The Band Next Door

by Chelsie Morgan

Allow me to take you back in time to arguably the best era of music: the year is 1983 and we are about 45 minutes south of Seattle (WITHOUT traffic) in a smelly yet endearing port city called Tacoma. Practicing in their parents’ garage off 56th St., a new band has been gearing up to rock people’s socks off with their give-no-fucks attitude and unique sound. With an awesome mix of strong bass lines, groovy guitar riffs, steady back-beats and an off-the-wall vocalist, their style is a hodgepodge of punk rock, surf, and grunge music that will have you dancing until you can’t no more. That’s right, they are still playing shows in the local area to this day and have stayed together longer than almost any band in the PNW. Their name is Girl Trouble.

Bill Henderson and his friend Dale Phillips met during high school and liked to skip class together to head-bang to the Ramones, one of their many influences. Dale started to play a fake Fender bass and Bill shredded on the guitar he built in shop class. Ever since he was a child, Bill could always be found doing fun projects and building random things. Unorthodoxically yet in line with her anti-patriarchal style, Bill’s 30-year old sister Bon Henderson bought a drum kit from Sears and convinced the boys to let her join their jam sessions. Surprisingly, they were all for it even though chick drummers were few and far between and let’s face it – who wants your big sis in the band?!

But the Henderson’s were a tight-knit family, and everyone who showed up at their door was welcomed with open arms. Their father Will was ‘The Powerhouse’ who could “do and make anything”, and their mother Betty, ‘The Babe’, was the youngest of 3 girls. Bill and Bon also had a younger sister named Deb, but she was always the more studious child of the bunch. The entire family was musical, though, and their parents always supported their interests wholeheartedly. The band found their front-man, Kurt Kendall, a few years later. Kurt was born to a large family in Spokane, so he had to learn how to stand out to get attention – a perfect upbringing to influence his crazy dance moves and frequent crowd surfing at their upcoming shows.

Starting out as Boneyard then quickly changing their name, Girl Trouble played their first gig at Battle of the Bands at a local community college in 1984 out of Bill’s (officially deemed the Big Kahuna) self-built plywood speaker. They mostly played cover songs, like The Cramps “Goo Goo Muck”, and gave out free root beer as an incentive for audience members to vote for them. This began the tradition of the recurring prizes that were thrown off-stage at their shows, hand-chosen by Bon Von Wheelie herself.

A woman of many talents, Bon realized the band needed some traction in the Tacoma music scene, so she started her own magazine to promote GT that she printed at her day job at the printing company. In fact, Dale, Kurt and Bon not only played together, they also worked together at this printing company for many MANY years. You have to really like someone to spend that much time together and not want to pull your hair out. But Girl Trouble was known for hiding out together in the kitchen away from everyone else at after-parties, just chatting and eating the free food.

The first issue of “Wig Out!” was released in May of 1984 featuring lead singer Kurt on the cover, along with an inside scoop of some of the group member’s favorite things. Although their zine was a makeshift version of the popular teenybopper magazines of the time, Bon’s tactic worked and Girl Trouble played at every dive bar and club in the area over the next 10 years or so. In 1987, a friend of theirs who owned the record label ‘K Label’ asked the band to record a hit that he could co-release with the well-known SubPop Records.

Girl Trouble released their first album on vinyl in 1988 called Hit It or Quit It and went on the Beat Happening Tour that same year with big names like Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Nirvana. SubPop ended up thinking that Girl Trouble didn’t fit the grunge style they were promoting at the time and asked them to change their entire vibe. In response, the group set up next to SubPop Records 20th Anniversary Show (that they weren’t invited to) and played their own gig. In true GT spirit, they stuck to their guns and told SubPop to shove it. They were the only band to ever quit the record label (at the time).

Even though they liked to keep shows local, they did go on a few tours throughout the US and a European tour opportunity was offered in 1993. They rocked out alongside the punk-pop band Crackerbash in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Austria and Denmark and even made a split-second cameo in the 1996 movie/documentary Hype! So rad!

The band has been laying pretty low over the last 30 years, continuing to keep their style alive throughout different local venues. While they visit Seattle from time to time, they have never sold out or wanted to leave their deep roots back home. The most recent show they played was before the pandemic (COVID, not opioid), and was actually dedicated to themselves – it was the “Girl Trouble 35th Anniversary Show” held at ALMA in downtown Tacoma!

Established in 2016, ALMA is advertised as a venue to keep local food, music, art and culture alive. The building at 1322 South Fawcett Avenue features a 500-person live performance venue, a recording studio, a restaurant, cafe, lounge, patio and rooftop dining, as well as private event spaces. They host many local and traveling musicians every month and ensure all shows are ADA accessible. Unfortunately, they are closed for Autumn and Winter, but you know where to find me once the sun starts peaking through those clouds.

On the night of March 9, 2019, 4 bands showed up to rock out with the infamous Girl Trouble. All of the bands that performed that night starred at least one member from GT’s main band and all played Girl Trouble cover songs. The show opened with Kahuna’s All-Girl Tribute to Girl Trouble, led by the Big Kahuna himself (guitar), and joined by Mara Funk (vocals), Danaca Tomas (drums) and Gwen Lewandoski (bass). Next up was Dale Phillip’s Girl Trouble Revival, featuring Dale Phillips on his trusty bass, Del Brown on vocals, Doug Mackey on the drums and John Ramberg on guitar. After them Von Wheelie’s Express played with the much-loved Bon Von Wheelie (drums, obviously), Isaiah Tankiewicz (vocals), Sam Olsen (guitar) and Bill Schlanbusch (bass). And last but certainly not least was K.P.’s G.T. with K.P. Kendall (vocals) Brian Alcid (guitar), Tony Daniels (bass), and Larry Feaster (drums).

I highly recommend spending an evening at home watching the show in your living room with some buddies – it was a night of headbanging, hip-shaking and paying tribute to a garage band that ended up being loved by so many. You can’t help but get up and dance around when you hear their music, so you better keep an eye out for their next show! If you want to learn more about the iconic Girl Trouble, check out their Myspace-style website, wig-out.com. There are a ton of entertaining stories and photos from their long-standing career, plus it’s just fun to browse around and take a ride through the band’s history. Also, watch their home-video style documentary “Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble” for an inside glimpse of their lives.

I will leave you with Bon Von Wheelie’s “Six Steps to Starting a Band” just in case you and your friends are tempted to leave your own legacy:

1. Play With Friends

1a. …But Don’t Get TOO Friendly

2. Learn Together

3. Play Covers First

4. No Recording Together Until You’ve Been Together at Least a Year

5. No Expectations!

6. Don’t Listen To Anybody Else (Not Even Me)

About the Author

Chelsie Morgan prepared this article as her final project for TARTS 225: Musical History of Tacoma, at the University of Washington, Tacoma. At the time she took the class in Autumn Quarter 2022, she was a senior majoring in Psychology.

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