Billy from the back cover of "The Truth" LP on New Beginning Records
Billy Rubin has really proven to be a very valuable contributor to DCXX. His writing has a way of pulling you into the story and making you look forward to every sentence to come. This entry is no different and as always, we thank Billy for his time, effort and passion. Read on... -Tim DCXX
When I was publishing THINK back in the 80's I had the opportunity to interview two of the best up and coming bands in the So Cal scene (Half Off and Insted) . Both bands seemed to come out of nowhere just as Uniform Choice, Doggy Style, Final Conflict and Dissension were really taking off. Half Off kicked their original singer out right as they were recording a track for a compilation that Wishingwell was going to put out.
Out of nowhere, the guys from Half Off called me and asked me to join the band. I think they chose me because I had interviewed them for THINK. I really didn’t know their songs that well and had no experience singing, but I was thrilled with the chance to have a creative outlet. I ended up recording vocal tracks for “Who Writes Your Rules?” at Radio Tokyo sometime in 1986. That was my first day in Half Off. I’m not sure what became of that track, it might have been given to Pat Dubar. The compilation never came out.
Half Off at Gilman St., Billy sports the half mohawk, Photo courtesy of: Billy Rubin
From that point on I was in Half Off. The very first show Half Off played with me singing was at the Farm in San Francisco. We used to practice a couple days a week in Vadim’s parents garage. There were many fun times in that garage. There are pics of UC playing in that same garage floating around where you can see Vadim’s little sister’s toys in the background of the pics. We used to hang out in front of Vadim’s parent’s house waiting for him to get home from school so we could start to practice. He’d ride home from school on this crappy little red BMX bike with cross bars. Band practice was always my favorite part of being in a band. The guys in Half Off were a lot of fun and we became more than best friends. We were family. Vadim and I had the same last name which was just coincidence.
We recorded the second Half Off demo at a little recording studio in Belmont Shore a few blocks behind the restaurant with the fake snow on the roof. Katon from Hirax and Ron Martinez from Final Conflict were there singing back-ups and helping out. I really sucked and disliked singing lyrics that Tim (the previous singer) had written. It just didn’t feel sincere. Musically the band was limited. Vadim and Jim had literally picked up crappy equipment and taught themselves to play out of a sheer love for hardcore music. I just liked to sing because I thought that what I had to say mattered. Vadim and Jim had much deeper musical taste than me. They were very into speed metal and heavier stuff. BLAST was their favorite band at the time and the song “Not Afraid” was one of Jim’s first attempts at writing a song. Jim and Vadim really drove the musical direction. The original bassist (Jeff Boetto) wasn’t down with what they were writing and Jim and Vadim were totally annoyed with him. When Jim played me the guitar riffs for “On Your Own”, “Rain On The Parade” and “The Truth” I was convinced we had to get rid of our bass player. We kicked Jeff out of the band and I don’t think we were very nice about it. I owe an apology to Jeff Boetto.
I found John Bruce as a replacement (on bass) through Gavin Oglesby (Gavin and John were best friends in high school). John was a part of the scene, he was always around and he had the best Gavin-painted leather jacket I had ever seen. It was a picture of CFA. John wasn’t a very good bass player at the time, in fact he had just started to play, but he quickly became the back bone of the band (and became an excellent bass player). The biggest problem Half Off had in the beginning is that Jim and Vadim were broke and couldn’t afford good equipment. After John joined the band, we had a band meeting and got really serious...Jim got a job at Taco Bell on Atlantic Blvd in Long Beach (which was especially funny because he hated Mexican food) and Vadim got a job at KFC. With new equipment and a new bass player Half Off really started to take shape. Our Lp “The Truth” had two different recording sessions on it. The songs “The Truth”, “On Your Own”, “Rain on the Parade” and “Blood Turns To Water” were the direction Half Off was going. The other material was recorded on equipment that we borrowed from VIRULENCE (Fu Manchu). We always had trouble in the studio and were never happy with the production, but we didn’t know what else to do. We couldn’t afford a good studio and this was back when punk rock music would freak out most studio engineers. They had never heard it. Those early songs were incredible attempts at writing a type of hardcore that we just weren’t talented enough to execute. The result was a record (The Truth) that didn’t sound good.
John Bruce on bass for Half Off, Photo courtesy of Billy Rubin
For the next 2 years Half Off played shows up and down the California coast (and Arizona). We opened for bands ranging from EXCEL to Youth of Today. At every show we always closed with the DYS cover “No Pain No Gain”. There were nothing but good times. The scene was exploding. It seemed like at least once a month we’d be sharing the stage with Uniform Choice, Insted, No For An Answer or Final Conflict. Big Frank had hired me at Zed records and that got me an inside track to getting shows. Frank used to book shows out of Zed, and whenever he needed an opening band, I’d be sitting on that counter by the front door with the flyers on it smiling at him. Frank essentially ran the entire scene out of Zed records and that put me at ground zero. We got on a lot of shows because of Frank.
