L.A. Retrospective: Mod and Skinhead Scenes. Part Two

Courtesy of Dan & Babette Rickard.
Courtesy of Dan & Babette Rickard. http://www.southbayscooterclub.com

 

Part Two to one of Saturday Night’s most interesting pieces: The Los Angeles mod/skinhead retrospective. A re-cap of all things that our two primary players, Greg Narvas and Martin Ruane, were up to as faces coming up in a near-undocumented scene.

Read on for Suicidals, Oi! the controversy,  Lawrence Fishburne and more!

Proceed………

SATURDAY: Speaking of L.A. punk rock, I like that Headstrong covered The Vandals, even if it was only as a joke. Again, was there any intermingling of the two scenes (punk vs. mod/skinhead) going on at the time? I kind of got the impression that the punk scene was separate from the mod/skin scene, both from Greg’s comic as well as movies depicting the scene (crap like SLC Punk) and wondered how that relationship went?

MARTIN: 
There was two strong skinhead scenes in LA in the late 80s, one in the punk scene and one in the ska/mod scene, with some people crossing over. Later on in the 90s the skinhead scene got a lot bigger in the ska scene with the ska revival and such.

GREG: From my experience there was definitely no intermingling of scenes. I didn’t see any punks nor goths at any of the mod/ska shows for sure, and mods/rudies typically stayed away from punk gigs. If there was one big characteristic of L.A. subcultures in the ‘80s, it was the hard defining lines between them. If one called themselves “mod” or “punk,” you best believe they had to be it 24 hours a day, eight days a week. During the ‘80s there were also what we called “bald punks”…’coz they were pretty much just punks who shaved their heads and donned bomber jackets and docs. Of course, because of their appearance they were also called skins by the unaware (even themselves at times), but they were never regarded as part of the mod/ska scene.

There were no “rockers” to rival mods in the ‘80s, like our ‘60s English ancestors. Our only rivals/adversaries, if any, were the punks and thrashers, who were pretty much our opposites. It was inevitable; punks and thrashers listened to really aggressive and loud music, while mods/rudies were into soulful, groovy stuff. Punks tore their clothes while mods ironed them. While mods simply ignored or rolled their eyes at the punk lot, punk and thrasher aggression was fueled by songs like “Fuck A Mod” by The Exploited, which furthered our segregation. In my comic I describe one particular incident on Melrose Avenue (the shopping strip of all the subcultures back then) where my cousin and I had to literally cross the street at one point to avoid treading into punk territory, simply because entering their turf would’ve meant a fight for sure.

Another later incident further clarified the division between scenes. On my first day as a skinhead, after buying my first pair of docs from Na-Na’s when they were still in Santa Monica on Broadway, Bobby and I went down to the Santa Monica pier to hang out. There I was, bouncing on down the boulevard in my brand new Bouncing Soles. I couldn’t be happier making that transition. Then we got to the pier and saw about a dozen “suis” (pronounced SOO-wees, short for Suicidals, a Venice skater/thrasher gang who were fierce followers of the Venice band Suicidal Tendencies) hanging out on a bench—they totally hated skinheads with a passion. Joining them were some cholos from V13 (another Venice gang) who were allies with the Suicidals. They spotted us and started rounding everyone up to get something started. You know there’s gonna be trouble when you start hearing those signature cholo gang whistles (a very distinctive L.A. thing I guess) calling everyone to attention. So, needless to say, we turned around and started heading the other way…right away. Luckily they didn’t hit us up; we would’ve been clobbered.

Saturday: A bit of controversy with Lion’s Pride was the involvement of Eric Owens, who later on moved over to the far right wing side of things. Obviously no one can predict the future, similar things happen often in this scene, and no one would judge/blame anyone involved, but what exactly happened with that? Once you guys found out, I’m told all associations ceased, was that tough at all? If you don’t want to discuss, I understand taking the pass here.

Martin:
 I always suspected Eric was dodgy, wearing a Skrewdriver shirt on one day, then a Skatalites on the next, but I enjoyed playing with Sean and Greg, so I put my concerns aside for as long as I could, then I think  I  just couldn’t do it anymore, not sure, I don’t quite remember the reason for our parting, but I am sure that had something to do with it.

Greg: As long as I’d known Eric (even before the band started), he’d always had his particular views on race and identity, which I quickly realized were pretty far right wing. Lions Pride was always his baby from the start, and it allowed him to boast his pride as an American skinhead, and vent his frustration with “the system” and society’s downfalls as he saw them. Songs like Welfare criticized the government’s draining of hard-earned wages to give to welfare recipients who didn’t have to work for it; and Hell Hole also criticized a system that he felt didn’t punish criminals hard enough. He saw it as a hopeless situation, but also an opportunity to take matter into our own hands. The chorus said it all: It doesn’t matter what you say / nobody’s listening anyway / what are you gonna do to change this hell hole we live in today?

