Saturday, May 30, 2020

Slamming back in time with Necros' Henssler

Necros vocalist Barry Henssler, middle, ventures into the pit at Bob's Place. (Photo by Kevin Salk)


By Andy

There was plenty of raging punk rock unleashed by the four bands. And there was chaos in the streets.

On Oct. 1, 1982 at Bob's Place in the rough-and-tumble Watts area of Los Angeles, the Misfits, Necros, Social Distortion and SVDB held court in the gig space situated above a liquor store. About 1,000 diehards packed the place for a few hours to immerse themselves in the blistering tunes. Afterward, we watched from upstairs as the cops fended off the locals, who scrapped with some punks on the corner of 61st and Broadway.

Necros vocalist Barry Henssler remembers witnessing some beaten-up punks barrel their way back into the club. As the Necros loaded out their cabinets down the back stairs, some cops protected the area so the Maumee, Ohio, visitors would remain unscathed.

Two years ago in Seattle, Necros bassist Corey Rusk and I discussed that show, in which he played with a broken leg in a cast (he sustained the injury in a skateboarding accident in Denver earlier on the tour). He was stoked that I remembered the LA gig and said it was quite an experience.

It was the Necros' first gig in LA and it was an eye-opener, for sure, Henssler said over the phone from Chicago earlier this week.

"We had played out East at Irving Plaza in New York to somewhat large-ish crowds versus in Detroit where it was our little Freezer Theater club with like a hundred people or something. But it was astonishing how many people were there," he said. "It was just like a crazy, overwhelming... It was the first time I had seen an LA pit."

Henssler's voice cackled with laughter while describing what transpired within the realm of the slamming punks:

"I remember I came off the stage once and I got into the pit and it was like really violent. I was like, 'Oh, fuck, I gotta get the hell back on the stage or else I'm gonna be the one in the cast next.'"


Henssler. (Photo by Kevin Salk)


The Misfits were also on fire that night and their set flew by in a blur of energy. There was a mass of voices raised up front during the sing-a-longs, but I also remember Doyle scolding a fan for getting too close and whacking into his devilock. You can't win 'em all, I guess.

Prior to the gig, since we knew Henry Rollins and Dave Claussen from SST a bit, me, my brother Ed and buddy Pat Hoed lurked around the Misfits' van with them as Glenn Danzig consulted with Rollins -- who also limped around with a leg injury -- about what songs to etch onto their setlist.

Nearby in the parking lot, the Necros guys were hanging out and we chatted with them about their tour with the Misfits and Midwest hardcore. While we hung with the Necros, our jaws nearly dropped to the ground as we watched Doyle and Jerry Only hoist their amps over their heads like toothpicks and walk them into the venue.

Henssler said that tour across the United States with the Misfits was vital in the band's growth. The Necros were newly minted high-school graduates and bent on hitting the open road with their skateboards, drums and guitars.

"Where I'm from, man, it's very boring and not a lot of people get out of there. They sort of just stay there all their lives, and I was not about that. I just want to travel and see the world and just see what's what. It was super fun and the Misfits, they were like our older-brother band kind of for a couple years. It was so cool of them to bring us out on the road," said Henssler, adding that Danzig also showed them the ropes in the T-shirt-silkscreening and sticker-making realm.

With the Misfits jaunt under their belt and promoters' phone numbers in hand, the Necros launched another tour a year later. They had an album out, "Conquest for Death," and some momentum on their side, but they were essentially looking for some more good times.

"It wasn't like we had career aspirations, it was just we wanted to be able to travel and get gas and a place to stay and maybe food, enough for that day," Henssler said. "It wasn't like there's bags of gold at each stop just waiting for you to pick 'em up (laughter)... You're playing some shithole in Tucson, right?"

A few years later, the Necros would up their game with massive LA gigs supporting Motorhead at the Olympic Auditorium and Megadeth at the Hollywood Palladium, but it was that gig at dumpy Bob's Place and initial LA trip that still resonates the loudest with Henssler.

"It was cool. We were super stoked to be playing LA. Growing up, we were really into skateboarding and like Dogtown, the Z-Boys and stuff, it was super inspirational," said Henssler, adding that photographer Glen Friedman hooked them up with Tony Alva for a skating session and they watched Jay Adams tear it up on a half pipe.

Henssler continued his trip down memory lane: "I had been reading Flipside and Slash, and California culture in general, 'cause of skateboarding and everything, it loomed large in my life like since the early '70s. I had every issue of Skateboarder magazine, so leading up to punk rock it was just sort of like this natural progression, so I was just really excited to go out there and play."

Leaving Maumee, Ohio -- where people chucked bottles at punks from their cars -- in the rearview mirror to hang out with Alva, the Big Boys and tons of other bands on the road was like finding some bags of gold after all.


Necros' Henssler, Corey Rusk and Todd Swalla. (Photo by Kevin Salk)


Some things remain the same: Bob's Place, above, and store last year. (Photo by Kevin Salk)


Original flier from the TSHIT collection.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Talking X's new release 'Alphabetland' with Bonebrake / Feature story

X's DJ Bonebrake. (Cat Rose photo)


By Andy

As droplets of rain plunked down upon my car's windshield and the dreary sky became further shrouded in darkness, I waited and wondered what another pandemic day would toss my way.

