The Great One Is Dead
To start with the obvious: there can be no Saccharine Trust without the dark insights of Jack Brewer's lyrics and their nervous, halting delivery. The Great One is Dead is filled to the brim with both. Brewer's writing often seems to focus on the pain of real world relationships, real world failings, and street level real world life in general. His lyrics have always been far from Utopian in scope. It is within their poetic treatment that these stark realities are often given a kind of grace. Listen to "Water on the Dance Floor" or "The Sadness of Apollo" or "Untitled No. 2 (I Gave Another Dimension the Slip)" for prime examples of his lyrical prowess in these matters. Disaster Amnesiac has often been enthralled by Brewer's lyrical pictures of urban California life. The way old fishermen are described in "Birthing the Ancestors," and the ubiquitous liquor store of "Neruda's Wave," and the tweaker friend of "Reggie's Plateau." These, among others, have often reminded me of similar scenes in my haunts within the Golden State. Praise must also be given to Brewer for his unique, expressive and highly personal vocal style. When you hear Jack Brewer, you know it's Jack Brewer. Score one for individuality in the face of boring (industry) standards! On The Great One, Brewer uses varied mic and recording effects to alter the sound of his vocals to great effect, too.
Speaking of sound, one would be pressed to find as creative a guitar player as Jack's long-time cohort in Saccharine Trust, Joe Baiza. That is not to say that Baiza's technical prowess is lacking — it is not. Joe's guitar playing has been in continuous development for thirty-plus years now, as anyone who has followed Saccharine Trust and Universal Congress Of can attest to. From the early, skewed punk rock chord sounds of early S.T. to his later jazz-inflected capital "L" lead playing of both bands, Baiza has grown as a writer and player, all the while retaining the rawness and edge (hey, it's the blues, once again!) so necessary for effective, impacting, physical oomph that makes for great rock guitar. Joe adds many purely noise/sound effects to his more linear guitar parts on The Great One. These industrial (in the machine/scrap metal sense, not in the NIN/Skinny Puppy spooky dance sense), paired with his dexterous runs, lead and color the tunes. His guitar tone is fuzzy and echo-ey, adding to the raw, claustrophobic feel of the overall sound of the disc. Great, disturbing cover illustration from Joe, to boot.
In contrast, the firm pairing of Baiza/Brewer are necessary for Saccharine Trust's existence as a band. The rhythm section of S.T. has often been in flux. For The Great One is Dead, the engine room is stoked by bassist Chris Stein and drummer Brian Christopherson. Stein's tight, funk-inflected fuzz bass often plays as much of a lead role as Baiza's guitar. It's such a solid anchor, all across the record, too; but, the listener is very often lead through the tunes by way of his bass work as it bounces and blasts them by turns. Christopherson's drumming is sublime: a Jazz-schooled heaviness that never feels heavy handed or overly flashy, but always expressive and within a deep pocket. Imagine Max Roach deciding to play rock, and you'd be close. Rock intensity without the stadium volume. A singular, outstanding drummer here! As a rhythmic pairing, the two are outstandingly tight and focused. Pretty clearly the best drummer/bassist tandem for Saccharine Trust, at least on record.
The sum of the aforementioned parts makes for a harrowing, heavy document. Given Saccharine Trust's history and physical location, it's no wonder. Here's a great, original band, made up of creative and original musicians, that has never really gotten its due. The fact that they've managed to continue at all is a credit to their vision and tenacity.
Some levity is provided in the madcap closing tune, but for the most part, The Great One is Dead provides a darkened soundtrack to the heartbroken purgatory that lies outside the front doors of most, particularly in urban California. Its close-engineered sound only adds to those vibes. The recordings have a hovering, and to use the term again, claustrophobic feel.
Hopefully more fans of Saccharine Trust will begin to weigh in with their impressions, and hopefully Saccharine Trust will lay some more of their weight on us, soon.
– Mark Pino
TOYS THAT KILL
Todd Congelliere gave birth to F.Y.P (Five Year Plan) in 1989, out of Torrance, California. After slangin' 4-track demo cassettes of himself playing a shitty guitar and a Toys "R" Us drum machine, he then wanted to put out a vinyl record, and that's what he did — releasing the Extra Credit 7-Inch EP (Recess #1) in 1990, on his on the fly, make-believe (at first) label, Recess Records.
