This interview was conducted with Dez Cadena in his home in Newark, NJ on April 29th, 2009. In many ways this interview started the trend for Barred For Life to seek interviews not only from people with Black Flag tattoos, but also with the people that played in Black Flag. Luckily for us Dez both played in Black Flag and may have been the first person ever to have The Bars tattooed onto himself. While all of the other Black Flag player interviews were conducted while on the BFL tour in the fall/winter of 2009, since Dez lived just up the road from my Philadelphia home, this interview was more like a bunch of friends hanging out and watching the game (which we did, though I don't remember which game) than something formal or overly planned.
It is important to remember that in 2009 there was no talk of Black Flag reforming or FLAG forming, and so finding, contacting, and putting together an interview with Dez was far easier than I thought it would be. Besides Stevie Chick contacting the former Black Flag players for interviews for his book Spray Paint The Walls, people weren't knocking down their doors of these very genuine folks hoping for a photo or autograph. If you ask anybody who was there with me that day, the vibe was very, very mellow.
My friends Richard Demler and Seth Fineberg were instrumental in getting me the interview. Jared Castaldi, Matt Smith, Todd Barmann, and I were the crew, and videographer-extraordinnare, Marianna LaFollette, got it all on tape. What follows are the original questions and responses from the interview. The transcripts were generated by me playing back the audio recording through headphones and typing the words onto my laptop in a very quite coffee shop on 9th and South Streets, Philadelphia. Edited only for misspellings and some grammar, nothing has been changed. Both myself and Todd asked the questions, but I don't differentiate in this interview. So, I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading the full interview. The rest will follow over the next few months.
Give me a little bit of history of your family background and how you got into music, and how you ended up in California by way of Newark, NJ.
So, I grew up pretty much right here in Newark, NJ. I was born in 1961 and in 1974, when I was 13, we moved to California. My entire family moved to California. My father was involved with the music business. Well, he was always in the music but, after he got out of the service in World War II, in the late 40's and early 50's, he sort of developed a career in music. First he was a bass player and, when he got married in 1950, he decided to put the musician part of his life away and kinda move more into the production end of music. He didn't want to live the lifestyle of the musician; whatever that meant.
So he got married and he settled down, but in the same sense he was still involved in music. Before, he had gone to a few vocational schools here in Newark and learned other vocations, but he also took music. It was a big thing. Remember, he was a bass player.
In the 50's he was involved with a record company that was based out of Newark called Savoy Records, which was very popular with anybody that knows anything about Jazz. He worked with them and, um, had a son, who is my older brother, Pru, and he had him in 54. Then he had a daughter, a sister of mine that I never knew because she passed on when she was 3 or 4. She had died within a month of finding that she had cancer behind her eye, and she passed on. My mom took a break from having kids for a few years.
In 1961 she was ready to have another child, and here I am. After me they had my sister Lori. She was born in 1964.
We stayed in Newark, NJ, through the 60's, through the riots, um, and all kinds of things were happening in New York and New Jersey at that time. The economy in New York was pretty bad; New York City was pretty much bankrupt under Mayor Lindsey. And since my father had gone to California a few times in his life for the service, and for music, because he also did records for Fantasy Records out there, had heard about this famous Jazz club called the Lighthouse. When he was in the service he went to there. It was in Hermosa Beach. He fell in love with that town and by 1974, well, okay, he had decided to move there by 1972.
\He took me out to California to see what it was like and I was eleven.
What was your impression of California?
California was very golden. I didn't get the chance to hang around with the people very much, but I remember that it was always very sunny when I first went there. And when I went there to live I thought that, at least in terms of style, that the people were backwards and slow. I didn't know if they were slow mentally or if that was just the way that it was. Maybe I couldn't tell the difference because in Newark everything was so fast-paced. And as far as style was concerned, and not that it mattered that much to me, but I could tell that there was such at thing at ten or eleven years old. We'd already gotten past the hippie thing, and by that time people were already dressing like Saturday Night Fever, and it was 4 years before Saturday Night Fever; guys in wife-beater shirts, jewelry, the medal of St. Christopher, or the little pepper that the Italians wore, like that kind of stuff. The greased back hair, too, but the hippie thing was gone.
So when I went to California everybody looked like hippies, still, and this was 1974. So, yeah, I had this weird impression. The other weird impression that I had when I was in my last year of grammar school, the eighth grade, (I went to a catholic school here in Newark from kindergarten to 7th grade), I went to a catholic school in California called the Our Lady of Guadalupe in Hermosa Beach. I'd go there, and it is not like the kids there were well behaved, but they are supposed to be because they go to a Catholic school, and their parents paid money for them to go to school. But there it was like a walking Cheech and Chong movie.
The kids weren't going to church like they were supposed to, you know, but it seems like a couple of times when I went to school here we had to go to a mass. I don't even know if Our Lady had a religion class, so it was like a walking Cheech and Chong movie. And the weird thing is that all the kids in my class would come back from a holiday weekend and were like, "Yeah, I went to go visit my dad this weekend." Not that here in NJ we didn't have any divorces, but when we did everybody knew about it because everybody on the block was talking. But every kid in my class in California was spending the weekends with dad or mom. What (?) nobody's parents in California still lived together (?) It was weird for me, you know? I guess that I thought that it was strange, like, "You're going to visit you mom, what, isn't she just in the next room?" So it was a little bit more like a free and easy lifestyle.
Maybe their parents still got along, but they just decided that they shouldn't be together, so mom lives over here and dad lives over there. Everybody in my class in California was like that. There wasn't one person but me who's parents were still together.
So things in California were very different. In fact, the area where I moved was very docile sort of. It was a party area, it was still, everything was very docile. So it doesn't surprise me… A lot of people go, "How can a band like Black Flag come from a place like this?" And this same area was known later on for the McMartin Preschool case where the people that ran a preschool, this old lady and her family, were accused of molesting these kids. McMartin was in Manhattan Beach, which is right next to Hermosa, and was even more conservative than Hermosa Beach was. So, sometimes the best things come from an area where the environment isn't so violent, isn't so crazy, or isn't so…. Like New York or Newark, New Jersey, you know? And somebody wants to stand out in some way, shape, or form.
When you got to California, how did you acclimate and redefine who you were? You were a kid from Newark, New Jersey with a nuclear family, and you were in a place that was really laid back?
It was actually harder for my mom. She thought that my dad was crazy. She was like, um, I've lived in the same house for 37 years with my mom in the basement and my older sister down in the second floor, and we're on the third floor. And I've lived in the same house for 37 year and you you're taking me where?
It was funny. About ten years ago… It is funny… We never lost our affection for the east coast; as a whole family. Here we are 30 years later and my dad, he was getting older. I don't know. My mom, she was an apartment manager in Redondo Beach. She's in her 80's and she's still doing it. But as she was getting older and he was getting older (he passed one a few years ago), he would say, "Maybe we should just move back to Jersey?" He never lost his affection for New York and New Jersey. When they first bombed the World Trade Center I will never forget how upset he was. Not that he was a big flag waver, he was like, "How could they screw up my city like that?" And he was out in California saying this.
Then when he said that maybe we will move back to New Jersey, he and my mother, my mom goes, "First you move me out here, after 37 years, now after 30 years here, now you want to move back???" Well, it never happened. I ended up doing it but she's still out there with my sister doing music in Hermosa Beach at the Lighthouse. So that is good that she is keeping his music going and booking talent in Jazz, and she is having gigs.
