On January 4, 2020, Jen Lemasters started She Bop, an Instagram account dedicated to recordings by women in rock. Lemasters has a huge record collection, not least because she and her husband, Nick Mayor, own Bric-a-Brac Records & Collectibles. Lemasters’s knowledge of punk and new wave, and her particular love of underdocumented bands that exist outside dominant rock narratives, made her a perfect fit for a project like She Bop. She launched the Instagram page with a post about the 1981 debut of New York postpunk group Disturbed Furniture, establishing a template for the account by including photos of the seven-inch’s front and back covers, a video sampling the music, and a few details about the record’s provenance.
She Bop has posted about a few well-known bands, including the Go-Go’s, X-Ray Spex, and the Raincoats. But the feed focuses on obscure records, often decades old: they include “Elizabeth’s Lover,” a doo-wop-inflected 1980 single by New York new-wave group Dizzy & the Romilars; Signals From Pier Thirteen, a raw 1981 EP from Philadelphia synth-punk outfit Crash Course in Science; and “Bountiful Living,” a 1978 boogie single from Akron art-rock trio Chi-Pig.
In She Bop’s early months, Lemasters usually posted daily, and by June 9, 2020, the account represented a sizable archive. That fateful day she posted the record that would eventually become the first she’d reissue, fulfilling her dream of launching a label: the debut of Seattle proto-grunge band Bam Bam.
Discogs calls Bam Bam’s 1984 EP “Stress,” after the first song on what someone presumed was its A side (the record doesn’t indicate which is which). Bam Bam formed in 1983, and they mixed punk’s speed and attitude with metal’s noise and swagger years before grunge. They broke up in 1993, after a series of personnel shake-ups and a dramatic change in sound, and that 1984 EP remains the only formal release by the lineup that made the group briefly popular in Seattle. The reissue came out earlier this month, inaugurating Lemasters and Mayor’s Bric-a-Brac imprint.
Before that She Bop post, Lemasters had already shared her love of Bam Bam with her friend Jen B. Larson. After Bric-a-Brac opened on Kedzie and Diversey in 2013, Lemasters and Larson crossed paths often; Larson sang and played guitar in a frenzied, scuzzy punk band called Swimsuit Addition, whose gigs included a few Bric-a-Brac in-stores. Swimsuit Addition split up in 2016, and the following year, Larson began to channel her growing interest in the women of first-wave punk into a Tumblr called Punkette Respect.
“It sounded like so many of these bands around the world could’ve been in the same scene—but a lot of them, of course, hadn’t even heard each other,” Larson says. “They were creating things that really seemed to me almost coherent, as if all these women and these bands were, like, working together in some way. I was just really fascinated by that.”
Larson’s dedication to writing about these bands led her to independent publisher Feral House, which in 2019 signed her to a book deal; Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA, 1975-1983 is due in August. While researching her book, she often consulted Lemasters, who shared her desire to lift up women in punk—and who especially wanted to spotlight women of color in punk.
“She started sharing a lot, and her knowledge is—I can’t even keep up with her, I can’t keep up with her record collection, I can’t keep up with any of it,” Larson says. “We really bonded over it and were just constantly sharing things with each other. She’s constantly sharing things that I don’t know with me, and Bam Bam was one of those bands.”
Larson could immediately hear how Bam Bam had foreshadowed what the grunge explosion would make famous as “the Seattle sound.” The thin historical record on Bam Bam bothered her, because they had something none of Seattle’s celebrated 80s bands did: a Black woman with a powerful voice and a magnetic stage presence. Even in old photos, singer Tina Bell seized Larson’s attention. “I started digging, and I noticed the injustice of her story being left out of the grunge scene in Seattle,” Larson says. “And I was like, ‘This is dumb. We’ve gotta fix this.'”
Fortunately, Larson wasn’t alone in her push to properly canonize Bell and her band. Om Johari, a Black punk musician and activist who grew up in Seattle and Alaska, first saw Bam Bam as a teenager in the mid-80s and never forgot about Bell. “Tina Bell was a force to reckon with,” Johari says. “She was somebody that I found was very attractive—a type of person that I felt was a shero, not only to claim space in predominantly white spaces but also to claim space as somebody who’s doing alternative music.”
