Of all the acts playing this year’s Homegrown Music Fest at the N.C. State Fair, the most unexpected might be Corrosion of Conformity. Friday night will find COC onstage at Dorton Arena as local heroes with something to celebrate: one of the most improbable gold records any band has ever earned.
This won’t actually be the first time COC ever played Dorton. But it’s the first in more than three decades, and thereby hangs a tale.
Thirty-two years ago, Dorton was the site of a battle of the bands called “Battlerock ’84.” COC, whose members were still teenagers, was among the contestants. And no one outside of Raleigh’s punk cognoscenti knew what to make of them.
COC’s performance would end almost immediately after security mistook the crowd response for a riot and shut it down. In the ensuing scuffle, COC vocalist Eric Eycke was arrested, COC guitarist Woody Weatherman’s mother had an altercation resulting in charges – and a legend was born.
“After the fight, I went backstage and saw (COC bassist) Mike Dean sitting there, dejected,” said John Custer, who went on to become COC’s producer. “I didn’t know any of them, but I went up to Mike and said, ‘Whoever wins this thing will be forgotten in a week. But everyone will remember you guys forever.’ ”
By now, no official records of this incident appear to exist. Checking with Raleigh Police, Wake County Sheriffs and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Public Safety (the State Fair police department) didn’t turn up anything.
According to State Fair public information officer Sarah Ray, no one from that long ago is still on the force. The incident didn’t make the papers, either.
So the only way to reconstruct it is from memories, many of them foggy and contradictory. Thanks to a ticket the Weathermans still have, we can at least date it: May 5, 1984.
Battlerock ’84 was a production of Bass Music Enterprises. Participating bands got in by agreeing to sell tickets to friends (although Eycke said COC gave away a lot more than they sold and had to make up the difference).
“High-school bands at the time were kind of early hair-metal-inspired, doing a lot of Quiet Riot covers,” said COC’s Dean. “We thought it’d be an entertaining and mildly provocative thing for a hardcore band to do this. Figured we’d show up, a few people would think it was cool and most people wouldn’t like us. They had no idea what was about to hit ’em.”
This wasn’t the first time a punk band had played Battlerock. No Labels, featuring COC’s Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin, had played it in 1983. But this time, enough people in the know turned out to set the stage for a clash of worlds.
“We all knew what was going to happen,” said Scott Williams. “Hardcore was not acceptable in the least, and it was funny to think of COC playing a ‘Battle of the Bands.’ It was kind of a volatile situation, but not that mean. All the punk guys thought what happened was funny and were laughing about it, but everybody else didn’t like it at all.”
A ‘beautiful racket’
In Eycke’s telling, he didn’t do much actual performing during COC’s abbreviated set. He came out, whipped the microphone cord around, the mike went flying and he spent most of COC’s time onstage looking for it as the rest of the band played on.
“Like all early COC shows, when they played it was like a jet landing and a bomb going off at the same time,” said Richard Butner, who was in the crowd. “Once COC started their beautiful racket, people began to slam-dance and a few got up to stage-dive.”
That’s when the problems started, as uniformed State Fair officers took to the stage to keep stage-divers off. There were scuffles between audience and officers as the mosh pit continued. At a certain point, the stage crew decided enough was enough.
They moved to shut COC down and pulled the plug. The head of the stage crew wound up onstage in a confrontation with Eycke, and he sustained injuries after being thrown into the crowd. That got the cops’ attention.
“What ensued was a misunderstanding,” said Steve Bass, the promoter. “They saw Eric as instigating a riot, so they tried to restrain him, put hands on him and it did not go well with the crowd.”
‘T.J. Hooker’ taunts
Once the music stopped, multiple altercations broke out between band members, State Fair police and the stage crew. Eycke was the only one arrested on the scene – taken offstage as the crowd chanted “T.J. Hooker,” a reference to the cheesy cop series starring William Shatner.
“Yeah, that was the jeers of the hardened punks of Raleigh tearing the police a new (expletive),” said Taylor, laughing.
In Eycke’s telling, the cops’ treatment of him was not exactly gentle.
“When they took me out back, a female officer was detaining me by a squad car,” Eycke said. “I kept asking her what I’d done, she kept telling me to shut up and I finally said, ‘Baby, (expletive) you.’ She grabbed the back of my head and slammed me into the car. ‘You shut up now,’ she said. ‘O.K., got it!’ ”
Eycke said he was charged with disorderly conduct, inciting a riot and three counts of assaulting law-enforcement officers. That cost him 40 hours of community service at the fairgrounds.
“The guys who beat me up, I had to wash their cars,” he said with a laugh. “But they were cool to me.”
Accounts vary as to the circumstances of how Karen Weatherman came to be charged. Her version is that it happened during an altercation between Dean and a member of the stage crew.
“This guy came over to Mike and pulled his hand back like he was gonna hit him,” she said. “ ‘Heck no,’ I thought, ‘that ain’t happenin’.’ And I slapped him, hard.”
Although some witnesses remember Karen also being roughed up, she and her husband Toney left without incident. But several days later, she received a summons and had to appear in court, paying a $30 fine.
“The judge was kind of dismayed,” said Toney Weatherman. “He thought you were gonna say it was self-defense. But we had decided ahead of time, hell no, that guy needed hittin’. That’s punk rock. Mess with the bull, you get the horns. Mama bear, too. He got the horns.”
22 years to gold
A decade after Battlerock ’84, COC had evolved into a band that was almost mainstream. Guitarist Pepper Keenan had become the band’s lead singer and pushed the group in more of a Southern metal direction on 1994’s “Deliverance,” which was COC’s first to crack the Billboard charts.
Although it peaked at a modest No. 155, “Deliverance” never stopped selling over the ensuing 22 years, even as compact discs gave way to downloads and streams. As of this summer, the album’s total sales stood at 503,000 copies.
That’s enough to qualify for a gold record, although it won’t be official until COC or its representatives initiate the certification process. While that doesn’t seem like much of a priority for COC, reaching such a milestone is still an impressive demonstration of staying power.
“We’re thinking of having a little ceremony where we spray-paint a thrift-store record gold,” said Dean. “Sure, it’s a worthy thing to achieve. But it’s taken long enough. We were convinced it would do this right away because we thought that record was really good.”
Who: Corrosion of Conformity, Demon Eye
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds
Cost: free with State Fair admission ($8-$10 for adults, $3-$5 for kids 6-12)
More info: For a list of all the bands playing at the fair, go to ncstatefair.org