Since F.Y.P's inception, Todd has led the way with his own, snotty, sophomoric brand of sloppy spazz-punk. He wasn't shy about unleashing it on the masses, neither — especially his skateboarding peers (he was a professional vert-skater at the time). Todd started out just singing in the band, and eventually learned how to wing it on guitar and do both. After various lineup changes throughout F.Y.P's 10-year existence, ever-changing musical styles and directions, and relocating to the neighboring South Bay town of San Pedro (towards the end) — quite possibly, Todd's five year plan went a little longer than anticipated.
I guess Todd succeeded in getting all his adolescent anguish off his chest, shortly before pulling the plug on F.Y.P, while at the same time, transitioning his new band conception: TOYS THAT KILL — also the title of the final F.Y.P (Toys That Kill) record (Recess #67), released in 2000, on Todd's now "established," Recess Records label. Todd decided to up the ante with a clean slate and a zealous new lineup. Along for the ride, was longtime F.Y.P bandmate, Sean Cole — switching to guitar (plus helping with the singing) for this new endeavor, along with additional key members coming aboard, like: Chachi Ferrara (on bass) and Denis Fleps (on drums). Denis played on the first Toys That Kill record, The Citizen Abortion, released in 2001, and left the band shortly after their first couple of tours. Their sophomore record, Control the Sun, brought forth powerhouse drummer, Jimmy Felix, which solidified the current lineup from here on out.
Toys That Kill have five LPs (The Citizen Abortion - 2001, Control the Sun - 2003, Shanked - 2006, Fambly 42 - 2012, Sentimental Ward - 2016) under their belt, a handful of 7-inches and numerous compilation appearances, etc., etc.
Since the beginning, Toys That Kill have pushed the envelope at their own pace and on their own terms. Almost all of Toys That Kill's records have been released on Recess Records and they fairly recently started doing their own recordings (last two records) at Todd's homemade studio, Clown Sound. They have toured Europe a few times, Japan twice and continue to take their party to the rest of the country on a regular basis. After 15 active years, Toys That Kill continue to do their thing, while inspiring others in their town and abroad, making them without a doubt, the "anchor" of the San Pedro punk community (like the Minutemen were before them).
SIDE NOTE: Todd, Jimmy, Chachi and Sean (along with Jack Doyle, Trevor Roundsville and John Predny) also play in the band, the Underground Railroad to Candyland.
With each new Toys That Kill release, their output keeps getting better and stronger, giving their fans something to look forward to with each release, which is rare in this day and age.
Well guess what, folks? The new Toys That Kill record, Sentimental Ward is finally here! With much anticipation and mucho touring to follow. Sentimental Ward is also Recess Records' 200th release, to boot! A fitting release for this rare milestone, for any label in existence, I have to say. Not too shabby for this humble veteran Pedro outfit. Get all Sentimental why don't you ...
– Craig Ibarra
RATS IN THE LOUVRE
Rusty Cavender - backing vocals & bass guitar
Melissa Posod - drums
Veronica Cruz - vocals & guitar
After performing Bikini Kill's The C.D. Version of the First Two Records for an event at a local Long Beach venue, Veronica, Rusty, and Melissa felt inspired to start a band together. In April 2014, they formed Rats in the Louvre.
In a post-everything style, Rats In the Louvre pull on the loose threads of punk, hardcore, Riot Grrrl, art rock, and experimental rock. Dissonant, cynical guitar parts counter raveled, churning bass lines, all textured by a curated spread of reverb, delays, and distortion. Post rock drum patterns and punk vocal phrasings wind the tension created by this three piece.
THE OBSTACLESThe Obstacles (precursor to Saccharine Trust) were a quirky pop band from Wilmington, California in the mid-to-late ’70s. Kind of sort of like Lennon and McCartney — this Wilmas dream team of Jack Brewer and Marshall "Mellow" Dana were the tag team force behind this short-lived group. With big dreams of catapulting themselves into the big time, Jack and Marshall worked hard to purchase enough equipment to supply the entire band, so fledgling players would have no excuse not to rehearse with them. With various members coming and going, it made it hard for the band to get any leverage to take them to the next level. Eventually, Jack met Joe Baiza and Joe was asked to be the soundman at one of their rehearsals. Not long after, Joe was asked by Marshall to try out on bass and the rest is history. See A Wailing of A Town "An Oral History of Early San Pedro Punk" 1977-1985 (End Fwy Press/2015) for a more detailed Obstacles history.
