UNDER-APPRECIATED ROCK BAND OF THE MONTH FOR JULY 2010: THE EYESTHE EYESdate from the earliest days of punk rock in Los Angeles. I ran across their first recordings on a 1998 compilation album of releases on What Records? called What? Stuff, on Bomp! Records, that I just picked up. The first two bands listed on the cover, the Germs and the Dils are fairly well known as these things go; I had some of their songs already elsewhere, with “I Hate the Rich” by the Dils being a particular favorite. The third band on the list was the Eyes; predictably, despite what the liner notes describe as their “all-star lineup”, Wikipediahas nothing about them. In Allmusicand also in Wikipedia, there is a short article on a mid-1960’sMod band from London called the Eyes, along with references to several other bands of that name; of the punk band though, there is nothing at all, except that the cover for one of their 45’s is mistakenly included on the Mod band’s Allmusicpage.
What Records? is a good example of the Do-It-Yourself spirit that brought punk to life in the first place: By the mid-1970’s, the technology was good enough and vinyl was cheap enough that bands could put their own records together without going through the corporate record labels; and there were enough independent record stores around that getting shelf space was also doable. In this case, Chris Ashford was a friend of members of the Germs; in the great 1970’s tradition, they had just made a crude two-track recording of a song called “Forming” in the guitarist’s garage, so Ashford released it as a 45 and distributed it all by himself. The release date of July 1977 – 7/77 – would resonate with those of us in a casino area like Biloxi. The B-side, “Sex Boy” was a live performance made during the filming of the first Cheech and Chong movie Up in Smoke (which had a great cast by the way – Edie Adams, Strother Martin, Stacy Keach and Tom Skerritt). Somewhat surprisingly, this disk by the Germs is regarded as the very first punk rock single to come out of LA, even though it was released nearly 18 months after the landmark first album by Ramones came out on the other coast.
Chris Ashford then set out to record the other bands that were performing at the city’s first punk club, the Masque. The Eyes were one of these bands, with a sound that was described on the liner notes of What? Stuff as “poppy but hard edged”. “Don’t Talk to Me”, featuring vocals by Charlotte Caffeycame out on the third What release; the flip side actually had two songs: “Victims” by the Skulls plus the wonderful “Neutron Bomb” by the Controllers (which was also released as the A side on What 04). Another song by the Eyes with an equally compelling beat is also included on the compilation album, called “Kill Your Parents”. (I want to say it was tongue in cheek, but honestly, I can’t tell for sure!).
Charlotte Caffey left the band shortly afterward to become one of the founding members of the Go-Go’s (one of my all time favorites); she was bass player in the Eyes but became lead guitarist in her new band. Despite their girl-next-door rep and cheerleader-good-looks, this most successful of the all-female rock bands was well rooted in LA’s punk rock scene: The other two founding members, lead vocalist Belinda Carlisle and guitarist Jane Wiedlin were numbered among the back-up singers called the Blackettes that performed with Black Randy and the Metrosquad.
Drummer DJ Bonebrake also left the Eyes to become the last of the founding members of one of the biggest LA punk bands, X (having a rich sound that could almost be described as post-punk despite their 1977 founding date). Exene Cervenka was yet another Blackette; her name – a riff on her real name Christene, with “Ex” replacing “Christ” (a la X-mas) – probably inspired the band’s name.