of the most powerful bands to emerge from the cinders of punk...
one of the most powerful bands ever. Greg Ginn, a madman and
a thorough disciple of the guitar, brought this band into
being in 1977 in the depths of L.A. outside of the reaches
of the excesses of the '70s. He'd had enough of the "California"
sound of the Eagles, the over-production of Steely
Dan and ELO. It was time to create a new sound.
Fueled by the simplicity and immediacy of the Ramones
first album, he pulled together a small group of people who
could barely play their instruments and began a pattern of
musical deconstruction that exploded on a brand new scene
that was just beginning to form. Controversy and opposition
were the bedfellows of the band from the beginning: the law
were not welcoming the emergence of the punk scene on the
west coast. The fact that Black Flag survived those
first four years was amazing in its own right. Singers kept
quitting, occasionally during shows. But the band persevered,
even acting in an instrumental capacity in between singers.
It became common during these periods for people to jump on
stage and act as the stand-in vocalist for the band.
band finally settled into a stable unit with Ginn on guitar,
Chuck Dukowski on bass, Robo on drums, and Dez Cadena as the
permanent vocalist. It was with this line-up that Black
Flag first ventured out on its first US tours. By December
of 1980, the band was making its way across the USA for the
first time. They played their first dates in New York City
and Washington D.C. In the audience at each show were D.C.
youths Ian MacKaye and Henry Garfield. They spoke to the band
and ended up hanging outwith them. Flag came east again
during the summer of 1981. It was at a show in New York City
that Henry ended up getting on stage and singing with the
band for one song. Unbeknownst to Henry, Dez had been wanting
to give up the mic to move over to rhythm guitar. Jumping
on stage to sing left an impression on the band, so they ended
up calling Henry back to NYC from D.C. and asked him to 'jam'
with the band. After taking the train ride up and practicing
with the band for a few hours, the others talked it over and
decided that Henry would be the new vocalist. He quit his
job, sublet his apartment, sold nearly everything he owned,
and joined the band on tour several days later. This line
up only lasted until their tour of England in late 1981, but
long enough to record the first album, Damaged.
was after their tour of the UK that they lost long time drummer
Robo. Bill Stevenson of the Descendents filled in for a show
or two, but a succession of replacement drummers (including
future Danzig drummer Chuck Biscuits) came before he took
over as the full time drummer. Flag were kept from
releasing a sophomore album due to legal difficulties with
the label that were originally scheduled to release Damaged.
SST had taken it upon themselves to release the album themselves
once MCA (in charge of distributing the Unicorn label) deemed
it "An Anti-Parent Record" and unsuitable for corporate
release. By doing so themselves, however, they violated a
contract and wound up with thousands in legal bills andinjunctions
against them for the next two years. Despite this, they released
a compilation of formerly unreleased takes without the Black
Flag name and ended up in more legal troubles... it was
determined to still be Black Flag. More bills.
the time My War was released in 1983, Stevenson was
in, but Dukowski had left the group. Ginn performed bass duties
himself for the recording of the album under the name Dale
Nixon. Kira Roessler was brought in by the end of the year
as the new bass player.1984 began an incredibly intense period
of activity for the band. They released two albums that year,
the split Family Man (half early Rollins spoken word,
half Flag instrumentals), and the aggressive Slip
It In. They toured insanely, going to great lengths to
tour as many places in as little time as possible. Intensive
tours into the depths of Europe and throughout the United
States ensued. They even went to the length of playing three
shows in three states in the space of 24 hours... lengths
bands today will usually not go to. 1985 was even more active.
Three album releases, including Loose Nut and In
My Head interrupted by the instrumental Process of
Weeding Out. Soon after, Stevenson and then Kira left
Martinez and C'el were taken on as the new drummer and bass
player respectively and another shakedown of the United States
was undertaken. Also on the bill were groups Painted Willie
and the Ginn led instrumental trio Gone (including
future Rollins Band rhythm section Simeon Cain and
Andrew Weiss.) The three legs of the tour were probably the
most ambitious touring of their career. It would also be their
last. In mid-1986, Ginn called the members of the band and
told them he was quitting Black Flag. So ended the
near ten year career of one of the most dynamic bands to come
out of punk. Ginn concentrated on running SST Records. A year
later, the Rollins Band had already begun touring.