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The Los Angeles music scene was the richest it had been since the 1960s. It seemed as if there was a new club opening up nearly every week. Fans could catch The Heaters, L. A. Guns, Hollywood Rose (who later combined select members to become Guns 'n' Roses), Van Halen, The Knack, The Motels, The Dogs, The Pop, Michael Fennelly (from Crabby Appleton), Fear, Wall of Voodoo, X and dozens of other great punk, new wave and power pop bands playing in small clubs every day of the week, often paired or even tripled on the same bill!

I conspired with my friend and fellow Power Pop fan Harold Bronson, the co-founder of Rhino Records, to arrange for Michael Chapman to see a Heaters Starwood show.

Chapman, along with his partner Nicky Chinn, were the hottest producers in the world at that time. The week Chapman saw The Heaters, seven out of the Top Ten records had been produced under his Chinnichap banner, including hits by Blondie, Suzi Quatro, Nick Gilder, The Sweet, Mud and others. Chapman saw and loved The Heaters. He not only wanted to sign them and produce their first album --- he wanted to be their manager. This was the opportunity of a lifetime.

This is where it all begins to fall apart.

Big Mistake #1:
Despite this unbelievable offer from Michael Chapman, the band stayed loyal to their original managers and turned Chapman down.

Bigger Mistake #2:
The Heaters management had them sign with Ariola Records under that company's new "Punk/New Wave" label Zombie Records.

Huge Mistake #3:
The first Heaters LP (Heaters; Ariola Records SW 50032; 1978) was allowed to be produced by Scott Shannon and the current producer Flavor-of-that-Month with the idiotic name of Jack Stack-A-Track.

Annoying Mistake #4:
The band wanted me to do their LP cover. Their managers lied to them, saying they had called me but that I was too busy and too expensive (in actuality I was never asked). Cheaping out on the band, they gave the cover to an eager protégé of mine with more enthusiasm than either taste or skill. He was cheap all right; they got exactly what they paid for and not a penny more. Little did The Heaters' management know that I would have done the graphics for nothing, out of love for the band.

Gigantic Mistakes # 5 and 6:
These "producers" wouldn't allow James, the band member with the greatest recording experience (easily more than either of the LP's official producers) inside the engineering booth. And, they wouldn't allow Phil to play drums on the record. They replaced him with a session guy, the then-current drummer for the Steve Miller Band.

There was more trouble at the session: Unbelievably, Stack-A-Track demanded that Missy change one of her harmonies! Missy refused. She was threatened with suspension by Scott Shannon and, even more unbelievably, the band's management backed Shannon! Why wouldn't their own people back The Heaters? Suspicions are that the producers and managers of The Heaters partook of a substance in common that was intricately interwoven between the lines (so to speak) of the Heaters deal.

Strategic Mistake #7:
Not going public with all of what was going on during the recording.

The resulting debut Heaters LP, the most highly anticipated record of its day, was awful. It captured next to none of The Heaters on stage sound or excitement. The drumming was as dull as dishwater; just another quick in/quick out session for the guy. The sound was dead, compressed and flat.

I met with one of the Heaters' managers in his apartment the night of the day the record was released. The new Heaters LP was playing on his sound system. His eyes glistened with excitement. Or something else.

"Well, what did you think of it?"

"It sucks."

"Omigod! Promise me you'll never tell the band what you really think! Here!"

He offered me a large pizza tray completely covered with a mound of cocaine. I declined. He looked bewildered and then snorted a long line. It was billboard-obvious that The Heaters had made a very poor choice in their management. Then this jerk began to play air guitar to Jamie's riffs.

"If I had Jamie's guitar tone, I could be a rock star!"

Sure, I thought. And maybe if you also had his talent, his creativity, his ear, his taste, his intelligence and his work ethic on top of his decades of practicing his musical scales and runs day-in day-out, maybe, just maybe, you might be worthy of being Jamie's roadie.

The band soldiered on, despite their crappy, unrepresentative debut LP. Not willing to lie and fearful that a bad review would hurt the band, Robert Hilburn and Richard Cromelin, pop music critics of the Los Angeles Times, chose not to review the record.

Things began to get dysfunctional. The women in the band soon fell prey to classic divide-and-conquer politics (watch what happens to Robbie Robertson in The Last Waltz, or read about Janis Joplin's split with Big Brother & The Holding Company) instigated by their coked-up management.

In essence, the poisonous whisper was: "Girls: You're the talent. You need to dump those guys."

Then the band made Colossal Mistakes #8 & 9:
The girls succumbed to the poison and pressure; they let Phil leave and then, about a year later, fired James.

"I quit the band when it became obvious to me that we were heading down the same f*cked up road on the second album," says Phil. "The entire situation at the time was so traumatic at the time (the debacle of the first album and having to quit), it's still painful to think of it. It's hard to envision how difficult it was to be so close to living your dream and then have it snatched out of your grasp by foolish decisions and even more foolish individuals."

After David Demeter and David Hoskot (later of The Pop) attempted to fill Mr. Cohen's substantial, charismatic and unique drumming boots and the departure of James, the girls held quick auditions and hired both a new guitar player and drummer.

The Heaters recorded a second LP for Columbia (Energy Transfer; Columbia NJC 36486; 1980). It sounded better than their previous record but the replacements for James and Phil fought (and lost) many of their predecessors' same battles with the LP's producer. The drummer, Victor Bisetti (later of Los Lobos), was forced to play with an unfamiliar bass drum pedal, had his drums retuned and was inappropriately miked like a rhythm and blues drummer. They both were forced to play what they were told to play and nothing more.

Phil formed The Tellers and then a tough, terrific band called Mr. Lucky. After that group's fortunes ran out Phil returned to school and earned a law degree. Handsome Phil is now a big mucky-muck music attorney at Universal.

Steve Barbato (from Mr. Lucky) was recommended by Phil as a replacement for the Columbia LP's guitar player. Steve gave it his best but was met with much the same meddling from the suits.

Despite another unrepresentative clinker under their belt, The Heaters soldiered on. Sadly, they could never re-create the raw energy of the early era Heaters; as the L. A. scene's heat began to cool the band dissolved pretty damn fast. Before The Heaters' corpse was even cold, Diana Ross recorded their arrangement of the Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers classic, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" . It went to #7 on the national charts. Michael Chapman had Suzi Quatro virtually duplicate the Heaters song "I've Never Been In Love". It became an international hit.

In 1982 Missy, Theresa and Maggie formed The Commotions who transformed into The Notorious Barbies. That name was dropped when they learned of a Nazi group with the same moniker.

Theresa, Maggie and Missy continued to record their own music on a Portastudio for a 1983 homemade nine song recording ( "All I Want to Do"; "Every Living Day"; "I Want to Love Again"; "I'll Meet You There"; "Just Around the Corner"; "Love Will Be"; "My American Dream"; "Rock This Place"; and "Sandy". "Sandy" has a bit of a Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band ending.). Missy played drums on five of the songs; John Cowsill pounded skins on the other four tracks. Theresa sang lead and some harmonies, Maggie and Missy shared harmonies, and Missy played the guitars on all but two tunes. Steve Barbato played lead on those two other songs (of course Missy played bass and Maggie handled all of the keyboard chores). Missy and Maggie wrote all of the material. The material was recorded on a four track cassette machine, ping-ponging the tracks like The Beatles did on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band but substantially more low-fi. The songs basically show the girl group side of the trio. The recordings were never officially released.

Rhino was ready to sign the girls but wanted them to re-record the new material. After what the girls had been through in the studio they were just not ready for that; they wanted the songs released as is. The girls continued to play the new material for friends. Ace Heaters fan Art Fein got one of the songs placed in the obscure movie Prison. Those 1983 recordings now have an avid cult following.

The Notorious Barbies resurfaced as Mr. Girl with Debbie Reiss on drums. Both Missy and Hollye Leven switched off on guitar and bass. Theresa sang and played bass and Maggie was on keyboards. Maggie, Theresa and Missy sang their trademark harmonies and all but Debbie had a chance to sing lead. Mr. Girl had a blast playing all of their favorite 60's songs. "We made money and partied," recalls Missy. " I think those were my real teenage years!"

Mr. Girl played upscale gigs at The Palace and The Lingerie Club. The band was like a girl gang. As a joke they once dressed in drag and played Madame Wong's West. During a trip to the ladies' room Missy had to prove she was a female. One of the women laughed, "You're better dressed than the guys in this club!"

Later, Missy went solo. In 1995 she released a great, hard-rocking indy cassette under the name of MAC entitled Breaking The Rules (SitCalm Productions). Her sister Maggie, David Demeter and Earle Mankey (from Sparks) played on it.

1998 saw a new "Heaters" CD, sort of: Living In A Sitcom (Garage 2228). The ten song disc included six cuts from MAC and two songs by Maggie. Missy sings and plays the guitar and bass; Maggie plays keyboards and sings harmonies; and David Demeter plays drums. Doug Fieger of The Knack sings backing vocals on a cover of The Beatles' "I'm Down".

Although Lisa Henschel is listed in the credits she actually did not record on the CD; she was part of the live band.

"Lisa was credited because we were trying to present it as more of a band," says Missy. "I should NOT have called it 'The Heaters'!" "The producer caught me in a spaced-out moment and I agreed to it. I would rather have called the band 'Needlepoint'." 

Missy has also written two children's musicals: Jim The Chimp and CatWorld.

Maggie went solo as well, releasing a melodically brilliant and deliciously scary indy CD, The Luxury of Sadness (Frigidisk FD-110; still available at her AOL music site.

