A couple of years ago I had the honor of putting together a piece for New Times about Placebo Records. I worked on it for months and talked to a lot of interesting people about the small Phoenix-based label that was home to many of my musical heroes and inspirations. What follows is the full-version that was way too long for the New Times to publish.
I hope you like it.
If you were a punk in Phoenix (or anywhere, really) in the 70s, you were ahead of your time. Before the music world was rife with labels like “alternative music” or “pop punk” or “grunge,” to be a fan or creator of underground music was often a solitary practice and, at best, something that you only had in common with a few people. Here in the Valley of the Sun, there were a few short-lived options for people (those who survived are now in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s) to go to congregate with like-minded people and easily see the bands you loved, and there definitely wasn’t a record label promoting and releasing local music. In the 1970s, for example, the live music community in Phoenix was dominated by cover bands playing three and four sets a night in the bars around town and often for five or six nights in a row. What has come to be known as a “show” among those on the inside or a “punk rock concert” for the uninformed did not really exist except on the rare occasion some an open minded promoter would put something together for bands that only wanted to play one, often short, set of original music. When bars would allow the punk bands to play, these nights would often implode because the majority of the audience did not know what they were witnessing, wanted to fight the band, and most likely were just not ready for it. Things changed in the 80s, though. Ronald Reagan was President, ET phoned home, and there was at least one place where everybody knew your name. In Phoenix, things were changing, too, and the underground of our city was about to get a fairly large shot in the arm from a small group of people who decided to make things happen. The forty years that have passed since Phoenix resident Tony “Tony Victor” Beram put on his first “Dance” at the old Jaycees Hall on 7th Street and Indian School Road and started what would become a scene shaping movement. What follows is mostly an oral history of what is technically the second wave of Phoenix underground music focusing around what became the Placebo Records world. Beram who was already dipping his toes into the world of rock concert promotion and band management, along with partners Greg Hynes and Mark Bycroft, started Placebo Records in 1981 as a vehicle to put out a record for Hynes and Bycroft’s band, Teds, which was managed by Beram and were playing shows around the greater Phoenix area whenever and wherever they could. In a way, it is a story of friendship and camaraderie, but it is also the history of what was happening in the often weirdly theatrical world of Phoenix punk rock in the early and mid-1980s. Over it’s almost nine year run, Placebo Records would put out records by Phoenix-based bands like Jody Foster’s Army (JFA), Sun City Girls, Mighty Sphincter, Zany Guys, and several others, three compilations of local bands, the Dry Lungs industrial music compilation series, VHS tapes, t-shirts, stickers, and skateboards. Beram also purchased a 1964 International Harvester school bus (painted puke green) that would take Placebo bands, mostly JFA, on tour around the country and learned the tour booking and management side of the music business along the way. During this time, as well, Beram and company would operate Mersey Productions putting on underground punk, noise, and weirdo shows around town at a variety of venues, so there are many layers to this onion. The cast of characters telling this story truly are characters in the best sense of the word. Many of them, like Beram, Hynes, and Bycroft, were direct contributors to the Placebo Records efforts and incredibly diverse catalog of music. In other cases, those that contributed their opinion and memory to this history were part of local bands or fans of what was happening in town. Comments have been edited for brevity in some cases and clarity in others, and there are even a few that are somewhat contradictory, but we are looking at events that happened between 32 and 40 years ago. (Author’s note: For many of the musicians, I’ve chosen to list their current musical project first when introducing them out of respect for their continuing efforts) This particular tale begins with a chance meeting in a park in Maryvale, sometime in 1973 or 74. Greg Hynes (AKA Mr. Wonderful/Placebo Records partner/member of Teds and Mighty Sphincter): I wouldn’t say we were friends right away. The first time I met Tony (Beram), I could not stand him. I think it was 8th grade. I was walking through the park with my next-door neighbor who was one of those guys that was taller and bigger than most kids. I was smaller than most kids and Tony was very small, too. Tony comes up to my friend, the big guy, and just starts ripping his ass. Telling him he was a pussy and just egging him on, trying to get him to fight. I said to my friend, “You going to take this from this guy?” and Tony turned on me and said, “Oh yeah? You want some of this, motherfucker? You want some?” I thought, “Wow, look at the balls on this guy” because he was smaller than me. We weren’t really friends until we were in high school and we had some classes together and found out we had some things in common. My first impression of him was that I hated his guts and then we became best friends. Tony Beram (AKA Tony Victor/Placebo Records partner/manager of Teds and JFA/founder of Mersey Productions): I was a teenager during the 70s and I grew up influenced by the Beatles and the Grateful Dead and the guys behind them. I wasn’t a musician and I thought somebody has got to notice those guys, your Brian Epsteins or Bill Grahams, who were behind the scenes looking at the business side. I met Greg Hynes, who was a drummer and he and I became friends. He (Hynes) got into a band really early when we were in high school and I started hanging out and watching them rehearse. They asked me to manage them when I was about sixteen years old. Originally, that band was called Détente and a couple of years later we changed the names to the Teds. Mark Bycroft (AKA Mark Bekin/early Placebo Partner/ member of Teds/soundman at early Mersey Productions shows): When I was in high school, a rock band moved in next door. I made friends with the guitarist and he formed a band with Greg Hynes (drums) and Bob Peterson (guitar). I met Tony (Beram) when I would go over and watch the band practice and drink beer. When that band (broke up), I said I would