HARI-KARIAfter joining Saccharine Trust for their inception (on bass) in 1980, Luis "MadMax" Maldonado eventually parted ways with ST in '81 to start his own band, Hari-Kari. In doing so, he recruited Richie Wilder on drums, who also had just parted ways with ST. Alma McLay, who Luis had just met at a gig, was asked to give the vocal thing a shot, and she jumped at the chance. After searching high and low for a permanent guitarist, Johnny Blasing, the original guitarist of Salvation Army, made himself available. Hari-Kari were more in tune with the prevailing hardcore onslaught that was taking over L.A. punk at the time, but couldn't shake their heavy metal roots — making them a hybrid of both, which confused a few of the boneheads in the "scene."
One of the earliest, if not the first South Bay crossover band from the early '80s — definitely the first in Pedro. Their only recorded output is documented here (five songs) — two different demo sessions recorded in early 1982. "Prey for Peace" ended up on the Life is Boring So Why Not Steal This Record compilation on New Underground Records (1983). One analysis claimed Hari-Kari to be the punk rock Judas Priest.
"MadMax" got his nickname 'cause of his obsession with the movie, Mad Max (1979), and the fact that he hated when people called him that, in turn, made it stick.
Hari-Kari were around from 1981 to 1983 with various lineup changes — Luis and Alma both being the main pulse.
MOOD OF DEFIANCE
Mood of Defiance formed in 1981 out of the ashes of short-lived experimental San Pedro synth project, Kindled Imagination, which included Greg Hurley (Slivers) and Richie Wilder (Saccharine Trust, Hari-Kari, Slivers).
Founder, Rachel Mason (AKA Screaming Rachel Bitch or Hatha), would roller skate the Hermosa Beach Strand with the likes of SPOT, before even knowing he was Black Flag's chief engineer/producer (at the time).
After deciding to start her own band, she once again recruited her neighbor, Richie Wilder on drums and put an ad in the Recycler , where T.A. Black (guitar) and Kevin Ball (bass) replied, which then solidified the band.
The name Mood of Defiance was taken from a Time magazine headline, simple as that.
MOD is Rachel's first crack at singing which was encouraged by local scenester, Jimmy Mack (AKA Jimmy Smack).
Not long after forming, MOD recorded a demo in March of 1981 at Media Art in Hermosa Beach with SPOT at the helm.
This unit played a handful of gigs before Tom and Kevin decided to quit — which not long after, were replaced by Danny Phillips and Gary Kail from the band Anti, who would go on to help write a full-length MOD album with Rachel, called Now , on their own label, New Underground records.
A LOVELY SORT OF DEATH
A Lovely Sort of Death plays a dark, frantic and intense brand of music that is the unmistakable signature unique to this San Pedro trio. Billy and Ray share vocal duties which range from screams, to grunts, to messages yelled in such urgent tones it makes it hard to tell if they want to pull you in close to share a secret with you or if they're telling you to run for your life because they know something you don't.
Ray hammers away at the drums like a madman on the run from a burning asylum while flanked by Billy and Moe who pound out basslines and guitar riffs that bounce off the inside of your skull, creating deep ruts in your mind that forever leave their bruise. Try as you may, but you will not be able to escape their hooks once they've been rooted.
Fall / Winter 1980 — some 30 years ago:
Gino Pusztai didn't have a band. He had a guitar strung upside down and a notebook full of half-finished angry and odd songs. He talked to Gary Jacobelly about jamming. Gary brought in Lina Sedillo on bass and Gino brought Mike Hurley in on drums. Together they formed "Peer Group," a band composed of most of the remaining people in the small ovarian scene that hung out with the local South Bay bands from New Alliance that wanted to play but didn't yet have a band. As is the case with most bands choosing a name, they became Peer Group since it was the only name they didn't all immediately hate.
Mike Hurley (drummer) - a great guy, definitely the best musically in the band, very tight and creative. He really made it fun and made the whole thing work, musically. Mike kept things from going astray when the music was determined to do just that, which it often did. He made Peer Group danceable.
