Wednesday, January 12, 2011

L.A. Punk Vol. 5- The Controllers

The Controllers are yet another first wave L.A. Punk band. So far I have covered The Germs, The Weirdos, The Flesh Eaters and The Dils in my quest to inform you about the early L.A. punk scene. The Controllers, like the four bands already written about, released their first record in 1977 and were in the forefront of the original scene.

According to Johnny Stingray they formed on July 4, 1977. It was a drunken decision made after seeing some fireworks. The original line up which appeared on their first single, released on What Records towards the end of the year, consisted of Johnny Stingray on guitar and vocals, Kid Spike on rhythm guitar and vocals, DOA Dan on bass and backing vocals, and Charlie Trash on drums. At this time, the band was practicing at The Masque, in fact they were, supposedly, the first band to discover the Masque, and according to members of the band, they played the first advertised show at the Masque.

In January of '78 Charlie Trash and DOA Dan left the band, leaving Kid Spike and Johnny Stingray without a rhythm section. They played day 1 the legendary Masque Benefit at the Elks Lodge in MacArthur Park on Feb. 24 1978 with Paul Roessler (of The Screamers, brother of Kira Roessler, bassist for '84 Black Flag) and Bruce Barf (later of Wall of Voodoo), then Johnny Stingray switched to bass and they found "Maddog" Karla Barrett to play drums (Who was mentioned in an earlier article as one of the drummers on The Flesh Eaters' No Questions Asked LP). Maddog was not only a woman, but a black woman, which was an underrepresented demographic in the early L.A. punk scene. But when it came down to it, it didn't matter what she was other than that she was an amazing drummer. This line up recorded another single, this time for Siamese Records sometime in '78, and 3 tracks for Chris D.'s Tooth and Nail comp in '79.

The band broke up in spring of '79 after leaving behind a legacy of just 2 singles and 3 tracks on a comp LP. Though there wasn't much music, it was pretty groundbreaking at the time. The band incorporated a rootsy rock and roll sound into the '77 punk paradigm which would influence many bands at the end of the decade and throughout the 80s. Kid Spike would take that sound with him when he joined the Gears shortly after the Controllers broke up.

Neutron Bomb b/w Killer Queers

The band's first single was released on What Records in 1977 as What 04 (Seeing a pattern? The Germs' first single was What 01, The Dils first single was What 02). These two songs are classic pieces of punk history. "Neutron Bomb", now known as "(The Original) Neutron Bomb" because it came out months before the Weirdos song, is classic bone crunching punk rock. It's dark, it's got a great riff, and the lyrics are bleak at best. The b-side is a silly song about murderous hustlers with a really catchy guitar riff. All in all this single shows the rock and roll influences which would come out in full force in their next two releases but is the most "punk rock" of their original output

Slow Boy + Do the Uganda b/w Suburban Suicide

This single, The Controllers' second, was released on Siamese Records in 1978. It opens up with a straight up punk rock attack. The guitars on "Slow Boy" are almost Black Flag-esque (circa Nervous Breakdown) but faster. It's got that great riff AND it's fast and heavy. The second half of the A side is straight up rock and roll with a punk edge. "Do the Uganda" is very reminiscent of the sound Kid Spike would take with him to The Gears the following year. It's short, fast, and catchy. What more could you ask for? "Suburban Suicide" is almost 4 minutes long and is much slower and has some great bluesy lead guitar. The influence from the Detroit bands they said they loved so much really comes through on this one. (Although they said the MC5 were boring but had a couple of good songs. I can't get behind that at all) I hear a lot of Stooges in this song.

Tooth and Nail

We've already talked about this comp, put out by Chris D.'s Upsetter label in 1979, twice; first when we looked at the Germs' catalog and again when we looked at the Flesh Eater's music. The Controllers offer up three great songs on this comp, "Another Day", Electric Church", and "Jezebel". "Another Day" is a harder, punkier version of the Punk/Rock N Roll hybrid people like Johnny Thunders and Richard Hell were doing in New York. "Electric Church" contains some bluesy riffing, guitar solos, and a catchy chorus. It's their simplest song yet and also one of their best. The last Controllers song found on this album is the often covered "Jezebel", originally recorded by Frankie Laine. They take the swing out of it and hammer out the riff while maintaining the dark, eerie qualities of the original.

The Controllers

This is THE Controllers CD to get (it's also the only one I'm aware of). It compiles both singles and the Tooth and Nail tracks. In addition to those 8 songs you get 2 previously unreleased songs, "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" and "Tail Lights to Texas". I think these songs are from the 1970's but the liner notes don't say anything about them other than that Johnny Stingray found them on old cassette tapes. "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" is a silly, pirate shanty-type song. "Tail Lights to Texas" is a cool honky tonk tinged song with some good guitar work. The last Controllers song on the CD is "White Trash Christ" from a 1996 session during the band's first and only reunion. Also included is one track, "Top Secret" from Johnny Stingray's post Controllers band, Kaos. Kaos formed in 1980 and put out one EP which can be found in its entirety on the What? Stuff compilation. The last 2 songs compiled with this CD are "Your World" and "Hot Stumps" by Skull Control. These tracks were recorded in 1992 and released in 1993 by a band consisting of members of The Controllers and another early Masque-era band, The Skulls. These two songs were apparently Controllers tunes dating as far back as 1977 but were never recorded until the Skull Control sessions.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

