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The Abnormal Growth Story  
  Abnormal Growth Band Photo
The "Original" line-up for 1986-1987. John was the original long hair in the band but Clay, Mike, Billy and even Robert eventually caught up to him. Featured left to right: Robert Reid (keyboards), John Crowhurst (Guitars/Bass), Clay Butler (Vocals/Drums) and Mike Richmond (Drums/Bass)
Early Rumblings

Abnormal Growth's humble beginnings date back to 1986, when Kevin Butler introduced his brother Clay to John Crowhurst. Soon thereafter, the two embarked upon a musical partnership, beginning with a boombox recording on September 13th, 1986 with John on guitar and Clay handling vocal duties while banging away on a makeshift drum kit, which was at least partially comprised of household objects (a beer keg, Kelly Moore paint buckets, a green plastic laundry basket, and miscellaneous metal items). Mike Richmond was the next musician to enter into the fold, initially as bass player but ultimately switching over to drums.

The trio’s live “maiden voyage” consisted of a brief appearance at Montgomery High School’s talent show, culminating with John’s Hendrix-esque version of “Happy Birthday” performed Star Spangled Banner-style, which was to become a trademark of their live shows for years to come. Around this time wisecracking keyboardist Robert Reid had come on board as a studio-only member. The band soon began the home recording of its self-titled cassette-only debut album, which was released in March 1987.

Cassettes and Copiers

Abnormal Growth was a wholly DIY effort, available through mail order and through the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa. This 60-minute album, which also included a plethora of Clay Butler’s disturbing artwork, began to create quite a buzz throughout the Sonoma County music community despite the fact that the band had so far only played one live show to date. The wide variety of styles on the album - from the thrash metal of “Saturday Morning Cartoons” to the acoustic “Yuppie Blues” to the demented electronica of “Eyemaschitzo” - prevented the band from being pigeonholed into any one genre. They found fans in punks, metalheads, and rebellious LSD-taking preppies alike.

  Photo: Tascam Porta One 4 Track
Photo: Tascam Porta -One 4-Track. We used this model but this is a photo of someone else's unit. If this is your Tascam my apologies for stealing your photo.

In 1987, an ad placed on the bulletin board at the Last Record Store led to the audition and subsequent inclusion of bassist Billy Hawes, a Santa Rosa musician whose previous bands included the Four-Time Losers and Dying Man’s Brain. Having recently upgraded its recording gear to a Tascam Porta-One 4-track, the band used this occasion to re-record Abnormal Growth on this new platform, re-releasing it later in the year with a fuller sound (and with a black cover, instead of the original version’s white cover). A handful of live dates also followed, including a gig opening for RKL and NOFX at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, and a couple of chaotic barn parties in the off-kilter little town of Healdsburg.

Abnormal Growth Band Photo  
Almost everyone we every played with at the time (Tim O'Keefe would come next). Top Row left to right: Clay (Vocals/Drums) and Mike (Bass/Drums) Middle Row: Jason (Drums), Lance (Backup vocals and live stage shenanigans) and Robert (Studio Keyboards and eventually drums and vocals on Brutal), Bottom Row: John (Guitars/Vocals) and Billy ( Bass/Backup Vocals)


As 1987 drew to a close, Mike retired from the band to pursue other interests. Meanwhile, Abnormal Growth worked on a follow up album entitled Let’s Grow Some Crosses, which was recorded in early 1988 and released soon thereafter in March. Let’s Grow Some Crosses was even more “all over the map” musically than its predecessor; including among other things, semi-serious forays into country/blues (“American Man”), a rap song (“Shit On Toast”), and some intriguing acoustic interludes. LGSC was also noteworthy in that some of the band’s lyrics began tackling more serious matters, as evidenced in the anti-military-industrial-complex mosher “Go Joe” (which, incidentally, also appeared on the Mutha Records’ compilation, Bands Only a Mutha Could Love - Abnormal Growth’s first appearance on CD ). North Bay metal legends Skitzo had been borrowing John’s guitar skills around this time, so AG reciprocated by hijacking drummer Jason Sullivan and Lance “Barf Boy” Ozanix as backing vocalist and human stage prop. Another smattering of live dates ensued, including a second Gilman Street gig... most featuring the two bands as a package deal.

  Abnormal Growth Band Photo
Every band has the classic "we're serious artists pose". This is ours circa 1989. Shot with a tripod and timer. Photo was used on the Healdsburg lyric book. Featured left to right: Tim O'Keefe (Drums), John Crowhurst (Guitars/Vocals), Clay Butler (Vocals) and Billy Hawes (Bass/Backup Vocals)

Hiatus and Vinyl

In the summer of 1988, Clay moved to Seaside, California and the rest of the band took some time off to pursue other life matters such as education and employment. But more songs were written during that period of downtime, and by the start of 1989 Abnormal Growth was ready to roll again. Clay began commuting to Santa Rosa on the weekends for rehearsals, and new drummer Tim O’Keefe came on board. Tim’s jazz-influenced style gave the existing songs a bit of “zip” not heard before, and provided a unique foundation for the next batch of songs which the band was eager to record.

