Chris Ashford, Continued...
HG: I understand that the response to the single was overwhelmingly negative.
Chris Ashford: [Laughs] Actually, it’s a double-edged sword. All the press hated us. Back Door Man was kind of an underground magazine, because, you know, none of the big papers were going to touch it. Back Door Man trashed the hell out of it, but then, when a couple of the punk magazines got involved, a.k.a. Slash and, later, Flipside -- they liked it. But the first Germs show at The Orpheum, they just threw peanut butter all over the place and then the Kim Fowley night at The Whiskey, even that, they were throwing this weird concoction of salad dressings all over the place and doing “Sugar, Sugar.” They were getting attention, which was completely Darby’s idea, but it was a little different than what people were used to and there really wasn’t a lot of punk rock in L.A. The Weirdos were around, but they didn’t even like to call themselves punk rock in those early days. It was just kind of cutting and grating at people, and the single did the same thing. Rodney played it right away, too, and everything happened so fast, it was interesting. They would play clubs and something would get broken so they couldn’t play that club, and they couldn’t play this club and they couldn’t play that club. At one point, nobody would book them, so we’d call the band different names just to get them in.
HG: From all this, you had The Dils come to you based on that single to release “I Hate the Rich” b/w “You’re Not Blank.”
Chris Ashford: In the meantime, Greg Shaw had started his little store and distribution thing, too, and he definitely sold a bunch of The Germs’ singles.
HG: What kinds of people were buying it?
Chris Ashford: Well, that’s a good question! [Laughs] I know when Greg was doing the distribution, they got a lot of it back east, so I really don’t know where that was going. But I think the people that were really buying it, from places that I would see, like Peaches until I stopped working there, it was people that were… The Dangerhouse guys used to come to Peaches and talk to me. They saw the single and they bought one and they’d go, “You did this? You work in a record store and did this?” Well, guess were their little light bulb came from to start Dangerhouse Records. It was a lot of these people that were really just around, that were hanging around the scene -- well, there was no scene -- what was beginning to become something. And I think Rodney playing it helped a lot. A lot of the people that were alienated by the regular things going on that eventually found their way to The Masque and a lot of the other shows were probably the ones that were finding the single. It sold a fair amount. It sold more than a lot of people’s singles did back in those days, so somebody was buying it.
HG: What happened with The Dils?
Chris Ashford: The Dils had the same kind of thing. It sold pretty well, too. It didn’t sell as well as The Germs, but a lot of this is taking over a couple of years when I say it didn’t sell as well. At the time it was selling, and, once again, Greg Shaw’s distribution -- he was shipping it somewhere and it was selling from there. They were playing a lot, but, once again, they weren’t that well-liked in some ways, too. The people that understood them really liked them, but they had so much of that Communist thing going on originally -- that was mostly their manager, Peter Urban -- that people just kind of dismissed them as another Clash or something like that. They also wouldn’t let people push them around. I’ve seen them almost get into fights here and there with various people, including Kim Fowley one night at The Masque. People were a little wary of them at first, at least from going to shows and stuff like that. I think they had that not-quite-fitting alienation even into the group of people that was the not-quite-fitting alienated people. But between the two of those singles, it certainly gave me the door to start doing more records if I wanted to, a couple 45s. I don’t know if I was just living too much of a seat-of-my-pants life or what, but I never sat down and said, “Okay, let’s seriously get some contracts, sign these people. Let’s make a REAL record label.” It was always, just, “Let’s do a record,” you know?
HG: It was the first record by a lot of those bands, right?
Chris Ashford: Oh yeah, absolutely. “Forming” is still considered the first DIY punk single in LA.
HG: What exactly was “punk?” Was it a word used in terminology at the time?
Chris Ashford: Obviously, New York and London were six months ahead of L.A., anyway. I picked up the first Sex Pistols single in the end of October, early November ’76 and picked up the first Ramones single in December ’76. The Germs’ single wasn’t until June or July ’77. The term had already been pretty much coined. It was still people that were really interested in that stuff and were reading about it in Creem and other magazines that would hear about it. You’d be walking in the street and, if you had any kind of gummy punk look, people would be driving in their cars and they’d yell at you, “Hey Devo, man!” And I was like, “Yeah, Devo’s punk rock. You’ve got it right!” So the perception of punk rock was already pretty well instituted by The Sex Pistols and other bands well before we got to it. And also, if you look at pictures of real early Masque shows, you would see a lot of people with long hair and regular clothes. It seemed like a lot of people that showed up at those shows half the time were art students or people looking for something different. It really wasn’t like hardcore punk shows, which you would later see in a couple years. I’ve always said, The Screamers weren’t really a punk band, they were more of an arty techno band, but they completely had the attitude.