But to answer your question, I was young enough, and I think that my dad knew it, that I was probably at the age where I could probably adapt. We moved out, they moved out, in 1974, when I was just finishing grammar school, and it was like he was thinking that before I would get into high school, with friends and getting settled in one school, and then moving, lets just do it before I have to go to high school. So that is what they decided to do. And I was, I was old enough to just go with it, with the environment, and, um, not really have that much of an opinion. I had an opinion of what I was saying before, of the initial shock of coming to a new place that is completely different.
To me it was like either people would jump right into the lifestyle and surf, like, you know, the California lifestyle, or be repelled by it. In some ways I just accepted it but I didn't jump into the lifestyle. I stuck with the music. The music was my thing. Everybody was riding skateboards and surfing, and blonde hair and tans, and all this; and eating granola. And here I was still eating burritos and hotdogs, you know? I always knew that I was an individual and that it didn't make me think that the environment was going to change me that much. I just stuck to the things that I like to do, which is to play the guitar.
So, you are now living in California, you are acclimated to your new home. How did you stumble onto the burgeoning Punk Rock scene?
Well, all of this happened at about the same time. 74 we move there, 75 I am going to grammar school (no, I started high school), and it is right about this time when… I was always into… (door bell rings)
By the time I was in high school in 1975, it wasn't called Punk Rock yet. Bands were starting to form in NY, like the Ramones. But I was more like… Well, I wasn't a surfer, I wasn't a chollo, I wasn't a jock, though I liked to watch a good football game every now and again. I wasn't part of any of the high school cliques. I was always carrying the guitar around and sometimes (I don't know if I read this somewhere) I would ditch school and go to the library and read.
First of all, my opinion of the Southern California school system, I didn't notice at the time, but if I saw what my nephews out here in Jersey, when they went to high school, if I would have saw what kind of care the teachers give then maybe I would have given a shit. But I didn't. They didn't give a shit. AND, this was a nice area in California. This isn't like over in Compton where you might get shot by another student. This was like a nice area.
I don't know if that had anything to do with the attitude of the place, and the time, but everybody was just kind of free spirited; even maybe the teachers, and I probably mistook that for them not caring.
Looking back at it, I've heard more complaints, so it was not just me. A lot of people complained about that area of the country and how that school system worked. Even my own wife says it. She's from San Diego and she has the same attitude about it.
I was always into music. My dad had gotten me into music, being a Jazz producer and, I forgot to mention this earlier, owning record stores here in Newark up until about 1970, and then it moved to New Brunswick, over by Rutgers, and so I grew up with records. I always had records. So, I had an older brother who was into the rock thing, and so I had Jazz and Blues and Gospel, and all this other Americana. And then there was this other rock and roll thing going on.
I think that the records that sold the most in my father's store were RandB, Jazz, basically black orientated music.
So I was already playing the guitar; I started that in California, taking a few lessons here and there, and trying to figure things out just by ear. I was playing the guitar by myself, and I still wasn't playing with other people. But I ended up gravitating to a group of maybe four or five people in the whole school who were into bands like Led Zepplin, or whoever, but maybe they were into a little bit of Glitter-Rock like T-Rex and David Bowie. Or maybe somebody was into something a little more harder for people to get into like Brian Eno. I remember going to a thrifty drug store and finding the first New York Dolls album, and the Velvet Underground record with the banana on the cover. Sometimes we would just buy the records for the cover. It was crazy. A record with a banana on the cover? The Velvet Underground? These records would be cut offs so they would be two dollars instead of four dollars, or whatever. Sometimes we'd pay a dollar.
So I would hang out with this little group of people, and by the time that I was a sophomore and then a junior, we would seek out this alternative music, like in Maximum Rock and Roll, and there were magazines like Rock Scene coming out that had the Ramones in it, and Patti Smith, and this was before we had even heard what the Ramones sounded like. Like, "Oh, this is the Ramones. Oh, they look pretty funny." Then there album came out and it was like, "Yeah, the Ramones are pretty funny looking." There were no guitar solos and they all have these page-boy haircuts. They had long hair, but with bangs, and the magazines were calling this "PUNK."
And then there was this magazine called PUNK. And so we would sort of follow this. It helped that there was this DJ on KROQ in LA, call numbers 106.7. The DJ was named Rodney Bingenheimer, who was around since the 60's, and he was a scenster guy who knew every band from Sonny and Cher to the Germs. And he had his own disco called the Rollerdisco, and rock stars used to go there and party. Like maybe Rod Stewart wanted to hang out with the riff-raff and, do a little, um, you know (implying doing a line of cocaine), out back. Or maybe David Johanson or Lou Reed, you know, like all these people partied together in Hollywood.
His radio show was very important, and probably still is if he is still on the air, to playing new bands, whether it be the Bay City Roller or be it the Germs.
Did Rodney differentiate? Did he have a Disco show and a Punk show?
No, the name Roller Disco was just a club name. There was no actual roller disco. He wouldn't play any disco. He would play Rock and Roll, like Rock and Roll by Gary Glitter, or Led Zepplin, or the New York Dolls, or stuff like that. And when the Ramones came out, or the Sex Pistols came out, he would play that kind of stuff. He would get acetates. Acetates were test pressing of a single or an album that is good for about 10 plays before the grooves are shot. It was basically for you to hear your record to take home and see if the mastering was alright before you had the actual record pressed.
He would have stuff like that that only people in the bands would get, and maybe the producer. And he would find ways to get these acetates and it was like, "And here is the new single by…," and he could never pronounce the title right. I remember that he said, "Antarctic in the UK," and he played the acetate even though the single wasn't out yet. There were two more weeks before it was out in England, and then maybe another two weeks until we would get it in California.
But we would follow every thing. We'd get every magazine. We had no internet, no cell phones, or nothing like that. [Dez turns away from microphone] fliers for gigs.
When 76 and 77 came rolling around we started noticing all of these bands from New York and London, and then we also began noticing that Rodney had this show that played LA bands. Then we got hooked up with this place in Hollywood called the Masque, which is the first underground club in LA. LA bands were Johnny-Come-Lately bands. So there were the bands from New York, and then those from London, and then, if there was another area it was probably LA; and them maybe San Francisco.
LA was the J-C-L, but there were a ton of bands. And you didn't have to like all of them because they were all different. But the beauty of it was that they would all play this one club. Sometimes, maybe these bands would get a show at the Whiskey, but you had to convince the people at the Whiskey, and other clubs like that, that these bands should play these places. There was this other club that went out of business, probably because of the whole cocaine thing, called the Starwood. But the Whiskey was a great place too because they would have people like Johnny Thunders, and the Damned came, and Television from New York, a, and numerous other people from that era, Punk Rock, New Wave… I saw Cheap Trick there after their first album came out, and six months later they were opening for Kiss at the Forum.
I saw Judias Priest there. Nobody knew who they were. [Rob Halford] rode the Harley onto the stage. The Whiskey is about the size of the Knitting Factory in New York, you know; a club that holds maybe 500 people, counting the top balcony. But we saw the album covers, then we'd see, "These guys are playing at the Whiskey. We should go see them." And ACDC, another one. All those metal bands, before 1980, nobody knew who they were. The Scorpions… These bands had like 7 or 8 albums out before anybody knew who they were in America.
It's the whole thing that if you package something correctly in America, you can sell them a pile of shit.