L.A. Punk Vol. 4- The Dils

I'm back with another addition to my L.A. Punk series. This time the subject of the article is The Dils. They were a hard band to track down concrete facts about. Neither of their CD reissues have any biographical information but here's what I've pieced together. The Dils formed in 1976 and go their start in Los Angeles. They later permanently relocated to San Francisco but their original ties to the L.A. scene make them an important part of the early L.A. scene. The core of the band are Chip and Tony Kinman who play guitar and bass, respectively. The band had a few drummers throughout their existence. The original drummer, Andre Algover (Endre Alqover), played on their first single and possibly their second. Other drummers included Rand Mcnally (co-founder of Dangerhouse Records), Zippy Pinhead, and John Silvers. Their first single was released by Chris Ashford on his What? Records label which had just been put in place to release the first Germs single and their second was released on Dangerhouse Records, both iconic labels associated with the birth of punk in Los Angeles. They were also featured in Cheech and Chong's Up In Smoke in 1978 during the battle of the bands scene beating out many other classic L.A. punk bands for the part in the movie, including the Germs whose "Sex Boy" found on their first single was recorded during the try outs for the movie held at the Whisky a Go Go.

They were an overtly political band which seemed to get them in trouble a lot. They were self proclaimed socialists constantly calling for class wars. They never really seemed at home in the fun loving early L.A. punk scene which I'm sure was one of the factors which led to the move to San Francisco though getting banned from the Whisky may have also contributed. There are a lot of published interviews from the 70's to read if you want to get the Kinman brothers' perspective on punk and the new wave. I always found that they tend to come off as slightly pretentious in interviews. Whatever their politics and opinions may have been, the music speaks for itself.

The band broke up in 1980 but the Kinman brothers never stopped. They started Rank and File soon after the Dils which continued in the rock direction the Dils took on their final release. After Rank and File they regrouped as Cowboy Nation and later Blackbird.

I Hate the Rich b/w You're Not Blank

For those of you keeping track, this was released in 1977 on What Records as What 02. (What 01 was the Germs' first single.) "I Hate the Rich" is a lightning fast guitar onslaught. It also serves as an introduction to the Dils' politics which lean pretty far to the left. "You're Not Blank" is one of my favorite punk songs of all time. The mix, by today's standards, isn't very good but the fact that the guitar is so loud, just as loud if not a little louder than the vocals, adds to the charm.

198 Seconds of the Dils (Class War b/w Mr. Big)

This, their second single, was also released in 1977 but this time on the legendary Dangerhouse label. For their second outing the sound is bigger, the production is better, and the songwriting and playing is a little more rock & roll. "Class War" is up there with the best of the Dangerhouse catalog. The guitar is hard but catchy and the vocals are intense. "Mr. Big" is a great song but not the greatest tune of its time. The vocals are catchy but he lyrics aren't the greatest you'll ever hear (Hey Mr. Big/You look so big to others/Hey Mr. Big/I can see you're nothin); typical socialist punk lyrics.

Made in Canada (Sound of the Rain b/w Red Rockers Rule b/w It's Not Worth It)

Fast forward to 1979. There isn't a hint of punk left in the Dils' sound. They went soft. On this record there are acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. It's not bad if you're not expecting punk. It holds up with the softer of the power pop stuff coming out around this time. "Red Rockers Rule" rocks the hardest (but it doesn't rock THAT hard...). "It's Not Worth It" is the catchiest of the three and "Sound of the Rain" is the softest. All in all not a bad release but I won't lie and say I wasn't disappointed the first time I heard it.

Class War

This is the first of two CD reissues by Bacchus Archives. There's no reason for there to be two because there's barely 80 minutes spread out between the two but they had to split up three singles worth of material with some live stuff so that fans would have to buy both...Anyway, This release opens with their first single, "I Hate The Rick" and "You're Not Blank" (Don't ask me why they called it Class War if the Dangerhouse single isn't on here...). In addition to those two classic pieces of punk history you get a decent live recording from 1980. Within those ten live songs you get a pretty cool version of "Mr. Big", a slower version of "You're Not Blank", a cover of Buddy Holly's "Modern Don Juan", "Red Rockers Rule", It's Not Worth It" and a few others. I would never have bought this for the live material, it's just not that great. But, the first Dils single IS that great.

Dils Dils Dils

This, number two in Bacchus's series of Dils reissues, covers far more ground than the first. The CD opens with "Blow Up", a demo from 1977 and The Dils first recording. It's a great song. It's got catchy vocals reminiscent of what they would end up doing on the Made In Canada EP but it's punk and the guitar is really crunchy. Next up is the two songs from their second single and all three from their third. Rounding out the CD are 9 songs recorded at 2 different shows in 1978 and 1 song recorded live in 1979. The band was about to go soft and there are definite hints of that on these 1978 recordings but they aren't entirely there yet. The first four live tracks are the best, being the most punk and the best recording quality; it even contains an 8 minute version of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On".