Sometime in 1977, who can remember when exactly, we heard about the latest trend in music which was being called “punk rock”. For all we knew this movement originated in England, but it actually started in New York a few years earlier. Sometime in ‘76, I walked into my local Licorice Pizza record store and heard the dumbest record I’d ever heard. It was by a new band out of New York called The Ramones. There was no genre terminology invented yet to explain it. It was just dumb. Like Phil Spector on speed with power chords.
We didn’t think much of it, but we did know that something needed to happen. When we started hearing about punk, we quite frankly hoped it would start a revolution - something along the lines of Elvis in the 50s, or The Beatles in the 60s. Musically though, of course it was a step backward. You didn’t have to know how to play an instrument and fancy chords and progressions were right out. I started buying some records and found some of it quite catchy, but nothing earth shattering. We saw The Jam at the Whiskey and thought they were great (Johnny Cougar was the sucky opener). We could’ve made a point of going to places like The Masque or The Starwood to see some of the up and coming local bands, but for whatever reason we just didn’t. Maybe we were scared, or simply lulled into a comfortable middle-class existance, or just dumb.
In any case, at some point we made a conscious decision to somehow work within the punk realm, but not actually be “punks”. The term “New Wave” materialized around the same time, so we were more comfortable identifying with that label. We weren’t punks, but we pretended to be.
Ok. So now we’ve got an act of sorts, but no content. We had The Skabbs attitude down pat: clueless dumbfucks who don’t know or give a shit about anything. We figured fitting in with the punk movement would be a cinch. We had a lead singer in the person of Dwayne Morris, but he was yet to be tested singing an actual song with lyrics and melody and stuff. And speaking of songs, we didn’t have any really. We were in a state of limbo. One day, drummer Andy Gonzalez mentioned that he “knew a guy” who could write songs.
Skabb Andy Gonzalez: I met Steve Salazar when I was working with the USC choral group. They were doing the rock musical Godspell and Steve was the guitarist in the band. When the band was not working on the musical we would jam on original tunes from various members of the group. Steve and I became good friends at this time. When the musical was over Steve needed a drummer for his group called Shorty’s Portion and he asked me if I would try out for it. I remember going over to his parent’s house in Pasadena and having to play several of Steve’s tunes before Steve and Vince, the bass player, decided that I was a good fit for the band. I played with Shorty’s Portion for a few years adding and removing various members. And then The Skabbs were formed and I knew Steve would be a perfect fit for the band. It did not take much to convince Steve to play with the group. I played him a copy of the murder rock anthem and he fell in love with Andy [Thoreson’s] guitar playing and knew this was the quirky band he had been looking for. Steve was trained in classical music, but loved to play rock and knew nothing about punk. After hearing a few examples, he knew what style to write and he became the perfect writer/front man for The Skabbs.
I remember Steve Evans and I going to Gonzalez’s parent’s house one day and Andy played a Shorty’s Portion record for us and mentioned that Steve Salazar might be willing to write songs for us, but he needed some punk rock records to listen to so he’d have some idea what it was all about. I gave Andy some records, among them: Rocket To Russia by The Ramones, and of course Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. Salazar quickly dispatched a cassette back to us with his demo for Long May She Wave, included here.
Long May She Wave is a direct rip-off of God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols, obviously. We knew it the second we heard it, and it was perfect. Just the thing we were looking for. That song set the tone for everything to come. Once we started playing live shows, hippies hated us because they thought we were punks, and punks hated us because they knew we weren’t one of them, and this song epitomized all of that.
Sometime within a week or two following the “Tribute To Elvis” sessions (probably late August, 1977), The Skabbs reconvened at Steve Evans’ Lawndale retreat and began an ambitious project: Make a proper recording of The Murder Rock Anthem. Fortunately for us, Steve owned a 4-track reel to reel recorder. Steve also owned a huge PA system, and often did live sound engineering for local bands, so he had plenty of equipment on hand.
The four of us did a “live” recording of the basic tracks. As memory serves, we probably used about 4 mics or so on the drums, running them through the mixer, then sending the live mix to one track on the recorder. One track each for bass and guitars and there you have it. Next, we mixed the basics down to 2 tracks, then overdubbed guitar solos (Andy Thoreson’s first, then Steve Evans’) on one track, then it was time to record vocals.
As I recall, Dwayne came in once all the instrumental tracks were done. He stood in the cork lined music room with headphones on and screamed on cue. That was quite a sight (and sound!) because none of us could hear the music, except Steve who was in another room engineering. All we could see and hear was this crazy man screaming incoherently.
Our big plan was to submit the results to the Dr. Demento Show* in hopes of getting airplay, and eventual fame and fortune. We wrote a letter (with help from our friend and future producer, Peter Bunch) and got everyone we knew to sign it, like a petition, and submitted it along with the tape of “Murder Rock” (including a 4-track version of “My Three Sons”) to the Dr. Demento Show. A short time later we got a letter back saying that although he liked it, he did not play “instrumentals” on his show. Who knew?
That rejection letter served as an unintentional call to action for The Skabbs. We had to do something that would show Dr. Demento and everyone else who didn’t “get it” that The Skabbs were not going away that easily. Then we remembered that our drummer, Andy Gonzalez knew a guy…
Next: What’s Punk Rock?
*Dr. Demento was a DJ who did a weekly local (and later syndicated) radio show during the 70s and 80s featuring “humorous”, or novelty music. In about October ‘77 we heard Devo on Dr. Demento promoting their show the following night at the Whiskey a Go Go and we were so impressed we went to the show and found untold levels of inspiration. More on that some other time.
Is It Possible To Flip Over Before You’re In Your Grave (Part 3)?
Back to the first Dwayne session, August 17, 1977: We played a Led Zeppelin song, and a slow blues jam, so what else could we possibly do? Well, as it happened Elvis Presley died the day before, so, knowing Steve Evans could do a comical imitation, we ran through a typical progression and went with it. Since Steve was singing lead, we inlisted Dwayne to play Kazoo. What could be more Elvis?