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Hardcore: A short history of Scott Sturtevant A.K.A. Slim the Drifter
By: TheNovelist (NL Belardes)
Description: Passing of local musician awakens memories of a punk rock poet’s colorful, but tragic life.
Topics: Slim The Drifter Bakersfield Bakotopia NL Belardes Punk Country
, Slim The Drifter Bakersfield Bakotopia NL Belardes Punk Country
, Slim The Drifter Bakersfield Bakotopia NL Belardes Punk Country
Posted by thenovelist
Thu Jun 14, 2007 15:49:20 PDT
1517 18th Street,
Bakersfield, CA 93301
Bakersfield Hardcore: A short history of Scott Sturtevant A.K.A. Slim the Drifter
Passing of local musician awakens memories of a punk rock poet’s colorful, but tragic life.
By Bakotopia Contributor, TheNovelist (NL Belardes)
(Scott Sturtevant AKA Slim The Drifter)
In 1968, blonde-haired Walter Scott Sturtevant, only eight years old, pulled on an elegant cardigan sweater. It’s what all spoiled brats of the middle class youth wore to Central California schools in those days.
His short hair plastered with hairspray like other school kids, Scott walked out of his house and tore his way into Millie Munsey Elementary School. Although his thoughts were likely more on the dramatic adventures that young kids imagine rather than school, he did have a beef with one of his friends this day.
Even at such a young age Sturtevant had an underbite and strong chin. He once jutted it out and smiled during class while the clownish Jeff Wray hummed, making good ol’ Principal “Leadbottom Lee”, a short, squat woman who always wore grey, even more angry at troublesome students. Though Scott wasn’t an upstart, he was rascally and already had a flair for at least appreciating clownish antics.
In class he shot a sideways glance at friend Greg Goodsell. He had a few words he wanted to say since finding out his buddy was leaving Munsey for a mentally gifted program at another school.
Sturtevant played a lot as kids did in those days. His mind wandered far from the likes of today’s video game culture, reflecting the black and white of TV-made perils—imaginative G.I. Joes on rescue missions akin to adventurous after school episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Voyage was the perfect metaphor for a kid who would later become a poverty-stricken explorer-soldier of Bakersfield’s music streets. Years later he would embark on his own travels that took him across cresting waves of punk, New Wave, alternative music, spoken word poetry, even to the self-glamorized bottom of a country rock star sea.
Yet this was the third grade, a turning point for a young intellectual in the making. Already, he showed a flair for rebelliousness—he was about to confront his friend, Greg Goodsell, the very kid he watched TV shows and played G.I. Joes with. He amazed Goodsell with an eloquent speech as he spouted streetwise philosophy. “He told me ‘Nobody likes intellectuals,’” says Goodsell. “He wanted me to experience life rather than go to the mentally gifted school program at Roosevelt School. He didn’t want me to sit in a dusty study. He wanted me to go into the world.”
Strong words from a wise young spoiled kid with vision? Or better yet, words from a kid who wanted his friend to stay in his middle class cultural world so he wouldn’t be alone?
Rex Karz who met Sturdevant in the 1990s says Scott was later teased in junior high, that there were some altercations. Goodsell himself notes a behavior change that may or may not be typical of young adolescents. Perhaps Scott Sturdevant’s formative years reached him at a younger age than most.
Curran Junior High was a mere jump over the backyard fence on LaVern Street where Sturdevant lived. During school at Curran he showed a mean streak with a cutting sarcasm. Goodsell met up with him again there and hadn’t noticed such talk before leaving Munsey.
Was Sturtevant’s biting sarcasm normal behavior for a snobby middle class kid who could get whatever he asked for? What’s more likely true is whatever happened to him as a youth when Goodsell wasn’t around possibly affected his behavior in later years.
Sturtevant never finished West High School though Buck Owens Buckaroos’ drummer Dave Wulfekeuhler, former new wave artist Jean Erassarret III and graphic designer Mike Willis all remember meeting him there around 1976. Willis considered him a loner. Some remember him as dramatic, dressing preppy, and picking on geeks as some kids do. All considered him a kid with Thespian roots and a penchant to be a band roadie. “He was at all the art dance gigs,” says Wulfekeuhler.
Mike Willis broke guitars onstage for Justy Queet (1975-1978: Dave Wulfekeuhler, Jean Erassarret III, Will Roland and Tony Flores). He also helped burst flash pots that smoked up the South High gym, getting them kicked off the West High band list. Scott, enamored with such antics began hanging out with the band in 1977, soaking in the drama as impressionable kids would. During such rebellious youthful days, the then chunky Sturdevant along with the rest of the band probably wondered, “What can we do next to outdo ourselves?”
