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Bruce Duff (interview -- Dig It! # 28)

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From Jesters to Justice...
An interview with Bruce Duff

What are the first rock’n’roll records, bands or shows that left their mark on you ?

The first thing I remember for sure was this 45 of "Jailhouse Rock" that This teenage girl next door had.  I must have been four or five years old, and it was already an oldie’ then.  I have this weird dreamlike memory of a little cartoon jailhouse on the 45’s label, but I’ve never found anything like it, so it’s a muddled memory, mixed up with a children’s record somehow.  I went over to hear the record so many times they eventually asked me to please stay home.

You had an uncle who worked with Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevator. He must have had tons of stories to tell you?

Uncle Jim Duff worked for Leland Rogers, Kenny’s brother, and Kingpin behind Texas psychedelic label International Artists.  He recorded Los Hombres ("Let It All Hang Out") and Red Krayola, too.  Mostly he remembers everyone playing extremely loud, even in the studio, and being on mind-benders just about all the time.  It was the Sixties, ya know.  He told me Roky and the Elevators were in the studio the night of the first manned moon landing, and they were supposed to come out of the capsule and walk on the moon.  Something technical went wrong and stalled it.  They were recording, and out of the blue Roky announced, "They’re walking on the moon, now."  They turned on the TV and he was right.

When did you start playing music ? What was your first band ?

I began playing guitar because my friend, Eric Show (who went on to be a major league baseball player but sadly is no longer with us), was playing guitar really well and it seemed like a fun thing to do.  We were 10 years old.  We ended up playing together in bands through high school, mostly cover bands that wrote the rare original.  We went through names such as Majestic Eye, Dillinger, and finally Annabel Lee.

The Jesters Of DestinyCan you tell us a word about those bands you played in.
The Jesters Of  Destiny ?

Jesters were born out of a studio project, where some songs that Ray Violet and I concocted seemed to be different from the rest.  Our first two recordings were "End of Time" (which ended up on Metal Massacre V- Metal Blade), and "Diggin’ That Grave."  Looking back, it was a pretty strong start.

You were labeled alternative metal . What was it supposed to mean ? Diggin’ That Grave sounds like Black Sabbath meets Syd Barrett.  It's a frenzy song !

Frenzy, yes, I believe Screamin’ Jay would agree.  Well, we didn’t call  it alternative metal, I’m still not sure what that means exactly, although Jesters fit more easily with the Seattle Grunge of a few years later than the LA strip metal and art metal (Jane’s Addiction) or punk (Dickies) that we typically played with.  Solid Sabbath type riffs were a large part, but so was 60s garage and the psych that was going around in L.A.  with the likes of the Dream Syndicate, and we also loved Jane’s and Redd Kross, though I don’t know how obvious that is by listening.

You released an all cover album called In A Nostalgic Mood. I know the Sabbath and Hendrix covers  attracted particular attention. What were the other highlights of this album ?

We did a slowed down "Fortunate Son" with Paul Roessler (Twisted Roots, 45 Grave) playing some amazing piano.  We did a fairly faithful version of "Spazz" by the Elastic Band, which at the time was pretty obscure, although since it has become a well-known ?˜Nugget.’  We did a guitar-heavy version of Little Richard’s "The Girl Can’t Help It" with a full sax section, just like the Upsetters.  Little Richard is my favorite singer.

How was it to deal with a bandmate like Sickie Wifebeater from the Mentors ?

Sickie is an amazing guitarist, but can be somewhat unnerving to work with. Ray dealt with him better than I did, they ended up being roommates at one point.  There was a show where Sickie decided  he was going to play in front of people without wearing his Mentors hood.  It turned out this was the first time he’d ever done that in his life.   He got really drunk, and while we were in the dressing room, we were startled to hear him playing Led Zeppelin’s "Heartbreaker" all by himself on stage, with his Marshall stack turned up to 11.  Then, when we actually started playing or set, he found a stool and sat down like fucking Robert Fripp!  Our drummer said "me or him" after the show so we decided to keep the drummer.

