Coming of age in Saint Louis, MO was a pretty miserable experience. I grew up in North County, a part of Saint Louis that is pretty isolated from the cultural goings-ons of the city at large. In fact, I grew up in the northernmost part of North County. It was a stone’s throw away from the Missouri River. For all intents and purposes I felt I was in the middle of nowhere. Compounded by this was the fact that I had gone to 7th grade at a private school in the city, got myself into punk rock and then got kicked out. So I knew better than to listen to shit like Styx or Phil Collins. I didn’t want to go to Jamestown Mall. I wanted to play in a band. A hardcore band. The only guys at my school who played guitar were burnouts and they thought punk was for “fags”. No hardcore band for me.
Today, I don’t think people can accurately understand the cultural void that was the suburban Midwest in the early 1980s. No internet. No email. No cell phones. No social networking. Shit, there wasn’t even cable in 1983. Back then the difference between your average kid in Hazelwood, MO and your average kid in Los Angeles was pretty extreme. Now, any kid with a computer can check out the latest Ariel Pink LP and order the same clothes online that the kids in LA are wearing. Good or bad, at that time I really wanted to not live in North County, Saint Louis.
I’m not saying I had it harder in the early 1980′s or anything. Life is hard, period. But it was different then. Isolation was more profound for those of us growing up and yearning for something more. This is one of the reasons that Last Days has a soft spot for out of the way places like Alaska, Yugoslavia or Hawaii. I feel a sense of kinship with these places because I came from an out of the way place myself.
So there I was at 13, all alone and out in the deepest recesses of suburbia and what did I do? I used to ride my bike to the Streetside Records in Grandview Plaza and buy records. I got flyers of shows I could never get a ride to and plastered my walls with them. I read magazines voraciously; Spin, Trouser Press, Maximum Rock-n-Roll, Flipside and most importantly Jet Lag. Why was Jet Lag the most important? Because it was regional and I could read up on what was going in Saint Louis.
My earliest memories of the music scene in Saint Louis were of ads in Jet Lag for bands like The Studebakers, The Morells (who came up from Springfield and were a rockabilly act), The Langrehr Band, The Felons, Be-Vision as well as other bands on the local Test Patterns Compilation LP.
The Saint Louis punk and new wave scene was before my time and the first set of music in this podcast is from that era. Even though it had been going strong for a few years, the first recorded example of it is the 1979 song Rock-n-Roll Moron by The Dinosaurs featuring local scene mainstay Bob Reuter, who start off the set.
To call Rock-n-Roll Moron a “punk” song is a stretch. It’s a great rock-n-roll song. Kinda like one of those songs Johnny Thunders sang in the New York Dolls, all mopey and junkie sounding. And yeah, 79 is pretty late for a first punk recording, especially one that sounds like the New York Dolls, but I already explained all that in paragraph #2 of this here essay. Regardless, it was self-released and once it was released, to paraphrase George Jones, the race was on.
Existing at the same time, The Welders formed in 1975 and dissolved in 1981; leaving behind only a few memories of their live performances. They were St. Louis’ first and only all-female band during the Punk era. A recording session in 1979 for a planned vinyl EP never saw the light of day when the individual backing the release went bankrupt. I have added the song Debutantes in Bondage from this recording session. It is pretty amazing, especially when you consider that the ladies in the bands were essentially in their teens (in North County!) and writing lyrics like “you’re just part of the noveau riche, you don’t fit into my social pastiche”.
Also up in North County, Bruce Cole and Job Ashline were jamming in Bruce’s basement and recording stacks and stacks of bizarro songs with ridiculous titles. The Screaming Mee-Mee’s are part of the great Midwestern archetype of the “planned obsolescent” i.e. the lone set of eccentrics jamming in a basement with a tape deck. The idea is simple and pure; we are obscure and we know this, so we just do what we want. Then maybe get high, make some sandwiches, and listen to what was recorded. Wash, rinse, repeat. For decades. This primitive approach garnered the Mee-Mee’s enough cred to get them placed on Killed By Death #1 #3 back in the 1990s. Hot Sody is a great song and really should be played at Cardinals games but it was obscure and existed outside of any burgeoning “scene”.
