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Severe Tire Damage in the San Francisco Chronicle

Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy

Some of the Valley's top execs spend off-hours strumming and thumping in garages, basements

Jamie Beckett, Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writers
Appeared in The San Francisco Cronicle on June 23, 1998

Consultant Russ Haines plays guitar with Severe Tire Damage, which broadcasts its rehearsals live on the Web. Chronicle Photo by Kat Wade.

The Fillmore hosts an all-star lineup this Friday -- although you've probably never heard of any of the bands.

But in the high-tech world, they're famous.

Headlining at the rock palace where The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin once belted out tunes is a band of middle-aged guys called The Flying Other Brothers, led by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Roger McNamee.

Also on the bill: Where's Julio? headed by three founders of Excite, one of the top Web search engines; and the Raving Daves, a 10-member combo from high-flying software-maker PeopleSoft.

These high-tech hobby bands will rock the Fillmore at a fundraiser for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group working to protect online civil rights.

The Fillmore performers are just a few of the dozens of amateur bands that are springing up as fast as startups in Silicon Valley. Some of the Valley's best- known executives, venture capitalists and technical visionaries are spending their off hours living out their rock 'n' roll fantasies, strumming and thumping in garages and basements.

``Every company has a little pickup band,'' said Fred Davis, a former programmer and computer magazine editor who plays keyboard. ``If you have a bunch of techies around, it also means you have a bunch of musicians around.''

High tech and music go together, like -- well, like rock 'n' roll. Math, computer programming and music all require the ability to recognize and organize patterns.

``It's the math and music parallel. Like math, music is structured, it's ordered and you can do something with it,'' said Russ Haines, an audio and video consultant who plays guitar and sings for Severe Tire Damage, which is probably the highest tech of the high-tech bands.

In 1993, this self-described ``geek band'' became the first in the world to broadcast a live rock video over the Internet -- a year ahead of the Rolling Stones. When the Stones did their Web broadcast, Severe Tire Damage electronically crashed the show.

Now, the band -- whose members include Mark Weiser, chief technologist at famed research center Xerox PARC and Mark Manasse, a cryptography expert -- broadcasts its weekly rehearsals live on the Web. Fans can do more than just watch: By pressing a button on their computer screens, they can trigger a fog spray in the cluttered Digital Equipment storeroom in Palo Alto where the band practices.

Scores of other musicians in Silicon Valley make technology part of their repertoires.

Aaron Zornes, a database guru at the Meta Group research firm, holds virtual jam sessions with far-flung friends by using his Disclavier, a high-tech piano that can transmit digital signals over the Internet.

The Raving Daves -- named for PeopleSoft chief executive Dave Duffield, who occasionally sings and plays guitar with the band -- was born one midnight when Baer Tierkel, deep into a difficult coding problem, sent out an e-mail inviting others to join him for an impromptu concert.

Since then, they've had so many appearances that band members wrote a database application just to manage the band's schedule and lyrics to its 300 songs.

This is the band's second appearance for the Electronic Frontier Foundation at the Fillmore. Last year the event raised $130,000 and became a sort of Woodstock for the digital community -- including a solo by Steve Jobs' daughter, Lisa, the namesake for Apple's first personal computer. Jobs stole the show when she sang the Beatles' ``Revolution.''

Although brothers Giles and Roger McNamee played music in college, their band began in 1987 under the name Random Axes.

Computer industry analyst Esther Dyson unintentionally sparked the first Random Axes jam by leaving McNamee off the invite list for a game of charades used as an icebreaker at her annual conference. The jam session began as a consolation event for the uninvited.

After that, the Random Axes -- which included trade press editor Bill Machrone, former Apple Computer research and development guru Larry Tessler, multimedia publisher Tony Bove and software entrepreneur Philippe Kahn -- played occasionally.

Roger McNamee created the Other Brothers three years ago to perform at a charity affair at Comdex, the nation's largest computer trade show. The band joined others including Grown Men, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who used professional studio musicians to back up his guitar playing.

Besides the math connection, many high-tech rockers have another trait in common.

``Your parents don't tell you to go learn electric guitar. They don't encourage you to be a rock musician -- you have to be really entrepreneurial to do it. People in high-tech are entrepreneurs,'' said Zornes, the database marketing guru. Zornes played with two bands that had minor hits in the 1960s.

Avram Miller, whose day job is running Intel's new-business arm, was a pianist who learned about electronics to measure audience reaction. He thinks the success in music and business often go hand in hand.

``Playing a musical instrument takes physical dexterity. To succeed, you have to have discipline and you have to be somewhat systematic because you have to overcome your body,'' said Miller, who still plays jazz piano.

