Friday, November 13, 2015

Straight Edge in 88: promoting shows and putting out records.


Stepping up to the plate.

The overall realization within the punk and hardcore scene was that it couldn’t sustain the momentum from the early 80s. The raw energy element had grown progressively thin by the later part of mid-80s. The overall punk aesthetic had morphed away from its center in terms of music, dress, and attitude, and started mixing with other genres of music. By 1987, playing punk and hardcore was regarded as passĂ© and frowned upon. In a conversation I had with Karl Alvarez (Descendents/ALL) concerning the stylistic changes in the 80s, he said something to the effect of how every band had changed sounds and moved away from punk, with the exceptions of his band and DOA who had both weathered the storm and continued playing punk non-stop for thirty plus years.  

On Minor Threat’s posthumous Salad Days 7” EP in 1985, vocalist Ian MacKaye scrutinized changes within the scene through an introspective recollection on the record’s title cut: “Wishing for the days when I first wore this suit, baby has grown older, it's no longer cute.” Similar sentiments were echoed in other bands songs including Dag Nasty’s “Never Go Back” on their debut Can I Say LP: “I'm looking at pictures and I'm thinking of those times, those times have changed man, and so have I.”

Dag Nasty represented a stylistic evolution in the punk scene. Driving at a more tuneful and melodic sound and shying away from the rough and tough hardcore grit, the members of the band spun from (Minor Threat, DYS). The resulting sound was what my friends and I started gravitating towards.

When I called Randy “Now” prior to my month-long excursion to the East Coast to inquire about bringing Dag Nasty and 7 Seconds to Denver, he was keen on having me bring his bands to Denver. Randy casually asked what happened to all the older promoters in Denver. I knew for a fact that both Jill Razer and Headbanger had distanced themselves from the scene and were both done with promoting punk shows. Honestly, I knew little about booking shows. I simply played in bands and had learned a few tricks of the trade by observing Jill and Headbanger. I naively approached the task with the attitude thinking promoting would be an cinch.

Cover of issue no. 2 to FlipOff. Collection of Author. 
I called my buddy Steve Cervantes, an old school LA Punk transplant living in the foothills of Denver, to see if he wanted to help me bring Dag Nasty to town. We were already collectively publishing our fanzine FlipOff -a nod to his homies who published Flipside back in Whittier. Becoming concert promoters seemed like a logical extension of our photocopied rag. While bands like the Germs, up until Minor Threat, was more his generation of punk, Steve was pretty open and excited by newer bands. To bring Dag Nasty and promote the show, we agreed I would do most of the legwork. His main interest in our joint adventure would be to help out financially. Steve had a real job, a wife, and was almost ten years my senior. He took me under his wing and shared stories about his involvement in the early days of Southern California punk. Steve gave me that push I needed to become a promoter and later, the encouragement to start a record label.

In late July, Dag Nasty rolled into town. I had secured the DAV Hall on East Colfax Avenue in Aurora plus a PA system for the event. The veterans running the hall were a bit skeptical when the punk rockers started trickling in. They asked for reassurance that kids wouldn’t sneak in alcohol or doing drugs in or near the venue. My high school pal, “Billy Idol” Brett agreed to work security. Brett’s task was to make sure no one damaged the PA or knock holes in the bathroom walls, and to keep booze off the property.

An hour after the show started, Steve and I were on edge because the band had a $750 dollar guarantee, but we barely pulled in $600 at the door. We were desperate for more people. Stepping out of the venue scanning the sidewalks on Colfax Avenue, hoping to spot a lost punk rocker looking for the show. We still had to pay for the PA and the hall. On top of that, the band was late, they finally showed up thirty minutes before they were scheduled to go on.

The bassist of the group, Doug Carrion, got out of the van with no apologies, nothing. The other guys piled out and wanted to start unloading. Doug sniffed me out pretty well, sensing he had the upper hand. He told his guys to stop unloading and demanded we pay them $750 before playing their set or they were going to get back in the van and drive to the next town.