Another obscurity from around this time was Max Load who released the X-Rod / Magazine Sex 7inch. Max Load was from Belleville, Illinois which is right on the other side of the river from Saint Louis. Not much is known about the band and I don’t think the impact of the single was very profound in Saint Louis but it is an excellent slice of synth-tinged new wave punk. Rumour has it that the fine folks at BDR Records are planning a re-release and hopefully this will produce more information on this mysterious band.
The “Next Big Thing” would come in the form of four weird looking dudes who called themselves mysteriously, The Raymilland. Much has been said about the Raymilland on this website and I will do my best to not repeat myself too extensively. The highlights are this; The Raymilland started playing isolated shows around town, managed to get some good opening slots, released the Talk/Distant View 7inch and a few comp tracks (including one on an early Sub Pop Cassette back when Bruce Pavitt lived in Illinois), disbanded and disappeared without a trace. I saw them a few years ago at a reunion show and it was one of the best performances I have ever witnessed of any band. I’m serious.
By this point, the secret was out and bands were forming all over the place in Saint Louis including a bunch that would end up on the Test Patterns compilation. The best song on that compilation in my humble opinion is Holier Than Thou by The Zanti Misfits and I have included it in this podcast. Wanna hear the rest of this compilation? You guessed it, the fine folks at BDR have gone and re-released it as well.
Next up we have Brown And Langrehr with the great drum and guitar song Crazy Days from their I Remember 7inch. In the early 80′s Langrehr was omnipotent on the local Saint Louis music scene and this single captures him at his best I think. Not really powerpop, not really punk, Crazy Days exists in a fictionalized, smoke-filled amalgamation of Ciceros, Blueberry Hill and the Billy Goat Hill that my imagination conjures up every time I hear it.
Finally, we have The Philosophic Collage with Toxic Poppies from their solitary 7inch released in 1981. A true mindfuck if ever there was one, The Philosophic Collage also released two demo tapes and a cut on a solitary 7inch comp called On-Slaught #2. The brainchild of a guy named Timothy Tyme who produced, engineered and wrote the songs on the EP, The Philosophic Collage seem to be another obscurity from Saint Louis’ post-punk history. A history that was coming to an end by 1981 and was being replaced by Hardcore.
Before I go any further, I think it is important to acknowledge the contribution BDR Records is making to Saint Louis by re-releasing a lot of this material. Founded by Matt Harnish of the band Bunnygrunt and local punk rock deejay Jason Rerun, BDR has been ravenously combing the archives of the Saint Louis first wave for the last few years and introducing people like me to my own unknown musical heritage. Unlike many cities I have been to, Saint Louis has always had a hard time viewing its music scene in a continuum. A lot of new bands that come along want to destroy what the last wave of bands did instead of continuing it. Athens, GA we are not. Nowhere is the Missouri sense of individualism (made famous by Mark Twain and others) more on display than in the Saint Louis music scene. BDR is doing a great service by reminding us of the early punk and post-punk musical legacy in Saint Louis.
And now onto hardcore….
The first hardcore band I remember was a band called Blind Idiot God. Their demo tape got passed around in the early 1980s and I haven’t heard it in years. Then, before you know it, they were gone. They seemed to exist relatively independently of the Saint Louis hardcore bands that followed in the 1980s. In 1986, they released their debut album on SST and by this point, they were playing miniature instrumental opuses informed by heavy metal, punk rock, dub reggae, and classical music that predated the math rock/post-hardcore of bands like Slint by a good ten years. They had moved to Brooklyn and were no longer really a Saint Louis band.
