Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Like It Or Not…F-Word!

What was the first Punk album ever released in California? If you say X’s Los Angeles, you’re wrong. Was it The Germs’ (GI)? Nope. There is only one band that can claim this distinction, and that’s F-Word! Fueled by the Iggy-esque croon of teenaged singer Rik L Rik, F-Word! unleashed Like It Or Not, an essential slab of pre-hardcore adolescent angst, all the way back in 1978. Then, as fast as they arrived, they were gone – leaving a single extraordinary album as a gift to history. 

The F-Word! story began in 1976, when high school pals Richard Brian Elerick and Paul Sercu started blasting out rudimentary songs in Elerick’s garage after being introduced to Punk Rock. 

“We’d been listening to [LA DJ] Rodney [Bingenheimer], and we’d heard about this 'Masque' club, and that all the punkers were going there,” Sercu remembers. “We saw the punk thing in Trouser Press, and we were listening to all those records. We were listening to The Boomtown Rats and all the stuff out of England. We were looking at that and going, 'This is for us. This is what we’re doing.' We knew the Masque was where we needed to be.”

A dicey dump located on North Cherokee Ave., the Masque was LA’s premier punk hub in ’78 and ’79, hosting live performances by The Germs, X, The Avengers, The Weirdos, The Bags and others. A hard-living Scotsman by the name of Brendan Mullen booked the joint, while shows often featured the onstage antics of emcee and future Wall Of Voodoo member, Bruce “Barf” Moreland. 

“I lived at the Masque; I had a little room there,” Moreland recalls. “Back then, there were porn theaters around. There was the Pussycat Theater, which was on Hollywood Blvd. It was all Mafia people who ran it. The whole building above the Masque was this big tax write-off, and it was a storage place for porn and movie cameras and stuff like that. The basement was empty, so Brendan took the basement and I just moved into one of the little office rooms above there. Nobody was renting it, so we just kind of broke into it because it wasn’t being used. We just decided to break in and take the rooms and live in there.”

Sercu and Elerick passed along an F-Word! demo to Moreland, which led to Mullen giving the band a shot on the Masque stage. The audience at F-Word!’s debut show included Germs frontman Darby Crash (still going by the name “Bobby Pyn” at this stage) and a very impressed Brendan Mullen. 

“[F-Word!] were probably the youngest band on the scene, about the same age as The Zeros, who were part of this new generation of self-created teenage bands, unsupervised by adults and untainted by the open casting calls of Kim 'This is Punk-o-Rama' Fowley,” shared the late Mullen in a 2005 interview with this writer. “With these new kids, Punk was a whole different thing.”

“What I liked about F-Word! was that they were just young kids and they played really well,” adds Masque soundman-turned-legendary producer Geza X. “The band had some really good songs. Almost immediately, people liked them. They just caught on very, very fast and became friends with all of us regulars there.”

As F-Word! gained a reputation, the band’s members (augmented by a constantly-changing rhythm section) took on decidedly punk monikers: Elerick became “Rick L Rick” (eventually shortened to “Rik L Rik”), while Sercu became “Dim Wanker.” Rik’s onstage antics evolved as well. 

“He played barefooted, which I just thought was fucking cool,” recalls former TSOL frontman Joe Wood. “He had a great look, and a different voice than anybody else. He was a crooner of Punk Rock.”

“I don’t know why, but he decided he wanted to be 'Rik L Rik, the barefoot singer,'” adds Sercu. “He was barefoot at our very first gig. He never wore shoes, and there was a lot of glass around.”

With their image firmly in place, F-Word!’s sound further solidified with the addition of drummer Dutch Schultz.

“Dutch was 10 years older than us,” Sercu recalls. “We’re 16 and 17, and he came in and he’s, like, 28. We just thought, 'What are you still playing music for? You’re old!' But he was so terrific. He had a snare drum, a high-hat, a rack tom, a bass drum and a ride cymbal, and that was it. He would do rolls that sounded like he had 40 drums. Because Dutch was 10 years older than us, he played up the age. He had suspenders, slicked-back hair and baggy pants. He looked like a gangster. Rik’s dear to me, but I think Dutch was my favorite member of the band. When he joined the group, it just took off.” 

For Schultz, who had been kicking around in bands since the early ’70s, joining F-Word! was like stepping into an entirely new – and very chaotic – world. 

“I never played so fast in my life!” he remembers. “It was ‘music to go;’ it was like fast food music. People played these short sets, and that was the end of it. Each band had their thing to offer. With The Germs, everybody was waiting for Darby to cut himself at some point, like ‘Is he bleeding yet?’ Then you’d have Tomata and The Screamers. We played with a lot of these people, and they all gave us a lot of respect because we were very, very tight. It was very unique and raw. Every performance was a new 
experience. I loved the spontaneity of it.”

By early 1978, F-Word! was playing the Whiskey A Go-Go, traveling to San Francisco and having bands like X open for them. The band’s sole album, Like It Or Not, was culled from characteristically rambunctious performances at San Francisco's Mabuhay Gardens. Released by Posh Boy Records, Like It Or Not boasted energetic renditions of F-Word! classics like “Out There” and “Do The Nihil” alongside covers of classics by The Stooges and The New York Dolls. While the albums remains an early punk masterpiece, it is still hard to ignore that the sound quality suffers in places. 

“That Posh Boy record kinda worked for them and against them because it was a pretty shitty recording, but it got all over the world,” offers Geza X. “In some ways, they became widely known, but in another way that was kinda the only real document of them. They were a much better band than that record.”

“It wasn’t that great sonically,” added Mullen. “Not much of a kick to it or bass presence... broken-up treble shriek. I’m shocked to learn a pro audio person was involved. We needed a lot of kick to compete, especially with New York and English bands with pro engineers, producers and real studios. The early LA scene had none of this.”

Due to ongoing internal squabbles, F-Word! imploded shortly after the album’s release. Rik L Rik later joined San Francisco’s Negative Trend for a brief time before embarking on a solo career in 1980. In addition to fronting his own bands (including late '80s almost-weres, The Slaves), he fronted New Jersey’s Electric Frankenstein for a spell in the late '90s. Sadly, Rik L Rik died of brain cancer on June 30, 2000 at the age of 39. Like It Or Not was later released on CD by Italy’s Get Back label in 2005, while Sercu has stayed busy over the years with a variety of musical projects (including one yet-to-be-named ensemble featuring yours truly and Electric Frankenstein/Shadow Project’s Dan Canzonieri, but that’s a story for another time.) 

Nearly 35 years since the release of Like It Or Not, F-Word! remains one of the greatest – if often tragically overlooked – bands of the original Los Angeles Punk scene. 

“Rik was a super-cute barefoot guy who I was immediately jealous of,” offers former Screamers member and Masque survivor Paul Roessler. “I didn't want to give his band any credit whatsoever. It wasn't until years later that I heard 'Do the Nihil' and realized they were yet another great band from that era. There were so many great bands that I didn't need or want to appreciate F-Word! That was, of course, my loss.”

Copyright 2005-2011 Gausten Books

**The quotes used in this feature were taken from the upcoming book, Rock ‘N’ Roll Monster: The Rik L Rik Story, by Joel Gausten.

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com