A "Sean Dowdell And His Friends?" To "Grey Daze" Retrospective
From left to right: Jason Cekoric, Chester Bennington, Sean Dowdell and Chris Goad.
Sean Dowdell, known as a famous piercer, founder and co-owner of one of the hottest US networks of tattoo studios called Club Tattoo, wasn't always going to become who he is today. Before the first Club Tattoo studio was opened in 1995 and then started to grow immensely in coming years, Sean was first and foremost a musician dreaming to make a living of being a rock star. As he once told Etnies: "I thought I was going be a rock star that happened to own a tattoo shop".
Sean grew up in a musical family, with roots that go back to his dad and uncle and was a big fan of bands like Depeche Mode, Kiss, R.E.M., U2 and Alice In Chains, so Sean has always been very into music and had always had dreams of becoming a famous rock musician. His first real musical steps were him jamming with his friend named Chris Hewllet. Sean played drums and Chris could play both drums and guitar, but the two never had a singer or a band name. Having some extra money from an insurance settlement for a very bad car accident Sean was unfortunate to be involved in a few months before that, Sean decided to put together a proper band and started seeking musicians and other people who might have been helpful among the people he knew.
At the time, Sean had been working in Little Caesars pizzeria in Phoenix, AZ. One day, Sean's manager at Little Caesars named Rob Rogers severely broke his ankle while golfing. Sean came in and visited him in the hospital and told him he's planning to start a band and asked Rob if he would like to help him in this endeavor and become the band's manager. Long story short, Rob called up Little Caesars to tell them he's quit.
Primarily jamming with his friends, Sean didn't have any suitable singers among them, so one day Chris introduced him to a bit younger guy named Chester, whom Chris invited to audition supposedly after seeing him jam with his younger brother.
Ever since Chester was a kid, he had been telling everybody he was going to be a singer. None of his family members had a musical background, but his older brother played Foreigner, Rush and Loverboy records all the time and ever since Chester was two years old, he used to run around the house singing their songs. Telling about his earliest musical influences, Chester often cites Foreigner as the very first music he liked.
Since middle school, the band that intrigued Chester the most were Depeche Mode. As he said in his 2013 interview with The Huffington Post (and numerous times before that): "I used to have dreams when I was in fourth grade about Depeche Mode landing a jet in my schoolyard and coming out and announcing to the school that I was going to be the fifth member". At some point in school, he even won a talent contest as vocalist singing Depeche Mode's "A Question Of Lust" acapella.
In his 2014 interview for
Unbeknownst to the most of us, back in 2006, when The Doors were celebrating it's 40th Anniversary, Chester had not only participated in live events celebrating the band, but was also given an opportunity to write a foreword for the eponymous book written by a famous rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres. In it, Chester tells the same story in much more detail:
"I was thirteen years old when I first heard "Break On Through". I had no idea who The Doors were or how much their music would have an impact on me. I was an awkward, nerdy, four-eyed funny guy in theater class beginning my completely unsuccessful high school career. Most of my energy was poured into acting and hanging out with the rest of the theater geeks. Music was just starting to become the single most important part of my life.
Although I was a rather unique lad, some of the cool kids had big enough balls to be seen with me. One of these kids was my friend Jason. He and I started hanging out through a mutual friend at parties, and sometimes he would start jamming on the guitar and singing songs. I was taken aback by how talented he was, and how rare that was, coming from our neighborhood. One day we were hanging out in his house, in his garage, watching Jason play guitar and he starts playing "People Are Strange" and says, "Man, I wish I knew someone who could sing". And I replied, "I can sing. I mean, I think I'm pretty good". He said, "Well, that would be awesome - if we only had a mike!" So we proceeded to devise a master plan of juvenile criminal genius. We would first case the church behind his house to see if the preacher or any of his herd were lingering about. When the coast was clear, we used our school IDs to jimmy the lock to the back door of the auditorium. Once inside we immediately noticed a large grand piano next to a four-channel mixer and a microphone connected to a 50-foot-long cable that was wrapped around the piano. That's where our great plan became a major pain in the ass. I must have weaved in and out between the legs of that damn piano a hundred times before I was done. When I had finally retrieved the mike and cable, we ran back to his house and played every Doors song he knew.
We began having our little jam sessions about three times a week, and I was quickly becoming a rabid Doors fan. Jason and I were obsessed with their music, mystery, magic, and mayhem. We would talk about how cool it would be to have the chance to live our lives with reckless abandon and push the envelope to the point of breaking down walls... becoming larger than life.