And I liked those bands that I just mentioned, but there is a certain way that if the record executives think about packaging something, they don't think about the music, they think about more… Now the albums put out by those bands are way better than the music that they put out before they became popular in America as far as I'm concerned; I'm pretty open minded. But its like I knew about these bands before anybody did but now if I talk to some kid and go to him, "What's your favorite ACDC album," and he says, "Back In Black," I go, "Don't you know 'If You Want Blood' or whatever. Have you ever heard that one?" or "Did you ever hear the Scorpions when they were a hippie psychedelic band? No?"
I was always into searching out music, whether it was Rock and Roll or whatever, that was kinda underground, whether it was Punk Rock, or it was Hawkwind, or Groundhog, from England, and now people know about some of these bands because Metallica did a covers album with some of these bands. They even do a Misfits cover album. I was always into following, well, not really following, but searching things out.
It was the same thing with Punk Rock; we'd read about it first, and then, ah, then go try pick up the single. The single was so economical because it was a dollar. So then if the single was good then maybe we'd go out and get the album.
You are hanging out in LA with 4 or 5 other people getting into the same music as you, how did you find your way to start playing music with these people?
First of all you have to remember that there are people out there who have been playing the guitar all of their lives in their basement or in their garage. They can play just like Eddie Van Halen. But if you put them in a situation where they have to play with other people they cannot do it. It's hard sometimes, and any musician knows this who is just starting, it is hard to find… You know, there is this one guy that you can actually play along with. So these people that I hung out with in high school, they didn't really play. So I waited until I met more people in bands; people that played with other people. I waited until I was like 17 or 18, when I played my first show, with Red Cross. So while I'd been hanging out with these people for a long time, most of them didn't play.
So Redd Cross needed a guitar player, and so I played with them. But by that time I had already met Black Flag and Redd Cross, and the people from the South Bay scene, which was a separate little LA contingency down at the beach where we lived. So it was basically like happenstance meeting people who… There was a person who was in Black Flag before me named Ron Reyes. We lived on the same block. He was the singer, the second singer of Black Flag. I was the third. But before all of that we were friends and we knew that these guys were practicing down at the beach, and he said, "Do you want to go to their practice?" And I did. And from there…
And, plus, from going to gigs in Hollywood there were some people that played, but it was too hard for us to get up there. We had to find people close to us. For me, when I joined Black Flag it was easy because they needed a singer. I wasn't a singer but they asked me to be their singer. And they were, at the time, my favorite band. They were already formed and had songs, and stuff like that.
But I had gone through the thing of trying to write a few stupid Punk Rock songs and wood-shedding it, so to speak, with a few guys from other bands, from Saccharine Trust. I played with them for a while. Um, like I said, I played with the guys from Redd Cross, and that was another band that already had songs and something sort of already established. So it was more like me drifting away from school and drifting off to Hollywood.
I think that I had figured out that I was gonna play music since I was five. It was just starting to happen in my teens, and just sort of drifting towards that. I wasn't thinking about making money, or having a job, because I did have those things, but it just didn't matter.
Would you have been happy playing any kind of music or were you intent on playing Punk Rock music?
At the time we were playing in bands, nobody knew what they were. The name was barely introduced, but I knew that I probably wanted to do something, in the back of my mind I knew… In high school all the people played to impress their girlfriends. They already had a lot of money, and they would get a Les Paul for Christmas, and they didn't know how to play. But to impress their girlfriends they would sit down one afternoon and learn about one-eighth of Stairway to Heaven. "Look, I can play the beginning part to Stairway to Heaven!," and that was like their big thing. But really they were just trying to get in their girl's pants.
During that period there were a lot of cover bands. Even Van Halen was a Sunset Strip cover band. They had one original song and they would play places like the Whiskey, and play You Really Got Me Going, and then play a Deep Purple song, and then a Led Zepplin song in their set. And so there were a lot of these bands, and I didn't want to do that. I didn't even think about ability because I probably wouldn't have been able to play it. I could probably play it now after 40 years of playing guitar, but back then I don't think that I could have played a Led Zepplin song.
Back then, the beauty of Punk Rock was that it really helped me learn to play with people, and that was an important thing. Like I said, I've know people that have played all of their lives but cannot play with other people, they cannot jam with other guys, or girls, or whatever. So, it kind of got my feet wet. Even if it was just playing a party, or my first gig with Redd Cross, it was getting my feet wet. It is a different thing when you are up there facing people than just sitting there watching.
It went from me being a little kid, and my brother taking me to see Humble Pie and Grand Funk Railroad, where the bands are all the way up there and you all the way down there, to going to the Whiskey and seeing like the Damned or Cheap Trick, or something like that. You could have probably touched them because it was the Whiskey, and you could actually be on the stage.
Punk is generally given credit for smashing down the boundary between audience and band. Do you think that this made it a lot easier for a lot of people to get into Punk music since these bands were actually touchable?
That was the beauty of clubs. But clubs are usually for bands that are not totally established. Like I mentioned Humble Pie. They were a big band in the 70's, and they were a big arena band. But before they were a big arena band they came and played the Whiskey A-GO-GO in 1978.
Like I said, all of these bands before they were big in America, like even Judias Priest, who had like 7 or 8 albums out before 1980, I don't know what album broke them (but something did), or the Scorpions, they would always go through that channel. First they'd play the Whiskey, and then they'd play a bigger venue, which would have been the Santa Monica Civic Center, which holds about 5000 people. But that was always the beauty of it to me, having that person right there. I could hear the way that his guitar sound, and not hear what it sounds like going through a PA all the way back over there. To me that was exciting.
I was a sponge. I was a kid and that is what I did. I tried to soak all of this information in, and I still try to do be that way. Looking back, I see that that is the way that I developed. It always takes a little while.
Early on you feel into a friendship with Ron Reyes, and he took you to Black Flag practices. Can you speak to that influence just a little bit?
Basically, Ron is a guy that came to one of my dad's Saturday yard sales. My dad put me in charge of it because he had something to do. But every Saturday garage sales are a big thing in California. It isn't actually like that here. I see them every once and a while here in Jersey, and in Newark, they've never heard of such a thing.
So anyway, we had a house that had a long front yard, a garage, then a long back yard, and the next house was all the way in the back. So I am in the garage, and I would open the door and put things out. And I saw this kid walk by with a ripped white jean jacket. He was Spanish looking, and his jacket had buttons on it. I had clothes with buttons on them, and some clothes where I had written The Weirdoes on them, and he heard the music that I was playing.
This kid was like, " You like this kind of music?" I was listening to some of the Punk Rock stuff that I had, maybe Bowie and a little Zepplin. I wasn't one of those kids like the kids from Hollywood that would make fun of you for listening to a little bit of Zepplin. You listen to Zepplin or a little bit of Yes and they would call you a hippie, like they were hatched out of an egg in 1977(?) and nothing came before that. It was good to deny where you came from. That was good in Punk Rock.
It was like you never listened to anything before that? So when I saw you two years ago with long hair and you were playing Zepplin covers in a cover band, and now you are calling me a hippie. Poseur.
So, anyway, Ron comes by. He was my neighbor, and quickly became a friend of mine. He lives about three houses down. So, after a few garage sales he comes over and says, "Hey, do you want to go down to this old church that they converted into an arts and crafts center, where this band called Panic practices tomorrow?" And both of us from reading all of these magazines from all over the world knew that there was a Punk Rock band called Panic from England, but they spelled their name with a K at the end.
