NERVOUS BREAKDOWN EP (SST, 1978)
JEALOUS AGAIN 12" (SST,1980)
SIX PACK 7" (SST, 1981)
LOUIE LOUIE 7" (Posh Boy, 1981)
DAMAGED LP (Unicorn, 1981)
LICORICE PIZZA EP (Unicorn, 1981)
TV PARTY 7" (Unicorn, 1981)
EVERYTHING WENT BLACK 2LP (SST, 1983)
MY WAR LP (SST, 1983)
FAMILY MAN LP (SST, 1984)
SLIP IT IN LP (SST, 1984)
LIVE 84 LP (SST, 1984)
LOOSE NUT LP (SST, 1985)
THE PROCESS OF WEEDING OUT EP (SST, 1985)
IN MY HEAD (SST, 1985)
WHO'S GOT THE 10½? (SST, 1986)
ANNIHILATE THIS WEEK (SST, 1987)
I CAN SEE YOU (SST, 1989)
THE FIRST FOUR YEARS 10" (SST, 1984)
WASTED... AGAIN (SST, "best of" collection)
THE COMPLETE 1982 DEMOS PLUS MORE LP (2001)
RODNEY ON THE ROQ LP (Posh Boy, 1980) "No Values"
CRACKS IN THE SIDEWALK LP (New Alliance, 1980) "Clocked In"
LET THEM EAT JELLYBEANS LP (Alternative Tentacles/Faulty, 1981) "Police Story"
CHUNKS LP (New Alliance, 1981) "Machine"
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT AHEAD tape (Posh Boy/SST, 1981)
RODNEY ON THE ROQ vol. 2 LP (Posh Boy, 1981) "Rise Above"
OI! OI! THAT'S YER LOT LP (Secret, 1982) "Revenge"
UNDERGROUND HITS 1 LP (Aggressive Rockproduktionen, 1982)
RAT MUSIC FOR RAT PEOPLE LP (Go!, 1982) "Scream"
THE BLASTING CONCEPT LP (SST, 1983) "Nervous Breakdown", "Jealous Again", "I've Heard It Before"
THE SOUND OF HOLLYWOOD #3: COPULATION LP (Mystic, 1984) "Police Story"
DESPERATE TEENAGE LOVEDOLLS LP (Gasatanka, 1984)
THE BLASTING CONCEPT vol. 2 LP (SST, 1986)
LOVEDOLLS SUPERSTAR LP (SST, 1986)
News Article from Easy Reader, July 1979
Black Flag in the news for playing Polliwog Park.
Interview from Skitzoid
This is really cool - a "Chavo-era" interview from 1980, in a Vancouver zine no less. My favorite quote: "Or if we play at at new wave club we'll say we're a nice New Wave band. Then when we show up, they find out just what we are. Boy do they." Big thanks to James for typing it all out and sending it!
Interview from Ripper #6
Here's a good early Black Flag interview from 1981. Among other things, they talk about what their song "White Minority" is about.
Interview from We Got Power #4
A short interview from when Chuck Biscuits was in the band.
Interview from Smash! #4
Check out Henry Rollins' great line in this interview.
Interview from Suburban Punk #10
Andy interviewed Henry Rollins, Bill Stevenson, and Greg Ginn on Black Flag's 1984 tour.
America's Most Wanted: Black Flag's First Five Years
Black Flag: A 12-Step Program in Self-Reliance
Two excellent in-depth articles written by Jay Babcock about Black Flag. If you have any interest in this band, do yourself a favor and read this stuff.
Black Flag/Rollins Website
I think this is the best Black Flag page out there, mainly because it's got so much in the way of info and stories. Tons of recollections from people who saw Black Flag on tour at some point, also a "where are they now" of band members and associates...
SST Records Website
The official site, they used to have a page for Black Flag, but it's gone now (no pun intended).
Band History written by Patrick
Black Flag were trailblazers. They were one of the first bands to be considered "hardcore punk". Their grueling tours hit every town they possibly could, inspiring struggling local bands and scenes to keep trying, showing it could be done. The record label they ran, SST, put out records that were nearly as inspiring as the band that formed the label. Through touring, Black Flag made connections with and strong impressions on bands like the Big Boys, the Dicks, Hüsker Dü, the Effigies, the Necros, Minor Threat, SSD, MDC, the Misfits, the Meat Puppets, and countless others. Black Flag were looked upon as kings of hardcore, but the band was interested in being part of any scene. Instead, from day one they sought to create their own scene through their record label. In the process, SST Records released some of the most influential independent records of the 80's.
Black Flag centered on guitarist Greg Ginn. Greg was one of five children of a schoolteacher. Growing up, Greg and family got used to living on a tight budget, something that would become useful years later for future guitarist. Very intelligent and very quiet, Ginn grew up disdaining conformity and the surf culture that surrounded him. He also had little interest in music, particularly popular music. His passion was ham radio. In high school, Greg started his own company, SST Electronics. SST stood for Solid State Transformers, a product he never ended up marketing. It wasn't until his late teens, though, that he discovered music, and once he did, it consumed him. It wasn't only rock and roll that interested Greg. He also became a fan of country, blues, jazz, funk, disco, and many other forms. A surprising fact about Ginn would be that he's been quoted as saying that his all-time favorite band is probably the Grateful Dead.
