of the tapes were missing, including anything of the Cat Butt or Doll Squad performance.”
That’s a bummer. This show, like all the shows and rehearsals, was unhinged.
“Yeah, they all were,” said Bland. “I personally was just hanging on for dear life trying to play the songs most of the time. And, you know, Dave was appropriately out of control and in his performance, and that’s what made it stand above a lot of music that was going on the time, where a lot of people stared at their feet while they played. We were just a fucking whirling dervish of outta tune nonsense, but it works. …It was just a blur for everyone, likely. That’s why I think it would have been interesting if there was more live footage, because for me, it was just a blur of hair and booze and guitar strings and trying to dodge David Duet or getting pelted with bottles. It was a tornado of shit.”
Duet regularly decorated the stage with a lot of balloons, streamers, and a Mardi Gras feel.
“It’s strange to think about in retrospect, but sometimes I laugh when I consider what a Cat Butt acoustic set would have sounded like. They may have done some of that before I joined, I don’t know, but to me it really would have been like getting de-pantsed. The band just thrived on this whirl of electric shit, and I use phrases like that in the most loving way, because I certainly enjoyed participating in it, and listening to it, but it was really, really reckless. …That is a shame [that little to no live footage exists]. Really, the live experience was the Cat Butt experience.”
Cat Butt still needed records.
Thankfully, at the end of 1987, Volker Stewart, the founder of the tiny punk label Penultimate Records, heard about Cat Butt and wanted to release their first single. They worked out a verbal agreement to release a 7-inch, and Penultimate promised to release their debut full-length album, too.
“I guess the label itself was born in 1986 to release a tribute album to a music club in Santa Cruz, CA - the record was a comp called “At Dianne’s Place.” I had been approached by two other folks, Stephen Long and Rojir Silverstein, to help them with the project as I had some limited experience as a portion of the business that started as Masking Tapes, a cassette-only label, which eventually morphed into eMpTy records, which later split into two entities, and I am sure you can find the grim story about that in a number of places.
In 1987 I moved to Seattle, as it was a cheaper place to be unemployed than Santa Cruz, and I was toying with the idea of grad school. I got to know some folks in the music scene, primarily through the fine folks at Fallout Records and Jimmy the Budman. I decided to pursue Penultimate in the northwest, and the first record I did was the CatButt “64 Funny Cars/Hell’s Half Acre” 45. Blake from eMpTy, with whom I had gone to high school in Germany in the early 80s, had moved to Seattle, and we decided to make it a split release, Penultimate/eMpTy. This cooperation continued with the first Derelicts 45” “Bullet for Fifi/Sharon Needles,” although the release after that (the Derelicts “Love Machine” 12) was just a Penultimate release. Blake had at this point started doing exclusive eMpTy releases, and we were in a friendly rivalry from this point on (obviously Blake was infinitely more prolific than I).
eMpTy Germany licensed the Derelicts material for Europe and somehow failed to mention any credit to Penultimate. Oh well. Sort of indicative of how they saw things in general, cf. their later legal action against Blake.
After the Derelicts I stumbled across Love and Respect, a great band featuring Ed from the Thrown Ups, Joe and Whiting from Big Tube Squeezer, a stand up fellow named Steve LaRose on vocals and occasionally Steve Turner on lap steel. Their show at Squid Row knocked my socks off and we did a 6-song 7” ep (“Deep and Heatfelt”) and later an LP (“The Love & Respect Record”). Still my fave part of the Penultimate portfolio.
In 1991 I was out of grad school, horribly underpaid, and a little bummed out by Seattle becoming a mecca. When I moved there in 1987, people in California thought I was crazy, and four years later those people were flocking up there….”
So in 1988, Cat Butt went back into Reciprocal Recording with Endino to record their Penultimate Records single. Rather than using the recordings they already had, Cat Butt decided to record something new. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much.
By this point it was clear that generating original songs wasn’t their focus.
“We wrote a total of 12 songs over 3 years,” Burdyshaw told me. “The least productive band I’ve ever been in. It was a party band.”
Meaning, they had few plans, few song-writing sessions, or true concern for longevity. They lived in the moment.
“David is and was very very image conscious,” Burdyshaw told me. “And he liked playing songs by bands he was really into like Poison 13, The Morlocks, The Creeps, and Tales of Terror. So we would cover the same stuff they did or do their originals. Which is fine if you can also write plenty of your own stuff, but for all the practicing we did, there was a lot of nonsense. And we played so many shows, it was all about the next gig. Play the same five Catbutt songs from the original band and whatever left-over 64 Spiders songs David was willing to do. And learn more covers, like every week it was a new one. Sometimes entire sets of just covers. Fun, drunken shows that got a bunch of grungy kids excited, but nothing groundbreaking.”
Their covers included Tales of Terror’s “Over Elvis Worship,” Chocolate Watch Band’s “Sweet Young Thing,” and a song by Big Boys. Instead of writing new stuff, they’d rehearse at The Music Bank, and they’d jam new ideas at shows where Duet would improvise lyrics, entertaining the crowd while seeing if anything he came up with could fit in a song.
“Back then we wrote so many songs that were only played at one or two shows,” David Duet wrote on YouTube, “I didn’t even bother writing lyrics, the crowd ... well and the band were all so drunk or wasted, I would just make shit up on the spot, every once and a while something would stick.”
That didn’t seem to work that well. You can hear his improvisational process at work at this show:
As Burdyshaw put it: “It was all about the next show.”
Writing material requires discipline. Their focus was on performing. “Yes, and David wanting us to play a bunch of covers all the time,” Burdyshaw told me. “He may have had big plans, but until we brought Danny Bland into the group, his dream didn’t get out of Seattle/Portland. The only reason why it continued was because I was having trouble forming a new band after Scott [McCullum, the drummer] left 64 Spiders. So I brought Dean into the group and eventually Erik (Erok). They were my friends.”
In the Backlash zine, Erok described their sound as “Undisciplined Music Bank rock,” to with Duet said, “Music is a painting on the canvas of silence.”
But to release a record, they needed music. Burdyshaw culled some from his previous band.
“I wrote 64 Funny Cars in early 1987 for 64 Spiders, not Cat Butt,” Burdyshaw wrote on FB. “I sang it, but the lyrics weren’t finished. By the summer’s end the Spiders were no more, so I brought it to David. He changed the lyrical theme a bit and borrowed a verse from Viva Las Vegas to finish it. …When I first wrote the song I was listening to a lot of Big Black and The Scientists. That’s where I got the idea for the main riff. I wanted the song to be about the 70’s movie Death Race 2000 and scribbled down some lyrics about people getting run over by David Carradine and Sly Stallone. The only thing David kept was the title and he name dropped D.C. Every other word was either taken from Elvis or inspired by Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Totally different vibe. 64 Spiders actually played it at our last show and I improvised most of the lyrics. There’s a recording of us doing it at a practice that Joe saved.”
Penultimate Records released 64 Funny Cars/Hell’s Half Acre seven-inch in March of 1988. It wound up being the sole single of Cat Butt’s career.
A note on the sleeve set the mood: “Recorded at Reciprocal, nude, under the influence of granulated bull testicles.”
The Backlash zine wrote a mixed review of it:
To be fair, “64 Funny Cars” boasts some find guitar work and smashup effects and the song is potentially worthwhile if one is able to ignore lines such as “Take a ride—in my fuel-injected suicide.” Far better, however is the B-Side, “Hell’s Half Acre.” Beginning with a blues riff straight from the Robert Johnson songbook, “Hell’s Half Acre” speeds up midway into, of all things, a spirited rewrite of Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio”! Believe it or not, the song works quite well. When Cat Butt drop their lyrical pretentions and concentrate on their strengths, namely guitar, those wrinkled sphincters will be a force to recon with.”
The sphincters hadn’t played California yet, but down in Los Angeles, an emerging, determined musician named Courtney Love was racing to write songs for a band she had yet to form, and she discovered Cat Butt’s single while browsing records during a trip to Portland, Oregon.
“I remember being in Portland once,” Love recounted in the oral history of grunge, “and looking at a ‘Love Buzz’ seven-inch and a Cat Butt single. I still don’t like that Kurt’s wearing a Harley-Davidson shirt on the cover of ‘Love Buzz.’ It was so part of the Strip, and it signified to me that he was trying to fit in, like that guy Jason in his band who had long hair and was doin’ whatever the fuck he could to make it. I didn’t like that Kurt was wearing a Harley-Davidson shirt, so I bought the Cat Butt single instead.”
When Love’s band Hole played their first show in October 1989, it was at Raji’s in Hollywood, opening for Cat Butt and L7.
Hole, opening for Cat Butt!
In the early 1990s, if you liked pissing off your parents, band names like Hole, Butthole Surfers, and Cat Butt helped.
“My mother hated the name cat butt,” a listener named Chris Marsall said on Facebook.
Seattle show promoter Lori LeFavor said her mom loved the band name. “She saved all my posters with funny names.”
Chris Marsall: “Lori LeFavor even Butthole Surfers or Dead Milkmen?”
“Chris Marsall, I never promoted either of them but she would have,” LeFavor said. “Sweaty Nipples and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies were two of her favorites. She hung them up in our second kitchen in our basement.”
“The name Cat Butt is really the thing that people know most about the band,” said Danny Bland. “More than the music.”
One thing that set early Seattle rock apart was its sense of humor. “The scene was full of inside jokes,” Michael Azerrad wrote in the book Screaming Life, “because this was supposed to be fun, not self-consciously art and pretentious like the East Coast indie bands…” For example, the band named The Thrown Ups and their song titles like “The Person In My Bowel (Is Very Sad).”
Another contentious name was circulating at the time: grunge.
Before the term grunge became widely used and commercial, David Duet embraced it, using it to describe Cat Butt as “moto-grunge,” “motor-grunge,” and “grungeadelic,” and making a band you may never have heard of the surprising progenitors of the ’90s term you’ve heard of.