In fall 2015, Johari enrolled in a University of Washington class that asked students to create a Wikipedia page, and by the end of that year she’d made one for Bell. In November 2015, Johari also logged her thoughts about Bell’s legacy on her personal WordPress blog. “The woman who might very well be the unwritten voice of grunge in the Seattle scene,” she wrote. “How do you keep her story from going unsung?”
Johari’s Wikipedia page for Bell was taken down within a year, and the current one didn’t get posted till summer 2021. This was well after Larson had begun her research, and she had an uphill climb ahead of her. Bam Bam’s founders, Bell and guitarist Tommy Martin (who’d been married for more than half of Bam Bam’s ten-year run), are both dead—Bell passed away in October 2012, Martin in October 2019. But Larson found Johari’s blog post in 2020, along with a handful of other pieces from the U.S. and abroad—including a 2019 interview from Romanian music site the Sonic Mosquito Soup with two of Bell’s bandmates, Martin and bassist Scotty Ledgerwood.
The surviving original members have never stopped carrying a torch for Bam Bam and Bell, and they’ve helped document the band’s legacy. In 2018 Ledgerwood began digitally issuing unreleased Bam Bam recordings, and he talks up Bell to any journalist and blogger who comes calling. (She gave him a nickname he still uses, “Scotty Buttocks.”) Original drummer Matt Cameron, who became a key figure in grunge after his brief tenure in Bam Bam (he’s played in Soundgarden and Pearl Jam), has talked fondly about his first Seattle band. In a 2011 book that Pearl Jam assembled to commemorate their 20th anniversary, he describes playing with Bam Bam in ’83 at storied all-ages Seattle venue the Metropolis—he calls that gig a “revelation,” because he’d found “a music scene that fully accepted me.”
Larson pitched a story on Bell to Please Kill Me, a music and culture site that grew out of Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil’s 1996 punk oral history of the same name. On September 3, 2020, Please Kill Me published “Tina Bell’s hidden legacy: The Black woman who created the sound of grunge.” Larson closed the piece with a call to action: “It’s more than time to crown Tina the Queen of Grunge,” she wrote, “and not as a woke PR move, but because it’s the Truth.”
A wave of new coverage of Bell and Bam Bam followed. Sound & Vision, a podcast of Seattle public radio station KEXP, ran an episode about Bell and her band in March 2021. In September 2021, national news program CBS Mornings ran a segment on Bell featuring interviews with Johari, Ledgerwood, Cameron, and Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker T.J. Martin, who’s Bell and Martin’s son.
As Larson’s Bam Bam story made the rounds, Ledgerwood was talking with Lemasters and Mayor about reissuing an expanded version of the band’s 1984 EP. They finalized a deal in February 2021.
“Talking with Scotty, you can really tell he’s passionate about keeping the legacy of Tina Bell and Bam Bam alive, so that made it easy,” Lemasters says. “He was like, ‘Yeah, I just want this out there.'” The new Bric-a-Brac reissue, titled Villains (Also Wear White), came out digitally in November 2021 and on vinyl on February 4—just a day before what would’ve been Bell’s 65th birthday. The insert includes an essay from her son, who wrote, “The continued desire to support their music not only keeps their legacy alive but also makes our family’s life sacrifices all worthwhile.”
Tina Marie Bell was born in Seattle in 1957. According to her youngest sister, Christy Stepney, Bell was the third of ten children and the oldest daughter—she took on the role of caretaker when her parents were busy at work. “She made sure we ate, went to school,” Stepney says. “I was told when I was in day care, she would come and pick me up.”
Stepney is 11 years younger than Bell, and she says her sister didn’t always welcome that responsibility. “One day—my mum tells me—Tina just told her, ‘You had that baby, you take care of that baby,'” Stepney says. “That’s how she was; she was always straightforward, honest, but had a loving heart and always wanted to see you do better.”
Bell’s authority over her siblings went unquestioned, but it didn’t prevent her from bonding with them. Stepney recalls one Christmas when she asked Bell how Santa would be able to deliver gifts, since their family didn’t have a chimney—and Bell built one. “It was amazing,” Stepney says. “It was like, where does she think about that? How does she think to help me believe in Christmas? Even though she was older—she knew mom and dad were Santa—she never spoiled that for me. She kept me believing that there was hope.”
Stepney experienced Bell’s love of music firsthand—in fact, she didn’t have much choice. “We had this big stereo at home, and she would play her records—we didn’t have headsets, so we all had to listen,” Stepney says. “We’d be like, ‘Why are you listening to that?’ Especially Billie Holiday—I’d be like, ‘That’s so sad.’ But she heard something different.”
