Ron Reyes was the second singer for California based punk rock legends Black Flag. Ron, joined Black Flag after original vocalist Keith Morris had quit to form the Circle Jerks. Black Flag needed a singer to go on a tour to Vancouver, Canada, and asked Reyes to fill in as he had been following the band and already knew the songs. Earlier he had played drums in an incarnation of Redd Kross, along with Greg Hetson, who went on to form the Circle Jerks with Keith Morris, and subsequently joined Bad Religion.
Mart; Ron you were the second singer for California based punk rock group Black Flag, Can you describe the scene and who or what influenced you during this early period?
Ron; First some history
Before Punk, I listened mostly to David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, T-Rex, Rolling Stones, Led Zep, and Black Sabbath. All British bands. But the real turning point for me from typical teen age music appreciation to rock freak musician wannabe was when I first heard and saw Kiss. The Hotter than Hell album cover blew my mind and everything changed from that point on. I went to Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach California. I was a total total outcast. I actually lived "on the other side of the tracks" in the Redondo Beach High school district, which was far far less preppy and snobby. But it had drug and gang problems, so my mom sent me to Mira Costa instead. Probably the worst years of my life. I had ZERO friends and would ride to school on my silver unicycle dressed in my custom made Ace Frehly silver lame space suit with full make up and 12 inch platform heals I made in wood shop. The teachers and students would laugh and ridicule but I didn't care. At this point I met 2 other outcasts in school and we started to put a band together which was mostly Kiss covers and Hendrix songs cause Gary the guitarist was a Hendrix Freak. That was when I started to think about "MAKING " music. But that didn't go anywhere and one day out of the corner of my eye I started to notice this small group of glam/punk girls in the halls. They were like a breath of fresh air, and a hint of things to come. At the same time a "rocker" girl friend of mine gave me the Sex Pistols God Save the Queen 7 inch single. THAT TOTALLY TRANSFORMED EVERYTHING. I went straight home and tore down all my Kiss Posters and started listening to the Rodney on the Roq Radio station. That's where I first heard all the British punk bands and the Ramones!!!! So the music I listened to went from fully over produced rock with tons of overdubs, effects, artsy fartsy textures and dynamics to straightforward 3 chord 1234-1234 tempos and loads of bad ass attitude.
The same girl who gave me the Sex Pistols single, told me about the Masque and the emerging punk scene in Hollywood. She would go to places like the Starwood and the Roxy to see long hair glam bands, and drop me off in her car at the Masque. I was sooo intimidated I would only go in for a moment at a time and then come outside and just listen and look from a safe distance. After the shows I would meet Debi at the Roxy parking lot after hours party.
I became a big fan of all the original Hollywood bands like The Germs, X, Weirdoes, The Sreamers, Bags, etc. Often I would ride my bicycle 20 plus mile to Hollywood to see these bands. In the early days, I looked like a little Handsome Dick Manatoba with long hair and black platform shoes left over from my glam and Kiss years. The first time I would change my dress was at the 1977 punk rock fashion show at the Hollywood Palladium. I went wrapped up in clear cellophane, all tangled up in guitar chords, hand made buttons pinned all over and a hangman's noose ta top it off. I must have looked like a Weirdoes wanna be. After that night there was no turning back. But, I was extremely shy and introverted so I would continue to go to the gigs and hang out by myself, too scared to talk to the Hollywood punks.
Mart; During the early days of punk you followed some of the bands. Can you tell us a little about who they were? What drew you to Black Flag? Was their a relationship with you and other punk bands? Good or bad?
Ron; So yeah like I said the Germs, X, Weirdoes, The Screamers, Bags, Dickies, Controlers, I loved the Avengers and the Zeros!!! etc. And it is interesting that many of these bands as well as bands like Devo, Blondie and even the Ramones had a little art school/glam damage in their roots, so I had a natural attraction to them. I don't remember there being any unifying dogma or mantra to "save the world" or "smash the state" with these bands. It was just Argh I'm fcked up with nuthin ta do so lets go crazy, but you know not in some backwoods hillbilly psycho way or some suburban jock rock way, there was something far more creative at play.
