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Provostian Moments Vol. X: The Ringling Sisters

3 May

What did DAVIE ALLAN & THE ARROWS, THE DWIGHT TWILLEY BAND and THE DREAM SYNDICATE and all have in common? Bassist Dave Provost, that’s who. Who has played in musical aggregations with the likes of AL GREEN, SKY SAXON, and KATHY VALENTINE? Dave Provost has.

Dave is a kind of rock n roll Zelig, somehow popping up at all the crucial turns and twists in LA rock history during the past 4+ decades. Over the years his formidable musical & rhythmic chops got him seats next to some seriously world-class musicians, while his gregarious, outgoing nature had all the rest inviting him to their after-gig parties. And now, he’s now spilling the beans about it all, starting with this post.

This is really, really good news to those of us who appreciate just where this man’s walked and rocked in his lifetime. So please: do take a seat at the feet of Mr Dave Provost for a spell, and follow him in his search for lost rock n roll time.


The Ringling Sisters

he Ringling Sisters were a performance art troupe started by a flock of tiara wearing Hollywood rock starlings. Most of the ladies had been residents of the infamous landmark known as Disgraceland, the most fabled party house in LA punk history. Many books have featured tales of the institution’s sin and hilarity. The troupe was made up of singers, circus freaks, aging drag queens, and spoken word artists.

The ringleader was famed Hollywood luminary Pleasant Gehman. Plez is a hybrid of Dolly Parton and Salvador Dali, and I adore this former singer of the Screamin’ Sirens. Other band mainstays were Annette Zilinskas, formerly of Blood on the Saddle, and the lovely author Iris Berry. Texacala Jones was also an early member. These coquettes had hearts of gold, and decided to help out an even older institution the Hollygrove Orphanage. The Ringling Sisters’ annual Christmas Fun Raiser drew huge crowds year after year to the Hollywood Palace, and saved the struggling orphanage.

With the addition of the Devil Squares’ Debbie Dexter and a male backup band, the group was signed to A&M Records. Legendary producer Lou Adler worked his magic, and made an album 60 Watt Reality that represents the underbelly of Hollywood life better than Jim Morrison could had ever dreamed. It’s a hauntingly beautiful recording.

I joined the band when bassist/backup band leader Gary Eaton switched to guitar. Over time I became the co-pilot with Pleasant. We later recorded a vinyl EP and the soundtrack for Orion Picture’s Bar Girls. Some of the other revolving members were Dave Catching from Tex and the Horseheads, Billy Bizeau formerly with The Quick, Davie Allan from the Arrows, and Abby Travis sideman for Elastica and Beck.

It was a prerequisite to have a wicked sense of humor in the Ringling Sisters. When critics called the group painfully politically correct because of our involvement with Rock the Vote, Amnesty International, and Queer Nation, we reacted by starting a spinoff joke band called Honk if Yer Horny. A pornographic country version of Gwar – replete with toothless banjo players, topless hay bale wrestling, audience masturbation contests, and songs like “Everybody’s Fucking My Baby.” We would flip a coin to decide on which band we were going to appear as, the morning of the show.

The worst thing about being a bass player is that people trust you. They assume that the hours that you’ve spent in a zen-like trance – playing repetitious parts while others dance around playing wanker solos! – is a sign of stability. This is also why us bassists always get stuck with the chores that our bandmates avoid.

My Christmas show assignment was easy enough: pick up a goat, a bale of hay, a 6’3″ transvestite, and the show’s MC, the infamous Blackspoitation star Rudy Ray Moore. The goat quickly made herself at home in the backseat of my Chevy Corvair, as did Rudy. But the bale of hay posed a problem. It had been dropped off in the lobby of a Hollywood apartment building, and it’s proximity to a Christmas tree meant children had build a nativity scene on it. The kids looked on in horror as Rudy and I spirited the hay bale out from under their shrine.

The goat chewed on Rudy’s neck when I pulled over to pick up the transvestite on Hollywood boulevard. Evidently, this action and/or the contents of my car had looked suspicious to the LAPD officers that handcuffed us and tied up the goat (police and art lover are not synonymous). My explanation fell on deaf ears, but it was even more embarrassing when my former high school girlfriend and her husband walked by the crime scene.

I wish that I could say that this wasn’t a typical day in the life of a Ringling Sister, but this was small potatoes in comparison.

– Dave Provost