The word’s history is interesting. Mudhoney singer Mark Arm famously used the term ‘grunge’ as a noun in the Desperate Times fanzine in 1981. He wrote: “I hate Mr. Epp & the Calculations! Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure shit!” Sub Pop cofounder Bruce Pavitt helped popularize the term as a musical category, when he described Green River’s Dry as a Bone as “ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation” in the label’s 1987 mail-order catalog. But musicians and music writers had been using ‘grungy’ as an adjective since at least the 1970s.
“Steve Turner picked up this ’70s reissue of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio album,” Mark Arm said in the oral history, “and the liner notes talk about Paul Burlison’s ‘grungy guitar sound. That was written in the ’70s about a ’50s guitar player. Grunge was an adjective; it was never meant to be a noun. If I was using it, it was never meant to coin a movement, it was just to describe raw rock ‘n’ roll.”
“Sometime around ’87, ’88, the word grunge started getting thrown around,” Jack Endino said in the oral history. “It might’ve been Everett [True]. I hate to say it, but it might’ve been me. At one of my high school reunions, someone told me, ‘You used to use that word all the time!’ I’m like, ‘What? Don’t tell me that!’” Endino remembered seeing Lester Bangs use the term ‘grungy’ in a 1970s era Rolling Stone album review. “No one fucking knows,” Endino said, “and frankly I don’t think anyone really wants to take credit for it. So let’s leave it at that, all right?”
“People keep saying I was the first one to say grunge in that scene,” Duet says in the oral history. “I know we were definitely the first ones to use it in anything. I’ve gotten a lot of flack for that. The first thing I came up with was grungedelic, which is a lyric for our single ’64 Funny Cars.’ We wrote that song in ’86, ’87. It was just stuff that came out of my mind while we were playin’. After that, I came up with Moto Grunge, which appeared on one of the early Cat Butt flyers. I was fascinated by biker patches, like Moto Guzzi. I was tryin’ to come up with a Cat Butt logo and I started messing with the Harley image, and I was tryin’ to think of words to go in there. I tend to talk to myself and that slipped out one day. And it fit in the logo: Moto on top Cat Butt in the center, and Grunge on the bottom.”
“The idea and the posters were all his creation,” Burdyshaw wrote on Facebook. “The first one I can find where he used the term ‘Moto-Grunge’ to describe us was this flyer for our COCA Rapeman show from August 1988. I know he used it earlier, but not initially.”
The sound that got labeled as “grunge” came from an eclectic local scene where a small pool of cool people shared ideas and listened to Black Flag, garage like The Seeds and Sonics, and ’60s psychedelia like The Nuggets comps, and mixed those styles with heavy monster rock like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and some Australian sludge blues bands like The Scientists and Feedtime.
As a supposed style of music, the bands who came to embody this so-called style of music—the ones who got labeled it—emerged in the late-80s Northwest, and even tough there was no unified style, no “movement” as uniformed media outlets like to call all those diverse Northwest bands, some bands did have a distinct sound. It was slowed down, fuzzed out, and used drop D guitar tuning, and then seemingly every guitar band related to Seattle simply got labeled grunge in the early ’90s. You can hear that sound in some bands on the Sub Pop 200 comp, including Cat Butt, which predated the mainstream grunge phenomenon and broke up by the time it hit. Like the YouTube commenter said: grunge as fuck.
Cat Butt sounded like they did because they emerged from early Seattle and their sound came from the style of their first line up: two U-Men, one ex-Girl Trouble, one 64 Spiders. But as time passed, people outside Seattle discovered the city’s incredible music, and certain labels got applied.
Sixties garage rock and psychedelics were also primary influences.
“It was definitely more of a garage rock thing,” Bland told me. “I’m sure we tuned our guitars funny, so that made it sound more interesting. When I hear Burdyshaw’s guitar tone, the obvious influence is The Butthole Surfers. To me, that’s what his playing reflected at the time. We were pretty psychedelic, even though I personally wasn’t on psychedelics. I was on narcotics, but I think a lot of the band was, and psychedelia and garage rock go hand in hand, so that was more of what we’re about.”
Along with many other local bands, Cat Butt had started practicing in a rental space in a warehouse called The Music Bank.
Located at 1454 NW 45th Street under the Ballard Bridge, Music Bank was infamous. It had 45 practice rooms, on-premise security, and ads listed it as being open 24 hours, every day. The musicians’ lifestyles made sure of that.
Singer Layne Staley lived here in the late-80s, and his band Alive in Chains practiced there, too, back when they were named Sleze. Staley unofficially worked the front door, letting friends and others in at all hours. An old friend and listener of his, Christy Kells, remembers how the place looked in 1987:
There was a huge Rolodex on the desk with all the bands names and phone numbers ...and a sign in sheet. I remember the gigantic key ring with all the keys to the rooms that Layne (or whomever was working) would carry around with them. There were vending machines and a couple pinball machines in the lobby. I remember seeing Layne’s clothes folded neatly on the end of the couch in Alice N’ Chains’ practice room.
The building has been torn down for years, but Alice in Chains memorialized it by naming their 4-CD box set Music Bank. The community that formed there also lives in infamy.
When Cat Butt’s friends in Doll Squad asked if they knew any available practice spaces in Seattle, Burdyshaw suggested The Music Bank. The women were afraid to touch the filthy couch.
Cat Butt’s friend JR Higgins took some pics of them at The Music Bank in 1987.
On February 12th, 1988, Cat Butt played the Community World Theater again in Tacoma. In April 1988, they played The Vogue with Shrodinger’s Cat, to celebrate the premiere of a friend’s art film Teenage Ghouls From Hell.
“Tranquility ended in one brief moment when Cat Butt came out full force,” the Yeah! zine wrote of the show, “making everyone in amp range quite aware of it. Definitely on the reckless side, the band enjoyed bringing the otherwise-sedated crowd into a ‘let’s bang our heads and flop around on the dance floor’ frame of mind. Taking a few steps back to avoid that ‘trampled look,’ I noted the band switching over to something a little more artsy, which lost the crowd. The lead singer, realizing the sudden change in crowd reaction, quickly reverted to stage diving and guitar speeds in excess of mach one. All in all, the band is a rowdy, original group that can’t be compared to anything else I’ve seen.”
On May 19, 1988, Cat Butt took their reckless presence to the Central Tavern, at 2017 1st Avenue, to play with Soul Asylum and Naked Raygun.
“It was Mike’s last show [as rhythm guitarist],” Burdyshaw wrote on Facebook. “I had to agree to play the show for free to get us on the bill. I called Susan Silver at her workplace when she was still at that shoe store in Downtown Seattle. Her brother Bruce and I were good friends from West Seattle, so she agreed.”
Gary Lee Conner, of Screaming Trees saw the show: “That’s the one, I drove over from Ellensburg, I think I may have bought the Catbutt record at Tower after the show.”
Before he ran the Sub Pop Records label, cofounder Bruce Pavitt published his Subterranean Pop zine in 1980 to cover local indie music scenes that may otherwise have gone undocumented, and he later turned that coverage into the Sub Pop column in Seattle’s monthly Rocket newspaper while growing the record label.
“Everything you heard is true,” Pavit wrote in his May 1988 column. “Per capita, Washington State is currently unleashing the thickest torrent of ROCK in the United States. A. I just CAT BUTT at the Vogue the other night. This backwoods clan of losers and derelicts drink to insanity, and have to be considered heavyweights in the arena of sweat. Transcendence and ecstasy in hillbilly post-rock heaven. Their new 45, out on some California label, is probably out now. And it’s probably real good. If you don’t have this record, at least ask David to show you the BAY CITY ROLLERS patch on his jean jacket.”
At the time Cat Butt was recording for Penultimate Records, Pavitt loved them and thought they could be as big as Pussy Galore, so he wanted to sign them. Penultimate wasn’t making good on their promise to release Cat Butt’s full-length LP, so Pavitt promised to release an LP or EP if Cat Butt signed with him. Sub Pop operated from a single room whose bathroom did double duty as record inventory story. They owed everyone money and were always in danger of going belly up, but the strength of their bands and determination made them a million times stronger, savvier, and cooler than most indies back then. Sub Pop could find ways to distribute and advertise underground bands, so Cat Butt broke their deal with Penultimate and made a verbal agreement with Sub Pop for an EP. In those early days, Sub Pop only did verbal agreements. Until Nirvana broke, that was never a problem.
But first, Pavitt wanted to hear those first four unreleased songs Cat Butt did at Reciprocal, so they gave Pavitt one of them, “Big Cigar.”
“Big Cigar” came out on the Sub Pop 200 compilation in November of 1988, and Cat Butt ended their relationship with Penultimate. This turn of events pissed off Stewart, but he couldn’t compete with Sub Pop, and apparently, he could see that they were the right label for the Seattle moto-grunge band.
John Peel, the famous, influential BBC DJ, was frequently playing Sub Pop 200 compilation and other Sub Pop records long before Everett True’s 1988 article on Seattle and Mudhoney came out in The Melody Maker. Peel played everything, from The Fall to Wire to The Slits, and he loved Seattle bands. His appetite was edacious. When Cat Butt’s little 7-inch “64 Funny Cars” came out, he played that on BBC, too. “And John Peel,” Bruce Pavitt said, “in The Times of London, circulation two million, stated that Sub Pop had the most distinctive American regional sound since Tamala Motown. Now that’s a piece of hype.” Peel’s interest is what got Sub Pop scheming how to get an English journalist to write about Seattle in the first place.
Despite finally connecting with one the most influential labels of the 20th century, Cat Butt’s lineup was changing again, and their M.O. only got slightly more professional: Duet had big ideas, they were in the right place at the right time, but they still never wrote the music to realize those big rock ambitions.
“We were gonna play Squid Row,” Duet said in Yarm’s oral history. “I was over [at my ex’s house] and there was a knock at the front door, and there are two cops asking for Mike, using a fake name he used. And we’re like, ‘Uh, I think he left town.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, really?’ and lift up a Cat Butt flyer for Squid Row. They’re like, ‘We’ll just catch him at the next show then.’”
Because of Mike’s drug issues, Tom Price filled in on guitar for shows at The Vogue and at Squid Row.