I even asked him if it was the Panick from England, and he assured me that it wasn't the English band. Right now they are called Panic, but I think that they are changing their name to Black Flag. So I was like, "Sure. Whatever. Let's go!" So the next day I go down there and meet the guys, and that is when I met Chuck, Greg and Robo.
How did if feel to you? Was it kind of exciting or was it did it feel like you were just stumbling into this situation.
I didn't know the band yet. I didn't know the music. It was kind of exciting because in our little part of town we knew that there were just a handful of people that knew about this music, and all the other people that knew about the music were either up in Hollywood, or living in Hollywood, or going to the Masque. We were 20 minutes away from that hustle-and-bustle. We were in a party-beach town.
This is when surfers, who would eventually get totally into Punk Rock and Hardcore, would go "DEVO faggot! I am gonna kick your ass DEVO fag!" You know, they would like challenge friends of mine or whatever. DEVO FAG was a big thing back then. They didn't even know the word Punk Rock yet. These were the surfers, who would eventually… This is where the whole Hardcore thing would come from. You know, the kids with the skateboards? It wasn't us. The song WASTED was a parody of these people that just get wasted every day at the beach. "I had a skateboard. I was a hippie. I was so heavy man I lived on the Strand," was making fun of all of these people, people that we had to deal with growing up all around us. It wasn't us, but I blame us for every time I see some kid trying to ride a skateboard down St. Marks Place in NYC and eats it in a big pothole, because I did that.
Once Black Flag played out here on the east coast, we were associated with… People called us an Orange County California Hardcore band, which was not true. We were from LA County, and we were not a Hollywood band. We had our own little scene down in the south Bay. We had bands from down in San Pedro and Wilmington, like Saccharine Trust, and these bands were different. They wouldn't just pick up on a sound and do the Hardcore thing. They had originality, and we liked to think that we did too as Black Flag.
We were lumped into a lot of things. I just want to clear things up. A lot of times I will read something about the band and everything will be right except "they are from Orange Country in California," which isn't right. But it was important for us, it was important for me, to meet those guys but I didn't know it at the time. I didn't know what they were all about or what they sounded like, though it only took me about a half an hour to know what they sounded like, and they were great.
I had already seen the Ramones but the seriousness… As much as sometimes the wackiness of the songs, of Ramones songs, could be there was a seriousness about their music. They went from one song right into another song, and Black Flag was like that. However, Black Flag had a way more serious sound. The Ramones can do Suring Bird in a very commando style, even if it was Surfing Bird. Black Flag was singing about the pain inside. Black Flag was always singing about inner struggles, and a little bit of belligerence because, at the time, Keith Morris was singing. He is not this way anymore, and hasn't been this way in a long time, but at the time he liked to imbibe. He drank his Budwiser, and after about a six pack or two he was a pretty good belligerent fellow going on there; especially if he had something on his mind. Sometimes the lyrics didn't matter if he had something on his mind. Whatever was on his mind came out. It was pretty IN YOUR FACE.
I don't think any band in their particular way ever stuck me as being as powerful. I may have to correct myself because when I was a kid, Black Sabbath, I had heard that record. There was power there, but it was a different kind of power. It was slower. It was a constant power, just like Black Flag, but it was slower. It had a different type of guitar sound. Black Flag just had this IN YOUR FACE concussion sort of impact, like getting hit with this (Louisville slugger) over the head.
So it was important to meet them. I didn't know it at the time, but it was important.
What was the progression after that of how you found yourself in Black Flag?
Well, at the time that we met them, Keith Morris was singing in the band and, ah, he must have had some difference with them before that. If you talk to anybody else in the band, and they will know better than I, they must have had differences with Keith around 78. They had differences, and whatever the problems were he was out of the band.
Me and Ron were hanging out with them, and I think that they picked up Ron right away. Ron lived with them. He was renting a closet space at the church, which I think that Robo was also sleeping in there too. He had built a bunk in the closet. Ron would sleep on top and Robo on the bottom, and there was this whole other party room with graffiti all over the walls. Remember, this was the basement of a church.
Ron was playing in Redd Cross at the time, and I hadn't even started in Redd Cross yet. All this progression happened to each person very quickly. I ended up, after Ron started singing in Black Flag, I was playing guitar in Redd Cross for about 6 months. He played with them for about 6 months before me, and I kind of followed in his footsteps. He ended up in Black Flag just by renting a room there.
They liked Ron. They liked me. We were kind of a pair, and he tried out singing for them and they said yes. He ended up being in their band, Black Flag, for about 6 months, and then they filmed that Decline of Western Civilization; so it is well documented. And then, um, when he quit he quit on stage in Redondo Beach.
Let me jump back just a little bit. Black Flag, before Keith was out of the band, played their first gig. Before that they had played parties as this band Panic, but they played their first gig at the Moose Lodge in Redondo Beach on Pacific Coastal Highway. They threw the show themselves because they couldn't get gigs in Hollywood because they weren't from Hollywood. The band that were from the Hollywood scene were kind of like (makes a sour face), "One guy still has long hair. He must be a poser. I don't know about them," and so they decided to throw their own show, and they rented a Moose Lodge.
This was the bill. Black Flag, a band called Rhino 39 from Long Beach, and a band called the Alley Cats. I think that the Alley Cats were from Wilmington, and they played every gig; they played with everybody. Even though Greg rented the place himself, there was Black Flag's first gig, and they decided to play first.
So this is a Moose Lodge. There is a bar. And, there is a liquor store on the corner. Everybody bought their liquor there and drank in the parking lot, of course, and so they didn't go inside to drink. Even though this was a Moose Lodge, and they were serving 25-cent beers, there were just these old men in there. There were like 5 old men and like 100 punkers.
I remember Rodney Bingenheimer coming to the show, and Rodney brought Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys. Me and Ron went to the show, and it was two blocks from my house, and Black Flag came on. Keith had a few beers, and at the beginning of the set he started saying something, and then grabbed an American Flag and swung it around. I forget what song it was, and the owner goes, "That's it. You guys aren't allowed to play here ever again. Get out! The rest of the bands can play but you guys gotta get out!"
So the Alley Cats played and Rhino 39 played, and after that was over Greg put a hippie wig on Keith, and Black Flag got back on stage as another band. They made up a name, and then they just played their 20-minute set only with Keith in a wig. They played the same songs because they didn't have any more. It was a 20 minute set and Black Flag had maybe 12 songs.(?) Then, if they needed more time they would do this long, long, long extended version of Louie Louie. And that was it, their set was about 30 minutes.
So for their first gig, Black Flag played twice and the guys from the Lodge didn't even know. I mean the guy who owned the place looked up there, and there is this guy long hair, where as before the singer didn't have long hair, and he couldn't put two and two together to realize that that was the same guy that pulled down the American Flag and was waving it around from the first set.
Late 79 Keith leaves the band, and Ron is living at the church, and so they ask him to sing. Six months later Ron quits on stage at another gig at the Fleetwood. He quits on stage and they invite the whole crowd up on stage to sing this 50-minute version of Louie Louie. I was watching from this balcony. The Fleetwood was an old theater, and it had this old booth where they showed the spotlight. Me and a friend snuck up there. We were drinking and stuff, and we watched the show from up there. We didn't have to deal with people, and so it was great.
Black Flag played two songs and, for some reason, Ron quit. I think that his girlfriend was in the audience and somebody hit her, and he quit the band. He jumped off stage and grabbed her, and then quit the band.
