Catching Up With
MIKE VARNEY
From The Legendary San Francisco Band The Nuns,
Writer, Producer and CEO of SHARPNEL LABEL GROUP
By: Ginger Coyote
My interview with Mike Varney came about by contacting him in regards to a rumor that was circulating on the Internet of Jennifer "Miro"'Anderson's death...

Jennifer and Mike had played together in the legendary San Francisco band The Nuns together.. I had heard they had remained friends... So I assumed that he may know... Sadly, although he had been in contact with her. He had not heard from Jennifer since August 2011... After alot of sleuthing I finally discovered that it was true. Ms. Miro had passed away in New York City on December 14, 2011... A special thanks to Jon Sugar for being one of the first people to know about her passing...

I thought an interview with Mike so we could talk about The Nuns, Sharpnel Label Group and his other musical endeavors would be very interesting. Sadly we did not chat about the play "Rock Justice" that he co-wrote. I remember seeing it at The On Broadway and really enjoying it. In his career Mike has worked with some real heavyweights including The Nuns, John Cipollina, Steve Vai, Ansley Dunbar, Rick Derringer to name a few... I hope you enjoy my interview with Mike.
Punk Globe:
Mike, thanks for agreeing to do an interview with Punk Globe Magazine. You were a member of the legendary band The Nuns. Tell us how it all started for you?
MIKE VARNEY:
Jennifer and I were in a club band called Baby Grand and played some gigs at a Marin club, school dances and even a wedding at a yacht club in Marin. Jesse Bradman was also in the band and he later went on to play with Killerwatt and then Eddie Money, Aldo Nova, Night ranger and Poison. Jennifer and I were listening a band through the wall of our rehearsal hall in San Rafael and we walked over to see who it was. The band at that time had some guys trying to go for a New York dolls look and others in jeans and t-shirts. We thought that they were cool as they were doing something based on the glitter rock/glam stuff that Jennifer and I liked and were making an attempt to look cool doing it. At the time, I think that Jennifer was 19 and I was 18. I went away to college for a semester in the mid-west but still thought about the band and even wrote them from college but I am not sure they received the mail as they were not at that rehearsal space for that long. When I returned Jennifer was playing in the band.
Punk Globe:
Had you been friends with the others before being in the band?
MIKE VARNEY:
Alejandro and I started hanging out and listening to music together, playing guitars. etc. We introduced each other to some new music and when Leslie, the band's first bassist, bailed out, the band asked me if I wanted to play so I bought a Fender Precision bass and put it through an Orange amp head that I had and bought a folded horn bass cab and that was my rig.
Punk Globe:
So was Alejandro Escovedo one of the founding members The Nuns?
MIKE VARNEY:
Alejandro was a founding member. When we met them Jeff Olener, Leslie and Alejandro were there and I think Jeff Rafael the band's drummer joined later.
Punk Globe:
Tell the readers about some of the very first shows with the band?
MIKE VARNEY:
I went to see the band in the fall of '76 and they were opening for the Ramones at the Mabuhay. The band was rough in some respects musically but the concept was strong. Jennifer's Bowie and movie star fem fatale influences were in some ways opposite from the rest of the guys but this juxtaposition of styles worked so well. I really liked the theatrics of the band and Jeff was a cool drummer. Alejandro was a big concept guy and had tons of artistic ability but at that time he was just learning to play guitar and made huge strides in a short time. The band was offered to open for Blondie at the Keystone Palo Alto and turned it down as at the time the band could sell the venue out on its own. It ended up being classified as co-headlining gig. The band members of Blondie were very nice and we ended up spending some time with them in LA while the Nuns, the Ramones and Blondie were all staying at the same motel on Santa Monica. We then opened for Blondie at the Old Waldorf but our fans were so disrespectful of Blondie that we got thrown off the bill for the second night. Our manager Edwin Heaven took out a Billboard on Broadway which said "To hell with the old Waldorf, Nuns Free Concert Mabuhay Gardens. We had a great gig and packed the house. We opened for Television at the Boarding House and the Dictators for four nights at the Whiskey in LA. We also opened for the Ramones and the Dictators at Winterland. We opened for Brian Ferry at Winterland.

At the urging of my friend Brian Marnell I quit the Nuns to join his band, pre SVT, and told the Nuns I'd play the Winterland show and then I was out. A few days later then told me that I was out as Pat Ryan a friend of the band, replaced me.
Punk Globe:
Was The Nuns first show at The Mabuhay Gardens?
MIKE VARNEY:
The first show I saw might have been Nuns and The Dills and then The Nuns and Crime and then The Ramones . After that I was a member of the band.
Punk Globe:
For readers who are not aware of The Fab Mab aka Mabuhay Gardens it was the first "punk" venue in SF? You were playing there when Jerry Paulson was involved with the club.. What are your memories of the club?
MIKE VARNEY:
I remember Jerry. Jerry put out Psyclone magazine a cool publication which was the first to cover the Mabuhay scene. Jeff Olener as I recall, talked Nes Aquino the owner of the Mabuhay to letting the band play there on a dark night, which I think was a Tuesday. The Nuns had a good social network at the time and also had some cool posters. The night was a success and was the birth of the San Francisco Punk Scene.
Punk Globe:
Did you get to know Dirk Dirksen that time period?
MIKE VARNEY:
I was nineteen years old so we were not close but I talked to him as much as most people did at the time.
Punk Globe:
I remember laughing my ass off at some of his comments but also being intimidated by him.. How about you?
MIKE VARNEY:
I always thought he was funny and was so far from what the scene was about that it worked. His tirades are legendary. His rant on the Fword record is really entertaining. Howie Klein was a guy that really did a lot for that scene. I am really happy he became such a success in the record business. You were a big part of that scene too Ginger. I remember you being there by the time that I got in the band.
Punk Globe:
I am going to jog your memory with some names from the early days and get a brief description from you
MIKE VARNEY:
Crime:
Great Guys, high concept, great image, nice guys.

