Early Phoenix Punk Band Exterminators Finally Release Their Debut Album
Exterminators in all their glory: (left to right) Cris Kirkwood, Johnny Macho, Don Bolles, and Buzzy Murder.
Hiding in a stranger’s bedroom at a house party on the west side of Phoenix, 14-year-old Buzzy Murder, lead guitarist in Exterminators, thought he was going to jail for sure.
Hiding in a stranger’s bedroom at a house party on the west side of Phoenix, 14-year-old Buzzy Murder, lead guitarist in Exterminators, thought he was going to jail for sure.
“A good percentage of our gear had been stolen,” says Murder, whose real name is Doug Clark. “[Doug Goss, the original drummer] was hiding the gear under the beds, and me and my girlfriend went and hid under the bed. We ended up sneaking out of the window when all the stuff with the police was going on. People were being handcuffed and put into the patrol cars.”
Clark’s hosts, the parents of the Brophy Prep student who was throwing the party during prom season of 1977, got into a physical altercation with each other after the Phoenix police were called to the scene due to noise. The young band — quite possibly only the second punk act in Phoenix, and one which would prove to be perhaps its most influential — were just four or five songs into their set.
“The party was packed beyond belief,” remembers Doug’s brother and bandmate, Dan “Johnny Macho” Clark. “Nobody really knew what punk rock was.”
And nobody, not even the band, would have thought that it would take nearly 40 more years for Exterminators to release their debut album, Product of America, on the day of the most important presidential election in recent history.
The current incarnation of Exterminators has become a kind of punk supergroup in their re-emergence. Not many bands can boast members of the Germs, Meat Puppets, Feederz, and Mighty Sphincter, but with Don Bolles on drums, Cris Kirkwood on bass, Dan “Johnny Macho” Clark on vocals, and Doug “Buzzy Murder” Clark on guitar, Exterminators can do just that, as the band looks toward the release of Product of America and a show with the Meat Puppets, as well as Mike Watt and his Second Men, on November 25 at Crescent Ballroom.
The Clark brothers’ original bandmates — bassist Joe Albanese, rhythm guitarist Scott Henderson, and Goss — really had no idea what to expect or, most likely, what they were helping to create on West Griswold Avenue that night in the spring of 1977. And besides, the other punk band in town at the time, the legendary Consumers, just needed someone to open for them. By today’s standards, this might not seem like a big deal, but in Phoenix at the time, this was the beginning of something that continues to grow today.
Exterminators, like the Consumers, were piecing together their sound from a myriad of influences, some of which would include other early punk bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, but also a strong dose of Iggy Pop and the Stooges, garage rockers the Standells, and Dada/surrealist composers like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. What came out of this strange amalgam of sounds was nothing short of ferocious. Exterminators’ music is raw and visceral. Clark’s guitar jabs and slashes in bursts of hard-charging punk rock, underscored by nimble bass lines and Bolles’ pounding beats. Across the top of these one- and two-minute attacks are Johnny Macho’s cutting vocals. One minute, the lyrics are almost profound, the next profane, and then sophomoric — but always delivered with malice.
Doug Clark, who for almost 40 years had retired the “Buzzy Murder” name, went on to form Mighty Sphincter, which was part of the early Placebo Records scene that shared a good amount of national attention with bands like Jodie Foster’s Army (JFA) and Sun City Girls, as well as brother Dan Clark’s Victory Acres (which also featured a young Cris Kirkwood and Derrick Bostrom of the Meat Puppets) and the Feederz.
Don Bolles left Arizona and never moved back after establishing himself in Los Angeles, where he joined the Germs, a legendary LA punk-rock band featuring guitarist Pat Smear, who would go on to join Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. Most recently, Bolles has been working with the Los Angeles-based musician Ariel Pink, as well as DJing and producing records (Cellars, Summer Twins, Ariel Pink).
“Those guys (Exterminators) were all just a huge influence on the Meat Puppets,” says Kirkwood, who resembles a shorter, slightly rounder Kris Kristofferson.
“They were kind of ground zero for Arizona punk rock,” adds Jeff Dahl, a former member of the Angry Samoans and Vox Pop.
Don Bolles lays down the drums for "Static Planet."
“Phoenix kills culture dead. It’s supposed to. It wants to,” says Bart Bull, a former New Times staff writer, who, along with David Wiley of the Consumers, created the first Xerox-punk fanzine in America, Browbeat. (As its name suggests, it’s made entirely on a Xerox machine.)
