I wasn’t able to relate to the early L.A. punk scene. It just wasn’t part of my tribe.…I related to the ethos but not the style.. What encapsulated L.A. punk was three-chord songs that were bouncy and sneering. An overwhelming “agro” sound filled with “brawny white-dude- masculinity”. In spite of the bad hygiene festered between the din cacophony it still made the scene too exciting not to explore. From 1977 to 1979 (most of you weren’t even born yet!) Los Angeles saw the birth and dissolution of a scene that was anything but homogeneous. The bands and fans who mobilized L.A.’s “golden age of punk” were made up of a wide cross-section of nonconformists, odd balls, nerds, rejects and perhaps some visionaries who just couldn’t fit into mainstream society. The bands chose this not because it was the “de rigueur” of the day but it was the center piece for their anti-social behavior. It manifested itself mostly in Hollywood; particularly because of its romance and the myths of success. The streets were made up of drug dealers, pedophiles, “transies”, hookers and petty criminals; all of which created a great melting pot for the scene. Diversity was the only mandate… gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class were all welcomed. The only thing that was different were their varying entry and exit points… The moments of convergence and divergence so to speak. The bands had no unified sound, except for being fast and loud. The very first punk show I attended in was at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown L.A, which was in the heart of skid row. It featured The Zeros (teenage, clean-cut, garage-inspired), The Weirdos (wacky outfits, sardonic power-pop), and The Germs (grit-spewing, utterly shambling — that being their first show). It was the first time I actually got scared at a concert. It twas’ violent as hell and I loved every fuckin’ moment. This was rock and roll!
Hollywood was markedly different from the punk scene in Orange County, where Neo-Nazis and white supremacist rock gangs could be seen gathered in mass behind the “Orange Curtain”… places like Fullerton, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach where crowds would congregate at venues like the Icebox or The Cuckoo’s Nest. You could hear the yelling of “white power” and doing the Nazi salute. Amid the disturbing rise of the modern “alt-right,” L.A. punks made a concerted effort to keep Nazis out of their scene. A different anti-socio crowd that were just East of the L.A. River, the “La Mirada Punks” were of Mexican/American dissent. A rough crowd that was much more into violence than music. The Hollywood club owners wanted no part of this crowd! Elmer Valentine, who use to book The Whisky was adamant… No fuckin’ way!
George “Superman” Reeves’ Grave …. Bobby Fuller’s Death Certificate
But there was plenty of malaise and disenchantment to be had in the days leading up to the 80’s. The suburbs surrounding the punk scene in L.A. were as fertile a breeding ground as any. There were freaks and outcasts by the score in and around the city. Nobody ever had to make an effigy to keep Los Angeles different. Fuck, this.. was the home of the Black Dahlia, the Watts riots of the mid 60’s, the murder of Superman…George Reeves… Sal Mineo… Sharon Tate…Bobby Fuller..and last but not least it was where Ronald Reagan sold out his Hollywood cronies. This urban sprawl served as an Ellis Island of the West. You can ditch your old identity and chose a new persona that makes you sound less like a kid from a middle-class family. The fuse was always lit by rock and roll…Punk, Glam and Metal were its progeny.
An unlikely rock band from the San Fernando Valley emerged on to the music scene.. The Dickies. Their story had sadly gotten lost over the last few decades but this being their 40th anniversary there’s no time better than now to write a whole new chapter and tell their tale.…
The Dickies were the first L.A. Punk band to get a deal from a major record company… A&M Records. The principles, back in 1977 till the present are Leonard Graves Phillips…vocals and Stan Lee at guitar. Their early influences were British punk band, The Damned and The Ramones. Their essence was far different and at times comical…Phillips, from the onset had fulfilled his plan to become the new Jesus/Bowie/Jack La Lane/Earl Scheib(who had promised to paint any car any color for only $29.95)/ L. Ron Hubbard… His persona was between that of a rock messiah and court jester; whose heroic consumption of drugs, Pixie Stix and Pop Rocks helped make him become the most psychedelic prankster of any rock band in Hollywood…
They mostly did cover songs… well, actually they “stole” songs and made them their own… the theme song to the Saturday morning kiddie show.. “ The Banana Splits”(Tra La La Song) became a Top 10 record in the U.K. back in 1979. Urban legend claims that The Moody Blues would play The Dickies’ version of “Nights In White Satin” at the end of their sound checks…. And who can forget their ode to T.V. news anchor woman… Tritia Toyota.. “(I’m Stuck In A Pagoda With) Tritia Toyota”…If the 17th century French satirist, Moliere were to start a punk rock band it would in fact be The Dickies! There is nothing stoic, taciturn or reticent about them…. There was no rock band quite like them.
We at Rock Bands of L.A.com had the rare opportunity to interview The Dickies’ singer and leader, Leonard Graves Phillips… yes, we spoke about how the Punk scene has changed here in Los Angeles since the late 70’s… Oh yeah… we spoke of influences and how fuckin’ amazing of a guitarist Stan Lee is…
Rock Bands of L.A.com: How has the music scene in L.A. changed since 1977? You were compared to The Ramones…Back in the day it was all about word of mouth… Weren’t The Dickies the first L.A. punk band to sign with a major label…A&M Records? While today you have to do social media… Is that an issue with The Dickies?… Oh I really hate those that refer to the band as “pop punk”!
Leonard Graves Phillips: We were at the epicenter of the paradigm shift from “glitter’ to “punk’ here in LA in 1977. Many things in LA like the “punk scene” didn’t start through a “club scene” or word of mouth (the Damned and Ramones had already come to town) (Stan and I were in attendance). It happened in VERY large part from TV. True story. An NBC news magazine show called “Weekend” did a segment on “punk rock” that almost EVERYONE (amounting to about 50 kids in all in what was to become the emerging LA punk scene), watched. I found it here on YouTube!
And yes. We were first to sign with a major label which immediately put the arc of our evolution and success way beyond that very same scene who’d embraced us previously. A schism of good ol envy developed with many scenesters at that point – accusing us of “selling out” or being a “novelty band” os posers. Of course we loved it. I really know nothing from social media and how its negotiated by today’s musicians.
I feel sorry for millennials over all, I guess. For me its mostly been the vehicle of a sexual predator, flame warrior and other non productive distractions which is why I no longer personally deal with FB, Instagram etc. Plus success, drugs, and my natural inclination towards solitude precludes my having any firsthand knowledge about the evolution the LA rock scene from the early 80s on.Which brings me to the third part of your question. I personally have no problem our being called “pop punk.” Can we help it if we’re musical? 😉
Rock Bands of L.A.com:What were yours and Stan Lee’s musical influences? Covers songs are your trademark. How do you pick those songs? Why did you become a punk rock band instead of being Van Halen…(this is a rhetorical question)??
L.G.P.: The Dickies as an entity were primarily influenced by The Damned and Ramones. Individually Stan was more influenced by glitter (a HUGE Bowie fan and drug cohort of Iggy Pop) while I was a budding prog rock keyboardist – big on Keith Emerson, Genesis and Yes- who’d recently had a nervous breakdown at 19. I’ve always bristled at the monolithic (and dare I say instantaneous) revision of “punk history” as if life for punk’s early artists began with MC5 or Iggy. That’s total bullshit. Stan didn’t have the skill set to become Van Halen but DID have the chops for punk while I, on the other hand, needed an immediate therapy for my social anxiety.
The Dickies circa 1979
Rock Bands of L.A.com: Is there a new studio album in the horizon? What about a video? Are there going to be any cover songs?…. What about songs written about the L.A. culture?????
L.G.P.: Yes. After a 15 year creative block brought about by sobriety and its attendant distractions. We ARE embarking on our final album, preceded by the release of a single, early this coming year (the first Dickies release in over a decade). And yes, again, about the inclusion of two cover songs. Much of the original material will also contain the narrative from 62 year old seminal punk legends contending with the millennial ethos.
Rock Bands of L.A.com: I have an idea…. Hey look what a cover song did for Weezer?… Cover Bread’s song, “Everything I Own”…I think it would be “killer”! Stan would just “shred”… As far as L.A. culture? My idea is to do a song… “Larry You’re Killing Me”. Sit and Sleep….
L.P.G.:I love Weezer and covering THEM could be smart. But seriously… that Bread idea is righteous. Candidate for a total Dickies rework. Not this perfunctory “make it a ‘punk’ song” formula such as bands like Gimme Gimme and The Me Firsts would employ. The tune has such a pathetic emo message to it that I (and most) identify with completely. Great chorus too. Check it out! You’ve quite a scoop here. I haven’t done an interview in ages!
I wanted to thank Michael Pilmer and Leonard Grave Phillips… Believe me, we were very very lucky…