Living after Blackouts

Bored and raised in Butt Fucking Egypt, on a small farm in the tiny town of Odell, Ill., Living Blue singer-guitarist Stephen Ucherek’s future looked no brighter than selling dime bags in the halls and getting caught finger-banging intoxicated prom queens.

The 1979 cult-flick Over the Edge, whose tagline is “a real story of teenage rebellion,” showed us that not all kids are all right, especially when they’re bored. Getting mocked by jocks and having the law laid down by Bible-thumping parents didn’t help Ucherek, but unlike the Edge characters portrayed by Vincent Spano and Matt Dillon, his was a rock ’n’ roll rebellion that had nothing to do with drugs and violence.

He spent days and nights away from home listening to records with his buds. He soon met guitarist Joe Prokop and drummer Mark Schroder, who were playing in a band with Ucherek’s bass-playing older brother, Ben. A band formed.

“I got into punk rock through Joe,” Ucherek says, adding that he listened to the Misfits and “all things SST.” The quartet became obsessed with garage revivalists, namely the Cramps.

The band packed its bags and upgraded to a more sufficient place to rock — Champaign, Ill. Dubbed the Bloody Knuckles, the group began playing house parties. Bassist Ben bailed, and a local guy was brought in as a replacement. The Bloody Knuckles became the Blackouts, played dive bars, and self-released an EP that caught the attention of the tiny Lucid records.

The Blackouts made a splash: They released two albums, had three songs used on WB’s One Tree Hill, and won Little Steven’s hotly contested and media-hyped Battle of the Bands. The victory earned them a live slot on MTV2. Not bad.

It was their second album, Living in Blue, that prompted Jim Powers, head of the Chicago-based Minty Fresh Records, to sign the band to his label. And upon the realization that that every city in the country has its own tattooed-and-kohl-eyed rock combo called the Blackouts, the band changed its name to Living Blue. “There were just too many,” Ucherek says.

What’s in a name, anyway? The band hasn’t changed that much outside of yet another new bass player in Andrew Davidson. “We’re pretty much the same band,” Ucherek says.

Last month, Minty released Living Blue’s “debut,” the ’60s-ish, kick-shit-up Fire, Blood, Water. “Like it or not, the garage rock revival is not over yet,” Billboard magazine wrote. “There’s still at least one more crop of fresh-faced, snotty rockers out to prove their worth.”

The fresh-faced and snotty part is correct. And the band is hardly living the life of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Ucherek spends his days as a cook in a small restaurant where bassist Davidson washes dishes. Now that’s rock ’n’ roll. “I’m pretty lucky though,” Ucherek says. “They’re pretty understanding [at the restaurant], and we can take off to tour, no problem. At one point, you kind of have to find a job like this.”

Despite the grunt work, Ucherek is happy now that his band is on a good indie label that has national distribution, and playing shows when they can. It’s a far cry from Podunk existence. More importantly, the singer’s lifestyle is finally accepted by his folks, who no longer think of him as a “total heathen.”

“My mom listened to the new album,” Ucherek says. “She said it was ‘OK.’”


Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the Lager House, 1254 Michigan, Detroit; 313-961-4668. 21 & up.

Luke Allen Hackney is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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