“And after that,” said Duet, “people were comin’ up to me after shows saying stuff like, ‘He owes me 60 bucks, can I get it from you?’ I had to kick Mike out of the band. It was one of the hardest things I ever did.”
“We replaced him with Erok’s childhood friend Carl who only played two gigs with us,” Burdyshaw remembered. But the band was still a party band, and Hutchins’ brief replacement couldn’t hack that life, so Duet asked his musician friend from Phoenix, Arizona, Danny Bland, to join.
Bland and Duet had met when Bland’s band The Nova Boys played with The U-Men in Phoenix, back when Duet helped them on tour around 1985. “We were as thick as thieves right away,” Bland said about Duet in the oral history. “I’ve always been fond of lunatics, and he’s quite obviously one from the get-go.” Bland says Duet is the same now as he was back then: “He’s obnoxious, charming, overbearing, and a delightful spinner of tall tales.”
Bland was already a fan of The U-Men. He had a couple of their singles. “When they played in Los Angeles at Raji’s,” Bland told me, “Pleasant, from The Screaming Sirens, was booking the place at the time, and The U-Men traveled in this fucked up old school bus. Pleasant told them, ‘I have a friend in Phoenix, Danny Bland, who also has a fucked up old school bus,’ which I did. The first vehicle I ever owned was a 1969 Ford full-length school bus, painted blue. All the seats were stripped out, except for the driver’s seat, and were replaced by beanbags. It had a loft built in the back with a futon on top of it, with room to store musical gear underneath. Pleasant gave them my phone number and address. My phone wasn’t working—phone would be shut off at various times, you know, due to lack of paying the bill and so on—so at like midnight on a Sunday, they just pulled their bus up next to my bus, and David did a knock at the door and said, ‘Hi, Pleasant told us that we should stop by.’ It was a punk rock crash pad, so I said, ‘Come on in. We better get to the 7-11 and buy beer before one o’clock.’ And that’s how we started.”
Born in Beaufort, South Carolina, Bland had lived in the many cities where his father’s military career took him. When his father retired, the family settled in Phoenix, Arizona, and that’s where Danny spent his formative years. “Learning how to play rock and roll, to be part of a scene, and to do dangerous amounts of drugs started in Phoenix,” Bland told me. He worked at the local music store chain Zia Records, where the owner of a busy music club, called The Mason Jar, used to call to ask for insight into bands he was booking, whose names he didn’t recognize and couldn’t often spell. Bland eventually started helping the club spellcheck their advertisements and flyers and spent a lot of time drinking and seeing shows there. “I became myself, in my current form, on the floor of The Mason Jar,” Bland said with a smirk.
In the summer of 1987, The Nova Boys played in Seattle, possibly in a short-lived club under the downtown monorail called Under the Rail. “There were many future friends and future stars of the music scenes in attendance,” he said. “The next morning, I woke up in our Econoline van—parked in front of the club—got out, and I could wear my leather jacket. In late July. I decided right then to move there. It had nothing to do with music scenes.”
While playing in his next band, The Best Kissers in the World, in 1988, he woke up one morning in Phoenix, and it was 106 degrees outside already. “It just occurred to me that I could move,” Bland said, “which had never occurred to me before. So I said to the band, ‘This is what I’m going to do. If you guys want to come along, let’s book a tour. We’re going to throw everything we own into the van.’ I booked a tour from San Diego up to Seattle, and we decided that’d we stay and live wherever we had the most fun. In Portland we played Satyricon, opening for Agent Orange, I think, and it was a blast. I thought Portland was gonna be it for sure. Then a couple days later, we played Seattle, maybe with The Young Fresh Fellows or something, and we had an equally good time and decided we were just gonna stay in Seattle.”
In Seattle, Duet immediately asked Bland to join Cat Butt as rhythm guitarist. “I had never played guitar in a band before,” said Bland, “but I could kind of play guitar. I had never seen Cat Butt play before, either, but I liked the name.”
This was Cat Butt 3.0, the lineup that recorded 1989’s Journey to the Center of Cat Butt EP on Sub Pop.
At first, the band simply replaced one wild man for another. As Bland said, “Our M.O. was just to get as annihilated as possible and rock out.”
A lot of us ’90s rock kids shared that M.O., but Cat Butt’s level of annihilation was greater.
“Cat Butt was the pinnacle of my misspent youth,” Bland told me, “and I do mean that in the most loving way. It’s funny. I don’t really get too nostalgic about youth, but when you hear people talk about, like, the crazy times they had as kids, I just sort of stand back and shake my head like, yeah, that was a Tuesday afternoon for us. Fuck you.”
“David and Dean pushed to get Danny in,” Burdyshaw wrote, “and I had to accept it. This was actually a good thing because Danny’s managerial abilities opened up a world of opportunities we otherwise would not have had.”
Blotto or not, Bland knew how to book shows, build relationships, and make things happen. Those abilities aligned with Duet’s ambitions for the band. Shortly after arriving in Seattle, those skills led him to booking Nirvana’s first two tours at Sub Pop and other bands’ shows, and later, after he got clean, to a career as a respected tour manager. For now, it got him booking shows for Cat Butt.
“When I was in Cat Butt, although I was the weakest link as a musician,” Bland told me, “what I did do is book tours, and that is something I’ve done since the very first band I was ever in, because what I always wanted to do was go on tour. I had this Rolodex of friends that were in bands in other cities. In Cat Butt, I book these runs down the West Coast and into Texas and back, then one day the guys from Sub Pop called me in and wanted to talk about it. They were Like, ‘Who is your agent? How did this happen?’ Because at the time, they just couldn’t get agents interested in most of the Sub Pop bands. So I said, ‘Well, I just do it myself.’ And they said, ‘Here’s an office. Do it for us.’ And booking their bands was my job for a while.” He didn’t like it. “I was just good at it, and no one else would do it, so I did it.”
“Big Cigar” had just come out. Bland had the 64 Funny Cars single, and maybe a cassette of other music they’d recorded. He loved it. “Musically at the time, I liked garage rock and maybe even rockabilly. That was my meat and potatoes. So I was all over this. It wasn’t like a lot of other stuff in Seattle back then, which leaned more toward heavy metal. I liked the garage rock element of Cat Butt, which was really most of the show. As a band, that’s what we were. I sat down with James Burdyshaw, and he showed me how to play everything. And I pretended to know more [about playing guitar] than I did.”
Bland no longer considers himself a musician. He’s a rock ‘n roller. “I thought I was musician back then,” Bland told me, “but I’ve since gone on to work with actual musicians, and I know that it’s not true. Like, now I know the difference. Not saying that what I did then was bad or fake—I like the music we made—just that sometimes there’s a difference between being a rock and roller and a musician. You can be both, but you can also be a rock and roller without being a musician. That’s what I was, because I don’t know shit about keys or notes or how to write. Again, this is just me, not necessarily the other guys in the band, but for me, expanding my abilities beyond meathead rock and rolling was never of any interest to me.”
“Danny Bland convinced Bruce and Jonathan to put out our EP while he was working as the official booking agent for Sub Pop,” Burdyshaw wrote on the Seattle Music History Group Pages, “because Danny & David thought it was a mistake not to go to Sub Pop (and they were right).”
They were. The fall of 1988 marked the start of the grunge era.
In October, Sub Pop released Mudhoney’s debut EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff, one of Seattle’s most influential, seminal albums. In November, Sub Pop released Nirvana’s first single, “Love Buzz,” as the first installment of its Singles Club, which mailed subscribers a new single each month. Together, these releases marked a changing of the guard, a shift which was sealed by The U-Men breaking up in early 1989.
In September, before Danny Bland officially joined, Cat Butt played The Annex Theater with just Burdyshaw on guitar. That was his idea. The Annex was a strange space above a 7-11 in Belltown, which is downtown Seattle.
On October 15, 1988, Cat Butt played the Slur Magazine release party.
“Catbutt, TAD and Jesse Bernstein October 15, 1988,” Burdyshaw remembered. “Pussy Galore were all in attendance and lined up against the wall outside the band room.”
David Duet: “That was the show where someone was filling beer bottles with piss backstage # findingoutthehardway”
James Burdyshaw: “It was an art gallery. It didn’t last too long and only had a few shows linked to counter-culture art openings.”
Chip Doring: “I don’t remember who was running the place, but the address and the date make me think it was a gallery called the Mad Eye. I think the name came from being on Madison across from the Eye clinic.”
David Duet: “The Deep Six release party was there, if I remember right. This and that was the only time I was there.”
James Burdyshaw: “You know my memory is pretty vivid, David. The Deep Six show was at UCT Hall. This place was really small. Remember the power went out during our set? The PA was not even as good as our practice space. We played on the floor in a gallery room. Maybe 700 Square Feet....”
“Yeah,” Larry Reid, the U-Men’s manager, said. “I was a contributor to this zine and helped with the show in some capacity. It was Jean Wasserman’s magazine and production.”
Sometime in 1988, they played in The Underground in the U-District. James: “An 18+ club that was below the street on U-Ave where Buffalo Exchange was.”
And they played The Vogue on November 14, 1988.
“TBT, CATBUTT at the old Bell town Vogue opening for The FLUID,” Duet wrote on FB. “We held the attendance record and most alcohol sold till NIRVANA played there after Nevermind came out, we had broken up by that point and couldn't take it back. The U-MEN took the record for most booze sold for a short time but we came back and broke theirs and our own a couple of weeks later, and they only had bands on Tues. and Wed,. Needless to say the Vogue loved us and we loved them. I used to do massive installations for our shows, even when we weren’t headlining. They involved rented industrial strobe lights, black lights, smoke machines, florescent paints, painters plastic, paper mache sculpture of Ouji board suns and moons, lots of glitter but no video cameras, unfortunately...”
On November 23, 1988, Cat Butt played a show with Tom Price’s new band, The Kings of Rock, at the Underground.
Over two nights in December 1988, Sub Pop held a two-night show for the release of the Sub Pop 200 compilation, at a club called the Underground. Nirvana headlined the December 28 show, playing along with Blood Circus, Tad, the Thrown Ups, Swallow. Girl Trouble opened on December 29, followed by Steve Fisk, Terry Lee Hale, Cat Butt, and the Nights & Days, on a garage-themed line up.
