Time for another Aetix episode; In many ways, they were the definitive Los Angeles hardcore punk band. Although their music flirted with heavy metal and experimental noise and jazz more than that of most hardcore bands, they defined the image and the aesthetic. Through their ceaseless touring, the band cultivated the American underground punk scene; every year, the band played in every area of the U.S., influencing countless numbers of bands. Although their recording career was hampered by a draining lawsuit, which was followed by a seemingly endless stream of independently released records, todays artists were unquestionably one of the most influential American post-punk bands. A full decade and a half before the fusion of punk and metal became popular, they created a ferocious, edgy, and ironic amalgam of underground aesthetics and gut-pounding metal. Their lyrics alluded to social criticism and a political viewpoint, but it was all conveyed as seething, cynical angst, which was occasionally very funny. . . ....N'Joy
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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.
Chuck Dukowski, bassist of Würm, 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 the name to Black Flag in late 1978. The name was suggested by Ginn's brother, artist Raymond Pettibon, who also designed the band's logo: a stylized black flag represented as four black bars. Pettibon stated "If a white flag means surrender, a black flag represents anarchy." They played their first show under this name on January 27, 1979 at the Moose Lodge Hall in Redondo Beach, California. The band spray painted the simple, striking logo all over Los Angeles, attracting attention from both supporters and the Los Angeles Police Department. Pettibon also created much of their cover artwork.
Though Ginn was the band's leader, special note should be made to Dukowski's contributions to Black Flag. Ginn was tireless and profoundly disciplined, however was also rather quiet. Dukowski's intelligent, fast-talking, high-energy persona attracted significant attention, and he was often Black Flag's spokesman to the press. Dukowski acted as the group's tour manager even after he no longer performed with them, and he was likely as important as Ginn in establishing the band's DIY punk ethic and demanding work ethic.
Early in 1981, Black Flag signed a record contract with Unicorn Records, a subsidiary of MCA. The band delivered their first full-length album, Damaged, to Unicorn; the label refused to release the record, citing the content of the music as too dangerous and vulgar. Undaunted, Ginn released the album on his own SST Records. Upon its release, the album received considerable critical acclaim. Soon after it appeared on the shelves, Unicorn sued Black Flag and SST over the release of Damaged. For the next two years, the band was prevented from using the name Black Flag or their logo on any records. During that time, the group continued to tour, and surreptitiously released Everything Went Black, a double-album retrospective that contained no mention of the band, although it listed the names of the members on the front cover. The dispute ended in 1983, when Unicorn went bankrupt and the rights to the Black Flag name and logo reverted back to the band (by this time, Cadena had left to form his own group).
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 Redondo Beach venue The Fleetwood because of escalating violence.
The more reliable Dez Cadena – another fan – then joined as singer. 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. 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 sing.
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 the band, and met them when they performed on the U.S. east coast. 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. Rollins acted as roadie for the remainder of the tour while learning Black Flag's songs during sound checks and encores, while Cadena crafted guitar parts that meshed with Ginn's. Rollins also impressed Black Flag with his broad musical interests during an era when punk rock music and fans were increasingly factionalized; he introduced Black Flag to Washington D.C.'s go-go, a distinctive take on funk music.
Rollins was Black Flag's longest-lasting singer, and has remained active in music to the present. When he joined Black Flag, he brought a different attitude and perspective than previous singers. He was a dynamic live performer and powerful singer, who usually appeared onstage wearing only shorts. Ginn once stated that after Rollins joined, "We couldn't do songs with a sense of humor anymore; he got into the serious way-out poet thing."
With Rollins, Black Flag began work on their first full-length album. The sessions for the album (chronicled in Michael Azerrad's book Our Band Could Be Your Life) were a source of conflict between the band and engineer/producer Spot, who had worked with the band and the SST label since their early years. Spot had already recorded many of the Damaged tracks with Dez Cadena on vocals (as well as Keith Morris and Ron Reyes) and felt that the band's sound was ruined with the two guitar line-up (these versions can be heard on the albums Everything Went Black and The First Four Years). Whereas the earlier four-piece versions are more focused and much cleaner sounding, the Damaged recordings are more akin to a live recording, with little stereo separation of guitars, and somewhat muddy. However, the artistic content and expression on the album showed the band pushing punk or hardcore music to a new level, with deeply personal and intensely emotional lyrics. As such, Damaged is generally regarded as Black Flag's most focused recording.
