Action Now, Bambi Conway, Bomp! Records, Casey Gomez, Deborah Mendoza, Elektra Records, Gwynne Kahn, Hardly Dangerous, Julie Patchouli, Karen Blankfeld, Kelly Dillard, Kim Shattuck, Lissa Beltri, Mad Monster Party, Melanie Vammen, Paula Pierce, Restless Records, Rhino Records, Rita Di Albert, Sheri Kaplan, Susan Hyatt, The Leaving Trains, The Muffs, The Pandoras, The Rebel Pebbles
The Pandoras were an all-female rock and roll band from Los Angeles, California from 1983–1991, who began in the hard ’60s revival garage rock style and later adapted a more contemporary Sunset Boulevard, hard rock sound a la Poison and Mötley Crüe. They were originally associated with the Paisley Underground era in Hollywood’s alternative rock scene, along with bands such as Redd Kross, The Three O’ Clock, The Dream Syndicate, The Morlocks, and The Rain Parade. These bands shared an aesthetic heavily influenced by 1960s garage rock and psychedelia, and most (but not all) of the members tended to come from the west side and beach cities area of Los Angeles County and Orange County. Pierce, a resident of Chino, California, was a notable exception. Pierce had been a member of the Hollywood music scene as a young teenager.
The Pandoras were formed when singer-guitarist Paula Pierce, a member of Action Now at the time, met singer-guitarist/bass player Deborah Mendoza aka. Mende/ Menday, at Chaffey College in 1983. Mendoza, an art major, answered an ad that Pierce, a graphic art major, had posted on the bulletin board in the cafeteria. The ad read, “Wanted, another female musician to jam with! Influenced by sixties garage punk.” They got together and clicked, and started bringing their guitars to school jamming between classes.
Pierce and Mendoza threw band names around including The Keyholes and Hole. Finally, Pierce thought of the name The Pandoras, naming the band after Pandora’s Box, a Hollywood nightclub from the 1960s. Pierce brought in musician Gwynne Kahn on keyboards (the granddaughter of 1920s/1930s Tin Pan Alley songwriter Gus Kahn), and Mendoza brought in drummer Casey Gomez; thus forming, the original Pandoras. After recording their first Demo EP ‘It’s About Time’, Mendoza left the group, and was replaced by bassist Bambi Conway, who then appeared on the Pandoras debut album, ‘It’s About Time’, on Greg Shaw’s Bomp! Records.
The Pandoras went through many personnel changes, over the years, beginning with the bitter departure of Kahn in 1984, that became the talk of the town, on a KROQ-FM radio show hosted by Rodney Bingenheimer and in the local music zines such as BAM, Music Connection, and the LA Weekly (and their “L.A.DeeDa” gossip column). Kahn formed a rival, yet, very short lived Pandoras of her own, nicknamed the Gwynnedoras. Gwynn’s Pandoras consisted of Gwynn Kahn, Casey Gomez, Lisa Rae Black (of Hardly Dangerous and Bellylove), and Bambi Conway. The band did have a song called “Worm Boy” released on an Enigma Records compilation, “Enigma Variations” and recorded an EP for Enigma that was never released, but Kahn moved on to another project after losing her battle with Pierce over the band’s name.
Pierce’s Pandoras, included Melanie Vammen on keyboards, Julie Patchouli on bass, and Karen Blankfeld on drums, they went to enjoy modest success with the release of ‘Hot Generation’ on Bomp! Records. They toured the east coast with the Fuzztones to promote the single.
The Pandoras were signed to Rhino Records and began recording the basic tracks for ‘Stop Pretending’ during the winter of 1985 with producer Bill Inglot. Kim Shattuck joined the band in July 1985, after Patchouli was let go. Briefly, after Patchouli left the band, a temporary fill-in played just two shows with the band before they brought in Shattuck permanently. In 1986, ‘Stop Pretending’ was released.
