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The best kept secret in music


"Tazmanian Devils"

8/04/2006 Marin Independent Journal by Paul Liberatore

Almost Famous Tazmanian Devils Try Again

The Tazmanian Devils were almost rock stars. In the mid-'70s and early '80s, the band had achieved the status of rock heroes in Marin County, and the future lay bright ahead.

The Taz Devils had the whole package: They were young, they were cute, they played a happy white rock/reggae that was new and fresh and - as it would turn out - probably ahead of its time.

In "The Illustrated History of San Francisco Rock Music," Jack McDonough writes that the Tazmanian Devils had "perfected one of the best non-punk new wave sounds to originate in the Bay Area - a zippy, churning mix of spongeball reggae rhythms, straight pop accents and Rolling Stones-J. Geils drive."

The members of the five-piece group came out of Tam and Drake high schools and built an adoring following of young "Tazmaniacs."

I remember seeing them play at the Sleeping Lady Cafe in Fairfax, where they first performed in 1976 and which became their home club, and marveling at the babes six deep in front of the stage. Their hip factor did not escape the notice of record producer Erik Jacobsen, who had hits with Norman Greenbaum ("Spirit in the Sky"), the Lovin' Spoonful and later Chris Isaak. The Taz Devils recorded two Jacobsen-produced major label albums for Warner Brothers, and found themselves playing concerts and festivals for as many as 15,000 fans. As hard as they worked, though, they never could break through nationally. Their albums sold 150,000 copies, paltry by major label standards, and Warners dropped them. In 1983, discouraged and exhausted, they threw in the towel, just as a new Marin phenom, Huey Lewis, was realizing his rock star dream with his band, the News.

"We never had a song that really took off and became a hit," laments 54-year-old Duane Van Dieman of Mill Valley, the band's bass player. "The record company really has to fall in love with a song, but they weren't ready for this fun, bouncy, novelty of white reggae. This was before the Police, and they would be the ones who would put it on the map. We were kind of ahead of our time."

After the breakup, the band members went their separate ways, but stayed in touch and remained friends, jamming together from time to time over the years.

Lead singer and guitarist Dennis Hogan, 55, who grew up in Mill Valley, went back to college, and now teaches math at Laytonville High School in Mendocino County. "After leaving the band, I went to graduate school at UC Santa Cruz," he recalls. "I was a math TA (teaching assistant). In my mind, I thought I knew who I was and what my goals were, but, boy, it was really different, going from cool Marin rock guy to math tutor at UC Santa Cruz. But I got a sense of how phony the whole rock thing is. I was the same person, but just not very glamorous."

As for the other bandmates, keyboardist Pat Craig became a minister. Drummer Barry Lowenthal joined the Sacramento reggae band Steel Breeze, which scored an '80s hit with "You Don't Want Me Anymore" for RCA. He now lives in Woodacre and has a house- painting business. Lead guitarist Dave Carlson manages a music store in Santa Rosa and teaches guitar.

They all married and raised families, except for Van Dieman, who played in a number of local bands (Bop City, Secrets), drove a cab and worked as a shift manager in a video store. For the past two years, with backing from a "secret investor," he has been working on recording and producing a new Tazmanian Devils reunion CD, "Taz Nuvoux." It has just been independently released on Dubwest Records with 16 songs, some old, some new, recorded at Green Wave Studios in Lagunitas and featuring a color photo of Mill Valley's Sequoia Theatre on the cover.

Van Dieman and his bandmates insist that they began playing together just for the fun of it, not to become rock stars. That can sound a little like sour grapes, except that they have continued with their friendship, playing together because they enjoy it. And now, 23 years after they abandoned the rock road, they have the new album and a series of local shows on their calendar. All of the original members are back, except Craig, who has been replaced by keyboardist Parabar Martin Weber. "We're doing this one step at a time, with no grand illusions this time," Van Dieman says.

In addition to teaching math at Laytonville High, Hogan, the band's frontman, also has a "school of rock" music program with several high school bands under his tutelage. When the Jack Black movie "School of Rock" came out, he took some of his rock class students to see it. "The interesting thing that the kids said about the movie was, 'It doesn't show all the work involved in a rock band,'" he remembers with a chuckle. "That's the part that's not very glamorous."


The new Tazmanian Devils CD, "Taz Nuvoux," is available through The reunited band plays 8 p.m. Aug. 19 at - MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL


2006 TAZ NUVOUX, Dubwest Records
1982 TAZMANIAN DEVILS "LIVE" 4Song 12" EP, Dublab Records
1981 BROADWAY HI-LIFE, Warner Bros. Records
1980 THE TAZMANIAN DEVILS, Warner Bros. Records


Feeling a bit camera shy


The Tazmanian Devils began in 1976 in Marin County California. High School friends form a band influenced by rock and roll, rythmn and blues and their own feel for Jamaican Reggae. The former Warner Bos. Recording Artists 1980-81 built a following of fans known as Tazmaniacs. Packing night clubs up and down the West Coast. Voted San Francisco Bay Area Night Club Band of the Year by Bam Magazine 1981, winning a Bammie.

Four of the original five band members are in the 2006 lineup as well as a new keyboard player. The group has been performing live in support of their new CD "Taz Nuvoux" on Dubwest Records..