Early in 1981, Black Flag signed a record contract with Unicorn Records, a subsidiary of MCA. The band delivered their first full-length album, Damaged, to Unicorn; the label refused to release the record, citing the content of the music as too dangerous and vulgar.
Undaunted, Ginn released the album on his own SST Records. Upon its release, the album received considerable critical acclaim. Soon after it appeared on the shelves, Unicorn sued Black Flag and SST over the release of Damaged. For the next two years, the band was prevented from using the name Black Flag or their logo on any records. During that time, the group continued to tour, and surreptitiously released Everything Went Black, a double-album retrospective that contained no mention of the band, although it listed the names of the members on the front cover. The dispute ended in 1983, when Unicorn went bankrupt and the rights to the Black Flag name and logo reverted back to the band (by this time, Cadena had left to form his own group).
With Rollins on board, Black Flag and The Minutemen made their first tour of Europe in the Winter of 1981. As the front man, Rollins was a frequent target of violent audience members, and became known for fist-fights with audience members. Rollins developed a distinct showmanship on stage, where he could entertain an audience just by talking to them. As the band was about to return home from the European tour, UK customs detained Colombian drummer Robo due to visa problems, and he was not allowed back into the country. This would be the end of his tenure with the band. Black Flag eventually got Bill Stevenson of Descendents to join permanently (he had filled in from time-to-time before). While the Unicorn Records court injunction prevented the group from releasing a new studio album, they nonetheless continued to work on new material, and embarked on a period which would mark a pronounced change in the group's direction.
1983 found Black Flag with fresh songs and a new direction, but without a bass player (Dukowski had retired), and embroiled in a legal dispute over distribution due to SST's issuing Damaged. 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, and the album would prove influential to grunge music as the decade progressed. Lacking a bass player, Ginn played bass guitar, using the pseudonym Dale Nixon.
Freed legally to release albums, 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. 1984 saw Black Flag (and the SST label) at their most ambitious. This year they would release three full-length albums, and toured nearly constantly, with Rollins noting 178 performances for the year, and about that many for 1985.
After My War and Family Man were recorded, the group added bassist Kira Roessler and cut Slip It In, its third official album of 1984. In addition to those three albums, Black Flag released the cassette-only Live '84 and the compilation The First Four Years in 1984, as well as reissuing Everything Went Black with all the proper credits restored. The group's touring and recording pace didn't slow in 1985; they released three records: Loose Nut, The Process of Weeding Out, and In My Head. By the end of the year, Anthony Martinez replaced Stevenson on drums, and for group's 1986 tour in support of the live album Who's Got the 10½?, Cel Revuelta took over for Roessler on bass.The live album Who's Got the 10½? shows the evolving line-up, with Kira and drummer Martinez, to be a powerful and entertaining unit.
By 1986, Black Flag's members had grown tired of the tensions of their relentless touring schedule, infighting, and of living in near-poverty. The band had been together almost a decade, and true commercial success and stability had eluded them. The band's erratic artistic changes were a barrier to their retaining an audience – Ginn was so creatively restless that Black Flag's albums were often very dissimilar.
Black Flag played its final show on June 27, 1986, in Detroit, Michigan.
In the fall of 1986, Ginn broke up the band. He recorded two albums with the more experimental Gone, but he primarily concentrated on running SST Records, which had become one of the most important American independent labels of the era. By the time Black Flag broke up, SST had already released albums by such bands as Hüsker Dü, the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, and Sonic Youth. For most of the late '80s, Ginn retired from performing, choosing to operate SST instead; during this time, the label released the first recordings from bands like Soundgarden, Dinosaur Jr., and Screaming Trees. Ginn returned to music in 1993, releasing a solo album on his new record label, Cruz, and over the next 20 years he would release dozens of albums, some under his own name and others with such groups as Confront James, Hor, Jambang, El Bad, and the Taylor Texas Corrugators.
