25 Jan How I Signed My Own Rock Band and Sold 3 Million Albums: the story of Green Jellÿ
Melodie’s SVP Licensing & Creative, Gary Helsinger, has had what you might call a ‘colourful’ career. Between discovering Jeff Buckley, signing the Smashing Pumpkins, loaning Prince his guitar, and snooping on shoppers behind a two way mirror with Michael Jackson, he was at some point a singer in platinum-selling rock band, Green Jellÿ, which sold over 3 million albums worldwide. Gary sat us down to share a chapter of his story.
The Story of Green Jellÿ
I was once one of the singers in the world’s worst band…and yet my band had a huge hit song and sold three million albums worldwide. How do I know we were the worst? Because we TRIED to be the worst band! Green Jellÿ, the band behind the international smash single “Three Little Pigs,” was a living cartoon, punk rock band/puppet show and the self proclaimed “world’s worst band.” How can a terrible band get a record deal you say? Easy. I signed myself!
Green Jellÿ, originally called Green Jellö before a lawsuit forced a name change, was formed in the early 80s by a bunch of high school friends in Buffalo, NY as a way to get into bars underage. No one could play an instrument and the lead singer was tone deaf, but that didn’t stop us. People would scream “You Suck!” at our shows, so we made ridiculous props, costumes, and special effects, partly to cover up our lack of musical talent, but the audiences still screamed, “you suck!” Early on, it became clear that there was little chance of ever becoming the best band, but we figured the title of the worst band was up for grabs… and so a legend was born!
I had moved to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania with no cash, a low limit credit credit card, a mug, and an unused college degree in biology, and ended up in a cheap two bedroom Hollywood apartment with a job at the legendary Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. I made less than it took to survive, but I scrounged by on perks and amassed rock star stories to fill a book (which I may well write some day…but until then, look for more tales on this site!). It was here at Tower, in the eye of the storm of “The Strip” in the 80s, that I befriended my co-workers who were the remnants of the infamous band, Green Jellö. Almost immediately the band reformed, now with me and some new Hollywood blood, playing every seedy bar and underground club for some laughs and a couple free beers. The band membership had an open door policy (I was number 36, I think), and there was always at least 20 people on stage, although everyone didn’t plug in. Our songs were not born out of music ideas, but were created from inside jokes and crazy character ideas, such as the anti-hero, Sh*tman who rises from the sewer like the Michelin Man of poop to fight the plumber WWE style. (Did I mention that our humour was 8th grade?)
I had moved to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania with no cash, a low limit credit credit card, a mug, and an unused college degree in biology.
We constructed these characters from garbage picking old couch cushions abandoned on the streets of Hollywood, which we would glue together, sculpt, and layer in liquid latex to make giant foam heads and props for our new songs. We always outnumbered the audience, and we would constantly try out new songs and costume ideas, which would fail half the time, and were only performed once. Our fans began to realize that they had to attend all of our shows to see these one-time atrocities, so suddenly one day we had a huge following. We could sell out the 3,000 seat Palace Theater (today the Avalon) by announcing the day of the show. We played with The Dickies, GWAR (our latex siblings!), No Doubt, Celebrity Skin, the legendary Tiny Tim, and Pearl Jam just before they became famous, to name a few. Part of our band later split off and became Tool (yes, Tool)…but THAT is also another story!
We became local celebrities with a self produced album and sold out shows from San Diego to Portland, but not one record label, publisher, booking agent, or manager ever approached us to work with the band. Not one. We were DIY because no one wanted to do it with us! By this time, I had finally gotten the music job I had always wanted, an A&R exec position at Chrysalis Music Publishing. I discovered Linda Perry and Jeff Buckley, and signed the Smashing Pumpkins, while my band was a thing I did for fun. However, our band leader wanted to quit and start a small TV production facility. I realized that we could use the band to get a very small deal, buy equipment and make an album no one wanted, and then keep the gear when we would most certainly be dropped. This was the plan. I drafted a Green Jellÿ publishing deal at Chrysalis for $25K. My former Tower coworker had gotten a job in the A&R dept at Zoo Entertainment (part of BMG), so he and I wrote a record deal with a marketing plan and budget for $50K. We walked it in, lied that we knew how to make the world’s first “video album,” and then they sent us off with a check…no questions asked…they called our bluff!