The first show I promoted. Mohican Youth was a made-up band "Toledo" Pat and I created but never materialized. Collection of the author.  
This was the time I wished that I had had the wisdom of Headbanger or Jill. The conversation might have gone like this: “All we have is $500. Take or leave it.” I knew their next gig would be at least a nine-hour drive in either direction. $500 for relatively unknown band in a market like Denver was killer money. Instead, the way the real conversation unfolded was: Doug, Steve, and I walked over to the payphone near the club, called, and woke up their booking agent Randy “Now” on the East Coast. After passing around the phone for five minutes, we finally settled on a price and hung up. The three of us walked across the street to an ATM, and Steve withdrew money. We handed Doug $650. Back at the venue, Doug gave the rest of the band the green light to unload. The only parts I remembered about the band’s set was when they blew out the venue’s fuse box a couple of times. In the end, no smashed bathroom walls, no broken bottles. The kids had a great time, everyone got paid, but we lost our collective financial ass. I could hear Headbanger and Jill singing, “Welcome to the club.” Steve and I vowed we wouldn’t let another band take advantage of us like this again.

About a month later, the 7 Seconds show was set for the same DAV Hall. The morning of the show, I arrived to drop off the remainder of the deposit. One of the grumpy veterans told me he didn’t like the way we had moved the American flag off the stage the last time we had a show there He complained that the bottom corner of the flag had touched the ground. Of course, I apologized profusely. He disappeared into the back office and emerged with my initial deposit. “Sorry, we won’t be able to host your bands here tonight.” I raced over to the payphone and called Steve at work to tell him what had transpired with the venue. I drove home in a panic and flipped through the Yellow Pages, calling every hall and lodge in the hope that one would come through.  

Some cool kid had made this 7 Seconds flyer that I had to go around and take down because the show was moved. The original flyer I made for the show belong to Rich Jacobs and is featured in All Ages: Reflections On Straight Edge, a book released by Revelation Records. Collection of the author.  
Dave Clifford in his fanzine Given Time wrote: “7 Seconds actually showed, and it was a good thing. Bob Rob was almost in tears trying to find a place for the show, and luckily, the American Legion, run by the drunkest hick I’ve ever seen, let him do it there.” 7 Seconds and Justice League arrived early at my parent’s house. While my mom cooked and served the bands a late lunch, I told them what had happened in that morning. I was upfront when I asked them not to have high expectations in regards to people showing up and/or getting paid very much. 7 Seconds was cool and told me that anything towards gas would help; they just wanted to play for the kids.

Given Time, a fanzine created and published by Dave Clifford. Collection of the author. 
We caravanned from Aurora across Denver to the out-of-the-way American Legion Hall at the edge of Arvada. The punk rock phone tree and last minute flyering paid off: nearly 200 kids made it out to the show. My partner Steve’s favorite part of the evening was the handful of drunken old veterans piling out of the bar behind the main hall hooting, hollering, and dancing.

Sigh… It was time to make the donuts again, but more like recoup money from putting on shows. Any sensible person would have chalked up the losses and moved on. Instead, my stubbornness propelled me dig deeper, and further entrench myself into the realm of Denver punk. I dropped in at the donut shop and asked my manager for my old job back. Considering the lack of applicants flooding through the door hoping to land a graveyard shift frying donuts all night, she obliged. I signed some paperwork and was back at work the same night.

I felt slightly pathetic returning to my former job. I started thinking about several of my high school friends who were packing up and moving on to college. Then I thought about my coworkers, especially the baker who had trained me. At the ripe old age of 35, he had a reputation within the company and was respected by everybody. He was my sensei, the donut sage... I imagined myself with his sort of clout: a five star, go-nowhere, flipping donuts in the fryer in the middle of the night at 35. Fuck that! I just promoted a couple of punk shows and came off a 4,000-mile mind-blowing road trip. That first night back was a heavy dose of what I was returning to; it was the moment of clarity I needed. There was definitely more to life than living in the confines of Aurora, Colorado.