It was quite possibly the beginning of Sturtevant wondering about how people could affect one another through changing perceptions of one’s character.
“Our funnest times together were at Jean’s music studio,” says Wulfekeuhler. “We’d hang out and look at a yearbook and make fun of fellow high schoolers as if they were outrageous characters. You know, give students fictitious names. We’d just laugh and laugh.”
Marvin Jolley in his blog Marvin in the Land of Milk and Honey writes:
"I met him in high school when he was 16 and he was pretty amusing and charming to everyone then. He was the clown the class loved, not the class clown. There *is* a difference you know. Yes, he was a little pudgy then... We made fast friends and then I can't tell you how many times we laughed ourselves silly while watching movies or the latest Saturday Night Live or some other silly thing in the 70's. And he was a good laugher. Big, horse-toothy laugher. Capped by a girlish, snickering squeal.
His dad was a geologist who forced math on him. He rebelled,” says Jean Erassarret III. Scott had become what he says Goodsell shouldn’t do when he told him not to go away to Roosevelt. He became an intellectual. Only, now he was too good for high school. Another West High student, Marvin Jolley, along with Sturdevant, dropped out of high school."
Sturtevant soon attended Bakersfield College. He took up writing, photography and forensics and hung out with the college debate crew throughout 1978-79.
He continued to follow Justy Queet, whose members encouraged him to make music. “I remember his first song. It was ‘Grandma’s Pussy’. He performed it at a party. He got up and jerked around…He was known as the drama guy. Some of us thought he was destined for Saturday Night Live,” says Wulfekeuhler.
Jolley writes, “He certainly understood how to be dramatic and that was his foil.”
Around 1978 Justy Queet came to an end, and while Wulfekeuhler moved on to perform in bands such as Sweet Smoke, a crossover in Bakersfield’s black music scene, Erassarret III angered Sturtevant by joining the burgeoning New Wave movement. “It pissed him off,” says Erassarret III. Sturtevant liked a different blend of music, having sung with punk band the Lizerds at one or more house parties. Yet Sturdevant eventually bought into New Wave. In late 1979, before the movement turned “safe”, Sturdevant wandered into a party filled with forensics students and bragged, “Me and my friends are going to start Bakersfield’s first New Wave band, The Gags.”
Sturtevant soon wrote “Drop Out” and “Snow Clones”. The band had few gigs. And so Sturtevant began his transformation into one of his first music scene characters. “He was one of the first people in Bakersfield to have the clean cut new wave look with the skinny ties and suitcoats. It was very Ric Ocasek,” says Goodsell who featured Sturtevant at the time in the Renegade Rip newspaper in an article about New Wave and punk.
Unfortunately, the Gags didn’t work out. They transformed into the Phones, in which Sturtevant wasn’t a part. By late 1979 he told his friends, “I’m going to LA to make New Wave…”
Sturtevant couldn’t have been more wrong.
In 1977 Los Angeles, California, hardcore punk was born, many giving credit to Jan Paul Beahm, A.K.A, Bobby Pyn, A.K.A Darby Crash. The band’s name was the Germs and their legendary hardcore punk status was one filled with drugs, decadence, debauchery and suicide. The Germs only album, G.I., is considered a classic and was produced by Joan Jett. It has a cult following spanning the world and influences all ranges of punk music even today.
“I still have a photo of Darby Crash in my wallet from the LA Times,” says Shantell Waldo of Bakersfield band Three Chord Whore. “He is still everything punk to me.” Anyone who has seen The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) by Penelope Spheeris might agree with Waldo. The film is a cult classic about Los Angeles punk 1979-1980 and featured Darby Crash on the promotional poster and soundtrack record cover.
Darby Crash wasn’t tame by any means. Beware of getting lost in the romanticism of the Germs being the first hardcore punk band.
Darby attended a Hollywood hype school filled with Scientology and strangeness. He rebelled, transforming himself into a self-imposed punk messiah, his followers burning their wrists with cigarette butts to mark their faith in Darby Crash and the Germs. His and the lives around him were filled with music, drugs, sex, and lots of alcohol. The book, Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs paints a disturbing late Seventies punk scene. One reviewer writes about the book:
Germs vocalist and songwriter Darby Crash appears as both a taunting jester of the burgeoning West Coast punk scene as well as mischievous if not malevolent pied piper leading impressionable thrill seekers into would-be decadence of the type predicted by Oswald Spengler in The Decline Of The West. Through the remembrance quips, Crash also reveals a side as an extremely image-conscious and thus insecure youth struggling more to obscure his homosexuality rather than create a cohesive and worthy artistic legacy.
A harsh criticism? Maybe. Yet Darby’s disturbing and decadent legacy will grow even stronger with the punk genre film What We Do Is Secret slated to be released in July, 2007.