Live, Lina would often try to hide behind her bass speaker. She'd previously been in an all-girl techno-punk band called I.U.D., where she played bass because she had access to a bass. Not having any formal training, she didn't know how to tune her bass, and asked Gary to show her but he wouldn't. He liked the way she sounded just thumping in rhythm with Mike and playing by ear, a little off and wandering in key. Eventually Joe Baiza took pity on her and showed her how, and what they lost in the noise rhythm thing they gained in harmony. They would sync up better and it was a happier, more fortunate sound.
When they started, Gary was using a treble booster he'd made himself from a kit. The shrieking guitar tone was quite obnoxious until the thing shorted out. He was the only one who missed it. He bought a real Telecaster to replace his nephew's Tele copy and twanged away. It gave the band a sharper sound. He bought a huge Sunn Coliseum amp from a Christian rock band that broke up, a loud heavy cumbersome monster he could barely fit in the back seat of Gino's big town car, let alone his tired VW beetle.
Gino could really belt out a tune and sing it and mean it. Even the abstract lyrics twisted out with a passionate left handed clarity. Gino exuded an anxious intensity that was hard not to be affected by. His willingness to antagonize was always interesting to see on stage, but not so easy to take when it turned on the rest of the band.
New Alliance was working on their third release, a compilation album of local bands that was planned to be called Chunks of Dreams . Peer Group produced a track, "I Saw That Movie," for Chunks - NAR 003 (1981), shortened from the original title.
They played together for one raw and dislocated year until there was a falling out with Gino. Ultimately it ended when the band fixed it so he would fire them all at once.
The trio recruited Jimmy "the Otter" Slayden on vocals. Jimmy was a pretty funny galoot. He was a surfer and a heck of a nice guy, and was a lot of fun at rehearsals.
The band rehearsed and did a few gigs with Jimmy. Eventually, one day he didn't come to rehearsal. He got ahold of the band a couple of weeks later, but by then they were already trying it as a trio.
During this time, late in winter 1981, the engineer at their sometime rehearsal space taped them for a demo. Most songs were recorded in one take in a couple of hours, thus explaining their charming, "raw" quality.
Jimmy wrote "Iconoclast Youth." "Eating Out" was Mike Hurley's contribution. Lina and Gary wrote the goofy little half bad French howl of despair "Lon Chaney," and Gary wrote the twin head-scratchers "Bromide" and "Box of Words."
Mike Watt and the others from New Alliance liked the tape well enough that they planned to put it out as a 5 song 45: NAR 009 (1982) Peer Group: Rhetoric and Hands EP
They played as a trio for another year or so until Gary went into hospital, Lina went off to Connecticut to get married, later returning to San Pedro to settle, and Mike Hurley went to Texas to work as a mechanic. Jimmy "the Otter" Slayden eventually settled in Northern California.
They did get the chance to play the Whisky a Go-Go before it was over, opening for Salvation Army and the Alley Cats. They were proud of that, even if it was a bit of a tin god hippy landmark.
This is the recording they put together, half with Jimmy and half with Gary doing the singing.
For some reason, though it was planned and designated NAR 009 —
it was never released, until now.
The band hopes you enjoy hearing it as much as they did recording it.
Don't take it too seriously.
Bill Marks - bass and vocals
Raenie Kane - drumbs and vocals
Jack Brewer - guitar and vocals
Philo Van Duyne - guitar and vocals
It all began with two old friends from back in the day — the day being San Pedro in the mid-'80s. Philo had been in a band called Swa, and Raenie worked at SST Records. Raenie moved to Eugene, OR, in 1990, where she learned to play drums and played in Eugene bands like the Shudders, the Danged, and the Naysayers. Back home in Pedro, Philo went on to play in Fishcamp, the Jack Brewer Band, and the Last. Then in 2010, after 20 years in Eugene, Raenie moved back to Pedro and called up Philo to see if he wanted to jam. They played around together in a little room at Koos Studios and soon realized they needed some help.
Bill is Philo's cousin-in-law. That is to say, his wife's cousin's husband. He's also a bass player, gigging around Southern and Northern California with singer/songwriter Julie Tan, among many others. Bill was a fan of Philo's various bands, and never missed an opportunity to slip in an "if you ever need a bass player" comment at gigs or family gatherings. Philo finally made that call, and the original power trio that would become the Exxtras was off and running — jamming at a rehearsal space in San Pedro on an eclectic mix of obscure cover songs.