However, Abnormal Growth’s next task was to re-record a selection of songs from both Abnormal Growth and LGSC in a professional 16-track environment for release on a proper slab of black vinyl. For this "Best Of", they enlisted engineer Arron Johnson of Sonoma Sound for a whirlwind 2-week recording session in the early summer of 1989. Pleased with the final result, the band sent the package off to New Jersey where it was slated to be released around the end of 1989 on Richard Riegler’s Mephisto Records label. Unfortunately, Mr. Riegler suddenly and inexplicably quit returning the band’s calls and disappeared soon thereafter - quarter inch master tapes, artwork, and all.

Healdsburg... Healdsburg...

  Photo: Arron Johnson
Arron Johnson of Sonoma Studios. We recorded "Healdsburg", "The Best Of" and "Brutal" with Arron.

Meanwhile, Abnormal Growth returned to the live music scene with a vengeance, opening for national acts such as GWAR, Bad Religion, 24/7 Spyz, and Mr. Bungle to name a few, and playing regular gigs at Guerneville’s River Theater, the Phoenix in Petaluma, and the Cotati Cabaret. The band had also become local staples at the Old Vic, an English pub in downtown Santa Rosa that had been hosting open mike nights on Thursdays. It was at many of these open mikes that an “unplugged” version of Abnormal Growth could be heard, eliciting much applause, laughter, and shaking of heads.

Unfazed by the Mephisto Records debacle, Abnormal Growth returned to Sonoma Sound in late 1989 to record the backlog of new tunes accumulated over the previous year and a half. The resulting album, Healdsburg, was arguably the band’s critical high point. Tighter than ever and recorded in full 16-track clarity, Healdsburg made the case that Abnormal Growth was not to be written off as a novelty act and could, in fact, rock with the best of them. The lyrics took aim at the usual suspects - caustic yet humorous jabs at fundamentalist Christians (“So Much Fun”), juvenile delinquents (“No Reason”), and yuppie scum (“White Bread”). Musically, the band covered the usual ground and more, including speedy funk, folk rock, and ventures into jazzier areas.

Abnormal Growth Band Photo  
Line-up for the Brutal Album. Featured from left to right: John (Guitars and Vocals), Clay (Vocals and Drums) , Billy (Bass and Acoustic Guitar) and Robert (Vocals, Drums and keyboards)

Drums and Deserters

In mid-1990 Tim "I don't need this band" O’Keefe abruptly quit, leaving the band once again without a drummer. The remainder of 1990 was spent unsuccessfully auditioning new drummers, and at this point Abnormal Growth shifted gears. Many Bay Area clubs were quickly switching over to the “pay to play” policy, something the band steadfastly refused to do - so aside from a few cameo appearances at the Old Vic, there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities for live gigs. Rehearsals more and more began to resemble loose jam sessions. Keyboardist Robert Reid was becoming a more active contributor to the band, and rather than waste time auditioning complete strangers, a decision was made to have Robert and Clay alternate between vocals and drumming. Both had quite a few new songs written, the lyrics for many of which were considerably more personal in nature - a far cry from the madcap “fun rock” that the band had become known for.

  Abnormal Growth Band Photo
Photo: Rare image taken just moments before a near fatal crash on the way to record the Brutal album. Robert's trademark smirk was severed in the accident but a team surgeons at Stanford were able to re-attach it, thus ensuring many more years of smart-alecky behavior.

Abnormal Growth’s last show was in September 13, 1991 (coincidentally, the 5-year anniversary of the bands earliest recording session) at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma. Miscellaneous frustrations, creative differences, and other commitments had come into play, and the band decided to record one final batch of songs with Arron Johnson before calling it a day. These were recorded in the Fall of 1991 and became known as the unreleased Brutal sessions. A few copies were given out to friends and family, but this album never made it into official release.

Where Are They Now?

John has continued to play in a variety of Bay Area bands over the years, including Fish Supply Failing, Adjective Noun, Finger-Licking Grout, and North Bay blues sensations Mudslide. He and wife Angelina currently perform in a Celtic-rock combo called Boudicca.

Clay is a successful designer currently residing in Santa Cruz. He is also the creator of the popular political comic strip Sidewalk Bubblegum. You can see more of his work branding and graphic design work at

Mike he lives with his wife and four sons in Santa Rosa, CA.

Robert is now a senior programmer at UC Berkeley.

Billy is off being Billy someplace... probably either tending to his large collection of carnivorous plants or sitting drunk in the dark corner of a club someplace, heckling the band.

Tim’s is playing and recording with his brother Pat in Colorado.

Jason Sullivan: Married, two kids, and drives big trucks up in Redding, California.

Lance (I LIKE Girls) Ozanix is STILL in Skitzo, pretending to be Ozzy in numerous Black Sabbath cover bands an occasionally appears on talk shows (Jerry Springer [three times!!!], Ripley's Believe it or Not [Not}, Judge Judy. He's also appeared in the movie National Lampoon's Lost Reality (we believe he's before the guy that poops his pants for money).


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