French Fries and Gravy

On May 29 and 30, the Casbah will host the Ché Underground Reunion, a gathering of bands and fans who frequented UCSD’s student-run co-op Ché Café in the early ’80s. Organized by the online community of Ché Underground’s blog, the event will be two nights of ’80s-era bands, including the Answers, Noise 292, the Wallflowers, Hair Theatre, and Everybody Violet.

Much of opening night’s excitement is being generated by the onetime appearance of a “new” group, the Gay Denny’s. The combo is made up of local music scene vets Ray Brandes, David Klowden, and Eric Bacher (all ex–Tell-Tale Hearts), Mark Zadarnowski (ex-Crawdaddys), and A.J. Croce.

The group’s name is a nod to the nickname given to the Denny’s located at 2445 El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. “[It was] a popular late-night hangout for bands and fans in the scene back in the ’80s,” said Klowden. “Most of us didn’t have our own apartments, so it was a place we could stay up late together, write bad poetry on napkins, and eat french fries with brown gravy.”

The Gay Denny’s formed when it became apparent that various members of the Tell-Tale Hearts and Crawdaddys wouldn’t be available to perform at the reunion gigs.

“[We] decided to put something together for the show that would capture the spirit of the era but without the pressure of reforming any specific band,” Bacher said.

Despite a membership that has produced several albums of original music, the Gay Denny’s will play covers of ’60s-era groups.

“The idea was to get together for just one show,” said Bacher. “Rather than perform a bunch of Tell-Tale Hearts and Crawdaddys songs, we decided to play songs by bands that inspired us to play music back then, such as the Pretty Things, Them, and Dutch Outsiders.”

For Croce, it’s a chance to go back to his early days playing R&B-based ’60s classics. His first band, the Hottentots, which also featured Klowden and Brandes, made their debut at the Ché Café in the ’80s. Despite the appeal of booking further shows for the all-star group, Croce promises this will be a one-off.

“For me, the idea of a spontaneous group like this sounded like fun,” he said. “If we rehearsed it too much or did more shows, it would lose that.”

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