So Black Flag continued the show and played a 50-minute version of Louie Louie, where they would pull people up out of the audience onto stage. Different people were singing and screaming, pulling down their pants, and it was great.
The prevailing mythology is that you were one of the people that was on stage that night. Can you speak to that?
No, that's not true. I was up in the booth. And, no, I didn't know that.
If you want to tell people that, well, that is fine; that I was up there pulling down my pants. But I wasn't.
It is all water under the bridge, and I watched the entire thing unfold, and I wondered when they were going to find a new singer. Ron was gone. He had moved to Vancouver. So I go down to the church one day. I was in Redd Cross, but we weren't doing much. We played a few gigs. So I go down there one day and Chuck had this old Impala (I think). It was beat up and with Bondo all over it. He was like Fonzie. He would hit the trunk and the trunk opened, and he reaches in there and he has this beer that everybody was drinking called Burgermeister; Bergies. They only came in like 16-ounce cans.
It was like midday in July, and he offers me one. It must have been as hot as a cup of coffee. I was like, "Yeah, sure," because we would drink anything in those days. And Chuck says, "You know that we leave next week for Vancouver and we're doing this little tour. We are going to San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and then Vancouver." So I asked who was singing for the tour and he was like, "That is what I wanted to ask you, do you want to try?"
And I told him that I play guitar, "I am not a singer." Chuck was like, "Yeah, we know you play guitar but we've known you a long time and we know that you know all of our lyrics." I told him that I didn't know every exact line but I would try. So I went there and tried and they were like, "FINE, you want to go?" So I said, jokingly, "let me check my calendar. Nope, nothing going on." I ended up joining the band at that moment.
The funny part was that the first time that I sang with them… This is 1980, so they had gone over six month without a singer. It is 1980; The beginning of summer, and by that time we had already noticed that there was sort of this contingent from Orange County… Well, the music started to change. One, and the Germs might have been detrimental to that because of how manic their music was (and Black Flag too), but it started becoming faster. It wasn't just Punk Rock anymore. People started calling it Hardcore, or Hardcore Punk, or whatever. And the fans were all these bored white gangs from down in Orange County.
Orange County is probably where the most Republicans live in this concentrated area in the whole country. So the kids have this very boring lifestyle. Other than surfing and skateboarding it is a very boring lifestyle, and because some… And because it is between LA and San Diego there are a lot of military brats… So these kids with nothing to do out there in Orange County would form gangs. They were surfer gangs, and they would fight other surfer gangs, and then there was this music, which by the way is a lot of fun to skateboard in somebody's pool too, and it came along, and these kids got into it. They cut their hair and suddenly it was no more DEVO FAG, it was like, "Hardcore. Hey man, yeah, you're hardcore."
So there were the bandannas, and the whole way of dressing thing. Suicidal Tendencies? They were white kids, and they had the whole idea with the bandanna and the wife beater shirts from the Mexican Chollo's. So that whole style of dress, and the intimidating look, it wasn't Punk Rock anymore. It was this whole Hardcore thing.
The reason why I am talking about this is because we had this mailing list, and about three quarters of it was from Orange County. Greg had been battling the city of Hermosa Beach for many, many, many years; as long as they were rehearsing there. Even during his high school years he used to hang out there, at this place that used to be called the Worm Hole, which was this old bath house that was down by the beach. It was where everybody was selling weed. This dates back to even before I moved to California. This was the early, early 70's.
So the police knew the people that hung out at the Worm Hole; there might have been 10 policemen in Hermosa Beach at the time. They would always give them a hard time for rehearsing, and the noise, and they would get tickets. So Greg always wanted to get back at them, at the city, and things had gotten to a boiling point with the city. Greg decided that he was gonna throw the final party at the alter of the church (the famed Church). We didn't really have a PA so we would just plug in a guitar amp and you can sing. It is free, and we will get as much beer as we can to supply the people to start getting them drunk, and then we… Well, it is kind of like throwing Christians to the lions… It was like that. It was the whole plan.
So it was the night before we were supposed to leave for the tour, and we throw this party. All these people come down from Orange County. All the big stained glass windows, and even windows across the street got broken, and all this Punk Rock violence happened. We played and we got in the van and took off. The whole plan was that we were leaving and we were not coming back Greg had already rented a place out in Torrance. So when we came back from our tour we went straight back to Torrance, and didn't come back to Hermosa Beach.
All of this Punk Rock stuff happened where everything got destroyed, and so the local free paper wrote an article that said that Hermosa Beach police kick Black Flag out of the beach area because of this Punk Rock violence thing. It is not true, but it is what they told the public. It is what they told the people that lived there in the newspaper.
When you finished playing and left for Vancouver was the party still going on?
Well, yeah. When we finished playing and packed up there were still people milling around Hermosa Beach if they weren't arrested, or they weren't driven off. But there weren't that many cops. We're talking about 300 people on our mailing list showing up from Orange County versus maybe 10 police in Hermosa Beach. Hermosa is a town that is about one-mile by about one-mile with about three or four thousand people living there.
I know that Hoboken is about one-mile by one-mile, but it is a much bigger town people wise.
You join Black Flag and your first show is the night before leaving for a small tour of the west coast. Did you ever feel as though your band, Black Flag, was ever going to have this lasting impact?
You don't think about stuff like that when you are in a band. I don't even think that the guys in bands like, say, Cheap Trick think about that. I think that most musicians… Some musicians have a preconceived plan, like, say Madonna. She knew that she was going to be number one whether it was dancing, singing, or whatever. She was gonna be the at the top. She had that goal.
Our thing was kinda like; We know that we have to do it. Can I give you an exact reason whey we gotta do it, maybe not, but we just know that we have to do this thing. And so I think that most musicians know this, that they gotta do, no matter what they play, that they gotta do that. They know in their hearts that they have to do this thing.
You can ask anybody in any of those bands back then, we weren't going to William and Morris, the music lawyers, about how music law was done. We were against the whole corporate rock (or society) thing, and that is cool, but it may have hurt SST down the road since they didn't know about how things run and how musicians should take care of their publishing, and all the basic things that a musician needs to know just to take care of himself. So it was done with a very underground mentality.
Eventually we were working with other bands too, like the Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, Husker Du, and later on bands like Sonic Youth were on SST records.
At one point did Black Flag and SST morph into one entity. Historically, it or so it seems, that you guys always worked for SST?
They were always one, always the same thing. They were the same people. It was Greg's record label. They put out their first single, "Nervous Breakdown," and then they put out the other single, and then I think that they put out the Minutemen's "Paranoid Time" single out.
The smaller tours that Black Flag did with, first, Keith, up to San Francisco, and then with Ron up the coast, there were a lot of bands that they liked to play with, like DOA and Subhumans from Vancouver, the Mutants from San Francisco, and bands like that. But when they went on tour, and especially when they went started touring with me, I don't know how many bands we played with, but every town had a band called Toxic Shock. It wasn't the same band, but if you thought about how garage-like and similar they sounded to each other. And these people didn't know that only 50-miles away there was another band called Toxic Shock that sounded pretty much like them, and dressed the same way.
There is nothing wrong with that. Like I said, there was no internet, and the communication was pretty much just fliers. Maybe somewhere down the road they realized that there was this other band called Toxic Shock, and they probably threatened them, but there were at least 20 bands called Toxic Shock. Basically, we got tired of going to small clubs and the PA being shitty, or showing up and getting your hopes up to see this new band, and then it turning out not to be what you expected, so we started palling around with a few bands that we liked that were different from the area where we came from; like the Minutemen.
