I make no secret of my love for the music of Black Flag. Their music was more than just songs to me, it was a way of life that changed the way I lived my life. This year, after the band has been nonexistent since 1986, there has been a flurry of activity from former band members…some of it smells genuine and some reeks of ego and greed. One group of ex-members is touring behind the name FLAG and looks to be very sincere and energetic for a bunch of 50 somethings…
Then you have Greg Ginn…guitarist and leader of Black Flag and the only constant member of the band. His guitar sound was Black Flag and it was always his band. Well, in seemingly a response to FLAG, Greg has decided the time is right to resurrect good old BLACK FLAG. The re-formed group consists of a brand new rhythm section and Ron Reyes on vocals (known as Chavo Pederast from the Jealous Again EP) and, of course, Greg on guitar. There is an extensive world tour and a new album on the horizon. Time will tell how this will go down in music history, but I think chances are good that it falls flat. That being said, I already have my ticket for an upcoming show. I’ll tell you how it turns out…
In my post about seeing Black Flag in Lubbock, Texas I mentioned that I got stuff signed by the band…a Rollins book, the setlist and a promotional photo that I had snagged off the wall of the club. When I originally went to post the article I scanned what I had but could not locate that promo photo. I ran across it recently and here it is. An old artifact from twenty-seven years ago…feels like yesterday and so long ago at the same time.
If you missed the original post you can read it by clicking here.
The new single from Black Face came in the mail yesterday. If you are not already familiar with this band feel free to read my overview here. The first thing you notice is that the logo for the band is the same font as the old Black Flag logo. The band is really relying on the fact that it is linked to Black Flag’s past. Then there is the sticker on the shrink wrap. It has a statement that reads, “A selective collective take on music as riot and Dukowski-era Blag Flag.” What the hell does that mean? Music as riot??? A selective collective??? I must not be hip enough.
The record has a nice look to it, with the gray marble vinyl and sturdy picture sleeve. Next I notice the sides are not listed as Side A and Side B, nope you get Side Trip and Side Death…okay, I get it. This is going to be some heavy shit. So, I put on the aptly titled I WANT TO KILL YOU on the Death side and it sounds exactly like old school Black Flag. You could really place this on one of the early Flag albums and it would not seem out of place. Milo Gonzalez does his best Greg Ginn impersonation on guitar…it is trying hard to be Black Flag, but it is not. And it ultimatly fails because of it’s cloning of the Black Flag sound.
Okay, now I flip it over to the Trip side and drop the needle on the track titled, MONSTER. To my surprise, this is not a clone of the Black Flag sound. This is something else. It has an intensity without the obvious aping of Chuck’s most famous band. To my ears this is a better direction. Here singer Eugene Robinson has a different approach than the other track and it works much better. This has more of a Stooges/Psychedelic Garage Band feel.
I am pretty much split on this one. It didn’t grab me like the Keith Morris fronted OFF! did the first time I heard them, but it is not totally bad. I believe there are two more singles coming soon before the band hits the road in Spring of 2012. I hope the ‘music as riot’ doesn’t lean to heavy on old punk nostalgia on the next releases…
I grew up in Brownfield, Texas. A small town consisting mostly of oilfield workers and farmers. I was the son of one of those oilfield workers. I was entering my late teens in 1980 and living a sheltered life by the sheer isolation on the West Texas Plains. It was all flat earth and sandstorms. Boredom and anxiety were the feelings I was most familiar with. Music seemed to relieve the monotony of my day to day existence. Like most of my small town friends I was into ‘Hard Rock’. This was early eighties hard rock before all the names and extremes…Death Metal, Hair Metal, Stoner Metal or any of the other labels. My music was Kiss, Ted Nugent, Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat, Aerosmith…almost anything that was fast and loud. I would stay up late on the weekends to see if anybody cool was going to be on the Wolfman Jack hosted NBC show, The Midnight Special. Mostly I would feel disappointed by the stuff that was shown. I lived in pre-cable hell. We received four TV stations. I mentioned boredom, right?
A short while later the cable TV company finally expanded their service area into our side of town and I talked my father into getting our house hooked up. It was an eye opener to me. I saw my first two R-rated movies the first night we had it installed…Animal House and Halloween. I heard creative cussing and I saw breasts. Life was looking up.
On Saturday nights I started watching ‘Night Flight’ on the USA channel. Night Flight was an all night long block of music related programing and they would air a program called New Wave Theater. It was a music show along with fake commercials and whacked out social commentary. It was based in the Los Angeles area and the featured music was by punk and/or new wave bands. I remember people jumping on stage, people getting thrown to the ground, faces screaming and people spitting…it frightened me. I was happy to wait for the next AC/DC album. But later I was in a record store looking for anything to catch my eye when I found an album called ‘Let Them Eat Jellybeans’. I looked at it because of the cover. It consisted of an image of then president Ronald Reagan over an American flag backdrop. The album was subtitled, ’17 Extracts From Americas Darker Side’. It was a punk compilation and it had song titles like, “Pay To Cum”, “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and “Slave To My Dick”…I had to hear this.
