Great songs, a great
look, great photos, great graphics, a great show: in 1977 the L.A.
upstarts kick-started the west coast punk scene.
BY FRED MILLS
[This is an expanded
version of an article that originally appeared in Harp magazine in 2007. – Ed.]
It was uttered: “I
wanna kick in the radio/ I wanna bomb the record store/ I say-destroy all
music!” And with that little bit of 1977 nihilistic ‘tude called “Destroy
All Music,” powered by churning Who/Dolls/Clash guitars, coronary-inducing
drums and seething vocals, the Weirdos delivered an American punk anthem as
enduring as “Anarchy in the U.K.” was in Britain.
Inspired early on by performances by the New York Dolls and
the Stooges, the Weirdos – Cliff Roman (guitar), John Denney (vocals), Dix
Denney (guitar), Dave Trout (bass), Nickey Beat (drums) – formed in Hollywood in early ’77, penning
such colorfully-titled punk epistles as “Destroy All Music,” “Teenage,” “A Life
of Crime,” “Why Do You Exist?” “We Got the Neutron Bomb,” etc., and wielding
their crude three-chord ditties like billy clubs.
“You know, we pretty much kicked off the local punk scene in
Roman now. “The scene actually evolved around the early Weirdos shows. For us,
it was great and we were much admired and respected. We were the only local
band in 1977 that could draw a sizable crowd. We wrote our own material,
designed our look, and created our own posters and art; we were a little bit
wary of the punk label and wanted to differentiate ourselves from other bands
in the scene back then. But we met many talented, creative people, doing a lot
of shows with the Zeros, Dils, Nerves and Germs. We played the Masque, Starwood
and the Whisky. Later we did shows with the Plugz and the Screamers. Devo
opened for us when they first came to L.A.
and we played the Hollywood Palladium with Blondie. It was an exciting time.”
And Weirdos concerts were events unto themselves, to say the
“Our first few gigs were at the Punk Palace.
The Punk Palace was wherever we did the shows.
First at S.I.R. studios, then at the Orpheum Theatre. At first we played
without a drummer. Then we were introduced to Nickey Beat by Phast Freddie and
Nickey joined us for a show at the Orpheum Theatre where we played with The
Germs and The Zeros. That show was undeniably the first local L.A. Punk Show
ever. It was a tiny theater, 99 seats, and the place was packed because word
had got out about our band. The Damned were there as well as Greg Shaw from
Bomp! and Rodney Bingenheimer, the local DJ from KROQ who played the latest punk
records from England.
The Zeros came up from the San Diego
area and we met The Germs at the Bomp! Records store a few days before the
show. The Germs couldn’t play a song – Darby Crash started throwing peanut
butter around, and they got thrown off the stage! The Zeros played a great set.
We finished our set with Captain Sensible playing guitar with us for an encore.
Greg Shaw told me later that we made history that night.”
in the late seventies, punk shows could also be dicey affairs due to local
officials’ tendency towards heavy-handed responses. “The police never bothered
us,” notes Roman, “but I was down at the Masque one night when the police came
down and stopped the show and made everyone leave. People got arrested and some
were beat with batons. There were some
shows when security guards would stop us mid-set to try to settle down the
crowd. It didn’t work. It was pogo mania back then.”)
It’s likely the Weirdos’ visual aesthetic (“deconstructed
thrift store day-glow abstract expressionist rock-a-billy chic,” quipped one
reviewer) was probably as key to their popularity as their music. Punk zines
like Slash and Search and Destroy regularly put the zoot-suited,
chopped-and-coiffed miscreants on their covers, and whenever the mainstream
media came trawling for typical “zany-looking” punks, the Weirdos invariably got
the photographic nod – they were one of the first L.A. combos to be featured in
Time, in fact. Yours truly, publishing his own fanzine at the time, called the
Weirdos “the face of West Coast punk” in a review of the “Destroy All Music”
That single, originally released by Greg Shaw on his Bomp!
label, was reissued in 2007 by Bomp! as part of the Destroy All Music CD, which adds a mini album from ’79 and four
early demos; a photo-stuffed booklet and detailed liner notes tell the band’s
story in images and words. Says Roman, “Greg was a big supporter of the Weirdos.
We did our first single, ‘Destroy All Music,’ with him. Kim Fowley wanted to
sign and produce us, but we decided not to go with him. He was involved with
The Runaways at the time. Phast Freddie came to all our early shows and wrote
about us for his fanzine Back Door Man. Then we did
our second single ‘We Got the Neutron Bomb’ on Dangerhouse. They were the new
local cool label that was run by and for the local musicians.
“I really like Destroy
All Music CD because it is chronological. There is our first demo, which
starts with ‘Teenage’ and then it’s the same tracks as our Bomp! single. In
some ways it sounds better even though it’s pretty raw. The magic is definitely
there. Also, on this record is our Bomp single and mini LP Who, What, When, Where, Why [originally released in 1979] in their
entirety for the first time on CD. The contrast between the early work and
later work is interesting, too. The later work was us in the studio, sort of doing
our own Sgt. Pepper’s. We were
overdubbing and experimenting, rather then pushing the record button and
playing live. I think it still holds up. We were pretty amazed at how good it
sounded when Dix Denney and I remastered the tracks.”
As strong as the recordings were and as powerful as the band
was live, however, the Weirdos were unable to make much headway outside
the West Coast touring circuit. By Roman’s reckoning, as 1981 rolled around the
punk scene had changed dramatically; reckoning that their band had run its
course, the Weirdos opted to bow out. Since then they’ve reunited several times
with shifting lineups. The Condor album appeared in 1990. (Roman: “That’s a great record and there are some
magnificent tracks there. Unfortunately it’s out of print.”) A version of the
band also toured nationally in 1989 with the Circle Jerks, and that was
followed by the 1991 retrospective Weird
World, which has been their most popular title over the years and frequently
appears on punk best-albums lists.
As recently as 2004 the Denney brothers mounted yet another
reunion tour featuring Circle Jerks bassist Zander Schloss and Skulls drummer
Sean Antillon, while a 2006 tour of England with the Damned was aborted
after just one show when the Denneys’ mother passed away. “The Weirdos are
pretty much done now,” says Roman. “They haven’t done anything since. I didn’t
think it was the true Weirdos since I was not part of that effort. But I
certainly respect them for their great talent and choice of material – songs I
Meanwhile, for Roman’s part he’s moved on from his punk
past, working as an educator and middle school administrator since hanging up
his axe. Yet he still holds fond memories of his “Hollyweird” days and doesn’t rule
“We had it all: great songs, a great look, great photos, our
own great graphics, and we put on a great show. When I last played with the
band our set was 20 songs and lasted for almost two hours! So you never know – anything
THE WEIRDOS SELECTED
*Destroy All Music (Bomp!, 2007). Original “Destroy All Music” 7″ (Bomp!, 1977) and Who What When Where Why? 12″ plus
unreleased demos of “Teenage,” “Destroy All Music,” “A Life of Crime” and “Why
Do You Exist?” Remastered 2007 by Cliff Roman and Dix Denney; liner notes by
Roman and Mick Farren.
*We Got the Neutron
Bomb EP (Dangerhouse, 1978)
*Who What When Where
Why? 12″ (Bomp!, 1979)
*Action Design 12″
1977-1981: Time Capsule Volume One (Frontier, 1991)
*We Got the Neutron Bomb:
Weird World Volume Two CD (Frontier, 2003)