From Mohawks To Mullets

Images from 25 years of Phoenix music

Click Here for the Photo Gallery

In June 1999 as I began my first week at New Times, my predecessor as music editor brought a large box into my office. "What's this?" I asked.


"Pictures of what?"

"Local music pictures. It's an archive of our old stuff."

Nearly 25 years' worth.

Though already buried in an avalanche of papers, packages and new responsibilities, I was intrigued by what lay inside. As someone who had long been fascinated and amazed at the rich and diverse history of Vallaey music -- from Lee Hazelwood to Alice Cooper, Marty Robbins to the Meat Puppets -- I knew there was potential for something amazing among the sheaves of frayed Kodak paper.

What I found were hundreds of breathtaking black-and-white images. Unpublished pictures of local bands that had graduated to legend, and others that were vague memories. There were shots of wild scenes in long-forgotten clubs and bars. But most telling were the portraits -- dozens of them -- of faces that seemed to chart their own peculiar history of local music. Many of them looked familiar, though with fewer wrinkles, more hair and often clad in embarrassing clothes.

This week, with most of the attention turned to the annual New Times Music Showcase -- a celebration of all that's new and exciting in the current Valley scene -- and with New Times celebrating its 30th anniversary, we thought it a fitting time to share some of those images with readers.

All of the material in this gallery comes from our archive. (Sadly, photos from this publication's first six or seven years were not included in the box I inherited.) The bulk of the photos were taken by New Times staff and freelancers, and this photo essay is as much a celebration of their artistry as of the musicians they captured.

We should note that although several pictures have appeared in our pages before, we decided to rerun those that retain their historical value -- like one of Gin Blossoms taken on a Tempe rooftop, a shot that accompanied a 1987 story announcing the group's first gig. We also felt obliged to include images that were simply too rich to ignore, thus the photo capturing Judas Priest front man Rob Halford cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, the man once vilified as a Satanist whose music drove fans to suicide makes a cranberry sauce to die for.

We've also included mini-essays on significant artists, individuals and movements. We offer all this with a caveat: this piece is not designed to be an encyclopedic representation of Phoenix music. It could hardly be without including the contributions of those whose labors predated New Times' archive. Thus we begin our trip at the beginning of our archive, in the '70s at the dawn of the local punk movement. We move throughout the '80s -- going from metal to jangle pop; the twin bedrocks of blues and jazz -- and into the DJ/dance explosion of the '90s, ending with a look at the artists who hold promise for the next quarter-century. -- Bob Mehr

Punk Is Coming

That whole early Phoenix punk period was great as long as it lasted. It wasn't just the bands -- it was the clubs and people, too. All of it was so amazing and weird. I remember some really crazy times -- nights that were like scenes out of Fellini films.

-- Brian Brannon, singer, JFA

For all their infamous notoriety and lasting impact, Valley punks were never quite at the forefront of the movement. As early as 1975, for instance, New Yorkers can remember signs tacked up on street corners that carried the cryptic message "Punk Is Coming." By the next year, the NYC punk scene was in full flower. Across the Atlantic, the Brits, too, were busy ushering in a style that would leave a musical, social and political upheaval in its wake. In contrast, Phoenix in the mid- to late '70s was still in the stranglehold of bands that offered a peaceful, easy imitation of SoCal soft rock.

But in 1978, a band called the Consumers emerged, ready to pogo the local music scene into the throes of a new era.

By the time the punk-rock revolution had found a desert spring, the music quickly began to become filtered through the overheated minds of its eager practitioners. Groups like the Nervous, the Junior Chemists, the Feederz, and Killer Pussy (which featured singer Lucy LaMode's infamous "Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage") shtick offered up a uniquely Arizonan take on the anarchic sounds coming from New York and the U.K.

If the early Phoenix punk bands had anything in common, it was a taste for the theatrical, and frequently, the obscene. Killer Pussy, for example, was known to treat audiences to such homespun entertainment as tying a man in drag to a wheelchair and beating him with a whip.

But the most flamboyant punk had to be Feederz vocalist Frank Discussion, whose act included appearing onstage in a see-through shower curtain. Discussion, however, was most notorious for onstage rat abuse -- including smashing some of the little creatures to death with a hammer -- acts that would make him animal-rights activists' Public Enemy No. 1 today.

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