Top 10 Punk Guitarists


Top 10 Punk Guitarists

I like doing these lists. I like pulling out old albums and remembering the pieces of music that shaped my youth. The lyrics that made me think, the guitar riffs that I’d hum during class when I should’ve been taking a test, the logos I’d draw on my notebook. I love it all, but I loathe the snooty comments when I don’t include the D.C. bands. Sure Bad Brains are supposed to be worshiped, and any project Ian MacKaye worked with should be included in all new printings of the Bible, but since I didn’t really dig these bands as a kid it would be stupid to include them on my list. So, if after reading my list you find yourself reaching for your Prozac bottle, sorry.

My definition of punk has always been a bit different than a lot of these “authorities.” In the sense that punk was something, to me, that anyone could do and it usually sounded like it. So, when I put Greg Ginn at number one, it doesn’t mean he was better than the dude from Bad Brains, it means he completely captured the “garage punk” sound. The incredible feedback, the screeching. It was nothing, but punk.

Number 10
Johnny Ramone

The man created some of the coolest sing-a-longs ever. More or less, the Godfather of punk guitar.

Number 9
Greg Hetson

The stuff he did on the Group Sex album is some of the best punk ever recorded. And the work on the first Bad Religion album was top notch, too.

Number 8
Joe Strummer

I don’t know how Joe ranked on a technical basis, but he was cool and passionate about his craft. RIP.

Number 7
Billy Zoom

Not counting his work with X, Zoom has also done stellar work with rockabilly legend Gene Vincent, The Blasters, Etta James, Big Joe Turner and Mike Ness.

Number 6
Captain Sensible

He was fun, I remember watching his WOT video on MTV in the early ‘80’s.

Number 5
Pat Smear

He is the punk rock version of Robert Johnson. He sucked, made a deal with the devil, and made a brilliant album with the Germs.

Number 4
Steve Jones

Great guitarist, punk or rock. Dug him live and on vinyl. Taught Andy Taylor of Duran Duran to play with an attitude.

Number 3
Ron Emory

Dance With Me, do I need to say more?

Number 2
Rikk Agnew

Every band he’s been in has gone on to success. He doesn’t seem to stay around too long, but he’s great. I’m not including him just because of the crazy email I received, from the perturbed groupie.

Number 1
Greg Ginn

I loved the beginning of any Black Flag song, the sound of the guitar turning on, and the feedback, then Greg’s crunching notes, only to be matched by the howling vocals of whatever singer they had.

Honorable Mentions: Brian Baker, Steve Jones of The Stepmothers, Mick Jones, etc.

These are my choices, I’m sticking to them.




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Henry Rollins – Provoked


Henry Rollins
2.13.61 Records
April 1, 2008

1. Sex Ed
2. Kids
3. Indie 103 Party
4. Wide Stance Sitter
5. Horses
6. Van Halen
7. Invasion Force
8. Mandelaism
9. Nature’s Wild
10. Adrian
11. What I Am

Henry has some kick ass stories here. The imitations of Raymond Pettibon and David Lee Roth are worth the price of this alone. And the Sex Ed story about the two guys that “share” a condom is too funny. The older Henry gets, the funnier he is.

Provoked is the 15th live spoken word album by Henry Rollins, released on April 1, 2008, as a CD/DVD combo on 2.13.61 Records.

The DVD includes the Comedy Central special Live and Ripped From London, which was recorded May 17 & 18, 1999 and first aired August 11, 2000.

A small portion of this special was included as a bonus track on Rollins’ 2001 release, A Rollins In the Wry.

Recorded live on 11/6/07 at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre and 1/23/08 at Amsterdam’s Paradiso during Rollins’ 2007/2008 “Provoked” spoken word tour. The CD contains over an hour of hilarious and insightful commentary on topics ranging from Larry Craig to the recent Van Halen reunion with pit stops along the way to discuss kids these days, gay marriage, and the current president’s creative use of the English language. Includes a bonus DVD: “Live and Ripped from London” originally aired as a well-received television special on Comedy Central and not previously released on DVD.

If you don’t own it, give it a listen.

Rating: ** * two out of three stars

On with the story . . .

I tried a little fiction this week . . .


Mail Girl looked and Walter for a full minute and said, you want to take me to Paris? Walter started to speak, but could only stutter, so he resigned himself to just nod his head.

Mail Girl asked, when? Walter swallowed and said, now.

That night Walter went home, packed his suitcase and left all the rest of his worldly belongings on the curb.

The new Walter showed Mail Girl the world, things he stopped showing the wife a decade back.

Once they returned to the states, they moved into a brand new townhouse. Night and day Mail Girls’ friends were over being entertained. Walter was a hit.

After living together for three-quarters of a year, Walter started preparing for Mail Girls’ twenty-first birthday. He ordered streamers, confetti, made calls. It would be huge!

