Formerly known as Scared Straight, but wanting to have more fun than a straight-edge hardcore band, Ten Foot Pole converted into a powerful, aggressive punk rock band. While Scared Straight had releases on the Mystic Records label, Ten Foot Pole quickly came under the Epitaph umbrella, staying there until past the millennium.
Co-founder Dennis Jagard was born in Northridge, CA, but grew up in Simi Valley, CA. When he was eight, his parents made him take piano lessons; by the time he was ten, music was his way of life. He kept Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" in his bathroom tape player for months, listening to the same songs every day while showering. When he was 11, he struck a deal with his parents and wrote up a contract: He would be allowed to switch from piano to guitar with the understanding that he would turn the volume down when requested, and he wouldn't play the guitar when his dad was home. Jagard started gigging with his friends during junior high school, motivated by their love for heavy music and the hope that the girls would notice them if they were on-stage. As he grew older, he developed a love for street motorcycles, snowboarding, and reading, but the thrill of writing songs and seeing how music affected people shaped his career as a vocalist and guitar player.
Jagard, along with co-founder Steve Von Treetrunk (guitar), plus Scott Radinsky (vocals), and Jordan Burns (drums), gained experience at every turn as they took their new band, Scared Straight, on their first tour. They lost everything when both their car and trailer were stolen in Pittsburgh. The show went on as they continued to play on borrowed equipment. Scared Straight self-released their debut album, Swill, early in 1994. Then Burns switched bands and went with Corrosion of Conformity, so Tony Palermo joined on behind the drum kit. By September 1994, the Epitaph label had signed the band and released Rev. After the name and style conversion to Ten Foot Pole that came with Rev, the band joined with the Satanic Surfers and released a split CD in April 1995. Vocalist Scott Radinsky, having the dual talent of singing and being a pitcher for the L.A. Dodgers, left the band in 1995 to pitch balls full-time, later going on to form Pulley as well; Jagard took over his spot.
Epitaph released Unleashed in March 1997, and a few months later, Glen Vegas (bass) joined the band. Vegas, with his energetic backing vocals, originated from Canada and earlier played in Dead Surf Kiss (aka DSK) and 60 Cycle. That fall, Ten Foot Pole toured New Zealand, Japan, Australia, and the U.S. In January 1999, Epitaph released Insider, which was well received by fans. When Vegas left to explore other areas of life, Leigh Lawson (bass) became a key ingredient of the band. May 2000 found Ten Foot Pole on the Punk-O-Rama tour, providing a joyous interaction with fans. The band also covered "Love Song" by Tesla on Punk Goes Metal released in August 2000 by Fearless Records.
On August 26, 2000, in San Diego, tragedy struck Ten Foot Pole: bass player Leigh Lawson died unexpectedly of an enlarged heart. Not feeling well, Lawson laid down to sleep and never woke up. Tests revealed no alcohol or drugs in his system. In tribute to Lawson, the band canceled its tours and took time off. When the band picked up again, original founders Dennis Jagard (vocals/guitar) and Steve Von Treetrunk (guitar) were still strong and popping, and John Chapman, their new bass player, masterfully blended his pop style to theirs. Kevin Ruggeri was pounding out the drums for the band. Although Ruggeri's parents weren't musicians, they did buy him his first drum kit and let his earlier bands rehearse at their home. His older brother, Louie, passed down his Slingerland pearl-shelled snare drum to Ruggeri when he was 11, and his talent blossomed. His parents even became adept at napping while Ruggeri developed his ambidextrous skill of becoming a top punk drummer by tapping into his adrenaline and letting his creativity flow.
No longer with Epitaph, Ten Foot Pole created new demos and began preparing for its next album. For over 15 years, Ten Foot Pole had shared the stage with bands such as NOFX, Bad Religion, D.O.A., Green Day, Circle Jerks, Offspring, and dozens of others. Ten Foot Pole had laid a strong foundation of experience, devoted fans, and intelligent, thoughtful lyrics based on the desire to have a good time. The band -- which now comprised Jagard, Ruggeri, guitarist Eric Cody, and bassist Mike Levy -- hooked up with Victory Records for 2002's Bad Mother Trucker. They then jumped labels again, joining the roster at Go-Kart for the politically conscious Subliminable Messages, released in mid-2004. ~ Eleanor Ditzel