Years: 1976 – 1986;2003;2013 – 2014
Styles: Alternative rock, Experimental Rock, Punk Rock
Greg Ginn - Bass Guitar, Guitar (in band: 1976 – 1986; 2003; 2013 – 2014)
Keith Morris - Vocals (in band: 1976 - 1979)
Kansas - Bass Guitar (in band: 1977)
Glen "Spot" Lockett - Bass Guitar (in band: 1977)
Chuck Dukowski - Bass Guitar (in band: 1977 - 1983)
Brian Migdol - Drums (in band: 1977 – 1979)
Ron Reyes - Vocals (in band: 1979 - 1980; 2013)
Roberto "ROBO" Valverde - Drums (in band: 1979 - 1981; 2003)
Dez Cadena - Guitar, Vocals (in band: 1981 - 1983; 2003)
Henry Rollins - Backing vocals, Vocals (in band: 1981 - 1986)
Bill Stevenson - Backing vocals, Drums (in band: 1981; 1982; 1983 – 1985)
Emil Johnson - Drums (in band: 1982)
Chuck Biscuits - Drums (in band: 1982)
Kira Roessler - Backing vocals, Bass Guitar (in band: 1983 - 1985)
Anthony Martinez - Drums (in band: 1985 - 1986)
C'el Revuelta - Bass Guitar (in band: 1986; 2003)
Mike Vallely - Vocals (in band: 2003; 2013 - 2014)
Gregory Moore - Drums (in band: 2003; 2013 - 2014)
Dave Klein - Bass Guitar (in band: 2013 - 2014)
Tyler Smith - Bass Guitar (in band: 2014)
Brandon Pertzborn - Drums (in band: 2014)
Black Flag was an American punk rock band formed in 1976 in Hermosa Beach, California. Initially called Panic, the band was established by Greg Ginn, the guitarist, primary songwriter, and sole continuous member through multiple personnel changes in the band. They are widely considered to be one of the first hardcore punk bands as well as one of the pioneers of post-hardcore. After breaking up in 1986, Black Flag reunited in 2003 and again in 2013.
Initially called Panic, Black Flag was formed in 1976 in Hermosa Beach, California. Ginn insisted that the band rehearse several hours a day. This work ethic proved too challenging for some early members; Ginn and singer Keith Morris had an especially difficult time finding a reliable bass guitarist, and often rehearsed without a bassist, a factor that contributed to the development of Ginn's distinctive guitar sound. Ginn's brother Raymond Pettibon and SST house record producer-to-be Spot filled in during rehearsals. In the beginning, Ginn and Morris were inspired by the raw, stripped-down attitude of bands such as the Ramones and The Stooges.
Chuck Dukowski, bassist of Würm, liked Ginn's band, and eventually joined, forming a committed quartet with Ginn, Morris and drummer Brian Migdol. The band held their first performance in December 1977 in Redondo Beach, California. To avoid confusion with another band called Panic, they changed their name to Black Flag in late 1978. They played their first show under this name on January 27, 1979, at the Moose Lodge Hall in Redondo Beach, California. This was the first time Dez Cadena saw the band perform.
Morris performed as vocalist on Black Flag's earliest recordings, and his energized, manic stage presence was pivotal in the band earning a reputation in Southern California. Migdol was replaced by the enigmatic Colombian drummer Robo, whose numerous clicking metallic bracelets became part of his drum sound. The band played with a speed and ferocity that was all but unprecedented in rock music; critic Ira Robbins declared that "Black Flag was, for all intents and purposes, America's first hardcore band." Morris quit in 1979, citing, among other reasons, creative differences with Ginn, and his own "freaking out on cocaine and speed." Morris would subsequently form the Circle Jerks.
After Morris's departure, Black Flag recruited fan Ron Reyes as singer. With Reyes, Black Flag recorded the Jealous Again 12-inch EP and appeared in the film The Decline of Western Civilization. This was also the line-up that toured up and down the West Coast for the first time, the version most fans outside of L.A. first saw.
In 1980, Reyes quit Black Flag mid-performance at the Fleetwood in Redondo Beach because of escalating violence. For the remainder of that gig, the band played an extended version of "Louie Louie" and invited audience members to take turns singing. In retaliation for his quitting mid-gig, the band credited Reyes as "Chavo Pederast," implying he was sexually attracted to younger boys.
