Sparks hosts a cool private rock 'n' roll museum
A 1960s salon chair doubles as a recliner. A small couch, crowded with two overweight boxer pits and one fat beagle, affectionately named, Blondie, Rollins and Sharona, sits in front of a cluttered round coffee table, with a glass cover underlaid with tickets from a variety of rock shows. A stack of graphic novels snuggles next to a large lava lamp. A radio system interweaves itself around the entertainment area. A modest TV completes the living room decor.
This simple set up, reminiscent of That '70s Show, is the least exciting thing in this small living room. You can’t sit still. The color is overwhelming. Every wall of this small suburban house is covered, floor to ceiling with rock ’n’ roll posters.
Bright neon, graphic pictures and band logos double for wallpaper. It’s not only the walls, but also above the kitchen sink and bathroom. This house is bursting with band propaganda. Matter of fact, the ceiling alone acts as a history of rock 'n’ roll from the '90s. The only place devoid of posters is the ceiling of the master bedroom.
On the coffee table sits another treasure of immense value, a simple leather bag. This bag contains the autographs for every poster in the collection. And the list is impressive. It includes names like, Slash—his first—and members of Duran Duran, Blondie, Cypress Hill, Black Flag, Misfits, Deftones and Smashing Pumpkins.
“If I have a poster, I have a signature.” says Chris Hubbell, the avid collector. He was almost famous. This is his house, and this is his legacy.You can’t always get what you want
“I’ve always been a little obsessed with music,” said Hubbell. To see this man’s house is to realize the humility in that statement. A business card box sits atop a speaker, stuffed with every ticket to every show he has ever been to. The space where furniture belongs has been taken over by rock ’n’ roll pinball machines and jukeboxes. Hubbell’s life is the wet dream of every red-blooded American teenager. The ultimate roadie, the signature snatcher, the band junkie; he is the overgrown American teenager forever stuck between dreams of grandeur and adulthood.
This museum of rock history on H Street in Sparks is a nationally recognized collection. A picture of Hubbell is on page 479 in a coffee table book called, Art of Modern Rock. In 1992, Hubbell began collecting rock ’n’ roll posters. His collection is vast. And valuable. An autographed poster of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, produced by poster artist Frank Kozik, hangs helplessly across his ceiling, priced at $1,495.95 on eBay. His filing system is arcane: a clipboard with coffee-stained paper filled with pages of inked names of every band he has seen.
“The poster community laughs at me because I’m so careless with my collection,” he said. But he insists the hung poster is a part of the rock experience. “The poster is about the live show.” Hubbell’s longtime friend, Lil’ Tuffy, a San Francisco poster artist, called Hubbell “the exception to the rule.” He’s definitely not in it for the money.
If you live in Reno, you might have seen his face on the old Recycled Records commercials. He’s 47, with a shiny shaved head, and a smile that hints at the teenage fantasy of following the band. Hubbell worked at Recycled Records for 14 years. But his career in retail music was a backup plan.
Recycled Records boss Paul Doege was fully aware of his obsession: “The man has a really strong collecting gene. He never goes after something half-assed.” Doege and his employees were swept up in Hubbell’s rock 'n’ roll dream, even joining him on several of his excursions to The City.
“I used to want to be a rock star,” Hubbell said. He played in two Reno area bands, Grumple and Echopark, hoping to catch a break into that rock ’n’ roll dream. His early rock career led to an encounter with Bobby Adams, the guitar player for Reno area punk band 7Seconds and owner of Golden Gun Tattoo. Adams used to skate with Hubbell’s older brother.
“At the time I was just learning to play the guitar,” said Adams, “just chasing that dream.” Adams’ transformative experience began with a jam session with Hubbell. “It was my first time playing with a full band.” Hubbell sat down with Adams as they hammered out the chords to many classic Clash songs. And as luck would have it, during Adams' audition for 7Seconds he was asked to play a song by The Clash. Hubbell’s brushes with rock ’n’ roll almost seemed predetermined.
But it was a fateful audition with Steve Mack of That Petrol Emotion that changed the course of Hubbell’s life. A handwritten note from Mack sits among Hubbell’s paraphernalia. It says, “good news, our bass player quit.” Sitting in an old package, displayed on the shelf, postmarked from France, is an old cassette track with a small note expressing the urgency of learning all the songs. But Hubbell didn’t make the cut.
“There is a point in your life when you realize your time is passed,” Hubbell lamented. He failed that audition and subsequently bought a house. And as he so eloquently put it: “What’s a musician without a girlfriend? Homeless!”
“I kind of talked him into a buying a house,” said Doege. He approached him one day and asked him what he did with all his money. Hubbell was a single man with no responsibilities, all his extra cash going to ticket sales and the gasoline industry. He needed a place to call his own. Responsibility beckoned, and he was beginning to realize he was “never that good.” That Steve Mack audition made a lasting impression.It’s only rock ’n’ roll
“There are only so many people that get into the NFL,” Hubbell said. With his dream of rock 'n’ roll slipping from his grasp, Hubbell felt a bit rudderless. But he knew there was more to rock ’n’ roll: There was the guy on the couch.
To put this in perspective, in every concert across America there are the privileged few who share in that rock experience. These people go beyond the prepaid VIP pass, or the meet-the-star photo ops. These are the people on a first-name basis with the legendary rock gods.