On this April morning, nearing 11 a.m., the eatery would soon unlock its doors so myself and the one other customer I spied in the parking lot could soft-step it up to the entrance, peek in to make sure all was safe and secure our to-go orders.

I reached for the door handle, but held back as the other guy carefully navigated the puddled lot and headed for the restaurant's door.

I'll wait a bit, I thought, and that gave me time to scroll through my Facebook feed again, hoping to notice something that would brighten the day. And then came the message that X had just sent its new album "Alphabetland" into the internet society via Fat Possum Records on its Bandcamp page.

While these quarantine days all seem to bleed together and the numerals on the calendar all appear washed out and unrecognizable, April 22, 2020 will be remembered in fans' minds as the day X returned to the music world with a fucking bang.

New tunes are always crucial, but this 10-song stormer (complemented by an Exene Cervenka spoken-word piece) especially hit the spot at the right time. It was released four days shy of the exact 40-year anniversary of when X's watershed debut album, "Los Angeles," hit the stores.

"I felt we had something important," drummer/percussionist DJ Bonebrake told us in an email interview. "I thought we had an album that was as good as anything we had ever recorded. And, because Rob Schnapf was producing, we had our best sounding recording to date."

Original members Bonebrake, Cervenka (vocals), John Doe (bass and vocals) and Billy Zoom (guitar/saxophone/piano) deliver the songs with vivacity in typical X fashion and truly harken back to the band's early years. The majority of the tunes whip by quickly, packing the needed punch and lyrical insight into the minuscule time frame.

"We wanted to be able to play the new songs live, so we rehearsed the songs as if they were live songs not studio songs," Bonebrake said of the strategy for X's first new album since 1993's "hey Zeus!"

"It took so long to get around to recording a new record because the time wasn't right until now," he said. "What changed? Fat Possum Records, the company that recently reissued our first four records, said they would be interested in releasing new material by the band. That set the wheels in motion."

Bonebrake noted that X gathered at Mant Sound in Glassell Park, Calif., for a test recording session in January of 2019 -- four old songs and one new one -- to see how the original members would fare in the studio together for the first time since they knocked out 1985's "Ain't Love Grand."

"It went well, so John and Exene started writing songs for the next session, which didn't happen for another year because of our touring schedule and other delays," Bonebrake said. "So, in January of 2020 we recorded six new songs at Sunset Sound in Hollywood. Later, Exene recorded her spoken-word piece, 'All the Time in the World,' at Rob Schnapf's studio, which features Billy Zoom on piano and Robby Krieger from the Doors on slide guitar. Eight new songs and three old songs (one didn't make it!). The older songs are on the album because they sound good and they work."

"Water & Wine" contains some especially impactful lyrics: The divine that defines us/ The evil that divides us/ There’s a heaven & a hell/ And there’s an, “oh well”/ Who gets passed to head of the line/ Who gets water & who gets wine/ There’s a heaven and there’s a never/ There’s no tomorrow only forever.


Zoom, Cervenka and Doe. (Cat Rose photos)


X revisited some of its earliest songs, "Delta 88 Nightmare" and "Cyrano deBerger's Back," over the last two years, first etching them on a 2019 single and then including the pair on "Alphabetland," which will have a physical release date of Aug. 22.

The Doors connection also continues four decades down the road from when the late Ray Manzarek produced "Los Angeles" and played organ on three songs and synthesizer on one. A cover of the Doors' "Soul Kitchen" also found its way onto the album's final track listing. A demo of "Delta" and a rehearsal of "Cyrano" were both included as bonus tracks on the "Los Angeles" 2001 CD reissue, and a proper recording of "Cyrano" closes out 1987's "See How We Are."

So as the past and present superbly collide in the X world, Bonebrake couldn't be more satisfied with how the band is operating these days.

"What keeps the band rolling is commitment to the music and the need to make a living.
We all get along fine. We're like brothers and sisters. We disagree about some things but we're all in agreement about making good music," he said. "Being in X allows me to play music! That's all I've ever wanted to do."

It's a musical trifecta that is equal parts fun, a catharsis and a challenge for Bonebrake. "Los Angeles" and "Alphabetland" are certainly sturdy LP bookends to X's 43-year career, which has seen them experience nearly everything under the big black sun from A to Z.

"I'm proud of everything we've done. Some records are are better than others, some shows were better than others, but overall I think our percentage is pretty good," Bonebrake said. "We've all had our lows personally and artistically but I'd rather think about the highs. I think the string of albums at the beginning of our career were definitely in the high-point category. Also, I think our live shows over the years, although always inspired and intense, have improved. I think we're better now than we were 40 years ago."


***********

BONUS INFO

Bonebrake discussed the album's title:

"We named the album 'Alphabetland' because during rehearsal, Billy Zoom misheard the words alphabet mine as alphabet land. The song was originally called 'Mercury,' but Billy kept calling it 'Alphabetland.' After a while, it stuck as the title of the song and ultimately as the name of the album."

Here's part of the lyrics from the leadoff track to put Bonebrake's comment into perspective:

Tearing up the sidewalk
pouring wet cement
erasing your initials
alphabet wrecked
Molten river riding high
fever in the shine
No more words for you
alphabet mine, alphabet mine, alphabet mine






Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Goodbye, Dave Greenfield

Brian Walsby art



By Reject Girl

“There’s a dude with a mustache in that band. They have lengthy keyboard parts in the songs and CAN’T be punk rock!”