The truth is most venues banned the Germs and their enigmatic leader. The Starwood allowed the band but hosed the venue after each show. Darby Crash himself was a hell-bent self-aggrandized drug user on a suicide mission. He also happened to make great music during a violent youth movement. He warned those around him endlessly about his leaving the band, a metaphor for exiting life and entering rock god status. He was the pinnacle of hero worship for Seventies middle class punk kids upset with what their youth movement saw as a decline of society and music. They wanted to instill change, to do it themselves, and to fight against mainstream society. They chose in part to be disgusting because the middle class world around them was farthest from. So they waded into the darkest streets and lifestyles Los Angeles had to offer.
Within such a dark world Darby Crash had a persona that was as raw as L.A.’s drug and prostitution-filled streets could get.
Alice Bag of The Bags writes on her blog, Diary of a Bad Housewife in 2004:
I met Bobby Pyn (later to become Darby Crash) early on. We became friends and used to talk on the phone. We were both very much interested in philosophy and ethics and would often have heated discussions. Darby was into Nietzsche and I liked Kant, so of course we clashed. But at first we got along more than we fought. We were drinking buddies and were both known for our stage antics. Between the Bags and the Germs, we probably had the wildest audiences of the scene and we did several shows together. As Darby submerged deeper and deeper into his persona of “Darby Crash”, he and I began to grow apart. My observation was that he began to have less real friends and instead surrounded himself with fans and followers whom he could use and control. I totally disagreed with this and we got into an epic fight over the “proper role of fans” one drunken night. Darby thought that people who could be controlled, should be controlled and he disliked the way I treated Bags' audience members as equals. I wanted to erase the line between performer and audience and Darby saw his role as an artist being closer to that of an idol.
It was this raging Los Angeles punk scene that Scott Sturtevant entered in 1979-1980. It was perfect timing. The hurricane was in full force and he stepped right into it. He was the same age as Darby Crash, and was wholly impressionable by the maelstrom of change taking place among youth on L.A.’s punk streets.
Marvin Jolley writes in his blog about introducing Sturtevant into the L.A. punk scene and using him as a replacement in one of Darby’s pet band projects:
He tagged along on our forays into Los Angeles. One night, Scott and I drove down to see the Germs at the Whiskey at the invitation of Bill and Dick of the Assault from Ventura. I will never forget the chaos, maelstrom of energy and exuberant embrace of disaster. I was certain that nothing would ever be the same. And I was right. Outside, we met Rik L. Rik who was very nice with us and shared cigs.
Later, after Lizards imploded and I went down to play in a band managed by Darby with Donnie Rose and Laura, I determined that it wasn't a path I wanted to take so I came back from LA and Darby's pet project. I recommended Scott to them as a replacement for me. He wanted to be a part of that world. I took him to the bathroom and cut his hair. Chopped is the better verb. I made him retire the Hawaiian shirt. Coached him on a few things not to say or do: new wave folk. Elvis Costello. And above all, NO FUCKING BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. Off he went…
It’s said that Sturtevant ended up at Skinhead Manor, a rented Hollywood Mansion on Highland Avenue near Hollywood High where the Germs along with Circle Jerks, Youth Brigade, and No Crisis all hung out to rehearse. One group of rough-looking girls practiced there. They later became the GoGos. There was a living room stage, a beer machine in the foyer, and Darby Crash was in the mix.
Skinhead Manor was a short-lived venture, though it came at a crucial time to influence Sturtevant who met Darby Crash himself. Did Sturtevant acquire a cigarette burn scar on his wrist, marking him as a Germs follower? Erassarret III thinks so. Maybe he simply idolized Darby to the point where he wanted to become a star with similarities.
No burn required.
And if Darby Crash really controlled those around him, what kind of impact would that have on the impressionable Sturdevant through the years?
Energized, Sturtevant re-entered Bakersfield with a bootleg mix tape of one of the Germs shows where he declared, “Listen to this punk scene!”
Never forgetting Sturdevant’s Thespian roots, Dave Wulfekeuhler says, “I was on a date at Marie Callender's and in comes this guy with a hardcore punk look…safety pins, his hair was short cropped. But it was still Scott. I knew his heart…I later wondered if Scott was just acting. But then I thought, No, you can’t act and live that hardcore. He pulled it off.”
By 1979 heroin had entered the hardcore punk scene. Until then it was mostly beer, speed, pot and cocaine. The punk movement was a youth movement and Sturtevant fit the mold, and like other hardcore punks, he likely didn’t perceive much of a future in a world deemed fatalistic.
