Everyone knows of the wide ranging influence of seminal Hermosa Beach punk bands Black Flag, The Circle Jerks and The Descendents. In many ways these bands are bigger now than they have ever been with the new Descendents album on Epitaph records hitting the Billboard top 20 and the reconstituted FLAG blowing away all other bands on festivals with big heavy hitters. All three of these influential bands came from a tiny one square mile town of Hermosa Beach, even went to the same high school. But not everyone knows about The Last, the pioneering Hermosa Beach band that bridged the gap between 60s influenced garage rock and the punk rock to come.
Founded by main songwriter and guitarist Joe Nolte, and his brothers, Mike and David, The Last created a sound that had to be considered revolutionary when you consider radio at the time the formed was only playing the easily digestible sounds of Peter Frampton, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. The Last blended the pyschadelic harmonies of the Beach Boys and Beatles with the edgy agit-pop of punk rock progenitors like the Seeds and Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers and came up with their own unique sound that stood in stark contrast to what was popular in the mid70’s. By following their own instincts and playing music that was completely out of step with the mainstream, the Last led the way for what for what was to come, and in doing so, inspired the bands that would themselves go on to influence entire generations with their uncompromising music, DIY attitude and rebellious artistic expression. But let’s hear it from the man himself.
Interview w/ Joe Nolte of the Last by phone from San Pedro, January 18, 2004.
Was your Family originally from Hermosa?
We grew up in PV (Palos Verdes) actually. Technically, I was born in Inglewood, and then my family moved. I spent my first couple years in the fifties in Canoga Park, then we moved to PV in 1960.
What was PV like back then?
Houses were cheaper! The first couple years of high school we were at PV, and then we moved to Hermosa Beach, specifically 1540 Strand in the summer of ’72. My mom grew up in Hermosa Beach in the ‘40’s and she’d always wanted to move back, and then during the ’60’s we would always rent a house down there, so I was very familiar with Hermosa. We had a house on 9th street in the summer of ’67 and that was pretty crazy because the hippies took over the pier area and it was pretty cool. We would be warned not to go near the pier and shit. For a while there was a weird alliance between the hippies and the bikers.
What were you listening to, first memories
Basically just listening to stuff on the radio, because mom thankfully usually would have top 40 on, like from the early 60’s. The stations were KFWB and KRLA back then, and in spring of ’65 KHJ came along. And in July of ’65 I got my first transistor radio and I was pretty well hooked by that point. The first thing that really affected me was the Beatles, who probably remain my favorite group. I’ve said many times that there’s no way to fully understand the Beatles phenomenon unless you were there when JFK got shot, because that’s like a crucial part of it, to experience being in America then. I was in second grade at a Catholic Intermediary school called Marymount which no longer exists, where we were being taught by nuns, and Kennedy had always been President and it had always been the natural state of events. I have to confess that my initial reaction was, “Oh boy, we’re getting out of school early because of this thing,” and then being pissed off because there were no cartoons all weekend. But just to watch the bigger kids over the reset of November and December in ’63 when someone would start crying for no reason and no one would say anything because they knew. I was seven so I was old enough to start feeling the grief. It was amazing – it was a whole nation in mourning, and you know, “Louie, Louie” on the radio wasn’t doing anything, and pretty much the old people had taken over again. They’d taken away our president, the president of the Peace Corps and youth and everything, and it was in their hands again, and all things American had suddenly kind of sucked.
Basically then it was the perfect time for the Beatles. You’ve got to consider the Beatles were already huge in England, and Dick Clark put “She Loves You” on American Bandstand, and the kids laughed it off, they said this is ridiculous, this is a stupid song, but in the wake of the JFK thing, all of a sudden, the next single comes out and it was, this was a band that was not American, and that was a good thing, this was what people needed. The same way Elvis suddenly hit it big just after James Dean’s death, it was the same sort of thing. It was just like, “Thank you.” It was a necessary change. Plus, the music was awfully good.
When did you start to hear about punk music?