People hated this venue.
Burdyshaw: “The doorman was a sort-of-skinhead guy who got really pissed at something KP said during their set and threatened to club him with this nasty baton shaft he carried.”
Steven Henry Fisk: “The swastika neck tattoos didn’t feel welcoming. But I’m named after my Jewish grandfather.”
“They shouldn’t even have had shows there,” said Girl Trouble drummer Bon Von Wheelie. “The owner passed [singer] KP a note reading ‘put cloth on’ (we still quote that one) and then told the only guy who was watching us (who happened to be in a wheelchair) to get off the dance floor because they’d had a lot of trouble with his kind. …The security skinheads were total assholes and had no business doing that job. We’d already had trouble with them and KP made one of his funny cracks which was funny to what was left of the crowd, not so funny to him. He threatened to beat us up after the show but we had too many friends who stuck around. Steve Fisk was AMAZING!”
Steven Henry Fisk: “My friend Sam Albright was playing with me. He ran the space where Bernstein staged a bomb threat and pulled a knife. He was NOT thrilled to wait patiently on stage while Jesse told stories about eating ‘his own eyeballs and shitting them out my asshole.’ But I had a good time I guess.”
It was Cat Butt’s turn to put out a full album. As Sub Pop bands often did, Cat Butt went back to Reciprocal Recording to work with Endino. He was great. As a musician himself, he could help bands come up with lyrics if they were struggling to connect the dots in a song, he could get the right sound for each band, and he took pride in what they made.
Cat Butt recorded somewhere between Nirvana’s sessions for Bleach in January and June 1988, and Mudhoney’s sessions for Superfuzz Bigmuff in the summer of ’88—epic times.
Cat Butt still needed songs. They hadn’t written many since their last recording session. They managed to crank out six originals and one cover, enough to fill an EP.
The EP’s first song “Maximo” was originally “Maximo & Injun Joe,” and it’s built around a fun guitar riff.
“The title for that song,” Burdyshaw wrote on Facebook, “ran through my mind back in early 1987 after jamming that riff at a party with Jim Tillman and maybe Dan Peters (there were rotating drummers, who all I can’t remember). It’s a play on Maximus from The Inhumans and Injun Joe from Tom Sawyer. Then I showed it to the band and said what the song was called. David fleshed out lyrics and created his own story.”
“David blacked out while recording the second scream on that song,” Harrell said, “when he says ‘put down that knife.’ It’s a very loud, long scream, and he actually blacked out screaming that from lack of oxygen.”
Duet said the song “Zombie” was “about the rise of drugs in the Seattle scene back then, and other stuff.” As the he sings: “King heroin throws another log on the fire.”
Harrell remembers Burdyshaw’s roommate was making a short zombie film for school, and Cat Butt made up “Zombie” for the film in about 30 minutes. “It was no effort at all,” she said. “They acted in the film. The zombies ate everybody, and they got a new song out of it. I don’t know where that video ever went.”
They titled another song “Freebase,” where Duet sings:
Running and a’hiding, trying just to lose my mind. ...Hold my hand. We’re going down.
In “Freebase,” the devil laughs, but in the song “3 Eyes,” Duet captures a moment of crystalline beauty:
Watch it burn in the sick moon light
Watch it burn in the cold outside.
When he tried, he could write some chilling lines. The album title itself was a play on the famous 1864 science fiction novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne, which became a classic sci-fi film.
“‘Sedgewick’ was originally called ‘Sedgewick Pie’ and was about the family burial plot of Edie’s family,” Burdyshaw told me. “That was from 64 Spiders, but I had no lyrics. So David turned it into a song about his muse Lisa Seale. All I had was the slow part. The cowpunk middle section was written by me at Catbutt practice. It’s kind of an embarrassment to all of us now. We didn’t want to play it at Geezer Fest [in 2007].”
“David was very emotional,” said Harrell. “He’d write when he was sad or drunk, and he wrote a lot of sad songs about losing Lisa.”
They tried to make a video for the song “Sedgwick.”
“We camped in the woods way out in the country some place,” Harrell said, “maybe near the town of Black Diamond, and we were gonna make it like primitive man. As usual, everybody took acid. We had kegs. People had torches. We had a huge bonfire, and instead of the local people running us out, the locals came and helped build the bonfire until it was bigger than we were. We were all wearing loincloths and dancing around the fire—gone crazy—and I was just trying to film everything for this video. We buried James Burdyshaw in the dirt, and he came up out of the dirt in a loincloth playing an old guitar. That was cool. I was taking a video class at Cornish. But before digital, I had no idea that editing was really you spending eight hours moving parts of film around to get maybe two minutes or less done. We filmed it, and I never would touch it. I just gave David all the 8mm tapes. It was really a lot of fun, but we didn’t know what we were doing. I don’t know whatever happened to any of that footage, but I know it disappeared out of my apartment.”
To round out the EP, which Sub Pop wanted to be an LP, they covered the 60s garage song “Born Loser” and recorded a sixth original song, but bassist Dean G didn’t like how that song turned out, so they left it off the record. It’s the session’s only outtake, and it remains unreleased.
“I did a little bit of noodling on the recordings, but mostly I was the power cord guy,” said Bland of his contribution. “A recording studio has never been all that enjoyable of an experience for me in any band. We set up in a big room and played live and got the takes we could get and splice together the rest. I don’t know if Jack Endino would have been driven insane, because there was definitely at least four guys over his shoulder the entire time that he was mixing, each trying to get themselves louder. I think I just sat in the back and drank because, it’s exciting to have a record, but playing music in the studio is just not very interesting to me. I mean, I make a living in the music business, but I don’t actually play anything and don’t really care to. I don’t even own an instrument.”
In the niche world of obscure grunge era bands, Journey to the Center of Cat Butt is infamous, but it’s only six songs. It’s disappointing that they couldn’t release a longer album after three years together, but it’s better than nothing. The EP creates its own little world, inviting you into this warped universe these friends created outside of the studio, with their own language, inside jokes, and devilish fixations. I mean, look at the cover: all those guys standing around together, mugging for the camera. It looks like we just walked in on them at a party, where they were in a room at 2 in the morning, watching their faces melt in front of a mirror on acid. Ooops, sorry guys, didn’t know you were in here, I’ll close the door.
Seriously, though. What’s happening on the cover?
Apparently, they were drunk at that photo session. And that’s blood on Duet’s face, his own blood.
Duet had created original artwork for that cover that didn’t get used. “I did a giant installation in Kelly Canary of DICKLESS’s living room,” Duet explained on Facebook, “she had just been evicted and was told the house was being torn down, the carpet was covered in florescent spray paint, feathers, broken beer bottles, glitter and a fair amount of my blood, that war paint on my face is blood. The land lord showed up during the photo shoot. We had been BBQing on the front porch, Kelly freaked and drugged the pit inside, it fell over in the rush and the red hot coals spilled out and set the carpet on fire. The landlord was pissed because he had lied and was evicting them to let a relative move in. We shot over five hundred pics and Sub POP picked one with out our ok. They use this one that shows hardly any of the massive installation, Seattle 88.”
Duet remembers Sub Pop pressing 10,000 copies of the record, with 1000 as green vinyl. “Sadly we were on tour at the time, and the green vinyl flew off the shelfs,” he wrote on YouTube. “I had to locate and buy my own record, just to have the special release.”
“We were watchin’ Mudhoney just skyrocket past us,” Burdyshaw said in the oral history, “then TAD. These are both bands that started after Cat Butt had been together for more than a year. Mudhoney went from playin’ a sloppy show in Pioneer Square with Blood Circus to like three or four months later goin’ on tour with Sonic Youth. It was like, What the fuck? Even with Mark’s cachet, to just instantly this big push, it seemed like, Whoa, wait a minute. Besides being jealous, we felt like we were gonna be left out if we didn’t do something, so we went out on a tour and then got Sub Pop to green-light doing our record.”
So in February 1989, Cat Butt finally played outside the Northwest on a short West Coast tour with Mudhoney.
“I don’t even know if it qualifies as a tour,” Bland told me. “It was several shows in a row, so I guess it’s a tour.”
Of the tour, Melody Maker said: “Cat Butt are out of control. Every town they visited while touring with Mudhoney, they absolutely destroyed. If they weren’t in a band, they’d be criminals, in the armed forces or dead.”
The little California Aggie newspaper caught up with them at a show at The Coffee House in Davis, California. Apparently, Cat Butt didn’t realize that this show started at 8 p.m., so they were late. “We only had two beers,” Duet told the paper.
“Mudhoney also had a reputation for being a wild live act,” Bland told me, “but I remember them being not so eager to participate in all the action before and after shows, and that’s the part we excelled at. There was always some token get-together after the shows at whatever college town we were in, or some punk rock crash pad, and the after party is the world where Cat Butt excelled. I mean, we did a good show and all that other stuff, but where we out rock and rolled everybody else was afterwards.”
Mudhoney singer Mark Arm remembered crashing at someone’s apartment or condo after that Davis show. “It seemed like A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he said, “but with boozed-up punks instead of fairies and wood nymphs. There was lots of craziness and a complete lack of reason.”
“It was kind of a funny fundamental difference between the two bands,” Danny Bland said in the oral history, “Mudhoney were all on the pull-out couch trying to get some sleep, and we were just raging and keeping them awake. Dean Gunderson, the bass player, was disgusted by this brand-new, white Camaro in the parking lot. He’s a giant, like six-seven, and he came crawling up on the hood of the car, dropped his bands, and actually laid a turd on the hood of this white Camaro. He’s a big man, it’s a big turd, and it was quite amazing.”
“That was another LSD night,” Gunderson remembered. “The car offended me, I don’t know. The guy actually came out, and we watched him try and get it off: He backed the car up and slammed on his brakes so it would roll off the hood, but it ended up rolling backwards towards the windshield wipers. It got stuck there, and he drove off.”
Back from tour, Cat Butt played Squid Row again.
