Music News

JFA Celebrates 30 Years of Skate Punk

In 1981, Phoenix punk band J.F.A. (a.k.a. Jodie Foster's Army) released the Blatant Localism EP on Placebo Records. Remarkably brief — the entire record clocks in at six minutes, 34 seconds — the record defined the burgeoning skate punk scene. Though not Phoenix's first punk band, JFA introduced, with Blatant Localism, a new, Southern California-inspired sound to the scene: faster, shorter, and more focused than the "class of '77" Phoenix punks like The Consumers, and less oblique than International Language, Killer Pussy, and The Meat Puppets.

This weekend, the original lineup of JFA — vocalist Brian Brannon, guitarist Don Pendleton, bassist Michael "Chickenbutt" Cornelius, and Mike "Bam-Bam" Sversvold — will perform at Hollywood Alley, with Brannon and Pendleton performing in JFA, Cornelius performing with The Father Figures, and Sversvold performing with Asses of Evil. It marks 30 years of JFA, and 30 years of grinding, distortion-blasted skate punk coming from the concrete-paved banks, ditches, and abandoned swimming pools of Phoenix, Arizona.

This is Phoenix, not the Circle Jerks

Brian Brannon (vocalist, JFA): Punk was new and dangerous back [in 1981]. It was dangerous to be a punk, much less a skateboarder, climbing over people's fences and skating in their swimming pools . . . Just walking down the street, as a punk rocker, was an ass-kicking offense.

Mike "Bam-Bam" Sversvold (drummer, JFA, Asses of Evil): We were kind of the second generation, because the first generation was people like Charlie Monoxide and Ron Reckless, and people like those guys. They were more into the old, New York-style, gutter-punk guys with safety pins in their ears and stuff. We were full on into the Southern California-type punk, listening to Black Flag and the Circle Jerks.

Michael "Chickenbutt" Cornelius (bassist, JFA; guitarist, Father Figures): Back then, '79-'80 . . . [I] moved here in 1978. I was an ASU student in '78, and I had friends that were in the art scene at ASU, doing the strange art stuff, and the punk rock stuff going on then was kind of arty: art students with blue hair, and that kind of thing. It wasn't like the skate rock or harder punk that came around a little later.

Don Pendleton (guitarist, JFA): I knew Mike [Cornelius] was a good bass player, and I wanted to start a band with a good bass player and drummer — kind of like The Who. In January 1981, we went and saw this D.O.A. show, it was just amazing. D.O.A. was on fire; they played a whole bunch of songs really fast, really tight.

Bobby Lerma (Kludge; drummer, Father Figures): Phoenix's punk rock scene was really different than a lot of other punk rock scenes . . . It was everybody else that didn't fit in anywhere. It was the artsy-fartsy types.

Sversvold: [Brannon's mom] had sewn him this Tarzan loincloth, so he was like this Tarzan kid. And Mike — Phoenix was different back then — we had never seen a black skateboarder back then [laughs]. Don rode a Lonnie Toft eight-wheel skateboard. He had skated for Sims way back in the early '70s. He was the only hippie I had ever seen with a Black Flag shirt. That was about the point where punk rock and skateboarding merged . . . Don and I met at Knights of Pythias. We got to talking; he was like, "I just moved here from California, going to DeVry. I'm trying to start a band; I need a drummer," and I'm, like, "That's odd, I'm a drummer." We couldn't find a pen, so we just picked up one of the beer-soaked fliers, and I scratched my number into a flier with a house key . . . before he started recruiting us, [JFA] was going to be him and the Meat Puppets.

Brannon: It was good to have so many diverse bands like that back then — you know, Killer Pussy, Meat Puppets, Feederz, Grant and the Geezers, which was a rockabilly band, International Language, which was an art-punk band — and have them all on a show with a skate punk band. And no one thought twice. It was, like, "This is punk, and punk is about doing something different and doing what you want to do, doing what you're into, and making things happen."

When we first started, our goal was to play hard, fast, short, and intense. I talked to Tom Waits one time, and he told me that, "Music where the beat is slower than your heartbeat kind of mellows you out; music where the beat is faster than your heartbeat kind of jazzes you up." We were trying to play about 10 times the heartbeat, to really get people stoked. [Like] "I'm going to grind the hell out of that coping right now . . . I'm going to go friggin' way high in that pipe."

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.