Black Punk Time: Blacks in Punk, New Wave and Hardcore 1976-1984 (Part 1)*By James Porter and Jake Austen
To some people, punk rock might have represented another wave of ethnic cleansing in Rock & Roll. However, that first wave of the New Wave was more integrated than most people might think. Several Black performers had key roles in punk bands during the prime early years (1976-83), particularly in New York, which, as the home of the Black Rock Coalition (a musician’s collective), has had a long involved history of Blacks playing Rock & Roll. This is a salute to the brothers and sisters that helped make it happen.
As far as Black punk’s relationship to Hip Hop, there’s lots of soundbites to give, but they don’t necessarily add up to much. Rick Rubin recalls Russell Simmons’ initial reaction to Public Enemy being, “Rick, this is like Black punk rock. How can you waste your time on this garbage?’” Perhaps the most famous record ever done in an 80s hardcore style was “Cop Killer” by BODYCOUNT, rapper Ice T’s novelty project where he had an all Black band playing hardcore/thrash. Johan Kugelberg, who compiles discographies of insanely obscure punk singles for Ugly Things magazine, has recently come out of the closet as a rap-head by declaring in print that early Electro records and battle tapes have the vitality and spirit of their punk contemporaries. And, of course, there were a few cases of cross-pollination, with projects like Time Zone (Afrikaa Bambataa and Johnny Lydon) and bands like the Clash becoming interested in Hip Hop (a nod returned when zillion sellers with Clash hooks began popping up from commercial Hip Hop).
(Note: Bands mentioned in descriptions in ALL CAPS have separate entries, either in main listing, in Also Notable section in Other Punk/New Wave Hardcore Bands With Black Members section. Bands in bold type are acts with a significant relationship to Black Punk that do not have a separate entry)
BARRY ADAMSON - Adamson, later of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, played bass in Magazine from 1979-1981. The band, while not too punk, was the product of the undeniable punk pedigree of Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks. Adamson brought funky influence to the band, and that funkiness continued with his solo work in the 90s, especially The Negro Inside Me [Elektra, 1993], which explored his relationship with Funk, Jazz, Hip Hop and Euro Pop.
STEVE ALDRICH - The perpetually sunglassed Steve fronted the late 70s Grand Rapids, MI punk/New Wave band GWBT (which, believe it or not, stood for the Guys With Big Teeth) and then had a career spinning punk records on college radio (WSRX) which morphed into spinning “alternative” music as a pro-jock on WLAV. I’ve heard Aldritch’s take on punk described as “possessed of a rare naivette” and also as that of “a big New Wave poseur.” I suppose those aren’t actually contradictory. GWBT’s “Now I’m Really Mad” may be the only punk song to feature a celeste solo. (JA)
Terry Mohre adds: Way off in stating that STEVE ALDRICH fronted the GUYS WITH BIG TEETH, Stig had little or nothing to do with the band except we used his drums, which I remember urinating on. Members of the GUYS WITH BIG TEETH were M. DUNG, CAPTIAN TODEL, TERRY, WALTER WRIGHT, SPUDDY, and sometimes FROOT TA MAN. Also, no celeste it was a little blue toy piano
ALGEBRA MOTHERS (a/k/a THE A-MOMS) - This Detroit punk band was led by the African American guitarist Gerald Collins. They released the single “Strawberry Cheesecake” b/w “Modern Noise” on Aftertaste in 1979.
ALLAH AND THE KNIFE WIELDING PUNKS - Bernie Edwards, Nile Rogers and Tony Thompson were among the members of this 1976 co-ed New Wave act (they did not release any records) before morphing it into the legendary dance act Chic. Rogers and Edwards became two of the most successful producers in pop history, and each has worked with a number of rock artists (Rogers’ collaborators include David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Sting; Edwards’ include ABC, Duran Duran and Air Supply). Edwards died of pneumonia while on tour in Japan in 1996. Thompson also played with Duran Duran members and Robert Palmer in the Edwards-produced rock supergroup Power Station, and was the drummer for the Led Zeppelin reunion at Live Aid in 1985. He died of cancer in 2003. (JA)