Friday, November 11, 2005
How it all started
There’s plenty of contention over how punk started in Roanoke. There’s no doubt, however, that a major tendril of the movement started in Catawba with a band of record-collecting brothers. The Scotts were some of the first in the region to collect the punk rock records coming from England.
Doug Caldwell and Tommy Housman were two of the Scotts’ friends to hear those Sex Pistols and the Clash albums. Inspired, the two brought the punk look to Roanoke and made an impression on local high school students. Kevin Jenks was a student at Heritage Christian Academy. He played in Christian Smut and Hinge of Fate and later promoted punk shows at the old Iroquois Club.
Jenks: When I first saw Doug, I was at a convenience store that we all hung out at. This teal blue Mustang pulls up and Doug and this guy, Jeff Akers … they get out of the car. Doug’s sporting a mohawk, a trenchcoat with no shirt on, ripped-up jeans, combat boots, and he’s got a big machete clipped onto his belt.
The Scotts virtually built a punk scene out of an abandoned house on their property in Catawba. Known as HeeBeeGeeBee, the “venue” served as home to shock rockers Luke Pewk and the Vomit, as well as a couple of bands formed by Caldwell and Housman. Their first band, the short-lived Inflatable Toys, is considered by some to be Roanoke’s first punk band.
Paul Scott, HeeBeeGeeBee promoter: It had no electricity, but you could jump the electric box and steal power. Or sometimes we’d run extension cords in. Everybody came — it was A to Z. Your everyday Joes came because they knew there’s a party going on. There just happened to be punk bands playing.
John Krippendorf, aka Luke Pewk: Back then we were from Salem, and Doug and them from Roanoke. We had a little clique thing. Even amongst punks back then you had snobbery and cliques.
Neil Gilliam, singer/guitarist: It’s kind of weird to think about it now, but the people who started all this came from the boondocks. Hausman was Catawba, the Scott brothers were Catawba. The Caldwells were Fincastle, but they were in Catawba for a while, too. The Roanoke punk scene started in Catawba … and then started trickling into the city.
The Inflatable Toys lasted a short time. Caldwell joined the already existing Raticals, but his most enduring band was Blemish on Society, with Housman and brothers Carl and Alan Tickle.
Carl Tickle, bass player: I was a junior in high school, and I played guitar for the choir at Patrick Henry my senior year…I used to always get hell from the other guys because none of them liked Ronald Reagan and I was a big Reagan fan.
Blemish on Society influenced a younger generation of high school Roanoke punks. To expand their gigs beyond HeeBeeGeeBee and house parties, the band members started looking for other venues. One strategy was for band members to visit local bars and try to talk the owners into booking them – sometimes under false pretense.
Scott: They’d go in to a club and advertise themselves as something else. Then they’d show up and play a punk show.
Blemish on Society used that strategy to play several shows before landing a particularly memorable gig at Dot’s on Williamson Road.
Jenks: The bar was filled with all these regulars, and then the punk kids showed up. All of a sudden this brawl breaks out.
Gilliam: I’m kind of glad I missed that one.
The Tickle brothers left Blemish on Society. Carl left punk rock for good but Alan continued to play in bands with his teenage peers, who by that time had started to pick up skateboards and guitars. Neil Gilliam, Rand Dotson and Lawson Jaeger were among those who started their own punk bands. Others such as Robin Wilson, now Robin McCullough, participated by attending shows.
Jenks: At that point you couldn’t really distinguish the punk kids. The mohawks hadn’t really happened yet. We were all skater kids anyway.
Dotson, bass player: Listening to hardcore punk, skateboarding and playing in a band were essentially all parts of the same thing. Punk was all about doing it yourself, as was skateboarding. You made your own scene, built your own ramps, put together your own band. It wasn’t like you had to know how to play to get started, you just did it.
Jaeger, drummer and singer: It’s a natural progression for me to be attracted to music with that level of energy and attitude. I think it was a combination of different media outlets and being exposed to older kids around me.
McCullough, scenester: A lot of the punks back then were rich little kids, but they kind of rebelled against that too, against the whole “you’re supposed to wear a suit and wear daddy’s suit when you get older” thing.
By 1985, the Roanoke punk kids had been around long enough for several bands to form, write songs and then break up. A few, such as the Waltons, Eggbert and MNP, recorded albums and played a few shows with larger, touring punk bands including Corrosion of Conformity. Without the Internet, punk rock sects formed in several different communities in the Roanoke Valley.
Jenks: There was a Salem scene. There was the old South Roanoke crew, and then the Vinton punks. Before there was a club, we’d all just go places and hang out. A typical Friday night, we’d all go to South Roanoke to the old Lipe’s Drugstore, and everyone would group up there. We all had our differences but we came together under a common banner.
Gilliam: The venues came and went so quickly … the Barrelhouse, Cock’n’Bull, the Grandin Theatre, Dot’s, Big Daddy’s on Williamson. Roanoke in that day and time was afraid of punk. It had never seen anything like it.
Jenks: I did the Rock Against Racism in Elmwood Park, was my first real show. I must have been 19. I went to the [city government], got the use of Elmwood Park, secured a liability insurance policy, arranged for sponsors to help pay for the event. That was my first real taste of trying to promote a concert. That’s when I heard about the Iroquois … I talked to [owner Shirley Thomas], told her I was in a band and wanted to bring some rock bands in here. We booked the show and it went over pretty good. She was pleased and agreed to let me do more.
Jaeger: We just found anyone who would take us. We’d look for people who weren’t doing any business. The Grandin was a very stagnant business, so it was easy to get in the venue.
By the late 1980s, bands such as Fallout and Big Wig had picked up the torch, providing a continuity and source of inspiration for younger punks. Many of that younger tide of punkers, though, were graduating from high school and starting to move on. But even today, they’ll tell you that punk rock changed their lives.
Dotson: I honestly credit the punk ethos I embraced in the 1980s with entirely altering who I am today. Quite simply, it taught me to question accepted truths and facts, to accept and respect differences, to appreciate creativity and to see the world in shades of gray rather than in convenient and lazy categories.
Jaeger: Honestly it’s really defined who I am. That’s the approach I take toward everything to this day. I like to find things on my own. I weigh other opinions and theories but it’s up to me, philosophically.
McCullough: I think that it made me more aware of people being judgmental. It made me aware of people who perhaps don’t have as much.
Tickle: You have people that build up this big movement: “We’re going to change the world and make it better!” And they never really do. I think punk rock to me, when that happened, it was kind of a letdown. Alright, I had fun. I went out, I drank a bunch of beer, I played a bunch of gigs….”
Gilliam: Over the years I’ve taken the ridicule and battering for hanging on to the nostalgia for what some merely took as a teen angst movement. The truth being that it was something more to me. It’s molded my awareness and aggressiveness both socially and systematically. We all need something to believe in, and this was it for me.
Jenks went on to purchase the Iroquois Club and run it under several names, most recently as Factory 324. He closed it in January and now buys and sells collectibles.
Tickle is a field engineer for Wabtec Railway Electronics.
Krippendorf works at CVS and is forming a new version of the Vomit.
Gilliam manages a warehouse and continues to play punk rock.
McCullough is a substance abuse counselor with Project Link.
Jaeger is an artist and “professional student” at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Dotson is the history and Southern studies editor for Louisiana State University Press in Baton Rouge.
Scott worked as a roadie and bouncer during the ’90s. He’s retired from the music business but still lives in Roanoke.
On the Net:www.starcitypunk.com