The Heaters Web Site

The Heaters on Zombie Records


She left L. A. and joined a touring Holiday Inn band named Changes. Her plan was to tour with the band for a year to make some money to buy some decent and sorely needed equipment.

Changes played every Holiday Inn in America, five sets a night, six nights a week. They were committed to play Top 40 plus whatever else anyone requested. In terms of a musical education she couldn't have made a better choice. Missy's chops as a bass player increased exponentially. Plus, playing hundreds of hits night after night informed her songwriting, revealing the inner workings and content variables of what comprises a hit song.

The lead singer in Missy's Holiday Inn band was a slim little slip of a gal with a rich, huge voice: Mercy Bermudez, as she was known back then (now Theresa Robertson). At rehearsals, Missy and Theresa were amazed at how well their voices blended. They played and sang and played and sang.

Theresa Robertson was born to Cuban parents and raised on the music of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. She started in dance with five years of training in classical ballet and musical theater. Her first professional experience was as a dancer and singer in Roar of the Greasepaint and Smell of the Crowd at the Northridge Community Theatre (Northridge, CA).  After nailing another singing audition, singing became her focus. She played clubs all over America as the lead singer for a Top 40 band called Starbuck.  Shortly thereafter she got the lead singing job in Changes. She met Missy at the audition.

After Changes, Theresa, Missy and Missy's talented keyboard playing little sister Maggie Connell returned to Los Angeles and formed Helios.

Meanwhile, Phil Cohen stayed in L. A., playing with a number of bands. His group The Flys were part of the seminal Griffith Park/Crystal Springs band festivals of 1976. Mad Fat soldiered on with a succession of bass players. David Demeter outgrew us as a drummer. I got him an audition with a great band named Champion. He got the gig and joined them --- a mere kid of sixteen playing with seasoned older professionals.

A spirited Englishman, Jimmy Nonno (known locally as the "King of Shuffle", Jimmy had a regular weekly gig playing at a country music club in Agoura), became our new drummer. Jimmy's encyclopedic knowledge of English players and their styles rivaled my own. We hit it off right away.

Eventually, tired of our never-ending rotation of bass players, I took up the instrument. Jamie gave me lessons and I learned a lot by playing along to Ron Wood's bass lines on the early Jeff Beck records.

In the mid-1970s Missy rejoined Mad Fat. She was now dead serious about her music career. It was make-or-break; she really wanted to grab that rock 'n' roll gold ring. That meant total commitment: practicing every day --- not just on weekends. It was Moment of Truth time. We all had to make a choice. For me it was: Music or Art? I (wisely) chose Art but I pleaded with Jamie to choose Music and to make a go for it. I recognized how special he was as a musician. James was hesitant and unsure at first.

Missy called Theresa and asked her if she'd like to be a singer in an originals band. Theresa was thrilled to be offered the chance to be the voice that debuted Missy's material to the world and joined our group. Our new band practiced --- them everyday; me on weekends. Not long after that it began to feel a bit crowded in our rehearsal room. I took the hint and concentrated on my art. Missy tagged her sister Maggie to become the band's keyboard player.

Maggie had been in a couple of bands in New York City with other young players, one of them boldly named The Beast With Two Backs. She had started playing piano, roadhouse boogie woogie in particular, about the same time that David Demeter took up playing drums. Upon returning to New York with her family she purchased a Fender Rhodes electric piano and continued to play with friends. Their shared musical eccentricities and sense of adventure led them to experiment and play in all sorts of different time signatures --- anything but 4/4 or 2/4. They'd jam like this for hours on end. She also played at least one gig with Missy and Eve, prior to their finding Phil.
There was one problem with Maggie joining the new band with Missy: Maggie was still in high school. An exceedingly bright lass, however, she took an equivalency test and was out of high school with a diploma at age sixteen.
Jamie's brother David returned and they rechristened themselves Emerald City. They began to work a grueling rotation of the local clubs and events.
I never missed a show. In Emerald City's early days they invited me onstage mid-set to sing and play a few old Mad Fat numbers.

They soon got management and management (rightfully) nixed my guest spots. The girls in the group were writing and what they were writing was great: pure pop, edgy but commercial with the entire history of teenage American pop music running through their chords.

