Skinheads have always been a touchy issue within the Denver Punk Scene. They were often renowned as the bad seed. With this project, former skins have been invited to participate and express their opinions and involvement in the scene. Most of them started out as punk rockers and later discovered Oi! music and the aesthetics associated with it.
I don’t condone any of the violence that happened at the shows, skinhead or otherwise. Punk and hardcore is a form of expression that can easily be swayed towards pushing, shoving, leading to altercation. With that said I was friendly with everyone in the scene including the older skins. I hung out with them and still consider them friends. Much of the violence at shows during the mid-80s was simply teenage angst and alpha male power struggles. We were all outsiders so we had to project a hard image to keep the general populace from fucking with us. Punks and skins adopted a pack mentality to ward off jocks, hicks and the like. Many times when we collided with outsiders is when things got heavy and fists were thrown. That’s the way it was for a lot of us growing-up.
The skins were an intimidating element to the scene and later sensationalized and simultaneously demonized by mass media. One on one, they were approachable. As a group it was a different story for non-punks, other punks that weren’t part of their extended group and newbies at shows. The dichotomy was that the group was somewhat exclusive, but yet they were friendly with others within the scene at large.
I went to school with the early core of the Denver Skins and therefore our friendship was more on an intimate level. We’d hang out after school, listen to music, and watch them tear it up on backyard skateboard ramps in suburban Aurora. I helped with a couple of shows they promoted, drank beers together, and got tattooed. Other friends would ask why I hung out with the skins, it was simple, “We’re friends.” I didn’t question their actions and they didn’t question mine. We seldom talked politics, beliefs, religion, and didn’t need to. Back in the day, people bonded over similar interests and co-exited that way.
As people have grown older, many of the old scenesters have become more forthcoming about their politics. I don’t get into that much. Punk to me has always been about the music, dropping out of the system and making life on your own terms while being respectful of others. Outside of defending yourself, I don’t support violence and make a conscious effort these days to avoid confrontations.
Big Chad is a friend, an original Denver skinhead and short-lived front man of Immoral Attitude. My fondest memory of Chad is sitting in his dark basement apartment across the street form Wax Trax drinking beer in the early afternoon listing to Oi! albums. He and the other guys in Immoral Attitude helped develop my love for English street punk.
Big Chad discusses being a punk rocker, defines what a real skinhead is, his rational for disliking rap music, sheep that can’t cook, drugs, and his time singing in a band.
|Chad, Jeff and Dan with Vinnie and Craig of Agnostic Front. Photo courtesy of Denver Punk Scene FB page RIP. Brush and ink drawing by Bob Rob Medina.|
Immoral Attitude and Uberfall, was there ever a sense of competition, friendly or otherwise since both bands played music in the spirit of Oi!?
At a certain point of time there was. I don't know if they felt it as much as I did, but I certainly wanted to blow them off the map.
I think the difference between Uberfall and Immoral Attitude was Uberfall had a wider range of friends at the beginning...Flye and Big John were the social magnets of the band so they always got everyone out to their gigs.
Do you want to hear a story about Big John?
The first time Iron Cross toured, they ended up staying at my house for a week. It was the shitty apartment across from Wax Trax. We had a great time. They slept on my floor and we'd eat at Taco Bueno and drink beer. I took them out to Cherry Creek for a swim... Anyhow, they played a pick-up show with Tex and the Horseheads at Christian’s. They had time to kill before heading out to California to play with Chron Gen and then going down to Mexico to play a gig at Iguanas in Tijuana. I don't think they ever made that show. On the way back they stayed with me again.
A guy with Iron Cross at that time was this cat named James and he had played in the skinhead band, Combat 84. Sab knew and brought him on tour because they were friend back in England where he is originally from. A couple of years later James comes back through Denver and now he's playing guitar with the fucking UK Subs. It was for their 10th anniversary tour. Do you remember that show?
Yeah, my band opened up for them at Norman’s.
