Bob Suren: Confessions of a Former Hardcore Punk

Photos courtesy of Bob Suren
A recent photo of Bob Suren in Costa Rica
For many, Florida is the land of humidity-boiled punk, mostly epitomized by the fabled roster of No Idea Records (from Assholeparade, Less Than Jake and A Wilhelm Scream to Against Me! and Hot Water Music); earlier iconoclastic waves including the Eat, Gay Cowboys in Bondage, and Maggot Sandwich; or rare legendary venues like Tampa's 403 Chaos.

Bob Suren tends to embody an even more vitriol-lined side of the state. His label Burrito Records, much-cherished distro Sound Idea, and own tumultuous bands like Failure Face (named after a Charlie Brown strip) and Murder-Suicide Pact mapped out the American hardcore subgroup splinters that took hold even as punk often became little more than vapid Hot Topic fare in the post-Green Day void.

After years struggling to keep his work afloat and his music ever-meaningful, he closed up shop, dropped the scene like a dirty sock, headed to international lands, scoured for happiness, and now finds himself in Texas "redefining his comfort zone."

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Vast Majority, MyDolls Bring Houston Punk History to Life

Photos by Nathan Smith
Vast Majority's blast from the past was more just a blast at Walters Friday.
Vast Majority, Pleasure 2, Killer Hearts, MyDolls
Walter's Downtown
February 20, 2015

Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, we're all more or less used to the idea that our wacky teenage hijinks can be recorded for posterity and live on forever. But back in 1979, when Scott Telles and his Bellaire High School buds formed first-wave Houston punk act Vast Majority, analog immortality was probably the furthest thing from their minds. They were just trying to jam out like their safety-pinned heroes and get in on the political and cultural outrage of the day.

More than 35 years later, though, folks from around the world are still getting off to their teenaged outbursts. Case in point: Italian label Rave Up Records recently reissued the bulk of Vast Majority's recorded output, all of which fits on a single LP. To celebrate, Telles put the band back together -- or something like it, anyway -- and booked a gig at Walters on Friday to revel in the auditory nostalgia with some old pals and maybe sell a couple of records.

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The Sudden Resurrection of Teen Houston Punks Vast Majority

Photos and artwork courtesy of Scott Telles
February has been a pretty damn good month for fans of classic Houston punk. A couple weeks back, Jello Biafra's legendary Alternative Tentacles label reissued practically every note ever recorded by H-Town punk pioneers Really Red, giving record collectors the chance to add stuff like the group's latter-day Rest in Pain LP to their vinyl collections for the very first time. Now, a boutique European label is digging even deeper to re-release music by another local group from the earliest days of the Texas punk scene.

More than three decades since teenage Houston rabble-rousers Vast Majority split up for good, front man Scott Telles has revived the band to celebrate the reissue of the bulk of their recorded material. For plenty of old-timers and vinyl nerds around town, that's terrific news.

For other, younger members of the liberty-spiked set, the reaction might be slightly closer to, "Who?"

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Really Red Recalls the Early Days of Houston Punk

Photos courtesy of Bob Weber
L-R: Really Red's Bob Weber and Dallas Holmes, the artist who designed the party for last Friday's release party at Vinal Edge.
Thanks to Alternative Tentacles' new reissue of Really Red's entire discography on vinyl and CD, you can finally hear the local punk heroes' music blaring out of your handcrafted tube amp anytime you like, from the comfort of your own home. Or anywhere else, for that matter. In fact, the only place you still can't hear Really Red's collected works is onstage.

Yep, if you missed hearing the Texas Biscuit Bombs and Talk Sick Brats jam out some Really Red tunes at the release party on Friday at Vinal Edge, you're out of luck. Singer Ronnie "U-Ron" Bond, guitarist Kelly Younger, drummer Bob Weber and bassist John Paul Williams have no plans to reform, and they ain't likely to make any. They're not "on hiatus." They're scattered across three states, occupying themselves with things that very rarely require sleeping in vans.

"It almost seems like it was a past life," says Younger.

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Digging Into the Recordings That Really Red Never Knew Existed

Photo courtesy of Ben DeSoto
Really Red performing at the Island, early '80s
It's been an exciting week for fans of classic Texas punk. Why? Well, the more-or-less complete recordings of Really Red, the top-flight Houston punks who were among the very first independent bands in the state to tour the country and release their own music, were remastered and re-released on Tuesday by Alternative Tentacles, the storied label run by ex-Dead Kennedys agitator Jello Biafra.

If you're old and cool enough to have heard this stuff before, trust us, you've never heard it like this. And if you've never heard of Really Red before, get these records and savor them, because you aren't likely to stumble on to a better or more obscure golden-age punk band without the use of a time machine.

The new Alternative Tentacles set is not a terribly large collection, comprising only three LPs. Really Red spent around six years together and then split up forever, fading into memory. When the label set out to restore the band's output, it was no sure thing that it was even possible. After 30 years of silence, no one was even sure exactly what remained of the band's original recordings.

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Those Really Red Reissues Really Rock

Flyer courtesy of David Ensminger/
A flyer for Empty Records' 2004 reissue of Teaching You the Fear, featured in the book Left of the Dial: Conversations With Punk Icons.
Punk rock in Houston today just makes sense, but in the late '70s, it was not exactly the place to be. As punk rock was just beginning to find its footing amid complaints from the older generation of rockers that it was all just noise, Houston had little to offer to the scene, which was exploding in places like the Bay Area.