David left the drum seat for another band and was replaced by Russ Thor. Russ' first gig with Emerald City was at the Bicentennial Parks Concert at Sepulveda Dam. He sang Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Taking Care of Business" with a pronounced lisp. Despite being a devout heterosexual Russ stuck two giant balloons under his shirt for the group photo.

Russ' wackiness was an indication of another huge band influence: the music of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Emerald City created and incorporated their own version of those groups' surreal, quirky, satirical and often visual humor into their act.

During a mock-ponderously heavy duty blues boogie breakdown section in the song "Big Mama Songbird" Missy and Maggie would exhort the audience to "Get down!" and "Clap your feet!" Then they would unfurl a sign that read "BOOGIE?" As their ongoing blues boogie intensified, the two would rip up their sign.

In the middle of their anthemic "New Day" the band would take a jab at disco, suddenly breaking into a snide snatch of KC & the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)".

Phil Cohen replaced Russ, bringing additional songwriting talent, energy and spirit to the group. Phil's material was influenced by punk, Lou Reed and the righteous anger of his youth. He brought a new edge to the band, transforming it from an interestingly eclectic pop group into a solid, dynamic rock band. Phil was responsible for their powerful show opener, "When Push Comes To Shove", (written while in The Flys).

Emerald City discovered there were about a dozen other Emerald Cities across the country and changed their name. I hand-painted their new name on Phil's bass drum head: The Heaters.

Punk and New Wave music were coming to a cultural boil. The L. A. music scene was about to explode with an embarrassment of riches. And The Heaters helped put flame to the fuse.
Although the Heaters' woodshedding days as Emerald City had begun to pay off, there were still some depressing bumps in the road. In 1977 the band opened for Van Halen at the Whisky A-Go-Go. The small club was packed wall-to-wall with rabid Van Halen fans who screamed threats and epithets at the Heaters the entire time the band was on stage. On top of that, they got the word from their management: Every single record label had passed on the group.

The band was down in the dumps and totally exhausted. They took the opportunity during this down time to create their own rehearsal studio. Under Jamie's expert supervision they soundproofed a garage. The band worked hard on new material and refined their existing songs. The Connell sisters and Phil came into their own as superb pop songwriters, evoking influences as diverse as the Phil Spector girl groups, Credence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, Jerry Lee Lewis/Leon Russell/Elton John piano, ol' time religion gospel stomps and the fury of Punk. Missy reworked the band's arrangements, honing each of them into pop mini-masterpieces all the while tailoring them to Theresa's distinctive voice.

"Theresa was very generous to the writers of any song she sang," says Maggie. "She worked very hard to get the melody and inflection exactly the way it had been intended. She was also extraordinary in her versatility. She could do rangy melodic songs and then the talk/sing or screaming stuff with the same vivid intensity."

From this very hard, physical communal effort exerted during the band's lowest psychological period the band found a new kind of strength and unity.

"It was an us-against-the-world feeling which inspired our idea to wear those silly outfits---to be as unhip as possible," recalls Maggie, "and to really 'let it rip' onstage."

The band was now unbelievably tight vocally and instrumentally. They donned straight-looking white shirts, black pants, black vests and skinny ties (a look appropriated soon after by their friends The Knack, who subsequently recorded a Missy Connell track on their Re-Zoom CD). To the band's surprise, those "silly outfits" became recognized as a great, original New Wave look.

The Heaters' stage presence was explosive. Once they hit the floor the band never stopped moving. Theresa's Bolshoi Ballet leaps and high jumps became legendary.

Despite all of the band being in their twenties, most of the group looked not much older, if any, than fourteen (I encouraged the rumors that the girls were 14, 15 and 16), making what they did seem even more amazing. The Heaters were now playing the more prominent clubs (the Whisky, The Starwood) and blowing their headliners (Talking Heads, Long John Baldry, Nick Gilder ) off the stage. Larger venues followed as they toured the U. S. as an opening act for England's Climax Blues Band. In Phil and Missy's old Big Apple stomping grounds The Heaters played the Bottom Line, opening for Cheap Trick.


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