By Bob Andelman
December 16, 1982
CLEARWATER — After 6 p.m., downtown Clearwater pulls in its sidewalks and goes to sleep. It is a time when it would be easier to find a Scientologist than a policeman. There is very little excitement after hours in the hub of the city, except for the sounds coming from an abandoned night club on Park Avenue.
The Orange Peel, a former downtown nightclub, has been closed for five years now and yet it seems to be haunted because almost every night there is an indisputable pulse beating deep within. Upon entering the supposedly abandoned club, it becomes clear that the Orange Peel is not by ghosts, anyway.
Rock ‘n’ roll bands are not particularly hard to find, with many available in garage size or Holiday Inn style. Finding neither scene enticing, the Clearwater-based band, Bad Habit has been filling a small part of the old club with electrifying rock music four nights a week for the past 18 months. Four young men in their early 20s, all with day jobs, rehearse from 7 p.m. until they’re worn out.
Plagued by poor and ineffectual management for the past year, Bad Habit is hopeful of breaking out soon. They have run through two managers in recent months, who promised everything and delivered nothing.
“One guy was, like, ‘I can get you here, there, anywhere,” complained bass guitarist Tom Lipp. “It’s all talk and no action. Our last ‘associate’ had a lot of good ideas but he just didn’t come through.”
Mike Mastrianno, lead guitarist, has made a circuit of local talent agencies and was similarly discouraged.
“They never call back,” he said.
Despite the setbacks and business snafus, Bad Habit is still determined to press on. After a year and a half of constant practice and fine tuning, the boys in the band feel they deserve a shot in the public eye.
All four members of the quartet are Northerners by birth, but have made Clearwater their home for several years. Lead singer Jon Braye, 24,is originally from Chicago and works part time as a waiter in a seafood restaurant. Lipp, 23, builds cabinets during the day. He and Mastrianno, 25, both hail from Connecticut and sing back-up vocals. Mastrianno earns his daily expenses selling office supplies. Drummer and carpenter Rich Pollick, 24, grew up on Long Island, New York before moving to Florida.
“Our style is a fresh look. Packaging is a really important, but not compared to the finished product. We don’t want to look like slobs—ripped jeans, long hair—those days are over for all of us. As individuals I think we’re all pretty mature. We know the way we want to come off onstage,” said Lipp.
“We’re unique, which is very good, but how many places are available to us?” Braye asked rhetorically, as the band members rattled off a list of the Clearwater clubs that had closed their doors of late, drying up the number of local showcases for new acts.
Braye brings the greatest previous commercial success to the group after making the rounds with Jasper Collins, Lines and Foreplay. He does 80 percent of the singing and songwriting for Bad Habit. Lipp, formerly of Cloudburst, provides the technical spark, recording many of the sessions and correcting equipment glitches.
Among the original songs in the Bad Habit repertoire are “Stuck Here,” “I don’t Care” and “Talk Talk (Talking on the Telephone).” While it is de rigeur for any beginning group to mix their own material with cover versions of songs made famous by other artists, Bad Habit tries a different approach.
“I would rather play 100 percent original material. You’re only going to go so far playing other people’s music,” and till, as Lipp acknowledged, copy tunes must fill out the roster. “There isn’t a band around that plays the way we do. We try to keep in-between all the styles to stay flexible. We’re not afraid to play material that’s unknown. The band looks for real strong rhythm, something that’s fun to play.”
Rather than repeat the usual Top 40, songs are painstakingly chosen from a wide range of little-known power pop records by the Romantics, Elvis Costello, the Silencers and Tom Petty. When the Bad Habit decided to do a video clip (a la MTV), it went for a remake of the old Monkees song, “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” The song sounds fresh and the scenes from old movies set to the lyrics are often hilarious.
Playing among the ruins pf the long-since-forgotten club, the band occasionally attracts an assortment of curious downtown characters. Sometimes a “guest musician” may wander in to tinckle the mood of an otherwise routine evening practice session. Mano’s, a rough bar around the corner from the Orange Peel, supplies visitors to rehearsals now and then.
“The drunks at Mano’s love us,” said Pollick. “Transvestites, cripples, drunks, all assorted colors. There was a guy in bikini. One guy looked like somebody from ““Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.”
Day after day, the rock ‘n’ roll life goes on. Bad Habit will continue looking for the Big Break, waiting to meet the right person, shake the right hand.
“We’ve been really diligent,” reiterated Tom Lipp. “We’ve all got a love for music – we have to. Right now I’d just like to get steady employment and some exposure.”
And after that?
“Right to the top. I want to be a star.”