“What is west coast music?”

Onstage at the Smilin' Buddha

My friend, singer/songwriter Julie Vik recently posed the question, “What is west coast music?” because as she said, I was there for the “transition.” Well, I replied, I can only speak from my own experience. I used to tour up and down the west coast, play the west coast circuit. I always say we shared more camaraderie with our American punk cohorts than those in the rest of Canada. I know some bands like DOA toured across country and around the world but most of us were strapped for cash and stayed closer to home, or at least west of the Rockies. A fellow islander and musician Chris Corrigan said that in the traditional music community there are strong connections within the scenes in Washington and Oregon and not so much with the rest of Canada. “When I was really active in the scene in the 1990s, you could look at the repertoire of traditional Irish tunes we played and see that they were heavily influenced by what was happening in Seattle. We’ve always been closer to Cascadians.” Makes sense to me. Cascadia, as a region, certainly, draws musicians, the arts together. I’ve noticed lots of overlap between the San Juan and Gulf Islands as well in the spoken word, literary scenes.

In any case, it was always more expedient for us to tour in a southerly direction than back east. The snowy passes and mountains certainly are formidable, then you have three days or so of flatlands-prairies-and then three more days of bush-Ontario!

The Dils (from San Francisco) came up and played Vancouver often, hung out with us and were very comradely. Black Flag from LA as well. I became friends with many Californians introduced to me by Brad Kent who had done a stint as the Avengers guitarist; Chuck Dukowski, Gregg Ginn, Darby Crash, Margo from the Go-Gos, Jello Biafra, Kid Spike and Karla MadDog from the Controllers. I got so weary of driving up and down the 1-5, pooling pennies to buy gas and arguing over which fast food drive-in to pull into. One time I begged to take PCH, just for a change of scene, and mentioned that it would be fun to go visit Henry Miller in Big Sur. They thought I was crazy. “Henry who?”

I shared these opinions with Scott Beadle once too, in an interview. He is Vancouver’s defacto punk rock historian, did a talk at the Vancouver Museum a few years back. Man, does that make me feel old! I recall being at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, in the punk rock section and looking at flyers under glass, flyers I have copies of at home!

In my humble opinion, Vancouver was a (musical) outpost back in the late 70s, early 80s. I think the punk bands and music that evolved from that era constitute a kind of miraculous conception! There was not much culture for germination, no real *music scene.* No clubs, venues, no recording industry, no touring circuit. Not for independents. On the other hand, Vancouver is unique, must be some kind of vortex. It seems to attract people and there is always something happening despite a dearth of facilities, amenities, and audience (in the past.) It’s evolving, inevitably, and some day it will be a world-class city.

San Francisco was artier in general, with bands like Pink Section, Club Foot, Tuxedo Moon and the Residents and I think the performance artist known as Mark Paulene was as much punk as the Dead Kennedys and the Avengers. Target Video and Val Vale’s Search and Destroy zine were very influential too.

LA was wild! There were many spread out contingents-Hollywood punks, skate punks, Valley punks and beach punks from Hermosa, Redondo, San Pedro. Tough towns. Talk about hardcore. They wore Knuke The Knack! tee shirts and absolutely despised mod, new wave, and “power pop faggots.” Very menacing. Because of LA’s size though there was a real audience for punk rock. I was shocked to hear punk played on the local radio stations, not all, but certainly on K-ROQ and the college stations.

The other thing I loved about Los Angeles was all the roots music happening in the post-punk scene. I had almost moved to London but looking back I’m glad I landed in LA. I got a real education. LA is one big roadhouse. There was cow punk like Rank and File and Blood on the Saddle but there was a lot of revivalism too-rockabilly, western swing, bluegrass. I sang in a neo-bluegrass band with Candye Kane called the Country Cousins and our audiences were young like us. I went to hear the Blasters and Los Lobos, listened to Howlin’ Wolf, Joe McDowell, Carl Perkins, Bob Wills, Muddy Waters, Chet Atkins, Robert Johnson and Rosie Maddox. I loved psycho billy and the bent, twisted roots bands-hybrids-like X, the Unknowns, the Cramps and Gun Club.

Though it seems there was no consensus to Julie’s discussion, I think Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles bands definitely shared a west coast sound. Now, I have to wrap my brain around the present. Happy New Year!

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