More Oral History of Phoenix Skate Punk

Over the past couple weeks I interviewed key members of the early '80s Phoenix skate punk scene. The results, printed in this week's issue, coincide with this weekend's JFA 30th Anniversary show at Hollywood Alley. Everyone I spoke to was funny, insightful, and a genuine lifer; people doing it because music and skating is a way of life.

As you can imagine, I wound up with way more material than I could fit in print. Here is a small taste of the excess quotes from members of JFA, Soylent Green, Father Figures, and AZPX Records.

On the diversity of the early '80s Phoenix punk scene, and the Placebo Records compilations:

Bobby Lerma (Kluge, Father Figures): [Placebo Records] Tony Victor...He was huge in helping birth this scene. [This is Phoenix, Not the Circle Jerks...Amuck] those records, I loved that they didn't put just hardcore on there. Phoenix punk rock scene was really different than a lot of other punk rock scenes...I guess in the beginning, cause, it wasn't just a bunch of kids with Mohawks. It was everybody else that didn't fit in anywhere. It was the artsy-fartsy types, everything in between...that's when I dropped out of the punk rock scene, is when it started to become exclusive. The hardcore thing was gripping on. Then it started to be [about] conforming. What was your uniform, what did you look like? Who did you hang out with? For me, the punk rock scene was way different than that. That's when I started to drop out; when it just started to cannibalize itself. Rob Locker (AZPX Records): JFA was a punk band that liked to skate, and sing about skating. I don't remember other bands of skateboarders forming after JFA for the sole purpose of making "skate punk." A few years later there were younger bands playing around AZ comprised of skateboards like Insurrection (still skating!), Mr. Ugly, Mother Helper but none of them necessarily called themselves 'Skate Punk'. Punk was punk, there were no genres yet. If I was going to put bands that defined the skate scene, I would have to list bands that I was into at the time, that made me want to go skate, here is just a few: TSOL, Gang Green, the Big Boys, Black Flag, Minutemen, Descendents, Vandals, Junior Achievement, Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, ONS (Our Neighbors Suck - they had a halfpipe!), especially the Sun City Girls (they didn't skate at all, but as a skateboarder, I got them), or pretty much any band on JFA's record label, Placebo Records.

Mike "Bam Bam" Sversvold (JFA): You had anything from The Feeders, which is totally extreme, to The Very Idea of Fucking Hitler, to Killer Pussy, International Language. Sun City Girls...The first real punk show I went to, I was about 13 [at] at Knights of Pythias. It was The Meat Puppets. They were just the scariest band I had ever seen in my life. Eric was sitting on a step latter, with broken cymbals, and they had these little six-inch speaker practice amps with their hippie hair. They were just so loud and fast.

Neil Hounchell (Soylent Green): [The art bands] knew how to play their instruments. We didn't. You are going to do what you can...the more distortion you play with, the more that covers your mistakes. Michael Cornelius (JFA): The Sun City Girls were kind of a big deal in that era, and the Meat Puppets, as strange as they were, were a big deal back then... The Meat Puppets [were] just these strange kids playing this psychedelic thrash stuff; I just loved it. I have hours and hours of live Meat Puppets recordings, I would go to all their shows and bring my boom box and tape 'em. And Victory Acres...they were sort of a strange psychedelic [band]...Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets played keyboards...Grant and the Geezers...they were my neighbors band. You could have a mix like that back then. They were a straight up rockabilly band, but played punk shows with the punk bands. And the scene was all open to that. It wasn't separate niches like it is now. Or got to be later. It got to be all hardcore shows and things like that.

The Skate/Punk Connection

Rob Locker: Guess you can say that some bands cultivated a 'SOUND' that was likened particularly by skateboarders. For example, Junior Achievement was a local band that had a big skate following because Todd Joseph played bass in that band and he was one of the most popular skateboarders in Arizona. Todd's band didn't sing about skateboarding nor did the other members skate, but they had that "sound" that made you wanna skate, and all the skateboarders would go support Todd's band.'

Brian Brannon (JFA): That's what we were into, to really get that heart pumping, that adrenaline pumping.

Cornelius: There was Permanent Wave and High Roller [skate parks] in Phoenix, and by '81-'82 they were both closed. There was really nothing in Phoenix for a long time. But we knew - when they built the 51, from Dreamy Draw pass north -- prime real estate. Every house had a pool. And they tore down five miles, half mile wide swaths of land, and every house had a pool, so there would be new pools for every week for a long time.

Lerma: One of the reasons why I think skateboarding proliferated here in Phoenix, is there were so many places to skate. Not legal, but still...our whole thing was to look for houses that were for sale. You would scout it, and see if people were still there, or if it was vacant, and it had a pool, you did everything in your power to drain that pool and skate it. And then guard your secret. It was all about pool hunting. I think unlike wet states, being in a dry state, there are tons of concrete ditches and culverts, and banks, and everything else. Everything that is meant to direct water is paved over here, concrete. It just provided tons of spaces to skate. People from California would come out here quite a bit on skate adventures.

On places to play:

Lerma: There was another place called the Salty Dog, off of 16th Street and oh god...McDowell? That was one of the earlier place. AAA Gardener's Club, which was on Van Buren also, which was this classic old school black guy named The Fonz, who was always on roller skates. His big thing was always "Stop Police Brutality," and he would have punk shows at his place, and that was a great place to play also. The Mason Jar had punk shows back then...Toward the end of that golden era, you had the Temple, which was an old church downtown, off first and Central, and a little south of Roosevelt. There were a couple of great punk rock shows there. One show that a lot of people remember for all the crazy shit that happened at it, Social Distortion played there, and some caretaker of the place came out with a shot gun, and the cops were called...all sorts of crazy stuff.

Locker: Shows at the time, were of course, the best. They were mostly all ages because most punks were underage. I miss that a lot. Trying to find a good place to throw an all ages gig is super tough these days. Let me make a point here that one of my favorite all-time shows was a matinee show at Party Gardens with Junior Achievement, The Descendents and The Vandals. What was great about it that it was a matinee gig. That meant we got to slam dance all afternoon and then go skate and party the rest of the night. I really want to bring that format back. I guess I'm getting old because I don't want to wait around all day and night to see a band play for an hour. I gotta take an afternoon nap to do that shit now.

Don Pendleton (JFA): To play in a bar in Phoenix, you had to be a cover band. You couldn't play The Mason Jar unless you were a cover band. What I'm used to, coming from California, was a club booking four or five bands, they would each play 40 to 50 minutes a piece, and that's how you draw people. The venues we had to start with was like, The Knights of Pythias hall. Some friends of mine just rented it, and had us and four or five other bands play. There was no venues. You had to make your own venues. If you wanted to see The Feederz, or the Extremes, you had to put on [your own shows].

JFA, Asses of Evil, Anarchy Taco, and Father Figures are scheduled to perform Saturday, October 15 at Hollywood Alley in Tempe.

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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.