Jean Encoule

An Oral History Of Crime

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RIPPER: “The Chosen Few, yes, in 1964, we were playing the Cow Palace with 20-local bands and 10-national bands, acts like Sam The Sham and Gary Lewis & The Playboys. I was 16, and Ron Loney was 21. Roy had to go to jail for 30-days on a marijuana possession rap, or at least that’s what the rest of the band told me. So, I joined another band right away, with Pete Marino. Then the Chosen Few became The Flamin’ Groovies. Then I was in Lamp Of Childhood, who put out a single, ‘No More Running Around’, in 67 or 68.

CRIME, we were the only punk band to last 30 years, three decades. Frankie Avalon, Bobby and Dion, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, send in your paperwork, and you’ll get into the Rock’N’Roll Hall of Fame!”

JOHNNY: “As far as we were concerned, there had never been a real rock’n’roll band of any stature to come out of San Francisco, which is why we later billed ourselves as ‘San Francisco’s First Rock’N’Roll Band’. The Jefferson Airplane? Give me a break!

Right away I recognised that his bass playing was eccentric, but who were we to complain? We soon got too loud for the apartment, and rented a rehearsal space in the Castro, where we played a couple of times with one or Ripper’s old friends, a drummer who I remember was fairly good. His name was Chris something-or-other, and we dubbed him Chris Cat, just as we’d already dubbed Ron Greco, the Ripper, for the type of bass he played, a Gibson Ripper.

Chris Cat had a wife, and she was not thrilled at the prospect of him getting into another band. He’d been in one of Ripper’s old bands, but had retired and gotten a regular job, at a museum, as I recall. His wife finally put her foot down. Once we starred working with Ripper, I realized we needed a new name. After the video game Space Invaders came out, we had shortened the name to the Invaders, but it just didn’t cut it. I mentioned the search for a new name to Tony Green, who later changed his name to Tony Steele when he published two issues of a fanzine called No Exit. Right away, Tony said, “I think you should call yourself CRIME”. I liked it right away. Ripper was cool, but Frankie still liked the Space Invaders, and still harboured some hope of us all shaving our heads! He had grown his back, but was ready to shave it again, at a moment’s notice. We argued for a while, and I finally exhausted myself typing out two pages of reasons why CRIME was a better name than the Space Invaders. After that, Frankie gave in, and reluctantly accepted the new name.

We also got complaints from neighbours of the Castro Street space after just a few rehearsals, which led to us being asked to leave. So, still without a drummer, we moved to another rehearsal space on Howard, near Sixth Street, where we played as a threesome with newly purchased Marshall stacks, as loud as we liked. People would stop by occasionally, but we didn’t encourage it. One dude, an old friend of Ripper’s, was a photographer named James Stark. He’d come around and hang out, and take pictures of us. One night we found a guy sleeping in the rehearsal space. We didn’t bother to wake him up – we just started rehearsing. He woke up and just sat there, fucked up on drugs, digging the music, his name was Michael Kowolski (R.I.P.).

So, we were still auditioning drummers, but we were very narrow-minded about what we wanted. Not only did the person have to play OK and dig the music, but looking good was just as, if not more, important. I remember night after night of drummers – rock drummers, hippies, a middle-aged black bus driver with a strange old drum kit! The bus driver would have been an interesting choice, but we couldn’t quite see it. We finally gave up, and decided that we simply wouldn’t have a drummer. Then one night Kowolski came up to me and said that he had a drummer.

The next night Kowolski showed up with Ricky Williams (R.I.P.), who we later renamed Ricky Tractor, a name he hated. I think it was because he was always talking about his toys: he’d say something about playing with his toy airplane when he got home, or his toy tank, or his toy tractor, so we called him Ricky Tractor. Later, he changed it to Ricky James. The funniest thing about his playing was that he could never keep his drum kit nailed down, and he was always chasing his drums as they moved away from him. He was always fucked up on pills, but, what the hell, we were finally a complete band!

Stark took more pictures, and we put together a set of about a dozen tunes. Blue Bear recording school and studios was a block away, so we looked into the cost of recording a few numbers. A few nights later, we rolled our amps down the street to record the first West Coast punk record, although I should mention that we never considered ourselves punk. Punk was a media-term, which we didn’t especially identify with, although, if you take it to mean a reaction to the boringness that rock’n’roll had become, then I guess we were punk to the core.

Frankie and I were wearing leather jackets and leather biker caps when we rolled our amps into the studio with a couple of people lugging Ricky’s drums behind us. There was some hippy behind the board checking us out and scratching his head and we told him: “These are the songs we want to record. Here’s the first song, watch this”, and we ran through ‘Hotwire my Heart’. “Here’s the other song”: we ran through ‘Baby You’re so Repulsive’.

The guy behind the board said something like: “Well, this is going to be difficult, I don’t know what to record first”. We said: “Look, we want you to record us all playing at once, just like we did. Get it?”

“Well then, you don’t need me,” he said, disgusted. “I’ll just turn all the knobs and let you go.” We said that sounded okay, and proceeded to record. The producer, or engineer, or whatever he was, just stared at us in disbelief. During the second song he got up and left the room. Afterwards, we asked him if he could turn up the guitars – he just turned one knob, and said that was all he could do. He seemed upset, which we found amusing. Stark took some pictures of us recording, wearing headphones, and standing behind the board, where it looked like we knew what we were doing”.

RIPPER: “We couldn’t afford to go back and redo ‘Hot Wire My Heart’. Ricky really fucked up in the beginning, but then he really came in hard. I told the rest of the band that the B-side, ‘Baby You’re So Repulsive’, was gonna be the hit, anyway”. -> -> ->

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2 Responses to An Oral History Of Crime

  1. Pingback: Crime (the band) – Invisible SF

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