Out-punking punks is pretty punk
Crime billed itself “San Francisco’s first and only rock ’n’ roll band.” Yup, they’re that kind of band. But they were another kind of band, too—the kind that, even apart from their own backward self-promotion, legend followed like a swarm of thirsty mosquitoes or lusting teenaged groupies—whichever sucked harder. The story’s good, though. And sometimes, that’s all that counts.
In 1976, best friends Johnny Strike and Frankie Fix moved to San Francisco from a small town in Pennsylvania. They taught themselves to crudely play guitar and together—with the help of Ron “The Ripper” Greco on bass and the notoriously drug-addled Ricky Williams on drums—they created greasy, skuzzy, disorganized and junked-up music that, like a good healthy shit, came straight from the guts. The band used punk rock’s pungent freshness to their advantage and not-so-carefully cultivated one nasty image. By mid-1976, Crime released the self-financed, independent, “Hot Wire My Heart” / “Baby, You’re So Repulsive,” single—the now famous recording that’s said to have been the first-ever American, West Coast punk-rock release.
Then, the antics began.
Dressed like a cross between riot police and Castro Street S&M wenches, Crime played their first show at a fund-raiser for gay activists. Five songs in, someone pulled the plug. Too much punk, not enough gay. And of course there was the controversial Adolph-Hitler-on-a-show-flyer incident; or their infamous gig at San Quentin, where they arrived dressed as cops. Or their ultra-violent shows. The list went on, and because of their inability to conform to punk-rock standards, Crime was hated by their own scene. Before they disbanded in 1980, they miraculously managed to out-punk the punks.
Now, almost 30 years later, they’re back.
Despite Williams’ 1992 death, and the death of his replacement, Brittley Black, in 2004 and Fix’s final exit in 1996, the band will continue.
SN&R caught up with Strike, a founding member, and drummer Hank Rank, who joined the band in 1977.
How much of the Crime story/legend is true?
JS: It is all true and it is all a lie.
Tell me about the band’s image.
JS: We said it in ’77 and we’ll say it again: Everybody wear a uniform.
HR: Crime’s image and music are one and the same.
So what in the hell have you been doing since Crime ended?
JS: Writing. [Check out Johnny’s new book: A Loud Humming Sound Came From Above.] I have a little cat-sitting biz where I’ve gained the moniker, “The cat whisperer.”
HR: Living a life in Crime demands multiple identities best not divulged. Suffice it to say that you could pass us on the street and have no idea. I’ve been making films (check out The Devil and Daniel Johnston), working with Marilyn Manson on music videos, playing jug-band music, collecting two-headed calves, and oh yeah, managed to do the family thing (thanks to conjugal visits).
Are there people in your life who don’t know about Crime?
HR: Crime has always been on a need-to-know basis. Dentist, dry cleaner, parole officer: No. UPS guy, IRS auditor, psychoanalyst: Yes.
Why, after all these years, has Crime gotten back together?
HR: We were summoned back into existence by a Masonic Sex Cult ritual. We had no choice, really.
You guys were notorious for not liking other bands. What are some bands that you don’t like?
JS: Led Zeppelin.
HR: We just don’t like bands that aren’t as good as we are, so that’s why we don’t like other bands. We’re always listening, hoping some will emerge, but we’re still waiting. There is only one Crime sound.
Is today’s punk scene new and refreshing, or is it just the rehashing of old shit? Or is it something else entirely?
HR: Today’s scene just got a lot more refreshing with the return of Crime.
JS: I have no idea. I’ve been listening to Hank Williams.
What can we expect from Crime when you come to Sacramento?
HR: A sharp spike in the Crime rate. Of course, Sacramento is no stranger to Crime.
JS: An ancient pagan ritual re-enacted through sonic raw power, and a good dose of fun.