The Greatest Band That Never WasMar 07, 2017
Editor’s Note: By sheer coincidence, all of the members of Nerve Damage just happen to be the sponsors of the 2017 Best of Moore & South OKC Awards - Richie Splitt (Norman Regional Health Services), John Ireland (John Ireland Funeral Home), Chad Cobble (Chad Cobble Insurance), Dee Ann Gay (1st United Bank), Dee O'Dell (Diamond DeeLite Jewelry), Frank Randall (Randall's Heat & Air), Richard Yarber (Kustom Krete) and Jake Shockley (Physical Therapy Central Moore). We cannot verify if this is a true story...but the Moore Monthly is a lifestyle magazine with an emphasis on entertainment, so we’re just going to go with the flow. Are you not entertained?
The decade of the 80’s was a spectacular time of change for music. It was the dawn of the MTV age, a time when music fans could sit in the glow of their cable-enhanced rooms and watch their favorite bands cavort across the small screen in awkward videos. Nobody cared that, in retrospect, the videos were awful. There was Skid Row, Cinderella, Poison, Guns N’ Roses, and RATT cavorting around right in front of us.
It was this perfect musical environment that gave birth to one of the greatest bands that never quite made it to the big time. And wonder of all wonders, the doctor slapped this baby on the cheeks right here in Moore, Oklahoma…and the cries of that band still echo through the ages.
Welcome to the jungle and the beginning of The Greatest Band That Never Was: Nerve Damage!
The story of the band that almost made it big began when wrestler Richie Splitt and classmate John Ireland met up for an impromptu jam session at Ireland’s house in the spring of 1984. Splitt, on guitar, and Ireland, a bass player, spent most of that first evening arguing over whether Wham or Flock of Seagulls was the better band. But while they couldn’t come to terms with their favorite band, they decided on the spot to join forces in pursuit of a musical dream.
“I had this burning inside me,” said Splitt, “Most people thought I was listening to my Walkman to get pumped up for matches, it was more like the music was calling my name.”
Ireland said, “I would wake up in the middle of the night with these amazing bass licks running through my mind, but I could never quite remember all of them. Drove me nuts!”
The band picked up steam when Splitt heard teammate Richard Yarber playing guitar on an unusually long wrestling road trip. The two talked about music on the bus ride, and by the time they made it back home, another member had been added to the band.
“I hated Wham and Flock of Seagulls,” said Yarber, “But Richie and John could play like nobody’s business and so I thought starting a band was a cool idea.”
The band added a keyboard player when Jake Shockley just happened to be riding his skateboard by Splitt’s house one Saturday morning. Shockley was going through a bit of a fashion transition period at the time.
“I was a preppie at the time,” said Jake Shockley, “Totally into the whole Izod and Swatch thing. Double-popped collar cool. But when I heard the totally tubular sound those guys were cranking out, it was total glam metal time for me, dude.”
The band added a drummer who quickly turned out to be a disaster. Fortunately, Dee Ann Gay came to their rescue.
“Their drummer was this dork with a mullet,” said Gay, “And talk about bad. He was the worst.”
Gay came on board to replace him and shortly after, the most unusual member of the band joined up. Gay’s cousin, Frank Randall, had been obsessed with the triangle since childhood and when she mentioned the newly-formed band to him, he pulled out the triangle and put his skills on display.
“I kept it with me at all times,” said Randall, “You know because you never know when you’re gonna be inspired to create music.”
Randall remembers Gay’s response as wide-eyed amazement. Gay admits being wide-eyed but says amazement wasn’t the exact emotion she felt.
“Frankly, it was a bit awkward,” said Gay, “The idea of a triangle in a rock band isn’t exactly one that leaps to the front of the mind.”
But Randall persisted and managed to convince the band to add the triangle to the lineup, and in the end, the move led to the band deciding on its iconic name. It happened during a practice session when Randall was a bit overly enthusiastic with the triangle. Tensions were running high because the group was having trouble deciding on a song list for an upcoming club performance and Randall started banging on the triangle.
“It’s amazing how much volume Frank could generate with that stupid piece of metal,” said Splitt. “It was driving us crazy!”
Richard Yarber said, “I finally yelled at Frank, ‘Stop banging that danged thing! You’re getting on my nerves!’”
Ireland chimed in, claiming that he’d read that noises like those being played by Randall had been scientifically proven to give nearby listeners nerve damage.
“As soon as I said, ‘nerve damage,’” said Ireland, “The room just went dead silent, and we all looked at each other.”
Nerve Damage was born, and the mad race to musical stardom was about to take off.
During their first year, the band struggled to find its musical identity. Nerve Damage performed primarily as a cover band for the first few months, then took a disastrous turn for a two-week stint as a Boy George tribute band. They quickly realized the need to chart their own course. Fortunately, Shockley found inspiration for the band’s signature sound while working at his part-time job at a local burger joint.
