Just the other day I was talking with my wife about certain aspects of the old music scene we experienced in our youth (circa late 80’s-early 90’s) she on the West Coast (LA area) and me in Buffalo in the heart of the East Coast Hardcore scene. Growing up in LA she got to experience some of the best years of the LA punk scene as it was then and I also got to catch some of the tail end of the early HC scene on the East Coast just as it was becoming overrun with jocks and squares curious about all the energy and noise and tattoos and the punks with the funny colored hair etc. I came across this cd at work the other day and it just illustrates the time perfectly (1993) 2 years after The Year that Punk Broke
This was from a Biohazard cd and it was one of the bands we had just been talking about. I remember when every show I went to after a certain period was dominated by these line-ups of aggro, testosterone driven muscle guys with guitars. I was 18-19 at the time and it was glaringly obvious that there was very little room for girls in this scene and that was a drag. The Riot Girl movement was underway by then but that was also an aggro and exclusive sort of subscene that didn’t fully encompass or embrace all women in indy/punk or the Hardcore movement unless they were openly a part of it. Spitboy were a perfect example of this.
Anyway, I remember being pretty disillusioned around this time about all of it, by 1993 I had pretty much stopped going to shows for fear of being beat up by Nazi’s who by then had infltrated much of the scene and mostly went to shows to start shit. A while before this time I started sneaking into the 21 and over ‘New Wave and Goth-Industrial’ club and experiencing different more interesting music and a much more gender balanced world where I could meet and socialize with girls for once! This was also a more mature scene without all of the BS of the all ages shows. The shock value of the punk stuff by then had worn out and the homogenization of alternative ‘culture’ had begun, so to get into bands with names like Christian Death and Alien Sex Fiend was quite appealing as it put off even the most outwardly ‘alternative’ people around at the time…
I remember one day driving around with a good friend when he popped in a mixtape, one of the things we loved most was driving around listening to cleverly curated tapes made from our recent record purchases. At some point he goes ‘check this out’ and 50 Ft Queenie comes on the car stereo and in my mind put a stake in the heart of the male dominated alternative music world as it was in 93′. It was fast and aggressive and lo-fi but still somehow feminine and sexy and if it wasn’t on Island would have been an indie staple. Either way, for a track like that to make it above ground added much needed color to the sterile post-Nirvanabe era of music saturating the college radio stations at the time. It was, for me, a much needed salve for the previous few years of my disappointment in the scene. PJ was weird and interesting and wrote short catchy songs with odd arrangements that stuck in your head, she was embraced by a wide array of people, even if it took some time.
24 years after initially hearing that song I finally got to see her live with my wife. Her set was mostly new material which I haven’t fully explored yet, so it was pleasant but unfamiliar. She had a very full band including Mick Harvey (The Bad Seeds) 2 drummers and there was quite a bit of instrument switching as everyone up there was a multi-instrumentalist of some sort. The sound at The newly remodeled Masonic in SF was excellent and we were in the balcony as opposed to the floor which was where we saw Diamanda Galas from a few weeks prior (she also sounded great!). We enjoyed the new stuff but she really made it worth it by playing ’50 Ft. Queenie’ ‘To Bring You My Love’ and my wife’s fave “Down By the Water”.
Many of you old fart punk rockers out there will remember the days of cut-n-paste collaging in order to create an eye catching and status quo challenging advert for your old band’s basement gigs. Usually containing crude imagery, shocking content in black and white with ‘ransom note’ style text cobbled together from various sources. Many of you will also remember the next level DIY collaged zines that were painstakingly assembled late at night in a 24 hour Kinkos that your buddy worked at…
The content usually involved coverage of a regional or more accurately, ‘micro-regional’ underground music and/or art scene, covering shows and events with occasional short fiction or comics and music reviews. They were xeroxed and collated and stapled manually upon completion and subsequently given away to anyone remotely interested. Seldom did they charge for these. If anything, 25cts or a trade sufficed.