join. Since I wasn’t really that good at guitar, I thought I would play bass and that band became the Teds. Tony was our manager. At the time, Tony was barely out of high school when I met him. He was a go getter. He had something you just can’t teach. The Teds (had) started out as a band called Détente and we were doing almost country rock at the time. Tony and Greg and I went to the Mason Jar and saw Billy Clone and the Same. At the time, I didn’t know what punk was and I heard them, and it was fresh and sounded good and we really liked it. At one point, we decided, “Hey, we can do a record.” That was the formation of Placebo (Records). Greg, myself, and Tony were behind that. (The Teds 7”) became the first record for Placebo (in 1981). We did a record for JFA (Jody Foster’s Army) called Blatant Localism (also 1981) and then we did a compilation called Amuck (1982). The teen aged Beram would regularly book Teds into bars around town, often not even really old enough to get into the places he was booking them. The influence of managers and promoters like Epstein (Beatles), Shep Gordon (Alice Cooper), and Graham (Grateful Dead, Wonderland Ballroom, and Fillmore East and West Ballrooms) was something Beram would look to consistently as he realized that if something was going to get done for the Teds or to make this new, underground music more accessible to people, he was going to have to do it himself. In 1979 and 1980 there were a few gigs happening around town at various event spaces that could be rented out, but these shows were often fraught with a significant risk of the police showing up and shutting it down or less than appreciative groups of non-underground music fans who would show up and start fights. Bill Yanok and the late George Dillon put on several well attended “Industrial Dances” as a way to make money and provide a place for their band, International Language, to play which set the stage for Beram to something similar (and beyond) on his own with Bycroft’s assistance as sound man and PA owner. Bill Yanok (AKA Bill Bored/The Nervous/International Language/Mighty Sphincter): The first one was in 1979. We were playing the Star System (former Tempe bar and venue) and a couple of places. We figured we would put a show on of our own and make some money. We booked this hall and we told him we were going to do a wedding. We had a bar. We were selling alcohol to anyone because they had a bar so we thought, “This must be okay.” By the skin of our asses, we got it all cleaned up before the guy came back to get his keys the next morning. We realized this was a lot of work. Tony picked up that this was going on and he saw the opportunity and he seized it. He’s a doer. He doesn’t just talk about it, he does it. We were more than happy to pass it on to Tony. He picked up the slack that we left from the Industrial Dances. He definitely was there when the time was right. Beram: There was nobody in my life at the time who would stop me and say, “What if this happens or what if that happens?” I cannot remember anyone telling me any of that stuff. If they did, I couldn’t hear it. It’s just the way I was. I was booking Détente into biker bars at sixteen. I didn’t have an ID. I would just go make one. Surviving Sun City Girls members Alan and Richard Bishop remember meeting Beram and Hynes in 1981. The band became in integral part of the Placebo Records story and played many shows for Beram’s production company over the year. The Sun City Girls would go on to have a storied career before the death of Charlie Goucher in 2007. Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls/JFA/Maybe Mental): You may think I’m exaggerating but it was like a scene out of a Scorsese film. They arrived at the crazy open mic night I was hosting at a bar in a Tempe pizza parlor, sometime in 1981. Tony and his brother Mike, Greg, and a few other people in their crew drifted in and immediately transformed the room with their presence. They looked different - like young psycho hippies with an attitude and air of confidence who didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought of them –Tony was smoking clove cigarettes and kind of resembled a young Charles Manson, Greg looked like a hustler punk Jack Nicholson joking like the Riddler from Batman, and Mike carried a Dylan vibe with his guitar and pants with the stars and stripes of the American flag a la Abbie Hoffman circa 1968, and I thought to myself, who the fuck are THESE guys? Richard Bishop (Sun City Girls): Tony and Greg were just cool cats with a good attitude and easy to get along with. Tony seemed kind of laid back but very confident. Greg was just plain funny and could play many roles like the actor that he was, though I didn't know it at the time. He was unpredictable and sometimes, even quite frightening. Both were straight shooters ... they wouldn't take shit from anybody! We all became good friends right away. In the summer of 1981, Beram would start doing what are now legendary shows at venue called Madison Square Gardens (which would become known as “Mad Gardens”) on 37th Street and Van Buren in Phoenix. Beram: If it weren’t for wrestling, there wouldn’t have been a Mad Gardens for punk shows. My uncle, Barry Bernsten, started doing the wrestling shows (there) every Friday night. I was the announcer at the ring. It dawned on me at a certain point that maybe this was the venue I was looking for. I asked my uncle to rent it to me on Saturday nights. He threw out a number and I said, “I’ll take it every Saturday night.” Jesse Srogoncik (The Larkspurs, Destruction, Paris 1942 and possibly the first employee of Zia Records): At the time, when Tony came, things were so disparate and I kind of liked it like that. Certainly, though, because of Mad Gardens, they were able to expose people to a lot of great music. Yanok: Mad Gardens was so important to this town. By having a solid place to play, by having semi-security, because back then it was a little sketchy because things would get a little hairy from time to time, it was a place to go where you could be left alone. You could smoke weed in there. It wasn’t like a club, it was a little different. And all ages…It had a real value for kids in this town. It was somewhere for kids to go and do stuff. When I met Tony, he was still a teenager. We were dicking around for money after the show, and I could tell he was making money off this place, but I didn’t know who he was. I’m like three feet taller than Tony and I’m looking down at him. He was wearing a Grateful Dead shirt. At the time, I despised the Grateful Dead. So, I’m looking at him and I say, “How old are you?” He might have said 19 and I’m like 23 or 24, an old guy, and I look him in the eye and say, “Fuck you.” That