Monday, November 24, 2008

Jeff Banks IDs Billy Rubin of Half Off

Chorus axeman and California HC legend Jeff Banks IDs Billy Rubin and recalls his time in and around Half-Off. Expect more of these great artifacts in the future from Banks! -Gordo DCXX

I have more perspective as I age. From time to time I have some regrets. My association as guitarist for Half-Off is one of those things.

My punk rock mentor Tim Sawyer (Visual Discrimination singer), had a Half-Off demo. "Punk band from Long Beach," he says. I was unimpressed and found it unlistenable. "If it ain't Dissension, and if Matt Vargas is not writing the riffs, I'm not interested. I can't (won't) get with a single-coil strat copy with amp distortion." (As a general rule, I hate single-coil guitars making any kind of appearance in Hardcore, with BGK being the only possible exception at that time).

Then it came to pass that Billy Rubin was the new singer. Billy worked at Zed Records in Long Beach, and I got to know him through Big Frank. Great guy. Funny. A wit almost as quick as mine. (He coughed up this ID gem in a hurry, and actually got the humor when I explained the collection to him. Another trivia bit—his now-wife Jay and I were on the Cerritos High School Math Team, Trigonometry Division, 1985-86). He's telling Sawyer and me that Half-Off has just recorded their "new stuff" and I cringe. Then he plays the track "On Your Own" over the Zed system and I shit myself. I think I may have had an erection when I heard the opening riff on that song.

They had a fella from Princeton named Krishna from Crucial Youth playing second guitar. I never got that, but my gut told me that he was a friend of Billy's who was just in the band to hang out. When it became clear that Krishna was not going to be able to tour in the Summer of 1987, somehow my name gets thrown into the mix.

It was great in theory, since I would get to now play that opening riff on "On Your Own." Another plus was a lot of face time with the very dry John Bruce, who taught me the songs. Played the song once with them at an outdoor show at Heritage Park in Irvine (Side note: almost missed this show as Helmet, the Cardon brothers and I were schooling locals at some random basketball court in Irvine). Billy, Vadim, Jim Burke and John Bruce were all the greatest guys in the world, and I begin to mesh into the Half-Off fold.

"John can't go on tour because he's concerned that his insulin routine might get all twisted up and he doesn't want to be 2000 miles away if shit goes south," is my best recollection what Vadim said on the eve of tour. "Banks can play bass," was about what everyone said. The problem was solved.

For no real reason at all this was my position: "I'm a guitar player. I play BC Rich Mockingbirds exclusively with Ernie Ball Extra Slinkys to get my harmonics on. Not sure why anyone would think that I would ever in any scenario want to play a bass."

God bless those guys, because they are cool about it. "We know that. But between John's health, the dates booked, the late notice, it would really be hard to find a replacement. And you know the songs already…"

I told them, "If you wanted a bass player, then you should have found a bass player." What? Classic contrarian idiocy. Next thing I know, the tour was off.

Boy, I sure would handle that situation a lot differently if I had it to do over again.


Anonymous said...

props to this dude for the Dissension and BGK references. Good taste. "Who writes your rules?" is the Half-Off jam

Anonymous said...

Great story Banks.

Anonymous said...

additionally,since this cat Banks seems like a fellow gearhead,might I add that a single-coil Strat in the hands of the late great Rory Gallagher thru a 100W Stramp kills posers (and bitches like Clapton) dead.
Guild single-pickup S-60 thru a 100W Simms-Watts stack with dirty pots is how we roll out in Deadtown USA aka Cleveland!

Anonymous said...

More Banks posts. Dude is a class act.

eating crow said...

That's the best story ever and I thoroughly agree with you on the strat/single coil nonsense.
As for Half Off it's always been 'rain on the parade' for me and the back cover of the shoot guns ep rules.

Rinjo Njori! said...

I still own The Truth and Shoot Guns EP on vinyl. Even though I have ripped them to MP3 I feel these are lost treasures of mid-80s CA hardcore scene. I like how the story unfolded. For a minute I thought he was going to say all the guys were dicks and then it turns out he was being all high and mighty-- for no reason at all. Ahh! to be young again and stupid. We all have those stories.

