Hardcore punk bass legend Chuck Dukowski reflects on his pre-Black Flag band
Alongside a bass player murderers row made up of Minuteman Mike Watt, Meat Puppets’ Cris Kirkwood, Hüsker dude Greg Norton, Kira of dOS and, later on, Black Flag, Chuck Dukowski led a freak force of the most radical of shape-shifters wielding the low-end in the DIY hardcore punk universe of SST Records.
As an OG member of Black Flag, Dukowski threw down the fuzz-drenched bass ante with breakneck momentum that still resonates to this day. Just drop the needle on your scratched up and worn-thin copy of BF hardcore classic Damaged for face melting proof of the thumping bass fury ‘The Duke” let loose with, not to mention the stuff of legend ragers that he contributed to the Black Flag canon like “I Love You” and “My War.”
Now with this year’s Record Store Day release of EXHUMED by Dukowski’s pre-Black Flag band Würm, his already iconic status in the annals of American independent underground has ballooned even more exponentially.
Formed in 1973 by Dukowski with guitarist Ed Danky (deceased, 1991) and drummer “Loud Lou” Hinzo, Würm helped plant the seeds for the hardcore punk blueprint that Black Flag ultimately birthed but it all can be traced to EXHUMED—a crucial and long-overdue document of the punk landscape that collects 1985’s long out-of-print Feast, unreleased tracks, demos, live songs and tracks taken from The Blasting Concept compilations.
The precursor to the style-spanning sound and vision of SST Records, Würm was proto-everything and EXHUMED shows a band miles upon miles ahead of its time. They were sludge and doom metal before those genres were even coined while Dukowski, with “Padded Cell,” “Modern Man,” and “I’ve Heard It Before,” gave an epically scuzzy taste of what was to come just mere years later when those legendary songs were reborn in the canon of Black Flag.
The Globe was lucky enough to hook up with Dukowski to talk Würm and the long-awaited reissue, their practice/live-in space the WURMHOLE, meeting Keith Morris and Greg Ginn and more, along with the return of FLAG and the prospect of new Würm material.
First of all, listening to EXHUMED, you can’t help but be in awe of how locked-in you guys were. There’s some serious proggy time-signature madness going on and considering this was pre-Black Flag, circa- mid-1970’s, you were obviously pretty young.
Thanks for the compliment on our performances and compositions. I love the time signature madness. It’s part of my natural style. When I look back at all my music it is a recurring theme.
Speaking of how dialed-in you were, what was the practice regiment like in Würm and in the WURMHOLE? Were you guys practicing for hours on end as you did later on in Black Flag?
We practiced as much as we could. We just liked to jam. At the WURMHOLE we were practicing every day if possible. Many days we would play in the early afternoon and then again at night. Würm had lots of songs and we were always coming up with more. It’s what we did for fun -and I hoped to make a living from it someday.
What was it about Würm’s output that jumped out at you while you revisited the material? I’m thinking you haven’t listened to these songs in decades. How involved were you in working on the reissue and the whole package?
When I went to listen to this music again I was reminded how WURM was out of sync with trends at the time. WURM was ahead of its time really. I really enjoyed putting together the photos for this record. It was great to see all the old pictures of the band. Glen Friedman, who is a legendary photographer, contributed photos and Black Flag’s producer Spot contributed photos, too. I got a solid push and help from ORG Music toward finally putting together and releasing EXHUMED. ORG’s mastering engineer mastered it and their artist collaborated with me on the cover art. We had numerous discussions about what to do along the way. The ideas developed and changed as we worked on it. I really like the final package. It’s great.
Back to the WURMHOLE: can you recall how you landed there and what the scene was like, who was coming and going, etc.? Was it also your pad?