We started devouring acid, coke, speed, mushrooms, pot, and alcohol, but most of all, acid. We were actually stupid enough to believe that this made us more like them. We couldn't have been more wrong. We also started becoming quite the party favorite pastime. Performing everything from "Crystal Ship" to "LA Woman" in our minds, we might as well have been The Doors themselves. More like Tenacious D does The Doors, only we weren't funny or very good. We were usually so fucked up that everything sounded amazing. These performances started to get people talking about me on the local music scene".
While it is not currently known what his friend's Jason's last name was, he definitely shouldn't be confused with either Sean Dowdell And His Friends? bassist Jason Cekoric or Grey Daze's guitarist Jason Barnes, as it was confirmed by both Sean Dowdell and Jason Cekoric himself.
Anyway, still being involved with theater, Chester wasn't going to instantly give it up for music, as he still saw acting as something he could do professionally in the future. As he said during his interview with Noisecreep, "Even with music, I thought theater was going to be something I would get into throughout my life. I love acting. It feels like something I kind of do second nature anyway. I kind of pretend to be a lot of things when I'm up on stage".
A page from Greenway High School's 1992 yearbook dedicated to the theater group (referred to as Theater Company) Chester was part of. Look closely and you can actually spot him on a collective photo too.
Somewhere along the way, still balancing his theater performances in school and even travelling the country with his theater group during the summer in between school and occasional musical ventures, Chester was able to develop his distinctive singing style. One of his favorite bands were Ministry and he would always try to mimic Al Jourgensen's highly produced/compressed vocals the best he could without using any effects: "I basically went at it till it didn't hurt anymore". Drawing inspiration from a lot of bands from the 60s (The Doors, Led Zepellin, etc) and 80s (Depeche Mode, Jane's Addiction, Ministry, Social Distortion, Fugazi, Skinny Puppy, etc), Chester also liked some of then-modern bands like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and, ever since the band released their debut album "Core" in 1992, he became a huge fan of Stone Temple Pilots, whose frontman's vocals would also become a big influence and a source of inspiration for Chester in the future.
Chester as Reverend Lionel Toop confronting his wife with a fire poker during a play based on Phillips King's comedy called "See How They Run". Taken from Greenway High School's 1993 yearbook.
It didn't take long for Chester to be noticed by other musicians looking for a singer for a more serious project and, sometime around 1992, he was invited to audition for Sean Dowdell's band. In the same foreword, Chester continues: "Scotty's older brother - the kid Jason and I would jam every once in a while - asked me if I would come down and practice with a new band he was starting with some kids from the east side. I was blown away that he asked me to go with him, and kind of felt like I might make a fool out of myself, considering I only knew The Doors and a handful of other songs from Nirvana, Jane's Addiction, Black Sabbath, and a few others. [...] My entire life changed that day. I got the gig as the front man for the band, and as for my friend's brother, he just stopped coming around. Our band's name was SD and His Friends".
Scotty was Scott Hewllet and his older brother was Chris Hewllet. Chris was the one to introduce Chester to Sean, but he did not end up being a member of Sean Dowdell And His Friends? himself. In his 2008 interview for Etnies, Chester explains: "I'd been playing in my friends garage, with them and, like, jamming out. And we had this other kid that we'd play, [...] His brother was in a band, locally, and they were starting this new band, and they invited me to come down and sing--to audition for the band. And so I thought it was pretty cool. And so I went down and auditioned for these guys, and Sean happened to play drums. [...] But what ended up happening was they took me in the band, but they didn't take the other dude that actually invited me down, for whatever reason. And so we started a band and we just became friends at that point. Sean became pretty much like a big brother to me, and we'd always hang out, and he'd take me to parties, and it was pretty cool... keep me out of as much trouble as possible".
Sean Dowdell And His Friends?
So even though Chester was a little bit too young and didn't have a lot of experience in music at the time he auditioned for Sean's band, he was already quite good self-taught singer with a distinctive voice unexpected from someone his age and appearance. After he was accepted for the position and the band was finally complete being consisted of Chester (1976), Sean (1973), Jason Cekoric (1971) and Chris Goad (1973), Sean rented a rehearsal space, equipped it with best equipment and the band started learning covers as well as very slowly writing their own songs.