When I moved out of my parent’s house in 1987 I moved into an apartment with Krishna Jain (aka Maynard Krebs) from Crucial Youth. He had moved to Long Beach (from New Jersey) to work for Douglas Aircraft as an engineer. Krishna was about the nicest guy any of us had met and we couldn’t help but invite him to join the band. I’m not sure how many shows we played with Krishna, but he was definitely in the band. Having Krishna in Half Off probably fueled the fire of rumors about Grudge and all the other anti straight edge crap. The truth is that we liked to piss people off. We just had fun with it and everyone was so serious. The more serious people got, the more silly we became.
Half Off never had an issue with straight edge. I was straight edge (and I suppose I still am). We had an issue with people that were turning straight edge into a fashion statement or a club/gang. It was disturbing to see something so important being turned into a commodity. That commodity was being used as a wedge to exclude people from the punk/hardcore scene rather than embrace the diversity fostered by the DIY attitude that had made punk rock a force to be reckoned with. It seemed to me that the straight ege thing to do was embrace the people with drug/alcohol problems (not attack them). The other thing that became prevalent in the scene was the “tough guy” image that went along with being “hard”. I still don’t know what that means outside of a description of a penis.
At any rate, Krishna playing second guitar gave us an opportunity to have a heavier sound and all of us were finally learning to play our instruments. Half Off began to work on material for a new record. I think we had at least 5 songs written. The new material was really heavy in a Black Flag “My War” meets Final Conflict “Self Righteous Pigs” vein with maybe a dash of Articles of Faith “Give Thanks” thrown in for good measure. We recorded some stuff that I never put vocals to. One of the songs we recorded was the Misfits “All Hell Breaks Loose”. We also recorded Black Flag’s “Six Pack” and WIRE’s “12xU”. I think Fred Hammer might have used this material on the 7" he put out.
Back cover image from the "Shoot Gun" EP
By the time we recorded our last record, “Shoot Guns” we had really morphed into a different band than the one that played “Make Every Minute Count.” For one thing, we had gone through puberty. For another we weren’t shy about who we were in the scene. The title “Shoot Guns” which was short for Shoot Guns Eat Pussy was named after a Henry Rollins poem where Henry talks about shooting guns and eating miles of pussy. We thought that was so funny we had to write a song about it. I’m pretty sure it was a serious topic for Henry. That is what made it funny. There were so many “tough guys” walking around, writing tough lyrics doing “hard” things to prove how “hard” they were and “Shoot Guns Eat Pussy” seemed like the perfect name for a song Jim had written(the music). None of us were ever going to be tough guys. Shoot Guns Eat Pussy was just a working title until we got into the studio and I wrote the lyrics 5 minutes before I had to lay down the vocals. My sense of humor was at about the 13 year old level of maturity (and still is). Jeff Banks and Isaac were there with us and we added some embellishments on the back up vocal track to put it over the edge. The studio engineer came up with the effect to add to my vocals when I said the part about satan. We really had fun knowing that people weren’t going to know what to think of a record that had a classic Bad Brains song and "Shoot guns eat pussy" on it. Gavin drew the incredible artwork for the cover and I found the back cover drawing of NYC blowing up in some comic book. We were just screwing around. There wasn't some big fued.
I know some of you will want to know how many copies we put out on which color vinyl. Its hard to keep track of because over the years, whenever I needed money, I’d just repress Crippled Youth, Underdog and Shoot Guns and sell them for the big bucks. Just Kidding!
At some point, Half Off was big enough to tour. We started booking a tour across the US and I bought Unfiorm Choice’s Ford 350 Econoline Van. The tour was actually booked and was going to include a show at CBGB’s. We needed a second guitar player (Krishna couldn’t tour) and we asked Jeff Banks to join the band for the tour. Jeff did an accurate job of describing what went down in his blog entry on Double Cross when he momentarily joined Half Off. The inside scoop on all of this was that Jim had become increasingly difficult to deal with. He had a temper that was really out of control. When we tried to incorporate Jeff Banks into the band, Jim was very sensitive to Jeff being “too metal.” The rest of us were afraid of Jim’s temper tantrums and walked on eggshells around him. Being in Half Off had become very difficult and it just wasn’t as much fun as it used to be when we were tooling around in Vadim’s garage. When John Bruce decided he couldn’t do the tour because of his diabetes it was a blessing in disguise. Half Off broke up. I think we blamed John Bruce at first, but the truth is that Half Off was stale. Originaly Half Off was 4 kids that couldn’t even drive playing crappy instruments covering DRI songs and trying to play as fast as they could. We needed something more.
Shortly after that HAYWIRE began. One of my biggest regrets is that Jim Burke wasn’t invited to join Haywire. Jim killed himself a little while later. To this day I wish I could have seen it coming. No one is prepared to find their friend dead or go to an open casket viewing of their best friend. Jim was a great song writer, had great taste and an incredible sense of humor. I can still see him playing that black guitar with the SSD sticker on it. Jim, I still miss you! RIP
Half Off with Dan O'Mahoney watching on in deep thought, Photo courtesy of: Billy Rubin
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Posted by DOUBLE CROSS at 10:33 PM