The problem is I can’t say I got into punk because I started listening to bands because it didn’t exist. I’m all excited because as we enter the ‘70’s I’m thinking it’s going to be a grand glorious age for music, because music was pretty good right around 1970. Funhouse (Iggy Pop & the Stooges) comes out. There are a whole lot of great bands, some that sort of comprised their own genres unto themselves. Some bands would even, album by album, invent new subgenres of rock. It was just an incredible creative time, and it looked like the ‘70’s would be one non-stop rock festival. So I was very, very excited and couldn’t wait until I was a year or two older and could drive to places and see shows and everything. And so my high school years I basically watch as month by month everything goes straight to hell. A lot of it I think the movement just dissipated in the wake of Kent state. Kent State was the government saying, “Yes, we’re shooting with real bullets. We will gun you down if this keeps up.” And a lot of people over the course of the early seventies, went back to school, went and got real jobs, cut their hair, and I felt, as ‘70 becomes ’74, during those years, I felt completely sold out, like we’d been sold a bill of goods.
It’s like all these older kids are saying come on, it’s going to be fun, create a new world, a counter culture, and we are never going to get old, and all that stuff, and it didn’t happen. They sold out the whole Goddamn thing. Bands like the ones that didn’t die, during a nine month period, Hendricks, Janis, Jim Morrison, the bands that were left got crappier and crappier, album by album. FM radio in like 1970, they’d play an entire side of an album, no interruption, DJ’s played whatever they wanted, it was a glorious eclectic time. But by ’72 it’s like AM radio needed a tops thriller (imitates a over-the-top DJ voice) “Like yeah groovy guys and gals now we’re going to take a break for twenty commercials and then we will be back to play you one of the twenty songs on our hit list.” Watching by phones in high school, it’s like the music was getting crappier and crappier and they’re liking it more and more. “My god, the bands are dumbing down and it’s working.” Like “who cares if someone calls you a sell out, the sales are matching my money, who cares?” Everyone got fattened up and lazy but there were millions to be made, and rock music got commercialized for lack of a better term. (Small Shows) were ceasing to exist, you’d have nothing but big stadium shows, bands come to town and play the Forum, and that’s it, they play the Forum. It’s a big show you go the show with all the millions of other lemmings and you clap at the same time and the lead singer says something which everybody cheers for and it’s the exact same thing he said the night before and he’s going to say the night after and drum solo at the same point every time, and it’s like, “Oh my god. It’s Barnum and Bailey coming to town. Something is wrong here.”
Anyway, I’ve got my own high school band by this time and as we hit ’74 we are ready to make some tapes, and we found out what we suspected, that’s it’s a completely closed circuit, nobody wanted new bands, with original music anymore. The labels didn’t care. By the mid 70’s, it’s almost like, let’s get whoever didn’t make it yet, whoever’s in the loop. You’ve got like Peter Frampton and Fleetwood Mac. Nobody wanted to know about new bands and as far as playing clubs, there weren’t any, Rodney had his thing for a little while, but by the mid 70’s, The Whiskey closed down, the Starwood was the only other club, and they were strictly cover bands, that was it. Whatever clubs did exist were glorified bars and the band would be glorified bar bands. You know, like, “Let’s do this Chuck Berry song” or whatever. You know, you want music people can recognize so they’ll buy drinks and dance and stuff. The concept of bands playing their own stuff just didn’t exist anymore, which is hard to imagine looking back. At the time it seemed like it was always going to be that way.
The high school band kind of disintegrates because people go off to college at the end of ’74, and I’m faced with the musical situation where rock music has basically gone belly up and died. There’s nothing going on, and I’m like, “My God, it’s time for a change.” The question is how can you change it. You can’t play anywhere, you can’t get a record out, so what the hell do you do? Because there wasn’t a whole lot of new stuff to listen to, I’d been increasingly going back and rediscovering old garage records, and listening to a steady diet of old fifties stuff, but also The Seeds, the Standelles, as well like Velvet Underground and the Stooges and stuff. Thinking more and more that it was time for music to go back to something simpler, back to the two and a half minute song, and get some raw power going on in there. Trying to find musicians that shared that philosophy was kind of a lost cause. People at that time with aspirations, anyone that was good was trying to get a studio band gig or just wanted to play parties and play whatever people wanted to hear. I pretty much had to trick people into doing it. By ’75 I knew that I wanted to start a completely different kind of band. So it was pretty early on I was looking at a return to form for music, and I was looking people to play with and it wasn’t happening. It pretty much felt like living in a vacuum.
The end of ’75, beginning of ’76 a couple of things happen, one, Playboy records finally issues the first modern lovers album which is just like an absolute inspiration, this mysterious band that John Cale produced. It was like, “Wow, this could be cool,” and also about this time we start hearing about this strange little scene going on in New York, and they’re even calling it Punk Rock, which was a term that Lenny Kaye invented to describe what we would call garage bands, and it was like, “Oh my God, this is perfect.” And so I knew what I had to do, I had to get a band and get to New York. There was no way in hell that the scene would ever spread beyond New York. It seemed too cool, and I had come to the conclusion that most people who listened to music were idiots. So it was like I just wanted to get there and be a part of it for however many months it lasts. Of course there were no records by any of these bands so I had no ides what any of these Ramones or Blondies sounded like, but it sounded pretty cool. And so by the spring of 76 I’m already starting to right my own little punk rock songs, and thinking, “OK, I got to get a band.”
I managed to convince the bass player from my high school band to move back to LA. I find out about this band in Santa Monica who were looking for a guitarist, and so I come in and bring the bass player with and basically got in the band and fired everybody except the drummer because that’s what we needed. The drummers big thing was that he wanted to be a bar band, and fair enough, because you cannot play live music and not be in a bar band in 1976. By this time the first Ramones record comes out and of course it’s a revelation. It was like, “This is it. This is the most beautiful thing in the world. This new punk rock thing is definitely on.” So I thought what the hell we could be a bar band. “They did it in CBGB’s, why not?” We can do the same thing but out here. Just get in, start out kinda normal and see if we can build anything.
We were able to get a weekend residency at a bar called the Flame Pit, which was on Artesia Blvd. and Western. We get there and the first night they set a house record for beer consumption.
That’s a good sign.
That’s a very good sign. You know, it was just like regular people, bikers, former hippies, people that go to bars in Torrance. Were playing hits from the Radio from ’76, which I don’t even want to say (what they were.) Terrible things. We wait and the crowd starts getting wilder and so we go into Creedence’s “Green River,” and we’re playing that and I signal the band to keep going, and without switching the beat, we go into “I Wanna Be your Dog,” and we start doing that, and then we switch into Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso.” And all these people are just dancing and loving it because they don’t know. It’s like, “See People, it’s just Rock music.”
Don’t be afraid.
Exactly. It Worked. It was a tremendous success, and I was like, “This is it. The South Bay punk rock scene starts here.” And so we go back the next night, Sunday, and… the place is dead. So we got basically a finite number of songs and four hours to fill up and nobody’s dancing, and it was a miserable ordeal. The club owner paid us and said, “Come back in six months or a year,” and that was that. Subsequently the bar turned into a cowboy bar and is probably a parking lot by now.
What was Hermosa like then?
Hermosa in 1976. All the kids got long hair. All the kids got bell bottoms. All the kids smoke pot. All the kids listen to,…ugh, what do they listen to, Boston, Fleetwood Mac, what other horrible.., Bee Gees, a lot of Zeppelin. Basically they all have the hair, the bell-bottoms. They’re wearing the uniform of the generation that had sold out, and they didn’t even know why they were wearing it. It was like, “Everybody wears this.” Why do you smoke pot? “Everybody does.” They were going through motions, like the time machine where you go to the future and everyone’s just going through the motions, but they don’t know why? It was like creatures of some forced habit. And it was like, “Oh, my God!’ They’re all into like surfing, pot and Zeppelin. So I move in there and my brothers are there, and I’m sharing a room with my brother Mike, who was like all into whatever, he got heavily into glitter, he was listening to a lot of disco, which to me was like the final death knell, and rock music on the radio had pretty much ended with that. Then there was my brother David who was like 13 at the time and he and his best friend Frank Navetta, they’d pretty much gone through junior high together, and they basically, smoked pot, went surfing, and listened to Led Zeppelin. I thought to myself, “They’re thirteen, that’s young enough, they can be converted. It’s my duty.” So I show up with my records and it’s like, “O.K. Your education starts here.” Mostly I fed David the stuff direct, and he turned Frank on to it, and they were both very successful converts. I was simultaneously giving them the new stuff, Ramones, and Blondie might have been out by then, the Patti Smith single, The Stooges, Velvets, and also the stuff from where it came, the Kinks, the Animals, the Seeds, etc. It was like, “The stuff you are listening to is wrong. Here! This is where music’s going to go.” Dave is excited enough that he wants to learn guitar, so I teach him guitar.
