When I was in high school, waaay back in the mid-1980s, "Hell on Earth" -- Misty White's annual Halloween party -- provided a great excuse for suburban kids to venture into Midtown. Disguising our ages in clever costumes, we'd venture across East Parkway -- a boundary line for us suburbanites -- and head down Monroe Avenue to the Bluff City Body Shop, which White transformed into a party space for the weekend.
"I was president of the philosophy club at Memphis State University, and my friend Allison Smith was president of the student body at the Memphis College of Art," White remembers. "I was hanging out with Tav Falco back then [White played drums for The Hellcats, a "sister" band to Falco's group, The Panther Burns], and he was always having parties -- Counter Fest, Sin Fest, and stuff like that -- which made me want to have one. Allison got $500 from MCA for a student party, and I got some money from the philosophy club. We joined forces in 1986 for the first "Hell on Earth."
"We were focusing on religious classics in philosophy class, so the first year, our theme was Dante's Inferno -- 'Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,'" White explains. "We moved all the cars out of the body shop, put straw on the floor to soak up the motor oil, and ordered 13 kegs of beer. The place got trashed," she says with a laugh, "but it was really totaled before the party even started."
Over the last few decades, dozens of Memphis groups -- including the Hellcats and the Panther Burns, The Country Rockers, and Neighborhood Texture Jam -- and out-of-towners such as Rev. Horton Heat and The Gibson Bros. have performed at "Hell on Earth." The party has also witnessed some notable debuts, including Steve Selvidge's first band, Fetzer, which followed Unnecessary Surgery, a NTJ side-project that featured a chainsaw and an inflatable doll stuffed with dog food at one memorable event in the early '90s.
"The second year, our theme was 'Hell on Earth Part II -- The Homecoming,' White says. "We had everyone put their names into a hat, and we crowned a prom king and queen at the end of the night. Our third year, we passed out 3-D glasses, and for our 10th, the theme was 'Ten Years of Decadence.'"
According to White, Mike Todd eventually bought the building at 629 Monroe and turned it into a full-time party facility, The Premier Palace. "I recommended he do it. I knew he could make money," she says. "It was great for us too. We went from building a bar out of two sawhorses and a door to having real fixtures. But over the years, the old place got too nice. I hoped to get it for free this year, but he wanted to charge us $600 -- plus a promise not to mess the place up! So," White explains, "the theme for this year's party is 'On the Move.' We're relocating to Earnestine & Hazel's downtown."
Rapper Al Kapone, rockabilly queen Amy Kudela and her group The Super Tramps, The Rock It Scientists, and Austin, Texas' The Swishbucklers will perform at "Hell on Earth," which will begin at 10 p.m. Friday, October 29th. Monsieur Jeffrey Evans -- who, as a member of the Gibson Bros., played the event 18 years ago -- will emcee.
While it's arguable that any of this year's Halloween-related events can hold a candle to last year's Oblivians reunion, there are several more rock-and-roll shows for partygoers to choose from. At The Buccaneer this Friday night, The Secret Service are playing along with Chicago's Miss Alex White and the dubiously titled VeeDee. The show is billed as a stop on the Red-Headed Stepchildren Halloween Tour 2004. The following night, Saturday, October 30th, The Six String Jets, The Angel Sluts, and The Antique Curtains are playing at Midtown's only pirate-themed tavern.
Also on Saturday night, hardcore heroes Pezz are playing a Halloween-themed reunion show at The Riot, which is located at 296 Monroe. Bury the Living, the Angel Sluts (pulling a double-header), and FUT are also on the bill for this show, which will begin at 8 p.m. That same evening, The Gamble Brothers are headlining an R&B-fueled costume bash at Young Avenue Deli, while The Tunnel Clones, Kontrast, and DJs Leroy and Red Eye Jedi are hosting their own party at the Hi-Tone Café.
Finally, on Halloween night, Eldorado & The Ruckus, Monsieur Jeffrey Evans & The Memphis Roadmasters, and one-man-band Jeffrey Novak are performing at Murphy's. If you've got stamina, this is one show you won't want to miss.