was our first meeting and we’ve been dear friends ever since. He understood. He knew that it was a sarcastic, “Fuck you” for being so smart and on top of it, and being younger than me. Beram: Now, there was this place that was open every weekend. Feederz played early on with JFA and that was an infamous show because those two crowds didn’t really care for each other very much. They both put out their own flyers that was pretty funny. It was kind of like watching democrats and republicans now. JFA’s flyer said something like, “Anyone can kill a rat, but can you skate?” (This was JFA poking fun at Feederz’ singer/guitar player Frank Discussion’s penchant for killing rats on stage.) Everybody wanted to play Mad Garden and all of the sudden there was a record label, too, and bands wanted me to put out their records, but I had my hands full. Danny Bland (Nova Boys/The Harvest/Cat Butt/Road Manager to the stars): I was in a band and we wanted to be on Placebo Records because we wanted to be on any label. Mad Gardens and Placebo Records are hand in hand. I would say the influence of Mad Gardens is even more important than Placebo. Everybody talks about Mad Gardens whether they were there or not, but hardly anybody even remembers the name Placebo Records. Don Pendleton (JFA/Roll Ons/The Deez): There were so many bands coming from out of town on a regular basis and there were so many slots for opening bands and then there is me, coming from the old days in Phoenix where you couldn’t even get a show, I thought these bands like Junior Achievement and the Nova Boys were so lucky because all you had to do was sign up and you get to open for whoever at the Mad Gardens. They didn’t realize how hard these shows were to come by before Mad Gardens. Most of those early Phoenix bands wouldn’t even have existed because there was nowhere to play. Tim Sillbaugh (High school friend of Beram and Hynes/graphic artist/creator of flyers for Beram): The walls were covered in bad paneling, and there were these wonderful black and white photos of wrestlers on the walls. Such a great looking space and (Beram) had a pretty good run at Mad Gardens, I think he had shows at the venue for about three years. Black Flag played there just after “Damaged” was released, this was their first performance in Phoenix with Henry Rollins as their front man. I think about 550 people showed up, and the legal capacity was 350. I think the fire department fined them $100. I’m trying to remember our workflow. I think Tony would call me (on an old rotary phone!) and I would just jot down the band names and the dates. I was familiar with the local bands, but not the ones from other towns. Keep in mind there wasn’t any internet then, the only way to learn about the US punk scene was to read magazines like Flipside or Maximum Rock N Roll. I remember not being overly concerned with the design of the first few flyers. The early posters in town were pretty crude, just handwriting or “ransom note” text, and basic imagery. It became easy to make something similar. But then I visited Los Angeles and saw the posters there. Way more sophisticated than anything at home. Specifically I saw Raymond Pettibon’s work. He was combining imagery and text, he was creating subtle narratives on band flyers and nobody was doing that. So that was a big inspiration. Later on I saw Winston Smith’s posters, he’s famous for his work with the Dead Kennedys. He was creating some pretty intricate Xerox collages, and that became another big influence. Other poster makers started using press type, but I mainly stuck with my own handwriting. Some of the flyers have a combination of both. A lot of them were just ball point pen/felt tip marker drawings, the later ones have collage elements. I wish I had paid more attention to the sequence of creating them, and how they evolved. Michael Cornelius (JFA/The Father Figures/Jr. Chemists/Housequake): People knew Mad Gardens was a weird and iconic place even while it was going on. It was like a different brand of freaks had taken over the space usually occupied by the wrestling freaks. Playing in a boxing ring with the fights going on in the pit outside of the ring was just a crazy vibe. Before the fence people would bounce of off the ropes and into the pit. Karen Maeda Allman (Conflict): Playing Mad Gardens was such a trip. The "stage" was really wobbly to catch the fall of the wrestlers, no doubt, but that made staying upright (and keeping amps upright) a little challenging. Watching kids climb up the fence around us was pretty interesting and made it feel more like we were playing in a cage. I guess we were. Nick and I were big fans of Pete's Fish and Chips so we'd always try to get there before our Mad Garden and El Calderon shows. W. David Oliphant (Happy Dead Man/Maybe Mental/Destruction/Dali’s Daughter): The shows at the Garden would have lineups with Eddy Detroit and the Meat Puppets and the Sun City Girls opening for the Minutemen and between sets you’d have an emcee between the groups telling jokes or maybe doing poetry. It was a very inclusive scene for everything that didn’t fit in within the world of normalcy. That was my big huge attraction to it. I could kind of fit in there.
Neil Hounchell (Soylent Green): If I remember correctly our 1st show there was early in the Mad Gardens run. Because it was a wrestling ring my bass drum would make the ring bounce. It was so fun. One of my favorite places to play for sure. Richard Bishop: Well, how often do you get to play in a fully functional wrestling ring, complete with bouncy floor and rubber ropes all around? There was just something about the atmosphere that made it cool no matter how you looked at it. We played there once before Charlie joined the band. We played original material but it was mostly rock and pop music. It didn't go over too well since all the other bands during the evening were punk bands. We played Mad Gardens a few more times once Charlie joined the band. We started performing more experimental and improvisational material, along with some fucked up theatrical bits - one time we didn't even bring instruments. The audiences still didn't like it (by then we were absolutely hated by some) but we never cared about that. We just did what we wanted to do and the weirder it was, the more it pissed off the crowd. Things were thrown at us (they put up a chain link fence eventually), endless verbal abuse, all kinds of mayhem. This type of confrontation was empowering (and) a catalyst for us to take things even further into some very absurd realms. We controlled the narrative. But it was great just to attend shows there because that's where all the underground bands would perform and it was the place to be. It was always fun to see how particular bands used that type of stage to their advantage. Tony booked a lot of challenging bands at Mad Gardens, and eventually at several other places in town. Keith Morris (OFF!