Bell was part of the choir at the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle’s Central District. In the 1970s, she participated in a joint production between her church and a theater troupe connected to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. The role required her to sing the 1947 song “C’est Si Bon” in French, so she needed a language tutor. The production tracked one down for her: Tommy Martin.
Martin and Bell became romantic partners before they became bandmates. T.J. was born in 1979, and when his parents got married, he was just old enough to be part of the wedding. Bell and Martin formed Bam Bam in 1983, by which point Martin had already played in a couple punk bands. As he told the Sonic Mosquito Soup in 2019, he’d been motivated to start his own group by a bad experience in a band called Sex Therapy: “This time around I was determined to get in a band where I had a say in the direction, in the music, the writing, ya know?” he said. “So rather than join someone else’s band, I decided to form Bam Bam.” The name began as an acronym for Bell And Martin.
In spring 1983, Martin placed an ad for a bassist and drummer in the Rocket, a free monthly Seattle newspaper. Ledgerwood answered the call; he says he was intimidated by Martin but especially by Bell, whose confidence overwhelmed him and drew him in immediately. “It was like we were friends,” he says. “She didn’t give a shit about music. She started asking me about my mom, my wife, and my boy. ‘Where’d you guys go for vacation?’ and whatever—she wanted to know who I was as a person.”
Bam Bam was a real commitment from the start. Ledgerwood recalls spending six days per week at Bell and Martin’s home, writing and rehearsing for six hours a day. “For some reason [when] we used to write music, Bell and I would lie on the floor and do it,” he says. “Tommy would throw wads of paper at us and strap on his guitar.” Cameron, who’d moved to Seattle from San Diego in 1983, joined the band that summer—Ledgerwood is sure he was aboard by August, when the whole band went together to see a Peter Gabriel concert.
Martin booked Bam Bam’s first show for October 15, 1983, at the Metropolis in Pioneer Square, owned by Hughes “Hugo” Piottin. “Tommy was raised in the Lyon area,” Ledgerwood says. “So not only is he speaking French, he has a regional accent that Hugo recognized—they obviously hit it off right away.”
Bam Bam made their live debut alongside Room Nine and Tse Tse Force. “It was exciting—it was the best time of my life,” Ledgerwood says. “We were at the center of this shit and didn’t know what was going on.”
When Bam Bam began playing out, their hometown didn’t yet have much patience for bands playing punk, postpunk, hardcore, or new wave. “Seattle was a hard nut to crack,” says Room Nine guitarist and singer Ron Rudzitis, who’d go on to form Sub Pop grunge band Love Battery in 1989. “It was hard to get out of, and it was hard to make a splash in the town. It was tough to be in a band—you had to be really dedicated and willing to play for nothing most of the time.”
It seemed like any musician with an idiosyncratic bent and big ambitions moved away. Tomata du Plenty and Tommy Gear played around Seattle as the Tupperwares before decamping to Los Angeles to form synth-punk band the Screamers in the mid-70s. One of Seattle’s biggest early-80s punk bands, the Blackouts, split for Boston in 1982. Underground bands on budgets didn’t typically tour through the northwest at the time—the most plausible route was north from San Francisco, which was at least a 13-hour drive. That left Seattle musicians to entertain themselves. “There just wasn’t that many people going to shows other than other musicians,” Rudzitis says.
Few venues would book punk or new-wave bands, and those that would didn’t last long. Bam Bam formed at around the time a trio of such venues sprang to life in Pioneer Square. The Metropolis opened at 207 2nd Ave. S. in April 1983 and lasted till March 1984. About a block west at 311 S. Washington St. was Graven Image, an art gallery and basement venue operated by Larry Reid, who managed proto-grunge group the U-Men; it hosted shows from October 1983 till August 1984. At the same intersection, a basement venue called Behind the Grey Door opened in early 1984, run by Donner Cooper, front man of punk band “R” Gang, which included drummer Duff McKagan of future Guns N’ Roses fame. It too shuttered before the end of the year.
The clubs sometimes worked together to draw out crowds. “We would frequently do, like, drink cover nights—15 bands for $5, one admission would get you into all the clubs,” Reid says. The Seattle scene at the time consisted of maybe a few hundred people. “We all knew each other,” Reid says. “So if there was something new and interesting going on, we would be sure to catch it.”
