Monday, June 11, 2007

An Interview Request

A certain Kate Carraway from the Orange County (California) Weekly newspaper contacted me today with an interview request. After explaining that I am on the other side of the world and can barely hear she submitted by email the following questions:

Can you say a bit about how and why you got involved in punk rock initially? How would you define or characterize OC punk? Orange County is considered to be a really conservative place, not just politically but culturally. Do you agree? Disagree? Why do you think punk rock flourished in OC? Do you see a real distinction between people involved in punk rock in Orange County and the majority of OC citizens?
So here's what I came up with :

I got involved in O.C. punk rock as early as 1979, when after seeing The Crowd play a club in Monrovia, I literally followed them back to their homes in Huntington Beach.

They opened that night for my friends, the Go Go's who were still in a formative stage. The Crowd, on the other hand, already had a distinct style of baggy sweaters, day glo colours in total opposition to the perceived punk look. They could get away with it because they were the quintessential California surfer boys. They even had their own dance that night, the worm, which soon gave way to another of their inspirations, the slam dance.

For me, then a worldly 26 year old, the summer of 1979 was a delayed adolescence.

Let me backtrack :

I was born and grew up in southern California. In 1958, my family made the move to what was then the end of the Santa Ana Freeway, at Brookhurst(!). 1940 W. Broadway, a tract ranch style house in Anaheim was my home for the first 4 years of my schooling.

Somehow the fates conspired to transport my family from the sunny orange groves to the bitter cold wintry weather of England in 1962.

Even though I was just 9 I had already bicycled all the way down Beach Blvd. to the H.B. pier, panned for gold at Knott's and watched nightly fireworks at Disneyland from our backyard. So I was suffering from this truncated development : what if I had continued at James Madison Elementary, gone onto Trident Junior High, graduated from Loara. What would have I become?

So I honestly did not get involved with O.C. groups because they were "punk", the major attraction for me was the fact they were from O.C.. And remember, the music these teen aged kids were making was really far removed from what was being called "punk" in Hollywood at that time.

That summer of '79 I was living in Alhambra and I would ride the RTD bus down to Seal Beach before going through what seemed a cultural portal and riding the O.C. bus down PCH.

It was a magical time of backyard parties, bleary eyed breakfasts at Bob's Big Boy, bands challenging each other to make new music. It was a liberated jock culture, where you didn't have to be a quarter back or linebacker to be accepted. But what became fascinating was how so many of the O.C. groups developed different sounds, different identities, yet all grouped together under the "punk" banner.

Some of the O.C. groups I worked with during that fecund period of 1979-1981 included The Klan, Agent Orange, Adolescents, Shattered Faith and Social Distortion not forgetting T.S.O.L. and Channel 3 whose members straddled the county line.

Ultimately it was these groups fans who made an enormous difference to the groups developing their own styles.

After the groups had refined their abilities in each other's garages and backyards, they took over the Hollywood clubs with their legions of suburban fans, leaving the Hollywood old guard muttering to themselves. If the groups had a demo tape, it was their fans who convinced dj Rodney Bingenheimer with their phone calls and personal pleas that the groups were "happening".

And for the kids themselves, the punk rock movement with its early D.I.Y ethos, was the catalyst to their creating their own culture as reflected through the O.C. prism.

So as much as these teenagers were indulging in normal teenage rebellion, they were at the same time becoming ambassadors for their distinctly beach suburban hedonism.

In this last respect, the generation of '80 had a great deal in common with the older generation, even the John Birchers supping along the beach at the Balboa Bay Club.


Robbie Fields said...

Well, Kate seemed to like my initial comments and asked me for some follow up, here goes :

I was always the financier, which is somewhat strange as I almost never had any money. But I paid the studios and the pressing plants and that kept the enterprise going.

As for artistic input, sometimes the best thing was not to do anything, as was the case with TSOL (other than telling lead singer Jack Grisham to park the phony English accent). Other times, I was much more involved in arranging the group's music, a process that usually started when attending a band rehearsal.
The zenith of my efforts was reached with Channel 3 and the song "You Make Me Feel Cheap" where I added some "call back" lyrics and brought in a girl off the street, Maria Montoya, to sing a duet with Mike Magrann which they are still reprising to this day.
My favorite production, though, has always been "Everything Turns Grey" by Agent Orange. The song would have sounded completely different before we got to work on it in the studio.

My major function was that of an editor : I looked for the essence in a group's music, for what they believed in and cut away redundancies. So at the time of Beach Blvd., the 3 groups featured had a handful of songs that truly reflected where they were at that moment and we conceptualized "Beach Blvd." as an unifying strand.

My first big break as a producer was taking charge of The Nuns. A huge group in San Francisco in 1977 along with The Avengers. Major label interest, spent months doing demos. Only 1 garbage single released. In 1979 I worked with some ex members on another project and they saw I could come through and they convinced most of the group to reconvene for 1 week in L.A. in early 1980 to record the album that had never happened. Well, we managed to record and mix in 22 hours, thanks to the brilliance of replacement engineer David Hines and that album came to be released around the world, on Bomp in the USA, Caroline in the UK, in Finland and in Spain.

By 1983, things were pitiful for my label and I accepted an offer from my late twin brother to work in the UK on his paper airline that morphed into Virgin Atlantic.

But I soon returned to L.A. and became a travel agent and for a while ran Posh Boy from within various travel agencies where I rented deskspace. I was then approached by a now defunct distributor to run their label operations and as I was already the firm's travel agent, I ran my small agency from within a record warehouse!

The company was bought out by a hotel heir and with my temporary wealth I decided to move to Palm Desert and run my business interests from there. By 1992, I was busted again and I spent much of the 90's concentrating on music publishing and representing not only my interests but also people like The Vandals.

For personal reasons, I chose to live outside the USA from 1997 onwards, first in Acapulco then Thailand. My move to Bangkok was directly financed by my sale of my TSOL masters to Nitro Records. Ultimately I ended up investing in South African property at a very opportune time and I have now been spending the majority of my time in a magnificent house on the southern Cape of Africa overlooking the Indian Ocean.

For the past 16 years I have been a single father, first of a beautiful daughter who is soon starting
college and then finding myself in the same position 10 years later with my now 7 year old son. There are many music related events that I would love to attend as well as other cultural and sporting events that I am invited to but my focus is 100% on my little boy and I believe I have found the best school in the world suited to his needs, right here in South Africa.

Phil Clevenger said...

Hey Robbie -

Just waving hello after stumbling upon your blog - fun photos, fun writing, fun life it looks like :) Too bad I did not have time back in the old days to get to know you - say hi if you are ever again in San Francisco - !


Phil Clevenger

Connor said...

Hey, I don't know if you guys ever check this, but I just bought "God Bless America, Vol. 1" (vinyl) in PA. I live in New York, but just have to say, great shit.

email? myspace?

karen said...

hello robbie

great stuff you have here, i just read your mail and decided to say hi



FLAtRich said...

Hi, Robbie:

Always wondered where you were and I'm happy to see you landed on yer feet!

Never thought I'd live long enough to say it, but those were the good old days!

Rich La Bonte

Anonymous said...

GERBER was here

Anonymous said...

I'm just a Gaylord junkie,
a lost and lonely soul.
I was the front desk clerk at the Gaylord. I lived it and I loved it. Thanks Robbie for your part. Don Clark, friend of Joe R., Michael S., and Thora M.
Long Live the Gaylord, Queen of Los Angeles!