/Circle Jerks/Black Flag): We played the Mad Gardens with White Flag and their lead vocalist got up on one of the corners of the ring and belly flopped on the floor. He kind of laid there for about ten minutes. It was exciting to watch him do it, but the actual results were not exciting. Al Penzone (Nova Boys/Sticky Thang): Tony tried to put bands on stage and give them an opportunity. He was a notorious cheap bastard, but then again, what promoter ain’t? In hindsight it is easy to see the contribution he made. In fact, the original Nova Boys played the very first fucking show at Mad Gardens with the Hoods. Lucy Lamode (Killer Pussy): We made a movie one time, it’s called “Nothing a New Wig Can’t Do.” We did a whole Mad Gardens thing with that movie. The Meat Puppet happen to be in a very small whizz by scene in the movie. The last part of the movie is me walking into Mad Gardens and then we started our show. We did some crazy things there. Bland: The Nova Boys played the very first Mad Gardens show. We were the first band on stage at Mad Gardens ever. I remember the evening well. The show was great and people showed up. I don’t remember if we got paid. I was a young drunkard. My fondest memory of Mad Gardens, all shows were like $2 to get in, and then the Misfits played there in 82 or 83 and it was $5 and we were outraged. We paid it, of course, and it was one of a few shows that wasn’t on the weekend. It was so loud you couldn’t even hear Glenn Danzig singing, but it was fantastic.
Joe Cultice was cool about letting me use this. You can see a young Michael taking a picture, too.
Brian Brannon (JFA/Racer X): At Mad Gardens we had all these different bands and the touring bands, rightfully, would get the money. That’s just how it works. It still is that way. With Tony, pretty much any band could open for the big bands coming through town. He made sure people got heard and (it was often) $3 for a show that anybody today would pay $30 and gladly. Beram: (In 1981) JFA came into the picture and during that summer, Mad Gardens was opened, and we recorded the Teds and JFA shortly after that. JFA (with their 1981 ep, Blatant Localism) ended up coming out first, then the Teds, and Amuck was number three. Having seen JFA at a show earlier in 1981, Beram and Hynes saw tons of potential in the new and relatively young band that featured Brannon (who was 14) on vocals, Mike “Bam Bam” Sversvold (also 14) on drums, Michael Cornelius ( who was 21) on bass, and Don Pendleton (also 21) on guitar. The band came with a built-in crowd of skateboarders who were loyal to their hometown band. Penzone: Once JFA came out and all the skater kids glommed on to them. They were our friends and we supported to them. JFA was our band. We couldn’t follow TSOL or Dead Kennedys or Social D (Distortion) because we didn’t fucking live in California. Tony saw us all supporting JFA and he put out the first single. Pendleton: Tony called me and Mike Cornelius to his house in Maryvale and said, “Hey, I want to put out a record by you guys.” To my mind, that was the beginning of Placebo Records. It just fell out of that meeting where he said, “You guys got something going here, why don’t we put out a record?” Mike and I both agreed that if Tony put up the money that we would split the profits 50/50 and if he booked a show, we would split that evenly, too. Hynes: Our attitude towards contracts at the time, you know, Tony and I didn’t have any money, but we weren’t going to sign any contracts with anybody. Our feeling was that we were putting our money on the line and if you don’t trust us, we don’t trust you. We’re probably not going to make anything off of this and if you’re going to hound us for money, then it’s not going to work. Beram: When I brought JFA into Desert Sounds and I met Sandy Lamont for the first time, it turned out that he was basically an expert in recording surf guitar sound. We were like, “Wow! That’s exactly what we’re looking for.” The amount of time I had, financially, to record JFA’s first record was about three or four hours. I was focused on simple things like, “We have this much money, period. You’re not going to be able to spend more than this, so you have to get it done.” Cornelius: On the Blatant Localism session we recorded the songs in one day. Maybe 5-6 hours. We played all songs live in the studio (including the vocals) to 2 inch, 16 track tape. We did minimal punch ins to clean up parts. We all barely knew how any of the recording process worked. In the session we played like we always played and were OK with it sounding like we did live. We had no concept of making it sound like a studio recording. My only experience before that session was recording Arizona Disease (Ep) with the Jr. Chemists and that was 100% live in the studio with no punch-ins or overdubs at all. We didn't even mix it; the studio did. Pendleton: The best thing was complete artistic control. I don’t think they ever came in the studio and said, “I don’t think that is going to work.” Chickenbutt (Michael Cornelius’ nickname in those days. Side note: call him that now and you might get a titty twister) and I did the artwork for the first few records and he never questioned it except on the first ep. He asked us if we were sure we wanted to use the skateboarding picture. I remember him asking, “Isn’t skateboarding dead? Are you sure you want to use that?” and in 1981 skateboarding was dead. You might as well put a hula hoop on the cover. Officially, Blatant Localism’s Placebo catalog number is PLA101 and the Teds’ The Eighties Are Over ep is PLA201, but there is differing opinions among the key players about which came out first. Essentially, they were being recorded around the same time with the Teds recording happening in Los Angeles with Beram’s brother, Eddie Beram helping set up the session and acting as a producer. Eddie Beram was a fairly successful musician in his own right as a session drummer and member of LA-based psychedelic band, October Country. Sandy Lamont, whose hands are all over the Placebo discography, engineered Blatant Localism and mixed The Eighties Are Over. With Placebo Records officially up and running towards the end of 1981 and Mersey Productions using Mad Gardens to provide a stable place to stage punk and underground shows, Beram, Hynes, and Bycroft were all working full-time to support the efforts of the businesses. While money was constantly tight, the trio managed to add a third record, and the first of three compilation records to feature Phoenix-based bands, to the mix with Amuck, a 1982 compilation that