Reid remembers seeing Bam Bam eight or ten times during their run, including at a few shows he booked. “I don’t remember all those shows, but Bam Bam was pretty popular,” he says. “They played a lot of shows—maybe even too many shows for a small scene. You don’t want to saturate that crowd.”
“What really struck me about Bam Bam was they amalgamated a metallic thing with punk, which really hadn’t been that prevalent,” Rudzitis says. “Of course Soundgarden and Nirvana made it hugely popular, but these guys were doing it back in the early 80s, which made them stand out.” Bell stood out to him too, and not just because she was a Black woman in a scene dominated by white men. “She belted it out with a punk-rock feel, but with a lot of soul,” he says.
Stepney wasn’t sure what to make of her big sister fronting Bam Bam. “Being Black and singing rock and punk? We’re just like, ‘What is going on?’ But she owned it,” Stepney says. “She just showed me, don’t hold yourself back. You can do what you want to do—if you’re strong in what you want to do, you should at least try it. And I feel like that impacted everything for me.”
When a teenage Om Johari saw Bam Bam play, it hit her right in the heart. She’d begun collecting records at age four and went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show by herself in fifth grade, and she loved to see Bell break out of the roles to which Black women in music had traditionally been confined.
“It definitely meant empowerment. It also gave me a feeling of older-sister solidarity, because I could understand what it was like for her to come in and out of these spaces,” Johari says. “We were persons who, because of our being quote-unquote different, had to accept that we were going to have to take considerable flak coming in and out of both communities. So you’re too weird to be Black, but you’re too Black to be weird in the white community. She represented somebody who was quintessentially punk, because she was definitely one of a kind.”
By all accounts, Bam Bam drew big, enthusiastic crowds, which makes their absence from Seattle music history all the more perplexing to Ledgerwood. “If race and misogyny is the element that held us back—and that was only one of them, by the way, but it definitely was—that wasn’t in our face usually,” he says.
Ledgerwood counts just a few occasions when concertgoers hurled racist invective at Bell, including an incident at the Metropolis when a couple people in the crowd confronted her aggressively enough that she hit them with her mike stand and Martin dove into the crowd with his guitar. “It was very much not the typical Metropolis show,” he says. “Metropolis was, like, our home base for a while—for an incident like that to occur at the Metropolis, or for that matter any club, was unheard-of. By and large, the crowd went nuts for her.”
“They had a crowd that if you were a new budding band, it was somebody who you definitely wanted to be on the same bill with,” Johari says. On May 5, 1984, a group from the tiny west Washington town of Montesano played their first Seattle gig, opening for Bam Bam at Behind the Grey Door. The Melvins arrived with a 17-year-old friend who helped carry equipment; he dropped Ledgerwood’s 1983 Ibanez Roadstar, taking a chunk out of the body just above the pickups. Ledgerwood wasn’t pleased, but years later he would tell people that the gouge in his instrument was thanks to Kurt Cobain.
Bam Bam cut their debut EP at Reciprocal Recording, which would later become the most important studio in grunge history. In the late 1980s, as Sub Pop helped transform Seattle’s provincial scene into the envy of the indie world, the biggest local bands booked the studio to record with producer Jack Endino, a key architect of grunge’s massive sound. In 1988, Nirvana pulled up to Reciprocal to record their first demo with Endino; he later produced their debut album, Bleach, which Sub Pop released in June 1989.
Chris Hanzsek and Tina Casale opened Reciprocal Recording in 1984, after moving to Seattle from Boston the previous year. They took out an ad in the Rocket, offering an hour of studio time for $10. “‘That’s pretty cheap—even we can afford that,’” Ledgerwood remembers thinking. “None of us really had a job.” Martin drove a bus part-time, and Bell worked at a check-cashing place. Bell made the call, Casale answered, and Bam Bam became the first band to record at Reciprocal—the original location, not the famous one.
By the time Bam Bam began their first session at Reciprocal in spring ’84, they’d already gone through the first of many lineup changes—Tom Hendrickson had replaced Cameron on drums. “It was a big step up for me,” says Hendrickson. “I was kind of in awe of these guys and the situation I was in—even at the time, I kind of felt like it was a lucky situation I’d somehow fallen into.”
Martin wanted Hendrickson to focus on simple, driving beats, and let him decide what to play within that directive—with a few exceptions. “For some of the songs, he preferred not to have any hi-hats,” Hendrickson says. “He preferred a more open, uncluttered sound, without a time meter that way.”