Mail Girl came home from work, dropped her purse on the table, and told Walter to order dinner because she had to pack for Vegas.

Walter’s heart sunk. What? What Vegas?

Remember Brian? The guy that was at our party last week?
Well, I always liked him, and he’s taking me to Vegas.

Walter fell back onto the couch.

A week later, Walter drags himself to the answering machine.

Hi Walter, Vegas is going almost too good. Listen, I’m moving in with Brian. Thanks for everything. Take care.

His first thought was, what the fuck have I done.

He called his wife, his daughter, and his son.

No one picked up.

A week later, Walter received a letter from his son.


In your attempt to re-live your youth, you grabbed the wrong bankbooks, thus emptying our college funds, and forcing mom to sell the house. The three of us are all working now. College is postponed for about five years.

I can’t say I will ever understand why you did what you did. But after tearing apart the family that I thought you held so dear – it would be best if you never show your face around here again.

I hope you and your new woman have a long and happy life together.

Your son

Walter cried and drank and felt sorry for himself.

Walter lies on his bed, in his darkened living room.

Through some medical reports that were forged he was able to convince a doctor to set him up with a device the size of a large lunchbox. When the red button on the top of a black cord connected to the device is pressed, two different liquids mix together and Walter will have a shortness of breath, and fall asleep and if the device works . . . not wake.

Walter isn’t dying. Walter is beatdown and frankly through with life.

Walter squeezed the button.




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Top 10 Punk Compilations


Top 10 Punk Compilations

Number 10
Tooth and Nail
Label: Upsetter Records
Released: 1978

I remember seeing this at my Uncle’s place when it first came out. It was the first L.A. or West Coast punk album I ever saw or heard. So, I’m including it for sentimental reasons. Mostly rough & melodic LA punk rock, Germs, Flesh Eaters, Middle Class and Negative Trend stand out. Classic compilation.

Rating: *** ** three out of five stars.

Number 9
Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three
Label: Sanctuary Records
Released: 2002

I dig Henry’s new version of Rise Above, Chuck D’s intro brings a new level of intensity to the track. The track smokes. Henry’s dialogue before/between songs is real cool, a quick way to get acquainted with the case and still enjoy the music. Rollins really stepped up his game, this is the best I’ve heard him in years. And he did it for a great cause.

Rating: *** ** three out of five stars.

Number 8
Let Them Eat Jellybeans
Label: Alternative Tentacles
Released: 1981

Let Them Eat Jellybeans “17 Extracts From Americas Darker Side,” is one of the earliest compilations of underground music from the Bay Area, and its original release included an insert of all of the punk bands known to be playing in the U.S. and Canada at that time. The first side of the album features songs by a number of bands that formed the canon of the Frisco hardcore punk in the 1980s, while the second side features more of an art rock sound.

Rating: ** *** three out of five stars.

Number 7
Cracks in the Sidewalk
Label: New Alliance Records
Released: 1980

Contains the Black Flag track Clocked In.

Rating: *** ** Three out of five stars.

Number 6
Rodney on the ROQ
Label: Poshboy Records
Released: 1980

I originally bought this to complete my Flip Side magazine collection (a free issue inside), but was stoked to hear one of the very best songs ever written – “Bloodstains” (Agent Orange), Amoeba by the Adolescents, The Circle Jerks do Wild In The Streets, and Black Flag does No Values!!

Rating: *** ** three out of five stars.

Number 5
The Decline of Western Civilization
Label: Slash Records
Released: 1981

I remember when this was first released; I had the movie poster on my wall and the soundtrack in constant rotation on my turntable. I believe it was scheduled to open at the Nuart Theatre; I picked up their newspaper listings that came out every month, at Licorice Pizza. I had the date circled, and I was raring to go. A week before Decline was to open my Uncle Rick offered to take me. Here’s where I get bummed: my Mom tells him “No.” I wasn’t, quite yet, fifteen and she reminded me that I had to be seventeen to see it, and she mentioned a few recent police riots at the local shows. I tried to plead my case, and my Uncle promised to look after me, but still “No.” As it turns out the police were outside the theater when the movie, let out, and a small-scale riot did, indeed, ensue; to Mom was right.

Rating: *** ** three out of five stars.

Number 4
Total Noise
Label: Total Noise Records
Released: 1982

I can’t remember how or when I got this exactly. It may have been a magazine freebie; it was my first exposure to The Gonads, and Dead Generation. Stand out track: Blitz – Voice of a Generation!!

Rating: **** * four out of five stars.

Number 3
Punk and Disorderly
Label: Poshboy Records
Released: 1982

Great collection of music, I never understood why the Dead Kennedys were on here, though, maybe to help boost American sales? Anyway, great stuff. Stand out track: Blitz – Somebody’s Gonna Die!!

