The Rise of Hardcore
Punk in Corpus Christi
Part I: 1978-1986
By Richard Guerrero
Punk rock finally arrived
in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1986. At the year's outset, there was
no local scene to speak of, save a few lost souls banging away on
cheap equipment in utter isolation. But by year's end, the city's
fledgling scene had hosted two national hardcore acts - Die
Kreuzen and M.D.C.,
two bands blazing very different trails across the national music
scene. More importantly, Corpus now boasted a flagship hardcore
act named after an early 12th century temple
built for King Suryavarman II of Cambodia. Angkor
Wat was a powerful hardcore quintet that would soon set the
standard for an emerging music scene the band had mostly put together
As with most punk scenes,
there was more than music in the mix. Over in Alice, Texas A&I
University student Tim
Stegall was busy publishing a cut-and-paste fanzine that focused
on first-wave punk bands, a photocopy job he called Noise, Noise,
Noise after a Damned song from their 1979 LP, Machine Gun
Etiquette. In the city, punk fans Kenny Harrison and Richard
Kepp had started a fanzine of their own -- a hardcore punk zine
that contained bits of irreverent humor and caustic commentary.
The pair called it AM/PM and packed it with band interviews
as well as record and demo tape reviews, much in the same way Tim
Stegall was doing Noise, Noise, Noise 50 miles away in Alice.
Admittedly, it wasn't much
-- a couple of fledgling hardcore bands just starting out, a few
more in the works, a few fanzines and maybe two hundred fans spread
across the city. But one fact was now plainly clear: hardcore punk
rock had at long last arrived in Corpus Christi, and from the looks
of things, it was here to stay.
* * *
punk bypasses the
"Sparkling City by the Sea"
Punk rock. In the Coastal Bend of the early
'80s, those two words might as well have been Latin to a community
more accustomed to accordions and pedal steel. While punk's initial
fever infected a select few in America's largest cities during the
late '70s, its meaner, nastier early '80s incarnation spread far
and wide across the nation, building influential music scenes that
would eventually shape popular music in the '90s and beyond. But
how did it get to Corpus? And what took it so long to arrive? The
answers aren't as obvious as they might seem.
If you were a punk rock fan living in the city of
Corpus Christi in the early 1980s, your role was most likely that
of a consumer. While the city's record stores could be counted on
to stock the occasional punk LP or single in the import bin (a classification
which translated into higher prices), there was simply no place
for a punk band -- local or otherwise -- to play.
That Corpus Christi lacked any sort of a punk rock
music scene in the early '80s should hardly come as a surprise to
anyone who has spent more than a few months in the city. A port
city on Texas' Gulf Coast two hours from any major city, location
has always been a major factor leading to the delayed dissemination
of culture in the state's eighth largest city.
But there were other factors. For all its proud
heritage as an iconoclastic firebrand mix of independent spirit
and bedrock traditional values, Texas had managed to cough up a
couple of small but thriving punk-rock music scenes in Dallas, Houston,
Austin and San Antonio. Austin -- whose scene was led by the now
and Stains (who changed their name to Millions of Dead Cops and
relocated to San Francisco a few years later) --- and Houston --
whose scene included the criminally-underrated Really
Red and later, Dirty
Rotten Imbeciles -- both enjoyed a fair amount of coverage in
national punk publications such as Maximum
Rock & Roll and Flipside.
But in Corpus Christi, punk was a momentary blip
on the cultural radar -- an offensive threat which failed to reach
critical mass. And not without good reason. The city's bumper-sticker
tagline -- "Sparkling City by the Sea" -- masked a sleepy
conservatism that never failed to rear its head when matters of
morality were afoot. To be fair, the city's conservative bent mirrored
the state of the nation -- Republican presidential candidate Ronald
Reagan beat Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter in November 1980,
as part of a conservative ticket that promised a return to traditional
family values, lower taxes and a smaller federal government. And
as the Reagan Administration began to assert itself with regard
to organized labor, and environmental and civil rights, the burgeoning
hardcore punk scenes in the suburbs of the nation's larger urban
centers now had an ideal target to help foment their vitriolic bursts
of kinetic rage: the nation's 40th president.
