Happy Toons

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The Happy Toons story as told by Keith Lyons and Brooks Smith.

Keith: The best I can recall is that after the breakup of Negative Element - the move of the Steppe brothers to Peoria IL, Tom Faulkner and I wanted to continue playing music. Before I began looking to create a new band, I went and started playing drums for the first line up of Life Sentence. Eric Brockman was a good friend and a mentor - and his previous band, The Anti-Bodies had rehearsed in my parenets garage, Keith Garage, so we'd already made some noise together. We rehearsed at his home in Itasca but it was just too far away for me - seeing that I was still too young to drive, my brother and older friends couldn't commit to driving me on a regular basis. Eric had rented his house in Itasca with the purpose of rehearsing and he had no desire to be driving out to Westmont every other night again. Shortly thereafter Tom Faulkner and I started getting together and I had a number of ideas for songs that were too psychedelic and weird for Negative Element. Strange enough, I wasn't really into hardcore but freaky music. Heck, I liked Black Flag and the Circle Jerks and all the current music from 80-82 but I was literally buying Fugs albums and Sandy Nelson albums at the Salvation Armies. My mind was elsewhere. It must have been Mick Calhoun who introduced me to Robert Byrne, so Robert, Tom and I rehearsed some. Faulkner wanted to be more of a Chicago scenester so it only worked out for a little while with him - we were rehearsing in my house in the burbs.

I knew Cheeze Romano (we went to parochial school together) from the pop, new wave band The Kidz and I knew that Bryn Zellers was on his way out. He was and always will be a great musician. So eventually it was Robert, Bryn and I. We started to learn a number of weird country/psychedelic songs. Through the relationship of Mick Calhoun and Robert Byrne (both of Dead Fink) I started hanging out with Dan Schneider and some others like Ross Vondersmith and Jamie Munroe and I started skating again. We needed a singer and Brooks Smith popped up around that time. Brooks started showing up with this cool guy Mike Carruth, who ended up being one the first promoters of stunt/freestyle bike events in the USA: There was a connection there because of skating and BMX/freestyle bicycles. Brooks was this kind of mysterious dude from 'California'. His claim to fame was doing the longest wheelie in the world, so naturally we asked him to sing.

I can't remember our first show but I'm sure it was a party in Keith Garage. We played all the clubs in Chicago and we became a regular attraction at West End - I probably confused this bar with Batteries Not Included because now that I think about, the West End bar owner lost his mind during the Minutemen Show. The owner of Batteries Not Included was the coolest bar manager I've ever met. Anyways, we had quite a few early admirers from the 'old school hipsters of the late seventies punk scene'. I think Shrub's (Robert Byrne) guitar skills for a 14 year old were unprecedented and combined with the fact that at first we were doing really bizarre music - at least for Chicago - people had taken notice. I remember trying to get Shrub to learn Borderline by the MC5's - which was almost a taboo 'no, no' in the emerging hardcore scene. We played dozens and dozens of shows. Jeff Pezatti even used us to introduce Big Black to Chicago youth. Ain't that funny? I have to say that the highlight was playing at a Mothers Day Peace Festival in Chicago's Grant Park in front of 40,000 people. We played Bryn's song "Suicide Trap".

I think after Dead Fink started we became more of a cult - With the combined charisma of the members from the two bands; added with Dan's own special charisma and my tweaked past, we forged a kind of scene in the Western Suburbs. The drugs and drinking took precedence at some point and the rest is history... Rest in Pieces.


Brooks: In 1983 I took up drinking and started throwing nightly parties at my mother’s rented home in Downers Grove. The normal cast of characters included all the members of Dead Fink as well as a number of classmates and their friends. Keith Lyons started showing up at these soirees and it was at this time that he and Robert Byrne were starting what would become Happy Toons.

One night Keith brought Bryn Zellers, who I had know from the BMX world, to my house and they told that they needed a singer for Happy Toons. I met those guys at Keith Garage to "try out" and after nearly a case of Black Label beer I worked up the courage to scream into the mike. Apparently it worked because we started practicing on a regular basis from there.

I’m not sure how long it took us, it couldn’t have been more than a couple of weeks, but we played our first real show at West End with Killdozer and Die Kreuzen.

We put on a few shows at Keith Garage, one of them was written up in Maximum Rock and Roll. Legendary skater Steve Caballero's band, The Faction, was on tour and made a point of stopping to play that show.

We somehow ended up on a lot of good bills opening up for the likes of The Exploited, The Dicks, D.R.I., A.O.F., Adrenalin O.D., Toxic Reasons and too many more to remember. I suspect Keith’s trailblazing with Negative Element opened up quite a few doors for us.

Most importantly, we found ourselves at the center of a really powerful suburban scene that spawned a lot of great and very active bands and cemented our places in drinking history!

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