The UK Subs drummer, Rab Fae Beith, was a force of nature-he was something else. We went to the show, the Subs played and knowing James we met them at their hotel after the show. Do you remember a guy named Darren? He was the big time Capitol Hill cocaine dealer. The funny thing was, he's Jewish and liked to hang out with skinheads, before the racist thing was in full bloom. We ended up at a party with Darren and he's got a piece of cocaine that looks like a bar of soap in a plastic bag in his pocket. We are there with the Subs so we raised-up some money. He starts to shave it off with a knife. Everyone's fucked up. The band had a roadie named Bubbles, a fat skinhead guy and gets in an argument with Paxton so everything is going wrong from the start. I don't know how it happened but we ended up leaving and headed over to Lisa's house.
Lisa is kind of the punk princess and Big John was there. Another friend of mine who was out of his head on cocaine was moving around a lot. He bounced into people and they would just push him-he became a human pinball. He bumps into Lisa and spills her drink. She gets pissed off and throws what’s left in her glass at the UK Subs including Rab. Rab is Scottish and built like a fucking fire hydrant, he's just solid, bleach blonde hair, punk rock style with a braided tail in the back tied with a red ribbon. He looked like a fucking pirate. Lisa takes the rest of what's in her glass and throws it on him and starts denouncing me saying what an asshole I am because I brought them there. Rab has a bottle of Sunny Delight filled with half juice and half vodka and slings a big gulp of that into her face. Then Big John comes up and gets all bad and starts talking shit and telling him, "Fuck you" Rab headbutts him and he goes to the ground. It was definitely a concussion. The first thing Rab says is, "In Scottland, that is what we call a headbutt." Everybody starts saying, "Why the fuck did you do that?" He replied, "He was fucking saying shit about me mate." Meaning me. As we're leaving, this is a great punk rock moment, who's coming in? Stiv Bators from Lords of the New Church and he is with Charlie from the Subs. That was fucking cool, both bands played the same night at different clubs. That was one of my great punk moments: hanging out with the UK Subs and doing a bunch of drugs with them, getting into a fight and they stood up for me, plus meeting Stiv Bators on the way out. I finally got to sleep a couple of days later.
New Wave girls?
All the girls liked bad boys in the 80's, meaning skinheads and punks but when you talked with them they worshipped Ronald Reagan. I remember being at one of those nasty gross basement apartments where Jill and Jeff lived playing board games and drinking beers and there would be these new wave chicks and they're all in to Reagan. Goddamn, I wanted to throw them out. I was telling them, “How can you be wearing your little fairy boots and you're into the punk rock stuff, and yet vote the same way as your parents?”
People from the burbs were like that.
I want to answer a riddle for you, a riddle you’ve had for years. Now, I had completely forgot about that Black Flag show where Nig Heist got arrested.
Yeah, that was the show you got up on stage and talked into the mic....
And the question that seems to be lingering in your mind was why did I say, "Why did God invent women?"
Because she can't cook?
It isn't "she" it was "sheep"
Sheep can't cook?
A fucking animal covered in wool. S-H-E-E-P (Laugher) It's funnier now isn't it?
I have that show on tape, it was broadcasted on the Wild West Show on KGNU. The funny thing before they aired it, the station played the disclaimer stating something to the effect of, "the following material might be offensive to you or a family member so please tune out for the next few minutes." And you know how that show went with them getting arrested in Denver for indecent exposure and lewd behavior. It was a flurry of obscenities for 20 or so minutes. Even the commentary on the radio was hilarious. Someone called the station wanting to dedicate the song, Tight Little Pussy to a girl and Richard the DJ gets on the air and announced it.
As a young man, I was connoisseur of dirty jokes...I'm embarrassed now (Laughter) you can print that too. I was a wild and profane man when I was young.
How did you get into punk?
It was the early 80's. We were seeing things on cable TV at a friend’s house. I saw videos by The Specials and Pretenders. I had a subscription to the rock magazine, Crawdaddy! and they had full page ads for Sex Pistols and stuff like that. When they mentioned punk rock, everyone would be freaked out by it.
Where did you go to school?
Littleton High. In high school, the rich kids were complete fucking assholes.
