The Cheifs – [Album]

Friday, 07 January 2011

It's funny how revisionist in nature history can be. Whether intentional or not, some things just fall and disappear into the cracks because other events that happened around the same time were just bigger. Because of that, some minor details  get glossed over for the sake of continuity and making a good story flow. A perfect example of such historical revisionism exists in the early years of California punk's development, but one will only notice if the historical time-line of that scene is really analyzed closely because so much of that scene developed so quickly that the plot points get blurry. The omissions that occur in California punk's history don't exist as a result of malicious intent necessarily, it's simply a matter of events being forgotten over time and smaller bands being overshadowed by bigger personalities.

Don't think it's easy for a band to get lost in the shuffle? Check this out:

Punk rock really started to get a foothold in California around 1978, when bands like X and The Germs began to draw wider notice and build followings. Those bands would eventually become legendary. Then, around 1982 (while they had already been going a while), bands like Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, The Descendents, The Minutemen and Bad Religion broke out. They were faster, more aggressive, better organized, tighter  and all stood under the banner of hardcore – which only bore a peripheral resemblance to its' punk predecessors.

But wait! There's a four-year gap between 1978 and 1982! Did the public revolt and punk vanished for that time? Did everybody on the scene simultaneously run back to the woodshed and emerge after a four-year break fully formed and ready to go? No! Anyone who thinks that may have happened  needs a reality check – no scene freezes and then thaws out two or three rungs up the evolutionary ladder There must have been some bands who helped move things from Point A to B, but whatever happened to them? How come no one talks about them?

Huntington Beach's The Cheifs (in keeping with the tradition of bands like The Descendents, the band's name was spelled wrong) were one of the punk bands that got forgotten when hardcore swept most of the street clean to set up shop. The Cheifs were only really around long enough to record a seven-inch, contribute a few songs to a couple of compilation albums (one of which was called Cracks In The Sidewalk, ironically) and then they were gone before the end of 1983. All told, their career was about three years long (and that's being generous). Over the years, several small labels have re-discovered The Cheifs and reissued a compilation of every song the band ever recorded under the name “Holly-West” Crisis. The comp has, of course, been in and out of print several times over the years, but Dr. Strange Records (in conjunction with the Independent Label Group) have found the album and re-issued it again on twelve-inch vinyl. It's pretty cool too; through this reissue, fans of punk and hardcore are offered some insight into what exactly happened under the radar in those four “lost years” between the birth of California Punk and the establishment of SoCal hardcore. In fact, it could be ventured that this record is the connective tissue that links the two definitively.

There's no arguing that “Holly-West” Crisis contains the punk seeds that would eventually germinate into both hardcore and skate punk, and that fact is apparent as one listens back to the record now. While the original punk bands like X, The Germs and Agent Orange were fast, from the opening rip of the album's title track, “Holly-West” Crisis plays three steps faster as drummer Rabit lives up to his stage name and sets the break-neck tempo that guitarist George Walker and bassist Bob Glassley run to keep up with. There is no break in that rush either as songs including “Liberty,” “Drowning” and “Eddie's Revenge” blaze out choice chops that, had they been given the chance, could easily have made The Cheifs household names in another decade. Particularly on the first side of the record, each song is tight as a drum, fast as hell and confrontational in a “Ramones” sort of way but, as good as they are, it would have all been for nothing had it not been for Jerry Koskie up front on the mic. Koskie is what could have made The Cheifs a huge concern had anyone really been paying attention because, more than the other members of the band, the singer proved to be the missing link between punk and hardcore. As melodic as John Doe but as confrontational as Henry Rollins (check out songs like “Cheifin'” and “Riot Squad” for prime examples), Jerry Koskie overrides common practices of both the punk and hardcore music of the day by adhering punk's melodic conventions (read: he can carry a tune) but pushes his voice so hard that he ends up growling and rasping out most of his performances; in that way, Koskie foreshadowed that (along with The Descendents) would eventually inspire “Fat” Mike Burkett; that rasp, as interpreted by Fat Mike, would end up being one of the cornerstone sounds of early NOFX records (the first three EPs, especially). The similarities to early NOFX continue when one realizes that the entire “previously unreleased” first side of this LP was originally recorded and produced by Mystic Records majordomo Doug Moody (who also recorded NOFX in their earliest years). The combination of all of those elements would make “Holly-West” Crisis an essential document for punk aficionados and historians alike were there any justice in the world but, as previously stated, history has regularly proven to be less than kind. That's what makes this reissue so welcome though – while it's unlikely that anyone is going to rewrite the history of punk rock to ensure that The Cheifs get their proper due, the reissue of “Holly-West” Crisis will serve to enrich the (ever-growing) unwritten history of punk that fans have amassed. It will be a great secret for those who find it.



The vinyl reissue of The Cheifs' “Holly-West” Crisis is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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