Introduction: I did not intend for this to be an epic, but, when I sat down to do a field guide to Sacto punk, I really didn’t know where to start. So I figured, why not start at the beginning. The beginning brought me to the 1960s and because of that I decided to chuck the idea of listing bands and recommending releases (though there are recommendations at the bottom) and just do a narrative. Writing a narrative means going into a little more detail of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s than I intended. I feel this is important because nothing exists in a vacuum. The scene from which Sacto punk came was built up over years.
If you are from Sacramento or know a little about Sacramento rock and roll, you might be puzzled by what I call Sacto punk and why some of your favorite bands are not given more than a passing reference (or are ignored). Let me explain: The term Sacto punk applies to a small group of punk bands who were one way or another directly or indirectly spawns of the mid-to-late Eighties band, Sewer Trout. Sacto punk was first coined by folks from the San Francisco Bay Area as a kind of epithet. However, a group of drunken Sacramento smart asses (this town breeds them) took the term as a badge of honor. The term was spread nationally by Maximum Rocknroll, when its reviewers used Sacto punk as short hand for a specific sound (sloppy, raw, poppy) or subject matter (humor, beer, pop culture) that was typical of certain Sacramento bands. Through MRR, more people outside of Sacramento could identify and even listened to Sacto punk bands than people in Sacramento.
The MRR created stereotype did not hold. In time, many Sacto punk bands covered a lot of punk territory both musically and lyrically. What did draw these bands together is geography (as small as city blocks), ethics, friendships, and shared band members. While often seen as elitist by those outside of the scene, Sacto punk is more an interlocking series of friendship groups rather than some exclusionary clique. What follows is a brief (yes, brief) prehistory and rundown of the Sacto punk scene.
The 1960s: Until recently, Sacramento’s mid Sixties garage band scene was unknown to even those within the city. The folks involved in it didn’t think it important enough for the memory or music to be kept alive. If not for the efforts of Sacramento collector Joey D. and Ace/Big Beat Records ace Alec Palao, this vibrant scene would have remained, uhhh, unsung today. Pooling knowledge and resources, Joey and/or Alec were responsible for reissues of the Oxford Circle, She, Public Nuisance, and an exciting compilation, The Sounds of Young Sacramento. Public Nuisance had a major label deal that was scuttled thanks to the Manson killings spooking their producer, Terry Melchor. Members of the Oxford Circle formed the psych band Kak, who released a record on Epic. The most exiting band to come out of Sixties Sacramento is Blue Cheer, who released their guitar meth psych/proto metal classic Vincebus Eruptum after moving to San Francisco.
The 1970s: The early Seventies brought love & granola to Sacramento and little else. Lux Interior & Ivy Rorschach of the Cramps, who lived in Sacramento for a while and started their record collecting life here, recall that after a brief exciting psychedelic “Fellini” period, “every male had a beard and looked like a farmer, and every woman looked like an ‘earth mother’…Sacramento became really oppressive.” Excited about Lou Reed coming to town, they went and bought tickets. They were thrilled when they got second row seats, but the show cancelled. When they found out the reason for the cancellation was because only two rows of tickets had sold, they figured it was time to move.
It was probably the other folks who bought up those two rows of Lou Reed tickets who started Sacto's punk scene. Raised on Sacto’s Sixties garage bands, the Velvet Underground, Stooges, and Roxy Music, a small group of people formed Sacramento’s first “punk” bands. I put punk in quotes because by strict musical standard, none of these bands were very punk. However, because they played original music that was not heavy metal, classic rock, or country rock, were about doing things their own way, and subscribed to a DIY ethic, it would be foolish not to recognize them as the fathers of Sacto punk.
These bands are Ozzie, The Twinkeyz, the Mumbles, Permanent Wave, and Labial Fricative. All of these bands released records. Ozzie’s was the first, a great glam punk 7” called Android Love. The Twinkeyz’s catalog has been well preserved, their loopy psych-punk having been reissued on both CD and vinyl. The Mumbles and Permanent Wave both wound up on the Bomp! roster, with a couple of rockish singles. And Labial Fricative released one 7” of what nowadays would be called art punk. One notable connection to the 1960s is that the Twinkeyz producer, David Houston, was the leader of Public Nuisance.