featured 17 tracks by 17 different local bands which included Killer Pussy, Meat Puppets, JFA, Paris 1942 (which featured Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground and Alan Bishop of Sun City Girls), Sun City Girls, and many more. The consensus seems to be that this record captures the Phoenix underground music scene remarkably well. Beram: Amuck was interesting because we told bands to bring us the tapes. We didn’t record anyone for that compilation. They had to get the recordings together themselves and then we strung’em up and tried to get the (volume) levels as even as possible so there wasn’t a huge difference in the way they sounded when you played the record. If you look at Amuck, I think you’ll see that this wasn’t designed from the very beginning to be a scene that was punk or anything else. It was trying to go out and find as much of the folks in the metropolitan Phoenix area that were doing their own thing and instead of none of them knowing who each other was, I was trying to give them a place where they could all come and perform and have their various friends see the other (bands) and have a record label that was doing the same thing. Steve Davis: (The Shivers/Glass Heroes/Stevie & The Sleaze): Placebo legitimized the whole (scene). They covered a wide variety of stuff. There was a lot of theatrical bands.That’s when I knew that things had changed and there was a new scene going on. That’s when I would kind of stand and watch. We were targets, in a way, with our leather jackets at the wrestling ring. There were so many skate kids looking at us like “Who are those guys?” John “Johnny D” Dixon (legendary Phoenix music history expert/DJ/Record and memorabilia collector): Amuck was just a great record. It really encapsulated a moment in time, which a lot things don’t do. These (Placebo compilation) records were audio pictures of the times. Derrick Bostrom (Meat Puppets/Victory Acres): For the Placebo “Unpleasant” song, we went into another really nice little session which was hyper as fuck. We did an early version of “Magic Toy Missing” which ended up on Meat Puppets II. The “Unpleasant” track sounds really good. I wish it were a better song. The lyrics were fucking stupid. Some stupid shit that I wrote. Happily, Curt didn’t enunciate them, then Tony went to town on it. Elaine Di Falco (Godwads/Kill Everyone/Almighty Sphincter): I think it was a very unique vibrant culture of original music. There was great diversity in the bands that were around when I was there. Mighty Sphincter, Sun City Girls, Joke Flowers, JFA ... for a young girl who grew up listening to everything from Zappa to the Residents to Billie Holiday to Bach, I was ready for it. Sun City Girls were by far my favorite because I think they had the most sophistication and I was drawn to that. They would reference jazz and other things that were outside the realm of punk culture and bring that into their work. They were outrageous, but not gimmicky so I appreciated that a lot. Srogoncik: I think Tony was interested in catching a snapshot of Phoenix with Amuck. The fact that it is as diverse as it is kind of illustrates the adversity that the scene really dealt with the whole time. To practice, when people are not geographically in the same place, makes it difficult. Especially when there wasn’t a focal point (prior to Mad Gardens). I’ve always been proud of the Phoenix scene, and I think it has been criminally underrated, because of its diversity. Tony was the curator of that material and I think he did a good job. Oliphant: That was my first time on vinyl. At that point, everybody was just a few years into it. There wasn’t a set bunch of groups that were established. It was all so fresh and new and exciting. To get it onto a record was really exciting. Looking back on it now, that was a monumental thing, especially when you look at the lineup on the record. Lamode: We were on a lot of compilations but I do remember Amuck and I’m pretty sure I had a couple copies of it. It was a great album. 1983 and 1984 saw Placebo Records kick things into a higher gear as the small label put out several stellar releases with multiple JFA releases including their classic first full-length LP, Valley of the Yakes, Zany Guys’ ep Party Hits Vol. II, Sun City Girls’ self-titled LP, Mighty Sphincter’s debut 7”, and the second local compilation, This Is Phoenix Not The Circle Jerks. Beram: Keith Morris was another big supporter. When I titled that album, This Is Phoenix Not The Circle Jerks, it was a takeoff on (the classic Modern Method compilation) This is Boston Not LA. I made decisions very quickly. I may have just looked at that record a few hours before and thought, we’re going to call our album, This Is Phoenix Not The Circle Jerks, and maybe a month later, I have my promoter hat on and we’re going to have the Circle Jerks coming into town and I thought to myself, “Shoot. Why did I do that?” I didn’t mean anything by that. It was just a stupid thought. When Keith came into town, I sat down and he said, “Hey man, don’t even go there. I didn’t think anything at all. I love the record.” He was a supporter and really liked the label. He really liked JFA. The label also reissued 7” Eps by earlier Phoenix bands, Feederz and The Brainz, and distributed an awesome album by Tucson’s Conflict called Last Hour. Allman: They distributed Last Hour but we didn't work with them otherwise. It was an Unjust Projection, which was a joke name that Nick and I made up when we were producing a Black Flag show, and then we kept the name for our 'label." Placebo produced the songs on This is Phoenix, though, and I still love that record. Mike Beck (Response/Chatterbox/Blotter): There was no other label that would put out the music that they put out. If it wasn’t for Tony Victor, there would be a lot of good music that is missing. If Placebo didn’t pick you up, you would have to do it yourself. I wish they would have picked us up, because we were too stupid to do it ourselves. Brannon: All the comps I loved because they just showed the diversity of the scene in Phoenix. Phoenix had so many different bands going on. To me, it really captured what punk rock is supposed to be. We had everything and Placebo helped all those bands get their stuff out there and connect with people. Look at the Sun City Girls. How do you label that? The first Sun City Girls album is right up there. The Amuck album, the Brainz, Sphincter. (On the ’84 tour) Sun City Girls tormented the narrow-minded punkers. It was great. People were riled up and then we would come on and all that riled-ness would be directed toward the dance floor. Beram also started putting Placebo bands on the road including the odd pairing of JFA and Sun City Girls for a national