Though punk had a Do It Yourself (DIY) philosophy, some, like Sturtevant got caught up in the scene’s darker side. Waldo reflects, “He was always the enigmatic punker guy. He knew all my idols: Darby, Exene Cervenka…and he was around people, the heroin, the other drugs. Maybe that path took him down a darker road…”
Marvin Jolley writes:
"He lasted there for a few weeks and decided it wasn't a good match either. But the exposure catalyzed him. He became darker after that. And unfortunately the heroin thing. Yes. He got exposed to them as well. We all did. Best not to linger there. You might not come back."
In December, 1980, after Sturtevant returned to Bakersfield, Darby Crash committed suicide in L.A. on a mega-dose of heroin. He hoped to begin his push to becoming a punk god in post-life. It’s suggested his suicide had been part of his plan for years to secure his idol status as an original American punk legend.
Greg Goodsell reflects on a day he’ll never forget:
"I showed up at his house. The old neighborhood had gone to hell. Scott was frantically calling friends in L.A. and trying to piece together the story of Darby’s death. He was punked out, intense looking, skinny, intimidating. At the time, L.A. had a huge scene that included the Germs, X, Black Flag and Circle Jerks. He gave me some punk albums to play on my radio show. I went home."
Twenty-three hours after Darby Crash died, John Lennon was murdered.
Darby Crash, the self-made martyr of the hardcore punk scene was quickly forgotten by much of the world. But not in the punk scene in L.A. or Bakersfield. Some rumors even flew around that Sturtevant injected Darby with the fatal dose. But that was just a localized myth. Darby had bought $400 worth of heroin, injected the girl he was with, then injected himself with an even larger dose. She survived.
Yet the death of Darby Crash gave Greg Goodsell an idea. He’d been running a punk rock show at KBCC, Bakersfield College. And so he contacted Sturtevant and told him, “Get a band together. I have a venue.”
It was at that moment Bakersfield’s first hardcore punk band, Teen Suicide, was born. Jolley adds, “Upon his return, he wanted to do something more punk, not return to the new wave thing. Hence Teen Suicide. From our little circle of outsiders. More craziness ensued…”
On a dreary overcast day in February 1981, hundreds of youth gathered on the Bakersfield College campus. They crammed themselves into the tiny quad area that joined the student union and cafeteria buildings. Some were dressed in punk clothes, most weren’t. The band set up on the east side of the quad in front of the men’s bathroom entrance, a huge message board and some vending machines. The quad itself was filled with round tables fitted with multi-colored umbrellas. Some students sat at the tables. Some stood on brick planters for a better view. Others wandered, lingered or just passed through.
Fliers for the show showed two feet in a V-shape with a toe tag that read “Teen Suicide”. Before the show, band members stuck them to windows with superglue, which didn’t make a lot of people happy. The band itself was an hour and a half late.
The original line-up had Scott Sturtevant on guitar/vocals, Gary Bratcher also on the bass, and two former members of The Lizerds: Brad Ryerson on bass/vocals and Bruce Brink on drums.
In a surviving video of their performance, the skinny Sturttvant can be seen wearing a cut-off red Cardinals shirt and jeans. His hair is cropped and he looks the part of a punk icon himself.
As the video begins, Sturtevant screams and moans into a broken microphone. He takes drags of a cigarette and begins a punk anti-Beatles song called “Day Tripper”, clearly a jest that Darby Crash was the more wounding death to be mourned, at least to Bakersfield’s newest hardcore punk band leader. Soon he leans against a wall, then returns to the microphone and belts, “Yeah. Beatles suck anyway! You know that!”
Teen Suicide’s performance is what Dave Wulfekeuhler would later describe as “horrid, pure utter noise.”
Greg Goodsell describes the show:
“In the first two minutes it was obvious that the band hadn’t practiced. It was noise. There was no song list. People fled.”
Some people stood around hoping for something to happen. Most left right away. For those who stayed, what Sturtevant showed was stage presence. He hung at the front of the band like a true leader. On his left arm he had scratched a huge cross with radiating lines, perhaps a self-afflicted reminder that Darby Crash’s body was found in a cross-like pose and had risen again through Sturtevant’s noisy tribute.
On Sturtevant’s face there was a deep self-made gash that helped him grab more attention from the crowd. One person threw an orange and he threw it back. Later, a Mormon girl claimed Sturtevant cut himself and spit at the crowd. Although witnesses say he gashed himself before the show, at one point in the video he smiles, stares, spits on the ground and says, “Lick it up…this is art!” He soon grabs the guitar and speeds into an instrumental, taking further control of the band. After a short stop between songs he says, “Were you offended? We don’t mean to be anything but pure shit!”