On April first, 1989, they played at the Central Tavern.
On June 28, 1989, they played The Vogue with Swallow and Dickless.
Then they did a mini-tour with the LA-based sludge rock band L7 in July of ’89, up and down the West Coast, which ended with a show at Hollywood Underground in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. L7 was about to become a big deal.
“I had just met a girl whose mom was dating Bruce Pavitt,” L7 bassist Jennifer Finch said in the oral history, “so she gave me the phone number for her mom. This is kind of how it went when L7 would book shows—you just get a phone number and call. Danny Bland, who was in Cat Butt, answered the phone at Sub Pop, and we started talking and I sent him a promo pack with a cassette, and he set up a show with Cat Butt.”
Both Sub Pop cofounders attended, but things went sideways. “The stage was finagled out of folding tables,” Sub Pop’s website says, “and friends recruited to work a smoke machine (members of the group Cat Butt) decided to drop acid before attending to their duties. This led to a thick fog filling the entire venue and the band’s performance could hardly even be seen. L7 were convinced they blew it. Instead, they got signed: Sub Pop may not have been able to see them, yet, but they could hear them and asked if L7 would do a recording for their monthly Singles Club.”
“Sub Pop staff kept an unofficial list ranking bands on how badly they smelled. “L7 were on the list,” said Sub Pop receptionist Megan Jasper, “but Babes in Toyland were the smelliest. [Accountant] Geoff [Kirk] followed them around one time with a Glade air-freshener, spraying them.”
“Due to temporarily stolen Strat,” Burdyshaw said, “I played Jack Endino’s guitar that night and we all dressed in L7’s clothes. Dee’s top and skirt fit me perfectly.”
“Remember always some drama that either stopped the show,” said fan Sylvan Smith. “Fight/members not showing up/late starts/too drunk to play. Great band!!!”
On August 25 and 26, 1989, Cat Butt joined Sub Pop’s showcase at Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art, CoCA. The August 25 show featured Gwar, Tad, The Dwarves, and Dickless. August 26 featured Nirvana, Mudhoney, Cat Butt, and The Supersuckers.
“That’s the show that gave me the scar on my lip,” said Sinister Six singer Doug White.
It was also the only time Cat Butt shared the stage with Nirvana.
Larry Reid: “That two-night Sub Pop showcase at CoCA in August 89 was epic! Front page feature in Seattle P. I. and later reviewed in Spin.”
The most epic thing was about to begin.
In the band’s most cinematic, and final, chapter, for six or seven weeks in September and October of 1989, Cat Butt and L7 shared a larger U.S. tour. They called it the Swapping Fluids Across America Tour.
The Swapping Fluids Tour started in Seattle, back at Washington Hall on Capitol Hill.
Cat Butt played a cover of Sam Sham and the Pharaohs’ “Little Red Riding Hood” that night. Then they hit the road.
“It was five of us, four of them, plus a roadie, all in the same vehicle,” Burdyshaw remembered in the oral history. “It was like the fuckin’ Partridge Faily. We had this Aeroporter bus, which we painted metallic gray. It looked like a big bullet, but [singer-guitarist] Donita [Sparks] called it the Poon Tank. L7 loved crackin’ sex jokes.”
“There were a lot of fluids being swapped,” Finch remembered. “A few members of L7 were dating a few members of Cat Butt. There was a lot of alcohol. There was a lot of vomiting. James had terrible intestinal trauma on the road.”
“I ended up having stomach flu really bad,” Burdyshaw said. “I kept shitting my pants. The first show of the tour was in Kansas City, and Donita took me to a drugstore, and we bought some fuckin’ Depends. I was humiliated. The show where I was wearing the Depends, everything seemed fine until right at the end, literally the last fuckin’ chords. That’s when I said, ‘Oh, shit,’ which is hilarious because I just shit. Nobody knew except for David, and he was laughin’.”
“Crazy night in Detroit,” Duet remembered. “If I’m not mistaken, we saw a pimp shot that night. We saw a lot of gunplay.”
“That L7 tour was the wildest trip I’ve ever taken,” Bland told me. “I don’t think it’ll ever be matched. We were just all on a mission. Everyday. There were no quiet times. Because of the personalities involved, even if there was like a moment of peace or serenity, someone would have to do something: throw a rock through a window, or pick a fight. I’m not talking about internally. When we were out there, it was us and the women against the world. It was fun. I mean, I think we knew it at the time, like This is fucking wild. Like I said, I don’t often get nostalgic for these things, but it would be nice to have some evidence of my memories.” He laughed. “You know, a lot of times I’m like, God, I’m so glad that there wasn’t a video camera in everybody’s back pocket back in those days, because it would just be so many wickedly embarrassing things on there throughout my life, but there are some things that I wish I would have had a camera for, just, like, for the grotesqueness of it in my mind. I have a drug-addled memory. I’m hoping a lot it was true.”
Having reached age 47 myself, I knew exactly what he meant. As a fan, I also wish footage existed that could take us bystanders on a fraction of the wild journey to the center of Cat Butt that they took. For The Swapping Fluids Tour, they have the flyers, and they have that one black and white photo that both bands took together for Rolling Stone in New York City in late September.
“By Mike Levine,” Bland said. “That would have been the halfway point of the tour and is fully reflected in that photograph. I’m sure that statute of limitations has all expired on everything that we’ve done, but there is no photographic evidence around, though I’m sure there’s some security cam footage somewhere that would be fun to see.”
Lots of the Cat Butt pics from the Rolling Stone photo session remain unreleased, in “the vault.” The color image the magazine ran of L7 from the session became one of the band’s iconic images.
“If I had known this pic would become so famous I would have come out of my shell a bit,” Burdyshaw said. “This photo shoot was taken during the day, about 10 hours before Donita Sparks was stabbed in the knee in Alphabet City by some crazy locals. It was in mid-tour, late Sept, the day after we played at The Paradise.”
“We were all in New York,” Duet remembered, “L7 were walking up ahead of us, and all of a sudden the girls were being harassed by a group of Puerto Rican teenagers, all carrying backpacks. So Danny and I step up to be the gentlemen and the protectors, and the kids whip hatchets out of their backpacks! One of the kids swings at Danny and breaks the bottom of his beer off. We were tripping on psychedelics, and at that point all the Cat Butt guys just started dying laughing. And then the girls started laughing. And then the guys with hatchets started laughing. They put away their hatchets and walked away, laughing their heads off.”
“We were magnets for trouble,” Bland said in the oral history, “and we liked it that way.”
“Donita got stabbed in New York,” said Finch. “Donita was in the bus and some gal from that neighborhood who didn’t really want a big bus with people like us in it—weird rockers or junkies or white people, I’m not even sure—just reached into the van and stabbed her through the window and then came into the van to continue trying to assault her.”
“That same night with the kids with the hatchets,” said Duet, “I get back to the bus and I see a Latin couple, very tough and streetwise, walking past our bus, and one of the windows was slit open. Donita had been climbing into her bunk in her leopard-skin underwear and the girl starts screaming at Donita, ‘You bitch! You bitch!’ Accusing Donita of trying to seduce her man. Erik, Dean, and our roadie are on the bus wrestling with the guy. Donita runs up behind them to see what’s going on and the woman whips out a straight razor, goes in between the guy’s legs, and slashes Donita’s knee open. She was going for Donita’s crotch, but Donita sees it coming, jumps backwards, and it slashes her knee. At the same time this is going down, a couple of car spaces up, two guys gangland-assassinate another guy right n the street, in the back of the head. Bam!”
“Donita waves down the ambulance that came by,” Gunderson said in the oral history. “They were like, ‘We’re looking for some guy that got shot in the back of the head, but we’ll take you.’” Gundo was tripping on LSD as usual. “Donita had a limp the rest of the tour, but she had a pretty good sense of humor. She was always saying, ‘Wait up for the gimp!’”
After New York, the fluids kept flowing across America, and they played Austin, Texas’ Cannibal Club on September 28, 1989.
Jerry Clayworth: “Just over 30 years ago, the roaring Seattle grunge-monsters, Cat Butt made their way through Texas, along with the pre-meteoric L7.... I was a ground-zero witness to their beautiful mayhem at Taco Land (San Anto), and created this ultra-primitive gig flyer for the previous night’s performance in ATX! In my heart, still two of the most powerful bands on the planet, and my artistic skills still need a LOT of work.”
Tim Kohtz: “I remember that TacoLand show. Some kid got in their roadies’ face on the patio about some t-shirt he was wearing. The roadie was a big guy and could have easily squished the kid like a pimple but, he took the higher road. I was speaking with the roadie and told him how much I admired how he handled the situation. At this point the drummer from L7 came up to the roadie and proposed the idea of packing up their equipment and high tailing it out of there. I mentioned to the drummer not to let one bad apple spoil the show. She told me that we need to keep a better handle on our scene. I simply stated ‘This is TacoLand not Maximum Rock and Roll.’”
Jerry Clayworth: “I never saw that.... I do remember the guy up front who kept touching Donita’s hair, until she got really pissed, and roared in his face - Then the crowd pushed him out the patio door....”
Cat Butt roadie Kevin Jutzi Crutchfield: “It was some commie T-shirt with a hammer and sickle on it if memory serves.”
David Duet: “That kid’s buddies showed up and they flashed guns, shit got hairy. The kid was offended because our drummer was wearing a dress and while dancing on L7’s base drum it was revealed he was wearing no panties.”
Rochelle Hamby: “When they tried to leave, their van wouldn’t start. I had to jumpstart it with jumper cables with my old ’77 Pontiac Grand Prix.”
David Duet: “That’s right, and we had our roadie (Kevin Jutzi Crutchfield) and drummer hidden trying to make a stealth get away from the gun toting search party, thank you for that. A typical night for the ‘Swapping Fluids Across America’ tour.”
James Burdyshaw: “We played our first time through with Happy Dogs & The Hickoids back in late Jan or early Feb 1989. There was a big party at Tommy Rowsey’s house afterwards and everyone crashed on his floor. The L7 gig there would have been just one band opening. It may have been Frank’s band. L7 played second for those Texas shows. Erok was really freaked about those guys wanting to beat him up, I remember that. And it was all because he was wearing a dress and said something to them that pissed them off, but the crisis was averted.”
