A Retrospective on our band in the California Fifties, Sixties and Seventies

How did we come to be called Stark Naked & the Car Thieves ...?

Stark Naked and the Car Thieves is one of the more memorable names in rock 'n roll history. You can find reference to it throughout the Internet and histories of the music culture of the California sixties. If you heard it once you rarely forgot it and you might find how we came to call ourselves that interesting.

When we arrived in California from Indiana to play music professionally, we still were known as the Checkmates. We continued to use that name even though in our short-lived first professional tour (5 weeks) that ended in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where we were booked for two weeks and lasted two sets into the first night, we ran into a problem. Our agent in Nashville had booked us into a club where a very popular local band had that name and everyone who showed up to see us was extremely disappointed with the crappy showing we put on that night. While there's more to that story, the bottom line was we were booed off the stage, out of that club, and nearly ridden out on a rail, tarred and feathered out of town by the general populace. It was traumatic, broke up the band as it stood and led to the decision that ultimately took us to California. Thinking we had escaped the Checkmates curse by not being anywhere near Fort Wayne, Indiana, we used that name at our first solid night club gig at the Towne Club in Hayward California, where we were just beginning to learn the craft of a stage band. After a couple of comments from people entering the club like "Where are the black guys that used to be in the band? You guys were a lot better then" we began to realize that the Checkmates were a lot better known and much bigger than just Fort Wayne, Indiana or even the mid-west. And it was playing hell with our own self-esteem. We would come even closer to the Checkmates from Fort Wayne in the years to come.

As we began to gain some popularity in the bay area, we were offered the opportunity to open a really posh new club in Jack London Square in Oakland. Since this opening was going to get a lot of press we figured it was time to come up with the new name, something we'd been putting off for months. A whole practice session was taken up with this process and it was getting tedious and contentious as we ran through the bad, half-assed and totally ridiculous crop of names that come up in a session like this. Dave Dunn and I had been in Chicago a couple of years previous, promoting the record we had out as the Illusions (In the Still of the Night), when we'd heard some guys in a distributor's office mention that their group's name was Stark Naked et. al. We, of course cracked up. When we asked them if that was really their band's name, they said, no, not really, they had just heard it somewhere and though it was funny. It had become just kind of a joke name to us since then. But now, faced with no decision on a new name, the name surfaced again in the ridiculous category. We argued and shouted and went away pretty much at an impasse about what to do for a name.

It turned out that one of the owners of the "Casuals On The Square", the name of the new club, had been in the back of the room while we were attempting to reach a consensus on our new name. He heard the name, figured that was it. The club's publicist went with it and within a couple of days the ads were out in all the local papers. Stark Naked & The Car Thieves, Opening in Jack London Square! My first frantic thought was to find someone and get this error changed. As a band, we were somewhere between pissed off and scared to death and decided we should get it changed before it ruined us, but the club owners told is it was just tooStark Naked & the Car Thieves at Casuals on the Square, Oakland, CA 1965 late. The signs were ordered, the ads and flyers were out and if we wanted to have a different name, fine but opening night at the Casuals, we were Stark Naked & The Car Thieves. Get used to it!

So we did the opening week and used that name figuring it was only a week, we'd come up with a more innocuous name when we returned to the Towne Club in Hayward. We hadn't counted on the Dave Rapkin who owned the Galaxie in San Francisco's very hot north beach district. He offered the band a year contract, but we had to keep the name. No small wonder since his club featured topless dancers. Meanwhile, Herb Caen, fabled society columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle had picked up on the name and decided he'd use it in his column just about as often as he could work it into his column. We were now officially Stark Naked & the Car Thieves, dragged kicking and screaming, but with no doubt about it.

 !  Steve Allen's part in this name.

We found out much later, when we went on Steve Allen's variety television show, that Steve had actually created this name. He used to have a routine where he would take two hats and place all singular nouns in one hat and plural nouns in another and randomly pull them out to form outlandish names.

"After we performed on the show (it was live then), I was supposed to go over to his desk and talk to him about it. I forgot, didn't go to the desk so we never really got to find out more about it then that."

The Wrong Checkmates

The Towne Club







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