tour in 1984. There are several great Placebo tour stories and even a rumor that JFA may have ended up with an awning from legendary New York venues, CBGB. With regard to that rumor, Cornelius once told me,"Those who know don't tell and those who tell don't know." While conditions on the bus weren't always the best, and some musicians don't have the fondest memories, not everyone was complaining. Beram: I think the Sun City Girls are a force out there in music and their output in creative material is almost unrivaled. I think they honed their skills, to be able to play that many shows in such a short period of time, and to mostly hostile audiences, gave them a certain amount of edge that they weren’t going to get playing to friends here in Phoenix. To that extent, JFA deserves some credit there. The Sun City Girls would not have been able to get out there and tour like they did without JFA headlining those shows. I loved it because I was bringing out on tour what I was doing at Mad Gardens. It was pairing things that don’t necessarily go together. It was beautiful because you would get a local band that was more or less usually doing some sort of fast punk rock and then you’d have the Sun City Girls and then you’d have JFA. By the time the Sun City Girls were done, the crowd was actually more primed to see JFA than if you would have had two or three speed punk bands before them. The conditions on those tours was not good. It was the middle of summer. We had no air conditioning on the bus. We weren’t staying at hotels. We were constantly sweaty and smelly. There wasn’t very much food. I know that sometime on a trip up the east coast we went from Miami, which were just infamous shows, we had a lot of fun there. The mischief that was going to take place if we stopped anywhere for more than a day was something. The bus got towed in Miami. There was some anger over that. I think some tow trucks brake line got cut. Somewhere between Miami and traveling up the east coast, someone got ringworm. I ended up getting ringworm and had a big one on the base of my back. For me, it wasn’t a big deal, but for others, they had enough. Brannon: You’re probably talking to a bunch of wussies. There was no air conditioning. The bunks were just basic spring mattresses. You didn’t want to sit on the top bunk in the back when you were going down any kind of a bumpy road. You would get impaled on some screws that were coming out of the ceiling. That just wasn’t a good idea. 1964 International Harvester school bus painted dark green. When you saw that bus coming into your town, you knew that JFA was in town and we wanted to skate your local spots. That was all Tony and Greg getting that bus together. We had a mechanic that went with us. That was mandatory. When we were touring the deep south, for some reason every morning, Tony and Greg would want to go to a Waffle House and eat breakfast. I would usually be up partying after the shows, drinking til 3 or so in the morning so I would stumble in and get the last, the worst bunk, and Tony or Greg or Wayno (mechanic and driver Wayne Hungerford) would drive for three or four hours and we’d end up at a Waffle House. There was never any room to park a school bus in the parking lot, so they’d park by the dumpster. It would be hot…stinky…Tony and Greg would just be sitting there pretending like they didn’t know us. Richard Bishop: The first major tour was the JFA / Sun City Girls tour in 1984. I think it was about 40 shows across the country. For some reason Michael Cornelius couldn't do the tour - I can't remember if he left the band or just couldn't go at that particular time. JFA asked Alan if he would play bass for them for the tour and he agreed to do it IF Sun City Girls could go along and open the shows. So that's how it developed. The bus was sort of charming at first - it was one big party on wheels (lots of wheels) with very little supervision. There was no shortage of drugs and alcohol. Tony kept everything under control (as best as was possible), Greg had a gun, and Wayno was the main driver and mechanic. Greg filmed a lot of the tour so it is pretty well documented. For me the charm wore off about half way into it. I was completely broke and we weren't really making any money (to be fair, we knew that going in), plus I got sick a few times, and then at some point there was ringworm on the bus. I was also battling a few of my own personal demons which were unrelated to music. I just couldn't deal with it after a while. I left the tour in New Jersey and missed about 10 shows. I hooked back up with the tour in California and did the last few west coast shows. While I was away Alan and Charlie got Greg to join the band and I think they did a few shows under the SCG moniker but then changed the name of the band to 'The Life Expectancy of a Fly". I think Greg played drums and Charlie played guitar - my guitar, which I left on the bus. Me leaving the tour wasn't a very popular decision. And if I had a chance to do it all over again ... well, I'd probably do the exact same thing! Beram: We did a short tour with Sphincter that was LA, Vegas, and San Francisco. I think it was Mighty Sphincter, the Sun City Girls, and maybe the Zany Guys. It was quite a thing in San Francisco. We drew a really big crowd there. As cool as their scene was there, I don’t think they had seen anything like that line up. That particular evening was just a complete eye opener for San Francisco seeing Sphincter and Sun City Girls. It was a larger crowd than they would draw in Phoenix. Here in town, Sun City Girls and Mighty Sphincter might draw 100 people. In San Francisco it was around 500 people at the Mabuhay Gardens or the On Broadway. I remember Ron up there wearing horns. It was also probably the beginning of the end of what I consider the hey day of Mighty Sphincter, which in my opinion, was very short lived. Having Ron (Grotjan AKA "Ron Reckless," original lead singer of Mighty Sphincter who passed away in 2016) and Doug (Clark, guitarist for Mighty Sphincter/Maybe Mental/Exterminators/Victory Acres, who passed away earlier this year) on the road, even for that short period of time, it was quite obvious that it was a shooting star. It was going to burn itself out very quick. Hynes: The San Francisco show was good. They were always good. That was probably one of our best shows. It was at the On Broadway. Doug and Joe (Albanese, bassist for Mighty Sphincter/Godwads, who was shot and killed in Seattle in 2012) played the encore naked. Doug threw his dress in the light rafters and it stuck. Jello Biafra came and got it the next day and kept it. He was pressed up against the stage the whole time. Ron was on top of his game. Doug sat down on a lit cigarette as soon as we