It’s October ’76 now, and our bass player has found a new drummer. So we sort of do a half ass job of soundproofing mom’s garage on 2nd street. The bass player brings the drummer in. Brother Mike and brother David kind of hang out and I discover Mike can sing, so I say, “Yeah, sing some harmonies and stuff. I start teaching them my new stuff, my crazy neo-psychedelic, garage, whatever. We start doing that and I say, “This is it, it’s going to be a band.” So we got to come up with a name. So my brothers and I are sitting around writing down hundreds of names on pieces of paper. I wanted to call it The Flys. I always wanted to have a band called The Flys, but I never got anyone who liked the name. So at some point, brother Mike says, “The Last,” and it was like, “Yeah, right, whatever.” So we were going on, and then like ten minutes later it was, “What was that again.” It was like, “Yeah, The Last. It sounds like it means a lot, but it means nothing. That’s good. That’ll work.” So The Last started October of ’76 at 517 2nd street.
By the summer of ’77 both Dave and Frank were playing guitar, and they decided to start a band. I think David wanted to call it The Itch, and Frank said, “I’ve got a better idea, let’s call it the Descendents.” So that’s pretty much how the Last and the Descendents were born at 517 2nd street. They were already writing stuff. Dave wrote, “Like the way I know,” back then, which showed up on some bootlegs, but basically it was just Frank and Dave on acoustic guitars.
We recorded our first demo in the fall of ’76. We finished the backings and we’re about ready to do overdubs and the cops show up because the soundproofing wasn’t that good. (At the recording studio?) No, this was in mom’s garage. We didn’t even know where a studio was. Studios were for big bands and record labels. There was no D.I.Y scene. It was definitely a zeitgeist that was going on in little pockets across the country because people didn’t know what else to do, and didn’t know anyone else was doing it anywhere else. So the cops show up for some reason, they run a check on my drivers license and there’s some old warrant I’d forgotten about, and I’m hauled off to the Hermosa jail, and that’s pretty much the end of practicing in mom’s garage.
My high school friend, the keyboardist, Vitus Matare, had been in Europe after high school and had been in my band back then, and he’d come around to see what was going on. We had a four track and he actually ran the tape for the demo. So he was into helping us with recording but he had thought I had lost my mind as far as the punk rock thing. He said, “I don’t want any part of this but I’ll help you out. He wasn’t alone in thinking I’d lost my mind. I had a whole bunch of friends I’d been hanging out with, who had always really respected me as ‘the music guy.’ So I was able to get a whole group of them for when the Ramones played the Roxy in August of ’76. And a majority I have not spoken to since that night. They’d thought I’d gone nuts. I thought, “My God, have you no ears?” It was truly astounding. I remember I lost a lot of friends over that. By the end of ’76 I remember I was at a party, and some guy came up and said, “You know in six months no one’s going to know what punk rock is.”
The other interesting thing that happens at the end of ’76 is that I hear they’re trying to do some type of punk rock scene in England, and you know one thing I had been very happy about was that Punk rock was very much an American invention. I’d come to the conclusion that people had been looking across the sea for each new direction for way too long, maybe kind of a Beatle damage think or whatever, but I thought this was great, Punk Rock was American. We got the best bands. Whatever it does or doesn’t do, it’s from here, and besides the British, they were wearing like, Dyed hair, and I thought this was like some weird Glitter thing, and they’re calling it punk but its got to sound terrible, and I mean the Sex Pistols, what kind of name is that for a band.
Rodney Bingenheimer is on the air by this time, and so he gets a hold of “Anarchy in U.K.” and plays it. And hearing “Anarchy” for the first time is one of those things you remember. The opening chords, and then that, “Right!…Now!” It was like “Oh, fuck!” I had a couple of simultaneous thoughts hearing Anarchy for the first time.