These were the words out of my teenage mouth upon listening to the first Stranglers album, "Rattus Norvegicus." You see, everything had to pass through my strict punk rock formula filter when I was 16, while I was probably trying to scam a shoulder-tapped beer or trying to sneak into some show with the most bogus fake ID ever. A band that had prog elements like keyboard solos wasn’t going to convince ME.  No fucking way.

Thankfully, as my listening evolved (and I stopped being so lame, question mark), I recognized the greatness of The Stranglers. How amazing and original their songs and albums were. "Go Buddy Go" and "Something Better Change" (JJ kind of had the more punk rock voice, honestly), did that for me at first, which features prominent keys.

How about the finish of each song? Yours courtesy of the focus of this article, the late Dave Greenfield of The Stranglers. I’m so glad I heeded the words of people who were there and heard their music first in the '70s and early '80s. And just how killer the songs were. Every album was so different and they never followed any kind of a formula. It was always just THEM. Perfect tone, exceptional musicians and those keyboard parts.

What’s so funny is that someone in one of the most well-known punk bands, who was a main pillar of that band, was heavily influenced by prog music. It was not a Jethro Tull marathon, thankfully, that he gave us. Just Greenfield’s brilliance and massive influence on all those records and live performances. There are so many on youtube where you can just see him go off. He and Jean Jacques once taped an obnoxious French journalist to the Eiffel Tower, rumor has it. Dave WAS punk rock as hell. The man shined.

Greenfield passed away of complications from COVID-19 on May 3, 2020 at the age of 71. Another victim of this horrific pandemic. He had been in the hospital for heart-related problems, tested positive for, and was diagnosed with COVID a week before he died, and leaving his wife, Pam, behind.

Almost a year ago, I saw Dave with The Stranglers at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas.  He was SO good, playing all of those keyboard parts and opening their way-too-short set with “Five Minutes.” Hearing his intro to "Five Minutes" from across the event center grounds, I remember running over from the beer line. Jean-Jacques Burnel was of course on bass and some vocals, still the imposing black-belt holder and NOT someone you’d want to fight. Vocals and guitar were done by Baz Warne, who has been with the band since 2006, filling the shoes of Hugh Cornwell. Jet Black, original drummer, hasn’t toured with them for years and is in his 80s now. Cornwell left the band in 1990. The band was excellent that day, and I was reminded of how I hoped that they would do some kind of tour after PRB, maybe hit San Francisco and play a full show, not a festival in the middle of the afternoon. So many people would’ve bought tickets, just like the shows they’d playing in Europe over the past couple of decades, never going stateside. What a shame for us here.

I don’t think anyone expected to lose Greenfield less than a year later. It just sucks so much. I’ve been listening to lots of Stranglers again over the past week. Greenfield needs to be celebrated. Let the party begin.

Born March 29, 1949 in Brighton, England, David Paul Greenfield joined The Stranglers in 1975. He spent his early years playing in bands in Britain and Germany, while working as a piano tuner and working in his dad’s printing business. He played the hell out of a Hohner Cembalet, Hammond L-100 electric organ and Minimoog synthesizer on their early records. Dave wrote a harpsichord arrangement while the band was recording "The Gospel According to the Meninblack," which the other guys hated. This ended up being the basis of their biggest hit, "Golden Brown." 

He sang lead vocal on one of my fave songs, "Dead Ringer," and also "Peasant in the Big Shitty" from "No More Heroes," their second album. Dave had this crazy talent, a composer who could just make any of those songs go in any direction, keep time or just produce weird, otherworldly sounds, like in "Rokit to the Moon." The beginning to "Hanging Around," as Jean Jacques’ bass comes in and slaughters you. I doubt many of you reading this need to be convinced. Dave Greenfield ruled. Apparently when his bandmates began doing heroin, Dave did it once and the next day was like, no way, never again, and quit right then and there. They didn’t get along at times, but Dave was a mainstay. He couldn’t leave and take his sounds with him. The entire Stranglers catalog owes so much to Greenfield.

Dave will be so missed. His bandmates spoke fondly of him after his untimely passing and I’m certain cannot go on without him. Who would want them to do so? Those guys played together for over 45 years, despite lineup changes and especially the departure of Hugh. What would "Get a Grip on Yourself" or "Tank" sound like without him? Unimaginable. How about "Dagenham Dave?"  Who else can emulate that? No one.

"Rattus Norvegicus" inked right on the ribcage next, in memoriam. Thanks, Dave.

Healing to all with this terrible disease. May we lose no more.

======================================
Reject Girl has been a dj at KFJC 89.7 fm in Los Altos Hills, California, since 1996. She loves punk rock.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Southern California punk recalls epic gig with Black Flaggers Rollins, Morris and Dukowski

Henry Rollins revs up the crowd at Amoeba Records Hollywood in 2002. (Chris Berry photo)


By Chris Berry

Growing up in the South Bay, I’d hear so many great stories by South Bay locals of the punk scene that occurred back in the '70s and '80s.

But being born in 1978 meant that I was 8 years old when Black Flag broke up and I had no chance to see them when they were around. By 6th-7th grade, I had discovered punk from my older sister and my friends’ older siblings. I started going to shows around the same time, worked at the Bijou Theater in high school and Scooter’s Records in college (both in Hermosa Beach). I witnessed some of the South Bay punk mayhem in the '90s, like when Pennywise would play backyard parties on the Fourth of July and destroy the house they played at, but those stories of the original scene seemed so much more legendary.

