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Really Red

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Photography copyright Ben Desoto
Used By Permission

It was 1978 when Bob Weber, a skinny middle-class college graduate, walked into Sound Exchange and saw a notice from a band looking for a drummer. He had been playing drums in a small jazz ensemble but hadn’t felt particularly inspired. Behind the counter was the band’s singer, Ronnie Bond, a Canadian known for his “encyclopedic knowledge of 20th century music” and for “spitting revolution to the natives.” Ronnie invited him to try-out and Bob knew immediately that Ronnie had the inspiration he had been searching for.

Ronnie along with bassist John Paul Williams and guitarist Kelly Younger had been friends for years. “We had similarities.” says John Paul, “We were all looking for answers. We started out as teenagers. We did drugs, we hung out at Love Street Light Circus, we got into meditation, we listened to Roky Erickson’s 13th Floor Elevators, Red Crayola, early Pink Floyd and the Who, the Stones, MC5 and the Kinks which were my favorite band. Those were revelatory times where we were discovering life, women, looking for answers. Ronnie, Kelly and I lived together for years. We always had the coolest house around. We had our studio at our house and practiced a lot. As a group we went through different musical incarnations prior to becoming Really Red. “

“Ronnie, John Paul and I had been in different cover-blues bands over the years.” says Kelly, “We had recently let go of another guitar player, Curtis Riker, who wanted us to be Cheap Trick. Bob came to practice and we hit it off right away.”

John Paul recalls the audition “I will always remember him auditioning after all of these other drummers came with their giant drum kits and hard rock and roll beats. Bob came from more of a jazz background; he was a studied drummer who knew how to play technically. He wasn’t as big and strong as some of the drummers we tried but we knew if we miked Bob we could get the big sound out of his drums. As odd as it seemed, he was the perfect fit for our group. “

“Then,” says Kelly,“a Legionnaire’s Disease show showed us the error of our ways. We were meant to be a punk band. And we were damned good at it. “

That revelation changed everything! With a seemingly unstoppable fury, Really Red raged with music that was fast, loud, and intense. It was a band with something to say and the band’s mixture of sharp socio-political lyrics and a ferocious sound demanded people’s attention whether it was through their classic recordings or their legendary live shows. The future was now, the future was Punk, and, while the future came to an end six years after Bob walked into Sound Exchange, there was no denying the frenzied and insistent energy of the music. ”Punk is a lizard,” explains Bob, “scrambling and shouting and pulling on the restraining cables of a Saturn 5. “

John Paul notes that heeding the call of Punk took a lot of dedication, “If memory serves me correctly, we practiced on Tuesdays, Thursdays and sometimes all day on Sunday. No excuses. There was no leader in this. Kelly, Bob and I would jam for hours and hours. Either Kelly or I would come up with a riff and we would hammer until it became something. Bob, Kelly and I did the music and Ronnie would spend a lot of time thinking about what he wanted to say and eventually come up with some lyrics and a vocal.”

But, Bob explains, it wasn’t just simply aimless jamming, “This is what I think was special about Really Red. Many of the songs developed from tossing around structural concepts and expressing ideas verbally before the music happened. It’s a different method than jamming and waiting to hear something that you like.”

At this, Kelly scratches his head, “Wow! I must have been unconscious. I thought it kinda’ just “HAPPENED.”

The recordings (most of which were cut live) were something Bob recollects as being like “kids on Christmas morning” while John Paul remembers it as being both “fun and a pain in the ass at the same time.” He goes on to lament “It’s too bad Andy Bradley didn’t take good care of our original tapes. We’ll never remix some items that should have been louder as an example Dennis Grevsky’s sax playing. He was one of the best sax players ever. “

Kelly agrees, “The only regret I had was Dennis Grevsky’s sax solo on ‘No Art in Houston’ being mixed so low. It was a great solo. Thanks Ronnie, you dipshit.”

The band’s recordings were all on CIA (Completely Ignorant Adults) Records an organization that was less a traditional label and more of a local collective. Bob describes it as having been “a cooperative of highly motivated individuals testing the black waters to see if there was anything alive or dead in there. For instance, the Mydolls would be working on a project or organizing a show. We’d get together and share contact information, make phone calls, write some letters, toss out some ideas for a leaflet and talk about the best places to get it out there on the street. Sometimes Kelly would copy things, because he worked in a print shop. Kwik Copy first opened in the early 80’s and people were finding different ways to disseminate propaganda. “

John Paul adds, “Really Red proved that you can self-produce your own band. We would press 45’s and send them to college stations and use the play list in return to determine where our market was. “

That market wasn’t simply regional; the band met with some national recognition thanks, in large part, to a fair amount of touring. Bob recalls, “We did four cross-country tours: 1980, ’81, ’82, & ’83. 1982 was our mid-west ‘Cowpunk’ tour. The other three were round trips from Houston to Vancouver and back in two weeks. Otherwise, it was anywhere we could get on a weekend trip. “

John Paul loved touring, “The tours were great. We all had to bring our own money. We loaded up the van with equipment, Lone Star Beer, our Texas flag, and hit the road plenty. We typically would only play in town for one weekend per month so we wouldn’t wear out our scene and that idea worked pretty well. We had some great gigs and some lousy gigs. We played in front of a Sheriff and a few of his friends in California and we packed houses in Seattle and San Francisco. We bombed in front of Nick Lowe and Rockpile. We played a Legionnaire’s hall in Reno, gambled and played around all night, and drove like mad to UC Davis. We played for a dollar in LA and the concert at UC Davis in California was a day to remember. We played in Vancouver. We ate lots of sushi and stayed up drinking and driving for hundreds of miles. We listened to great compilation tapes that Ronnie made mostly which would be music from so many genres from punk to country to rock to oldies. “

Bob’s favorite story was meeting SPK at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis but he’s a bit dodgy on the details. “Ask me for details another time, suffice it to say I was still learning the meaning of performance art. “

Kelly doesn’t do much to fill in the details, “SPK was too much for me. I had to leave. Not to mention the fact that I had to clean cow guts off of my Marshall amp.”