David Duet: “The San Antonio Morlocks, very different.”
Jerry Clayworth: “But, these Morlocks were fronted by Frank Pugliese, of Sons of Hercules, The Vamps (who famously opened for the Sex Pistols’ Randy’s Rodeo show), Mystery Dates, etc.”
Jesse Sundvall: “Frank told me a great story about when his draft number came up. He said he just walked in the draft center and the guy looked at him and said “Not in this man’s army!!!” and told him to get out.”
Danny Bland: “$3? For what?”
David Duet: “$3 morphine suppositories and penicillin shots all night long”
“I was at that Tacoland show in San Antonio,” a fan named Chuck told me, “at the age of 19, can confirm it was pretty hairy. All I can remember about Cat Butt is that Duet wasn’t feeling well, I remember him saying in the middle of their show, ‘Tacoland rules, San An rules, I suck,’ but their show was great. At one point I was being harassed by some rough looking skinhead types, I was getting pretty scared, and then Jennifer Finch walks up, sits next to me, takes over the conversation, and defused the whole situation. It was one of the nicest things a stranger has ever done for me.”
Davie Duet: “Cover in toxic green mud, morphine suppositories, sex in the bushes, angry boyfriends, the birth of the BUTTHEADS, this was a hell of a day / night in San Antonio. The CATBUTT R&R Circus had hit Texas, where were you? Thank you Scott Griswold for finding this piece of high art from the latter part of the 20th century…I have a memory of a girl on roller skates. or was that Cincinnati, all such a blur.”
“We go to this place called the Bar of Soap, a laundromat and bar in Dallas,” Burdyshaw said in the oral history. “Some Chuck Norris-lookin’ fucker was talkin’ to our friend Kathy Kowgirl from Houston, and he must’ve said something that was really rude, ’cause she threw her drink at him, and the next thing I know, this drunken dumbass with blond feathered hair and a mustache punched her right in the face. I just jumped on him, grabbed him around the neck, and he flew to the ground, then everybody else ran up on him and started punching him and kicking him. David grabbed him and threw him outside. Danny and David were just fuckin’ him up.”
That night they played at Trees in Dallas, then Ft. Worth on September 30, 1989.
Then they played The Sun Club in Tempe, Arizona in October, playing down the street from my house after I’d done my homework and gone to bed at a reasonable time. All the while they were careening toward their inevitable dissolution.
“James and David argued constantly,” Harrell told me. Whatever musical tensions existed between Burdyshaw and Duet, their contrasting personalities lay at the heart of the band’s tensions. “It was like an old marriage. They both love each other but their personalities were so different—their way of thinking, the languages they spoke—that they could never stay in the relationship for long. It’s one of those love-hate kinds of things. They kept falling into the same patterns of behavior, and eventually, they just needed to go in their own directions.”
“If I recall,” Bland said, “the fights were between James and David, in some fake struggle for fake leadership of some completely retarded and dysfunctional rock and roll band.”
Burdyshaw wrote most of the band’s music. Duet started the band, wrote the lyrics, drew the flyers, and created the name, but he was also its wild public face on stage, so many people felt he was the band’s star. But why does a band need a star? Or even a center? For an organism as disorganized and self-destructive as Cat Butt, chaos, not a single person, was its center, regardless of how any one member remembers it. That said, the true star of the band may have been bassist Dean Gunderson’s hair, to paraphrase something a local luminary once said. Gundo’s hair even made it on the cover of a Hickoids album. You decide. Either way, it came to a head.
“My old band opened for them in Phoenix,” someone named Kannon Bond said on Facebook, “they literally got in a fight on stage, it all started when the guitar player kicked the singer in the head...wild stuff.”
James Burdyshaw: “Kannon - Not exactly.”
David Duet: “He kick me [in] the torso while [I] was on four with the mic cramed down my throat growling because I patted is ass as intro to the lead. He didn’t see my loving gesture with the intention that it was meant in. I knocked hi. In ass with a right hook in front the two girls that were chatting him after the show, we knew how to stomp o the terror”
James Burdyshaw: “You still owe my tailbone an apology. Jeez.”
The last show of the Fluids tour took place at Raji’s in L.A in October. Hole opened. It was Hole’s first show.
“When I moved to Seattle,” Megan Jasper said in the grunge oral history, “I used to go to this bar, called the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill. I was in there with the Dickless girls, and a bunch of other people who were giving me the scoop on Seattle, and one of the first pieces of advice I got was, ‘Whatever you do, don’t fuck anybody in Cat Butt. They just went on tour with L7.’”
Burdyshaw officially quit the band two weeks after they returned from tour.
“We get to L.A.,” said Burdyshaw, “and by this time I was not getting along with David. We were getting into shouting matches and fights. He liked to pick on me a lot. My bandmates would tease me all the time, talk shit about me. When Donita told me, ‘I’ve never seen a lead guitar player treated with so much disrespect,’ that’s when it really started to make me feel like I couldn’t take it anymore. In my mind, David and me were supposed to be the leaders of the band, and instead it was David and Danny. Danny was the newest member of the band and he could barely play the guitar, and I was writing all of the songs, everything on that Cat Butt record except for a few little bits. We finally get back to Seattle and played a welcome-home show that nobody came to. It was like the worst attendance we’ve ever had. This is welcome home? Then Babes in Toyland come to town and I started a mini-fling with the bass player, Michelle Leon. Beautiful girl. We were hanging out, and they played a Halloween show with Lubricated Goat. Somebody had some fuckin’ mushrooms and I got really high, and we were all in the Babes in Toyland van headin’ to this party. I’m trying to give directions, but I’m really wasted, and David and Dean are also in the van, and David says, ‘Don’t listen to him he doesn’t know a goddamn thing’ to the girl that I’m trying to impress, and I just went off. I started yelling, ‘Fuck you!’ All of a sudden David punched me in the face. I got out of the van, and I told Dean, ‘I’m quittin’ this band!’ We were so high. Michelle and Guy Maddison from Lubricated Goat run up to me, ‘Are you okay?’ Michelle told me, ‘Don’t play with that asshole. Fuckin’ quit his band.’ And I did.”
“How can I put this delicately?” Duet said in the oral history. “It’s no secret that James can be a very difficult person to work with, and I really made strong efforts. Tried to be very diplomatic. But at times I couldn’t handle it. It was Halloween night, and I punched him. James was bein’ a prick. I was drunk. I think there were psychedelics involved.”
“We were a band for as long as we could stand it,” Bland told me.
“I agreed to play two more gigs in Portland and Bellingham,” Burdyshaw said on Facebook. He and Erok were already rehearsing in a new band named Yummy. By December ’89, Cat Butt was done.
Of course, everyone knows the story after that. In the early 1990s, Sub Pop marketed Seattle and its guitar music to the world. Despite the stylistic diversity of the local musical community, the word ‘grunge’ started appearing in international mainstream media outlets, bands moved to Seattle to try to make it big, and kids who’d never visited Seattle started wearing flannel shirts and blasting Nirvana. While Danny Bland worked at the 24-hour porn shop and other members played in their new local bands, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains became household names and raked in the dough. Now they’re legends. Cat Butt disbanded a month before the ’80s turned to the ’90s and right as Seattle took off as a lucrative musical “brand.”
Maybe that was the most rock ‘n roll thing to do.
“We were thrilled for everybody’s success,” U-Men drummer Charlie Ryan said in the oral history. “My father called me one day, and he’s reading a review of Nirvana in the paper, and he’s like, ‘You know these guys, right?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, you know, we were playing the same places.’ ‘I don’t understand this. How come all these guys are making all this money and you’re not getting nothing out of it? I said, ‘Well, you know, Dad, we have our artistic integrity.’ He slammed the phone down. He hung up on me. He always busted my balls about the money: ‘So, you know the Soundgarden guys, and you know the Pearl Jams?’ ‘Yeah, Dad.’ ‘And these guys all make millions of bucks?’ ‘Yes, Dad.’ ‘But let me guess, you got your artistic integrity?’ ‘That’s right, Dad.’ When I was playing with Cat Butt, we were on some Sub Pop records, so we got these crummy little checks sent to us for years. One day, I framed this, and gave it to my dad for Christmas. The letter says, ‘I’m pleased to enclose mechanical royalties for blah blah blah.’ And look at how much the check was for: one dollar and 48 cents. My dad actually hung it up behind the couch. He thought it was hysterical.”
The month that Cat Butt broke up, The Rocket included them in their Northwest Top 20 round up, between Nirvana and Soundgarden.
Back in Seattle from tour, Duet spent three days in a five-day alcohol detox facility. “I decided to get away from Seattle ’cause everybody was getting incredibly strung out,” Duet remembered. “L7 was playing down the street, and I convinced the nurse to let me out, that it would be better for me to go play rock and roll, and she did. It was amazing. I hobbled down the street, got on stage with L7, did a Frank Sinatra version of ‘Strychnine,’ ’cause I was so looped out from all the medication they had me on, jumped in the van with L7, went to Canada. Came back from Canada, packed up all my stuff. Flew down to Texas for what was gonna be a month visit and ended up staying for four years.”
Duet stayed away for a while, but Seattle bands toured constantly back then.
“When I was living in Texas, Layne [Staley] called and said he’s coming to play Lollapalooza [in 1994],” Duet remembered. “He says, ‘Here’s what I need: a bottle of Jägermeister, a bag of pot, mushrooms, bottle of Jack Daniels…’ Gives me this long list. When I get on his bus, I’m excited to see him and not really paying attention, so I bring him the bag of stuff, and I say, ‘Okay, here’s everything.’ He’s trying to give me the eye the whole time. And then I learn I’m on Layne’s personal ‘clean and sober’ bus. His stepdad, his manager, everybody standing there. I packed the bag up and left the bus before it was confiscated, and Layne met me like 15 minutes later.”
Alice in Chains remain one of the most iconic bands to have emerged not just from Seattle, but during the 1990s. Their surviving band members still play music, and Mudhoney still tours and releases new music.