While punk rock's first wave had largely bypassed
Corpus Christi, there was the occasional flash-in-the-pan. In 1978,
New Jersey punk poet Patti
Smith played the now defunct Ritz Theater on Water Street in
downtown Corpus. A riveting performer, Smith was at the top of her
game at the time of the concert. "Because the Night,"
a tune she penned with Bruce Springsteen, was a Top 20 hit that
year -- a fact that was likely not lost on the show's promoters.
In Alice, a precocious tween named Timothy Stegall lived near a
neighbor who surely was the hippest soul in town. Stegall's neighbor
invited the youth to the Patti Smith Group concert at the Ritz and,
remarkably, he was given permission to attend. While the concert
would prove pivotal for the youth, Stegall couldn't yet grasp the
whole essence of Smith's music. "She was cool, but I could
not appreciate the hippie/poetry of Patti as I could later,"
Stegall said in an e-mail interview he completed for this series.
"Still, my 12-year-old mind did think she rocked."
Stegall was further inspired by the radical cultural
revolution taking place in England, an explosion of visceral imagery,
glaring shock-value behavior and provocative attitudes that was
spearheaded by London's Sex Pistols. Stegall was fascinated by the
small bits and pieces of the story that somehow managed to penetrate
the American media's filter of general disapproval. Even after all
this time, Stegall's first impressions remain clear and distinct.
"Seeing the Sex Pistols on Walter Cronkite when they came to
America, reading a story on The Clash in Time Magazine, and seeing
photos of Stiv Bators (of the Dead Boys) hoisting a mic above his
head and licking the blood flowing from fresh razor cuts down his
arms ..." were some of Stegall's earliest recollections.
For Tim Stegall, punk rock had become the way of
things -- a musical obsession that still holds true to this day.
"The energy and rage and passion in my head had suddenly been
given a voice that mainstream rock like Ted Nugent and Rush could
not provide," he said, adding: "And I could hear that
this was like Chuck Berry with a cranked-up amp and a headful of
speed. It was exciting! It was colorful! It was everything Barry
Manilow wasn't. And thank God!"
Some hope for alternative music briefly materialized
in Corpus when a nightclub named "Mars" opened its doors
sometime in the early '80s. While the club's run was short-lived,
the club managed to book two notable acts during its run: Iggy Pop,
the infamous godfather of punk who was nearing the bottom of his
career slide in support of 1982's "Zombie Birdhouse" album,
and the Surrey, England new-wave unit, the Members, in town to support
its 1982 album, "Uprhythm, Downbeat." Unfortunately, the
club was unsuccessful and eventually shut its doors.
Corpus Christi's embryonic alternative music community
was now without a home -- as it would be for many years to come
-- but the music and the message were hard to kill.
Skate or Die:
Skate culture enters the mix
By 1983, punk music had morphed into a louder, faster,
uglier permutation. The new style was called hardcore -- a brutally
primal sound that reduced punk rock to its core elements: simplicity,
speed and directness. It was the sound of youth gnashing its teeth
against the culturally-dead suburban world their parents had bestowed
them. And it was the perfect soundtrack for a generation rolling
fast on four wheels across city sidewalks, backyard ramps and swimming
Across the city, skateboarding had become a way
of life for boys ranging in age from prepubescent up to early college.
In the early '80s, city-sanctioned skate parks were strictly a West
Coast phenomenon and even then, something that was only seen in
the most progressive of cities. To that end, skaters in Corpus Christi
had little choice but to seek out ideal spots for skating sessions
or build a ramp of their own.