They were scumbags, thieves, cowards...travel in packs. I didn't want to wear the same clothes as them, the same shoes; I didn't want to listen to Foreigner or Styx. I wanted to do something different. I will tell you something, there's a flier you posted on your article about the Frantix, the first show I ever went to was Rok Tots, Dogmeat and the Frantix at the Boulder Free School. I remember dressing like a new wave kid and going to the show with a girl I knew. She worked at Burger King in Southglenn Mall with Mark from Bum Kon. Mark was clued-up and knew about the hardcore stuff that was coming out and we didn't. We found out about the show from him. So we drove up there. I walked in and I see this guy leaning on a bar and he's got on Levis, black suede cowboy boots with chains and bandanas tied around them, a mohair sweater, a bandana around his neck and spiky hair. He looked so fucking awesome. He looked rock and roll epitomized. It was Garrett Shavlik. I wanted to look like that. Inside the show it is a free for all...chicks walking around screaming for the fuck of it because there's no rules. There were people slam dancing and I got on my Hawaiian shirt and sneakers I spray-painted pink to look new wave, rude and offensive. I think I might have had a skinny tie and buttons on my shirt and those cheesy wraparound punk rock shades. I'm with my friend Holly and I told her, "I'm feeling it, I want to get out there and slam dance" Both of us had never seen it before. So I took off those stupid new wave sunglasses and snapped them, threw them away and jumped in the fucking pit and got bashed around and never looked back.
And going back to high school, the Pee Chee folders with the drawings of the guys running, playing basketball...we'd took a pen and made their hair spiky and wrote stuff like Dogmeat, Frantix on their shirts instead of doing school work.
How did you get into Oi!?
There were things about skinheads in the punk rock magazines that were coming out. It wasn't clear what it was; it just seemed to be a cut above punk rock. It came across as something like a gang, something a little more elevated, it seemed like skins didn't take any shit. I had no fucking clue that it existed in England, the history of it...I just knew that these guys seemed a little braver. The biggest thing to remember is how much fucking shit you'd get from everybody. Do you remember that Bob?
Of course, if you're a punk rocker, you invited it. We all got a ton of shit from people for looking the way we did.
For nothing, everybody just wanted to kill you. My impression was skinheads were people that stood up for themselves. I really liked the UK sound and still do more than anything else. I loved the Exploited, GBH...At a Big Apple Records shop in Cinderella City I discovered Oi! The Album in the import bin. The bands on that record were the Cockney Rejects, Exploited, Angelic Upstarts, 4-Skins...I was, "Wow" this was the sound I really loved.
Here's the biggest part, I was working, I've always worked, always had a job, and I always valued the people that I worked with. I felt the look of skinheads made it more palatable to get a job. You shave your head, you got your Doc Martins on, some jeans, a Fred Perry...you know you're not going to get hired if you go in with a mohawk and black leather jacket full of studs. Do you know what I mean? It is completely unfair, but that was the reality of it. I needed to work, to take care of my family and that’s it. It's like a fucking glove. Essentially Oi! is the same kind of music as punk, but maybe a little sower and both sing about a lot of the same things. It made sense to me.
I attribute you and the guys from Immoral Attitude for turning me on to Oi!. I've been to several of Oi! shows in the states and in Europe. When I saw the Business in Spain or Peter and the Test Tube Babies in London, it was a totally different vibe than back home. Everyone was singing along, buying each other beers and having a good time. There wasn't any attitude, nobody was sizing me up because I didn't have the look...I was up front with them singing along and drinking ales.
It's amazing isn't it? Here we are, dissatisfied with what goes on, but we're still loyal to our county, football club...and we work. We have girlfriends, families, and jobs. Tell me what you felt at those shows?
Everybody was cool, people were stoked to see the bands...There were skinheads of all shapes, sizes, skin color, whatever. There was definitely a uniform and people that showed up were in into it and not because it was fashionable. I hung out with a couple of skins at the Business show and went down to a bar with them before the show. About the only problem was I didn't speak Catalonian, but got by with some Spanish. They turned me on to a couple of Oi! bands from Spain and I went to the record store next day and bought what they suggested. It reminded me of the old days when you’d meet another punk or skin and become instant friends, It’s not like anymore, at least when I go to shows in California. And the racism thing, sure it was nationalistic, but everyone seemed to respect and not bother anyone else.
There was a time when a lot of people flirted with racism in the 80's. Unfortunately in the early 90's “skinhead” got full-on coopted and it just disintegrated into racist nonsense. To be totally honest, I wasn't immune to that. But anybody with any fucking brains realizes that isn’t the way to go. I flirted with Nazi monkey business but I never got into it and I never hurt anybody. I never understood why people would want to go to a punk gig and wreck it.