Dirk Dirksen:
Very sarcastic, very bright and enjoyed interacting with people that he would not likely have ever imagined himself interacting with before he was thrust in the middle of it. I remember we had a booking meeting at the club and all the bands on the scene were there and Jerry was there. I think they might have even had a buffet for us. I think the purpose was to bring the bands together to encourage more of a scene. The bands were all there lobbying for top billing and weekend gigs.

The Dils:
Chip and Tony were great. I saw them with Cowboy Nation about five years ago and they were still great. They were really nice guys and had a lot of talent. Alejandro loved those guys.

Ness Aquino:
I just remember Ness as a very friendly guy. I think his place got so popular he didn't know what to do with the success. . The was still running the Filipino supper club om some nights when I came on the scene and i remember being there two nights in a row and thinking what a contrast there was between Miss Amapola and the Nuns.

Mary Monday:
Mary was a real kick. I enjoyed watching them. She had a lot of fire and Vermillion was cool too. As I recall I think they were performing together for awhile.

Leila and The Snakes:
Lots of talent there between Pearl and Jane. Pearl went on to have her moment in the explosions and beyond and Jane had a great radio career going before she passed away. That was a fun band. Very cabaret style.

Leland:
He is still going at it. He made a new record a year or two ago and I bought it. He was great as he was coming from a different place but somehow he was a fixture on the scene. Another nice guy, Novak was a great guy too.

UXA:
I remember Dee Dee and Kawalski but I don't think I ever saw the band.
Punk Globe:
In what year did you quit the Nuns and what did you do?
MIKE VARNEY:
It was 1977 and I left to join up with Brian Marnell and three guys who later became the news behind Huey Lewis. Jesse Bradman left Killer watt too and we both joined them. It lasted a few months. Then I joined up with John Cippolina and Rocky Sullivan. While with them Marty Balin saw us at the Old Waldorf and recruited me to work on the Rock Justice Musical which was picked up by EMI.
Punk Globe:
When you left The Nuns was it amicable?
MIKE VARNEY:
I thought so. I have to say that we didn't hang out after that. Jennifer later became a close friend to my wife and to me and we did a lot of fun stuff together before she went to New York.
Punk Globe:
You are doing well with your own labels. Tell about them and who you are releasing?
MIKE VARNEY:
Well we have done about 500 releases. I guess if you google Mike Varney Guitar that is the best way to hear about some of the stuff. Over the years the labels have released lots of records such as Leslie West, Rick Derringer, David Lee Roth, Kansas, Pat Travers, Great White, etc. I have a lot of new blues rock records coming out and even some Jazz fusion releases so the labels are pretty diverse in their catalogs.
Punk Globe:
Have you been playing in any bands?
MIKE VARNEY:
I have been playing a lot. We play in Marin and Sonoma clubs and also I am a member of two private clubs in San Francisco where my playing was a part of my membership so I do quite a bit of playing in association with these clubs.
Punk Globe:
Jennifer Miro aka Jennifer Anderson recently passed away.. Richie Dietrich also left us a few years back... Any thoughts on their untimely much to early passing away?
MIKE VARNEY:
I had no contact with Richie but of course felt bad when I heard he had died. Jennifer came as a shock. Apparently she did not tell a lot of people that she was ill. She was a really fun person to hang out with and in some ways a great underrated artist. She had a lot of songs that never got released. I think she even co-wrote a song on an Al Jarreau record. We are all getting older. It is hard to believe that it has been about 36 years since I set foot in the Mabuhay.
Punk Globe:
Are you in touch with Alejandro now a days?
MIKE VARNEY:
We talked on Facebook once in the last year. I really liked him and am sorry we did not stay in better touch.
Punk Globe:
You seem to be so well adjusted in your personal life. How do you do it?
MIKE VARNEY:
Well, I have never done non-prescribed drugs and I have never even had a drink, maybe cumulatively two glasses in my lifetime. I met a nice girl back in 1977 and we are still together and are very happy. I consider myself very lucky.
Punk Globe:
What does future hold for you in 2012 ?
MIKE VARNEY:
I am working on a dozen records currently but nothing in the punk vein. I buy a lot of punk CD's but I do not release punk records on my labels.
Punk Globe:
Any last words for Punk Globe readers?
MIKE VARNEY:
Well, Ginger I want to commend you for all of the years that you have been doing this. It is perhaps the oldest scene magazine in existence. Actually I bet that it is.. The days of the Mabuhay and the Nuns were some wild times. The band owes a lot to manager Edwin Heaven. He really went to bat for us. We had two major record deals offered to us for low money and we turned them down which seemed like the thing to do at the time. I wish in hindsight we had gotten to make a real record with a real budget but even so the Winterland shows are on Wolfgang's Vault for all to enjoy. Thanks Ginger!
Punk Globe would like to thank Mike for the very interesting and informative interview.. We hope you all enjoyed the interview and it rekindled some fond memories from the past...




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