Eventually it got to the point, after I was out of Black Flag, they were bringing a whole PA company with them and bands that were on SST. The band that I had after Black Flag was DC3, and I toured with Black Flag with my band opening for them. And then there were always another band or two from the SST label along as well. In other words, why should we have to deal with having an inferior show? Why don't we just have a show that is like related in a way? It wasn't just about Black Flag, but it was the entire SST package. That was all Greg and Chuck's idea, to kind of have a…
Once and a while you know that you'll get to play with a band like the Big Boys down in Texas, and the Dicks, who are from Texas and eventually moved to San Francisco. We loved them. Then there were DOA and the Subhumans from Vancouver, the Effigies from Chicago, but it is like everything else. Of all the bands there are there are just a handful that… And we were always looking for stuff with originality. Something that jumps out at you with originality, not just loud and fast, you know?
We kind of like created our own little community of bands.
Black Flag is given credit for a lot of things, like being the first Hardcore band to tour the United States, and having this insane DIY ethic that brought the glam of the New York and British bands down to a more blue collar and American level. Was any of this conscious, or was this simple survival since you couldn't rely on outside sources for help?
Well, both, but, as far as our work ethic, we knew that we couldn't rely on anybody else; nobody wanted to even look at us, you know, as far as record companies are concerned, but we were smart enough to know that it was obvious. We could go shopping around Hollywood with our demo, but…
Black Flag was sort of influenced early on by the Ramones. In all the years that the Ramones tour they never stopped touring with a van. They never had a big tour bus. Maybe that is why by the time that they broke up a couple of them had a few bucks tucked away. They had a work ethic that was, you know… You could credit Black Flag, but I know that Greg saw them pile out of a van. Back then we were like, "They must be big. They have a record, an album. They have two albums. They are on a record label." The way that they ran things was that they had this van, and a lot of times they had their crew in there with them. And then they had a trailer.
I think that the first time that we saw them they were just in a van with their equipment. That was like 76, and it was like a Cheech and Chong movie. Here they are in a 69 Econoline van and we were expecting a big tour bus The door opens and there was smoke rolling out. And then Dee Dee just sort of falls out on to the concrete. It was an old beat up van, and Greg has said it in interviews, and he said it to me before, that he sort of saw that as the way to go. And Black Flag toured like that. Maybe in the later years the Ramones traveled in two vans; one for the equipment and equipment crew, and the other with just the band.
Black Flag (us), we used to build a bunk where everybody slept like sardines in a can, and underneath we put amps. So we'd go to a hardware store and build like a loft type of thing, and that is how we used to travel. God forbid that if we rolled the van at any time we would have been done; we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.
Black Flag took the work ethic a step farther because we always had this anti-industry thing going for us. You can ask Greg Ginn, "Damaged" might be gold right now, but I don't think that he ever checks. After all these years its gotta be a gold record, but Greg never cared. What does that mean? We are Black Flag; we've got nothing to do with that.
It is not even in the thought process of going by the book as far as the music business is concerned. Like I said, it might have hurt SST the record company, and I don't really want to get into it too much, but as far as the business was run over the years, it may have hurt them. But that was the basic attitude; we are going to do things our way. If there was a rehearsal to be done, it was pretty much a 5 hour ordeal every day. We'd rehearse for 2 hours, go and eat, and then come back later and practice for another 2 hours. And then after that the other guys would go and work in the office doing things. I was a little more like, "I could care less about doing that, you guys are doing just fine. Get Raymond's art work and do whatever it is that you are going to do." For me, I was must happy to get to play.
But if we had our own apartments, or were living with our parents, we moved out and all moved in together into the same space, sort of like a commune. And it was like offices and we would put curtains over these desks that we'd make out of 2x4's, and we'd hang these curtains over them. Underneath we'd put a mattress, and then that is where we'd sleep. And this went on the entire time that I was in the band; maybe 2 and a half years. Then, they did it afterwards when they had Kira and other people in the band. Wherever they had their office and practice spot, they lived there. In a way it was kind of like giving away all of your worldly possessions and joining the Manson Family, or the Hare Krishnas.
In a way it was kind of like, "Oh, you can't have a job to do this because we're going to be doing a lot." For the other guys the record company was going to be all encompassing. Before SST, Chuck Dukowski had a job building pool tables, and he help found SST records with some of the money that he made doing that. But then he quit it because he got serious about doing SST. Once I was in the band they really started getting serious about traveling; first, all around the country several times, and then eventually, by the time that I had switched over to guitar and we had Henry singing, we eventually made it to England. We had been talking about going over seas for a long time.
Other bands had gone before us, X, the Dead Kennedys, they had gone to England. Nobody did it like we did. We suffered. We decided to take on a tour that was probably ten or twelve shows in England with the Exploited. By that time Punk Rock had become… It was always fashionable in England… In England something comes into fashion for two months and then it is out. So after 1980 Punk Rock had become bands like the Exploited and Discharge, and here in America we were always acting out against that by growing our hair and beards because we believed that in Punk Rock there should be no rules, and here are these bands giving us rules. Before it was the other people giving out the rules, and now it is you guys giving us rules. We didn't have Mohawks or spiked hair, we didn't wear chains, or have a tattoo of a swastika on our heads, or wearing spikes and leather, and so if we didn't dress that way we "weren't" Punk.
When we showed up in England we looked like a bunch of trolls living under a bridge. I had a beard and kind of long hair, so I looked… So you tell people that we are the most notorious Punk band in America, and then we show up looking like homeless people, and it was kind of like… Basically what happened to the tour was that the Exploited, for the entire tour package, didn't sell enough tickets. So they ended up playing a couple of shows with us before the singer faked a broken leg. We played one show with them, and then we had another show a few days later in London and he came out using a cane. It was in the papers that the Exploited won't be able to do the tour. They will do one last show at the Rainbow in London.
Wattie comes out with a cane, and when they start playing he starts dancing and throws the cane out into the audience, and he was laughing. Black Flag was a support act. So here we are in England, and we play two shows in London, and all of a sudden the rest of our tour is gone. We were like, "What are we gonna do? It is the middle of December and we were staying with two American girls in Sheppard's Bush." Luckily we had these American girls to put us up because nobody was going to even look at us. We didn't behave like Sid, you know what I mean? So we decided to take on the tour ourselves. We will finish the tour without the Exploited, and so we did. People got to see us in England.
At that time they were expecting a certain thing. We were "the most notorious Punk Rock guys from America," but we looked like we could almost be in the Allman Brothers Band. They didn't make the connection. We didn't have Mohawks or spiky hair. This is 81 or 82. But we did it. We had flights for two weeks later, so what were we supposed to do? We could have changed the flights, which would have cost us a lot of money; and we didn't have any more money. So we decided to take on the tour. We called all of the clubs and the agency we were dealing with and told them that we were going to play; all over England.
The tour was cold and the reception was… We were playing at the Marquee Club in London, and we are playing, with Henry Singing, and I am on the side of the stage stage-left. Chuck is right beside me. And then a bunch of skinheads show up. Now, if you've ever noticed a cup of beer looks an awful lot like a cup of piss. And about this, I've never felt so bad for somebody in my entire life, than I did for Chuck Dukowski. They might have been aiming for me because I had longer hair. But a skinhead turned around, pissed in his cup, and since they were throwing beer on us anyway, I didn't really notice, but this guy hits him square in the face with a cup of piss. I didn't know that it was piss, and I was right next to him. But then I started to smell something, and when I looked over at Chuck I could see his face turn blue. He was out behind his amp getting sick, and other than somebody getting physically hurt I've never felt so bad for somebody. But that was the type of reaction that we were getting.
