When one thinks of SST records they think of classic punk like Black Flag, The Descendents, The Minutemen etc. SST is more known for hardcore punk than anything else and they put out some classic albums by some classic bands. SST was started by Greg Ginn, who founded Black Flag, in Black Flag’s later albums like “Slip It In”, Greg and the crew slipped in heavy chords and dissonant solos and they were accused of “selling out” and “going metal”. Greg got pissed at that and was one guy that didn’t want to stagnant as a writer or player, he said something along the lines of “It shouldn’t be too much as a band to practice your instruments once in awhile”. It would make sense that Greg would sign acts that went into different territory on to his label, this earned the derision of the punk hipsters in the scene. Fuck them, not many people know the non punk acts of SST so without further ado and not in any order here is most (not all) of the non punk acts of SST records.
Sounding like fried, burned to death Motorhead, Overkill L.A. started as as a hardcore punk band, in fact, their first E.P. “Hotter Than Hell” was O.K. punk music, however, on their 1985 album “Triumph of the Will” they went for the throat mixing hardcore punk with speed metal, the result wasn’t thrash, it was pure Motorhead worship. I can’t recommend “Triumph of the Will” enough, its a killer album I’ve listened to on repeat. There was a lot of band changes, people getting pissed at each other for stupid comments, dumb drunken behavior and “Yoko” girlfriends. Overkill L.A. had one of their songs put on “Metal Massacre 2” that was a different version than appeared on their studio album and their first singer was more of high pitched hair metal singer who they ditched in favor of the crazy Merrill Ward. At first when Ward quit, Ginn wasn’t even gonna release the album, Felice Lococo talked Greg into it after getting Merrill on board again to do lyrics and vocals. Overkill LA had to change their name when the New Jersey thrash metal act, Overkill, copy righted their name.
Dez Cadena of Black Flag started the band in 1983 and their sound was a far away as possible from Black Flag. Psychedelic Stoner Hard Rock is more like it and its fucking beautiful, along with Dez was Kurt Markham on drums and Kira Roessler on bass until she left for Black Flag, her brother Paul stepped in and played bass and keyboards. This is one band I really dig on and was forerunner of the stoner/doom metal movement that would come in the 1990’s alternative rock explosion. “Your Only Blind As Your Mind Can Be” is a fucking killer album, mushrooms and pot smoke down the hatch!
3. Saint Vitus
Saint Vitus were out and out Sabbath worshipers their sound was dipped in sludgy muck of Osbourne/Iommi/Ward/Butler, started in 1979 they were in the second wave of doom metal along with Pentagram, Candlemass and Trouble, they weren’t into snorting coke off the spandex clad asses of groupies, they were more into drinking cheap beer, smoking good weed and banging hair pie, as a result they were hard to peg in the hair metal go go 1980’s. Greg Ginn was a huge fan and took them along on shows and tours with Black Flag, some punks hated their guts being dumb fucking elitist hipsters, but some warmed up to them, Chandler said “the heavy metal fans at the time hated us, and so did the punk rockers, but the punk rockers grew to appreciate us”. Saint Vitus would be among some of the best retro hard rock bands to come out in the 1980’s. At first the band consisted of Scott Reagers on vocals, Mark Adams on bass, Armando Acosta on drums, and Dave Chandler on guitar, that was on the first two albums self titled and “Hallow’s Victim”, after Reagers quit Scott “Wino” Weinrich from the doom band Obsessed joined in 1986 on the album “Born Too Late” my favorite of the band’s albums and the line up hasn’t changed since. Some people like Reager’s voice better than Weinrich, I like them both.
Chuck Dukowski who went to play with Black Flag, started Wurm in 1973 and continued the band after Black Flag broke up. Wurm is considered the godfathers of Sludge Metal. Wurm recorded an album in 1977 but the tapes were destroyed after they stiffed the studio on payment. Wurm split apart because that is what good bands do and Chuck joined a band called Panic which had Greg Ginn in it and would change its name to Black Flag, during a Black Flag hiatus Chuck brought Wurm back and recorded a three song E.P. in 1982 “We’re Off/I’m Dead/Time Has Come Today (cover)” they then added Simon Smallwood from the band Dead Hippie as vocalist and recorded the fucking awesome “Feast” and released it in 1985 on SST records. “Feast” is a killer, its blistering, nasty, hard rock that smashes your face in. Greg Ginn and company had good musical tastes.
This is one band a lot of people like to shit on in the SST Records roster and I don’t see why, they are a hard band to pin down, are they punk? Are they hard rock? Are they pop rock? Jazz rock? Experimental? Listening to a SWA song is like saying “WTF?” Those are the bands I like. The name was picked by alphabets to numbers and rolling dice, SWA came up, again Chuck Dukowski came up with the concept of the band and when Wurm fell apart Chuck recruited a teenage drummer who hung out around SST records, Greg Cameron, Ted Falconi of the band Flipper joined on guitar, but that version of the band was short lived. The group was soon joined by Merrill Ward of the aforementioned band Overkill LA on vocals, Richard Ford of Frantic Technoids on guitar, and Greg Cameron’s friend Ray Cooper on guitar in 1985, the band recorded their first album “Your Future If You Have One” which was produced by Greg Ginn. The band continued to change line ups, this is a strange band no doubt, I’d recommend “Evolution” which collects all their recordings from 1985-1987. Check this band out.