Back in 1977, Bull had a point. Original live music by a local band — or, God forbid, a “punk-rock” band — was unheard of at the time. Back then, when acts would get booked to play a Phoenix-area nightclub, they would often play that club five or six nights a week for three or four weeks straight and crank out three sets a night. They would also be lucky if they were able to include one original song per set.
“There’s a reason fucking punk rock started, and it had nothing to do with Iggy [Pop] and all that crap,” says Dan Clark. “It was because rock and roll fucking sucked.”
When the Consumers, who were led by singer David Wiley, burst onto the scene in 1977, they had about 20 songs, many of which can be found on their posthumously released 1995 album, All Of My Friends Are Dead. Those tunes, which included punk-rock staples “Anti Anti Anti” and “Concerned Citizen,” were recorded in 1977, and have a timeless quality that makes them just as potent today as they were for the early Phoenix punk rock musicians and skeptical fans they were played for.
The band was better received in the Los Angeles scene, which was still in its relative infancy in the late ’70s. But back in Phoenix, they quickly figured out they needed some help.
“Wiley said, ‘You should start a band,’” says Dan Clark, whose phone voice is more that of a wise uncle than the caterwauling screams of his alter ego.
Dan Clark’s roommate at Arizona State University, where he went to school after graduating from Cortez High School in 1975, was Mikey Borens, the bass player in the Consumers. Both Clark brothers had gravitated toward punk rock, which was slowly finding its way into Phoenix, and had been dabbling in music for a few years before Exterminators began to form.
“It was really neat how we found the drummer (Goss) and the (original) bass player (Joe Albanese),” says Doug Clark. “We made an ad that said, ‘If you have no respect for authority and you want to destroy music’ — something along those lines. We put it up at Arizona Music Center [at 47th Avenue and Glendale Road], and Goss answered the ad."
Albanese and Goss, who were both in high school, joined Dan and Doug Clark, as well as guitarist Scott Henderson, who had been jamming with Dan on a previous project, during the summer of 1977. Doug Clark was waiting to start his freshman year at Cortez High in west central Phoenix, and remembers Goss, who would go on to play in Mighty Sphincter — another of the formative bands of the early Phoenix underground music scene —rather fondly.
“[Goss] came over, brought his drum set, and was really good,” recalls Doug. “He really didn’t know what punk rock was, and we kind of explained it to him. He was a real juvenile delinquent sort of guy, so it worked out really good.”
The original lineup practiced at the Clark residence before moving to a warehouse owned by Henderson’s father on 35th Avenue and Indian School Road. The band was diligent about writing new music, and got together multiple times a week to blast through their early repertoire of songs, including “Static Planet” and “Your Head.”
The aforementioned “Static Planet” is a Stooges-esque hard rocker that starts out with a thumping bass line (played by Kirkwood on the upcoming release) that devolves into Buzzy Murder’s squealing guitar trading jabs with Johnny Macho’s tortured poetry about a static planet, exhaled cyanide, and plastic. Bolles keeps everything right on pace to build up to its sudden conclusion at the 1:43 mark. “Your Head” is eerily similar to the work of the early Circle Jerks, even though it predates the Circle Jerks by two years. At 44 seconds long, it is the shortest song on Product of America, but it packs a tremendous punch with its three-chord guitar and machine-gun drum beat.
Doug Clark, however, had a rough time in the early going, as there was not a lot of understanding built up for the whole “punk rock” thing yet at Cortez High.
“I actually got kicked out of Cortez for being in Exterminators,” he says. “They didn’t know what punk rock was. It started with my clothes being all torn apart and safety-pinned together. I got called into the principal’s office one day, and they suspended me from school for having punk magazines because they had abusive language and questionable images. After coming back to school, I wasn’t allowed in regular classes.”
After the first performance at the Brophy prom party, the original Exterminators lineup played one more show at the Zoo, a biker bar near 16th Street and McDowell Road that also featured topless dancers. This was very appealing to Doug Clark, who considered himself the “luckiest kid in the world,” as he would have to wait for the dancers to finish their act before he could do his sound check.
“I’m 15 years old, and all of my friends are doing their homework and getting ready for bed, and I’m watching a bunch of topless dancers perform at a bar,” he recalls.
The Zoo show brought Exterminators face to face with their next drummer, Jimmy “Don Bolles” Giorsetti, who became aware of the band through Dan Clark’s roommate, Mikey Borens. Bolles was fronting his own band, Krayzee Homicide, in Phoenix at the time, and was intrigued by the young Exterminators.
