Red Wedding, the first openly gay underground L.A. rock band, on “New Wave Theatre” in 1982

By on September 7, 2018

L.A.’s theatrical post-punk rock band Red Wedding — formed in 1981 by Michael Ely and Spider Taylor, whose decades-long relationship is one of the great L.A. love stories — were, in their own words, “the first (and only) openly gay underground L.A. rock band.”

You can see them in two separate episodes of New Wave Theatre,” including their first appearance — performing “So, We Make History,” a song about a deteriorating relationship — on March 9, 1982.

Watch both episodes — this second “New Wave Theatre” episode also comes from ’82 — over on Night Flight Plus.

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Michael Ely (b. March 9, 1953) and guitarist James Allan “Spider” Taylor (b. July 9, 1951) first met at Stables, a tiny gay bar in Sunset Beach, CA, in 1971.

Within a few years, Taylor — who’d formed his first band, Sons of Satan, when he was twelve — would play lead guitar on Delaney Bramlett’s “Locked Up in Alabama” (a b-side released in 1977).

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By ’79, Taylor was playing guitar in a Pasadena-based band, the Tracers.

At their rehearsals, Ely often joined their lead singer Lynn at the microphone, eventually joining them onstage too, performing for the first time at a Van Nuys club called Rock Corporation.

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Everyone who ever saw Michael onstage thought he had lots of stage presence, but Ely actually suffered from stage-fright, and was reportedly painfully shy off-stage.

In the summer of ’79, he and Taylor moved from Long Beach to Los Angeles and formed their own band, Hey Taxi!, with George Hurley (guitar) and Jim Kaiser (bass).

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They played every other Saturday night at the Hong Kong Café, in L.A.’s Chinatown, with Ely singing rapid-fire one and two-minutes songs about serial killers, cannibalism, queens and gay vampires, occasionally tossing in lines from Broadway musicals that went over a lot of heads.

In 1980, Hey Taxi! recorded an EP for Mystic Records, but Michael was growing tired of L.A.’s punk scene, which he felt was too cliché, and by early ’81 Hey Taxi! were kaput.

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By June of ’81, Ely and Taylor were forming a new band, Red Wedding, who offered up a swirling mixture of glam, post-punk and new wave-y art rock, with a dash of New Romantic-style fashion & flair for good measure.

The other original members were Marc O (synths, 1981-1984), John Tagliavia (bass, 1981-1985) and Brian Ford (drums, 1981-1982), later replaced by Brian Engle (1983-1985).

They also occasionally relied on an 808 drum machine.

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Red Wedding were one of the first “Queercore” bands, along with out-and-proud bands like the Dicks — check out Night Flight contributor Mike Vanderbilt‘s feature on their documentary, The Dicks from Texas  — whose songs expressed their discontent with society’s disapproval of the gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender communities.

Read more about Red Wedding below.

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Red Wedding played their very first show at the Brave Dog — located a few blocks from Al’s Bar, next door to the Atomic Café in Little Tokyo — on June 13, 1981.

They became the club’s house band, and headlined at the very first Theoretical Party — a series of gay-friendly Sunday afternoon parties that continued for nearly ten years — at the One Way bar.

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They ended up playing the entire L.A. club scene, including the Whisky, the Roxy, Al’s Bar, Anti-Club, Madame Wong’s, Club Lingerie, Cathay De Grande, Music Machine, even Jacarandas, a Mexican bikini bar on 7th Street in downtown L.A.’s produce market neighborhood.

They were also regulars at the Spirit Club (shortened from Spirit of ’76), two hours south of L.A. in San Diego’s Linda Vista neighborhood.

Red Wedding played with just about everyone you can imagine them sharing a stage with in the early ’80s, including (in no particular order) 45 Grave, Fibonaccis, the Bangs, Mnemonic Devices, Kommunity FK, Romeo Void, Suburban Lawns, Killing Joke, X, Gun Club, Psi Com (an early incarnation of Jane’s Addiction), Sparks, Specimen, Nina Hagen, and many others.

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In 1982, they made the first of their two appearances on “New Wave Theatre” on Michael Ely’s 29th birthday (this repeat show aired in June 1983, three months after host Peter Iver‘s sad death), and everyone enjoyed chocolate cake afterwards.

The show was “ghost hosted” by Elvira, while Red Wedding shared the stage with Bad Religion, Monitor, the Party Boys and Braniacs.

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The second and last time, Red Wedding shared the stage with Fear, Powertrip, Carnival of Souls, and others.

They performed “All Dressed Up,” but avoided talking to an obviously-annoyed Ivers, who says: “Red Wedding… a marriage made in hell.”

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Red Wedding were celebrated by local rock critics like L.A. Weekly music editor Craig Lee (also ex-Bags, ex-Catholic Discipline), who celebrated the band in his June 1982 full-page feature.

Lee described their sound as a combination of “dark, mysterious intensity with a solid, multi-layered rock base.”

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Red Wedding released their first EP Up and Down the Aisle (Bemisbrain Records) in 1981, and followed that release up three years later with their Nails EP (Important Records).

A third EP, Fiction Theater, was recorded in 1985, but never released.

By May of 1985, Red Wedding were done, but the great L.A. love story between Michael and Spider continued on for decades and decades, right up until Taylor sadly passed away from liver cancer on May 21, 2015.

A 2011 anniversary Youtube tribute to Michael and Spider from their friend Cathie

In 2014, a 12-song collection, Anthology 1981-1985, was issued by Italian label Synthetic Shadows, and Killed by Disco, both on vinyl.

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Check out Michael & Spider’s website, their Red Wedding website, and Ely’s Tumblr (where he writes about appearing on “New Wave Theatre”).

Watch Red Wedding in two different 1982 episodes of New Wave Theatre on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.