Cave Creek Dahl

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

In the early '80s, Dahl formed and fronted the pioneering speed-metal get-up Powertrip, in hopes of morphing The Stooges and Motörhead. The spirited quartet quickly assembled a Hollywood following and shared the bill with other ripening metal hippogriffs like Metallica and Slayer. The band toured the U.S., played up and down the West Coast and did many, many drugs.

"I was drinking more than anything, and doing a lot of speed. The other three original members of the band all died after the band broke up."

In his short stint as Powertrip's Iggyesque front man, Dahl blew out his knee, shattered his tailbone, busted his hand, bit off a chunk of his tongue and fried his liver. Before Powertrip succumbed to a drug-and-booze-muddled self-destruction, a single on Mystic Records and an album on Public saw the light of day.

Punk legend Jeff Dahl relaxes in the middle of his D.I.Y. empire.
Paolo Vescia
Punk legend Jeff Dahl relaxes in the middle of his D.I.Y. empire.

Following a dire doctor's report that confirmed Dahl's liver was limping along at 15 percent capacity, he bailed on Powertrip, music and drugs. Two years later, he resurfaced totally sober. He landed a record deal on indie upstart Triple X. He formed the Jeff Dahl Group and, in 1987, recorded Vomit Wet Kiss. The Jeff Dahl Group splintered, and for his first "true" solo record, I Kill Me, Dahl secured the help of former Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome, the Angry Samoans and the Lazy Cowgirls to snag a decidedly Detroit-punk sound. During this time, Dahl replaced drugs and booze with one of his first loves: running.

Next came competitions in marathons and Iron Man-style triathlons. Not bad for a glitter punk with a ravaged liver. It was the Fountain Mountain Triathlon that brought Dahl to Phoenix. And Dahl is still spot-on sober and continues to run cross-country events (noncompetitively). "With the running, I had to do something to ease my mind," he says as if a marathon is but a skip in the park. "If I was still getting fucked up, I would be accomplishing about a 10th of what I am doing now," he assures. "You've got to take care of the business end of things to a certain extent."

In Cave Creek, Dahl has assembled a sort of D.I.Y. empire. His tours across Europe and the Americas find him coming home in the black. His mail-order business generates a steady income. His records sell well enough to ensure his pockets will always jingle with a bit of change. And in Japan -- where a Jeff Dahl best-of has been released, in addition to countless singles -- legions of kids go berserk for Dahl's tunes and Johnny Thunders-inspired persona.

With his irreverent and oftentimes witty Sonic Iguana magazine, Dahl does direct-mail orders to stores himself, and he also has a distributor that sends out the magazine internationally. It's imported to Japan, Australia, Israel, South Africa, Malaysia, Tahiti and all over Europe. "We just got some letters from Thailand. This guy was like, 'Yeah, Stooges, Dead Boys, MC5.' And this is like Thailand! And these letters come with these huge long names, absolutely unpronounceable. I get letters and e-mails like that every single day."

By sticking to his D.I.Y. principles, Dahl isn't exactly becoming a man of wealth. "I have had offers for bigger distribution and people interested in upping the circulation. But I wanna keep it at this level. This underground is like a real word-of-mouth thing, too. The thing I like about it is that it is not at all casual music fans. It is people to whom music still means something. And sometimes they are 18-year-old kids, and sometimes they are 50-year-old guys. Or couples. I got a letter from a couple in their 50s living in Kenosha, Wisconsin, all excited that I am coming out there on tour and saying, 'Finally someone is playing the kind of music that we like to hear.'

"I'm not getting rich, and I've got no rich parents to cover expenses for me. So I can't go out there and tour unless it's gonna cover expenses as well as make it worth my while. You know, going to Japan, that's a very lucrative kind of situation. Going over there, having all expenses taken care of and being treated really, really well, just doing two shows in Tokyo and then coming back with several thousand dollars in your pocket. Europe is not like that; Europe is a lot more like the States. Everybody makes money off of you in Europe but you."

Dahl says the financial gains aren't the only differences he's noted during his Asian sojourns. "In Japan, when you play the song, they go berserk. When you stop, they are completely quiet and they stand there very respectful, just grinning, waiting for the next tune to start. And they'll bring you presents to let you know you're actually appreciated."

According to Triple X, Dahl is its most productive and active artist. Of his records, the scattershot glam smack of 1994's Leather Frankenstein, 1996's French Cough Syrup and his new release, All Trashed Up, rank as his best. They are composites of his strengths; Dahl mining an Eddie Cochran meets Iggy meets Dictators meets Dolls mother lode with a big old heart on his sleeve.

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