Tina Bell Photo by Cyndia Lavik
Bam Bam Photo By Photo by David Ledgerwood
When the late 80’s-90’s was invaded with a new Rock sub-genre that was dubbed as Grunge, it became synonymous with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Hole. If you research further back to 1983 you will hear the beginning of that sound in the music by a band called Bam-Bam. They were fronted by Tina Bell, an electrifying woman of African descent.
If Nirvana and Pearl Jam are inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then Bam Bam should be just as celebrated. In Brazilian publications such as Sopa Alternativa, Negras No Underground and Metaleiras Negras they have been paying homage to the depths of their legacy. Slowly but surely the same is unearthing in the USA. Here is my offering through this brilliant interview with Tina Bell’s bandmate and longtime friend Scotty “Buttocks” Ledgerwood. It will set the crown straight on their rightful place in history.
Years the band active:
Bam Bam was active 1983-1990 with Tina and for about two more years as an instrumental three piece.
Samantha Hollins: What is your position in Bam-Bam?
Scotty Buttocks: I was an original member of Bam Bam; bass & vocals and I co-wrote most of Bam Bam’s music with Tommy & Tina. I was Tina Bell’s manager in her final years and all of Bam Bam’s music has been published through my company Buttocks Productions. My greatest honor in Bam Bam was being Tina’s friend for 30 years.
Samantha Hollins: What’s the story behind your stage name Bam-Bam? I love it! It compliments your sound.
Scotty Buttocks: Bam Bam is an acronym of Tina Bell & Tommy Martin’s names; Bell & Martin-Bam Bam. Plus we liked the percussive sound of it!
Speaking of names: It was Tina who dubbed me Scotty Buttocks. We were taping the “Ground Zero” video when the titles guy asked how my name was spelled. She immediately piped up: “B-U-T-T-O-…”. It stuck. Tommy used to say “it’s a happy name”! (ha ha) Yeah I ‘spose it is. Thank you Ms. Bell!
Photo by David Ledgerwood
Samantha Hollins: How did Bam-Bam meet?
Scotty Buttocks: Tommy & Tina met when Tina needed a French tutor so she could sing C’est Si Bon win French; Eartha Kitt style for a Langston Hughes Theatre production she was in. She answered Tommy’s ad and love at 1st sight sparky eyed kinda stuff happened! They got married, had TJ and formed a band.. you know; typical American family stuff.
I also answered one of Tommy’s ads in the Rocket: “forming new punk band; need bassist”. I guess the Rocket Magazine got the three of us together.
Matt Cameron joined us later that summer when we stole him from a local cover band. (Mercenaries)!
Samantha Hollins: What was the vibe like when you met Tina Bell for the first time?
Scotty Buttocks: Meeting Tina for the first time was a little intimidating, actually. Tommy let me in and we talked a bit before he led me back to the studio where she sat waiting. She was extremely confident but not at all arrogant and she looked soooo beautiful!
She asked a couple questions, then sussed me up with a long look and just like that: I was in. We were like, instant old friends. We remained very close friends until her death. I’m still close with her family.
Photo by David Ledgerwood
Samantha Hollins: I loved the music you shared with me in 2019 when I was gearing up for my exhibition in Philadelphia. I am curious to know more about your studio sessions. When Tina went in the booth to sing what was that process like for her and the band?
Scotty Buttocks: Tina loved performing live but hated the studio environment. She got restless hanging around. And she grew fast annoyed at having to do repeated takes!
On our 1st day at Reciprocal Recording Studio with Chris Hanzsek, Tommy literally blew out the windows with his Marsha Marsha Marsha (Marshall amp) apparently cranked up to 11. It literally blew the glass out of the window frames like some dick movie from the 80s.
It did not sit well with Chris (It was still sorta fucking funny,; though). We were kinda freaking: “oh..sorry Chris..” ..’had no idea man’.. while Tina was like: “Mmmpphhh! – No fucking way, Martin! Hahahahahahahaha”!! For some reason that amused her. I guess it made the studio environment more tolerable that day.
Usually we had everything pretty much worked out before we’d go in. Budget constraints didn’t allow us to shag shit out while on the clock.
Still delays are inevitable. During the session for “Free Fall From Space“, they were having trouble dealing with her ‘dynamics’; changing mics and shit. After several false starts and a couple seemingly good takes not kept, Tinablew up at Tommy & producer Chris Hanzsek for her having to do so many takes of the “watch me FAAAALLLLLLL” part. Fun part was though they were standing right there, she turned to ME and screamed: “SCOTTY! How many times they gonna make me do this?! WHAT the fuck’s the matter with them”?! (hehheh) Yeah she didn’t like studios!