The early 1980s: Prior to the 80s, Sacto’s punk scene was pretty much an over-21 affair, centered in bars. Stewart Katz helped open the door for a younger Sacto punk by putting on the city’s first regular all-ages shows. The birth of American hardcore, a music that spoke directly to bored suburban youth, also played a major role in Sacto’s punk scene. With places to play and inspiration from the LA punk scene, dozens of bands formed. Unfortunately only a few wound up on vinyl.
The vinyl debut of Sacto hardcore was Maximum Rocknroll’s 1982 comp, Not So Quiet on the Western Front. Two bands, the Square Cools and Rebel Truth, saw their first wax on that survey of Northern California punk rock. While the Square Cools would never again see vinyl, Rebel Truth released a 7” on Ohio’s Version Sound, later comped on the Everybody Hates Everybody CD. Another Sacto band that hit vinyl in 82 is The Vacant, a skate punk band that also went by the name V.A.Cunts. They have one song on the Party or Go Home comp.
The last early 80s, Sacto band to have a record is the Tales of Terror. In 1984, their one and only LP was released on CD Presents. Taking the Dead Boys, fueling it with LSD, and pushing it through a hardcore filter, TOT came up with a brilliant album, one that still is raved about and sought after today. They also appeared on a few compilations.
I should also note that, though they did not release any records until the 1990s, the Groovies Ghoulies started in the early Eighties, the name going with Kepi when he moved to Los Angeles, and then to Sacto when he moved back.
The late 1980s: As the country went, so did Sacramento. Late Eighties punk rock in the state’s capitol was pretty dismal. A few bands released records (Sins of the Flesh, Pollution Circus) but their value is as place holders and examples of those “keeping the spirit alive,” rather than being listenable. One band who shared not only the Sacramento scene but often living space with these place holders is probably the single most influential band within Sacto punk. That band is Sewer Trout.
Formed in Concord in 1985, ST moved to Sacramento with the McLean brothers. ST were a fixture of the early Gilman scene and first hit vinyl on MRR’s Turn it Around comp (1987). The same year saw their first record on Lookout. A few more followed on Lookout, Very Small, and their own label, One Shot Flop. (All of their stuff was comped on the From the Forgotten Memories….CD.) What ST brought to Sacto punk was a complete dedication to the DIY ethic and an inspiration for others to form bands. Their sarcastic, humorous, jangly, poppy, almost-country punk combined with much beer fueled many a party and gave youngsters a model (both bandwise and drinkwise) to emulate. Another important thing about ST is that they were childhood friends with David Hayes, the brains behind the Lookout, Very Small, and Too Many record labels. Through his labels, Hayes was able to focus a lot of attention on the Sacto punk scene, often filling his compilations with up to ten Sacramento bands.
One notable record of the late Eighties is Michael Psycho’s Think LP. Psycho had been the singer of the early 80s band Industrial Hate and since that band’s demise, spent his time writing and recording brilliant, angry, loner punk on his 4 track. In 1990, he released an album of his creations. Most of the vinyl was destroyed by his former landlord.
The 1990s (an intro): The Golden Age of Sacramento punk is a result of several things. The first is that those kids weaned on Sewer Trout had now formed bands. Second, folks like me were bored by the state of punk rock and wanted to put something more raw and non-metal/melodic out there. And, third, years of creating a national punk rock/independent infrastructure was starting to pay off in a huge increase in punk and indie bands (and this when the words “independent” and “indie” were more than a marketing tool.)
So many bands released records that it would be ridiculous to list them all. Also only a handful of these bands made an impact on the scene. So rather than concentrate on the bands, I will comment on two, then the three main Sacramento punk labels, and then add a few other releases of importance later.
Two early 90s Sacto punk bands that were the bastard spawn of Sewer Trout, and served as the breeding ground for many a punk band thereafter are the Horny Mormons and Pounded Clown. Forget that both bands were obnoxious, humorous, and drunk, and are responsible for many a Sacto band getting pegged either funny punk or beercore. The handful of records they released do fit that mold. However, most of the bands that were directly or indirectly birthed by those bands often did not. To get a good listen of both bands without paying twice for it, check out their split LP on Very Small.
The 1990s (three labels): It is pure coincidence that the people behind Sacramento’s main punk labels are all named Scott. Scott Torguson headed Sunney Sindicut. Scott Miller (no confusion with the guy from Game Theory, also from the Sacto area) did Secret Center. And, your author, Scott Soriano was responsible for Moo-La-La.
Scott Torguson was one of the Sacto punk scene’s tireless workers. He put on shows, put up bands, and did a label. He also reached out across genres. Sunney Sindicut’s debut was a 7” by Torguson’s band, Platypus Scourge. Though Torguson’s bands are emo and have had a profound influence on bands in that genre, the most important Sacto punk record – the Yah Mos debut, Right On - is not. The Yah Mos went on to put out records on Recess, Moo-La-La, Gern Blanstein. They also toured extensively. Their Black Flag meets Nation of Ulysses style punk made them Sacramento’s biggest punk band, drawing up to 400 people, and certainly the best Sacto punk band since the Tales of Terror. Another important Sacto band released by Torguson is the Pope Smashers. A more violent version of Sonic Youth, the Pope Smashers played many legendary shows in Sacramento. Unfortunately, drugs and mental problems kept them from doing much besides confused touring and recording a very good EP.
Scott Miller started his Secret Center label with a release by his band, Nar. Underappreciated both then and now, Nar played great buzzsaw power pop or very poppy punk (though not poppunk). Their vinyl legacy is found on 4 7”s, half an LP, and a scattering of comps. Secret Center is the vinyl birthplace of two other Miller bands – the Tiki Men, who released some of the best records of the mid 90s instrumental garage craze, and the Bananas, the quintessential Sacto punk band. SC also released some great 7”s by the Knockoffs (former Captain 9’s) and the Boulevard Park Trio (Yah Mos instro side band), as well as some terrific cassette comps. SC is the spiritual home of Santa Cruz transplants, the Four Eyes.
Moo-La-La was started when I released (surprise!) my band’s first record, under the name Sac Records. Because by name Los Huevos’s debut is not a MLL record, I can choose to ignore it. The second Los Huevos 7” pretty much set the Los Huevos template – raw, loud, fast mix of early 80s LA punk and 60s garage – that can be heard on 5 7”s, 1 LP, and some comps. MLL went from vanity project to real label with the release of Nar’s second 7”, Holiday Routine. Later releases are by the Yah Mos, Lil Bunnies, Karate Party, and the Pretty Girls. MLL also released a Sacto punk comp, the first since 1990, and a spoken word record by scene fixture Josh Reynolds, now of New York City. MLL’s last release was the debut by Sacto punk “super group,” the FM Knives.
The 1990s (Woodhouse): I single out one person with the knowledge that the Sacto punk scene has had many contributors, many of whom have been in a zillion different bands while putting on shows, running labels, doing radio, writing zines, etc. And while others are just as responsible for creating a DIY infrastructure, Chris Woodhouse is the guy who has captured most of it on tape. I don’t know what Woodhouse’s first band was. I do know that I’ve seen pictures of him with long hair and in leather moccasins, holding a guitar. He has been in the Horny Mormons, Lizards, Los Huevos, Karate Party, Pretty Girls, and FM Knives. He has recorded almost every band listed here (from the 90s on) and most of the MLL records. He continues to record and his work is now on a national scale. I am sure he will go international any day now. His are the ears you hear many Sacto punk bands through.
The 1990s (a miscellany): A number of bands occupied the same space as those on the Three Scott’s labels. They played with the same bands and practiced at the same place (The Loft, a practice space run by your author). They also released their own records or had their records released on other labels. The Sea Pigs (former Horny Mormons) released a few 7”s. The Lizards played buzz-saw cartoon punk and put out a glop of 7”s, CDs, etc. The first Lizards’ line up included a direct link to Sacto’s original punk bands, the guitar slot being occupied by the Twinkeyz’s Donnie Jupiter. The bands also shared members. Youngsters Old Man Homo, Majestic 12, and Uberkunst are all stylistically different than the aforementioned Sacto punk bands but often played the same shows, circulated in the same groups of people and shared similar ideals and/or drinking habits. Others, like Ramones-influenced Secretions, straddled several different scenes. All of these folks released records.
Outside the Sacto punk scene were Tiger Trap (punky pop which was to form the roots of Twee), The E-Types (power pop, later members in the Decibels), the Trouble Makers (60s garage), Groovie Ghoulies (cartoon punk), Pressure Point (oi), The Hoods (NY-style HC), and other.
