Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Another Death Ride: Exhuming Würm with Chuck Dukowski

Chuck Dukowski (far left) with Würm (Photo by Spot; courtesy of XO Publicity)

Although Chuck Dukowski is best known for his time in the legendary Black Flag, his sonic explorations began long before that band and their label, SST Records, changed the world of independent music.

In 1973, Dukowski formed his first band, Würm. Creating a sound that could best be described as Sludge Metal, the group wrote and rehearsed material at their Hermosa Beach practice space, “the Würmhole” – a hangout for area musicians and the place where Dukowski eventually met his future Black Flag bandmates Greg Ginn and Keith Morris. After splitting in 1977, Würm reconvened in 1982 to release a three-track EP and record a full-length album, Feast (created in ’83/’84 and posthumously released by SST in 1985).

On Black Friday, Würm will return to shops for the first time in decades with Exhumed, a limited-edition, colored-vinyl double LP comprised of Feast and bonus unreleased tracks, demos and more. Limited to 1,100 copies, this special Record Store Day release is set to include never-before-seen photos and liner notes from Dukowski himself.  

The release of Exhumed follows a period a steady musical activity for Dukowski, who has spent recent years performing live with FLAG, a band also featuring former Black Flag members Morris, Dez Cadena and Bill Stevenson along with Descendents//ALL guitarist Stephen Egerton. He has also released a handful of albums since 2006 with his own act, the Chuck Dukowski Sextet.  

Fans of Black Flag can also check out PANIC!, a new hardcover photo book comprised of shots taken of the band in 1978 when they still went by that moniker and planned to release an EP on Bomp Records. (After Bomp failed to put out the record in a timely manner, PANIC! soon changed their name to Black Flag and released it on SST as the Nervous Breakdown EP.)

On a personal note, I’m very happy to present this interview with Chuck. From 2002 to 2004, my then-band, The Sixth Chamber, had the good fortune of sharing the stage with the Chuck Dukowski Sextet at several shows in California. It was fun seeing Chuck – always calm and friendly before those gigs – go mental and utterly incinerate his bass on stage. My thanks to him for giving me the opportunity to delve into Würm and other topics in the words below.  

First off, how does it feel to be doing interviews for an upcoming Würm retrospective in 2018 – 45 years after the band started? Why was now the time to get a reissue of Feast – as well as the bonus material – out there in the world in the form of Exhumed?

It feels great for all of these Würm recordings to finally be available. It’s taken me a long time to get all the parts together. I regained the rights to my Würm music after a hellish Black Flag-related lawsuit with SST Records. It’s funny, but Würm’s co-founder, Ed Danky [guitar], and I fantasized about the eventual existence of a Würm retrospective comp called Exhumed way back in 1977. We talked about it as we were doing the Spot photo session that supplied the front cover of Exhumed. We thought it’d be a cool/fun name.

Andrew Rossiter at ORG Music gave me the final push of encouragement and logistical support to follow through on my threats of reissuing the Würm material, and we put together Exhumed for Record Store Day 2018.

What are the sources of the bonus material included in Exhumed?

The bonus material on Exhumed was recorded at the Würmhole in the summer of 1977 as a practice recording. The Würmhole was an abandoned bath house in Hermosa Beach that we lived in. I first met the other original members of Black Flag there. Würm was preparing to record an album for the now-defunct Embassy Records. The ‘’77 Demo Recordings’ capture one of Würm’s rehearsals for that planned album recording during the summer of 1977. Würm recorded most of our practices, but this practice tape made it through the travails of time to be part of this release. 

The bonus track listing for Exhumed includes two familiar song titles: “Modern Man” and “I’ve Heard It Before.” How similar are these to the Black Flag songs of the same name? What made them perfect songs to incorporate into Black Flag later on?

There is some crossover between Würm and Black Flag, mostly lyrics. The lyrics and themes I used for Würm were important to me and, I felt, contributed to Black Flag. When Keith Morris – the first Black Flag singer – quit, I used some of Würm’s themes and some actual lyrics for a couple of the songs in the already-short Black Flag set that were suddenly wanting lyrics. ‘Just Give Me A Break’ became ‘I’ve Heard It Before,’ and I wrote a new lyric to re-title the Keith-era song ‘Red Tape’ as ‘No More.’ I also created a Black Flag arrangement of ‘Padded Cell’ with its ‘MANIACS!’ chorus line.

The Würm and Black Flag versions are different. ‘Modern Man’ is a concept I felt was appropriate to a time of growing societal alienation and disassociation. People hiding in their holes, labeling those around them as ‘other’ and living in any moment but the moment they are actually in. So in 1982, I created a Black Flag ‘Modern Man.’  

Feast features a radically different version of “Padded Cell” than the one on Black Flag’s Damaged album. Which version of the song came first? Which version do you prefer?

I like ’em both quite a bit. The Würm version came first by four-five years. I wrote the seeds of this lyric in college while studying sociopaths in an abnormal psych class.  

When I listen to Feast, my ears detect shades of Sabbath with a bit of King Crimson and Captain Beefheart in spots. How accurate am I in terms of the band’s influences? How similar was the music on Feast to what the band was doing in the ’70s?

I’ve always loved King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man.’ I saw them at the Long Beach Auditorium in ’72 or ’73, and they blew me away. I was never a big Beefheart fan, though I did try to get into his music. Black Sabbath’s music, on the other hand, was core listening for Würm. We loved Sabbath. I would often listen to all of Black Sabbath’s records back to back when I was studying in college. Our anthem was ‘Children of the Grave.’ We also were deep into Captain Beyond, Blue Oyster Cult, The Stooges, MC5, Mott The Hoople, Alice Cooper, David Bowie and a number of other ’70s Hard Rock bands.

Much of the Feast album is music from Würm’s ’70s repertoire. I wrote the beginnings of ‘I’m Dead’ after the first jam Würm did with [singer] Simon [Smallwood] in ’77. The newer 1980s songs – ‘Where Will We Run,’ ‘Should We Be Proud,’ ‘Feast,’ ‘Death Ride,’ ‘Song For Jimmy’ and ‘Robin Doggin’’ – are the ones Simon co-wrote.

What led to Würm reforming in ’82 after being inactive for around five years at that point?

In 1982, Ed asked me to do a Würm recording and then a show here and there. He pulled the band together to record the I’m Dead EP [1982] and kept on me to do shows from time to time. He’d book a show, and then I’d read about it in the LA Weekly and feel obligated to play. It created tension in Black Flag. Black Flag was bogged down in the Unicorn Records litigation, so I had some time to do it. Right after I got kicked out of Black Flag, I booked a few shows in the San Francisco Bay Area for Würm. We played Ruthie’s in Berkeley, the Mab in San Francisco and at least one other show and came home with enough money to record the Feast album. That was a crazy little run. We did it in an old ’58 international panel truck that our drummer, Lou Hinzo, had. It had bad brakes! San Francisco? We made it through the shows okay, but while dropping me off in Silver Lake, the truck stalled near the top of a big hill and rolled all the way back down backwards with all of us still in it! Terrifying, but I lived to tell the tale.

Würm was a cool counterpoint to Black Flag for me because its music incorporated improvisational elements that Black Flag lacked. Soon after recording the instrumental tracks for Feast, I was kicked out of Black Flag and left to Europe to help my mom wind up my grandmother’s affairs after her recent death. When I got back from Europe in ’84, I did the vocal sessions and mixed the record. All of these recordings are included in Exhumed.

Considering that Feast was recorded right at the height of Hardcore, I’d imagine the sound of the album was a surprise to some people when it finally came out in ’85. What was the reception to the album like back then?

It was a peak time for Hardcore, but people were turning to a more Metal sound and we were well received. Würm had momentum, but everyone else in the band was struggling with serious drug addiction. Ed and Simon both eventually died of overdoses. I knew it was headed for disaster, so I broke up Würm and focused on writing songs for Black Flag, even though I was no longer in the band, and running the record label.  

In addition to Exhumed, another release celebrating the past recently surfaced in the form of the PANIC! book. Along the lines of my opening question to you about Exhumed, what does it mean to you to see a series of photos of a band you were a part of 40 years ago turn up in a beautifully produced book in 2018?

It’s weird to have some random photos of PANIC! – the proto-Black Flag, the larval Black Flag – be made into a fancy book. The mailman just threw a package over my fence, and my wife opened it. I didn’t even know it was coming out. Sometimes, it’s kinda strange.

One interesting element of this book is seeing images of a young Robo with hair! Until recently, I would see online images of Robo playing with you, Keith Morris and Greg Ginn labelled as “PANIC!” and assume that was an error. I had always assumed that Bryan Migdol was in Black Flag right up through the release of Nervous Breakdown, but that’s obviously inaccurate. If I finally have the timeline right, Bryan must have been out of the band almost immediately following the Bomp sessions while the band was still PANIC! How soon after Brian’s departure were these shots taken? What led to Brian leaving the band, and how did Robo end up joining PANIC!?

The Nervous Breakdown 7” was recorded in late ’77 while I was still playing in Würm – I suppose that had a little to do with Ed getting despondent and breaking up Würm. Migdol was in PANC! but never in Black Flag. Greg kicked Migdol out in early ’78 because he brought people around who were committing petty crimes, and we already had serious problems with the local police. Some of Migdol’s friends climbed into Greg’s neighbor’s yard and stole their marijuana plants. Then, they dragged the plants next door to Greg’s house, leaving a trail of dirt. Greg’s neighbors were pissed. Migdol’s friends also got the Würmhole shut down by stealing some new rolls of carpet – why? – that installers had left in front of a job site in broad daylight and dragging the stolen carpets into the Würmhole on their skateboards and running away. In both cases, these guys left us holding the bag for stuff we didn’t do and did not support.

I didn’t hear about Bryan getting kicked out until a day or two after it had had been done. I was a relatively new PANIC! band member at the time, and though I liked playing with Bryan, I didn’t weigh in on his ouster one way or the other.

We found Robo when he responded to a flyer we put up at Zed Records. Robo cut his hair real short on our first tour right before crossing the Canadian border. I think the Canadian Customs and Immigration agents really liked his new haircut, because they kept us there at the border for several hours.

Some images from PANIC! (

There seems to be mystery surrounding who actually took the photos featured in the book. Any ideas?

I know. It’s crazy. I’ve racked my brain, and I just can’t remember who took those pictures. I recall the session, but I can’t recall the photographer.

Black Flag has earned legendary status, and of course you and some of the other former members have taken this music on the road with FLAG in recent years. Clearly, this material still resonates with people, and it’s a very rare feat to create something musically that remains meaningful to people after four decades. Why do you think Black Flag’s music has endured for so long?

Black Flag’s music remains meaningful to people because it’s good. We made it stand for something, and we worked tirelessly to bring it to as many people as possible.

Going back to Würm to wrap things up, how did being a member of that band in the early ’70s most impact you as a musician? What effect did that experience have on what you later did as a member of Black Flag?

Würm was my first band. I developed the beginnings of my musical language in it. But probably the most important thing I brought from Würm to Black Flag was the experience of touring. Ed and I spent two summers traveling across the country in a van. That was the foundation for Black Flag’s relentless touring. I had some experience being on the road, and I knew it could be fun and productive.

*Portions of the above interview were edited for clarity. 

Würm at ORG Music 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.