Painted Willie was a band whose records I would see around all the time at places like Wax Trax, but always put off buying. I always vowed to get around to picking them up and checking them out someday but something always happened that prevented me from doing so. After doing the feature on Sin 34 and realizing that Dave Markey was also a member of Painted Willie, I finally ended my procrastination and sought out the first two Painted Willie Records (a 7″ and a 12″, both on Spinhead). Well, I am glad I did because I was missing out on a pretty good band.
I once again asked Dave Markey if he’d be so kind as to share some history of his other band, since he was receptive to doing the Sin 34 history when I asked (and produced a wonderful history, much more than I could have hoped). I’m happy to say that Dave once again was willing to participate so without further adieu, I present to you The Painted Willie Story.
The Painted Willie Experience
I will keep the focus of this on the first year and a half of the band. I do not care to talk about the SST era, or the subsequent tour w/ Black Flag, and the film that I made Reality 86’d that Greg Ginn does not want anyone to see. Believe me when I say I do not like to talk about it.You can all write Ginn at SSTSuperstore.com and let him know what you think.
In early 1984 I was living in the back of a storefront on Burbank Blvd. in North Hollywood, that I had helped construct an 8 track recording studio in. The place was dubbed Spinhead, by, I believe yours truly. It was owned by Phil Newman, the bassist of Sin 34. He also was living there and attempting to run the studio as a business, but having a difficult time. Sin 34 would also rehearse there, in addition to a few other bands like Americas Hardcore and Bad Religion. I recall Phil had a side band going for a while with Greg Graffin of Bad Religion, called Glacier. I think much of that
material ended up being BR material later on.
We had no shower or hot water. Bathing was done in the industrial backyard with a garden hose. The only kitchen facility was a hot plate. I was working as a punk rock extra in movies while I was making my own movie Desperate Teenage Lovedolls during this time. From all my extra work, I can be seen most clearly in the frame with Helen Hunt in the 1980s instantly forgettable comedy Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Sin 34 was having a difficult time during this period. We were on the verge of breaking up, and the tensions between the band members was high. Julie had gotten into speed, and then heroin during this time. She would be trying to find a vein in the bathroom during half the time of our rehearsal set. Mike was also getting into hard drugs too. Phil and I were just into psychedelics at the time, so we related through that experience.
We had grown tired of the restrictions of the hardcore scene, which was crashing and burning all around us anyhow. We thought we could do more with music. I remember we were listening a lot to The Fall at this time. And Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd. Rolling Stones “Satanic Majesties Request”. Jimi Hendrix Experience “Axis Bold As Love”. Blue Cheer “Vincebus Erruptus”. This was the shit that was moving us at the time.
Phil and I wanted to do a side project somewhere along the lines of this kind of music, fused with the hardcore we had previously covered with Sin 34. We had been playing for a few years now, and had grown leaps and bounds musically. Part of it was having the studio to play in 24/7. It was great, I really miss that, even although the times were real lean and very dark.
We were friends with Vic Makauskas of the band SVDB, and he had been over a few times to jam with us. His band was also on the verge of disintegration, as were a lot of the hardcore bands of Southern California that year. SVDB were a lot more poppy/catchy/crunchy type
so-cal punk, than hardcore. I remember they were a pretty tight live band, with a definite Damned bent.
We had also met this kooky Canadian named Nick Delaney, who had just come to LA in search of the Punk Rock N Roll (yikes) dream. He was an eccentric, and very awkward socially, but his guitar playing and song
writing was extremely unique. He was in a few bands from his native Vancouver, Canada, namely No Exit and East Van Halen.
Nick was out of his mind, and never touched a drug in his life. He took to calling himself Will at this time (after the name of the band, of course). I remember he shaved his head, except for a small circle on the top, which he died blue, with, a black center. He would
later explain, this was the island on his head. He would affix a cocktail umbrella to the center of it, and claim to take naps there in the late afternoon.
Somewhere around this time, Sin 34 breaks up. We would regroup a few months later with the offer of a “big gig” at the Olympic Auditorium opening for Fear and the Circle Jerks. I think we played once more at the Cathay De Grande before the band finally rested, once and for all. NOFX would open that show for us, I believe it was one of their first gigs.
So Phil and I start Painted Willie as 4 piece. 2 guitars (Vic and Nick), and Phil and I on bass and drums respectively. Phil had dubbed the band Painted Willie from a 1950’s thesaurus he had found in a thrift store. Apparently it was an old English acronym for homosexual, or more approximately transvestite.