Following Black Flag's breakup, Henry Rollins formed the Rollins Band. For the rest of the '80s, he released music recorded with the Rollins Band on a variety of labels, as well as solo spoken word recordings, becoming one of the most recognizable figures of alternative music. In 1994, Rollins published Get in the Van, a memoir of his years in Black Flag, and the book's success helped spark greater interest in the band's legacy. While both Ginn and Rollins refused to perform Black Flag's music for many years, Rollins made an exception for a 2002 benefit album, Rise Above, a collection of Black Flag covers with guest vocalists which raised money for the legal defense of the West Memphis Three, three young men wrongly accused of murder. Rollins Band supported the release with a benefit tour, with Rollins and Keith Morris singing Black Flag's best-known songs. In 2003, Ginn briefly revived the band for three shows to benefit cat rescue organizations, though many fans were disappointed that only Robo, Cadena, and Revuelta appeared from previous lineups.
In late 2011, as part of a 30th Anniversary celebration for the California concert promotion firm Goldenvoice, Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, and Bill Stevenson joined with Stephen Egerton, guitarist with the Descendents, to play a short set of early Black Flag tunes. Response to the impromptu performance was so strong that the foursome set up a concert tour in 2013, with Dez Cadena joining the group now known as FLAG. Around the same time FLAG announced their tour, Greg Ginn revealed he was re-forming Black Flag for a series of shows and a new album, with Ron Reyes returning as vocalist and Gregory Moore (aka Gregory Amoore), who had worked on Ginn's solo projects, on drums. The re-formed Black Flag released What The ... in late 2013, roughly two months after a judge ruled against Ginn in a trademark-infringement lawsuit he'd filed against the members of FLAG.
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Slip It In followed My War 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.
Black Flag - Slip It In (flac 252mb)
01 Slip It In 6:17
02 Black Coffee 4:55
03 Wound Up 4:23
04 Rat's Eyes 4:07
05 Obliteration 5:56
06 The Bars 4:37
07 My Ghetto 2:05
08 You're Not Evil 7:10
Black Flag - Slip It In (ogg 89mb)
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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 - In My Head (flac 311mb)
01 Paralyzed 2:39
02 The Crazy Girl 2:46
03 Black Love 2:42
04 White Hot 4:59
05 In My Head 4:30
06 Out Of This World 2:13
07 I Can See You 3:22
08 Drinking And Driving 3:16
09 Retired At 21 4:56
10 Society's Tease 6:09
11 It's All Up To You 5:14
12 You Let Me Down 3:40
Black Flag - In My Head (ogg 114mb)
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Black Flag's second live album, recorded at a 1985 Portland show with the Kira/Anthony Martinez rhythm section, is about what you'd expect the late period of the band to sound like live. A couple of older songs crop up -- "Slip It In" and "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" are transformed into a great 15-minute medley with Henry Rollins getting in some audience-baiting that explains the album title -- but mostly this is from Loose Nut, its songs sounding generally better here than on that release. Rollins is in typically fiery form throughout; whatever dissatisfactions with the band he spoke of in future years evidently didn't keep him from forgetting how to put on a show. It's interesting to realize how much of the vaunted Rollins attitude comes from singing lyrics written mostly by Greg Ginn, but the singer definitely makes those words his own regardless. Certainly his generally terse spoken word bits practically drip with the man's essence -- talking about "Annihilate": "This is a song about killing yourself to live." Ginn's blend of straight-ahead punk riffage and ponderous if still exciting open-ended sludge tones and soloing matches Rollins just fine, while Kira and Martinez do their job well enough. Kira adds some deadpan backing vocals at points as well. Strong numbers include "Bastard in Love," given a tight performance and an almost sweet touch of guitar jangle at points, and smoking takes on "The Best One Yet" and their inimitable version of "Louie, Louie." The CD version is the one to get, with a further half-hour of music from the show than on the vinyl version.
Black Flag - Who's Got The 10½? ( flac 473mb)
01 Loose Nut 4:00
02 I'm The One 2:44
03 Annihilate 4:44
04 Wasted 1:01
05 Bastard In Love 3:00
06 Modern Man 3:34
07 This Is Good 3:22
08 In My Head 4:26
09 Sinking 5:04
10 Jam 4:05
11 The Best One Yet 2:35
12 My War 3:47
13 Slip It In/Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie 14:48
14 Drinking And Driving 3:00
15 Louie, Louie 4:13
Black Flag - Who's Got The 10½? (ogg 170mb)
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