Rob Rogers: We would book the band to play these three hour fraternity parties at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. But we only had barely enough music to play an hour without repeating songs. But we knew that the campus police would usually bust up the party at about an hour in to the music, so we ended up playing a bunch of these fraternity parties, but we never had to play long enough to repeat songs. And they performed amazingly at every show and very quickly built a HUGE following. Chester had an amazing natural voice and nobody ever heard anything like him. He also had a natural ability to perform. Sean was the amazing backbone of the band. Chris had a great look and was a solid guitar player and aligned with Chester perfectly. Jason also had an amazing look and was an amazing bass player and held the pocket perfectly every time with Sean. There were no egos, everyone knew their place. And it just worked perfectly.
During one of the interviews promoting his recent stint with a superstar cover band Kings Of Chaos, Chester himself recalls the time he and the band did their first gigs: "It reminds me of when I was young and didn't have any original songs. In my first band, we would book gigs, learn a bunch of covers and try to do our best. Only this time around I get to do it with the guys who actually wrote the music. Its like the all-star version of that band".
While he might have been also alluding to his occasional gigs with Jason in that statement, according to Rob, Sean Dowdell And His Friends? did cover a lot of songs by Stone Temple Pilots, Guns N Roses, Pearl Jam and others, with the most popular ones among fans being their renditions of The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" and Alice In Chains' "Would?".
The band wasn't technically attached to any kind of a management company and was handled by just Rob and Sean, but sometime around mid-1993, a few months after the band had started placing promotional ads on the pages of The Alternative News - a local monthly music magazine owned by Bob "Rock" Donovan, Rob Rogers has become a V.P. of Operations for Donovan's booking/promotional company called Rock-On Productions. That has brought the band into the company and helped it play more and better shows and also got it some extra exposure on the pages of The Alternative News, not being directly affiliated with the magazine.
May, 1993 issue of The Alternative News magazine: the magazine's editor Bob "Rock" Donovan discussing things happening on the local scene.
During its existence, the band has opened for not only numerous local bands (like Lemon Krayola, also managed by Rob), but also a number of popular bands like Saigon Kick, Napalm Death, Nuclear Assault and others, played a lot of shows in clubs such as Mason Jar, Edsel's Attic, Club Rio, Library Cafe, has graced several different fraternity parties, warehouse parties, private parties, another Chester's high schools talent show (Chester didn't graduate until mid-1994) and also reportedly even managed to play a side stage at Desert Sky Pavilion once. According to both Sean and Rob, the total estimated number of live shows the band did include around 70 shows. We've yet to have a setlist for at least one SD & His Friends show in our guide, but, according to Rob Rogers, the band had about 10 original and 10 cover songs in their live catalog.
March and May, 1993 issues of The Alternative News magazine: full-page ads for the band's shows:
- 1993.03.19 Phoenix, AZ, Mason Jar (w/ Plasterfish)
1993.03.28 Phoenix, AZ, Mason Jar (w/ Nuclear Assault) (5:00 PM show)
1993.03.28 Phoenix, AZ, Mason Jar (w/ Nuclear Assault) (8:30 PM show)
1993.05.01 Phoenix, AZ, Street Survivors
1993.05.02 Phoenix, AZ, Mason Jar (7:00 PM show)
1993.05.02 Phoenix, AZ, Library Cafe (9:30 PM show)
1993.05.15 Phoenix, AZ, Mason Jar (w/ Plasterfish)
1993.05.16 Mesa, AZ, Hollywood Alley
1993.05.31 Phoenix, AZ, Mason Jar, Mosh Pit Monday (w/ Attitude John)
At some point in 1993, the band started looking for options to record their first demo of original material and ended up recording a 3-song cassette in Pantheon Studios with producer Tony DiMaria.
Rob Rogers: We manufactured and printed 200 cassettes. I know that over a hundred of them were destroyed and the other hundred were primarily sold to fans. Cassettes generally don't have a long life in the heat of Arizona.
Demo tape's review from the April, 1993 issue of The Alternative News magazine.
In addition to the demo tape, the band also manufactured a lot of merchandise items for promotional needs.
Rob Rogers: Sean was a HUGE Kiss fan and Gene Simmons fan. And Sean was very much into merchandising [Kiss is known as the band that has more pieces of merchandise, than any other artist in the history of music ~ LESTAT]. We sold way more t-shirts than we sold cassettes. EVERYBODY had SDAHF window stickers on their cars.
Kill The Flies lyrics printed on the tape's insert are almost entirely different from the ones on the actual recording. The first verse is almost the same, but the rest of the song is drastically different. It looks like these are earlier lyrics that probably were changed just prior to recording. The line "Look to the sky, its a spy" that is absent from the actual track is likely a nod to a very similar line from a song called "Ocean Size" by Jane's Addiction.
