The Essential Houston Punk Starter Kit

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Photo courtesy of Jay Francis
Legonaire's Disease front man Jerry Anomie once dispelled rumors that he had died by staging a "funeral" in a Houston record store.
Top 10 lists are notoriously blunt instruments to sift through musical history, so Rocks Off crowdsourced this piece to provide a sense of Houston's indie and punk heritage from the ground up. The input below is not meant as a declarative end-all but as a conversation in action.

Sure, exemplary singles from the likes of the Hates, Spunk and Truth Decay are AWOL, but the list does shed light on more obscure vintage and contemporary bands that usually fall through the cracks. Plus, some may argue the semantics of what constitutes a 'single,' but sometimes a little leeway helps stir discussions and memories.


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Remembering Dale Brooks, Early Houston Punk Videographer

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Photo courtesy of Ella Tyler
Dale Brooks, center, with "Robot" Burtenshaw (left) and Ted Barwell at Brooks' 2013 wedding
When the first wave of punk swept through America and Britain during the rather moribund mid-1970s, it became so fertile because punk was inclusive, participatory and democratic. Into its ranks swept musicians, fashion designers, artists, radio personalities, photographers and writers, as well as filmmakers and documentarians.

Dale Brooks, who passed away on November 19 at his home in Marble Falls (age 60), was a seminal character from those times. I met him while he filmed the Island reunion gig a few years back, and Brooks' audiovisual skills and vision helped propel local acts like the Hates into the video age and caught touring acts like the Dils during their rare, short-lived jaunts into middle America. Though Brooks was a longtime supporter of electric cars, eventually becoming president of the Houston Electric Auto Association, today Rocks Off would like to shed light on his forays into local music.

Like many, he began his pursuits by preparing well in advance of punk's zero hour.


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Jello Biafra at the Continental Club, 11/9/2014

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Photos by David Ensminger
Jello Biafra (left) kept the polemics to under five minutes Sunday night.
Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine
Continental Club
November 9, 2014

As Jello Biafra abundantly proves, pioneering political punks need not go quietly into the fetid night, especially when every new government regime like "Barackstar O Bummer" and corporate hoodlums prove ripe for his combative wit.

Gesticulating with spaghetti arms asunder, Sunday night he became a combined demented court jester, B-movie mad scientist, fiery populist soapbox orator, and tweaking meth addict. In fact, he held forth at tiny Continental as if reenacting episodes from 1978 at the Mabuhay in San Francisco, though updated for the emoticon generation.


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An Unfiltered Chat With Jello Biafra

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Photo courtesy of Alternative Tentacles
Jello Biafra (second from left) and his fellow Guantanamo School of Medicine surgeons
For more than three decades, Jello Biafra has remained the brassy conscience of punk rock, willing to knock down the sacred cows of politics and rock and roll. First honing his diatribes in the Dead Kennedys, next dabbling in film and spoken word, and ultimately joining forces with DOA, NoMeansNo, the Melvins, and Al Jourgensen for projects aplenty, he has remained ever-potent and enrapturing, a changeling that never quite sheds his skin.

As a news junkie, edgy showman, political reformist, and punk shaman, he has continued to curate fabled label Alternative Tentacles, survived a bitter feud with former bandmates, and kept retirement far away while firing up Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, his vociferous psych-punk band with ex-members of Victim's Family and Rollins Band.

Rocks Off's David Ensminger rang up Biafra before he hits the road for Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin and Houston's Continental Club this Sunday night. Here are some excerpts.


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CBGB Survivor Cheetah Chrome's Creed: "Honesty and Quality"

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Photo by Anna O'Connor/Plowboy Records
Alongside fellow contenders like Johnny Ramone, Cheetah Chrome became one of the titanic, blistering guitarists launching the first wave of CBGB-era punk into the stratosphere of American culture. Yet his origins erupted a few years earlier in down-and-out Cleveland. As an authentic, no-bullshit rock and roll soldier, he helped propel two groundbreaking units there: Rocket from the Tombs, with David Thomas of Pere Ubu, and the Dead Boys, with his mate Stiv Bators. Together, these bands fomented a warped sonic renaissance and soon rendezvoused with history.

Since leading the attack with tunes like the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," Chrome has taken a slightly crooked path by working with a variety of equally laudable figures, such as Ronnie Spector, Nico, Jeff Dahl and more recently New York Dolls alum Sylvain Sylvain, his partner in the Batusis. As his memoir A Dead Boy's Tale: From The Front Lines of Punk Rock recounts, street smarts are a crucial part of his DNA; hence, his new album, the swaggering Solo (incredibly, Chrome's first full-length solo outing), evokes a gritty spirit of survival without hauling along tons of sentimentality.