The first thought was goddammit the English have done it again. Shit this pretty much kicks every New York’s bands ass without even trying, that was my first thought. The second thought was this is one of the greatest records I’ve ever heard in my life. And the third thought was, “This is where everything’s gonna go.” It’s probably impossible, because when you listen to it nowadays, I remember Brendan Mullen (Started the influential LA Punk club the Masque) I was talking to him and he said that when he first heard it he thought it was Mott the Hoople just doing a joke. It’s kinda slow, it’s certainly not the aggro pace that became associated with punk rock later, but it might be difficult for somebody hearing it now to realize what a revolution it was at the time. At that time it was like somebody came in and was saying, “There are no rules, and if you want to come along for the ride, do it, otherwise just shut the fuck up and go away.” It’s impossible to describe the impact that had. So it was like O.K. the Pistols are the greatest band in the world and this was where everything was going and it’s gonna influence all future songs, so it was pretty incredible. And also at that point hearing it was like, “O.K. this thing could get bigger than just some small pocket in New York and a couple other cities.
Vitus, who is willing to let us practice up at his pad which was someplace up in Brentwood. He wasn’t interested in being in the band per se, because he just didn’t understand it, you know… One of my favorite lines, I forget who said it, but it was, “Why would people want to play that way?” It was like being exposed to another planet. For me, it seemed like the obvious way for music to go.
Basically, our bassist and drummer were along for fun, it’s like “O.K. We can drink beer and stuff and we can play Joe’s wacky songs, but people were pretty much humoring me which was the best I could hope for anyway. So the band for the first half of ’77 was just building up a set of songs. We did actually play once in ’76. One of the people who hadn’t stopped talking to me after the Ramones thing, a friend of theirs liked us a said they could get us a gig, and it turned out to be Buster Keaton’s granddaughter who was turning 16, and so we were actually able to play her birthday party, a very strange evening. There was no club scene, although the Whiskey does open its doors in January ’77 for the Runaways and the Quick. It aint punk rock but at least they’re young bands playing original music, and if Kim Fowley’s going to be the one that’s gonna make it happen in L.A. so be it. But again you would have to know Kim Fowley and possibly have to do vile things to get one of those gigs so… It wasn’t likely to happen.
So we’re wood shedding and developing sets during the first half of ’77, but in April the drummer and bass player abruptly quit. They’d just had enough. It was like, “We’re not gonna get anywhere playing this type of music and we’re not having fun so…bye.” At this point, I finally start going to Back Door Man parties. I’d finally hooked up with them, and would become fairly good friends with a lot of them, and it wasn’t two days after the guys quit that one of them came up and said “Yeah, the zippers are putting on a gig with the Pop if you guys wanna open. I said, “My band just quit. Don’t tell me that.” So ’77 was frustrating. It was a delightful year musically with single after single coming out, The Clash, etc. But by the first half of ’77 the Zippers are a South Bay band. The Back Door Man people kind of paved the way, and they were saying what I had been feeling, like that all the modern stadium rockers were bullshit, and that it was far better to listen to Patti Smith or your old Stooges records, listen to something real, so it was a pretty important step. And Don Wahler had this band the Imperial Dogs, who had actually played Rodney’s English Disco, and the whole Radio Free Hollywood thing which involved the Hotel’s, the Pop and the Dog’s, and this whole sort of pre-scene thing happening. Kind or pre-punk but still important, kind of like the 101er’s would be to the English scene. These were the people during the lonely days keeping the torch alive. And as punk proper hits, especially with the Pistols, it was interesting because the reaction was kind of, they were skeptical of the Pistol’s kind of, they were skeptical of the idea of, “why not just call it rock n’ roll, why do they have to call it punk, why does it have to be a scene? And it’s interesting because if you’re trying to sort out the history of where does punk rock start in the south bay? It’s a tough thing because the Back Door Man crowd, the youngest of them are like about my age, mostly they were like a year or two older, hence the suspicion. The new gang of kids, which David and Frank are meeting as a few kindred spirits in High School, who are like into punk rock proper and I’m the oldest one of that whole crowd. So I’m right between the two. And then in some sense historically at least if you want to drive a nail between the two, it’s like pre-punk and then the sort of like, punk rock proper, I supposed we would be that nail, because we had a foot in both camps. Keith Morris and Greg Ginn I think have occasionally referred to us as being a part of the old school sort-of pre-punk bands, which is not quite accurate.