Hanzsek recalls that Bam Bam came in for eight or nine sessions; Ledgerwood says they recorded the three songs on their debut EP plus about a dozen others that wouldn’t be released during the band’s lifetime. Bam Bam got comfortable enough with Hanzsek and Casale that the couple ended up babysitting young T.J. for one night.
“Tommy liked to turn his amp up to an unbelievable loud sound level,” Hanzsek says. “Dangerous to be in the same room, actually. I recall he was tripping circuit breakers in the building.”
“He literally—like a fuckin’ movie, like some Back to the Future bullshit—he literally blew the fucking windows out,” Ledgerwood says. “Boom—glass, poof, out—from the sound waves, on our first day there.” He remembers Bell laughing after the dust settled.
Bell didn’t like working in a studio or doing multiple takes; the recording of “Free Fall From Space,” which Ledgerwood released digitally in 2019, was particularly demanding. “Tina was at her wit’s end, ’cause she goes from a sweet, sexy coo to an ear-splitting loud shriek when she says ‘Watch me faaaaall’—it just goes on forever. We had several good takes and they [Martin and Hanzsek] wanted to do more, and she was fuckin’ pissed,” Ledgerwood says. “She turns to me and goes, ‘Scotty, how many times are these assholes gonna make me do this?’”
“We were all pretty cordial and friendly with each other,” Hanzsek says. “But at some point something transpired, and one day I got a message from Tommy letting me know they were done recording at Reciprocal and were going somewhere else that was more ‘professional.’ I was flabbergasted and didn’t know what to make of it.”
Bam Bam’s self-released EP consisted of three songs from the Reciprocal sessions—“Villains (Also Wear White)” on one side, “Stress” and “Heinz 57” on the other. They celebrated with a release show at the Lincoln Arts Center in September 1984; Homewreckers and “R” Gang opened.
By that point, Ledgerwood was planning his exit; he wasn’t happy that Martin hadn’t credited him on the EP as a cowriter. Ledgerwood also didn’t like that Hanzsek—who would later launch grunge label C/Z with Casale—was only credited as an engineer, not as a producer. “That was probably the one thing that fucked the band the most,” Ledgerwood says. “That, in my opinion, is why C/Z never signed us.”
The Seattle scene in 1984 didn’t yet have many alternative labels, and most of them were tiny, ephemeral, or both. Bands such as Bam Bam were often left to their own devices. Hanzsek and Casale didn’t launch C/Z until 1986, with the compilation Deep Six—a crucial document of the emerging grunge scene that featured the U-Men, the Melvins, Malfunkshun, Green River, Soundgarden, and Skin Yard (whose lineup included Cameron and future C/Z owner Daniel House). In theory Bam Bam could’ve worked with C/Z, but their only subsequent output consisted of early-90s instrumental cassettes that Martin self-released after Bell quit.
Over time, Martin had come to dominate Bam Bam’s creative process, and the resulting tension contributed to the souring of Ledgerwood’s feelings about the band. “Tommy was a control freak,” Ledgerwood says. “The thing is, unlike most control freaks, what he said was valid. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way it should be done. Especially when you’re playing from your heart.” He gave his bandmates a heads-up about his intention to quit in late 1984, and finally left in early 1985.
“When Scott left, I really wasn’t much interested in staying,” Hendrickson says. “I really didn’t fit in too well.” He and Ledgerwood continued to hang out after they both left Bam Bam. In 2002, Ledgerwood founded the punk band Called in Sic, and Hendrickson joined on drums a year later. Martin joined in 2010 and remained part of the band till his death in 2019.
In May 2014, Bric-a-Brac co-owner Nick Mayor drove to Oberlin College for a class reunion. As a student, he’d DJed for the school’s free-form radio station, WOBC, and he decided to pay a visit. While reacquainting himself with the station’s collection of seven-inches, he found a record whose minimal, abstract cover featured a big red disc on a white field, bisected by a black-and-white line—it didn’t even have enough text on it for him to tell who the artist was. “I listened to it, and that really grabbed me,” Mayor says. “So I borrowed it for a little while.”
The Bric-a-Brac release Villains (Also Wear White) expands on Bam Bam’s original cover art with a prominent photo of the four band members. The reissue also includes three additional tracks, all newly remastered by Jack Endino.
