An Oral History of the Long Ryders and Paisley L.A.
by Diane Roka
In the Beginning
Greg Sowders (drummer, the Long Ryders): When rock and roll first hit the Sunset Strip in like '65, '66, there were lots of small clubs, and it was this generation of teens that was starting to realize that they had something in common. That they didn't all like Frank Sinatra. The Beatles had come, and then there were all of these great L.A. bands like the Byrds and Love and Buffalo Springfield there was a scene, you know? And then as rock 'n' roll grew up, and after Woodstock, it was all about arenas again, and huge shows. And I think rock 'n' roll had been taken out of the hands of the kids in the garages. It's worse now, but it got its own version of corporate rock. Let's form a band, let's play, let's put out a record and let's play arenas. You know, go on tour with Led Zeppelin.
And I think that in the mid to late '70s, there was starting to be a reaction against that, and these clubs started springing up again. People that were sick of that overblown seventies corporate rock suddenly found kindred spirits in each other.
Steve Wynn (lead singer/guitarist, the Dream Syndicate): The Eagles were a pretty dark band (Laughs). I mean, not in their music, but in their lifestyle. I've always thought it was funny how the California bands who were known for their sort of sunny, happy sort of peace and love music like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac were some of the darkest bands, as far as their lifestyles.
And maybe there's something to that. Maybe California raises that sort of sunny disposition with a real dark underbelly, whereas a place like New York, everyone's a little gruff and everything, but also very social and very much taking everything at face value. Confrontational, which I think makes a people have a little bit less of that sort of hidden darkness. The darkness is all up front (Laughs), not kept hidden.
Greg Sowders: I got to be fourteen or fifteen, and I discovered the local underground store, and where they had independent singles, and would have flyers of bands playing in town. And the older guys turned me on to that stuff. And I started driving down into Hollywood. They were going to the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, which was still really popular. And there was a nightclub called the Starwood that was very popular in the mid to late '70s, and even the early '80s. That was down on Sunset and Crescent Heights. That was a really popular club, and the Roxy was popular. I started going to see shows, and in probably around '75, '76, it was still kind of the tail end of the kind of Glitter scene. They actually didn't even call it Glam Rock, it was called Glitter Rock.
Everybody was really influenced by The New York Dolls and Iggy Pop even though that came off the East Coast, it really set the pace for out here. And the Runaways were a big band, and there was a local band called the Pop, and the Quick. And really, it was kind of this weird time between the overblown Led Zeppelin, Stones...that kind of '70s thing, and the club bands starting to happen again. And really, punk rock was just starting up in England a little bit. People started cutting their hair a little bit shorter, and the songs were getting a little bit less pompous there was just a little edginess to the music. And I remember I liked it right away. There was a local D.J. named Rodney Bingenheimer who started to play some pretty interesting stuff.
Phast Phreddie Patterson (music writer/emcee/DJ): I got involved in the scene in about '75, when I started my magazine. I had a little magazine called Back Door Man. That's when I got involved in the scene, and that's when I first met Rodney and Kim Fowley and a lot of other people that were involved in the L.A. rock scene at the time.
There was a kind of a transition period between the Glitter thing and X the Blasters were a little later. But, you know, the '70s punk thing I was there when it was first starting, I saw a lot of those early gigs. And some of them I even emceed. The first time the Germs played I was the emcee. The Weirdos as well. And the Dils, and a lot of those bands. The Nerves became the Plimsouls. I was right there.
But before that there was kind of an ugly scene, where there weren't really very many local bands where you could go, "this is great." A lot of them were aping, you know, other heavy metal bands. Or, they were horrible I don't know how to put it but they just weren't very good.
Probably the best band from the scene and I remember seeing them back then was...I remember seeing Van Halen about '76 or something. Playing at Gazzari's, doing mostly cover songs. That's been closed for a few years.
But there was a band called the Imperial Dogs that were actually from Carson, California. And they were, I would say that they were definitely...I wouldn't say they were influential because they didn't really play that often. Especially in Hollywood, they played a lot in Carson/Long Beach/Torrance area, you know, the South Bay Area, they call it, between Long Beach and the L.A. airport. That's where they were from, and they played a lot of like hall parties and things down there.