But even after all these years, no full live Cat Butt video recording has appeared. Only a grainy short clip from a full 1987 show recording exists, where Duet tells the crowd “Not only are we out of tune, we’re out of beer.”
Christopher Swenson, a Seattle musician who ran Dashboard Hula Girl Records, shared the clip online. Swenson’s band Big Satan, Inc opened that night, so he had a copy of the full show a VHS tape. “Void Productions used to set up a camera on a tripod on the end of the bar and film bands sometimes,” he said. “I don’t recall if Void dubbed me a copy for a price or for free. Memories fade, but I kind of remember walking out with a copy that night. It was 35 years ago though, so maybe not. To be digitized someday!” I’m not sure what he’s waiting for, but if he hasn’t digitized it in 35 years, I doubt he ever will.
There were other near misses.
Someone filmed Cat Butt in Tacoma in 1987 for that documentary, but the footage got lost.
Someone filmed Nirvana playing the Sub Pop 200 release party at The Underground in 1988 on multiple cameras. The footage surfaced in 2020. No one filmed Cat Butt’s set the following night.
Someone did record their February 1988 Tacoma show through the soundboard, though.
L7 and Cat Butt seems to have played a live show in the KXLU studio in L.A. in late 1989 and broadcast it on the radio, but I couldn’t locate a copy.
Burdyshaw didn’t have any video footage, and the only live recordings he had were a few live songs that Dean Gunderson burned on a CD for him.
“CATBUTT IS NEVER ENDING,” Duet wrote on Facebook years later, “WILL NEVER BE OVER, AS LONG AS THERE IS A FLAME IN THE HEART, A FIST IN THE AIR, A WHISPER OF FREEDOM, A CHAIN BROKEN, A SONG SANG, A BABY BORN, A OLD MAN DIES!! I think that was just myself singing with L7, and I would kill for a copy of it…”
Gossip and tall tales have circulated more widely than live recording during the decades following their demise.
“I bought this bass during the pandemic from a guy in Houston,” a guy said on Facebook, “he told me he bought it in the ’90s when he lived in Austin off a guy from Seattle who was ‘in a grunge band with ‘Cat’ in its name…’”
Here’s what we know:
Original rhythm guitarist John Michael Amerika Hutchins got imprisoned for drug possession, possibly dealing. He later died of an overdose.
Guitarist Brother James Burdyshaw continued playing and recording music around Seattle after Cat Butt, with his bands Yummy, The Sinister Six, and The Bug Nasties, and he writes better songs than he ever has. He attributes that to smoking much less weed than most people back in the day.
When The U-Men folded in 1989, Cat Butt’s original bassist Tom “Manny Eldorado” Price returned to playing searing guitar in a string of bands, including Gas Huffer, Monkeywrench, Kings of Rock, and the surf band The Del Lagunas. Price even played keyboard in Burdyshaw’s Bug Nasties. He still lives in Seattle and plays shows with his band The Tom Price Desert Classic when his health lets him. This winter he was clearing out his record, magazine, and comic book collection in his basement, prepping for a giant yard sale that he named the “Let That Sh*t Go” sale. It included a bunch of a show flyers and original artwork, too.
Cat Butt’s second bassist, Dean “Fly Daddy” Gundo, ended up in Texas, playing bass with Tim Kerr in their garage blues band Jack O’Fire, and may have landed back in the Northwest.
Drummer Charlie Circus Ryan and U-Men singer John Bigley went on to form Crows, and later, he drummed in Rob Vasquez’s band Right On. Erök “Boom Boom” Peterson played in Yummy before putting down his drumsticks. Both drummers still live in the Pacific Northwest.
Jeannine Gervais Harrell raised two kids, remains close friends with Charlie Ryan, and still lives in Seattle.
And final rhythm guitarist Danny “Fafahaha” Bland has been sober for 30 years and works as a tour manager for everyone from Steve Earle to the MC5 reunion tour.
That time is blurry, but Bland booked for Sub Pop for maybe a year in the late 1980s, until professional booking agents took that work over as the label’s profile skyrocketed. He had no interest in booking anyway. He just did it because he was good at it. “That’s a crazy person’s job for sure,” he told me. He was in no condition to do that for long.
“Then I moved on to the lucrative world of porn shop retail: the midnight to eight o’clock in the morning shift,” he said. “It was a pretty ideal job for me at the time, because the Champ Arcade was just a couple blocks down from The Vogue, so I could keep going to shows, and it was a 24 hour a day. I worked there pretty much until I was sent off to treatment, and then I had a second act as a clean and sober musician when I played bass in The Dwarves. Every single show I ever did with them, I was completely sober.” That’s funny, because Dwarves were insane on stage, they sang songs like “Free Cocaine” and “Fuck You Up and Get High.” “Yeah, that was good for those guys, but they’re also not dummies,” Bland said. “They were a regimented rock and roll machine. And you know, [singer] Blag [Dhalia] helped me get sober as much as anybody in this world, which is not sentence you expect to say, but it’s true. That experience of playing in The Dwarves gave me the primal scream therapy I needed. I’d just gotten out of treatment, and I allowed myself to do whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t drink and do drugs. That led to me touring the world with those guys and really having a bloody mess of fun at the same time. I got to exercise those demons that way.”
After working at the Experience Music Project in Seattle for a bit, he transitioned to full-time work as a tour manager. “I consider myself fortunate to have made a living all this time in in the actual music industry, instead of having to work some crappy job that I don’t like while participating in music as a hobby. If I hadn’t made a living doing this, I would definitely follow some band around on vacation. For me, the lure of the road is just something that never left me.”
But no tour was ever as wild as Cat Butt’s.
Around 2007, local musician Rod Moody convinced the band to play a one-off show at an event called Geezerfest that Moody and his friend Rob Daily, from Flotation Records, put together back in 2007. The name harkened back to Sub Pop’s Lamefest in 1989, where local bands sold out the Moore Theater for the first time.
“It wasn’t an easy task,” Moody told me, “but they killed it, sounding even better than I remembered them in the early days. When it was time to pay the bands, Duet was the first to find me and I gave him the dough. Then Danny Bland came up and asked me for the money. I told him I gave it to David, and he shook his head and said, ‘You gave it to HIM?’ They spent the next hour trying to find him...I seem to remember they did eventually.... Still have pretty nice soundboard recordings of their show that night, as well as Blood Circus, Swallow, Coffin Break, Snowbud, RC5 and other participants.” Burdyshaw hadn’t even heard this recording.
Way back in 2006, a Detroit rocker by the name of Rob Daily contacted me. He had heard that there was an unreleased record by my old Sub Pop band, Swallow. This was true: Recorded in 1990, it was intended to be the follow-up to our second album, Sourpuss, however, Sub Pop declined to release it, so the tapes sat in my closet for the next fifteen years. Rob had moved to Seattle around 2005 and started a label called Flotation Records. He was a big fan of early Sub Pop and related NW music, and he began by asking some grunge-era musicians, “If I started a label, would you give me some songs to put out a 7” single?” His first single, released in 2005, was by Alta May, which featured ex-Fluid drummer Garrett Shavlik. Subsequent Flotation releases included Plaster (w/Coffin Break’s Peter Litwin), Rein Sanction, The Press Corps (w/Garrett and Mudhoney’s Dan Peters), Mos Generator, Before Cars (w/Chad Channing), Down With People (w/Love Battery’s Ron Rudzitis, Bug Nasties (w/Cat Butt’s James Burdyshaw), and several others.
After I confirmed that I had the unreleased Swallow tapes, Rob offered to put out a CD and a 7” single. The 7” was released in 2007 and the CD, “Teach Your Bird To Sing,” came out the following year. As Rob & I got to know each other better, I told him that I had some World Wide Web skillz, and offered to help him update his website. One day, we were talking about doing a Flotation Records showcase and this grew into a different discussion that went something like this: “It would be cool if Bug Nasties would play, but what if we could get Catbutt?? Plaster would be awesome, but how about Coffin Break?” The race was on…
We began by creating lists of defunct or inactive bands we would love to see do a reunion show, like U-Men, TAD, Fastbacks, Screaming Trees, Love Battery, Green River, Pure Joy/Flop, The Fartz, The Fluid, Blood Circus, Catbutt, Coffin Break, Napalm Beach, Obituaries, and F-Holes. We contacted them all, and most of them said no way. We also asked some bands of the same era that were still making noise, like Melvins, Young Fresh Fellows, Presidents of The USA, Girl Trouble, Truly, Hater, and Mudhoney, and all of them declined. Undaunted (but a bit bummed), we pushed and pushed, and as of May of 2007, we had Blood Circus Catbutt, Swallow, Valis, Coffin Break, and Love Battery onboard for a show of some sort, and several of the newer bands on Flotation also agreed, as did some personal faves like Green Pajamas Sister Psychic, and Capping Day. Next, we brainstormed on a name. Scott McCaughey suggested Festival Of Loud, which was pretty cool, but Scott Vanderpool's pick, Geezerfest, was even cooler. Now we had to find a venue. Our first choice was the brand-spankin’ new Slims Last Chance, but they weren’t able to open in time, so, with one month left to go, we had to scramble for an alternative place. the Crocodile came through (thanks Pete Greenberg!), and we booked Saturday, August 25th and Sunday, the 26th and ended up with 19 bands in all.
8/25 - Blood Circus (1st show in 10 years), Catbutt (first show in 17 years), Swallow, Coffin Break (first show in 13 years), Love Battery, Snow Bud & The Flower People, Valis, Lamar (w/Chad Channing), F-Holes (first show in a long time), Mos Generator
8/26 - Green Pajamas, From The North (w/Shawn Smith & Kevin Wood), Bug Nasties, RC5, Down With People, Robert Roth, Sister Psychic, Capping Day, Spike
In retrospect, we probably should have split the obvious heavy-hitters between Saturday and Sunday, but all of the Saturday bands wanted to play with the other Saturday bands. This meant that the Saturday show sold out and Sunday…well, it was a Sunday (but still very fun!). We finagled a backline from Loud Technologies (thanks, Marsh Gooch!), Modern Dog created a killer poster (thanks Robynne Raye!, as did Claudia Gehrke from the Vogue, and my wife, Tina. Jeff Gilbert put together the press release (thanks Jeff!), Jim Anderson provided his usual magic sound for the show and recorded the whole thing (thanks Jim!), David Schanen, Jerry Hammack, and my brother-in-law Mike Anderson took the photos (thanks guys!), and we paid a guy to shoot pro video, which, to this day, we’ve never seen (WTF?).