After a couple of months, Philo invited Jack Brewer to come to band practice to hang out. Jack was another friend of Philo and Raenie's from the old days, being the lead vocalist in Saccharine Trust, the Jack Brewer Band, and the Obstacles. Jack started to come to practice regularly, sitting in on guitar and vocals, and was soon a full member of the band. Besides his trademark showmanship and unique guitar skills, Jack contributed songs he co-wrote with Marshall "Mellow" Dana, which became cornerstones of the setlist, and inspired him and the others to fill in the rest of the set with original songs. Jack also contributed the name for the band, the Exxtras.
The Exxtras' music draws on a wide range of influences, from hardcore SoCal punk, to "British Invasion" classic rock, to '60s instrumental surf, to experimental music. But the end product, far from being all over the place stylistically, is a cohesive "edgy pop" sound that can only be described as "Exxtras Music." Their first full length recording, a collection of 15 original songs entitled Waiting for You, was completed in the summer of 2012.
Ryan Miranda - bass and vocals
Nick Faciane - guitar and vocals
James Carman - drums and vocals
Originally formed in the summer of 2004 in Carson, CA, with Ryan Miranda and James Carman, IMAGES (formerly known as Easy Image) decided to make their own interpretation of art through the form of musical expression. During high school, they began throwing their own backyard shows where they met Nick Faciane, who shared similar interests and views of the way a band should be. He was later asked to join IMAGES, in late 2005, which added a new element to help fulfill and master their sound, and finally completing the lineup for the group. After only two years of playing as a band, IMAGES were invited to play with the Buzzcocks in 2006 on two separate occasions, one at the House of Blues in Anaheim and the other at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. They have again played with the punk legends, opening their west coast tour in June, 2010.
The group had gone through a large cycle of partially successful drummers; but it was after the band traveled to New York City in the autumn of 2009 that James decided to play drums live, while retaining most lead vocal duties. This lineup recorded in Seattle soon afterwards (a three-track promo CD from that session called Limited Edition is now available) and played several shows so successfully that they have continued as a three-piece.
Thrashing through with a sound that is at once intense, melodic, and danceable, IMAGES are a group of diverse musicians who intertwine their influences, DIY ethic, and performances to create an art that is fresh and inspired in their Los Angeles hometown. Although formed in 2004 as a group of highly ambitious boys fourteen years young, they have since developed into a group mature for their age through years of experience.
(THEE ULTIMATE) BABY J
How did little Jessica Feeney become "Thee Ultimate Baby J?" When she first started hanging out at backyard parties in San Pedro, CA, she was pretty young – she looked 12. We started calling her Baby Jessica, after the baby that fell in the Texas well (the biggest news story of 1987). The moniker quickly morphed into Baby J, and so it was for years. Present day – she has to put a name on this 7-inch and when she Googles "Baby J" to see if she has any competition … Fuck! Some UK rapper named Baby J that sounds like the Euro version of Del the Funky Homosapien. The cherry on top is Baby J is also what the Christians lovingly call, "baby Jesus" (gross). So keep calling her Baby J, but if you want to cyber-stalk her, Google "Thee Ultimate Baby J" please.
You might already know who Baby J is from her other two bands, CAN OF BEANS and STONED AT HEART.
The first time I saw Baby J jamming on the acoustic guitar, besides at drunken parties, was while Todd and I were recording the Recess Records Pody Cast, episode 2. Baby J walked in with a 12 pack and a guitar, sat down, took a few gulps and killed it. It was pretty fuckin' awesome. We wound up drunkenly singing a RANCID song … but when does that not happen? After she left I said, "Dude, she's really good!" Todd nodded and said, "She never fucks up, doesn't need to do second takes ever. I've never seen her fuck up."
She has about a hundred unreleased songs under her belt, so this is by no means the last we'll hear from her. She's always playing shows around California or Arizona and isn't above flying out to Florida or Texas to play a huge fest or backyard party. If you're lucky and buy her some beers you just might get a RANCID or F.Y.P cover in the encore, but don't quote me on that.
