|Descendents: Frank, Bill, Milo and Tony -- beach boys. (Brian Walsby art-blog exclusive)|
"Will I do myself proud? Or only what's allowed?" -- From "When I Get Old"
Perfect lyrics from a band that never wanted to grow up or give in to what society "expects from us." We're just regular dudes, we wanna rock and there's nothing you can do about it -- move aside or join us for the ride, they seemed to say.
That's the Descendents, and here's what some longtime fans and friends have to say about the blazing punk band with a tacklebox full of pop hooks:
In Black Flag's "Wasted," the lyrics go: "I was a surfer, I had a skateboard, I was so heavy, man, I lived on the Strand." I could relate. Although, I was a body-surfer and Boogieboarder and resided about a mile from the Strand (beachfront homes), it was close enough for me.
Anyway, one Saturday early evening in the summer of '82, the Strand in Manhattan Beach was the ideal setting for a Descendents gig. Imagine rolling up to the house on your skateboard and seeing four wavy-haired surf punks blaring away on the front deck while a small group of those in the know and some confused beach bums watched. "Hey, Hey," "Mr. Bass," etc... my summer, toes-in-the-sand songs, for sure.
|Milo in action earlier this year. (Chris Shary photo)|
Although I never got to see them, the Descendents had no less of an impact on me. "Milo Goes to College" was the soundtrack for my junior and senior years of high school. They were there for "ALL" the best parties and gatherings. I remember listening to them in my old blue Fiat, drinking at "Rocket Ship Park" in Palos Verdes and then rolling down that hill with one of my good friends at the time, Robin -- don't ask me how we happened to roll down that hill, I do not believe it was intentional though.
They have been there throughout scenes in my life, including playing "Hope" with Andy and our friends in our makeshift band, Trenchsweeper, that we formed about a month before our friend's Santa Clara University Law School talent show. When we played that, the crowd of about 400 went crazy --I think some of them might have actually thought we were doing original songs. But, for some reason, we could never get some of the parts exactly down. Either way, the spirit was there and it has always been with me.
Greg Cameron (drummer, Descendents friend):
I heard the Descendents for the first time in the Summer of 1981 at the house of my then new high-school best friend, Ray Cooper. Ray introduced me to punk rock. He played me the Descendents "Fat E.P.", DK’s "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables," Black Flag’s "Jealous Again," and "Nervous Breakdown" recordings, along with a plethora of other stuff by the Minutemen, Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Residents and many others.
It was life changing for me. But the Descendents in general stood out for me for some reason. Even more life changing was seeing the Descendents perform for the first time at "The Barn" in Torrance’s Alpine Village. They opened for the Circle Jerks that evening. I was absolutely floored by the power and intensity of the band. And so was Ray.
|Ray, Bill, Milo and Doug (Naomi Peterson photo)|
We saw them again a week or two after that opening for China White at a weeknight show in San Pedro at the Dancing Waters. Attendance was mild since it was a weeknight, but that didn’t stop the band from giving everything they had to those that were present. I watched Bill Stevenson warming up on a drum practice pad off to the side of stage in total fascination as I had just started playing drums myself and had never seen anyone play like him before. When the Descendents hit the stage, Frank Navetta, the guitarist, came out wearing pajamas and a beanie hat. They launched into a blazing set. Bill, Frank, Tony and Milo gave it all they had. Frank was playing his guitar so hard that his pajama pants fell down during their tune "Russianage." It was hilarious, but also showed that guitar wasn’t a non-physical instrument for this genre. Ray and I were blown away.
It happened the following year that Ray and I would get introduced to Bill and the band. A mutual high-school friend, Christian Matjais, attended college with Bill at El Camino College in Torrance. Bill was looking for some band management. He was also looking for a replacement lead singer as Milo was getting ready to go off to college at U.C. San Diego. Ray was about to graduate from our high school, Bishop Montgomery, in Torrance. Christian knew Ray was well versed in many instruments such as guitar, bass, horns, etc, as they had played together for Christian’s senior talent show at Bishop. They played the Sex Pistols tunes "Anarchy in the U.K." and "Bodies." It caused the principal to shut down the show mid set. It was awesome. Several years later, I would not be able to play the talent show because of that performance. The school was skittish about bands, especially with outside members in it.
Anyhow, Ray was introduced to Bill. Bill immediately took a liking to Ray and wanted him to try out for the band. He was immediately hired. From that moment forward, I started attending every single Descendents practice possible at their practice room in Lomita. In fact, I started going to more practices than Ray. I couldn’t resist. These guys were nerds just like me, doing something insanely powerful. And to be in the same room night after night watching my drum mentor go at it was something most people don’t get to experience in life. And I learned a lot by watching Bill play.
Ray finally got to sing with the band for their first live performance at Coleen Pancake’s house in Redondo Beach. It was a house party with the Nip Drivers opening. That was my introduction to Mike Webber of the Nip Drivers, who I would later on become good friends with, as well as bandmates up until his death several years ago. Ray was stressed before the performance. But he gave it his all. His next performance with the Descendents would be opening for Black Flag and DOA at the Variety Arts Center in L.A. Once again, it was a valiant effort. But it wasn’t the same as Milo. Ray’s place was behind the guitar.
