— by Olivia Thompson
Have you discovered the unique band Girl Trouble yet? From the time they formed in 1983, they have been producing some of the most radical and interesting music. Described as a mixture of garage, grunge, rock, and surf, the members of the band take elements of many types of music and combine them into songs that make you want to rock out, dance, and put on your spiky jacket all at the same time.
This article is a view of their journey as a band, beginning with their childhood, and detailing their fast track to fame in the Tacoma community and many others, and ending with their upcoming shows to look forward to. If you’re not hooked on them after reading this, then you need to listen to their music!
Bon Von Wheelie (drummer), Dale Phillips (base), the Big Kahuna (electric guitar), K.P. Kendall (vocalist), are the main members of the band. In order to understand how their intense sound came to be, it is best to look at the background of each member. I did this by renting their documentary created in 2020. Bonnie Henderson was a feminist from the get-go. In Girl Trouble’s documentary, “Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble”, she reads the audience a letter filled with promises she made herself when she was younger. She promised to never wear heels, lipstick, fall in love with boys, or get married. Even today, she has still captured that same fiery feminist energy.
The Big Kahuna, or Bill Henderson, was born as Bon Von Wheelie’s younger brother and youngest sibling when Bon Von Wheelie was 11 years old. It is apparent throughout the documentary that all three of the Henderson kids – Bonnie, Bill, and Deb – were intelligent and destined to do great things. The Big Kahuna was a creator, a scientist. Bon Von Wheelie was an artist, a dreamer and a doer. Deb was studious, calculative, imaginative. It’s not hard to see where these three children got their creativity and love for music – their mother, “The Babe” is bursting with all kinds of creativity, love, intelligence, and brightness.
Something that I have in common with Bon Von Wheelie is that both of us refused to get our driver’s license, and got our family members to drive us around for as long as they tolerated us (which is a smart move in my opinion- no car, no car insurance to worry about).
Kurt Kendall was the youngest of 11 in his family, and he and his friend Scott were first introduced to the punk music scene in high school. They felt like it was a place for the dorks to belong. They thrived in the music scene that soon blended with rock. Dale, their bass guitarist, was a punctual man with a mind for business. He became the band’s tour manager – for as long as he could handle it.
Jim May and John Grant provided a place for some of the Girl Trouble band members to stay and create music for a while. John and Big Kahuna recalled the house as being “peak punk”. They used mattresses as sound proofing on the walls, there were hardly any doors for the bedrooms, and heroin use was occasional throughout the house. This is the place that would soon become the legendary start of the band, on 56th St.
After the band’s initial launch in 1983, they were inspired by the magazine The Rock, and soon began their own newspaper, “Wig Out!” They distributed these during their performances, and published a total of 24 issues. Throughout these publications they started to add in “sections” where they could talk about different things. “Dear Wig Out” featured letters from fans, “Big Kahuna’s Guitar Corner” where Big Kahuna gave guitar playing tips, there were a few rotating sections where different members of the band discussed stuff they liked. They also gave out “fun prizes” during their shows, which some say may have been detrimental to their success, since “no one likes the fun band.”
After playing 180 shows in roughly a year and a half, the band soon moved onto bigger and greater things- publishing a record and singles. Girl Trouble signed with K Records in Olympia, and released two singles with them in 1987: “Old Time Religion” and “Riverbed”. Afterwards, the band felt they had surpassed what Olympia could give them, and they moved onto Sub Pop records to co-release their album “Hit It or Quit It” with K Records in 1988. Their success from this album pushed them to go on tour, with a tricked-out van the Henderson’s dad put together. Their February 25th show was featured alongside Nirvana at a show put on by the ASUW for a four dollar admission fee (with a UW student ID, of course).
Sub Pop’s overseers eventually broke off their relationship with the band after they refused to conform with the dress code of the “Green Room” punk fashion. Which, as they said, “was fine,” since their band was not meant to give off “conform or die” vibes. To prove it, Girl Trouble, after not being invited to the 20th anniversary of Sub Pop, decided to play right next to their celebration.
In 1992, the band ended up taking in a remarkable new addition to their performances. A popular dancer in Tacoma, “Granny Go Go” was an elderly woman who danced in cafes, bars, and shows in a sparkly short dress.
She was told to move around somehow by her doctor after having a severe stroke, and she chose dancing. For someone who may have been thought to have been “past her prime”, she could dance at a remarkable speed, and brought a liveliness to the crowds. She was even featured on their 1992 album, “Work That Crowd!” This album featured mostly punk rock that Granny could “shake her ass to.” A true rock n’ roll legend, she passed away not long after she began performing with Girl Trouble.
The band is still an active group of artists today, but they have put off all of their shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their website is a great site to look at old poster designs, order t-shirts (I have one of my own), and read about the great band’s history. And again, don’t miss the documentary made about them, “Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble.”
About the Author
Olivia Thompson prepared this article as her final project for TARTS 225: Musical History of Tacoma, taught by Kim Davenport at the University of Washington, Tacoma. At the time she took the class in Autumn Quarter 2021, she was a junior majoring in Biomedical Sciences.