Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Punk Rock Stories - The Damned

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, August 17, 2008)

I was originally going to write about politics again this week and then I happened into the "If It Ain't Stiff" movie and memories of that early punk rock period began streaming into my mind. So, probably thankfully, politics get thrown to the wayside and you all get another music blog this week. Like last week (and next week), I've been very busy this week and this is all a bit rushed, so I apologize in advance for horrible grammar and any punctuation mistakes that got by me.

Also, it always amazes me how little I remember about these life changing events that happened to me. I really wish I would have written all this stuff down as it happened. At least I'm getting a partial history down. So keep in mind that these stories are based on a true story. I'm sure my mind has embellished some facts, while forgetting some others. But its how "I" remember it and in that sense, it's what happened.

Back in early 1977, the punk scene in Los Angeles was still very small and scattered. There were very few places for those attracted to the colorful freedom that punk music promised. The Masque (, Hollywood's first and greatest punk club, wasn't to open until later that year, so few people had even seen a real punk band live, except for a couple of early appearances by New Yorkers Patti Smith and the Ramones. So in April 1977, when the Damned were announced as the first English punk band to play these shores, a small group of people grew very excited.

The Damned ( were one of England's most volatile and colorful punk bands. They consisted of Dave Vanian on vocals, who dressed as a vampire, complete with white face makeup; Captain Sensible on bass (later guitar), who had a habit of removing all his clothes while playing; Rat Scabies on drums, a manic musician who made his idol, Keith Moon, seem tame as times; and Brian James on guitar, who wouldn't last past this tour.

They were supposed to play at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, supporting New York band, Television, which would have made a great bill. But when notoriously snobby Television leader, Tom Verlaine, found out that a crazy punk band was going to open the show, he pulled the plug and the Damned were suddenly left without a gig in LA.

Enter the Starwood (, one of LA's best and most missed clubs. They offered the Damned two nights, obviously expecting a huge turnout. But when the nights of the shows came around, there were maybe 20 or 30 people per show who came out to see this groundbreaking band. (As punk grew in popularity after these shows, it was hard to find any punk who wouldn't claim they were there to see it. There was no way all the people who claimed to be there could have been there unless they were hiding behind the bar.)

I went to both shows and was in heaven. The band pretty much played their first album in order, making up a set that lasted all of 25 minutes. And I was exhausted after that. The second night, I dragged along my friend Jeff Wolfe, who knew little about punk, but was in the process of forming a band called the Furys that punk would influence quite a lot. (The Furys were never a punk band though. I ended up managing them, my first ever band, and got a lot of shit from various punk rockers for doing so. I still stand by my decision. The Furys were a great band.) For some reason, Capt. Sensible took a dislike to Jeff, jumping onto the dance floor and spitting right in his face. Jeff allowed punk to influence him, but he always hated the Damned after that. I secretly found it kind of amusing. I got my own injury that night when Dave Vanian lit a flare and the hot sparks cascaded over my shoulders and burnt the crap out of me, leaving holes throughout my shirt. I wore the wounds proudly. It wasn't the first injury that my love of punk rock would lay on me.

Opening was a local band called The Quick (, who was kind of Sparks-like pop band who played quirky and somewhat wimpy pop music. I hated them. In fact, I hated them so much that I would go to their shows just to harass them. I no longer remember why. Listening to them now, they weren't that bad. In fact, they were quite good and there were certainly worse bands that I've supported over the years, including many local bands that didn't have near the influential impact the Quick ended up having. I used to get in big arguments with Quick drummer Danny Benair's mother and a group of young fans I referred to as the Wimp Brigade, most of whom are still friends of mine to this day. (Hey there, Don, Gary, Bill & Bill).

After those two shows, the word spread and punk began to grow rapidly throughout the LA area. The Masque opened and soon there were bands and crowds of colorful fans to support them. It was probably the best of times.

