Tales of Rock – The Best Band You Never Heard – Shark Island

Every time…..


1979–1982: Early History and Sharks formation[edit]

Shark Island was started in 1979 by singer Richard Black, whose name then was Rick Czerny, and lead guitarist Spencer Sercombe, under the name of ‘Sharks’. Czerny and Sercombe met in high school and began writing original material and began playing music together. Sercombe, played and worked for B.C. Rich guitars. While working at B.C. Rich, Spencer has a hand in the designing of one their most popular guitars, The Warlock. The band practiced out of a small home in a commercial area in Arcadia on Santa Clara Street. The walls of the studio were lined with empty Mickey’s Big Mouth bottles (the official Shark beer) and the inspiration behind the band’s original logo.[2] The band was completed by drummer Dave Bishop and bassist Jim Volpicelli.

The original band of Czerny, Sercombe, Volpicelli and Bishop released an independent album called Altar Ego in 1982. This album was produced by Jerry Tolman, and featured organist Mike “The Fin” Finnegan. Both had done work with Stephen Stills. Executive producer was Jeff Willmitt. It was recorded at That Studio in North Hollywood.

As well as Altar Ego, Sharks released three singles. The first was a unique “triple fin” shaped 45, that when inserted into the jacket, cut through the ocean image on the cover. Side A was “Kid Sister” and side B was “Your Car or Mine”. Both were recorded at Mystic Studios in Hollywood. “Hey” was a live single recorded on May 10, 1981 at The Ice House in Pasadena, Sharks’ home town. On the flip side was Mark Bolan‘s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)“. Executive producer for both 45s was Jeff Willmitt. The artwork of “Hey” featured a black 45 rpm sleeve with ‘Live Sharks’ across the top in bold red letters with three USDA stamps saying, “Guaranteed Live” on the top of the stamp. “Packed in Its Own Juice” was on the bottom of the stamp. In the middle of the stamp it said, “U.S.D.A. Shark Meat choice” looking like an actual stamp from the U.S.D.A. The other single was “I’m Electric” which featured a drum machine rather than Bishop playing the real drums. On the backside of that single is “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town“. The lyrics are substituted and recorded to the tune of the Judas Priest song, “Heading Out to the Highway“. No artwork was created for this second single. This was considered a souvenir and was given out to the fans when Sharks headlined. Oftentimes Sharks made themselves available after their performances to the many fans wanted and somewhat demanded autographs to these same “souvenirs”.

During these years, the Sharks became one of the most popular bands to emerge from the Los Angeles rock scene. American Heroes/Mondo Cane was an act that either opened for Sharks or had Sharks opening for them during the numerous performances. There were multiple occasions when both bands played in the same venues such as The Whiskey, The Icehouse, The Roxy or The Troubadour. It was at that time that Lanny Cordola, American Heroes/Mondo Cane’s guitarist and songwriter, began noticing the unique and riveting stage persona of Sharks vocalist, Richard Czerny. Lanny seriously entertained the idea of Czerny being the frontman for American Heroes/Mondo Cane but both bands continued to perform separately never discussing the idea. Richard Black’s (Czerny later changed his name to Black) signature stage moves and dancing were influential to Axl Rose.[citation needed] When Axl Rose has been asked about this “influence”, Rose either avoids answering those questions altogether or immediately changes the subject.[3]

Dave Bishop was the drummer of Sharks while they were enjoying the height of their popularity in Hollywood. Bishop used various shapes of cowbell-like instruments in his drumming giving him his unique sound and along with his unusual style of playing. His drum kit had a shark’s jaws permanently fastened to the outer drum head of his bass drum facing the crowd.

Jim Volcipelli was handling the duties of the bass guitar for Sharks. One of Volcipelli’s bass guitars was custom-designed and had an air-brushed shark’s head and teeth painted at the end near the volume/tone knobs. Much like Michael Anthony of Van Halen, Volcipelli’s vocals were strong and melodic bringing a very different sound to Hollywood’s rock scene. Many bands, at that time, only had the vocals of the lead singer with no background vocals. Clearly, this set Sharks apart from almost all of the current-playing rock bands at that time.

