Kings of the Stone Age

A quarter-century ago, the Weirdos jump-started West Coast punk. Now they're back.

Ray Pepperell, aka East Bay Ray, is a punk rock originator. As the guitarist for the world-renowned Dead Kennedys during the late '70s and early '80s, the Oakland-based Pepperell helped put the post-hippie Bay Area on the map as an underground punk mecca. But ask him what inspired him to start the DKs, and he'll take you back to the night in San Francisco in late 1977 when he first saw a punk band.

"I was walking by the Mabuhay Gardens and saw that the Weirdos were playing," says Pepperell. "I'd heard of them through fanzines and the radio, so I went in to have a look. I tend to judge music by whether it makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and they definitely did that." Soon afterward, Pepperell put up ads to form his own group, and the rest is punk rock history.

Based in Hollywood in the late '70s, the Weirdos were one of L.A.'s first punk bands, and one of its most unsung. As a team, they typified the promise of punk as the return of intelligence and fun to rock 'n' roll's bland agenda. Taking their cue from the Ramones, the Weirdos sped up a hybrid of the Stooges and the New York Dolls and spiked it with a contrarian spirit that encompassed their love of innovative art and music. They wrote their own tunes, ripped up and assembled their own clothes, cut their own hair, and designed their own logos, stickers, shirts, album covers, and fliers at a time when such behavior was ridiculed in the music industry.


The Skulls, the Night Crawlers, and Strung Up! open

Saturday, Dec. 13, at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $15 in advance, $17 at the door


Slim's, 333 11th St. (at Folsom), S.F.

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Now that the genre they helped pioneer 25 years ago has sunk into the pop music swamp, the Weirdos are back to stir shit up. With the second volume of their retrospective series Weird World recently released and a top-tier rhythm section behind them, lead singer John Denney, his brother and lead guitarist Dix, and rhythm guitarist Cliff Roman are out to disprove the notion that punk rock is only for kids.

Though the Weirdos formed in 1976, their roots lie in the early-'70s high school friendship between the Denneys and Roman, who bonded over visual art and music ranging from free jazz to electronic to rockabilly. "We would sit around and listen to music and draw, and John would write stories and lyrics," remembers Roman via phone from his San Fernando Valley home. "We knew down the road we'd have a band somehow."

That road led to L.A.'s California Institute for the Arts, where Roman made a stab at an arts education and met the first Weirdos bassist, Dave Trout. "My original goal was to be an artist," the guitarist says, "but the art world at the time was kinda boring. We thought we could do our art as a band. You can have an outlet to make records and posters, and put together outfits and play shows. And it was more fun than being an artist."

Armed with a confidence inspired by the power-chord fundamentals of the Ramones' first album, as well as the wild-man talents of drummer Nickey Beat, the Weirdos broke into an L.A. scene that was barely ready for them. Contrast the chaotic guitar-based energy of anthems like "Destroy All Music" and "We Got the Neutron Bomb" with the pop atmosphere of the time and it's little wonder that major labels were hardly knocking down the band's door. "Really, besides the Screamers and the Dils, there was really nothing happening in town quite like us," Roman notes. "We had no idea how to get booked into the major clubs like the Whiskey. And although a handful of people knew of bands like the Ramones and Sex Pistols, the standard in L.A. in 1977 was, like, Peter Frampton, Donna Summer, the Eagles, and Bad Company."

By the end of the decade, clubs such as the Orpheum and the Whiskey had begun taking chances on new bands, and basement venues like the Masque had opened to facilitate a scene that included underground legends like the Germs and the Skulls, and eventual stars like X and the Go-Go's. But although the Weirdos' constantly rotating rhythm section featured some of the L.A. underground's finest (including Wall of Voodoo bassist Bruce Moreland and former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez), and their charged live show had generated a rabid following, the band members called it quits in 1981 with a total of three EPs under their belts. As John Denney noted in his essay on the band in the punk art book Fucked Up and Photocopied, "We embraced change as an essential aspect of the Weirdos ethos. Ultimately, this growth and change meant going our own ways." Besides occasional live reunion shows and the recording of a studio album, Condor, in 1990, the Weirdos have favored raising families over actively maintaining their status in the L.A. scene.

Rather than an ambition to purify today's version of punk, Roman cites both the band's recent 25th anniversary and the release of Weird World Vol. 2 as reasons for the Weirdos' decision to resurface. But the band's attitude -- as displayed in the album's bombastic tracks as well as the live photos in the accompanying booklet -- bears scrutiny as punk moshes into its second quarter-century.

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