At the time, skateboarding was misunderstood by
large pockets of the community and many regarded surging groups
of skaters as a general nuisance. Run-ins with police and authority
figures were more common than not. Even so, gangs of skaters would
band together for cross-city treks to famed spots such as the Cullen
Dam or the massive Nell Street half-pipe ramp to name just a couple
spots. Hardcore -- with its blistering tempos and twin emphasis
on power and fury -- found an eager fan base in the hordes of young
skaters who studied local greats such as Phillip Harvey and Billy
BMX trick riders Mike Titsworth and Phillip Kelso
and others like them were also on the scene, honing their skills
to the breakneck beat of the Circle Jerks, Black Flag and the Dead
Kennedys. As the early '80s rolled on, new records by Fear, Jodie
Foster's Army and the Suicidal Tendencies boosted hardcore's popularity
to new heights -- a fact which was not lost on the tuned-in record
clerks at the Record Bar in Sunrise Mall and Craig's Record Factory.
In the days before the ridiculous convenience of
the Internet, fans of niche-based music genres were often hard-pressed
to find copies of records that they had read about. In Corpus Christi,
where punk rock and hardcore enjoyed virtually no radio support
and no mainstream media coverage, fans were limited to ordering
titles from the microscopic labels themselves via U.S. mail, or
special-ordering records from stores such as the Record Bar.
Record Bar was located near Sears on the first floor of the
Sunrise Mall, and during its salad days, stocked many independent
titles in its import section. Tim Stegall recalled that the store
became a meeting ground for fans who shared similar tastes in music.
"I seem to remember a period of about a year when you'd one-at-a-time
see someone else's hand reaching for the same DOA album you were
coveting at the Record Bar, and you'd of course talk to them,"
Half Price Books and Records was another rich vein
for fans hoping to turn up some punk rock gold. Joe Allen, who attended
King High School and interviewed the author's punk band the Krayons
for the school's newspaper, remembers stumbling across numerous
records in those bins. "I became a Clash fanatic," he
remembered. "I would listen to the first album on tape and
'London Calling' on vinyl and early Elvis Costello in the family
den." Craig's Record Factory was another a warehouse of music
and paraphernalia and boasted an impressive stock of underground
titles in addition to a wide variety of mainstream rock and country
There were other glimmers of the creeping subculture
quietly spreading from city to city across the nation in the mid-'80s.
From 1981 to 1988, the USA cable TV network ran an influential 4-hour
program called "Night Flight" which provided an outlet
for independent music video and film to a widespread cult audience.
Vocalist Trey Garcia, who currently sings for the Calallen street
punk unit The Booked, says the program was his initial introduction
to punk rock. "My dad called me in the living room one night
in '83 and told me to check out a show on TV. It was "Night
Flight" on the USA network and they were showing (the seminal
documentary on the Youth Brigade/Social Distortion '81 tour) 'Another
State of Mind.' He said, 'Look at these guys. You better never do
anything like that.' However, I thought it was the coolest thing
I'd ever seen. I was hooked."
Many punk fans interviewed for this series reported
a similar experience. Former Sweet Daddy drummer Chris Laurel, who
lived in McAllen, Texas, at the time, also remembered innovative
programming on television that helped shape his budding love for
the new sound. "I was a fan of music programming like IRS'
''The Cutting Edge' on MTV, and 'Night Flight' on USA where I saw
the cult-classic 'Repo Man,' which introduced me to the Circle Jerks,
Black Flag and Iggy Pop."
In 1984, punk rock had its first breakthrough in
the Coastal Bend area when its most avid fan, Tim Stegall, launched
the punk-format show, "Kapital Radio One" on KTAI on the
campus of Texas A&I University in the fall of that year. Stegall
free-formed his shows for nearly two years spinning cuts by The
Clash (whose "Capital Radio One" seved as the show's theme
song), Stiff Little Fingers, Fear, Circle Jerks, Bad Brains, Husker
Du, the Minutemen as well as Texas notables Big Boys and the Dicks.
A year later, Stegall joined the staff of the campus newspaper,
The South Texan. "I started out doing record reviews in summer
1985," Stegall recalled. "I had a column titled 'Noise,
Noise, Noise.' It evolved into what might have been the first punk
fanzine in Corpus Christi, which had the same name as my column
and ran for two issues."
The Year Punk Broke in Corpus
A journalist-in-training at Texas A&I, Stegall
quickly transcended the local scene and began writing for Los Angeles-based
Flipside Magazine and Alternative Press, based in Cleveland, Ohio.
From time to time, Stegall contributed 'scene reports' to the Berkeley-based
punk zine Maximum Rock & Roll -- considered by most to be the
leading punk publication of its day on the strength of its international
coverage of record releases, musical performers and the companion
Touring bands on the hunt for gigs were quick to
tap scene report contributors for leads on venues. Stegall was no
exception. In the summer of 1986, Tim Stegall received a phone call
from a musician named Erik Tunison. The caller said he was the drummer
of a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based quartet named Die Kreuzen and he
inquired about a possible booking for the band's upcoming tour in
support of its second album, October File on Touch
and Go Records. Stegall put in a call to a few friends and a
plan was hatched. "What happened was, ten of us pooled money
together and rented the Galvan Ballroom for real cheap. I forget
the exact figure," he recalled. "Someone convinced (Corpus
Christi new-wave rock band) The Boyz to bring their P.A. and do
sound. Die Kreuzen got whatever money was raised at the door. They
ended up with $400 in their pockets. None of us made any money on
that, except Die Kreuzen."
The show was also an opportunity to host local talent
and Stegall quickly put his name into the hat. In addition to writing,
Stegall was a musician, albeit one without a band. The Die Kreuzen
gig offered him an opportunity to put together a band that would
open for the Milwaukee act. Stegall recruited Steve Fish to play
bass and Tommy Godley to play drums. Stegall called his band "The
Hormones" and patterned his songs after his biggest influences
- namely, first-wave punk bands. At first glance, the band's spirit-of-'77
trad punk seems a far cry from Die Kreuzen's unique brand of remarkably
slow neo-metal. But in 1986, the word "punk" was an umbrella
term for a wide range of styles and ideas that epitomized independent
thinking. For their part, Die Kreuzen had completely divorced itself
from its groundbreaking hardcore debut and was now forging a new
musical trail with the complex and surreal ideas on October File.
The show at the Galvan Ballroom was the one and only show for Stegall's
original version of the Hormones. Years later, Stegall would re-launch
with new players in Austin and achieve a great deal more success
-- but that's getting ahead of the story.
Die Kreuzen's one and only gig in the Coastal Bend
marked a genuine breakthrough for a city more accustomed to the
mascara and goofy lyrics of the glam-metal explosion then dominating
the radio airwaves. The show's modest success proved that underground
acts could attract an audience in Corpus Christi. The model had
now been tested. Making it standard practice would require another
year of trial and error.
That same summer, Corpus Christi resident Chris
Chapa was busy making the most of an extended stay in Austin by
haunting the Sound Exchange record store and attending every punk
show he could. Chapa said while Corpus Christi's punk scene was
just starting to develop, its underground metal scene was already
successful. "Back then, you would get 200 people or so at a
Devastation/Final Assault/Watchtower show," he recalled in
a phone interview for this series. A young drummer who attended
Carroll High School, Chapa had tried out at the beginning of the
summer for a newly-formed hardcore band led by former Austin resident
Adam Grossman on lead guitar. The unit also included vocalist David
Brinkman, bassist Mike Trevino and King High School student Danny
Lohner on rhythm guitar. The band reportedly liked what they heard
but thought Chapa needed better equipment. "They laughed at
my Power Sonic drum set, which was basically a Ludwig ripoff,"
he remembered. "Adam and Danny had big plans for that band.
I got my first Tama set that summer and tried out again in late
About a month after the Die Kreuzen show at the
Galvan Ballroom, local thrash-metal unit Devastation booked a showcase
it called "The End of Summer Slam Session." Featuring
Dallas thrash pioneers Rotting Corpse and the newly formed hardcore
unit Angkor Wat, the show took place on August 29, 1986 at the Stardust
In dramatic contrast to today's club shows, many
of those early shows were held in rented halls or ballrooms simply
because most clubs could not sell alcohol, their primary revenue
generator, to the predominantly under-18 crowd. A favorite with
local Tejano artists of the day, the Stardust was a large-room venue
on South Padre Island Drive near Kostoryz Road that was capable
of holding at least 800.
Angkor Wat drummer Chris Chapa remembers his band's
set in detail. "We opened with 'The Possibilities of Life's
Destruction' by Discharge, "Right Brigade" by the Bad
Brains and ended the set with (Black Sabbath's) "Paranoid."
We did a lot of covers that night," he admitted. Mike Titsworth,
a Ray High School student at the time, was in the audience that
night and said in his response to the survey that the show was one
of his favorite memories from that era. "It was pure,"
he recalled, adding: "and a hell of a lot of fun."
Unbeknownst to all but a few underground fans and
bands, a small club called "TNT" opened up in a strip
center on Everhart Road sometime in late summer. It was there that
young metal bands such as Anialator and Intrant, which featured
David Nuss on drums and the author on bass, joined more established
acts such as Final Assault on TNT's roster of talent.
In October of '86, Angkor Wat guitarist Adam Grossman
booked veteran San Francisco hardcore unit MDC (formerly Austin's
Stains), California's Rigor Mortis, locals Mercenary, along with
his own band, for a show at the small Southside club. It was well
after midnight when the mighty MDC, a caustic left-wing unit that
lived and breathed political punk rock as few had before it, finally
exploded in a raucous fit of drunken fury, tearing through songs
off its Smoke Signals album in between blasts of familiar discord
from the band's legendary first LP like a bandsaw through particle
board. The gig was the stuff of legend and yet, remarkably, it would
take MDC nearly 20 years to return to Corpus Christi.
The gig -- while not a runaway success given the
costs of hosting such a well-known act in such a small venue --
firmly secured Angkor Wat's place as the top hardcore band in the
city. That the city's hardcore punk scene was still critically small
was evident. The crowd itself was rabid, totally energized but small,
in terms of numbers. For the veterans -- Richard Kepp, Kenny Harrison,
Jason Greathouse, Gilbert Gomez, Arthur Aguilar and a few others
who likely had already journeyed to San Antonio, Austin or Houston
for hardcore and punk shows featuring touring acts -- the night
was electric but familiar. But for a small band of wide-eyed punk
fans who would each contribute to the rapid development of their
city's punk/hardcore music scene in one way or another, nothing
would ever be the same.
To be continued in the next CITIZINE.
This is the first in a series examining the rise
of hardcore punk rock in Corpus Christi. More than 50 participants
were contacted and many responded with comments. This is a personal
account of some of the stories and events that helped shape the
rise of hardcore punk in Corpus Christi, supported by anecdotal
recollections by respondents. In other words, this is my version
of the way it went down. Comments and corrections are wholeheartedly
Read more reviews and punk history
by Richard Guerrero online @ http://blogs.caller.com/amped_up/
Angkor Wat lead guitarist Adam Grossman
is photographed here at the Stardust Ballroom
in the late '80s. Angkor Wat helped kickstart
the Corpus Christi hardcore scene.
Photo by Mike Moya.
Corpus Christi, Texas.
Patti Smith's band played Corpus Christi's
now-defunct Ritz Theater in 1978.
Punk and skate culture merged during
the 1980s. Tony
Alva (pictured) was one of
the most famous skaters of the time.
Milwaukee's Die Kreuzen played the Galvan Ballroom
on Agnes Street in 1986. The band's name is German for "The
"The End of Summer Slam Session."
Flier courtesy of Rotting Corpse's web site.
Originally based in Austin, the band began
playing clubs in 1979 as The Stains. Chris
Chapa shot this photo of MDC in action
at the TNT club in 1986.
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