Nevertheless, Goodsell remarks on the failure of the day, “I could never book another band there…”
After the Bakersfield College debacle their next show was at the Falafel on the corner of 19th and Eye Street. Only 12 people showed. Bakersfield band, The Terrorists (1981-1982) homepage has this to say about the Falafel:
Teen Suicide played several legendary live shows at the Falafel, a trendy little dive downtown. Scott would stagger drunkenly through the audience, drinking out of people's beer pitchers and chucking chairs around. The sound they made was the most beautiful noise. Fortunately one recording from a live show remains, the song “Coming Back From The Dead”…
Sturtevant wrote just before his death in 2007 about losing a few of Teen Suicide’s original recordings:
Bruce Brink was the drummer in TS. You could however, write chapter and verse about the long list of drummers that we played shows with when Bruce couldn't make it back to town…that was an important night in Bakersfield punk rock history. The drummers name was Brian and he had played in the Contaminators before he started playing with Jean in the Phones. Brad and I left with a cassette tape that eventually broke. Brad and I really loved the way the recording sounded and wanted to release it (I hope to hell he remembers). As I recall, we were sitting in Brad’s truck in his parents’ driveway when the tape fell apart. We didn't speak for about thirty minutes because we found out that the recording, which was made on Brian's reel to reel had been recorded over. If my memory serves me well, Brad put in the Carpenters and we sat and smoked cigarettes. What the hell else can you do?
By then, Sturtevant had a strong artistic drive. Teen Suicide fizzled after a final show at the Doré Theatre on the CSU Bakersfield campus (At the time, CSB). Sturdevant however, drifted to L.A. and back. He tried his hand at alternative music, and so joined a series of bands in the mid-to-late 1980s: Kissing Jane, The Rainmakers and 97 Tears.
Yet he didn’t always play well with others. “He had an artistic temperament,” says Goodsell.
What he really wanted was to go solo.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Scott Sturtevant began a transformation to the street poet / musician character, Slim the Drifter.
Jean Erassarret III, affected by Sturtevant’s dark transformation, wrote the song, “Contorted Boy” about his changing persona and travels to Hollywood during the time Darby Crash took him in.
LIFE IS GETTIN' ME DOWN ALL THE TIME
I HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT PEOPLE TO DEFEND MY KIND
MY TRADEMARK IS A BUTTON AND A LEATHER COAT
AND I'M TRY TRY TRYIN' JUST TO HIT THE RIGHT NOTES BECAUSE I'M
I'M A CONTORTED BOY
I'M A SKINNY BOY, BUT THAT'S LIFE IN THE CITY
CAUSE I'M, I'M A CONTORTED BOY
A DRAMATIC BOY LOOKING FOR CHANGES
WELL I'M GOING TO HOLLYWOOD
GONNA SEE IF SOMEONE CAN SIGH ME ON A RECORD LABEL
SIGN A PIECE OF PAPER WHEN ALL THE HANDS ARE UNDER THE TABLE
OOH, THIS CAN'T HAPPEN TO ME, NO NO
CAUSE YOU KNOW THAT I CAN'T GO BACK HOME
PEOPLE STANDING AROUND ME GOD GIVE ME ROOM TO BREATH
ALL THE HOMETOWN PEOPLE SEEM NO NIEVE
HOW CAN I BE RIGHT WHEN EVERBODY'S WRONG
I'LL TAKE IT AS A CUE TO LEAVE THIS TOWN
I WON'T GO TO HOLLYWOOD CAUSE NO ONE SAID I SHOULD
CAUSE LIVIN' ON THE SIDEWALK IS NOT THAT GOOD
MAYBE I CAN MOVE TO A BEACH PUNK TOWN
START A NEW BAND AND MAKE A NEW SOUND BECAUSE I'M
I'M A CONTORTED BOY
I'M A SKINNY BOY, BUT THAT'S LIFE IN THE CITY
CAUSE I'M, I'M A CONTORTED BOY
A DRAMATIC BOY LOOKING FOR CHANGES
SOME PEOPLE SAY THAT I HIT MY STRINGS TOO HARD
BUT THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND ME CAUSE MY FEELINGS ARE SO SCARED
BUT THAT WILL PUSH ME HARDER JUST TO PROVE MY POINT
THAT NO ONE'S GOOD FOR NOTHING UNLESS THEY THINK THE WAY I DO BECAUSE I'M
I'M A CONTORTED BOY
I'M A SKINNY BOY, BUT THAT'S LIFE IN THE CITY
CAUSE I'M, I'M A CONTORTED BOY
A DRAMATIC BOY LOOKING FOR CHANGES
How to best describe Slim the Drifter? Country pop, alt country, black, dark, shady, hobo, punkish, self-depricating, moody, talented, working class but not a worker, all-American, Elvis, poor, Bakersfield-centric, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, and a hidden Darby Crash temperament.