That was a difficult song to record. On “Free Fall…” she goes from a sexy coo at the intro to a blood curdling wail on the “watch me FAAAALLLLL” part. Tina’s voice could stun with a whisper or a shriek. I still get shudders when I listen to her.
Samantha Hollins: All the high energy I hear in your music makes me want to know what was a Bam-Bam rehearsal like? Did songs come out of of your it? Where did they take place?}
Scotty Buttocks: Bam Bam rehearsed and wrote most of our songs at Tommy’s home studio in Central Seattle. We did our “Bam Bam House Demo ’84” album there. From Spring thru all the Summer of ’83 we did nothing but write for hours on end, 5-6 full days a week. No social life. It’s ALL we did for months.
Later we rehearsed (& wrote) out of a place called the Blue Room, where I think every other Seattle band from the Gits to Gas Huffer has worked.
Bam Bam rehearsals could be anything from a lazy-hot afternoon-reggae dub jam to a vicious slash and burn punk metal rant. We usually focused on 1-2 specific tracks but always left room to just go off into some completely different (sometimes fucked up) direction. We’d do it to take a break from our main set list but occasionally it led to new material.
Tommy & I usually did the riffs & rhythms (til we got a drummer) and Tina usually did the lyrics & melody, but each of us also did the other.
When I was in Bam Bam, writing was a real group effort. We’d start with a basic riff (usually Tommy’s) then tweak & twist the shit around til it resembled music, while Tina’d stand there trying out melody lines & lyrics to see if they’d fit.
The three of us having to play without a drummer for several months sucked ass but it also helped us to see potential shortcomings in songs we may have missed with Matt or Tom (Hendrickson) bashing away!
I remember in the early days ending rehearsal with us all lying on the floor (for some reason) facing each other going over what we’d done that day, dicking with lyrics and reminding each other just how cool we were! (haha) So fucking innocent then…
Samantha Hollins: What was the inspiration that evoked the songwriting and over all sound of the Bam-Bam?
Scotty Buttocks: Life.
“Heinz 57” was Tina’s revenge toward racist shit-brained kids who used the term to taunt her in school for being mixed race.
“Ground Zero” was about living across Puget Sound from Bangor US Navy submarine base.
“Stress” is about just making it day to day.
“Villains (also wear white)” is about rape & abuse.
“Swing Set” is simple flirting.
A lot of Bam Bam songs were rooted in real life experiences. Not always but often.
Like a lot of people back then, we felt there was something missing in music. We hated Pop & the arena bands but Punk wasn’t enough. We wanted music with energy and real subjects but we also wanted it from people who actually knew how to play.
Yeah we liked Punk, but we also liked Reggae, 70s Prog Rock, BOC 1st 3 albums, R&B, Glam, Surf, 60s stuff like Janis, Yardbirds, Love, Hendrix..
I still can’t easily describe Bam Bam’s sound. Tina hated being asked about what kind of music we played. She’d say “I don’t know. I’m just the singer; ask the band”!
Photo by Cyndia Lavik
Samantha Hollins: As I look at old footage of your shows back in the day I am captivated by the band’s invigorating connection and sound. What were those gig days like?
Scotty Buttocks: Playing live with Tina Bell was one of my life’s greatest pleasures and honors. She was an absolute joy to work with. She’d help bring out my best particularly when we’d be working on our vocals together. I learned a lot from her.
Tina’s on stage presence was Rock-Royalty raging; as regal as she was riotous! She didn’t like to plan shit out; she preferred to be spontaneous on stage. Even we didn’t know what she’d do one night to the next!
On the rare occasion the crowd kinda sucked, she’d take it as a challenge and lead us on more fiercely than ever. She could recharge me in the middle of a set with just a sexy sideways smirk! I’d lose it and we’d laugh our asses off. She had a wicked sense of humor that’d surprise some people.
When I watch the old vids I can see we definitely had a lot of fun interacting on stage. We used to crack up years later talking about some of the shit she’d pulled. She was brilliant, she was beautiful and she was a brat! I miss her every fucking day.
Photo by Cyndia Lavik
Samantha Hollins: Tina’s voice was so rich and full of layers. Who were her influences?