It seems like that came later with newer skins. I never felt like the older ones intentionally ruined shows; sure there were skirmishes but nothing like the violence later on.
I think a lot of the original hardcore punks, the guys from East High, I feel like they failed us in camaraderie. We would go and see their shows, and write their names on our t-shirts, and we all did that. But I feel like they had this territorial imperative because they lived in the city and went to East and the rest of us were from the burbs.
You felt like they were snobbish towards the suburban punks?
Absolutely. Completely. I remember going to a gig in someone's backyard and I want to say it was Child Abuse or Peace Core; one of those bands was playing. There were 100 antagonistic jocks there probably wanting to throw the band in the pool-it was the kind of house that had a pool. Some rich Cherry Creek girl threw a punk rock party when her parents were out of town. And the band played and all the local boys showed up wantingto beat up the punks. The verbal that was going on was that skinheads were here and that wasn't going to happen tonight.
|According to Chad, Target of Demand never showed. Collection of the author.|
Did you think the skins were the Guardian Angels of the party that night?
You know, in a really stupid way I wanted skins to be. It never happened. I guess I thought it would be like motorcycle club, just like a brotherhood of likeminded individuals, we go to the shows and there's people fucking with the punk rockers and we could help, but it ended up the other way around (Laughter). It was squabbles, people just talking shit, "I'm going to get this guy, I'm going to get that guy" A show would be a place to fight. I hated that; it's a really bad memory. I remember doing that.
Do you remember Craig form Canada; he dated Cassy for Psychotic Reaction? I remember he was talking a bunch of shit, saying he was going to smash skinheads. At DOA, this was a Jill show and that's why she used to hate me. I started spitting on him and calling him out, trying to fight him on a dance floor. And two years later, we're friends and I felt badly about that.
You know, writing about skins for this project has been sort of a taboo subject. It almost seems like people are waiting for me to bring it up. The time I did, I got flack from both directions. The overall consensus of what I wrote was that it came from a neutral perspective of stating the facts. If you read it there are no judgments. You even busted my balls a little bit about it. I’m almost certain I will be criticized for this post as well. Everyone has their story and it is as valid as anyone else’s. The Denver Skins were the elephant in the room and tends to be stuck in the collective consciousness of the Denver scene. For some people it is legit, like Hale from Burnt Fase, he was pretty much chased out of Denver by the new skins.
Skinheads are having a revival returning to its proper roots and meaning; there are so many bands that are playing right now. There are a lot old skinheads in San Francisco and everyone's happy. At the Cock Sparrer last year there were no fights, sold the place out of beer, broke the toilet, no aggravation... I'm 51 and I'm done fighting, I don't know how people settle their scores anymore...everyone has guns now and have for the last 20 years. When's the last time you saw a proper fistfight? If you're ever going to see it, it'll be 2 proper skinheads doing it and when they're done, they're going to have a drink. The gang mentality took over everything.
Some people say that rap music brought in a lot of that.
I'll go on record, I hate rap, fucking hate it. A lot of it is the lowest common denominator. I hate the materialist aspect, the gang aspect, and misogynistic treatment of women in it. It's like watching the Home Shopping Network. You listen to Cock Sparrer: “I been working all day for me mate on the site, Running around like a blue arsed fly, I been working, And I been working all day for me mate" Then you listen to rap, "I wear cologne, I rock the microphone..." ahhh fucking hell.
Totally different worlds, one is fantasy and one is reality.
You know Chad, I can see why people like the escapism. People struggle coping in the real world so they create an alternate reality in their minds and emulate their heroes from popular culture. A lot of kids get sucked into this pseudo reality that worships consumer and materialism. The worst part is the cheeping and the devaluing of life. I don't get it. I'm fine with rap or any music if it has meaning rooted in not bringing down people; stuff like referring to females as bitches and capping someone's ass. I don't get it; it's like watching yourself jack-off in a mirror.
