The Nerves - Biography
The Nerves were a pioneering three-piece, Los Angeles-based power pop band. After their brief existence, members Jack Lee, Peter Case, and Paul Collins went on to achieve greater fame and peace of mind in their subsequent projects. Though little heard in their relatively short existence, The Nerves nonetheless posthumously provided Blondie and Paul Young with two of their biggest hits.
Guitarist Jack Lee was born on March 25, 1952 in Alaska, where he lived until making his way to San Francisco in the early 1970s. Once in San Francisco, he busked near Fisherman’s Wharf, mostly playing Bob Dylan covers. After a time, he began writing original songs and one of his first was “Hanging on the Telephone.” Bassist Peter Case, a Buffalo native, dropped out of school at the age of 15. After playing in several bands, he rambled for a while and ending up in San Francisco in 1973, where, like Lee, he busked. He appeared that year in Bert Deivert’s documentary about the local scene, Nightshift. The following year, Case wrote “When You Find Out” after hitchhiking to Portland. Drummer Paul Collins, an Old Tappan, New Jersey native, spent his early years in Greece and Vietnam before moving with his family to Manhasset, Long Island. After being exposed to rock and roll, he started playing drums and writing songs around 1965. He joined his first band, Home Grown, in Leonia, New Jersey. He also played in a series of bands around Buffalo, New York before enrolling at Julliard. When he was 17, he moved to San Francisco where he met Lee and Case. Lee played his song “Hanging on the Telephone” for Collins at his fleabox near Pine and Gough Streets in the Upper Fillmore for Collins, who loved it. The three formed a band in 1974 and called themselves The Nerves. The following year, they recorded an early version of “Hanging on the Telephone” at the Different Fur studio.
The Nerves moved to Los Angeles in 1976 and eventually moved into a studio’s basement at Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street in Hollywood, which they dubbed The Hollywood Punk Palace. They gave a series of DIY concerts that helped nurture LA’s embryonic punk scene, hosting bands like The Dils, The Screamers, The Weirdos, The Zeros, and The Zippers. Unlike other punk bands, however, The Nerves didn’t conform to punk’s studiously cultivated uniform of pseudo-homelessness. Instead, they wore matching suits that, being three-piece, actually surpassed the formality of their late ‘50s and early ‘60s influences. Like their obvious inspirations The Byrds and The Beatles, The Nerves contained three very talented songwriters with distinctly different approaches. Lee’s songs were mostly driving, straightforward, and punky. Case’s had a more classic ’60’s beat. Collins seamed to channel mid-‘60’s American folk rock. What they shared was energy, exuberance, and urgency. Their longest song, “It’s Hot Outside,” was, at two and a half minutes long, an epic by their standards. In other words, they sounded nothing like the prevailing sounds of the US rock scene at the time. Unfortunately, The Nerves couldn’t keep it together long enough to achieve the fame they almost assuredly would have had if they had only released more than just the 7” EP Hanging on the Telephone (1976 Nerves Records) during their brief existence.
In 1977, The Nerves played three nights at The Starwood Nightclub in West Hollywood. After that, they piled their belongings into a 1969 Ford LTD station wagon and embarked on an ambitious tour including shows around the US and Canada, with opening slots for Mink DeVille in Chicago and The Ramones in Rockford, Illinois. Playing over 100 shows and driving 25,000 miles was made possible by ingesting a considerable amount of speed, which at the same time probably helped the band live up to their name. Back in Los Angeles, they headlined two shows supported by The Avengers, Shock, and The Zeros, and sported a new look — drainpipes and satin jackets. Not long after, having felt that success should have found them by then, they decided to call it a day and dissolved the band.
Had The Nerves stuck around, the might have been as big as The Romantics, The Knack, or other bands that rode a similar sound to popularity. Then again, there is a sense of poetic symmetry to their existence, which — as with their songs — was a short burst of blinding brilliance. However, success did find them in a roundabout way. First, Blondie covered Lee’s “Hanging on the Telephone” and “Will Anything Happen?” on Parallel Lines (1978 Chrysalis) in 1978. “Hanging on the Telephone” was later covered by L7, Def Leppard, and Cat Power (in an ad for AT&T). In 1979, Lee’s “You Are My Lover” was included on Suzi Quatro’s Suzi… and Other Four Letter Words (1979 Rak). In 1983, Lee’s “Come Back and Stay” was a big hit for Paul Young. After one solo record, 1981’s Jack Lee's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (Maiden America), his musical output slowed. In 1985, he moved to London and collaborated with various artists before returning to Los Angeles in 1987 where he turned his efforts towards writing a film called Bird in a Cage. The film never went beyond the pre-production phase, however.
After The Nerves’ break-up, Case and Collins formed the short-lived The Breakaways with Pat Stengl and recorded one song, “One Way Ticket.” Case went on to find a degree of success leading The Plimsouls, who broke up in 1984. Case then returned to playing roots rock as a solo act. Collins was championed by Eddie Money and wrote “Let Me into Your Life” for him before forming The Beat, later changed to Paul Collins’ Beat to differentiate them from the English band of the same name. After they broke up, Collins went solo and has occasionally reunited with Case.
The legend of The Nerves began to resurface in 1981 when their demo was released as Notre Demo (1981 — Good Vibration). Years later, “Hanging on the Telephone” and “When You Find Out” were included on a power pop compilation called DIY: Come Out and Play - American Power Pop I [1975-1978] (1993 Rhino Records), which also featured them on the album’s cover. Finally, in 2008, Alive Records gathered together 20 tracks — including demos, eight live tracks that were never recorded in a studio, and songs by offshoots — releasing them as One Way Ticket (2008 Alive).