Rocks Off's David Ensminger reached Chrome on the road before his gig Friday at Fitzgerald's with Houston's Born Liars, the Guillotines and the Drunks.


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Some Nerve's Latest Cuts Pretty Close to Home

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Photo by Vanessa Gomez/Courtesy of Some Nerve
Some Nerve has been gigging with legendary bands like MDC, Casualties, Negative Approach, and 7 Seconds since rising from the local scene in 2013. On their new self-titled album, released by Dying Scene Records, they offer explosive, potent, metal-punk hybrids that leave play-by-numbers bands in the dust.

Almost effortlessly, they seem to weave the bellicosity and dark-encrusted atmospheric thrust of bands like From Ashes Rise with the grim punk politics and bottom-end bass blitzkrieg of Final Conflict, while also echoing the brooding musical dexterity of Darkest Hour.

Tunes like "Held Hostage" are both fiercely focused and limber, setting the tone and style of the entire work. The song's center of gravity is "the idea that we're never truly in complete control of our own lives," explains guitarist and back-up vocalist Allan Davis, who also recorded, mixed, and mastered the album last winter. "We have a knife held to our back, and they require us to partake in capitalistic constructs for us to even think about doing anything we want."


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Casting Martin Scorsese's New Ramones Movie


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Good fellas: Ramones get the Scorsese treatment
Last weekend, word got out that an upcoming Ramones biopic would be helmed by one of America's greatest living filmmakers, Martin Scorsese. The movie would be one of several band-related projects slated for 2016, the 40th anniversary of the bruddas' debut album, Ramones.

Scorsese isn't that odd a choice to direct a film about the groundbreaking punk band. He's a New Yorker who loves music, and directed The Last Waltz and Shine a Light. He also knows what to do with a good story. Like The Wolf of Wall Street or Raging Bull, the tale of the Ramones is a fascinating one, filled with underdogs, victors, losers, users, lovers, betrayers and a litany of insecure gods.

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Austin's OBN IIIs Are No Retro-Rock Chumps

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Photos by Renate Winter
With unlimited sweat, furious finesse and hook-heavy musical manners, Austin's OBN IIIs are the bastard child of Flamin' Groovies and Radio Birdman, just as their latest slab Live in San Francisco documents. Their closest allies in Texas are likely the equally forceful, cunning and haunting Sons of Hercules, so be prepared for a pent-up cataclysm.

Pitchfork has claimed them as retro-"townies" reinventing the anti-college rock of the 1970s, even likening them to floppy-haired heroes Van Halen and Blue Oyster Cult. Think again, and take off the revisionist glasses. OBN III's kind of grit and determination seems a lot less like the black-light poster crowd of rusted Mustangs and stinky hashish and a lot more like Budweiser slamming, take-no-prisoners garage-rock rioters from vintage MC5 to the Cynics, the Greenhornes and Zen Guerrilla. This would never have been heard on FM airwaves alongside REO Speedwagon and Asia.


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Raw Power's Screams From the Gutter Still Ring Out Today

Categories: 1-2-3-4!, Playbill

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If punk mythology truly existed, the tale of Raw Power might unfurl like this: as the reign of Ronald Reagan swept through the Western world "... the gods of punk-metal rose from Italy to fight back with megatons of warp-speed power!"

Held together thick as thieves for years by the Codeluppi brothers -- throat-scorched Mauro and walloping guitarist Giuseppe (the latter died in 2002) -- the band set off from Reggio Emilia in the early 1980s and carved out a hard, compact, compelling basement-punk sound alternating between catapulting heavy-metal drum mania (clang goes the cowbell!) and anything-goes guitar attacks, as documented on You Are the Victim, an album not far removed from fellow scenesters like Negazione and Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers.


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7 Seconds at Walters, 8/9/2014

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Photos by David Ensminger
7 Seconds, the Copyrights, the Turnaways, Some Nerve
Walters Downtown
August 12, 2014

"Give the people what they want," seems to be the populist modus operandi of touring veteran punk and hardcore bands, from Youth Brigade to DOA and 7 Seconds, who belted out a stew of contagious hits from the early-mid 1980s at Walters on Saturday night. Sure, that meant a steady flow of lean hardcore, but it also meant a Stalinist purge of their pop-minded fare.

To be sure, the crowd, which swelled precipitously right before the band hit the claustrophobic stage, was eager to chew every morsel, especially when the band unleashed deep catalog shockwaves like "Red and Black," "The Crew" and "You Lose" (each under one minute long!) to dizzying singalong hoarseness and beer slosh that shot out like a fire cannon at times.

Up front, the punk ladies of the humidity-caked night pushed their way forward in a heave of righteousness on tunes like "Not Just Boy's Fun" and made the chorus of "99 Red Balloons" reach immense proportions, like a seismic sonic wave inundating the scene.


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