The music was stirring everybody's intensity levels up, but we weren't cool, at all. As a matter of fact, many years later I remember Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth saying, "You should got to England. They'll love you there." This was in the 90's, and they certainly didn't like us in the 80's. But it is funny how generations, and things, can change. But once we went there, and once the band developed, and the band broke up, and then we assumed this legendary history, it was definitely a different story. Now when I go to England they just want to take me in. It wasn't like that when we first went there at all.
The people that we met, and who were helping us with our tour, were very nice and friendly. But the crowds were, and there is nothing wrong with this, but were very drunk, and very belligerent, and I think that when you're are labeled something like, "the most notorious Punk Rock band in America," they will challenge you. Whether it be on the street, or wherever, they will do something. Like the skinhead that threw a cup of piss in Chuck's face, he just wanted to see how we'd react.
Here we are in a foreign country, so who knows what you will do in a situation like that. You might whack the guy over the head with your guitar because you are so mad, but that would have killed somebody, and that could have been a big problem. We could have ended up in a London Dungeon, right?
That is the type of stuff that was happening to us.
And you lost Robo from the band right after the tour of England, correct?
Yes, we lost Robo after that trip. We went to England twice, and on the second time we went with Bill, and the Minutemen went with us.
Robo didn't want to go. I think that by then he, for some reason or another, wasn't happy with the band. He had been thinking about not wanting to play in the band anymore even before we had made plans to go to England. I am not gonna say why, but he was unhappy with the band, but Chuck convinced him to go.
Now Robo is Columbian, and he probably had to get a certain type of visa for the trip, and he couldn't get it in time. What had happened at that time, people would look at anybody with a Columbian passport a bit differently than they would look at me or you, because of all of the political stuff that goes on in Columbia. He has nothing to do with that, obviously, because he is just a musician.
So, they wouldn't let him board the plane with us to come back. And they wouldn't let him stay there. So I guess that his only other option was to go back to Columbia.
When we got back we had a lot of shows in New York and Chicago, here and there on the way home; maybe about 8 shows. The only person that we could think of that could fill in for Robo was Bill Stevenson, since he was such a big Robo fan. Bill Stevenson didn't end up joining the band at that time, he just filled in for the rest of the tour. He already had his band, the Descendents, and we just didn't know where Robo was going. They didn't tell us anything. But they ended up sending him back to Columbia.
We end up landing in New York. We had a gig at the Mud Club, and it was a pretty important New York show. We sent for Bill and he came out. We got a couple of rehearsals and he was cursing us. He was a hyperactive kid. The entire time he was like, "Where is Robo? I hate you guys. What the fuck, this is New York and there are giant rats. Dezo, stay near me, there are giant rats. This is New York!" Remember, Bill hadn't ever left Redondo Beach before this. He did this for the rest of the tour, and he did this every day, but mostly when he was playing in New York with us.
So we played with Bill and I think that we were thinking of people to replace Robo. There was this kid Emil that ended up in the band for a short period of time, but he replaced Robo. After about a month of being home after England he was in the band. Then three or four months later, and remember I wasn't in the office, but everybody was working and Henry was writing in his Journal, and who pokes his head in the door but Robo. He says, "Hey guys," and it is sort of a weird situation. Basically what had happened, as we found out, was that Robo caught a flight to Mexico and came across the border in Tijuana. I don't know how he got to LA. He must have hitched a ride or something. That is how he got back. The US wasn't gonna let him back.
So he comes back and Black Flag has this new kid, and Robo is like, "Hey guys, let's go jam." I wasn't there that day. We were not planning a rehearsal for that day but they went and jammed with him. Eventually somebody was like, "Robo, this kid is playing with us now. He is our drummer. We didn't know where you were." Everybody was being a sport about it I guess, but Henry was like, "Do you know who needs a drummer? The Misfits need a drummer." They may have jammed with him, but I don't know when they told him about Emil. He had to know because the Emil's drums were there all set up.
It was the drum kit that Black Flag had bought for Robo, the Vista Light set up that you could see through, but Emil decided to spray paint them, so Robo had to know that somebody was playing them if they spray painted them.
That is how Robo ended up being out of Black Flag and ended up in the Misfits.
How did you end up with the Bar tattooed on you? You may have been the first person every with them. Can you tell me about that?
I didn't know anybody that had them before I got them, but somebody could have. Certainly, nobody in the band had them. Greg doesn't have any tattoos. Chuck, I don't think that he has any either. I think that Bill Stevenson has them, but everybody else from Black Flag that has them got them after I had already gotten them.
I got them in 1980. It was the second time that I had gone to San Francisco. I don't remember the name of the shop, but Mabuhay Gardens was on Broadway right near Chinatown, and where all the strip clubs and x-rated places are, and right across the street were two tattoo shops, and I don't really remember their names. I went to the smaller one because I felt sorry for them since the one was a popular place where everybody would go. The other was a mom-and-pop place.
There were people in Punk Rock with tattoos, but they were mostly like broken hearts with arrows through them, or guns, but they were mostly traditional types of tattoos. You didn't see a lot of people out there with, say, a Sex Pistols tattoo, but I'd seen people like that. I thought that it would be cool to get a tattoo of your favorite band but I never did it. But being in Black Flag I figured, "Here I am. It's a pretty cool, pretty fucked up situation and so I can probably do anything that I want." I didn't mention it to anybody in the band, so while we were waiting for sound check I decided that I was gonna do it.
I asked Greg for a copy of the single and told him that I wanted to give a copy to one of my friends. The single had The Bars on it. The Bars are such an easy thing, and I probably could have described them to the guy, but I wanted to go to the tattoo artist with a picture. So I went in and had them done, and I think that it cost me 25 dollars. It was just The Bars. It didn't say Black Flag or anything. So I had this bandage over it and I went back into the club, and sat beside Chuck and he sees the bandage and asks, "Did you hurt yourself? What happened?"
I was like, "Yeah, I hurt myself," and pulled the bandage off. Chuck was blown away. He was like, "WOW." Greg and Chuck didn't have tattoos to begin with, but most tattoos were of mermaids or of ships. So here I am with this tattoo of a band that they started, and they were blown away. That was in 1980. I couldn't give you a date or month, but that is how I ended up with the tattoo.
Henry wasn't in the band yet, and he has like 5 of them, but he didn't have a Black Flag tattoo when he joined the band. In fact, he didn't have any tattoos. So, as far as I know, and there could have been some kid somewhere who tattooed himself in jail, I don't know, but before that I'd never seen one. I'd seen a Germs tattoo, a blue circle, that evolved from the cigarette burns that those guys used to give to each other that they called the "germs circle," but never Black Flag. I'd never seen one before.
Thirty years later, what do you look back on as the defining moments of your Black Flag experience?
Well, it taught me a lot of humility. It taught me how to be in a band, first and foremost. How to be in a band and how to play with other people in a band. It taught me a bit of discipline as far as the music was concerned. But I realized that for different artists that things are different. For instance, if you listen to Black Flag there is a lot of discipline in their practice, and things have to be this way, and it was very much like that. And the people that wrote the music were very serious about having it performed the way that they wanted for it to be performed, and getting it tight and powerful.
