SOA - First Demo - 12/29/80 [7-inch] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


First Demo - 12/29/80 [7-inch] (2014)


In many ways, SOA's claim to fame is what relegates them to a footnote. By now, the story is a thing of legend. Black Flag, one of the, if not the most, heralded hardcore punk bands, knew of young fan named Henry Garfield, and after seeing him live, drafted him into the band as lead singer. As the recordings show on First Demo – 12/29/80, the choice might have actually been more obvious than it seems in retrospect.

Through out First Demo, which basically has the same sound quality and production as the only SOA EP, No Policy, even as a whipper-snapper, Rollins had a dynamic delivery which separated him from his peers. 1980 found about a dozen DC hardcore bands influenced by Ian MacKaye's delivery, resulting in two handfuls of bands who screamed at the top of their lungs across one minute songs. But, while MacKaye was able slip stylistic snips into his delivery, many of his contemporaries went from riveting to monotone. By contrast, Garfield, who also seems influenced by the MacKaye shout, brings in a certain earlier punk unpredictability. The songs might blast by in sixty seconds, but similar to how Darby Crash and John Denney would implode at the end of their songs, Garfield fluctuates, at times screaming, at others speaking, and usually building into intensity before ripping apart at the end.

Topic wise, the group covers punk staples including police, authority figures, and mental issues. "Disease," with its vicious refrain, "You give me disease!" could have been worked into an all time classic with just a little more precision. Garfield, ever the dark jester, slides in "Thanks Mom!" at the end.

But, just as Garfield reveals the foundation which will lead him to becoming ne of punk's most famous front men, guitarist Mike Hampton plays a guitar that is years beyond his age in style. Maybe it's the (lack of) production or tape smudginess, but Hampton's guitar is a thick, blunt, rapid instrument that has colors of Motorhead, Ramones, and even crust-punk in its unrelenting buzzing. These might be simple licks, but they work.

In a bit of fun, the release ends with a cover of "Stepping Stone," which has background partying sound effects delivered by what sounds like a few people who would also go on to be punk icons…

Because Garfield became Rollins, SOA would forever become known as "Henry's First Band." The fact is, if Rollins never joined Black Flag, SOA might have been mentioned between Minor Threat and Government Issue instead of in the footnotes of a forgotten book.

Note: Amusingly, the booklet includes a list of all of SOA's gigs, vintage pictures, as well as a SOA flyer written by Garfield looking for a new drummer. Tellingly, the band hid the Black Flag bars in the corner of the ad…

Note II: Many years later, Rollins would go to play a major part in Sons of Anarchy, or SOA, if you will…