Rex Karz suggested that Sturtevant’s Slim character showed no elements of Darby Crash, brushing such notions off. Rex met Slim around 1991. He mentioned that Slim did say he went with Darby Crash to “hang out in disgusting places”, and that Slim’s persona was filled with “miss-me-when-I’m-gone bullshit.”
It can be said that Slim took on some of Darby Crash’s traits, who consistently predicted his own death in lyrics and suggestions to band members. Suicide and death was a large part of the early punk movement and seemed to bring an authenticity to Slim’s character that wallowed in depravity. In a 1992 video of his show at Hollywood’s Club Lingerie, Slim tossed confetti, handed out small prizes and said, “This is your prize. It will be valuable even after my untimely death.” Slim can be heard muttering similar cryptic statements in a preamble to the same show.
The video also shows haunting footage of Slim heading through the darkness of the Hollywood freeway right after the show. The next morning he sits in a stained Modesto JC T-shirt and proudly shows off an issue of LA Weekly that advertised his Southland appearance.
Rex claims another old friend of the Slim character recently commented, “Slim had been writing suicide notes for 30 years.”
Yet Slim’s literal death was slow, due to alcohol abuse and other rough living carried over from his days in the Los Angeles punk movement.
Slim’s wife Debbie who he married on an Oregon cliffside in 2005 says Darby Crash “was a very big influence. Slim tried to emulate his persona.” Her words suggest Slim the Drifter was a character severely influenced by the early days of hardcore punk, even 28 years later.
Shantell Waldo discusses Slim’s strange spiral after meeting Darby Crash and wonders, “Did he do it because he was once in the company of punk rock greatness?” She further discusses Sturdevant’s transformation into Slim the Drifter:
Right before he became Slim, he started touring around with the Gang of Hair release. As far as I know, he’d gotten some money, but they didn’t promote him and he didn’t put out the effort. It marked his metamorphoses to Slim the Drifter. The Los Angeles scene formed what he became. He was proud of the working man image. He became a guitar slinger always dressed in black…
Sturtevant brought a boom box for taped accompaniment. Sometimes dressed like a hobo, he had a poor man’s preamble to many of his shows. He had a jittery Elvis swagger and swoon. He moved around the stage a lot and leaned and posed as if caught smoking on a street corner. He seemed to accept the streetwise L.A. Beat Generation philosophy of “poverty is a virtue” and the punk movement’s Do It Yourself mentality. L.A. poet S.A. Griffin recently said in a phone interview, “The L.A. beat scene transformed into the punk scene.”
Slim the Drifter was an evolution of both the Beats and Punks. He took his all-American alternative cowboy pop songs and spoken word to people seeking whatever was new on the streets of Hollywood. And he took it a step further to do it by himself. At Club Lingerie in Hollywood, Sturdevant’s new persona, Slim the Drifter leaned against a wall, pressed play, began mumbling and throwing confetti. Was this his thespian American roots in transformation again?
“He honed in on believable characters,” says Dave Wulfekeuhler.
“Slim the Drifter was a sellable project,” adds Erassarret III. “He brought hardcore punk to Bakersfield. But when Slim the Drifter came out, no one was doing that.”
Slim the Drifter was a poet, a singer, a poverty stricken voice of the people that offered hope through his own afflictions. Where Darby crashed, Slim drifted in emulation of Crash, who never quite left his psyche. Like L.A.’s punk icons getting affected by Neil Young’s comments, “It’s better to burn out than fade away,” the new Slim character, hanging under the shadow of Darby Crash, was a streetwise poet drifter, a spokesman for a generation in pain, a folk-based rock poet who wasn’t about money, but had words to offer the world by using his own life as a metaphor.
And yet, according to Goodsell, Slim the Drifter was a character chronically unemployed in the 1990s. “Not passing high school finally caught up to Slim,” says Goodsell, who often tried to get Slim jobs. Marvin Jolley adds to the idea that Slim avoided traditional work:
"I don't know, but I remember that he would do anything to get out of work. Oh totally. That was Scott’s mission in life. Stoned in his dad’s truck sitting on the range watching...something to do with electricity towers."
One of the biggest ironies is that during high school Sturtevant had a lust for egging bums. He would take friends out in one of his father’s work trucks, find a bum, and say, “Before you do it, it’s mandatory to yell, ‘Get a Job!’” One has to wonder if Slim developed a guilty conscience from having tormented transients, or was his persona a reflection of his love for Bakersfield, his need for acceptance, and his appreciation for country music and small town mentality? Could have been a mixture of all of the above and more.
On occasion, Slim the Drifter performed. And though he created great albums throughout the 1990s, not many people heard them. Slim himself disappeared much of the time.
