UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Doug Clark and the Nuts show their fans their appreciation
How North Carolina Got Its Punk Attitude"To 'make the (music) scene' in the 60's was to be where the action was, and there always seemed to be some action. However, in the early '70's the scenes became few & far between. The hippy movement died out as did the action and there was nothing else until punk came along." Well, not necessarily.
by Sam Hicks (March 1998)
Of course, this is true if you want to believe what they say, those historians who try to convince you that punk magically appeared in '77. Never mind that there has always been somebody out on the fringes of music giving the finger to everyone else. These same people would have us believe that interesting music only originates from Los Angeles, Chicago or New York and there's no reason to pay attention to any kind of local music from other areas.
Don't believe them! I can show you, just by tracing the history of a small scene like North Carolina's, how there has always been something of interest going on outside the Top of The Pops. What I'm talking about here is attitude and those uncompromising bands who cast the shadows that built North Carolina's underground "scene."
In the beginning...
To get an idea of how the scene was built, it is necessary to look at what was here to begin with and in the beginning there was actually a hell-of-a-lot. In the '50's and early '60's, there were literally hundreds of Soul, R&B and Rock & Roll bands but, of course, none of them could be considered punk. When these bands, played it was usually to their hometown crowd at a local dance or battle of the bands competition. A band putting out anything more than a single was nearly unheard of. The only possible exception to these early "rock & roll rules" was a raunchy soul review from Carrboro called Doug Clark & The Hot Nuts. At the core of this group were the Taylor boys; Doug, "Big" John & Prince, who started the band in 1955. With the addition of June Bug and Chicken Little, it wasn't long before they were out ravaging every college in the south with their infamous brand of suggestive R&B covers and foul-mouthed originals. Musically, they may have followed the basic lead of the Motown, Stax & Volt groups, but if you're looking for the earliest band in the state with a Do-It-Yourself attitude or even the first to start their own independent record label, look no further.
The Hot Nuts' first LP Nuts To You (GR-101) is notable for its outrageous cover: a live performance photo with Prince giving the finger to the audience! (see picture above) For years to come, kids would sneak off to listen to this dirty gem, and its cover was always the hot topic of conversation wherever musicians gathered. Nuts To You featured Doug Clark's most famous song "You Can't Sit Down," which was a big hit, but not in the most obvious way. It was never a hit for the Hot Nuts, but it was a minor hit for The Philip Upchurch Combo in 1961 and in June of 1963, the Dovells went all the way to #3 on the pop charts with it. Many others have covered the song since including Otis Rush, Boots Randolph, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Ventures, Stanley Jordan and Bruce Springsteen. Nuts To You and their subsequent releases On Campus (GR-102), Home Coming (GR-103), Rush Week (GR-104) and more, were put out on their own Gross Record Co. label. As these early album titles suggest, The Hot Nuts had discovered a key to success which would be the foundation for many a band to come- cornering the college market. Their D.I.Y. attitude, disdain for what was considered "proper" at that time & filthy lyrics made for some raucous live shows. Although everyone over 25 thought they should be put in jail, their originality made them moderately successful and certainly sent many a young mind down the unconventional path to music.
The late '60's has been amazingly well documented on Ken Friedman's highly recommended psychedelic Tobacco A-Go-Go compilations. If we follow Ken's liner notes back to "...the halcyon days of North Carolina's homegrown Sixties," we find quite an active "scene," albeit in a frequently restrictive hometown forum. Inspired by Motown or the British Invasion, many a group formed to record Rock & Roll, Soul, Beach-style singles or even psychedelic singles. Recording a 45 had become more commonplace, and these were generally released by a local "record company" or the band themselves.
There were bands who achieved minor success in the "pop music" world at this time like Durham's The Dukes, who recorded several singles and acctually had something of a career, appearing on Paul Revere & the Raiders' TV show HAPPENING '69. There were the Counts IV from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base who recorded a local single and later, a nationally distributed single on the Date label. There was also Fayetteville's The Young Ones who recorded a single, were the stars of their own 15 minute local TV show and recorded an album as Cykle in '69. The early scene in Charlotte was just as active with numerous Beach oriented and psychedelic bands. There was The New Mix, who was signed by Uni Records and went to New York to record, as well as another psychedelic band who signed to United Artist called Jeremiah. But the band that stood out for most as the baddest band in Charlotte was The Good, The Bad & The Ugly ('69). I don't really know much about this band, except they once opened for Canned Heat and recently put out an Anthology CD that includes some of their original material.
