Rollins Raises Black Flag To Salute West Memphis Three

Seminal punk frontman discovers his old 'protest music' fits his cause.

Members of Slipknot, Slayer, Motörhead and Queens of the Stone Age are among the many who have given voice to Rise Above, an album of Black Flag covers benefiting the legal defense of convicted murderers the West Memphis Three.

"If there's anything that makes you mad it's reading about the case, and I figured, what better protest music than Black Flag?" said Henry Rollins, Black Flag's former frontman and the driving force behind Rise Above (see "Slipknot's Taylor, Ice-T, Rollins Support West Memphis Three With LP").

Proceeds from the record will go toward the efforts to clear the names of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin — a.k.a. the West Memphis Three — who were convicted of killing three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Many artists and celebrities, including members of Metallica, Eddie Vedder and "South Park" co-creator Trey Parker, have argued that the three, who were teenagers when they were tried in 1994, were falsely accused and that the evidence that cemented their convictions is shaky at best. (Misskelley and Baldwin received life sentences, and Echols received the death penalty.)

"I decided, 'OK, if I'm gonna do this, it has to be a whole album's worth of stuff with superstar singers,' which I thought was thoroughly implausible," Rollins said. "So, of course, the next day I went right ahead and started working on it."

After Rollins secured backing from his Rollins Band (a.k.a. Mother Superior), he started lining up guest vocalists for the album, which comes out October 8. He penned a long wish list and started making phone calls, but he soon found himself tied up in red tape. Since none of the artists would be paid for their contributions, many managers failed to pass Rollins' information on to their clients. So Rollins did some investigative legwork to obtain as many of his wish list members' home numbers as possible, which meant lots of phone calls to friends and industry contacts.

"My phone was ringing every 40 seconds, which isn't at all usual for me," Rollins said. "So I just went to work thinking of these three boys who went to prison for nine years. That gave me the strength to keep hitting it."

Most of the artists Rollins talked to were enthusiastic about the project, and the singer was jazzed to get thumbs-up from Public Enemy's Chuck D and Iggy Pop, one of his childhood heroes.

"That was the icing on the cake," Rollins said. "I always keep his phone messages on my machine. I never erase them. When he confirmed it, I'd say, 'Hey, check this out!' to everyone that comes through the office. [impersonating Iggy] 'Hello, Henry. This is Jim. I'm gonna sing 'Fix Me.' Well, OK.' And he hung up."

In the end, Rollins also lined up Ice-T, Mike Patton, ex-X singer Exene Cervenka, Rancid's Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen, Ryan Adams, ex-Black Flag bassists Chuck Dukowski and Kira Roessler and others. As strange as it was for hammerin' Hank to be working with a mixed cast of idols and those who idolized him, it was also bizarre to revisit songs he hadn't played in over 15 years.

"Band practice was the strange part, because we were doing all 24 songs in the band room," he said. "I'm back there singing 'Nervous Breakdown' and 'Rise Above,' and the old breathing for those certain songs comes back. It was quite a trip, because I don't really listen to that music. I don't get into my past like that. I had not revisited these songs in a long time and I forgot how good they are."

One glaring omission from Rise Above seems to be Metallica, who donated music to "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" (1996) and "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" (2000), two documentaries which chronicled the brutal case. Rollins said he approached the band through its management and through "Paradise Lost" filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who are currently working on a Metallica documentary (see "Enter Cameraman: Documentary Crew Captures Metallica Drama), and got no reply.

"I don't know what that's about," Rollins marveled. "I have no problems with anyone in Metallica as people or as a band, and James Hetfield has never been anything but cool to me when I've talked to him. So, whatever."

The track list for Rise Above, according to Rollins' publicist:

  • "Rise Above" (with Public Enemy's Chuck D, Henry Rollins)

  • "Nervous Breakdown" (with the Circle Jerks' Keith Morris)

  • "Fix Me" (with Iggy Pop)

  • "American Waste" (with Clutch's Neil Fallon)

  • "I've Had It" (with the Mars Volta's Cedric Bixler)

  • "I've Heard It Before" (with Poison the Well's Jeff Moreira)

  • "Room 13" (with Slipknot's Corey Taylor)

  • "Wasted" (with Exene Cervenka)

  • "Jealous Again" (with Queens of the Stone Age's Nick Oliveri)

  • "TV Party" (with Henry Rollins)

  • "No Values" (with Hank Williams III)

  • "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" (with Ween's Dean Ween)

  • "Depression" (with Amen's Casey Chaos)

  • "Six Pack" (with Mike Patton)

  • "Police Story" (with Ice-T)

  • "Revenge" (with Slayer's Tom Araya)

  • "Thirsty & Miserable" (with Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister)

  • "What I See" (with Chuck Dukowski)

  • "No More" (with Rancid's Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen)

  • "Black Coffee" (with Henry Rollins)

  • "Slip It In" (with Henry Rollins, Inger Lorre)

  • "Annihilate This Week" (with Henry Rollins, Kira Roessler)

  • "My War" (with Henry Rollins)

  • "Nervous Breakdown" (with Ryan Adams)