But that band, the Imperial Dogs, was very much influenced by the harder aspects of the Glitter scene mostly the flash look as well as the Stooges. And the MC5. And Blue Oyster Cult and the early Aerosmith records. And there was nothing like that at the time. There was absolutely nothing like that.
And I think that if they had played in Hollywood more and gotten more recognition, and actually had made records, they would have been a lot more influential to what became the punk scene.
Because they were doing this...the first time I saw them they were called White no, they were called something else. Sugarboy. I saw them in three different incarnations. They were called Sugarboy, then White Light, and then the Imperial Dogs. And all this is before 1976.
I guess they were the Imperial Dogs around 1974 or '75. And so they were doing that, you know, they're doing this noisy, in-your-face kind of rock 'n' roll. Long before the Ramones or any of that. Well, I would say they were also influenced by the [New York] Dolls.
Dennis Duck (drummer, the Dream Syndicate): You know, in the early days of punk there was, there were certain places like there was a club called the Masque which had various...you probably read about that.
Greg Sowders: Probably around I'm going to guess around 1977 there was a punk rock club called the Masque that opened up. And it was in the basement of a porno theater out on Hollywood Blvd. And all these kids...it was kind of like right around my age or maybe just a little bit older than me, because they were actually forming the bands that I was going to go see.
I kind of realized at one time, wow, we could, you know, the Ramones and Blondie and all that stuff turned on the people out here. And the people in L.A., it was kind of a fashion-in-music thing, it wasn't really political really. But all those kind [people] or Glam or Glitter rock guys started cutting their hair short, and started getting a little bit more aggressive with their music.
Dennis Duck: Yeah, (Laughs) I mean, it's kind of an icon. It's really just a stinky hole (Laughs) but it's kind of become an icon, revered over the years. I just remember going down there and thinking "what a rotten place," but there were good bands that played there, you know. That was kind of a hub of activity. It seemed like you could go there, and all of the bands that mattered would eventually play there.
Steve Wynn: It was a big influence on me. Maybe one of the biggest influences of any record I ever heard. When I picked that up, that really kind of gave me an idea of the things that I wanted to do.
The compilation came out in the mid '70s when everything was so overproduced and bloated and pretentious and humorless that it was a slap in the face. Kind of this realization, "Oh, this is how exciting music can be. This is what the whole thrill of rock 'n' roll is all about." And also, it reminded [you] that if you played an instrument and if you couldn't play like Rick Wakeman, or Eric Clapton, you could still make exciting music.
The Nuggets record and just the whole punk rock scene, I think, convinced a lot of people they could play in bands.
Phast Phreddie Patterson: The Nuggets record was assembled by Lenny Kaye, who's, you know, the guitarist for Patti Smith. You know before that, he was basically a record collector, and he wrote articles in some East Coast magazines. And I believe he worked in a record store in the Village. And somehow he was able to talk the people at Elektra records into issuing this two record set of, you know, one hit wonders. Most of it is '60s sort of garage punk rock records.
Yeah, it was pretty influential. A lot of the records I had already owned, but the ones I didn't own, I made sure I went out and found original copies. You know, we were very into that. I was involved in like a little group of people and that was our thing these garage records were just great to us.
The Seeds were on it, the Music Machine. The Standells were part of that. The Blue Magoos. There was a band called, um, I think there was a band called Sagittarius. It has a song on it...God, I can't remember them all now. There were quite a few, it was a two-record set originally.
And it came out about, what, '73. '72 or '73. And I'd already been familiar with Lenny Kaye his name anyway because of an Eddie Cochran anthology he had done for United Artists. That was a two record set, and he had written the liner notes, maybe helped assemble it also. So he was already a hero of mine for having done that.
'Cause I had never heard of Eddie Cochran. I'm in a store and I see this picture of this guy with a guitar that looked just great. I knew it was '50s rock kind of thing, and I was into that at the time. And this is, like, what, '70 or '71.
I was in high school. And I picked it up and just fell in love with Eddie Cochran. It was just great. And Lenny Kaye's liner notes were very influential as well. Made me think about writing about music.
And when the Nuggets thing happened, I go, "Yeah, I know this Lenny Kaye guy," and picked that up as well. And, you know, and just kind of it was very influential. It was very influential on the scene, it was one of those records. In fact, the record went out of print after a few years, and Sire records reissued it with a different cover, but the same track listing, about 1978 '77, '78 because it was influential to, you know, a lot of those, uh, mid to late '70s punk bands. You know, the Ramones quoted it as being very influential to them as well.