Execs like Zornes and Miller aren't the only tech-types who like to groove. Kludge is a Silicon Valley band made up of editors at computer trade publications owned by CMP Media. It is led by Paul Kapustka, who edits the newsletter GeekWeek.

Kapustka revels in the unabashed geekiness of Kludge -- its name is slang for a quick and dirty engineering fix. Kludge specializes in computer-industry parodies of rock 'n' roll tunes, such as an homage to Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison, set to the tune of Elvis Costello's ``Allison.''

The most recent Kludge-job: an altered ``Sympathy for the Devil'' called ``Sympathy for the Inventor,'' which honors Bob Metcalfe, the granddaddy of computer networking.

Michael Goldberg, a former Rolling Stone editor and current editorial director of Addicted to Noise, an online music magazine in San Francisco, said that other industries -- especially the financial industry on Wall Street -- also have hobby bands. He argues that forming bands is a Baby Boomer thing.

``It's not just a technical thing,'' Goldberg said. ``After the Beatles hit in the '60s, anyone who was anywhere from nine to 25 wanted to be in a band.''

But Frank Ingari, who leads a band of software industry executives, said there is a peculiar affinity between music and technology. The CEO of Shiva Corp., a data networking company in Massachusetts, leads a band called Look & Feel.

``High-tech in general and software in particular requires the same kinds of behaviors and attitudes you need in a band,'' Ingari said. ``You need people collaborating according to a plan, but the plan has to leave room for improvisation.''

Most tech-band members play primarily for fun. But for some hot Gen X bands, like Irene's Cuisine, the possibility of going pro holds a certain allure.

``We've got the best of both worlds,'' said Randy Eckhardt, who with his buddy Ric Niel, produces hit video games like Madden Football for Electronic Arts. On weekends, they team with other software designers to play at San Francisco nightclubs like Slims. Now they're talking to national booking agents.

``Being in the game business, we know that making a hit is 135 percent luck. So the expectation of making it big in music isn't there,'' Eckhardt said. ``But on the other hand, if the opportunity ever came up, it's not the sort of thing you pass up.''

Silicon Valley Bands

Some of the bands, their members and their day jobs.


  • Dan Fink, training, PeopleSoft, percussion
  • Leonard Rainow, Red Pepper development, PeopleSoft, keyboards
  • Dan Williams, tools development, PeopleSoft, sound engineer
  • Dalia Chatterjee, financials development, PeopleSoft, vocals
  • Dan McIntosh, tools publications, PeopleSoft, bass
  • Janis cq Weiss, technical marketing, PeopleSoft, vocals, percussion and harp
  • Mark Fletcher, tools publications, PeopleSoft, percussion
  • Baer Tierkel, tools development, PeopleSoft, guitar and vocals
  • Eric Tamm, publications, PeopleSoft, guitar and vocals
  • Earl Barron, publications, PeopleSoft, harp and vocals
  • Rick Frank, tools development, PeopleSoft, lead guitar


  • Joe Kraus, co-founder/senior vice president, Excite, drums
  • Mark Van Haren, co-founder/software engineer, Excite, lead vocals
  • Ryan McIntyre, co-founder/manager, tools and engineering, Excite, bass
  • Nick Brown, PhD student, Duke University, sax
  • Daniel Soto, engineer, SiliconLight, bass


  • Mark Manasse, financial cryptographer, Digital Equipment, bass
  • Steve Rubin, chief technology officer, Electric Editor, vocalist
  • Mark Weiser, chief technologist, Xerox PARC, drums
  • Lance Berc, researcher, Digital Equipment, Web broadcast and networking for band
  • Berry Kercheval, principal architect of network management tools, Join Systems, sound engineer, backup bass
  • Brad Horak, chief network officer, Digital Equipment, special effects and connectivity
  • Russ Haines, audio and video consulting, self-employed, guitar and vocals


  • Roger McNamee, venture capitalist, Integral Venture Partners, guitar and vocals
  • Giles McNamee, investment banker, First Albany, guitar
  • Larry Marcus, new media analyst, BT Alex. Brown, drums
  • Bill Bennett, marketing consultant, Idea Inc., bass
  • Bert Keely, co-founder, Live Inc., lead guitar
  • Corrinne Monnard, seeking capital to start a wholistic spa, percussion and vocals
  • Tony Bove, multimedia expert, Live Pictures, harmonica and vocals

LOOK & FEEL (rock)