A lot of these ‘rags’ also travelled to other micro-regions via snail mail and this was before the internetz, so this was a lifeline for people seeking out new and exciting happenings in places other than their own. It went hand in hand with the burgeoning DIY music scene as this was also how bands contacted each other as well as venues to put together tours and find places to stay while out on the road, especially in smaller areas off the beaten path where folks didn’t have access to a big city to see shows of any level. Black Flag is a good example of a band that mastered this and in fact blazed a trail that is still used by bands today. Check out Spray Paint the Walls for a more detailed read about how they did it.
These were really small run, handmade and practically ephemeral which makes zines an interesting literary niche that is still going strong to this day.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE ZINE
Some zines that I know from back in the day started out as crudely xeroxed and stapled handmade affairs but eventually evolved into full-on mags with excellent content and credibility. A couple of examples that come to mind are Ugly Things run by Mike Stax out of San Diego Ca. who’s focus is 60’s garage and psych music. His staying power is a result of really thorough sourcing and in depth coverage of really obscure bands. He is really good at finding surviving members of these long forgotten groups and interviewing them at length which usually reveals some fun and interesting behind the scenes happenings we would never hear about anywhere else.
Also very in depth with lengthy articles to get lost in…as you see the early issues were very text heavy.
Early Big Takeovers (circa early 80’s)
Recent Big Takeover
Another example that I hold close is Bomp magazine created and maintained by Greg Shaw who started making zines by hand as early as 1966 with Mojo Navigator, an inspiration for Rolling Stone Magazine. He made Tolkien related mimeographed zines in the 60’s also, a very early representation of zines not music focused. His real legacy though lies in Who Put the Bomp which I’ve mentioned before as one of my old record store bosses Gary Apollo, who recently passed away also worked with Greg for a few years in LA on the magazine. Even the infamous ‘Powerpop Issue’ which looked really polished and professional was all done by hand! Cut-paste for days…
Early Bomp (circa 1971)
I had just read this article the day before in the New York Times: “No, the Internet Has Not Killed the Printed Book, Most People Still Prefer Them” and on our way to the event there were 2 separate people sitting across from us reading books, so as far as I can see, books and printed media are still important to people and if you think otherwise, you’re sadly mistaken and likely missing out on a lot of information you will not find online. It’s also similar to the Record experience in music, the desire to hold something in your hands crafted by artists through painstaking processes to create something significant and tangible which helps drive the experience deeper into your psyche…
This was further driven home when we entered the festival and saw how many people turned out to look at and buy these mostly tiny handmade mags! There were artists, musicians, printmakers, poets and authors, lefties, activists and anarchists and a wide array of items to be had. In addition to xeroxed zines, self published books and underground comics were t-shirts, posters, bags, buttons, some musicians had small run cds, cassettes and even vinyl all DIY and small runs. There were too many artists to mention but I’ve included links where possible and SF Zinefest has it’s own site at sfzinefest.org as well as an instagram and twitter where you can explore and discover a large group of artists both young and not so young! There were some OG’s in the house which leads me into some pics from the event.
First I had to catch up with V.Vale of REsearch Publicatons who is known for his zine Search and Destroy going back to 1977 and his Industrial Culture Handbook and coverage of all things weird and subversive under the REsearch imprint. I purchased this collated, unfolded printing of ‘A Visit From Monte Cazazza’ which I look forward to devouring.
PM Press had a table. The previously mentioned Black flag book Spray Paint The Walls can be obtained through them as well as some other important punk lit.
It was really cool to meet Michelle Cruz Gonzales from the SF all girl band Spitboy who were around from 1990-95. We grabbed her book Spitboy Rule also available through PM Press, but it was nice to be able to get one directly from her and she signed it. This will be a welcome read next to our recently obtained copy of Alice Bags book Violence Girl as these are the voices of xicana women from the old school punk scene, there were very few!
TEAM PRINT SHOP
I also ran into an old friend who worked for a t-shirt print shop I also worked at for awhile in Oakland. He’s since broken off and started his own thing called Team Print Shop
Pretty randomly, I walked past this one table and had to stop because I recognized the curious artwork on the t-shirts first, then the table also had zines with these similar cartoon-like characters in weird homoerotic poses I remembered from some show posters I grabbed from the bulletin board at my band’s rehearsal studio (images below) they were posters for a show that had already passed, so I wasn’t hindering the band’s progress!
Turns out these guys rehearse down the hall from us in Oakland and the band is a bit of an artist collective that release zines under Unity Press and the creator of these weird ass images are by the artist Jeffrey Cheung.
I was also stoked to hear they recorded their debut record in their studio on a 4 track and released to vinyl via the Oakland based label Digital Regress. The DIY ethic instantly endeared them to me and we also have the same name…Jeff’s Rule!
I gave the album a whirl and it’s really good for a 4 track recording! The style is very 90’s indie rock but without the pretentiousness of a lot of that stuff and it also lacked the noisy angst ridden aspect that turns me off to so many of those bands. There are some nice melodies here and simple arrangements and nicely played!
This table caught my eye also but we were on our way out, so I didn’t get a chance to say hi, but here’s a shout out to Bagger43 they had some nice looking stuff and I dug their aesthetic.
There were 2 rooms full of tables and plenty of people milling around!
We walked out of the event quite sated and it was great to see so many people out there just to celebrate the printed word, and of course to support art and artists operating on their own terms! Get off the internet and go read a book now! We came home with plenty of stuff to read and enjoy!
All pics by Jeff K. 2016 (except Bomp, Big Takeover and Ugly Things covers)
One of the things I took away from studying this scene when I was a teenager, was the sheer eclectic nature of the bands that formed and developed around that time under the ‘punk’ banner. You had The Germs, X, The Blasters, The Screamers, The Mau-Maus, The Flesh-Eaters, The Weirdos, Alice Bag Band (The Bags), The Gun Club, Circle One, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, TSOL and many more! None of those bands looked alike or sounded alike at all!
I could go into this more, but I’ll let someone who was there talk about the diversity of the og LA scene (76-77) which really centered around Hollywood before it spread to the burbs . This recent interview with Alice Bag gives a better perspective, here’s an excerpt:
“First of all, I don’t think The Decline of Western Civilization shows the scene I was part of. I don’t think that was the mission of that film to depict the early L.A. punk scene, because by the time Penelope Spheeris was filming it, punk was already spilling out into the suburbs and taking on different flavors. One thing she captured in the film was the growing hardcore scene. And I think that hardcore scene brought with it a lot of white male energy that wasn’t present in the Hollywood scene. And she showed that shift. And if you look carefully at the film I think you can tell which were the bands that were part of the early scene because they were quirkier. They were not quite what is considered punk nowadays. The images and sounds and behavior [of punk now] were not associated with the early punk scene. It was open-ended and inclusive — as long as it was different from mainstream, it would fit into that scene. So that’s why what you see in documentaries doesn’t gel with what you hear people talking about from the early scene. And I’m talking about ’77, ’78, even the summer of ’76. People were coming in from glam then — it was a transitional year.”
After 40 years of being essentially underground and operating under the radar, still in music and in other realms such as activism and art and education and Feminism (important stuff largely ignored by the mainstream) she has emerged with a new book and a new record
I was lucky enough to make it to her SF show at The El Rio to witness firsthand what to me has become a lost sound. There is a distinctly raw yet fluid delivery with diverse elements that embody that classic LA punk sound such as Rockabilly and that 60’s girl group sound mixed with some garage punk elements, abstract brooding dirges as well as all out blistering pogo punk beats and Johnny Thunders guitar solo bends all mixed together tastefully, never too much of one thing, add a heartfelt performance and socially conscious and very relevant lyrical content and you have the best of the best here. Great show, great band, see for yourself:
Alice Bag SF 2016 (Clips)
All pics and video by Jeff K. 2016
A bit of a side note:
One of Alice’s guitarists, who is also on her new record, is an old LA friend of mine Sharif D. and he has a new band called Sex Stains and they will be releasing an album soon too!
