When confronted with a
near-crippling lack of musical
talent, most people take
up a more realistic hobby
and leave their dreams of
rock stardom behind. The
other three guys decided to
Formed in 1984 by “renegade” members
of the William & Mary soccer team, Skum
became known for catchy songs, a rotating
cast of band members, a few debaucherous
years in Miami and eventually a tragic
implosion. Their exploits and the ensuing
wake of destruction are chronicled in
“Skum Rocks!,” an upcoming documentary
on the band’s rise and fall. It’s the stuff rock
dreams are made of, made all the more
impressive by how they got their start:
They did not know how to play their
instruments. They were awful.
Skum was founded in 1984 by members of the William & Mary soccer team.
In 2008, director Clay Westervelt was
coming off a string of successful documentaries
and television shows when he
got a cold call from someone looking for
help with a film project. Westervelt was
perfect for this project, the man said,
because his most recent documentary,
“Popatopolis,” profiled another director
who found success in spite of the odds.
“He sent over a bunch of footage and it
was very difficult to watch,” said Westervelt,
“but some of it was so intriguing.”
The man had sent old home videos of a
bombastic rock band, along with on-thespot
comments about that band from an
array of celebrities. Westervelt was suspicious,
but elected to take the project
“I was very nervous about this
movie from the beginning because
it became clear fairly early on that
I wasn’t necessarily going to be
able to trust the information I was
being given,” said Westervelt.
“But that’s what these guys are
masters at: making something out
of nothing and making it go when
The man was Hart Baur ’86, and his
band, Skum, was back. Which is impressive,
considering they probably shouldn’t
have existed in the first place.
One night at the Green Leafe in early
1984, Baur and a couple of his soccer
teammates thought it’d be fun if they
had a band.
“We were always on the edge anyway,”
Baur said. “I found a couple guys on the
team who were willing to venture further
out on the edge with me.”
That night at the Leafe, Skum was born.
Todd Middlebrook ’85 became the bass
player, just because he owned a bass. Scott
Bell ’87 was dubbed the drummer, soon to
sit behind a set of Mickey Mouse drums —
which he didn’t know how to play. Baur
would front the band with a $60 guitar he
bought later in Newport News, Va. Skum
would play the finest cover songs 1984 had
to offer, from bands like Van Halen, the
Clash and KISS. The mission — “meet
girls and have more fun,” said Middlebrook
— was clear.
A week later, the first band practice was
held in the basement of Middlebrook’s
dorm at James Blair Terrace.
“We made as much noise as you could
possibly make with two amps and drums,”
said Baur. “Apparently it vibrated the
building all the way up to the attic. Within
minutes, we had made enemies of the
Skum barely played for half an hour
before an RA came down and forced them
to stop. But the guys were hooked, even if
understaffed. Enter Jon Tarrant ’87, who
— believe it or not — had studied at London’s
Royal Academy of Music. His background
was in piano, but he was recruited
as a second guitarist to help out Baur, who
“didn’t even know what tuning was.”
Hart Baur ’86
Baur & Tarrant ’87
Todd Middlebrook ’85
“I auditioned,” said Tarrant. “Which is
kind of funny, given that they sucked.” Tarrant
made the cut and joined the band,
now practicing near the heart of Old Campus
on South Boundary Street.
“We were terrible,” said Bell. “We were
laughing the whole time we were playing
because it was so bad, but we were enjoying
it. At first we started to try to play real
songs — like other people’s songs — and
realized quickly that we didn’t have the
chops to play any real songs. We started
making up our own.”
Almost-classic tunes like “We Are
Skum” and “Hanging Out With Fred”
emerged from late-night dormitory songwriting
sessions. Fred, incidentally, was
the soccer team’s laundry man, while “Bad
Checks” was a story of a former teammate
who fled the country after having an insufficient
account balance. In large part, the
early songs were about the goings-on
around the Tribe soccer team, so the first
gig was a natural choice: surprising a
teammate with 300 people crammed into
“It was a great party,” said Baur. “People
went crazy cheering and it sounded godawful,
but it was a great moment with 300
of your closest friends.”
Soon Skum was scheduled to play Trinkle
Hall, but rather than be outed as the
terrible band they were, Skum passed out
beer and called the cops on themselves.
The police broke the show up before they
finished the first song. The audience saw a
rock band fighting the law; the band saw
their legend — and their ranks — grow
even further. Herb George ’89 later
joined the band as “lead bassist,” a move
they claimed was unprecedented in rock
history. Now Middlebrook, like Baur,
could focus on their trademark energetic
stage show, while George and Tarrant
handled the music. Bell, for his part, had
his role locked down.
