Fun Fact: Nikki came out of retirement to play our first Bubblegum Ball!
On a cool winter night, the ladies of Scram (and Bomp) made a pilgrimage to an unassuming Hollywood apartment, just down the road from the former site of the Tropicana Hotel. Inside was Miss Nikki Corvette, the eerily youthful lass who, in the mid-seventies, single-handedly invented a girl-group-meets-hard-rock sound that continues to be plied by acts like the Donnas, Bobbyteens, et al. Nikki and the Corvettes conquered Detroit, then came out to LA as one of the prestigious punk-era Bomp Records signings. When the band split up, Nikki stayed, and today she’s unquestionably the most famous waitress in Los Angeles–at Barney’s Beanery, and if you go to get an autograph, don’t forget to tip! Since this conversation, Nikki’s decided to start playing again; watch for her at the Bubblegum Ball, Scramarama and elsewhere in the fall. We draw back the veil on the night’s proceedings to find the Betsy Palmer, Harmonee Welch and Kim Cooper sprawled on Nikki’s comfortable couches, listening to the Paley Brothers’ album.
Betsy: (pointing to Jonathan on the LP jacket) He’s cute!
Nikki: I only went out with him because of Stiv. Stiv wouldn’t let me go out with Smitty from the Rockats. Stiv says, “He’s got strep throat.” “I don’t care.” He’s like “No, no, I’m introducing you to Jonathan.” I said, “I don’t like blondes.”
Betsy: He was just watching out for you.
Nikki: Sure he was… ’til years later when I found out what he said to Jonathan. Stiv told him “it will be like fucking your little sister.”
Harmonee: That’s really creepy!
Nikki: And I looked really young then. I look really young now. I got all the little sister things–all these guys, the ones I wasn’t sleeping with, got real protective with me–trying to make sure I didn’t learn about drugs.
Kim: So what’s your secret? Good genes or good living?
Nikki: I’m thinking good genes. I never went out in the sun, never smoked cigarettes, and never felt guilty about anything. That’s all I can figure, ’cause I did everything else! I lived the life I wanted to live. There’s stuff that didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but I wasn’t in rock ‘n’ roll to be famous. I was in it because I loved rock ‘n’ roll. It was cool and I got to rock out with the guys.
Betsy: People are asking when you’re playing again. Will there be a reunion?
Nikki: If I could figure out what kind of music I wanted to do, I’d put a band together. My old guitar player and Jonathan Paley would totally back me up.
Harmonee: When Betsy sent the CD to Flipside last year, I didn’t know anything about Nikki and the Corvettes. We put it on and it was so great! It made me really happy. I didn’t know when it came out. It sounded like it could’ve been this year.
Nikki: I get stuff in the mail and emails from girl bands and read stuff on the internet, bands I’ve never heard of saying I’m their biggest influence. These girls weren’t even alive when I put this record out! The thing I like is that since Bomp put it on CD, it’s finally at the right speed. I’m so much happier with it. I don’t sound like a chipmunk-well, not as much.
Betsy: I grew up with the speeded-up LP version.
Kim: That’s what they did to David Cassidy to make him appeal to the younger demographic. He freaked out when he first heard it.
Nikki: That’s how I felt when I saw the cover. We were on the road and it was too late to do anything about it. I was like, “no way! I’m NOT the Archies!” The back was supposed to be the front. Cartoons were never, never mentioned. At this point, the pizza arrives, and the tape recorder is turned off during the repast. Conversation continues some time later.
Kim: So what was that you used to do when you saw your record in the record stores?
Nikki: Put one in front of each row, so all you’d see was our record when you walked in. Uh, that is the BACK cover, facing front!
