Just Plain Big spawned amidst the glamourless circumstance that was grunge in 1992. Original members Matt Hurray, Scott Woods, Miki Janicen and Robert Gurieb set out to breathe life back into a spiritually bereft music scene. They started at a local level, hitting Orange County clubs with a mixture of high energy cover songs and a tight set of British-style punk rock originals. Those of us fortunate enough to be involved in this scene were relieved to find that the downer brought on by corporate rock's focus on the pacific northwest had not been able to eliminate joy from the club experience altogether.
JPB managed to release a small (due to the limited space allowed by 78rpm vinyl) collection of original songs and a music video in its original incarnation, shortly before personality issues took root and Gurieb resigned his position as lead guitar/vocalist. A blow to the band, yes, due to both his writing and composing talents, but not exactly a case of love lost.
The 3 remaining members reflected deeply on the situation..., for about half of a Pabst Blue Ribbon, then got in touch with the successor. Canbe had worked for years with Woods, both in Burnt Party Host and on solo studio projects, as well as with Hurray in an experimental outfit named Spank. From the very first rehearsal they agreed that the band's new path fit even better than the previous one. Within a short period of time the line-up morphed further with the addition of Mike Hardesty to supplement the already powerful vocal line-up, as well as to add color to the stage production. Hardesty, though inexperienced by garage-band standards, brought with him a resume of musical theatre stage work that would make even the late-Freddie Mercury blush.
By summer of '94, Just Plain Big had become a solid draw around OC and had begun to branch out to the surrounding counties of San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Barbara. While big-name out-of-town acts would bring in a few dozen fans, JPB would bring in hundreds as a warm-up band. The fivesome had a couple releases under their belt, as well as a role in a Orange County compilation cd called "Coast Highway". With positive reviews from a variety of sources including Mike Boehm of the Los Angeles Times, they decided it was time to take the show on the road. The 'Pacific States Tour' became the stuff of legend even before it came to a close. The First Amendment violation issue in Fresno, the naked gig w/newly acquainted go-go girls in Portland and the Sierra Nevada delivery truck hi-jacking in Humboldt had the band banned from the three cities for some time after. That which transpired in Berkeley remains unmentionable for much the same reason. Suffice it to say, spirits were light and frivolity reigned in '94.
Back in Southern California, good news would follow. A small label, Double Deuce, with BIG distribution, Caroline Records, wanted JPB in their stable. It didn't take much to sort it out and the band began recording its first full-length disc in early '95. The process would take its toll and by the time Pets Sound hit the market later that year, the band weighed-in light one member. In an attempt to correct difficulties within the studio, founding member Miki Janicen was terminated from the group, though some of his grinding rhthym guitar work remains to support the album. As time wore on, the remaining foursome realized that this move had been an unfortunate error in judgement on each of their parts. Any flaws to the record or complications in the recording process had been no fault of Janicen. Fortunately, Miki's friendship remained, despite the band's false step.
Radio play had become a serious consideration in the summer of '95. Not just the 'college-station-somewhere-in-the-corn-belt-at-3am' kind of radio, but KROQ in Los Angeles. Just Plain Big songs were chosen on more than one occasion as "Pick-to-Click" winners by prominant prime-time DJ's. While regular rotation remained several steps away, it was clear that progress could be made in the corporate record industry of the the '90's. The question remained: How? Just how were other local favorites bridging the gap between a large local following and national exposure? Without naming names we can safely conclude that originality of the compositions and raw talent had not factored as largely into the equation as, perhaps, image-marketing had. Something JPB always understood but had trouble overcoming due to their dedication to forever remaining beach bumpkins
So like tens of thousands of other bands in the mid-90's, JPB set off like Dorothy on her wide-eyed journey to OZ. Only in this case, the seekers hoped to find the answer by courting the industry beast, rather than running from it. A video was completed in order to demonstrate their boyish good looks and physical agility, which ranged from lip-syncing to beach acrobatics, with some voluptuous Ukrainian T&A thrown into the mix. A talented radio consultant with years of experience in the "alternative" market was called in to help shape the band's image. Even auditions with prominent record executives and producers were arranged and executed. One such engagement involved a gentleman who had been instrumental in such success stories as the Pointer Sisters. Certainly all this would lead them to the exposure and success they sought, wouldn't it?
Somewhere along the lines, the band managed to fit in a massive (self-financed) recording project which resulted in 2 albums worth of material. To Stuff a Wild Bikini wound up being released on Balboa Records, a small local label, and served to shop the band around in search of a larger label with substantial promotional support. The rest of the material, tentatively titled Tierra del Verano remains in a vault somewhere east of Adelanto, California, waiting for an opportunity to escape and seek revenge as might an un-dead creature from a Wes Craven film.
A tour covering the midwest, south and southwestern states of the U.S. in November and December of 1995 was met with great enthusiasm at all stops. They had a chance to meet and perform with James Mercer (now of the Shins) in Albuquerque, recorded a couple of tracks at one of Elvis' secret hideaways in Memphis, brought down the house in Oxford Mississippi and fit themselves into the bill of a gay pride festival in New Orleans. No, it didn't compare to being invited to Woodstock, the US Festival or the Lollapalooza Tour, but the roadtrip proved that Just Plain Big could steal the show at any venue it so chose.
Upon the band's return it became clear that a change of course was in order for several members. Canbe defected to the tropics for a time while the others put finishing touches on Bikini. Eventually a few hundred discs made the rounds with radio stations and record companies across the lower-48, garnering positive commentary but no response on the level necessary to re-invigorate the post-modern minstrals. In other words, the band came to a halt. Hurray and Hardesty worked on solo projects while Woods entertained a temporary spot drumming for Big Saver, now known as the Santiago Steps (with whom he continues to work!). In the latter half of '96, Hardesty and Canbe combined talents and material to record and release a record titled Nineteen Ninety-Sixty-Seven. Hardesty and Woods were called upon to support Canbe on his score for an independent film by the name of Girl Cottage in 1997. The studio appeared to have become post-Just Plain Big's haven.
Then in spring of '98, a locust crawled up the leg of one of the members and a southern California assalt was again mounted and underway. The pretense of seeking out massive exposure had become moot, but the primary goal remained: they were out to share a good time with people who went to shows to have fun...
And that we did. Right up to the fairwell show at the now deceased Kona Lanes in Costa Mesa in September. A fitting finale for one of popular music's least-potentialized forerunners, who never got a chance to be has-beens.
On occasion someone wonders aloud, "Where are they now?" If I'm within earshot I sometimes take the time to give the update, saying something like, "Well, a couple of them have kids now. They all have real jobs, house payments, that sort of thing." I might expand upon it if prodded by the right sole', if, for example, we're in a comfortable bar and sincere interest is expressed. "Yeah, they all still write music and play, sometimes a couple of them will even get together live or in the studio. There still coming up with alot of good stuff, and there's definitely more to come. I've got just about everything they've ever done in any incarnation."
And if someone ever asks me something like, "D'ya think they'll ever get back together and play again? Ya know, as Just Plain Big?" I nod my head vaguely, as if I know something no one else does, "Ya never can tell...,"
"But I've heard some rumors lately........"