For years I had heard about Joe Carducci, author, song writer, screenplay writer and for a time, quarter owner of the infamous SST Records. Carducci is a definite jack-of-all-trades that for whatever reasons our paths never crossed, but I always wanted to rap with the guy and through the technology of Facebook I tracked him down.
1. First off, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. What was your position at SST? When did you become a partial owner, when did sell your share, etc?
Everything was very informal then. My sense of things was confirmed when I read Black Randy in Brendan Mullen’s book, We Got the Neutron Bomb, describing the early L.A. punks being seized by “missionary zeal”. If someone as perverse as he would call it that then I know I’m not fooling myself. I think late baby boomers had had their expectations for music raised incredibly high by the music right up to before they picked up instruments in, say, 1974. Suddenly everything went bad and rather than giving up on music and becoming painters the opposite happened. Greg and Chuck saw on their first tours in 1980-81 that when a record shop had Black Flag records they had got them from me at Systematic. So when I told Greg in July 1981 that I’d come down to L.A. and run their label for them they figured I could do it. I wanted to be in L.A. for my writing and as long as I had a place and food it was fine by me; I didn’t come down for one-quarter ownership or even a salary. I just didn’t want to waste my time. But by 1983 we got serious about registering the four owners and that was more about me having to write checks when they were on tour and having to have things legal in order to license records overseas and register copyrights etc. By the end of 1984 the label was functional and we were important enough to our distributors to get paid quick enough to pay the studio and pressing and printing bills. So Mugger left the Black Flag tours in late 83 and he hired D.Boon’s sister-in-law Jeannine Garfias to do mail-order, and I convinced Ray Farrell to move down from San Francisco to do promotions. Before than we had band people filling in at the label: Boon, Watt, Spot, Henry, Dez, Robo, Dave Claassen, Bill Stevenson, Byron Coley and others in a pinch. Just as I was leaving more people were coming in as paid employees: Naomi Petersen, who’d been our photographer since 82, Jordan Schwartz, Mike Whittaker, Linda Trudnich, Kara Nicks. I trained Rich Ford, who’d been in Chuck’s band SWA, to run manufacturing in early 1986 and then was out in March.
2. How did you manage to not just survive but also thrive in the extreme SST environment?
I’d guess you’d say I have a writer’s personality. I’m from a large family, half Italian but some people might think you’d be voluble, fun, etc., but I’m not much fun. I mostly just do the work I need to do. I’d say I figured out in late high school that writing what I want to write was going to take a while to master. I mean my screenwriting, but it goes double with regard to writing prose in the books or the blog since I never really expected to do that kind of writing, and probably wouldn’t have, had I been able to get scripts made earlier. But as regards SST, I fit in because the early punk era was full of people who leveraged the hippie era to do what they wanted and we generally respected that about each other. I was like those guys only minus even the limited partying they did.
3. What led your decision to leave Los Angeles and pursue writing once again?
Well it was nine years worth of the music scene split between Systematic and SST. Systematic needed SST and its touring bands to sell records at that level, but SST needed radio to sell enough records to warrant the amount of work done on those records. So the only further music biz thing I might’ve done was radio to see it through, break the logjam. But otherwise Black Flag was done and new bands post-1982 or so weren’t as interesting – the frontier had closed basically. The straight import-distributors all started labels signing up generic bands (goth, roots, synth, hardcore…) and the culture got taken over by college bands, completely different from the drop-out bands that invented it. But mainly I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to write by then so I wanted to get back to that and see what I could come up with.
4. What was your first exposure to punk rock?
I think it was hearing KROQ in 1977 playing “Sheena” in rotation and running ads for Ramones “Leave Home.” I heard that song and the short clips of the heavier 2nd album tunes enough that I got into it. I understood it as stripping the Black Sabbath power back to a 60s garage simplicity. I didn’t run across any of the Hollywood punks when I was there but I bought the first issue of Slash at Peaches and looked over the 45s they had. I moved to Portland in September 1977 and started buying the New York bands’ albums and then picked up the LA and UK singles through working at Renaissance Records which became Systematic Record Distribution.
