Teenage Underground: The Beginnings of The Red Rockers (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from Part One

The Red Rockers played locally and began to develop a following. And they traveled as far as Houston and Atlanta, playing gigs in those larger markets and connecting with the wider punk movement. “But we knew we had to get outside of New Orleans to do anything,” Hill says. “Granted, we were the biggest punk band in New Orleans when we left, but what did that actually mean?”

First, they had to make some recordings to help land gigs outside the American Southeast. “I booked studio time in Austin, Texas,” says Hill. “We enlisted the help of this guy, [guitarist] John Burton, who was in a band called the Huns, a punk band out of Austin.” Today that 45 r.p.m. single featuring “Guns of Revolution,” “Teenage Underground” and “Nothing To Lose” is a rare and sought-after collectors’ item. “I remember going to Kinko’s [copy shop], xeroxing record covers, folding them and gluing them,” recalls Hill. “We’d put them in little bags and distribute them to record stores and whatnot.”

Hill also mailed some of those records to like-minded bands and radio deejays around the country. “I was just trying to network,” he explains. “I started hearing back from quite a few people. And when some of the bands I sent it to – like Black Flag, X and Circle Jerks – would come to New Orleans, we would be the opening act.”

One of those record packages found its way into the hands of Howie Klein, then a deejay at KUSF in the San Francisco Bay area. “He had a great punk show,” Hill says. “Howie loved the record and started playing it.”

Eventually The Red Rockers took to the road, deciding that the scene out West looked more promising than the one in New York City. “So just on a dream, I talked the guys into moving out to California,” Hill says. “We sold everything we owned, pissed off our parents, and said goodbye to them.” they bought a U.S. government surplus van, packed up their equipment and a few belongings and took to the road.

The drive across the country was not without incident. “Our drummer was still in high school,” Hill explains. “He was 16 or 17 at the time. On the way out there, he got scared, left and went home.” So when the band arrived in Los Angeles, they were short a drummer. Luckily, they soon found Patrick Jones. “He was such a different drummer,” says Singletary. “He played with a jazz grip as opposed to a rock and roll grip, and he was very fast. He helped us stand out with the sheer dynamics that he created for the songs.”

Not only was Jones a powerful drummer, but he had a place to live. “We all lived on the floor of Patrick’s apartment in Hollywood,” Griffith says. That was the band’s base of operations as they scrounged for gigs in L.A. and – soon enough – in San Francisco. When in town, The Red Rockers often crashed at the home of a new friend, Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra.

During the day, Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood was a Filipino restaurant. But at night – under the guidance of manager/booker Dirk Dirksen – it became a magnet for punk bands and their growing audience. The Red Rockers impressed Dirksen and landed some gigs there. “It was on a Saturday night when Howie Klein [showed up],” Singletary recalls. “We blew him away! He said to us, “Why don’t you guys come to the radio station tomorrow, and we’ll play your single, and we’ll talk about the band.” Singletary laughs as he admits that the band ignored Klein and instead drove home after their set. “But Howie started getting us some gigs, bringing us back up there,” he says.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles wasn’t turning out to be what the band had hoped. “L.A. was very clique-ish” says Singletary. “It was very hard to break in to that scene. A lot of the music in L.A. was really fast, just slam dance, a lot of yelling and not a whole lot of melodic overtones to it.” The Red Rockers decided that the city 400 miles up the Pacific coast might be a better place to pursue their dreams. “I think that our sound fit in San Francisco a little better,” says Singletary.

Arriving in San Francisco, once again the band members found themselves looking for a place to sleep. “James and I wound up befriending a group called the Mutants,” recalls Griffith. “They were really nice to us. One of the girls in the band, Sally [Webster] had this loft down on First and Mission.” Griffith and Singletary would live in the Mutants’ loft for a few years.

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