Text and photos by Robert Barry Francos; interview by RBF and Alan Abramowitz
Interview text © FFanzeen; Photos © RBF; cover sleeve image from the Internet
The following article originally appeared in FFanzeen Number 5, which was issued in 1980. The intro and outro text is from 2009.
I do not believe it would be accurate to say that I had a crush on Sherri Beachfront, the lead singer of the group Get Wet, but I will admit that I thought she was an amazing and exotic looking woman. In the times I saw the band play, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a picture of her that was factual enough to capture her looks. In fact, I’ve never seen any photo that did that honor.
Alan Abramowitz joined me the first time I saw the band, at a co-gig with Brenda Bergman, a shared bill these friends would often partake. And frequently, Alan and I would be in the audience.
It was the music that kept us coming back, though. Get Wet’s songs, written by co-member Zecca Esquibel, had a strong pop backdrop with a mixture of Motown and Connie Francis, if one can picture that. Their songs ranged from happy (“Lucky You”) to sad (“Lonely”) to downright desperate (“Morton Street”), to a powerhouse encore of Sherri in crinoline doing a cover of “Where The Boys Are.” Sherri could belt out a number that could be felt on a Richter scale.
Alan and I interviewed Sherri and Zecca at their apartment in the West Village, before we all headed out to the opening night party at the Ritz on 11 Street, which became known as Webster Hall.
GET WET, Wild and Wonderful (Issue 5, August-September 1980)
By Alan Abramowitz and RBF; original intro by AEA (not included here)
FFanzeen: Zecca, what’s your history – before you were a member of Cherry Vanilla’s back-up group a few years back, the Staten Island Band?
Zecca: That’s a long story. I played piano as a kid. I did a lot of piano competitions ... and always with a sharkskin suit.
FF: Was this in America?
Zecca: This was in the States. I came to the States [from Brazil – ed.] when I was seven. And when I was 14, I just OD’d on this classical piano trip and left home, hitchhiked to New York a few years later, goofed around ... I joined a band called the Jimmy Castor Bunch. I was very unhappy with that. And a friend of mine said Cherry Vanilla needed a piano player that played rock’n’roll. I didn’t know what their kind of rock’n’roll was about, so I went to the audition and just faked what I could remember hearing off their record.
FF: How did you eventually evolve into Get Wet?
Zecca: Well, the Staten Island Band dissolved only a month after I joined, so it was just me and Cherry. There was nobody else. We lost all our musicians. I think they’d all gone to [David] Johansen. So we had a howling gig up in the mountains and we had three days to come up with a band. We picked up Manny Mancuso, Jay Napp – who is now with the Boyfriends – Louis Lapore and, in three days, we had a band. From that we fragmented even further. Me, Cherry, and Louis were from New York and eventually met Howie Finkel. And out of that band, we have Howie Finkel on bass and Manny Mancuso on drums. The first three out of the five members of the Cherry Vanilla Band that’s on the first album [Bad Girl on RCA, 1978 – ed.] formed Get Wet.
FF: Sherri, what’s your rock’n’roll history?
Sherri Beachfront: My rock’n’roll history is very small. I was just singing backup in two groups for three months in, unfortunately, what was a real job gig. That’s where I met Zecca and that was my first rock’n’roll stage scene. First time, I was in Max’s Kansas City. I had taken vocal training before that and stopped, and that’s it. And I had a job singing on a tape. I invited [Zecca] to the studio because he thought I could only sing backup vocals. “I could do it; really, I can sing, I can sing.” So I invited him down to Electric Ladyland to [let him hear me] tape for certain producers and lead vocals for what, ten hours?
Zecca: Eight hours.
Sherri: Yeah, one song for eight hours, and finally we finished. And Zecca walked out and said, “Yeah, you can sing – you can sing real shitty songs real good.” And then we decided that we have something worth it because I knew we did. I didn’t believe it took so much work. After that, he spent Labor Day weekend writing tunes for Get Wet, but that time it was for my voice. Get Wet wasn’t even a name yet or anything. It was just, “Play tunes for Sherri and what I had in mind for Sherri,” and he saw me getting my vocals out the same way I do. He saw I always wore gloves and had a lot of physical gestures on stage.
