Black Tango

Tamara Henry and Jeffrey Hamblin started Black Tango in the fall of 1981, after dissolving their prior band, Fifth Column. They worked on new material over the winter and spring, then played their first show at Uncle Sam’s Pit BBQ in Chula Vista on June 16, 1982.  They played a dozen more shows through the end of that year, with Tamara on vocals, Jeff on guitar, a TR-808 drum machine programmed by Jeff, and no bass player*. (*on September 19, 1982, Black Tango opened for Wall of Voodoo at the Adams Avenue Theater. Scott Blackstone, on loan from Forbidden Chant, played bass on two songs.)

“The Wall of Voodoo show was probably the largest audience of our entire run as Black Tango. Wall of Voodoo and Twisted Roots had taken an extra long time on their sound checks. By the time we were setting up it was already a half-hour past the billed opening time, so the promoter opened the doors to the sold-out crowd. So with no sound check we launched directly into our set. It was a fun show — for us. Unfortunately, the venue had a strict cut-off time, and due to Twisted Root’s long set and Wall of Voodoo taking their time getting started, their set was cut short at the end. Their fans were not happy.”
– Jeff Hamblin

Early in 1983, Shane Flanery joined the band on bass. During this period, January-April 1983, Black Tango recorded sessions on a borrowed 4-track cassette machine and released a 3-song cassette EP, Sequel Avalanche Ritual. They also played two shows: The Boys’ Club Benefit on April 9, at The Spirit, along with Battalion of Saints, Paladins, and Eleven Sons; and a night at Club Baghdad de Noche in Tijuana on April 23, with Eleven Sons and Her Secret Admirer. Shortly thereafter, Shane left the band to pursue other interests.

In the summer of 1983, Chuck Cole was looking for a new band after The Brood had disbanded. He started playing bass with Black Tango that August. From September through December, Black Tango played several headline shows at the Reptile House at The Bacchanal, and also opened there for Howard Devoto and Sex Gang Children.

1984 ended up being a bad year for the band. Lots of turmoil, no shows, and no new music. During this period, Jeff sold the TR-808 and bought an Oberheim DX drum machine, and put together a small home recording studio, which included a Tascam 38 half-inch 8-track recorder, a Studiomaster 12/2c mixing board, and various microphones and effects.

In the fall of 1985, the band reformed and started working on new music. They played the Benefit for the Mexico City Earthquake at the Che Cafe on October 26 with twelve other bands, and opened for The Jesus & Mary Chain and Tell-Tale Hearts on December 20 at the Lion’s Club.

On January 11, 1986, Black Tango played a show with Leaving Trains and Three Guys Called Jesus at the Jackie Robinson YMCA.

The next few months the band spent their free time recording a 7-song album. It was released on cassette as Maggots in the Icing in June and sold at local record stores. A few songs were aired occasionally on 91X (when Tim Mays or Jessica Schwartz guest hosted), and the local college stations, KCR and KSDT.

While preparing to start playing live shows again, the decision was made to replace the drum machine with live drumming. Peter ZO had played Tom Toms on one song, I Sin, on Maggots in the Icing, and he agreed to continue on Toms. Matthew Rabe came on board over the summer playing a more traditional kit. After a few months of work, the intricate drum rhythms had been absorbed and enhanced by PZO and Rabe.

The five member Black Tango played a show at the club Psychotic Motel at the Saigon Palace venue in downtown San Diego on October 25, 1986.

And that was Black Tango’s final live performance.

The band continued to practice and work on new material into the early months of 1987, but soon disintegrated.

In the ensuing years, Jeff developed a progressive hearing loss, requiring hearing-aids by the late 1980s. He mostly gave up playing music by the early 1990s. In 2007, after becoming almost functionally deaf, he underwent cochlear implant surgery. This amazing technology restored his hearing enough to at first communicate normally again, and within two years to start enjoying music again.

In late 2013 the members of the band were asked by Gary Heffern to play a show during The Casbah’s 25th Anniversary month in January 2014. Jeff dusted off his old gear and was surprised to find that he could hear well enough to play. So Tamara, Jeff, and Chuck worked hard over the next 2 months to relearn the best of their old material. The show, on January 26, was not only well received, it also rekindled the band. They are currently working on new material and plan to do more performances.