Tom Applegate is a super nice guy and, by all accounts, an excellent teacher of second graders. Recently retired, he has returned to his roots as a punk. Back in 1976, he started his own punk band, L’Amour, whose complete discography was recently reissued by local label Beach Impediment Records. Later, by happenstance, he joined BEEX (who have their own recent Beach Impediment discography reissue), an original Richmond punk band fronted by his future wife, Christine Gibson. Gibson was a powerhouse performer and a legend of Richmond underground music.
After Gibson passed away in 2007, Beex — who were even then still making music — reconstituted in a new lineup with Tom taking over on lead vocals. He and his buddies have carried on to this very day, releasing a new album, Zero Degree, in 2017. Even now, they have more new music on the way. What better way to honor the memory of a life partner and longtime musical collaborator than to keep the music alive? I guess punks never really die.
Tom Applegate: I play guitar and sing with BEEX, and the other band is L’Amour. Which was the first band David Stover and I started in 76.
R. Anthony Harris: And that led into BEEX?
TA: Back then there were so few, like, punk rockers or whatever it is, on the East Coast. There weren’t that many bands like that, and so it was kind of incestuous between the bands. Everybody knew each other in Richmond. So I went to the Ricky and The White Boys practice… wait, is this what you want to to know?
RAH: Yes, I would love to hear this story.
TA: I’ve known David Stover since high school, and we always wanted to have a band. We were great rock fans and would spend all of our time going to concerts like other high school kids, going anywhere within 300 miles to see shows. Then we went to college here, and as that was ending I said, like, “C’mon, let’s do this.” And he moved back to Richmond.
And so he started having this band and it was pretty good, but then it’s more like a rock band. You know? But we’re hearing all this stuff coming from New York. It was Patti Smith, especially Ramones, and just all all that stuff. I mean, Television and [New York] Dolls. It was like, “This is better. This is great.”
RAH: And that was when punk had just reached Richmond? The late seventies?
TA: Yeah. It was like a virus down the East Coast. [Laughs] And you you would get information through magazines, because there wasn’t a way to hear bands. You get a record here and there. And then Dave and I went up to see Patti Smith play in DC, right before Horses came out, and that show was like… I’ve never seen anything like it. She was amazing. You just knew that this is the new rock, this is something different.
Then we realize you just can play whatever you want to play and say whatever you want to say. Because up to then, you followed these patterns if you wanted to be successful, or whatever that is. But to just to play music for the joy of playing rock n’ roll, that was very liberating. And that’s what we discovered with that, so then we were doing that.
RAH: And there was a bunch of other people forming bands in Richmond picking up on this vibe?
TA: There were barriers. We were kind of forming, then reforming stuff, trying to get it going. But then there was no place to play. I guess the Back Door was the first place where we could just go in and do whatever we wanted.
RAH: And the Back Door was where in Richmond?
TA: It became Twisters and then Strange Matter.
RAH: I didn’t know that. I came to town when it was The Nanci Raygun.
TA: Yeah, yeah. So that’s where we went in, and there was nothing going on there Sunday nights, so we could have, like, Punk Rock Sundays. They let us do one and it was packed, and they sold out of all the beer. And the owner was like, “You do this whenever you want. “[Laughs] So at least there was a place to start.
RAH: Was there a publication back then covering what was going on in the local scene? We are talking late 70s, early 80s. Was there media support, or was it just completely underground, word-of-mouth?
TA: It was a flyer thing. That’s how you would exchange information: flyers on phone poles. Because the community was a lot smaller. Most of the people lived in the fan. So it was like that. Then we made a zine, which was actually the first, because every healthy “rock scene” needs one.
It’s like: you gotta have the bands, you gotta have the people who like the music. Then you need a central venue, and then it’s good to have a media-like communication.
There used to be a lot more that kind of stuff. Like, you could go to Boston and get Boston Rocks Magazine and know the local stuff. But a lot of that has disappeared, because you know, print is a problem.
RAH: I love those old magazines, and when I started this one, that was kind of the tail end of the local print magazine.
So I went to Ricky And The White Boys practice [First punk rock band from Richmond, released one EP in 1977 –ed.] in Oregon Hill one night, and I met Richard Buchanan and all those guys. I didn’t know them, because we were just playing by ourselves in the basement. And so we played a couple of songs together and Richard was like, “Do you want to join the band?” “Well, I already have a band.” But we were hanging out together from that point on.