The Bobbyteens disrupt Nikki’s day
Nikki: I got to work one day and the cashier grabs me and goes, “Go talk to this table RIGHT NOW!” So I go over and there’s Russell and Tina from the Bobbyteens. Russell has on a pink Nikki and the Corvettes T-shirt. The only ones that ever existed were red and yellow. I know ’cause I made them! They were like, “We can’t believe we’re meeting you! We just went over to Bleeker Bob’s looking for your records and he said you worked here. Will you sign a record for us?” I said, “Okay who put you up to this?” “No really, we’re big fans.” “Where ‘d you get that T-shirt?” “We made them!” And then they told me all about their band. Then they brought Darren, the guy who helped start the Donnas. And some Japanese people they knew. It got to be whenever they were in town, they’d bring more and more people to meet me. So I’d be signing autographs and posing for pictures, then go wait a table. And my tables would ask, “Are you famous?” I’d tell them, “No, I’m a cult hero, but I’m not famous.” I gave Tina and Russell a copy of “I Gotta Move,” the last single we did that never came out, and now every time they bring friends in they want a copy. And I don’t want to make it less special for Tina and Russell. But people offer me money for them… so I’m thinking
Everyone in unison: EBAY!!!
Nikki: I saved everything. I have old fliers and stuff.
Betsy: (pointing to one) Wow, look at that!
Nikki: I can’t believe I wore skirts that short.
Betsy: Oh my God, I thought those were little shorts… that’s a SKIRT?!
Nikki: That’s a skirt. Hey, why do you think I did so good opening for the Ramones? It was all 15-year-old boys in front. They’d never seen a girl in a short skirt. This is like 1980… it wasn’t cool.
Betsy: Did you get along with the Ramones?
Nikki: Well I WAS going out with Johnny!
Kim: So how did you get hip to the Dolls when you were a teenager in Detroit?
Nikki: Well, all of us-me and Miriam [Linna], Pete [James], and Stiv [Bators]-we were all just Dolls fanatics! The first time the Dolls came to Detroit, to the Michigan Palace, my stepfather was supposed to meet me and my boyfriend there. So we were holding a seat for him and then there he is onstage going, “Nikki, please come backstage.” Somehow he’d met the Dolls. I’m like, “Cool, my stepfather is hanging with the Dolls!” We always had to see the Dolls. That was the most important thing. One time I had a paper for my English class. I think it was on “Desire Under the Elms,” and it was due in the morning. So it’s like midnight, one o’clock, and I said, “I gotta do this paper!” Johansen says, “What’s it on? I’ll help you.” So we stayed up and wrote it.
Kim: Had he read it?
Nikki: I guess… or he lied! It all worked out. On my paper I wrote “With help from the NY Dolls.” We went on tour with them in their Winnebago. We all stayed in one hotel room. One place we were skinny-dipping and the night clerk comes out. Johansen swims over there and goes, “Okay you’re gonna tell us we’re bad kids and we gotta stop” and the clerk said, “No, I’m gonna tell you the police are on the way and you’re gonna be arrested!” We ran out of the pool and grabbed our clothes-ran across the parking lot naked and hid in our room. Okay, so like they don’t know who we are, they don’t know what room we’re in? We had all the lights off, these naked wet people hiding in the dark, I don’t know for how long. Finally we’re like, “Okay, wouldn’t they have been here by now?” It’s not like they didn’t know who we were. When we checked in we got the Winnebago stuck under the awning. So we decided if we all got out we could get it loose.
Kim: No, it’s the other way around.
Nikki: Yeah, I know.
Raiding Nikki’s scrapbooks
Harmonee: “Look!” (pointing to photo of Judge Reinhold)
Nikki: Yeah, Judge, I went out with him too. I was a bit of a tramp. Good god it was fun!
Kim: They don’t say that about Elizabeth Taylor, and she had a lot of boyfriends.
Nikki: Yeah, but she married them. I just slept with them.
Harmonee: Is their anybody you didn’t sleep with that you wish you had?
Nikki: (long pause, so long in fact that everyone starts laughing) Okay, okay. Mel Gibson and, uh, David Bowie.
Kim: What was the first band you saw?
Nikki: I’ve tried to figure that out. I’ve got it narrowed down to the MC5, the Stooges, or Ted Nugent. I was a major MC5 fan. I was at their last show ever. Somewhere I still have Rob’s tambourine. My poor mom-her 16-year-old hanging out with White Panthers
Harmonee: Do you think if you hadn’t gotten the Corvettes together you would’ve ended up in music eventually?
Nikki: Yeah. That’s really all I cared about. I spent a summer going to Strasberg in NY. There were these intense eight-hour days: dance class, voice class, acting class. Then you were supposed to work on it all night-every night! I’d be at the clubs. I was at Max’s. I was at CB’s. I hit every club every night. I could get in for free because I knew everybody. I’d get home just in time to change and go to school. I wanted to be an actress until I realized you have to get up way too early… that was important then. NYC, 1977… how could I not?