Isaac Golub said...

I remember being around some during the Banks learning process of these songs, and the getting to really know each other phase. If any one knows Banks they know he loves his hardcore with a little metal twist and his metal, pure metal.

Half Off would practice at The Lab, someone's dad owned lab/warehouse and they got to jam there for free. It was tough because dudes girlfriends were there, friends and hanger on's, were there. How could they get any work done? So Banks was learning the songs. He would learn the riff, they would work out the bugs, and then do confident run through. Once Banks would feel like the song was in the bag he would start to 'feel his oats' and look at me over his red framed glasses and under his 'something Boston related' fitted ball cap, and with a nod he would flood the song with harmonics, unnecessary pick slides and metal dirt noises.

Now Jim Burke was a great guitar player in his own right, rest his soul, but Banks was far superior and I don't think it bode well with Jim because it crumbed him the fuck out. I thought it sounded great even as a joke because it added seasoning to dry steak that Half Off was, which isn't to say they sucked, but every band sits in a rut at some point.

So Jim endured the Bam Magazine Circa 1985 tasty metal licks long enough and after one song ended there was an immediate sigh from his mouth. He looked down at his guitar, fiddled with the strings for a second, and calmly very matter-of-factly said, "Dude, stop doing that."

You could hear a pin drop and I think that about covered it for the cock rock antics... And the tour apparently.

Joe Nelson said...

I think the greatest part of this story....well to that... "BANKS WAS ON HIS HIGH SCHOOL TRIG TEAM" Classic

Anonymous said...

He looked down at his guitar, fiddled with the strings for a second, and calmly very matter-of-factly said, "Dude, stop doing that."

LOL Classic.

Anonymous said...

Billy Rubin was in GRUDGE, right ?
Who else was involved ?
I'd love to hear how that project came about !

anyone ?

Anonymous said...

i remember seeing a show in vadim, the drummer for half off's garage with virulence(very bl'ast! / flag sounding) half off and youth of today. maybe 30 or so people there. i met billy rubin that day and he seemed very nice. that was a great show / party.


adam said...

so Banks is the reason us East Coasters never got to see Half Off!!!

Bill "Nego" Case said...

What ever happened to Billy? I spent a lot of time hanging with the dude in the late 80's. I had a great Thanksgiving weekend with him one year...drove to Sacto, stuff lyric sheets and stickers in the Cripple Youth 7 inch on New Beginning Records, drove to SF and helped Tim Yo and the crew pour cement @ the soon to open Gilman St, and then headed home! I lost touch with about 1990. Cool dude, but I'm sure others would disagree. Bill "Nego" Case

Isaac Golub said...

Bill... Last I heard he graduated college, got married and moved to Arizona, not necessarily in that order. I could be wrong.

Bill "Nego" Case said...

Isaac - Thanks. I heard the same thing. It's strange how he just kind of dropped off the face of the earth! No one seems to know where he is! I recently hung out with Jeff Boeto(half off orig bassist) and it'd be cool to catch up with Billy.

Anonymous said...

The guy who screams, "Hike It!" on the Shoot Guns EP is Isaac Golub.

D. Sine said...

Very cool story. I also liked the Dissension and BGK references. I'll have to dig them out of the collection for a listen. It was always fun to visit Zed's when Billy was working. He always had great comments.

Anonymous said...

For some damn fine acting by Mr. Banks, check out Schusterman Levine: A Boxing Fable -

Billy said...

Hello to anyone that reads this. Its Billy from Half Off/Haywire. I did drop off the face of HC. But thanks to Bill "Nego" I read this blog. Thanks to Jeff Banks and Isaac "Hike it" Golub for their recollections about Jeff's time in Half Off and the turn of events. For the record, I was never in Grudge, and my wife kicks ass at math. I am surprised any of us are still caring about any of this crap from twenty years ago. I can't decide if I am flattered of scared that someone remembers Half Off or puts my school ID's up on the web. At any rate, Happy Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

Billy, be flattered. Some of us enjoy hearing stories about bands such as Half Off that meant the world to us back when we were young.

All my best,
-Mike P