PLAYING WITH HEROES
Another really good read below from one of the drummers Alice has on her album, Candace Hansen. Her experience really resonated with me as I had a similar experience in the mid 90’s when I was tapped to join an incarnation of The Flesh Eaters who also came out of this early wave of LA Punk bands. It’s always a bit surreal to think that I got to play in a band that at one point or other contained members such as Bill Bateman and Dave Alvin (The Blasters) John Doe and DJ Bonebrake (X) Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) as well as some collaborations on Divine Horseman work by everyone from Exene (X) to Texacala Jones (Tex and The Horseheads) Kid Congo Powers (Cramps, Bad Seeds, Pink Monkey Birds, Gun Club) Jeffrey Lee Pierce (Gun Club). I can totally relate to Candace’s experience in becoming a part of a history that influenced us immensely as kids. It’s such an honor and we are very lucky to have had this experience.
Following is a facebook post from 2012 by Gary Sperrazza, he was a force of nature when it came to keeping, organizing and retaining information when it came to just about anything music or literary related. He was a rock writer, archivist and historian who contributed to such notable rock rags as Trouser Press Who Put The Bomp (notably hand cut-n-pasting and curating the entire Powerpop issue!), NME and he had his own zine called Shakin’ Street Gazette (Lester Bangs’ piece “How to Be a Rock Critic” originally published in Gary’s “Shakin’ Street Gazette” was used in a real Hollywood hit movie “Almost Famous”).
He was also my boss for a few years when I was just outta high school and trying to find my way in a town that I didn’t feel I belonged in even though I grew up there! From 1994-96, roughly, that dusty dark little store front of Apollo records became my home for what was a period of deep listening and understanding of the what’s where’s and why’s of music. I have written about this period and a bit about Gary in a previous post also.
Apollo was essentially the place that brought Hip-Hop to Buffalo when it was still a developing genre. The man has been cited as an influence by heavy hitters such as Gang Starr, Nas and also had KRS use some samples he dug up out of the ‘Back Room’ which was the Rock Room. He told me about this meeting once, when KRS walked in Gary gave him the store layout of what was where and he waved his hand over the whole floor (where all the hip-hop, soul funk and 12 inch dance stuff was kept and said ‘I have all that!’ and proceeded to the back room! Just a few examples of his reach. He also had a catalog full of DJ mixes you could buy, live mixes by guys like The Wizard, Latin Rascals, Red Alert and many more! His love for all music ran just as deep and he also had a version of The Bat Cave in the early 80’s at a now long gone club called The Continental.
He was also a major source for 12 inch import records and dj plates for dj’s of all sorts. His love for deep house music also ran, well…deep! Here’s another bit of love from that sector, a special dedication mix by NYC DJ Craig Twitty who I met personally a few times at the store and was always a gentleman and a scholar:
As far as I can tell this was his last post on facebook and even here, you can see that fb was not big enough to contain the content of this man’s mind, wit and encyclopedic knowledge of all things music and at the end is a comment from Barney Hoskyns! I will also post a few words from some folks that also knew him as he was a bit caustic in some ways but left a huge impression on anyone he met and that ventured to get to know him.
RIP Gary Apollo!
January 2012 post From Gary’s FB:
“Woke up this morning… all I had was gone…” – Robert Johnson.
“I loved Ray Lowry’s weekly NME cartoons and wild/strange rock ‘n’ roll humour. Here is just a sample of this man’s mind at work. I really miss him. Every week. Time stood still when the new issue of NME arrived. Anyone, ANYONE out there, who was there, knows what MINUTE the new NME arrived…. 1970’s. 1980’s. New Musical Express! All that venom…and spew…and some of the best rock journalism on a consistent, week-to-week basis…and Ray!
More later, cuz it’s fairly destined that i’ll do a piece on this guy. Barney Hoskyns [[rocksbackpages.com] has asked me. I’m humbled, and i don’t know much more than anyone else does. I used to CUT OUT the strips from the NME [well, the exceptionals, at any rate], and clip them inside the walk-in glass door of my shop, way back when. You know….things to LOOK at, instead of swearing at me cuz I’m not THERE yet [lol!]. We did Really Busy Window Displays too [won two $500 prize contests, story some other time], and at least one down the line was Lowry-themed.