got back in the dressing room and jumped about ten feet in the air. Brannon: It was the best thing ever as far as I was concerned. Especially back then, you had to tour for people to want to buy your record outside of your hometown. That’s what spread the word about JFA and the skate punk thing we were doing. The touring helped connect us to all the different skate punk scenes around the country. Pendleton: He (Beram) had the foresight to go out and buy that bus. He knew that if were going to be touring the country, you couldn’t be staying in hotels. That saved us a ton of money. Every tour that Tony booked, we always came back with money. It was a very spartan lifestyle and it was all done (booking and contacting the various local promoters around the country) on payphones. I never fully appreciated what Tony did until about 1995. I ended up being “Tony” for that 1995 tour and it was a bitch. It’s a lot of work. I never fully appreciated it when I was just the guitar player, but when I had to take over for this tour guy who flaked out on us, I totally can appreciate what Tony went through every night when we were just having a good time. George Orwell's prophetic year was also the year that Mad Gardens ceased to exist as a venue for Mersey Productions which morphed into HC Presents and then, later, Billyboy Presents as a “tribute” of sorts to local TV reporter William La Jeunesse whose 1987 reporting on Beram’s venue, The Metro, played a key role in getting it closed down. Between 1984 and 1988, Beram’s would use multiple local venues and halls to continue promoting local and national bands. As the label moved into the second half of it’s existence, Placebo entered into its most prolific period in terms of the number of releases and even saw two releases come out of New York-based band, Artless’ self-titled EP in 1985, and fellow New Yorker Eugene Chadbourne’s Kill Eugene LP in 1987. Beram and Hynes also decided to partner with New York industrial artist Paul Lemos on the Dry Lungs compilation series which would also feature Oliphant’s Maybe Mental. The third and final local compilation, More Coffee For the Politicians came out in 1985 and featured 15 tracks by 15 different local bands, once again including JFA and Sun City Girls who were the only bands to appear on all three compilations. Paul Lemos (Controlled Bleeding/Curator of the Dry Lungs series): They (Placebo) were very open to the idea of letting me curate a series of very experimental records for what was a rock label. I made no money, but they must have since I did three or four volumes of Dry Lungs for them. My desire was to issue my own material on Placebo, but they were NOT into that ... they did force me, however, to feature the local group Maybe Mental on some of the records they put out with me. Eugene Chadbourne (solo artist/Shockabilly): What was appealing and special about the Placebo relationship at the time was they wanted to, and went ahead with, a full scale release in all the formats--video, CD, LP, cassette---that might be the only time that has happened with one of my works. Mykel Board (Artless/former columnist for Maximum Rock & Roll): I already knew Tony Victor through Seidboard (record distribution company) dealings. I don’t think I ever talked to him… everything was done through the mail. He seemed like an honest guy with a great sense of humor. What more can you ask for? Beram: The Dry Lungs compilations…the industrial records were pretty new at the time. It was one of our first looks outside of Phoenix. It started with David Oliphant and Maybe Mental. I’m told those were major influences on people all over the world. Andy Lewis (Bootbeast Carnival/Bootbeast/Social Raygun): When they put out More Coffee For The Politicians we had a song on there called “Hung Up.” He (Beram) always seemed like a decent guy to me. I don’t remember how we heard about it, but I called an asked him if we could submit a song and he said, “Sure” and we found out a few weeks later that we were going to be on it. They were pivotal in the Phoenix underground music scene. They always had their act together at the shows. It didn’t matter what venue they were using at the time. I always found it interesting they could find these places to put shows on with the kind of music they were doing. One would close and the next week we’d have one somewhere else. There were a lot of records that Beram would have liked to put out that just didn't get to happen. Beram: I wish I could have done’em all. I wish I could have done a Meat Puppets record. I wish I could have done a Killer Pussy record. I wish I could have done an International Language record, too. There were so many records that you could have done, but none of them were going to sell enough to make any money. If you were lucky, you might be able to get the cost back of recording it, of pressing it, the art, the printing, but probably not. It was expensive. The difference between what we paid for the records and what we sold them to the distributors for was not very much. If you had put out an International Language record, and you pressed a 1000 of them, you’re going to be lucky to sell 500. If someone was willing to go ahead a record their record and bring it to me, they had a better chance of getting put out. I was managing JFA, so I had some control over that. Over the years, Placebo Records provided a lot of opportunities for local musicians to ply their craft and, at times, have a part-time job, as well. Di Falco: My first job was working for Tony out of his house where he operated Placebo. I filled the mail orders people would send in from the inserts of other LPs or ads in Thrasher Magazine or Maximum Rock-n-Roll (I assume) and we'd take the filled packed orders to the post office. Tony was kind to me. He didn't need to give me a job, but I was in a very bad situation. I was a very young girl living with a bunch of sexist drunk musicians. I saw a lot of debauchery, abuse, dysfunction and illness. He helped me see how music could elevate my sense of dignity, worth and merit. Beram: Hardly anyone got paid. JFA did get paid for a while. There was a few years there, where between record sales and skateboard sales. Skateboards probably made more than the records for a little while and for a while everyone was getting a monthly check. There was a little bit of money of tours because I would pretty much starve everybody until the end of the tour so at the end of the tour we wouldn’t end up leaving our bus somewhere like Social Distortion did (Check out the documentary, Another State of Mind, for the story of Social Distortions bus). Our bus came back all four times. Andy Lane (ONS/too many other local bands to list): I actually did under the table cash work at