Meanwhile, my best buddy Dez and I were neighbors in Redondo beach (just a couple of blocks away from the Fleetwood where I would finally quit Black Flag mid song.) would sit around listing to Rodney on the Roq and were starting to put a band together. we were called the Happy Tampons or the Fucking PorkChops. We were heavily influenced by Wire, I think we knew the whole Pink Flag album gosh that was just so amazingly different then, anything I was into before and then there was Eater!!! Eater was cool cause they did Bowie and Velvet Underground songs. So you see, more artsy stuff. So I guess Dez and I were just a couple of arty fartsy guys?!?! He also loved the B52s, so go figure.
Then there was Black Flag. We started hearing about the Panic/Black Flag band and they were local from Hermosa Beach which was cool cause we were neighbors!!! So we started crashing their practices and I think the first time I saw them at a gig was at the Moose Hall in Redondo Beach with the Alley Cats. Holy Shit were they totally different then any other punk band I
had ever seen. There was absolutely nothing even remotely pretentious or artsy fartsy about them. They had ZERO "cool" factors you know they did not get their cloths from Poseur. But Greg Ginn just blew my mind. There was no one that came close to his ferocity and intensity! and it wasn't constrained or contrived at all. And it's not like he was the most technically perfect guitarist I had ever heard but from that moment on no one would ever come close. I loved Pat Smear, Johnny Thunders, Ron Ashton, Johnny Ramone and others but no one played with utter abandon like Greg. Chuck was a monster as well and again it was as if these guys came from another planet where they had never seen a punk band or even a regular rock n roll band or had any idea of how to behave in an acceptably cool fashion. They were NOT "cool or dignified". They were completely undignified. And Keith was just so crazy in an "I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU SAY" sort of way. and you just knew he meant it. Robo was another eccentric freak in his own quiet silent ways. Actually if there was anyone who was cool it was Robo. The way he played his drums in such an upright sitting position. Not a whole lot of outward emotion but just intensely suave.
So Black Flag sorta spoiled Punk Rock for me. At least the Hollywood artsy fartsy version. I mean I just loved all the other bands but holly shit Black Flag just made them all sound so incredibly small in comparison. Looking back, It was the beginning of the end for me as far as punk rock went. Cause, I really don't care what others say, but no one was as fierce as Black Flag in a real pure organic natural way. Others would come with their intense stage presence, scowling appearance and pre-fab sound and look but it all seemed contrived by comparison. Even my versions of Keith's songs were mere replicas. You see, I had regrettably read the punk rock manifesto script and knew what was expected. You know what I mean? It was like I was following in someone's footsteps where the mold had already been cast. Yeah, I would bring my own spin to it but the original Black Flag members never got the "memo" and if they did they must of just laughed their heads off at the notion. So as for me, I was ruined from that moment.
Mart; Many fans remember you as the real sound and energy of Black Flag and an icon for the period. Into the 80's the sound and scene developed into something else. can you give us an inside look of how that development felt to you?
Ron; A lot of that has to do with my appearance in the Decline of the "Western Civilization" movie. That movie sort of defined the era or at least a certain time and place . I haven't seen the movie in years except for clips on you tube but I think the Black Flag stuff has really aged well. That's because it was different from the other stuff. Gosh I get a kick out of listing to Greg and Chuck (back then we used ta call him Gary) they were soo full of BS just taking the piss out of every one. Chuck with his Brain surgery spiel is just classic. I was soooo nervous cause you know it was just so strange having cameras in your living room. And it was entirely unscripted and one of us were used to having people asking us our opinion about shit. The other thing is the Jealous again record is a really good record.
The "Nervous Breakdown" single introduced and defined Black Flag up to that point but the Jealous Again Sessions refined the sound considerably especially Greg's guitar work. The Guitar solo stuff on "Jealous Again" and "Revenge" are just so cool. Keith's vocals were so natural, I mean he didn't sound like anyone else at the time. And I wasn't there, but I bet, there were not many takes or overdubs. Yet I spent a lot of time on the vocals, cause I was inexperienced I guess. My voice was probably "technically" better with a greater range and more melodic then the other BF singers, but really who cares about that when it comes to Punk Rock. I guess compared to Keith, Dez and especially Henry my vocals had a sort of Pop edge to them. And you know I just loved bands like the Last, Red Cross and the Decedents, the Plugz and the Zeros. And even, oh god help me for admitting this, but does anyone remember "Shock" I wanna be spoiled??? Oh and while I am at the task of destroying any credibility as a true punk rocker, let me say I loved the Go Go's!!! Those bands sang with intensity but there was a hint of Pop flavour.