In December of 2002, about six months after I graduated from college, I saw that Rollins Band was performing Black Flag songs along with Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski. I knew that this was going to be the closest that I’d get to see an original line up of Black Flag (even without Greg Ginn involved). The show was a benefit for the West Memphis Three and was going to be held at the massive record store, Amoeba Records. I was curious how a record store was going to handle the first “Black Flag” show since 1986.

Anyways, my friend Tom Dunbabin and I drove out to Hollywood from Hermosa Beach and there was a line already around the block to get in and it was still 2-3 hours before the show was going to start. When we got inside Amoeba, we tried to get as far forward as we could. There were what seemed like hundreds of people crowded in the aisles in between record racks waiting for the show to start. By random chance, we ended up standing a few record rows back from the stage next to Martin Sorrondeguy (the singer for Los Crudos and Limp Wrist). We chatted with Martin a little bit and he was a really nice guy.

Then Morris went on first and played all of the "Nervous Breakdown" 7" and some others from “Everything Went Black,” which was so amazing and intense to see. He was awesome! There were kids pogoing up front, but nothing too crazy, partly because there just wasn't much room for the kids to go nuts up there. Again, this was in a record store, not at the Fleetwood.

Henry Rollins came on and was also extremely intense. Even in his 40s at the time, he blew away most of the younger hardcore bands that I had seen up to that point. The crowd was still pretty tame and I kind of felt like I was getting possessed, especially after he performed “Rise Above,” so during "Six Pack" I asked Tom and Martin to help lift me up and they did. I flipped over a couple record aisles and got floated, Rollins gave me the mic and then I was quickly grabbed by security. This all happened in like 15 seconds! This big security dude with purple hair had me in a headlock and dragged me out of the store, told me I was "86'd." I stood outside for a bit, but it was very crowded there and they could not keep track of me so a few minutes later I walked right back in and got to see the rest of the set (from further back), including Dukowski's performance.


Rollins raging. (Chris Berry photo)


Even though this was not the real Black Flag, I felt like it was the closest thing for a kid who grew up in Black Flag’s neighborhood and never got to see them live. Rollins played some more "Black Flag" shows later on in other cities in early 2003 (but I'm not sure if Keith and Chuck performed with Rollins in those other cities). Morris wrote a little bit about this show in "My Damage" and Rollins in "Broken Summers." This was also before those Ginn “Black Flag” shows at the Hollywood Palladium the following year…

For Amoeba-Hollywood's 10-year anniversary in 2011, they had this online competition to tell the best story you had of being at Amoeba Hollywood and the top three stories would get a prize, so I wrote about this story. I came in third place and they sent me a $50 gift certificate! I think first place went to someone who ran into Morrissey there (meh). That's got to be one of the only times someone has been rewarded for getting kicked out of a place without a lawsuit ha ha. Fun times!


***Below is the video of the Amoeba gig. Look for Berry's flip at around the 15:30 mark.




===========================================
Berry is one of the guys compiling a book in progress, "I Want To Be Stereotyped: An Oral History of South Bay Punk, 1975 - 1991." People with stories and photos can email Berry at cberry78@gmail.com or visit them on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/i_want_to_be_stereotyped_book/

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Slippin' and slidin' with JFA's Brian Brannon

JFA live in 1982. (Photo by Alison "Mouse" Braunstein)


By Andy

Talk about giving the stage a proper workout. If those sturdy, bewildered slabs of wood could talk, well, they would be chattering non-stop with dazzling speech about a night that seemed plucked out of dreamland.

When JFA's rambunctious vocalist Brian Brannon zipped across the stage in the band's opening slot, we kept a firm eye on the teen mic-handler and smiled while the band belted out its raging, ragged punk fare.

We knew the tunes on JFA's debut "Blatant Localism" EP like the back of our hands and wedged our way up close like punk sardines in a combat-boot-crushed can for the quartet's set on March 12, 1982 at the Ukrainian Cultural Center on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles opening for the mighty Bad Brains, Bad Religion and the Lewd.

Yes, that's me second from left in the crowd next to my brother Ed and friend John following Brannon's slippery stage antics in this classic photo by Alison "Mouse" Braunstein.

"I was 15 in the picture, wearing pinstripe trousers and wingtip shoes, because why the hell not?" Brannon told this blog recently about JFA's inaugural LA gig. "The thing I liked about those shoes was that they would really slide across the floor, so I would often get running on stage and just glide the slide for about 15 or 20 feet. That might’ve been how I ended up on the floor in that picture and knowing me, I may have stayed there when I fell, because what the hell?"

Brannon added that the Bad Brains' initial West Coast jaunt was a stunner for the locals and visitors from Phoenix (JFA) and San Francisco (Lewd).

"When they came on, nobody had ever seen anything like it before, a bunch of Rastafarians playing that tight, that fast and that powerful, blew people’s minds. And the energetic acrobatics of HR flying all around the stage was a thing to behold. West Coast punk rock was never the same again," Brannon said.

It was certainly a ferocious set complete with roaring vocals, guitars and drums -- all steamrolling toward us with finesse and vibrancy. I'm literally beginning to sweat all over again as I pen this entry, recalling my brother snagging a coveted spot side stage and Henry Rollins joining the band for the finale, "Pay to Cum." What a fucking crucial night, and I was glad to share it with our crew, which also included buddies Mike and Bob.