The Bric-a-Brac Records reissue of Bam Bam’s 1984 debut EP
Endino never saw Bam Bam in their prime. He heard of them after he moved to Seattle in 1984, though—he worked with Hanzsek at Reciprocal, and as Skin Yard’s founding guitarist, he briefly played in that group with Cameron. “By the time Skin Yard was really active in 1986, it seemed like I had stopped hearing about them,” Endino says.
Bell and Martin left Seattle in 1986 to live and tour in Europe, just as the city’s underground scene started to take off. Sub Pop began its label operation in earnest that year, and when it released Green River’s Dry as a Bone EP in 1987, co-owner Bruce Pavitt (a Forest Park native) described it in the catalog as “ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation.” As Sub Pop came to define the Seattle scene in the late 1980s, the label pushed a grunge archetype—a shaggy, flannel-clad white guy with a fuck-off attitude and a sensitive heart—and the city’s older alternative groups could end up sidelined if they didn’t fit that profile.
Endino did eventually find a used copy of Bam Bam’s debut EP, though without its eye-catching cover or its insert. “I didn’t know who they were or what they looked like,” he says. “None of my friends knew them. I didn’t grow up in the city, so I assumed they were another band that had already run its course before I got here. I think there might have been a generation gap, because an old musician buddy of mine told me he had known about them but thought of them as ‘married parents with a band.’”
Through the decades that followed, Bam Bam remained a cool curiosity to Endino—one of a handful of local bands he wishes he could’ve seen, like the Blackouts or hardcore band Ten Minute Warning. In 2015 Endino appeared with Hanzsek on Michigan music-TV show Welcome to the D, and he mentioned Bam Bam in the interview. Ledgerwood reached out and filled Endino in on the band’s history, supplying him with a heap of recordings, including the masters for the 1984 EP. “Turns out, that seven-inch was a bad pressing,” Endino says. “Chris Hanzsek’s original recordings were actually much better than anyone realized.”
In July 2017, Ledgerwood and his wife were staying at his in-laws’ Washington State ranch when a fire broke out in one of several storage buildings where he’d stored Bam Bam’s archives. Flames engulfed the building, but he ran inside anyway. Fortunately the worst injury he suffered was a broken arm, and he saved his old band’s master recordings, footage from music videos and live shows, and photos and their negatives. Ledgerwood did it for himself as much as for his late friend Tina Bell.
Bell had a rough time in Bam Bam after Ledgerwood left. The band’s stint in Europe was plagued by immigration hassles and worse, and when they returned to Seattle in 1988, they barely recognized the lay of the land. “The scene was just really starting to accelerate,” says Preston Singletary, a Native American glass artist who briefly played bass for Bam Bam upon their return. “There were a lot more bands moving to town, trying to get discovered.” As new groups saturated a small market, it got harder to land gigs.
Martin’s musical interests began to shift around 1990; Nick Rhinehart, Bam Bam’s final bassist, compared the guitarist’s newer material to the wild experimentation of Mr. Bungle. “As Tommy progressed, the music got crazier and crazier,” Rhinehart says. “It was probably difficult to sing over this stuff.” Bell and Martin were already split up by the time she quit the band in the early 90s. Bam Bam carried on as an instrumental trio for a few more years and broke up in 1993.
Bell and Martin remained in contact, and in the late 2000s Martin reconnected Bell with Ledgerwood. She was living in Las Vegas, and though he was still in Seattle, their friendship picked up right where it left off.
“I used to actually look forward to one or two in the morning, ’cause we’re both insomniacs, and I knew bloody well—that phone be ringing, that’s my Bell,” Ledgerwood says. “After a while we started writing again together.” Ledgerwood became Bell’s manager and helped look after her, since they both knew she was fighting depression and alcoholism—mostly he placed grocery orders for her, since he’d had some training as a nutritionist.
While in Vegas, Bell remained in close contact with her loved ones. She’d sometimes spend hours on the phone with Stepney and her children; Ledgerwood would talk to her as often as five times a week. But the distance intensified the tragedy of her death from cirrhosis of the liver in October 2012. By the time T.J. Martin could travel from his home in Los Angeles to retrieve her belongings from her Vegas apartment, her landlord had thrown away almost everything.