As bassist Mike Watt explained a million times, early on in a sudden
cultural revolution they purged all their rock ephemera: solos,
choruses, harmonies, fans. The purge was bloody, costing decadent lead
singer Martin Tamburovich his musical career and untold numbers of blow
jobs. The name changed from the Reactionaries to the Minutemen, and then
what? I'll tell you, then what: a goddamned three ring circus with a
clown under each spotlight! Drummer George Hurley hit everything but a
simple four-four and syncopated his syncopations. Bassist Watt turned up
his treble and tried to knock guitarist D. Boon out of the box for
alleged crimes relating to guitar tyranny. But D. weighed about 20 stone
and wasn't exactly unarmed; he had a guitar and a fender twin with
treble on ten.
What resulted was a torrent of shards
and fragments signifying our common rock / R&B / metal / C&W /
schmaltz inheritance fused together in the rock combustion of its
execution signifying nothing but enormous entertainment. Then either D.
or Mike would babble some San Pedro shuck over the top of the sculpture.
And then the masses would roar and light their farts.
– Joe Carducci
They were always in the process of becoming whatever it was precisely
that existed in guitarist Joe Baiza's head. This, plus rhythm section
personnel changes explain certain time lapses in their recording and
touring. But even in those periods the gigs in L.A. were always
excellent. The rhythm section of Bob Fitzer on bass and Tony Cicero on
drums was sharp, solid and flashy, and Baiza's tense and spindly lines
crawled all over it to great effect. It was Jack Brewer's assignment to
sing on top of this sound, and he was the man for the task. He used his
clutzy manner shrewdly to bait the listener off guard for his
species-shaking sermonizing. How unfair Jack, yet how rock and roll of
you. One of my favorite Jack lines goes, "When the world becomes
perverse / All that is left is our imaginations. / When our imaginations
become perverse / All that is left is … is …."
explained to the Los Angeles Times when they showed up in 1986, "I
think we've been ignored because we're actually too hard to ignore."
– Joe Carducci
In case you don’t know who Todd is, here is a short list of facts and achievements:
- He was the lead singer of F.Y.P
- In the '90s he was a pro skateboarder.
- He owns and runs Recess Records.
- He plays pick-up basketball games at his local YMCA.
- He is the lead singer of Toys That Kill, the Underground Railroad to Candyland and Stoned At Heart.
- The kid is constantly on tour and not just in America.
- When Tony Hawk and Shaun White throw parties, Todd is the DJ.
- He totally knows Mike Watt! (Minutemen etc. etc. etc.)
– Alan Velasco
Denis Fleps - drums
Billy Fleps - bass and vocals
Moe Maldonado - guitar
These guys have played in tons of bands:
Rosemary’s Billygoat, Spinning Ceilings, E.Coli, Iambic Pentameter, Toys That Kill, Megahurts, The Law and the list goes on.
This is one of the few bands that can pull Hollywood hipsters away from their iPhones and hold their attention for the set. When I asked Denis Fleps how he would describe the band he said, “Mid ‘80s, Valley Girl rock, played by guys going through a mid-life crisis … too stubborn to turn down the volume and play real music.” That sounds about right to me. One time in San Pedro, CA a girl came up to the guys after they played and said she loved the band, but had to leave because the vibrations were hurting her uterus. It turns out the guys got a bunch of free CRUNK energy drinks just before they played, and drank three each. As of late, I hear the boys have been hanging around Trader Joe’s scoring STEAZ energy drinks. So if you think you might be pregnant and you’re at an Epic Debauchery gig, get some earplugs for your uterus.
What's up with Sean Cole?
If the name sounds familiar that's because Sean Cole has been around for a while. Let's break it down and feel the full gravity of this man:
- Sean grew up in Whittier, CA, playing in grindcore bands.
- Joined F.Y.P in 1995 as drummer before he got "promoted" to bass.
When F.Y.P morphed into Toys That Kill (2000), Sean hopped on guitar
and to this day shares the singer/songwriter spotlight with Todd
- Sean has played on six full-length records, three 10-inch records, too many 7-Inch records to count and this tape.
- Sean can grow his hair and moustache to become Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) whenever he wants!
- Sean has toured the world and will do it again.
- He's more of a cat guy than a dog person.
– Alan Velasco
THE MINUTEMEN WERE REACTIONARIES
For most of the music world – or rather the much smaller rock world – of the early 1980s, the Minutemen seemed to arrive fully formed, as if from some other planet. Questions must have immediately crossed minds: Where are these guys from? What drugs are they on? Are they carbon-based life forms?