For Brannon, he spent some of his time off stage visiting with Dennis Danell of Social Distortion and witnessing the cops fuck with the punks outside.

On Danell, the JFA man noted: "He was a great guy. And I’m still sad to this day that he is no longer with us. One thing I remember about that first meeting, was we were standing there talking and he was drinking a beer, I think it was a Miller High Life. After he drained it, he took it and threw it on the floor, breaking it. I remember thinking it was the most punk rock thing I had ever seen!"

Following the Lewd's solid set in the two-spot, the cops crashed the party and threatened to pull the plug on the gig because of some alleged problems with the punks outside. After a long wait, and much worrying that we wouldn't get to see the Bad Brains, things were sorted out and the cops dispersed.

Bad Religion then ripped through its set of favorites -- I believe the brilliant "New Leaf" was in there -- but most of us were already leap-frogging the locals' time in the spotlight and eagerly awaiting the Bad Brains' appearance.

We'll let Brannon, fill us in about what he experienced outside:
 
"Somewhere in the middle of the show, I decided to take a walk outside to get some air. I turn the corner on Melrose, and there were cop cars lining both sides of the street with flashing lights on as far as the eye could see. Cops in riot gear were rounding up stray punkers and beating the shit out of them," he said.

Like any brazen 15-year-old punk would, Brannon felt the urge to stroll through the chaotic shit-show while smoking a clove cigarette. 

Brannon continues his narrative: "At some point, I think I figured out it wasn’t probably the best idea, and right then, a police officer came up to me and said, 'How old are you, boy?' 'Fifteen, sir.' 'What are you smoking there, boy?' 'A clove cigarette, sir.' 'Well you better put that damn thing out right now or I’ll shove it up your ass.' 'Yes, sir,'" he said.

"So I put the damn thing out and went back in to the club and went in to watch the rest of the gig. Good times."

It was for us as well, and I'm blown away by Alison's photo, which was recently unearthed after all these years. We're youngsters here -- ages 15-17 -- and holding our own right in the middle of the action. It was a packed auditorium and things got especially frenetic when the Bad Brains owned the stage, but we went with the flow -- much like the music's abrasion and melody that often snuck in there -- and endured some bumps and bruises while singing along and jostling for a prime spot to gain the full effect of the spectacle laid out in front of us.

This was just one vital stop on our journey, which continues to this day.



Thursday, April 23, 2020

Revisiting Redd Kross' scorching debut EP with the McDonald brothers / Feature story

Redd Kross' debut EP will be reissued on Merge Records on June 26. (Courtesy of the Merge Records website)


By Andy 

It was fun, horrifying, exciting and nerve-racking.

With an infectious laugh, that's how Jeff McDonald describes the feelings that permeated the air when Red Cross (later changed to Redd Kross) invaded a pair of recording studios for the first time in 1979. During those sessions, the foursome banged out a handful of songs that soon inhabited the grooves of the band's debut EP and entered the punk-rock world nearly 40 years ago.

The musicians were young and bratty, and the tunes were killer.

Blazing into the studios' tape decks from the mouths and hands of Jeff McDonald (16, vocals), Steven McDonald (12, bass/vocals), Greg Hetson (18, guitar) and Ron Reyes (19, drums), the songs garnered the attention of Los Angeles-area tastemaker and KROQ deejay Rodney Bingenheimer and Robbie Fields, who released the six-song 12-inch stunner -- which clocks in at 6:22 -- in 1980 on his Posh Boy Records imprint.

On June 26, Merge Records will reissue the 40th anniversary edition of that landmark EP in all its raging glory with an additional four demos and a live track from the band's second gig at the infamous Black Flag Church in Hermosa Beach, CA. Along with the EP's six songs (which were originally released via "The Siren" compilation on Posh Boy in 1980), the collection features demos of "Rich Brat," "Cover Band," "Clorox Girls" and "Standing in Front of Poseur" and the live "Fun with Connie."

Within a roughly five-week span in the late summer to fall of 1979, the band changed its name from the Tourists to Red Cross, planted Reyes on the drummer's stool (replacing original skinsman John Stielow, age 13), gigged with Black Flag at the Hong Kong Cafe in Chinatown and recorded at Media Art Studio in Hermosa and Shelter Studios in Hollywood. The Spot/Joe Nolte sessions at Media Art came first and are the bonus demos on the Merge reissue, and the Jim Mankey/Roger Harris recordings at Shelter were chosen by Fields to represent the band on "The Siren" and subsequently the EP. Fans know the Nolte-produced "Rich Brat" as the 36-second leadoff track from the "Life is Ugly So Why Not Kill Yourself" compilation from 1982 on New Underground Records, and the remaining demos are from that initial session as well.

"The EP is just super fun. All those songs are written like almost instantaneously. It's almost as fast as it takes to listen to them," Jeff said over the phone from his Los Feliz home on a recent day.

"You know what's funny? Every once in a while, there's always like these little kids from Rock School doing 'Annette's Got the Hits' covers or stuff and it's hilarious. Kids who were our age or younger," he added.

