Every Wednesday, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate musicians together.
California punk rock godfathers Black Flag announced this week that they’re reuniting for a new album and tour, with a lineup of singer Ron Reyes, guitarist Greg Ginn, bassist “Dale Nixon” and drummer Gregory Moore. (Another drummer, Roberto “Robo” Valverde, was initially announced as being part of the group’s 2013 incarnation.) Almost simultaneously, another band of Black Flag alumni — known simply as Flag — are going to be touring too: singer Keith Morris, guitarist Steven Egerton, bassist Chuck Dukowski and drummer Bill Stevenson. And they’re far from the only former members of the band out there: Almost since they started, Black Flag was at the center of a cluster of bands that constantly traded members with each other.
The first Black Flag lineup that made a record (1978’s Nervous Breakdown EP) was Ginn (the only person who’s been in every version of the group), Morris, Dukowski and drummer Brian Migdol. Here’s Morris and Ginn’s 51-second classic “Wasted” from that record.
Morris quit Black Flag in the middle of recording what was to have been their first album, and started his own band, Circle Jerks, with Red Cross’s guitarist Greg Hetson. Their first album included a handful of songs Morris had brought in from Black Flag’s repertoire, including “Don’t Care.”
Black Flag were apparently pissed about that. On 1980’s Jealous Again EP (by which time Migdol had been replaced by Robo), Dukowski sang “You Bet We’ve Got Something Personal Against You”–“Don’t Care,” rewritten as an attack on Morris for stealing the band’s song.
Most of Jealous Again, though, was recorded with new singer Ron Reyes — another Red Cross alumnus (he’d been their drummer). That’s the lineup that appeared in the punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, including the raging version of “Revenge” below. Reyes was in the band for just over five months — he quit in the middle of a show — although he returned to finish the EP. (Since then, he’s kept a low profile musically; he and Ginn first reunited a few years ago to play a few songs at his 50th birthday party.)
Morris and Black Flag mended fences long enough to play a couple of shows together in mid-1980, but the next singer the band drafted was Dez Cadena, yet another former member of Red Cross. Cadena didn’t record much with them–just a couple of singles and a stack of songs that ended up on their retrospective album Everything Went Black–but his hoarse bellow is featured on this live version of “Police Story.”
The young Washington, D.C. punk Henry Garfield was a massive fan of Black Flag (and the singer of local band State of Alert, a.k.a. S.O.A. — they’ve turned up in this column before, in this history of Bad Brains and the Washington, DC hardcore scene). In the summer of 1981, Cadena switched to playing rhythm guitar in Black Flag, and Garfield moved to L.A., got a tattoo of the Black Flag bars, and changed his last name to Rollins. That lineup, with new drummer Emil Johnson, recorded the song that became Black Flag’s first full-fledged music video, “T.V. Party.”
Robo had left Black Flag in late 1981, and played with the East Coast horror-punk band Misfits for the next couple of years, until they broke up in late 1983. Black Flag’s drummer for the second half of 1982 was Chuck Biscuits, who subsequently went on to join Morris in Circle Jerks for a few years, then played for many years with former Misfits singer Glenn Danzig. The 21st-century Misfits lineup has intermittently included both Cadena and Robo; that’s the version that recorded 2009’s “Land of the Dead” single, below. (They also tend to include the odd Black Flag song in their set lists.)
The Descendents’ drummer and frequent songwriter Bill Stevenson had filled in when Black Flag needed a drummer for a few months in early 1982. He joined up again at the beginning of 1983, and stuck around for almost two and a half years. Bassist Chuck Dukowski didn’t play on the only record Black Flag made in 1983, My War; the credited bassist was Dale Nixon, who was actually Greg Ginn himself. As of the end of that year, the band’s new bassist was Kira Roessler (whose brother Paul was in Cadena’s new band DC3). The Rollins/Ginn/Kira/Stevenson lineup lasted less than a year and a half, but it was by far Black Flag’s most prolific: they recorded the Family Man, Slip It In, Loose Nut and In My Head albums, a live album and three EPs. Here’s the ultra-low-budget video they made for 1984’s “Slip It In.”
That was it for Black Flag as a songwriting entity, though. Stevenson was replaced by drummer Anthony Martinez, then Roessler was replaced by C’el Revuelta; in mid-1986, Black Flag broke up. Before this year, the name had only popped up once: three 2003 shows to benefit cat rescue associations, for which Ginn was joined by Cadena, Revuelta and Robo, as well as singer Mike Vallely and occasionally a pre-recorded bass part.
And the lineup that’s calling itself Flag has actually played in public once already: Morris, Dukowski, Stevenson and (Stevenson’s Descendents bandmate) Stephen Egerton played a four-song, six-minute gig in December 2011, performing Black Flag’s first EP Nervous Breakdown in its entirety.