“Ground and pound, baby,” said Shockley, “It was all about grinding and pounding the beef until it made a perfect burger, and that makes a perfect melody.”
I knew right from the beginning
That you would end up winnin'
I knew right from the start
You'd put a burger through my heart
Ground and pound
With beef we’ll find a way
Just give it time
Ground and pound
What comes around goes around
“Ground and Pound” helped Nerve Damage make the transition from cover band to full-on glam metal status. The band quickly picked up a following playing clubs and dances all over the Sooner State. The band’s first big break came when their growing popularity led to them being added to the line-up for one of the biggest benefit shows in the region, Manure Aid. The booking came as a result of hard work by their new manager, Dee O’Dell.
“Everybody wanted to put on one of those ‘aid” concerts,” said O’Dell. “Live Aid, Farm Aid, Kool Aid. So all of these beef farmers convinced us to put together a show to benefit them.”
Nerve Damage was chosen to open for Great White, one of the more popular hair bands at the time. The show was a tremendous success, and Great White lead singer Mark Kendall ended up spending a little time backstage with the members of Nerve Damage.
“He was a really cool guy,” said Splitt. “He actually sat in and jammed with us after the show.”
Yarber said, “We were all pretty surprised to learn that they knew the lyrics to ‘Ground and Pound,' probably better than we did.”
Stardom seemed like the next inevitable step in the life of Nerve Damage, but as happens with nearly all great ensembles, tension began to grow. The source of the trouble: Frank’s growing frustration at having no chances to showcase his beloved triangle.
“The triangle is a not a back row instrument,” said Randall. “It deserves time in the spotlight.”
Unfortunately for Frank, no one else in the band agreed with his high opinion of the triangle.
“It really is a nice instrument,” said Shockley, “But it only plays one note, for crying out loud. What can you do with one note?”
Randall disagreed, “It only takes one note to pierce someone’s heart if that note’s played at the right time.”
Even Gay, who was Randall’s cousin, had a hard time accepting his demands for a more prominent role in the band.
“I get it, I get it,” said Gay, “It’s a percussion instrument, and I can appreciate that. But let’s be honest here; my Chihuahua could play the triangle.”
So, Randall left the group and formed his own band, Three Corners of Truth. His high hopes for musical success were dashed when every song TCOT wrote consisted of one note, the only note a triangle could play. Even as TCOT was falling apart, Nerve Damage was struggling to find a replacement for Randall.
“We tried a cowbell player for a while,” said Ireland, “But he was crappy. The same with some guys who played wood blocks, maracas, and castanets. So finally Frank agreed to come back to Nerve Damage.”
The band got back together in November of 1986. Splitt remembers them all sitting around the night before the Thanksgiving trying to come up with a new song.
“We were watching some MTV and somebody started talking about their favorite Thanksgiving food,” said Splitt. “It didn’t take long for the focus to turn to gravy.”
Ireland said, “My grandmother’s giblet gravy was the best.”
As the band bantered about their favorite types of gravy, Shockley was hit with an inspiration.
“I started thinking about this hot chick, pouring out a big bucket of gravy on me,” said Shockley.
Splitt remembers the moment Shockley mentioned the image and the music and lyrics just came pouring out.
“Pour some gravy on me,” said Splitt. “The song really just wrote itself.
Gravy’s like a bomb baby c'mon get it on
Drippin’ over biscuits with a big hambone
Runnin’ thick and hot, gimme everything you’ve got
Gravy-pourin’ woman, can I be your man? (Your man)
Pour some gravy on me
Ooh in the name of love
Pour some gravy on me
C’mon soak it up
Pour your gravy on me
Ooh I can’t get enough
I’m hot, sticky greased
From my head to my feet, yeah!
The melody was a winner for O’Dell, but as the band’s manager, he was having trouble with the lyrics.
“Who wants to have gravy poured on ‘em,” said O’Dell, “What am I? A chicken-fried steak? A biscuit? Honey or cranberry sauce I can understand, but gravy?”
In spite of the O’Dell’s misgivings, the band stayed with the lyrics and performed the song for the first time at a show in Enid. As luck would have it, a hot-shot record company scout was in that audience.
Yarber said, “This guy came over after our set and was just going crazy about ‘Pour Some Gravy on Me.’”
The scout wanted to take a demo out to his bosses in Los Angeles and promised it was going to be an easy sell. The members of Nerve Damage felt like they were finally ready to hit the big-time. But their hopes were dashed less than six weeks later.
“I was driving down 19th Street listening to the radio when our song started playing,” said Splitt. “Only it wasn’t our lyrics. They’d been changed to ‘Pour some sugar on me.’”
Realizing their song had been stolen, Splitt gathered to band members together to talk about a course of action. Yarber and Gay wanted to physically confront Def Leppard, but as the band talked about how they might do it, reality set in. Nerve Damage had been passed by, and their chance at stardom was gone. And so, after two years of chasing their musical dreams, the members of the band parted ways and faded into musical history as one of the greatest bands that never was.