1985–1986: Name change and S’cool Buss[edit]

In 1985, Sharks changed their name to Shark Island. In the tradition of Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and other Los Angeles bands, Shark Island became the house band at Gazzari’s on the Sunset Strip. Owner Bill Gazzari helped produce a cover of the Frank Sinatra song “New York, New York”[3] which appeared on the band’s independently released album, S’cool Buss, in 1986. The line-up now included Richard Black on lead vocals, Spencer “Burner” Sercombe on guitar/vocals, Walt Woodward III (ex-Rachel, Americade) on drums/vocals, Tom Rucci on bass/vocals/keyboards and Michael Guy on guitar/bass. Rick Derringer produced most of the album and there were 1,200 copies made (200 in a red cover and 1,000 in a turquoise color). “Palace of Pleasure” was the unofficial single of this album. The former Sharks’ rhythm section, Jim Volpicelli (bass) and Dave Bishop (drums) are credited with co-writing four of its nine songs.

Sharks Island were able to secure a record development deal. They were signed by A&M Records for one year with no promise of being permanently signed to an official record contract. During this time, the line-up continued to shift with drummer Walt Woodward III leaving to join The Scream and on-and-off guitarist K.K. Martin parting ways due to “artistic differences”. Rob Pace, from Chicago, filled in on drums during this time. Sercombe also did studio work with Sparks, playing guitar on the band’s 1988 Interior Design album.[4]

1989–1994: Law of the OrderBill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Point Break[edit]

Chris Heilman and drummer Greg Ellis joined in 1989 to record and release the band’s only official album, at that time, entitled, Law of the Order.[5] The official single of that “debut” album, “Paris Calling” had an elaborate music video. Randy Nicklaus was the producer for Shark Island on that album on Epic Records.[6] It’s generally speculated that Randy was not familiar enough with Sharks/Shark Island’s high-energy and bombastic live performances, and therefore not being able to fully capture Shark Island as they truly performed live.[3]

With the disappointing CD sales of the album and no promotion from Epic Records, the band vanished from the scene with most of its members joining other projects. Law of the Order was re-issued in 2004 by French independent label, Bad Reputation, as a double CD. That included bonus tracks culled from the July 14, 1989 Bastille Day – Alive At The Whiskey EP, “Father Time” and “Dangerous” from the 1989 Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure[7] soundtrack, “My City” from the 1991 Point Break soundtrack, and LOTO era live cuts, “Spellbound’ and “Sanctuary”.[8]

In 1994, the band attempted to re-form with the new line-up of Ricky Ricardo on bass, Eric Ragno (TakaraSeven Witches) – keyboards, Richard Black – vocals, Simon Wright (AC/DCDio) – drums and Damir Simic Shine on guitar.

1991–2012: Break-up and solo projects[edit]