Despite his far right leanings, I don’t think Eric necessarily wanted Lions Pride to generate any real controversial “hate” music a la Skrewdriver or Brutal Attack. In the beginning, the rest of us just went along for the ride. We were just all happy to be playing Oi!. Then we started getting invited to real White Power shows and rallies. Eric began receiving fliers and invites in the mail and he would show them to us. I remember those pre-Kinko’s, gritty Xeroxed flyers filled with swastikas and burning Celtic crosses. Martin and I especially laughed at the irony…I guess they’d assumed we were an all-white, white power band. But then Eric would have this pensive look, and a few times he actually considered playing them. We couldn’t believe it. Could you imagine what would’ve happened?

In the end, I think the band actually dissolved due to Eric’s disappointment. After we cut our demo (entitled Oi! for America for all those who put our demo up online), Eric wanted to cut a higher-quality one, and wanted to bring the master reel with him to England to hand to Roddy Moreno (of The Oppressed), who’d expressed some interest in our band for his up and coming record label. Then on the day we were supposed to record, I fell terribly ill and was bed ridden. I remember him calling me that morning insisting that I head down to the studio. I was in real bad shape, with a high fever and throwing up…there was no way I would’ve made it. So he ended up going to England empty handed. When he got back, the band never got back together for anything. It just simply stopped.

Now that this will be posted on the internet, I think eventually we’ll be sure to get some feedback from Eric himself. It’d actually be interesting to hear what he has to say about all this. Ah, technology, eh? Bringing the world together.

Saturday: Greg, you made the transition from mod to skinhead. How did that evolve? Was the L.A. mod scene separate from the skinhead scene or was there crossover. To me, there has always been that natural crossover. Also, a bit of weird trivia – I always heard Lawrence Fishburne rolled with a mod crew in L.A. Confirm or deny?

skinhead-girls


Greg: I started out listening to 2-Tone Ska, and was on the verge of being a full-fledged rude boy until I saw some mods in parkas and suits on some decked out scooters. I thought they looked so cool; then I saw Quadrophenia, the ultimate mod-recruiting movie, and became a total mod immediately afterwards.

Being mod was fun for awhile, but eventually I realized that the real mod scene (in L.A. at least), despite the razor-sharp image and cool music, was nowhere near as exciting as the sex-drugs-violence portrayed in Quadrophenia. In the meantime, I noticed that rudies and skinheads were much rowdier and had a lot more fun, while mods were much more reserved and “sophisticated”…or at least they tried to be.

Also, since I’d started out with 2-Tone ska, I was way more comfortable skanking to ska than strutting to soul out on the dance floor, which was awkward since only mods went out on the dance floor for soul, while ska was reserved for rudies and skins. So in a way I felt like a rudie trapped in a mod’s parka. Don’t know how else to put it…
The real turning point was when Bobby and I heard Phoenix City (Roland Alphonso and The Soul Brothers) for the first time at Gino’s night club. We were totally blown away by it, and Bobby ran to the DJ immediately after the song and asked for the song title and what album it was from. He found out it was from a compilation LP called Club Ska ’67. We were like, “’67??! Ska was around back then??” That song sparked a whole slew of investigations into this “old ska” genre…Bobby went out and bought the album immediately, and I remember listening to it at his house. We couldn’t believe how old ska really was, and how cool it sounded. We’d always thought The Specials did the original Guns of Navarone, and here was the true original by The Skatalites. It was so impressive that I didn’t even want to listen to anything else after hearing that album.

Bobby also got his hands on another Trojan compilation named Monkey Business, which featured a whole slew of bouncy, gummy reggae, which we soon discovered was dubbed “skinhead reggae.” These were big hits, like Tighten Up, Birth Control, Them Laugh And Kiki, etc. But the real connection between skinheads and this type of reggae was still unclear…until Bobby and I started seeing a new breed of skinheads in the clubs, who dressed much differently from the typical flight jacketed 20-holed doc Oi! skins. Instead they wore Levi’s sheepskin coats, button-up, collared checked shirts, pressed pants and shiny 8-10 hole boots. Instead of being bald, they wore their hair longer (#1-2 guard) and had thick chops for sideburns. They were like hard mods—a pristine, sharp image lined with aggressive details.

