Uncle Crusty & the Venice Canaligators was an LA-based honky-tonk boogie band I performed with (as mentioned previously), sometimes in the street, sometimes in bars.
The band gained in popularity in the '70s & '80s—helped by television appearances on NBC's The Midnight Special. Eventually the Canaligators became "adopted" as the band of choice by a renegade motorcycle club, the Heathens. A mixed blessing, as it turned-out.
It seemed like a harmless enough partnership at first. (What's not to like about large, menacing, hirsute hulks, sporting skull-and-crossbones, in wild Bacchanalian revelry?)
After all, they treated the band extremely well and their endorsement guaranteed good attendance from its membership whenever the Canaligators played the seaside bars. (The ubiquitous presence of the Heathens also seemed to motivate club owners to pay us what they actually owed us.)
But when the relationship with the Heathens got too cozy, the band was slow to recognize the dangers. The Canaligators' brand over time became tainted by the Heathens' brand, which in turn began to scare away the band's core customer base of peace-loving outcasts, including hippies, acid-dealers, and runaway teenage girls—a potentially devastating loss.
But a cardinal rule of branding is: don't let outside forces dictate your brand. In this case the Canaligator brand took on a threatening connotation. If you booked the band in your club you might be hosting a Heathens' pep rally.
But this unholy business alliance eventually became undone.
According to one report, Uncle Crusty got into a late-night disagreement with a Heathen at a Marina del Rey bar, defending the honor of a female acquaintance. Uncle Crusty (aka "Hook" McGuire) had only one arm and understandably got the worse of the dialogue.
This may have been why Uncle Crusty took a torch to the motorcycle gang's clubhouse in Culver City early one morning. Showing remarkable judgment, Hook immediately took an extended vacation in New Orleans, returning to Venice many months later.
Inexplicably, he somehow managed to make amends with the gang and survive the ordeal—before his peaceful passing a decade later. (After this incident the band continued to attract heathens, but not ones with a capital "h".)
The primary lesson from this is an obvious one: you can't afford to let your brand go negative by association—especially with individuals (think Tiger) or organizations that don't represent what your brand stands for.
As consultant Steve Yastrow points out in Brand Harmony: your customers ultimately determine your brand, based on the impressions they get, so you want to be smart about "orchestrating" those impressions.
The secondary lesson is just as important, though easy to miss: when establishing business partnerships with motorcycle gangs, choose only those who are demonstrably peace-loving and who model cultural awareness, respect for diversity, and sensitivity to gender issues.