Later on my Pop sensibilities would take full form in my "Crash Bang Crunch Pop" band. But overall my favourite Black Flag singer is Henry. I don't like all his stuff, but I think he was the definitive Black Flag Singer who had the whole package. And the gigs I saw live after My war and around slip it in were just memorizing. Holy shit Henry was good at what he did!!!
I come across a lot of stuff on-line about who is the best Black Flag singer. And there is some real heated and passionate discussion over it all. I played a small part during a short period and I really think that was meant to be. Chuck talks about the length of the songs coming from the inspiration, and I can totally relate. For me I was inspired to do what I did, and then that was it. I just wanted to have fun but Greg and Chuck were getting really serious, I just could not get behind some of the songs like Damage and Life of Pain etc.
As far as the emerging 80's west coast sound. Well, I really have got mixed feelings about all of that. By that time everyone had read the script. You know it was supposed to be fast, loud, aggressive, angry, hateful, smash the state, fuck the world, in your face blah blah blah. I totally love loud fast aggressive music even to this day, but, I really wasn't depressed or all that angry. And I really didn't feel all that oppressed or pissed off at anyone. I was just having too much fun. I was in a band, folks were digging what we were doing, girls were starting to come around and I liked girls I didn't want to piss them off or degrade them. The rest of the guys were getting into some real gross stuff which was just so much macho misogynistic crap.
Then the orange county surf jock punks started coming around and it was like they were all ex-marines or something. God I just hated the vibe they brought to the gigs. Don't get me wrong some of the suburban and OC bands that were coming out were great . Middle Class, the Crowd, Agent Orange (oh man they were fantastic!!!) the Adolescents, TSOL. Yeah, I really liked these bands. But for some reason the crowds that were emerging around these bands, and Black Flag in particular were just insane, and not in a good way, at least not from where I was coming from.
Mart; Was there one incident that you can determine as the point where punk rock exploded on the West Coast? Roughly what date did that occur? What was the influence? And who was involved?
Ron; I guess most folks would point to the emerging hardcore scene. But you know that was exactly the shit that turned me off of the whole thing. It just seemed so one-dimensional. The Weirdoes and the Dickies, X (man talk about a band with dynamics!!!), Germs, the Last, Avengers, Zeros, Screamers all had so much flavour in comparison to a lot of the hardcore stuff. Man, I can't even watch the American Hardcore movie, it just looks and sounds like crap to me (except for Bad Brains and ok a few others!!!) I know I'm gonna piss of a lot off people, but I just hated most of that stuff. Guys in that movie are getting all romantic over it and making it out to be some profoundly important part of music history. I just don't get it at all. I can feel all the hate mail coming, but hey, I'm just telling it like I saw/felt it
But I can appreciate where it came from, and by that time the Hollywood music was getting a little diluted with too much heroin and drugs, so in some respects the hardcore stuff was like a breath of fresh air.
When I moved up the coast to Vancouver bands like DOA, the Rabid and the Subhuman's were great. DOA had sooo much power with Biscuits and Rampage and Joey was so fierce. Joey is really the only North American politically inclined punk that I respect. Cause I just can't stomach most political punk. It is just so black and white it reminds me of over zealous right wing religious hate mongers. But DOA's smash the state stuff seemed so much more sincere and I always felt that it was more then just burn it down you know, I think Joey has the integrity to inspire some positive change not just hey lets fck it all up and bail.
The other thing I liked about the North West/Vancouver music scene at the time was that it was somewhat naive and immature in a good way, you know, it seemed to keep its purity for longer then the LA scene did. And there was a good mix of pop bands like the Dishrags Pointed Sticks who by the way are working on a new record and what I've heard so far is fantastic. The Modernettes were sooo much fun, and they had the Braineaters who I would later join for a while. The Braineaters had some things in common with the Screamers.
I just seemed to fit in so well with the west coast Canadian Punk Scene. There was far far less division like in the California South Bay area. A smaller population forced bands to share members so you had guys like Chuck Biscuts or his big brother Dimwit (RIP) playing in 6 bands. And there was this Fck Band thing where you would just play for fun and beer. Lots and lots of good ole Canadian beer!
I remember coming back to LA for the premiere of the Decline movie and I was around for several gigs in east LA featuring the new OC type bands. I just hated it and ran back to Vancouver. Where I kept on rockin on my terms, in a tone of fck bands and then called it a night. I would not have done it any other way.
Ron's Web Linkswww.breakmyface.com/bands/blackflag1.html