Tuesday, January 1, 2008

on the origins of the name (Part I)

I am often asked about my name. It is, I admit, a rather unusual name with an even more peculiar spelling. piiopah comes from the name Pie O' Pah; I changed the spelling for personal reasons. In 1997 I formed a band and initially had dubbed the project Spoon. As it turned out, some group in Texas who were struggling on a tiny record label (the group would eventually have a hit song and some recognition in 2004) already had that name. So I changed the name of the band to 'piiopah'.

piiopah did fairly well rather quickly and we played many of the popular venues in and around the Sarasota/St. Petersburg. Soon I became good friends with the owner of one of the larger venues that we occasionally played and who had grown fond of our music. One day he approached me with a proposition. His fairly large capacity joint—a place situated between several universities in the heart of downtown Sarasota—was sitting completely empty on Tuesday nights. Nothing he tried had brought people in. Tim wanted me to take a weekly gig on Tuesdays to bring people in.

I agreed to help him out but wanted to keep the weekly gig separate and distinct from my band. I refused to play my original material but agreed to do covers. Tim wanted to do some serious promo in order to bring people in and asked how he should bill me in Creative Loafing (there is a St. Pete version as well) and on the giant double-marquee. "Should I just put 'featuring Stephen'?" I laughed and thought, "that's not very rock-n-roll!" I told Tim that he needed a catchier title for the musical feature. "Make it up," I told him. "Me?!? But it's your name!" I told him to make sure it was interesting and different and left. When I showed up for my first gig, he had taken the first three letters from my bands name and had dubbed me 'pii'.

The first couple of weeks I played for the bartenders and the waitstaff and Tim. No one else was there. Tim was clearly disappointed. I sat down with him after the second gig and reminded him that this is a cover gig and not my music. Therefore I wasn't promoting it myself. He had to get people in. Then I would entertain their pants off. (I didn't mean it literally though it turned out to actually happen on more than one occasion!) We decided to call Tuesdays "Sink or Swim featuring pii" and ran a special whereby we charged $7 for all-you-can-drink. That worked! The night rapidly turned into the hottest night in town. It was like something out of the movies Cocktail or Coyote Ugly, with me doing raucous covers and holding racy contests on stage, the two hottest bartenders in town showing off (flipping bottles around, witty insults, and standing on the bar to do Guinness races), and other odd-ball people that we met and incorporated into the evenings festivities. It was a circus to be sure. Tuesdays eclipsed even Fridays and Saturdays for the club despite the fact that the weekends featured live bands on two different stages. Eventually the Fire Marshall became concerned and we had to start using a clicker to determine when we were at capacity (which happened by 9:30). A long line that wound around the building formed outside as people waited for someone to leave so that they would be allowed access. With such a huge crowd and a notorious stage show I started to see people all around town who knew me as 'pii' from Tuesday nights. The rest is history...

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