Did you feel like an outsider or outcast then?
After the Ramones thing with all my friends I did sort of feel like a pariah. David and Frank and their new friends started to band together because they were treated like weirdos and outsiders by everyone at their high school. As of ’77, I can safely say that I knew 99% of the people who were into punk rock because there was about ten.
For instance they filmed part of rock n’ roll high school at Costa. So it’s ’79, and Janet (Housden) and her brother and Dave and Frank and basically that whole group of friends, they go and, “Oh, the irony,” a Ramones film, they have special screening for Mira Costa kids because it was filmed there, and so you’ve got this particular group of people who are all 13 or 14, who are the only ones who even knew who the Ramones were and then everybody else. I get a frantic phone call because basically they start getting followed and attacked by all the jocks and regular kids after the screening. People shouting “Devo,” that’s the ultimate insult. You yell “Devo” at anybody who looks punk rock. Looking punk rock meant not having long hair and wearing straight leg pants. That was it, seriously, were not talking buttons or safety pins, wearing straight leg pants was enough to make you look weird. People would throw things. They were at the liquor store right next to the school there, and were basically huddled inside the store because if they went outside the store people were throwing sodas at them and shit like that. So I had to barrel out in my Montego and pile like 13 into the car. It was pretty funny. I almost tore Steve Housden’s leg off because he wasn’t quite in the car yet when we roared off.
Then we had to dodge cops, and I swear that sometimes I thought the jocks and the cops had some kind of hotline, persecution from both sides. The church is just starting to happen around this time too, and we were definitely not wanted.
Summer of ’77 the bass player comes back with yet another drummer. So we’re starting to practice again, but we got a new drummer to work in so we’re not ready to play, but at this point the Zippers along with the Back Door Man people somewhow get a hold of a club called Under the Pier, which was right by the stairways that go down to the Redondo Pier in the downstairs area, and for some reasons they were able to get it for one night a week for a month and a half in the summer of ’77, and were able to put on their own shows there, which was like, “Oh, my God,” because unfortunately we were not ready to take advantage of that. But one of the first shows they have this band out of Lomita or Harbor City called the Alley Cats. They were doing “Nothing means Nothing,” even back then. It was truly almost a religious experience. It was great to see. The even had the Weirdos before they had a drummer. So it was like a weird little oasis of original music right there. It was really probably the first time punk rock came to the South Bay. The club just let the back door man people take over one night a week. They even had their own people working the door which was good because I turned 21 that summer and for the first month that club was in existence I was underage, but basically you show them a library card and they let you in.
The Zippers were like Back Door Man’s equivalent of a house band, because they’d been born from the remnants of a couple bands like Tommy Kid, and at least somebody from Imperial Dogs. They were definitely good, but they were not going for the punk thing deliberately. I liked them, and I remember Pat Smear was a big fan of theirs. They were accepted. Plus they were able to book a few shows that summer. In addition to that Kim Fowley did a couple of punk nights at the Whiskey, and there were a couple of good bands and some really humorous failed attempts. But there wasn’t like a really club or anything, and then August ’77 was when the Masque starts which is the beginning of the thing. I found out about it because they had done two private things for Needles and Pins, because the Masque was really this series of practice studios and Needles and Pins wanted to do a couple of showcases and so Brendan said O.K. and then thought, “What the hell, we could actually have bands play down here. The third show which was really like the first real show was the first one I went to. I think that was it. But I do remember I went down to the Masque to check it out before they actually had that show, which was how I met the Skulls, and I thought, “This is cool.”
