City of angels
Eddie & the Subtitles is one of those band names that pop up from time to time in books and articles about old punk rock. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Eddie Subtitle graduated from Reno High School in 1967. He moved first to San Francisco and then down to Los Angeles. In L.A., he started playing in a band called The Rockets, which did surf rock and rockabilly and eventually morphed into Eddie & the Subtitles, part of the first wave of punk rock in L.A. in the late 1970s.
Eddie & the Subtitles songs, especially “American Society,” were hits on the influential L.A. radio station KROQ. Eddie & the Subtitles played shows with many of the best known punk and hardcore bands of the era, including X and Black Flag.
In November 1980, Eddie and the Subtitles played with Black Flag and the Minutemen at the legendary Starwood nightclub in West Hollywood. After the show, somebody started throwing beer bottles at cop cars. This led to exaggerated news stories about violence in the L.A. punk scene. Venue owners and managers became even more hesitant than they already were to book punk bands in L.A.’s already notoriously competitive music scene.
“Punk rock got shut down by the police,” said Subtitle. “After the Starwood show, I think we had seven shows in a row canceled. They started opening up roller rinks for punk rock, and they’d either have a show and then they’d close it down or before the show they’d close it down. They weren’t going to allow anything to happen.”
So Subtitle moved back to Northern Nevada. He got sucked into the black hole of working for the casino industry and stopped making music from 1982 until recently.
“That’s like a 30-year gap—I’m sorry!” he said. “I got lost in a bar somewhere, counting my chips that I didn’t get.”
A couple of years ago, Subtitle approached Rick Spagnola, the owner and recording engineer of Dogwater Studios, with the intention of recording some songs he’d written. Spagnola suggested Subtitle record the songs with a full backing band. Subtitle first tried out a bluesy local bar band, but no one was happy with the results. Spagnola then suggested that Subtitle try playing with the Grim Tones, who were then known as Scarlet Presence, a classic rock-inspired duo with tastes more along the lines of the Beatles-Stones-Zep-Floyd spectrum than the rockabilly-hardcore punk hybrid of Eddie and the Subtitles.
The result, eventually, was a band called Eddie Subtitle and the Rocking Horse People. That band’s debut album, Kaleidoscope Eyes, came out this year. Both the band name and the album title are taken from The Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which is a clear signpost toward the feel-good psychedelic pop on the record, which includes several cover songs, including Beatles tunes and songs associated with Elvis Presley.
It’s pretty far removed from the sound of a band that used to regularly share stages with Black Flag. But Subtitle was a hippie, digging the scene in San Francisco in the ’60s, before he was a punk, playing raucous shows in L.A.
Kaleidoscope Eyes was released on CD by No Label Records, Subtitle’s own label. He also recently released an anthology of Eddie & The Subtitles’ material, called From the Womb to the Tomb (The Full Horror), which includes the bulk of the band’s discography on CD for the first time.
Subtitle’s next project is a new album by a reconstituted Eddie & The Subtitles, now featuring members of Reno bands The Shames and The Liver Scars. The album will be called The Songs of Lee Harvey Oswald, and, without giving too much away, Subtitle promises that the album artwork and the music are sure to be controversial.