Watch CBS News

Legendary Los Angeles Punk Quartet X Headlines Stern Grove

By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- One of the most important bands to emerge from Los Angeles since the late 1970s returns to San Francisco to headline Stern Grove Sunday when pioneering punk outfit X shares the stage with SF contemporaries the Avengers.

One of the first punk bands to cross-pollinate the aggressive new sound with roots music in the late '70s, X stands as one of the great American groups from the era and the only one still operating with it's classic original line-up more than four decades later. Founded by bassist/singer John Doe and rockabilly-influenced veteran guitarist Billy Zoom in 1977, the outfit took shape with the addition of Doe's poetry writing girlfriend Exene Cervenka as co-lead singer and drummer D.J. Bonebreak, who had previously played with fellow LA-punk progenitors the Germs and the Eyes.

X Johnny Hit and Run Paulene 1981 by AussieFiend on YouTube

X put out it's first single -- "Adult Books" backed with the ripping anthem "We're Desperate" -- the following year on independent label Dangerhouse Records. They became one of the standard bearers for the region with their inclusion on the Yes LA compilation along with contemporaries the Bags and the aforementioned bands the Germs and the Eyes. The band also appeared with those same bands in the seminal Penelope Spheeris punk documentary "The Decline of Western Civilization."

The group's success at mixing Zoom's slashing roots-rock riffs with the poetic lyrics and ragged vocal harmonies of Doe and Cervenka would lead to a record deal with major independent Slash Records in 1980. Produced by onetime Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, the band's first two albums Los Angeles and Wild Gift garnered global critical acclaim and established X as a leading light of West Coast punk.

Their success would continue with a leap to major label Elektra Records in 1982. With Manzarek still on-board as producer, the follow-up efforts Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World broadened the band's audience while introducing more country elements to their songwriting. While X would continue to record and tour after Zoom departed the band (following the 1985 recording Ain't Love Grand!), later efforts with Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin and his replacement Tony Glikyson would only show flashes of the brilliance heard on the first four seminal albums.

X continued to tour and record through the 1990s, but it was the return of Zoom to the fold in 1998 that reunited the classic line-up and led to a resurgence in live performances that often focused only on the powerful songs from their initial output. The band has stuck to touring for the most part save for a live CD/DVD package in 2005 and a digital only Christmas single with two yuletide standards in 2009, regularly selling out its holiday-themed tours on the West Coast that always pass through X's fan stronghold of San Francisco.

"The Hungry Wolf" - X, Moore Theater, Seattle WA, 12/31/10 by Marianne Spellman on YouTube

In 2017, the Grammy Museum in their hometown hosted X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles, an exhibit that featured artifacts from early in the band's career including original instruments and gear played by X, handwritten lyrics and notebooks by Cervenka and Doe and original concert flyers. More recently, the group teamed with Fat Possum Records to issue remastered editions of the first four classic X albums while Doe collaborated with writer Tom DeSavia on the new book More Fun in the New World, a sequel to their overview of both the band and the Los Angeles punk scene More Fun in the New World.

In early 2019, the band released a two-song single featuring its first new tunes with the original line-up since 1985 to wide acclaim. Last year, Fat Possum issued Alphabetland, a bracing, concise 27-minute blast of raucous roots rock that serves as a fine addition to the original line-up's classic catalogue.

the avengers - we are the one 7" by sweetbabyjaysus on YouTube

For this Stern Grove Festival show, the veteran LA outfit will be joined by equally iconic SF punk band the Avengers. Though they only put out a single 3-song EP during their brief initial two years of existence, the quartet led by singer Penelope Houston and guitarist Greg Ingraham opened for the Sex Pistols at their infamous San Francisco concert that closed with singer Johnny Rotten asking the audience, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

The Pistols imploded days later, but the Avengers managed a recording session with Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. Those four songs would be released in 1979 after the Avengers had also called it quits. Another posthumous release, the self-titled "Pink Album" featuring various recordings, solidified the band's reputation as one of San Francisco's pioneering punk acts. In 1999, the band briefly reformed around Houston (who had enjoyed a fruitful career as a folk singer) and Ingraham before reuniting permanently in 2004. Popular SF selector DJ Omar (Popscene, Leisure) warms up the crowd.

Stern Grove Festival: X and the Avengers
Sunday, July 25, 2 p.m. Free (reservations required; information here)
Stern Grove

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.