White Pride were a whole different thing altogether. Scatological to the point of being truly offensive, White Pride caused quite a rift with Maximum Rock-n-Roll and virtually everyone else when they released Peace, My Ass in 1983, and taken literally, that’s understandable. My guess is that the dudes responsible for White Pride probably were very anti-PC before their time, and they chose to “make mirth” with their offensive concept by going ridiculously over the top, all the better to stir up the hysteria of the anti-Reagan left so stridently strident at the time. The combination of the left’s self-righteous indignation and the band’s unwillingness to admit to the possible joke, caused most St Louis Hardcore fans to distance themselves from the band. Into the late 1980′s, nazi skins in town would take the record literally which added to the evil mystique that the band has. Today, it exists as the best known example of St Louis Hardcore to a lot of people in other places, which is a shame since there was so much other good stuff going on in Saint Louis. However, if you listen to Peace My Ass today, it’s pretty blazing stuff and I believe it is an excellent piece of agit-prop designed to piss you off.
Many of the guys behind White Pride were also involved in other local bands like White Suburban Youth, Drunks With Guns and Ultraman. These bands defined the Saint Louis Hardcore scene of the mid-1980′s. The White Suburban Youth demo is probably the best example of the hardcore genre from this period. It’s a bunch of fast, short, bursts about cliques, corvairs and skateboarding. One song in particular, entitled Punk Rock Faggots calls to mind Punk Rock Sucks by White Pride and highlights the ever present St Louis readiness to break from the past. Lyrics like “I like Reagan, cuz I don’t fit in” both placed White Suburban Youth in the new, hardcore “outsider” camp and also indicated that there was genuine conservatism, or at the least, libertarianism at play in the hardcore music scene in Saint Louis.
Drunks With Guns set themselves up not just as outsiders to the punk rock and new wave establishment but also with the hardcore scene they were themselves a part of. Fronted by Mike Doscocil and featuring Stan Seitrich on guitar, Fred Broadhacker on drums and Mike DeLeon on bass, Drunks With Guns released a string of 7inches that define a certain type of hardcore from the 1980s. The “anti-hardcore” Hardcore sound of the 1980′s. Other “anti-hardcore” hardcore bands like Flipper and No Trend were doing the same thing on the coasts but what Drunks added to the mix was a heavy dose of the “riff”. It was half St Vitus / half Flipper and nowhere is that more evident than on their song Wonderful Subdivision which helped defined the grunge sound that would later become much more popular in the late 1980′s in places like Minneapolis and Seattle.
The most important band of the 1980′s, not just to Saint Louis Hardcore audiences but to the Saint Louis music scene in general, was Ultraman. They opened up most of the great shows, they helped other bands get a start and they put on great performances. They grew out of the ashes of White Suburban Youth and by the time they really hit their stride, I was old enough to start going to shows. The number one hardcore club in Saint Louis was a dumpy place just south of the Central West End entitled Bernard’s Pub (at the corner of Lafayette and Thurman to be exact). Run by a shady guy named John Green, Bernard’s started booking shows in the early 1980s, laid dormant for a few years after a vice arrest at an Offenders gig, and then started booking shows again in the mid-to-late 1980s. At this same time, skaters started popping up in the deep suburbs of North County and once I gained access to a ride or two, I started making my way back into the city for hardcore gigs. I probably saw Ultraman 15-20 times over a three year period, mostly at Bernard’s, and they never failed to put on a great show. I’ve added two songs by them on this podcast, one from their second 7inch and the other from their first album. Their importance to the development of underground music in Saint Louis cannot be denied.
After Ultraman, the gates blew open and bands like Dread Finks, Mean Guys From Hell, The Jetsons, Dead Planet, Snake Ranch, Unjust Cause, BFD, Never Alone and the Living End started playing shows in town. One of the best of these bands was a band called Laffinstock who were a bunch of tough looking dudes playing a real precise and intense hardcore that just sounded better than anyone else in the scene. Another band I saw frequently at Bernard’s, Laffinstock released a demo tape entitled Black Mama Titty Juice that they used to hand out before shows. Singer Tim Mize is still pretty active today in Saint Louis, he hosts a radio show on KDHX entitled the Super Fun Happy Hour.
Another post-Ultraman ensemble were Whoppers Taste Good who jokingly described themselves as “Foodcore/Beermetal”. An apt description for a band whose singer would often perform in a suit made of Budweiser beer cases. WTG released two 7inches in the late 1980s, the song Ultragroin is from their first and is a great example of their crossover sound that always went over well with Saint Louis audiences.
A band that did not often go over particularly well with Saint Louis audiences were Duck Duck Goose from North County. Their lead singer, Joe Moomey in particular was flamboyantly punk rock in concert and it didn’t really fit well with the late 1980′s metalcore and skinhead Saint Louis scene. Duck Duck Goose would have been really popular about five years later when bands like Crimpshrine, Screeching Weasel and Green Day started defining the 90′s punk sound. In many ways, they were well ahead of their time. The original bass player in Duck Duck Goose was none other than proto-blogger Malfeitor, who had a punk rock blog entitled Dressed for the H-Bomb way back in 2004-2006, a huge influence on Last Days. Again, five years ahead of his time.
A band that had a decent crossover with the hardcore audience and particularly the more forward-thinking skinheads were The Urge, a ska band who released their demo Bust Me Dat 40 in 1988. In hindsight, The Urge were a fairly average ska-band and the years of subsequently more and more watered down releases have pissed on their early legacy. However, at the time, The Urge were St Louis’ answer to Fishbone. The track Dark Age is a good example of both their energy and their instrumental skill. An example of a band that overstayed their welcome, various incarnations of The Urge can still be seen to this day at local casinos playing watered down funk music thereby further doing damage to their early reputation as the Ska-Kings of St Louis.
By this point, the hardcore scene was starting to implode into a bunch of right-wing nonsense and metal tomfoolery. Other types of bands started playing shows locally and began to define what was going to come after hardcore. Called “alternative” before that term had the negative connotations it has today, a lot of these bands came out of the old Saint Louis Hardcore scene but returned to more tuneful and traditional song formats. One band, Alton’s Judge Nothing, had a great hardcore name that fit real well on a punk flyer but as evidenced by the track TTLS from their first 7inch, they had a pop sensibility from the beginning. Judge Nothing would go on to become one of the premier pop-punk acts of the 1990′s in Saint Louis and are still very well regarded to this day.
The Nukes were very much a part of the early-90s music scene in Saint Louis and were relatively popular. They had a real “Class of 77″ look and sound and their frontman Packy was a great crowd baiter. Opinions were strongly divided on them at the time because they seemed at odds with the flannel-draped “authenticity” of the era. After a few years of being underappreciated locally, they moved out to the Bay Area. They didn’t get around to releasing anything until 1995. I’ve added the great Nukes track Tenderloin to this podcast, even though it is from that album because The Nukes were one of the best local bands after the hardcore scene started to die down and their first album captures their sound quite well.
The Finns didn’t even pretend to be hardcore. They were powerpop plain and simple. The track Hello Mr Jenkins from their first demo tape in 1990 displays their knack for powerpop hooks and harmonies. Visually, the Finns were really unique as well and had a black and white, new wave look (with trenchcoats!) that set them apart from other bands playing at the time.
As the 1990s began there were a whole slew of bands playing alternative music including the death rock of Voice of God, the ska-funk of Sinister Dane, the new wave pop of The Eyes, the rootsy powerpop of Tree Weasels, the glam rock sounds of Tory Starbuck, the grunge band Small Ball Paul, and the pre-Lilith Fair 3 Merry Widows. Many of these bands were terrible (The Eyes and Sinister Dane) and some were pretty good (Small Ball Paul and Voice of God) but a lot of them were pretty nondescript.
The alternative music scene at this point was very diverse and fractionalized. The local independent newspaper The Riverfront Times would promote a lot of lesser bands like The Eyes (who by this point had become the even more awful Pale Divine) while ignoring a lot of the more cutting edge bands in town. As alternative became more and more mainstream, the sound and look of the bands became less and less threatening. Battle lines were frequently drawn between what was “good” and what was “bad” and it was frequently the worst bands that got the most publicity.
The hardcore scene by the early 1990s was grinding to a halt. Drunks With Guns had imploded into two separate bands, one with Mike Doskocil who had moved to Arizona and the other one with Stan Seitrich who remained local. The bad blood between the two of them culminated in Stan removing Mike’s vocals off of a set of early Drunks With Guns tracks and releasing a few subsequent Drunks With Guns 7inches with a 14 year old girl named Melissa singing instead.