minimum wage helping pack up shirts, JFA skateboards, and records in ‘83 or ‘84. Tony let ONS open some big shows. I think he liked our weirdness. Working with them could be edgy. Sarcasm and mockery ... I was a dumb kid, and they were trying to smarten me up. Hynes: I’m proud of the longevity of it and the significance of what we did. At the time, we had no idea about the longevity and that these records would be collectible one day and the influence it would have on other bands. We were too involved with the day to day to be thinking too far ahead. Tony might have been thinking of those things, but I wasn’t. Beram and Hynes were not financially successful with Placebo (Bycroft left the partnership early on to attend college and now is an engineer working in the aerospace industry), but they worked hard to promote music and artists they cared about even though there was a lot of people in the scene who would accuse them of hoarding money or not paying people fairly. Simple math, though, shows that it would have been hard to make a lot of money doing what they were doing when records were always very reasonably priced and the shows were often less than you would pay for craft beer now days at a local venue. That’s not even taking into consideration the considerable expense of renting venues, paying security, purchasing promotional materials, paying the touring bands their guarantees and that the vast majority of their releases did not come close to recouping costs. If not for JFA and the JFA skateboards, Beram and Hynes would not have been able to keep Placebo afloat past 1981. Even though things came to an end for Placebo by 1989, the lasting impact of the label and the work of Beram and Hynes can still be felt today. Cornelius: Placebo records had the audacity to believe that the scene was even worthy of documenting. Without the structure of Placebo and Mad Gardens I don't think you would be writing about Phoenix punk 40 years later. Tony wasn't a punk. He was more of a rebel that transcended whatever the flavor of the rebellion was. He had a huge independent spirit and a lot of hustle at an early age. He's a guy that could never punch the clock for the man. Brannon: There were always naysayers saying things like, “They are ripping everybody off!” but when you think about it, how much money are you going to make on an album by the Mighty Sphincter? It wasn’t about that, it was really about promoting the scene. Alan Bishop: Well, let’s see, they released our first three albums and put us on several compilations, booked us at venues they ran, arranged US and regional tours for us, and I worked at Placebo for a couple of years in the office/warehouse in the mid-80s. Personally, Tony and Greg have been close friends ever since, especially Tony as I worked for his ticket company for 12 years after Placebo folded up, so I’d say they’ve had a huge impact on my life. Rob Locker (AZPX Records/AZPX Skateboards): I was influenced the day I found out about Placebo and never forgot. When we started the AZPX music label, we were hoping to re-release some of the old Placebo stuff, but they weren’t into that. I totally respect that Tony Victor wanted to keep it very low key and very sought after which they have done a great job of. I thought it was rad that Greg Hynes was in Mighty Sphincter. They did everything themselves. They were instilling us, as teenagers, with the DIY ethic. Richard Bishop: Just the fact that we were able to put records out was all that mattered. It seemed to give us some sort of validity. And it was great that Tony took a chance on us. Without Tony putting out our records, we may never have had a chance at anything. I don't think any other record label would have wanted anything to do with us. In fact, I'm sure of that. Without Tony and Greg a lot of things would have gone undocumented, so it is important in that respect more than anything else. Pendleton: Without Tony putting on shows and eventually getting his own venue, and putting together a homegrown record label, and then putting together the national tours, he put Phoenix on the map and it did nothing but good. I was just stoked to be there. Hynes: We wanted a great representation of what was happening in Phoenix through our eyes. We did what we wanted. We did what we thought was right, what we thought was based, we did what we liked and we didn’t want to please anyone other than ourselves and the bands we were working with. (At the end) I was ready to be done. I was tired of all the complaining. We had two distributors go out of business and they stiffed us for a lot of money. It just wasn’t as fun anymore. We were working so hard and people just didn’t appreciate it and just talked shit all the time. We didn’t need it. We could do other things. Beram: When Placebo was teetering on the brink of closing it up. We didn’t actually go out of business or bankrupt or anything. We just closed up because a couple of the major distributors had gone out of business and they owed us money and we just never had that kind of leeway to have that happen. Before we really went belly up, I just decided to pack it up. By that time, by 1988, I was wearing down. It was a busy eight years or so and the amount of criticism and flack I’d taken for those eight years was starting to wear on me for someone who did so much to not have any money. My older brother said to me, “Look, I’ve been through the music business and if you get to be 30 and you haven’t cracked it by that time, you might want to think about doing something else. If you were to what you’re doing now in any other business, you would have already made good money.” He turned out to be right about that. It was a great life. I loved it. The reason I got out of it was because I wasn’t making money. If I was making money, I would have definitely stayed with it. It was my first love. I’m proud of what we did and I had a blast. I was a strange kid from the westside, from Maryvale, and I got to manage a real rock and roll band, go to places like New York and Toronto, and put out records on my own label, and promote shows for eight years. It was hard, yes, and I never had any money, but most of all, it was a lot of fun. These days, Beram runs Western States Ticket Service in Phoenix and has been very successful although the pandemic has severely impacted his business. Hynes lives most of the year in Washington, D.C. and is a high ranking official in the transportation industry, often rubbing elbows with U.S. Senators and Representatives. According to the Record Room’s John Rose, most everything on Placebo sells quickly when it lands in his Phoenix store so time has not stopped music fans from wanting to here the music Beram and Hynes worked so hard to share with the world.