HG: Well, that begs the question, how come you never released a Screamers 7”?
Chris Ashford: Nobody released anything by them!
HG: I know!
Chris Ashford: They were “waiting for the big deal.” I think near the end of the band, they were somehow contemplating doing it themselves, but they wanted a deal, to the best of my knowledge. They didn’t mess with any of the labels, Bomp! or anybody.
HG: What did you release after The Dils?
Chris Ashford: Well, after that I was going to try to do a collection. I was going to make some kind of sampler, which I started recording all the tracks and did. I took basically most of the bands that I knew from The Masque, and I did two songs with The Eyes, which was DJ Bonebrake, Joe Ramirez and Charlotte Caffey, two songs from The Skulls and two songs from The Controllers. The other recordings I did with the Germs, “Around and Around” and another version of “Forming” were part of it. I recorded a band called The Spastics and did a couple songs with them. I recently found those tapes and they may see the light of day. They were the most hated band in that scene, next to Shock. Actually, The Spastics were more hated. For their grandiose show, someone put a fire extinguisher on them when they were playing The Masque. Originally, I was trying to do something with The Alleycats, but it didn’t work out. I was going to try to get Jem Records to do distribution on it, but what they were going to pay me -- compared to what I wanted to try to pay everybody, obviously -- was too little for the manufacturing. For whatever reason, I didn’t think I could do it myself at that point, so I ended up releasing, first, a three-song EP with one Eyes, one Skulls and one Controllers track and then I did a Controllers single after that. All the stuff that has later come out on What? Stuff or What Is It or the compilations that I’ve done is pretty much that stuff.
HG: Why was The Controllers single called “(The Original) Neutron Bomb?”
Chris Ashford: Because The Weirdos had a “Neutron Bomb” at the same time, so we were being cheeky and saying ours was first.
HG: Was it actually first?
Chris Ashford: I think we -- I shouldn’t say we because it’s really theirs -- I think The Controllers’ was a little bit ahead, but it’s such a short period of time, it’s too close to really say. We didn’t want to have the song out with the same name that The Weirdos had at the same time.
HG: Was it all in good fun, or was there a little bit of rivalry there?
Chris Ashford: No rivalry. The Controllers, in some ways, were looked down on a little bit because they had a different sense of humor, so things like “Killer Queers” got taken the wrong way.
HG: “Slow Boy…”
Chris Ashford: Yeah. Well, “Killer Queers,” obviously, because there’s a fair amount of gay people around L.A. It wasn’t meant as a slight on gay people, but some people took it that way, so they got a little misunderstood at times. They may not have done as well as they maybe should have because of that.
HG: Fear kind of had the same thing, and they were much more upfront about it, though I doubt that they were serious.
Chris Ashford: But they’re a little later, too. We’re still talking ’77 and very, very early ’78.
HG: Now with The Eyes, is that the same band that went on to do “Disneyland” and “Take a Quaalude Now?”
Chris Ashford: It’s the same band, but the only member that’s constant from “Don’t Talk to Me” b/w “Kill Your Parents” to there is Joe Ramirez. DJ had already taken off to X land and Charlotte was already working her way to Go-Go land.
HG: I know you just talked about doing a compilation that ended up splitting into different singles, but did you ever think about doing a full album by a band?
Chris Ashford: At the time, I really hadn’t. Everything was off-the-cuff and a compilation sounded like a good idea to me. After that, I was actually working on starting another Germs single, too, but due to various reasons -- the studio I was using and some other problems -- nobody wanted to wait and it didn’t work out. Inexperience of knowing other studios for the prices and stuff like that, they finished it and did it for Slash. In their evolution, maybe that’s what was meant to be.
HG: Was that “Lexicon Devil?”