TAD – 8 WAY SANTA (1991)

February 15th, 1991, TAD released their second album, 8 Way Santa, on Sub Pop Records. TAD were always one of the real gems of the Seattle scene. Formed in 1988 and fronted by man mountain Tad Doyle, the band quickly established a sound and persona that struck fear and compelled in equal measure. 

TAD began in 1988 as a solo project of Tad Doyle (born Thomas Andrew Doyle), former drummer of the band H-Hour. Doyle, a gifted multi-instrumentalist, recorded a 3-songs demo that later became the “Daisy/ Ritual Device” single, singing and playing all instruments on the tracks. So enamoured were friends Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt; they signed TAD as one of the first bands to their fledgling new label Sub Pop Records.

Soon after, Doyle realised he needed a full band – and asked bassist Kurt Danielson to join. Danielson’s band, Bundle of Hiss, had played shows with Doyle’s previous band, H-Hour. Doyle recruited drummer Steve Wied (formerly of Skin Yard) and guitarist Gary Thorstensen to complete the line-up. TAD’s debut album, God’s Balls, appeared in early 1989 and was produced by Jack Endino. In March 1990, they released the EP Salt Lick, recorded by Steve Albini. 

TAD and Nirvana left Seattle in 1989 to embark on an extensive European co-headline tour. These were the days when hair metal ruled the roost and Smells Like Teen Spirit was yet to be conceived. Both bands slummed it, travelling in rust-bucket vans, sleeping on floors and playing in small rooms filled with enthusiastic outcasts disillusioned with what rock music had to offer at that time but finding solace in these fierce and noisy Pacific Northwest outsiders. In many places, TAD was the bigger draw on tour, mainly due to the legend surrounding the band and its gargantuan frontman, which Sub Pop had carefully curated. 

Right from the get-go, Sub Pop were masters of marketing. In Tad Doyle, Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt saw a perfect opportunity to market the band and its frontman as fierce, dangerous, chainsaw-wielding behemoths extracted from the backwoods of rural Washington and set upon the world of rock. The music press lapped up the fabled image and persona, especially in the UK and Europe. 

Doyle and the band certainly played along, even though the image portrayed didn’t match the true persona of the band members, who are gifted musicians, intelligent and blessed with a sardonic wit. 

Returning to Seattle from Europe in 1990, TAD began compiling songs for their next album. Re-locating shortly thereafter to Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, the band chose Butch Vig to helm the recording. At this time, Vig had amassed an impressive CV producing and recording albums by cutting-edge bands from the insurgent underground alternative rock scene. 

Even though Vig was still a year away from the earth-shattering success of producing Nirvana’s Nevermind, his sound and production style were already set in stone. Bringing a warm heft to TAD’s abrasive attack, Vig’s approach fit like a glove. The band’s new material was also more hook-laden and tightly honed than previous albums. 

“If it wasn’t for bad luck, You know I wouldn’t have no luck at all,” sang Albert King in his 1967 song “Born Under A Bad Sign.” And a litany of bad luck besieged TAD throughout their recording career. 8-Way Santa yielded two singles and two cases of legal jeopardy. “Jinx” was used in the 1992 film Singles (in a scene when Cliff Poncier installs a new stereo in his girlfriend’s car) but didn’t make the soundtrack release. 

The other, “Jack Pepsi,” garnered Tad a lawsuit from soft drink company Pepsi. Tad used the soda brand’s logo for the single artwork. The song tells a tale of Tad and his friend Jack Helton stealing Jack’s father’s truck and driving around on a frozen lake while sipping the blend of Jack Daniels and Pepsi in the song title. Eventually, they wrecked the truck as the ice wasn’t thick enough, and they fell through. 

Rumour has it someone had recently been fired from Sub-Pop, and the jilted ex-employee called Pepsi to tip them off on TAD’s use of the Pepsi logo as the single cover, resulting in the lawsuit. Mortified that their sugary ditch water was linked to a song about driving a 4×4 on ice while dosed up on their product and Jack Daniels, Pepsi’s lawyers swooped in. 

But that paled compared to the furore caused by the album cover art. In it, a moustachioed, shirtless man is copping one breast of his partner. 

Unfortunately, the couple was not amused by the unauthorised use of their picture on the album cover. A lawsuit against a soon-to-be-famous Sub Pop record label and a replacement album cover led to the original “8-Way-Santa” cover art being ditched mere days after it hit store shelves. The original cover has now become a sought-after collector’s item.

Truthfully, it wasn’t the most explicit on the grand scale of provocative album art, but the fact that Sub Pop had to recall all copies of the album just after release was a massive blow to its success. The cover featured a Polaroid photograph of Patricia Rogers and her ex-husband, Kimball Weber, taken more than a decade earlier when they were still married. 

Patricia Rogers had yet to learn the long-lost picture would wind up on the cover of an album produced by Sub Pop Records. She had become a born-again Christian about a year before the album was released. “It kind of went away for a long time,” Linda Faccone, Patricia Rogers sister, said. “I don’t remember ever talking about it with (my sister). At her memorial service, (Weber) came, and we started talking about the Tad album cover. Then, my brother and I started looking for a copy of the original album as a memory of our sister. Towards the end, when she wasn’t still married to her second husband, she might have wanted it herself and would have been happy to have it in her own house. But sometimes, as a new Christian, you want to pretend something is in your past instead of embracing it as something that made you who you are today.”

Accounts differed in 1991 as to whether the Polaroid was taken from a house during a garage sale or if it somehow wound up in a pile of donated items the couple got rid of as part of their divorce. Either way, the band serendipitously found it in a Seattle thrift store. According to Faccone, the outcome of the copyright infringement case brought against Sub Pop gave her sister the option of a $2,500 cash settlement or an ownership stake in what was then a tiny, independent record label.

Rogers took the cash, which came as a monthly check for $25. Though the other option would have gone against her beliefs at the time, it would undoubtedly have been more lucrative considering the explosion Sub Pop, its artists, and the Seattle music scene experienced post-1991.

Bizarre events like these plagued and scuppered TAD’s career. What’s undeniable is the quality of material the band produced, with 8 Way Santa being a definitive statement in a back catalogue full of definitive statements. 

The album opens with “Jinx,” Tad Doyle’s savage swamp groove riff is infectious, leading the band in on one hell of an album opener. Hook-driven without losing any heaviness or edge, the song showcases Gary Thorstensen’s melodic guitar counterpoint, which perfectly compliments Doyle’s intense vocal delivery and the pummelling rhythm section of Kurt Danielson and Steve Weid. 

The mammoth groove of “Giant Killer” follows with Weid and Danielson again making a case that they were low-key the most devastating rhythm section on the Seattle scene. The feral “Weird God” chugs and swings from a tight groove to atonal blasts of knotty guitar chicanery. The irresistible titanic bounce of “Delinquent” is the type of riffing on which the Seattle scene was built. Tad Doyle almost raps the verses while delivering a softly sung, melodic, spaced-out chorus that burrows deep under the skin. 

“Hedge Hog” is a forty-second interlude of disembodied voices and wailing feedback and percussion. “Flame Thrower” follows with its insistent whipping snare, driving shards of guitar interplay and a beautifully hazy melodic vocal. “Trash Truck” is a rollicking up-tempo banger with some inspired “Chuck Berry through a meatgrinder” guitar licks from Thorstensen. 

The ascending heave of “Stumblin’ Man’s” opening riff gives way to a syncopated stabbing slab of essential TAD. Ridiculously heavy, unrelentingly powerful and unremitting in its objective to crush your skull. 

Setting aside “Jack Pepsi’s” legal woes, it’s a massive slice of top-tier TAD. Explosive from the opening snare crack, its mess of tangled feedback, lubricated bass, and pounding drums prop up Doyle’s spoken word verses as he recounts a story of him and his friend drunkenly wrecking a truck on a lake of ice. Doyle’s ferocious wolfish howl of “Help me Jack Pepsi” is both exhilarating and frightening. 

“Candi’s” Sabbath-esque crawl sees Doyle assume the kind of whispered threat vocal delivery Deftone’s Chino Moreno would employ years later. “3-D Witch Hunt” sparkles with a guitar jangle not dissimilar to “Lick” or “Lovey” era Lemonheads. The reckless abandon of “Cranes Cafe” rockets along with a bloodthirsty grin as Doyle recounts “My wife don’t know where I’m at. My daughter blew out her brains. My shadow scares the cat.”

The album closes with the brilliant “Plague Years.” Oddly harmonised guitars glide over a cleanly strummed electric guitar. Doyle’s voice is melodic and clean over the band’s shifting dynamics. It’s a fitting end to an album where TAD flexed their melodic songwriting muscles like never before without sacrificing their earlier work’s balls-out heaviness, aggression, weirdness and originality. 

It’s not hyperbole to suggest TAD were one of the greatest bands to emerge from the Pacific Northwest scene. They were. They were also plagued with bad luck, legal disputes and poor decision-making, which hindered their career. Conversely, TAD wrote and recorded some astounding, vital rock music that buoyed and elevated the Seattle music scene in the early days and continued to inspire their contemporaries throughout its heyday. 

8 Way Santa sounds incredibly vital today, over thirty years later. It’s music with balls, heart, brains and a devilish wit, all elements that never grow old in the great Rock ‘n Roll pantheon. To this day, TAD is unceremoniously overlooked when discussing the impeccable cannon of great music that emerged in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and it’s a real shame. One listen to 8 Way Santa proves that they belong at the top.