So I go there when they’re going to have their first show which is how I saw the Germs, those wonderful, wonderful Germs, who I’m fairly certain never played a song the same way twice, and rarely played it in the same key. Frequently they were playing different songs at the same time. It was amazing. The germs were really a great dividing point. I’m becoming good friends with Fast Freddie at this point, and I know Dee Dee, and Don Wahler I talk to a lot back in the day because he’s a wealth of knowledge and loves to debate. Most of them thought the Germs were a complete joke. The rationale being that the problem with all the punk bands was that they were trying to play shitty. Whereas the garage bands back in the ‘60’s were trying to make the best records they could under really bad circumstances. I thought, “It’s not that the Germs are trying to play shitty, they’re creating something, a deliberate sort of confrontational attempt to like… If nothing else it’s hard to say that a genre’s supposed to do this or that but it seemed there were two reasons for punk rock to exist, and the two reasons why it was necessary for it to exist, one I think was to do what the Germs were doing, which was to create an anarchic thing, where all bets are off. This goes back to the whole stadium shows thing I was talking about where the singer says whatever crowd pleasing thing you knew he said the night before and would do it the night after, etc. etc. It was the intent to be the complete antithesis of professionalism, and it wasn’t just, “Yeah, we’re going to cash in and play really bad.” No it wasn’t playing really bad, it’s (deconstructing), it’s creating noise, and I thought there was something inherently wonderful in the music and that’s definitely the bottom line, but yeah to deconstruct, to confront, to create chaos, which was necessary after the corporate morass that music had de-evolved into. The other thing that punk rock was supposed to do was take down that barrier, the big stage between the god-like artists on stage and the lowly peons who must throw money at the artists, to take that barrier between audience and performer and toss it out the window, get rid of it. Hence, jumping into the crowd, hence the slam pit, the pogoer’s, jumping on to the stage. Break it all down. Fuckin’ forget about it, the inherent message being, “You could do this too. You enjoying this? You could be up here next week. That’s kind of what happened. There were a fairly finite amount of bands when Brendan first started, and he a couple more shows and we were actually scheduled, we were going to make our debut at the masque at the end of the September and the week before the cops closed it down. We’ve had a lot of incredible timing like that over the years. So the Masque was closed down for like two or three weeks, and when they re-opened, Brendan is overwhelmed because instead of like 10 or 20 bands there’s like 100. It was like literally in the space of a few weeks everybody started a band. It was insane.
There’s the apocryphal story of Black Flag pouring beer on Brendan because he wouldn’t let them play because everybody was prejudiced against South Bayer’s, which it is up to them to tell. I personally had a lot of trouble to get re-booked, and it’s not because of prejudice, because Brendan was a friend of mine by this point, I actually baby sat the studio on a few occasions so he could go to a few parties and get out of there, but there were two many bands now. Plus he had a very thick accent which made it very difficult to understand him. It was like, “Wait, maybe he offered me a gig and I didn’t understand it.” But we kind of ran into that same problem of trying to get in there.
So basically it’s like fall of ’77 and it’s like, “Fuck it, let’s put out our own record.” The Germs had just done that. The zippers had just done that. So we put out “She Don’t Know Why,” which we pressed like 300 copies of and everyone of those copies we couldn’t afford labels for so we had to go out to some god awful place in East L.A. just to get the things pressed and whatever, so I ended up one night handwriting the song titles on everyone of those records.
I think at this point I had two goals, one was again the old thing of getting something going in the south bay, and the other was that no one should have two go through what we were going through. An original band should have places to play. If you’re starting out you should be able to find a club you can play at, for the sake of the band, for the sake of music in general, for music lovers. You need that. There should always be some sort of a club scene and there should be a way to put out a record. If nothing else no one should have to go through this. (Here in 2004) as much as people want to complain about the state of music or whatever, it’s never going to be as bad as it was in ’75. There’s a network, a way to get out there, and it’s something that’s taken for granted now, but it was something in the beginning people had to fight to make happen. As far as the D.I.Y thing it’s like its not that these were noble pioneers who for the sake of future generations are going to do this glorious thing, it was people that didn’t have any fucking choice.
It was a no-brainer. We wanted to put out a record. Did we have any options? Was Columbia beating on our door? No! O.K. We’re doing it ourselves.
So we did that little record. As a result of that I was finally able to convince Brendan to put us on a bill so we were able to finally debut at the Masque, January 7, 1977. Fast Freddie from Back Door Man loved the record, thought it was great. He went to Don Wahler, and Don did not like the record at all. Greg Shaw loved the record. So we ended up signing with Bomp as a result of that. By this time Vitus has finally joined the band on keyboards. The Pistols album had come out in October of ’77 and that finally convinced him. He finally figured out what the punk rock thing was all about. So we play the Masque, and by the end of the gig our bassist quits. His girlfriend did not like the band. She was an old and dear friend, but we were no longer seeing eye to eye. She was one of the people I dragged to the Ramones show. So she basically told him. “You’ve got to choose, either the band or me.” Actually, what he ended up doing was breaking up with her and quitting the band.