Um, you can even see the Scotch Tape skidmarks. But fuck it: i PEDDLE this wordsmut! Christ! That means recontacting [whoever’s still here]: Mick Jones, Hugh Cornwall, Steve Jones…Or using a Ouija Board to roust Joe Strummer. It’s burning a HOLE in me, until it’s done.
Takes a simple iconic first line of a song, and then: works it. To ‘Beyond Death’.
Come kiss the coffin with me. Ray Lowry. 1944-2008.
Like Adrian Borland [The Sound!] once sang : “I can’t believe they cut you down…in your heyday!”
[And i was a hot MESS in 2008…so tore up, i didn’t even know he died!]
But now i’m hot and focused.
Let’s wake the dead.
I woke up this morning.
Hi Gary. Yes, sad that Ray’s been forgotten…Would love to run something about him on RBP if you felt so inclined to put “pen to paper”… with a link to your mini-gallery. Nice thinking, and hope all well. Best- BH
[ Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock’s Backpages, http://www.rocksbackpages.com/]
Following is a post from the Blog ‘The Next Big Thing’ in the comments you can read a bit of personal memories by myself and another Apollo Records employee and friend of Gary’s, the guy that was there right before me Marc Feliciano from the Amrep band Lollipop.
Stay tuned for updates as I’m sure there will be a few musicians and writers out there with something to say on the passing of such an enigmatic character on the scene. He didn’t play an instrument but was instrumental in the music world going back the heydays of LA, though he made his most important mark in Buffalo NY where he now rests, I’m sure he’s chopping it up with Rick James right now up there somewhere wondering what the hell happened to music and actually having the answers to that, he always knew…**wink**
UPDATES (some more links to articles from the web)
The following is an excerpt from Mike Mills Tribute (REM) about how Gary played large and crucial part in REM getting a record deal.
“We barraged New York with tapes,” Buck says. Then we purposely made it as hard as possible for them to understand it,” They edited the tape so that “Sitting Still” was prefaced by a thirty-second polka version; there was no return address on the tape; Stipe made Xerox baseball cards with the band members’ faces on them; and when they wrapped it all up, they wrote in big Magic Marker letters, “Careful, Do Not Open.” “There was a certain sense of humor about it,” Buck admits with gross understatement.
Then the impossible happened. The new wave bloodhounds at the old New York Rocker got interested and Gary Sperrazza gave the tape a rave review in his “Crib Death” demo tape column. That review inspired four record companies to send letters to the band asking for tapes.
Yet another mindblower! In 1974 (the year I was born) and when Gary was still in High School, he got UB to sponsor a Rock Writers Symposium which was attended by…get ready…Richard Meltzer, Nick Tosches, Lester Bangs, Rob Tyner and Patti Smith among others!
Excerpt from a Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) interview 2012 in Punk Globe
Coming out in 1977, how did Cheap Trick compete with all the punks?
Bun E Carlos:
Well punks were not really doing any business in 1977, or any year for that matter (in America). So that was a ground up thing. There were bands like Cheap Trick and the Ramones, from that era that were against Emerson Lake and Palmer and all these prog-rock bands. When we were cutting “In Color” in 1977 I’d go out with guys from Bomp Records like Greg Shaw and we go down to Redondo Beach and we’d see the Weirdos and bands like that. And back here in the Midwest to get paid to be a musician, like pretty much everywhere, you had to go out and play six nights a week and three sets a night. So that’s what band did when we were coming up. Punk bands were known as not being the greatest musicians in the world, then; so no place hired them so we didn’t run into too many punk acts. It was going on but it wasn’t really doing any business, back then. So we didn’t see these guys do much unless we went and hunted them down. You couldn’t find their records too. There weren’t very many punk records out. I went to Bomp Records in 1977 with Gary Sperrazza, and I bought one copy of everything on the wall. I spent like $150 bucks on singles. I wanted to see what was going on. It was all punk stuff. Some of it was pretty good, but most of it was pretty greasy. So, you know, Cheap Trick and the punks had in common- that we all hated what rock music had become. It had become a show business, like Queen; it was hard to relate to that stuff.”