The more reliable Dez Cadena – another fan – then joined as a vocalist. With Cadena on board, Black Flag began national touring in earnest, and arguably saw two peaks: first as a commercial draw (they sold out the 3,500-seat Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, a feat they were never able to manage again); and second, perhaps seeing the peak of attention from police in the Los Angeles area, due to the violence associated with Black Flag and punk rock in general. The band members have often insisted, however, that the police instigated far more problems than they solved.
By the summer of 1981, however, Cadena's voice was worn. He had no formal training or previous experience as a singer, and had severely strained his voice during Black Flag's nonstop touring, and he wanted to play guitar rather than perform vocals.
Twenty-year-old fan Henry Rollins (birth name Henry Garfield)—then living in Washington, D.C. and singing for hardcore band S.O.A.—had corresponded with Black Flag, and met them when they performed on the U.S. east coast. At an impromptu show at A7 in New York City, he asked the band to perform "Clocked In", and the band offered to let him sing the song. Since vocalist Dez Cadena was switching to guitar, the band then invited Rollins to audition. Impressed by his stage demeanor, they asked him to become their permanent vocalist.
1983 found Black Flag with fresh songs and a new direction, but without a bass player, and embroiled in a legal dispute over distribution due to SST's issuing Damaged (Ginn argued that since MCA was no longer involved, the Unicorn deal was not legally binding, while Unicorn disagreed and sued SST and Black Flag). Until the matter was sorted out, the band were prevented by a court injunction from using the name "Black Flag" on any recordings.
Perhaps the best album to emerge from the quagmire that was early-'80s California hardcore punk, the visceral, intensely physical presence of Damaged has yet to be equaled, although many bands have tried. Although Black Flag had been recording for three years prior to this release, the fact that Henry Rollins was now their lead singer made all the difference. His furious bellow and barely contained ferocity was the missing piece the band needed to become great. Also, guitarist/mastermind Greg Ginn wrote a slew of great songs for this record that, while suffused with the usual punk conceits (alienation, boredom, disenfranchisement), were capable of making one laugh out loud, especially the protoslacker satire "TV Party." Extremely controversial when it was released, Damaged endured the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism (some reacted as though this record alone would cause the fall of America's youth) to become and remain an important document of its time.
After Unicorn Records declared bankruptcy, Black Flag were released from the injunction, and returned with a vengeance, starting with the release of My War. The album was both a continuation of Damaged, and a vast leap forward. While the general mood and lyrics continue in the confrontational and emotional tone of Damaged, the album would prove influential to grungemusic as the decade progressed. Lacking a bass player, Ginn played bass guitar, using the pseudonym Dale Nixon.
After a rancorous three-year legal battle with their label Unicorn, which prevented them from releasing any new material, Black Flag binged in the mid-'80s, releasing a flurry of records that had even the most devoted fans scrambling to keep up. They did, however, start this period somewhat inauspiciously with My War, a pretentious mess of a record with a totally worthless second side. Featuring three tracks of slower-than-Black Sabbath muck with Henry Rollins howling like a caged animal, it was self-indulgence masquerading as inspiration and about as much fun as wading through a tar pit. Side one, however, was quite good, with the title tracks especially intimidating.
Black Flag was re-energized and ready to continue full steam ahead. The band recruited bassist Kira Roessler (sister of punk keyboardist Paul Roessler, of 45 Grave) to replace Dukowski, and began its most prolific period. With Roessler, Black Flag had arguably found their best bassist. Dukowski was a powerful player, but Roessler brought a level of sophistication and finesse to match Ginn's increasingly ambitious music, without sacrificing any of the visceral impact required for punk rock.
Black Flag's most experimental album, Family Man features one LP side of spoken word performances from Henry Rollins and another of instrumental music from the late-Flag lineup of Greg Ginn (guitar), Kira (bass), and Bill Stevenson (drums). Although occasionally chilling in its intensity, the spoken word material, much like the between-song recitations of fellow Californian Jim Morrison (with whom Rollinssometimes shares a vocal similarity here) on the live Doors albums, mostly sounds juvenile and dated after the fact. That said, Family Man's spoken word tracks, along with Jello Biafra's recordings with the Dead Kennedys, can largely be credited with bringing "alternative" spoken word to a larger audience who were either unaware of, or could not relate to, the Patti Smith/downtown New York scene.
Unlike the solo Rollins tracks, the instrumental music is still challenging and vibrant. Although sounding at times like a high-school garage band attempting to perform Rush covers, Ginn and company play with a sense of desperation and punk rock fury that makes much of the music positively electrifying. Similar in spirit to the less poppy tracks on Hüsker Dü's contemporary Zen Arcade, side two of Family Man is characterized by its emotional purity. Ginn reveals himself as a refreshingly and brilliantly free improviser and his playing should serve as an inspiration and lesson to later "punk" bands who value technical proficiency over rockin' out. Overall, Family Man is an essential, if atypical, part of the Black Flag canon and should appeal to fans of Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, or the New York "noise" scene as well.