6. Zoogz Rift
A one man killing machine and amateur professional wrestler, Zoogz Rift was one of a kind and the type of guy I like, he didn’t give two fucks about what people thought about him or his music. Whatever crazy idea he had he ran with it, this man was genre defying and didn’t like to be tied down. SST Records re released his older albums and newer material because nobody else would. Zoogz has said he took inspiration from many sources like Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Salvador Dali and Ayn Rand (!). Wow so you know what your headed for if you dip your ears in this audio acid, as for Zoogz fray into professional wrestling, Zoogz booked the Universal Wrestling Federation in 1993, he left in 1994 but returned in 1995 to become Vice President of the UWF along with founder Herb Abrams after Abrams died in 1996. Zoogz did a online show commenting on professional wrestling called “Puke-A-Mania”, his wrestling career was ended when Lex Luger torture racked him and injured him. Zoogz passed away in 2011 from complications of diabetes. I recommend the awesome and weird “Ipecac”.
7. Tar Babies
Another SST Records fray into psychedelic rock, Tar Babies was a weird combo of jazz, psychedelic and avant garde craziness, Acid Punk if you will. The band formed in 1982, the original line up was Jeremy Davies on vocals, Bucky Pope on guitars, Dan Bitney on drums and Robin Davies on bass, the guys came from different bands with different sounds and they came together to create this audio mutant. Their first two albums “Face the Music” and “Respect Your Nightmares” were released on their own label Bone Air Music, but their next album “Fried Milk” was put out by SST Records. In my opinion, “Fried Milk” is their best album acid freaked, experimental rock to the hilt done right. Their later albums would have a more funk sound, I enjoy all of their albums. A band that decided to go out on the limb of Weird Tree as far as they could go.
Nothing beats a reverb soaked Surf instrumental after listening to bad acid trip, avant garde black or death metal, a cool blue tropical drink of a Surf instrumental gets rid of that weird after taste. Lawndale toasts that drink to those masters of yesteryear like Dick Dale and Link Wray. There is no dumb vocals that get in the way of the music, ride the wave, baby, ride the wave. When SST had retro acts like Saint Vitus, DC3, Tar Babies and Lawndale they did it right. A band from, where else, Lawndale, CA and oddly enough SST Records mailing address but not their physical address, the band was started in 1984 by Rick Waddell aka Rick Lawndale on guitar and Jack Skelley on bass, on second guitar was Steve Housden and on drums was Dave Childs naming themselves after the city they were from. Greg Ginn signed them and they released the fucking awesome “Beyond Barbecue” and the still awesome “Sasquatch Rock” as well as numerous compilations. They split in 1987 but Rick revived the band in 1997 under the Rick Lawndale Band. Search these guys out and ride the wave! LA Weekly described them as “The Ventures meet Led Zeppelin in Don Knott’s living room”. Pretty apt description.
9. October Faction
While October Faction was a band rooted in punk, October Faction’s tree branched and strengthened in avant garde jazz and psychotic hard rock. The members were SST Records regulars Chuck Dukowski on bass, Greg Cameron on drums, Greg Ginn on guitar, Joe Baiza from the punk band Saccharine Trust on second guitar and Tom Troccoli from Troccoli’s Dog on vocals and they were mainly a instrumental jam band. Their first album is a live recording from 1985 that is self titled and this is my favorite of their two albums, this is where the experimentalism rears its ugly, mutated head. The back and forth jamming of the players in created something that partakes of jazz, punk and hard rock with equal fever. Their second album “Second Factionalization” is a studio recording, still good but not as insane or dangerous as their first live recording.
So there you have it! Unlike a lot of punk labels, SST Records wasn’t afraid to go into different musical territory, even if it meant dying of thirst and hunger. I am sure I am leaving off bands, SST Records had two different labels under its umbrella, Cruz Records and Issues Records which released a spoken word album by NBA Celtic legend Bill Walton with Ray Manzarek of the Doors doing background music. In the late 1980’s Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. soured on the financial practices of SST and went elsewhere. Sub Pop started to gain more prominence and became the underground label in the 1990’s. SST went into hibernation when noise/sound collage act Negativland sued SST after Negativland’s kerfuffle with U2 over sampling, SST agreed to hand over masters to Negativland in exchange for completing a planned live album along with keeping the original three albums for a short period. In the 1990’s Ginn only kept the catalog of the punk classics, some bands sued to get their rights back. In 2002 Ginn signed a deal with Koch records and digital music distributor, The Orchard, released a bunch of SST Record acts on I tunes and e music in 2006.
While SST Records is known for classic punk, people forget their rich back catalog of non punk acts, most of which was the womb of what would become the alternative rock/metal movement. The Stoner/Doom/Garage Rock/Metal scene owes a debt they can never repay to SST Records.