His debut album, Callin’ Cali came out in 1992.
In April of that year, Slim recorded a video at one of his Bakersfield gigs, possibly Suds Tavern. He turned on his beat box, had a guitar, a pompadour that bounced as he sang with his western drawl; his voice a clamoring echo reaching to the audience. It was one of only a few performances to promote his album. He tossed confetti which landed on his black jacket, and later threw a red streamer out toward his audience. The poppy beat box blended with his swooning voice, and his chin jut out with each dance step. He even poked fun at lip synching and performed some in jest.
“His stuff is beautiful pop,” Waldo says, “although if you listen to the album, every part reflects his life in the early 1990s. That whole album is so Slim. Damn he’s an asshole, but an American original with all the aspects of American music.”
Slim spent some time before Callin’ Cali at Dino Giacomazzi’s dairy farm in Hanford, California. The song, “Dino’s Farm” made the album’s final cut. According to Erassarret III and Wulfekeuhler, there was even a film about cow tipping that accompanied Slim’s time on Dino’s farm. And Dino is a musician himself, responsible for the Gang of Hair label that Slim was briefly on.
A broken marriage and rough living after recording Callin’ Cali caused a nervous breakdown that resulted in Slim’s isolation from music for several years. “He just locked himself up,” says his wife, Debbie. He went to Arkansas, almost made it to Tennessee. He hung out on the streets of Austin.
Just before Slim’s breakdown was a period of intense creativity. He painted, spray painted, created stencil art with a country theme, and even painted a Fender bass head in his splatter style. But that was followed by severe depression and ensuing medication that turned him zombie-like for several years.
During much of the 1990s, Slim made incredible music, lived in and out of Bakersfield, was completely manic at times, speaking in metaphors. He came back to Bakersfield again after floating through Austin and toured around as a carnie on a Tilt-a-whirl for a season. He was even rumored to steal, or at least try to once in a while. He had truly metamorphosed into his character of depravity.
Eventually Slim came out of isolation to record the albums The Ballad of Kurt & Courtney and PIMP.
The Bakersfield Californian ran an article in their Eye Street section in 1997 simply titled “Slim the Drifter”. The article promoted his album The Ballad of Kurt and Courtney, which he recorded in one take on a break from working carnivals. Logan Molen, Vice President for Interactive Media for the Bakersfield Californian in his brief blog piece, “Slim the Drifter, R.I.P.” reflected about the 1997 article:
I fondly recall putting a big picture of Slim on the cover…and delighted in handling several complaints that came in from irate readers upset that we would give a "punk" more than a sentence. Good times.
Greg Goodsell raised his eyebrows when the article was brought up, a piece that he believed wrongly glamorized Slim the Drifter and his harsh lifestyle. He discussed Slim’s character of depravity:
"That article, just like Slim, put a glamorous spin on desperate circumstances. I don’t think you can glamorize poverty, sadness and desperate circumstances for artistic vision. Collecting cans isn’t performance art. Yet Slim is Bakersfield’s other favorite son. Although he was tinged with doubt, depression and despair, he had charm. Incredible charm even in the most desperate circumstances. He was very nice, cordial and uncompromised in his vision. That isn’t the same for a lot of people I know. But the character of Slim was about brokenness, failure, broken promises and shattered dreams. He romanticized the notion of being in a small room with cockroaches…"
It’s said that Slim was too trusting of people, which during the recording of PIMP, someone stole his keyboard that held many music samples. Although Slim’s wife Debbie says “PIMP was meant to be a goof”, Shantell Waldo described that when PIMP was created, “it wasn’t at a time when he had the ability to be serious about music. It was about he and a girl and the madness they were going through.” He recorded the album at Bakersfield’s Tower Motel, a rumored area where questionable characters lurked. Yet he had enough recording equipment to get the album done in one of the motel rooms. Waldo says the album is filled with “drum machines and cool cheesy synthesizers…”
Ethan Green lived with Slim in Bakersfield in 2005. When Scott asked why he wanted to stay in Bakersfield, Ethan said, “Well, the train stopped there.” He had recording equipment and be-bopped around with Slim making some tunes. Somewhere in there, Brad Coats joined them to form the.
Slim the Drifter Trio’s album, The Guilty Ten is a country masterpiece that Slim and his partners finished recording in June, 2006 at a location in Bakersfield. Five days later Scott and Debbie moved out of town. The trio floated apart and never met up again.
Material from The Guilty Ten was performed just a few times live, including at Scott and Debbie’s wedding at Umpqua State Park in Oregon. Scott refused to perform at his own wedding, He said it was bad luck.
