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Interview: Beloved DJ Joe Sib On Growing Up Punk Rock in California

Joe Sib, unplugged
Joe Sib, unplugged

Joe Sib -- Side One Dummy Records co-owner, former Wax frontman and former Indie 103.1 DJ (he currently hosts Complete Control on Star 98.7) -- gets nostalgic in his one-man show, California Calling: Growing Up Punk Rock, which he's been touring for a year and performs at the Improv Tues., Oct. 5.

We caught up with the Bay Area-bred Sib from his Glendale home about listening to and working with your idols.

How did the idea for the show come about?

A lot of the stuff I would talk about on the air, callers and people would say, 'Man, I really love that story about meeting Joe Strummer, seeing the Ramones for the first time, the Circle Jerks and your first tour, Wax and Spike Jonze [Wax's video director].' When I first started doing radio, I was thinking if I could ever take a stab at doing something on stage.

That was really the germ. I have all these photographs of when I was as a kid. It's stuff that doesn't make me look cool at all, but it's pretty funny.

I remember one of the many interviews you did on Indie 103.1 was with X. Billy Zoom gave you a pretty hard time.

One of the hardest interviews I've ever had. I remember saying to him, 'Billy, doing an interview with you is like going to see the dentist. There's nothing fun about this.' He didn't even laugh.

What kind of music do you incorporate in the show?

Everything from Jesus Christ Superstar, ABBA and Elton John to Black Flag, Sham 69, Ramones, Clash, Germs and Bad Brains.

Why do you single out December 27, 1981 as an important date?

My dad took me to Winchester Skateboard Park in San Jose. I was never good at sports. I was never gonna be the star athlete. But I did love skateboarding. It's an individual sport and I didn't have a coach. I didn't have an older, overweight man telling me I could do better. I'd only heard my parents' music up until that moment. I never had an older brother or older sister who turned me on to AC/DC or Zeppelin. I didn't know what was cool. So I go from my parents' music to hearing the Buzzcocks and 999. From that moment on, I dove in head first.

You recount exchanging the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks for a Kingston Trio album.

Yeah, that same day. For my Mom. I was in the seventh grade and was going to Good Shepherd Catholic School in Santa Cruz. I went down to the Record Factory and at that point, the punk rock section was four records. I went into my bedroom, threw the record on and "Holidays in the Sun" and comes on. Then the second track, "Bodies," and John Lydon is singing, "She was a girl from Birmingham/She just had an abortion." I literally jumped on my record player like someone had thrown a live grenade in the bedroom.

At that point in my life, I'd never heard that type of anger and passion. I was listening to Jerry Vale sing Italian songs about how much he loves his mother. The words 'fuck' this and 'fuck' that were being sung. In my eyes, I had just bought the password and key to send myself to hell. I'm Italian and Catholic. That's a sandwich of guilt right there. Sister Cornelius? No one can save me. So the only thing I could do was take the record back.

The first punk gig you went to?

Social Distortion in 1982 at San Jose City College.

Speaking of diving in, have you ever been seriously injured watching a band?

I broke my leg at a Adolescents show, and blew out my knee with 22 Jacks on stage in Salt Lake City. I recently fixed the chips in my teeth from singing in bands from 14- to 33-years-old. I have my scars, but nothing ever serious.

You moved to L.A. in 1990.

When I came down here, I got my first job working at Duke on Sunset. I delivered food to all the record companies around at that time -- Geffen, Virgin, Island. I delivered to Guns n' Roses when they were living in a bungalow on Sunset. And that's where I met Joe Strummer for the first time. He came in with his family. I couldn't get the words out. I just stared at this guy. I finally asked 'How many in your party?' And he said, 'Oh we've got six, mate.' He signed a copy of Give 'Em Enough Rope. Two weeks later, I'm at a Fugazi show at the Palladium. I come out and I find $100. We go to this old bar called Smalls on Melrose. I look over and sitting in his booth is Strummer. Me and the rest of the guys from Wax sat down with him and he answered every single question we had about the Clash. We talked the whole night.

Are you worried that mounting a show like this on stage might make you look like another old fogey reminiscing about the old times?

The idea of someone doing a show about punk rock sounded like a nightmare. The last thing I'd want to see or hear is some guy in his '40s talking about how great it was when he was a kid. I hate that stuff. I wanted it to be something more like a snapshot of a moment in time that happened to me as punk rock hit the suburbs. And you look through my eyes, a super fan, and how rock 'n' roll influenced my life.

My Dad used to say, 'This is not healthy. No one is into something as much as you are. It's so life and death with you.' It really was. When I listened to Sham 69's Jimmy Pursey sing, 'If they kids are united/ They will never be divided,' I didn't just think that was a cool chorus. I really believed it.

What did if feel like to go from listening to the Pistols and Black Flag to working with Steve Jones and Henry Rollins decades later on Indie 103.1?

The fact that I would walk down the hallway, pop in my head and Steve Jones would give me the middle finger. Or show me some song. Or call me up when I was doing my show and ask 'Hey what was that band you just played?' And I'd say, 'It was the Methodones.' And he'd say, 'Mate, can you leave that for me? I wanna play it tomorrow.'

The fact that Henry Rollins had his show on after mine, and we would talk to each other. The fact that any of this stuff has happened to me is a dream come true. If you would've told me when I was 13 when I saw the Black Flag logo on some kid's shirt that someday I would know Henry and maybe have a conversation with him, it's mind blowing.


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