“My right foot is just constantly going
100 miles an hour,” he remembered.
“That’s my bass drum in every song. In no
way, shape or form am I a drummer.”
Skum soon entered a Battle of the
Bands, where they played for 90 seconds
before protesting the supposed poor sound
quality and storming off the stage —
impressing yet another guitarist, Jerry
Mann, in the process. Later shows featured
the band members each dressed in a different
fast-food uniform, a July show dubbed
Pumpkinfest, and assorted other shenanigans.
The local press ate it up, but Commencement
Middlebrook graduated first, and the
band carried on with George as the only
bass player. By his own graduation, Baur
had caught the rock band bug, and wanted
to keep Skum going in his hometown of
Miami. They bid Bell, George and Tarrant
goodbye and headed south. All the original
members remain friends, but “Skum
Rocks!” half-mockingly suggests that the
split was not entirely harmonious; George is
featured in a phone tirade against his
replacement at lead bass. Tarrant suggests
Skum failed at piecing his life back together.
“They went on to their lives at that time
and we went on to our lives,” said Middlebrook.
“Throughout, I cannot tell you the
fondness that we have for each other.”
Bell remembered it slightly differently.
“The part [in “Skum Rocks!”] about me
getting fired because I was too handsome
and got all the chicks — some of that is
absolutely the truth.”
“Skum Rocks!” tackles the Miami years
with even more ferocity than Skum’s time
at William & Mary. They added bassist Pat
Burke, a high school guitar prodigy named
John Eaton, and a litany of itinerant drummers.
Armed with Baur’s and Middlebrook’s
charisma and bonafide musicians
in Burke and Eaton, Skum set about terrorizing
the East Coast with increasingly
legitimate rock & roll.
It started to work — barely. By day, Baur
was teaching high school. By night, he was
opening a concert at West Dade Prison
with “I Fought The Law,” featuring a random
Skum fan replacing their usual drummer,
who was too young to get into his own
show. The band raised tens of thousands of
dollars to record their first album, “Lost at
the Circus,” independently, which they
burned on more parties, groupies and paying
damages for the havoc they caused.
The album that eventually came out of
their sessions was hyped as “the next
White Album,” but it all came crashing
down when “Lost at the Circus” was itself
mysteriously lost. The band was devastated.
Skum split and left the rock
lifestyle behind for good. Probably.
“[Skum represented] some of the most
enjoyable years of our lives,” said Middlebrook
from his home in London. “On the
other hand, we had gone on to our adult
lives. So when we heard the tapes were
found, it was, ‘OK, what do we do now?’”
After nearly two decades, “Lost at the
Circus” had been found stashed in an old
associate’s bathtub. Baur, ever the showman,
immediately started going to work.
Before long, he had re-assembled the early
’90s lineup (with yet another drummer),
began restoring the “Lost at the Circus”
tapes and booked Westervelt to shoot the
documentary. Alice Cooper narrates
“Skum Rocks!,” which debuted in September
at the Raindance film festival in London.
It’s a twisted tale that careens from
Old Campus to South Beach to Memphis
and then London, featuring dozens of
cameos from rock legends and Hollywood
stars. One notable alumnus even riffs on
Skum from the set of the “Daily Show.”
In the end, the parties and girls didn’t
turn out to matter as much as the brotherhood
and inspiration. The film is dedicated
to the memory of former guitarist Jerry
Mann, who passed away of diabetes complications
in 2011. Tarrant and Bell flew to
the London premiere to support their old
bandmates and friends.
“I never believed that the band could
carry on and still live in 2013,” said Bell.
“But that’s what they have really accomplished
here: they’ve gone to Abbey Road
Studios in London and cut tracks there.
They did amazing things that I would
never believe they could do.”
“Skum Rocks!” may begin as lighthearted,
unbelievable insanity, but it’s
shot through with a classic message of
inspiration. After all, not every middleaged
ex-rocker has the chance to get the
old band back together.
“As you get more stuff and have more
bills, the tendency is to be a little too conservative.
The film reminds me to live a
little — to take a chance,” said Tarrant,
who certainly hadn’t planned on joining a
rock band all those years ago. “I was a
“There is that nostalgia for sure,” Middlebrook
said, “but I love being 50. I am so
much less afraid. You know what you want
and you go for those things.”
“This is about going for your dreams no
matter how old you are,” said Baur.
“We’re just using rock and roll as a platform
And you can catch Skum live — 23 years
later — in Melbourne, Fla., on Jan. 17.
For more on the band and “Skum Rocks!,”
The 2013 edition of Skum, plus entourage, relaxes between events at the London premier of "skum Rocks!" in September 2013.