  • Frank Ingari, president, Growth Ally consulting firm, rhythm & lead guitar
  • David Blohm, CEO, Virtual Knowledge (educational software), drums
  • Bryan Simmons, vice president of communications, Lotus Development Corp., vocals & violin
  • Allen Razdow, CEO, Torrent Systems (operating system for parallel processing computers) keyboards
  • Drew Hannah, General Manager, SoftBridge (software develpment tools), bass

KEEPING OUR DAY JOBS (rock and blues)

  • Kevin Christian, pricing manager, Netscape, bass
  • Mark Fletcher, technical writer, PeopleSoft, drummer
  • Greg Costanzo, technical support manager, Oracle, guitar
  • Tom Haunert, technical writer, Oracle, guitar
  • Alyn Kelley, cq release manager, Oracle, keyboard
  • Mark Costanza, civil engineer, SFO, sax

HUMAN TORCHES (surf jazz and punk)

  • John Poultney, News Editor, MacHome Journal, bass and vocals
  • Evan Welch, Web technologies consultant, Autodesk, drums and special effects
  • Russ Roesner, Web and network administrator, self-employed, saxophone and vocals
  • Michael McMorrow, Web-centric training strategist, Dublin Group, guitar and vocals

KLUDGE (rock and parodies)

  • Paul Kapustka, editor, GeekWeek newsletter, lead singer
  • Mitch Irsfeld, editor-in-chief, InternetWeek, ryhthm and acoustical guitars
  • Ralph Azzara, studio musician, lead guitar
  • Eric Biener, district sales manager, Network Computing magazine, drummer
  • Stephen D'Ippolitto, account manager, InternetWeek, bass and ryhthm guitars
  • Jason Levitt, senior technology editor, InformationWeek, saxophone
  • Mike Azzara, publisher and editorial director, InternetWeek, lyrics and production

IRENE'S CUISINE (New Orleans-style R&B and funk)

  • Randy Eckhardt, game producer, Electronic Arts, lead vocals and guitar
  • Gary Gettys, game producer, Electronic Arts, guitar and vocals
  • Ric Neil, game producer, Electronic Arts, bass and tuba
  • Harry Green, doctoral student in ethno-musicology, drummer
  • Mark Corr, musician, Spark Recording Studio, keyboards
  • Chris Jordan, maritime insurance broker, Sedgwick Inc., sax, and vocals
  • Scott Holmes Van Schoick, cq quality assurance engineer, Mindscape, trombone and percussion
  • Dave Poole, multimedia animator, Protazoa, sax and trumpet

CHIEF O'HARA (dance music)

  • Mark Brewster, systems integrator, Oracle, bass and vocals
  • Mike Donohue, quality assurance manager, Oracle, vocals, percussion and guitar
  • Steve Fram, software developer, Career Central, keyboard, guitar, and vocals
  • Paul Lorence, documentation manager, Sun Microsystems, guitar and vocals
  • Ed Meares, Web site production, Designscape Media, percussion

DOUBLE FUNK CRUNCH (disco and funk)

  • Robert Kennedy, computer programmer, Silicon Graphics, keyboards
  • Jon Kuppinger, computer network administrator, Roche Pharmaceuticals, guitar
  • Paul Reynen, microbiologist, Roche Pharmaceuticals, bass
  • Dan Shafer, occupational therapist, self-employed, drums
  • Laura Sanford, vocal instructor and property manager, self and Ed Rogers Realtor Inc., vocals
  • Guy Blume, film and video editor, ITN, vocals
  • Erik Gibb, user interface designer, Manual 3, sax
  • Paul Somerville, sales, Spectra-Physics, sax


  • Russ Haines, audio and video consulting, self-employed, guitar and vocals
  • Mark Weiser, chief technologist, Xerox PARC, drums
  • Robert Kennedy, computer programmer, Silicon Graphics, keyboards
  • Mike Perkins, engineer, PAx cq Services, bass
  • Ethan Robertson, investment manager, self-employed, sax


  • Richard P. Gabriel, technology consultant, Aspen Smallworks, Sun Microsystems, lead guitar
  • Ron Goldman, researcher, Institute for Research in Learning, NYNEX, bass guitar and vocals
  • Thomas Gruber, chief technology officer/founder, Intraspect, drums
  • Amy Lansky, independent consultant, Rennaisance Research, vocals


  • Aaron Zornes, executive vice president, Meta Research, guitar and Disclavier
  • Avram Miller, corporate vice president and director of corporate business development, Intel, piano
  • David Mahr, directs products of merchant Web pages, SaveSmart, songwriter, producer, singer of electronic pop music
  • David Saslav, Sr. Product Manager, Oracle Corporation, concert tenor

Source: Chronicle research

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