Los Angeles became a hotbed of major label signings of bands that had grown out of the so-called “paisley-underground” and the Pandoras were no different. The pop sensibilities of Pierce and being labeled “one of the bands that matter” by the LA Weekly helped the band get signed by Elektra Records. The band continued to play live and record new songs for their major label debut and continued to be a top live draw outside of Los Angeles, touring with Nina Hagen, and gigging with the likes of Iggy Pop, The Fuzztones, The Beat Farmers, Johnny Thunders, and The Cramps. They played the first ever LA Weekly Music Awards and showcased a slightly harder sound and were interviewed on the roof of the Variety Arts Center for a top French TV Show. As the band’s major label debut, to be titled ‘Come Inside’, was being readied for release the A&R person who had signed the band was fired from Elektra causing the label to also drop both bands he had signed–Jetboy and The Pandoras (though the recordings they made eventually surfaced on the ‘Psychedelic Sluts’ bootleg CD). During this period, Karen Blankfeld left the band and was replaced with Kelly Dillard. The band continued to play live while looking for another deal. However, Dillard did not last long and was replaced by Sheri Kaplan. When another label made an offer, Elektra would not release the master recordings. Pierce decided to turn to an even more hard-edged sound and added guitarist Rita D’Albert to the line up. They recorded new songs and put out an EP on Restless Records called ‘Rock Hard’. The band also made a video for ‘Run Down Love Battery’, which received airplay on MTV’s Headbangers Ball, expanding their audience to include metal fans.
A tour of the US and Canada followed. D’Albert decided to leave the band to take more of an active part in another band that had just been signed to RCA records, Human Drama. Rather than cancel the tour, the band went out as a four-piece. A show in Dallas, Texas at Z Rock was recorded for a “Coast to Coast Concert Series” broadcast. They also made an appearance on the first episode of The Arsenio Hall Show where they performed ‘Run Down Love Battery’ causing Arsenio to quit, “We’ve all had one of those.” A friend of drummer Kaplan’s was brought in, Susan Hyatt, for some shows, but it was Lissa Beltri who became the newest member after auditions.
Rather than try and record a new studio album with the new line up Pierce opted to let Restless Records release the Z Rock concert. ‘Live Nymphomania’ was released and, even though Pierce herself was not happy with the recording, the band toured in support of it. Outside of L.A the Pandoras’ fan base continued to grow in the hard rock world, tours of Europe and Australia were booked, new promo photos were taken and pre-planning was starting for a new album.
Keyboardist Vammen was let go because, as Pierce put it in one interview: “Melanie does not want to play guitar and there is not any place for keyboards in our music now.” The Australian tour was canceled, and on the eve of the European tour, Shattuck left the band. Chris Roy, bass player for the Hollywood metal band TAZ, filled in for some live shows. Kaplan quit the band shortly after Shattuck and the band were dropped from their label a short time after.
Over the course of the next year Pierce slowly worked on new material with Beltri. They hired a new drummer and were auditioning bass players. On the night of August 9, 1991, a bass player auditioned who both Pierce and Beltri liked and was to be brought back in for a rehearsal on August 11. On August 10, Pierce came home from the gym and suffered an fatal aneurysm at age 31.
As news of her passing spread the Hollywood community that Pierce had been a part of mourned. DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, who had been one of the earliest fans of the band, dedicated an entire show to Pierce. The Pandoras’ tour manager, Dave Eddy, put on a tribute show at the Coconut Teaser. The night helped to raise almost $3,000. to help offset funeral expenses and saw performances by Cherie Currie of The Runaways and her twin sister Marie in their first public performance together in 20 years, with the final line up of the Pandoras backing them, Precious Metal, who had broken up but who reunited for the show; Robert Hecker of Redd Kross and Abby Travis, Dramarama with Clem Burke of Blondie and Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls, The Muffs (Shattuck’s and Vammen’s band), African Violet (D’Albert band), Hardly Dangerous (Kaplan was their drummer) and White Flag. The crowd included Jeff and Steve McDonald from Redd Kross and Charlotte Caffey and Kathy Valentine from The Go-Go’s. The artists who played that night and the people in the audience prompted Bingenheimer to exclaim, “Look at the people here! What do you have to die to see who really loves you?”