We walked it in, lied that we knew how to make the world’s first “video album,” and then they sent us off with a check…no questions asked…
We deposited the check and bought a camera, wood, some lights, and then stared at it for months wondering how are we going to do this thing? Finally, we pulled ourselves up by our rubber latex straps, turned on the camera and just did our stage show thing in front of it. When we finished and turned it in to Zoo, they didn’t even know who we were and had no plans to release it. We had to stage events like a press show for Film Threat magazine and a stunt where I went to Howard Stern’s celebratory public “funeral” service for defeating his LA talk show rivals Mark & Brian in the ratings….dressed as Sh*tman. In the middle of thousands of people who crowded the parking lot across from famous round Capitol Records tower… I climbed up on a stool, in costume, and standing above everyone’s head, shouted with a megaphone, “Howard! You’re number one! But I’M number TWO!! I’M A BIG NUMBER TWO!” We had caught the eye of the press…and with their pressure, the label finally scheduled a release date.
The only problem was that with my long experience in retail, I had decided that the way to promote us would be to make a large box for our video cassette album, the size of a cereal box, and it would say “the world’s first ‘video only’ band!” However, it would contain a “secret surprise” with would be either the CD or cassette of the album. I thought this idea was genius (and was the reason we named the album CEREAL KILLER). The oversized box would have to be end capped, stacked on the counter, and stocked at the record store, cassette dept, AND the video store. That genius quickly ended when the label decided that would be too expensive, so they would go with my joke and only distribute the video in a regular paper sleeve. The entire release would be 1,000 video cassettes across the entire country, which is a couple per store…our album was dead before release.
As fate would have it, one of those video cassettes found its way to a radio station in Seattle, KXRX. A DJ there heard it, hated it, and put it on “cart” to play on air to mock us. The only thing was, the second he played “Three Little Pigs” his request board lit up like a Christmas tree. He played it again later and the same thing happened. The following week he called our label to tell them we had the number one song on their station…but there was no actual single to promote. The label rushed out a CD single and cassette sampler, and the same thing happened at a half dozen radio stations around the country. Although the video for “The Three Little Pigs” had been rejected by MTV, the video jukebox station called The Box added us, and once again, the public spoke, and it became the number one requested (which meant the called PAID for it) video in the history of the channel. MTV’s Rikki Rachtman caught wind of that and decided to play us as the last song on his Headbanger’s Ball show, which meant 1:55am. No matter, the phones lit up, he played us early on the show the next week, and the phones went crazy. Next thing we knew our video was in heavy rotation on regular MTV, and immediately it became number one…where it sat for 3 months in the spring/summer of 1993. We booked a tour with the heavy metal band Testament (because the lead singer’s son thought we were funny), and were locked into playing clubs as the album was selling 100K copies a week.
The only thing was, the second he played “Three Little Pigs” his request board lit up like a Christmas tree. He played it again later and the same thing happened... The following week he called our label to tell them we had the number one song on their station.
As the success hit, so did the lawsuits. First, and most famously, Kraft/General Foods let us know that “Jell-O” was a trademark, and we would be shut down if we didn’t change it. Luckily, they accepted the tiny change to Jellÿ. Next was Toys-R-Us who didn’t like our Jello-R-Us publishing company name. Hanna-Barbera were much nicer about us infringing on the Flintstones for our Sex Pistols cover parody “Anarchy in Bedrock.” They allowed mohawk Fred, skinhead Barney, and goth Betty, we just had to edit out the one shot of me as Barney punching Bam-Bam in the head. We met Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera and got a tour of their awesome studio, which is now sadly gone. The only people who didn’t play ball, was the band Metallica. Their people took us to court for infringing on “Enter Sandman.” Since a bass line is not copyright protected, we would have been ok, but since we name checked the band in the lyric, they got $20K from us. Funny, a few years later I became friends with Kirk Hammett, and while I was hanging at his SF mansion, he joked that our settlement probably paid for his lamp in the guest room. He really was a nice guy though.
We repeated our success in the rest of the world, and spent the fall that year touring Europe. At the time “The Three Little Pigs” was the highest rock debut single in the entire history of the British charts, and we appeared live on their long running, TV show “Top of the Pops”.
(I’m running out of time and space, so I’ll have to get back to you with more stories: like getting stuck in the Czech Republic when the French burned the Paris runways, or foolishly eating the hashish every time we left Amsterdam on a ferry)…
We built a multi-million dollar production studio in Hollywood, which Tim Burton used, and we had songs in DUMB AND DUMBER, SON-IN-LAW (Pauly Shore), and CONGA. That experience actually led to me thinking about music licensing…where you can find me today, writing this blog! I was also a guest judge on the MTV game show, LIP SYNC, and I dated the actress Michelle Johnson and comic Janeane Garofalo. I did’t even get to the piercings, tattoos, and porn stars part of the story.. so stay tuned for son of blog, or Blog Part Doo! Remember, don’t wait for approval…do it yourself! Green Jellö Suxx…forever!