Stan also teamed up with Fritz Noble from White Suburban Youth and started releasing 7inches under the name Strangulated Beatoffs in complete commercial isolation. Lick My Butthole comes from the second Strangulated Beatoffs 7inch and is a slice of Midwestern insanity. Stan and Fritz would soldier on for years, periodically self-releasing offensive and experimental recordings. In many ways, they have inherited the crown of planned obsolescence from Bruce Cole and Job Ashline. The tradition continues.
The music of The Strangulated Beatoffs and the drama behind Drunks With Guns was not the inspiration for the Uncle Tupelo song Outdone but it just as well could have been. Fronted by the stoic Jay Farrar and the slightly less stoic Jeff Tweedy, the Belleville, Illinois band started playing shows locally in the late 1980s, released their first LP No Depression in 1990 and laid the groundwork for the subsequent alt-country movement of the 1990s. Quite an accomplishment really and a shame that the lesser work of Tweedy’s subsequent band, the Chicago-based Wilco, has overshadowed his superior former band. Historically, the genius of early Uncle Tupelo lay in how they bridge the gap so perfectly between the rootsy punk of the Midwestern 1980s and the roots rock of the 1990s. In that sense, Uncle Tupelo was always more Jay Farrar’s band. His world-weary voice and blue collar lyricism defined their sound.
The year after No Depression was released, the once-hardcore band Never Alone released the Hidden 7inch. By this point they had developed a sound much like Uncle Tupelo’s; full of melody, ringing guitar chords and punk energy. The track Seasons may seem like a holdover from the previous hardcore era but it is also very current to the year of its release and is an obscure example of alt-country punk from Saint Louis. John-John from Laffinstock played in the band which helped solidify the credentials of Never Alone even more.
Probably my favourite band out of Saint Louis at this time was another group from Illinois entitled The Dazzling Killmen. I was literally floored one evening when I saw them on the local cable access show Critical Mass. Dazzling Killmen were one of those bands that seemingly came out of the garage fully formed from Nick Sakes’ tortured vocals and trebly guitar squall to drummer Blake Fleming and bassist Darin Gray’s contorted and convulsive jazz-like thud. Darin in particular, was one of the best bass players I have ever seen in concert, second only to Mike Watt. Here was a band that an ex-hardcore kid like me could get behind. The song Torture was from their 1992 album Dig Out The Switch and accurately displays the sheer intensity that this band dealt in.
By 1992 I was in my early 20′s and had started going to Meramec Community College. I had played in a few bands in my late teens but nothing had ever amounted to anything. I had moved on from hardcore and was into grunge, AmRep-style noise rock and also older bands like The Stooges, Hawkwind, Chrome and Black Sabbath. I hung out with a small clique of people and we all hated living in Saint Louis. Dazzling Killmen, Uncle Tupelo, Strangulated Beatoffs were all amazing bands and at this point they seemed to be ignored by the average St Louis music fan for terrible crap like The Eyes, Sinister Dane and 3 Merry Widows. We would sit around my apartment and decry the state of music. It was very important to us.
I met Mike DeLeon, the bass player from Drunks With Guns at Meramec Community College. We decided to form a band. He knew a guitar player named Jimmy Perroti whose dad was in Iraqi Desert Storm. I knew a drummer named John Coker. We got together and we started jamming in Jimmy’s basement. Although this band didn’t really work out, a number of other bands formed out of these aborted jam sessions. I’m ending this podcast with a set of music from these bands (with one exception) because in the end that was all I was listening to in Saint Louis.
First out of the gate was Fruitcake with Mike and John who ended up releasing the classic Garden of Earthly Delights 7inch on Electric Records. I have included the B-Side Stan which was about Stan Seitrich, the guitarist behind Drunks With Guns and Strangulated Beatoffs and is an excellent slice of psychedelic garage punk.
The second band to form out of the ashes of those jam sessions was my band, The Urban Druids with me on guitar and vocals, John Coker on drums, Chuck Crossan on bass guitar and (towards the end) Jennifer Muckerman on vocals. We played about 10 shows in Saint Louis, recorded a live session for Critical Mass and recorded a demo. The song Female Bodybuilder was from the demo. We had always intended for four of the songs to be released on a 7inch. Alas, we were too broke to do what we wanted.
