All of this is being remembered through a fog of time and drug-induced brain damage. This is how remember it but I wouldn’t take it as historical fact…
It’s the end of March, 1983 and Minor Threat are making their second swing through Texas. We got connected with them through mutual friends, and played with them in Austin the previous summer. This time we helped set up three Texas shows – Houston, Dallas and Austin – and we are playing all of them as well.
The first show was Friday, March 25th in Houston. Minor Threat came to Austin first, landing on Thursday at Tim Kerr’s house to hang out and spend the night. The next morning we all gathered at Tim’s house to head to Houston for the second show. The Offenders were joining us for the Houston and Dallas shows, and since Big Boys didn’t have a van at the time we piled all of our gear into the Offenders short wheelbase Dodge Sportsman van. I think every touring punk band in the early 80’s had an early 70’s Dodge van…I guess they were cheap and reliable.
My girlfriend Robin came along, driving her VW Bug, so three of us rode with her and the rest of the Big Boys crew piled in with the Offenders for the 3 hour drive to Houston. Spot (the now-legendary producer for Black Flag/Big Boys/Minutemen, etc…) was in Austin at the time working on the sessions for the “Fun, Fun, Fun” ep. with us, and he came along for the ride. Felix Griffin (drummer from D.R.I) and the guys from his band “Crotch Rot” (who were all around 14-16 years old and on the bill in Austin) somehow talked his mom into driving them to Houston as well, but I think they were just going to meet us I at the show. We took off around noon, and this is where things start to get interesting.
Half way between Austin and Houston is a town called Columbus where we always stop at the Dairy Queen for lunch or an ice cream cone, and this trip was no exception. So now we have 20+ punk rockers piling into a small town DQ on a Saturday afternoon, making noise, having fun and generally attracting the attention of the locals, who can’t figure out WHAT the hell we are. After about half an hour we finally wandered out to the parking lot and prepared to hit the road.
When Ian went to start the Minor Threat van it wouldn’t catch. He cranked and cranked it but it just wouldn’t start. We opened the hood and after some inspection I realized that air was blowing OUT of the carburetor instead of being sucked in. After a quick call to my dad to confirm my suspicions we realized that they had broken the timing belt. Not good. Columbus is a tiny town and it was Saturday afternoon… We pushed their van about two blocks to a Texaco station and Ian and Jeff made arrangements to get it fixed. But even that was not going to be easy.
They were going to have to order the timing belt from another city and it wouldn’t get there until late Saturday afternoon. Fortunately, the mechanic at the garage was a good guy and agreed to come in on Sunday and get them back on the road. So we left their van at the Texaco, piled some of their equipment and all of them into the already crowed Offenders van and off we went.
There were something like 16 people and three bands worth of equipment riding in that tiny van. Everyone was piled on top of each other, making the best of a bad situation. Spot (for reasons that only Spot can understand) had brought his clarinet along for the trip, and the whole crowd spend part of the drive singing Black Flag songs accompanied by Spot.
We made it to the venue in Houston… I can’t remember where the show was – probably the Consolidated Arts Warehouse – anyway…, and we spent some time figuring out the equipment situation (since only the Offenders had all their actual gear). The show was a lot of fun. We always had a great time playing Houston, and the Offenders had evolved into a blistering powerhouse, and were busy laying the foundation for a lot of the metal/thrash bands that would come along later. And Minor Threat – what can I say? It was amazing to see them at that point in their history. They were a machine: unbelievably tight, stopping and starting on a dime. The show went off without a hitch, which was always touch-and-go in Houston around this time. Afterwards we all stayed at some friends’ houses, knowing that we had a six hour drive to Dallas tomorrow.
Saturday morning we all got up and got ready to hit the road. Ian talked Felix’s mom into giving him a ride back to Columbus on their way back to Austin, so he could pick up their van. They headed out early, and around noon the rest of us piled into the Offenders van and Robin’s VW beetle and headed out to Dallas.
The Dallas show was at a V.F.W. hall, and I think this may have been the first show ever held there. Possibly the last too. We got to Dallas around 6pm, set up the gear and waited for show time. 7 o’clock rolled around and no Ian. Then 8 o’clock, then 9… and still no Ian. No cell phones or pagers in those days, so there was absolutely no way to reach him, or him us. The Offenders started playing at a little after 9p.m. and played a blistering set. They finished up and Secret Weapon, a band from Dallas set up and got started… and STILL no Ian. By this point I remember several of us – me, Brain and Lyle – sort of pacing the parking lot. Like staring down the road might speed up his arrival.
Secret Weapon finished their set and it was time for the Big Boys to go on. Still no Ian. There was a good sized crown there and I wasn’t sure what we were going to do if he didn’t make it to the show. We set up our gear and tore into it, giving them everything we had. There were no half-ass Big Boys shows. We really only knew one way to do things – all in, all the time. Burn bright, burn hot and quit before it burns out.
We had finished our set and moved our gear when word arrived that Ian had made it. The repair took MUCH longer than the mechanic expected and he didn’t get out of Columbus until mid-afternoon. He must have driven like a bat out of hell to make it, and make it he did. Think he pretty much walked straight from the van onto the stage. With that much pent up tension, they went off like a bomb. I have vague memories of cop cars and other trouble, but none of that mattered. He made it. He was back with his guys, the van was fixed and the show happened. It was one of those small punk rock miracles that happened from time to time back then. Everyone pulling in the same direction and the universe decides to make room for things to work out.
The next day we headed back to Austin for the final show of the Texas run. By 1983 the Big Boys were putting on all our own shows and this one was no exception. We rented an abandoned club on the outskirts of town called the Skyline Club. It’s where Hank Williams played his last show, and everyone from Elvis to Ray Price played the honkytonk back in its heyday. At the time of the show it was just sitting empty and we had started renting it out to do show. It was just outside the city limits, so we never had any trouble with the police out there and it was a really fun place to play. The stage was only about 18” tall, so the crowd was right up on top of you for most of the set.
After the adventures of Friday and Saturday it was good to be on familiar ground. Crotch Rot opened the show. After our first west coast tour (which is another story entirely…) we started flyering high schools and playing all ages shows, and as a result there were a ton of teenagers coming out to the gigs. It seems like every couple of weeks a group of them would form a band, and every chance we got we put one or more of them on a show with us. Crotch Rot was one of these bands. They were all 14 or 15 years old, playing a hundred miles an hour and having a ball. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have an outlet like this when I was stuck in my room playing guitar in the 70’s. Back then it was me in my room and Journey at the Enormo-dome and nothing in-between. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that our little DIY scene on the early 80’s has created an ongoing scene where kids can have an outlet.
The show was a roaring success. The Offenders played their asses off, Minor Threat was… well, Minor Threat! And the Big Boys ALWAYS had a party when we played Austin. The horn section joined us (they were all in high school as well… and one of them is an ASTRONAUT now!) and we finished the show with a loud, raucous version of Fun, Fun, Fun with the Minor Threat guys and the entire audience singing along.
It was a hell of a weekend. Oftentimes bands would buy a van that the third owner was tired of fixing and then head out across the country with little more than the promise of shows and some pocket change. The fact that we were all able to make it from one side of the country to the other and back each time was a miracle. At that point in history, the DIY punk scene was at a place where if we didn’t stick together and help each other out there would BE no punk scene. So we did what we had to do to make things happen. And happen they did.