We soon found out that these were “traditionalist” skinheads, who followed the form and fashion of the original skinheads of ’69, from dress to musical tastes. These guys would never go out to dance unless the DJ played the old stuff we’d just discovered. They were few, but some real head turners. Bobby and I learned more about them in a book called Skinhead by Nick Knight, which turned out to be the best, and only, reference ever for skinhead culture and back then.

Bobby made the conversion from rudie to traditionalist skin in a heartbeat, and I followed soon after. It was perfect—I maintained the mod nature of impeccable attention to fashion and detail, but also adopted the pride and aggressive rush that just happened to magically come about with boots and a shaven head. It was like being a soldier recruited into an elite army unit, and I never felt a greater and truer sense of belonging.

In no time at all, we became part of the few and proud, who stood against the wall waiting for the DJs to play reggae relics, if they played any at all. There weren’t a lot of “trads” (as they came to be known later) in the flock. Often times, Bobby and I would be the only ones dancing out there, while everyone else cocked their ears to the speakers wondering what this “new” sound was. It took awhile for the old Trojan/Studio One sound to catch on in the scene. I actually didn’t really see a big following for it until I was already out of the scene and playing regularly with Hepcat (1990 on).

Anyways, back to your question—I wish I knew where Lawrence Fishburn hung out, ‘coz I don’t recall seeing him anywhere back then. Who knows, though? All I know is that everyone knew where Gino’s was, ‘coz that was the only mod/ska club around, except for The Cavern which was a mod spot in Hollywood as well. Unless he was in the scene in the early ‘80s, which was a total different scene altogether I’m sure.

Saturday: As the scene progressed, what kind of changes did you guys see? I know out east, the rise of skinhead seemed to coordinate with hardcore, like Agnostic Front, NYHC, etc, whereas out west, it seemed more traditional, in that it involved ska, mod and oi! Any viewpoints/opinions on that?

Martin:
 In numbers, I would say most of the skin scene were tied to punk in the late 80s, with a smaller traditional scene (cavern club and such), then in the early 90s the skins found their roots, then it kind of died out in late 90s, with only a few bands like Hepcat keeping it alive, but a smaller scene


Greg: 
During my days in the scene (’86-’89), there was more of a progression, if not dissipation, in the mod scene than there was for skinheads. Toward the late ‘80s, mods (and to a lesser extent, skins) began to be replaced by “scooter boys,” which on the surface appeared to be a radical hybrid of Oi! skins (bomber jackets, docs) and psychobillies (crazy pompadours, Cramps shirts). Vespas, formerly adorned with the mod look of chrome and mirrors, eventually got stripped down to the bare essentials for speed and performance in place of glamour. Custom bikes became all the rage, and “Rat bikes” and “choppers” replaced the “ace” mod scooter. By the time I’d left the scene in ’89, I hardly saw any mods on the streets, and all the mod/ska dance clubs were gone.

As far as skins went, there was a growing population of traditionalist skins (“trads” or “traddies” as they came to be known) in the early ‘90s, perhaps coinciding with the emergence of bands like Hepcat, Ocean 11 and The Ska Flames, who brought back the old sound. This was, of course, the direct opposite of the brand new “3rd wave” or “ska-core” sound that also created a big scene. It was really interesting that in those times, “ska” had two totally different meanings, depending on which scene you came from.

Being in Hepcat though, it got tedious to constantly explain to people that we played “old” ska—for many people who weren’t in the scene, ska was a brand new music genre that had been created by bands like Sublime, Skanking Pickle and Reel Big Fish. To say we played “old ska” to them made no sense whatsoever. Then there were others who thought “old ska” was the 2-Tone sound, and only the 2-Tone sound, and they thought it was crazy that ska was around in the ‘60s.

Courtesy of Dan & Babette Rickard. www.southbayscooterclub.com
Courtesy of Dan & Babette Rickard. http://www.southbayscooterclub.com

Saturday: What is your involvement, if any, with the scene these days? Still go to shows? Buy records, etc?

Martin: I am still a skinhead, still riding my Vespa, still playing streetpunk/oi, and still go to shows, going to see the Cockney Rejects in a couple weeks and will be turning 40 in February. Boots are far from being hung up

Greg: I keep an eye out for any heavyweights that come to town, and I’ve had the privilege to actually play with a few, namely Stranger Cole, Ken Booth, Derrick Morgan and Dennis Alcapone. Man, what an experience. Completely mind-blowing…that’s a whole ‘nother story which I’ll be happy to tell at another time.

