Black Flag week continues and we are continuing our Sonic Reducer series! In the feature, Punknews writers compress a band, genre, theme, or time period into a playlist that would fit on a single CD. Along with the playlist, you'll get either an overview of the topic, such as a band introduction, or a story about how the music in the playlist moved or changed the writer.
In today's feature, Editor John Gentile takes a look at just some of the multitudes of bands that spun off from Black Flag. Check it out below.
The Spawn of Black Flag
John Gentile Between Black Flag's some twenty-plus members, the number of bands that sprung out of Black Flag, both immediately and through the ripple effect is incalculable. Even more so, in Black Flag's later-period, the band was (perhaps overly) prolific, churning out spin-off records as quickly as their main albums. The result is a web of releases of varying quality. Some of the bands that grew from the four bars, like Circle Jerks, Chuck Dukowski Sextet, Off!, and the Rollins band easily hold their own against their parent. Others… not so much. So, to that end, I've assembled an incomplete list of Black Flag related bands with a focus on ones that appear to be interesting or notable for one reason or another.
Perhaps the least known Keith Morris band, Bug Lamp was formed during a late 80s Circle Jerks breakdown. Morris hooked up with LA Rocker Bruce Duff and the pair formed a band that leaned more towards a hard rock direction. While only three songs were released, two covers and a soundtrack cut, the band exhibited that there was more to Keith Morris than just the short, vitriolic ripper.
The Dez Cadena Three
Just around the time Dez left Black Flag, he formed a band that reflected and focused on his his true love- the guitar. Borrowing from hard rock, boogie woogie, country, and Hawkwind, the DC3 sought to merge the legacy of punk with its ancestors. The excellent live Vida album, which includes Groucho Marks, Hawkwind, and John Lee Hooker covers, shows just how great this merger is and also, Cadena's phenomenal skill with this instrument.
The Circle Jerks were very much Keith Morris' middle finger to Black Flag after breaking with the band. Assembling a who's-who of the contemporary punk scene, Morris and crew put in some pretty good shots with their first three iconic albums, each which would go to define California punk and hardcore as a whole. Of course, when the CJs broke down decades later, Morris would again utilize this strategy to equally excellent results…
Formed by Kira Roessler as a way to keep Mike Watt playing music after the sudden death of D. Boon, Dos focused on two of punk's most notable bass players. Never scared to experiment or play with space, Dos was ambiguous and relied on ambiance as much as musical notation. Never officially breaking up, the duo release their experimental recordings years apart from each other, with their fourth record having come out in 2011.
The Chuck Dukowski Sextet
Originally formed as a band between Chuck Dukowski and Lora Norton (Dukowski's wife), the idea for the CD6 was to be a rock band sans-guitar. But, by the time the second album rolled around, how could they not draft in Norton's guitarist wunderkind son, Milo Gonzales. Now anchored to a more traditional set up, the band pays equal respect to Dukowski's love of 70s hard rock and the group's love of the avant-garde. Just listen to Dukowski's thunder-bass linked to Norton's banshee-pipes linked to Gonzalez's maestro-riffage. Man!
After a one-off opening set where Keith Morris, Chuck Dukwoski, Bill Stevenson, and Stephen Egerton played the Nervous Breakdown EP, the newly christened FLAG decided to take the show on the road and finally get their due (with royalties famously absent from SST). After drafting Dez Cadena into the mix, the band brought to the stage what many, may fans thought would never happen- a band playing Black Flag songs with the raw power that they deserved. Yes, yes, it is nice that these early members finally got some dough for their creative genius. But even moreso, these five guys proved that 1)this music is as powerful as it is timeless and deserves every bit of the accolades it receives and 2) these five STILL are in their prime, able to conjure music and emotion that no one else can. You'd be hard pressed to find this music being played with such dignity, power, and genuine love any where else, at any time. I hope it would be the best show I ever saw and maybe it was.
Good for You
When Ginn resurrected Black Flag, it quikcly became apparent that a major cause for the revival was to bring attention to his new band, the awkwardly named Good for You. What was surprising is that Good for You wasn't that much different fro Black Flag 2013- the songs were mostly Ginn's trademark spiraling guitar lines backed by some particularly angsty lyrics provided courtesy of skateboarder Mike V. So, it was not surprising when the members of Good for You came to replace the members of Black Flag 2013 until, quite comically, the bands were indistinguishable. What's not so comical is that if Ginn had put the effort into Black Flag 2013 that he put into Good for You, and if he had given Ron Reyes a fair shot instead of relying on the standard-fare yelping of Mike V, we might have actually had something that was really cool. Still, if you try to figure out Ginn or his motives, you'll only drive yourself mad and be no closer to the truth.
Perhaps the most well known of Greg Ginn's two dozen bands, Gone exhibited what Ginn loved the best: jamming. While Gone pieces were frequently difficult, Ginn showed that punk and rock and whatever else, can have the academic exploration and soul of jazz. Therefore, Ginn along with Andrew Weiss and Steve Sharp twisted out songs that were as prickly as they were powerful, in order to cut to what the true essence of what punk was- destroying expectations.