The shows could get out of control at times as John Paul recalls, “We were playing a gig at the Island when a bunch of ‘punks’ started throwing fists in the name of being punk and hurt Diana of the MYDOLLS. That is what ‘I Refuse To Sing’ was about. We had holes in our jeans because we wore them out working but people thought that was cool. Much of the so-called punk scene was nothing but an excuse for some to act like idiots. It was also a reason for people to act out violently. I remember some jerks spitting and throwing beer on Kelly at a show with 999 and The Stranglers in Houston. Kelly, Ronnie and I flew off stage to fight. I never thought that behavior was cool. It was an invitation to kick somebody’s butt. I think the punk scene brought a lot of shock and awe but it was all rock n roll to me. I liked to play fast and loud with lyrics that meant something. I didn’t give a shit what you called it.”

The touring led to the band being featured in the seminal 1981 compilation “Let Them Eat Jellybeans” on Alternative Tentacles something the band seems to almost shrug-off now. ”Outside of being a real honor and an ego boost, “says Bob, “it was just business, I guess. We did end up opening for the DK’s at U of H in ’84. That was the largest captive audience we ever played for.”

“The only thing I remember,” says Kelly, “was Jello and Ronnie going toe to toe. God only gives you so many syllables in your life. Man, those two could TALK! “

Really Red’s notoriety also brought them an offer from The Clash to perform with them in Houston, Austin, and possibly throughout the entire Texas leg of the Combat Rock tour – an offer the band famously refused. “Yes, we turned down the Clash.” says John Paul, ”My memory was that we were offered a pittance to open for them and, when we saw the rider and all of the ridiculous demands they had, we decided we did not want to compromise our principles just to open for them. We were not going to grovel at the altar of the Clash for the sake of exposure. I never liked Mick Jones anyway. I did like Joe Strummer and thought he was a good songwriter. When I think of this time, I think we should’ve done the gig and not been so naive. We should’ve gone for it and used the press to OUR advantage. “

When I ask them what they accomplished 25 years ago Kelly retorts “Accomplish? Pussy. Stardom. Wealth. We failed. But we left with a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.”

That is about all you could really expect given the era. As John Paul puts it, “The era was encapsulated by young people trying to understand themselves. It’s always easy to look back and think that people knew what they were doing but most of us were flying by the seat of our pants. Anyone who says different is lying.”

This article is dedicated to Bill Steen, remembered as a true artist representing the Montrose.

Links:

Left of the Dial Magazine published a great interview with Ronnie Bond in 2004. It has been republished on line at their Website. (Link)

Really Red Myspace Fan Page (Link)

Break My Face article (Link)

Ben DeSoto at zendfoto.com (Link)

DISCOGRAPHY:

1979 – Crowd Control/Corporate Settings – (45 rpm 7”) 500 copies; unreleased
C.I.A. Records/Shepherd Wong Music

1980 – Modern Needs/White Lies – (45 rpm 7”)
C.I.A. Records/ Shepherd Wong Music

1981 – Despise the Moral Majority EP - (33 rpm 7”EP) 500 hand stamped jacket
C.I.A. Records/ Shepherd Wong Music

1981 – Teaching You the Fear – (33 rpm 12”LP) 2500 copies; three sleeves
C.I.A. Records/ Shepherd Wong Music

1981 Let The Eat Jellybeans – (33 rpm 12”LP) “Prostitution”
Alternative Tentacles compilation LP

1982 – New Strings for Old Puppets – (33 rpm 7”EP) four cuts
C.I.A. Records/ Shepherd Wong Music

1983 – Cottage Cheese from the Lips of Death – (33 rpm 12”) “Nobody Rules”
Ward 9 Records compilation LP

1984 – Rest in Pain – (33 rpm 12”LP)
C.I.A. Records/ Shepherd Wong Music

1991 – Really Red - compilation
A.N.06 Angry Neighbor Records/ Shepherd Wong Music

2006 – Texas Hardcore - compilation
Hot Box Review/ Shepherd Wong Music

2006 – American Hardcore:The History Of American Punk Rock 1980-1986 - (CD/LP) Soundtrack “I was a Teenage Fuck-up”
Rhino Records

2006 – American Hardcore – DVD
Sony Pictures Classics

Postcript:
Ronnie Bond tried to contribute to this article but his internet was down and by the time he was back on-line it was past our deadline but he did want to add one thought that clearly stuck in his craw. So I just wanted to add this one comment into the record for posterity. Ronnie writes, “Really Red has been referred to over the years as one of the first generation of Texas/North American punk bands. That much is true but along with that there seems to be a perception that we were all “older” guys. Although it is a matter of no real importance but in the interest of factuality; we were all younger than all of the members of The Clash, UK Subs and The Ramones and certainly we were no older than members of the Dead Kennedys, Flipper or a lot of other bands from that era. Somehow, I keep hearing references from people that we were “older” than most.I’m just a sayin’…..

Second Postscript:
If you are interested in other Houston bands of the era Bob reccomends you seek out “Vex, Legionnaire’s Disease, AK-47, Plastic Idols, Spermwhale, The Ruse, Mydolls and Degerenrates, Culturcide, and even the Judys if you can handle that stuff. “

Third Postscript
Really Red- Live @ The Island, Houston, TX May 1983
(Video posted on You Tube by Shawn Kelly of Rotten Piece):

One Response to Really Red

  1. Pingback: Some Punk Articles Of Interest | 60spunk

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