Then [Ricky And The White Boys vocalist] Ralph Harper died. Christine Gibson came in the scene from New Jersey, and she was just incredible as a personality, and had a presence. And she’s very threatening [laughs] but funny at the same time, and it was like… a really weird good. She took over and started singing for [Ricky And The White Boys], and that became BEEX. They did some shows in DC, and then BEEX and L’Amour started playing together all the time — because, you know, there weren’t that many bands. So we would just go places and play a BEEX/L’Amour split [set].
RAH: When did you see the scene start to grow? There were only a few bands at the time.
TA: Well there was Plan 9 Records, and that is a part of the scene. It’s great to have a record store, especially for all the independent stuff, the bootleg stuff, and just to for people to see each other’s stuff.
RAH: So all those things happened in the late 70s and early 80s?
TA: They all kind of came together in the perfect way, you know, and it was a real community here. It was more original in a way than “whose band is best” and all that, you know? We’re trying to make some money, but there wasn’t a way to be made. So let’s just make good shows and create really crazy stuff.
RAH: I was listening to the BEEX compilation put out last year.
TA: Yeah, June of last year. That was Beach Impediment Records. I’ve kept everything we’ve done and have all this stuff, and but nobody cared. [Laughs] And then I met Mark from Beach Impediment — and actually, this is awful, but it was like, “Oh, this is Mark, he owns a record company.” “Yeah, who doesn’t?” You know? “Yeah, so do I.” [Laughs] “No, no, he has a real record company!” “Oh yeah?” I say, “so what are you doing for me?” And which was, what a jerk thing to say, but he said, “I’ll come over and take a look at what you’ve got.” Then he came over my house, looked through all my stuff, and was like, “Well shit, there is a record here.”
Now I have the original tapes from the studio, but none of that other stuff had ever been anywhere. But I knew in my head that this is this is good. So we took about a year getting everything remastered, and it’s like, great! Even if I wasn’t in the band!
Going back, BEEX got a lot of attention in DC and started playing in DC a lot. I would go with them. And then Wasp Records wants to make a record. At the time, they didn’t have a great set of original songs. Because you’re still feeling that out, you know, doing a lot of covers, Dead Boys covers or whatever. So I wrote “Beat Beat” and gave it to them, and they recorded it. So I was kind of part of it.
RAH: Yeah. And when did they officially ask you to be in the band?
TA: Richard was like, “Give me an answer,” and then Christine was like, “Your band sucks, you should quit that stupid band!” So I did. Then I married her, [laughs] so she couldn’t fire me right?
So Richard and I started playing together, and this guitar approach is a solid wall of sound — it’s like, this is awesome. The band is getting better. That’s what we do today. It was like, “this wall of sound is so cool.”
I joined, and then we’re going through all this to release a record, trying to jump through hoops to get famous, or to meet somebody, or to get signed on that, or have someone come see us… we got tired of that. “Why don’t we stop trying to be famous and just do this because that what we do, you know?” And that was another liberating moment, because now it’s like, “we don’t care if you like us. Check it out.”
It’s been a lot easier since then, because you don’t really have a reason to break up because there’s no goal. You don’t have to go like: “Wait, we have to make this money. We have to get a contract. We have to tour.” It’s like, you don’t have to do that. So that’s why we’re still playing today. We just keep going, because these guys are into it. We believe it, in the sense of goodwill, we do.
RAH: I was just listening to the rerelease. What is it like hearing those songs now from back then, for you? Does it take you right back?
TA: Oh, it’s like sitting in DC with Malcolm Peplow at his studio that he had built in his mother’s house or something, and having her yell down, “You boys wants some macaroni and cheese?” and him yelling back, “Naw Ma, we alright!” [Laughs]
It was so exciting, because I always wanted to record, and this was it. We were there. Here we are! He was getting it down exactly the way it was. Because a lot of studios, they try to bend your sound into some vision that they have. So when you find a studio that just gets what you sound like… we’re a live band, that’s why we don’t have a lot of records. That and the lack of money.
RAH: Do you still enjoy playing live?
TA: Oh man. It’s exciting… it is truly an honor and a privilege to play a rock stage. [Chokes up]
TA: It’s so rare. It’s so cool.
RAH: No, no it’s okay Tom. Take your time.
TA: When you think about it, it’s not only you get to be with your buddies. Shit…
RAH: Really, how many people get to experience that?
TA: … and the people who have done it, like, I don’t know, Keith Richards or John Mellencamp. And I mean… understanding that, and taking you to a really good show, you know? It’s so difficult, especially with rock. That’s what I love about rock n’ roll. It is so simple. It is two guitars, bass, drums — how many ways can you spin this? Millions! Just go through the Spotify playlist. So it’s still happening! And it’s this same feeling from 1977 or whatever, and its all related. Because we play punk rock music, East Coast New York style punk and hardcore took over that now. Hardcore was just another genre, but god, there’s so many new forms now.