If there's one thing Greg Ginn loves to do, that's jam. If there are two things he loves to do, then those are jamming and doing what people don't expect him to do. Hor seemed to be a mandate to both of those things. On Hor, Ginn jams relentlessly and unexpected against a propulsive electronic backing. It sounds abrasive… and it is. Still, for evidence of Ginn's genius, look no further than Hor live where Ginn plays his guitar, manipulates the theremin, controls a laptop, and utilizes two or three other electronic devices… at the same time. If you have seen this live, and you see how Ginn seems to enter a new mental state during these performances, It seems that this is what he would do all the time if he
Probably the most well known contemporary Black Flag progeny, OFF! was initially described by frontman Keith Morris as "What if Keith never left Black Flag?" Between the band's explosive 60 second songs and Morris' frantic, manic delivery, it's hard not to argue with that pitch. Still, OFF! shows that not only does Morris know how to draft a wrecking crew to support him (Coats, McDonald, and Rubalcaba each are beasts) but there's a reason Black Flag had such a seminal start- Morris is one in a hundred billion. AND, now past his 60th year, he's STILL as fiery and as pissed off as ever. Magnificent.
A full band combo of Black Flag and the Minutemen, Minuteflag conformed to the style of neither band. Rather, the group was a sort of jam band that highlighted how both bands loved playing for the sake of playing, as well as spontaneous lyrics that might not have any particular meeting. The release was intended to be shelved until both bands broke up, which of course, was depressingly sooner than anyone had expected, following the tragic death of the Minutemen's D. Boon.
Created by Black Flag roadie and SST co-owner Mugger, Nig-Heist was designed solely to piss off the audience… and it worked. The band would often wear wigs and trucker hats, play naked, and play vitriolic songs of hate that were often as aimless as they were abrasive. Black Flag members often played as supporting musicians, as did other SST bands, and even Ian Mackaye played during one gig. If punk is pissing people off, or if punk is breaking boundaries, Nig-Heist succeeded wildly.
The Rollins Band
After Black Flag's unceremonious 1986 end where it wheezed to a stop, Henry Rollins decamped to New Jersey to record the proto-Rollins band album Hot Animal Machine. Once the Rollins band solidified, they focused on powerful, bold punk stormers before growing into a jam-metal band that would perform 30 minute numbers. Once that line-up fell apart, Rollins recruited the trio Mother Superior and, in a way, went back to basics with angular, tight hard rock. That band's final release was the West Memphis Three benefit release, which in addition to providing a great deal of help to three wrongfully imprisoned men, did its fair share of solidifying Black Flag's legacy at a time when the band may have been slipping from the collective consciousness.
Near the end of his tenure with Black Flag, Dukowski formed SWA. Originally, the band was intended to be a collaboration between Dukowski and Flipper's Ted Falconi. However, when that fell through, Dukowski brought in Overkill's Merril Ward. With early 80s hardcore coming to stagnation, SWA seemed to be a more amorphous group, pulling from metal, 60s freak-rock, and even the burgeoning grunge scene.
More of a project than a band, October Faction feaured Ginn, Dukowski, To, Troccoli, Joe Baiza, Greg Cameron, and sometimes Bill Stevenson. Their debut release was a live, improvised, jam that found the members basically trying to make a racket while adhering to a winding, often jarring, rhythm. It's one of SST's more freeform releases… and that's saying something.
Tom Troccoli's Dog
Despite being master of the destructo-riff, Greg Ginn is famously a HUGE fan of the Grateful Dead. In a way to pay tribute to his mellow-jamband influences, he formed Tom Troccoli's Dog with SST fixture Dave Claassen and Troccoli himself. Perhaps surprisingly, the trio's sole album is really, really good. Bringing in guests like John Doe and Dez Cadena, the band was able to show the virtues of the genre without falling prey to its indulgent tendencies.
Probably the most challenge release in Rollins' catalogue, Wartime consisted of Rollins and his Rollins band bandmate Andrew Weiss. Consisting almost exclusively of jagged bass, pounding drums, and Rollins' ranting, the release was more of a sonic experiment than a full band. Interestingly, as abrasive and difficult as the release may be, Rollins' love of Go-go music pops up through the album and it is somewhat telling that they close with a deconstructionist cover of the Grateful dead's "Franklin Tower."
After breaking with Black Flag, Dukowski resurrected his pre-Black Flag band, Würm. Borrowing from the early thunder gods like Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer, Würm cranked out sludge-metal that was paradoxically high energy and non-formulaic. In fact, Dukowski's low rumbling stlye may very well be the main force that caused Black Flag to morph into it's heavier My War and beyond style. For evidence of that look to "Modern Man" which was written by Dukowski and Würm vocalist Ed Danky.