FF: How did you finally get around to picking the name Get Wet?
Sherri: We’d finally decided that after a week or something. We didn’t have a real concept or visual or anything, so we just tried to figure out a way something would relate to the group as much as we could discover, and what we discovered was that we were drenched (with sweat). We were really very wet. So we said, “Wet.” Then we said “Get Wet” so we might have the audience participate with the band – and it was final.
FF: I see advertisements all over the place for Wet magazine that reads, “Get Wet.” Has anything erupted from that?
Sherri: They were a little irritated with us. They got in touch with Interview magazine, and they gave them our phone number. The first phone call wasn’t all that irritated; it was just “We know you’re alive.” The posters uptown were getting scratched (by our fans) ... “Magazine” was being scratched out. They got in touch with us and we met each other. Then we did posters (for a club), but our “W” was the same as the magazine’s “W” and we got another phone call from them telling us not to use that “W” anymore. We told them it wasn’t our idea; it was the club’s.
FF: You seem to be very influenced by rhythm and blues, sixties rock, and the Motown sound.
Zecca: Well, I grew up in Washington, DC, and that is a predominantly black city. To be white in Washington meant one of two things: you live in the affluent corridor from Georgetown Northwest – that slice of Washington – or you were a white in a black neighborhood. I grew up sneaking in the back of places like the Howard Theatre and the Loew’s Palace Theatre to see eight soul bands back-to-back in a soul show. And that was the music I fell in love with. Gladys Knight, the Temps, etc. All those kinds of bands and a lot of times, six, seven, or eight (bands) in one night. A Soul Spectacular. The first record I remember hearing was “Baby Love.” I heard a neighbor play it. Now, that’s not that far back. It’s just that until that time I listened to nothing but classical music, so I didn’t hear too much of anything else besides that, unless I snuck out of the house and went somewhere.
FF: How have you incorporated that into what you do today? Do you have any trouble getting a transition going?
Zecca: No, I remember hanging around with Bruce Foxton from the Jam, and he was talking about what the Jam were doing, about getting back to the roots of the music; that that was the most important thing. They loved to play that kind of pop music. I couldn’t understand why his kind of roots didn’t make any sense to me. Then I realized that his roots were totally different. I didn’t grow up on the Who; I grew up on Otis Redding and James Brown. So the minute I realized that, everything was easy, everything snapped right. It was a natural groove. It was not, “How come my group sounded different from everyone else”; this was the natural groove where I belong.
FF: Have you ever seen The TAMI Show?
Sherri: What is it?
FF: It’s a film of, like, great rock’n’roll groups in 1965: the Dave Clark 5, the Rolling Stones, Barbarians, Jan and Dean, the Supremes, James Brown – the best I’ve ever seen him. He throws himself on the floor and fights with the Flames (his backup group) to keep possession of the stage. They play it at Max’s between sets. They show the same clip all the time of the Supremes singing “Baby Love,” and it’s a little off-sync.
Zecca: You mean that clip that they’re showing at Max’s is from The TAMI Show? We were tuning up while they were playing it. Behind the curtain, we wanted to really see this. We couldn’t go out and watch because we were busy backstage. That whole kind of show is ... the word “show” is weird because in the punk bible it could almost sound like an insult. “It’s not real, man. You’re putting on a show. A show is not real.” But those are some of the most realistic theater experiences I ever saw as a child – watching the show of James Brown singing a ballad; singing, “It’s A Man’s World.” The guy really reached inside himself in some incredible way that was not cheapened by the fact that he did it the best he could.
FF: What gave you the idea of doing “Where The Boys Are” as a finale?
Sherri: I just started singing it one day and he said do it.
FF: Everybody goes crazy when you do it.
Sherri: It still shocks me when they do this. Either they think it’s a new song that’s really good or it’s trippy because nobody’s done it but Connie. It’s a beautiful song. The first line in that song really grabs you.
FF: I knew the set was over when you did that.
Sherri: It’s good for a closing ... I like it; it’s a real sum-up of the show.
FF: What impressed me is “Which Window.” The chorus has a great hook that, two or three days after hearing it, you catch yourself singing it.
