Thanks to Tony Rettman for doing this interview with Danny Slam, singer for California pioneers America’s Hardcore. We hope to have Tony aboard with us more in the future, and this piece kicks off his contributions with a bang. Be sure to check back for the second half of this interview real soon.
Thanks Tony, and start slamming. -DCXX
How did you get into/find out about Punk/Hardcore?
When I was 16 I hooked up with this crazy 19 year old punk chick at my work. She turned me on to all kinds of cool shit like the Dead Boys, the Cramps, the New York Dolls, etc. She was a punk in the real original way. Being “cool” was about being totally outside of normal society - in the clothes you wore, the attitude you took, the drugs you abused, how and where you fucked. This was 1981 and I was already into new DEVO, which at the time was really different and attractive. She took me to a live Cramps show at the Roxy in Hollywood and she took me to see the original Decline of Western Civilization - the absolute defining moment of my young life! Man, when I saw these completely crazy and original kids going nuts for this fast, energetic and aggressive music, it turned me on in a huge way.
What was your first show? Please describe the experience in the fullest detail possible.
My personal (not AHC) first show that really counts (not the Cramps earlier) in my mind is Black Flag, DOA, Stains, and Minute Men at the Santa Monica Civic in June 1981. First of all, in preparation for this show, I had gone to a thrift store and bought some fucked-up old army jacket with bright brass buttons. It cracks me up to think how badly I was being a poser. But what did I know? I took the bus from the Valley to the show. The venue holds a lot of people, at least 2000. I remember vividly the following things: an Adam Ant impersonator between bands getting booed and spit on; the magnetic draw and simultaneous fear from being within arms reach of my first live slam pits; almost getting beat up near one of the outer slam pits (never knew why); people getting crazy after the show and swinging around the flag pole on the rope; my ears ringing the next day.
Photo: Linda Aronow
LA had a bad reputation for being a pretty violent HC scene. Was it as bad as it was made up to be? Please share with us some of the things you witnessed.
Yes, the LA punk/HC scene of the early 80s, which I dove headfirst into, was very violent. At most shows there were fights, usually 10 dudes kicking the crap out of one poor guy. There were a handful of dudes that you did not want to piss off and who were known to love to fight including John from Circle One, Mike from Suicidal, Oliver from the LADS, Sean Emdy from FFF, Mugger and others. A lot of fights just spontaneously erupted from clashes in the pit. At most big shows John from Circle One would lead packs of kids and rush the doors against the bouncers. There were several big riots at shows, where tons of cops showed up and closed down shows at SIR studios in Hollywood, Mendolis Ballroom in Huntington Park, and a big show in Wilmington.
And there was a gang mentality. Indeed many kids grew up familiar with ganglife in LA and took to creating copycat punk gangs. Partly, the gangs were justified, as being a punk at home was a bit treacherous. I went to a huge high school of 2000 kids, and there were about 10-15 punks. Not a day went by when I wasn’t fucked with by somebody. But also, the gangs were just another way of being anti-social and having safety in numbers to do stupid shit like spray paint walls, break shit, steal shit, fight with other punks at shows, etc. I was most familiar with the FFF gang, which was made up of all the punks (and my friends) where I lived (North Hollywood). FFF copied the style of mexican gangbangers (cholos), with khaki pants and buttoned up pendelton shirts, and nicknames like Oso, Flaco, Shorty and Woody.
Photo: Linda Aronow
How much time was there between you started going to shows and starting AHC, and can you give us the full scoop on how AHC came to be?
Less than a year. My best friend Scott Kosar (original bass player) and I started fucking around doing covers of stuff like “Wasted” by Black Flag pretty much right away. I guess it was the spring of 1982 that we formally formed Section 8 with guitarist Raffi Agopian (later of Tourist) and different drummers. We had a difficult time finding a drummer who would stick around. We even practiced with a 16-year-old Bobby Shayer (Bad Religion) who we “fired” after his dad grounded him on the day of a big show we were supposed to play. By the fall Raffi left and I met Drew Berstein (guitar) who knew Pat Muzingo the drummer from the Atoms and Decry, and the original AHC lineup was set. We played our last show as Section 8 in January 1983.
I was hugely influenced by SOA from DC. Early on we covered their Public Defender and I think this shaped our style to be very much in that mold of aggressive HC. We were also influenced by Minor Threat, plus local bands like Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Descendents, TSOL, Wasted Youth and the DKs of course. During the same time we started the band I was already starting to buy seven inch records from HC bands from all over the states at a great Hollywood record store called Vinyl Fetish. I would buy anything that had 8 or more songs on a 7 inch, that pretty much guaranteed that it’d be fast!
I had early great stuff like the Necros, Negative Approach and of course, “This is Boston Not LA”, which all was highly influential to us. The degree I was into all of this music was nothing short of hardcore itself. I went to every show possible - at that time in LA that could mean multiple gigs per week. I slammed pretty much for every song and every band. So the idea of making that kind of music and playing gigs with our favorite bands was a big dream, and for me the driving force behind having a band.
Our good friend Darin Price, who originally formed the band FFF (pre-dates the gang) and later Disability, and after that Tourist, sort of showed us the ropes and acted as a manager, giving us advice and ideas at all of our practices. Darren was great, he was totally enthusiastic and pushed us to keep going for it. We practiced seriously only for a few weeks by the time we played our first party/show in April 1982.
Why the name change from Section 8 to AHC?
Once Drew joined the band we started getting a lot more serious. Drew would often say we have to be “dedicated.” He, too, was very hardcore about what he was into, and he was the driving force behind making AHC stickers and t-shirts. After a while we thought our band name was too generic and didn’t really have any personal connection to any of us. It was my little brother, Jason, who suggested we use America’s Hardcore when we talked about finding a new name. The name comes from the labels I would put on these cassette tape recordings of all that great music I was buying. I had AHC volume 1 and so on, and I would give these tapes to my friends. In fact, we had already written the song AHC about the incredible HC bands from all across America. The name was perfect for us.
How did you and your friends in and around the band find out about the bands coming from the midwest, D.C. and Boston at the time? What fanzines other than Flipside and MRR were you checking out? Did ‘zines like Touch + Go and/or Forced Exposure make it out to the west coast easily or did you have to mail order them?
In addition to what I said above, Flipside and MRR were the main zines around, plus We Got Power later on. Also, through AHC correspondance I started getting copies of Touch & Go and Forced Exposure. We also did mail interviews with some small zines like Urban Waste, Positive Charge (Phoenix), and Stage Dive (San Jose, CA). Seems like there were others.
What was AHC’s 1st show? Any memories from the show?
With the original AHC lineup, but as Section 8, our first real gig was at a huge two day punkfest at the T-bird Rollerdrome in Pico River. We played the second day in the middle of about 20 bands.
How did the people in AHC become aware of Straight Edge? Did you or anyone in your band consider yourself S.E.?
We first heard about S.E. through the Minor Threat song, naturally. Drew got serious about being S.E. for a while, but it was never my thing. I liked to drink then, and I still do. But we definitely picked up on the positive attitude vibe that Minor Threat was singing about. That was always a big theme with us, that and not being a rock star - meaning get up there and rage through our set without fucking around between songs like rock stars do.
[TO BE CONTINUED]