Right before our first show, at the Cathay De Grande dollar punk night, Vic dropped out of the band. Apparently his straight forward rock guitar playing didn’t jibe with the wild/avant garde stylings of Willie (Nick). Willie was getting more and more out there, with so much energy and ideas constantly exuding from him. It grew hard to tell if he was a genius or a complete freak. I guess we found our own Syd.
So we debuted as a three piece, and quickly recorded a three song (one song each from each member) 7″ EP simply titled “Painted Willie” (Spinhead 03), at our own home/rehearsal/recording studio Spinhead. “Ragged Army” (Will, er Nick’s) best song by far, “Paper Tiger” (my tune, with a definitive Meat Puppet II influenced mid-section), and Phil’s stunning “Kill It” as the B side. It’s a gritty and unique record, with odd time signatures and quirky arrangements. Still sounds great today, if I don’t say so myself.
The band had a hard time getting gigs, and it seems the Sin 34 fans were mixed on this decidedly different musical outing. There was a fair amount of airplay on KROQ’s Rodney On The Roq show of the single. But the music scene in LA in 1984 was just a little whack. All of the clubs had closed, and punk rock, post-punk, post-hardcore, whatever you wanted to call it- had no venues after the Cathay shut it’s doors. It was in that time I first heard the word “alternative”, and it was used in a review in Option magazine, to describe our debut single. I mean, it may have been used previously somewhere. But I had never seen it.
It only took a month or two of “Will” Nick’s living with us in that crammed back room of Spinhead, for tensions to come to a boiling point. It was kinda like the Jim Jarmusch movie Down By Law.
In July of ’84 my Lovedolls movie was screened for the first time ever (before the premier proper) in Spinhead Studios. It was around this time that Phil and I had given Nick his notice. As much as I liked the guy, and his songs, he was just too much to live with. I think Phil was adamant about booting him, and I was more or less in agreement.
So Nick was out, and it was just back to basics. We recorded a 12″ EP at this point, as a two piece. Phil played the guitar parts, and quite amazingly at that. I took the photograph that graces the simple black & white cover. It was a homeless man in downtown LA’s skid row, covered in an American flag. We titled the EP My Fellow Americans. The Los Angeles 1984 Olympics were underway. Ronald Reagan was reigning supreme in the White House. This would be Painted
Willie’s decidedly most political record in the band’s brief 3 year history.
“My Fellow Americans” opens the EP with a dirgey but catchy instrumental with a political discourse layered over the top of it. The left wing discussion is mixed to the left channel, and is spoken by the Dutch band BGK. The right wing claptrap is on the right channel, and is spoken by various girlfriends of the band, one notably Jennifer Finch, future of L7. They were not speaking seriously of their political leanings, Phil and I had told them to be as conservative as they could imagine being. It’s an interesting track, and it was the one that got the most airplay on this disc.
That is followed by “Part Two”, a Phil composition originally performed by Sin 34, but never recorded. The song was inspired by the gloomy nuclear nightmare movie “On The Beach” and tells the story of an atomic bomb survivor in his last moments of life.
“Crossed Fingers” opens side 2 of disc, which yours truly warbling my lyrics of genuine hope vs. direct action. It’s one of my favorite songs I have ever recorded. Phil wrote the music, and it was created
during the early years of Sin 34. I remember Julie’s version of that song, it was called; “It’s The Great Punk In, Charlie Brown”. Too bad that was never recorded.
It’s followed by a punk/funky anti-Ronny Reagan song I wrote and sang called “Republican Suntan (Sunburn)”. It’s decidedly light hearted and comic relief on this collection. The side closes with a psychedelic instrumental of the title track “My Fellow Americans”.
Vic Makauskas would then rejoin the band and at this point the music transforms pretty much into a neo-metal band, a little less interesting but not without it’s moments. The band would go on another year and a half before permanently disbanding in late
Those first two EPs and other demo recordings of that era also comprise the last release ever from the band titled “Relics”. I believe this to be the bands strongest material.
Thanks once more Dave for the great history. The Painted Willie records on Spinhead are long out of print, however due to the fact they went largely overlooked, they aren’t terribly difficult to find for a fair price and are well worth grabbing if you come across them.
Listen to “Kill It” from the record