Greg Sowders: It was this underground scene where we were all turned on to these records, and started listening to all of these really great kind of, oh, sub-Byrds, sub-Rolling Stones, you know, these one-hit wonders, sub-Dylan. They kind of had that sound, but were just a little more obscure and arty. And it seemed like one day we all showed up at clubs, and there was this new thing.
Phast Phreddie Patterson: Sid Griffin was in a band called the Unclaimed before the Long Ryders. And that band, they seemed to base their whole thing on the Nuggets record. Most of those garage rock bands...I mean they were very much a '60s garage rock band, they looked and sounded like the Music Machine. And that was their thing, that's what they wanted to do.
And they were operating early on as well, maybe '75 or '76, but definitely in '77, they were happening.
New Kid in Town
Stephen McCarthy (singer/guitarist, the Long Ryders): Well, I was playing around [Virginia] in some country bands, pretty much straight country bands, and some bands that did sort of hillbilly stuff. And essentially, the last band that I was in before I left, the singer said, "Well, I'll move to California," with his wife. And he said, "Do you wanna come along?" And, really, I thought about New York and Nashville before going to L.A., but it seemed like a good opportunity, so...I said, why not? So we got out there, and I ended up going out there with him, not really expecting to stay for ten years.
I was really young. I didn't really know what to think. We ended up in the San Fernando Valley, which was really probably closer to Richmond than the San Fernando was to Hollywood, what was happening there.
I mean, you sort of have the country bars, and this was not too long after, you know, all this Urban Cowboy stuff came out, just a couple of years. But that still had a pretty strong influence on the sort of Top 40 country scene, which is really what I sort of hit, just at the start. That's sort of where we were playing, even though I really didn't have much of any interest in that. I just happened to kind of fall into that, for a short period, before I started playing with Greg and the other guys.
Well, really the most famous one was the Palomino. Yeah, the Palomino had been there I guess it's closed now. Someone told me it closed somewhere in the early '90s. But that was a great place. And at that time, when I first got out there in '81, there weren't a whole lot of, let's see...there weren't many bands from Hollywood playing over there, as far as I could tell. It was more the straight country artists.
And later on, when Dwight Yoakum and artists kind of like that, the Blasters, people like that started to get a bit of a following. They were playing over there.
But before that, it seemed to be pretty much straight country. Really, it didn't get interesting to me until you had a mix of groups. I don't mean like Top 40 bands or anything like that, but bands doing more of their original tunes.
I guess that club had a great history, going way back where Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson and Roger Miller had played there for years. So that was a really nice thing.
But that Urban Cowboy schlock, you know, that...that kind of got a lot of guys working country bars, but to me it wasn't really very interesting. But it really was pretty popular for a long time. Luckily (Laughs). I never really played those tunes. When we were playing over there, we were doing like George Jones and songs like that. S, luckily I didn't have to do that too much, y'know.
I was out there in the San Fernando Valley, and I didn't really know anything about any kind of rock 'n' roll scene or whatever. We were just playing a couple of nights a week out there. Just sort of living in this house, and I didn't really know about what was going on.
I played a lot of country music back in Richmond and I had a pretty good background in that. You know, Hank Williams I already had my steel guitar and all that. I had that in '74.
So, I was looking to do something a bit more original, and answered an ad in a magazine or newspaper called the Recycler.
And I don't think that ad the ad that I saw on the cover of that, I don't believe it's the same ad that I answered. That could have been one for Tom or one for Greg or someone else. The one that I answered said "Buffalo Springfield meets the Clash," and I don't think that's what it said on the cover of that anthology
[the ad reads "Two ex-Unclaimed members want the Byrds, Standells and Seeds to ride again." Ed]
Yeah, that's not the ad that I saw. That may have been one that he put in a little bit earlier, but (Laughs) I don't know if I would have been so excited to do that!
I know Sid liked that stuff, and that certainly was a, I guess, a part of the band when we first started. There was a little element of that. But I kind of brought sort of a country side to the group. And I really (sighs) didn't...I'd never really played a whole lot of loud, sort of rocking kind of music. Not too much.