Rating: **** * four out of five stars.

Number 2
Someone Got Their Head Kicked In
Label: BYO Records
Released: 1982

BYO’s very first release, and classic punk album, Someone Got Their Head Kicked In is still one of the best comps around. Some of LA’s “mega stars” and some newcomers share this record; mostly melodic punk rock / HC. While the big bands like Social Distortion or the Adolescents have great tracks, some of the “smaller” bands still have some difficulties.

Rating: **** * four out of five stars.

Number 1
Public Service
Label: Smoke 7 Records
Released: 1981

Like most of my record collection back then, I picked this up at Moby Disc. I saw the ad for it in Flipside in early 1981, and it was a chance to add some more Bad Religion recordings to my collection. I don’t remember if this was first or the Bad Religion EP was, but I ended up owning both. Another reason I bought this was the Circle One tracks.

Rating: **** * four out of five stars.

Honorable Mentions: Charred Remains, and Carry On Oi!




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Last One To Die – REVIEW


So, I sat down on the edge of the building and waited for the show. Bill started crawling on his belly, military-style, until he got to the edge of the building, once there he started beaming oranges at any car that drove by. Now Bill came from a relatively upscale neighborhood in Encino, so the cars he was nailing were BMW’s and Mercedes. Fifteen minutes of this— sirens came blaring. Which made Bill extremely excited (he was possibly ADD or ADHD, which is ADD in HD) and he tells me not to worry he has this planned out. He just yelled to follow him and we went down a drainpipe, through a school gymnasium, over some other fence and finally into his backyard.

Once we got into his house I asked him what was that all about? He said he was hoping to “hang out with somebody who was down for some real punk rock stuff.” I just shook my head and asked: “how was that punk rock?” And Bill says “Punk rock is about going ape-shit!” I told him “Bill, I’m not an authority, but tossing oranges at your neighbor’s cars isn’t exactly punk rock.” -Michael Essington, Last One to Die

In a time when olde school punk nostalgia has reached the proportional magnitude of the late Poison Idea guitarist Pig Champion’s beltline, there comes a point when 40 and over hardcore kids such as myself thirst for something beyond the literary pale of yet another unearthed 86 tour diary from another subcultural legend…or another “oral history” told by aging proto scenesters about how much dope everybody used to shoot and why their particular locale invented everything cool for everywhere back in the day. I mean, that stuff is all certainly righteous enough and great to read…but too, it’s like you start to think and really it’s just as true that in punk-perhaps more than in any other musical or cultural underground movement of the past thirty-odd years it was, and is, “Tha Punxes” who are all legendary in their own right. You can’t even say it was “the fans” that made it what it is as a lasting sub and quasi-counterculture. Because, going all the way back to Joey Ramone singing “Gabba Gabba We accept you as one of us” and through the hardcore call to arms anthem of anthems delivered by a DC ice cream store manager turned frontman for his favorite band, Black Flag, when he forcibly declared “We are tired, of your abuse, try to stop us, it’s no use-RISE ABOVE WE’RE GONNA RISE ABOVE”…all throughout the history of punk, especially in it’s early and more D.I.Y. Manifestations, there’s that inclusiveness. That destruction of the barrier between performer and audience. There’s that thing that tells us, all of us are making this happen, that we’re all inhabitants of a certain piece of cultural real estate that engenders a whole other state of mind.

But let’s face it. In the 1980’s it was a dangerous piece of real estate to call home. Thus, you know, it’s just so perfect to read a collection of stories from just one of the punks who lived through that time, and who still maintains an outlook shaped by being in the thick of it all. And even better is it’s not some guy pontificating on the impact his garage housed record label 25 years ago has had on a musical landscape, still overrun to this day with crappy pop (even worse, crappy pop than thirty years ago mind you), or stories about how horrible it was to sleep in a van while touring Europe in 87. No, this is more the real deal. This is workingman’s punk literature or would be if a phrase like workingman’s punk weren’t rather oxymoronic. Well, I guess it’s not. I mean, a lot of us have to have jobs to be able to afford those Terveet Kadet 7”’s off of eBay these days.

But really, I sat down to read Last One to Die and I was kind of expecting one of those kinds of punk books you know, a memoiresque tour de force of just plain fucked up shit and crazy situations that would read like a Jim Carroll poem set to a soundtrack by Fear and D.I. Not that I wouldn’t have loved it if it was like that and Last One to Die certainly doesn’t lack in the retelling of crazy, intense situations department…but it was just more. It actually revealed as much of the person behind the words as it did the stories themselves. And it revealed that Michael is in no way trying to cultivate any type of phony “Old Time Punk Guy” persona. It’s obvious from the get go, dude was and is, punk as fuck. However, you get a look into what made him tick as a person back then. As well, you get to see through stories ranging from everyday encounters on city buses to time spent involuntarily barbering for the California Department of Corrections, to writing about his children, what has continued to make him tick over the years.