5. Other than being at SST, give us some of your greatest memories of being in the punk scene back in the 1980’s.
Well it was earlier than that, up in Portland in 1978 when the first local punk shows were being put on and bringing a small number of interesting people together. It was a hippie town pegged to San Francisco and the Holy Modal Rounders but one time I was closing the record shop and the last couple customers were going to get a pizza so I went with them, we stopped by another record shop picked up a couple more of the punk rockers and then ran into more before winding up at the restaurant with about a dozen kids, it was a scene! And they sat us in a back room. Otherwise, it had to be going on short tours to Arizona or up the coast with Black Flag had to be the coolest thing I did, especially when it was Greg, Chuck, Dez, Henry, Robo, Spot, and Mugger. I moved to the Meat Puppets van once from Seattle to Vancouver and the MPs were smoking pot until they snapped to 3 miles from the border. I never smoked pot so I wasn’t really conscious of the things they had to worry about. But we made it through the check point okay. And in LA in 1982 when BF toured Damaged, I went out with the Descendents to the weekend gigs they were just getting all around town on the basis of their first album – they didn’t draw a lot yet so you got to watch and listen to them with about 25 other people who couldn’t believe how good they were. Then in 1983 the Minutemen were getting to play around Hollywood a lot and if BF was touring D. Boon would pick me up on his way to Hollywood and then since he was usually going off to party after the gig, I’d grab a ride back down to SST with Mike Watt. So just being able to talk to those guys about music and media and art and politics. When Black Flag was in town the same went for them. On Wednesday nights at SST in Redondo Beach in 82-3 we’d know the L.A. Weekly would be in at Music Plus on P.C.H. so often Greg and I would walk down Grant to Aviation to P.C.H. to get a copy to see who was playing where that week.
6. Who were/ are your influences, musically, writing and personally?
I first liked stuff I heard on AM radio (WLS and WCFL in Chicago): Paul Revere & the Raiders, Tommy James & the Shondells, The Standells, Davie Allen & the Arrows, The Hollies, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix Experience… Then FM radio and album buying: Black Sabbath, King Crimson, Soft Machine… For writing I guess the first things I liked when my dad forced us to read books was Jack London, and Pierre Boulle novels. I think of Dostoevsky as the gold standard. In high school read a lot of Anthony Burgess, B. Traven, Ira Levin, and later Cornell Woolrich, Barry Sadler, and recently Michel Houellebecq. I don’t read a lot of fiction anymore. The culture probably needs a Jack London revival right about now.
7. I hope this isn’t too far out, here’s a bit of self-analysis. You’ve been in the music world for over thirty years as a label owner, and PR writer, so the question is what did Joe Carducci bring to SST?
Well SST had its own thing going on. I liked how they related to punk rock as rock music, rather than some anti-rock thing. So it made sense that Black Flag would find a way to tour. I bought records from a lot of American bands and only Black Flag seemed determined to take their music on the road. The political influence of British punk or the drug cool of the earlier 70s bands seemed to keep the rest waiting for something to happen, either the revolution or getting signed to a major. So what I brought was mostly just I was able to stretch the money and keep records in print better and better and get the drive wheel of the business rolling with some momentum. The label Greg wanted was more as a label for the stuff they liked but didn’t have interest from real labels. He expected that “Damaged” and future BF releases would go out thru majors and by rights they should have. But MCA and the industry at large was so retarded by rock radio’s disinterest that SST came to be more the kind of label I had wanted when I was up at Systematic. The major labels couldn’t imagine that a Black Flag might have a better shot at breaking through than a band like X or The Dickies or the New York bands. What happened instead was Metallica and then Nirvana breaking through the imposed retardation by Lee Abrams, Jan Wenner and other criminals.
8. It’s been more than twenty years since you first published Rock And The Pop Narcotic: do you feel that any of the more recent books that chronicle aspects of the SST/underground era of the 80s have contributed as positively as your book did?
I read a bunch of LA oriented stuff when I was working on by book about SST and Naomi Petersen, Enter Naomi, in 2006-7 but basically I don’t read much music stuff now. I have too much to read for work on a film book and other stuff. My impression is that there are a lot of good music memoirs, stories of individual bands, and history but probably not much about what happened to contemporary music – writers must just accept it as a given or they’d be covering television or videogames.
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