A group from Winston-Salem soon made themselves known with their own ideas of what it meant to be a Rock & Roll band. They were the Teenbeets ('65-'67): John McGee, Ken McGee, Stan Ratliff & George Samaras. The Teenbeets made two singles at Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte and even traveled to Nashville to record a third which was released on Hickory Records. At home, they frequently played the American Legion Lodge's Saturday Night Dance, but dying their hair red match to their name was what mede them legends! Since they were the first to do this, quite a controversy was stirred up, and I understand that is precisely why they did it. It is almost impossible to talk to people about the history of music in Winston-Salem without the mention of the Teenbeets.
Early bands like Burlington's Willie T & The Magnificents, Winston-Salem's The Versatiles and others fought to change people's perceptions on multi-racial bands in our state. The late-60's even saw a rivalrous attitude develop between the soul and psychedelic bands themselves. If the question "Are you psych or are you soul?" wasn't answered satisfactorily, a fight would often break out. As social changes in the late 60's began to happen, this rivalry between the styles began to crumble and as one person put it, "...the jock musicians were the ones making the trouble, but once they discovered pot they'd rather buy something from you than beat you up." This eventually allowed members of these two different styles to join together in new and interesting combinations and changed the style of the music itself.
In 1968, Mike Greer and Steve Hutchinson from Winston-Salem formed the infamous Captain Speed & the Funji Electric Mothers ("Funji" being pronounced, "Funky"). Although they started out doing covers of The Amboy Dukes, Hendrix, Cream & Vanilla Fudge, they were soon writing their own raucous material. Captain Speed eventually recorded the "Yesterdays Tommorow" b/w "Reptilian Disaster" single at Greensboro's Crescent City Studio. Though musically cool, their outstanding live shows are what made them of interest to us. One such show was done with the Soul band the Versatiles at the sold out 600 capacity Miller Park Gym. On this occasion, Captain Speed opted for a grand finale of the Who's "My Generation" and the smashing of Mike's guitar. Other memorable shows included ones where a duck named "Captain Speed" would join them onstage and run around in circles whenever the band played. Some have said the duck was given drugs in order to make him dance, but these have proven to be nothing but rumors. These kinds of rumors and antics, often made a band an influence for the younger up and coming musicians.
In 1969, Mike Greer went to college at UNC-CH and soon learned that roomate Robert Kirkland and down the hall neighbor Don Dixon had similar musical tastes. With the addition of Kirkland's high school bandmate Jimmy Glascow, they started out as the Dog Breath Blues Band. They played a folk coffeehouse called the Cat's Cradle and a hippie/biker bar known as The Asparagus Farm. The guys in Dog Breath soon learned how to play Sgt. Pepper by heart, as well as an import LP by a band called Black Sabbath that no one else seemed to have heard of. Mike took his new band to Crescent City Studios, where he'd previously been with Capt. Speed, and they recorded a single of their own. The band cut the intense "An Estimation" b/w "Black Death" single (CS-1091/1092) in January 1969 and released it in '70. Don says, "The only reason to cut a single back then was to get it in some jukeboxes or talk some DJ into playing it on an AM station somewhere." They decided it was time to change their name, since "Blues Band" no longer described their sound, and became Arrogance. It was released in 1970, at a time when its impact cannot be overestimated. Since no one had heard of Black Sabbath, much less Sabbath mixed with Sgt. Pepper into a Mountain-esque stew, the first Arrogance 45 was important to many N.C. musicians and tops the list for early influential N.C. vinyl. A somewhat different line-up with an altogether different sound went on to record many albums under the same name.
Another well remembered group from the Winston area found inspiration from a show with the MC5 opening for Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes on May 7th 1971. The MC5 blew everyone away and people from Winston were known to drive to another town if they found out someone had a disc by 'the 5' they hadn't yet heard. Mitch Easter, who had already been in Loyal Opposition, Sacred Irony and Imperturbable Tuetonic Griffin, soon set his sights on forming a heavier band. In case you're wondering how lame the early 70's scene could be, Mitch's first band had broken up over whether to play originals or covers because the prevailing opinion was, that the pinnacle of one's career would be to play The Pavillion in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. His new "heavy" band was Rittenhouse Square ('71-73), whose original lineup included Ken Lowry, Gene Vance, Bobby Locke & David Niblock. The players in this band continued to mutate as the 2nd lineup was Mitch, Bobby, David, Don Gibbs, Kent Hill & Michael Rosinger. However, the most famous lineup of Rittenhouse Square featured Mitch, Bobby, Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey. It was this line-up that recorded a self-released LP on their own R2 Records in 1972. Original copies of this album have an odd line drawing of a little animal silkscreened on the plain white cover, while later versions have a cartoon "R" with bell bottomed legs or just a blank cover. The inner sleeve is printed with a photo of the band in their matching "rock duds" sitting behind Reznick's Records. The music of R2 is heavy and somewhat comical, in a Crotch Rock kind of way. The hilarious lyrics describe the trials and tribulations of what it's like to be a teenager in a Rock & Roll band growing up in Winston-Salem. Although these elements make some people cringe, others consider it to be the predecessor to the work of famous satirists Spinal Tap. Silliness aside, this LP certainly rates up there with the earliest D.I.Y. projects and like the Arrogance single, is an infamous collectors item to those in the know.
