Most Influential Arizona Punk Rock Records: #2 -- Junior Achievement's Fade to Black
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.