Strangely and hilariously, it was the youngest guy in the band, Steven, who got the monetary ball rolling with the graveyard-hours Media Art session via his robust Daily Breeze paper route income. Steven recalls enduring a severe Sunday morning hangover -- after a night out at the Hong Kong Cafe that resulted in some serious barfing -- while folding papers with his dad in front of their Hawthorne home before heading out to deliver the news on his Strand Cruiser bike.

With the newsboy cash in hand, Jeff said they warily faced the huge mystique surrounding the recording studio back then, but they got their bearings and plowed through the sessions.

Jeff remembers everything whizzing by in one take and the studio guys going, "'OK do it, OK it's good,' and I'm like, 'Are you sure?' It was like being on live television or something. Especially being a teenager, 'cause you're so awkward and gawky and bizarre and self-conscious, so to have to kind of muster the courage to just kind of power through something like that was something you don't forget."

Steven's high-pitched backups on "Cover Band" and "I Hate My School" and lead vocals on "Poseur" led the band to dub him the Jimmy Osmond of Redd Kross, Jeff noted with a hilarity-punctuated comment. Jeff wishes that his little brother had sung lead on more songs, and he's amazed these days when Steven still sings in that original key when they unleash songs from the EP in a live setting.

Also via phone from his Los Feliz home recently, Steven added about his vocals: "I was going for it. I'm sure I probably had a little bit of insecurity, but also just was like empowered by my youth. Also I had my brother encouraging me, and Jeff was like, 'Amazing! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!' He loved my high screaming voice (laughs), and he's always encouraged me to approach the nether realms of my capabilities. To reach far beyond what I should be reaching for, particularly in a high vocal range."

Echoing Jeff's earlier sentiments, Steven said they were having a blast in an intimidating environment. And they fucking nailed it.

"All in all when I listen to it now, I'm proud of that fact that we were so tenacious," Steven said.

On a high note, Rodney was thrilled with the tunes and started blasting Redd Kross over the airwaves on his influential Rodney on the Roq show. Listeners dug the songs as well.

"So that was really exciting, and it wasn't lost on us how cool it was to actually have a record out," Jeff said.


Jeff, left, and Steven McDonald in 2017 at the Burger Boogaloo in Oakland, CA. (Andy photo)


With the Merge reissue of that eponymous EP, Steven has once again stepped up to the plate to put all the pieces into place with the help of Redd Kross webmaster and graphic designer Jon Krop. Jeff has been at the helm of the band's other reissues over the last five years.

While digging through his archives, Steven grasped onto Jeff's ancient address book, which is tiny in stature but massive in content. The red artifact contains phone numbers of musicians and club bookers from the band's earliest days.

So, bang, the reissue's front and back covers would feature that fortuitous find.

"You can thumb through it and it's crazy because it's all people who were our heroes or people that booked clubs," Steven said with enthusiasm. "And Jeff had all these phone numbers. He had the booker from the Hong Kong Cafe, the booker from Raji's, he had Belinda from the Go-Go's phone number, he had Lee Ving's phone number from FEAR, someone from the Avengers, someone from X probably, someone from the Dickies... all of our favorite bands."

Redd Kross was bent on playing gigs and Jeff would sidle up to those folks at clubs and rattle off information about the emerging band.

Steven said that Jeff would shoot forth something along the lines of, "Hey we have a band, my brother's in it, he's 12 years old' and then point to me. And then we'd be like, 'Can we play with you?'" (laughter)

After a few tries recently, Jeff mirrored his freehand writing from 40 years ago to list the titles of the songs that sit beside some names and phone numbers from the address book on the back cover.


(Courtesy of the Merge Records website)


Perhaps Steven's biggest accomplishment with the reissue was obtaining the rights to the record from Fields.

"That's one of the most grown-up things I've ever done in my life," said a chuckling Steven, who notes that he could have talked himself out of it, but pressed on to bring his idea to fruition and keep the music alive. Perhaps now owning that copyright can be worth some monetary value to pass on to his son in the future.

Speaking of the youth of Los Angeles, Steven frequented all-ages gigs about 15 years ago to scout bands to produce and witnessed musicians hammering out songs off the "Red Cross" EP. He was blown away and reacted with, "'Whoa! OK, wait, so kids know about this? Kids still get into this?'"

He labels the EP as a gateway record for a lot of kids to delve into underground music.

"That record probably has that super power beyond any of our other records. It's all the more reason why I'm really glad that we control it now," he said.

Jeff and wife Charlotte Caffey's daughter Astrid hits stages as the vocalist of the Side Eyes with bits and pieces surely inherited from the Redd Kross and Go-Go's tunesmiths. While 10-year-old Alfie, which is Steven and wife Anna Waronker of That Dog's son, is a sports kid -- especially basketball -- he can keep a tune way better than his father, the Redd Kross bassist noted.

"I don't really shove (Redd Kross tunes) in his face because I know that I had such a unique, weirdo experience, and I don't want it to be like, 'OK look kid, look what I was doing at 11, OK what are you doing? Chop, chop! Chop, chop! Let's get to it,'" Steven said while chuckling.

Steven added that perhaps Alfie could someday gravitate toward "I Hate My School" and encourage his friends to play that song with him.

On whether the EP songs still hold up today, Hetson said in an email: "I suppose they do, people are still interested in them after all these years, which is strange considering we were all in high school or junior high when we recorded these. Well, Ron was the exception being an old man of 19 years of age."