Like Arrogance before them, Mitch Easter & Chris Stamey went to college at UNC-CH in '74 and after a year of absolute boredom, put together the Sneakers ('75-'77). Mitch, Chris, Robert Keely, Will Rigby and Rob Slater released the Carnivorous #1 6-song 7-inch EP in 1976. This single has been documented as the 2nd record of the "new wave," with Television being listed as the first. The 45 came out on Chris's own Carnivorous label (later shortened to Car), which was the only independent record label in the state at that time. Though they wouldn't be considered Punk, but rather "aggressive pop," the Sneakers were said to be the only band in Chapel Hill that didn't play hippie music. Making their own record company wasn't the only thing they overcame, as there really weren't any clubs that would book them for gigs either. Defying the odds, The Sneakers somehow figured out how to play a rare show on campus, the Apple Chill Street Festival or at an old converted department store called The Town Hall. It was this independent spirit and uncompromising attitude that blazed the way for those to come.
In the fall of '77, Peter Holsapple's UNC-CH Neo-Punk group The H-Bombs formed (not be confused with Evan Johns & The H-Bombs). Peter, Mitch Easter, Robert Keely and Chris Chamis played at street festivals, around campus, The Mad Hatter (previously The Town Hall) or Cambridge Inn on the Duke campus. At the first H-Bombs show, Peter and Robert handed out 2-4 page "flyers" called Biohazard Informae, which began a long history of zines & music working together toward a common goal. The "Death Garage / Big Black Truck / 96 Second Blowout" single (crr-5) was recorded at Mega Sound Studio in Bailey, NC. This single featuring three H-Bombs' songs was released in 1978 on Car Records after the band had already broken up. Peter & Mitch are actually the only people on the record, but since these were songs Peter had written & performed with the group, the cover says, "Peter Holsapple of The H-Bombs." Although this band really can't be considered 100% Punk either, they were pretty damned strange and would later play with Punk bands who said they could drive a crowd away with the best of them. In early 1978, with college over and nothing in Chapel Hill but "the same 40 people to play to", Stamey, Holder, Rigby, Holsapple & Easter all moved to New York City to do various projects (later culminating into the dB's).
When the Punk movement "broke" (we never did fix that bastard, did we?) in New York, L.A. and London, it started a chain reaction in some places and a slow metamorphosis in others. In 1977, the first full fledged N.C. punk band was Raleigh's th' Cigaretz. Band members' punk identities included Throb, Bindee, Johnny Guitar and Jimmy Jones. They had been in cover bands for years, but were sick of heavy metal, poodle haircuts, and trying to play wah wah pedals wearing platform shoes. House painters by day, they say it was a combination of paint fumes and Never Mind The Bollocks, that inspired them to "...just say fuck it!." The problem was, original music wasn't of interest to anyone at this time. The only club that would allow them to play regularly was the Free Advice; their Thursday nights were dead so they made them into "Punk Night" to fill the void. "Then we came under the influence of Iggy," relates Byron. "We became every visual and interactive because we wanted the audience's total undivided attention." They started throwing junkfood, toilet paper & cereal into the crowd... anything they could think of. "We gave up on soda and shaving cream because it made the stage so slick and we couldn't get paid after ruining people's monitors." The original drummer left the band when he decided he wasn't paying for all this crap they were wasting just trying to get people's attention.
After efforts to record demos at Reflection Studio failed, they decided to try recording themselves live from the soundboard at several shows, including a fantastic Halloween show. It was in this way that they succeeded in getting enough material together to press an album. The Crawl Rite Outta My Skin (34796) live LP, begins with them yelling "Get this guy off the stage! Yeah, you fuckin' stupid asshole, what is this shit!" Eventually released in 1980, it contains classic songs like "Fuckin' Up Bad," "Skullfuggin" and "Just Another Piece Of Meat." Crawl came out on their own Cancer Records and was embossed with a hand silk screened cover; each one slightly different. Due to this record's 100% D.I.Y. existence it might be hard to say how far it traveled or how much their Heartbreakers-style music had an effect on the rest of the state. But gauging from the response of their fellow musicians, it would be on par with the first Arrogance single in its scope of influence.
