I just got an email from my friend Spot – he’s giving up his Compuserve account after about eight years. There aren’t many of us left. Who is Spot, you may ask? Besides being a fascinating and eclectic musician in his own right, he’s only one of the greatest punk producers of all time – that’s all.
Spot produced the cream of red-blooded American punk in the late ’70s and
early ’80s – in particular bands affiliated with the archetypal SoCal indie label
SST (and its affiliate New Alliance) including Black Flag, Descendants, Husker
Du, Meat Puppets, and Minutemen. With the punk movement grown stale by the
mid ’80s, Spot followed his own eccentric muse to Austin, Texas, where he has
carved out a career as a multi-instrumentalist performing traditional Celtic music
blended with Zappa-and-Zorn art noise.
Spot was born Glen Lockett in the Crenshaw area of L.A. in the early ’50s. His
musical taste was formed by the eclecticism of AM Top 40 radio from the late ’50s through the mid ’60s. “I listened to everything. We would sing Marvin Gaye, The Beatles, and Roger Miller in the schoolyard. The first record I ever
bought was ‘Washington Square’ by the Village Stompers in ’63. I got my first
guitar for Christmas in ’63, a Silvertone acoustic. I worked on guitar for a while,
then started playing the drums and ended up in my first band with some classmates in the 8th grade,” he recalls.
“I didn’t study much in school because I knew I wanted to do music. After I had to return my rented drums, I went back to guitar and learned to play mostly from the radio and records. The psychedelic era came in and I really liked that. It was new and really good music to listen to when you were depressed. I didn’t have that much of a social life – ‘the music was my only friend,’ to paraphrase the Doors – so naturally when you hear something like that you think, ‘Oh my God, someone knows what I’m going through,'” he sighs.
“It was real problematic to put together a band that would do anything other than covers in those days. I was always trying to put something together to do my own stuff, but I never really had that chance in the ’60s and ’70s. I ended up being one of these bums out in the street in Hollywood playing music for change so I could eat. For a certain part of my life I was more or less homeless. When I had a place to live, I would sit in my house all day and play and write.
“I figured if I could record some stuff, that would be great. I bought an old Sony tape deck and some microphones and recorded myself and other things: I would hang the mic out the window and record the neighbor’s door opening and shutting without their knowing about it and weird stuff like that. Then I got a Teac four-track. I had a dream about having some kind of studio,” he says.
“In ’75 I was hanging out in Hermosa Beach because I was a foosball fanatic and there were about five places to play there. You could come down from L.A. and just dominate the tables. I was absolutely homeless and I met these folks who were building a recording studio on the corner of Hermosa and Pier called Media Art. I just walked in off of the street one day and thought, ‘I should get involved with this.’ I helped them build the studio and they let me live there.
“One thing leads to another and I became the staff engineer at the studio as the owners gradually lost interest. We had a dirt-cheap lease so we could offer really great rates. The equipment was basic analog eight-track (which we later upgraded to 16- and eventually 24-track; our eight-track had recorded Jimi Hendrix, the 16 was later sold to Eddie Van Halen) and it was great for rock ‘n’ roll, but mostly we got really awful light-rock or disco. Under those circumstances, any music with some guts or creativity – hard rock, metal, jazz – was a breath of fresh air. The jazz was fun: they would get their levels and go for it: no overdubbing and messing around. I hated tuning the drums for hours to get them to sound like an Elton John record for some of these light-rock sessions,” he says.
Spot also wrote reviews and features for the local entertainment weekly, Easy Reader, and was a professional photographer specializing in skateboarding and rollerskating.
By ’78 Spot (named after a softball incident) was producing demos after-hours on spec. Spot’s reign of punk terror began when he produced a band of “neighborhood goons” called Black Flag. “By then I was really into roller skating and skateboarding on the Strand – if I wasn’t in the studio I was skating – and I met those guys in the alleyways of Hermosa; they lived near the local skate shop Wild Wheels. I persuaded Black Flag to come in Media Art to record; we did a live session in October of ’79 [five tracks were released as part of Everything Went Black in ’82] that is some the best stuff they have ever done,” he says.
Black Flag at the time was Greg Ginn on guitar (he formed SST to put out Black Flag records), Chuck Dukowski on bass, Robo on drums, and Keith Morris (later of Circle Jerks) on vocals. Whether those tracks are the band’s finest is debatable amongst reasonable people, but they do rock awfully hard.
Somewhere between Black Sabbath and the Ramones, Flag attacks short (nothing over 2:07), brutish tunes with titles like “Revenge,” “Depression” and “Wasted” with animalistic intensity and admirable economy. Ginn’s guitar slashes and burns, Robo’s drums keeps the vehicle between the lines, and Morris’ vocals rant against various social and personal evils.