Jan and Dean glom on to Nikki
Nikki: The first night the Corvettes came to LA we stayed at the Tropicana. It was the first time I ever heard myself on the radio.
Nikki: Yep, Rodney. Jan and Dean were on talking about this new girl they discovered and they played our record. I called the station saying, “That’s not their record. I don’t know them. It came out of my mom’s basement. JD Records is ‘Juvenile Delinquent,’ NOT Jan and Dean!” I was like, this is so cool, Jan and Dean are lying about knowing us, we’re sitting at the Tropicana, listening to ourselves on the radio, in LA! It doesn’t get any better than this.
Betsy: Okay, I don’t understand your Kid Rock obsession.
Nikki: It’s a Detroit thing. I have obsessions. I was really into this actor who was in the Temptations movie. I rented every movie he ever made. I’m at the video store holding six black movies, and the counter person was like, what? I was obsessed with Vincent Gallo. Chris Cornell was my god for a while ’cause he’s so pretty. I lose track of them.
Harmonee: What are some new bands besides Kid Rock you enjoy listening to?
Nikki: I really love Outkast currently. Who else? Hank 3. I don’t know how it happened, but in the last few years I’ve developed the musical taste of a 15-year-old white boy. I really like thrasher punk-I like that whole genre. Y’know Rage, Metallica… I kinda turned into a little metal girl somewhere along the line.
Kim: Who was your first big crush?
Nikki: It would have to be-well depending on what week, each of the Monkees. I went through my David Cassidy thing. I liked what’s his face from Here Comes the Brides, Bobby Sherman.
Betsy: He was adorable.
Nikki: I really liked the kid from HR Pufnstuf.
Kim: Jack Wild?
Betsy: Mmm yes.
Nikki: And the guy from Romeo and Juliet with Olivia Hussey…
Kim: He was pretty.
Harmonee: I used to have a crush on the blonde guy from Dukes of Hazzard.
Betsy: I am so sorry!
Yes, she really said Adam Ant
Kim: (looking around at Nikki’s collection) So what’s your favorite toy?
Nikki: (picking up some fast food freebies) I think it’s the Wolfman-he howls. I really like Frankenstein and these guys-they turn into things-like it’s fries but you go- (twisting it)
Harmonee: It’s Frieformers!
Nikki: Yeah, they turn into these little dinosaurs.
Kim: And it’s great ’cause all that stuff was originally dinosaurs anyway!
Nikki: You know the Magic 8 Ball? This is the Magic Date Ball. You ask it about dates.
Kim: Is it always right?
Nikki: It’s never right. It totally sucks.
Harmonee: What was your hottest date?
Nikki: Well “date,” or “date date,” or “person I spent time with?” That would be Adam Ant. Best sex? Adam Ant. One night stand? Adam Ant. Best everything? Adam Ant.
Harmonee: “If you strip for me I’ll strip for you.”
At this point, the girls move it past the old Flipper’s Roller Disco to the IHOP for ice cream. The waitress is very annoyed to have to make sundaes. Iggy Pop, card Nikki: The first time we were in a hotel hanging with the Stooges, me and Pete are sitting in the hall and Iggy comes out of his room totally naked and goes, “Hey, wanna fuck?” I’m like, “No, not really” and he goes back into his room. Then he comes out later and goes, “Hey, wanna wash my hair?” They were playing with Slade and they got in some big fight-like they were gonna kick Slade’s asses. Then Iggy wandered off. The police call James Williamson saying, “You might wanna get down to the coffee shop; Iggy is asking the cops where he can score drugs.”
Kim: Well they’d know, wouldn’t they? So what are your secrets for meeting rock stars?
Nikki: I don’t know. I’m really lucky. I used to try… y’know call people up, go to their hotels. Then even when I didn’t they would find me. I got to be friends with the Clash by giving the drummer directions, not knowing who he was. I don’t know. I’m very outgoing. I guess, be direct. Have something to say. Be brave enough to go right up to them and say something.
Betsy: Hmmmm. “Hey, Iggy, wanna fuck?”
Wanna read more, and see exclusive photos from Nikki’s archives? Pick up Scram #14