Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Oklahoma Rock History: "The Death of the Green Door"

"A Final Word on The Green Door" by Danny Marroquin

(originally published at

I discovered rock and roll at the Green Door.

So did a mosh pit full of high school students like me. We crashed into each other at The Voodoo Glow Skulls and looked too cool for our black t-shirts at The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (a show that seemingly everyone attended). The Door was the only thing of its kind in Oklahoma City: a rock club that catered to punk and indie rock sensibilities, styles and music, open to all local acts, intriguing to alternative rock bands on the cusp of radio wishes and MTV dreams. And the fact that it was open to all ages made the beery fumes of the Door’s checkered tile floor kick up the rankest of allure that was irresistible to anyone under 2, and over. We discovered rock and roll because the Green Door didn’t ground us. Because we could.

And that was the secret to the Green Door’s success: exclusivity in a town in the 90’s that thought its youth forgot about rock and roll. A music fan, Reggy Wheat, thought Oklahoma City needed a mid-sized club, so he built one on air conditioning loans and a love for Johnny Cash and hardcore punk music. In the shelf life of the nightlife, it was a wonder it lasted five years

“It was our CBGBs in almost every sense, we even had the nasty toilet,” says former Gazette Music Editor George Lang. “And we’ve got great clubs now, but I’ll tell you this, losing the Green Door was very sad because it really felt like the passing of an era. When something like that happens you wonder if anything will fill that void.”

By all accounts the all-ages policy at the Green Door would become the double-edged sword. But as soon as doors were open in 2001 local bands like The Roustabouts, Klipspringer, Twenty Minutes to Vegas became mainstays and so did their fans.

“The locals are what made us what we were,” Wheat says. “The whole market grew because of the locals. When we first opened we had six local bands to pull from. So the local bands were playing all the damn time. If you had a punk band you had three bands to choose from…Go (today) to Oklahoma Rock [the website] and it’s blown up, it’s ridiculous, it’s great to see. That was our goal in opening the place.”

And then Reggy brought in the big guns: Atilla 20/20, Agnostic Front,…And you will know us by the Trail of Dead. Local bands could now play with punk and indie icons.

“It just blew the hell up with,” says Reggy Wheat. “I’m not talking about crowds, they didn’t come initially. There was a need for the touring bands. We were the gap that a lot of smaller bands needed. We were cool with fifteen, twenty, thirty, whatever; if it was good music, we liked it, we would book it.”

Skater culture, art snobbery, adolescent angst, punk rock, and death metal all collided in the rattiest part of Oklahoma City, 8911 N. Western, partly because Wheat grew up skating and listening to punk rock with friends at Westmoore High School. Back then, opening a club that played their kind of music (Bad Wizard, The Jesus Lizard), and in Oklahoma, was the stuff of dreams. And local bands answered the call.

“They jump started the whole scene and gave a place for local bands,” says Ty

Kamm, bassist of Klipspringer. “It definitely changed things in that it brought a mid-sized venue to the area. Even before they moved to Bricktown they still kind of became the spot for the touring bands to stop. The city was a cool place to stop after all.”

Post-punk band Hopes the Carrot, now broken up with two members living in Houston, spent dozens of shows finding their voice at the Green Door.

“Reggy made a good impression on us, all us local musicians,” Carrot front man Matt Nabors said. “He gave us that chance to play with bigger bands. That, well, it boosted our self-esteem. I still brag about the bands we got to play with. It made us feel like we were really living the dream. It really made us local musicians feel like we were somebody instead of playing with like 20 to 30 kids.”

Meanwhile, high school students were growing up with the Green Door, etching into their cerebral scrapbooks.

Hunter Daniels grew up as ‘one of those punk kids’ at The Green Door.

“That [Voodoo Glow Skulls show] was one of the best shows,” Daniels said. “The Queers, the Mad Caddies also. The Suicide [Machines] show. It was a good venue. I liked the old Green Door because it was so small. The thing I noticed was that even when I was of the legal drinking age I noticed there was a lot of younger kids. And, of course, the scene is the young kids. I think a lot of people forget that. That the young kids are the future of the scene. That’s what I liked about the Green Door. They didn’t discriminate.”

Many bands and fans alike saw intimate, dance a thons with Hot Hot Heat and the post 9/11 jam sessions with the White Stripes (“Jack White was break dancing with everyone,” Wheat remembers). These shows would go down in Green Door lore.

“It was the greatest show of my life. The White Stripes were my favorite band at the time, me and my friend were two hours early and were eating Sonic on the curb,” remembers OU senior Kevin Costello. “And there sits Jack White right next to us and starts just talking to us. He asked us if we liked the music and I told him my favorite album was De Stijl. And, then, there was an upholstery shop next door so he started talking about when he was a carpenter.”

Even if the music wasn’t the watershed moment of the evening, everyone remembers The Jukebox which Reggy stocked with TLC. In a Clear Channel world the box was a throwback emanated the Door’s musty scent while “Ring of Fire” played precursor to just about every Green Door performance.

“The best jukebox in punk rock,” Wheat says. “People played the shit out of that even before he died. In all honesty I beat myself in the head for this because I am lazy. I started with 400 CDs and whittled it down to the ones I wanted to hear every night. One, the shit I thought people should be exposed to, two the shit that I like, and [three] some stuff that maybe some people have never heard of, along with the classics. The old school punk had to be in there, the new school punk, and just the legendary shit like Cash and Elvis and James Brown, you know you just can’t do without that kind of stuff. Of course at the new location we put in some new stuff like the Trail of Dead and the emo stuff, just to keep people happy.”