One of a handful of bands changed that and put Houston on the map, Really Red struck a chord with young punks, capturing just about every aspect of the genre that would soon become the recipe for every successful punk band to come in their wake.

Though now largely only known by punk historians and aficionados, Alternative Tentacles -- the label run by ex-Dead Kennedys provacateur Jello Biafra -- has honored Really Red's place in punk history by reissuing their entire discography across three records: Volume One: Teaching You the Fear; Volume Two: Rest in Pain; and Volume Three: New Strings for Old Puppets. Now young and old alike can rediscover one of hardcore punk's early masters as the three-disc set finally gives them their due.

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Jello Biafra Thinks It's Time You Re-Examined Really Red

Photo by Ben DeSoto/Courtesy of Ronnie Bond
L-R: Ronnie "U-Ron Bondage" Bond and original Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Fluoride at Houston's The Island, c. early 1980s
Back in the early '80s, there was a kick-ass punk band in Houston called Really Red. In a lot of ways, they were no different than a hundred other groups exploring the potential of alternative rock back in the day. In their six years together, they wrote a bunch of politically charged songs, self-released a few records and toured around the country to anyplace that would have them. Then the band simply ceased to exist.

For 30 years, that was the story on Really Red, and not a terribly unique one, either. If you were around the fledgling Houston punk scene back then, chances are pretty decent that you remember Really Red. If you weren't around, then odds are good-to-great that you've never even heard their music. But you should. And now, a bonafide punk-rock legend has stepped up personally to make sure that you can.

Today, more than three decades after the band called it quits, ex-Dead Kennedys front man and beloved counterculture loudmouth Jello Biafra's storied Alternative Tentacles label is re-releasing pretty much everything Really Red ever recorded on CD and vinyl. The three-volume collection includes albums, B-sides, live cuts and unreleased rarities, most of which haven't seen the light of day since long before drummer Bob Weber, guitarist Kelly Younger, bassist John Paul Williams and singer Ronnie "U-Ron Bondage" Bond went their separate ways.

Why is AT re-releasing the catalogue of a long-gone band that so few outside Texas even remember? Well, the proof is in the pudding. Really Red were really, really good.

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Marky Ramone Gabba Gabbas Away in New Memoir

Ventura Mendoza via Flickr
Marky Ramone in 2008
In his Band of Bruddahs, Marky Ramone's primary role was that of drummer, the pounding heartbeat and engine of so many of the legendary punk-rock group's numbers. But over many years in meetings, rehearsals, recording studios, concert stages and countless miles on the road in their trustworthy van, he also had another occupation: constant mediator between his lead singer and guitarist.

Acrimony had always been thick between Joey and Johnny Ramone, a pair that was on opposite of ends of the spectrum in politics, temperament, hygiene and punctuality. Not to mention musical direction. Oh, and Joey's girlfriend also left him for Johnny; the couple later married.

So Joey and Johnny Ramone had not spoken a word directly to each other in nearly 15 years. And when they needed to communicate with each other, they did it through Marky.

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EARTH ARMY Recalls the Golden Age of Free-Form Houston Punk

Photos & other artwork courtesy of EARTH ARMY/Spike Jacobs
EARTH ARMY at the Westheimer Street Festival, undated
As the 1980s waned, the steadfast idea of "genre" loosened its grip on American underground music. No doubt some bands like Butthole Surfers had always remained unruly. By and large, though, punk, ska, hardcore, rockabilly and industrial music thrived in subcultures dedicated to preserving authenticity.

This meant a commitment to distinct, unwavering styles, but as college, community and pirate radio proved, more and more listeners craved not stasis and cookie-cutter templates but a wider field of hybrid pleasures. Mainstream-leaning rompers Fishbone and Red Hot Chili Peppers rollicked local venues like Fitzgerald's, while regional rulebreakers the Flaming Lips, Pain Teens, Bad Mutha Goose and Hickoids held forth at clubs like the Axiom. Though almost lost in the recesses of history, locals EARTH ARMY also forged a singularly impure sound during those salad days. In fact, their five-song 7" single from 1989, aptly titled "Experiment!" highlighted a restless vision of music without bounds.

On their 1991 Stravinsky Rides Again LP, songs like "Godzilla '91" effortlessly melded the pithy politics of Consolidated with the Beastie Boys' flavorful hip-hop ploys while also honoring Blue Ă–ster Cult's original, by no means an easy task. In contrast, "Crack Cocaine," from the single, paid witness to the rampant drug scourge inundating communities by unleashing stripped-down, lo-fi punk that could have been on Dischord earlier in the decade (think the Untouchables and Red C).

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Less Talk, More Rock as Propagandhi Storms Warehouse Live

Photos by Jack Gorman
Canada's Propaghandi had Houston ready to pogo Monday.
The fog lay heavy over town Monday night, but the guitars were crisp in the Studio at Warehouse Live as War on Women and RVIVR primed Houston for Propagandhi.

The studio was just over half full when War on Women began the night with a fury of shredding guitars, pounding drums and Shawna Potter's crazed eyes as she shouted lyrics that admonished cat-calling and raised awareness of other issues. She ended the set with a most unexpected statement to hear at a punk show, "You guys have been super sweet."

Houston immediately took to the melodic tunes of RVIVR, a four-piece out of Olympia, Wash., though they stopped playing during the first song when about six people started pogoing and bouncing into each other. Guitarist/vocalist Erica Freas told them to be respectful and not bash into one another. Between songs, the group heavily championed gender equality, women's rights and admonished police brutality in a strong set that left the crowd was pumped and ready for more action.

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