Everyone who knows the Jersey club scene knows who The Nerds are. But not many people know how they started, or how they developed into what they are today.
As Jim, otherwise known as Spaz, tells it, what he had the Nerds are today is really a combination of some of the early and mid ‘80s circuit bands. He made a conscious effort to learn from the best, and not only what to do, but also what not to do.
“I went out two or three nights a week,” he recalls. “I was in nothing bands, doing whatever that particular band was good at.” Those bands were doing Bruce Springsteen, The Doors, Beatles, Rolling Stones, basically standard rock and roll material. “The bands didn’t do a whole lot, but I learned a lot,” he adds.
One of the biggest influences was The Modems. “They made a splash on the scene because they were weird,” says Jim. “They played XTC, Billy Idol, and all new wave, but not just the pop, also the strange stuff. They looked weird, and they looked totally inaccessible.
Another influence on Jim was The Nines. He would see them every Sunday night at the Soap Factory in Palisades Park, where they regularly drew 1,000 people. Yet another band Jim would watch was Thorin Oak. “They were really excellent musicians,” says Jim. “They were really the Steely Dan of the local rock scene… with excellent showmanship.”
Other bands Jim sites include Cats On A Smooth Surface, Friends and Flossie. “She was a great show person,” remembers Jim. “She really knew how to carry a stage, how to bring attention to people in the audience. I took that a step further, and used it to insult people,” he laughs.
Grover Kemble was another big influence. “He was great to watch, and made these ridiculous faces,” says Jim. “He’d be carrying on and goofing off on stage, without ever compromising the integrity of the music.”
The other members of the Nerds all came from different, wide ranging influences. Many people aren’t aware of guitarist Pete’s talent as an accomplished jazz and Latin rhythm guitarist. He and original keyboardist Eddie came to the band from a classical and jazz background. Jack, the drummer, played in the popular southern rock band Badlands. “He came from a hardcore Led Zeppelin, Cream, kind of place,” says Jim. The present keyboardist, Mike, was in every kind of band, and played everything from kiddie shows to Action Park.
When Steve Tarkanish approached Jim with the idea of the Nerds, Jim didn’t think he was serious. They were members of a band called AKA at the time. They decided to go ahead with it, thinking they would get to play, have as much fun as they could, and hopefully it would last six months. At the time, most bands were doing dance music. The group decided to do classic rock, although this was a year before K-Rock and other stations went to the classic rock format, as well as just prior to the release of The Big Chill movie.
Although it took several years to catch on, when the band hit, it hit big time. From the original six months, they’ve now passed the 10-year mark, and have performed all over the country, including stops at the Garden State Arts Centre and Carnegie Hall. And they are working on their second CD release, a live album recorded at the Birch Hill in Old Bridge.
So while the bands that a young Jim used to watch have passed on, their influence is continuing to live on in what has developed into the seminal New Jersey club band, the one and only Nerds.
Copyright © Hal B. Selzer/The Aquarian/East Coast Rocker and transcribed with permission.