In the previously mentioned foreword for "The Doors" Chester mentions: "We sold T-shirts that said: (I'M SEAN DOWDELL'S FRIEND). Quite possibly the stupidest thing ever. We did, however, become very popular within the scene of other young bands that all thought their shit didn't stink. We later changed the name by popular demand to Grey Daze, and recorded two CDs that got enough of the right people to hear about me and hooked me up with a little band in Los Angeles called Xero".
Even though, Chester himself claims the band changed its name to Grey Daze, it was not the case. Like it happens with the majority of young unsigned bands, Sean Dowdell And His Friends? didn't last long and the band members had to part ways, a few months before Grey Daze was formed as a completely different project.
>Q: Did the band separate on good terms?
Jason Cekoric: We actually took Chester out of the band and broke up not too long after going through another singer named Jack Shoots. Chris and I moonlighted in another band called Genocide at the time, so the breakup was no big deal, we just focused on Genocide, it was more the type of music we wanted to play anyway.
February 13th, 1993: Genocide @ Mason Jar. The band consisted of Jason Cekoric (bass), Chris Goad (guitar), Sean Spurr (vocals), Bob Thayer (drums) and Ross Blaisdell (rhythm guitar). This show was the first show with Sean Spurr. The previous singer named Shane Stonebrook had passed away of cancer. He was just in his 20s.
> Q: Any specific reasons for kicking him out?
Jason Cekoric: Chester was constantly late to practice. I know it seems silly, but when one guy's not there, it affects everybody and it just became a problem after a while, so he got the axe. I remember one specific time we were all in our twenties, but Chester was still in high school. He got in trouble at school with drugs. His dad at the time I believed was a police officer grounded him for a long time. That also affected things with us.
> Q: Do you know anything else about Jack Shoots? Did he sing in any other bands after his short stint with SDAHF? And is it the right spelling of his last name?
Jason Cekoric: Jack was an odd cat. I'm sure he went to sing for somebody else because he was a rocker at heart. I'm not sure of the spelling of his last name. We were all in our twenties while he was in his mid-thirties, so I never really related to him.
Rob Rogers: Yes, Chester was kicked out. He was a good kid but he was a kid and he did things that kids did. Yes, Jack Shoots auditioned and we did one show with him at the Mason Jar. Jack was older than the rest of the band and he was more of a Metal guy. Nice guy, but it didn't work and Chester was brought back and that was the end of that. Jack Shoots was a show audition he was never officially part of SDAHF. I don't know anything else about him [...] Jack Shoots did three rehearsals and one rehearsal show. So the whole Chester being kicked out lasted maybe two weeks. Chester returned, but the band had run its course. It just ultimately ended.
June, 1993 issue of The Alternative News magazine: Sean Dowdell And His Friends? looking for a replacement for Chester. The issue was published sometime around the last days of May - first days of June, so it's likely that their May, 31st "Mosh Pit Monday" appearance in Mason Jar mentioned earlier in the article was either cancelled or that was the exact show the band played with Jack Shoots.
Shortly the same year Sean's brother Kelly met Jonathan Krause at work and told him Sean had just broken up with his band. Jonathan had also just left his band
In the meantime, now that all of the band members had already had an experience in music, the band jams and writes heavily having decided to focus on original material rather than doing covers. During that time, the band comes up with ideas for several songs like "What's In The Eye?", "Holding You" and "The Endless Highway", all of which ended up being formed into complete Grey Daze songs later on.
Thanks to Jonathan, you can hear a 1993 pre-Chester recording of the band (Sean Dowdell, Jonathan Krause, Steve Mitchell) playing an instrumental demo of "The Endless Highway" below:
So after some time of the band trying to find a suitable singer, Steve Mitchell suggested to ask Chester to come back for this new project as well. Story goes Chester came to an audition not knowing ahead of time that he's going to try out for Sean's new band, but he joined it right away.
One of the very first names they were going to go with was Lovelies Bleeding (coined by Jonathan Krause), but later decided to settle on Gray Daze (changing the spelling from "Gray" to "Grey" a few months later).
Gray Daze then plays their debut show at Thunder & Lightning Bar in Scottsdale opening for their fellows Lemon Krayola on January 22nd, 1994 playing all original songs. We've been able to obtain a recording of this show from Jonathan Krause and release it on LPLive on July 11th, 2015.
To learn more about Grey Daze all the way from the very beginning to Chester joining Xero straight from the people involved, and also hear various previously unreleased recordings, head over to my "Grey Daze Story"!