John Coker also had his own band called Garment Bladder with a couple of other folks. The song Polyester is from their only demo and gives an indication of how cool and different Garment Bladder were. The sax line is reminiscent of Eno-era Roxy Music and the lyrics are a perverted ode to the 1970s.
Around this time, John and I also started recording a hard rock album under the name of Teezar. We ended up recording about 20 songs which I posthumously released on this blog a number of years ago. Much like White Pride, we decided to play it straight with Teezar and not give up the joke. Our concept was by doing it that way we could make people more uncomfortable than if we had tried to create a Spinal Tap-esque parody. Shortly after the Teezar records were completed, I left Saint Louis and would not return for twelve years. I gave up playing music and decided to focus on finishing school in Ohio.
The final band from the aborted jam sessions at Jimmy’s house was Blakklite with Jimmy on guitar and John once again on drums. The song Material Girl is a cover of the Madonna song of the same name. It came from a compilation of Madonna covers that John released in the mid-90s. My understanding is that they were probably the most locally successful group of the original set of bands that came out of Jimmy’s basement. I had been gone a couple of years at this point, so I would not know for sure.
Stepping back outside of my social clique, the last track on this podcast is by the band Bunnygrunt, who were just starting to play shows in 1992 – 1993. When I left Saint Louis in 1993, Bunnygrunt were a new band on the local scene playing a small amount of shows. When I returned in 2005, they were a local musical institution. For many of the kids growing up in Saint Louis in the 1990s, Bunnygrunt was their focal point for the music scene in the later 1990′s. Just like Ultraman had been for me and my friends. The track Macho Beagle is from their great Standing Hampton 7inch from 1994.
Many great bands came after 1994 in Saint Louis including The Geargrinders, The Ded Bugs, The Sex Robots, The Cripplers, Corbeta Corbata, the 75s, The Honkeys….the list really goes on and on. Unfortunately, I was not a part of any of this and would not be the best person to document it. Someone really should though….
I’ve interspersed my own personal history with this musical history because in many ways, the story of Saint Louis Underground Music is partly my story. It’s the story of everyone who has participated in it over the years. I’m moving away again, but is there any question at this point, that Saint Louis has one of the best regional music scenes in the US? I think not. Glass Teeth, Spelling Bee, Humanoids, Tight Pants Syndrome, The Blind Eyes, Doomtown, Egg Chef…again, the list goes on and on and on.
I look back on the Saint Louis Underground Music Scene from the release of Rock-n-Roll Moron in 1979 to now and I am literally amazed at how much good music has come from a town that is generally not recognized as a “music town” by outsiders. I am proud to have played whatever small role I did in all of this craziness over the years and I look forward to enjoying it and playing whatever continued role I can vicariously for many more years to come.
Saint Louis Podcast
Rock-n-Roll Moron – Dinosaurs
Debutantes in Bondage – Welders
Hot Sody – Screaming MeeMees
X-Rod – Max Load
She Wore Metals – RayMilland
Holier Than Thou – Zanti Misfits
Crazy Days – Brown and Langhrer
Toxic Poppies – Philosophic Collage
Untitled – Blind Idiot God
Punk Rock Sucks – White Pride
It’s a Clique – White Suburban Youth
Rector Breath – Ultraman
Empty Threats – Laffinstock
Ultragroin – Whoppers Taste Good
The Misfits – Duck Duck Goose
Eggboy – Ultraman
Dark Age – The Urge
TTLS – Judge Nothing
Hello Mr Jenkins – The Finns
Tenderloin – The Nukes
Lick My Butthole – Strangulated Beatoffs
Outdone – Uncle Tupelo
Seasons – Never Alone
Torture – Dazzling Killmen
Stan – Fruitcake
Female Bodybuilder – Urban Druids
Polyester – Garment Bladder
Giver of Rock – Teezar
Material Girl – Blaklite
Macho Beagle – Bunnygrunt