Over the next several weeks, we will uncover the order of the 10 most influential Arizona punk rock records, complete with an in-depth look at each. But for now, we present a record that functions as a sort of honorable mention, a record that would probably have made a few people's lists, for sure. It's a highly influential number 11, if only because it is the sole compilation on the list: This Is Phoenix Not the Circle Jerks, put out by Placebo Records.
"This Is Phoenix Not the Circle Jerks was the second of three local compilation records on Placebo. The title was a spoof of an album called This is Boston Not LA, which was a compilation that had come out just prior," says Tony Victor, who ran Placebo Records and promoted the lion's share of early Phoenix punk rock shows. "The cover photo was taken at Mad Garden during a Mighty Sphincter show. The back cover was something I cut out of an old advertisement in Life Magazine. Decisions for almost all aspects of the records, shows, tours, etc., were made fast and on the go."
For many music fans, some album purchases are based on love at first sight without even a listen just because the cover is so good. This 1984 compilation is no exception. Jay Krejcsi's amazing cover photo depicts Ron Reckless of Mighty Sphincter, which kicks off the compilation with three songs meant for mothers of small children everywhere, giving birth to Godzilla in front of the delighted fans in the front row. For me, this cover was both daunting and encouraging, as it prominently featured a high school nemesis of mine, Chantal Valdez, but also one of my early bass playing heroes, Response/Chatterbox alum Mike Beck. Old sore spots aside, side one of This Is Phoenix Not the Circle Jerks gets stronger as each song goes by. After Mighty Sphincter, Tucson's Conflict offers three raging, female-led musical erections culminating in "Feedback Symposium," which may be my all-time favorite Tucson punk rock song.
Soylent Greene, bratty young heathens with a penchant for early '80s hardcore and satirical lyrics, finished up the first side with three great pieces of Phoenix punk history -- "Pledge," "Frank Discussion," and "Taxed." Soylent Greene featured a young Neil Hounchell, who runs the ThirdSpace bar/restaurant/music venue on Grand Avenue, on drums, and he told me, "I remember recording with Sandy Lamont at Desert Sounds atudio for Amuck [Placebo's first compilation]. Todd [Strekh, lead singer] had been sick, so his voice was more raspy than usual. We had a couple of takes for each song, and it was a lot of fun. It was the first time any of us were in a studio."
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Neil continued, "After Amuck came out, we heard that the other songs we had recorded were going to be on the This Is Phoenix album, too. We were stoked. Never saw any money from them, but I didn't care."
For Jayson Huff, who played guitar in SG, his recollection is not as clear.
"I don't remember much about recording the songs," Huff said. "I think it was at Desert Sounds? [It was, with the master local punk engineer Sandy Lamont.] Tony Victor paid for the recordings. The Victor brothers were a bit hectic, but who wasn't in the scene?"
Side two featured local legends The Zany Guys, Sun City Girls, and JFA. The Zany Guys tracks, recorded live at Whiskers, a bar on the west side of Phoenix, are pretty damn hilarious, culminating with their classic song "Toast."
"'Live from Whiskers West'! This was Tony Victor's brain child," Zany Guy bassist Mark Wooten said. "He had a portable studio set up in the alley behind a notorious biker bar and recorded us and the Meat Puppets live in front of a very hostile crowd. We had a fair amount of people show up for this show and the bikers weren't all that excited about all these weirdos hanging out in their bar. A few fights broke out, but nothing too bad. I remember the look of utter disgust from a few of the locals as we sang songs about toast."
TheSun City Girls
' avant jazzy spazzy punk is a nice little palate cleanser between theZany Guys
. Always weirder than anything happening in those days, but supremely talented, theSun City Girls
are definitely an acquired taste.
Looking at this record now, it is so indicative of the "Phoenix sound," with Sun City Girls and Mighty Sphincter flying the full-on freak flag, even though you can hear their influence in tons of other more straightforward bands. Even Soylent Greene and JFA had more than a tinge of arty noise to their sound. When JFA blasts into "Standin' on the Verge" in the penultimate track on this record, the "Phoenix sound" transitions nicely from Sun City Girls to the skate punk heroes. One member of JFA, Michael Cornelius (Full disclosure: Cornelius is my bandmate in The Father Figures) wasn't fond of the comp's title. "I never liked the title at all!" said Cornelius.
Whether Cornelius liked the title or not, it has certainly stuck in the heads and hearts of Valley punks. The compilation is not easy to find these days, although they are floating around on eBay in the $50 range. Placebo's two other compilations, 1982's Amuck and 1985's More Coffee for the Politicians are both great examples of the Valley's early punk music scene, as well, but for my $50 (or $2.99 at Zia back in the day), This Is Phoenix Not the Circle Jerks is a classic.
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