And because of that Last One to Die is way more than just a punk book. It’s a look at a life and values shaped by the early California punk/hardcore scene, but it’s also a book that touches on themes of redemption and even justice and retribution without ever presenting the matters in anything like a heavy-handed approach.

And yeah, Michael was in a punk band too back in the day but he doesn’t make a big deal of it in the book. And he went to some fucking amazing shows, a few of which are wonderfully documented inside. He also got to interview some way fucking cool people. All that stuff is in there. But more important, he’s in there. One of us, the punxes, and more generally, perhaps, more importantly, another human being who’s got some great stories to tell. So definitely, check out Last One to Die. I don’t care if you’re most treasured record is a sealed copy of Soc. D.’s Mommy’s Little Monster or if you’re rocking Deadmau5 on an iPod. It’s a worthwhile read.

But for fuck’s sake, if you’re 40 or over while still into punk/hardcore music here’s to ya! And especially here’s to you Michael, thanks for hammering out a killer book.

David Gurz lives, works his real job, and writes from a small Northeast Penna. Borough nowadays while enjoying life with his wife and two children. He was a member of a few dreadful sounding hardcore punk bands during the mid 80’s through the 90’s that maybe a hundred and fifty people ever heard of. Bass player in the Greensburg State Correctional Institution prisoners band in the early to mid-aughts; he also edited a ‘zine, Usual Suspect, during his captivity and his writing has appeared in Profane Existence, Mishap and Words Break Bars. He is the author of the widely unread Subterranean Emerald City Blues, a proof of concept shot .at doing the whole eBook thing. Dave is lackadaisically working on another book to be self-published in 2013. You can read his blog and purchase his latest book too if you feel like it.




Misconceptions of Hell is available now:

The Menzingers – On The Impossible Past


The Menzingers
On The Impossible Past
February 20, 2012
Epitaph Records

Tom May – Guitar, Vocals
Joe Godino – Drums
Greg Barnett – Guitar, Vocals
Eric Keen – Bass

1. Good Things 2:23
2. Burn After Writing 3:03
3. The Obituaries 3:17
4. Gates 4:04
5. Ava House 3:41
6. Sun Hotel 3:51
7. Sculptors and Vandals 2:10
8. Mexican Guitars 3:08
9. On The Impossible Past 1:33
10. Nice Things 3:28
11. Casey 3:42
12. I Can’t Seem To Tell 3:05
13. Freedom Bridge 4:12

There was so much buzz about this album I decided to pick it up (what, you thought Epitaph sent me promos to review?!). Pretty good album. There is definite Against Me/Your Arsenal vibe. The pained vocals, the subtle folk influence, punk, but not too punk.

Decent album, Chris Wallace from Your Arsenal is still untouchable vocally.

If you don’t own it, give it a listen.

Rating: ** * two out of three stars

On with the story . . .

On Friday, February 17, 2012, I hopped in the car and spent damn near an hour to get downtown to the La Cita bar. Billy Caldwell of Million Kids and proprietor of the illustrious Spark Plug Magazine put together a very cool get together for staff and friends of the magazine. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to bring my Mike Check column to their pages from the very first issue.

Anyway, after approximately an hour and eight acts of severe road rage, and the GPS re-mapping my directions I get there.

Once inside, there are members of Million Kids, Brainspoon, Gary 84 and (wait for it . . . ) me!

Here’s the thing the place has a great outdoor patio that plays great punk music until about 9:00 pm, then it changes into a Spanish dance club. Fun place.

So, shortly after 9:00 p.m. I walk two friends, Kathy and Sasheen, out to their car. We walk out of La Cita, and head down Hill St., when out of the corner of my eye I see a homeless man standing staring off into space.

Normally, when I’m walking female friends or women in my family I put myself in between them and the homeless guy, shaved head guy with his area code on his forehead, that kind of thing.

But the weirdest thing happened, just as we’re right to the homeless guy, my friend Kathy Fox, runs over calls the guy by his name, hugs him, stuffed some money in his hand, and starts talking to him about music, and different events around town.

Now, giving money to a homeless guy isn’t amazing, nor is it the point to the story, it was the physical change in the guy. He was staring into space, catatonic. What Kathy did was show some kindness and respect, not pity (married guys, remember years ago when you were single had were treated with kindness and respect? Yeah, me neither.)

Kathy treated this guy as a person. No one wants to be out there on a cold night, hoping to grab a few bucks for a warm cup of coffee.

This is not my typical punk memory, it was more of an eye-opener. I try to help, I give money when I can, but Kathy went one step further, she made a connection, talked to him and made him feel human, even if it was only for a few minutes.

I was humbled. Cheers Kathy!




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