One of the first and finest bands to emerge from San Francisco's punk scene, the Avengers were originally together for only two years, and they didn't release an album during that period. But their passionate music and uncompromising viewpoints proved to be a major inspiration in a scene that would grow and flourish long after they broke up, and the handful of singles they left behind documented a band of uncommon power and force. Just as importantly, lead singer Penelope Houston was one of the pioneering women of American punk, proving there was a place for female artists in the new music.
The Avengers came together in early 1977, not long after Penelope Houston arrived in San Francisco from her hometown of Seattle, WA. Houston was a new student at San Francisco Art Institute when she met Danny Furious, a recent SFAI graduate who was still a common sight on the campus. Houston was a fan of musicians like Lou Reed and Patti Smith, and she soon discovered that Furious had similar tastes. Furious, who played the drums, was interested in starting a rock band, and he talked an old friend, Greg Ingraham, into coming to San Francisco from Orange County to play guitar. Houston showed up at the fledgling group's rehearsal space one day before the musicians had arrived; after singing along with a stereo through the band's PA system, as Houston put it, "I was so enamored with the power of amplification that I said, 'I'm gonna be your new singer.'"
In June, the Avengers played their first show, opening for the Nuns at San Francisco's pioneering punk venue the Mabuhay Gardens. In August, Jimmy Wisley joined the band as bassist (replacing Jonathan Postal, who went on to form the Readymades), and the Avengers' classic lineup was complete. The band soon became one of the most popular bands on California's budding punk rock scene, though at that time this limited the band to a handful of clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1977, L.A.'s premier punk label Dangerhouse Records released a three-song EP from the group, featuring "We Are the One," "Car Crash," and "I Believe in Me." The record received enthusiastic reviews and relatively strong sales, but no larger labels were interested in signing the group. In early 1978, the group scored what seemed like a golden opportunity: opening for the Sex Pistols at San Francisco's Winterland on the final date of the notorious British punk band's first American tour. By all accounts, the Avengers delivered an impressive set (stronger than the Pistols, according to many eyewitnesses), and the group struck up a friendship with Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, who agreed to produce a record for the group. But the Avengers first brush with the larger music business left them somewhat disillusioned; Danny Furious later told a journalist, "It was obvious at Winterland -- everyone knew how to behave, everyone knew how to spit, how to dress -- everyone knew how to pack the place. But it was just sensationalism, a spectacle." Adding to the sting was the breakup of the Sex Pistols days after the Winterland show, which led much of the music industry to regard punk as a spent force, making it all the more difficult for bands like the Avengers to be heard.
In late 1978, Steve Jones did in fact produce a session for the group, which would yield a four-song EP, but 1979 was not destined to be a good year for the Avengers. Tensions had grown between Greg Ingraham and Penelope Houston, and at the end of 1978, Ingraham quit the group. He was soon replaced by Brad Kent, but the band's foundation began to crumble, and in late June, after a pair of sold-out farewell shows, the Avengers called it a day. The Jones-produced EP came out later that summer. After the band's breakup, Houston went on to a career as an acoustic-oriented singer/songwriter, and Jimmy Wisley became a longtime member of Chris Isaak's backing group.
In 1983, a San Francisco-based indie label, CD Presents, bought the rights to the Avengers' material, and released a superb 16-song compilation (the self-titled Avengers) that collected their vinyl releases to date along with some unreleased studio material. However, when CD Presents went out of business, the group's recorded legacy went into limbo, and for the next ten years Houston found herself often questioned by fans who were eager to obtain Avengers' recordings. As a result, Houston began collecting live recordings of the band being traded by fans, and with the help of Greg Ingraham, she compiled highlights of the group's live shows and uncirculated demos into an album, The Avengers Died for Your Sins. Houston and Ingraham decided to cut new studio recordings of three Avengers songs for which they could find no adequate recordings; Wisley and Furious opted not to participate, so Houston and Ingraham recorded them as the Scavengers with Joel Reader on bass and Danny "Panic" Sullivan on drums. In 1999, following the release of The Avengers Died for Your Sins, the Scavengers played a handful of live dates in San Francisco, though Houston and Ingraham parted ways again shortly afterward. Following the release of The American in Me in 2004, the two bandmates reconvened once again, this time touring the country for several years with the help of bassist Joel Reader and drummer Luis Illades. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi