Sometimes when I'm writing these columns I've got a lot to say: I've been in touch with band members or pieced together their history and have some good stories to share. And sometimes I just have a record that I really like and don't know a whole lot about. In those instances I'll try to ask around and see if anyone knows more than I do. I was surprised at the answers I got when asking around about the Red Stars. For a relatively unknown band, they are surrounded by myth and, true or not, it makes for an interesting story (like this quote from our own Scott Soriano taken from an old MRR: “I saw this band the day after the singer’s house burned down, melting his entire record collection.” That’s intense!).
I had always assumed that the band was from Florida since their record was released on Ft. Lauderdale's Far Out Records and there's a lyrical allusion to The Eat (…“listen to that communist radio music...”), and every Floridian I know holds a special place in their heart for The Eat. As it turns out, the band itself was from the San Francisco Bay area, though their singer, Jason, was a Florida native. They recorded just this one single with the stunning “Welcome to the Party” backed with “We Lost.” Far Out pressed up 500 copies of the record (it’s actually possible it may have been 1000, but it’s a moot point either way) and then had some sort of falling out with the band. In one rumor that I’ve been told, the label threatened to shoot the band, and soon after vanished into obscurity, but I am unaware of what events are said to have led up to that.
Whatever happened, after the record was pressed the label didn’t bother to distribute it or even send any to the band. In fact, the majority of copies that have surfaced all came from one collector who wrote the label inquiring about the record and received a small stack of them. A few have turned up at Amoeba and another West Coast store (that may or may not have originated from that stack), but copies are few and far between. It is assumed that the label is sitting on almost the entire pressing of the record; when searching for a copy of the record I'd written his old PO Box, but never did receive an answer.
It’s a real shame that this didn’t make it to many turntables since “Welcome to the Party” is a phenomenal side of punk rock. Though the band saw themselves as being styled after the Real Kids (and borrowed their named from the Real Kids’ label), the end result was raw, gritty punk rock and bore little resemblance to the more palatable Boston band. Jason’s vocals steal the show and rank among the better shouted leads in recent memory. The band plods along with a catchy bass driven riff and tinny guitar sound that builds up to a two-note solo finale and promptly ends safely under the two-minute mark. As is often the case, the flip, “We Lost,” is more restrained and not nearly as memorable. I’m a sucker for the unpolished recording style that the Stars use to great results on their single. (Right click and "Save as..." to listen to "Welcome to the Party" by Red Stars)
Since breaking up, the band members have kept on playing in bands around the area. Jason is currently fronting Harold Ray Live In Concert and the Adam Carlson Band (7” out soon on Raw Deluxe, I hope.) Justin was in the Robot Assassins, and I'm sure there were plenty of other ex-Red Stars bands that logged some time playing parties in Oakland that I’m unaware of. My friends over at the Static Party blog dedicated an entry to the Robot Assassins a few months back, but they were a great band, so I don’t mind being a bit repetitive.
The Robot Assassins were Justin and Gregory, who met at the UC Theater in Berkeley, and started playing music. They took a minimal approach to punk that stood out against the “lo-fi, blown out” Teengenerate/Oblivians-inspired or “punk rocknroll” Devil Dogs-influenced bands that were churning out records rapid-fire at the time (and a lot of it was great, but this was different). The approach wasn’t unprecedented, but to my young ears it was fresh. Songs like “Vacuum Cleaner” sounded like friends recording music for kicks. It was fun and pure, and the end result was not all that different in approach from what The Urinals did many years before. (Right click and "Save as..." to listen to "Vacuum Cleaner" by Robot Assassins)
The Assassins proved to be extremely prolific, and after releasing this six-song “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” EP, recorded another 18 songs that were, at one point, intended to be a double LP on Rocknroll Blitzkrieg Records. Sadly, that record never made it to release and those demos are collecting dust in closets in the East Bay. I can't think of anything from the time period that’s more deserving of release than this (and my CD-R of it has bitten the dust already, so I need it on vinyl). The recordings may be a bit much for a single-sitting double album, but the style is more refined than on the EP, and there is certainly a stunning LP’s worth of material. The Robot Assassins were drawing influences from The Homosexuals and Simply Saucer, which is all the more impressive considering at the time those bands had not yet been reissued or championed, and these later recordings have a deliberate and effective stripped down approach. (Right click and "Save as..." to listen to an unreleased Robot Assassins track)
After the Robot Assassins broke up, Gregory played in a band called The Silence, who were reportedly great and similar in style. Maybe someone’s got some demos hidden away somewhere they’d like to share? (Right click and "Save as..." to listen to "Robot Assassins" by Robot Assassins)
A debt of gratitude is due to Mark Murrmann who was able to supply me with additional information and corrections. And another tip of the hat to Static Party for beating me to the punch on the Robot Assassins. I apologize for the repetition, but it fit with the theme of the column here, so I decided to include it anyway.
In my initial column here I wrote about a record from Austin by The Nubees. Shortly after, I decided it’d be fun to attempt to track down scans of as many of those unique record sleeves as possible. So far the count is up to 7 out of 45 records (with another couple hopefully coming soon). Got a copy? Please send a scan/photo of the cover and labels, along with your number. You can find this in the “Track the Nubees” section of www.nostages.com., which will also, eventually, have a bunch more photos, writing, discographies, and other random crap on it.
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