It was around Easter of ‘77 when Würm guitarist Ed Danky and I discovered the space in Hermosa that became the WURMHOLE. We’d just been evicted from our previous place, a mice-plagued hellhole in industrial Torrance. We were searching for a new spot. After a lunch on the beach we noticed a faded “For Rent” sign in the window of a derelict bath house right on the Strand boardwalk. We met the landlord, took a look inside and loved it. A totally fucked up, long abandoned bath-house and bar (?). What a combo – PERFECT! We made a deal to rent the place and moved right in. It was pretty rugged at first but after a while we made a pretty nice rehearsal spot out of it. It felt like a giant living room. We installed several doors to block sound and slow the P-I-G’s and intruders who might be interested in what we had or were up to. We carpeted the floors and put several layers of carpet on the walls for sound deadening. There was a hobo hippie couple with a St. Bernard living in the gutted changing rooms upstairs (and) we’d hear stomping around. Apparently they had a deal to do some repairs up there with the landlord. They’d feed the dog pizza leftovers from the Perry’s pizza place next door. (There are pictures of these characters in SPOT’s photo book, Sounds of Two Eyes Opening – Southern California Life: Skate/Beach/Punk 1969-1982) There was no scene at the WURMHOLE to start with but we were right in the middle of a busy part of the beach so it didn’t take long for one to develop. Soon we had a little party scene happening and we met Keith Morris, the future first singer of Black Flag. Keith brought (Black Flag guitarist) Greg Ginn over and within a month Keith and Greg were renting an adjacent room. Soon the WURMHOLE became a Hermosa Beach/South Bay party destination and for the rest of the time we lived there people were there every night. Sometimes the partying got pretty epic. To have a place to escape Ed and I moved our beds into the storage closets along the hall and we instituted a secret knock to get in the front door, like a speakeasy. The wrong knock was ignored.
As the story goes, the seeds were planted for Black Flag at the WURMHOLE where you met Keith Morris and Greg Ginn, as you said. What do you remember about them? How was it that they showed up there at the WURMHOLE?
Würm’s guitarist Ed Danky met Keith on the boardwalk a block south at the pier. He could tell Keith was into rock and started talking with him. He invited Keith over and we hung out for a while talking about music and the local scene in Hermosa. Keith used to come by at noon with a bunch of beer while we were still drinking coffee. He always encouraged us to start our day with him “Jim Morrison ‘Roadhouse’ style”. I tried it a couple of times and it wasn’t for me. What a way to start the day.
Getting back to Würm: How did you actually start the band with guitarist Ed Danky? Where did you know Ed from? How did you find Loud Lou? I read that he answered an ad? What did that ad actually say?
Ed Danky was my friend from High School. We hung out and listened to music and even jammed out on recorders and a piano sometimes at his and other friend’s houses. He got me a job where he worked at Marineland. That job allowed us to work at other events including rock concerts in the evenings. In the end of our senior year of high school I had a chance to play a precision bass while hanging out at one of our friends houses. I loved it and ordered a cheap bass from Montgomery Ward. I played that bass every day through my dad’s stereo system. As soon as I felt confident enough to try it I organized some jamms with a local drummer. I loved it. Along the way I ran into a guy who wanted to sell an electric guitar for $20. I got it and gave it to Ed for XMAS. Ed loved it. I had not known, but he was a proficient trumpeter and took to the guitar quickly.
When Würm consolidated in LA in 1976 we had a drummer that I’d met in Santa Barbara, but by the end of the year he quit because he was unable to find a job to keep up on his car and insurance payments. (Watch out! debt is a ball and chain) For a few months we searched for a new drummer. I remember throwing stacks of flyers from the upper balcony of stadium concerts down to the crowds below. We also ran ads in the Recycler and in Music Connection and eventually Lou responded to one of our Recycler Ads. I don’t really remember how it read but it probably listed some of the music we liked. The obvious stuff like Sabbath, Cooper, Stooges and Loud, Heavy and Hard. We were living in an abandoned adult theatre at Santa Cruz and Pacific in San Pedro. Lou came over one day and we did a jamm. We liked him and his playing and we asked Lou to join the band.
Würm has elements of metal, progressive rock, hard rock and punk, which at that point hadn’t even broke yet. What did you guys bond over? What bands were you listening to? There are songs like “Bad Habits” that are insanely catchy.