Sherri: That’s the one that seemed to go over well on WPIX-FM. When they played (our demo) tape, we got a phone call to play “Which Window” again.
Zecca: That’s what a pop tune should be.
Sherri: Ya know, the first time I sang it like if I had to sing with the notes I’d fall apart. All I did was pretend I was in a movie. That was the first way I could get myself into it. It’s a very emotional song. And I used myself as a vehicle for the song. Because it as a weird song, all the hard rockers were there and I was afraid for my neck what would happen to me.
FF: People are opening up. It’s not like, “Gonna kill, gonna kill.” Now that’s settled down a little and people are getting more to the pop side of things. And songs like “Where The Boys Are” are starting to catch on. And people are dancing again.
Sherri: Seems like there’s an obvious change going on here. It’s like disco broke New Wave in. It was just a passageway to what we have now. Like when Get Wet gets a break, we don’t have to do anything that’s disco-related. We’ll be accepted as rock’n’roll you can dance to. We won’t have to do a disco-beat song in order to get a good deal or to get a popular record like “Which Window.” It certainly is good to get ahead in rock’n’roll, but we won’t settle for something out of the disco crowd.
FF: It’s a bigger catch-song than “My Sharona,” which is not meant to insult you.
Zecca: It’s a funny thing. Someone yelled at me when we were playing at the Meadowbrook. This guy was decked out like 1977 and he leaned over the railing, all in black – really punked out – and made a face using a beer can, and I thought, he must have seen this in a movie. And he’s yelling, “Your ears are governed by the charts.” And I was thinking, so are Paul McCartney’s. Charts are a totally irrelevant thing. Your ears ... you hear what makes you happy. When I started writing these tunes we decided we’d risk making the music we really like, no matter what anybody said about it. And it was weird to get the most negative reaction from the most negative people.
Sherri: To our music?
Sherri: We didn’t get a bad reaction.
Zecca: No, the first night we played, no.
Sherri: Max’s, we had a great reaction.
Zecca: It’s weird to know that there’s this whole system that preaches belief in negativity. When something positive comes around it can’t give it enough freedom to exist, because being negative is hip: “positiveness should be stamped out.” I noticed that at a lot of places.
FF: Have you had any trouble in the places you’ve played?
Sherri: The only place is the New York Connection; we were three months old and punk was so popular that there was no way you could do anything but that. But Max’s always loved us. The only time Max’s was bad to us was this last time – we had three really shitty ... punks. Shootin’ up dope in the bathroom. With some slob of a girl who comes over to me and says, “This isn’t music, your show sucks,” so I squirted her in the face with my squirt gun [laughter]. She threw her scotch on me and I told the bouncer that I didn’t want her near the stage, but that was the only time I got a bad reaction in a club. And then there are just people that like to make noise ... Jordache punks/drunks. There are people that like to make noise about everything – sort of frustrated souls.
Zecca: And we’re going to continue doing the positive music because it’s what everyone needs.
FF: Do you feel that having a woman fronting the band really changes its appeal?
Sherri: You mean as an asset? Well, this is a very anxiety filled lot because Blondie broke it for women in rock’n’roll. Then you have solo artist like Ellen Foley, Pat Benetar ... and the Pretenders. I love Chrissie Hynde because she’s female and a total musician and I really respect that. And for me, I want to be a member of the band. I don’t want to come out as Debbie Harry and get a little upset at the thought of, “There I am a female singer who doesn’t play any instrument,” but my roots and my feeling is to act – I perform my songs. I don’t just use my voice, I use my heart and I use my vision as a total instrument and, of course, there’s a lot of focus on me, but I still want to be a person in a band. I wanna be Get Wet; I just don’t want to be Sherri Beachfront. I got plenty of time for Sherri Beachfront.
Zecca: I don’t think it’s much of a turn-on to be on stage with musicians who are so far behind you that they deserve to be your backup musicians. It’s much more of a turn-on to know that the people on stage with you are your equals.
