There was never any question about what Jon Yousko was singing in a Junior Achievement song. Yousko's perfectly enunciated lyrics weaved intoxicating tales over his bandmates' equally concussive riffage, and it was good. Goddamn, it was good.
From the opening riff of "Dr. Cutthroat's Revenge," which kicks off the stellar and highly influential (at least locally), album Fade to Black, the listener is pulled into Junior Achievement's world, and there is "no turning back," which Yousko reminds us in "Acid Attack" a few songs later. Fade to Black probably kicked off as many bands around town as any other local record due to its potent combination of punk, thrash, and rock and roll. There was a little something for everyone, as Yousko and his bandmates -- bassist Todd Joseph, guitarist Steve Marinick, and drummer Scott Chazan set the bar high -- but also created a fantastic blueprint for how to combine punk aesthetics with well-crafted songwriting.
Junior Achievement began in either late 1982 or early 1983 after a project (Fatal Allegiance) Joseph and Marinick were doing fizzled out. The two wanted to keep the music going, so they decided to look for a new drummer and singer. Joseph and Yousko knew each other from skateboarding together at the long defunct High Roller Skatepark, so it seemed to be a natural fit for Yousko to join the new project on vocals. As luck would have it, Yousko knew Chazan from skateboarding, as well, and suggested him to Marinick and Joseph as a possible drummer, and the new band was formed.
"The goal was to get good enough to play with all the out-of-town bands. Bands from [Los Angeles] and [Orange County]. Social Distortion, Circle Jerks, Youth Brigade, Channel 3, Lost Cause, Black Flag, Shattered Faith, etc. We eventually played with all of them, and more," Joseph says. As the band progressed, a following began to gel, and fans began flocking to Junior Achievement shows even when well-known national touring bands were not on the bill.
"I think Phoenix and the local punk scene really embraced the band. We seemed to build a quick following and had a reputation of having good shows. This all seemed to happen pretty quickly," Yousko says.
Following the lead of their friends, JFA, it was a natural progression for the band to look to record an album. Though many of their peers worked with local label Placebo Records, there was not much mutual interest between the band and the Placebo folks to do the first (and only) Junior Achievement record, so the band turned to their friend Karl Wentzel for help. Wentzel wanted to get into recording music and had aspirations of starting a label himself.
"I hung out with the guys in JA, so they were a natural choice to do a record with. They were also right behind JFA in popularity and were one of the only good bands on the scene who weren't already working with Tony Victor and his Placebo label," said Wentzel, who can be still be seen regularly at local shows, camera in hand, continuing to support the scene he's been a part of for 35 years. At the time, Wentzel worked at the airport and would save a portion of each of his checks until he had enough to finance the Fade to Black recording and subsequent pressing.
Wentzel and the band went into Audio Visual Recorders on Seventh Street in Phoenix on a Saturday in December 1983 and recorded everything they could in about seven hours.
"Recording day for Fade to Black was just awesome. We went over all of the songs in order before tearing down the equipment, and they were all perfect," Chazan says.
What really stands out, when you consider how quickly this all came about, from the inception of the band to recording one the all-time best punk rock records to come out of Arizona, is the level of musicianship and songwriting Fade to Black more than capably illustrates. Whether you start with Marinick's deft, yet powerful guitar work or Chazan's ridiculously tight drumming, it is impossible not to bang your head along with this record. Add in Joseph's clever-beyond-his-years bass lines and the aforementioned vocals of Yousko, it is easy to understand why Junior Achievement not only cranked out a great record, but remains one of the most sought-after local albums from the era.
Two of the standout tracks, "Acid Attack" and "Dr. Cuthroat's Revenge," did a yeoman's job of helping to shape the Phoenix punk sound of the late '80s and early to mid-'90s. Yousko's infectious lyrics made it easy to sing along and his delivery gave every singer who heard him hope that they could someday learn to control their voice even half as well. When the singer kicks in at the beginning of title track, "Fade to Black" with the line, "Trapped by the light that dominates the day, unable to create rituals the usual way" it is pure punk angst at its finest.
The album came together with help from local artist Gary Merrill, who designed the cover, and photographer Joe Cultice, who helped with some photos of the band. Wentzel put out 100 copies on his XSonic imprint. Wentzel says he might have a box of them somewhere, but if he does, he's not telling anybody where they are. A few years back, AZPX Records and Malt Soda Records collaborated on a short run of Fade to Black CDs, which are a lot easier to come by than the original vinyl. Even though they did not use Wentzel's original master tapes, the CD's sound quality is still pretty decent, but nothing beats the vinyl.
The band itself did not last for long after the record came out, which is a shame, but maybe it was all for the best as well. Truthfully, it would have been a tall task to top Fade to Black, but musicians of this caliber would have figured out a way to pull it off. Marinick and Yousko decided to keep it going, to a certain extent, and formed the extremely popular band The Harvest with ex-Nova Boy Danny Bland and OG JFA drummer Mike "Bam Bam" Sversvold. Joseph went on to play in several excellent local bands, including The Voice and Sticky Thang. Chazan moved to California after Junior Achievement called it a day and joined Don't No, as well as playing with JFA in 1990 for a short time.
For Yousko, there is an element of honor to have Fade to Black continue to be remembered. For many local musicians, it is probably a tad intimidating to consider how four teenage guys could have come together and in the course of a year or so of playing together, put out such an amazing and influential record. Yousko, who lives in Montana, still listens to punk rock, although he hasn't performed in a band since he was in the Harvest.
Chazan, who has played in multiple bands since leaving Junior Achievement and currently lives in Wisconsin, also has fond memories of his time in the band. "Pretty much what you hear on that album is what we sounded like every time we played it. We had it down long before it was recorded . . . another thing bands don't do anymore," says Chazan, continuing, "I couldn't believe how great the sound was off the LP compared to the tape. I think that is the moment I realized that we had done something special here, that would never be done again. It was a Junior Achievement!"
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