By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Dukowski: “I bought this old ’64 Ford Econoline window van, had it all slicked for tours.”
Ginn: “When the tires would run too low, Chuck would get replacements from the ones they throw out in the back of gas stations.”
Dukowski: “It was parked at my house, with ‘Black Flag’ and a million other band names written all over it. I’d drive down the alley, and the Hermosa cops would pull me over and just harass me. They’d leave me there and take my keys with them back to the station, five or six blocks away. I’d have to walk to the station and get my keys from them, then walk back up. Eventually, I took all the graffiti off for this reason.”
8. RELEASE YOUR OWN RECORD IF NO ONE ELSE WILL.
Egged on by a local African-American roller-skating-guitarist friend named Spot, Black Flag (then called Panic) recorded eight songs in late-December ’77 at Media Art in Hermosa Beach. Bomp, a San Fernando Valley garage-rock label that had expressed interest in releasing a Black Flag single, had been going through cash-flow problems for more than six months. Around Christmas ’78, Ginn pressed up 2,000 copies of the four-song, five-minute Nervous Breakdown EP at a cost of $1,000. The garish cover was by Pettibon, whose artwork and lettering would be featured on almost all of Black Flag’s releases, as well as those of other SST artists like the Minutemen.
Ginn: “We kept waiting and waiting for Bomp. Finally I decided to release it myself, and that’s where SST Records started. From SST Electronics, obviously I knew how to set up a business. But I wasn’t looking forward to putting out records myself, because I felt that I had my hands full between working my business and trying to play. So it was kind of by default: ‘I can do this, so I’ll do it.’”
The band sold its records at shows and via mail orders to SST’s P.O. box — an address that never changed, despite the band having to move from city to city. Sometimes the mail-order money was the band members’ sole source of income. To encourage retailers to order Black Flag records from the band’s distributors, band members would pose as fans and call stores across the country, requesting the band’s forthcoming record.
Dukowski: “Brendan Mullen did us a favor. He gave us a phone-card number; someone at U.S. Sprint had given it to him and said to have at it. He was in a good position at U.S. Sprint — they were just starting out, no one was policing it. So we had at it. I called everybody, all the time! I was on the phone from 9 in the morning until 11 to 12 at night.”
Ginn: “Jem, which was an import distributor at the time, was the first real distribution that we got. But retailers were used to marking up imports really high. We sold our records real low to Jem, and then we’d go around to stores and they’d be in ‘import’ bins for way higher. So we felt like there wasn’t proper distribution, that we were dealing with people that were more interested in imports and it just was not going to develop.”
1981’s Damaged would be Black Flag’s highest-budget project ever, coming in at around $8,000. Spot and the band produced it themselves. While recording the album, Black Flag received an offer from a small label named Unicorn, which also owned the Hollywood studio where the album was being cut. Unicorn had a distribution deal with MCA. Hoping for better distribution than they had received so far, Ginn and Dukowski decided to accept the offer. But just after 25,000 copies of the album had been pressed, MCA distribution chief Al Bergamo announced that the company would not distribute the record because, among other things, “It just didn’t seem to have any redeeming social value.” With the MCA logo obscured by a sticker quoting Bergamo (“As a parent with two children, I found it an anti-parent record”), Damaged was eventually released by Unicorn through an independent distributor. Later, after Unicorn’s bankruptcy and almost two years of litigation (see Item No. 12), the band re-released the album through SST.
Ginn: “We thought, ‘MCA pretty much distributes Unicorn, and that’s all they do. And Unicorn was dealing with them, so I didn’t have much contact with MCA. But I guess someone at MCA heard it, and you know . . . There was just that kind of cultural war: ‘This is wrong.’ The music business was just, ‘We don’t need this punk culture.’”9. LIVE COMMUNALLY.For Penelope Spheeris’ L.A. punk doc The Decline of Western Civilization, the band was filmed inside its rehearsal space at a Hermosa Beach crafts center called the Church. The band’s then-singer, Ron Reyes, talked onscreen about how he was living in the room’s closet for $16 a month. By late ’79, as Black Flag/SST became a full-time occupation for its members, the band began to live together in its various rehearsal/office spaces. For a period in August 1981, when the band was homeless, SST’s phones were the pay booths at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue, where Ginn and Dukowski spent whole days conducting SST/Black Flag business.