At age 19, Greg picked up a guitar that had been lying around the house and began attempting to play. The guitar had belonged to a younger brother who'd given up on the instrument. Then an economics student at UCLA, Greg used the guitar to blow off steam after studying. The rise of punk rock showed Ginn that a band could play music without the excesses that '70's rock and roll was currently drowning in. Inspired by the first Ramones album, Greg decided to form his own punk rock band.
In 1976, Greg began his search for bandmates. His first recruit was Keith Morris, a part-time record store clerk who had befriended Ginn after discovering that the two shared an interest in many of the same bands. Like Ginn, Keith also had little interest in the surrounding surf culture. Morris wanted to be drummer but didn't actually know how to play drums, and after much convincing by Ginn, he accepted a role as vocalist. The new group was called Panic, and the rhythm section was filled out by a couple of Keith's beach bum friends. Those guys, however, weren't particularly dedicated to the band and would frequently flake out on rehearsals.
By mid-'77, Panic acquired a new bassist, Gary McDaniel. Gary played in the band Wurm, a group that shared a practice space with Panic at the Church, a former church that had been reformed into an arts and crafts center as well as practice space for a number of bands. The place also quickly attracted many runaways, dropouts, and burnouts from the surrounding areas. Gary, who played under the stage name Chuck Dukowski, was impressed by Panic's energy and soon joined the band, as Wurm was calling it a day.
Panic had been making the rounds, mostly playing parties and turning people off with their horrible playing. However, it was soon brought to their attention that their moniker was already taken. Greg's younger brother Ray, who would become known as the artist Raymond Pettibon, suggested Black Flag and designed the now infamous four-bar logo. Ray, like his brother, was extremely intelligent (he graduated from UCLA at age 19 with a degree in economics) and was an anarchist since his early teens. The black flag was his symbol of his political beliefs (as well as the name of a well known insecticide).
The newly rechristened Black Flag had become a much better band, but they were still having trouble getting gigs outside of the parties they normally played. The fashion-conscious and drugged out Hollywood scene wanted no part of Black Flag or the surfers and other types of misfits that followed the band in from the beaches and suburbs, although many of those Hollywood-types now try to downplay their original feelings in the light of the success of Black Flag and many of the hardcore bands that came out of the suburbs. But those first reactions 'caused Ginn and Dukowski to form a new scene in reaction to Hollywood. This scene included bands like Red Cross and the Descendents, both of whom, at the time, were really just kids.
In the beginning of 1978, Black Flag with the line up of Keith Morris, Greg Ginn, Chuck Dukowski, and drummer Brian Migdol, went in the studio with the help of Spot, a would-be engineer who Ginn was friends with, and recorded a 4-song EP that the sent to local record label Bomp to put out. Bomp sat on the tapes for months before rejecting them. Ginn decided that he'd just press up the record on his own, although he had no intentions of starting a record label at the time. SST Records first release, Nervous Breakdown, came out at the end of the year.
The Nervous Breakdown EP was rough, but it sent shockwaves through those who heard it. By the late '70's many of the early American punk acts had fizzled out or were cleaning up their act in bid for mainstream success. English bands had become the driving force in underground punk, and were particularly influential on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Black Flag, like many of their West Coast counterparts, saw much of what was coming out of England as all fashion and pose with no substance. Nervous Breakdown was a signal to the American punk underground to step it up and ditch their Anglophile ways.
The band was starting to get noticed, but Brian Migdol was more interested in getting wasted on the beach than playing, and he was quickly replaced by Roberto Valverde, a native of Colombia whose robotic drumming style earned him the nickname Robo. With a new drummer and record in hand, the band was now finding it somewhat easier to get gigs and get attention, but soon Keith became a problem. Keith's excessive use of cocaine an alcohol often made for manic onstage performances, but also made him difficult to control off stage. He'd also grown tired of the band's obsessive practicing, which could (and would) last for at least 5 or 6 hours a day, every day. Keith felt like he'd become the scapegoat for any problems the band had. Ginn had written most of Black Flag's early songs and the stuff Keith was trying to bring to the band wasn't working out. In 1979, while preparing to record a new EP, Keith quit the group. Keith quickly formed the Circle Jerks with former Red Cross guitarist Greg Hetson. However, the problems between Black Flag and Keith Morris were not over. Keith had taken the song "I Don't Care" which he and Ginn had co-written and was, at that time, unreleased, to his new band. The Circle Jerks early sets, its been said, also included their own compositions that sounded suspiciously like Black Flag and Red Cross songs that neither Hetson or Morris had written. Threats from Ginn pushed the Circle Jerks to remove most of the similar sounding material, but Morris continued to slag Black Flag in interviews.
Black Flag took another former Red Cross member to replace Keith. This one was Ron Reyes, Red Cross's one time drummer. It was the line-up with Ron singing that was featured in the punk rock documentary Decline of the Western Civilization, but this formation wouldn't last long. Reyes was an unstable personality but his tendency to let loose on stage convinced Ginn that Ron would make a good frontman. Ron was initially not ready to record, but by the time he was ready he'd developed an annoying habit of walking out of the studio mid-take. Ron was also a heavy drinker and had decided to become a vegetarian. At that point, his diet was said to consist mainly of potatoes and beer, which probably only added to his instability. After only six months or so in the band, Ron quit dramatically by walking off stage during a particularly violent gig. The band continued as vocal-less three-piece for months afterwards. Ron Reyes would return to finish recording the band's 2nd EP after he quit, at which time he proved remarkably cooperative. Still, when the record, titled Jealous Again, was released, cover artist Raymond Pettibon listed Ron as "Chavo Pederast" on the sleeve. After leaving Black Flag, Ron moved to Canada. Word is he has since quit drinking and become a born-again Christian.
