‘Kathy, don’t! Debbie doesn’t! Mary won’t!’ How we chose our name, by The Contractions

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A three-piece power trio who considered calling themselves The Three-piece Power Trio, San Francisco’s The Contractions – Mary Kelley, Kathy Peck and Debbie Hopkins – were a terrific band who burned briefly but brightly at the beginning of the 1980s, with a great stage show that ranged from punk to poetry. Bart Bull, in his book Battle of the Band Names, calls them “astonishing and amazing and adventurous”.

Annette Jarvie, their manager, said: “Had they been easy to categorise, less edgy and more straight-ahead pop, they probably would’ve had a more commercial career like girl-bands The Go-Gos or The Bangles. But they wouldn’t have been The Contractions.” One reviewer called their act “unpredictable and therefore dangerous … always amazing”. This live performance from 1981 will give you an idea.

They have a cool website, where you can download a few songs. It contains one of my favourite descriptions (by Mary) of the at times accidental and chaotic way people decide what to call themselves.

How we got the name

We practised frequently. We had a storage space at the studio, so Debbie kept her drums, I kept my amp (another autobiography: “I, My Amp”), and Kathy her bass rig, a largish thing, an Acoustic, some name like that, maybe an Ampeg.

Well, in the heat of our loud, loud, loud rehearsals, Kathy would turn to her amp, to sip her tea, or dig in her purse puddled upon the amp, and that hollow body Hofner would start to feedback, building from a low hmmm, building building HMMMM building HHHMMMMMWHOOOOEEEEEEE whereupon Debbie and I would yell “Kathy! Don’t!”

We were, at that time, looking for a name, using the age-old practice of anything that came to mind. For example: The Three-piece Power Trio, The Ass Kickers, the Drip Coffee Cones, the Loofas, the Car Keys, the Left Turn Indicators, the I Can’t Park Here It’s Illegal I’ll Get A Ticket Oh Fuckit I’m Immortals, etcetera, the Etceteras. Etcetera. “Etcetera” a Celtic Metal band. Lots of dry ice …

It was maddening.

“Kathy! Don’t!”

“The Contractions?”

Lots of laughter. “Kathy, Don’t, Debbie Doesn’t, Mary Won’t!” Haw, haw, haw. Tee hee. Giggle. Giggle.

At that very moment, another musician opened the door to our room, and said: “You guys sound good, what’s your name?”

We looked at each other, and answered: “The Contractions.”

Tada.

Kathy Peck, who suffered tinnitus and hearing loss as a result of playing live, later formed a non-profit organisation called H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), with initial funding from fellow sufferer Pete Townshend of The Who.

Note: there has never been a band, so far as And And! And: the Ultimate Guide to Band Names is aware, called The Loofas. There is, however, another band called The Contractions, a group of “hard-rocking economists” from Madison, Wisconsin. They describe themselves as “Madison’s worst band”.

Last modified: April 5, 2017

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