Yeah, music should be played with instruments! It's all commercial shit. Remember when you bough a new hat and didn't take the tags off on it? (Laughter) Preposterous materialism. Being a skinhead, you realize this is who you are, this is what you have, and you work with it. You know you're not going to be the CEO of Google; you work on a building site. Like when you saw the Business in Spain, you're not listening to Jay-Z telling us how much Cristal Champagne he drinks, you’re listening to Micky Fitz singing about the National Insurance Blacklist. Do what you can with what you have and find joy, pleasure, and pride in it. That’s where it comes from, pride in your class, and pride in your background. People don't get it, you're not going to be Warren Buffet, sorry.
|Best fake sticker ever made. According to the band, it was a poster. |
Courtesy of the Tom headbanger collection at the Denver Public Library.
Do you remember Chris having a Volkswagen Bug? One night we’re heading down to play a show and we stopped to get gas. Chris goes inside to pay and comes running out. There were these rednecks that wanted to fucking kill us. We had to get the fuck out of there. Chris pushed that Bug for everything that it was worth; he was going through red lights, stop signs… Every time we stopped they started getting out of the truck. It was four of them and two of us. They chased us for 30 fucking miles, all the way from Chris' house, out by where you lived in Aurora all through Denver and down to Christian’s. We pulled into the parking lot with the rednecks still behind us. They took a look at all of us and everyone man'd up and that pick-up truck just backed out and left. (Laughter)
It seemed like Immoral Attitude was a revolving door of members?
It was really Chris and Dave's band. They didn’t have much going on until I joined. With Tommy, they didn't write to many songs. I wrote song and we were good. We tried. I wish it could have gone further. Part of why I didn't play with them anymore was I got a little mouthy on the economics of the band. They came from money and I didn't, so I told them to have their mother rent us an RV and we can do a tour and they took exception to that. They went, "Tell your mom to rent us an RV" Well, my mom didn’t have money; we were poor. Honestly, as far as a band that ever played that was the best line-up. I have a tape in my storage of songs we recorded and it’s still good to this day.
Chad changes the subject
I understand why you want to put this Denver Skins thing in your book; it was certainly a part of the scene and mostly for bad. I can only speak for myself. I'm not quite sure how you deal with that. This sounds so arrogant, I was basically there at the formation of the Denver Skins: Sammy, Holly, Gary and his girlfriend...it was four friends and years later it turned into a nightmare. I guess I'm wondering how do the skins fit into your project?
I think to paint an honest history of the scene you have to be inclusive. I have interviewed: fans, bands, promoters, DJs… just about someone from every element connected with the scene. I included all the genres: punk, hardcore, industrial, new wave, experimental, because they were all infused. I'm interested in people's stories and contributions good or bad. I don't think it would be right to purposefully exclude any group since everyone contributed. Though out this project I have been keeping in mind that we were all kids when we were involved in this. I always assume that when people talk with me, they are telling me what was in their heads 30 years ago.
I respect that. It was predominant. Denver was huge with the skin thing for a while.
I think violence at shows is a relevant topic. It changed people's attitudes about going to shows; it changed the dynamics of the scene. I would even argue that problems at shows created factions and micro scenes. Granted bands were changing as members learned their instruments better and wanted to play something other that fast songs. When bands like Brother Rat and the Fluid formed, a lot of the hardcore kids didn't go to those shows.
In the beginning White Trash, Dogmeat, and Frantix-that stuff was great. Then it turned in to the Fluid, 57 Lesbian and thought that was boring even though they were great at what they did. You know, there were a lot of lost souls in the punk scene and you know what they did? They found the most negative element and followed that.
What needs to be mentioned was that we didn't have guidance. If we were coming up now we would have guns. Everyone was trying to take their shit out on their own, for good or bad. Some people got into heroin and some people got into Nazi monkey business. We were fucking kids.
Yeah, with perspective and age, it's like, "Whoa" I know several punks and skins who changed completely and do stuff like to church, as if to repent for choices they made in the past or basically to be a better person. I support that. There are a lot of things out there to keep people down. I think once you stop living off your parents and have kids, buy a house, and take ownership of your actions it’s a totally different story. Now you have perspective and appreciation for things. I did post on how it was in vogue for punkers to complain about their parents, you know, the default punk rock rebellion button. Fast forward 30 years and a lot of old punks have kids and everything has come full circle. Final thoughts?
Being a skinhead was really an influential part of my life, I still consider myself a skinhead to this day. Like I said, real skinheads are about pride, traditions, being a better person and not the negative stuff that happened.