If you listen to somebody like Sun Ra and he almost has the same attitude, but it is a different approach and a different type of music. You may listen to his music and think that it is all over the place. But I know people that listen to Black Flag and said the same thing. But it is all about where you are coming from viewing the movie.
But there was discipline. There was discipline in the music and even in the lifestyle that even me, me as an individual, would rebel against every once and a while, but just a little bit. That is why they liked me because they knew that I was that individual and they just let me pretty much do whatever I wanted.
The discipline in the lifestyle was, well, kind of like everybody quitting their jobs and living under a desk. And the discipline enough, and I haven't mentioned this yet, to know that you have to book a tour but you cannot afford a gigantic phone bill, so you buy a stolen phone card number from a guy on a corner that looks like he should be selling crack or something. You have a big notebook of numbers from around the country of clubs and promoters, and then you use this card at a payphone so that the stolen credit card number cannot be traced to your home phone. So booking whole tours illegally, that takes discipline. But how else are you gonna do it? You cannot use your own phone, or you'd have to continuously change your phone number, because you'd have this phone bill of hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month from just booking a tour. But that is how we did it.
It wasn't like the Manson Family where Charlie would ask everybody for their worldly possessions, but it was like, "If you're going to be in this band you really cannot afford to have a job." It takes discipline to realize that this is the thing that you have to do. It takes knowing that you have a fairly long and regimented rehearsal time every day. Like I said, you would have 2 and a half hours, then take a break for an hour or two, and then come back and do it again. Sometimes you would have two practices, and sometimes three. It was kind of like knowing that you had to do this type of thing, and in some ways it was to the point of being mindless. You just did it. You didn't think about it anymore.
It was like, "okay, we gotta practice. We gotta practice tonight too, but we are working on new songs and not doing the old songs," you know?
And all of those guys were okay with after practice going back and sitting behind a desk. I wasn't really into that. I was around but a lot of times I would be gone. I was not a desk person. They were more into that. They were into running the record company, besides being in the band. It took discipline. It might sound funny to have somebody say that you cannot afford to have a job if you are going to be in Black Flag.
It wasn't like you could run a separate business on the internet while you are sitting at your desk at SST like you can be doing nowadays. Before Black Flag I put O-rings in regulators in scuba gear. I did this before I was in Black Flag. We had just come back from a Public Image Ltd show where we had all taken LSD the night before. I came in like at 7 in the morning still going from the night before, and here I am putting these O-rings into the regulator, the regulator that would regulate the amount of air that you would breath underwater so that you wouldn't explode. But I was thinking that while I was on LSD that I might be murdering a bunch of scuba divers. So, yeah, that is the job that I had before I was in Black Flag. Once I joined the band I "couldn't afford to have a job."
But to me that took discipline. To actually realize that you were cutting yourself off from the rest of society and just doing what it is that you are doing. You are not hurting anybody.
It sounds like from what you are saying that this went beyond work ethic, that you guys were on a mission. Would you say that is true?
I've heard it said of Black Flag before about this "mission." I have this friend named Jimmy Wilsey. He is a bass player for a band called the Avengers, and later on he became the guitar player for Chris Isaac, and helped to write the song "Wicked Game." I didn't become friends with him until much later, like 1998.
He had heard of Black Flag, but he didn't know too much about us. The Avengers came before us. They played the very last concert that the Sex Pistols played in San Francisco in 1978 on the tour when Sid was in the band, and they broke up. Anyway, he read Henry's book Get In The Van and he commented, "We thought we had it rough. It was like warfare with you guys." And Get In The Van isn't even a complete history of Black Flag. It is up to a certain point when Henry was in the band. But there were the three or four years before that.
GITV was a pretty good history; Henry's history, because he was always writing in his journal, but it was always a mission. It was a mission, but I don't know why. Well, I know why now because I look at it the same for all music, and not just for Black Flag. It is a mission for musicians to play what they want to play. Black Flag's mission was a little different from that because they wanted to EVERYTHING their own way. We didn't want to be calling William and Morris to be our lawyers, or Mr. Sony here is my demo, sir. Please sign my band. We wanted no part of that.
In a lot of ways I am still the same. It was a mission. It was to be us and not be a part of this other thing that was going on. Yeah, we wanted to be a band and playing music, but that was about it. We had so much respect for bands and music, don't get me wrong. But it was the record companies and people running the record companies, and people who we felt were not musicians that we felt didn't understand the idea of music. Those people whose goal it was to find out how to sell it. Like I said, this is America, and you can sell people a pile of shit if you package it right, you know? That wasn't for us.
While it seems that Black Flag had all of this lasting influence on people of my generation, everything behind the scenes comes off as so unpleasant. But it was your mission. And now, many years later, people in Hardcore bands do this because they think that it has to be done this way. Can you speak to that?
I think that it is still the same. There are bands that are still in a Do It Yourself situation. I think that it is important. But a lot of it depends on the people. You still hear horror stories about people, about bands from the early 90's that were supposed to be alternative suddenly being IT. But they always paid tribute to Black Flag or the Sex Pistols, or the Ramones, or any of the bands that came before them, which was cool. It was bands like Nirvana, and I think that was pretty cool. You could hear it in their music.
But when this style of music started to become popular it changed. The attitude was gone. It seems like people tried to embrace that attitude, they tried to keep it going like, well, say Green Day. They still pay tribute, and they are probably very Punk Rock at heart, but Punk Rock is a popular music now. The whole thing started so that people could have an alternative to the mainstream, and… I always felt this as a musician that it is important to always be an individual and not worry about what other people think. My dad used to say that when you put out a record strictly for the sense of making money, that is when it all ends. And this is coming from a Jazz guy.
In Jazz you are looking at a bunch of guys that are in it solely for the music. Sure, they hope that their records sell, sure, they want to put food on the table, but they are thinking about the music and getting it right. And my dad was right, you know? But when you are thrown in the middle of a sea of people who are solely thinking of being number one, and I don't see anything wrong with that. So you have people like Madonna. Like I said earlier, she didn't care whether it was dancing or music or acting, or whatever, she was gonna be number one; and she was. So more power to her. But as far as I am concerned I've always been into the seriousness of the music.
When you talk about the mission of Black Flag, or whatever; We didn't know why but we had to do this thing. We knew that we were doing it in our own way. We were giving everybody the finger, even the Hollywood Punk scene, who rejected the band even before I was in it. ...Greg had to find places to do his own gig, like the Moose Lodge. He had to rent the hall, get a small PA in there, and get people to come, you know?
But I think that it is important for people to do that. It is like that guy McGraff. He was a singer for some band that was pretty popular. The horror story that that guy, and his band Sugar Ray, had to go through? Yeah, they were a pop band and they had a hit on their first album. I cannot remember what it was, but they were signing these contracts, and they had no idea what they were signing, and he commented on TV that they recorded three more albums after that that nobody ever heard of because they were not promoted, and ended up touring for two years off the first album to pay money that they owed for the other albums that never got any promotion from the label.
A lot of times musicians don't know the difference between an advance and profit. They probably signed the worst contract in Hollywood history, but when it came under their noses they read some of it and said, "Fine, let's rock and roll," but I do think that is important for people though, that if you are going to hate something make sure that you read up about it. Find out what the rules ARE so that you can break the rules instead of just saying that you are going to break the rules, and have no idea what is going on. Find out the legality of it first, you know? Find out how to copyright your songs if you care, and publish them if you care.