So they kind of turned me on to that, and whatever I brought in, we kind of the mix of that ended up being the initial sound of the band, I guess.
Greg Sowders: I had been in like kind of a punk rock ska band [the Box Boys], and I met Sid Griffin through a mutual friend. And he wanted to play this Rickenbacker 12-string and everybody was starting to grow their hair long you know, the other side of the punk rock thing.
And, just, there was like this influence of kinda '60s psychedelia going on. And when the Long Ryders formed, we also just by coincidence were really into three things. '60s psychedelia, Sid was into. This guy named Steven McCarthy was really into country music, and I was really into like the L.A., X, punk rock thing.
So it's kind of this weird hybrid that started up, and we started in a garage, you know?
Steve Wynn: Of all the bands, I probably had the earliest connection with the Long Ryders, because I was a DJ at a club called Cathay de Grande.
It was a Chinese restaurant that they converted to a punk rock club, and I DJ-ed there once a week, for their kind of R&B, Blues, '60s kind of nights. And the band the Unclaimed, which is where Sid and Barry Shank and Matt Roberts came from, they played there a lot. And I was a big fan of their music, and kind of got to know Sid through those nights. I would hang out with them; I was nineteen, or twenty, something like that. Just really, you know, this wide-eyed fan, because they were the only band in L.A. playing the '60s kind of music. I think maybe the Last were around that time. But there really weren't that many bands at that point doing '60s garage-type music, so you really would latch on to the people who were doing anything even remotely like that.
[Sid was] just a boisterous, um...hugely friendly kind of guy. You know, he was very nothing shy about him. Which was great for me, because, you know, I was kinda shy and kind of...to me, at that point, anybody who was onstage was a rock star. And he was very friendly and very nice to this, you know, I say "kid," but I was probably two years younger than him. But, this kid, DJ. And at the time, if you were nineteen and somebody was twenty-one, they seemed like an older, experienced person.
You know how that is. You know, when you're thirty and somebody's forty it's no big deal. But when you're nineteen and someone's twenty-one and they're playing music on the stage, man, they're rock stars. And I thought he was cool and I got to know him. And I was playing in any bands I could find through classified ads at the time, trying to find something. I was trying to find people who liked the music I liked, and there wasn't much to be found.
And at one time I heard the Unclaimed were breaking up, and splitting into two different bands. Sid was going to form a band, and the lead singer Shelly Ganz was going to form a band. And Sid's band was gonna have Matt the drummer and Barry the bass player. And I tried out for both bands. And got accepted by both bands (Laughs). And I chose Sid's band, because I thought, just, you know, Sid was so cool. Or I liked what he was doing, and I thought he had more of the elements that I liked about the Unclaimed.
And we started playing together myself and the three of them. And we played, we rehearsed, for about two or three months. Didn't play any gigs, rehearsed a lot, doing mostly Sid's songs, some covers and then a few of mine. Which was very generous of him, I thought. You know, to let me be writing and singing for this band. I was playing with them and having a good time, but at the same time also playing with some friends I had in the band that became the Dream Syndicate. And I realized at some point that I had to choose one or the other, because it was taking up too much time. And so I quit the Sid band, which didn't have a name at the time. And he thought I was crazy, and was a little disappointed. But, you know, [he] took it well, (Laughs) and replaced me with Steve McCarthy.
It's really true. I mean, again, all of us were kind of, we were all with the exception of maybe Sid, who had been playing in bands, and maybe Dennis Duck, who had been playing in bands most of us were pretty much outsiders. We hadn't been in on the L.A. scene, we weren't privy to the cool clubs and the cool hangouts, and all that kind of stuff. But we all liked, passionately liked, this particular kind of music, which was '60s-influenced music. Although each of us had a different angle that we liked. The Long Ryders were more into the sort of, I think, country-tinged stuff, we were more interested in the long-jamming psychedelic stuff. It was all a little different. But we all liked the '60s music that nobody else was playing.
So, we were not only friends because we were all outsiders and sort of supporting each other, but also, we were mutual fans. I mean, at that time. And in a lot of scenes, the bands get together and either they're friendly or they're all competitive. We weren't. I mean, my favorite bands at that time were Green on Red, and the Long Ryders and the Bangs and stuff like that. Those were the bands I loved.