Fortunately, I had an idea that he could bail at anytime, and brother David, who of course at this time is still a part of the two acoustic guitar Descendents, gets a bass for Christmas. I said, “You’re learning all the songs on bass because we might put you in there. He said “I don’t know how to play the bass.” I said, “It’s just guitar with two less strings.” David did join, of course, and made his debut two weeks later at the Whiskey on a Bomp! Night. That was one good thing with being on Bomp!, we were able to actually get a good gig, but for the first year for all of’78 David played guitar chords on bass.
Unfortunately, the Masque closed down the week after played it. We were just barely able to play there at the last minute. In ’78, Bomp! was unfortunately getting in over their head in terms of what they wanted to put out, and what they were economically able to do. So they were supposed to release our first single, but that was delayed by a few months. They were doing the best they could, but they were young and naïve. So we were all pissed off. At some point Bomp! has this other record they were going to put out by some band called Panic.
Three girls from that whole crowd that were sort of hanging out in the South Bay, Helen, Mary and Trudie, also known as the Plungers, were also good friends of Mike’s from this pre-punk, post glitter Sugar Shack disco out in the valley that everyone would go to and dance to Sweet records and stuff. They all kind of met there. Helen, Mary and Trudie got right into punk from the get-go. I used to give them rides to shows and stuff. I remember picking Helen up in the middle of P.V. She lived on Silver Spur right before the peninsula center, and she’d get in the car and be discussing the best way to shove needles through her cheek and stuff, and comparing Nazi regalia. I ran into Trudie at probably the first time I ever see the Screamers, this was probably ’77, and Trudie comes up and says to me, “Are these guys any good? I’ve seen them a few times but I was too drunk.” Of course, Trudie ended up hooking up with K.K. from the Screamers and they’ve been married with kids for like 30 years now.
One of them, probably Mary, said, “Hey you guys there’s another punk band in Hermosa.” “What? You’re kidding.” “Yeah, they’re called Panic and they practice right on Aviation. So basically she arranges for us to go meet this other punk rock band at their little studio which was one little unit in a little office mall on Aviation right by Grant. So me brother Dave, brother Mike and the girls show up and we’re waiting for this Panic band to get there, and the strangest sight I think I have ever seen, this impossibly huge 15 year old kid comes riding up on the smallest bicycle I had ever seen, with I think fishing gear hanging out the back of it. And Dave said, “Oh, my God, that’s that weird kid. I know that guy, he goes to my school.” He comes up and says “Yeah, I’m going to audition to be this bands drummer.” I guess Robo had disappeared in downtown L.A. somewhere, and so that was my introduction to Bill Stevenson.
Anyway, of course eventually Keith and Chuck and Greg show up and we all bonded instantly of course, and spent that evening just totally jamming, 3/4 of Panic and me and brother David. So it was like a great little all-star jam, although nobody was stars back then, and we were the only ones who had played anywhere, but nobody taped it. My best guess would be that it was late summer of ’78. A sort of unholy alliance was formed that night, and we found out that they were frustrated because Bomp! was gonna put out the first single, “Wasted.” The Nervous Breakdown E.P. had already been recorded and Bomp! was supposed to put it out and of course they couldn’t at the time. We started hanging out with them, having parties at their studio. Needless to say, Robo came back so Bill kind of faded into the background.
David of course had pretty much left Frank Navetta to join the Last, so Frank’s not too happy for most of ’78, but David is kind of silently starting to work with Frank. I don’t know why but at the time I was kind of adamant that people in one band should be in that band, and not be spreading themselves too thin. So Frank probably kind of resented me a bit. Not too much actually, we were all one big happy family. His father hated me, because I was like the older kid that was leading his son down the road to hell. Really my greatest service to the original South bay punk rock community was that I was the only one old enough to buy beer. It was an important thing. So we would hang out at my mom’s all the time and play records and drink beer, and the one time I met Frank’s dad he came to the door to collect Frank, I open the door and its this older version of Frank just glowering at me, such intense hatred. That was pretty damn scary.
-End of Part One of Joel Nolte Interview