How were you received by the punk scene ?

If you  mean the Jesters, you have to remember you’re talking about a time when TSOL looked like Guns n’ Roses.  The punk scene was pretty dormant at the time.

Were they links between the punk and the metal scene in LA in the 80’s ?

The fans of both were very hardcore, almost militant, and as such didn’t mingle or go over to the "other side" too much.  Musicians and music biz people and other scenesters seemed able to appreciate both as cool music. Then, you remember bands like the Cro-Mags started the so-called Crossover. Whether that was a good thing or not I was never quite sure.

45 Grave ?
Who was in the line-up when you played with them ?

45 Grave was my absolute favorite band at the time, and I weaseled my way into the band when I’d heard they’d fired Rob Graves (one of my heroes!) and hired a guy named Zack who I was convinced wasn’t right for the band.. When I joined it was Dinah Cancer, Paul Cutler, Don Bolles playing both drums and keys, and Del Hopkins playing both drums and keys.  We recorded a full-album for Goldar with this line-up, it never came out, and I think I have the only mixes that survived the band’s heroin daze, or else Bolles would have sold  then to Cleopatra Records for lunch money.  The record ended up being scrapped and three tracks only came out as "Phantoms," one of the very first releases on Enigma.  By that time, Hopkins got the boot (neither he or  Bolles could really play keyboards, and Bolles was the original drummer) and Roessler joined.  Then I got the boot so Graves could come back.  This all (and way more than I could fit into a paragraph, believe me) happened in a mere six months between ‘83 and ‘84, coming up on 20 years ago.

Some of the first line-up members were previously in Vox Pop with Jeff Dahl right ?

Vox Pop was basically 45 Grave with everyone switched around on instruments, plus Mikey Borens (I think) and Jeff Dahl, a couple other people (even me) were in and out of the band.

It becames a kind of cult band. Is there any 45 Grave records out we could find ?

Restless still has most of the Grave catalog out on CD.  Both "Sleep in Safety" and "Autopsy" are pretty damn good.

Jeff Dahl Group ? How did you hook up with Jeff Dahl ?

Jeff would roadie for 45 Grave, that’s how we met.  I used to go see Powertrip all the time at the Cathay De Grande, I loved them.  Jeff quit music for a few years and kind of refocused his life and energies.  When he decided to start going out solo, the first rehearsals and recordings were Del Hopkins, Scott Morrow (of the Fiends, and LA Weekly writer of some import), me and Jeff.

How was the european tour you made with him and Mr Ratboy in 93 ?

It was something I’ll never forget.  It was too long, 9 weeks!  We should have made it more like 5 weeks, as we grinded on and on for too long in too many small towns, particularly in Germany and France (although Toulouse was fantastic!)  The great shows and great times were really terrific, but all and all it became a hallucination after a while.  I wrote a book about it that no one will publish, at least in America.  Anyone interested in learning more can email me at   The book is called "The Smell of  Death" and it quite completely tells the whole story, and it’s not the story you would expect.

Any news about Jeff Dahl by the way ?

I saw Jeff two weeks ago in Tempe, Arizona.  He’s working on new stuff in his studio, producing other bands, and he looks great and is in perfect health. He switched to playing a Flying V for those keeping score.

Sister Goddamn / ADZ ?

Long story.  When Dahl moved to Arizona, Amy, guitarist of the Jeff Dahl Group, formed an all-girl power trio and was looking for a male singer- pretty good idea.   I offered to record the trio with a four-track I’d just bought so that they could give a tape to potential singers and they could come in and jam with the band.  Well, the band ended up breaking up during recording.   Amy came by with Tony Reflex and said, "here’s my singer!"  I put on new bass tracks, Tony brought in Mat Young from the Flower Lepards on drums, and my four-track tape got us a record deal.