I didn’t know what to make of this music. It wasn’t ‘good’ in the way I was used to music being. Even at my young age I could tell it was sloppy and poorly recorded…but some songs stuck with me. My friends all liked the song “Slave to My Dick”. And I did too, but after hearing it a couple of times the novelty wore thin. My ears were drawn to two songs…’Pay to Cum’ by the Bad Brains and ‘Police Story’ by Black Flag. I knew nothing about these bands other than the picture of them on the lyric sheet. And thank God for the lyric sheet or I would have never made out those words that were spit out so fast.
I also started following music and musicians through magazines. Out of all the rock music magazines that I could buy in my town there was never any mention of any punk rock bands at all. Once in Rolling Stone there was an article on the ‘LA punk rock violence’ that would break out during the concerts in the Orange County area of Southern California. They focused on the band FEAR and how one of the members of the band was beaten so badly that he had to wear a drainage cup taped to his head wound for the puss to drip in. This article mentioned the hardcore fans of the group Black Flag as being the most notorious of the violent fans. This seemed so scary to me…so foreign.
Flash forward three years…1985. I was a young Twenty-One year old man. My musical tastes had grown and I had several ‘Punk Rock’ albums. I liked Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and X the most. The Kennedys and the Flag were just naked aggression, while X had a early rock feel. I wore out all three of their debut albums. My musical tastes were all over the map. I listened to Dio, Peter Gabriel, Hank Williams, The Rolling Stones, Circle Jerks, the Go-Go’s, Pink Floyd…I bought bunches of albums on payday. I made weekly trips to what I considered the big city of Lubbock where I would visit all the records stores looking for something to catch my eye.
It was on one of those trips with another music obsessed friend when I saw a flyer taped up in the door of one of these stores. It was hand written in black marks-a-lot on a white sheet of paper. It said, BLACK FLAG, LIVE, MAIN STREET SALOON, MAY 27, $8 AT THE DOOR. I committed to go with my friend on the spot. I picked up the latest Black Flag album on that day, MY WAR. That album was nothing like their debut album. I liked some of it, but side two was full of slowed down Black Sabbath sounding dull music.
As the show drew near I was full of fear that I would be beaten up by mad indiscriminate mobs of punk rockers. Never mind that Lubbock had no punks that I knew about, I was certain this was going to end in violence. If my friend had not goaded me I probably would not have gone. I was never a person to just go blindly into what I thought might be an unsafe situation.
So we drove the 40 miles from my hometown to Lubbock on a Tuesday night. We found the club and parked around the street. I took a drink to calm my jumpy nerves and we headed into the club. It was a long narrow place, maybe twenty feet wide and seventy feet deep, with the stage by the door as you came in…if you want to call it a stage. It was eight feet deep by twelve feet wide and raised by six inches. The club itself was wood panel walls and beer signs. There was a bar along the far wall and pool tables in the back. The seating and tables were wooden picnic tables and benches…six total, plus bar stools and a few round tables with chairs toward the pool tables. I was struck by how small the place was and with only 40 minutes till show time relatively empty. We ordered a pitcher of beer and sat down at a picnic table. I noticed pockets of people talking then walking outside only to return in a short time later. It all seemed so casual. I was put at ease.
Toward the back of the bar/club, by the restrooms, a guy sat at a table with band merchandise for sale. I only had a twenty with me and I figured I had to buy the next pitcher so I was just going to look at the stuff for a brief minute. Among the few T-shirts and cassettes for sale was a book. I picked it up and looked it over as I asked about it. They guy told me it was the singer for Black Flag’s book. It cost eight dollars. I bought it.
Back at the table I showed it to my friend and he said I should get a pen and have Rollins sign it. When I asked how was I going to get him to sign it my buddy pointed to a guy standing by the stage looking through a backpack and said, “He’s standing right there.” I actually went to the 7-11 down the block to get a pen. When got back the first band was on and I did not see Henry anywhere. When that band finished Henry was one of the guys taking down their equipment. By the time I had worked up the courage to approach him the next band blasted into their set. The music so far was not very ‘punk’ sounding…it was more like slow metal riffing. The place, while not packed, was getting fuller. A group of Texas Tech co-eds were starting to drink beer and laugh…that loud shrill laugh that only drunk girls can do. When they first sat down I was hoping for a little female conversation, but they quickly became annoying.
Now Black Flag was setting up their equipment and I knew it was now or never in getting that book signed. Henry was standing off to the side of the stage with his back to me. I let out an ‘Excuse me.’ He yelled, “WHAT?!” and spun around to face me. For a second I thought I had made a very bad move, but he saw the book and said, ‘Right On! Cool, want me to sign it?’ He talked to me for a few minutes and then said he needed to get ready.
I sat back down at our table and my friend wanted to look at the book. I handed it over and one of the co-eds asked who I got the book from and I told her that it was the singer for Black Flag’s book. She asked if they were playing tonight. I then realized that they just happened to be out for a beer and ended up here. I told her they were coming on next. She asked what type of music they played and after I replied she turned to her friends and told them some punk rockers were coming on next. Loud cackles and one, ‘I’ll show them punk!’ followed by more cackling and I was wishing they would die.