Scotty Buttocks: Tina’s influences are all over the map: the Doors, Metallica, Frank Sinatra, Hendrix, Aretha, the Vandals, Janis Joplin, Bowie, Johnny Cash, DKs, Motorhead, Iggy, Bad Brains, Dionne Warwick, X-Ray Spex, Chrissy Amphlett, Marvin Gaye, Black Uhuru, Patty Smith, X, Napalm Beach, Screamin Jay Hawkins, Chrissie Hynde, Curtis Mayfield.. And LOTS of gospel; she grew up singing in the choir of Seattle’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
Samantha Hollins: How much do you think sexism and racism played in your band not getting the recognition and credit deserved?
Scotty Buttocks: Misogyny & racism played a huge role in holding back Tina Bell and Bam Bam. The fact we’re even having this conversation supports that opinion.
People back then expected a Black girl to be Hip-Hop, a Soul diva, or Pop singer. Fronting a Hard Rock band was inconceivable to many in the general public it seemed, despite how brilliant she was (and she was)!
In addition to ‘quiet’ racism, Tina experienced the not so subtle kind too. In Seattle and in San Francisco Tina was openly taunted on stage. In Seattle though, she seriously bashed two Nazi fucks when they called her ‘n’. She grabbed the mic stand, swung it around several times, then smashed both of them in the head; one pretty badly. It makes me shake with rage to this day. In fairness to Seattle, the rest of the crowd immediately pounced on those wanks & tossed them. Worthless, flaccid dicks…
Tina didn’t seek pity for her & Bam Bam’s relative lack of recognition. She just sought an understanding as to why people hadn’t fully accepted her despite her contributions and accomplishments.
She didn’t want to believe race and gender played a big role in holding her back…but it did. It may not be the only reason she remains conspicuously obscure, but it had a big fucking part in it.
Samantha Hollins: When Tina became a mom was she still active in music? If so how did she balance being a mother and artist through your eyes?
Scotty Buttocks: 3 out of the 4 of us in Bam Bam were parents. Tina & Tommy’s son TJ and my son Ryan saw a lot more studios and green rooms than most toddlers do! Our kids were with us most of the time. Our roadies (often poor ol’ Bob D) would baby sit too. It must not have done too much harm. TJ’s an Academy Award winning director, Ryan’s Called In Sic’s bassist and my co-writer for over 15 years.
Samantha Hollins: How are you bringing Bam-Bam’s legacy to the forefront of Grunge, Rock-n-Roll and your hometown music history?
Scotty Buttocks: I promised Tina years ago that I wouldn’t rest til her place in music history was secured. I want her & Bam Bam’s role in the story of Seattle’s early scene told.
Photo by Buttocks Productions
Tina had a big part in the creation of a sound later called Grunge and she never got credit for her contribution. She was fronting & writing music for a Hard Punk-Grunge band at a time when it was simply not the norm for Women of Color to do that in the US. In the early/mid 80s, she was the only one. In 1984 she & her band Bam Bam did the first Grunge record released in Seattle: “Villains (also wear white)”. She’s earned her place and then some.
I’ve been archiving articles, pics, posters, reviews, interviews, videos…anything showing Tina Bell & Bam Bam’spresence on a scene that has overlooked or pushed aside what she and her band accomplished.
Granted it didn’t help that for years the only Bam Bam music had been the “Villains (also wear white)” ep and the “Ground Zero” single; both released in 1984 and long out of print.
That changed when we found our old master tapes a few years ago. We remixed them with Bam Bam’s original producer Chris Hanzsek and digitally released them on Buttocks Productions. Did pretty good in Brazil; c’mon ‘Merica!
We’ve just started working with Jack Endino on a 12″ vinyl re-issue of “Villains (also wear white)”, to be released later this year on Bric-a-Brac Records. Been a long time since we done any vinyl!
And it’s way past time for Bam Bam & Tina Bell Wikipedia pages ya’ll. For God’s sake; enough’s enough already! Give it up for Bam Bam & the ‘Bell’!!
Samantha Hollins: How do you think Tina would want to be remembered?
Scotty Buttocks: I think Tina would want to be remembered simply for what she was: A dedicated musician who was a major player on Seattle’s developing music scene. A sweet generous person who lived and breathed Rock & Roll and treasured her family.
Photo by Michael Patnode
Born Feb 5, 1958 in Seattle-Died Oct 10, 2012 in Las Vegas.
Rest in Ancestral Power Tina Bell! Much gratitude to you for your profound contribution to Rock-n-Roll, women in music and Black women in Rock! All hail the Queen of Grunge!
To learn more about Tina Bell’s Her-Story with Bam the legendary Bam go to: https://buttocksproductions.com/
If you enjoyed this article, interviews and reviews feel free to contribute to our SuSu Connection. Funds will go towards building this Culture Rock Griot site and community/non-profit organizations.