Legend has it that this was the band that set the Triangle afire with punk rebellion. A well-remembered gig in their career was with the H-Bombs, but the most infamous Cigaretz show was an outdoor May Day block party in '78 or '79. They had basically finished their set and started playing the finale, a "Rolling Stones / Get Off My Cloud Medley," when the police arrived. The city of Raleigh had recently assembled a SWAT Team and dispatched them on a complaint of "obscenities over the P.A. system" for their first assignment. Since the band had almost finished, the crowd was already dispersing, but the SWAT Team overreacted and the situation turned violent. News crews arrived at the scene of the "riot," and broadcast footage of police beating people, some of whom turned out to be well respected and famous people. Public outcry resulted in an investigation. It's no wonder that th' Cigaretz moved to NYC in 1980, but it was only a year before the big city broke them up. Jerry "Johnny Guitar" Williams later took up studio engineering, moved to NYC and recorded the Bad Brains, MDC & Reagan Youth. Scott "Throb" Jarvis engineered and produced the first Beastie Boys LP and was their tour manager when they opened for Madonna. He currently plays in the Workdogs. Byron "Jimmy Jones" McCay followed a similar path, but moved back to Raleigh to start his own studio, which would play an integral part in the upcoming Hardcore movement.
There was only one Punk band in Greensboro around '78-'79 and they were called The Flies. The Flies were Paul Moorefield, Roy Parnham, Jeff Freeman and a string of drummers including a fellow named Moxie. The Flies' big break came in 1978 when The Dictators played UNC-Greensboro and they were the only band in town who could fill the opening slot. After making friends with Handsome Dick Manitoba, they got a two night gig at CBGB's, which the Greensboro New & Record reported as "Local Boys Go To Big Apple." Saturday October 21st, they headlined and Sunday they opened for the Dead Boys. The Flies were also scheduled to open for Devo at UNC-G, but for whatever reason, it didn't work out. This prompted a member of Devo to don the Booji Boy mask and throw money into the crowd while announcing, "You've been ripped off! There's no opening band, so here's your money back," nearly starting a riot. The Flies recorded a single, "Nothin' To Lose" b/w "Midnight Queen" (SAR01), which was produced by Geoff Freeman and Bobby Kelly and released on their own Starving Artist Records in 1979. The Flies didn't last long before they broke up and Paul and Jeff put together the Truehearts. This band made it through the New Wave in Greensboro, before Paul moved to New York and joined The Shoes.
The only other comparable band in Raleigh at the time was an equally wild bunch called Butchwax. Butch Modern had formed the band with Ritchie Clerk, Mike Dupree and Mike Burnette sometime in 1979. One infamous story from their career explains how they were banned from a club called The Pier. Butchwax was scheduled to open for Florida punk band the Sicklets, but ended up opening for "a pointy-toed band with 7 mics on the drums from New York City" called Diamond Dupree instead. After becoming utterly disgusted with the headliners during sound check, Butchwax decided they would open with 17 blistering minutes of tuneage, then refuse to return to the stage. After the execution of their master-plan a fan pounding a chair in a futile attempt to gain an encore accidentally broke it, somebody threw a bottle and someone wrote "Gail sucks- but not very well" (referring to the owner of the building) on the bathroom wall. Needless to say, they were not allowed back for their "attitude." Butch Modern sang at these early shows, but soon found a girl named Molly to take over on vocals. Of course, Molly turned out to be the graffiti artist from the Pier show and the band became more ruthless than ever.
Their first show with the new line-up was done as Polly Sexual & the Suckin' Lice in July of 1980. They played local shows at the Purple Horse and the Brewery, as well as around the state at the Cat's Cradle, the Station, the Attic & Friday's. A stand-out show from the later part of their career was at the Milestone opening for The Professionals, where a similarly rabid crowd demanded and received an encore. Molly also remembers, "Paul Cook and Steve Jones tried to get me to skip class & travel with them to play in Chapel Hill the next day. I thought it best to decline." Butchwax never released any material, though there are lo-fi cassettes of them playing at Friday's and practicing at a house near Zebulon where early Corrosion Of Conformity singer Eric Eyke lived. They described themselves as "Psychedelic Chinese Blues- the Chinese part meant we were out of tune" and mainly did original material, though they liked slipping into Punk covers of "My Boyfriend's Back", Buddy Holly or the Stooges and Heartbreakers. Magazines described them as "proto-Hardcore, via the NY Dolls," apparently the Dolls element coming from the 50's covers. Butch Modern was also known for putting together one of the few scene 'zines at the time titled Modern World.
I regret to report that I had no luck trying to reach people in the early Charlotte scene. I've reported what information I could find, but it doesn't amount to much. There was a guy named Benji who had been in a band called American Lore and another known as the Screaming Shits. Benji briefly moved to Raleigh in 1980 to sing for C.O.C. The British band 999 played The Milestone once, and there was said to have been a "riot" at that show. If there were other Punk bands there during the 1977-'80 period, I really couldn't say.
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