Eventually, he and his wife moved 30 miles east of Reno, Nevada to a little high desert agricultural and ranching town called Fernley, marking the end of the road for the character of Slim the Drifter and the complex musician, Scott Sturdevant.
Darby Crash, a host of punks through history, Slim the Drifter and writers from the Beat Generation all glamorized human depravity and got away with it. The Beat Generation’s Jack Kerouac died at the same age of 47 also from a liver saturated from too many years of alcohol abuse between bouts of extreme creativity. It was Kerouac who wrote:
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!
Perhaps Slim just needed someone else to tell him how great he was, his music was, how bright of a firework he was. Slim couldn’t be kept down or away from music. He kept recording, self-published a book, and made a cassette with a singer from Shafter—hidden tracks meant to one day be revealed—not to mention his haunting album with the Slim the Drifter Trio.
TO LISTEN & PURCHASE SLIM'S MUSIC, PLEASE VISIT THE LINKS BELOW:
-SLIM THE DRIFTER
-SLIM THE DRIFTER TRIO
-SLIM THE DRIFTER AKA SCOTT
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO CAME OUT!!!
SLIM THE DRIFTER MEMORIAL TRIBUTE SHOW
DJ Drifters = Dave W & Jean E
Three Chord Whore
Monty & Tanner Byrom
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
-Fishlips, 1517 18th st. Downtown Bakersfield
*Story originally printed in Bakotopia Magazine #4 6/15/07
Comment From: matt
Thu Jun 14, 2007 15:56:39 PDT
I saw Scott's band, The Rainmakers, during my senior year at McFarland High School. I think it was the end of '85 or beginning of '86. Me and my buddies, Darryl and Gilbert were the only three punk kids in McFarland. We were there for The Examples' farewell show, sat in the front row of the BC indoor theater, and saw opening bands FEO, and The Rainmakers. The Rainmakers had nice gear and nice suits. Not very punk, and we kinda laughed at those guys trying to be Spandau Ballet, but they were tight. Scott was the vocalist and I can remember two songs from that show: "Highway 46," and their cover of Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding." I can't believe I can remember that far back...damn. Years later, we actually shared the stage, when Mento Buru and Slim The Drifter played together at the Downtown Elementary School "Spring Carnival." Now that was PUNK! Rest easy Slim... Thanks Nick for the article and tribute to our Bako punk rock godfather.
Comment From: AndyNoise
Thu Jun 14, 2007 18:38:15 PDT
twenty years ago, i opened my record store andy noise and scott was one of my first customers.
he bought a joy division record.
a few years later, his band 97 tears played one of the last shows i had at andy noise.
he was an orginal for sure.
Comment From: cesareo
Thu Jun 14, 2007 20:34:37 PDT
Comment From: ggirl
Fri Jun 15, 2007 09:02:53 PDT
Thanks Nick for this excerpt of Scott's life. You are truly wonderful. -Glenda
Comment From: bassman
Fri Jun 15, 2007 11:20:30 PDT
very moving story
Comment From: kookoonauts
Mon Jun 18, 2007 08:50:59 PDT
Amazingly excellent article about a true pioneer of Bakersfield's rich underground
music history. "Memories of a punk rock poet"
Comment From: matt
Mon Jun 18, 2007 09:04:10 PDT
I recieved this in my e-mail box from, Rex Carson, who was a friend of Slim's: "I loved Slim like a brother. My best memory of Slim was when He, Jeff Ward, and I would make art together, We called ourselves "Art-Smart Rednecks". And the memories of taking all those pictures of Slim out in the field by my old pad..... Recording with Falling James on the "Space Okies" session..... Slims best quality was that He would never judge anyone. He was the only person who knew all my dark secrets. If Slim could only see himself as we all saw him, He would realise how much He was truly loved. If Slim valued Himself as much as we all valued Him, He would be alive today. -Rex"
Comment From: matt
Mon Jun 18, 2007 09:09:41 PDT
I also recieved this in my e-mail box, from Brian "Brain" Champagne, bass player for the Examples, now living in Utah: "I played bass for Scott's "97 Tears" project. I was still playing with "The Examples," a rough-around-the-edges band. He was patient, very patient, and a really nice guy. We teased the Rainmakers - Brain (post this if you can, I'm long out of Bako)."
Comment From: HankRay
Thu Jun 21, 2007 17:04:16 PDT
Sad story to be sure, I listened to a bit of him on the Scott Cox show and he was very good. Can someone post some of his songs on Bakotopia ?
Comment From: luvnjolene
Tue Jun 26, 2007 16:17:27 PDT
SLIM WILL BE VERY MISSED AND ALWAYS LOVED BY ALL WHO KNEW HIM...CERTAINLY BY ME...FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS,MINDS,AND PRAYERS....R.I.P LOVE ~JOLENE~