RAH: And you have a piece of that. You are a part of that legacy, especially in Richmond — that’s an amazing thing to look back on. And even not even just look back on, but… you have new songs coming out?
TA: Oh, yeah. [Laughs]
RAH: That’s why you’re playing tonight, right? That is pretty awesome! [ed. note — The show was a month ago.]
TA: It’s tough, because we’ve got this big band that’s associated with Christine, right? You know, 12 years ago, she passed and we did a memorial show. And when that happened, that was supposed to be our last show. It was like, “Now what do we do?” So right before we start to play it, I turned to everyone and said, “I’m not dead. Let’s go. I’ll just sing, I don’t care. I will figure it out.” Sure.
RAH: And she probably would have wanted it that way.
TA: It’s been a whole new thing, because it’s the same attitude. BEEX is more like an attitude, like a bad attitude, but with humor. [Laughs] It is sarcastic, but it is really fun, and I know the music is good. It is a challenge. And like I said, I’ve been a teacher for like 25 years and retired in June, but I’ve never stopped thinking about playing rock and roll, since fifth grade. Now it’s really cool, because I could spend a lot of time making this whole thing even better.
So we got this record that we recorded right before this lockdown. And it’s like, awesome, new stuff. You know, it’s just magic. Adrian Olson at Montrose Studios produced it as a flip, because one side is L’Amour and the other is BEEX. It’s 14 minutes and it’s just straight up, you know? It’s just straight up.
RAH: Tom, I love this idea. I don’t think I’ll ever stop creating stuff.
TA: You’re a writer, right?
RAH: Writer, and I do video and design…
TA: …cuz I have fun with it all the time.
RAH: I can’t stop. I don’t know how to! [Laughs]
TA: There was a quote: “artists are compulsive, or not at all,” and I always think about that.
RAH: It keeps me going. I’m just so excited to be able to create.
TA: Now that I am getting older, it’s like, this is the last chance to say what I’ve got to say. I would love to make a contribution to the canons of rock. You know, just a mention, a footnote. I ain’t no Steven Tyler! I have stuck with it, always.
(Tom plays a new BEEX track, gets excited)
RAH: I love it.
TA: That’s straight-up punk. Anyway, is this all right?
RAH: It’s great. I’m very interested in Richmond music history and talking with people from all generations, not only people creating work now, but who have been creating work for a while. The early 80s Richmond scene has been the foundation for Richmond underground music the last 40 years. And now you see all these branches of local music that have been touched by the vibe and the attitude. That foundation, the roots, are really built on the time that you and your friends brought these influences from New York and DC to mix it in with the city. Add the publications from the 80s, the record stores like Plan 9 Records and all these things that kind of fed Richmond culture over that time, to make our city’s sound.
You had a big part of that. You were in the conversation. You knew the right people. And for me to be able to sit and talk to with you to continue to document… I want to talk to more people from that era and try to connect it all. You can’t understand Richmond culture now without at least having some understanding where it came from. I hope to encourage anyone reading this to make their own scene.
TA: Richmond has some incredible creative people come here, and a lot of that had to do with the VCU art school, which is top notch. They found out there’s nothing to do here, but that they could really make art. Some of the craziest bands but just interesting stuff. No one was afraid to cross genres. Like, a show at the Back Door could be a country punk band and some kind of weird jazz band and then a James Brown imitator.
RAH: Just throw it all together!
TA: And it was a great night! People don’t do stuff like that anymore.
RAH: I want to encourage people to do that more.
TA: But then you meet other people [who are] like, “Whoa, that was really cool!”
RAH: Richmond is the art kids. Richmond is an ongoing art project.
Well, I only have one more question. You are playing a show tonight at Fuzzy Cactus. What are you looking forward to in 2022? You know, as a creative person, you’ve got some music coming out and you’ve got more time on your hands.
TA: I’ve been building up this crap inside of me for about 40 years, and I feel like this could be the year where I could let the world know. I mean, put it out there, you know, in a format. I mean, it’s not just to sell art, so I guess I could be considered an artist.
RAH: Well, everybody I talked to told me to talk to you. You’re an artist. And yeah, I hope you have a lot of fun tonight, and just… thank you.
TA: It’s great. I can tell you some, like, off the record stories… [laughs]
RAH: I would love that! We willl get a beer sometime.
photos by Kimberly Frost