The Turn of the Century: The late Nineties bought a partial fracture of the Sacto punk scene. When the Yah Mos and Pope Smashers split two other bands emerged: !!! (chik chik chik) and Out Hud. While neither were punk bands in the traditional sense, they were made up of punks, played to punks, and held on to their punk/DIY ethics. They also wanted to play in front of more than the same 40 people. So they moved to New York City. The !!!/Out Hud move meant that a core of about ten people were no longer in the scene and a shattering of some of the interlocking friendship groups.
Also notable was The Loft’s decision to no longer do shows. Burn out, gentrification, and neighbor hassles ended ten years of all-ages DIY. Though other people did shows out of houses, basements, and bars, the end of The Loft meant no epicenter for the Sacto punk scene.
That said, Sacramento still has many good bands and there are still folks who keep the Sacto punk flag flying. The Bananas are in year 14 (!) and still playing great garage pop or poppy garage punk. They regularly tour and release music. A bunch of snotnoses named Milhouse USA wormed their way into the Sacto punk scene and became a petrie dish for future bands, notably the Duchess of Saigon, Rock the Light, and the Black Dahlias. The aforementioned Sacto punk super group, the FM Knives, broke up but members formed the Lyme Regis with the former guitarist of the Yah Mos & Pretty Girls. Scott Miller continues to do one off bands and keep his Bright Ideas going. And while the three Scott’s no longer put out Sacto punk, one label, Plastic Idol has taken up the cause with releases by the Four Eyes and Black Dahlias. Sacramento Records also puts out the occasional release.
Notable records (some of these are important for understanding (*) Sacto punk, others are just great records. Some are both.):
VA: Sounds of Young Sacramento CD (Big Beat, 2000)*
Public Nuisance – Gotta Survive 2CD (Frantic, 2002)
Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum LP (Philips, 1967)
Ozzie – Android Love 7” (Make Me, 1977)
The Twinkeyz - Aliens in Our Midst: The Complete Recordings CD (Anopheles, 1998)*
The Twinkeyz - Cartoonland LP (Anopheles, 2002)
Labial Fricative - "Chumps"/"Auto/erotica" 45 (LSMF [?])
VA: Not So Quiet on the Western Front 2LP (Alternative Tentacles, 1982)
Rebel Truth R/T 7” (Version Sounds, 1984)
Tales of Terror s/t LP (CD Presents, 1984)*
Sewer Trout – Forgotten Memories… CD (SPA, 1998)*
Michael Psycho – Think LP (Black Hole, 1990)
Groovie Ghoulies - Appetite For Adrenochrome LP/CD (Crimson Corpse, 1989)
Horny Mormons/Pounded Clown LP (Very Small, 1992)*
qwertyuiop comp ep (Secret Center/Very Small, 1991)*
Vinyl Retentive 2LP (Very Small, 1993)
Nar/Lizards LP (Very Small, 1992)*
Nar – Holiday Routine 7” (Moo-La-La, 1993)
The Yah Mos – Right On! 7” (Sunney Sindicut, 1993)
The Yah Mos – Off Your Parents 7’ (Recess, 1994)*
Los Huevos – The Rebel Kind 7” (Moo-La-La,1996)*
Los Huevos – Gang of Saints 7” (Dragnet, 2001)
The Bananas – The Peel Sessions 7” (Secret Center, 1994)*
The Bananas - Slippery Subject CD (Plan-It-X, 2001)*
Tiki Men - Sneak a Drink with... ep (Secret Center, 1994)*
The Knock Offs - Wake up and smell... ep (Secret Center, 1995)
Lil Bunnies s/t ep (Moo-La-La, 1995)
VA: Sacramento: City of a Beer comp ep (Moo-La-La, 1998)*
Pope Smashers – This is a Test 7” (Sunney Sindicut, 1996)
Old Man Homo - It Came From the Sky ep (Wild Huntsman, 1993)
The Troublemakers - The Great Lost Trouble Makers Album LP (Screaming Apple, 1998)
Karate Party – Black Helecopter LP (S-S, 2005)*
Four-Eyes - Hat Nerd ep (Sacramento, 2001)
The diaspora & after:
!!! - The Dis-ease/The Funky Branca 45 (Hopscotch, 1998)*
FM Knives - Useless & Modern CD (Moo-La-La, 2002)
Black Dahlias s/t 7” (Plastic Idol, 2005)
Discography of the Sacramento Area Underground, 1964 – Present
Got a city, time period, region, label, genre or whatever that you think we need to do a guide to? Think you can do it yourself? Send all requests and submissions to termibore-at-aol-dot-com, we're always looking for help.
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