I would go see them any time I could. 'Cause they were playing this music that I loved. So, yeah, then we would all hang out together and do things together and go to the same parties. And it was very, very tight. I'd say for about the whole of 1982, it was a real bona fide scene. Everything you would ever imagine about any kind of music scene that's ever existed, it was the same kind of thing.
Stephen McCarthy : I thought that, uh...well of course they were all real nice guys. I kind of said this a long time ago, but I guess I can repeat it a second time, but, I went down to the rehearsal hall expecting them to be kind of hotshot players, and found out that they were kind of like me. Just a guy who I didn't even actually even own a guitar when I went to the rehearsal, or to the audition, I should say, and I think I borrowed an amp. 'Cause I was playing bass more right at that time period.
And so, yeah, I borrowed a guitar and an amp, and ended up playing. And I guess they seemed to like it. And, you know, kept playin'. But Sid I thought was pretty wild. He was kinda wild in a straight-laced kinda way. Very friendly, but just very outgoing, and would be jumping around and leaping in the air and playing his guitar, and I didn't know quite what to make of him.
Greg was pretty funny. And Barry was kind of a quiet guy; I remember he always seemed to walk on the furniture that's one thing I remember about him. Which doesn't really mean anything, but, yeah, I guess I didn't really know what to expect.
And they were very kind to me. They had been out there for a while, and I was still kind of green, as far as, you know, living in California. I didn't know my way around or anything. And they kinda took me in, and they were quite kind.
And they seemed really accepting of me wanting to play some country music with them.
Phast Phreddie Patterson: When I first met [Sid] he was in the Unclaimed. He was a guitarist for the Unclaimed. And I didn't really get to know him that well. You know, we said hi, and we understood that we liked a lot of the same music, because I'm showing up at his gigs.
I knew Shelly Ganz, who was the lead singer for them, the Unclaimed. I knew him from record collecting. When he got his band together is when I got to know him better. Because, one thing about Sid is that he is a good self-promoter. And he does that in a good way.
I mean, some people can promote themselves and they have nothing to promote. But Sid had something to promote. And what also helped Sid having something to promote is that he had another guy in his band called Steve McCarthy. Who was as good of a songwriter, if not better than Sid. And he was also a better singer than Sid.
And the one-two punch of Sid and Steve McCarthy is what made the Long Ryders such a great band. Their personalities were very they're completely opposite. Sid was loud and boisterous although intelligent, so he wasn't obnoxious. When he had something to say, it was either funny or it contributed, you know what I mean? Where sometimes you'll find someone who's loud and boisterous who's dumb and becomes obnoxious. Well, Sid wasn't obnoxious, he was interesting.
And Steve McCarthy, on the other hand, was also interesting, but he was very quiet and introverted. And the good thing I mean, Steve they needed each other, really. Because Sid, Sid wrote good songs, and occasionally a great one, where Steve wrote mostly great songs and occasionally a good one.
And they really needed each other. Because if it wasn't for Sid, there would be nothing to attract attention to Steve and his music and his songs.
And Sid needed Steve because, you know, once he's attracted to the band, he needs something to hold them there. And that was Steve and his songs and his singing. Because he definitely had a better voice than Sid.
Greg I knew from when he was with the Box Boys. 'Cause my band used to do gigs with them. And they used to play the Starwood quite a bit and I was a DJ on Monday nights at the Starwood. So they'd come and hang out at the DJ booth, especially Greg and maybe one or two of the others, because they were into the records that I played there.
So, yeah, I knew Greg. I remember giving him a ride home once and he invited me up and we had a couple of beers and we hung out and chatted for a while.
So we go to be good friends before the Long Ryders. And when Sid came to me and said, "Hey man, I just started this band the Long Ryders, I want you to come see it." I go, "Okay, fine." Told me where it was, I go see them. And at the time it was very early in their career and you could tell that they were just starting out. But you could tell that there was a germ of something really fabulous going on.
So I go to see the band and I go, "Hey, Greg's in the band! That's great!" 'Cause I liked Greg, he was a good guy. And he's a solid drummer.
I didn't know Tom Stevens. That's when I met Tom. Actually, Tom wasn't in the band then. It was Barry Shank, who was also in the Unclaimed, so I knew him a little bit as well. So except for Steve that's when I met Steve the first time I had known everybody in the band.