After the Heaters, Theresa was recruited, appropriately, to sing backup in the Monte Carlos, the band that supported Phil Spector star Darlene Love in her huge early 80's comeback. Theresa also dueted with Ritchie Valens on a remix of the original "La Bamba" which became a hit in Spain. She met her future husband Michael Peterson on Valentine's Day, 1985.

Through Art Fein one of Missy's Portastudio songs got to Phil Spector. Phil liked Theresa's voice and the song, so she, Missy and Maggie met with Phil. Theresa ended up singing for Phil Spector for quite a few years. Her last meeting with Phil was in December 1994 at a Los Angeles studio session with Jack Nitzsche and some of the best musicians from L.A. (including Hal Blaine on drums and Todd Rundgren ) and N.Y. (Paul Shaffer and the David Letterman Band). Phil was recreating his "Wall of Sound" with Theresa as lead singer.  One of the songs intended to be recorded was John Lennon's "Grow Old Alone With Me". Everything came to a halt when one of Phil's kids passed away and Theresa and her husband moved to Sedona.

For a brief time Theresa was a dental assistant. She went back to school and graduated Cum Laude in Psychology from CSUN, received a Black Belt in Shin Shei Ryo Karate and traveled throughout the East studying Eastern philosophy and design principles.

During the last few years Theresa went back into the studio with Ed Roscetti and recorded a CD of some of her favorite standards; she also sang some jazz, Latin and samba songs. In 2006 she formed the eclectic little group Soul Pocket with pianist David Vincent Mills. They perform every Sunday in Sedona at the old Rainbow's End (now called Relics), playing everything from jazz, pop, dance to rhythm and blues. Theresa's website is at theresarobertson.com.

Prior to The Heaters James turned his brilliant technical expertise to fine guitar making with his friend John Carruthers, forming CD Designs. Post-Heaters James formed two new companies, Demeter Designs and Demeter Amplification, manufacturing, amongst other gearhead dreams, the best, most innovative hand-wound pick-ups for acoustic guitars (Jamie holds several patents for his designs), as well as tube amps and effects pedals. Jim has four Mix Foundation Technical Award nominations for excellence in audio design and two Guitar Player Magazine Editors' Pick Awards. His Tremulator Pedal was named one of the Fifty Coolest Effect Pedals of All Time by Guitar Player Magazine. James also invented the Tube Direct Box and was the first to introduce a stand alone tube microphone preamp into the marketplace. His loyal and enthusiastic client list includes (among many others) Ry Cooder, Sting, Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck, Dwight Yoakum, Neil Young, John Fogerty, Eddie Van Halen, Sonny Landreth and Bonnie Raitt. Many of these artists laud Jamie's equipment within the acknowledgments sections of their CDs. Already prize-winning winemakers, James and his wife recently bought their own vineyard and moved to California's wine country. Jim is building a stage on their property for music events.

It has always rankled Heaters fans and the band members themselves that their sound was never properly recorded at their peak and that their talents were never properly represented before the music-buying public. The album that we fans always knew was in them became one of those legendary Great Lost Albums, like a smaller, cultier indy version of Brian Wilson's grand obsession, The Beach Boys' Smile, or the LP Jimi Hendrix was working on at the time of his death, First Rays of the New Rising Sun, or the Buffalo Springfield 's missing last LP, Stampede.

In a conversation with Missy, James asked if by some chance she had any of the original Chuck Plotkin 24 track Heaters demos. Miraculously, Missy had actually kept them in pristine condition for all of those many years. She sent all seven reels out to James who began to work on the tapes, tweaking the sound here and there and adding bits that had been left out.

These David Hoskot-era Heaters Chuck Plotkin demos are the source of "Energy Transfer", "When Push Comes to Shove", "Stand Your Ground" and "Nothing Can Be". Phil Cohen then secured the rights to the Arista recordings (rescued from the trash bin!) for the band and brought them to James. Together they worked long and hard on the production and remixing using Jamie's audio magic and Phil's keen ear and taste to bring the sound of their old band back to life. Maggie and Missy also participated heavily in the final mix of the CD. They gave James and Phil pages of feedback throughout the pre-mixes. Ultimately, Missy flew out to LA where she and Phil did further work on the mixes in James' studio. Any instrumental tracks with substandard sound were rerecorded by the original band members. And, best of all, Phil Cohen laid down great new drum tracks with the fire and thunder those songs always deserved and that their fans still remember.

The only missing element now is you, the listener.

So take this precious opportunity to complete the circle. Put on The Great Lost Heaters Album CD and listen to the sounds of the hottest band of 1978.

Lucky you!

William Stout
Pasadena, CA
May 2007; updated August 2007

THE HEATERS!

The Heaters Story © 2007 William Stout
 
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