Cave Creek Dahl

Rock 'n' roll torchbearer Jeff Dahl talks about getting clean, D.I.Y., and being big in Japan

The desert surrounding Jeff Dahl's Cave Creek home is lush, made fragrant and green from recent monsoon thrashings. His neighbors on the next acre, the ones who run a Christian day-care center, have a sprawling ranch with many horses. A guy from Dokken lives just up the road. And there is enough wildlife to sustain, at least in theory, the idea that he's still in the middle of a desert no man's land, despite the fact that ghastly, beige-toned stucco houses are marching at him -- one insanely zoned acre at a time -- from the general direction of Phoenix. But it has always been like that for Dahl. The rock 'n' roll he champions -- like the tranquil desert that encompasses his ranch-style house -- never has any guarantees, never any security, and barely a promise of survival.

But, strangely, Dahl has done better than many of his punk/glitter/rock 'n' roll peers. Stiv Bators is dead. So are Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan. The Stooges' Ron Asheton lives at his mom's house. And here is Jeff Dahl, midway through his 40s -- and hardly anybody's household name -- yet he manages a decent living from power chords, attitude and the spirit of D.I.Y. How?

Dahl does sold-out tours of Europe, Japan and Southern California. He has a semi-thriving worldwide mail-order business called Daulhaus, in which he sells not only his own records and merchandise, but that of other similar-minded trash-rock enthusiasts. His business offers limited-edition tee shirts of old glam and punk heroes like the Runaways, Alice Cooper and the Flamin' Groovies. "I do get a lot of overseas orders because I do take my mail order very seriously," he explains. "People know that if they order something from me, that I am going to put it in the mail within 24 hours."

He's also started his own magazine, an internationally distributed and acclaimed publication called Sonic Iguana, which exists solely to extol the virtues of what Dahl considers "real rock 'n' roll" -- past and present. "I wanted to pick a magazine and read about the bands that I care about," he says.

Everything about Jeff Dahl is a kind of oxymoron. He was born in Germany and was raised an Army brat in the decidedly un-rock 'n' roll atmosphere of Hawaii. He's been married for 25 years to Sylvia, his high school sweetheart -- a woman with whom Dahl lovingly shares his Silverhead and Mott the Hoople albums on the same shelves as her Kansas records. He spent four years in the Army and was stationed primarily at the Pentagon heliport in Washington, D.C., doing time as -- of all things -- an air traffic controller.

These days, he remains an early riser. In front of his house sits a black SUV. In the back, between barrel cacti and paloverde trees, there is a barbecue grill made of stone. On the side of the house, next to a statuesque saguaro, is a basketball hoop. "The first time I went to shoot baskets," he says, offering up a rare smile, "I had a brand-new basketball. I made one shot, missed, and the ball hit that cactus and blew up. I had to go buy a brand-new ball."

In 1976, literally one week after picking up the guitar, Dahl recorded his first-ever composition; a punk-sounding ditty called "Rock 'n' Roll Critic." In early '78, Washington, D.C.'s Doodley Squat label put out the song as a seven-inch, a timely single that made its way into the hands of many punk-rock-starved European kids. The record was pivotal in paving the way for Dahl's international popularity (currently, the song can be found only on bootlegs).

Cut to '79, and Dahl is L.A.-based, fronting Vox Pop with then-future/current members of the Germs, 45 Grave, Dream Syndicate and Nervous Gender. Phoenix refugees Paul Cutler and Don Bolles were also band members. Darby Crash, the long-dead Germs' shouter, said at the time that they were the worst band he'd ever seen.

In 1980, Dahl became part of über-legendary punk drunks/rock critic combo the Angry Samoans, a band for which former Guns n' Roses guitarist Slash has gone on record claiming a fondness.

Though the Angry Samoans were a testament to L.A.'s underground sound of the time, it wasn't the most ideal scene for Dahl. "People hated us," he says, smiling. "There was no legendary status; we were hated. We couldn't play anywhere at the time.

"But I remember we got a letter from two kids in Seattle in 1981," he goes on. "I remember we were drunk off our asses, and we wrote a letter back to them on toilet paper saying, 'Send us nude photos of your mom.' Then I was at an Ian Hunter show in 1990, and a guy who was then playing bass in Concrete Blonde came up to me and said, 'Hey, you're from the Angry Samoans. When I was a kid, me and my pal Duff were learning how to play bass and we wrote, and you wrote us back on toilet paper asking for nude photos of our moms -- you were a total dick!' The other kid was Duff McKagen from you know who."

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