“There were these young fucking kids and Dan Clark,” he recalls. “Doug, who was 14 or 15 at the time, was a really good guitar player. I was like, ‘How does this happen for someone so young?’ but Phoenix was boring, so you have to do something. Their sound was like the Stooges' Raw Power played on 45.”
Depending on whose story you are hearing, Albanese, Goss, and Henderson either quit or were fired from Exterminators after the Zoo show with Krayzee Homicide, opening the door for Bolles and his friend, Rob Ritter (a.k.a. Rob Graves), to step in.
With Ritter, who was 22, and Bolles, 21, installed as the new rhythm section, the average age of Exterminators rose by about six years, so Doug Clark was the only remaining teenager in the lineup. The band would also have to find a new practice space, so they began rehearsing at Satan’s Disco, the house at Third and Garfield streets in downtown Phoenix where Bolles and Ritter lived with Dale Smith (of the famed KDIL pirate radio station) and John “Johnny Precious” Vivier, who would later play in the Feederz with Dan Clark, as well as the Cicadas, among other acts.
The same energy and promise of creative freedom that encouraged Dan Clark to put on a frumpy house dress, smear lipstick across his face, put oatmeal in his hair, and become “Johnny Macho” also inspired multiple generations behind him to push the musical envelope in search of existential release. What many current local punks probably don’t realize, though, was how dangerous the scene was during its infancy.
The Liars, which also featured Vivier and Bolles, were the third of the original three Phoenix punk bands who were often targeted for acts of violence by audience members. But of the three, legend has it that Exterminators sets were the most violent.
“It was so hard to put shows together,” says Bull. “There was fear. That shit was scary. They wanted desperately to play, but they knew that every time they played it was going to result in something very, very squirrelly.”
“Every time Exterminators played, there was a fight afterwards or during (the set),” remembers Doug Clark, who currently sports a set of dental implants fashioned into vampire fangs and can be seen regularly riding around Phoenix on one of the coolest lowrider bicycles you’ll ever see.
“You know who liked us at the very beginning? Homosexuals and heroin addicts. They were the only people that needed somewhere to go,” adds Dan Clark.
Today, even a youngster with a newly coiffed mohawk knows what to expect before they attend their first punk show. But in 1977, there were no YouTube videos to see what you were getting yourself into.
“My response to those (early) shows was a combination of elation, abject fear, pride, fierce enthusiasm, and ‘oh, my motherfucking God, what is about to happen?’” says Bull. “I think this is why people were attracted to punk. Shows were weird. I guarantee that afterwards, there was exhilaration and fear. There was a sense of ‘Shall we do this again?’ It’s kind of what happens after a war. You’re not sure if you’ve even won the fucking battle.”
Cris Kirkwood talks arrangements with Buzzy Murder while Don Bolles explains the meaning of life in the background.
Exterminators left Phoenix after performing about half a dozen shows, their last occurring in February of 1978 at the Valley Art Theater in Tempe with the Consumers. Shortly afterward, Bolles, Doug Clark, and Ritter moved to Los Angeles, as did the Consumers. Dan Clark remained in Tempe as an ASU student, and eventually started the Feederz with Cam “Frank Discussion” Howard and Vivier.
“If I was a kid growing up in Arizona, my goal in life would be to get the fuck out of Arizona,” says Keith Morris, an original member of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, and a current member of FLAG and OFF!.
Shortly after settling in LA at the infamous Canterbury Arms apartments, Bolles joined yhe Germs, replacing Donna Rhea, and Ritter joined the Bags, which was led by Alicia Armendariz (a.k.a. Alice Bag) and Patricia Morrison (Pat Bag). Both bands were featured in Penelope Spheeris’ 1980 punk documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization. The Germs, with Bolles aboard, released the classic album GI (Slash Records) in 1979 before imploding in 1980.
Bolles has enjoyed a lengthy career in Los Angeles as a musician, writer, DJ, and producer. The wiry, longtime vegetarian definitely marches to his own beat, but is also genuinely thoughtful and able to talk about virtually any subject with measurable authority.
“Don Bolles: That dude’s a super freak,” says Morris. “I love everything Don’s done, including that Ariel Pink record. The first Germs record is one of the greatest punk-rock albums ever recorded.”
Ritter went from playing guitar and bass in the Bags to playing bass for Gun Club and, later, 45 Grave before succumbing to a heroin overdose in 1990.