It was an amazing event, and I will NEVER again attempt to do that sort of thing again! Rob Daily moved back to Detroit, but I think Flotation Records still has a web presence (Google it!).
I was too damn busy to pick out many memories of the actual show, although I do remember Michael (Vashon Seed) from Blood Circus thought he had a heart attack (he didn’t) and David Duet almost ran off with all the Catbutt money (he didn't). It was all a big fucking blur.
Maybe one day we’ll hear the Geezerfest Cat Butt recording and the four unreleased Cat Butt songs that Burdyshaw was remixing. Maybe we won’t.
Even though I wish they’d written more original songs, a Cat Butt cover album would have been fun and unhinged, too.
In the late-80s, David Duet moved back to Texas, where he sang in a few bands. One was a punk band called El Pathos. Buxf from The Dicks played bass, and Pat from The Offenders played drums—legendary punk musicians. But Duet eventually moved to Los Angeles and worked in the film and TV industry in some capacity, worked in tattoo shops.
Unfortunately, Duet is currently homeless and has gone missing. Many friends have tried to reach him—many offering to help him get into treatment—but no one seems to know where he is. Some aren’t sure he wants to be found. They just hope he’ll surface.
“He has a way of showing up at things,” Bland said. “Whatever I was working on, whether it was the MC50 tour or a Steve Earl tour, David would pop up at some shows in the Los Angeles area, sometimes Texas.”
The last time Bland saw him was in a video that’s circulated on YouTube.
An interview series called Soft White Underbelly spoke with Duet. Photographer Mark Laita created this series of ad-free YouTube channel to create what it calls “portraits of the human condition.”
“He routinely scours the 50-block part of downtown Los Angeles known as Skid Row, where homelessness, drug addiction and criminal activity permeate the streets,” The Washington Post wrote of the series. “Laita will give between $20 and $40 to people who are willing to tell their stories, he said. Those who are more at risk of being exposed, such as pimps, drug dealers or prostitutes, sometimes want more, costing him up to $100. On any given day, up to eight people line up willing to share a personal history that Laita uses only his gut to check, he said.” Laita’s series publishes its interviews for free on YouTube but also accepts donations and subscriptions to bypasses broadcast TV and distributes through content channels like YouTube, Roku, and AppleTV. It has been criticized for potentially exploiting the most vulnerable populations and monetizing their story.
In Duet’s video, he uses his middle name Emanuel to discuss his past, his fentanyl use, and his experience on the street in lucid detail. He’s charming as hell, smart, funny, and endearing. You can’t help but like him. He’s also clearly a skilled storyteller who’s used to managing perception and a situation through his oratory. It’s crushing to imagine him living on the street, and his video deserves a more well-rounded titled than “Fentanyl Addict interview-Emanuel,” because as the video shows, he is so much more.
Asked how he would describe his childhood, Duet said: “A series of molestations and beatings with moments of painful clarity.” For years when he was playing music, he was able to push his feelings aside and put those memories out of his mind, managing to live in the moment with music and friends. “I’ve spent a lot of life,” he said, “the last couple of decades, faking it till you make it, sort of putting on a mask and just going, hoping something kicks in and starts working. And it does.”
It was only much later in life, decades after his time in Seattle, that everything caught up with him.
“Every ten years I seem to change careers,” Duet told the interviewer. “But also there seems to be a great tragedy that sends me back out on the streets for a while. Sometimes I think it’s necessary to learn something. This last time has been really hard, though. There hasn’t been a lot of innocence or romance about it. It’s been quite the opposite—one of those life-changing things, you know: the wrong place, the wrong time, the whole world changed.” He had debilitating hand-surgery once after getting injured and an infection doing construction in Texas. That set him back and involved prescription medications to manage his pain. Then he got injured while working on a commercial. He says he suffered a traumatic head injury that left him in the hospital for two months, changed his vision and ruined depth-perception, so now he sees double, has migraines and seizures, and is depressed—possibly bipolar—and tangled up with lawyers and worker’s comp. “I’ve lost everything,” he said, “and basically, I went from living in my car to living on the streets.” The story gets hard to follow. His car got towed, important paperwork stolen, gang members attacked him, money issues plague him. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. What’s clear is that he’s talented and troubled, that the streets are violent and brutal, and after making music during a historic musical era, he’s lost everything, and now he’s suffering and needs help, if only his friends can find him.
“We’ve made several attempts to help him get sober throughout the years,” Bland said. “I would gladly do it again. I’ve been in the recovery game long enough to know that there is no such thing as a hopeless case. If you chat with David, or if anybody reads this that knows where he is, my number hasn’t changed, and I’ll do everything I can to help him out.”
“After Cat Butt, it’s like he wouldn’t get out of the same groove,” Harrell said through her tears. “It was always heartbreak over Lisa or his other love Sarah, later on. But never like Lisa. He could never get in ‘the good place.’ There was always some dark drama, some reason to stick a knife in his heart and feel sad, and it was exhausting for people. No matter how much you love him, people would just kind of get tired of hearing the stories. I think part of what people also kind of got tired of was his self-sabotaging. He rode the edge of the darkness too long, to where he really couldn’t pull it off anymore, and he kind of fell into it. The help he needs is beyond drugs and alcohol. Good therapy, getting on the right medication, long out-patient program, help with his trauma—I think he could do it. He could go through that if there was some way to help just get him out of the situation he’s in now. Everyone who knows him loves him and wants to help him, but it’s hard.”
“My other adventures, as sad and tragic as they were,” Duet told the interviewer, “there was something gonna come from it: art, writing lyrics. I just felt there was purpose. This, I have no idea what’s going on. Every day the obstacles just get bigger and bigger, and every time I take a step forward, it’s like a hundred steps back. …I don’t see a lot of reason to put up with a lot of it anymore. It’s like, putting up this fight, for what? What’s the goal? And that kind of promotes numbing the mind.”
Asked what his biggest fear is, he ran through some possibilities with the interviewer, seemingly testing them to see which felt true, even joking about others, like fearing the color brown and Top 40 radio. Then he found it: “My biggest fear is living a boring, mundane life. That was my fear as a little kid, and it’s still my fear,” he said with a laugh. Considering his time in Seattle making music, he certainly hasn’t had that. “My biggest fear is living on these streets for another twenty years, or ten years. I don’t know, I don’t fear a lot. Oh, I know what my biggest fear is: Not leaving something good on this planet. Not doing something that meant something. That’s my biggest fear.”
As small as Cat Butt’s body of work is, he achieved that, both through the music and the legend.
“I bought the [Cat Butt] album this year,” a fan named Cato Fredensberg Holmlund told me online in 2022. “Living in Norway Cat Butt wasn’t on my radar, but thankfully someone showed me the way. Cat Butt is still being played in rural Norway.”
“When I was 13-14,” a fan named Matt Clark told me, “I was attending a ski day at Crystal Mountain and ended up riding the lift with two random older rocker dudes on one run… they gave me a shot of something they called ‘snake bite’ that tasted like lime juice and whiskey that they had poured in a secret container inside one of their ski poles, which I thought was really cool, and when they asked what music I liked I said AIC, Nirvana, Soundgarden, etc. They started laughing and said, ‘Dude the real Seattle music is a band called CAT BUTT.’ I never ended up hearing them, but I’ll always remember those awesome dudes on the mountain that day.”
When Ben Blackwell, cofounder of Third Man Records and serious music head, visited the Sub Pop office in 2018, the first thing he asked of the staff—of all the grunge trivia and probing potential questions—was “When are you doing the Cat Butt reissue?” “They all kinda rolled their eyes,” Blackwell said in an email. But then someone pulled out a file folder labeled something like ‘Cat Butt’ that had all kinds of correspondence in it, along with a primitive, super utilitarian royalty report, hand-written, for a small amount of money. Whoever pulled out the folder did it tongue-in-cheek, like “Here you go, nerd,” but it was just everything this particular nerd would want: info, dates, context, the works. “I loved it,” Blackwell said.
One of the coolest things to him was that Cat Butt’s studio bill for Reciprocal Recording put the band right between bills for some of Nirvana’s Bleach sessions and Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff sessions. “Just right there,” Blackwell said, “the days everyone was in the studio, how long, how much it cost. I mean yeah, we visited the Bezos balls and Ten Club and saw Sleep blow it out at the Showbox, but really, that Cat Butt folder was the highlight of my trip.”
Those were good days.
Bland agrees that the best way to appreciate the band’s level of debauchery is sober from the rearview mirror.
“I suppose you could feel a certain amount of guilt and shame around such behavior,” Bland said. “But to me, that was part of what made me what I am today. That experience is part of my—I hate to use this word—part of my journey. And I wouldn’t change it for anything.” That’s another reason why Cat Butt should have been a movie. “I was just thinking what it’d be like if there would have been a documentary team around filming the Cat Butt L7 tour. That would have been epic.”
*Note: I want to give my deep thanks to James Burdyshaw, Tom Price, Erok Peterson, and Danny Bland for speaking with me for this excessively long love story. Big thanks to all the fellow Cat Butt enthusiasts who shared their memories, flyers, and experiences, and thanks to the kind Gervais Harrell for sharing this part of her life. Thank you to Jacob McMurray, Director, Curatorial, Collections + Exhibits at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture, for providing many flyers and articles from their archive. Thanks to Ben Blackwell at Third Man Records and Tony Kiewel at Sub Pop for providing other details and connections. And thanks to Karl Braun for all this work at the Pacific Northwest Music Archives Facebook group. You’re all good eggs. I hope David Duet emerges to find his peace.