This piece is a rewrite of an article I originally published back in 2009.
The Seattle garage rock scene is full of outsider heroes. There’s bunch of folks that didn’t get all the perks their rockstar friends received during the Grunge explosion, but left behind equally important music. People like Tom Price (U-Men, Gashuffer), Rob Vasquez (Night Kings, Right On) and James Burdyshaw (Cat Butt, Sinister Six) won’t get stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it’s hard to imagine the Seattle scene without them.
Another one of these Seattle rock demigods is Dave Holmes, guitarist for the Fallouts and the Wiretaps. Based on his work with both bands — Sleep by the Fallouts is must-own — Holmes deserves a permanent exhibit in the Experience Music Project (even though it’s become the Museum of Pop Culture). I caught a few of the Fallouts’ almost-random reunions in the 2000’s, and all of those shows were packed and sweaty. One woman even told me she moved to Seattle to be in the same town as the Fallouts.
Holmes is also notorious in Seattle for being the guy that used to prank Susan Powter — the “Stop the Insanity” infomercial lady — when she had a radio talk show in the ’90s. Holmes worked in the warehouse of Fantagraphics Comics with a bunch prank-loving goofballs. When her show came on, everyone stopped what they were doing and called the show, hoping to get Holmes on the air. If anyone got through, they hand the phone to Holmes, who’d improvise characters and situations like an obese man needing to brag about his little rascal or seriously conservative gentleman who like to spew right wing talking points at the outspoken leftist.
The warehouse workers also managed to set up a tape player and record his calls. After they collected an archive, a fellow co-worker compiled the best calls on a cassette with some goofy sound effects thrown in between. The tape was passed around to friends and gained some notoriety in some circles. When I began dating my now-wife in the early ’00s, she and her friends would drop lines from the calls like “fuggin’ tago” in their conversations.
Around 2009, I connected with Holmes on Myspace and asked him about the tapes. He said he first started calling into the Amy Alpine show, a locally-produced call-in show that was on just long enough for Holmes to record some amazing bits, like the one about “Whole Lotta Rosie.” But then Powter’s show replaced Alpine’s, so the fitness guru became Holmes’s prank-calling target/muse.
“We’d listen to her show, and I think what usually happened was that I would say to a guy that I worked with named Demian ‘I should call and say’… whatever I would end up saying. He would laugh and say, ‘You gotta do it.’ So I did it. We had a tape player there, so we’d usually record it… and then got back to kicking ass at work,” Holmes wrote.
Listening back to the calls, you can tell Powter went along with the jokes. At least most of them — some of WD’s calls were aggressively rejected. But she comes off as a good sport and it makes me wish I could hear her radio show today. It’s hard to find any stories on the radio show except for a New York Times piece from 1993, as much more attention was paid to her short-lived television show.
But Holmes’s reasons for calling in to her show didn’t include Powter’s affable nature.
“(I called in) because we’re both fitness gurus. Also because she happened to be on in the afternoon, she was a good straight-man, and it was really easy to get on her show,” Holmes said.
Below are Holmes’s calls, accompanied his descriptions of the characters he’s playing:
Phil Rudd Fan
One of the first characters Dave used in his calls was the “Phil Rudd fan.”
Dave: “A guy I worked with told me about Phil Rudd (drummer from AC/DC) getting drunk on Sidney Harbor (Harbour?) and accidentally maiming a leggy supermodel.”
Dave: “I guess I figured since she was a fitness guru, that a heavy man might call and brag about his little rascal.”
Dave: “A character that quoted Pastor Falwell without giving him credit.”
Fuggin’ Taco Guy
Dave: “The Fall-Outs used to live in a house together. In a closet, we found boxes of Keebler crackers. One was taco flavored (flavoured?). Somehow, from that came “fuggin’ taco” or “huggin’ tago”. 15 years later it ends up as a way for me to say the fuck word over and over again on Susan Powter’s radio show.”
Some of my favorite calls didn’t have characters, just great premises like “Later U Lady” and “Git Freaky Wit U” (I have to write them like Prince because they’re THAT genius). Here’s the rest of the tape – just hit play!