Sherri: It took so many years that I wanted to do this. I wanted to be a singer and I went through musicians and musical directors. I didn’t have this kind of relationship with (Zecca) – not that he was my boyfriend – on a musical level. There was reason to work with him because we had the same tastes, which is very hard to find. We have the same ability to communicate, intellectually and musically. We have a very good musical marriage.
FF: Any offers to sign with a label?
Zecca: Yeah, we got a couple of offers. I don’t know what to say about that.
FF: Would you rather sing or have your own independent label?
Zecca: We thought about it, but not too seriously.
Sherri: It seems so unfeasible.
Zecca: We’re still worried about fixing notes on the piano. It’s kind of absurd to think about scraping together enough money to put out a single. So basically, we’re looking towards the big record labels.
Sherri: We have been going to managers and checking out all sorts of leads. We’ve been giving out our tapes like crazy.
Zecca: We’re looking for managers more than anything else at the moment. We’re looking for that fifth Beatle; that team member who’s going to feel like a team member. It’s very important to do it on vibes that rate as well as every other one. To really find someone that you feel is your buddy, is in your team with you and is not somebody strapped on just to help smooth out some rough places. He’s going to be another one of us. And we’re looking for that person.
FF: Do you want people to dance to your music or listen to it?
Sherri: Dance! We want them to be part of it. That’s why we’re called Get Wet; it’s an action.
FF: How do you feel about playing at places where people can’t dance?
Zecca: When I was a kid, the best thing I could say about a band was that I didn’t sit down all night. That was the most exciting thing. The minute that guy in the wings was coming out from behind and when that band or that act or that man or woman hit that stage, I was up there standing and dancing all night. That was the highest point, the best thing that could happen. That’s what I dream of, too. Putting a band together that, the minute we walk out, everyone’s dancing. And then when we leave they want more.
FF: Is there any one band now that you like a lot?
Zecca: We used to see Brenda Bergman a lot. We’d be dancing all night to that. The last time we saw her was at the Mudd Club. She’s got both a Motown and pop song beat at the same time. Irresistibly delicious.
FF: She used to work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sherri: I can’t imagine that. I can just see her posing in one of the cases in the fifties section doing cheesecake.
Zecca: Calendar pix.
FF: What’s your message, quote-unquote?
Sherri: Death to negativity.
Zecca: Yeah, death to negativity.
FF: Yeah, I think that a good ending. And besides, it’s five to nine and the show starts at ten.
They finally did get a record deal with Boardwalk Records and put out their one and only eponymously titled album. It did not succeed, mainly because it did not present an accurate picture of the band’s sound. As with the Nervus Rex album, the production on the Get Wet release, produced by Phil Ramone, was in high-gloss form (as was the modus operandi of the larger record companies caught between the disco and Brit synth-pop periods), stealing whatever energy, roughness, and spark made the band unique. There was still some power left in “Morton Street,” but most of the other songs, including the showstopper, “Where the Boys Are” and “Which Window?” were left limp through no fault of the artists. The record got lost in the glut of the major’s vision of the New Wave zeitgeist, which was actually tied more to the wallet than the music.
Sherri and Zecca are divorced now, with Zecca involved in a same-sex relationship, and Sherri an AIDS activist on the West Coast.
Meanwhile, thanks to singer/chanteuse Kathy Zimmer, I have managed to hoop up again with Zecca, and thereby Sherri. Here is what Zecca recently “Facebook’d” me, in part, in a manner to catch up:
“I was just in D.C. with my lover Tom Smith, for the HUGE National Equality March where, coincidentally, Sherri was the MC for the Fight AIDS Rally on the Ellipse in front of the White House! 48 hours earlier, my Tom held a press conference on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall with Borough President Marty Markowitz, re. Tom's founding of the multi-million dollar Brooklyn LGBT Community Center (like the one on 13th street in Manhattan). Can I pick 'em or what?! Meanwhile, after five years touring with Garland Jeffreys (ending 2007), I've basically left the rock stage for the theater. I was just in San Fran. with John Kelly and have a show coming up at the Gershwin Hotel with Hattie Hathaway on Nov. 10th. My life now is as a music director for radical nightclub and the kind of theater that, in the ‘60s, would have been called "avant-garde", so I don't work on original CDs.”