Tony Adolescent / Reflex and you were playing in both bands. I’ve read you’ve done a  Sister Goddamn / ADZ european tour with a revolving line-up like a R&B revue. How was it ?

R & B Review, well, that was the concept, anyway.  Two members of Sister Goddamn mach II (Amy had left by this point) bailed on the tour less than a week before we were supposed to fly, so both bands featured Tony and Mat. That seemed to weaken the overall impact, although there were some cross-band jams, mostly involving me playing with the Adz during encores.  Upon returning, we folded the two bands together and Adz R Go.

ADZYou have a founding member of Flipside Magazine in the current line-up. Is Flipside still running ? Haven’t seen a new issue since a long time.

Do you mean Tony?  I don’t think he was a founder.  Flipside is kaput, which is too bad.

What is the Orange County punk style ? I’ve read that label to define the Adolescents and ADZ sound.

I’m from the Inland Empire, and from there I’ve lived in Hollywood since the ‘80s.  Basically, Orange County is just something in the way of the two.

Steve Kravak has supposely tought you recording tricks he learned from Mick Ronson when you produced the third ADZ record (Piper…) . What kindof tricks ?

That’s sort of a joke.  We did do something that he’d read somewhere that had to do with "triggering" and snare drum sonically, with a speaker playing back loud enough to "hit" another snare hit.  Wasn’t it more cool before I explained it?

We know the Ultras mini-album The Complete Handbook of Songwriting. Who else have you produced ?

Fifi (w/ Pete Finestone, pretty great punk record), a bunch of LA stuff like Penny Dreadfuls, DeeDee Troit, Stokes, Messiaz (blowin’ yer mind soon), and almost all Adz/ Sister Goddamn / Pinups / blah blah.

You also played with Simon Stokes.  Can you tell us more about this guy ? He also has a cult profile in the states.

Stokes led a band called the Black Whip Thrill Band, and the Nighthawks, ‘70s hard rock blues bayou motorcycle rebel rockers.  Instead of overdosing or going insane, he made some money getting music in movies and other scams, bought himself a house in the hills, and eventually re-emerged as a fully-formed, ass-kicking son of a bitch.

He also seems to have connections with The Confederacy Of Scum?

Yeah, but it ain’t his fault.  They just dig him.

We also heard about Afro Lesbos, Ugly Janitors of America, Twisted Roots or  Bug Lamp. A word about those bands ?

I don’t know the Afro Lesbos, but wish I did.  Ugly Jans are long-time friend John Trubee’s band.  He writes out charts and so forth, I always play with him when he asks me, still.  I played in the second version of Twisted Roots with Paul Roessler, Dez Cadina (Black Flag), Art from the Weirdos (eventually replaced by the dependable  Del Hopkins) and me.  Pat Smear (Germs/Nirvana) even joined for awhile.  Bug Lamp was Keith Morris (Circle Jerks) hard rock band from the early ‘90s.  Keith and I were the only guys to stay with the band start to finish.  Daniel Rey produced  us.  We recorded a lot, but the only things released were two songs on tribute albums (Ramones and Alice Cooper) and the closing song in the movie "Roadside Prophets."  Basically,people didn’t accept Keith as a hard rock’ singer as opposed to a punk, but I thought he was great at it.  Some people have so little imagination.
Bruce + Frank
You got a new band with Frank Meyer, Sweet Justice. The song I heard sounds like straight to face simple rock’n’roll. What are your goals with that band ?

Boys just want to have fun.

What makes you play in so many bands ?

I love music.  Music is the best.

How many bands do you play in currently?

Given that the Adz seem more or less dormant, I play in 3:  Simon Stokes, Sweet Justice, the Flair.  The Flair is a new power pop  band with my friend Roger Deering who used to be in Rattlebone, if you can cross-reference that. Frank Meyer and I also produce  Hip Hop under the name Messiaz.  Frank knows just about everything about hip hop.