  • Richard Black went on to join short-lived supergroup Contraband in 1991, with Michael Schenker and Bobby Blotzer (Ratt), Share Pedersen (Vixen) and Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns). Black started a band called Black 13 in the mid-1990s but never released any albums. In late 2000, it was announced that Black would front Bourgeois Pigs, a band put together by guitarist Michael Guy (ex-Shark Island, Fire, House of Lords) and also featuring Jake E. Lee (ex-Ozzy OsbourneBadlands) on lead guitar and Tony Franklin (ex-The FirmBlue Murder) on bass. Ultimately, the band disbanded without releasing an album.
  • Spencer Sercombe teamed up with German guitar legend Michael Schenker and appeared on the 1992 MSG acoustic album Unplugged Live. In 1993, he recorded the Love Revolution EP with Jamie Rio And Newmatic Slam. He joined the Riverdogs for a European tour in 1994 and collaborated with the band’s vocalist Rob Lamothe on his 1996 debut solo album, Gravity. Sercombe and Riverdogs drummer Ronnie Ciago both joined former Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward‘s solo band although only Ciago appears on the 1997 When the Bough Breaks album. Sercombe also played in a ZZ Top tribute band called Fandango. He later moved to Germany, guesting on Gigantor’s 2001 album, ‘Back to the Rockets, and singer/guitarist Eddie St. James’ 2013 release, Streets Cry Freedom, with whom he has also done shows as an acoustic guitar duo.
  • Greg Ellis left the band and played in Michael Monroe‘s band and in Jerusalem Slim, featuring Monroe and guitarist Steve Stevens. They released one self-titled album in 1992. Ellis went on to form world music duo Vas with Iranian born vocalist Azam Ali, releasing a total of 4 albums between 1997 and 2004. He guested on Steve Stevens’ 1999 solo album, Flamenco A Go-Go. Ellis has also recorded with Psytrance act Juno Reactor and his own ambient group, Biomusique, who issued 10,000 Steps in 2008.
  • Chris Heilman has previously been in Tormé and went on to play guitar with Chromosapien with Doni Castello from Burning Tree on vocals, bassist Dan Rothchild, formerly of Tonic, guitarist Craig McCloskey, and LA session drummer Dan Potruch.
  • Walt Woodward III joined The Scream and appeared on their Let It Scream debut album before doing a stint with surf guitar legend Dick Dale. Returning to his native New Jersey, he played in various local bands, including The Painkillers. Woodward died June 8, 2010 from liver failure.

2005–2013: Gathering of the Faithful and new line-up[edit]

In 2005, Shark Island reunited to re-record various previously-written and demoed songs for the album Gathering of the Faithful, produced by guitarist Spencer Sercombe with additional production from German Villacorta and vocalist Richard Black. The line-up featured Black on vocals, Sercombe on guitars, piano, synthesizer and vocals, Christian Heilman on bass and new drummer, Glen Sobel, now with Alice Cooper. The album was released in Europe on Frontiers Records in 2006[9] and via Manifest Music in the U.S. in 2007.

In 2013, Black put together a new line-up of Shark Island and played classic era material in Europe including a show in Zagreb, Croatia [10]

2019–present: New studio album[edit]

In 2019, the band released a new studio album, Bloodline. The album was limited to a worldwide print of only 1111 copies.[1] The Shark Island family now consists of Richard Black (vocals), Damir Simic (guitar), Alen Frjlak (drums) and returning Shark Island member Christian Heilmann (bass). Credit is also given to Marko Karacic (bass). Bloodline was produced by Alex Kane mixed by Sylvia Massy. The collection has ten original songs and one cover of “Policy of Truth” by Depeche Mode.



Studio albums[edit]

  • S’cool Buss (1986)[11]
  • Law of the Order (1989)[1]
  • Gathering of the Faithful (2006)[1]
  • Bloodline (2019)[1]

Promotional EPs[edit]

  • July 14, 1989 Bastille Day – Alive at the Whiskey (1989)[11]


  • “Kid Sister” b/w “Your Car or Mine” (1980)
  • “Hey” b/w “Get It On” (1981)
  • “Altar Ego” (1982)
  • “I’m Electric” b/w “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (1983)


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6 thoughts on “Tales of Rock – The Best Band You Never Heard – Shark Island”

  1. Sharks, if I remember correctly, was one of the Free side projects when the group split for the first time, alongside Toby and Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit. It was formed by Andy Fraser (the bassist with Free) and I saw them once in Edinburgh but didn’t think too much of them. I thought this was the same group when they started as Sharks so I never bothered listening to them, seems I missed out.

      1. Your welcome, I’m not much of a rock trivia buff, but I do know some interesting stuff. I saw Sharks at a Roxy Music concert in 1973. I avoided Bruce Springsteen like the plague until the 1980’s because he was hailed as the last great white hope for rock ‘n roll when Born To Run came out. To me the black musicians were better than (most) of the white artists.

      2. I agree. Columbia records threw all of their money behind Springsteen in the 70’s while bands like Aerosmith had to tour relentlessly and endlessly to sell records. I didn’t even give Bruce a listen until the 80’s when I lived in LA and could appreciate his early jersey records. Thanks so much for your great comments!

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