Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Grace St. Punk Era

A couple of months ago, after having some fresh back and forth communication with a few old friends via Facebook, a cartoon light bulb lit up over my head. An idea for a feature magazine article, or perhaps a series of articles, was born.

Actually, it was an old idea, one I’ve got a dog-eared file full of notes and doodles about. What had happened was that a new means of gathering information had suddenly been put in front of me, because a bunch of musicians and artists from the 1970s/80s band and club scene in the Fan District had suddenly joined Facebook, too.

The Idea: To create a lengthy written piece with the working title of “Grace St. Punk Era: 1977-86.”

This undertaking would create a record of the live music/pop art scene that existed in the Fan District between 1977 and 1986; the epicenter of that scene was the 800 and 900 blocks of West Grace Street. Furthermore, it’s my hope that once I put this thing together I’ll be able to come up with a way to produce a film documentary on the same material. But first things, first.

1977 has been selected as the beginning of the period to document for several reasons, but chiefly it was because that’s the year local punk bands suddenly began to draw beer-drinking crowds into clubs in the neighborhood.

Of course, how long the Punk Era lasted can be debated; it was probably not the same length of time in every town. In Richmond, the punk aesthetic morphed gradually into hardcore, so it’s hard to draw a bright line between one and the other.

With that in mind, 1986 has been chosen to round out the era as a decade. In Richmond, what had been a gradual shift away from Grace Street to Shockoe Slip and then Shockoe Bottom, for the happening night life scene, began to snowball in 1986. By 1987 it was clear that the scene had shifted toward Downtown.

Thus, the purpose here is to document the most noteworthy contributions to the music-centric popular culture of that decade in a particular neighborhood -- The Fan District. It will be about the most significant musicians and players of the era. Although there will be more punk bands mentioned than any other style, it’s not my intention to try to establish which were more authentically punk, or more aesthetically righteous.

Furthermore, this telling of the story will not rely much on connecting to pop stars who were/are intergalactic celebrities. There aren’t going to be a lot of I-knew-the-Boss-back-when type stories. Actually, one of the chief points I want to make with this effort is that what happened in Richmond in the late-70s/early-80s was just as cool/as much fun as what was happening anywhere, including San Francisco or New York.

To organize the story there will be a section listing many of the bands and their personnel, with some sort of description of them. There will also be sections on the clubs and the art that was used to promote events.

Some of the bands that have been suggested to me for inclusion are: Alter Natives, Awareness Art Ensemble, The Barriers, Beex, The Bopcats, Boys from Skateland, The Bowties, Burma Jam, The Dads, Death Piggy, Degenerate Blind Boys, Faded Rose, Glad Corps, The Good Guys, The Good Humor Band, The Heretics, Honor Role, House of Freaks, Idio-Savant, The Insinuations, Julie and the Jumpers, L’Amour, The Naughty Bits, The Megatonz, The Millionaires, Mystagogues, New York Dux, Nine Below Zero, Non-Dairy Screamers, The Offenders, The Orthotonics, The Prevaricators, The Rage, Red Cross, Ricky and the White Boys, Shake and the Drakes, Single Bullet Theory, Small Change, Sunset Lou and the Fabulous Daturas, Surrender Dorothy, Suzy Saxon and the Anglos, Ten Ten, Tom and Marty Band, Toronados and White Cross.

Clubs that have been suggested to me for inclusion are: The Back Door, Benny’s, Casablanca, The Cha Cha Palace, The Clubhouse, The Copa, Domino’s Doghouse, Going Bananas, 538 Club, Hard Times, Jade Elephant, Laurel & Broady, Main St. Grill, New Horizons, The Pass, P.B. Kelly’s, Sam Miller’s, Stonewall’s 1302 and The Warehouse.

Of course, Color Radio and Plan 9 will be in the story. The biggest warehouse parties will recalled, etc. From what I’ve seen on Facebook, there should be no shortage of photographs available.

Please note: In the way this will be put together, I'm simply looking to be a fair reporter, not a critic. I'll let the quotes I use tell the story of who was cool, who was a lounge act, who was ahead of his/her time, who was an idiot, etc. My taste in music will not drive the narrative.

The reason for announcing the startup of this undertaking in this way is to call for help. Please feel free to comment below this post, or email me (ftrea9@gmail.com). And, I’ll take all the help I can get.


Anonymous said...

I want the companion cd....

Libby said...

I would include Rockitz in this - and possibly something about the Lums at Laurel and Grace, and the pizza place across the street from Rockitz? (can't recall the name...)

F.T. Rea said...

Libby, don't know why I left Rockitz off the list. Maybe it was too much cut and paste ... not enough proof-reading. Thanks.

Dan said...

Rockitz was same club as Casablanca, No?

Unknown said...

A worthy project! The Grace Street scene was so vibrant.

A few fliers from that era are on the Throttle FB page, eg


Anonymous said...

Hi, i am mike solano ( aka micky rat ) guitar for the degenerate blind boys, please feel free to contact me at skinakatz@aol.com i will offer what insite i can remember good luck

Anonymous said...

Did you ever follow up on this? I wish someone would do a compilation of these bands....and don't forget Apocowlypso! Hey F.T. them parker field chairs are smack dab in the middle of my living room, I love them so much.

Robert Lett

Anonymous said...

This sounds like it could be really fascinating, any updates?

Unknown said...

What about Rockin Horse? They were a very popular band around Richmond during this period.