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.
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.