The vocalist slot was eventually filled by Dez Cadena, a fan and friend of the band since the Panic days. Dez was really a guitarist by trade, but when Chuck offered him a chance to sing for the band, he felt he couldn't pass it up. With Dez, the group recorded another amazing EP for SST, Six Pack, as well the Louie Louie single (which was released on Posh Boy). It was also with Dez that group began their extensive touring and hit the high mark of their popularity, selling out venues they would never sell out again.
By now, word started spreading slowly across the country about this band, fueled by their intense records and reportedly wild shows. Hardcore gigs throughout Southern California had started to attract much violence. The police started cracking down on shows and clubs began blacklisting hardcore acts. Black Flag, however, did little to quell the fights and mayhem that tended to start up while they played. Ginn and Dukowski contended that it was not their place to tell audiences what to do. Many, including former singer Keith Morris, were very critical of Black Flag's refusal to police their audience from the stage. At least a dozen Black Flag shows, its been reported, ended in riots, although its been pointed out by the band that these riots never started until the police showed up. Although riots only occurred for a brief period in Black Flag's career, the shadow of violence remains with the group to this day.
Police were soon keeping tabs on Black Flag and the SST crew, which included bands like the Minutemen and Saccharine Trust as well as their roadie, Mugger, and soundman, Spot. Ginn usually gave these people jobs with SST Electronics to supplement their usually non-existent income. SST was also forced to move from town to town because of police pressure. The Minutemen's Mike Watt claims that police thought that SST was the cover for a drug ring.
The pressure from the authorities convinced the band that is was time to take the show on the road. Although bands like D.O.A. and Dead Kennedys did tours before Black Flag, it was Black Flag who start doing extensive tours, hitting every town they could. The group's singles and EPs were starting to make it into the hands of kids across the country, inspiring them to start their own bands. What was most impressive to these bands was that an inspiration like Black Flag would roll into town, blaze though an amazing set, and be completely down-to-earth guys, free of the whole rockstar ego trip that even many early punk and new wave acts suffered from.
Touring did present a problem for one member, though. Dez Cadena may have been an excellent frontman and vocalist, but he was also a heavy smoker and an inexperienced singer. He soon found his voice very strained by the intense touring. Moreover, Dez really desired to play guitar, and although he kept it to himself, Greg and Chuck were apparently aware of it. The lead vocal spot for Black Flag would be an extremely coveted role, but Ginn and Dukowski had some people in mind. One of them was an ice-cream store manager in Washington DC whom they had met on an early tour. His name was Henry Garfield and he was the singer for a local hardcore band, S.O.A.
Contrary to legend, Henry was not offered a spot in Black Flag after jumping up on stage and singing mid-set. Black Flag had already met Henry and although there was a show at which Henry jumped up on stage and sang "Clocked In" with the band, he went through the normal audition route, too. They offered Henry the frontman spot after the audition, but Henry was unsure of accepting because his respect for Dez. Dukowski and Ginn had already offered Dez a spot as second guitarist and so Dez himself called Henry and asked him to join. Henry accepted and joined the group on the road, studying the lyrics and Dez's interaction with the crowd (Dez asked to be allowed to finish the tour). Henry soon changed his last name from Garfield to Rollins. Black Flag now had their fourth singer since they started as Panic in 1976. The year was 1981.
Black Flag quickly recorded their first LP, Damaged, with Henry, although Henry had little input on the album. After recording, Black Flag left for a tour in England in late '81 with Henry's friend Ian MacKaye joining the group as roadie. The English were not very receptive to the band and Henry and Ian, who, unlike the rest of the group, were big fans of English punk, were deeply disappointed by that scene's state of affairs. Upon leaving the U.K., the band was dealt another blow. It was discovered that Robo's visa was expired and he could not re-enter the United States. He was deported to Colombia and although he was eventually able to make his way back to America, Black Flag considered him too much of a liability. Robo would end up in the Misfits and the Undead briefly before returning to Colombia by the end of the decade. Upon returning to the U.S., Descendents' drummer Bill Stevenson filled in briefly before Emil Johnson, a drummer from Hollywood who was down with Germs crowd, took over in early 1982. Emil wouldn't last long, though. He soon tired of touring and wanted to be home with his girlfriend, who wanted Emil off the road. Ginn and Dukowski figured that if the girlfriend was eliminated then Emil would show more dedication, so they convinced their roadie, Mugger, to admit to an affair with her (reports differ on the actual truth of Mugger's confession) in hopes that Emil would dump the girl. The plan backfired. Emil got into a fight with Mugger, then broke into the offices of SST and stole some master tapes that the label was forced to buy back.
Emil's replacement was former D.O.A. drummer Chuck Biscuits. The short-lived five-piece line-up of Henry Rollins on vocals, Greg Ginn and Dez Cadena on guitar, Chuck Dukowski on bass, and Chuck Biscuits on drums is said by many observers to have been the group's best. Biscuits, however, would also not last long, as he apparently was not into Black Flag's rigorous rehearsing schedule, which could last six hours a day, six or seven days a week. Bill Stevenson again came back to fill in. He ended up "filling in" until 1985.
The Damaged record was released in the beginning of 1982. Damaged was a blistering collection of some of the most angry and aggressive songs ever recorded, offset by occasional bursts of sarcasm and humor. SST Records had made an arrangement with Unicorn Records, a subsidiary of MCA, to co-release the record. Unicorn was distributed through MCA. The band warned MCA of the album's content, but when the head of MCA head the record, he claimed that it was "anti-parent" and decided not to distribute it (although Black Flag later heard that someone at Rolling Stone magazine had advised MCA that releasing a Black Flag record would be a bad idea). Unicorn had also apparently released some big time bombs, and some suspect that MCA was looking for a way to dump the crappy label. With Unicorn sitting on their hands, Greg Ginn saw this as a breach of contract and went ahead and decided to sell the record solely through SST and take the records back from Unicorn. Unicorn sought to stop SST through court order and a bunch of lawsuits flew back and forth between the two parties. The band had recorded a single for TV Party (the A-Side was the only studio recording of Black Flag with Emil) which was the last joint release between SST and Unicorn. In 1982, a judge put an injunction on Black Flag, barring them from recording or releasing music under the Black Flag name. Still, the band secretly recorded a demo with Biscuits that has never been officially released (but has been bootlegged). Black Flag also released Everything Went Black, a double LP collection of unreleased songs and studio outtakes from the pre-Henry days. Unicorn had approved the project prior to the lawsuits. Because of the judge's injunction, SST decided to release the record with no band name on it, instead only listing the musicians on the back cover. Despite Black Flag's name not being on the record, the judge decided that Greg and Chuck, as co-owners of SST, were in violation of the injunction and threw them in jail for five days. The Unicorn lawsuits finally ended in late 1983 when Unicorn went bankrupt.
By 1983, things had begun to change in Black Flag. The band could only make money off of touring because of the court injunction on recording and releasing anything new, but they felt they had had worn out the Damaged material. Damaged, while a tremendous album, was also a clearinghouse for the band. Many of the songs were 3 or 4 years old when they were recorded. The band wanted to sweep out the hardcore material before moving on to something new, but there was fear in the band about playing the new material before they could record it. Black Flag was a very influential band, and perhaps they felt a little too influential. When Dez moved to second guitar, and number of hardcore bands appeared with or added two guitarists. While itís probably true that many of these moves were unrelated to Black Flag, the band and those around them could not help but feel that what they'd do musically would be copied, too. Black Flag, by 1983, had little interest in hardcore music. Aside from acts on SST or some of their friends, almost no one in the band was listening to punk. Dio and Black Sabbath (with Dio singing) had gained the Greg's interest, as well as ZZ Top. Rollins was listening to bands like Birthday Party. Everybody started growing their hair long.
Internally, the band was about to go under more changes. The first person to go was Dez. Dez's musical interests were now more along the lines of classic rock and he desired to front his own act. He left the group amicably in April of 1983 after a gig in Suicidal Tendencies's singer Mike Muir's garage, and formed his own band, DC3, which was more in line with his classic rock tastes. But the biggest surprise was yet to come. Greg Ginn had felt that, since the beginning, he and Chuck were musically incompatible. Chuck, however, had become extremely important in the day-to-day operations of Black Flag and SST, as well as Ginn's friend. Ginn wouldn't fire Chuck, but he apparently had felt that their musical connection had come to a dead end. Some believe that the tension that was growing between Greg and Chuck may have had more to do with ego than music, with Greg wanting to consolidate his control over the band. The tension that existed was apparently kept well hidden, but it was coming to a head. Greg had grown increasingly critical of Chuck's playing. His constant nitpicking drove Chuck to practice harder and harder, even playing along with a click track for hours on end, but it wasn't good enough. Eventually, Chuck quit. Chuck's departure surprised everyone, even the closest of Black Flag's allies, the Minutemen. Chuck and Greg's friendship remained intact despite Chuck's departure from the band and Chuck stayed on not only at SST, but also as Black Flag's manager and booking agent. Chuck, who had briefly resurrected Wurm in 1982 to do some recording, would soon resurface in SWA.
With the injunction over, Black Flag seized the opportunity to record again. Ginn had spent hours with Bill, practicing slower tempos. During the Unicorn lawsuit, Black Flag had contemplated changing their name but never seriously pursued the idea. In retrospect, it might not have been a bad idea, as the post-Damaged Black Flag was a much different band. The group had no bass player yet, so Ginn filled in on bass, recording under the name "Dale Nixon" for the group's next record. y War, the new album, was a big departure from Damaged. Most of the songs were slower and long. The B-side consisted of only three songs clocking in around seven minutes apiece. Henry, unlike previous vocalists, had taken a bigger part in the lyric writing process. Black Flag had often dealt with themes of frustration, anger, and depression, but Rollins also introduced a loathing previously unseen. Many old fans found this new direction either confusing or unbearable.
Speaking of changes, Rollins was undergoing some changes as well. Henry had joined the band as an eager-to-please, lean, shaved-headed 20-year old. In the years since, he'd embarked on a rigorous workout routine and covered his arms with tattoos. He also grew his hair long and performed only wearing a pair of black athletic shorts. Henry drew a lot of attention, both good and bad. Some found his brooding stage presence exciting, even sensual or erotic. Many others, though, accused Henry of egotism and narcissism. Fans criticized Henry's tattoos, claiming they were for jocks or rednecks, which is ironic, given the tattoo's popularity in punk rock today. Rollins got into many physical confrontations on stage. Oddly, the other band members did not receive the physical abuse that Henry did, leading some to believe that Henry may have invited the confrontations through his stage antics.
By the time My War was released in 1984, Black Flag had a new bass player, Kira Roessler. Kira was the younger sister Paul Roessler, who had been a fixture in the Hollywood punk scene for many years, playing with such bands as the Screamers and Twisted Roots, and Kira herself had been playing bass in bands since she was 16. Greg had heard Kira practicing with DC3, Dez Cadena's new band and invited her to join. Kira was an excellent bass player, technically much more proficient than Chuck, and was a big Black Flag fan who liked the new direction of the music. There was a downside, though. Kira was also Rollins' ex-girlfriend and their breakup had been very bad, as, in Henry's words, "no one breaks up with Kira Roessler." Some suspect Greg's recruitment might have been a way of trying to get Henry to leave even though the problems that existed between the two in the later years were not yet present. Rollins and Ginn got along at the time, but they where never very close. Henry had really been Chuck's choice. Chuck had coached Henry during the recording of the vocals for Damaged and Chuck had pushed for Henry to be in the band in the first place. But Chuck was gone and Henry's only other close friend was Bill Stevenson. Bill and Henry had bonded because they were the only ones who avoided drugs and alcohol and the two frequently worked out together. But Bill was only "filling in". Henry met with Kira and they resolved to put their differences aside for the band's sake. Henry then took Kira to get the Black Flag bars tattooed on her arm.
1984 turned out to be a prolific year for Black Flag. It would also be confusing for many long time fans. The band had built up a large repertoire of songs after Damaged but weren't able to do anything with them for years because of the Unicorn lawsuit. Unsure of what to with the volume of material they had, SST seemed to decide to release everything right away. The band released four records in 1984, starting with My War. It was followed by Family Man, the first record with Kira. Family Man featured Rollins doing a number of spoken word pieces, followed by four instrumentals. In between was one song that featured the whole band, and that really just sounded like Henry reading a spoken word piece over a Black Flag instrumental. Family Man was followed by Slip It In. Slip It In had more punch than My War or Family Man. The title track was much more explicitly sexual than anything that had been played by Black Flag in the past (it also featured guest vocals by future L7 member Suzanne Gardner, who was Chuck Dukowski's girlfriend at the time). The songs on Slip It In were much more up-tempo and aggressive than My War's songs had been. Still, they sounded metal than punk, a fact that disappointed some, but many others have labeled Slip It In as Black Flag's best post-Damaged album. Finally, SST issued Live '84, a cassette-only recording of a live show on the Slip It In tour recorded one night in San Francisco. The bulk of the material on Live '84 was from My War and Slip It In.
The onslaught of records was a lot for Black Flag's fans to deal with and many were confused by the moves the band had made. Others were angry. A lot of people pointed to Henry Rollins for the changes, claming Henry "ruined the band". In Henry's defense, it was Ginn who wrote most of Black Flag's music. Still, Henry's lyrical themes on self-loathing and hatred were hard for some to take. Chuck's departure had also been a big blow, and the fact that he was replaced by a woman was hard for some to swallow. Black Flag had also chosen to take only SST acts on tour by this time, too. For example, their 1984 tour was with the Meat Puppets and the Nig-Heist, who didn't actually record for SST but filled with all sorts of SST characters like Black Flag roadies Mugger, Dave-O Claassen, D. Boon, sound-guy Spot, merchandise man Tom Troccoli, and various members of Black Flag. The official reasoning behind the all SST tours was that it would eliminate the possible competition and fighting by local groups trying to get an opening slot at a Black Flag show. Many, however, saw it as a sign of snobbery by Black Flag and SST, in effect saying, "only these bands are good enough to play with us."
By 1985, the "SST Family" had grown quite a bit. SST had released records by the Meat Puppets, the Minutemen, the Dicks, the Subhumans (from Canada), the Stains (from L.A., not MDC), Overkill (also from L.A., not the New York thrash metal band), and Saccharine Trust early on. Now joining the family were Dez Cadena's new band DC3, Chuck Dukowski's new act SWA, Tom Troccoli's Dog, Hüsker Dü, and number of others. People were buying records simply because they were released by SST. SST Records was releasing music by bands that usually had a connection to the hardcore scene, but weren't your typical hardcore bands. Most had actually grown tired of the genre's confinements and sought to incorporate more outside influences into their music. This struck a note with many disillusioned hardcore fans. What made SST seem like a family was the personal interaction between most of the bands. Members weren't simply label mates but friends with each other. Guys from one band would occasionally help out on another bands' album. Projects featuring various members of the SST family like the October Faction and Minuteflag (a one-off project featuring the Minutemen and Black Flag jamming together in the studio) formed and released records. The guys supported each other and helped promote each other, an arrangement that was especially beneficial to the label. The vibe that SST was giving off was basically, "If you like this band, check out these guys. If you like Black Flag, check out Saccharine Trust or the Meat Puppets. If you like the Hüsker Dü, check out the Minutemen."
The SST family was starting to facture around this time, though. For years, Spot had been Black Flag's soundman and producer. He's also produced a number of other bands, like the Descendents, the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, the Meat Puppets, the Dicks, the Misfits, the Necros, the Big Boys, and more. A lot of groups were honored to work with Spot, having seen his name on so many classic records and so having his name on a record was important for a lot of up and coming bands. He was cheap and fun, two important traits, especially in those early days. But things had begun to change for Spot. Bands like Black Flag and Hüsker Dü had become increasingly serious in the studio. Some bands, like Hüsker Dü, felt Spot was forced on them by SST. Greg Ginn's ceaseless search for perfection in the studio made recording Black Flag a bummer. People in some of the bands become increasingly difficult for Spot to deal with. In 1985, Spot left SST for good.
Some attitudes in the SST camp were starting to change, too. For years, the members of Black Flag and the SST crew had avoided drug use, if for no other reason than with all the police heat on the band, no one wanted to give the authorities a reason to bust them. By 1985, things changed. Kira Roessler was frequent user of marijuana and now Greg had rediscovered the drug. According to Rollins, Greg was obsessed with the stuff, carrying large quantities with him on tour. The introduction of the frequently stoned Meat Puppets on the SST family was influential, too. Some bands started to emulate the Meat Puppets laid back approach that contrasted with the workaholic attitude that was characteristic to many early SST bands. While not necessarily a bad thing, it undoubtedly added to the "stoner atmosphere" that some later SST bands talked about.
The October Faction had formed by this time. The October Faction seemed like an SST super group since it featured Greg Ginn, Chuck Dukowski, SST-hanger on Tom Troccoli, SWA drummer Greg Cameron, and Saccharine Trust guitarist Joe Biaza. But the band's self-indulgent, stoner jam style drew criticism from many. Even long-time ally Mike Watt told Steven Blush, author of the book American Hardcore, that he had no respect for October Faction and reported seeing "October Faction Still Sucks" stickers on tour.
In 1985, with Greg and Bill handling the production and Dave Tarling, the man who recorded Nervous Breakdown, doing the engineering, Black Flag released three more records. First came Loose Nut, seen by many as Black Flag's most conventional attempt at hard rock. It was followed by the instrumental EP, The Process of Weeding Out. The EP's title could have a number of meanings. There was the obvious pot reference, but people could also infer another meaning by the fact that Henry was not present on the album (the group played several local shows without Henry, being billed as "Black Flag Instrumental"). Some also believe that the title was a reference to "weeding out" listeners who did not "get it". Much of the material written for these albums, as well as they previous year's records, was written between 1982 and 1983. This material had been written for two guitarists, but recorded with one, while the Damaged material came from the opposite situation. Finally clear of the old material, Black Flag was able to record an album full of songs that they felt was representative of the present band. The resulting record, In My Head, was seen by many, including those in the band, as the post-Damaged Black Flag done right. Still, even when they were finally doing it "right" many weren't happy with the finished product. Even both Henry Rollins and Bill Stevenson have said the band was better before they were in it.
Black Flag was about to undergo more line up changes. Bill Stevenson was an experienced songwriter and producer and unhappily to being relegated to his role as "just a drummer." Also, Henry's transformation from likeable singer to serious spoken word artist had driven the two former friends apart. Of course, Bill wasn't the only one unhappy with Henry's newfound persona. Greg felt that Black Flag couldn't do any humorous songs anymore because Henry was writing lyrics that continue with his usual theme of, as Ginn described it, "I kill you, I hurt myself". But Greg and Bill weren't getting along too well, either. According to Greg, Bill approached him about replacing Henry as singer, but Greg balked at the idea, realizing that most fans now identified Black Flag with Henry Rollins. On the eve of a tour supporting In My Head, Greg and Bill had a blowout argument and Bill was fired. Greg would later state he was never comfortable with Bill's drumming. Bill was replaced by Anthony Martinez, who Kira had to help break in, as he was not ready to tour. Bill quickly regrouped the Descendents, who would become quite popular and successful in their own right. He and Greg eventually must have made piece because the Descendents joined the SST roster in 1987. Bill's next band, ALL, would be the first to record for Greg's new label, Cruz Records.
The 1985 tour with Kira and Anthony resulted in the live LP, Who's Got The 10½?. Rollins had come up with the idea of glamming Kira up for the tour as a way of antagonizing certain factions of the audience, but it also resulted in raising sexual tension within the band. Kira's attempts to assert herself also apparently caused problems with the macho guys in the band, Anthony and Henry. After the tour, Greg fired Kira. The reason isn't 100% clear, but according to Kira, Greg just got tired of playing with her, although Rollins claimed that Kira had badmouthed Greg to Black Flag's road crew, effectively destroying her reputation with them. Kira would resurface in few years with a project called Dos with her husband, Mike Watt, which recorded for the New Alliance label. She also frequently contributed lyrics to Watt's band, fIREHOSE. Although the two have since divorced, Dos occasionally performs and records, although they have moved to the Kill Rock Stars label.
Kira was replaced by C'el Revuelta for the 1986 tour. Greg has called this line-up the best ever, but the tour was not an easy. Joining Black Flag on their 1986 was new SST band Painted Willie and Greg Ginn's new instrumental group, Gone, which featured Sim Cain on drums and Andrew Weiss on bass. For those on the tour, it was obvious that Gone was where Greg's interest really lay. Black Flag, Henry has said, played the same set every night on that tour. The new "Black Flag" was having all sorts of other problems, too. C'el was a heavy drinker who was constantly on the phone fighting with his girlfriend back home. Henry like C'el but questioned his dedication. Anthony's lust for groupies was surprising to even the "groupie friendly" Black Flag crew. Henry and Greg were rarely speaking at this point. Greg kicked off the tour by telling Henry that he didn't like him. Greg, according to Henry, was convinced that Henry had something against him and could not be convinced otherwise. Henry's close relationship with the Ginn family, particularly Greg's parents, was something that irritated Greg to no end. Greg was also smoking lots of pot. Henry had grown detached from the band, instead preferring to spend his time with the Black Flag road crew, especially new roadie Joe Cole, who was actually Greg's friend at the time.
Black Flag's audience was also dwindling. Confused by the different directions each subsequent release had taken since Damaged and tired of the band's seemingly "fuck off" attitude, people stopped coming out for the band. The band was either playing to half-empty houses or smaller venues than they previously had. Painted Willie drummer Dave Markey shot a documentary of the apparently joy-less tour called Reality 86'd. Greg walked out of the film's one showing midway through and has since prevented its release. Owning the rights to all the music in the film, Greg has since threatened Markey with lawsuits whenever the filmmaker has attempted to show the film since its premier. Ironically, Henry has commented positively on the movie.
With interest in the band becoming less and less, Greg felt that Black Flag had nowhere to go. Fans, it seemed, no longer were willingly to try and figure out the musical journey Black Flag was taking. Supposedly, Henry approached Greg about making the next album similar to In My Head, apparently in hopes that fans could "catch up" to what Black Flag was doing, a request that caught Greg off guard. Feeling proud of what the band had already accomplished, Greg didn't want to cheapen Black Flag's legacy by covering old ground just those who didn't get it might start to. He also realized that he could not fire Rollins, as Rollins played an important role in the band's image. In the late 1986, Greg informed Henry that he was quitting Black Flag, effectively ending the group.
Greg continued with Gone until the end of 1986. By that time, SST Records had become a huge operation, with Ginn, Dukowski, former roadie Mugger, and Joe Carducci running things. Carducci had joined the label in 1981 but left near the end of 1986, so Ginn retired from performing to concentrate on the label. Between 1984 and 1988, SST released some of the most influential underground records of the 1980's. Albums by the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, and the Meat Puppets had started getting acclaim by the mainstream press, and soon SST had added more notable names to its roster like Sonic Youth, Descendents, Bad Brains, Dinosaur Jr., Soundgarden, the Screaming Trees, Leaving Trains, Negativeland, and fIREHOSE (former Minutemen Mike Watt and George Hurley's new band). These groups would become extremely influential to wave of grunge and alternative bands that would have mainstream success in the '90's. Ginn and co. also released albums by ex-Germs guitarist Pat Smear, Roger Miller (formerly of Mission of Burma), Bad Brain's singer HR, the Flesheaters (with former Slash magazine scribe Chris D.), and heavy metal act St. Vitus. Unfortunately, the good times would not last. According to some of the bands on the label, Greg was convinced that distributors would not take SST seriously unless they had a lot of product to offer, and so starting in 1987 SST unleashed an avalanche of albums, more than even most major labels would dare to do. To get an idea of how much SST was putting out, realize that when In My Head was released in 1985 it was SST #45. When the Black Flag compilation Wasted... Again was released in 1987, it was SST #166. When Dinosaur Jr.'s Bug was released in 1988, it was SST #216.
People who bought records based solely on the strength of the SST label were overwhelmed and the label's successful acts found themselves not being paid what they believed they were owed, instead feeling that the profits that they had generated were being used to release what was considered a bunch of crap. Soon, the band's most popular groups were jumping ship. It was felt by some bands that SST did not want any groups becoming bigger than Black Flag had been and so were unwillingly to do what it took to push a band to higher levels of exposure and success. Others felt that the large number of records being released by the label was lowering the standards of quality that the label was known for. Alarmingly, the most common complaint was that bands were not getting paid, despite the fact that their records were selling quite well. In the early days, most bands made their money off touring, so any money that their records made went straight back to the record label. Now, many SST bands were selling records in large quantities and weren't seeing the money they expected to see from sales. Unlike early SST groups that made up the "SST family", newer bands saw their relationship with SST as a business deal and, thus, felt no personal loyalty to SST. In 1986, Hüsker Dü was the first group on SST to leap to a major label, and by the early '90's, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, fIREHOSE, the Meat Puppets, and Dinosaur Jr. had all done the same. Of course, with the exception of Soundgarden, most of these bands didn't do much better, as far as popularity and mainstream success were concerned, than they did on SST, and furthermore, their major label releases did not get the same critical adulation that their indie releases had gotten. Still, when these groups departed, SST was unable to fill the void they left. The glut of new SST groups and records fell by the wayside with little fanfare and any interesting groups that might have broken through on the label a few years before were now ignored because the amount of mediocre releases that bore the SST name had ruined the label's reputation. The label's reputation was further damaged by lawsuits with groups such as Sonic Youth and the Meat Puppets, both of who have had their SST back catalogs successfully removed from the label and re-issued elsewhere. SST also not only caved in to a lawsuit filed by Island Records against them and the band Negativeland for a release that mocked U2, SST turned around and sued their own band, a move that for many removed any of the label's remaining credibility. By the mid '90's, SST had no major touring bands and even acts like Leaving Trains and Roger Miller that had stuck around, would soon go elsewhere. When noted SST bands like the Descendents and Saccharine Trust reformed in the mid '90's, they did not return to SST.
Of course, SST wasn't all that Greg was doing. Following D. Boon's death, Greg purchased the New Alliance label from Mike Watt. He would re-issue many of that label's popular releases through SST but he used the New Alliance label to release a number of spoken word albums, as well some more experimental musical acts. Some critics saw the music that Greg was releasing through New Alliance as the most interesting coming out of the SST world. In 1988, Greg also launched the Cruz label with Bill Stevenson's new band, ALL. Cruz released a few pop punk acts like ALL, Big Drill Car, and Chemical People. In 1993, Greg re-entered the music world on the performing side by issuing his first solo album on Cruz. Since then, he has issued a number of albums under various names like Hor, Mojak, El Bad, Gone (reformed with a different rhythm section), and several others, most of which feature the same musicians and none of which made much of drawn much attention. Chuck Dukowski left SST in 1997, leaving Greg in full control. Ginn still owns SST, Cruz, and New Alliance. There was also a label called Issues that was distributed through SST but it quickly disappeared. SST and Cruz rarely release new music these days and much of their back catalogues have been deleted (including everything on New Alliance), although the most popular titles are still available.
The loss of SST's most popular bands and its reputation is one thing, but some relationships within Greg's own family have been permanently damaged since the Black Flag days, specifically that with his brother, artist Raymond Pettibon. Raymond's art was used for numerous flyers and SST albums between Black Flag's earliest days and 1985. Not only was Raymond never paid for this art, but also it was often used without his input. According to Raymond, bands would usually choose the most violent or offensive drawings. They didn't ask for Pettibon's opinion, nor was he commissioned for a specific job. What really bothered the artist, though, was the fact that SST and its bands treated the originals of his art with little respect. Pictures would be written on, cut up, whited out, and torn up, although Raymond pleaded with people to show some care with his work. He also wanted to be seen as an artist in his own right and not just the guy whose pictures were on some records. By the middle of the decade (reportedly over damage to the artwork on the Loose Nut album) tension between Raymond and Greg came to the breaking point and to this day, they do not speak.
After Black Flag broke up, Henry started his own band, the Rollins Band, with guitarist Chris Haskett. After the original rhythm section declined to tour he picked up former Gone members Sim Cain and Andrew Weiss. Rollins continues to perform music with the Rollins Band, although he has replaced Haskett, Cain, and Weiss with a new band. He also continues to do spoken word and acts as well. He has published a number of books through his own publishing company, 2.13.61 Publications. He has released the book Get In The Van, which consists mostly of entries in a journal that Rollins' kept while he was in Black Flag. Greg Ginn has said, "I don't need to read it to know it's inaccurate." Rollins has kept a mostly positive spin on his reflections of Greg and Black Flag in the years since Black Flag's break up, although he has revealed his frustration as being the labeled as what went wrong with the band, especially by Ginn.
Recently, Henry Rollins gathered a group of artists to appear on a benefit compilation for the West Memphis Three. Henry's own band recorded the music for 24 Black Flag songs and each track had a guest vocalist. The album includes appearances by Lemmy, Iggy Pop, Exene Cervenka, Mike Patton, as well as guys from Rancid, Clutch, Slipknot, Slayer, and many others. Most notably, the album included appearances by Black Flag alumni Kira Roessler, Keith Morris, and Chuck Dukowski (as well as Rollins).
Greg Ginn and Henry Rollins aren't the only former Black Flag members still performing music. Keith Morris still performs with a reformed Circle Jerks and Dez Cadena recently joined the Misfits' 25th Anniversary tour (which, interestingly enough featured only one member of the Misfits) with former Ramones' drummer Marky Ramone. Robo has also occasionally re-appeared with the Misfits. Chuck Dukowski has recently surfaced in a band called Fishcamp and Chuck Biscuits has appeared in a number of bands, most notably Danzig and Social Distortion. Bill Stevenson still plays with ALL and, occasionally, the Descendents, and co-owns a record label, Owned & Operated.
Black Flag has recently been featured in the book Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad. They also had an entire chapter dedicated to them in the book American Hardcore by Steven Blush, an honor reserved for only two other bands, Bad Brains and the Misfits. As mentioned before, Henry Rollins published his memoirs from his Black Flag days in a book entitled Get In The Van. The book, however, is not a history of Black Flag but is more about Henry's interactions with people both inside and out side the band during that era. Rollins, himself, was the subject of a biography, Turned On, by James Parker. The book extensively covers Henry's years in Black Flag.
KILL FROM THE HEART Home