The problem was that not enough happy people were able to help Reggy match the guarantees he was making with bands. When Wheat snatched the sold-out Electric Six/Junior Senior show, Lang called the show a paradigm shift in Oklahoma music where radio support from 105.3 The Spy generated an interest among the passive radio listeners needed to keep a venue afloat.

“The Electric Six was a show where you had all the deejays, myself include promoting the hell out of it,” Lang says. “You had this band that was really hot. You had guys who dress up like Abe Lincoln with the words Gay Bar painted across their chests. I think when you have press interested in music, not to promote, but for the press to cover the music, you don’t always have that. The radio has to play the music enthusiastically if you have a venue and an active local scene. Everything was in synch. Sadly, when you reach that point, nothing stays perfect.”

Eventually Citadel replaced The Spy with a more profitable Tejano station. The scene was splintered between Green Door, Opolis, The Conservatory and Bricktown Live. And the Scott Booker spawned Live was grabbing pop acts Reggy didn’t get (Kings of Leon, The Killers).

With the jukebox additions came accommodations like higher guarantees for big draws including The Electric Six and the Vans Tour. Hank III cancelled a show on site. By and by, the sojourn to Bricktown marked a degradation and a passing of that intimate era that everyone attributes to the old Door.

Today Wheat mumbles in his trademark staccato speak, “I wish they would’ve told me that,” when talking about the club goers who didn’t follow. Gianni Santille, who now runs The Conservatory on the Green Door’s former grounds, booked hundreds of shows with Reggy and continues to do so today. Santille remembers Reggy’s ambition to spread the scene out.

“He said he was shopping for a bigger room,” Santille said. “He wanted to get some of the bigger shows that would sell out the current location. (Our) First concern was the parking. Second concern was the scene down there. I think everyone was skeptical because of the added expenses and the established location but Reggy was determined to try.”

Purists who courted intimacy didn’t follow when Reggy opted for greener pastures in Bricktown. Bands like Fall Out Boy still came on their ascension to Spin magazine cover status, but Reggy was still left with the tab. When he opted not to renew his liquor license, scene watchers appeared concerned. For the last eight months of The Green Door’s Bricktown stay, space owner and Bricktown institution David Box supported Wheat as best he could by covering rent.

“I saw a lot of me in Reggy,” Box says. “I had Roam and The Edge in Norman and I didn’t want to give those up. But the lifespan of a club is short. When you are in business it’s a tough gig. He lived it. As you get older you’ve go to make a living. I want the scene to do well.

“I tried to do as much as a I could. You’re dealing with younger kids and less cover charge. I really wanted him to make it. I don’t think Bricktown is really ready for it [a punk rock venue]. You’ve got crowds split. With Norman you have Opolis and Campus Corner. You’ve got so much going on, so many people fighting for that entertainment dollar. When you talk about not a lot of local radio support, The KATT and The Buzz do a good job with what they have; they have sell advertising. It’s got to be driven by the people. Who knows, if I found the right venue, I’d put Reggy right back in it.”

Reggy prepared for the final farewell weekend by lining himself up with a job peddling rides at Chrysler Jeep in Norman and figuring out how he and his new family of wife and child would handle the $10,000 worth of debt accrued over the five year span of the Door. The final two shows would be that last sweet taste of what was once good. The Roustabouts would play, Twenty Minutes to Vegas would play. Oklahoma Rock posted fond memories. American Ruse and Hopes the Carrot would reunite.

The first night was a success. The last weekend was a success.

“They were incredible,” Wheat says. “The reunions were icing on the cake. Having one last good time, talking about old times, paying final respects to the place was incredible. But having The Roustabouts play their old style of music and the American Ruse reunion. Crowds were great, people great, didn’t have to kick anybody out.

“It was an incredible weekend. If it would’ve been like that the whole time we would’ve never shut down. Saturday night was probably the best night we had in history as far as bar sales.”

And while the wine flowed just the same on the second night, an undercurrent, a wound of bitterness and resentment was exposed by a tirade on the low state of the music scene from a drunk Hopes the Carrot’s Matt Nabors. Twenty Minutes of Vegas was subsequently called back to the stage so the show could go out on a good note.

“Circumstances were disrespectful,” Nabors admits. “But it wasn’t meant to be a slash at Reggy or anything, it was more upset at the way things were going. It just seems like four years ago every band sounded completely different. Everyone went to those shows. Nowadays most of the bands out there sound the shame. (There’s) a loss of creativity and lack of people doing the footwork, getting people to come out. If people were doing that, places like the Green Door wouldn’t have to close.”

Imagine the sound of silence and you can place a handle on how Reggy felt as everyone went home that night. With memories in the can, Reggy Wheat waits in suburban purgatory for the response of the music Gods, who give us people crazy enough to start punk clubs like the Green Door and maintain them. Reggy couldn’t make the routine clean up that night. He went home and let the finality of it sink in. He would wait for another day to fashion the joint for the market.

Today the Door on that empty building in MAPS Bricktown is still Green, while more and more fantastic music stops in Oklahoma City. There are shows we never would have dreamed of in the nineties. And Reggy, with a new haircut and a new job has, if nothing else, the final satisfaction of knowing his ghetto-fied experiment made Oklahoma the proverbial bridge connecting the coast driven worlds of rock to Oklahoma City.

No comments: