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There Will Be NYHC

altercation grid box tapes nyhc trumbull islandIf you had told us a few years ago — much less during the Mullet Board era — that we could expect unreleased Straight Ahead and Cro-Mags songs before turning 30, we’d have reacted in an outrageous, respectful manner befitting vintage Chris Spaulding or Michael Dolloff. New music from any of the old NYHC bands is a sea-change, and inexplicably1 these have been unearthed, and are a gift. That these songs have come out, and been forgotten over a weekend is a bit troubling, but this is beyond the scope of this article. Our friend Chris “Cooch” St. Germane, record collector, illustrator, and so on, recounts his favorites.

Straight Ahead – Knockdown demo recording with Don Fury, May 20, 1987

This legendary Straight Ahead song came to me in late 2004 via a dubbed tape that was originally sent to a friend in Florida, courtesy of an infamous NYHC pack rat, Straight Ahead archivist who had been peddling his wares on eBay.2 Said friend — who is no slouch in the pack rat (N.B. — not PacRat, a.k.a. Tommy Rat, a.k.a. Daddy Moshbucks a.k.a. King Joffee Jaffee) department himself — informed me of the contents of said tape upon its reception, and upon hearing that, my own and several Boston-area heads simultaneously exploded. It should be mentioned that this friend did not own a tape deck at the time, and could not produce a dub nor a CDR, so we arranged to meet at an upcoming Daytona Beach, Fla., gig that Righteous Jams and Mental were playing. Once arrived, I borrowed the tape and was able to make a copy of it. Upon inspection, it contained, along with the song — the most ephemeral in Straight Ahead’s all-too-slim catalog3 — original live sets which the mysterious sender recorded from the audience, including the first Project X show, from the inaugural Superbowl Of Hardcore (bad quality), the first Skinhead Youth show, at CBGB’s (“for all the bashers” — enough said there), an Altercation soundboard from CBGB’s (incredible), and some other sets already in the PKR archives. This tape was so hot it almost burned a hole in my backpack.

We had to wait two long days until we hit a tape deck — this was in Austin, Tex., or about 1,143 miles away — and by that point it was New Year’s Eve. We were able to pop the tape in at Nate from Far From Breaking’s home4 stereo. Vigorous dancing erupted in the living room. After what must have been a dozen listens, some newness wore off, and we sat down to really listen to the recording. Admittedly, we expected more than was possible, and at rest, we were met with a somewhat lo-fi song, recorded live in the studio as so many others did with Don Fury. The vocals were a bit muffled, and the recording was raw and similar to Straight Ahead’s demo/comp tracks.

But it was still “Knockdown,” recorded in a studio, 117 seconds of unbridled hardcore glory, so what were our complaints? The sender of the tape (to my friend) mentioned that Straight Ahead played their final official show a week and a half before recording, and the musicians in the group — Armand Majidi, Rob Echeverria, Craig Setari — were apparently not happy with singer Tommy Carroll’s newfound stylings. Though I don’t know if this recording reflected that sentiment, the vocals are VERY low, and sound a bit unenthused — though it might just be a poor mix. The tape’s supplier also mentioned that the version of “Knockdown” was part of a two-day session during which just about every Straight Ahead song was put to tape. Unfortunately, the rest of the tape has never surfaced, which left us all scratching our heads, wondering what songs like “More Important”5 and “Take Control” would sound like on this phantasmic recording.

Cro-Mags – Unreleased Don Fury session, 1984

Another tape which came straight out of nowhere — specifically, a shoebox in drummer Mackie Jayson’s closet — and proved there is no limit to the amount of unarchived classic-era NYHC on the horizon. I heard about this tape from a N.J. friend several months before its March 2008 official release; he had overheard rumblings about an “unreleased early Cro-Mags demo session.” True to form, the session was released for the first time – official or otherwise, since they had not been bootlegged — sometime around Easter 2008 as bonus tracks on a CD re-pressing of The Age Of Quarrel. That demo-era Cro-Mags songs existed under the radar for so many years is perverse, like an earthquake hidden under a thatched hut. Luckily, when we heard them, they did not disappoint. If they did, our souls might have been harmed irreparably. A bad Cro-Mags song — none exist — would cause a re-evalutation the likes of which I have not grappled with since my girlfriend dumped me in high school.6

The relics are two which have not been released in any known studio form — “You’ll Be The Death Of Me,” and “When Push Comes To Shove”, and an alternate version of the classic “Hard Times.” Like Knockdown (and indeed many of the other songs discussed here), they figured on some live tapes from the era. I’d heard the first two on tapes from ’85-’86, so hearing them recorded wasn’t an entirely “Holy Shit” moment (or maybe it was), but I was still blown away.7 The two songs are mid-tempo and hard driving, with a slight melodic undercurrent that renders them as catchy as any hit Mags song from the era. “When Push Comes To Shove” shows more than anything how Earl Hudson8 influenced Mackie’s drumming. The opening drum line and the driving-fast (but not too fast) main beat sound as if lifted from the ROIR cassette. Come to think of it, the entire recording sounds of ROIR.

The final track, an early recording of “Hard Times,” sounds downtuned a half step or so, and is that much heavier compared to the album or demo version. Most interesting is that “Breakout” and “Skinhead” are transposed during the final chorus, throwing well-seasoned Age of Quarrel veterans for a loop when singing along, albeit a happy one. There has been some talk of the session being released in its entirety at some point, and I can only hope it matches these three songs. On a good day, this is the Cro-Mags’ best recording, better than the original Age Of Quarrel demo and the first LP. With a very thick sound for a practice tape, its just another reason why the Cro-Mags are the greatest musical force in Western history, etc.

Breakdown – Two songs @ Giant Studios, March 26, 1988

Two tracks are unearthed here, “All I Ask” and “We’ll Be Back,” the former one of Breakdown’s staples and the other a lost cut, which until then had only appeared on their second9 WNYU session. When I got this tape — and I don’t remember who from — I asked Jeff Perlin, Breakdown’s singer, as to the title of the second track, but he didn’t remember either the song or the title. Thanks go out to Mark Telfian, who remembered the song (and title) from when Perlin yelled “Go Larry!” as a shout out to start the song on the abovementioned WNYU set.

I assume this version of “All I Ask” is for the band its first run-through in a studio, and is a bit rougher than its rendition on the Runnin’ Scared demo. Sans a divebomb to open it, the song also lacks the punctuating “That’s right, bitch!” as a sendoff. “All I Ask” remains the best example of classic NYHC form, not unlike Madball’s “Across Your Face.”10 In addition to being excellent, both hover around a minute, and are split 50-50 between a quick little intro and mosh payoff.

Teflian says “We’ll Be Back” was an ode to New York’s finest,11 although the words are difficult to decipher without a lyric sheet. The song is definitely the fastest of the early Breakdown tunes; to wit, the tape provider — who again, I forget — wrote in his liner notes that “the metalheads used to love this one.” In any regard, it was cool for me to hear lost tracks from a band I thought I had heard everything by. Someday, someone will compend and release the demo tracks of Breakdown, but until that day, us hotheads will be left waiting.

Token Entry – Three-song demo from the tour for Ready Or Not, 1986

Another of the “Holy shit, I’ve never even heard of this before!” variety, these Token Entry songs were appropriately included on the same physical tape as the above Breakdown tracks. According to my mystery provider’s notes, the session was recorded in San Francisco on Token Entry’s first12 American tour, which was sometime around spring 1986. This lineup was the one which featured Anthony Communale of Raw Deal and Killing Time fame on vocals, and the group was mining the upbeat rockin’ sounds of their Ready Or Not 7″, whose lost outtakes comprise another story altogether.13

What you get here are three tracks, “Actions,” “Tragic Magic,” and “Think About It,” all of which were later re-recorded, with Timmy Chunks on vocals, for From Beneath The Streets. The three are similar in form with their future versions, albeit a little looser. This session was introduced to me as a demo, but I find this hard to believe as the last two songs got a proper recording on the existing Ready Or Not sessions. I surmise they sessioned in San Francisco for a proper record, but for which I’m not sure. I’m ruling out the possibility that this tape was merely a rehearsal due to its impressive fidelity and the liberal (and curious) keyboard accents during the mosh part of “Tragic Magic.” Were Token Entry recording for a second EP? Hard to say.

These sessions, along with the outtakes from the Ready Or Not sessions, would make a great reissue full-length, but the word on the street is that those songs will never see the light of day. So in some way, things are normal. File this under 2020, and we can check back then.

Altercation – Grid Box tapes, 1987

The last tape collects three rehearsals from one of my favorite bands of all time, possibly the best NYHC band that never had a proper record,14 Altercation.15 The three sessions are dated as March 4, March 21, and April 30 in 1987, and were all recorded at the Grid Box Studio in Brooklyn.16 It’s tough to tell if these were recorded on a room mic or a boom box, but as far as practice tapes go, they’re good quality. Definitely not multi-track recordings, but the instruments are nonetheless distinct and the vocals clear. The March sessions each include a run through the seven-song demo and the unreleased “Getting Away With Murder,” a song recorded during the demo session but that has never surfaced, for reasons both unknown and probably pretty cool.

The second March set ends with a cover of the Cro-Mags’ “Survival Of The Streets,” which cuts out a few seconds into the opening riff. (It may not actually be the song, but we’d like to think it is.)

The third session is the crown jewel, and though it contains only three songs, all are unreleased: “Getting Away With Murder,” “A New Tomorrow,” and “Liberty or Death.” The last two are altogether foreign and are neither featured on the group’s live tapes nor their March 1987 WNYU session. “A New Tomorrow” starts with a fast drum break which quickly gives way to a mosh part, which in turn gives way to a secondary mosh, The two are separated by a harmonized guitar lick, giving way to a nice little toe-tappin’ tune. “Liberty or Death” maintains a heavy, almost Leeway vibe, but is not their strongest track. But in the case of unreleased Altercation songs, who can complain? Why look a gift horse in the mouth?

    Footnotes

  1. Inexplicable as far as fate goes. What did we do to deserve this? It’s not surprising that the broken-up bands sate their newly acquired and newly curious fans. But again, as far as fate goes, this is all too kind.
  2. Name withheld.
  3. And arguably the coolest. Cf. the origin of Stop and Think, it being a lyric in “Knockdown”: “Stop and think, knock down the chains of ignorance.” Also making the song's case was that allegedly, outside those involved in the band, only a young Joey C. knew its lyrics – he was first to ask, in my estimation, and saw the lyric sheet. The above lyrics, were were then discounted, I think even by Cooch, and have been proven false by a Google search. But in any regard, it’s a cool song to a man.
  4. A classic Texas pit-stop that is sadly no more.
  5. Or, “The More Important.”
  6. OK, I wrote that, not Cooch. But then again, “It is I, Cooch.”
  7. Why, you ask? Because it’s the Cro-Mags. That’s an answer to a lot of questions. But yeah, it’s the Cro-Mags.
  8. Of the Bad Brains, a band that has recently reached new heights of popularity here in New York. You might have seen them on a T-shirt?
  9. “Of about 115 WNYU sessions” – Cooch.
  10. A favorite in Canada for some reason.
  11. Not to be confused with Boston's Finest in "Infinite Jest."
  12. Only? Even Cooch doesn’t know.
  13. Suffice it to say … well, even Cooch wouldn’t spit it up. We’ll get it out of him though, pause.
  14. Just a demo.
  15. Says the article’s author, “This group has the chops — they were shredders, though they never strayed too far from the hardcore track.”
  16. Where the hell is this? Anyone know?

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