1988-1990: Bad Is Beautiful, AEMMP Records, Time of Transition, "Take It On The Chin" tour

Almost exactly one year into its young life, in March of 1988, Greg Balk and Joe Campagna quit the band. That next week end Ralph was out at a bar and bumped into Tommy O'Brien. Tommy asked how the band was doing, and mentioned that he had always regretted not joining when asked. When Ralph filled him in on Greg and Joe quitting, Tommy smiled and said, "Well, I guess we need to start looking for a bass player, then!"

The search went on into the next fall. The band continued to play occasional shows with a number of different bass players, including Mark Malbouef, who years later co-produced the Birthday album with Ralph. Pickles Piekarski became available when long-time club hits Mike Jordan and the Rockamatics broke up. After considerable discussion, he agreed to join the band, and the first great Bad Examples line-up was in place: Terry Wathen, Ralph Covert, Tommy O'Brien, and Pickles Piekarski.

As the band continued to play around town, their reputation as a great live band began to grow. Work resumed on a follow up album to MEAT. The band recorded an album's worth of demos in the Wicker Park apartment of their soundman, Rob Williams. Michael Freeman was retained as producer, and work began at Short Order Recorder, with the band putting all of their gig money toward studio costs.

In the Winter of 1989, the band was contacted by AEMMP Records, Columbia College's student record label, with an offer to release "Not Dead Yet," and the band signed its first record deal. The AEMMP Records 12 inch single made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to Fred Haayen, a Dutch record executive who had worked with The Who and Rod Stewart earlier in his career, and who was running a Dutch label called CNR Records. Ralph negotiated to retain the US market in the record deal, and called Jay Whitehouse, who had been national sales manager for Alligator Records in Chicago before leaving to form his own band and label. Ralph then set up Waterdog Records with help from an investor, and asked Jay if he would run the day to day activities of the label. That Spring the band worked hard with producer Michael Freeman to finish the album, and began planning to tour to support the CD, which was now to be released world-wide - in the US on Waterdog, and in Europe on CNR.

At this point, guitarist Tommy O'Brien gave the band notice that he would be unable to tour, and, after a month of auditions, blues great John Duich was hired to replace Tommy. The original "Bad Is Beautiful" album did not include "Ragtime to Rags," had a different version of "Not Dead Yet," and had a slightly different version of "Ashes of My Heart."

As 1990 rolled to a close and Waterdog prepared to release the album, CNR announced the first of a number of postponements of the European release. The band members had all quit their jobs to start touring, and so in December Ralph, Terry, Pickles and John headed out in their newly purchased motor home on "The Take It On The Chin Tour," their first road trip. The band had given it that nickname as the tour approached because they knew they were heading into all brand-new markets, and they would have to fight for every fan they made. The tour started in Chicago, and looped down through West Virginia into the southeast to Charleston, South Carolina, then around back north.

Dutch A&R man Ronald van der Meijden from CNR flew over to travel with the band for the last leg of the tour, as the boys drove north into the freezing midwest winter. This was right around the time Styx had decided to record a version of "Not Dead Yet," and both band and labels felt it was important to re-record the song. Ralph had just written "Ragtime to Rags," and everyone felt it added a nice depth to the album, so it was redone as well. "Ashes of My Heart" had not had a bridge in its original released version, and through a little studio wizardry one was added which improved the song immensely.

Click on any chapter heading below for a chronological history!

The early days & the MEAT album
The making of Bad Is Beautiful; AEMMP Records signs the band
Bad Is Beautiful released, Europe, West Coast touring
CNR ends, Eat At Godot's
Landmark falls, enter Steve Gerlach, the Kisses 50 Cents band, the origins of Birthday
The return of Tommy O'Brien, Ralph tours Europe with the Moondogs, 1996 European tour
Rob Newhouse, Ron Barnes join the band; Sawdust and Spangles, Birthday come to life
The 5000 Days Studio sessions, The Last Show
Stages, Kids, and a Smash Record!