Long Live Yanks

Photo courtesy of Owen Masterson. The Yanks: Owen Masterson (Vocals, guitar), Steve Aliment (Bass guitar, vocals) Paul Zahl (Sonor drums, vocals) Jack Johnson (Guitar, vocals)

On the February 12th There Once Was A Note radio show, I’ll be playing the newly remastered version of Yanks’ “I Don’t See Her Anymore.” It’s in advance of the re-release of the song on the major streaming platforms on March 15th. Far more than a simple release from the archives, the rebirth of this music (to be followed by more tracks) is an event, and I wanted to put together a piece that explains why.

From the mid 70s to mid 80s, before commercial rock music took over the airwaves in California from San Francisco to San Jose, there was a brilliant explosion of free-form, album-oriented FM radio. Redwood City was the midpoint…everything South of the city was ruled by the dominant rock stations of the day, KOME-FM and KSJO-FM. Both stations primarily played the popular artists of the day…Aerosmith, Pat Travers, Ted Nugent. But North of Redwood City, there was a turf first pioneered by Tom Donahue and the DJs who formed KSAN in the late 60s. The manifesto was great music, hopping across all genres and just as apt to play Captain Beefheart, Miles Davis, Blue Cheer and the Sex Pistols as their neighbors to the South were apt to play the more mainstream acts.

From the mid-70s to mid-80s, a number of genres re-assembled themselves into a crazy quilt that included pop, rock, psychedelia, garage, and punk. The era of New Wave came and went, and it also played a major role. The main attraction of stations like KSAN and KMPX was that they exposed all of it, playing artists who weren’t on the more commercial stations.

This week, Owen Masterson kindly shared his thoughts with us on Yanks and the days of the Wild West on FM radio:

“For Yanks, radio was a cornerstone. From the first demo Paul and I recorded after SVT, to the tours crisscrossing the US and Canada, Yanks had a visceral relationship with the airwaves.

In San Francisco, after KSAN’s demise, DJs like Richard Gossett migrated over to KQAK, a new station leaning heavily on new wave 80’s rock. Gossett and other jocks there like Oz, who was also the program director, championed Yanks and slipped us into heavy rotation, which had an immediate impact on our shows and visibility.

Photo courtesy of Steve Aliment.

The relationship was close: we were able to drop by the station, no appointment or fore planning, and hype a show, usually for that night, or play a rough cut of a new song we were working on. That may still happen on college radio, but these days, not at a commercial station with deep pocket corporate bats running things, could a band of local, wild-ass, young rock and rollers even get in the front door.

Photo courtesy of Owen Masterson.

During a crazy, zig-zagging, endless tour of the US and Canada- and remember, this is before cell phones, we’d call KQAK COLLECT! They would accept the calls, putting us on the air live, from Chicago, New York, Boston, or Nowhere Idaho; it didn’t matter. We would be crowded around a pay phone in some club, hotel, or truck stop diner, and we’d give a shout out to the fans at home: where we were, how the shows are going, how much we missed them- basically a live 120 second Yanks commercial! The DJ would cue up a Yanks track, we’d close with a quick “till next time from the road” and off we’d go. We pulled this routine one or two times a week.

Returning to our city by the bay, our popularity and fan base had swelled, and the homecoming shows were mad love fests.”

Photo courtesy of Steve Aliment.

The enthusiasm and aggressive networking by the band will strike a familiar chord with artists seeking to be heard in 2020. It was a matter of connecting with people who loved music and were in a position to get it on the air. It was an ongoing celebration of creativity, rather than a concession to the marketplace that would be waiting down the road.

Here are Steve Aliment’s thoughts on the band, which he also provided this week:

“Yanks was the hardest hitting, most sincere rock and roll band I’ve ever been part of and when we were “on” live, we could hold our own with ANYBODY. The songs were good and the performances were raw and electrifying. For some reason, the major labels didn’t get it. 

Jack Johnson, Paul Zahl. Steve Aliment and Owen Masterson at Tower Records, Bay Street & Columbus, San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Steve Aliment.

I told Owen a few weeks ago that looking back, we should have kept touring continuously. I’m personally happy about the remastered singles dropping. There is no friction now (due to streaming) and people will be able to hear it and save it and hopefully some new listeners will dig it.”  

Here is the press release for the reissue of “I Don’t See Her Anymore,” provided by Owen:

From 1982 to 1986, American rock band Yanks were one of the hardest hitting acts touring North America. Based in San Francisco, Yanks emerged from the vibrant and seedy San Francisco punk scene of the late 70’s/early 80’s with a fresh take on music; creating an edgy hybrid sound that deftly mashed AM pop, post-punk, metal and hard rock into a unique sound all their own. Yanks drew on vocal influences of The Everly Brothers and The Beatles, mashed in with the dual guitar attack of The Clash, The Plimsouls, The Replacements, and added the recklessness of The Ramones and The New York Dolls. Yanks band broke up in ’86 and its members went their separate ways but the music they created stands the test of time and sounds as fresh today as it did in the mid ‘80s. Yanks recorded two acclaimed EPs, Only Lovers Left Alive, and Made In The States, both on the DTI label. These EPs were combined and licensed to Lolita Records, Paris, France and released as a full length album in ’85 under the title Tell Me No Lies along with a 45RPM of “I Don’t See Her Anymore” as the A-side, backed with “Made In The States.”  A third full length album was in pre-production but sadly, was never released before the band broke up. In 2020, the recordings have been unearthed, remastered and will be digitally released, including the previously unreleased “third album”.

Yanks consisted of Owen Masterson, singer/songwriter guitarist; Jack Johnson, lead guitar/vocals; Paul Zahl, drums/vocals; Steve Aliment, bass/vocals.” 

Owen Masterson with Yanks at Mabuhay Gardens, SF. Photo courtesy of Steve Aliment. From Steve: Owen Masterson came to the Mab with that shirt and we all bowed. People wanted there own. No merch table in those days!!”

Tune in the show on March 12 to hear Yanks, and follow Owen and Steve on Facebook and Twitter for future announcements. Steve and Owen are both currently releasing singles that are available on all major streaming and download platforms…you’ll want to follow them there as well.