Jen Lemasters and Nick Mayor met while record shopping in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood in summer 2005. “Jen bought a Le Tigre record,” Mayor says. “I bought a three-CD pack of WWF intro songs, ’cause I thought it was fun.” They moved to Chicago in 2009 and learned the city by record-shop hopping. “We had this ideal of record stores from John Hughes movies—the bygone days of the record store being a community center where you would go to hear the new music, and find out about shows, and meet people that share interests,” Mayor says. “That’s really what we wanted Bric-a-Brac to be.”
“I just wanted it to be visually cool,” Lemasters says.
They opened Bric-a-Brac at the corner of Kedzie and Diversey in June 2013. Vinyl, cassettes, VHS, toys, T-shirts, and other gadgets filled the cozy shop. The store evoked the aesthetic of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, with the addition of many drawings of the couple’s corgi, Dandelo, a fixture in the shop. Mayor and Lemasters made live music a priority too. “We had laid the store out specifically with in-store performances in mind,” Mayor says. “And making sure that that was the center of the business plan, because the Chicago all-ages scene is either super big venues or basements.”
Bric-a-Brac quickly established a solid reputation among music fanatics. “I’ve always seen Jen and Nick as music gurus in a way, but Jen was someone who would recommend things to me that I would really like,” says Larson.
A few years ago, Lemasters and Mayor got the idea to open a horror-movie-themed coffee shop; they enlisted a former coworker of Lemasters, Jason Deuchler (aka DJ Intel), as a partner. Last spring, they expanded their plan to include relocating Bric-a-Brac—they’d found two adjacent storefronts in Avondale that could accommodate both businesses. After about eight months of construction, the new, larger Bric-a-Brac opened in January at 2845 N. Milwaukee. The partners are putting the finishing touches on the coffee shop, called the Brewed—a reference to David Cronenberg’s 1979 post-divorce body-horror picture The Brood. It should open in March.
All of this means Mayor and Lemasters haven’t had a lot of time to promote the Bam Bam 12-inch. Fortunately, they had other people doing the heavy lifting.
When CBS Mornings began coordinating interviews for a story on Tina Bell last year, Om Johari got the idea to book a show. “I reached out to Matt Cameron, and I said, ‘Hey, how would you like to play some of them songs?’ And he was like, ‘That would be awesome—what do we do?’”
With the blessings of T.J. Martin and Ledgerwood, Johari spent a couple weeks assembling a group: Cameron on drums; Fishbone cofounder Kendall Rey Jones and genre-blending Seattle singer-songwriter Ayron Jones on guitar; and New Orleans-based Jenelle Roccaforte on bass. Johari also chose several women to take turns on the mike, most of whom live in Seattle: Eva Walker of the Black Tones, D’mitra Smith of Ex’s With Benefits, Shaina Shepherd of Bearaxe, and singer-songwriter Dejha Colantuono (who flew in from New York).
In July 2021, onetime grunge-scene hub the Central Saloon hosted the show, called “Bam Bam Tributaries.” For Johari, it was an opportunity to pay homage to an artist whose legacy she’d fought to preserve. She also saw it as a way to let T.J. Martin honor his parents. “I was really, really happy to be able to facilitate an opportunity for him to basically have a service for them, on his terms,” Johari says. “That, for me, probably, was equally as powerful as reclaiming Tina’s name.”
“The love for Tina felt big-time that July,” Ledgerwood says. “I was so afraid I was gonna break down that night. I didn’t crack until I got home.”
For years, Lemasters had daydreamed of forming a Josie & the Pussycats cover band—she saw the 2001 live-action movie adaptation of the TV show in a theater, and she still talks about it. She finally made the band happen in 2021, with help from Larson (who brought in drummer Stef Roti to complete a trio). The same drive that drew them both to Bam Bam also drew them closer together. They started practicing in August to play on Halloween. “It was like a dream come true for me,” Lemasters says. “It was really fun. Turns out those songs are very hard.”
A few months after that show, boxes of Bam Bam vinyl arrived at Bric-a-Brac. The reissue is a testament to the tireless work of the people who love Tina Bell and her music, and to the bonds they’ve formed among themselves while amplifying her legacy. Lemasters and Mayor began shipping copies in early February. Mayor put together a package for his old college radio station, including the original Bam Bam seven-inch with WOBC’s call letters on it—a way of making belated amends for his theft in 2014. “I’m sending it back to the station with a promo copy of the record and a little note saying, ‘Thanks for letting me borrow this,’” Mayor says. “‘Here’s it back. It birthed this whole project, so thank you.’”