Hetson added that the band was having fun making music and meeting people during that formative time.

"Our goal was to get out of the garage, which was actually Jeff and Steve's parents living room and into a club and play a show somewhere," he said.

Reyes reached deep into his memory bank and said in a Messenger note: "Joining Red Cross was a trip. I just bought a drum set and didn't even touch it except to drive people out of my home (the Church) by playing the 'My Sharona' beat when it got late and I wanted to sleep."

Since Reyes possessed a kit, the band assumed that he must know how to play it, the drummer joked. Rehearsing at the Church for free was also on their minds, Reyes added.
A few weeks later, the band was gigging and recording the two sessions.

"Trouble was that I still was not a good drummer and the (EP) producer was some big shot who recorded all these classic rock bands. He did not like my drumming, so he came in the studio and took away, I think, my hi-hat and some other cymbals and some toms so all I had left was kick, snare, ride and floor tom. Then I proceeded to play the songs with variations of the only beat I knew, the 'My Sharona' beat," Reyes said.

Reyes dug the songs and the musicianship of the McDonalds and Hetson, who received exactly what they asked for from the man behind the kit.

"I think the songs hold up 'cause they are like punk rock 'American Graffiti,' Reyes said. "Best band I was ever in. It was all downhill from there."


** FROM HAWTHORNE TO HERMOSA AND BEYOND

Punk rock blistered its way onto Jeff's radar when the Ramones performed on Don Kirshners Rock Concert TV show in 1977 and via Rodney's radio show.

"I was always into kind of rock and roll that other kids in my neighborhood didn't listen to. I loved Slade and we liked David Bowie and weird shit like that. That was all very culty underground, so the next step from most of those bands was punk rock," he said.

So Jeff grabbed a guitar at age 14 and tried to get a handle on Ramones and Runaways tunes, but found it easier to just write his own songs. About a year later, 11-year-old Steven brought his bass out of the Dana Middle School jazz orchestra room and into the punk-rock realm.

"We started writing songs and then once we got a few songs together, I was out to try to find other musicians. It was hard. I found Greg Hetson. We were in (Hawthorne High) photography class together and he had taken pictures of the Dickies at the Whisky. He was the only other person I knew at school at the time who even knew about those bands," said Jeff, adding that Hetson balked at joining the band at first because of the little-kid factor (drummer Stielow had also made the move from the Dana jazz orchestra).

With some prodding, Jeff got Hetson over to their house and he was impressed with the songs they had on tap. Hetson was in and the Tourists were a go.

"Once we were able to rehearse with the four of us in one of our garages, it was just a classic garage band situation. I'd say eight out of 10 times, the police would be called, and the garage door would open and there would be cops telling us we had to stop," Jeff laughed. "It was difficult to rehearse. We really got the most of it when we were actually able to get together. It was fun."


Steven, top, and Jeff in Oakland. (Andy photos)




The quartet soon befriended other punks in the South Bay and caught a raging Black Flag gig in Redondo Beach. Jeff contacted Greg Ginn via the address on the back of the band's "Nervous Breakdown" EP and the Tourists were eventually invited to hang out at the infamous Church in Hermosa Beach.

With about 10 other "punk-rock sympathizers" on hand, Jeff remembers, "We performed our set for everyone in the little scene there and everyone was really into it, so it was kind of confirmation that we actually had something that was kind of cool."

After being welcomed into the Church scene, the Tourists began rehearsing there and soon met future drummer Reyes.

Speaking of the Church in connection with the Merge reissue, the irreverent song "Fun With Connie" about Connie Francis was remastered from a cassette that Steven unearthed from an early live show at the Black Flag gritty abode. The tape incorrectly noted that it was the band's first gig, but Steven clarifies that their foray into the live realm was at an eighth-grade graduation party with Black Flag in Hawthorne. They tugged no fans into their fold on that occasion.

"It was not that show (the mislabeled tape). It was because we got booed the entire time by the eighth-graders. They were really not having us and the didn't like us," he said. "The reaction on this cassette was people clapping. It was like a smattering of applause, which made me realize that the only place this could have been from would have been at one of the parties at the Church."

Another nugget of punk history was revealed while listening to that live tape: Steven noted that the Circle Jerks heisted one of his riffs for themselves and never gave him credit. He laughed and jokingly said to cue the violins.

Perhaps the most discussed early Tourists gig was the raucous Polliwog Park affair in Manhattan Beach while manning the opening slot for Black Flag. From Jeff's standpoint, the boys held their own pretty well before things became unhinged when Black Flag hit the stage in front of copious unwelcoming families out for a pleasant afternoon lunch and some supposedly mellow tunes.

"I remember being terrified and there was a lot of people there. Some of our friends had shown up, a small group of punk rockers were there. We went on first, so it was just families and people who were watching us. (They) were just kind of looking at us with a strange look on their face, but they were polite. No one was throwing anything at us, not until Black Flag played, and then all the families started throwing watermelon rinds, beer cans, everything at them," Jeff recalled.

Scary, sure, but the McDonalds and their cohorts couldn't get enough of the punk scene. They embraced every moment, from the Church to the Hong Kong Cafe to the Whisky in Hollywood and beyond. The McDonald parents were fine with their sons' activities, said Jeff, and they even drove the boys to and from their first punk gig featuring X and the Avengers at the Whisky. There was much begging involved to get the parents and kids into the car for that Whisky excursion, Jeff laughed.