Those reactions were understandable, as it was the 45-song, double 33rpm Double Nickels On The Dime (SST 028) that introduced the band to most folks outside of Los Angeles. If I remember right, the initial sales jumped from the five thousand range for Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat (SST 016), to fifteen thousand for Double Nickels . (Of course all those releases sold far more after the day.)
D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley were always deflecting the effusiveness of fans in clubs, or in interviews – it was part of their charm. But think about it, the Minutemen were telling kids that they could pick up instruments and do the same! Nobody who saw them live believed that for a second.
I was at Systematic Record Distribution and got their first record, Paranoid Time (SST 002), from the label and ordered it for distribution to shops around the country. It was hard enough for me to discern how great they were from that and their early follow-up records and compilation tracks. To my ear, I don't think I really heard what they were capable of until they were playing the Anti-Club regularly in 1983-84. There was just so much music packed into their short, fast tunes. And at each gig a few older, simpler tunes were replaced by new, even more masterful tunes. At their first San Francisco gig at the Mabuhay, Dirk Dirksen (who ran and MC'ed the club), strolled out on stage to introduce them and the first thing he saw was a four-foot long set-list taped to D.'s mic-stand and Dirk said, "What is this, the history of music?!" It was! When we recorded the long tail of the song "More Spiel" for Project: Mersh (SST 034) I joked to D. that he'd just laid down a six-minute history of the guitar solo. At SST, hearing guitarists Greg Ginn, Joe Baiza and Curt Kirkwood all the time, it was easy to underestimate how great a guitar player D. was. That radical reformation the Reactionaries performed on themselves to become the Minutemen encouraged that, because it elevated Mike and George to co-lead players.
But their world-historical, musical summation had a history as well. And that was their late-seventies band, the Reactionaries. Mike and D. had known each other since junior high. They met Martin Tamburovich and George Hurley at San Pedro high, although they wouldn't claim they knew George because in Watt's words, "he was a happening cat," whereas D., Mike, and Martin were on the not-so-happening end of the high school social spectrum. As George tells it: "For a long time Mike would ask me to play music with him. He wanted to jam out, but I really wasn't into it 'cause I was a Surfer then and he was sort of a geek. I don't know, we were kids. Finally, I agreed to it." This kind of transgression of school social hierarchy is common when music brings young kids together in their first band. It's an under-appreciated aspect of the power of music.
Thankfully the Reactionaries recorded a practice in their attempt to get gigs so we have these 10 songs to contemplate. What you can hear are the rudiments of the Minutemen's sound, only unlike most bands, they only got rid of stuff as they improved. D. is already a good guitar player with his trebly sound in place. Mike and George play more standard-rock bass and drums parts, and Martin sounds like he belongs on the mic, though the quality of the lyrics varies widely. Chuck Dukowski saw them and reports, "Martin was a cool singer and I liked his style." They were just out of high school and though they already had their obsessive interests, the lyrics (by Mike, Martin, and friends outside the band) show an awkward adaptation to the punk style as they understood it. Like a lot of lyrics by seventies punk bands, television is of particular concern – punks who were determined to create a music scene thought watching TV was a fate co-equal to Death.
In February of 1979, Chuck and Greg Ginn were flyering a Clash, Bo Diddley, Dils show at the Santa Monica Civic when they met D. and Mike. The flyer was for what would be the second Black Flag gig, and it was going to be in San Pedro. D. and Mike were amazed to learn of a gig in Pedro and Chuck hadn't known there was a punk band there, so he put the Reactionaries on the bill. It was their first gig; they played with Black Flag, the Descendents (their debut too), the Alley Cats, the Plugz, and an impromptu mini-set by the Last. A world-historical night, however many paid at the door.
The Reactionaries played only two more gigs, opening for the Suburban Lawns at their practice pad in Long Beach. They made a pass at getting a gig at the Other Masque up in Hollywood, but the band was falling apart. Mike's description of D.'s loss of interest in the Reactionaries is interesting. Apparently D. didn't offer his songs to the Reactionaries and then found them another guitarist (Todd Apperson) so he could quit. They broke up around mid-1979. George found a band in Hollywood called Hey Taxi! and is on their 45. Though soon enough, D. and Mike regroup and eventually pull George back into their new, improved mess after their new drummer (Frank Tonche) walked offstage and quit during their second gig. At the Minutemen's first gig (May 1980), Greg asked them to do a record for SST.
– Joe Carducci