A couple of days later, I surprised my dad by telling him I wanted to enroll in fall courses at the Community College of Aurora. He was skeptical, but agreed to pay the tuition. (He didn’t think I would last more than a semester.) The trick would be to juggle a full load of college courses plus a fulltime job while promoting shows. Making donuts was the sacrifice, but it was the ticket, which allowed me to actively bring bands to Denver and eventually put out records.

The Changing of the Season

In the fall of 1987, I started making new friends in the scene. Arnold from the Acid Pigs approached me and asked if I would be interested in starting a new band with him and Jack of the Pigs. My former band, Idiots Revenge, had played together with them the year before. They were cool guys, and I dug their music, so I jumped at the opportunity to play bass in what was to become Short Fuse.

During the same time, through the shows I was promoting, I had became closer friends with Dave Clifford who played in Deviant Behavior in Boulder and a skater kid named Rich Jacobs from the Denver Tech area. I regarded the pair as the posi-straight edge crew. Although I wasn’t straight edge at the time, I admired what they were doing. Seeing people waste away in the drug and booze haze of the Denver scene had become counter productive to the creative process of making music. I latched on to Dave and Rich because they brought the fresh and raw energy the scene needed. We all looked up to what was going on with Dischord Records in Washington DC and admired their tight, cohesive, and self-supporting scene. We collectively imagined something along those lines happening in Denver.

The impetus for bringing like-minded positive kids together was the violence we were witnessing at shows and the adverse musical directions bands appeared to be taking. At the time speed-metal and paisley-hair rock was well underway. We wanted to move away from that and become immersed in music played with sincerity with a message. The group of kids who were mainly responsible for setting the stage for an emerging positive youth crew movement in the Denver/Boulder area were the 8 Flights Up/Splat! kids attending CU Boulder. They had tried to create a space and movement centered on positivism, living a substance-free life style, and aspects of vegetarianism.      

Colorado Krew artwork by Rich Jacobs. Collection of the author.
Bands echoing positive sentiments were gathering momentum all over the country in pockets like suburban New York City and Southern California. While 7 Seconds represented the old guard, even their sound evolved while they continued speaking on topics of equality, unity, and personal matters. Kids across America and Europe were picking up on this growing movement bands like 7 Seconds helped foster. New bands were popping up all over the map, and the kids were creating networks via touring, fanzines, and word-of-mouth.

My friend and I were swept up and excited by this infectious transformation. I was telling Rich about starting a record label to document music from Denver, along the lines of what Duane Davis of Wax Trax did, by releasing local bands on his Local Anesthetic label. Of course, there were other regional labels out there just as inspiring: Dischord Records in Washington DC and Touch and Go in the Midwest. Rich told me I should just go for it. Since the records would be financed by my donut-making paychecks, we deemed it appropriate for the label to be known as Donut Crew Records.

Colorado Krew 7" EP cover. Collection of the author. 
Rich and I thought the first release should be a 7” EP compilation showcasing newer, less established bands we already knew and were friends with. I called a couple of groups I had helped with shows such as, End of Story and Acid Pigs. Rich’s band, Atomic Dilemma, and his newer, straight edge group, Keep In Mind each wanted to contribute a track. Although, our recently put together Short Fuse band was relatively new, we recorded one of our songs for the record too. The project came together and was released in early 1988. 

By 1988, most of the people and bands that had been part of the early ‘80s Denver punk scene had changed musical direction or dropped out. Several scenesters had moved away to college or enter the workforce. My buddy Shawn befriended Choke from Slap Shot and wanted to bring the group to town for a New Year’s Eve show. We tried to collectively book them, but the show never materialized. As a consolation prize, Shawn and his brother booked rooms at the Westin Hotel in Downtown and invited Slap Shot to ring in the New Year with us…though the guys in band were straight edge. After downing several beers chased by bottles of Dom Perignon, Choke and company escorted Shawn and me to the toilet to vomit our indulgence. After worshipping the porcelain god, Shawn came up with the motto to start off the New Year: “Straight Edge in 88!” Giving up the booze made sense at the time plus most of my more recent friends already abstained from any sort of vices. It was time for me to move in that direction too and concentrate on booking shows and putting out records.  

Edited by Rory Eubank 

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