Crime were key underground US punk legends- Jean Encoule investigates

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Crime were key underground US punk legends whose ‘Hotwire My Heart’ was arguably the first US punk single. Jean Encoule investigates

Crime website

Jean Encoule – Tell us about the birth of Crime.

Johnny Strike – A curious, black, oblong object, the size of a 1959 Buick Special, was dug up outside of Rome, on June 6th, 1975. By ship, it was transported to Oakland, and then by truck, to a laboratory in the Berkeley hills. Since it could not be penetrated by X-rays, it was set upon with a jewelers drill. But suddenly, the huge egg vibrated, and then cracked open. The air was filled with a foul stench. There was wild screeching from each of the emerging creature’s obscene, gaping mouths. They all had eight arms, too, and razor claws, and electric guitars and . . .

Actually, Frankie and I had finally convinced (and found acceptable) two other mutants who played drums and bass, and Crime was born sometime during the summer of 1975, in an old warehouse, south of Market Street. Before that, it had been me and Frankie, sitting in our apartments, with our guitars and tiny amps, calling ourselves something different each week: the Bloody Children, the Noisemeisters, the Space Invaders and so on.

JE – Where were you coming from – collectively – in terms of influence?

Johnny Strike – Frankie and I had similar backgrounds: we both had older siblings who listened to Elvis, Fats Domino, Jimmy Rodgers, and all the rest. When we became young teenagers, our music was black soul, then, later, the Brit invasion, then the blues . . . then we rediscovered the US bands who initially imitated the Brits, but who were as wild on their own turf, yet mostly ignored, except on a cult basis. Both Ricky and Ripper were mostly influenced by the early mod and psychedelic scenes, both here, and in England.

JE – What was the San Francisco scene like around the time of Crime’s inception?

Johnny Strike – There had been a small glam crowd (you’d have thought more, being SF), but it was relatively small. After glam’s short run, we decided to go back to the basics of leather, hot rods, raw rock ”˜n’ roll, and such. There was only us and the Nuns for about a year, then the Dils, and then other bands started popping up, and the scene grew pretty steadily from then on out.

JE – How did you rate fellow San Francisco outfits like The Avengers & The Nuns?

Johnny Strike – In those days, I wasn’t wild about the Nuns, but I’ve since listened to the album that Pat produced and plays all the guitars on, and I find I do have a nostalgic spot for some of those old tunes. The Avengers were hot from the get go, a little imitative of the Brit bands at first, but they soon carved out their own legend, and legacy.

JE – What was your impression of what was going down in NYC between 1974 & 1976?

Johnny Strike – After the onslaught, and then demise, of the Dolls, it became all junky, pot smoking, beatniks . . . punk writers imitating Rimbaud (I’m guilty here too), and digging the paintings of Schiele; a tad arty sure, but, all and all, yeah, I dug it. I thought Suicide was great and the Heartbreakers. It looked like more fun than ‘SF’s Doomed’. However I couldn’t convince the band to relocate to New York or London. We only played LA a handful of times.

JE – Once us Brits caught up – what did you make of our standard bearers – The Damned & The Sex Pistols?

Johnny Strike – I thought the first Damned record was a masterpiece. And the Pistols fuckin’ ruled.

JE – ‘Hotwire My Heart’ is often cited as the 1st US punk 45. Did you see it like that at the time?

Johnny Strike – We saw it as the first ‘something’. What, we weren’t quite sure. We knew it was unique, especially when some hippie KSAN DJ said on the air that it was the worst record that he’d ever heard.

JE – You seemed to find it tough holding on to drummers. What was that all about?

Johnny Strike – We’ve had three drummers, two self destructed, the third, and the definitive Crime drummer, Hank Rank, is still in the drummer’s seat. How many drummers did the Dolls have? The Ramones? Same – or more – right?

JE – ‘Murder By Guitar’ is now worth more on the collectors market than ‘Hotwire My Heart’. Does that surprise you?

Johnny Strike – I think it’s a better record, with better songs so it doesn’t surprise me. Swami should be re-releasing it sometime.

JE – How come we never got a Crime LP proper in 1978?

Johnny Strike – No label or producer had the balls, or the foresight, to want a Crime album, and we were always too broke to do it ourselves. Remember, even though there was a handful of punk bands and a little scene, the ‘industry’ was/is too square: hippiedom ruled, soon to be snatched up by the yuppies, more assholes . . . so, for an A&R man or producer to have pursued recording a Crime album, well, he would have been a rare individual . . . but maybe ‘Doomed’ is the album, you know . . . why does it have to be produced and all arranged to be an album?

JE – Crime originally disbanded in the early 80s. What caused the wheels to fall off?

Johnny Strike – The usual things, we started hating each other for more or less going through the motions, and being fucked up on too many drugs: too stuffed on our own bullshit to regroup and tap back into it.

JE – You often rejected the term ”˜punk’ when it was applied to Crime back in the day. Now that Crime are retrospectively regarded as the ultimate proto-punk combo – & by definition the true spirit of US punk rock – how do you feel about that in hindsight?

Johnny Strike – It’s a word to be embraced, or rejected, depending on who’s using it, and in what context. When it got a little too comfortable, we rejected it, and then when people didn’t necessarily want to hear it, well, then we’d use it!

JE – We’ve been hearing rumours for some time that a Crime box-set is being assembled. What can we expect in terms of content . . . & when can we get our hands on a copy?

Johnny Strike – I believe a CD, DVD, a booklet and some other items. I don’t know when it will surface. I believe there’s some technical problems with the DVD to be worked out still.

JE – You’ve recently been playing out as Crime for the 1st time in years. What brought about the reformation, & who’s on board?

Johnny Strike – We started jamming for fun, and then ‘Still Doomed’ was released, and we did a little show . . . so, we’ll probably do some more. I’m playing more rhythm now, and handling the majority of vocals . . . Hank, like I said, is still on the skins, Michael Lucas (now known as the Phantom Tractor) is on bass, and does the vocals on some of Frankie’s old tunes. Michael was at the 2nd Crime show ever, wearing a handmade ‘Hot Wire My Heart’ t-shirt, and immediately became part of the Crime family, so he was a natural pick. He’s also cut out his own patch of offbeat rock ”˜n’ roll with groups like the Junior Executives and the Phantom Surfers, and other more obscure outfits. Pat ‘Monsignor’ Ryan is playing his own brand of sonic/punk lead guitar and occasionally rhythm, when I can reel him. Pat, at different times, was both bassist and guitarist for the Nuns, and played both on, and produced, their best record. Pat does some background vocals, too . . . and, again, he’s a natural for the current Crime line-up. Our second drummer, Brittley Black (also deceased), was a childhood friend of Pats, and they were in lots of bands together, notably the Circus Pimps and the Skid Marx.

JE – Will this Crime line up be recording any new music?

Johnny Strike – We have an albums worth of new material, and we’d like to do an EP of some Crime standards, too. We’re talking with Swami about both of those projects.

JE – What shows have you got lined up for 2005 & will you be coming over to the UK?

Johnny Strike – Only a possible west coast mini tour, and then Rome on May 1st, but we’d certainly be interested in doing a EU tour of sorts.

JE – And, finally, where’s the best place to look out for future Crime updates?

Johnny Strike – Swami Records, who we’re currently working with, and . . . http://crimesf.com/

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