“That’s the person I wanted to be.” With Hubbell’s passion reignited, his mission became clear. He could work and become a responsible human being without losing his grasp on the spirit of rock music. “I saw those people sitting on the couch with those rock stars and thought, ’Why not me?’”
Hubbell continued working in rock 'n’ roll after he released his dreams of stardom. Working for Greg Store Productions, a music venue in Reno, kept him engaged in the music scene. His boss approached him one day, asking if Pantera was a band worth booking. It was Pantera’s first tour and first time in Reno. Hubbell had a knack for recognizing music talent. This talent helped him to become “the guy on the couch.”
“I can recognize greatness,” says Hubbell. “I was able to pick bands like stocks, and they would rise.”
Hubbell’s ear served him well. With the booking of Pantera, he became their personal chauffeur while they were on tour in Reno. The crew even stayed at his house. Hubbell began to pick up the pieces of his shattered rockstar dream.
During the Pantera show, he worked at keeping the savages away from the band, as the mosh pit surged forward and back. He graciously handed a rag around to all the bloody-nose kids, victims of the mosh pit. By the end of the night, the rag was red with memories. So what did Hubbell do? He asked the band to sign it. That proud trophy, too, hangs on a wall in his house. But living the dream required work, and a lot of it.
“I am not a drug dealer, and I have no tits,” said Hubbell." He had to figure out strategies to meet the bands. He would arrive early to a music venue—long before the line started, while the producers were building the stage. He befriended the roadies, the sound guys, and even several tour managers before shows would start. He talked to everyone he could. These adventures turned into invites to party with the band. And with each handshake, Hubbell “increased his chances of his own Rolling Stones moment.”
Hubbell’s renown grew as he met people. He takes pride in the fact he found Deathcab for Cutie’s road manager a long-term girlfriend. These encounters with American idols became all-consuming for Hubbell. He began checking items off his bucket list.
“It was all about the thrill of the hunt,” said Hubbell. The posters became mementos of his contacts with musical America. Like the eponymous Leonard Zelig of the Woody Allen movie, Hubbell took on the glamor of his heroes. “Who would have thought a black kid from Inglewood, Cali, would become the guy on the couch?”
His “almost famous” moment came in San Francisco. He stood outside a venue as he had a thousand times before, when two girls walked up to him: “Are you Hubbell? Can you help us meet the band?”
“I’m somebody,” he thought. This was the quintessential rock Zelig moment. Did that experience define him? “I don’t know,” said Hubbell. “But it was a pretty good moment.”
These excursions into the San Francisco rock scene also connected him with one of the greatest rock music poster artists of our time. He met Lil Tuffy at the beginning of his career, and Hubbell brags that he knows Tuffy’s real name.
Lil Tuffy began his career at the Firehouse, a rock poster publishing company. Hubbell was friends with the owners. He was in the Firehouse, trying to buy some work by this rising star in the rock poster world. He was told "no" several times and even began to get upset. All he wanted to do was buy a poster. But the posters he coveted belonged to Lil Tuffy, who stood right behind him.
Tuffy remembers that chance encounter. Hubbell, after being informed who owned those posters, flippantly asked, “Well who’s that?” to which a Firehouse employee responded, “He’s standing right behind you.” He befriended Tuffy even having him come to his house to receive an antique jukebox as a gift.
Tuffy was impressed with Hubbell’s house: “It’s nuts … it’s what my room looked like in high school.”
Hubbell’s friendship with Tuffy led to the creation of some commissioned posters of his own. Tuffy’s first poster was for the band Clutch, his most recent, Skrillex. Hubbell’s commissioned works include a poster for Book of Love and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, hanging on the walls of DNA lounge and Bottom of the Hill, two SF music venues.Mother’s little helper
As Hubbell has aged, his definition of rock success has matured. Hubbell met a woman named Sheryl Landeros. She was a single mother with three kids. Hubbell impressed upon her how much her kids would enjoy an excursion into the rock world.
“Would you like to go to see Fallout Boy at the Great American Music Hall?” Landeros protested, insisting she didn’t have the means to attend. But Hubbell didn’t ask if she could afford it; he asked if she wanted to go. And with that, the plans were made.
Landeros’ oldest daughter was so excited that she asked if a friend could come. And several arrangements later, Hubbell was driving down the road toward SF with four kids and an elated mother.
But their plans were interrupted as two Honda Civics, street racing across the Bay Bridge at 3 in the morning, swerved at the last minute, both sideswiping the Durango he was driving, totaling the vehicle. Everyone seemed fine at first. It wasn’t until after the concert that one of the girls began to develop a black eye, and a visit to the doctor confirmed a broken nose and cheekbone.
“I think we were just in shock,” Landeros said. The police gave the stranded family and their entertainment guide a ride to a restaurant. They had to wait until morning for a car rental business to open. Hubbell offered them a choice: Rent a car and go home, or in true rock 'n’ roll fashion keep going. Those children decided a car accident was no reason to miss Fallout Boy.
Even though it was the first concert those girls ever went to, it could also end up the most memorable. And as might be expected in a house that’s as much an homage to rock ’n’ roll as it is a home, a collage of pictures from that concert occupy a place of honor on the wall, with smiling girls and big red letters that say, “Thank you, Hubbell.”Jan. 27, 2015: This story was modified to correct the spelling of Chris Hubbell’s name.