I don’t buy records or CDs much these days, however my cousin Bobby is still the hardcore avid collector that he always has been, and is definitely the most serious and knowledgeable collector that I know of, still turning every stone for rare original vinyl pressings and singles, only settling for CDs when there’s absolutely no alternative. Then of course there’s Hepcat, which is still going on strong. Playing reggae seriously keeps me young and refreshed. It’s literally like a fountain of youth. I can never stop being a performer, and that’s for sure.

Fashion wise, I haven’t donned boots nor shaved my head since ’89, but old time ska/rocksteady/reggae remain my absolute favorite genres of music by far, and I still get impressed by skins and skin chicks who dress to the nines—speaking of which, kids are lucky these days, with internet and instant availability. Ben Shermans and Fred Perry shirts are totally easy to find these days, when back then we had to kill to get the good stuff. I didn’t know more than 3-5 people back then that had a real authentic Ben Sherman shirt. Most times back then, we only had a chance to score a true Ben Sherman if we knew someone that was going to England and didn’t mind picking one up…then there was the whole sizing issue which was a whole ‘nother can of worms. And talk about evolution—why are traditional skinheads these days all about Northern Soul? They don’t even dance to reggae any more! It’s like the total opposite than back in the day. Bobby and I always trip out on that. I’ve always wanted to know how that evolution happened.

Saturday: 
Greg, can you tell us a bit about your comic “I Was a Teenage Filipino Skinhead?” I think it’s a cool project, and definitely recommend readers checking it out. I have always been interested in the scenes in other major cities, so this is right up my alley. Tell us about the inception of the comic, and how things have progressed since then. Future plans? How can people get your comic?

Greg: 
Being a traditional skinhead was a very exclusive and unique experience. It’s all connected. Had I not discovered ska/reggae, I would’ve never been a skin, and later, I would’ve never been in Hepcat. I can’t imagine what kind of person I’d be today if I’d never been in the scene. That’s how profoundly life changing it all was. Being in the scene was the most exciting, enlightening and fun-filled slice of life that I’ve ever known.

Anyways, despite my unending nostalgic pride and obsession with my skinhead days, I always get the weirdest looks and reactions from people whom I would tell, “Oh yeah, I used to be a skinhead.” Okay, maybe one can’t blame the mainstream for being brainwashed with the media hype of  “neo-nazi skinheads” and such, but it gets really, really tedious having to go tell this whole complex history lesson every single time to the unaware. Then again, think about it. I’m dealing with a subculture that  99% of people associate with Caucasians, pure hatred, racism and ultra-violence, and here I am, a smiling, happy-go-lucky Filipino guy saying that I was a skinhead. It’s like telling someone I was from Mars.  The reactions are always the same:

“You were a skinhead? How??! You’re not even white!”
“Ummm….okayyyy…so you were like, totally confused or something?”
“But you’re such a happy, mellow guy! How could you have been a skinhead??!”
“Dood. Whatever! Wait…are you serious??”
“What the hell? Okay, uh, someone had some serious issues…”

Needless to say, it’s really ironic that I find that stage of my life so fun and exciting while others almost always imagine it as a bitter, “dark” period of adolescent frustration and dissatisfaction.
After a while, I felt I had to do something that satisfied both my nostalgic obsession and set the record straight about skinheads once and for all. I always liked to draw and tell stories, so doing a comic about the scene was the perfect thing to do.

The title, I Was A Teenage Filipino Skinhead, resulted from a variety of factors. For one, it’s simply factual. I’m Filipino and I was a skinhead in my teen years. Big deal. But then I thought of how appalling and jaw-dropping that was for everyone, as shown in the typical replies aforementioned. It reminded me of those screaming, frightened people in all those old ‘50s B-horror movies, when confronted by some terrible monster. So I thought the title should contain the same “shock value.” In the end it worked perfectly—the title may sound shocking to many, but at the same time, it’s a welcome relief to others like myself who were tired of being misunderstood and misrepresented.

My comics are both entertaining and educational. Those who are or were in the scene would probably dig it simply because it’s about the scene—I haven’t seen anything out there yet that covers it (that’s yet another reason why I’m doing it too). Then there are those who weren’t aware of a real skinhead scene out here (not just the nazi boneheads or whatever), much less aware of Filipino skinheads (or any skinheads that don’t fit the total stereotype). Hopefully they’d get some serious (and not so serious!) enlightenment from the read.
I take comic orders through PayPal, and in some cases money transfers via Western Union or Moneygram. They’re a dollar an issue, plus shipping and handling. Simpy email mistarumba@yahoo.com for orders. I’m planning on getting them out to some national distros…I had a few packs available on Corndog publishing in the UK but they may have sold out by now.