Black Flag just sort of all appeared on stage…the band was made up of people that had been in and out of the club all night, I had mistaken some of them for the other bands roadies. Then they launched into the first song and it was l-o-u-d, you could feel the sound move the air. The sound was incredible. It even drowned out the co-eds. The drummer and bassist were keeping it together as the guitar player was all flying hair and grimacing teeth. Rollins had removed his shirt and was in running shorts, microphone chord wrapped around his hand, screaming out words. It was intense. Even the co-eds in the front table had stopped and were watching. But by the second or third song they were back to being annoying as only a group of drunk people can be.
The band was playing so hard with such an intensity for about 90 people on a tiny stage in a sleepy West Texas town. There were no stage lights, they didn’t even dim the lights in the club. I just recall all the sweat…Henry was dripping it as he lept onto the co-eds table. He was singing/screaming above them, wearing only running shirts, and dripping sweat on them. They all moved back in unison as he continued to perch on the table. One girl made a ‘shoo – go away’ motion that was met with a smile and a shake of the head sending more sweat her way. After a few seconds, and a little hip grinding action from Henry, one girl pored what was left of her beer on Henry’s leg. Without missing a beat his foot shot out and kicked their almost full pitcher of beer, splattering it onto the girls and running down the table. They grabbed their stuff and headed toward the exit, one girl flipping Henry off. He didn’t leave the table until they were gone, but he did turn to watch them leave…smiling at them all the time.
I am not sure what anybody else thought of this display, but it was the single most electrify moment of my young life. The concert went by in a blur. The most surreal situation ever. There was this monster of a band, full of energy with a passion for the music, playing a top volume in a little bar decorated in neon beer signs and picnic tables, with an audience sitting down and just watching the band. They were the greatest band on the face of the earth at that moment and they knew it…and I knew it. This band was blowing the audience away without any help other than their gear. No lights, no smoke machine, no vocal sweetening, no staged shtick…straight ahead rock and roll with an attitude.
I saw the band a year later. Same city, but the venue was bigger. Punk rock, along with slam dancing, had finally trickled down to West Texas. The band played hard, but something seemed to be missing. That concert could not compare to that Tuesday night in the Main Street Saloon. Something was in the air that night.
After the show was over I grabbed the setlist and asked Greg Ginn to sign it and got the band to sign a promo picture that I found in the bar. Everybody in the band took their time to talk to me, except for Kira. She signed the picture, but gave me the ‘get away from me’ vibe. That night I felt the power of music played by just normal people with a passion for what they are doing. Every show I have been to since I am hoping to feel it again. Sometimes I do, mostly I don’t…
What happened to all that stuff from that night? The book, the set list, the promo picture? I still have all the stuff…
Chuck Dukowski was a founding member of the seminal American hardcore band Black Flag. He was also a founder and co-owner of the indie label SST Records. He wrote many classic Black Flag songs like, ‘Spray Paint the Walls’, ‘I’ve Heard It Before’, ‘No More’, ‘Modern Man’ and ‘My War’. Now Chuck Dukowski is teaming up with Oxbow frontman Eugene Robinson to form a new band, Black Face.
It seems that Eugene contacted Chuck to see if there was any interest in putting Black Flag back together with Eugene in the singer role…and it sounds like it got close to happening. Close…until the lawsuits started to fly between Chuck and the other founder of Black Flag and SST, Greg Ginn.
Chuck and Eugene regrouped and formed Black Face and will be releasing a couple of singles…yes, 45 rpm records…and some live shows are being planned. The band is rounded out with Oxbow drummer Tom Dobrov and Milo Gonzalez on guitar. Milo is Chuck’s son and quitarist in the band Insects vs. Robots. Black Face is recording and performing songs that Chuck wrote back in the Black Flag days.
This might be very good (who would have thought OFF! would be so good?)…or very bad. I will wait for my 45 to hit my mailbox. You can pre-order from Hydra Head Records. They are making 2000 copies on Black, Grey, White, and Mystery colored vinyl.
Here is a blurb from Hydra Head‘s blog…
As an introduction to the band the lead off track on the debut single, “I Want to Kill You” serves as an appropriately violent first round. Comprised of cascading shards of angular guitars, stuttering figures of bass/drum interplay, topped off with Robinson’s insistently murderous diatribe, the track feels at once vintage and refreshingly present. Though many have imitated this approach to songcraft in the decades since it first ripped forth from the ether, it’s clear from the first dour notes of the song that none have surpassed the progenitors in their singular intensity. Following the A side’s introductory battery is a sprawling beast aptly titled “Monster”, a potentially polarizing track not unlike Black Flag‘s early forays into the realms of abstract and obtuse psychedelic punk. Though more subdued in pace and tone, the track proves no less menacing than its predecessor – a not-so-welcoming doorway into a dimly lit world of treachery and unrelenting pain. There is no overtly obvious catharsis in these tracks, no glorious climax, only sustained tension and the promise of greater horrors waiting at every further turn into the darkness. If this is a re-beginning for Dukowski and co, it sounds like a grisly end for the rest of us.