We checked out all sorts of bands. Gradually our taste went to harder music. In the beginning it was Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, King Crimson, Wishbone Ash, Johnny Winter, Spirit, James Gang, Grand Funk, Alice Cooper, Allman Brothers, Yes. Soon we got into David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Lou Reed, Blue Oyster Cult, Captain Beyond, Kiss, MC5, Stooges, New York Dolls, Pink Fairies, Hawkwind, Budgie and myriad others. We got into buying used records and explored the more obscure ‘60s acid rock music like Blue Cheer, The Seeds and The Hook. “Bad Habits” shows a big Black Sabbath influence from the main riff to the abrupt changes.
There are songs on EXHUMED that were later reborn as Black Flag songs. What’s the story behind “Padded Cell” that later wound up on Damaged? The Würm version is quite different than what is on Damaged with the exception of that ‘Maniac!’ part.
Black Flag’s ‘Padded Cell’ happened after Keith Morris and then Ron Reyes quit Black Flag. Würm seemed to me to be a fading memory and I thought the “Padded Cell” song idea was good and could be adapted to one of the pieces of music we were playing with Dez to make our sets more acceptably long. Early Black Flag had very short sets. On our first tour we would play a 15-minute set and repeat it if people wanted more. We added “Louie Louie” to stretch the set.
Black Flag “Louie Louie”, SST
Then there’s “Modern Man” and “I’ve Heard It Before,” which wound up on Loose Nut and the “Six Pack” EP, respectively. Whose idea was it to redo those as Black Flag songs? Did you think those were too good to sit on the shelf?
It was my idea to bring those songs in but everyone else was into it. When you’re young and creative you just want to get your work out there. You don’t nitpick. But then, you know, so many artists have had their early work stolen, it a tough balance.
Würm seemed really heavy on a proto-sludge-metal kick—way ahead of its time. Black Flag ultimately slowed the pace down towards the doom and gloom and sludgy, a la Black Sabbath. Many people attribute that direction in sound in Black Flag to Ginn. How much of that metal sound was your influence?
You know, honestly, I think it was, Black Flag’s second singer, Dez Cadena, and I really brought that vibe into Black Flag. Everyone was on board for that sound ultimately but I think Dez and I were the origin.
Included in EXHUMED are pics by Glen Freidman of a 1983 performance at the “Smoke In” concert at the Federal Building in Los Angeles, California. What can you recall about that show? Did Würm play a lot of gigs and tour? What other bands were on the ‘Smoke In” bill? Did Black Flag play as well?
The SMOKE IN was Würm and Black Flag. Ed and I organized it for the Marijuana legalization movement (CMA). The concert was completely bootleg and had no permits or anything! The “Smoke Ins” had been a tradition since the early 70s and it was cool to be part of continuing that. At the time smoking marijuana, but not growing, transporting or selling it, was legal under federal law but not state law so the concept was to have a big pot party at the federal building where people could smoke out legally and protest the state’s marijuana prohibition.
On EXHUMED (and on the “We’re Off/”I’m Dead” B-side), there’s a cover of “Time Has Come Today.” How did it come about that you guys covered that one? Seems way out there.
Ed wanted to record “The Time Has Come Today” as part of the project so we learned it along with “We’re Off” and re-learning “I’m Dead”.
Lastly, what is the status of FLAG? And what are your future plans music-wise beyond this RSD reissue? New CD6? A new band maybe?
FLAG will be playing Punk Rock Bowling 2019. Chuck Dukowski Sextet (CD6) has been on a hiatus since 2013 but we have plans to release an EP themed on the Hansel and Gretel story planned for RSD spring 2019. We’ve already nearly completed the recordings and they’re great. Maybe we’ll feel inspired to play a couple of shows when that record comes out. I have no other concrete plans for bands. I do jamms with friends from time to time. Würm’s drummer Loud Lou Hinzo, Dez Cadena and I did a fun lil’ jamm a while back. Maybe some new Würm activity could come from that?