So I'm thinking, "This is pretty good. This is pretty good." And I remember going with a friend of mine, in fact, the guitarist in my band, who just kept saying, "This is horrible. This is horrible." And, he just didn't see the germ that I saw in the Long Ryders.
Greg Sowders: Tom was...he was not our original bass player, but was probably our most important bass player. He came in after a guy named Des [Brewer], who was great, but was just there for the first EP.
Tom was very musical, was very kind of deep, and quiet, but had a very strange view of the overall picture. He also had a wife and kids before the rest of us. And that was hard on him, to be on the road. So I think the road took its toll on Tom. The Long Ryders were not the same after Tom left.
And, you know, Sid was very headstrong and very focused. Sometimes he was a little short with other people. And Stephen was very sensitive and quiet. And it was like oil and water. But when they wrote songs together and performed together, I thought it was really interesting.
Tom Stevens (bassist, the Long Ryders): Sid and I got along really, really, really well. Because we shared a lot of the same interests, so we had a lot of common threads and a lot of conversational fodder.
Stephen is kind of a how can I put this? If Stephen had more confidence in himself, convinced himself that he wasn't going to make a flub onstage and everything, he would be three times the player he is now. And he's already ten times the player that just about anybody I've ever worked with is. He improves any band he's in. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him, all the way down the line. His voice is beautiful, he writes great songs, great guitar player, great mandolin player, great lap steel player, etc. You just...being in a band, you always wished that you had a guy just like Stephen in the band.
Greg, he and I were the ones that hung out in the van smoking cigarettes. We'd stay out after the show and stuff, whereas Stephen and Sid were more like the monks in the band, or something.
Greg Sowders: We were doing half originals, and half covers. We'd cover the Chocolate Watch Band or the Velvet Underground, or the Standells. Or Buck Owens or Merle Haggard. And then we'd write one of our own. And it was this weird mixture of everything, you know? And people were really into it just for the sake of playing music. We'd make our own flyers and play wherever they'd let us. And it was really fun. No one really thought about doing it for a living, we wanted to just play rock 'n' roll for kids. For each other, really.
And we started we borrowed a bunch of money from our friends and relatives and decided we were going to make our own little record. We made an EP. And Sid happened to work for a place, Gem Records, that distributed a bunch of import records. So he told us, "Well, look, if we can make this record, these guys might want to just put it in the stores for us." We thought that was kind of a cool idea and we did that. And in the meantime we were building up fans, people were actually coming to gigs.
And one night we'd play with the Dream Syndicate and the next time we'd play with the Rain Parade. And they were kinda doing a really psychedelic, kind of acid-y kinda vibe thing. And then there was the Three O-Clock, and they were really into like Mod, pop stuff. It was a little scene. I mean, one day you wake up and you go to a club and there's a bunch of kids that look like you do.
And they're forming bands, and you start to put on your own shows.
Stephen McCarthy: I think there was kind of a nice mix when it started off. Like I said, that those guys had came, had come from one background and I had come from another. And the combination of that kind of turned into something else altogether...different from where we started.
The Heroes: X and the Blasters
Sid Griffin (singer/guitarist, the Long Ryders): Sure, oh yeah, we knew X. Yeah, we did gigs with X. The Long Ryders played on the same bill with Johnny Doe, and DJ and Exene and um, I guess Billy Zoom was the guitar player when we first did gigs with them. And then we did gigs with [the] Tony Gilkyson lineup and the Dave Alvin...I don't know if we ever did a gig with [the] Dave Alvin on guitar lineup, but we certainly [did] with [the] Gilkyson [lineup].
Stephen McCarthy: They were amazing, I thought. They were just so powerful.
X and the Blasters. Those two bands especially. I mean, they had their sound down so well, and, and just really knew how to play to an audience. And, aw jeez, just the beautiful harmonies and great songs. I just thought the world of those two groups.
And where X seemed to sort of mix punk rock and rock 'n' roll, you know, the Blasters had sort of rock 'n' roll and R&B or Bluesy side to them, not so much R&B, but maybe rock 'n' roll and Blues, and maybe some country in there.
Well, I don't know, it's kinda hard to describe 'em it was just very powerful.
Very powerful. And it seemed to me, especially with the Blasters with Dave and Phil that they really knew the history of the music so well that they could start from that point. And then, you know, with their original tunes, just really have a great mix and just I mean, they would knock you over when they'd play live.
Sid Griffin: They, I mean, X were tremendous. They were so good. But they were, uh, John and Exene were both in the acting world and taking acting lessons. And more to the point, were poets, and originally met at Venice Poetry Workshop. The Venice Poetry Workshop is in a scene in the film Annie Hall, when the guy Michael Murphy picks up Woody Allen at what's supposed to be jail. They just used the Venice Poetry Workshop and Woody Allen, a few moments later, the guy puts on this ridiculous suit and Woody Allen looks to him later and says "What are we driving through, Plutonium?"
That scene, with Michael Murphy, is where John met Exene in I think early 1976. And they were both heavily influenced by poetry, and the printed word, and of course, acting. Playing the printed word into being the spoken word and lived out, and acted upon. So they had something different than say the Blasters or Green on Red or the Long Ryders, or anybody. They were both a pair of poets and actors.
Greg Sowders: I had seen them when they very first formed. And what I was really turned onto was...the English punk rock was kinda weird for me, because it was real political. And the New York thing was kinda, for me it was just kind of artistic, it was a real kind of whole Andy Warhol thing, just art for art's sake, it was a little too self-conscious for me.
When I saw X, it was like, wow. These guys like the Ramones and they also like Hank Williams, and it just really clicked for me, and they were from L.A.
And what hit me about that was a complete connection with their audience. They didn't play over their heads, they didn't condescend to them, they weren't trying to educate them. They were just playing rock 'n' roll right in their face and the kids and the performance was all one thing, this symbiotic relationship back and forth.
Phast Phreddie Patterson: And X, when they first started out, with Billy Zoom on guitar, even when they first started out when they were mostly a punk band. I remember seeing an early gig with Billy Zoom before he cut his hair.
Billy Zoom had played rockabilly gigs. He was in, a part of I don't know if you've heard of Rockin' Ronnie Weiser?
Rockin' Ronnie Weiser is this fellow who came from Italy to America and started his own record company. He'd go out and find these old rockabilly cats, like Ray Campi, who made, you know, a handful of rockabilly records in the '50s but was very obscure, never had a hit. He found him living somewhere in L.A., took him in the studio and made some records with him. Because that's all he cared about. 'Cos he knew about America from '50s movies, Rockin' Ronnie did.
And when he came to America it was the '60s or early '70s, and he came here and nobody's making rockabilly records anymore. And he was astounded that, you know, there were no pink Cadillacs. Nobody was going to drive-in theaters anymore.
And the '50s America that he thought he was going to move to was not here. So he tried to recreate it by making these rockabilly records.
And some of them are quite good. And two of the acts that he discovered were Billy Zoom and the Blasters. The Blasters' first album was on Rockin' Ronnie Weiser's label, Rolling Rock records.
And Billy Zoom, I don't think he ever made an album for Rolling Rock, but I know he cut a handful of tracks that came out on various compilations.
And he would be part of the, sort of a revue. There would be a Rolling Rock Revue with Ray Campi and his Rockabilly Rebels and uh, oh God, there were several others and I can't remember them. Whoever Rockin' Ron could find, that would sing rockabilly, would be part of this.
And Billy Zoom was one of them. And Billy Zoom was, at the time, was termed "The Eddie Cochran of the '70s," because he sang a little bit like Eddie Cochran. And he played a lot like him.
So Billy Zoom was in X the first time I saw X. And I had met Exene before that, before they had played. And I may have even met John Doe before that. And I definitely met DJ Bonebrake, the drummer, because he was drumming in several bands before that. He was in the Flesh Eaters and he was in the band Charlotte Caffey of the GoGo's was in, the Eyes.
So, he was drumming in the Eyes, he was drumming in the Flesh Eaters he might have even been in the Plugs and a couple of other bands. But one day I saw him in X, drumming for X. And I go, "Man, you're in all these bands what's goin' on?"
He goes, "This is my band, man."
And he stayed with X.
And X, the first time I saw them, it was just...it reminded me of rockabilly riffs. A lot of Billy Zoom's riffs were rockabilly riffs, just louder and faster. You know what I mean?
See Part two of this article
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