It’s been a lot of fun writing and drawing them…I think the entire series will run about 30-35 issues. Issues 1-10 are available now, and 11-15 should be ready soon. It’s kinda tough to crank them out so quickly, having a job and family to tend to. But I get ‘em out when I can.

Saturday: Headstrong have released a discography of sorts on Disconnected records. I really think alot of people are eager to check such material out. Any such plans with Lion’s Pride stuff? What about any unreleased Hepcat material, Greg? Anything on that front?

Martin: I don’t think we would release any lions pride without Eric’s input as he was the major contributor musically and lyrically, you can buy bootlegs, but they are on white power websites, so i wouldn’t recommend giving money to them!

Saturday: How is living in L.A. these days? Having never ventured out there, what should I track down/look to do out there? Hang-out’s? Record shops? Interesting notes?

Martin: 
I am living outside LA now, but my interpretation is the good ol days are over, might see some old faces when a good band comes out and relive a few old memories over a pint while waiting for Cocksparrer or Hepcat to hit the stage.

Greg: The ska scene survives in a few clubs, probably the most notable being The Bluebeat Lounge in Hollywood. They’ve really kept it going, featuring local and non-local acts on a weekly basis. Some cool DJ spots would be Broader Than Broadway at The Broadway Bar on Thursdays featuring killer stuff from DJ Minh and the HM Sound System, The Rocksteady Lounge Mondays at The Akbar…and The Dub Club at the Echoplex in Silverlake. There’s also a couple of mod-ish type clubs going on, like The Bullet. But I’ve been so out of touch with the actual scene, only seeing it basically when I play with Hepcat. Times have definitely changed, but there’s still a presence that surfaces when good gigs come to town.

Saturday: So in general, what are you two up to these days? Any projects you’d like to discuss or anything you’d to add?

Greg: 
Just being a hubby and pop, wondering when my kid’s finally gonna see me play. In the meantime I’ve been playing him a lot of reggae, and he’s starting to nod his head along to it. I’ve also been teaching him how to play drums…he takes after me in so many ways. I’m hoping he’ll take after me in my love for reggae..who knows, maybe he’ll be a skinhead one day.

Martin: We are looking for a singer for my new band, any old farts in Ventura CA want to grab a mic?

ALL MY THANKS to Greg and Martin for doing this interview. I think it turned out better than I could have ever imagined, and hopefully, it sheds some light on a scene that many out there want to know about.

8 Responses to “L.A. Retrospective: Mod and Skinhead Scenes. Part Two”

  1. Call me now at 323-915-2413 i am a skin of old. I am new here from sacto skins or i am now claiming mod as the new way for us! miguel in boyle heights l.a. !

  2. Call me now at 323-915-2413

  3. I am all them above and the man is into the new way and the new way is onto a good mail and the E-mail is in and the address is only wileycat41@ yahoo.com and the way is now Mod and the man is a Skin of old now to claim Sharpie and not to be confused with S.H.A.R.P. and they will balance out if the Mod people let them become Mod again and true and fine and they are based in New York and that is that!. Pop.

  4. […] L.A. Story: A Retrospective On The L.A. Mod and Skinhead Scenes (Part 1) L.A. Story: A Retrospective On The L.A. Mod and Skinhead Scenes (Part 2) […]

  5. 90’s skins haha – what a load of shit. You’re about 20 years late!

  6. Hey hows it coming…check my website out at http://www.facebook.com/Miggety Mod Vasquez for some cool Mod art.

  7. OK for the evolution of trad skins to northern soul, I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience there’s still a lot of skins that are strictly reggae, the majority, I’ve been asked why I play soul music, or I’ve been told hey, its either one or the other if you’re throwing a party. Which is cool, but our dj crew, the banana crew, we love both, soul music man, northern, there’s some tracks that have that same consciousness about it, and that’s why I got into reggae too- Love, overcoming in life, you know, real shit in life, real music. Personally I grew up on Motown, oldies here in L.A, first love, I’ve had that influence since my early youth. There’s so much influence from the soul to reggae, Ex. Darrell Banks-Open the door to your heart, also played by Errol English, Play both, both are dope, I’m a soulie, I like the Errol one best, amazing. Darrell’s good too, very popular. HARD to soul dance in boots, but hey you two step it, you’ll be fine, tired, but fine, get some wingtips at the thrift shop, or just listen to the trax. TO the eye of the beholder, but myself grown up a trad skin since my teenage years, found soul obscurities, I embrace both, when people ask what’s up w/ me, SUEDEHEAD REVIVAL. And that’s that ’til the day I die. I’m pretty late here but hey if I run into this article, I’m sure more will too in the future. Thanks for a great article.

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