Mike Watt on the cover of The Minutmen's 1984 album 'Double Nickles on the Dime' (Image: Dirk Vandenberg)
A thirty-minute drive south of Los Angeles, San Pedro is an old navy town and fishing port, which at one time was mostly populated by longshoremen and blue-collar workers.
During the late 70s and early 80s the humble port town was also home to a burgeoning punk scene. Led by the enigmatic Minutemen and their hugely experimental take on punk, bands such as Saccharine Trust, Peer Group and Plebs helped shape a distinct and original punk scene.
Craig Ibarra, a San Pedro writer and show promoter has been heavily influenced by the punk bands that have sprung from his hometown. Inspired by books like Please Kill Me and We Got the Neutron Bomb, that documented the pioneering days of L.A. punk, Ibarra has spent the last seven years putting together A Wailing of a Town: An Oral History of Early San Pedro Punk and More 1977- 1985.
Noisey: In a way the book is a local history of San Pedro itself. How important was San Pedro to the hardcore scene in California and beyond?
Craig Ibarra: The book is definitely a local history of the underground Pedro punk community, which very few people knew about, then, or now. I'm not too sure Pedro was very important to the hardcore scene, maybe that's why the Pedro scene was somewhat dismissed — that and the fact that it is so remote.
Most of the early Pedro punk bands were inspired by the early Hollywood scene, where it was wide open and there was no template. I think the early Pedro punk bands (Minutemen, Saccharine Trust) were more inspired by the real early L.A. stuff and some of the more experimental music coming out of England, not so much by the hardcore scene that came a couple years later.
A lot of the hardcore bands sounded similar, which was the exact opposite of what the Pedro bands were doing. The Pedro bands were a little more experimental — some might even say, "artsy." I think the early Pedro bands were a bit alienated by the hardcore scene, to tell you the truth.
Image: Victor Sedillo
The cover of the Minutemen’s D. Boon looking directly into the camera is great. They came to represent the San Pedro punk spirit. Independent and very original but also humble and funny.
Yeah, a local dude named Victor Sedillo took the cover photo. This was a real early Minutemen gig, which was titled "San Pedro Night" at the Cathay de Grande in Hollywood, May 1981. I’ve never seen a photo of D. looking straight into the camera before while playing live.
The Minutemen were definitely the anchor of the early Pedro punk community, and still are in a way. They definitely set the tone for originality. They blazed a path of creativity that was definitely influential on all the other Pedro bands that formed after them. Yeah, humble and funny with their own slang. Pedro has always been big on slang. They were just average Joe's doing their thing and they embodied the D.I.Y. spirit to the fullest.
Was it the personalities or the isolation from the LA scene that made Pedro so unique? Or was it both?
I would say both. Most of these cats were geeks and misfits that didn't fit in with the so called "popular kids," so there were a bunch of unique personalities and kids just looking to find their niche — just like the Hollywood scene, I imagine. I think Lina Sedillo (Peer Group) worded it best: "Being isolated enough from the Hollywood scene, while being aware of it, I think was a huge benefit in that no one felt a need to conform, and we were free to develop our own look and sound
Were you at the legendary Black Flag, Descendents, the Reactionaries, the Alley Cats and the Plugz show?
No. I was only 10-years-old when this went down, although it was only a few blocks from my house. There is a full chapter on this gig in the book. It was the first gig for the Reactionaries (San Pedro's first punk band and precursor to the Minutemen) and Descendents. Milo wasn't singing for the Descendents yet. It was also Black Flag's second (official) gig. It was in a rough part of town at a Teen Center that was procured at the last minute, because the Star Theatre (down the street), where it was supposed to go down, got scared and decided not to do the gig after all. Some crazy shit went down. The locals were not too happy with these weird outsiders hanging out in their ’hood. Let's leave it at this, the cops had to lock everybody inside the Teen Center, to keep the locals from killing them.
The Minutemen's George Hurley (image: Dirk Vandenberg)
Boon’s tragic death in 1985 ended the scene with many people and bands moving away from San Pedro after that.
Yeah, Pedro took a big hit when D. Boon passed away. The late Lisa Roeland put it like this: “He was the guy that kept us all together. He changed all of our lives. God knows where they would have been musically if D. was still here. Who knows, they could have taken over the world. It was just beginning. Things were never quite the same with all of us. Some of us lost touch with each other. It seemed to me to never be quite the same."
As far as the present Pedro punk community goes — it's kind of similar to the old days in some ways. It's still small, intimate and underground. Everyone knows each other. I would say the only thing different is the bands are not as experimental as some of the early Pedro punk bands. But there is a good punk community here with lots of good bands and even a few independent record labels: Recess Records, Water Under the Bridge Records, 45 RPM and Mike Watt's label, Clenched Wrench.
'A Wailing of a Town: An Oral History of Early San Pedro Punk and More 1977- 1985' is available now through Endfwy.