“Rob was a fucking great bass player,” says Cris Kirkwood as he runs his fingers through his slightly scraggly beard. “I saw him shortly before he died. He came through town with the band he was road managing. It was definitely the last time I saw Rob. I knew what was going on. That stuff (heroin) was around. Dope’s a motherfucker. That’s a whole side of things. It’s just weird. A lot of those guys are gone.”
After leaving Exterminators, Joe Albanese would continue to hone his considerable bass skills and would team up with Doug Clark again in both Brainz and Mighty Sphincter. Albanese was also a member of Godwads, a very influential Phoenix band in the late ’80s and early ’90s who were often referred to as the Phoenix underground’s version of Rush. Also a talented leather craftsman, Albanese spent the last years of his life in the Pacific Northwest, where he was murdered in Seattle in 2012 in the devastating Café Racer shootings. There, a mentally ill man, Ian Stawicki, opened fire in a coffee shop Albanese was sitting in with his friend and Circus Contraption bandmate Drew Keriakedes, killing them both along with what would eventually become a total of five murder victims.
Doug Clark’s time in California was short. He returned to Phoenix after a few months and formed the Brainz, who ended up releasing a seven-inch in 1979 with two excellent proto-punk tracks, “Elementary Monster” and “Terra Firma.” Longtime Phoenix music fans may also recognize the influence of the Brainz on popular ’80s and ’90s bands like Bootbeast Carnival and Beats the Hell Out of Me.
Dan Clark, who would have been played by a young Peter Scolari if there had been an after-school special about punk in Phoenix, went from the Feederz to forming Victory Acres with his wife, Mary. The classic Victory Acres lineup — which recorded a split LP with Dan and Mary’s other band, Joke Flower, in the mid-’80s — also featured Doug Clark on guitar, Derrick Bostrom from the Meat Puppets on drums, and current Exterminator Kirkwood on keyboards.
Doug Goss died in 1987 after appearing in several lineups of Mighty Sphincter and, as Doug Clark remembers, once attempting to steal a fully operational U.S. Army tank that was on display at the Arizona State Fair. Scott Henderson is still alive and well in Phoenix, but was unavailable for comment.
As the ’80s flowed into the ’90s and on into the 21st century, Exterminators remained largely the stuff of punk-rock legend, at least until a key conversation occurred earlier this year.
Back in January, during a chat with Slope Records founder Thomas Lopez, Doug Clark revealed that he had a tape of an Exterminators show at Lil’ Abner’s in Tempe from late ’77 or very early ’78. Unfortunately, the sound quality of the tape was not good enough to release in any format, let alone the vinyl that Slope Records specializes in. Still intrigued, Lopez asked Doug Clark if there was ever any talk of the band getting back together, and if so, whether he’d be interested in releasing the record on Lopez’s label. Excited by this proposition, Doug reached out to Bolles, and then his brother, to gauge his former bandmates’ interest. They were game, as was Kirkwood, who was enlisted to play bass.
After the particulars were hammered out, Lopez booked studio time at Mind’s Eye in Glendale with engineer/owner Larry Elyea in May. Bolles and Dan Clark, who is currently living in southern Arizona, came into town, and the band practiced for the first time in 38 years for about three hours before hitting the studio the next day.
The 60-year-old Bolles was downright amazing in the studio, playing all of his drum tracks from memory. There was the occasional discussion with Kirkwood, who was also acting as a producer, but outside of conferring about the number of times certain parts were played, Bolles rolled through all 14 tracks with relative ease.
“It definitely does not sound like a bunch of elderly geezers, which is a relief,” says Bolles.
After about a week of studio time, the Slope Records release was completed and shipped off to Paul Roessler (45 Grave, Screamers) at Kitten Robot Studios for mastering. Each song was from the band’s batch of 1977-1978 originals, and anticipation began to build as tracks like “Bionic Girl,” “Just Like Your Mom,” and “Static Planet” began to inject themselves into the collective consciousness of those close to Slope Records. One of Bolles’ tracks, “Destruction Unit,” was the inspiration for the Phoenix band Destruction Unit, who were recently named one of the “Ten Great Modern Punk Bands” by Rolling Stone.
“The production sounds great, and I’m delighted Cris got a chance to do it,” says Derrick Bostrom, who witnessed about half of an Exterminators set as an 18-year-old fan at that final Tempe show. “That’s the thing about it not being 1978 anymore. When I used to walk into these places as a 17-year-old kid and see these kinds of bands, I was kind of scared — not just because it was punk rock, because it was subterranean underground culture, it was kind of sleazy, it was kind of dangerous, and the attempt was to be outside of the bounds of safety. You’re not going to get that anymore. But that said, the songs are fucking great.”
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