Slip It In followed Family Man almost immediately, and while a bit better (fewer mega-volume angst drones), the band still wanders a bit, experimenting with expanding the breadth of hardcore into a newer hard rock/punk sound. This is especially true of Greg Ginn's guitar playing, which was becoming increasingly avant-garde and exciting. Rather than simply coughing up one clichéd solo after another, he wandered harmolodically up and down the fretboard as a jazz player like Blood Ulmer would, making the material more interesting than what most Black Flag-influenced bands were playing.
One of three LPs released by Black Flag in 1985, Loose Nut suffers from its creators' rampant profligacy. Too much of the record is under-rehearsed and under-ripe, yet when the group hits its stride, as on Henry Rollins' brutal "This Is Good," it's hard to deny the group's trademark, adrenaline-rush appeal. Other highlights include "Annihilate This Week" and "Bastard in Love."
Hot on the heels of the live record came Loose Nut and In My Head, which showed significant improvement over My War and Slip It In. Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn were exploring by-now standard lyrical themes: hate, paranoia, loneliness, anomie, and violence, but framing them around music that was demanding, powerful, and exciting. In My Head is the slightly better of the two, primarily because it's a little edgier and uncontrolled, but at this juncture, Black Flag was making some of the best contemporary rock music extant.
Black Flag played its final show on June 27, 1986, in Detroit, Michigan. In his book Get in the Van, Rollins wrote that Ginn telephoned him in August 1986: "He told me he was quitting the band. I thought that was strange considering it was his band and all. So in one short phone call, it was all over."
On January 25, 2013, it was announced that guitarist Greg Ginn and vocalist Ron Reyes would reform Black Flag, joined by Gregory Moore on drums, and 'Dale Nixon' on bass (Dale Nixon is a pseudonym sometimes used by Ginn, most prominently as the bassist on My War). The band would tour as well as release a new album, their first since 1985's In My Head. In March, it was announced that Screeching Weasel bassist Dave Klein had joined the band. On May 2, 2013, the band released a new song entitled "Down in the Dirt" through their website. After releasing two more singles ("The Chase" and "Wallow in Despair"), What The... was released on December 3, and was poorly received by critics and fans.
Around the same time, it was announced that the lineup that played at GV 30, Morris, Dukowski, Stevenson and Egerton, would tour performing Black Flag songs, under the name Flag. It was later announced that the lineup would be joined by Dez Cadena.
On August 2, 2013, SST Records and Greg Ginn brought a trademark infringement action in Los Angeles federal court against Morris, Dukowski, Stevenson, Cadena, and Egerton, with regard to their use of the name Black Flag and the Black Flag logo on the 2013 Flag tour. In the same action, SST and Ginn also sued Henry Rollins and Keith Morris to oppose and cancel the trademark applications filed in September 2012 by Rollins and Morris. SST and Ginn alleged that Rollins and Morris lied to the Patent and Trademark Office on their trademark applications regarding claimed use of the Black Flag name and logo by Rollins and Morris on records, T-shirts, and with regard to live performances.
In October 2013, a federal judge denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, brought by Ginn and SST against Morris, Dukowski, Stevenson, Cadena, and Egerton. The court ruled that it was possible that the logo had fallen into "generic use," but did not rule specifically that it had done so. The court also ruled that Ginn and SST could not prevent the use of the band name "Flag," as it was likely that fans would know the difference between the two acts, because of widespread publicity.
During a show in November 2013 on Black Flag's Australian tour, pro skater and band manager Mike Vallely, who previously sang with the band in 2003, came on stage, took Reyes' microphone, ousted him from Black Flag and sang the band's last two songs, Reyes said he was relieved to be removed from the band citing difficulties working with Ginn. In January 2014, Vallely was named the band's new lead singer. Vallely apologized for the band's antics in 2013 and revealed that the band had begun working on material for a new album with a tour to tentatively begin in May. Shortly after the announcement, Dave Klein announced he too was leaving the band.
In 2014, Ginn filled out the line up with adding new members Tyler Smith on bass, and Brandon Pertzborn on drums. Black Flag has been inactive since the completion of their 2014 tour. The offshoot band Flag however, continues to play shows.
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