The band’s first non-single release was the Jealous Again EP in ’80. Chavo Pederast (Ron Reyes) had replaced Morris on vocals. Slightly tighter but similar to the “live” tracks, Flag was finally amongst the recorded living. Media Art was shut down in ’81, so Spot and the band went to Hollywood’s Unicorn Studios to record their masterpiece, Damaged. A second guitarist/vocalist, Dez Cadena, was added to the lineup, and bellowing hulk Henry Rollins was brought in to sing lead. Loaded with punk classics like “Rise Above,” “Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie” and a new version of “Depression,” Damaged also displays a sense of humor regarding the band’s suburban heritage on “Six Pack” and “TV Party.” The twin guitar attack and group vocals give the songs added depth without degenerating into clutter.
Litigation with SST’s distributor Unicorn prevented the release of new material by Flag until ’84, and the time off from recording afforded Ginn time to concentrate of the development of SST. His virtually flawless taste and personal integrity accounts for the fact that much of the best punk of the era bears the SST (or new Alliance) logo, and Spot was the label’s key producer until the mid 80s.
From Sam Pedro came the uncategorizable trio, Minutemen (named dually for the brevity of their songs and their watchful gaze upon society): D. Boon on guitars and lead vocals, Mike Watt on bass, and George Hurley on drums made music that pulled elements from punk, funk, and jazz and assembled them into brief, stabbing vignettes on the Spot-coproduced (with Ginn) Paranoid Time EP in ’80, The Punch Line in ’81, the great What Makes a Man Start Fires? in ’82, and Buzz Or Howl Under the Influence of Heat in ’83.
Meat Puppets were another eccentric trio: this one from Arizona featuring brothers Curt (now of Eyes Adrift) and Cris Kirkwood on shared vocals, guitar and bass respectively, and Derrick Bostrom on drums. Meat Puppets from ’81 is serviceable thrashy punk, but Meat Puppets ll from ’83 finds the band creating an affecting brand of Southwestern music that sounds like Roger McGuinn, high on peyote, fronting the Replacements in the desert on great cowpunk songs including “The Whistling Song,” “New Gods,” “Lost,” “Lake of Fire” (later covered by Nirvana), and “Split Myself In Two.” Up On the Sun finds the band more relaxed with their Southwestern vision: the title track is a spacious desert delicacy with Curt’s always pitch-challenged vocals wavering pleasantly in and out of focus. “Swimming Ground,” with beautifully picked and phased guitar from Curt, is a watery wonder.
Ginn found Minneapolis natives Husker Du playing to a near-empty club in Chicago. Still another trio – this one led by Bob Mould on guitar and vocals, and Grant Hart on drums and vocals – Spot helped guide the band through its early sloppy/thrashy records to its status as the most melodic of punk bands by the mid ’80s. Particularly noteworthy during Spot’s run is the band’s ripping cover of the Byrds’ “8 Miles High” (released on a single) and the Zen Arcade album, both from ’84.
In comparison to the often-bizarre noises emanating from the aforementioned SST talent, the Descendents were a virtually conventional punk band, writing short, playful, tight numbers from the perspective of the eternally bemused adolescent. Singer Milo Aukerman, drummer Bill Stevenson, and a revolving crew of guitarists and bassists put out several smoking albums and EPs in the ’80s, including the Spot-produced Fat EP (with “My Dad Sucks,” “I Like Food” and the 8-second “Weinerschnitzel”) and Milo Goes To College (“Suburban Home,” “Bikeage,” the defiant “I’m Not a Loser”).
“Once the punk stuff started, I was pumped up,” says Spot. “No one had any money, but we had opportunities and we took advantage of them. My philosophy was to get the band in, make them feel good in the room, then roll the tape and let them play. I wanted to get them when they were inspired and not afraid of the process. I started to lose interest when bands decided that since R.E.M. was popular, it was time for them to be popular too; they stopped being what they were and started laboring over things trying to get a certain ‘sound.’ I still worked but the romance was over.
“I got out of L.A., moved to Austin in ’86, and started playing again. I got into playing traditional Irish music because it had always been a dream of mine to be some kind of fiddler, and in Austin there were numerous opportunites to play traditional music. I love ‘tune sessions’ with just a bunch of people sitting around playing tunes. When it really gets going, there’s nothing like it. I try to keep things raw and rough. I play solo and with bands, live and I record for my own No Auditions label,” he says. “It’s what I love.”