A Subjective History of Punk Rock in Utah
For those of you who thought you invented punk when you heard Crass in 1983, here’s a crash course in the history of independent-minded music in Zion. I’m writing only from my experience, and if I omit any names, only Brad, Lisa, Chester and Jamie will know the difference, as they are the only people remaining of the original “scene.” I think it’s important to know that places like the Speedway, the Word and the Cinema aren’t just aberrations or gratuitous offerings but are the result of many years of hard work, rebellion and resistance which continues today. The bottom line is, never take anything for granted, and never wait for approval. In the words of T.S.O.L.: “Life is action, so make it happen; it’s really up to you.”
The do-it-yourself ethic was evident in 1978 in Salt Lake. Much like today, the power rested in the hands of a select few. Those of us who were brave enough to buy Ramones, The Clash and Sex Pistols records looked to the prevailing powers to bring such liberated music to Utah. This was not to be the case. J.C. McNeil was making off the likes of Ted Nugent and Aerosmith at $7.50 a head at the Salt Palace, which was quite an enormous sum at the time. We had to be content with spinning vinyl and taking tentative stabs at “Punk-Rockedness” as we knew it. There were a handful of bands at the time, Spitting Teeth being the most notorious. They played a legendary show at one of the Annex buildings on the University campus in 1978, which was legendary mostly for the fact that no one had done it before. They even made it on the equivalent of PM Magazine at the time, Spitting Teeth were known for playing in Nazi regalia or what have you. They later moved to Los Angeles and surfaced on the Posh Boy compilation: The Siren. The important thing is not how many bands they influenced musically but the fact that they showed it could be done. Their sound was a bit melodramatic and ghoulish, a bit attempted and posed but valid nonetheless. Other bands performing at the time included Willie Tidwell, who performed an offshoot precursor to the to rockabilly renaissance and released their own EP. In addition there were the Leisure Medallions, David Ok, The Kicks and The Plants, all stretching down the musical hierarchy of Utah.
Part Two: The Golden Years. 1979-1981
In 1979, things started to happen. The Police and The Specials played at New Faces Roadhouse—unfortunately an over 21 hall. The Stranglers played, U2 played, Talking Heads played at Utah State U. KRCL had just started happening and the first punk DJs on the scene were myself, Brad Collins and Susan Brown–an off the track bohemian who became sidetracked in Utah. What I remember most about those days is there not being that many albums out and the albums that were out were imported and cost ten bucks a piece. We would buy compilations and play an entire side or two for our show so it sounded like we had a lot of stuff. The top request was always “Religion” by PiL. I guess it struck a nerve. At the time KRCL was located in two rooms above the Blue Mouse Theater and had an entirely primitive control board. Of course then as now Brad had every album by every band ever made.
The place in Salt Lake to see bands at the time was the Roxy which was located somewhere beneath the vaults of Sam Weller’s bookstore on Main Street, you had to go around back and creep about the construction site of what is now American Towers. The club no longer exists so don’t bother looking. The great thing about the Roxy was that if you came by the back door, they would let you in no matter how old you were. My friend Steve (who now does sound at CBGB’s) always watched the back door and let us teenagers in. You have to remember at that time there were perhaps 20 people in the entire valley wearing leather and getting their hair dyed. However, every night we were at the Roxy when the bands were playing. And every night took punches from rednecks for making it happen. At that time you recognized each other and stuck together, but you couldn’t afford to be cut off. But I’m not writing to glorify the past, I’m only telling the history.
The foremost band of notoriety had to be The Atheists. The lead singer and guitarist was a portly gent by the name of Dave Fry who was known to color his lips with magic marker. They are best remembered for the Roxy hit “There Is No God There Is Only Noise,” featuring Bill’s pseudo-psycho delay work on guitar. Dave later moved to Reno where he started a band called Jack Shit which appeared on a compilation or two.
In addition, there were the fabulously lame No Rods, featuring Paul Booth on vocals. I imagine a six foot three burley chested man with a hair tail down to his ass wearing a pink lame tutu singing “I Want To Marry Aunt Bee!” The No Rods were easily as entertaining as Flipper or any other band at the time.
My favorite bands in those days were The Boards and their offshoot The Informers, featuring Brad Collins on the drums and Susan Brown singing. The Boards were simply amazing, granted the singer was a married hair stylist who called himself “Monroe” even though his name was Marty. Granted, The Brothers Morrison had played together since childhood, I didn’t know or care who just wouldn’t take shit, and it reflected in their music. It was brutal, visceral and all those other adjectives. They knew their business, and, above all, they looked so fucking cool. It was as if MC5 met the Ramones over a handful of biker blow and rocked it on out. One of the great tragedies of Salt Lake music is that there is no Roxy compilation and no Boards album.