"We were very serious about (the band), and they were OK, they were reasonably supportive. We didn't have these aspirations of a career in music, we just were doing things in the moment," said Jeff, adding that when they rehearsed at home, they plugged in when their dad was at work since they didn't want to bother him. "They were cool, but we didn't really want them coming to any of our shows, 'cause we were horrified if they saw some of the conditions that we were playing in that it would be shut down, and rightfully so. We had a few friends that were older like Keith Morris and my friend Ella who drove, so they were OK with those people being kind of chaperones, but what would they know? (laughs)"

The McDonalds always loved music and started going to concerts in the 1970s at the nearby Forum in Inglewood, where they saw the likes of Elton John, KISS, Led Zeppelin, the Faces and much more. Much like the Whisky gig, their parents ushered them to the shows and retrieved them at the House of Pies across the street from the Forum afterward. Technically, Jeff's first concert was the Beatles in San Diego when the 3-year-old accompanied his mom, aunt and grandmother to the show. He remembers an abundance of screaming and chaos within the massive crowd.

Approximately 12 years after that Paul, John, George and Ringo show, Jeff began his own musical journey with his brother by his side.

Looking back on the "Red Cross" EP nowadays, "Annette's Got the Hits" is a standout track for Jeff because it's the first riff-based song the band penned. It's a McDonald brothers collaboration and features a riff that Steven came up with after digesting Henry Mancini orchestral songs like "Pink Panther" and "Peter Gunn" in middle school. It's sort of Pink and Peter punkified, if you will.

"That one still really holds up. People really seem to dig it," said Jeff, adding that it's cool to have those initial songs at the ready during current gigs. "It's weird, for so many years we just didn't play those songs because we just couldn't relate to them on any level (laughs). In recent years, we always add them to our set. They've just become these strange, psychedelic, weird, time-machine moments for us. They're really fun to play now."


From left, Steven, Ron, Greg and Jeff in the old days. (Courtesy of Posh Boy's website; Birrer photo)


Thursday, April 9, 2020

A Henry Rollins experience long before he unleashed 'The Cool Quarantine'

Henry Rollins sifts through his record collection. Photo: Heidi May; Rollins website


By Andy

Let's go back in time and complete a sort-of full-circle experience.

While listening to Henry Rollins' four-hour "The Cool Quarantine" hangout session the last two days on the KCRW site, I was reverted back to February of 1982 when my brother and I first entered the SST Records office on Phelan Avenue in Redondo Beach, CA, and began what I'll dub our "No Quarantine" visits with the Black Flag singer.

Music and stories about the Washington, DC, scene would soon literally bounce off those four walls of the ratty office via Rollins' passion and intensity and keep us coming back for more over the next few months or so.

A few days before that initial visit, brother Ed befriended Rollins, who was standing alone near the back of the Hollywood Palladium during the BYO's Youth Movement '82 Thursday night gig that featured TSOL, Adolescents, Wasted Youth, Social Distortion, Youth Brigade, Blades and AKA.

I remember them chatting for a while and Ed coming back over with a phone number to SST in hand and echoing this energetic message from Rollins, "You gotta listen to the Necros! You gotta listen to the Necros!" The band's recent EP from Dischord/Touch & Go Records was already on our radar, but we now knew that we had to get on board with the Maumee, OH, outfit's tunes post haste.

With Rollins already pointing us in the direction of more crucial music to add to our collection, we figured we would start cracking open the man's vault and get him sharing his experiences paired with tunes when we skateboarded toward SST that first day.

Victory!

Much like Rollins does on his inaugural installment of "The Cool Quarantine" (which features some DC stories and songs wedged in between tunes and info from all across the music spectrum), he set forth a cavalcade of music knowledge in our direction and possessed heaps of rare tunes that had us shaking our heads in amazement.

When we entered the office, he turned our way, gave a "Hey, what's up, guys?" and we took seats near the desk he was sitting at. After some chatter about the Palladium gig and what Black Flag had on tap, Rollins whipped his chair around and reached into his belongings for a box of cassette tapes emblazoned with the names Bad Brains, SOA, Faith, Void, Youth Brigade, Deadline and much more. The names were written in black marker, but they might as well have been scrawled in heavenly golden ink.

Rollins had us in the palm of his hand as he grinned and plunked one tape after another into now what seemed like a magical music box to our eyes and ears. Live Bad Brains? What the fuck? It went on and on.


Former SST office (bottom corner) on Phelan in Redondo, taken in recent years. (TSHIT photo)


He took the excitement level up even further by vividly describing some of the gigs that took place in DC, all the while shaking his head and swinging his arm when a critical part of a song would arrive. The man's a true entertainer, for sure.

When we saw him let loose with Black Flag on stage, we felt like we were already privy to what was pulsating through his being.

Rollins loaned us a few demo tapes to dub back home and those are still a key part of our collection. He also trusted me with a copy of the "Flex Your Head" DC compilation, and later scolded me for keeping it too long since he wanted to tape it for a friend.

Perhaps he'll dig into some of those cassettes or "Flex Your Head" on a future episode of "The Cool Quarantine." If he does, I'll raise my fist and sing along, just like I did in my bedroom in 1982.

Check out "The Cool Quarantine" at https://www.kcrw.com/categories/the-cool-quarantine