From Mohawks To Mullets

Images from 25 years of Phoenix music

Personalities and performers like these needed somewhere to offer their wares, and mainstream clubs would have little to do with such behavior. Shows at rented halls, with their rowdy, private-party atmosphere, were more often the venues of choice for bands and audiences alike. Notable among these gigs was the Lucy LaMode-hosted Trout-a-Rama at Sunnyslope's Firefighters Hall, a psycho-bash that featured four punk bands and a fish raffle. In the next couple of years, nearly every available hall in town was rented out for shows, including the Jaycees, the Plumbers Union, the VFW, and the Knights of Pythias.

Gradually, clubs began to warm to this strange new breed and a number of friendly venues opened, albeit intermittently, over the next few years. Clubs like the Salty Dog, the Solid Gold and the Star System played welcome host to roving bands of sun-stroked punk loonies. Myriad stories abound about the inspired craziness that went on both on and offstage during those chaotic years. But if there were two places that truly symbolized the wild and woolly attitude of early Phoenix punk, they were Madison Square Gardens and the infamous Hate House. A charming dive located on Van Buren, Mad Gardens, as it was affectionately known, was a hybrid wrestling club/concert venue that offered a unique mix of music and mayhem. And some of the best and most notorious moments in local music history unfolded inside its chain-link-fence-enclosed ring.

Whatever Mad Gardens lacked in terms of hedonism and debauchery, the Hate House more than made up for. The brain child of local artist Rick Bertoni, the sprawling, ramshackle house located at the edge of the Coronado district was the perfect setting for Bertoni's dream commune and ground zero for a slew of punk progenies, including everyone from schlock horror mavens Mighty Sphincter to the Deez.

For its denizens, the Hate House was an unlikely Shangri-La complete with living quarters, rehearsal space, dance hall, and a small cellar/nightclub dubbed the Detox Lounge, an intimate show room where, if the spirit moved them, patrons could chase cocktails with spoonfuls of prescription cough syrup.

A self-avowed "relentless punk artist" and "proprietor of Phoenix's exclusive New Wave boarding dump," Bertoni relished the roles to the hilt, proving to be as much of a character as any of his patrons.

The crowds that turned up at these places reflected the diversity of the bands. Gigs attracted skateboarders, beatniks, militant punks and even plain old students, creating a grab-bag quality to the early scene -- one in which you could see bands as different as the Meat Puppets, Killer Pussy, and JFA all on the same bill. Unfortunately, this unusual (for punk rock, anyway) sense of harmony didn't last. After a while, the hard-core skinhead faction began to dominate the shows, and the performance-art aspect that had helped define the early scene became obsolete. In '81 the Hate House closed quarters (Bertoni died of a heroin overdose a decade later). By the mid-'80s, most among the first wave of groups had broken up or simply disappeared. With the closure of Mad Gardens in '84 and the changing of the musical guard, the curtain was brought down on Phoenix's golden era of punk rock. -- BM

Armed Forces

Though not as outlandish as their contemporaries, one of the best remembered outfits to emerge during this period was the controversially monikered Jodie Foster's Army. Formed in 1981, JFA -- singer Brian Brannon, guitarist Don Redondo, bassist Mike Cornelius and drummer Mike "Bam-Bam" Sversvold -- made a lasting mark as one of the few bands from the era to achieve something more than local acclaim. The group Rolling Stone once deemed "the premier skate rock band of all time" merged the fast, aggressive Southern California sound with its own unique desert perspective, going on to record a string of successful albums for local promoter Tony Victor's Placebo Records. Enduringly popular (a line of JFA skateboards still fetches collectors' prices), these days JFA soldiers on from a SoCal home base. The group's new lineup -- which includes original members Brannon and Redondo (Sversvold continues to play in Phoenix with trash rockers the Vox Poppers) -- released Return to the Valley of the Yakes last year, a kind of homecoming record and conceptual follow-up to its 1983 debut Valley of the Yakes. -- BM

Midnight Cowboys From Impanema

Neither female nor residents of the north west Phoenix retirement community from which they derived their name, the Sun City Girls -- bassist/vocalist Alan Bishop, guitarist Rick Bishop and drummer Charles Gocher -- - were typical exponents for the kind of skewed sensibility that served as the hallmark of many first-wave Phoenix post-punks. As bizarre as they were entertaining, the Sun City Girls bridged avant-garde jazz, cow punk, noise experimentalism and sampling, proving themselves a forerunner to groups like the Butthole Surfers.

The band relocated to the less arid clime of the Pacific Northwest some years back but continues to offer up their wild improvisations, found-sound pieces, comedy routines, psychedelic pranks and elaborate put-ons -- off-kilter tendencies that have always rendered them gifted performance artists. The group's near-20-year run has also resulted in a staggering discography. Ranging from live albums, soundtracks, solo projects and collaborations (like 1990's set with guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, Country Music in the World of Islam) to 1997's multidisc retrospective, Box of Chameleons, the Girls remain desert eccentrics of the first water. -- BM

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