During this time, one of LA's premier independent labels, Bomp Records, opened their own record store and I began to hang out there and buy lots of records. One of their main employees was a girl named Lisa Fancher. She was the president of the Quick fan club and when I first started going there, we eyed each other suspiciously. But it wasn't long until we started talking and found out that we had a lot in common. We became friends, a friendship that has lasted over 30 years now. Lisa was also Danny Benair's girlfriend at the time, so I also got to know him and we become friends as well. In fact, we used to hang out together all the time.

(Its strange how friendship works, as a good many of my best friends are people I couldn't stand when I first met them.)

So, in 1979, when the Damned came back to Los Angeles, this time to headline their own show at the Whiskey, they invited Danny and Lisa to their hotel room to hang out and I was invited along. We arrived at the late, great Tropicana Hotel and sat around talking with the Captain ( and Rat ( for awhile. Somehow or other, I don't remember why, it was decided that we should head out to Reseda to go to Danny's house. We didn't have a car that would fit everyone, so the Damned guys asked their manager if we could use his rental, which was a station wagon with plenty of room. He said no.

So we walked out to try to figure out how to get everyone into my car when suddenly Rat appeared with the keys to the manager's car. He hurriedly piled us all into the car, I was elected to drive, and we sped off. Only when we were well on our way did Rat let us know he had lifted the keys and we were technically in a stolen vehicle. Hey, what the Hell? It was punk rock.

We arrived at Danny's house and walked in. When Danny's mom, Muriel, greeted us, Danny introduced the two guys by their band names. She wasn't having any of it and refused to call them by those names. She insisted on knowing their real names. Muriel was a very strong personality and she didn't take the word "no" very well. "Ummmm…Ray", said the Captain. "Chris", whispered Rat. I always found it very funny that these two big, scary punk rockers were totally bowled over by this little Jewish woman. But I had had my own run-ins with Muriel and knew that she was a force to be reckoned with.

It was during the trip back to the hotel that all hell broke loose. I was driving down Laurel Canyon Blvd, at the very curviest part close to where it opens to the Sunset Blvd when a car full of punk rockers behind us recognized the two Damned guys. The Captain was lying in the very back of the station wagon, playing with a toy he had brought along. It was a wind-up bird in a cage and he would wind it up and ask it to "sing for the Captain", then would giggled uncontrollably when it did. This had been going on for quite awhile. Rat was sitting behind me in the passenger seat when the car behind us started honking. The kids inside were waving and yelling and suddenly Rat started climbing the seats towards the back of the car, yelling at me to lower the automatic back window. I did so, and he stood up through the window. I was weaving back and forth on the curvy road and he suddenly dropped his pants and started peeing on the car behind us.

I think this was enough to even momentarily shock the punk rockers behind us. They all went quiet for a few moments before starting to yell again. But I think they had had enough and they turned off the road the next chance they got and disappeared. Inside our car, we were in hysterics. We arrived back at the hotel and I believe the manager wasn't very happy with any of us, but to tell the truth, that's all I can remember about that day.

I ran into both the Captain and Rat a few years later and had a short talk with them, but have never run into them again since. The Damned still tour, but Rat is no longer a member. Dave and the Captain are the only originals. I ended up working for most of Danny's bands after the Quick, including the Falcons, Choir Invisible and the Three O'Clock, and also became friends with Quick guitarist Steve Hufsteter, although I rarely see him around these days. I talk to Danny now and then, but we haven't hung around together in years. Lisa and I are still good friends to this day. She got me involved with Thin White Rope, which changed the course of my life forever.

That's it for this week. I'm not sure what I'll have for you next week as our friend Christof (from City Slang Records - is visiting from Germany and our weekend is full of music events, including Donna Summer, Radiohead, Liars and a couple dozen bands at the two day Sunset Junction Festival (, which is why Christof is coming here in the first place. I'll try to get something written, but there may not be a blog next week. You find out at the same time I do.


  1. I was there and he didn't take off his clothes until the second set that night but didn't the Runaways open I remember people throwing change on stage so they can help the band out there had to be a hundred there that night
    that night

  2. Hello Michael just doing a fanzine about the Damned first tour of the usa and wondered if we could use some of the info contained here please