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 Atomic Punks Article 
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Here's a good story about the Atomic Punks.

Scott Patterson found it a little more than embarrassing to find himself playing cover songs during his first gig at FM Station in Los Angeles.

"I'd moved to California to be a rock star, it was our first show, and not only were we doing covers, but we were playing only one band's hits!"

At least Patterson could hide behind his drum kit.

But cowering was unnecessary. Not only did the crowd go wild, the club owner booked The Atomic Punks for a string of gigs, indefinitely.

The band was lucky to have picked the right band to cover, because they've been playing the hits of Van Halen, circa David Lee Roth, ever since.

A majority of VH1 fans would agree that the 1977 to '85 era represented the band's glory days, when Eddie Van Halen's licks and Roth's gravelly howling had fans singing along to the radio and music videos for "Jump," "Hot for Teacher," "Panama," "Jamie's Cryin'," "Runnin' with the Devil," and many more hits.

In the midst of Van Halen's rise, Patterson arrived in L.A. from North Carolina 14 1/2 years ago.

"I had an original band, but our singer ended up on drugs and wouldn't show up for rehearsals. We had this show booked, and didn't want to give it up, so we thought, why not do a bunch of covers?"

The band's guitar player happened to have seen a singer, Ralph Saenz, who was also kicking around town doing original music, but whose voice was a ringer for that of Van Halen's most flamboyant frontman.

"I'd never met him, but when he walked in, he had that long blond hair, and I thought, OK, we'll just play some Van Halen songs and see if it works, and he knew the words to everything and we ended up playing 20 songs."

VAN HALEN would not have been Patterson's first choice to cover.

"I was into harder stuff: Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, or progressive bands, like Rush. I had an older brother, so I listened to a lot of this stuff earlier than other kids because I heard it coming out of his bedroom.

"One of the first Van Halen songs I heard on the radio was 'You Really Got Me,' and I didn't think much of it, but everybody was raving about this new band. I didn't warm up to them 'til later."

Today, he speaks admiringly of the band and Roth.

"He was pretty funny from the start. I have to say he was the quintessential front man. He's not my favorite singer, but he's charismatic. He'd stop a show in the middle of a concert and say, 'Hey, let's go down and have a drink!' In retrospect, that was probably planned, but people went crazy. And he could just stand there with that big shit-eating grin on his face and have 20,000 people roaring.

"And Ralph, he's the same way. He's a great singer, a great performer. He's like the ring leader of a circus. What's funny is he doesn't even drink."

ACCORDING TO Patterson, The Atomic Punks is the only Van Halen tribute band to be endorsed by the original rockers.

"They know exactly who we are," he said. "(Van Halen bass player) Michael Anthony has sit in with us; two of our ex-guitarists have gone on to join the David Lee Roth Band." (The band's current lineup also features Russ Parrish on guitar and Joe Lester on bass.)

The real Van Halen has started its summer tour, but Patterson says The Atomic Punks still offers the best bet to hear the band's early material live. With Sammy Hagar returning as front man, "They wouldn't play the early stuff," Patterson said.

Ironically, the band is probably making a better living playing Van Halen music than it would have by continuing in the hard rock vein. Within months, grunge had taken over the airwaves and the so-called glam-rock and pop-metal "hair" bands were history.

"When we started, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains were getting big. None of us were into the grunge thing. We like that '80s and '70s rock. It just happened that we gained longevity by chance.

"I'm very lucky. I have a 2-year-old son and I work on the weekends but have a lot of time to be a housedad and watch him grow up.

"I know my place on this earth, although 10 years ago, if you had told me I'd be playing Van Halen music today, I'd've said, 'You're crazy.'"

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Mon Jun 28, 2004 10:18 pm
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