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Everything Went Black

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Black Flag is surely the pinnacle of the first American Hardcore movement the late 70’s and early 80’s. Their first LP, Damaged [1981], is frequently looked at as their most defining work of theirs as well as the entire movement. But in a lot of ways, Damaged was a major shift in direction for a band that had already spent 4 years establishing and defining a new punk. Damaged was the introduction of the young and angry lead singer of DC Hardcore band S.O.A., Henry Rollins. Though plenty enthusiasts-myself included find Rollins work to be great (but very different), many Hardcore originals/purists think Rollins was the start of the end of Black Flag, founder Gregg Ginn included. His brutal singing quality, his super serious tone, and his interest in spoken word were all a very new direction for the Black Flag of the 78-81 years.

In reality though, I think Rollins was thrown into a terrible situation in which he couldn’t win. He came in as the new singer, at the peak Black Flag’s success. Many of the songs that were recorded for the Damaged LP had already become favorites with former singers. His new style was abrasive to the fans that were comfortable with the old Black Flag. Most importantly though, Black Flag founder and sole writer of music and lyrics (at that time), had a new direction for the band. He didn’t want to make another Damaged or Nervous Breakdown even. He was getting more and more into slow, heavy metal, citing late Sabbath as a major influence. The B side to their follow up LP, My War, was full on slow metal punk fusion(Scream Live). From then on, the band’s sound would change forever. Though he was fully in possession of the direction of the band, he left Henry out in front as the guy to take the blame for everything. Ginn was not the guy who got beat up, have shit thrown at, and spat on at every show. It was Rollins. Rollins documented many of his disenchanted tour stories (check this out) in his book “Get in the Van” (Ginn claims it’s mostly lies). Rollins seemed to get beat up at nearly every show.

After that Rollins back story, let’s step back again. The release of Damaged led Black Flag to a long legal battle that prevented them from properly releasing another album for several years. Originally it was intended to be distributed by Unicorn Records, a subset of MCA. After the first pressing of the album was pressed, MCA decided they wanted no part of the record. As a result members of Black Flag had to go to the pressing plant, and place a sticker on top of the MCA Distribution logo. First pressings can be be differentiated easily, as they are the only records to have this sticker [my record and thumb shown to the right]. Black Flag’s own label SST took up distribution immediately after. As a result of SST’s new distribution plan, Unicorn sued for breach of contract. Under a court order, Black Flag was then not able to release another album for nearly three years until the claim was settled (81-83). Unable to release anything, the band continued to practice and tour fervently. Of course though, and as you could imagine, they still released an album. They decided to release a compilation album compiling nearly all of their songs before Rollins’ introduction (78-81), in chronological order, starting with singer Keith Morris, briefly Ron Reyes, and then Dez Cadena. So as to dodge the issue, they pained white over the Black Flag logo, and only displayed their names in text on the front cover. Only the first pressing includes this format. Following pressings came after the lawsuit was settled, and had a new cover with the logo unmarked, as well as big Black Flag text. I just won this baby on an ebay auction recently in near mint condition! In another article (my first here), I talked about the importance of first pressings. But this is a particularly cool instance, where it is a real document of a very specific time in history(pretty sweet Pettibon cover too!).

Everything Went Black is a really great summary of where the band was before Rollins. A lot of the songs were recorded with all three singers, so you can do side by side comparisons. Original singer and Circle Jerks founder Keith Morris had a very different sound from the later singers. He changed intonations a lot and frequently wasn’t screaming. He countered the hard edged songs, with a slightly less serious style of singing. I also enjoy seeing him at lot at LA shows. (Try some Morris off the first release- Nervous Breakdown EP)

Ron Reyes (occasionally referred to as as Chavo) was a short lived member of the band. I think he had really great energy, and a very different style than the first three singers. He was the singer of the band when they were featured in the Decline of Western Civilization. To catch some clips, check this out. He infamously quit in the middle of a show at the Fleetwood in Redondo in 1980, leaving the band to play an extended “Louie Louie” for the remainder of the set, while having various members of the audience come up and sing along. The single release he was on, Jealous Again EP, cited him as Chavo Pederast (Spanish for pedophile- I guess they weren’t happy on the terms he left).

Dez Cadena I think brought the hardcore scream to Black Flag. He sounded completely hoarse and screaming at all times. All songs recorded with him seem to be way more raw. After a year, Dez [or Ginn] decided he wanted to move to guitar. Rollins was hired and toured with them for the entire tour, while watching Dez and taking notes, waiting in the wings.

But between this album Everything Went Black, and Damaged, you can get a good sense of what a difference each singer made on the band. Now you can decide for yourself who was your favorite singer of the early iteration of Black Flag. Post Damaged is a whole ‘nother ballgame. Rollins continued with the band until the end in 1986. Dabbling in spoken word on some albums, and musically getting further from punk, they hardly resembled their former selves. By the end, the band all had long hair, and had moved way off of original hardcore punk (while keeping the attitude). Their final LP, In My Head, is a hybrid of punk, metal and blues. Apparently Ginn had become infatuated with blues scales, practicing them at all times. Well you can really hear it [or see it]!

Below is a pretty great chart diagram of the band members.

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Written by RocksRocksRocks

May 19, 2008 at 11:35 pm

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