Milo decided he would come back to do some shows. So the Descendents debuted their new lineup with Ray and Frank on guitar with Milo back on vocals at Mi Casita in Torrance. That was quite a show with Black Flag headlining along with Husker Du, St. Vitus (and Redd Kross). It was also a transitional period for Bill as he was now doing double drum duty with both the Descendents and Black Flag.
|Stephen Egerton on fire (Chris Shary photo)|
At this time, there was also tension within the Descendents because Bill was now doing double duty as drummer for both Black Flag and the Descendents. This didn’t sit well with Tony and Frank. It also didn’t last long. A short time after the Mi Casita gig, Bill announced that he would be touring and recording with Black Flag. At that time, Tony, Ray and Frank thought they would keep going and look for a drummer. I thought I could step up to the plate and do it. So I started jamming with them. But in reality, I was not up to the task at that time. I had only been playing drums for a year. I was 15 years old and recovering from a broken leg caused by a motorcycle accident on my way to school. I tried to do it, but I simply did not yet have the chops or the strength.
A few days later, Frank came by the practice pad and announced he wasn’t into playing anymore and left. It was just myself, Tony and Ray now. We kept jamming. Tony was still writing songs. He was also resentful of Bill and the situation. It’s not widely known that the song "Descendents" on "I Don’t Want to Grow Up" was a burn on Bill and Black Flag by Tony. And I used to play that song with that in mind. But I had no ill will as I was just along for the ride. Bill was still my friend and mentor. He was pursuing his dream.
After a couple of weeks of jamming, I wasn’t called to practice on the usual day. So I had my mom give me a ride to the practice pad to find that Tony and Ray were trying out a new drummer. I was super bummed, devastated actually. I just sat there and watched them try out this drummer in an uncomfortable room. I called Bill’s mom the next day and asked if she could contact him out on the road with Flag to get permission for me to take Bill’s practice kit to my grandmother’s so I could practice on my own. She gave me the go ahead. So I took Bill’s drums and started practicing every day by myself for a year. I had the fuel of resentment and the drums of my mentor to motivate me to become the drummer I thought I could be. I kept in touch with Bill. When he returned from the ’83 Flag tour, he actually came by a few times to jam on his old kit at my grandmother’s house just to be alone for while away from Flag.
In 1985, Bill left Black Flag and reformed the Descendents. This meant that Ray, who was currently playing in Swa with myself and Chuck Dukowski, would be leaving Swa right after recording our first album. The Descendents lineup was Bill, Tony, Ray and Milo. They immediately recorded "I Don’t Want to Grow Up." It was a blast having the old crew back together as it was apparent Bill wasn’t all that happy towards the end of his tenure in Black Flag. His demeanor improved considerably. I spent nearly every day in the studio with the Descendents at Music Lab in Silverlake while they tracked and mixed that album. I was a quasi-engineer doing tape-reel changes on the 24-track machine and whatever else I could to assist. I was just happy to be there and enjoy Mexican food on the breaks with my friends.
The Descendents will always be my favorite band of all time. To have been so directly involved with them was truly an honor, as cliché as that sounds. They were a life-changing influence for me and took me in directions I would have never gone both in music and life. They and all the people that I was introduced to through them are family to me. My second family that took care of me, kept me out of trouble, and sent me along my way in life.
|Stephen, Bill, Milo and Karl (Courtesy of Epitaph Records)|
Brian Walsby (drummer, artist):
It must have been the end of 1982 or probably the start of 1983 when I bought "Milo Goes to College." Whatever the influences, whatever they were going for, I have rarely (looking back) heard a debut album that so already had defined a sound so well...snappy and aggressive hardcore punk rock with great melodies and amazing playing. Drummer Bill Stevenson was truly one of my first drum heroes to come out of SoCal punk rock. How old was he when he recorded this anyways? seventeen? eighteen? It is truly a remarkable display of precise drumming with style. Late guitarist Frank Navetta had the guitar sound of a buzzsaw, and when countered with bassist Tony Lombardo and his super-melodic yet busy-without-overplaying bass work, you had three guys doing their own thing. Add the everyman distinct vocals of college-bound myopic singer Milo Aukerman and you have one of the greatest bands to ever come out of punk rock, the Descendents.
I never saw the band with this lineup, much to my dismay (but I could have seen them...a sad story for another time), but I eventually sort of knew these guys and became friendly with them. And after that, there was the time I filled in for Milo, who was at the time in San Diego going to school and making frequent drives up to Los Angeles for band-related stuff. There was a show going on that I was at and Milo was going to be running late. The show must go on. I don't know how, but I think I was asked by Bill to sort of "fill in" for Milo. I guess he must have known that I knew all of the songs and could do it. I am sure I told him I could, so I did.
For about six or seven songs, I was Milo. Talk about a thrill! When I was just getting into it, a finger tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and there was Milo. Sheepishly, I handed the microphone to him and scurried off into a corner of the stage...I felt I somehow had earned with my heroic efforts. It was quite a rush!