You played along the years with an amazing bunch of singers and musicians (even poet like Deborah Exit). What are your best and worst souvenirs ?

Best:  Emos, Austin TX, with ADZ.  Palladium w/ Bug Lamp.  Helsinki w/ Jeff Dahl.  Playing on a bill with Dee Dee Ramone at his last-ever show.  Working with Rozz Williams, Rik L. Rik and Jeffrey Lee Pierce on some of their final projects -- though sad, very glad I got to.  Worst:  Cracked ribs, tinnitus, memory less, deafness.

Do you still work for Triple X ? What’s your exact job ? Is Triple X still banned from the Maximum R’n’R pages ? What are the next good releases from the label ?

I stopped working with my brothers at the mighty Triple X nearly two years ago.  They will forever be banned in Maximum to the best of my knowledge. They have a Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs record coming soon that is astounding.

Do you still have time to write ?

Yeah, I write mostly for the L.A. Weekly.  I’m finally (nearly) as cool as Scott Morrow.

Can you tell us more about the Hard & Heavy video magazine ?

Wow, you know the whole story.  Hard & Heavy was a video magazine, a format that ultimately didn’t make it.  We covered metal in the late 80s, it was along the same format of Rip in the US and Metal Hammer or Kerrang in Europe..
As the 90s approached, we continued to cover heavy music like Nirvana, Jane’s, White Zombie, Nymphs, pretty cool stuff.  It was good while it lasted and I made some decent money, but ultimately the format didn’t prove viable.

Is there still something in the music business you never tried?

Yeah, hit records.

What do you think about the current rock is back hype in the States and in Europe ?

It doesn’t seem to be reflected in reality.  But, it’s cool.  It’s good to see a band like Soundtrack of our Lives rocking out live on TV, or the Hellacopters, or the Hangmen.  Think about it, though, rock is nearly 50 years old, and even Beethoven didn’t have a heyday that long.  I think the torch is being passed and rock is sort of like jazz was when rock took over. Which is fine, there’s still a good audience, but it’s not like it was in the ‘60s or ‘70s, that’s for sure.  The ‘80s was all revisionism, the ‘90s was last ditch efforts.  Today, even new bands sound  nostalgic.

What’s your opinion about the evolution of the rock’n’roll scene in LA since you started ?

It goes in waves, and peaks when a band catches world-wide attention to the point of other bands moving to the city to be like them.   The peaks have been Phil Spector, Beach Boys, Byrds, Doors, Eagles, the Knack (laugh if you like, they were absolutely HUGE at the time here), Motley Crue (ditto), Jane’s Addiction, Guns n’ Roses.  Then, pretty much nothing, at least in terms of being the center of an entire scene and lifestyle.  It’s all eclecticism now, with people still trying to play the record industry hustle..

What are your next projects ?

New Simon Stokes, recording in a matter of weeks.  The Flair is working on two demos, one being produced at Swinghouse (cool local studio) and one being produced by Anthony of Crazytown in his home studio.  I’m probably gonna produce  Sweet Justice pretty soon along with Frank, and together we’re cranking at the breakbeat, y’all.

Any new bands, records, movies or books to recommand to our readers ?

Everyone’s talking about the revived TurboNegro, that’s exciting.  Sure as hell not new, but if you can catch Arthur Lee with the Baby Lemonade guys as Love, do so.  Loved the Dirtbombs when I saw them.  Flaming Lips latest show is the best psychedelic presentation ever, period.   Tony gave me the Sun Ra book, "Space is the Place," it was pretty great.  Been diggin’ the Alex De Inglesias (might be screwing up his name) Spanish horror flix, fantastic. "Day of the Beast" and "Dance with the Devil" are mind-fuckers. The Bowie CD best-of has great early BBC stuff in perfect condition.   And support my friends, brothers and sisters in the BellRays, Hangmen, Super Bees, White Flag, Texas Terri, and the Adolescents.

Sylvain Coulon

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